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Title: The Shadow of the Dead Hand
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200231.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Shadow of the Dead Hand
Author: Fred M. White

*

Author of:--"The Price of Silence," "The Golden Bat," "The House on the
River," etc., etc.


Published in The Queenslander, Brisbane, Qld. in serial format commencing
Saturday 30 January, 1926.

*



CHAPTER I.


Roy Kindermere pocketed Mrs. Leverson's cheque with a smile and that
easy grace of his and with a few well-chosen words, put on his hat and
overcoat and left the great florid house, thankful that his uncongenial
task was finished. If there was one thing more than another he hated, it
was this 'Man from Blankney's' business, by which he was forced to get a
living. Still, what was a man to do, when he had been brought up to
nothing, and had, moreover, quarrelled with the one relative in the
world who could and should have made his life at least worth living.

Not that the quarrel was any of Roy's seeking; indeed, it was a
wonderful exploit on his part that he had managed to keep on terms of
something like amity with his eccentric uncle, the Earl of Kindale. For
Kindale was, to all practical purposes, a miser, a man who lived in one
corner of his magnificent town house, waited upon by a single servant,
and in the habit of taking his frugal meals at his club, where he spoke
to nobody, and, on the other hand, nobody noticed him. For the rest, he
was a cross-grained old gentleman, without a single drop of the milk of
human kindness in his veins.

Some day or another all his wealth and all his property would go to Roy,
for the simple reason that the old man could not leave it to anybody
else. And, meanwhile, he cared little whether his next-of-kin lived or
died, and so it came about that, after the war, the Honourable Roy
Kindermere was thrown entirely on his own resources.

They led him eventually into the service of a big co-operative store,
where he acted as a sort of commercial traveller. And then, by gradual
degrees, he found himself in touch with the new rich, who liked his
manners and irreproachable appearance, but that was not until Mrs.
Leverson came along with her ostentation and her vulgar wealth, and made
the tentative suggestion that Roy should attend one of her dinner
parties, ostensibly at a guest.

What she really wanted was for her friends to read in the Press that
amongst the dinner guests was the Honourable Roy Kindermere, the heir of
the Earl of Kindale, and she was quite prepared to pay a handsome sum
for the privilege. And Roy, needing money badly, and, moreover, the
fortunate possessor of a keen sense of humour, fell in with the scheme
readily enough.

But, thank goodness, that was done with--at any rate, for the present.
It was getting late as he strolled along the West End streets in the
direction of his humble lodgings until he came at length to
Marrion-square. That exclusive locality was dark enough save for one
house, where, apparently, some sort of festivity was in progress. Roy
could hear the strains of a band and catch sight through an open window
of a number of figures moving to the harmony of the music. He paused
just for a moment to glance in with a certain fugitive curiosity, and
then, just as he was moving on again, he caught the glimpse of a white
arm upraised and, a second later, almost at his feet, fell a small bunch
of flowers. It was almost as if some one was signalling to him.

He would have passed on, but something impelled him to pick up the
blooms and look at them under the light of a street lamp. As he did so,
a scrap of paper fluttered to his feet. This he picked up and read a
pencil message as follows:----


"Help me from this house. Or take this to the police. I am desperate.
Blue Twin Star."


It was very amazing, very extraordinary, to come across an adventure
like this in the very heart of the West End, and in such dramatic
circumstances. It seemed hard to connect a great house like this with
crime or mystery.

Not that Roy hesitated, because here was an adventure after his own
heart. He had all the dash and audacity, and that peculiar sense of
humour which goes with his class. Moreover, the suggestion of beauty in
distress appealed strongly to his manhood. He would go into the house
and investigate for himself. If he were thrown out, then it would be
easy to say that he had made a mistake, and, after that, he could trust
to his personal appearance and his own name to save him from the mess.

He walked quietly up the steps and pushed open the front door, which was
not fastened. Inside stood a solemn figure in black whom he rightly took
to be a sort of major domo, and three or four footmen in splendid
livery. There were no signs of either host or hostess, for which Roy was
grateful. With a fine air he stripped off his silk-lined overcoat and
handed it to one of the footmen; then, with all the sang froid in the
world, he walked into the double dining-room where the dance was taking
place.

Still there was no sign of any hostess, so that Roy could mingle with
the guests and look around him. Then it seemed to him that a minute or
two sufficed to show him the lady in distress who had summoned him so
mysteriously. Yes, that was the girl.

She stood a little apart from the rest in a corner, a tall slim figure
in a blue dress with a sort of diamond ornament in her hair which
consisted of a pair of stones. No doubt the twin stars of the message. A
beautiful girl, exquisitely fair, with eyes that matched her dress and
an unconscious look of pleading in those amazing eyes of hers; and a
sort of vivid anticipation, as if she were expecting something to happen.

"By Jove!" Roy murmured under his breath. "By Jove!"

Without hesitating another moment he crossed the room, threading his way
decorously between the dancers until he came face to face with the lady
of the blue eyes. He smiled slightly.

"Was that your message?" he whispered.

"Yes," she said. "And you found it?"

"Of course, or I should not be here. Please smile at me. Look at me as
if we we're old friends. Yes, that's better. Now, where can we go and
talk? Somewhere quiet."

The girl lightly laid her hand upon his arm, as if they were going to
slide into the dance, then gradually piloted him through a door at the
back into a sort of conservatory, which obviously led into the garden at
the rear of the house.

"Ah, this will do capitally," Roy said. "Now, to begin with, my name is
Roy Kindermere."

"Oh, really?" the girl said. "I have often heard my father mention you.
Aren't you the nephew of that dreadful----"

"Yes, that's the man," Roy smiled. "Old Kindale. But never mind about
that. What shall I call you?"

"My name," the girl said, "is Alcie Glynn. I don't suppose you have ever
heard of me."

Roy murmured something appropriate, but, as a matter of fact, he had
heard the name before. Moreover, he knew that this was the only child of
a certain Rupert Glynn, a man of good family, and who at one time had
been a welcome guest in most of the best houses in the land. But that
was before he had fallen away from grace and had to resign his
commission in the Red Guards in connection with some unsavoury card
scandal. From that point on he had disappeared from Mayfair, and most of
those who knew all about the underworld were fully cognisant of the fact
that he was now known, or had been known, as one of the most expert card
sharpers in Europe. The sort of man who follows fashion; in Paris one
day, at Monte Carlo the next, and Cairo the day after. Anywhere young
fools with money were to be found, and a polished man of the world could
reap his harvest. But it was not for Roy to mention this, all the more
as he understood that Glynn had died not so very long before.

"Does it very much matter?" Roy asked. "I have met scores of Glynns in
my time. But tell me what does this mean? Am I to understand that a lady
like yourself, evidently brought up to mix with people of our class, is
actually detained in a great West End house as if she were a prisoner?"

"Yes, it does seem rather amazing," the girl smiled rather sadly. "But,
all the same, it's true. Do you know Mr. Kindermere, that I practically
possess no outdoor clothing to speak of. When my poor father died not so
long ago on the Riviera he left me a note saying that I was to come here
and see Mr. Murdstone."

"And who the dickens is Mr. Murdstone?"

"Why, the owner of this house, of course. He and my father were very
friendly. Yet I never liked him. There is something horribly repulsive
about the man. He seems to be rich, and, at any rate, there is no lack
of money, but, all the same, this is little better than a gambling hall.
Young men, yes, and young society women, come here night after night and
play roulette and those sort of games for immense sums. And I have been
forced to act as a kind of hostess. Oh, it's horrible."

Roy shut his teeth with a snap. He was beginning to understand. This
beautiful girl was nothing but a lure to attract rich youth to the
house. His blood boiled at the thought.

"Oh, that's the game, is it?" he murmured. "But what's going on
to-night? What's the object of this dance?"

"Oh, there is no gambling this evening," the girl said. "Mr. Murdstone
let the house for to-day to a certain Countess Visconti, whose daughter
was married this morning. And this is part of the wedding festivities.
You can imagine what a dreadful day it has been for me. This is why I
got desperate, and threw that little note out of the window, hoping that
somebody like you would find it."

Roy listened to all this, more or less bewildered. It seemed to him
almost impossible that this sort of thing should be carried on almost
openly, almost under the eyes of the police, in the midst of the West
End, and in so fashionable a locality as Marrion-square. But he did not
want to dwell upon that for the moment. He thoroughly believed every
word that fell from the girl's lips, and it would be no fault of his if
she were not in some safe haven before daylight. And already a
half-formed plan had shaped itself in his mind.

"Now, look here," he began. "If you----"

He had no time to finish what he was saying, because of a sudden
eruption in the shape of a young man, who lounged coolly into the
conservatory and surveyed the two through his monocle.

"By gad," he drawled. "It's Roy Kindermere."




CHAPTER II.


The new-comer seemed to be perfectly at home. There was an idiotic smile
on his face, which was round and chubby, and his yellow curly hair gave
him the air of an overgrown cherub. There were people who declared that
Peter Lantary had been born without brains, and that it was a marvel how
he, the son of a poor country gentleman, ever contrived to make a
living. And yet he had his chambers in the Albany, and his manservant
and his West End tailor, and he owed nobody. Moreover, he was to be seen
wherever society gathered together, ruffling it with the best of them.
He was popular too, in his way, despite his reputation of silly ass, and
was acclaimed rightly as one of the best amateur comedians in the
kingdom.

"Now, what on earth are you doing here, Roy?" he asked.

"If it comes to that, what are you doing here?" Kindermere countered.
"This is not the sort of house where I should have expected to meet you.
Miss Glynn, I hope you won't mind my speaking fairly candidly before my
friend, Mr. Lantary. He is an old schoolfellow of mine, and, I think he
may be able to help us."

"I am quite sure I can," Lantary drawled coolly. "You may be dashed
surprised to hear, my dear young lady, that I have a pretty shrewd idea
as to what you are doing here. And I have a more than shrewd idea as to
the activities of your remarkable host. But what I want to know, for the
moment, is what Roy is doing here. You weren't invited, old bean, were
you?"

"Good lord, no," Roy exclaimed.

"Ah, I thought not. I was certain of that when I saw you come into the
dance room. You might put me wise, old thing."

Without knowing exactly why, Kindermere proceeded to do so. Lantary was
a great ass, of course, but then he had all the pluck and courage of his
race, and Roy knew that he could depend upon him when the emergency
arose, as it might do at any moment. Without waiting to be asked,
Lantary threw himself into a seat and coolly proceeded to light a
cigarette.

"Now, look here, children," he said. "This is just where little Peter
Pan comes in. I don't want it generally known, and it ain't, but, you
see, I have got my living to get, the same as the other poor beggars who
went out under the mistaken impression that they were going to make
England fit for heroes to live in. And, on the whole, I haven't done too
very badly."

"So I have always imagined," Kindermere said drily. "How do you manage
on nothing a year, Peter?"

Lantary eyed the speaker solemnly through his monocle.

"I am a private inquiry agent," he said. "Don't laugh. Without vanity,
dear things, I am not quite such a fool as I look. And my chubby face
and this monocle, that worries the life out of me, make jolly fine
assets, don't you know. Why, people look upon me as next door to an
idiot, by Jove. It doesn't matter what you say before Peter Lantary.
Such a harmless ass! By gad, I am quite a new sort of detective. And who
would think it to look at me? But I have done some pretty shrewd things,
old bean, and I don't mind telling you that I am here tonight on
business. All the criminals of the world don't live down in the East End
of London--heaps of them knocking about in Rolls Royce cars, and those
are the sort of birds I'm gunning for. That is why I got an invitation
here to-night. But I am in no hurry, and when I spotted the fact that
you had shoved yourself in this revue, Roy, I looked you up to see what
the little game was."

"Well, now you know," Kindermere smiled. "And, since you are acquainted
with the new underworld, perhaps you can give me a point or two as to
the character of my involuntary host."

"Oh, I could write a whole book about that," Lantary replied. "And
perhaps some day I shall. Very hot stuff, is our friend Felix Murdstone.
But never mind him for the moment. What are you going to do with regard
to Miss Glynn?"

"Well, upon my word. I hardly know," Roy said. "I have told you exactly
how she is situated since the death of her father, whom you might have
known----"

Lantary winked solemnly at the speaker, and Roy knew that he had no
occasion to dilate further on that side of the story.

"Now, what can we do?" Roy went on.

"We can't leave Miss Glynn here. It seems monstrous to think it possible
that a girl should be, to all intents and purposes, a prisoner here in
the West End. Neither can I believe that her father would have known
what was going to happen when he invited her to come here."

"Oh, I am sure he didn't," Alcie said almost tearfully. "I know that my
father did not get on with the majority of people, and I suppose that is
why so many of his acquaintances avoided him. But he was a real good
father to me, and there was nothing he would not have done for my
happiness. I came here quite cheerfully and willingly, because my father
wished it, and I am certain that there is some reason why I have been so
strangely treated----"

"Well, at any rate, you can't stay here any longer," Roy said
impatiently. "Your friends and relations----"

"But I don't think I have any," the girl said helplessly. "My father
never mentioned them. Whenever I spoke of his people, or my mother's, he
always told me that I was not to allude to the subject. There was some
quarrel, I think."

Roy listened to all this uneasily. He and Lantary, for the matter of
that, knew perfectly well why the late Rupert Glynn never mentioned his
relations. They had cast him off long ago. And, as to relatives on her
mother's side, conditions had been just as hard and bitter. But to
mention such a thing and to disclose a state of affairs of which the
girl was absolutely ignorant would have been something like refined
cruelty at that moment.

"Well, I suppose we must think out something," Roy said. "But how are
you going to manage with regard to your wardrobe? I could smuggle you
out of the house easily enough, but you can't walk about London in a
blue ball dress and a couple of diamond stars. You see the difficulty? I
suppose you have no maid?"

"I never had such a thing in my life," Alcie smiled.

"Then you couldn't go upstairs and pack your boxes and bring them down.
But, by the way, where is Mr. Murdstone? And who is hostess on this
auspicious occasion?"

"I can answer that," Lantary said. "The hostess, whose daughter was
married this morning, is a bit of a mystery, like so many people
nowadays. She has a flat in town, and a house down in the country where
she entertains all sorts of queer people. I don't mean anarchists and
that kind of thing, but the shy, foreign type who are supposed to be
European capitalists and high financiers. And, by the way, Murdstone
poses as being one of that lot. He is supposed to have made an immense
fortune somewhere out in the wild and woolly West in connection with
oil, or cattle, or bits of timber."

"Is he in the house?" Roy asked.

"Yes, he is," Lantary explained. "But this sort of thing is rather out
of his line, so he contents himself with lending the house for the
occasion, and, after showing up for an hour or so, he went into the
library, for I was chatting with him just before you came in. I had my
own reasons for wanting a little pi-jaw with him, but he wouldn't let me
stay long. I could almost hear him saying to himself, 'Why does this
putrid little ass with the eyeglass want to worry me like this?' With
any luck, later on, he will know. But it's a jolly long row I've got to
hoe first. But haven't we got something else to think of?"

"Oh, I haven't forgotten Miss Glynn," Roy said. "I only wanted to know
if the coast was fairly clear so far as Murdstone was concerned. If he
is well out of the way, it makes things easier."

"Well, I don't think you will be troubled with him, not for the next
hour or two, at any rate. By Jove, this is an extraordinary adventure,
isn't it? I wouldn't have missed it for worlds. Still, there is a
practical side to it----"

"Yes, and we have got to solve it," Roy pointed out. "Get Miss Glynn
away safely and put her under the protection of some one who will
understand and look after her sympathetically. I suppose it couldn't do
to go straight to Murdstone----"

"Wash it out, dear boy, wash it out," Lantary drawled. "You might just
as well grab a cobra by the tail as come between Murdstone and his
schemes. He's a man hunter, old cockins, I mean a man eater. And that's
the only name for him. But I tell you what I can do. I can go and
blather to the blighter and keep him talking in the library whilst you
make your getaway. You smother Miss Glynn into a cloak and go through
that door, where you will find yourself in the garden. Down at the far
end is another door leading into the lane behind. At the corner of the
street you can pick up a taxi. Oh, I know all about it. I have been
studying the geography of this house for over a fortnight. So long."

With that, Lantary lounged out of the conservatory, leaving Roy and
Alcie alone to their solitude.

"I think, on the whole, that Lantary's scheme is about the only one that
is practical," Roy said. "And I am glad to have him with us. At any
rate, he can keep the coast clear. Then I can take you to a flat not
very far off, where I have a most kindly disposed but particularly
eccentric old aunt, who will simply love to look after you when she has
heard your story. As to your general wardrobe, you can send for that
afterwards. What do you think?"

It was settled at length, after some natural reluctance on Alcie's part.
Then Roy rose to regain his coat and hat. He was hardly back in the
little alcove before Lantary crept to the room. There was nothing about
him to betray the least perturbation or excitement, save that his hand
shook a little.

"Looks to me, dear children," he said, "as if the problem had solved
itself. Our friend, the man eater, is dead."

"Dead!" Alcie cried. "Dead?"

"Yes, dead, beyond the shadow of a doubt," Lantary murmured. "He is
lying there, in the library, on the flat of his back with his face
turned to the ceiling."

"You don't mean to say----" Roy began.

"Yes," Lantary said. "Murdered. No doubt of that."




CHAPTER III.


Lantary made his announcement in so ordinary a tone of voice that the
other two hardly grasped what he was saying for a few minutes. And then
the horror of it burst upon them.

"Good heavens," Roy exclaimed under his breath. "In that case, the
sooner we are out of the house the better."

"Well, not quite in that way," Lantary drawled. "The mere fact that
Murdstone has been murdered is all the more reason why there should be
no hurry on your part. To begin with, you would have rather a difficulty
in explaining how you got here, Roy. And Miss Glynn would have to
explain a thing or two. No, I am afraid you must stay for a bit, until I
have seen Martin, and told him what has happened. After that, we shall
have to make some explanation to the guests for getting them out of the
house, and when that time comes you two can drift off with the rest. So
you just stay here as if nothing had happened till I come back."

Lantary vanished, and made his way through the throng of dancers into
the hall, where Martin, the butler and head of the household staff,
lounged with the rest of the servants. He beckoned the big, silent man
on one side, and led him down the corridor, at the end of which the
library was situated.

"Now, look here, Martin," he said. "I have got something very serious to
say to you. I suppose that your master knows practically everybody who
is here tonight?"

"Well, sir, I can't speak as to that," the man called Martin replied.
"You see most of the guests here are friends of Countess Visconti. We
lent the house to her for the occasion of her daughter's marriage. But
why are you asking all this, sir?"

"Well, for the simple reason that your master is lying dead in his
library at the present moment, and there is not the slightest doubt that
he has been brutally murdered. I happened to go in the library just now
to speak to him on a little matter of business, and I found him on the
hearthrug, in front of the fireplace dead. Oh, yes, there is no doubt
that some enemy has done this thing."

The big man seemed to droop and wilt for a moment, then he looked at
Lantary with a peculiar expression in his shifty eyes.

"What are we going to do about it, sir?" he asked.

"Well, there is only one thing for it," Lantary said. "Don't say a word
to the servants yet, but go quietly into the library and call up
Scotland Yard on your master's private telephone. When you have done
that, come back to me again and I will tell you what I think we should
do. The first thing, of course, is to get all these people out of the
house, and that you can leave to me."

Martin stood there for a moment, as unwilling, or too frightened to
undertake his task, before he turned away and went, with dragging
footsteps, in the direction of the library. Then Lantary made his way
through the thick of the dancers until he came to the spot where the
Countess was seated. She was a tall strikingly handsome woman, with dark
flashing eyes, and presented a wonderful appearance of youth,
considering her years, which could not have been less than 40. She
turned with an almost pitying smile to Lantary as she saw the expression
on his face.

"Well, Mr. Lantary," she said. "Well? I see you want to ask me a
question. What is the trouble?"

Lantary leaned over and whispered three words in her ear. With all her
coolness, and the undoubted courage which showed itself in every line of
her face, those striking features of hers took on a pallid hue, and she
swayed slightly in her chair.

"The thing is impossible," she murmured. "Just at this time, when
everything is going so----"

She checked herself suddenly but Lantary had not been slow to notice
that she was more angry and alarmed than overcome by the force of this
stupendous tragedy.

"Well, there it is," Lantary said. "Murdstone is dead enough, and there
is no getting away from that. I suppose you understand that the first
thing we have to do is to get these people out of the house? How do you
propose to manage it?"

"Yes, I suppose that is up to me," the Countess said, with a far-away
look in her eyes. "After all, they are my guests. I suppose the best
thing we can do is to tell them that Mr. Murdstone has been seized with
a sudden illness."

"Yes, that's the best thing," Lantary agreed. "You break the news to
them, and I will see the police when they come. There is no reason why
you should stay here after your friends have gone."

The Countess appeared as if about to say something, then, as suddenly,
changed her mind. Lantary stopped just long enough to hear a whisper go
round the room, and note the looks of consternations on the faces of the
irresponsible throng. Even the music of the band ceased, as if the
musicians had suddenly become conscious of the tragedy that had happened
in their midst. And then a dead silence, broken here and there by hoarse
whispers. After that, a steady stream of guests in the direction of the
street, and the noise of cab whistles and the horns of motor cars
outside. It was almost weird to see the way in which the great house
emptied without any sort of ceremony, though, so far, it was impossible
that any of the guests could have guessed at the real cause of the
breaking up of the party.

Almost on the heels of the last of them came two representatives of
Scotland Yard. The leader of the two entered the hall, and spoke with an
air of authority to Martin.

"I am Inspector Dwight," he said. "I think you sent for me just now.
This is my colleague, Inspector Carson. I understand that something has
happened to your master, Mr. Murdstone."

Martin was the quiet, model servant again. There was nothing in his
exterior to show that he was stirred to the depths.

"That's quite right, sir," he said. "I sent for you at the instigation
of one of the guests, Mr. Lantary. It was Mr. Lantary who found the
body. You see, sir, my master had lent the house to Counters Visconti
for the night, because her daughter was married this morning, and,
indeed, the wedding took place from here."

"Have you seen the body?" Dwight asked.

"Oh, yes, sir; indeed, sir, Mr. Lantary sent me into the library on
purpose. He came straight to me from the library, and told me what had
happened. Then he informed Madame--I mean the Countess--and she told her
friends that Mr. Murdstone had been taken suddenly ill, and, of course,
they all left."

"Oh, did they?" Dwight asked sharply. "That was quite wrong, and you
ought to have known it. You should have communicated with me before
saying a word to anybody. Nobody should have been permitted to leave
this house till after the police had had a chance to make, at least, a
preliminary investigation. Where is Mr. Lantary? Has he gone with the
rest?"

"No, he hasn't," Lantary said, as he strolled casually into the hall. "I
couldn't very well do that, Inspector, considering that I found the
body, and asked Martin here to call you in. Matter of fact, nobody is
here except the servants, together with a young lady who is staying in
the house, and a friend of mine, Mr. Roy Kindermere. Perhaps I am to
blame, because it was I who suggested to the Countess that she should
dismiss her friends under the pretext that Mr. Murdstone had been taken
ill. I was talking to the young lady, Miss Glynn, in the conservatory,
together with Mr. Kindermere, just before I went into the library to say
a few words to my host, or, rather, my deputy-host, and, to my horror, I
found him lying dead before the fire place."

"Any signs of a struggle?" Dwight asked.

"Well, to a certain extent--yes. Oh, he was murdered, right enough!
Stabbed to the heart with a big clasp-knife, which is lying on the rug
by the side of the body. Of course, I didn't touch it, or anything else
for that matter. You see, Inspector, I am by way of being a sort of
investigator myself."

Inspector Dwight smiled rather sourly at the speaker.

"Yes, I know you are, Mr. Lantary," he said. "Society scandals, and all
that sort of thing. Wasn't it you who first put us on the right track
with regard to that Redhill business?"

"That is quite right," Lantary said cheerfully. "But don't you think we
are wasting time talking here? Don't you think it would be just as well
if we went into the library and had a look round. And you won't mind my
coming along?"

"On the contrary," Dwight said briefly, "as you have discovered the
body, you will be one of the principal witnesses."

The trio walked down the corridor and turned into the library, where
Dwight switched on the lights. He stood there, in the big, handsome
room, glancing round him, and then, crossing the thick carpet, bent over
the dumb object lying there, stretched on the hearthrug. The big, white
face was turned up to the ceiling, the long, powerful arms lay by the
dead man's side. In the centre of his broad expanse of shirt front was a
long slit, from which the blood was still oozing. Between Murdstone's
feet was a clasp knife with a spring, such as sailors use, and the long
double-edged blade was red with the blood of the victim. A chair had
been overturned, an occasional table slanted against a settee, and the
big writing table was a litter of confusion. A large inkpot had been
overturned, and its contents still dropped on the floor.

"Murder, beyond the shadow of a doubt!" Dwight murmured. "Carson, I wish
you would fetch the man Martin, will you?"

Martin came, stolid and indifferent without, followed presently by two
of the liveried footmen. They glanced down at the body for a minute or
two before Dwight swept them from the room.

"You all identify your master, of course," he said. "I only want you for
the purpose of identification. And now, Mr. Lantary, what about the dead
man's relations? You know most of London Society people. Has he any
relatives in town?"

Lantary looked down with his glass firmly screwed in his eye.

"I may be wrong," he said. "One never knows, of course, but I should be
very much surprised, Inspector, if you, or anybody else, can discover
any of Murdstone's relatives in London; in fact, I don't believe that he
had such a thing in the world."




CHAPTER IV.


"Are you altogether serious?" Dwight asked.

"My dear chappie," Lantary drawled. "Even I have my serious moments, and
I want you to believe that this is one of them. I am no friend of Mr.
Murdstone's, but I have my own reasons for a certain, shall we say
feminine curiosity regarding the career of the late Felix Murdstone. It
is nothing whatever to do with this case, but I do happen to know that
Murdstone has no relations that is, in the sense that he is one of those
aloof persons who seemed to come into the world without anybody being
responsible for his being. Call him a self-made man if you like, who
didn't want the world to know that he came out of--well--the gutter, and
say, for the sake of argument, that his name wasn't Murdstone at all.
But, really, this has nothing to do with the case. Who his enemies may
be, or why he has come to this end, I don't know more than you do, but I
am aware of the fact that you will have the greatest difficulty in
establishing the fact that the unfortunate Murdstone had any next-of-kin
at all. And that is that."

Dwight did not deign any reply. He and his colleague were hunting round
the room for clues, but the end of half an hour failed to produce
anything of the slightest moment. Nor, so far as the two inspectors
could find, were there any finger-marks whatever besides those of the
deceased himself.

"Well, I think that is about all we can do for the present," Dwight
said, finally. "I am going to lock up this room and put the official
seal on the door. There is no occasion to call in the police surgeon
to-night. He can do no good, and I should think the deceased has been
dead for a couple of hours, at least."

"But there will be an inquest, won't there?" Lantary asked.

"Of course. And, I presume, a post mortem, too, though, as to that
matter, it will be for the doctor to say."

"Would you mind my being present?" Lantary asked. "I mean, at the post
mortem; or, at any rate, would you mind if I came along to-morrow
morning when the doctor is here? Of course, I can't say that I can do
any good, but I do think that I have spotted a little thing that may
have a very important bearing on this case."

"And what may that be?" Dwight demanded.

"Ah, that, my dear fellow," Lantary smiled, "is little Willie's secret.
You may allow me to come or not, just as you please, but if you don't
you may come to regret it."

Dwight shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"Oh, well," he said. "It doesn't matter one way or the other. If you
like to make an appointment with the police surgeon over the telephone,
I cannot see any possible objection."

With that, Lantary sauntered, almost casually, from the room, and went
along to the little conservatory at the back of the dining-room, where
he had left Kindermere and his companion. He knew perfectly well that
they would not be disturbed and that no servant had gone near them. The
household would be gathered together downstairs talking over this grim
and unexpected tragedy to the exclusion of everything else. And in this
Lantary was perfectly correct, for there, in the conservatory, the
others were more or less impatiently waiting for him to return.

"Ah, here you are," he said. "Just as I anticipated. Now, Miss Glynn,
you can't possibly stay in this house to-night. There is nobody here but
the servants, and I am afraid you would have a rough time of it even if
you did remain. Besides, there is nothing to stop you. I suggest that
you go up to your bedroom and rummage about until you can find some sort
of outdoor costume, and, after that, between us we will find you some
sort of shelter."

"That I have already arranged," Kindermere explained. "It's frightfully
late, of course, but that rather erratic aunt of mine goes to bed at all
sorts of times----"

"By Jove!--the very thing!" Lantary cried. "You are talking of Lady Eva
Manfred, of course!"

"Yes--that's right," Kindermere said. "I have just been telling Miss
Glynn all about her. She won't mind in the least if I knock her up and
ask her to take Miss Glynn in for a few days--or a few weeks for that
matter."

"It's very good of you," Alcie said gratefully. "But are you quite sure
that Lady Eva will not mind my----"

"She is the dearest old soul in the world," Lantary interrupted.
"Eccentric to a degree, of course, and a member of all the queer
societies on the face of the earth. But she has got a heart of gold.
Why, she will be positively grateful to get a chance like this. Now, you
nip off upstairs and see if you can't find some sort of change of kit
while I run out and get hold of a taxi. You need not trouble about the
servants--they are all down in the basement discussing this tragedy like
a lot of ghouls round a body. And they won't care whether you are in the
house or not."

Ten minutes later Alcie was down again, dressed for the street.
Moreover, she carried a big suitcase in her hand.

"I managed to find my wardrobe," she said. "It was hidden away in the
sort of cubby hole on the landing where I sleep. And now I am ready to
go with you anywhere."

It was, perhaps, the best part of an hour later that Alcie found herself
seated in the drawing-room of one of the big flats in Portland-gardens,
telling her strange story to a little, bright-eyed woman with grey hair,
and the face of an amiable hawk, who was seated opposite her,
half-hidden in the folds of a gay kimono.

"What an extraordinary story!" Lady Eva Manfred exclaimed, when the
dramatic events of the evening were told. "You poor, dear child! Ah!--it
only seems the other day that your father was the handsomest officer in
the Red Guards. And so popular, too. My dear, you are going to stay here
just as long as you like. And don't you think you will be the least
trouble, because you won't. And now I am going to put you to bed. You
must be worn out after all this excitement. Roy, you can go as soon as
you like, and take Mr. Lantary with you. Oh, yes, you can come round to
lunch to-morrow, if you like, but not too early, if you don't mind."

Lantary saw Kindermere as far as his bed-sitting-room in Flight-street,
and then walked thoughtfully home to his rooms. By this time dawn was
beginning to show in the east, so that the little man with the eyeglass
concluded philosophically enough that it was a waste of time to go to
bed, particularly as he had a heavy day before him. He had his own
peculiar reasons for taking more than a passing interest in the
Marrion-square affair, and, indeed, it occupied him to the exclusion of
everything else as he sat smoking one cigarette after another, until it
was time for his bath and breakfast. Then he changed into a lounge suit,
and, once he had broken his fast, he got on the telephone with the
intention of calling up the police surgeon, Dr. May.

At the third attempt he was successful.

"That you, May?" he asked. "Good! This is Lantary calling. Remember me,
don't you? Over that Redhill affair. Yes, of course you do. Have you
heard anything from Scotland Yard yet with regard to trouble last night
in Marrion-square?"

"Oh, yes," the voice at the other end of the wire said. "You mean
Murdstone. Inspector Carson has been round this morning to tell me all
about it. Also he told me he got most of his information from you. But
Scotland Yard doesn't seem to be very fond of you. What have you been
doing to them?"

"Oh, mere professional jealousy," Lantary said airily. "Of course, I am
only an amateur at the game, and not one of those wonderful beings who
know more than all Scotland Yard put together. You know, the sort of
chaps you read of in books. My line is the society game. Blackmail and
family troubles, black sheep that go astray, and, really, I am not bad
at that sort of thing. And I was in Marrion-square last night almost
purely on chance. Not altogether chance, you understand, but it was just
a toss up whether I went or not. And now I am glad I did, as you and
Scotland Yard will find out before the day is over."

"But what's all this about?" the voice asked.

"Oh, yes, I was almost forgetting that. You are going to make an
examination of the body this morning, aren't you?"

"Yes. I have arranged that for 11 o'clock."

"Good, then I am coming along. Mind you, that was a promise Dwight made
to me last night. Any post-mortem?"

"Well, that I can't say yet, but I should think not. There is no great
occasion for that sort of thing when a man has been so obviously
murdered."

"But an inquest, of course."

"Oh, undoubtedly. Not to-day, or even to-morrow, maybe, but why are you
so anxious with regard to the inquest?"

Lantary made some inconsequent reply and promptly rang off. At the hour
appointed he found himself inside the library at Marrion-square,
together with Dr. May and Inspector Dwight, and taking apparently the
most languid interest in the proceedings. It was not until the doctor
had finished his examination that he spoke.

"Are you going to make a postmortem?" he asked.

"No occasion for that whatever," the doctor replied. "The man died of a
stab administered by some person unknown, and that is about all that the
inquest will prove."

"I hope so," Lantary said softly as he rubbed his hands together. "I
sincerely hope so. In the best interests of justice, I should be sorry
if anything startling transpired. Now, look here, Inspector, how many
people have identified that body?"

"The butler, Martin, and two of the footmen," Dwight explained. "You
were quite right as to the relatives. I have been trying all the morning
to trace them, and have utterly failed. Mr. Murdstone had an office in
the City, and neither of his clerks nor his manager can tell me anything
about his antecedents."

"Just as I expected," Lantary murmured. "And now for my little surprise.
You say that the body has been identified."

"Haven't I just told you so?" Dwight snapped.

"Yes, I know you did. But you told me wrong. Because the man lying there
on the carpet isn't Murdstone at all."




CHAPTER V.


Inspector Dwight smiled with the tolerant air of one who listens to the
prattling of a little child. The mere idea that the man still lying
there, on the floor of the library in Marrion-square, should be anybody
but Felix Murdstone was too ridiculous even to argue about. There he
was, in his own house, where he had been identified by two footmen, to
say nothing of Martin, the butler, who could not possibly be mistaken.
And yet, here was this chubby-faced little man with the eyeglass
solemnly proclaiming that the body on the floor belonged to somebody
else.

"Well," Dwight said. "I have heard some strange statements in my time,
but if you will pardon me for saying so, nothing more ridiculous than
the remark you have just made. Perhaps you will be good enough to tell
me exactly what you mean."

Lantary smiled in his turn.

"You don't seem to have much imagination," he said. "That is the trouble
with you Scotland Yard people. You pin yourselves down to what appears
to be a fact, and there is no getting you away from it. You don't read
many novels, I suppose?"

"Novels?" Dwight scoffed. "What have novels to do with it? I have
something much better to do."

"Ah, that is rather a pity," Lantary lisped. "Because things are not
always what they seem. When I tell you that the man lying there is not
Felix Murdstone, I am telling you no more than the truth. Now, let's see
exactly how things pan out. I find Murdstone, at least the man we regard
as Murdstone, lying here, dead, and, obviously, murdered. I want to call
your attention to the fact that the library window is a French one, and
opens on to the garden. Being a hot night, it was open, so that anybody
could enter from outside. It is a quiet garden, with plenty of shrubs,
and, at the end of it, is a door leading into a lane. Please don't
forget that. What I want to impress upon you is the fact that anybody
could have stolen into the garden and thence into the library, where
Murdstone was all alone. And that somebody killed him, beyond the shadow
of a doubt."

"But Murdstone is lying there," Dwight said.

"Oh, no, he isn't, as I am going to prove to you presently. We will rule
out the two footmen, if you like, because their evidence isn't worth
much. They were in too great a state of agitation last night to take
particular notice of the body. But Martin is a different affair
altogether. Martin is going to prove my case. We will send for him
presently, but, meanwhile, I am going to set a little trap. You see, I
am a student of psychology, and I have come to the conclusion that I
don't like Martin. There is something wrong about him. To begin with,
when I told him last night that his master had been killed, his attitude
was just a little too conventional. I don't say he didn't carry it off
very well, but it struck me that he was acting. However, we will see.
Dr. May, would you mind lending me the signet ring you are wearing on
your little finger? It has your crest, I presume?"

May took the ring from his finger and handed it over to Lantary who
proceeded to slip it on the hand of the man lying there on the floor.
Even Dwight, with all his contempt for the amateur detective, appeared
to be interested.

"Thank you," Lantary said. "Now, Inspector would you be good enough to
ring the bell and tell somebody to ask Martin to step this way? The rest
you can leave to me."

Martin came a few minutes later, quite cool and collected and perfectly
deferential in his manner.

"You sent for me, gentlemen," he murmured.

"I sent for you," Lantary said. "Now, look here, Martin, I suppose there
is no doubt whatever that it is your late master who is lying there, on
the floor. It seems a strange thing to say, don't you know, but it is
just possible that you might have made a mistake. Of course, I know that
you identified Mr. Murdstone last night, and so did the footmen, but we
want to be absolutely sure."

"Absolutely sure, sir?" Martin exclaimed. "There can't be any possible
doubt about it. I have been in my master's service for years. I was with
him, both in America and South Africa, long before I ever expected to
end my days as a butler. We had a rough time of it abroad, before the
tide turned, and Mr. Murdstone made all his money."

"Has he many friends?" Lantary asked.

"Well, no, sir, he hasn't. Sort of man who kept to himself. And as to
relations, I don't believe he has one in the world. If you think there
is any doubt, sir----"

"Oh, I am not suggesting that for a moment," Lantary interrupted. "All
we want is to make absolutely certain. Your evidence and that of the
footmen is quite sufficient for all practical purposes. There is only
one thing, and that is in connection with the signet ring on Mr.
Murdstone's finger. I mention this because it occurs to me that I have
seen something very like it years ago. I suppose it isn't a recent
purchase?"

"Oh, dear no, sir," Martin said glibly. "My master has had it for years.
He bought it in an old curiosity shop in New York many years ago. In
fact, he has worn it ever since. Looked upon it as a sort of mascot, he
did."

"Oh, well, it doesn't matter very much," Lantary said carelessly. "Of
course, there will be an inquest to-morrow, and you will have to come
forward and identify the body. For the present, at any rate, we shan't
want you any more, Martin."

The butler bowed deferentially, and left the room. Then Lantary turned
triumphantly to Dwight.

"There," he cried. "What do you think of that? You saw how beautifully
he fell into the trap I laid for him? You saw how glibly he lied. Of
course, he took it for granted that Murdstone was in the habit of
wearing a signet ring, and he made up his mind, on the spot, that he had
never noticed it before. Of course, it is quite possible for a man to
wear a ring, and somebody who comes in contact with him every day should
not notice the fact. In other words, he was so anxious to identify the
body that he was quite prepared to swear that Dr. May's ring belonged to
his master. Have you any comment to make, Inspector?"

"Well, it is certainly very strange," Dwight admitted. "And I am quite
prepared to take off my hat to you for the cleverness with which you
lured Martin into telling a stupendous lie. Of course, you had some
reason for doing so."

"Of course, I had," Lantary said. "First of all, I wanted to prove that
Martin's evidence was worth nothing, and, in the second place, I want to
convince you that the body lying there is not Murdstone, but that of
somebody else. For some reason or another, Murdstone wanted to
disappear, and he laid his plans accordingly. If that is so, and there
is no reason to doubt it, Murdstone must have been in contact with a
double. It might have been a twin brother, or somebody who bore a
remarkable resemblance to him. You see what I mean? If I am correct, and
Murdstone is the scoundrel that I take him for, then you can understand
the advantage of being able to prove an alibi if Murdstone ever found
himself in a tight corner. My theory is that Murdstone lured his alter
ego into the house last night by means of the garden gate, and
deliberately murdered him, so that he could disappear. It wouldn't be so
very difficult when you come to think of it. The double is invited here
at a certain time, and warned to put in an appearance in such a way that
no one would know how he had entered the house. And that is not quite
all. Just look at this."

With that, Lantary bent over the body, and, with a knife which he took
from his pocket, lifted a portion of what appeared to be a wig from the
dead man's head. It was only a tiny fragment, but quite sufficient to
show that the hair was false, and that it had been attached to a shaven
skull by something that might have been fish glue. But it was quite
sufficient to convince Dwight that Lantary knew what he was talking
about.

"There you are," the latter said. "What did I tell you? The double was
lured here last night, and promptly murdered. There would have been
plenty of time to shave his head with a safety razor and glue the wig on
the head. Then, when the body was found, Martin came forward and
identified it. Of course, that was all prearranged. Oh, I know it sounds
fantastic to a degree, but I think you will agree that the thing is
quite possible. Of course, Martin is in the conspiracy. Otherwise he
wouldn't have lied so glibly over Dr. May's signet ring. Murdstone's
idea was to get himself comfortably dead and buried and go on, fully
convinced that he was free to carry on his nefarious career, whilst the
police were under the impression that he was comfortably tucked away in
the cemetery."

"You seem to know a lot about it," Dwight said.

"Yes, I do," Lantary smiled. "I know that the fellow was a blackmailer
of the worst type. I know that he was expecting a good many thousand
pounds from a friend of mine and that was why I was on his track.
Probably he discovered that he was in danger, and, accordingly, carried
out the ingenious scheme by which he got rid of his double and
disappeared at the same time. When his affairs come to be investigated,
you will find that he is not a millionaire at all, but that, on the
contrary, he it desperately situated and almost penniless."

"Yes, that is all very well," Dwight said. "But when this cunning scheme
of his is made public----"

"My dear sir," Lantary said impressively. "If you will take my advice,
you won't make the scheme public at all. You will allow Martin to give
his evidence at the inquest and leave the world to think that Murdstone
is in his grave."




CHAPTER VI.


"What on earth for!" Dwight cried.

"I am afraid you are not quite so subtle as I thought you were," Lantary
gibed. "My dear sir, can't you see what I am driving at? If we let the
world know that Murdstone is just a common murderer he will at once be
on his guard and it will take you all your time to lay hands upon him.

"Whereas, if he is allowed to labour under the delusion that the police
regard him as dead and buried, then your task will be infinitely easier.
You know now that Murdstone in alive. And another thing. You know that
Martin is aware of the fact. Martin is in the conspiracy. And Martin
will be certain to get in contact with his pseudo dead master. What I
want you to do is to keep all these discoveries of ours a secret and not
mention them at the inquest. Then you put one of your scouts to watch
Martin, and, if you don't mind, I shall be greatly obliged if you will
let me know when Martin gets in actual contact with the man who is
supposed to be in his grave. If you make the real facts public you are
going out of your way to make difficulties for yourself. And, at the
same time, you will prevent me from carrying out the scheme that I have
at the back of my mind. Now, think it over a minute or two before you
decide one way or the other."

"Yes, I believe you are right," Dwight agreed. "Really, Mr. Lantary, I
must compliment you on the way in which you have handled this business.
You don't look like a detective, and that rather silly manner of yours
must be a valuable asset. Yes, it shall be as you say. I will put one of
my men to keep a close watch on Martin, and, directly he discovers
anything of importance, I will let you know. Is there anything else I
can do for you?"

Lantary left the house a little later and, in the course of the
afternoon, looked up Kindermere and told him exactly what had happened.
There was no reason why he should keep this startling discovery a secret
from his friend, all the more especially as Kindermere was indirectly
interested in the plot.

"All the same," he said. "I wouldn't mention this to Miss Glynn, if I
were you. By the way, how is she? It is rather a curious fact that I
used to know her father quite well."

"Oh, did you?" Kindermere cried. "Where was that? How long was it before
he died?"

"Well, he didn't die in the ordinary sense of the word," Lantary
explained. "I don't know whether she has told you the story or not, but
Rupert Glynn was drowned in a yachting accident somewhere off Cannes.
That, of course, was before she came to England, at her father's
request, to stay with Murdstone. As a matter of fact, Rupert Glynn was
little better than a card sharper. He had to leave his regiment in
connection with a card scandal, and, of course, resigned from all his
clubs. Then he went to the South of France, where he could more or less
obliterate himself and, at the same time, find his way into society of a
sort, though he ran the risk of being recognised and exposed. But I am
quite certain that his daughter is absolutely ignorant of her father's
past. You see, one way and another, he made a good deal of money by
consorting with young fools bitten with the gambling fever, I was one of
them."

"You?" Kindermere cried. "You?"

"Yes, me. That was about three years ago, before I cut my wisdom teeth.
I used to fancy myself with the cards, and was under the impression that
I was confoundedly unlucky when, all the time, I was being rooked right
and left by the set I got into, a set that was headed by Rupert Glynn.
But, mind you, he really wasn't a bad sort. There were times when he
bitterly regretted his past, and I don't believe he would have embarked
upon a swindling career if it hadn't been for the affection that he had
for his daughter. You see, he was compelled to make thinks comfortable
for her, and the only way he could do it was through the medium of the
card-table. At any rate, he saved me from making an utter and complete
fool of myself. That was at Monte Carlo. He asked me to dine with him
one night, and, after dinner, he told me all about his past and showed
me exactly how those scoundrels were robbing me of my money. You see, he
and my father were in the same regiment. That was probably the reason
why he opened my eyes. At any rate, it was an object lesson to me, and,
since then, I have never touched a card, unless it was with my own
friends. I know there were times when he didn't know where to turn for
money, and I suppose that was why he sent his daughter over to London to
stay with Murdstone. What the connection was between those two, I don't
know, but I am going to find out. I strongly suspect that they were in
some conspiracy together. But, of course, that is merely conjecture."

"It seems to be an extraordinary tangle," Kindermere commented. "At any
rate, Alcie Glynn is safe for the present with that eccentric old aunt
of mine. She can stay there as long as she likes, because the old lady
has taken a fancy to her, and, so far as I can gather, used to be a
friend of her mother's. But, be that at it may, she knew Alcie's father
well enough, because I heard her say so. She told me that he was the
handsomest man in the Red Guards, and, of course, she must know all
about the scandal, though even to me, she has not mentioned it, so far.
I was having lunch with them to-day, and we were talking things over.
Alcie's idea is to get her own living. She wants to go into a shop, or
something of that sort. But my aunt won't hear of that. Of course, she
might go to her own relations, but she tells me that her mother's
marriage gave mortal offence to them, and she is too proud to make the
first advance. If I could only do anything----"

"You could," Lantary smiled. "You could marry her."

Kindermere flushed to the roots of his hair.

"That's rather a poor joke," he said. "She's is a very beautiful girl,
and undoubtedly she possesses all the courage of her race. But, after
what you have told me, I am all the more anxious to do what I can for
her. I am not what you call precisely a ladies' man, Peter, but----"

"Yes, you needn't say any more. I can quite see how things are. Love at
first sight, and all that sort of thing. But, my dear chap, you will
forgive me if I remind you that you are as poor as she is. When that old
relative of yours dies----"

"Ah, then it would be quite another matter," Kindermere sighed. "Here am
I, getting my living in a way that I am positively ashamed of, rubbing
shoulders with the new rich, who are only too anxious to have the heir
to an earldom under their roofs and advertising the fact in the
newspapers. Women like Mrs. Leverson, for instance. A good dinner and a
20 note. Just enough to keep me in food and clothes and pay for my bed
sitting room. And yet, some of these days, I shall have goodness knows
how many thousands a year and a castle to live in. But the old gentleman
may live another ten years yet, and I couldn't offer myself to any girl
in circumstances like these. I have put my pride in my pocket more than
once, but Kindale will have none of me. It wasn't my fault that his
sister married my father. And, by the way, before I forget it. Do you
know that Mrs. Leverson is a friend of Murdstone's? I never met him at
her house, but I know that he used to go there pretty frequently and
that he did business with Leverson."

"That is interesting," Lantary said. "And all the more so, because
Leverson is one of the very new rich. In fact, I have heard some strange
stories about him. After what you have told me, I think I will keep an
eye upon that son of Israel."

It was three days later before Lantary heard anything from Scotland
Yard. Then one of the detective staff called upon him with a certain
piece of information.

"Inspector Dwight asked me to come and see you, sir," he said, "with
regard to the man Martin. I followed him last night to a house in the
neighbourhood of Clapham, and there he stayed for some little time, I
wasn't near enough to hear whom he asked for, but it was some man who, I
gathered, was lodging in a terrace and, directly Martin gave his name,
he was admitted. It was quite late at night, and nearly eleven o'clock
before Martin came out of the house and walked across the Common. He was
evidently afraid of being followed, because he had his coat collar
turned up and his hat pulled down over his eyes. I lost sight of him at
a turning in the road, and I was near enough to the house to see another
man come out of the house and go in the same direction. I can't exactly
tell you why, sir, but this other man gave me the impression of one who
had come out to take a little exercise. Sort of furtive, like a man who
is hiding from justice and waiting till night to get a breath of fresh
air. I can give you the address, and, if you want me any further, of
course, sir----"

"No, I think that will do," Lantary said. "You give me the address, and
I will make it my business to keep an eye on the house till Martin turns
up there again."

Two nights later Lantary strolled up and down outside the terrace near
the Common, and, just before ten o'clock, his patience was rewarded by
the sight of Martin coming down the road. A distant clock was striking
eleven when Martin left the house and, almost immediately was followed
by a man who emerged furtively and walked down the road in the direction
of the Common. As he came under one of the electric light standards, he
was in full sight of Lantary for a moment, but that moment was quite
long enough.

Lantary fairly staggered back.

"The dead back from the tomb," he muttered to himself. "Surely I can't
be mistaken. What on earth does it all mean? If that man isn't Rupert
Glynn, then I can't believe the evidence of my own eyes. Rupert Glynn,
drowned in the Mediterranean, and yet at the same time hiding in a
tenement house near Clapham Common! The plot thickens."




CHAPTER VII.


It was characteristic of Lady Eva Manfred that she received Alcie with
open arms. She would have done that with any one who had been brought
along to her by her beloved nephew. She asked no question, mainly
because she already knew a great deal concerning the past of her guest.
Roy Kindermere had only to tell his relative that Alcie was the daughter
of Rupert Glynn for her to rise to the occasion and do all she could to
make things smooth for a girl who was alone in the world and absolutely
penniless.

Not that Lady Eva had too much to spare for herself. Without being
exactly grande dame, she was a notable figure in society, living in that
comfortable flat of hers in Portland Gardens, where she entertained on a
limited scale, and was, herself, welcomed in some of the best houses in
the land. So far as her limited means were concerned, she was
open-handed enough and transparent to a degree.

But there was one thing that she did not tell her nephew when he came to
her, bringing Alcie to the shelter of that welcome roof. She did not
tell him, for instance, that she had been something more than a friend
of Rupert Glynn's in the old days, and that, perhaps, in happier
circumstances, she might have married him. That was one of the precious
things that she kept to herself, so that when Alcie came along she was
only too delighted to make her welcome and do all she could for the
girl's welfare.

She would have helped Kindermere if she had been in a position to do so;
indeed, on more than one occasion she had thrown out one or two strong
hints in that direction; but he, knowing exactly how she stood from a
monetary point of view, had curtly refused to receive a single penny at
her hands.

And now, in her impulsive way, she was working out a romance in her
mind. It seemed impossible that any man who had once met Alcie could be
absolutely indifferent to her. Roy would fall in love with her if he had
not done so already, and, in the course of time, would marry her. It did
not occur to the old lady that Roy was practically a pauper, and that
Alcie was as poor herself as he was. True, in the course of time, when
the Earle of Kindale had joined the majority, Roy would be a rich man
and in a position to give Alcie everything that a girl could require.
But then, the Earl was by no means on his last legs, and, in the
meantime, would certainly refuse to do anything for the man who, some
day, would step into his shoes.

More than once Lady Eva had gone out of her way to approach the miserly
old nobleman with a view to inducing him to do something for Roy, but he
had turned a deaf ear to her persuasion, and, indeed, had let Lady Eva
know pretty plainly that he did not want to hear from her, and that, if
she was foolish enough to go down to his place in Devonshire, he would
refuse to see her.

A good deal of this Alcie had gathered from a casual conversation with
Roy. In the meantime, Alcie could stay where she was, and so far as the
future was concerned she need not have the least anxiety. She would have
a home until such time as Roy was in a position to claim her for his
wife.

"You are more than good to me," Alcie said gratefully. "Indeed, I don't
know how to express my thanks for all that you are doing for me. But,
dear Lady Eva, put yourself in my place. Do you think you could possibly
allow yourself to be dependent on the charity of anybody? Really. I must
find some occupation. Oh, I know that you were very friendly with my
father in the old days, but that does not give me the right to force
myself upon your hospitality."

"But, my dear girl, what can you do?"

"I don't know," Alcie said sadly. "You see, I have been brought up to do
nothing all my life. There were times, of course, when we were very
poor, and times when my father seemed to have plenty of money. He never
talked to me about his affairs, and, naturally, I was under the
impression that he had some sort of an income. It was only when he met
his death in the sea that I realised that there was nothing for me. And
that was why I was so grateful when Mr. Murdstone came to Cannes and
told me that my father wished me to live under his roof. I was under the
impression that my father had money coming to him, but that it was held
up, owing to some intricate law business which Mr. Murdstone had
undertaken to put right. You can imagine what a shock it was to me when
I found out that I was not only penniless, but being used as a sort of
decoy in a house where young men came for the purpose of gambling. A
prisoner. There is no other word for it. I have already told you how I
was kept in that dreadful house, just as if I was in jail. There is a
mystery somewhere, which I shall never solve, but it doesn't matter very
much now that Mr. Murdstone is dead. But I must find some way of getting
a living. I can't possibly stay here, eating the bread of charity.
Perhaps you might get one of your friends to find me a situation in a
milliner's shop. You know the sort of thing I mean. There are so many
girls in my position to-day who are earning their living behind a
counter. Do you think you could manage it?"

Lady Eva smiled reassuringly.

"Of course, my dear," she said. "If you really want to get your own
living that way, then I dare say I can help you. But you mustn't be
impatient. Now, go along with Roy and enjoy yourself. You are looking
quite pale and worn out for want of exercise and fresh air. You must
have had a dreadful time in Marrion-square, and I am not going to let
you stay in the house, worrying yourself about the future. Go and put
your hat on. Roy will be here in a few minutes, and I am going to ask
him to take you on the river for the afternoon. He will be only too
delighted."

"I was going to suggest something of the kind myself," Roy said, as he
entered the flat a few minutes later. "What are we going to do with her,
aunt? I only wish I could help."

"Oh, I know what you wish," Lady Eva laughed. "You would like to take
her away from here and look after her for the rest of your life. Now,
confess, aren't you half in love with her already?"

"It isn't a question of half," Roy said. "My dear aunt, I believe that I
am as sentimental as you are. Of course, you have made up your mind that
some of these days Alcie and myself will get married. Well, there is
nothing I should like better. I believe I fell in love with her the
first moment that I cheeked myself into that swagger house in
Marrion-square."

"A regular romance," Lady Eva exclaimed. "Just the sort of episode that
would appeal to the average novelist. But what have we to do? You know
what a limited income mine is, and, even if I offered to help you----"

"I should gracefully refuse. I have tried all my friends and I have
answered every advertisement that seemed at all likely, but nobody
appears to want the services of an old public school boy who wasted some
of the best years of his life in the war. Of course, there are thousands
like myself, driving taxi-cabs and breaking stones on the road. The only
thing I can do is to make another appeal to that flinty-hearted old
relative of mine. But, of course, he will refuse to help me, even to the
extent of a pound a week."

"I am afraid he will," Lady Eva said sadly. "It is very strange that
people who have plenty of money should be absolutely incapable of
enjoying it, or doing the slightest good with all their wealth. Kindale
locks himself up in that beautiful old house of his, and the only thing
that interests him is something in the way of a new find in the form of
a picture or piece of antique silver. And the worst of it is, he may
live another ten years. That is a dreadful thing to say, but the world
would be all the better for his loss. Now, you run away with Alcie, and
leave me to try and work out something for your mutual benefit."

It was a golden afternoon on the river for those two, practically alone
in the world, seated in a punt under the shade in a back-water, and
taking their tea, which Lady Eva had provided in a lunch basket for
them. Such an afternoon when youth forgets all the troubles and trials
of the world and thinks nothing of the future.

It was easy enough for Roy to forget that he was practically a pauper,
living in a bed-sitting-room, and only getting a decent meal when some
friend asked him out, or when he was spending his spare time in the flat
in Portland Gardens.

"It is a beautiful world, Alcie," he said. "And the only drawback is the
people in it. Not that I am worrying much about myself, because, so long
as I have a roof over my head and a bit of bread and cheese to eat, I am
fairly content. But you? What is going to become of you? That is what
worries me."

He bent towards her and took her hand in his. It lay there naturally
enough and, as her eyes met his, a delicate flush rose to her cheeks. He
was not making love to her, and in some subtle way she knew the reason.
She knew, without a single word from him, exactly what his feelings
were, and she knew that she had met the one man in the world for her.

She laughed just a little unsteadily.

"Oh, I dare say I shall manage," she said. "Lady Eva wants me to stay
with her, but you can see that it is impossible that I should do so. I
don't think you will like me any less because I am too proud to be
dependent upon other people, I dare say I can find a place in one of
those society shops in Dover-street, or one of those places where
aristocratic ladies sell frocks for about five times the price they
cost. Or even a parlour maid. Don't you think I should make a very good
parlour maid?"

"No, I don't," Roy smiled. "I don't mean that you would have any
difficulty in learning the duties, but fancy a girl as sweetly
attractive as you are answering the front door to a man about town. Why,
he would want to make love to you on the spot."

"Then there is only one thing for it," Alcie laughed. "I shall have to
start life as a land girl. Perhaps that eccentric, old uncle of yours
would give me a job on one of his farms."

"By Jove," Roy cried. "That's not a bad idea. Sounds like a chapter from
a romantic novel, doesn't it?"




CHAPTER VIII.


Naturally enough, the tragedy at the house in Marrion-square gripped the
public imagination, so that, when the inquest came to be held, there was
a rush to be present to hear what would obviously be sensational
details. As a matter of fact, there was nothing that even the Press
could make much copy from. When the police came to make inquiries, they
discovered that Felix Murdstone was not a millionaire at all, but, on
the contrary, he had been up to his neck in debt. Even the house in
Marrion-square was not his own, but had been rented furnished from an
absentee landlord, who had not even received his first quarter's rent.
The office in the city boasted no more than two clerks, and, when they
came to be cross-examined they had to admit that their work was more or
less of a sinecure, and that such correspondence as came to the firm was
invariably dealt with by Felix Murdstone himself.

The room in which the inquiry was held was crammed to its utmost
capacity. The first witness called was Countess Visconti. It will be
remembered that the marriage of her daughter had taken place at
Marrion-square, which had been lent to her for the purpose of the
wedding reception and the evening party afterwards.

"He was an old friend of yours, I suppose?" the coroner asked.

"I couldn't go quite so far as that," the witness answered. "I met Mr.
Murdstone some months ago at Monte Carlo, where we were on very friendly
terms. When I came to England for my daughter's wedding he offered me
the use of his house, as I had no residence of my own, and I gladly
accepted it. Of course, like most people, I was under the impression
that he was a millionaire, who had made his fortune in South America or
South Africa. I am not quite sure which. At any rate, he was very kind
to me."

The big, handsome woman with the dark, flashing eyes and pure olive
complexion gave her evidence with complete self-possession. All the
same, Lantary, who was watching the proceedings with the keenest
interest, seemed to detect a certain uneasiness behind the calm manner
in which the witness was speaking. And he was certain that she left the
witness-box with a sigh of relief.

"That woman knows a great deal more than she proposes to tell," he
whispered to Kindermere. "Of course, Murdstone might have extended his
hospitality to her in his princely way, but I feel perfectly sure that
there was some quid pro quo. A man who was practically bankrupt didn't
spend at least five hundred pounds on a comparative stranger out of pure
generosity. I am going to keep my eye on that beautiful mystery, and,
unless I am greatly mistaken, she will be useful later on. However, that
will keep."

With that, Lantary moved from the place where he was seated, and took
his stand in the witness-box. He, as the public knew from the Press, was
the first person to find the dead body lying in the library in
Marrion-square, and it was just possible that he might have some
sensational disclosure to make.

"I understand that you were in Marrion-square on the night of the
murder?" the coroner suggested. "Were you a friend of Mr. Murdstone's?
Or were you a guest of the Countess?"

"Well, I might say I was neither, sir," Lantary said, in that peculiarly
simple way of his. "It was a mutual friend who procured me the
invitation to the dance, and I went because I knew something of Mr.
Murdstone, and I wanted to ask him a question concerning a certain
matter, which is outside the scope of the inquiry."

"That, I think, is for me to decide," the coroner said. "You have just
told us that you had your own reasons for going to the house and that
you wanted to see Mr. Murdstone on some private business. Would you mind
telling me what that business was?"

"With all due deference to the court, I must decline to do anything of
the kind," Lantary said amiably. "I have talked that matter over with
Inspector Dwight, who has the case in hand, and he quite agrees with me
that, in the interests of justice, it would be wrong to go into that
particular question at the present moment."

The coroner turned and looked at Dwight.

"Is that so, Inspector?" he asked.

"Quite right, sir," Dwight said. "We have our own reasons for keeping
certain matters a secret. And I might remind you, sir, that the witness
has come forward at the request of Scotland Yard because he was the
first person to see the body."

"Oh, quite so," the coroner said. "Quite so. It doesn't matter much
either way. Now, Mr. Lantary, if you please."

"Certainly, sir," Lantary said. "I reached the house rather late in the
evening. He was rather a reserved sort of man and not in the least
interested in the festivities. What his reasons were for lending his
house to the last witness, I don't know, but he sort of obliterated
himself and shut himself up in the library. After a time I went into the
library, and the first thing I saw was Mr. Murdstone, lying on the
hearthrug in front of the fireplace with a wound in his chest. The
weapon was lying by his side, and practically in his hand. He was quite
dead, as I saw at the first glance."

"Isn't it just possible that it might be a case of suicide?" the corner
asked.

"Ah, that is not for me to say," Lantary replied. "It might have been.
But, then, there were signs of a struggle, a chair overturned, and the
inkpot on the writing-table dripping on the floor. Still, Dr. May, who
was called in by the police, might have a different view. Personally, I
think it is a case of murder. I have my own reasons for saying so, but,
as they are only theories, I hesitate to mention them to the court."

A few more questions, and Lantary sauntered to his seat. Followed Dr.
May, who had been called in to examine the body.

"Do you suggest suicide?" the coroner asked.

"No, sir, I don't," the witness said promptly. "I am quite certain that
Mr. Murdstone was murdered. Everything points to that--the open window,
the garden at the back, and the gate leading to a lane behind. Moreover,
Mr. Murdstone was in the library by himself for the best part of an
hour, as Martin, his servant, will tell you. I don't see how a man could
commit suicide in the particular way in which the thing happened. To
begin with, he was lying flat on his back, with the knife thrust through
his shirt front and deep into the heart. If he had taken his own life
the knife would have remained there, because, with such a wound, the
victim would have died instantly. Moreover, he would not have fallen on
his back, but on his face. Who ever committed the crime must have been
standing opposite the dead man, and struck him suddenly with tremendous
force with a dagger, which the police will produce, over the heart. Only
a strong man could have done it. Then the victim would have fallen
backwards, just as he was found, and, no doubt, the knife was dropped by
his side after the murderer had struck the fatal blow. My idea is that
the assassin was alarmed by some sound, and made his way out into the
garden, leaving the knife behind, which he certainly would not have done
had he not been apprehensive of being disturbed. I have no doubt it was
a case of murder."

Once May had left the witness box, Martin came forward and corroborated
the doctor in his statement. It only remained for Inspector Dwight to
produce the dagger, which he did.

"Is there any chance of tracing the weapon?" the coroner asked.

"Ah, that I cannot say at present, sir," Dwight replied. "It is rather
an uncommon pattern, and evidently bought for the purpose, because it is
absolutely new. I don't propose to call any more witnesses to-day, sir,
and, with your permission, I should like to have the proceedings
adjourned for a fortnight."

It was all over at length, and the crowd streamed out into the street.
Kindermere turned to speak to Lantary, but the latter had already
vanished. Nor did he approach his friend for the next two or three days,
seeing that he had certain inquiries to make which took up all his time.

It was on the third night that he set out and made his way as far as
Clapham Common. There, neatly disguised, he hung about the mean street
to which Martin had been traced on the off chance of once more seeing
the man who came out late in the evening with a view to taking exercise
on the Common. It was the second night that he had come down into the
neighbourhood, and he intended to haunt the place until he found that
for which he was looking.

He hung about the street until nearly midnight without the slightest
sign of Rupert Glynn. It was easy enough to hide under cover of the
darkness in the porch of the next house, and there he stood with
infinite patience waiting for something to turn up. He would stay there
till just after midnight, concluding that if he remained as long as that
without seeing anything of Glynn the latter would not make his
appearance--at any rate, on that night.

A clock somewhere in the neighbourhood was sounding twelve, and the
whole locality was apparently sunk in slumber, when footsteps came
echoing down the street. Lantary, alert on the instant, came out of his
hiding-place and lay full length behind the railing, so that he could
see the door of the next house. Then he saw a tall, muscular figure of
an elderly man with rather long, grey hair and a flowing beard and
moustache. As Lantary hoped, the stranger pulled up in front of the
house where Glynn was hiding and knocked on the door. Almost immediately
it was opened, and Glynn himself came out and fronted the stranger.

"Well?" the latter said. "Well? So, you see, I have found you. It's no
use trying to hide from me."

Glynn staggered back.

"Good God, Murdstone!" he cried. "A clever disguise, but I recognise you
by your voice. I suppose you want to see me?"

"That's the idea," Murdstone said.




CHAPTER IX.


Murdstone hesitated just for a moment whilst Glynn stood aside so that
he might pass.

"Anybody in the house?' the former asked.

"Nobody you need be afraid of," Glynn sneered. "Nothing more formidable
than my aged landlady, who is deaf and half blind, and who has probably
been asleep for the last two hours."

With that he led the way along a passage dimly lighted with a spot of
gas to a dingy sitting-room at the back of the house, which evidently
represented his own quarters. It was dirty and shabbily furnished, and
about it clung the atmosphere of stale tobacco.

"My rooms," Glynn said. "Quite palatial, aren't they? Sit down in the
arm chair. The springs are broken, but it is not so uncomfortable for
all that. Let me offer you a whisky and soda. The cigarettes are on the
mantelpiece."

Murdstone helped himself liberally, and lighted a cigarette. He seemed
to be quite at home, and not at all disturbed by the angry gleam in the
eyes of his involuntary host.

"Now, what precisely is it you want?" Glynn asked. "I don't know how you
managed to track me down here, nor does it matter much. But, since you
are here, we might just as well have a heart to heart talk. To begin
with, what have you done with my child?"

"Well, really, I can't tell you," Murdstone said, coolly. "When the
bottom fell out of that little scheme of mine, I had to think of myself,
and get out of the fix as best I could."

"Yes, you would," Glynn snarled. "But when I allowed Alcie to come to
England, and you promised her a comfortable home under your roof, I
didn't expect that you would leave her to the mercy of the world.
Though, God knows, I have every reason under the sun for distrusting
you. I am a bit of a rascal myself, Murdstone, but I am an angel of
light compared to you."

"Oh, what's the good of quarrelling!" Murdstone said. "You may believe
me or not, but I fully intended to play the game when I suggested that
your daughter should come to England. You were on your last legs, and
didn't know where to turn for a five-pound note, which meant that you
would have to find accommodation somewhere about as good as your present
quarters. I told you that I had made a fortune. I told you that I was
practically a millionaire, and that I had taken a house in
Marrion-square, where I meant to settle down and become a respectable
member of society."

"That you never would be," Glynn said.

"Well, perhaps not. At any rate, I was on to a real good thing. It meant
that I should, more or less, be the permanent master of the house in
Marrion-square, and have the spending of something like twenty thousand
a year. And so I did, for a time."

"Blackmail, of course."

"Well, you can call it that if you like. It was blackmail. You see, I
managed to get hold of some compromising letters written by Harold
Mostyn to a certain lady, who shall be nameless. But, of course, you
know all about Mostyn."

"Up to a certain point," Glynn said. "I know that Mostyn was a young
fool, who came into something like a couple of millions of money when
his father died, and I knew that you had your eye on him when he was in
the Riviera a year ago. A poor, timid creature, who hardly dared to call
his soul his own."

"Quite right," Murdstone smiled. "Tame as a rabbit. And afraid of public
opinion. Not a gentleman, of course, because his father made all that
money during the war. Mostyn had social aspirations, and he quite
believed me when told him that I could get him the entree to the best
society in London. It was at my suggestion that he bought a lease of the
house in Marrion-square and furnished it like a palace. And then I led
him on. Of course, there was a woman in the case."

"Yes, and I can guess who the woman is," Glynn said. "Countess Visconti.
Posing as the wife of a passionately jealous Italian count, who would
not have hesitated to shed blood had occasion called for it. I can see
the whole scheme just as plainly as if I had been in it myself. Of
course, the Countess got hold of him, and he was fool enough to write
her a whole lot of compromising letters."

"Precisely," Murdstone said coolly. "And, of course, those letters came
into my hands. In other words, the lady in the case made me a present of
them. On terms, of course, because she is not the woman to play a part
in a scheme like that without getting her share of the plunder. My game
was to pretend that the bogus count had found out all about it, and that
unless he was handsomely paid for his silence something very serious
would happen. In fact, I had that young fool in the hollow of my hand.
He lent me his house, and he gave me all the money I asked for."

"Well!" Glynn asked. "And what then?"

"Ah, then some one else came on the scene. I don't know how on earth it
was that Mostyn got acquainted with him, in fact. I rather suspect that
the god in the car sought his friendship. You know the man I mean. A
silly ass sort of individual who is by no means the fool that he looks.
I am alluding to Peter Lantary."

Glynn almost started to his feet.

"Peter Lantary?" he cried. "Why, of course I know him. I knew his people
intimately."

"One of the cleverest little devils that ever breathed," Murdstone said
bitterly. "He looks like a congenital idiot, but there is a brain behind
that eyeglass that I would give a bit to possess myself. Anyhow, by some
means or another, he got in contact with Mostyn, and, of course, knowing
something of me, he tumbled to what was going on. He laid a nice little
trap for me, and I was fool enough to fall into it. Not a police trap,
you understand, but a private detective affair and two or three people
listening to what was going on. Then, of course, the whole thing came
out, and if I hadn't disappeared, Lantary would probably have had me
arrested. At any rate, he knocked the bottom out of my little scheme and
practically ordered me out of the house. No more money from Mostyn as
far as I am concerned, which is pretty rotten, because it looked to me
as if I was tiled in for life. You see, I had got Mostyn under my thumb,
and I could bleed him to any extent. Fact is, I was much too clever.
Anyway, that is done with, and, besides, that American affair isn't
finished with yet. So I decided to disappear."

"So I gather," Glynn said. "And let me compliment you upon your make-up.
You look the benevolent old philosopher to the life. But was there any
real reason why you should murder John Tilson? Couldn't you have managed
it without running a risk like that?"

"Oh, then you know all about it, do you?"

"My dear man, of course I do. I read the papers regularly, in fact. I
have practically nothing else to do. And when I saw that Felix Murdstone
had been killed in the library of the house in Marrion-square, then I
knew exactly what had happened. Was it really worth such a terrible risk
as that?"

"Well, at any rate, I thought so," Murdstone replied. "You see, my
scheme was wrecked, and I could not have gone on at Marrion-square
anyhow. And then there was that business in America. I felt pretty sure
that Lantary would not be satisfied to let me get off scot free, and
that he would put the New York police on to me. If he had done so, then
I should have been extradited, and, at the very least, got off with five
years in Sing Sing prison. So I lured Tilson to Marrion-square, and
killed him. Oh, I am telling you all this in cold blood, but it was a
horrible business all the same. I had to disappear in circumstances that
pointed to my own murder. I laid my plans very carefully, and everything
was ready when Tilson came into the library, through the garden, and I
was alone in the room waiting for him. I stabbed him to the heart, and
he died without so much as a groan. You know how he has been acting as
my double all these years, and how easy it would be for me if I had half
an hour or so at my disposal to make that gruesome corpse look exactly
like Felix Murdstone. Well, I did it, and now I am free. The police are
under the impression that Felix Murdstone is in his grave, and they will
never guess that the individual who sits here is actually the man who
committed the crime. I am living very quietly in a private hotel in
Evesham-road, under the name of Rogers. I have a certain amount of money
to go on with, and it will be hard luck if I can't get on my legs
again."

Murdstone sat there, telling the story as quietly as if he were relating
some incident in everyday life. He sipped his whisky and soda and smoked
his cigarette with an air of tranquil enjoyment that almost aroused the
admiration of Glynn, horrified as he was by this cynical confession of a
brutal crime.

"So that's that," Murdstone concluded. "And now, perhaps, you will be
good enough to tell me your side of the story, because I didn't look you
up for the mere purpose of asking after your health."

"No, I suppose not," Glynn sneered. "You must have had some powerful
motive for letting me know that you had got Tilson out of the way as you
have done, though, of course, I guessed what had happened directly I saw
the Marrion-square affair reported in the papers. But if you think you
are going to drag me into any more schemes of yours then you are vastly
mistaken."

"Turning honest, I suppose," Murdstone gibed.

"Well, comparatively so, at any rate. After all, there is a good deal of
difference between a mere card sharper and a cold-blooded murderer. When
I made my great mistake, and fell away from grace, I had to get my
living in the easiest way possible, and, being expert at all sorts of
card games, that struck me as the best way of providing a home for that
girl of mine. But I never deliberately cheated, at least not to any
great extent. But I did a foolish thing, and placed myself within the
reach of the police at Monte Carlo. And that is why I worked that
business that might have been either drowning or suicide. I might have
known that you would find me out, and put Martin on my track. But no
more of it, thank you. And now, what has happened to my child? What have
you done with her? Curse you, I am going to know."




CHAPTER X.


"Upon my word of honour, for what it is worth, I cannot tell you,"
Murdstone said, and it was evident that he was speaking the truth. "I
was in the very devil of a tight place, and there was no time to lose.
Of course, when Tilson's body was found, everybody had to clear out of
the house, and I suppose Alcie went with the rest. Mind you, I did make
inquiries. The house in Marrion-square is shut up until the owner returns
from the Continent, and, for the moment, at any rate, Martin remains
there. Of course, he knows all about it. So I saw him and asked him if
he knew what had become of Miss Glynn. He told me that he hadn't the
slightest idea. I suppose he told you the same thing, because it was he
who tracked you down here at my suggestion. You can always depend upon
Martin when you want anything of that sort done. But, honestly, my dear
chap, I haven't the remotest idea where your daughter is."

Glynn sat thinking the matter over for a minute or two.

"I believe you to that extent," he said. "Now, who was the last person
you saw before Tilson came into the library at Marrion-square, and you
murdered him!"

"Lantary," Murdstone said. "And I only wish to Heaven that I had taken
his life instead of Tilson's."

"Then Lantary probably knows where Alcie is," Glynn said, with something
like a sigh of relief. "I am obliged for the information. I will look
him up, because he is an old friend of mine, and I once did him a very
good turn. And you needn't come here any more, Murdstone. You and I have
finished. I am pretty certain you came here to-night with some cunning
scheme for making money in which I was intended to play a part. And,
though I have very little money left, I am not going to rub shoulders
with a man who has committed cold-blooded murder. And, mind, none of
your dirty tricks. It is no use threatening me with the French police,
because if you do anything of that sort, then I shall ask to see
somebody of authority at Scotland Yard and acquaint him with the fact
that Felix Murdstone is not in his grave, but very much alive. Oh, I am
not in the least afraid of you. At the worst it will be no more than a
term of imprisonment for me, but a hanging matter as far as you are
concerned. And, now, when you have finished your drink, I shall be
exceedingly pleased to see the last of you."

It was utterly useless for Murdstone to show his teeth, for he
recognised clearly enough that the man he had hoped to enlist in a new
scheme of robbery had the whip hand of him. A little later on, he left
the house and walked down the road, with Lantary about a hundred yards
behind. And when, at length, the latter had tracked his quarry as far as
Evesham Road, he went quietly back to his own quarters, thinking that he
had not wasted his time.

It was about tea time the next afternoon when Lantary walked along the
Embankment in the direction of Scotland Yard. Once there he asked for
Inspector Dwight, and was ushered into the latter's private room, where
Dwight was awaiting him.

"Well," the inspector asked, "Any news?"

"Quite a lot, old bean," Lantary said, in his most inconsequent manner.
"I know exactly where to put my hand upon Murdstone and how beautifully
he is disguised. Of course, you can arrest him any moment you like, but
I shouldn't do that, if I were you, at least not until we get to the
bottom of a very pretty conspiracy. You can arrest Murdstone, of course,
but it isn't much use doing that until we have some information as to
the man he murdered. Who the fellow was, and why Murdstone wanted to get
him out of the way, are two things that are utterly beyond me for the
moment. Besides, you can't very well arrest a man for the murder of
another man who is not in his grave, unless, of course, you know who the
victim was, and what was his connection with Murdstone. That we have got
to find out. And I shan't be satisfied until I do. I suppose you haven't
had any inquiries in the last day or two for any individual who is
missing from his home?"

"No, I can't say I have," Dwight admitted. "I see your point. And you
think that Murdstone is playing some deep game?"

"I not only think that, but I know pretty well whom he expected to help
him in his latest scheme. You see, Murdstone had to clear out of
Marrion-square because the game was up as far as Mostyn was concerned.
And Mostyn may be back at any moment."

"You don't mean to say that Mostyn is in it, too?" Dwight exclaimed.
"Why, Mr. Mostyn is a millionaire!"

"Yes, I know that. And millionaires, especially half witted ones like
young Mostyn, are just the sort of prey that men of the Murdstone type
are always looking for. But perhaps I had better tell you all about it.
You see, the house in Marrion-square belongs to Mostyn, and most people
are under the impression that it was let furnished to Murdstone, who was
one of the new millionaires who made a fortune in South America or South
Africa. As a matter of fact, Murdstone is nothing of the sort. He is an
adventurer of the worst type. And I happen to know that the New York
police would be only too pleased to know where to lay hands upon him.
Now, Mostyn did a very foolish thing. He came in contact with a certain
woman with whom he became infatuated; and he made the usual common ass
of himself. The whole thing was worked out by Murdstone, together with
the woman, and for months past they have bled that young fool nearly
white. There is an apocryphal husband in the background--the usual type
of jealous, bloodthirsty, foreign husband who would not hesitate to cut
Mostyn's throat if he discovered what was going on. I need not tell you
this husband doesn't exist at all. But the mere threat of his being in
the land of the living was quite enough to frighten Mostyn out of his
life. Then Murdstone, pretending to be Mostyn's friend, goes to him and
tells him that certain letters of his have fallen into the hands of a
blackmailer, and that he, Murdstone, is only too willing to redeem them
at a certain price. Can't you see how easily the thing was worked?
Mostyn was persuaded to hide himself somewhere in Italy until the matter
was amicably settled, and in the meantime let Murdstone have the run of
his cheque book. Mostyn was in such a funk that he told a friend of mine
the whole story, and that friend suggested that I should be called in to
see what I could do in the matter. You see, I have a reputation amongst
society people for being able to deal effectively with blackmailers. So
I laid a neat little trap for Murdstone, and he, regarding me as nothing
better than a fool, fell head long into it. Then I was able to tell him
what I thought about him, and give him a few days to consider his
position. I told him I must have those letters back, and that he must
clear out of the house in Marrion-square, without delay. Which, in his
own fashion, he did. And that is why, when you came to investigate his
affairs, you discovered that he was practically a bankrupt. Also, I was
perhaps foolish in letting him know I knew of his past in America, and
that I had every intention of putting the New York police on his track.
It is quite evident that he has been working for years with another man
who is so like him that in case of trouble there was no great difficulty
in proving an alibi. And then Murdstone had his happy thought. He would
disappear in such a way as to convince the world that he had been
murdered, whilst all the time he was the murderer himself. One of the
cleverest schemes that has ever been conceived in the brain of a
criminal. And now, perhaps, you can see why it would be just as well
that you should hold your hand a bit until Murdstone makes the next move
in the game. He has no money, at least no money to speak of, and he must
find some before long, or his position will be precarious. I think you
can leave me to keep an eye upon him."

"Yes, that will be all right," Dwight said. "I shall be only too pleased
to have your assistance. You say you know where the man is living and
exactly how he is made up."

"Yes, you can take that for granted. I know where he was last night, and
I know the man that he is after to help him in the next scheme for
plundering some unfortunate individual. Mind you, Dwight, I am
personally interested. I don't mean interested to the extent of seeing
the man hanged, but interested because certain friends of mine are mixed
up in the crime. There is a man who once was a gentleman holding a
commission in the Red Guards, which he had to leave in consequence of a
card scandal, and I know where I can put my hands upon him at any
moment. In fact, he did me a very good turn some three years ago, and I
am not disposed to forget it. Also, he has a daughter who was under the
roof of the house in Marrion-square on the night of the tragedy.
Murdstone would give a great deal to know where she is at the moment,
and I would gratify his curiosity if I felt that way inclined. She is a
beautiful girl, and absolutely innocent of the vicious circle in which
she has been entangled. Also, unless I am greatly mistaken, one of my
particular pals is in love with her. But that we can leave for the
moment. Now, reverting back to the night of the tragedy. You will
remember that Martin came forward and identified the body of his
master."

"Yes, I saw that," Dwight said.

"Of course you did. But didn't you notice that Martin took the whole
thing quite coolly. I mean, he didn't seem to be in the least agitated.
It was just as if he had expected trouble."

"You think that Martin knows all about it?"

"That it exactly what I do mean," Lantary smiled. "I thought so at the
time. Martin knows as well as we do that Murdstone is still alive, and
that the body found in the library in Marrion-square was that of another
man, whose identity we have to discover. You see, your detective tracked
Martin as far as a certain house near Clapham Common, and when he came
and told me that I made it my business to keep an eye on Martin myself.
And the very thing I expected to happen did happen."

"You mean that Martin is in the conspiracy?" Dwight asked.

"I am absolutely certain of it," Lantary replied. "And I am all the more
certain after what happened last night. Oh, yes; Martin holds the key to
the situation all right."




CHAPTER XI.


Peter Lantary had not meant precisely what he said when he told
Inspector Dwight that the man Martin was the key to the situation or
that, at any rate, he held the key to it. He did not doubt for a moment
that Martin was one of the prime characters in the criminal cast, but
there was one individual, at any rate, who could have told the police a
great deal more. Naturally enough, Lantary wanted to get to the bottom
of the business, but he wanted to do it in his own way, and show
Scotland Yard that there were other people outside the organisation who
could handle a mystery just as well as those who had been trained in the
tracking down of professional criminals. Also, he had been just a little
piqued by the way in which Dwight had treated him in the first instance.
The inspector had, first of all, been inclined to smile at Peter's
suggestion that the dead man was not Murdstone at all. And when he had,
at length, been convinced that such was the fact, he had not gone out of
his way to congratulate his amateur colleague. And Peter, with his sense
of humour, and his persistent leg-pulling, was not likely to take
Scotland Yard into his confidence until he was ready for the grand coup,
which he began to see dimly shaping itself before him.

All the same, he wanted Martin carefully watched, and he saw no reason
why Scotland Yard should not do what he called the donkey work, whilst
he himself was engaged on the finer points of the problem. And the real
critical point lay somewhere between Murdstone and the woman called
Countess Visconti.

Just for the moment, at any rate, he did not propose to introduce the
Countess to the notice of Dwight. It was quite plain to him that Dwight
had not associated the beautiful adventuress directly with the crime,
and there was no reason why he should until Lantary was in a position to
put all his cards on the table.

"Ah, that will be all right." Dwight agreed. "I will put a special man
on to shadow Martin, and let you know exactly what the latter is doing
from day to day. Is there any more you want to tell me? Anything else in
the back of your mind?"

"Several things," Lantary smiled. "But, if you don't mind, we will leave
them out for the moment. You go your way and I will go mine. If you get
to the gaol first, then I shall be only too ready to congratulate you.
And if I score a bull's eye, then I will come along to you and show you
the target, so to speak."

With that, Lantary helped himself to one of Dwight's cigarettes, and
drifted out on to the Embankment. Just for the moment he had nothing in
particular to do, nor was he concerning himself greatly with the
conspiracy until late that night, when he had made up his mind to drop
into the house near Clapham Common and give Glynn a more or less
pleasant surprise. In the meantime he would go and call upon Lady Eva,
with whom he was a great favourite, and who was always pleased to see
him. He was fortunate enough to find her alone at lunch time, for Alcie
had gone off for the afternoon somewhere with Kindermere, so that the
coast was clear.

"Now you just sit down and make yourself quite at home," the old lady
said. "You are going to share my lunch with me, and we are going to have
a confidential talk afterwards. I want to know a good deal about Alcie,
which she hasn't told me herself, mainly for the reason that the child
has been kept more or less in the dark by that unfortunate father of
hers. Ah, dear, it seems only the other day that he was one of the most
popular men in London. A handsome fellow, who might have married
anybody. Then came that terrible scandal, and he had to disappear."

"He wasn't married then, was he?" Peter asked.

"No, he wasn't," the old lady replied. "And that is just where I blame
him. He always had been in love with Alcie's mother, and when he found
himself disgraced and practically penniless it was a very selfish thing
on his part to marry her. He ought never to have allowed her to make the
sacrifice she did. Perhaps she was foolish, but, knowing all about it,
she refused to release him, and became his wife in the face of the
bitterest opposition from her own people. They turned their backs upon
her, and she had nothing whatever to do with them until the day of her
death. I believe I was the only one that she ever wrote to, though she
always refused to come and see me, and, when I made an attempt to seek
her out in the South of France, she managed to evade me. Of course, I
can't tell the child all this, especially now that her poor father is
dead.

"But he isn't dead," Lantary said quietly.

"Not dead!" Lady Eva exclaimed. "Why, he was drowned in the
Mediterranean. I read about it in the papers."

"All the same, he wasn't drowned," Lantary explained. "You see, in some
way or another he got into the hands of that scoundrel Murdstone, and,
rather than join the rascal in some of his nefarious schemes, he hit
upon the happy idea which led people to conclude that he was either
drowned or that he had committed suicide. But I don't think any of the
papers you speak of mentioned the finding of the body. As a matter of
fact, I know where he is."

"What, here in London?" Lady Eva asked.

"Certainly he is here in London. I am not going to tell you where,
because, for the moment, it is just as well that he should be hiding
where he is. Mind you, the last person who is to learn this is Alcie.
There are reasons why she should be kept in the dark until I am in a
position to speak, and I am going to ask you to regard what I am saying
in the strictest confidence."

"Why, of course," Lady Eva said. "You are a very clever young man,
Peter, though few are aware of the fact. I know you will tell me all
about it when the proper time comes. Meanwhile I am very much worried
about the child. She is quite welcome to stay here as long as she likes,
but that pride of hers gets in the way, and she insists that she must go
out and get her own living. And here is Roy over head and ears in love
with her, and she with him. If only I had a little more money of my own!
But then, you see, my income is only an annuity, and goes elsewhere when
I die. I have been thinking about Alcie ever since she came here. And I
have got a bit of a scheme. You know that Roy will be a rich man one of
these days, when he is the Earl of Kindale, of Kindale Castle, with
something like 40,000 a year. But then Kindale may live for another 10
years. You know all about it. You know what a miserly, dried-up specimen
of humanity he is. I suppose I am the only woman in London who ever told
him candidly what I thought of him, and, really, I don't think he liked
me any the less for it."

"Oh, I know all about him, of course," Peter said. "He collects old
silver and old books, and probably has one of the finest libraries in
the world. He comes to London once in about five years, and stays at his
club. Do you think if I saw him----"

"No, I don't," Lady Eva interrupted. "I am going to see him. And I will
tell you why. It is his hobby to farm his own homestead, where he loses
quite a lot of money over his poultry. Not that that matters much, but
he thinks nearly as much of those Rhode Island Reds of his as he does of
his books. My idea is to induce him to give Alcie a job on his poultry
farm. As a matter of fact, it was her suggestion. I shall tell him who
she is and all about her, and, if I can induce him to give her a job,
then I think I can leave the rest in her hands. I don't see how any man,
even Kindale, could resist a girl like Alcie, and, at any rate I am
going to do my best to get a job in Devonshire."

"Now that is not half a bad idea," Lantary smiled. "But how are you
going to manage it? I understood from Roy that the dear old gentleman
declined to see you when you went down to Devonshire, and that he
refuses to even make Roy a small allowance. Really, it is a scandalous
thing that a man living on a quarter of his income, should sit quietly
down and let his successor starve for all he cares. Still, when he sees
Alcie, as I hope he may, he will perhaps take a fancy to the girl. And
if I were you I wouldn't let him know that she cares anything whatever
about Kindermere. What is going to happen if you go down to Devonshire
and he refuses to see you again?"

"Oh, I am not going down to Devonshire," the old lady laughed. "There is
a big sale of books at Sotheby's next week, one of the biggest sales
that has taken place for years. And I am quite sure that Kindale will
not be able to resist the temptation of coming up for it. Then I shall
force myself upon him, and it won't be my fault if he doesn't give Alcie
her chance. I know from a neighbour of his that he is always changing
his poultry maids, probably because they have such a dull time of it in
that big, dreary house. At any rate, I can only fail, Peter."

"Well, it's a pretty sound scheme, all the same," Peter grinned. "And I
wish you luck over it. If the old man takes to Alcie, and she makes
herself essential to his commercial experiments, then, perhaps, it will
soften the old man's heart. At the same time, we are talking a great
deal of nonsense. Just as if we were writing a sentimental novel
together. But one never knows."

It was well after 11 o'clock that evening when Peter Lantary made his
way as far as the mean little street on the edge of Clapham Common. He
did not want to take any risk, so that he had to wait until he was
assured that neither Martin nor Murdstone were likely to call upon Glynn
that evening. He could see, by the faint light shining through the glass
over the door, that Glynn was still up, and it was just on the verge of
midnight when he tapped very softly on one of the panels and waited
until Glynn appeared.

He came shuffling along the passage and flung the door open with a
defiant air. Then as suddenly his manner changed, and there was
something like a smile on his face when he recognised Lantary.

"You?" he cried. "Peter Lantary. Does all the world know that I am in
London? Don't you know that I am supposed to be dead? How did you find
out that I am hiding here?"




CHAPTER XII.


"I can't very well tell you that, standing on the doorstep," Peter
grinned. "I don't want to force myself upon you, but if you ask me
inside, then I think I shall be able to tell you a few things that will
interest you."

"Oh, come inside by all means," Glynn said. "If there is one man in the
world I want to see more than another at the present moment, you are
that individual. Come in, my dear, boy, come in. Let me offer you a
drink and something to smoke."

"That is very good of you," Lantary said, as he dropped into a chair in
the dingy little sitting room. "I dare say you are wondering why I am
looking you up, and what brings me here at this time of the night. I had
to come so late, because I don't want to run either into Murdstone or
his man, Martin."

"You know all about that, do you?" Glynn cried.

"Yes, I know all about that and a great deal more. I know that Murdstone
is supposed to be in his grave, while, at the same time, he is walking
about London, most beautifully disguised, and passing as a certain
Professor Rogers, who is connected with one of the American
universities. I know that he has been here to see you, and that Martin
managed to discover your hiding place. You see, my dear old chap, I want
to put all my cards on the table, just as I want you to show me your
hand. You know as well as I do that Murdstone murdered somebody who
called to see him by arrangement on that dramatic night in
Marrion-square, and I shall be greatly surprised if you are not in a
position to tell me that unfortunate man's name."

"Oh, I can give you that, of course," Glynn said. "You see, on and off,
I have been under Murdstone's thumb for years. We have done some
disgraceful things together, but there came a time when he wanted to go
a little too far and I had to decline to share his diabolical schemes.
So I decided to disappear. The only trouble in the way was my daughter,
Alcie. You see, I was right at the end of my resources, and I had not
the slightest idea what was going to happen to the poor girl. Then
Murdstone came to me with a story of how he had made a fortune, or at
any rate, had the spending of one. In his own peculiar fashion he was
rather fond of Alcie, and when he offered to look after her and make her
more or less the mistress of that big house in Marrion-square then I
decided to take advantage of his promise, and let her go. Of course, it
was a foolish thing to do, but in the circumstances I had no
alternative. So she went to London, under the impression that I was
lying somewhere at the bottom of the Mediterranean, and, for the time
being, I was content for her to believe it. You see, I don't want her to
know what a scoundrel her father is. She never dreamt how I managed to
get a living, though she must have wondered sometimes how it was that we
were alternately prosperous or on the verge of abject poverty. Anyway,
to make a long story short, Alcie came to London. And then after I had
settled down here, to look round with a view to finding something to do,
I was more than alarmed and startled to read the story of that murder in
Marrion-square. You see, I happen to know a man called Tilson, who bears
more than a passing likeness----"

"Ah, now we come to the point," Peter exclaimed. "So Tilson is the name
of the man who was murdered. I suppose he was one of Murdstone's
satellites, and quite under his sway. I can perfectly understand the
advantage Murdstone saw in having a man about him who bears so strong a
likeness to that rascal that they might easily pass for one another. My
theory is that Murdstone had got himself into serious trouble, and that
the only way out of it was to lure Tilson into Marrion-square and murder
him quietly in the library, after which, with the aid of a proper
disguise outfit, he could pass off the dead man as himself. He could do
that all the more easily with Martin to come forward and swear that the
man lying on the hearthrug in front of the fireplace was Murdstone
himself."

"Yes, that is exactly how I figured it out," Glynn said.

"And you are right--you are quite right. Murdstone was living in
Marrion-square on the fat of the land, having got the unfortunate owner
of the house in his power, owing to a conspiracy between himself and
that beautiful vampire called Countess Visconti."

"Oh, so she was in it, was she?" Glynn cried.

"Beyond the shadow of a doubt, dear old thing. Murdstone and she have
been playing that game for years. The lovely woman living apart from a
jealous husband, and luring rich young men to make love to her and write
her compromising letters. But I stopped that game so far as Harold
Mostyn was concerned, and Murdstone would have had to clear out of
Marrion-square within the next few hours, whatever happened. But you
read the account of the inquest in the papers, and you know that I was
the first to find the body of the sham Murdstone. I understand that the
Countess's daughter married fairly well, and that she knew no more of
her mother's double life than Alcie knows about yours. So, you see----"

"Just one moment," Glynn interrupted. "What had become of Alcie? That's
the one thing I want to find out."

"Oh, Alcie is all right," Lantary explained. "At the present moment she
is staying with an old friend of yours, Lady Eva Manfred."

Glynn heaved a deep sigh of relief.

"Thank God for that," he cried. "There was a time when I might have
married Lady Eva, and I probably should have done if I hadn't met
Alcie's mother instead. Of course, I am perfectly satisfied to leave
Alcie where she is. But, sooner or later, she must know the truth. And,
in any case, she is the last person in the world to allow anybody else
to keep her. How did she manage to get to Lady Eva's house in the first
instance?"

Lantary proceeded to explain at some length.

"Ah, well, you don't know what a relief to me it is to hear what you
have to say," Glynn murmured. "So the child is more or less in love with
Roy Kindermere, is she? Well, she might do a great deal worse. His was a
good record during the war and I believe he is as clean as the average
man can be. But what has he got to live on? I am sure the old earl
allows him nothing."

"Of course he doesn't," Lantary said. "It would be quite a pleasure for
the old gentleman to know that Roy was keeping body and soul together by
breaking stones on the road."

"Yes, I know he has that reputation, but, all the same, I have very good
reason to know that Kindale is not quite as bad as he is painted. In his
early days he met with a bitter disappointment--a love affair which
changed his whole nature. As a matter of fact, I met him three or four
times when Alcie was a little girl, and I was taking it easy in Algiers,
after I had brought off a successful coup with cards. Nothing to boast
of, of course, but for the time being, at any rate, I was leading an
honourable life. And by the merest chance I was able to prevent the old
gentleman being carried off by some brigands, who most certainly would
have murdered him if I hadn't turned up in the nick of time. He was very
grateful, and offered me all sorts of things. But just then, having a
pocketful of money, it was my fancy to play the part of the preux
chevalier and refuse to accept anything but thanks. Now, I wonder if I
could do anything. I have no doubt that Kindale knows all about my past,
but, in the face of what I have told you, he might consent to seeing me
the next time he comes to town, and, if Alcie still wants to go on the
land, as you tell me she does, then I don't see how Kindale can very
well refuse to give her the chance. What do you say?"

It was getting on towards 2 o'clock in the morning before Lantary
reached his own quarters and went to bed, feeling that his time had been
by no means wasted. He would call upon Lady Eva in the course of the
day, and give her an account of his interview with Glynn. But, as it
happened, Lady Eva had gone out of town for a day or two, and taken
Alcie with her. Lantary wondered if Kindermere had gone as well, but he
found the latter an hour or two before dinner at a loose end in his
bed-sitting room.

"I have been looking for you all over the place," he said. "I have got
simply heaps of things to tell you, old man. I can't stay just now
because I want a word or two with Inspector Dwight before he leaves his
office. So get into your glad rags and meet me at the Carldorf at eight
o'clock, when we can have a bit of dinner together. Unless you have
something better to do."

Roy accepted eagerly enough, and Lantary went on his way to Scotland
Yard, after which he changed, and made his way to the grill room of the
Carldorf. He had hardly settled upon a table before he caught sight of a
radiant vision in red, seated behind a clump of palms, evidently waiting
for a companion. Without the slightest hesitation, Lantary crossed the
floor and accosted her.

"Ah, Countess," he said, "I thought you were out of town. And who is the
fortunate individual you are waiting for?"

The Countess turned those wonderful eyes of hers smilingly in the
direction of the speaker. It seemed hard to believe that a woman with a
complexion like hers and a fresh beauty that compares with that of a
mere girl should be on the wrong side of forty, and that she should be,
moreover, one of the most dangerous women in Europe. But there was
nothing in the expression on Peter's face to imply anything but the
deepest admiration, and perhaps even something that conveyed a deeper
feeling.

"No, I have not been out of town," she said. "I have been up to my eyes
in business. But now that my daughter is out of the way I can relax a
little. Ah, here comes my friend."

As Lantary turned, he saw Murdstone come sauntering across the floor,
quite at his ease. In his flowing, grey hair and beard and moustache, he
might have passed for some great statesman or divine.

"Ah, Professor," the Countess said, "I did not expect you quite so
early. Let me introduce you to my friend, Mr. Peter Lantary. This, Mr.
Lantary, is Professor Rogers, of Cornell University in the United
States. He is so learned that I am almost afraid of him."




CHAPTER XIII.


"Quite an honour," Lantary stammered as if overcome by his good fortune
in meeting so distinguished a man. "Is this your first visit to the old
country, sir?"

The individual called Rogers was understood to say that it was. He was
absolutely and entirely at his ease and Lantary secretly admired the
magnificent piece of acting that the Countess's friend was putting over
for his benefit. Had he not known the identity that was concealed behind
that benevolent mane of hair and that long, flowing beard, he would
never have guessed that he was face to face with Felix Murdstone. In all
his experience, it was the finest piece of make-up he had ever seen.
Even the voice had changed, there was no trace of any of those little
mannerisms peculiar to Murdstone, and certainly his bland glance held no
suggestion of the knowledge that he was amiably vis-a-vis to the man who
had brought his schemes to the ground and ruined the finest coup that he
had ever made in the course of his nefarious career. He knew, of course,
who Lantary was, but Lantary, on the other hand, was perfectly certain
that Murdstone was secure in his disguise. At the same time, Lantary was
well aware of the fact that Murdstone was being utterly deceived, and in
that fool's paradise he would remain until the time came for the law to
step in and interfere.

"Yes, this is the first time I have been in England," the sham professor
went on. "I am taking what I believe you call, in this country, a
busman's holiday. You see, old manuscript and ancient books are an
absolute obsession with me, and I am here to visit some of your finest
libraries. Not altogether as a matter of pleasure, but with a view to
obtaining certain manuscripts which we are anxious to have on the other
side. I am hoping to meet Lord Kindale in a day or two, and, indeed, I
have already written to him, asking permission to inspect his collection
in Devonshire."

Lantary successfully concealed his surprise at hearing this statement.
It seemed a strange coincidence that this amazingly clever scoundrel
should be interested in Roy Kindermere's elderly relative's collection.
And, then and there, it flashed into his mind that Murdstone was not so
much concerned in ancient manuscripts as in Kindale's magnificent
collection of old silver.

Here, then, was another side of the intricate problem, and here, also,
was a piece of information which Lantary determined to put to good
account a little later on. He excused himself a minute or two later, and
strolled off in the direction of the table where he saw that Roy
Kindermere was already awaiting him.

"You are rather wonderful," the Countess murmured to her companion.
"Fancy coming face to face in this dramatic way with the man who
practically ruined you! I was watching you very carefully, mon ami, and
you never betrayed yourself by even the wink of an eyelash."

"Ah, that is one of the advantages of being a master in the art of
disguise," Murdstone murmured. "Of course, that clever young man never
for a moment dreamt the identity of the man with whom he was face to
face. If he had, he must have betrayed himself. On the whole, I am very
glad we have met."

"It certainly makes me feel easier in my mind," the Countess said. "But
what was all that nonsense you were talking about in connection with
that eccentric old nobleman?"

"My dear friend, it was no nonsense at all," Murdstone said. "You don't
seem to understand that the unfortunate business in Marrion-square left
me almost penniless. I thought that I was on to a good thing for the
next ten years to come, and now I have got to start on something fresh.
However, I generally have two strings to my bow, and that magnificent
collection of old plate at Kindale Castle particularly appeals to me
just now. I have had my eye upon it for some time. And you are going to
help."

"Anything that I can do," the Countess murmured.

"Yes, precisely. We both want money badly, and I can't think of any
better way to obtain it. If I can get away with all that stuff at
Kindale there is a market for it in America."

"But, surely, with silver so well known----"

"Oh, that does not matter in the least. There are plenty of enthusiastic
collectors in the States who are ready to buy anything. There are scores
of historic pictures which have been stolen in Europe during the last
few years reposing in secret hiding-places across the water, and paid
for at a fancy price by collectors whose enthusiasm exceeds their
honesty. And, now, let us get to business. I asked you to meet me here
this evening so that we could lay our plans with regard to the treasures
at Kindale Castle. You are going down to Devonshire in a day or two, and
you are going to take a furnished house for a couple of months within a
few miles of Kindale Castle. Anywhere between Barnstaple and Bideford
will do. You will, of course, take a house with the servants left there,
but you will provide your own car and your own chauffeur. You needn't
stand still for a few pounds a week, because I will find that. And, the
sooner you are off the better. Meanwhile, I have an appointment with
Lord Kindale at the Athenian Club. He is in London for a day or two in
connection with a big book sale, and I am going to try and induce him to
sell me some of his superfluous manuscripts. I know that he has at least
three copies of Shakespeare's first folio, and, if I offer him money
enough, he is certain to give me the chance of buying one of these. I
shall make him a magnificent offer, which I have not the slightest
intention of carrying out, but that will give me the entree of the
castle, and we can work the scheme from that furnished house that you
are going to take over without delay. Now, just listen very carefully to
what I have to say."

Meanwhile Lantary had strolled across the room and taken his place at
the table where Roy Kindermere awaited him.

"Wasn't that the Countess Visconti to whom you were talking?" the latter
asked. "And who is the benevolent old gentleman with the mass of hair
who is talking to her?"

Lantary lowered his voice before he spoke.

"He calls himself Rogers," he said. "Professor Rogers, of Cornell
University, in the United States. One of the greatest authorities on old
books and manuscripts in the world. As a matter of fact, he expects to
be invited down to Kindale Castle to do a deal with that curmudgeon of
an uncle of yours."

"Oh, indeed?" Roy said. "Well, the old gentleman is always ready to sell
duplicates if he can get a proper price. But it is rather strange, all
the same, that you should run against the American professor just at
this particular moment."

"As a matter of fact, he isn't an American professor at all," Lantary
said coolly. "Don't look at him, please. Don't do anything to make him
suspect that we are even discussing him. But that learned professor is
none other than Felix Murdstone."

"Good lord," Roy exclaimed. "You don't actually mean that?"

"I do, indeed," Lantary replied. "Fine bit of make-up, isn't it? And,
the best of it is that Murdstone is under the delusion that he has
humbugged me as successfully as he has done other people. You would have
laughed if you had seen us talking together as if we had met for the
first time. Not, mind you, that I am blind to the serious side of the
situation, but we can't take any definite steps until we can find
somebody who will put us in touch with the friends and relatives of that
man Tilson, who lies in a grave under the name of Felix Murdstone.
Murdstone's idea, at the present moment, is to pull off a gigantic
burglary down in Devonshire and get away with all your uncle's
treasures. He didn't say so in as many words, but there is no question
about it. Still, I am going to give his complacency a bit of a shock
before many hours have passed."

"We seem to be dragged into this business up to our necks, whether we
want to or not," Roy said. "Just at the very moment when Murdstone is
planning his campaign down in Devonshire, my Aunt Eva is trying to
arrange that Alcie Glynn should go down there, too."

"What I have already ascertained," Lantary said. "I talked it over with
your aunt, and the sentimental side of the scheme appealed to her
immensely. She seems to think that your uncle has only got to see Alcie
to fall in love with her, just the same as you did. And, upon my word,
old chap, there are more unlikely things. Besides, if the girl will
insist upon getting her own living, she will be far happier doing so out
of doors than shut up in a West End shop during this hot weather. By the
way, when does your uncle come to town?"

"As a matter of fact, I believe he is in London now. He comes up at long
intervals and stays at the Athenian Club. Of course, I never go near
him, and he wouldn't see me if I asked him to. I believe he never pays
for anything besides a cup of tea, and cadges all the food he wants from
the buffet in the dining-room. But if anybody asks him out to have a
meal, why, of course, he goes. And that will be Aunt Eva's opportunity.
She will probably invite him round to her flat to dinner and make him
acquainted with Alcie. The rest, of course, will be on the lap of the
gods."

"Yes, and meantime, I am going to make it my business to get on the
track of somebody who was acquainted with that unfortunate man, Tilson,"
Lantary said. "You see, it would be a great mistake on the part of the
police if they arrested Murdstone for murder until they can establish
something definite as regards Tilson. Of course, I know that they could
lay Murdstone by the heels and strip him of his disguise, and, if the
worst came to the worst, exhume the body of the murdered man. But it
seems to me that they want something more cogent in the way of a proof
than that. That fellow Martin could tell us, but, of course, he won't.
And, unfortunately, Scotland Yard has received no inquiries with regard
to anybody who has been missing lately. You see what I mean, old bean.
Up to the present moment. Tilson is a sort of myth. And we want to turn
that myth into reality, and, quite modestly, I think I am the man to do
it."




CHAPTER XIV.


With a definite object in front of her, Lady Eva lost no time in getting
in contact with the eccentric old earl who had taken up his quarters at
the Athenian Club. She knew perfectly well that he would be found most
of the day in Sotheby's rooms, on the day before the sale, and there, at
about 4 o'clock the following afternoon, she encountered him, pottering
from table to table, and examining the various treasures through his
silver-rimmed spectacles. Outwardly at any rate, there was little of the
aristocrat about the sixth Earl of Kindale. He was clad in a shabby suit
of tweed and a soft felt hat which was fit for nothing better than the
adorning of a scarecrow in a wheat field, and, obviously, he had not
changed his collar for the best part of a week.

"And what do you want?" was his uncompromising suggestion as Lady Eva
laid her hand upon his arm.

"I don't know that I want anything particularly, Kindale," she said. "So
far as my experience of you goes, the less anybody wants from you, the
more pleased you are to see them, Still, I shall be glad if you will
come and dine with me to-night."

The old gentleman grinned and nodded like an aged monkey. "Oh, all
right, all right," he piped. "Might just as well get a meal out of you
as anybody else. The usual time, I suppose? But, mind you, I ain't going
to dress. Never dress if I can help it."

"No, you wouldn't," Lady Eva smiled. "You couldn't do that very well
without putting on a clean shirt, and adding another shilling to your
weekly washing bill. I want you to come round at about 8 o'clock and
meet a young friend of mine who is anxious to find a job on the land.
She wanted to go into a shop, but I persuaded her off that. Then I
thought of you and your poultry farm, and the difficulty you always have
in keeping your girls there."

"Quite right," the old gentleman growled. "Set of feather-headed
hussies, who are never content with a good wage and a good house over
their heads, but always want to be dancing or going to theatres, or
something of that sort. And mind you I pay 'em well. Not that I want to,
but because it is the only way in which I can get served. Three pounds a
week, and waited on as if they were part of the household. Treated as
ladies, and for the most part they are ladies. But that is not good
enough for them these times. Why, only the day before yesterday two of
them simply packed their boxes and went off without saying a word. And
here am I, short-handed, just at the busiest time of the year. If that
girl you speak of is really anxious to get her own living and ready to
work, then she can step into the job to-morrow. But she won't like it.
None of them likes it. It's too dull for the modern young woman."

"Well, at any rate, I think you will find that my young friend will be
only too anxious to do all she can to earn her salary. If you don't like
the look of her you have only to say so, and there will be the end of
it. At any rate, I can promise you a good dinner."

"Oh, I will be there," Kindale said, quite amiably for him. "But I can't
stay late. I have an appointment with an American at my club at 10
o'clock tonight. A book lover, like myself, who is anxious to do a deal
with me over some Shakespeare folios. With any luck I shall make a
thousand or two out of him. These Yanks don't mind what they pay so long
as they get what they want."

Without the slightest change in his attire, Kindale put in an appearance
at Lady Eva's flat a few minutes before eight, and was graciously
pleased to partake of a cocktail which his hostess made for him with her
own fair hands. He had had a good afternoon, he explained, and displayed
an amount of amiability which was usually out of keeping with his crabby
character.

"Now then," he said. "Where is the young woman?"

"She will be down in a minute," Lady Eva said. At the same time she
carefully omitted to mention the fact that Roy Kindermere had only left
the flat a few minutes before his lordship arrived. "I rather think you
know her name--Alcie Glynn."

"Glynn, Glynn," Kindale snorted. "Any relation to a man named Rupert
Glynn? Man who used to be in the Red Guards years ago. Got into trouble
over a card scandal and had to leave his regiment."

"Yes, that's the man," Lady Eva explained. "Only, please don't mention
that business when you come to talk to my young friend. She is
absolutely ignorant as to her father's cloudy past, and, so far as I am
concerned I want her to remain so. But, apparently, you seem to have met
Rupert Glynn."

"Met him," the old man said. "Met him. Of course I have. Know all about
him, too. A real bad lot, but, at the same time a gentleman. Still, I
never worry about anybody's past, having no particular morals of my own.
So the girl is not likely to learn anything from me. Still, I don't mind
telling you I am rather curious to see her, because Glynn did me a great
service some considerable time ago in Algiers, and saved my life. So if
I can help his daughter without going out of my way or putting my hand
in my pocket, then I will do so. What's she like to look at?"

At that moment, Alcie came into the room to answer the question for
herself. She was just a little timid, and shy and inclined to be
nervous, but she looked the old man straight in the face and answered
his questions without the slightest hesitation. She was not afraid of
him, either, which was rather a novel experience so far as his lordship
was concerned where the weaker sex was in question. At the end of ten
minutes it was quite plain that Alcie had made quite an impression upon
Lord Kindale.

"I think she'll do, Eva," the old gentleman said. "Seems to have more
common sense than most of her class. Deuced pretty too."

As he spoke, he regarded Alcie through his spectacles as if she had been
some rare specimen which he was anxious to add to his collection. He
spoke of her quite impersonally, and just as if she had not been present
at all.

"And now, young woman," he said presently. "You think that you can
tackle that job, can you?"

"I don't see why I shouldn't," Alcie said bravely. "It seems to be a
matter of hard work more than anything else, and I am not a bit afraid
of that?"

"Oh, it's hard work, right enough. Long hours, young woman, first thing
in the morning till last thing at night. But you will be well fed, and
well looked after, and have servants to wait upon you as if you were
part of the household. Of course, I don't mean that you will have meals
with me, and that sort of thing, because I never dine in the proper
sense of the word. Just a sandwich or two and a glass of wine. But you
won't be short of food. You can't get work out of people unless you feed
them properly. I am not a generous man, and I never have been. But if
you serve me properly, then I don't think you will have any occasion to
grumble. I suppose, like all the rest of them, you'll be able to manage
to get down to Devonshire in the course of a month or so."

"I can go down to Devonshire tomorrow, if you want me," Alcie said.

"Begad that's the proper spirit," the old man chuckled. "I am going back
tomorrow myself. We will go down together, and you can tell me all about
yourself. But, mind you, no first class or anything of that nonsense. I
never travelled first class in my life, and I don't want to begin now.
So let's sit down to dinner, and say no more about it."

It was a couple of hours later, after the business had been settled,
that Kindale made one of his abrupt departures, and walked back to the
Athenian Club. There he was informed that a visitor was waiting to see
him in the strangers' room, and he turned into that rather bleak
apartment, where the man who called himself Professor Rogers was seated
over an evening paper.

"Oh, here you are," Kindale said, abruptly. "You are Rogers, of course.
You want to come down to Kindale Castle and do a dicker with me over
those Shakespeare folios, what? Sorry I can't ask you to have a drink,
because we are not allowed to entertain strangers in the club. Well,
when would you like to come down?"

"Some time in the course of next week," the sham professor said. "I have
been invited to stay with a friend of mine who is taking a furnished
house near Bideford, so that I can run over in the car, and we can
discuss business. I don't mind telling you that I have an open
commission to buy what I like, so I am looking forward to more than one
deal, if your lordship is agreeable."

"Oh, my lordship is quite agreeable," Kindale chuckled. "Just drop me a
line when you are ready, and I shall be prepared to meet you any
afternoon between lunch and tea time. I have a lot of stuff that is
likely to interest you, and I am open to sell anything pretty well, if
the price is only tempting enough."

With that, Kindale dismissed his visitor with his usual abruptness, and
Murdstone went his way, well satisfied, in the direction of the small
private hotel in Evesham-street, where he was, for the moment, more or
less in hiding. So far, everything promised to work out in accordance
with his expectations. There would be no great hurry, either, though he
was getting rather short of ready money, and the sooner he was on the
spot where he had planned his next big coup the better. And, once the
thing was done, he would hurry cross the Atlantic with the stolen
treasure, and dispose of it in certain quarters, where he knew that he
would be welcomed.

Yes, it was going to be all right, this time. He smiled as he sat
smoking his cigar in his private sitting-room, working out the little
details until the jar of the telephone brought him to his feet.

"Is that Professor Rogers?" a voice asked.

"It is," Murdstone said. "Who is that speaking?"

"Nobody that you know," came the reply. "But I shall be glad if you will
tell me where I can find out what has become of John Tilson."

Murdstone reeled back from the telephone, the sweat pouring down his
face. Then pulling himself together, he essayed to reply.

But no voice came from the other end, the wire was strangely dumb.




CHAPTER XV.


For perhaps the first time in his long career of crime, Felix Murdstone
was genuinely frightened. It seemed to him that he had the whole scheme
in the hollow of his hand. So far as he could see, looking round him on
all sides, he had covered up every sign of a track. To begin with, the
man called John Tilson was dead, and buried, without the police having
the slightest idea that there had been any sort of underhand business,
and, to all outward appearances, the broken and derelict Felix Murdstone
lay in his grave.

That being so, what was there to be afraid of? There were others, of
course, who knew the inner history of that amazing murder in
Marrion-square, but Murdstone was not particularly afraid of them. He
had Martin absolutely under his thumb. Martin was unscrupulous enough
and ready for anything in the way of crime, but he was a minor rascal,
after all, and would have been hard put to it to get a living had he not
depended entirely upon the greater criminal who had bought him body and
soul.

Then there was that beautiful adventuress, Countess Visconti. True, the
time had come when she had managed a sufficiently brilliant marriage for
her daughter, and had arranged for a son-in-law to whom she might apply
when funds ran short. But, at the same time, she was a woman of the most
reckless extravagance, and money in her hands melted like snow in the
sunshine. Again there was a perfect understanding between them. For
years now they had been working together, blackmailing on two
continents, and robbing rich and foolish young men under threat of that
shadowy husband who had always remained unseen in the background.

It seemed incredible to believe that either of these two individuals
should have double-crossed Felix Murdstone with the aid of another man
of whom he knew nothing. Even at the present moment he was engaged in
half a dozen schemes, in which it was necessary to employ the assistance
of the Countess, and, of course pay her a due proportion of the plunder.
Then Martin was horribly afraid of the man for whose cunning he had so
deep and lasting a respect.

Outside, these two people, then, who was it who could possibly have
guessed at the truth buried behind the scheme which had culminated in
that dramatic murder in Marrion-square?

But Murdstone would have to find out. Possibly Rupert had something to
do with the matter. But then, on the other hand, Glynn was just as
anxious to remain modestly in the background. He could hang Murdstone,
of course, but, at the same time, he would have to come out in the open
to do it, which might result in a long term of penal servitude so far as
that broken gambler was concerned.

No, it seemed to Murdstone that he had nothing to be afraid of so far as
Glynn was implicated. There only remained Peter Lantary, but then
Lantary had only been concerned to save a weak-minded fool from further
efforts at blackmail. On the whole, he was not going to worry about
Lantary at present. All the same, he must see Martin and consult him as
to this new and unexpected development.

Meanwhile, Martin was lying low in more or less obscure lodgings
somewhere off Soho. It was not difficult to run him down, and an hour
later Murdstone succeeded in doing so. The first glance at his master's
face brought Martin abruptly to his feet.

"Is there anything very wrong, master?" he stammered.

"Ah, that is exactly what I can't tell you," Murdstone said. "Now, sit
down again and listen to me. I have just had a telephone message from
some unknown individual asking if I could tell him the whereabouts of
John Tilson."

"You--you don't mean that, master!" Martin cried.

"Indeed, I do!" Murdstone snarled. "And I want to know what it means.
You know why I had to get rid of John Tilson."

"There were many reasons," Martin suggested. "You had to disappear. And
you had to disappear in such a way that the police should be under the
impression that you were dead. And so they are, sir. I did my part right
enough, and John Tilson was buried in the grave of Felix Murdstone. And
here you are, most wonderfully disguised, the finest actor in the world,
and no one any the wiser. And now you tell me that somebody has been
inquiring of you, over the telephone, as to the whereabouts of John
Tilson. I don't see how it could have happened--I really don't, sir."

"Oh, what is the good of talking like that?" Murdstone growled. "I tell
you that an hour ago a man whose voice was quite strange to me, rang up
Professor Rogers in Evesham-street and asked for information about
Tilson. You could have knocked me down with a feather. I tell you I was
frightened, Martin."

"But where did the voice come from, sir?"

"Ah, that I can't tell you, because I know no more than you do. There
was just one question, put in a sneering voice, and, when I tried to
carry on the conversation, the telephone went dead. Whoever the man was,
he had no intention of saying anything further. But, mind you, it was a
warning--and a warning from a man who is pretty sure of his ground. Now,
look here, Martin, you know much more about Tilson than I did. He was
about the cleverest hand at forgery that ever came under my influence.
Rather a timid sort of man, as you know, and always kept himself very
much in the background. But I have every reason to believe that he
double-crossed me before he died, and that we owe it to him that the big
scheme with Harold Mostyn came to the ground. Of course I can't say
definitely, but I have a sort of vague idea that that clever little
devil, Peter Lantary, must have got on our track in the first instance
through Tilson. Of course, he always swore that Harold Mostyn came to
him in the first place, but that I never believed. Now, you know that it
has always been my habit to keep my subordinates at arm's length. I have
always been the head of the fraternity, and experience taught me that
the less I let them know of my habits the more they respected and were
afraid of me. But you knew them more or less intimately, because it was
your business to keep a close eye upon them, and so keep me in touch
with all their movements. Now, Tilson! What about him? Who were his
associates?"

"Well, he had a great many," Martin replied. "You see, we only wanted
him when there was some neat bit of forgery to be done, and when he was
not working for us he lived his own life. He was a good bit of a
sportsman, too, and spent a lot of his time on the various golf links
near London. The only man in the underworld who saw much of him was
Rufus Wren."

"Wren?" Murdstone exclaimed. "I had forgotten all about Wren. Still, he
couldn't have known much."

"He didn't know much, master," Martin said. "You see, we only wanted him
occasionally. It was only when we were concerned with that Paris gang
over the importation of cocaine from the Continent that Wren came into
the picture. It is just possible that Tilson might have told Wren more
than he ought to know, but, of course, I cannot say whether that is so
or not. And, mind you, Wren is a bit of a snake in his way. A poisonous
little animal, and as full of pluck and fight as a weasel. I haven't the
remotest idea where to look for him, nor do I know what he has been
doing during the last few months. You see, sir, when that cocaine
business began to be too hot to handle, the few members of the gang who
had the doing of it spread all over the Continent. I told them to do so,
and warned them not to have any contact with each other. Still, Wren was
a great friend of Tilson's, and he might----"

"Yes, he might," Murdstone said. "I can't think of anybody else. But you
see the danger. Somebody knows something, and you must make it your
business to find out who that somebody is. Lay your hands upon Wren and
keep an eye closely upon him. Let me know about all his movements and,
oh well, do just as you like. We have got to find out who it was who
gave me that call over the telephone and silence him in some way. I tell
you, Martin, I'm frightened. That call on the 'phone shook me up a good
deal more than I can tell you. And don't forget that just at this
present moment we have a very big thing on. Of course, I am talking
about the Devonshire business. I don't want anything to stand in the way
of that. But when we have pulled it off, as we ought to do, then I think
our best plan is to get out of the country as quickly as possible, and
stay on the other side of the water more or less indefinitely. I think I
will look up the Countess and tell her what has happened."

The Countess Visconti was not in the least disposed to worry herself
over the story that Murdstone had to tell.

"But why pester me about it?" she said in her careless, smiling way.
"What's it got to do with me?"

"Yes, I thought you would talk like that. I suppose you think you are
safe, whatever happens."

"Of course I am safe," the beautiful woman laughed. "I have always seen
to that, my friend. When those tools of yours come making love to me and
writing me compromising letters, I have only to pretend that they have
been stolen by some blackmailing scoundrel, and that I am in terror lest
they should fall into the hands of my husband. Then you come in and do
the rest and we share the plunder between us. My dear man, you couldn't
even prove that I had had my fair share of the money. Of course, I
should be very sorry if you found yourself in trouble, because it would
be rather a bore at my time of life to have to look up a fresh partner.
But I want you to understand quite plainly that any trouble you may get
into has nothing whatever to do with me. And if you have that firmly
fixed in the back of your mind, then you can tell me what you want me to
do. I am your friend no more, and if ever the police get hold of you
nobody will be more horrified and shocked than the beautiful Counter
Visconti. And now, what is the next move?"

It was utterly useless to argue with a woman like this, and Murdstone
wisely refrained from doing so.

"What about the house in Devon?" he asked.

"Ah, for that I have already arranged," the Countess said. "We go down
there at the end of next week."




CHAPTER XVI.


Meanwhile, things had been moving in another direction. Alcie had gone
down to Devonshire to Kindale Castle, together with the Earl, rejoicing
in her freedom and independence and quite happy in the knowledge that
she might be in a position, sooner or later, to move the old man's heart
so far as Roy was concerned. It was an entirely innocent little
conspiracy, and, at the very worst, could do no harm. At any rate, it
meant that Alcie was no longer depending upon the bread of charity, but
that she was to earn her own living in circumstances that promised to be
pleasing.

For the moment, at any rate, she had her work to herself. There were
servants of the agricultural type, labourers and so on, who helped her
with those famous birds of the old earl's, and, in the course of two or
three days, she had them all at her feet.

"And how are you getting on?" the earl asked a few days later, when he
encountered Alcie on the outskirts of the home farm, amidst the pens and
enclosures where the poultry was confined. "Very hard work, what? More
than you can manage, eh?"

"Nothing of the kind," Alcie said, smiling bravely into the old man's
face. "Of course, it is hard work, and I have a great deal to learn, but
I like it, and I shall be just as happy if you will leave those
beautiful birds to me without getting any more land girls to take the
places of those who have left. I think I can manage all you want, with
the help of those two village maidens and that funny old man with the
red beard. He seems to know all about poultry. He has taught me more
already than I thought I could learn."

"Oh, yes, old Wagstaff is quite a character in his way," the earl
chuckled. "And if you manage to make friends with him, then you are a
wonder. He hates women, and he wouldn't have consented to help you if he
hadn't got past woodman's work, to which he has been brought up all his
life. But then, it was either coming to the poultry yard or going to the
workhouse."

"But he has served you faithfully all his life."

"Quite right," the earl chuckled. "And been well paid for it. My dear
young lady, you mustn't talk to me like that. You won't find any
philanthropy about me. I don't believe in spoiling old servants by
giving them pensions and all that sort of thing. That was all very well
in the days before the war, but now with those ruinous rates and taxes,
it is as much as I can do to make my income go round. I daresay you
think I am a very rich man."

"I am quit sure you are," Alcie said.

"Very well, my dear, we will let it go at that. But I shouldn't have
been a rich man if I had given myself to a life of pleasure like most of
my neighbours."

This was just a typical conversation between the two, and, like many
others they had from time to time. There was something about this
strange and remarkably independent young woman that seemed to appeal
almost irresistibly to the eccentric old gentleman. He liked her ways
and her manners, the proud carriage of her head and the daintiness of
that trim figure. It might be one of his poses to stand before the world
as a democrat who cared nothing for birth and breeding, but there was no
greater autocrat in all Devon than the Earl of Kindale, and no one
better equipped to recognise a lady when he saw one. It amused him to
see Alcie about the estate in her breeches and gaiters, and the sort of
smock frock she effected, but, at the same time it pleased him to see
how quiet and competent she was and how thoroughly she grasped the
outline of her work.

And then, on the sixth night of her stay, he encountered her in one of
those beautiful, old Elizabethan rooms of his in search of a book from
one of the well-filled shelves. She was no longer wearing her outdoor
attire, but something neat and simple in the way of a black charmeuse
frock that seemed to suit her slim figure to perfection. The old
gentleman surveyed her through his eyeglass as if she had been some
perfect specimen of butterfly. And yet she seemed to be in absolute
accord with her surroundings.

"How nice we look to-night," he said. "Why all this dazzling and
unaccustomed splendour?"

"I made the dress myself," Alcie said. "I think that a girl who has any
sort of taste and who has learnt to use her needle can dress herself
just as well on a few pounds as if she went with an unlimited purse into
a Bond-street establishment. And don't forget, my lord, that I am as
well born as you are."

"That is quite true, my dear," the old man said amiably. "Nothing like
blood, after all. Blood on the farm and in the poultry-yard, yes, in the
drawing-room, too, for that matter. Upon my word, I had almost forgotten
what a girl of your stamp looks like. I mean, when she is in evening
dress. And I am glad to see it, my dear, glad to see it. No reason to
forget you are a member of the aristocracy, even if you do feed hens.
But don't you feel a bit lonely here?"

"No, I can't say that I do," Alcie said thoughtfully. "This is such a
lovely old house, and the rooms are so beautiful. It is a bit oppressive
occasionally, especially when I am in the big library and nobody else
there. But, of course, so long as you have your books and all those
precious treasures of yours----"

"Yes, I suppose you think they fill up my whole life, and, as a rule,
they do. But sometimes I am lonely enough, and when I look at you
standing there before me like some lovely hothouse flower, I seem to
have missed something out of my life."

"Oh, well, one can't have everything," Alcie laughed. "But I am
detaining you, Lord Kindale."

"Not a bit of it," the old man chuckled. "Not a bit of it. Now, I wonder
if you would like to come and sit with me in the library for on hour or
so. As I told you, I don't dine, in the proper sense of the word, but I
find the evenings, sometimes, hang very heavy on my hands. Why not come
with me any night when you have had your dinner? Really, I am nothing to
be afraid of."

"I am not in the least afraid of you," Alcie laughed. "Why should I be?
As a matter of fact, I am rather sorry for you, Lord Kindale. You remind
me of the man who cut off his nose to spite his face. What is the use of
having a beautiful house like this filled with treasures, and nobody to
see or appreciate them? And I suppose you have friends and relatives,
like most of us?"

"Well, at any rate, I have a nephew," Kindale said. "Only we don't hit
it off together. He is rather a bumptious young man, and absolutely full
of sinful pride."

"Ah, you are talking about Mr. Roy Kindermere," Alcie said, without the
suggestion of a blush. "Lady Eva has told me all about him. He lives
more or less on his wits, doesn't he?"

"Something like that," the old man growled.

"Don't you think that is rather a pity? Don't you think it is wrong that
the heir to all this grand property and this fine estate should be
living in a bed-sitting-room in London getting his living as a labourer,
or something like that? Of course, Lord Kindale, you may say that it is
no business of mine----"

"It isn't, you impudent young woman," the old man growled, though there
was a twinkle in his eye all the same. "That young man wanted to go one
way and I wanted to go another----"

"And so you quarrelled. Well, I say it is a pity. I suppose you have
forgotten all about his grand record in the war, and how he wasted some
of the best years of his life there when he might have been training for
some sort of profession? You will forgive me, Lord Kindale, please, but
I am very fond of Lady Eva, and from what I have seen of Roy
Kindermere----"

"Oh, you know the young rascal, do you, eh? Well, never mind about him
now. At any rate, don't let us quarrel. Come into the library and we
will talk about books."

Alcie made her way to her bedroom a little later on, well satisfied that
she had not been wasting her time. The next day she was too busy to see
much of the earl, and, indeed, her work took her to the far side of the
estate, where she was interested in the hatching of some pheasants' eggs
near the head keeper's cottage. From thence she passed through the woods
with the intention of reaching the highway and making for home along the
road.

She stopped just a moment in a thicket off the by-path, where she sat
down on the trunk of a fallen tree and lighted a cigarette. She was not
more than half way through this when two people came down the road, the
one a tall man with a long grey beard and flowing silver hair, and the
other a woman in a smartly cut suit of Harris tweeds, who was conversing
gaily with her companion.

With a quickening of her pulses Alcie recognised the Countess Visconti.
What was the woman doing in this part of the world, she wondered? She
had known her for a friend of the dead and buried Murdstone, though
there was nothing in common between the girl and the beautiful woman of
the world. Indeed, they had only exchanged a few words during the whole
time that Alcie was under the roof of that strange, sinister house in
Marrion-square. She crouched a little closer, and watched those two
through the trees.

That they were doing no good here she felt convinced. Even the
benevolent looking stranger failed to impress Alcie as anything to do
with honesty and benevolence. Then, a few minutes later, at the end of
an intimate conversation, not a word of which reached Alcie's ears, the
two in the road parted, Countess Visconti to retrace her steps, and her
companion to stroll along the path in the attitude of one who is
engrossed in the deepest thought. A few steps forward and another figure
emerged, this time that of a small, active-looking man, with a red
moustache and a pair of piercing black eyes.

"Ah, Professor Rogers, I think," the stranger said mockingly.

"Undoubtedly," the sham professor said calmly. "And you, my friend? What
can I do for you?"

"A great deal," the stranger said. "To begin with, you can answer me a
few pertinent questions. Imprimis, what's the game? And how do you
propose to play it? Not that that matters much so long as Rufus
Wren--that's me--has his share of the loot."




CHAPTER XVII.


Alcie sat crouched up there listening intently to the rather curt
conversation which was going on between the two men. She had not the
slightest idea why she was so deeply interested, except the feeling that
there was something wrong here, and that it was indirectly connected
with the eccentric old nobleman who had so recently taken her into his
employ. Moreover, it came to her, as she sat there, that she had seen
the man addressed as Rogers before. Another glance at him and she was
certain.

Yes, she knew well enough, though she had never been sufficiently close
to actually identify him. Twice during the last few days the big man
with the leonine mane of hair and sweeping beard had been on the terrace
in front of the castle with the earl, where apparently they had been
engaged in some business. And Alcie knew well enough that the earl put
business before everything. She had been at the castle quite long enough
to understand that Kindale was not only a collector of old books and
antique silver, but also a dealer in these things. No doubt the man
addressed as Rogers had come down there on some commercial errand. At
any rate, he had been in the castle grounds twice, and on this point
Alcie had no sort of doubt. Nor was there anything about his external
appearance to prejudice her in his favour.

And yet, at the same time, she could not suppress the feeling that this
man was not all that he seemed. No doubt, sooner or later, she would
discover why he had come down to the castle, but, in the meantime,
something warned her to keep out of his way, and that she had every
intention of doing.

Meanwhile she listened. It was a wrong thing to do, of course, but that
inner knowledge did not deter her. She knew that in her drab garb and
with her features hidden in the sun-bonnet she was wearing it would be
hard to identify her, and perhaps this knowledge gave her courage to sit
there quietly and listen to all that was taking place between the two
men, only a few feet away.

"I shall be very glad to know what you mean?" the sham Professor said
haughtily. "Evidently there is a mistake somewhere. I am an American
professor, and down here on business which does not in the least concern
you. Who do you take me for?"

The other man laughed none too pleasantly.

"I take you for precisely the person you describe yourself as being," he
said. "That is Professor Rogers. But, all the same, I know perfectly
well that you have nothing whatever to do with the famous university
that you represent as your alma mater. In other words, the professor is
merely a nom-de-plume."

"Most extraordinary!" the sham scientist murmured. "You say that I am
Professor Rogers, and yet, at the same time, you say that I am not. You
cannot have it both ways, my impetuous friend. If you accuse me of
passing----"

"That is what I do accuse you of," the man who had given the name of
Rufus Wren said meaningly. "So far as the university is concerned there
is no Professor Rogers. You can tell the people in this country that
stuff, for your own purposes, but it won't go down with me. Perhaps you
will tell me next that you have never heard of Felix Murdstone. Well,
have you?"

The man called Rogers shook his head doubtfully.

"Murdstone, Murdstone," he murmured. "Surely I have heard the name
somewhere before. Oh, yes, I remember now. He was the sham millionaire
who was found murdered in Marrion-square on the very night that your
friend, Tilson, disappeared."

"Oh, you realise the importance of that point, do you?" Wren sneered.
"Now, look here. Tilson was my greatest friend. A man of very dubious
virtue, no doubt, but, as far as I am concerned, he was a man in every
sense of the word. And I knew perfectly well that he was absolutely
essential to that scoundrel, Murdstone, and all his schemes. That I can
prove."

"But Murdstone is dead," Rogers smiled sadly. "He was murdered in
Marrion-square, and, after the inquest and identification, was buried.
You are not going to dispute that?"

"I am not going to dispute that, as you say," Wren said warily. "I know
that, on the night of Murdstone's death, Tilson had an appointment. It
was a secret appointment in the library at the house in Marrion-square,
and Tilson made his way there via the garden and the library window.
That much Tilson told me himself. Also he told me that things were not
going as well as he had expected, and that he might have to disappear
for a time. But before he did disappear he promised to let me know where
I could find him. Whereas he did nothing of the kind. He merely
vanished, and I am fairly convinced that he was made a victim of foul
play. I feel sure he is dead, and if Murdstone were alive now he could
tell us how and why. But Murdstone was not the chief rogue in the play."

"Really, my good man, I cannot see what all this has to do with me," the
would-be Professor said patronisingly. "I never saw Tilson or Murdstone
in my life."

"That," said Wren, coolly and deliberately, "is an infernal lie.
Murdstone was a great scoundrel and a clever and daring thief. But he
wasn't the head of the international gang of scoundrels and blackmailers
who came over here because America was too hot to hold them. He was high
up in the ranks of the rascals, but the head office was held by you,
Professor Rogers. Oh, it's no use you shaking your head and smiling in
that benignant way. Rogers was the leading spirit of the gang, and
Murdstone his chief lieutenant. And that is why I have run down here
with every intention of discovering what has become of John Tilson. If
you had him murdered for your own purposes, then I warn you to look to
yourself. If you have hidden him away for some good reason of your own,
then the sooner you say so the better. Mind you, I have nothing to fear.
The police are not after me. But they would give a good deal to hear
some of the inner history of the man who calls himself Professor Rogers.
And I am in a position to supply it. Now, once and for all, what has
become of John Tilson?"

It was some little time before the disguised Murdstone replied. With
lightning rapidity, he was turning over his chances in his mind. And, if
Alcie had only known it, she was within an ace of seeing a murder
committed in the silence of those woods.

"I think that we had better adjourn this conversation, if you don't
mind," the disguised Murdstone said at length. "My dear sir, I am not
going to argue as to whether you know anything about my past life or
not. But this much I can tell you: I have never been a believer in
violence, and I never shall be. What happened on that night in
Marrion-square nobody can say, because Murdstone is dead. It is just
possible that Tilson had an appointment in Marrion-square on that
fateful evening, but, as to that, I am unable to say anything definite.
And you are not going to argue that Murdstone did Tilson a mischief,
because it looks to me very much as if it was the other way on. They
might have had a quarrel, in which blows were exchanged; indeed, that is
my reading of the case. And, if I am right, then Tilson is in hiding
somewhere, and, no doubt, you will hear from him all in good time. More
than this I cannot tell you, and if you want to pursue your inquiries
further, why, in that case, I should recommend you to try the police."

With that, the disguised Murdstone turned his back upon the other man
and walked quietly towards the road. Then the man who had given his name
as Wren turned on his heel, and, in a few moments, had disappeared from
Alcie's sight. As she rose from her somewhat cramped position, with the
intention of returning to the castle, she was conscious of a third
person emerging from the bushes. With a start of surprise she recognised
the features of Peter Lantary.

"What!" she cried. "You here!"

"Oh, lord, yes," Peter grinned cheerfully. "I have been here for some
time, doing exactly as you have; that is, listening to the conversation
of two scoundrels. Now, tell me, Alcie, has that benevolent gentleman
been over to the castle at all?"

"Twice, to my certain knowledge," Alcie explained. "I have not the
remotest idea who he is, but I think that he has come down on some
business which he is transacting with the earl, though I have never come
actually face to face with him."

"That's good," Peter exclaimed. "I can't go into details yet, so that
you will have to restrain your curiosity for the present. But you will
greatly oblige me if you keep out of the way of Professor Rogers. I have
my own very powerful reasons why he should not recognise Miss Alcie
Glynn."

"Why, I have never seen the man in my life," Alcie cried. "I had a queer
fancy at first, that I had seen him somewhere, but, of course, I
couldn't say definitely. He seems to me an adventurer who has come down
here on business----"

"Yes, the business of relieving the earl of a number of valuable books
and all the old silver the castle contains. Now, look here, I am staying
in the neighbourhood at a farm house on the edge of the moor, within a
mile of the castle. And I don't mind telling you that Roy Kindermere has
accompanied me. We are particularly anxious not to come into contact
with Professor Rogers, at any rate, for the present, because that might
spoil all our plans. But there is no reason why you shouldn't find out
all you can about him, and let us know. I will give you the address,
and, if anything transpires, you can write me a letter."

"Very well," Alcie said. "I will do my best to help, of course. I
suppose you are quite sure you can't tell me any more?"

Peter shook his head smilingly.

"I could tell you a great deal more," he said, "but I am not going to.
There you are. Take care that no one sees that address."




CHAPTER XVIII.


The man called Rogers strolled quietly through the woods as if he were
merely a benevolent old gentleman with nothing on his mind. He came
presently to the main road, and, in the course of time, to a long white
house standing back behind a tennis lawn and a rose garden, a house
almost embowered in trees, and in every way a picture of rural
refinement and content.

Into a shady drawing-room, with the windows open on to the lawn, the man
called Rogers made his way. And then, once secure from observation, he
sat down and wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead. Just for
a moment he thought he was alone, until a cool, mocking voice in the
corner of the room hailed him.

"You seem rather perturbed," the voice said. "Has something happened
during the course of the morning?"

Rogers turned in the direction of the speaker.

"Oh, you are there, are you?" he asked. "Just for a moment I thought I
had the room to myself. My dear Countess, I have had quite a shock since
I went out. These constant worries are playing the dickens with my
nerves. There was that call over the telephone, for instance. I haven't
got over that yet. And, in the wood this morning, a perfect stranger
walked up to me and asked me if I could tell him anything about the
movements of John Tilson."

"And you told him to go and hang himself," the countess laughed.

"My dear friend, I did nothing of the kind. I did nothing of the kind,
because this man, Rufus Wren, happens to know that the head of the gang
of which we are such distinguished ornaments was known to his
subordinates, not as Felix Murdstone, but as Rogers. Of course, you know
the way I worked it. As Murdstone, I was known to the others, and gave
them their orders, always telling them that this man Rogers was the
brain centre of the conspiracy, and preferred to remain in the
background. Of course, there was not any Rogers, as we know perfectly
well."

"Well? I suppose Wren didn't know that!"

"Ah, that is where you make the mistake," Murdstone muttered. "He did
know all about Rogers, though I am perfectly certain that he has not the
least idea that Rogers and myself are one and the same person.
Naturally, like everybody else, he thinks that Murdstone is in his
grave, and I rather fancy he thinks that the same fate has overtaken his
friend, Tilson. At any rate, he addressed me as Rogers, and he led me to
understand, quite unmistakably, that, if he did not hear something
fairly definite with regard to Tilson in the next few days, he will put
the police on my track."

"And you never killed him," the countess hissed.

"No, I never killed him; neither would you, in the circumstances. Nobody
could hear what we were saying, but half a dozen of the earl's servants
might have been in the woods. But we must get him out of the way, Alma;
we must get him out of the way, and I hate the idea of personal
violence."

"So do I," the countess said coolly. "But still, I should never hesitate
if my own skin was in danger. It is certainly unfortunate that this man
should have cropped up just at the moment when we are on the point of
getting away with perhaps half a million pounds' worth of property. But,
if necessary, that man must be disposed of. What do you think is the
best thing to do?"

"Oh, I don't know," the sham professor said miserably. "Given another
two or three days, we shall be out of the country. And I was never more
anxious to turn my back on these shores in my life. I am frightened, my
dear, and that is the honest truth. Once we are clear, then we can leave
it to this man, Wren, to do his worst. But no delay, if you don't mind.
Can't you manage to set things going this very evening?"

"Do you mean lure the earl over here," the women asked.

"Well, that is the idea. Go over yourself presently and ask him to come
round here to-night and dine with us. He will come fast enough. He would
go anywhere for a good dinner and chuckle to himself because it cost him
nothing. Then, with Martin to help me, later in the evening, we can
hurry over to the castle and have the big car waiting in the road.
Before morning we can have all the stuff on the yacht off the coast
between here and Ilfracombe, and no suspicion whatever aroused. Of
course, I would much rather wait till all the details are settled, but
with that man Wren in the background I shan't know a moment's peace
until we have cleared out of the country. You can stay here as long as
you like, but I shall have to go back to London on business, which, in
other words, means that I shall be on board the yacht making for
America. You can stay and mingle your tears with the earl, and finding
out, if, by any chance, the police hit upon the trail. And then, when
your tenancy is up here, you can join me in America, and we can share
all that money between us. And, upon my word, I could do with a year or
two's peace and quiet. Somewhere in the Argentine, for instance.

"Yes, it sounds a very pleasant scheme," the countess laughed. "And
perhaps you are right to hurry things up a bit. So I will take the car
over to the castle this afternoon and try my fascinations on the dear
old gentleman. The rest I shall leave to you."

* * * * * * *

It was somewhere near 8 o'clock the same evening when the Earl of
Kindale came up the garden path and found himself in that long, cool
drawing-room where the Countess Visconti greeted him with an almost
pleasant warmth and welcome. It was nothing to her that the earl had not
even taken the trouble to don a dinner jacket but had merely slipped
into an antiquated blue serge suit, for which he did not attempt to
utter the slightest apology.

"Now that is really too bad of you," she said. "You wouldn't say whether
you would come and dine or not, so that I have made no attempt to
provide anything but an ordinary meal. You see, Lord Kindale, I came
down here for peace and quiet, after all the hurry and bustle attending
my daughter's wedding. So, if my cook has only provided us with some
cold meat and a salad, then you will have to put up with it, and not
blame me. As to the Professor, he doesn't care what he eats, but he will
be glad to see you."

"I should think he would," the old gentleman chuckled. "We are doing a
deal together that ought to put thousands of pounds into his pocket.
Mind you, I am making a very good thing out of it myself, but when he
gets all those duplicates over in the States he will make five times as
much as I could."

"You are doing the professor rather an injustice," the countess smiled.
"He is not half so mercenary as you think. He loves old books and old
silver for their own sake, and when he has to part with them it would be
a real wrench for him. But do sit down, and let me offer you a
cigarette, then I will make you one of those famous cocktails of mine,
and after that we can go in to dinner, and take the goods that the gods
provide."

It was an excellent meal that the trio sat down to presently, a meal
over which the hostess had spent a good deal of anxious time, and the
appropriate wines left nothing to be desired. An hour later, the earl
lay back in his chair, perfectly satisfied with his surroundings, and at
peace with all mankind. He sipped his port, and lighted the Corona cigar
that the countess handed him out of a special box, whilst he listened
drowsily to the conversation of the professor, who sat on the other side
of the table.

"Now this is what I call real comfortable," the earl murmured. "Really,
you two must come over to the Castle one of these early days, and have
lunch with me. I can't boast a cellar like yours, Countess, and I don't
suppose there is another cook to equal your chef in the county. But I
have a few bottles of '63 port and just a little Napoleon brandy. I must
fix up a day and let you know. The professor is coming up to-morrow to
make his final selection, and after that we can put business out of our
minds."

"With all the pleasure in life," the sham professor said. "Countess, you
will be delighted with the Castle."

"I was more than delighted with what I saw this morning," the countess
said. "But I shall look forward to seeing some of those wonderful old
rooms, and, above all, the earl's pictures. Well, Martin, what is it you
want now?"

Martin had come into the room, the very model of the soft-footed butler.
He came forward respectfully.

"I am very sorry to disturb your ladyship," he said, "but there is some
one on the telephone, asking for the professor. I think it it a trunk
call from London."

Rogers rose with a resigned sigh.

"Yes, that's always the way," he said. "When you are enjoying yourself.
Unless I am greatly mistaken, it is a message from an old friend of mine
at the Athenian Club. If you will excuse me a minute or two. I will
promise not to detain you long."

As the speaker slipped quietly from the room, the countess bent forward
and filled up the earl's liqueur glass again. She watched him under her
eyelids until he had drained the last drop, and then his head sank
forward and, a minute or two later, he lay fast asleep over the dining
table. It was as if he was dead.

The countess rose hurriedly and looked out into the hall where Martin
was standing by the front door.

"It's all right," she said. "Get on with it."

The professor appeared out of nowhere, walking silently as a man does
who wears rubber soles to his shoes. He had slipped out of his dinner
jacket into a coat of rough tweed, and, with one glance round him,
passed into the darkness.

"That will be all, Martin," he whispered. "Follow me, but not too close,
if you don't mind."

Then Martin vanished into the night, in his turn, happily ignorant of
the fact that Peter Lantary was close behind him.




CHAPTER XIX.


Murdstone, in the insidious disguise of Professor Rogers, walked on in
the darkness, knowing exactly what he was going to do and how he was
going to do it. He had not been at Kindale Castle on one or two
occasions without carefully studying his ground, and committing to
memory the exact geography of the place. He knew precisely where the
main treasures were to be found, and with any sort of luck he would be
able to get away with them in the course of the next hour. All he wanted
was some sixty intense minutes without interruption and the big coup
would be accomplished.

He knew perfectly what had happened in the pleasant dining room where he
had left the elderly earl in the company of Countess Visconti. He knew
all about that potent little drug which had been dropped in the second
glass of liqueur and the effect it would have upon Kindale. It needed no
one to tell him that Kindale was now sleeping peacefully in the dining
room and that the countess would see to it that no servant came in until
at least an hour had elapsed. Then he calculated that the effects of the
drug would have exhausted themselves and it would be an easy matter,
afterwards, to rally the old gentleman from his little lapse from the
conventions and get him to believe that he had been merely taking what
is known as 'forty winks.' In other words, it was necessary to convince
Kindale that the professor had not been off the premises at all and that
he had been detained rather longer than he had expected at the
telephone. The whole thing had been planned to the minutest detail, and
all that was necessary now was to get on with the scheme and hide the
plunder until Kindale discovered for himself that he had been robbed.

Indeed, it was just the sort of thing that the eccentric old man had
been asking for during the last dozen years. As far as that wonderful
library of his was concerned, no precautions whatever had been taken.
The precious folios stood on their shelves, pretty well ready to be
taken by anybody who wanted them. There was no night-watchman in the
Castle, and only a mere handful of indoor servants to look after the few
rooms which had not been closed. True, his lordship kept that priceless
collection of silver of his carefully locked up in the safe during the
night, but then so old-fashioned a contrivance would present practically
no difficulties to so accomplished an artist as the man known as
Professor Rogers.

Moreover, the sham Rogers was perfectly aware of the fact that by this
time the whole of the Castle servants would have retired for the night.
He was also quite alive to the knowledge that the servants' wing of the
Castle was remote enough from the apartments where the treasures were
stowed away. And, as to the making of an entrance into the library, the
head of the gang had settled all that long ago. Therefore, he strode
along in the darkness with Martin not far behind, hugging himself in the
expectation of a successful haul that would leave him and the countess
outside the pale of suspicion. There was a path through the woods across
the fields that would bring him to the grand terrace in front of the
Castle in the course of a few minutes. He would enter the quadrangle
round which the Castle was built by way of the ancient portcullis and
climb up the cloister that ran all round the green court on to the leads
over them, which meant that he would be outside the long picture gallery
with its latticed windows and diamond panes, the opening of which would
be no task for an intelligent child. And there, at the end of the
picture gallery, was the great library with its precious books and
manuscripts, and in one corner of the room the safe which, to Rogers,
would be no more trouble than cutting through a rotten cheese. He had
all the implements in the pocket of his rough coat and Martin, behind
him, was similarly equipped.

Five minutes later, and the two men had vanished.

They had hardly entered the big quadrangle and had commenced to swarm up
the cloistered stonework when, two hundred yards behind, another figure
emerged out of the darkness. It seemed to rise out of the shrubbery,
like something that has come suddenly to life, and, simultaneously,
another figure, stood beside it.

"Is that you?" the first phantom asked.

"Even so, Peter," the second shadow replied. "I have been here for half
an hour, at least."

"Good," Peter Lantary exclaimed. "Good! Now, I suppose, you spotted
those two blackguards?"

"They passed me so closely that I could have touched them," Roy
Kindermere said. "They are in the quadrangle at the present minute,
swarming up the pillars of the cloisters, on to the leads outside the
picture gallery. Another ten minutes and they will be in the library.
What are we going to do then?"

"Oh, all in good time," Lantary said. "I don't propose to follow them,
if that is what you mean. We are going down the cliffs on to the beach,
where I have a boat waiting, and, after that, we shall pull round the
headland and land at the mouth of the smuggler's cave. You know the
place I mean. That is, if you haven't forgotten the secret way into the
Castle."

"Of course I haven't," Kindermere said. "I showed you the plan before we
came down from town. My mother used to tell me about it when I was a
small boy, intending to be a pirate and all that sort of thing, and I
believe I could find my way into the castle through the smugglers' cave
blindfold. The secret entrance is one of the traditions of the family,
though I don't suppose it has been used for years. It may even be
blocked up, for all I know."

"Well, I'll bet a bob it isn't," Lantary said, smilingly. "That uncle of
yours is the last man in the world to interfere with those ancient
landmarks. I suppose there was a time when the Kindales were no more
honest than their neighbours."

"They were smugglers and wreckers, if that is what you mean," Roy
replied. "Sort of Doones in their way. That was when the old English
families lived by preying on their neighbours and robbing everybody
right and left. But never mind that for the moment. What is the point of
entering the Castle by the cave?"

"There are half-a-dozen points," Lantary grinned. "First of all, we want
to take those chaps red-handed. But that is not quite artistic enough
for so eminent a private detective as myself. I want to know what
Murdstone, alias Rogers, is going to do with the stuff when he has got
it. He can't very well bury it in the grounds, and he is much too wily a
bird to take it back with him to that very pleasant house where the
countess is resting. I haven't been listening outside the dining-room
window and watching that fascinating adventuress for the last hour for
nothing. My dear boy, your uncle is at presented seated in the
dining-room there, with his head on the table, fast asleep."

"You mean that he has been drugged?" Roy asked.

"That is exactly what I do mean. He was drugged with his second glass of
liqueur, just after Martin came into the dining-room with a bogus
telephone trunk call for the benevolent individual with the long beard.
Directly I spotted that, I followed Murdstone and Martin, and cut in
front of them just behind the keeper's lodge. Then I gave you the
signal, and here I am. Not that I am altogether satisfied, and I shan't
be until I know exactly what Murdstone is going to do with his plunder."

"What's your idea as to that?" Kindermere asked.

"Well, I'll tell you. If you peep through that belt of trees on your
right, you will see the Manacles lightship, which is eight miles out to
sea, and, just in front of that, a riding light, which might be on a
fishing smack, only it isn't."

"What is it, then?" Kindermere asked.

"It is a yacht. And it wasn't there two hours ago. A small steam yacht
anchored up and waiting on events. Unless I am greatly mistaken, a
petrol launch will be putting off from that vessel before long, and,
when it reaches the beach to the left of the smugglers' cave, Murdstone
will be there with all the plunder and remain long enough to see it
shipped off to the yacht. Then he will make his way back as quickly as
possible to the countess's charming retreat, by which time your uncle
will probably be awake. You see, the idea is to persuade him that
Murdstone never left the house at all. And he won't either, for some
days to come. He will stay there and pretend to sympathise with his
lordship over the loss of his treasures whilst the yacht probably
crosses the Channel and anchors up somewhere off the Welsh Coast. Then,
when all suspicion has been allayed, Murdstone will have urgent business
in London, from whence he will slip off down to Cardiff or Newport, and
go on board the yacht. And if he manages to wriggle through our fingers
to-night, then it is long odds that we shall never see or hear of him
again. And, once he is clear away the countess will leave north Devon
and join that cunning rascal somewhere on the other side of the world.
Of course, I may be all wrong, but that is how I worked it out. And now,
the next thing we have to do is to follow the path down the cliffs on to
the beach and embark in the boat, which will land us close to the mouth
of the smugglers' cave. I suppose that you have no doubts as to your
ability to guide us where we want to go?"

"Not the slightest," Kindermere explained. "It will be rather a rough
journey, but there are no difficulties in the way, and if we work it
properly, we shall emerge into the library through the secret door in
the wainscot and hide ourselves behind the big oak screen, and be able
to watch what those two miscreants are doing. Oh, you needn't have any
apprehension on that score."

"Well, that is all I wanted to be sure of," Lantary went on. "But I
thought that man Wren was going to help us."

"Well, where is he? It was your idea. In fact, it was you who got on his
track through Rupert Glynn."

The words were hardly out of the speaker's mouth before the bushes
parted and another figure hove in sight.

"Is that you, Wren?" Lantary whispered.

"That's me, right enough," Wren said, under his breath. "I have been
waiting here for the last five minutes."




CHAPTER XX.


Lantary gave a little chuckle of satisfaction.

"Then the party is complete," he said. "That is, bar one. And I can't
think where she has got to."

"She?" Kindermere cried. "Are you speaking of Alcie?"

"Yes, I am," Lantary said curtly. "I knew you wouldn't like it, but I
didn't see how we could very well leave her out."

With that, Peter gave a faithful imitation of the calling of a nightjar,
and immediately, there was a rustling in the bushes close by. Alcie
stepped out and confronted the others.

"Here I am," she said, quietly. "I got your note, Mr. Lantary, but I
don't know what you want at this time of the evening."

Lantary proceeded hurriedly to explain.

"You will have your uses presently," he said. "If I had doubted your
courage and bravery for a moment I wouldn't have asked you. But then,
you see, I don't. Now, Miss Alcie, where do you suppose the Earl of
Kindale is at the present moment?"

"Why, in his library, of course," Alcie said quietly. "He went there
about 7 o'clock, and said he was not to be disturbed. He had his glass
of milk and little plate of sandwiches sent in, after which the servants
were left to their own resources. If you will follow me a few yards. I
will show you the light still burning in the library. It was there five
minutes ago."

"All the same, our friend the earl is not in the castle," Lantary said
amiably. "He is having his dinner with the Countess Visconti. And,
unless we are moving quickly, there is likely to be a lot of trouble in
our immediate neighbourhood. Wren, this is Miss Alcie Glynn, of whom you
may have heard."

"Heard?" Wren exclaimed. "I should rather think I have. Oh, I am quite
an old friend of her father's."

"You knew him some years before he died?" Alcie asked.

"Died?" Wren asked with a puzzled inflection. "How long has he been
dead? I have been actually in his presence within a week. It was he who
gave me----"

Alcie staggered back, with a little cry on her lips, and would have
fallen had not Kindermere caught her in his arms.

"Steady, darling, steady," he whispered.

"My father----" Alcie went on brokenly. "He was drowned months ago in
the Mediterranean. Otherwise I should never have come to England at all.
It was to please him that I went to London and became an inmate in Mr.
Murdstone's house."

"Well, we can't stop to explain all that now," Lantary said. "I ought to
have warned you before, but, in the excitement of the moment, I forgot
all about it. But what Mr. Wren says is perfectly correct. Your father
is alive and well, and you will see him before long. But if I once begin
explaining we shall be here all night. When I told you just now that
Lord Kindale was not under his own roof I meant to convince you that
something serious was wrong."

"Lead the way!" Alcie said bravely. "I am ready for anything now. I
suppose there is some rascality afloat, in which I am indirectly
interested. If you want me to show you the way into the castle and find
out why the light is burning in the library, then I shall be able to do
so. Shall we get along?"

"Certainly--but not exactly the way you want," Lantary said. "The point
is--can you pilot us down to the beach?"

"Of course, I can," Alcie said, confidently. "I have learnt pretty well
every inch of the ground by this time."

She led the way, with the others following. It was a matter of no great
distance, nor had much time been wasted, seeing that it was barely a
quarter of an hour since Murdstone and his companion had emerged from
the villa on the Bideford-road. There was no hurry, as Lantary quite
well knew, for it would take those scoundrels some little time to get
all the treasures collected together, and transport them from the castle
down the flight of steps at the end of the rose garden into the boat
which he guessed would, by this time, be waiting to convey the plunder
to the yacht.

Very quietly and carefully they moved down the steep path, until at
length they stood on the sandy beach, where Lantary's boat was moored
ready to embark them for the two or three hundred yards round the
headland to the smugglers' cave. They pushed off very silently, hugging
the shore as closely as possible, until they had passed the headland,
and drew the boat up again on to the sands at the very mouth of the
smugglers' den.

"Listen!" Lantary whispered. "Just listen!"

Faintly, from a distance, came the soft chugging of a motor-boat. It
drew nearer and nearer, until the four people crouching behind their
boat could see the outline of the petrol launch which Lantary knew only
too well had come from the yacht lying out there in the bay. There were
three or four men on board the launch, talking under their breath, but
quite loud enough for the listeners on the beach to hear what they were
saying.

"This must be the spot." the man steering the launch said gruffly. "Just
run her nose on the sand, George, and wait."

"There is nothing to do but wait," another voice broke the silence.
"We've got to do exactly what the guv'nor says, and if he don't come
down in an hour we shall know that something has gone wrong and get back
to the yacht again to await further orders."

There was only a distance of some twenty yards between the two boats,
but fortunately for the occupants of the first one a rugged barrier of
rock intervened, so that the new-comers had no idea of what was
happening a few yards away. Then, headed by Kindermere, Lantary's party
crept noiselessly into the smugglers' cave and walked along the firm,
sandy floor there until they came, at length, to what appeared to be
nothing more than a solid wall of rock with a projecting spur that
seemed as solid as the rest of its surroundings. Kindermere, producing
an electric torch from his pocket, flashed the tiny ray of light on the
face of the rock.

"Ah, here it is," he murmured. "Just exactly as it was on the plan, and
precisely where my mother always said it was. Lantary, give me the
lever, and we will see."

The short, powerful lever inserted between two crannies in the rock
forced the apparently solid surface to half disappear, and there,
beyond, they could discern a flight of broken steps. Once inside and on
the stairway, the rock was pushed into position again, so that there was
nothing to fear as far as the occupants of the motor-boat were
concerned. Then up and up they went, until they came, at length, to what
appeared to be an iron door, with a knob in the centre of it. This
Kindermere pressed, and, very gradually, the door slid on one side,
exposing some stout, open panelling at the back of it. Kindermere bent
down and lifted the panel in a sort of sliding slot, and, almost
immediately, a great square of light appeared on the other side of the
opening.

"There," Kindermere whispered. "We are actually in the library. Don't
make the slightest noise, but follow me on your hands and knees. I can
hear the scoundrels at work."

It was exactly as Kindermere had said. They were absolutely in the great
library, and just behind a huge, carved, open screen, which secluded one
corner of that noble apartment. Through the tracery of the screen, and
themselves obscured in the darkness, the intruders could see exactly
what was going on.

They could see the sham professor standing at the far end of the room,
in front of a great, old-fashioned safe that was built in the wall, and
covered, when not in use, by a swinging shelf of books that hid it from
observation. The lights in the room were fully on, no doubt just as
Kindale had left them, so that the thieves were not hampered for want of
illumination.

Just behind the man with the flowing beard was Martin, who had emptied
his pockets of certain tools, so that they lay about his feet ready for
use when the greatest safe breaker in the world should have occasion to
make use of them.

"Upon my word, Martin," the professor was saying, "we need not have run
the risk of bringing all that battery of stuff with us. If I had
properly realised what a poor piece of stuff this safe is! Why, I
believe I could open it with a bit of wire!"

The safe was primitive enough, aged, and rusted, and appeared to afford
little or no resistance when a burglar knew his business. It was not
even provided with a combination lock, so that the burglars had not even
the trouble to find the key.

"It's sure a bit of all right, guv-nor," Martin said. "Some folks don't
deserve to have valuables like what's behind that rusty old door. Just
fancy hiding half a million pounds' worth of the finest silver in the
world in a common rat-trap, for it is very little more. We shan't even
want explosives. And you was quite right when you said that we didn't
need any blow-lamp."

"Blow-lamp?" the sham professor coughed. "Here, hand me that saw. We'll
get into this in five minutes."

For five minutes or more the thief worked steadily away, stripping off
the outer plates, well knowing that once he was through these his simple
task was done. And then, just as the saw had got fairly to work and was
eating into the soft metal, the unexpected happened. The upper part of
the door flew open, and out from it there shot what appeared to be two
long, circular cutting knives. They came with a vicious swirl and force
that knocked the burglar clean off his balance, and, at the same time,
gripping him by the centre of his long, flowing beard. Then the opening
closed again with a clang, and Murdstone lay insensible at the feet of
his fellow criminal, entirely bereft of the disguise on the lower part
of his face.

"My God," Wren cried. "Why it's----"

Instantly Lantary clapped his hand over the speaker's mouth.

"Not a word," he whispered. "Not a sound! What we have to do is to stay
here and await events."

Martin gazed helplessly at the figure lying at his feet.




CHAPTER XXI.


There came no sound from behind the open screen where four people were
intently watching the other two figures, and wondering what was going to
happen next. The man called Wren would have burst free and rushed
forward but for Lantary's restraining hand upon his arm and the
whispered words in his ear. It seemed quite an eternity before Martin
bent over the body of the sham professor and satisfied himself, at
length, that the latter was still alive.

Naturally, Martin had not the faintest idea that he was being watched.
From his point of view, the Castle was as good as deserted. The earl was
far enough away, and likely to remain where he was for some considerable
time to come. The servants were in bed, and as to Alcie, Martin was not
aware that she was within a hundred miles of Devonshire. The room was
filled with softened lights behind their shades so that it was easy
enough to see all around the great library, so that Martin could devote
himself entirely to his employer without any suggestion of surprise
weighing in his mind.

So far as he could see, the scheme had failed. There had been no thought
of finding that infernal machine hidden away behind the plain front of
the safe, and, even now, Martin had no idea whatever as to what had
actually happened. It seemed to him as if half the door of the safe had
clanged open and back again, throwing out two bars of steel that had
come within an ace of crushing the body of the sham professor between
them. They had certainly knocked him insensible, and, on flying back to
their place, had wrenched away more than half of that long, flowing
beard.

But what was the best thing to be done? That was the question that
Martin asked himself again and again, until his mind began to function
once more, and he could see, plainly enough, that the first thing to be
done was to get Murdstone off the premises. He was not concerned, for
the moment, as to what those people waiting down on the beach would
think, because sooner or later, they would go away, knowing full well
that the great scheme had failed.

Murdstone was breathing stertoriously, though no great harm had been
done, so far as Martin could see. Then, with an effort, he dragged
Murdstone to his feet and half carried, half dragged him through the
open window of the library on to the terrace outside. Murdstone groaned
and opened his eyes and feebly demanded to know what had happened to
him.

"We'll go into that presently," Martin said. "I am going to leave you
here for a minute or two, until I can find some way of lowering you down
to the ground. And don't you make the slightest noise. We are not out of
the wood yet."

With that, Martin returned to the library and looked about him until at
last he saw what he wanted. That was a long, silk cord belonging to one
of the heavy window curtains, and, with this slung under Murdstone's
arms, the injured man was slowly lifted on to the stone parapet and then
lowered as gently as could be managed, to the ground below by Martin. It
was a great effort, and taxed the elder man's strength to the uttermost,
but at length he was bending over the victim in an attempt to get the
injured man on his shoulder.

Then he crossed the terrace through the rose garden, and into the path
that led in the direction of the house where the Countess Visconti was
impatiently waiting the issue.

For over an hour now she had been seated in the dining-room watching the
man opposite her sound asleep with his head on his hands. There had been
no interruption from any of the servants, because the temporary mistress
of the house had seen to all that. She was not in the least afraid of
any servant entering the room. For a time she waited the issue calmly
and coolly, but as the hour passed and the hands of the clock on the
mantelpiece crept along she was growing vaguely uneasy. She crossed the
room quietly and pushed back the hands of the clock over 60 minutes. It
was more than possible that the earl would not notice the time, so that,
when he came to himself, she would be able to tell him, quite casually,
that it had been only a few minutes since he had closed his eyes.

And still the seconds crept on. Crept on until there came the echo of a
foot fall on the veranda and then, framed in the darkness, the face of
Martin looking at her, and his forefinger bent in a beckoning attitude.
Filled with apprehension now, the countess slipped out on to the
verandah.

"Are we all alone here?" Martin whispered.

"I expect so," the countess replied. "I told the servants a long time
ago that they could go to bed, and that they could clear the dining
table in the morning. But what has happened?"

By way of reply, Martin pointed to a shapeless mass lying at his feet.
The countess went eagerly forward.

"That," Martin said curtly, "is the master. He has met with an accident,
and I don't know how badly he is hurt. We must get him into the house
and put him to bed."

"Yes, and send for a doctor, I suppose," the countess sneered. "You must
have taken leave of your senses, Martin, to suggest such a thing. I am
not going to be dragged into this business. When I agreed to fall in
with the plan and took this house here, I told your master that I had
finished. Now, tell me all about it, and I will try and think of some
way out of the trouble."

Martin rapidly sketched the incidents of the past hour or so, including
the amazing happening in connection with that extraordinary old safe.
The countess looked down at Murdstone lying there and drew back with a
little cry of of dismay as she saw that he had been bereft of that long,
flowing beard of his.

"I might just as well go into Bideford and give myself up to the
police," she said. "I couldn't have him in the house, and send for a
local doctor. There would be a scandal all over the place before
to-morrow was out. And he doesn't seem in such great pain, either. It
look's to me as if he had one or two ribs broken, and, with that beard
gone--and I don't suppose he has another one in his suit cases. No,
Martin. I can't possibly call in a local doctor. I couldn't put my head
in a noose like that. Mr. Murdstone must disappear. He must be called
back to London on important business. I will wait here while you go
round and get the car."

"The car, madam; what for?"

"Why, to take Murdstone to London, you fool. Anywhere you like, so long
as he is sufficiently far away from the scene of the trouble. Put him up
in your own rooms, and let me know at the first moment where a letter
will find you. You are going to get the car out and run it down the
drive, and you and I together are going to make your master comfortable
inside. Can't you see the danger of delay? Can't you see what is likely
to happen if your master remains here. Get the car into the road at once
and then come back to me."

It was only a matter of a few minutes before the car stood in the road
and Murdstone, still groaning and more than half unconscious, was lifted
inside. Then Martin took the wheel, and in a short time the car was
speeding down the road.

Shaken and disturbed, and panting from her exertions, the countess crept
back into the dining-room and stood watching Kindale until she had
recovered her equanimity. Then she knocked a decanter off the table and
the old earl opened his eyes.

"Here, where am I?" he asked. "'Pon my word, I must have fallen asleep.
I suppose it was that second glass of liqueur that did it. You couldn't
call me intoxicated, but certainly, I have not consumed so much port for
years. Countess, I humbly beg your pardon. How long have I been asleep?"

Smilingly, the countess pointed to the clock.

"Only a few minutes," she laughed. "That is, if you can call it minutes
at all. If you remember, Professor Rogers was called to the telephone,
and, almost before he had gone, you closed your eyes and I did not care
to disturb you."

"Where is the professor?" Kindale asked.

"Ah, that is a different matter, altogether. I am sorry to tell you that
the professor met with a bit of an accident. He slipped on the polished
floor in the hall and twisted his ankle. It was so badly swollen that
Martin and myself had to carry him up to his bedroom. He is much easier
now, and would not listen to me when I suggested that a doctor should be
sent for. However, if he is not better in the morning, I shall have my
own way over that. It was one of those ridiculous accidents that might
have happened to anybody."

"Would he like to see me?" Kindale asked.

"No, I am quite sure be wouldn't," the countess said promptly. "When I
left him just now, he was practically asleep."

"In that case. I think I had better make my adieux," the earl said
regretfully. "I will come round in the morning to inquire how our dear
friend is getting on, and I dare say, in the circumstances, you will be
glad to get rid of me. You can tell the professor from me that there is
no hurry, so far as our business is concerned, and that when he feels up
to coming over to the Castle I shall be only too delighted to see him."

It was all working out so smoothly and naturally that the countess was
convinced that the earl was entirely innocent of all that had been
taking place during the last hour. She could go to her room presently,
perfectly easy in her mind now that Murdstone was safely out of the way,
and when the earl came over in the morning to inquire as to the
condition of the injured man, she would be able to tell him with a
straight face that the professor had been so much better that he had
actually gone off to town in the car, with the intention of consulting
his own doctor in London.

"Very well," she said. "I think perhaps you are right. Good night, Lord
Kindale. It was very good of you to come over here and dine at a
moment's notice, and I am only too sorry this unfortunate business has
so disturbed the harmony of the evening."

"I hope you will ask me again," the earl said gallantly.




CHAPTER XXII.


The Countess Visconti would have been a good deal less easy in her mind
if she could have seen the expression on her late guest's face as he
crossed the woods in the direction of the Castle. He chuckled to himself
from time to time, and he chuckled still more when he came to the
terrace and saw that the light was still burning in the library. He let
himself in through a side door with his latchkey and made his way up the
staircase on to the broad landing facing the picture gallery. He could
see a thin pencil of light under one of the sitting room doors, and, in
front of this door, he paused and rapped quietly with his knuckles.

"Ah, then you haven't gone to bed yet," he said, as Alcie appeared.
"What are you doing at this time of night?"

"I was finishing a book before I went to bed," Alcie explained. "Is
there anything I can do for you, Lord Kindale?"

"Yes, I fancy there is a good deal," the old gentleman grinned. "Would
you mind coming as far as the library with me?"

Alcie followed willingly enough, and dropped into the big armchair
indicated by her employer.

"Now, then," he said. "Go on."

"But what am I to tell you?" Alcie said.

"Tell me all that has happened this evening. Tell me everything that has
taken place since I went out. You see at the last moment, I changed my
mind, and, instead of eating my sandwiches in here I walked down the
road and dined with the Countess Visconti, and an American friend of
hers who calls himself Professor Rogers. I have reason to believe that
certain people have been here in my absence. Of course, if you were shut
up in your own room, then you can't tell me anything. But were you?"

"As a matter of fact, I wasn't," Alcie said coolly. "I didn't know you
had gone, really, until I went out into the grounds to meet a friend of
mine in answer to a note that he sent me. It was some time after that I
discovered that you were no longer in the Castle. You see, this friend
of mine----"

"Perhaps you had better tell me his name," Kindale suggested.

"Oh, very well. There were two friends, as a matter of fact. One was a
man called Peter Lantary, and the other one was your own nephew, Roy
Kindermere. Does that surprise you?"

"My dear," the old earl smiled. "Nothing surprises a man who has come to
my time of life. But can you tell me why that nephew of mine is hanging
about here and hiding himself?"

"He is doing nothing of the sort," Alcie said coldly. "He came down here
with his friend, Mr. Lantary, to prevent you being robbed of all that
old silver of yours."

"Oh, really?" the earl grinned. "Now I wonder why he should put himself
out for a man who has systematically neglected him ever since he was a
little chap in knickerbockers. He can't expect that I shall do anything
for him."

"I think you are very ungrateful and cruel," Alcie said indignantly. "If
you had been here to-night and seen what was going on----"

"That is exactly what I want you to tell me," Kindale gibed. "My dear
young lady, why all this mystery?"

"Perhaps if you will let me tell you the story in my own way we shall
get on a great deal better," Alcie retorted. "You will be surprised to
hear that the Countess Visconti, who must indeed be practically a
stranger to you----"

"In a way, yes," Kindale said. "But, my dear child, though I am a
recluse, I flatter myself that I am a man of the world and, up to twenty
years ago, there were few fashionable resorts both at home and abroad
that I didn't know as well as I know my own Castle. That is why I am
thoroughly acquainted with the lurid past of the lady who calls herself
Countess Visconti. I never had the honour of her acquaintance, and we
have never exchanged words till the last few days. But that doesn't
matter. Alma Visconti is a thorough bad lot, and she has been mixed up
with half the scoundrels of Europe ever since she was a girl. There is
hardly a big blackmailing scheme within recent years in which she has
not acted as a lure. Oh, I know. And when she came down here and made
herself so friendly I could give a pretty fair guess as to what she was
after. I was absolutely certain when that benevolent American professor
came on the scene. Professor Rogers of Cornell, he called himself, but
as a matter of fact there is no such individual connected with that
famous seat of learning. I didn't want any one to tell me that those
people came down here on purpose to rob me of all my precious treasures.
But I was quite easy in my mind, because I knew exactly what would
happen when they made their attempt. That is why I went off to dine with
the countess this evening, and I must say that a better dinner I never
sat down to. It was so good a dinner that I actually went to sleep
afterwards. A most unpardonable solecism, for which I subsequently
apologised. But when that dear lady told me that I had only been asleep
a few minutes and pointed to the clock in her dining-room as evidence of
the fact, I was convinced that she was not telling the truth. I see it
is now past eleven o'clock, and if that dear lady had been correct it
would only be a few minutes after ten. But that is all by the way. When
I awoke again I was told that the dear professor had sprained his ankle,
and that it had been found necessary to put him to bed. That, of course,
was a brazen-faced lie, though, naturally, I pretended to believe it. I
must have been asleep over an hour, and, during that time, the professor
was out of my sight. In this house, unless I am greatly mistaken. But
something must have gone wrong, because I feel convinced that the
countess was telling me a half truth. Some accident must have happened
to the learned gentleman. Now, perhaps you can tell me exactly what that
accident was."

"Oh, I can do that," Alcie said. "Perhaps you will have a look at your
safe and you will guess what it was."

Kindale crossed over to the rusty old safe and a queer, dry chuckle
broke from his lips as he examined it.

"Ah, yes," he said. "I think I can understand. The professor was using a
saw, or something of that kind on the face of the safe, and, in doing
so, he released the mechanism. We have had that safe in the house for
two hundred and fifty years. It was made for an ancestor of mine by an
ingenious Italian monk who was a perfect master in the craft of
locksmanship. It was he who set all those springs going and provided
those steel arms that were intended to crush the life out of anybody who
attempted to open the safe. It seems to me that Rogers had a narrow
escape of his life."

"He had, indeed," Alcie said. "We were watching from behind that oak
screen, and we thought he was dead. But he was only badly bruised and
beyond the loss of his beard, a portion of which you can see sticking
out from under one of those steel flaps, he was little the worse for his
injuries. He was carried away by a man called Martin, who used to be
butler to that extraordinary person, Felix Murdstone, who was murdered
in Marrion-square."

"Oh, really," the old gentleman exclaimed. "You recognised him, of
course. Because you, yourself, were actually staying in Marrion-square
on the night of that sensational crime. But would you mind telling me
who 'we' are? And, also, I should be glad to know how you all managed to
get into the library."

Alcie proceeded to explain at some length. She spoke of Kindermere and
Lantary, and the more or less mysterious Wren, after which she went on
to tell the story from the moment that she met her friends outside the
house until, at length, they emerged into the library through the secret
door, leading up from the beach by the way of the smugglers' cave.

"Bless my soul, I had forgotten all about that," the old gentleman said.
"I haven't thought of it for years. I suppose Roy learnt all about the
cave from his mother. She knew every inch of that secret passage, and
was never tired of using it in some of those games that she was so fond
of playing. Dear me, how it all comes back to one, after the lapse of
these years. I can see it all pretty plainly now. Martin must have
managed to get Rogers back to the house where he was staying, but it's
any odds that the professor is no longer under the countess's roof. If I
were a betting man I would wager a large sum that Rogers is now on his
way to London in that lovely lady's car. He dare not stay in the house,
he dare not face a local doctor, especially now that he has lost that
wonderfully benevolent beard of his. But, with my knowledge of those
steel arms, I am pretty confident that he will have to lie up for some
considerable time. Then, when we are ready, we will put the police on
his track, and send him to the place where he should have gone many
years ago. And let me tell you that you are the most brave as well as
the most beautiful girl that I have even seen in my life. And if I were
Roy Kindermere----"

The speaker paused significantly, and glanced shyly at Alcie, chuckling
to notice that flush on her cheeks.

"That is a very cruel remark, Lord Kindale," she said. "I know that Roy
cares for me and that--well, why shouldn't I confess it? Love at first
sight. And you are the one man in the world who stands between us and
our happiness."

"But suppose I approach Roy? Do you think he would listen to me after
all these years?"

"My dear Lord Kindale, that depends exactly on how you approach him. If
you do so as an act of charity, then he will not listen. But as your
heir and the next in succession to the property, ah, that would be a
different matter altogether. And now I am going to ask you a question,
seeing that you appear to know so much. I had a great shock this
evening. Mr. Wren told me that my father was not dead, as I thought, but
that he is somewhere in London. Do you think that it is impossible for
Mr. Wren to have made a mistake?"

"Of course he hasn't," the earl chuckled. "Your father is alive, and I
am expecting him down here to-morrow."




CHAPTER XXIII.


Alcie, listening half-dazedly to what the earl was saying, struggled to
believe the evidence of her senses. The whole thing was so strangely
inexplicable, so sudden and unexpected. An hour or two ago and she had
regarded that unfortunate father of hers as being beyond reach of
trouble and now here was a second individual who quietly told her, and
seemed to take it for granted, that Rupert Glynn was still in the flesh.
Moreover, the earl was assuring her that before 24 hours had elapsed she
would find herself face to face with the man she had mourned so truly.

"But I don't understand," she gasped. "Oh, what does it all mean? And
who is this Mr. Wren who comes out of nowhere and tells me that my
father is still alive? I had never heard of him till this evening, but,
all the same, I have no fear. Don't you think you could tell me just a
little more?"

"No, I don't," the old man said gruffly. "You come and breakfast with me
to-morrow morning in the little room behind the library. Never mind
about that confounded poultry. Tell Wagstaff that you are off duty for
the day and that he must get those granddaughters of his to take your
place for the moment. Off you go."

There was nothing for it but to obey, so Alcie crept away puzzled and
bewildered and wondering vaguely if anything had happened to the
universe. She lay in her bed, vainly trying to sleep, and the sun was
high in the heavens when she came to herself and the knowledge that one
of the older servants was standing by her bedside with a cup of tea in
her hand.

"What is the meaning of this, Margaret?" she asked.

"His lordship's orders, miss," the elder woman explained. "I was to tell
you that he would be waiting for you in the cedar parlour, where
breakfast will be ready in half-an-hour."

So, then, the old gentleman had not changed his mind, Alcie thought. She
dressed herself with more than usual care and went down to the cedar
room, where she found Kindale awaiting her.

No, not the Kindale she knew, but a different man altogether. To begin
with, he had had his long grey hair trimmed and his moustache and beard
reduced to respectable proportions. Moreover, he had discarded the
scarecrow suit which he invariably wore and, in the place of it, had
donned a smart coat and vest of tweed and a pair of breeches which,
evidently, had been made in Bond-street. He grinned with almost boyish
delight as he saw the expression of bewilderment that spread over
Alcie's face.

"Yes, quite the sporting dandy, aren't I?" he chuckled. "Do you remember
your Dickens, my dear? Martin Chuzzlewit?"

"Yes, I think I know what you mean," Alcie smiled. "You are speaking of
Todgers. 'Todgers can do it when Todgers likes.'"

"Capital," the old man chuckled, as he rubbed his hands together. "You
see, I can turn out like a gentleman if I want to. So I went down to the
village this morning and induced Jicks, the barber, to cut my hair. I
think he looked upon me as having suddenly taken leave of my senses. But
the effect, eh, what?"

"Beautiful," Alcie smiled. "You look at least ten years younger. But why
this wonderful transformation?"

"The transformation is internally as well as externally," the old man
went on, more gravely. "But we will come to all that presently. Now, you
sit down and pour out the tea whilst I enjoy your company. It is the
first really social meal I have had for goodness knows how long, and I
am going to enjoy it."

He most certainly did, under Alcie's graceful administration, and when,
at length, he had seated himself in a big arm-chair with a cigarette in
his mouth, he seemed to have become another man.

"Now let's be serious," he said. "I dare say you wonder what sort of
game I am playing. And, my dear Alcie, it isn't a game at all. You have
only been here a few days, but, somehow, you seem to have made an
extraordinary difference to the place. You are nothing like what I
expected. I never anticipated for a moment that you would settle down to
a dull life in the country with no one to talk to and no sort of
gaiety."

"I have my living to get," Alcie reminded him.

"Oh, yes, of course. I had forgotten that for the moment. But, then, so
had those other girls, confound them. But that did not prevent the
majority of them packing up and clearing out of the place at the end of
the first week. But you, I think, are quite satisfied to do your work
here----"

"Oh, I am," Alcie said. "Indeed, I am. And I am quite sure that you
meant to be kind to me."

"Um--but I am not so sure of that myself. Still, we need not go into
that. Now, tell me, did you come down here with any ulterior object in
your mind?"

"I don't in the least know what you mean," Alcie said.

"Oh, well, perhaps not," the old man muttered. "All the same, I am quite
sure that that romantic lady, Eva, was not quite as innocent as you
appear to be. I am perfectly certain that her idea was that your beauty
and charm would make a decided impression upon my susceptible heart.
Just like a chapter from one of those romantic novels in the
'Housemaid's Companion.' And then, when you had absolutely fascinated
me, that nephew of mine would come in in some miraculous way on the
scene, and--well, my dear, you know how all those stories invariably
end. Oh, I know. You may not believe it, but there was a time when I was
a young fool myself."

"But then, you see," Alcie smiled. "I don't read those sort of books. I
know that Lady Eva Manfred is a darling, and that she took me in and
looked after me when I hadn't a shilling in the world, and I didn't know
where to seek a night's shelter. If there was a conspiracy, I had
nothing to do with it. And, if you want me to speak plainly, I consider
that Roy Kindermere has a legitimate grievance against Lord Kindale.
What has he done? Never a dishonourable thing in his life, I am certain.
And yet you turn your back upon him, and leave him to starve, as if he
were a criminal. Of course, I ought not to talk to you in this way, but
then, you see, I am very fond of Roy, and I want to see him properly
treated."

"You are a very brave young woman," the old man smiled. "There are not
half a dozen people in the world who would dare to speak to me as you
are doing now. Perhaps it would be as well for me if there were. Then
you really regard me as a selfish old man?"

"Don't you pride yourself on the fact?" Alcie asked coolly.

"Well, I suppose that has been my pose most of my life," the earl
smiled, almost benignly. "I know that mine has been a very lonely
existence down here."

"Yes, and I am sorry for you. I was sorry for you from the first moment
we met. But whose fault was it?"

"Meaning mine, of course. Well, you are quite right, my child. I had two
bitter disappointments in my early manhood, and I was fool enough to
shut myself up with them for years. But I am not going to do so any
longer. There is something better in the world than collecting old
manuscripts and silver, though I have only realised it the last two or
three days. Now, look here, Alcie. A long, long time ago, I knew your
father. You were quite a little girl at the time, and, no doubt, you
have forgotten me. But, out there, in Northern Africa, your father saved
my life, and I have never quite forgotten it. At the time, he would
receive nothing at my hands, though I did offer to help him----"

"But why did he need help?" Alcie asked. "Oh, I know that we were poor
sometimes, but for the most part we had every luxury that we needed. Do
you mean to say----"

"I mean to say a good deal," the old man went on. "And I am afraid I am
going to hurt you a lot. Now, listen carefully to what I have to say,
and don't interrupt."

It was quite a long time before the earl had finished speaking, and
Alcie listened attentively to all that he had to say. She heard the
story of her father's past, and how, towards the end, he came under the
influence of the man called Felix Murdstone, who would inevitably have
led his weaker companion into the clutches of the law. She learnt that
her father all his life had been little better than an adventurer and a
cheat, but that he had refused to ally himself to downright crime, and
had escaped lasting ignominy by pretending to drown himself in the
Mediterranean.

"Now, that man Murdstone was one of the greatest scoundrels on earth,"
the old man went on. "There are scores of men living to-day who have
cursed the hour they met him. And I think you will find, later on, that
the individual called Rufus Wren was one of them. However, that can wait
for a moment. Your father sent you to England because his last desperate
hope was that Murdstone would look after your welfare----"

"But he didn't," Alcie cried. "The house in Marrion-square was little
better than a gambling hell. And I was the lure to bring young men with
money into the house so that Murdstone and the Countess Visconti could
plunder them shamelessly. I don't think that the countess's daughter
knew anything about her mother's past any more than I knew about my
father's. Anyway, I was not allowed to be alone with her long enough to
learn anything of importance. And then came the night when Felix
Murdstone was murdered in the library, and your nephew, Roy, came
mercifully to my assistance and believed every word that I said, though
appearances were against me. Of course, what you have just told me about
my father is a terrible shock, but never did a girl have a more
affectionate parent. And so he is actually coming down here to-day."




CHAPTER XXIV.


"That is so," the earl replied. "He wrote to me over a fortnight ago. In
fact, before you arrived at all, and told me exactly how he was
situated. Mind you, he didn't want to do it, he is just as proud as ever
he was. But he told me practically everything, and asked if I could help
him to get out to the other side of the world, where he hoped, yet, to
do something decent and respectable before he died. So, being under such
an obligation to Rupert Glynn I wrote and asked him to come down here,
and he is coming. He ought to be here in time for dinner this evening.
We will go and meet him together if you like. And now, as to another
matter. What do you think I ought to do, so far as Roy is concerned?"

"I am not going to tell you," Alcie said spiritedly. "And all the more
so, because you know precisely what your duty is in the matter. You
ought never to have turned your back upon him. It wasn't his fault that
his mother married against your wishes."

The earl listened with rather a wry smile on his face.

"You think I ought to take him in favour again?"

"There isn't any favour about it," Alcie said. "You ought to beg his
pardon for the shameful way you have treated him, and ask him to come
down here to take his proper place. I don't mean that he should live
here and simply accept your money, because Roy is not that sort of man.
He wouldn't do it, I know. But there is the Kindale Dower House standing
empty, with all its beautiful furniture and those lovely gardens, where
the heir to the estate has lived in the past when there has been no
dowager to occupy the premises. Why, there are thousands of things that
Roy would be only too glad to do. The estate is going to rack and ruin.
Look at your farm buildings, and cottages. You ought to be ashamed of
them. Oh, dear, I am afraid I am going too far. I am sorry."

"No occasion to be sorry at all, my dear," the old man said. "Everything
you say is absolutely true. And I am ashamed of myself. Now, look here,
I want you to do a little thing for me this morning, and, when you have
done that, we will have lunch together in state in the dining-room, and
you will find Roy there to meet you. I know where he is at the present
moment, and I have sent him and his eccentric friend, Peter Lantary, an
invitation to join us. And the rest, my dear, should be in your own
hands."

Alcie listened with a radiant smile on her lovely face. It seemed as if
she were suddenly walking in fairyland.

"I will try and thank you presently," she murmured. "Meanwhile, what is
it you want me to do?"

"Oh, nothing very much. I should like you to go as far as that house
down the road, where the Countess Visconti is staying, and give her my
compliments, and a request to know how her friend, the learned Professor
Rogers, is getting on. You know the man I mean. The sham American man of
science who was here last night, trying to get into my safe. But he
couldn't do it, my dear, nor could anybody else who does not know the
secret. But he doesn't know yet that I have the least idea that he was
paying me a visit whilst I was peacefully dining with his charming
confederate. What I really want to know is if Rogers is still under the
lady's roof. I have a strong impression that he isn't. But I should like
to be certain before I go any further. Now, what do you say?"

Alcie was only too ready to fall in with the suggestion. She walked very
quietly down the road, and, a quarter of an hour later, found herself in
the long, low drawing-room, face to face with the countess, who made no
effort to conceal her surprise on seeing Alcie under her temporary roof.

"My dear child," she cried. "What on earth are you doing down here? And
what became of you on that dreadful night? I mean the night of Mr.
Murdstone's murder."

"I couldn't very well remain there," Alcie said. "So I went off at once
to stay with some friends. And it was one particular friend who induced
Lord Kindale to give me a job as a land girl on his estate here. I have
been here for more than a week."

"Oh, indeed," said the Countess, with a swift indrawing of her breath.
"Do you find the occupation congenial?"

"I have nothing to complain about," Alcie said. "But I did not come here
to talk about myself. Lord Kindale sent me here to inquire about the
condition of Professor Rogers."

"Oh, I don't think he was very much hurt," the countess said carelessly.
"Of course, you know that he sprained his ankle last night when his
lordship was in the house."

"Then Lord Kindale can see him if he calls."

"Oh, dear, no," the countess smiled. "The professor was under the
impression that he had sustained some serious injury, and he would not
listen to calling in a local doctor. I am afraid he has very little
faith in the average practitioner. At any rate, soon after breakfast
this morning, he borrowed my car and one of my servants took him to
London. Nothing I could say would keep him here, though I dare say he
will be back in a few days."

"He didn't leave any message?" Alcie asked.

"Oh, but indeed he did," the countess cried. "He sent his kindest
regards to Lord Kindale with the hope that he would return in a few days
and complete that business at the Castle."

All this came very glibly from the countess's lips, and Alcie listened
gravely, without betraying the fact that she knew every word to be part
of a tissue of lies. She loitered there a few minutes, and then went
back to the Castle with the information she had gathered.

Kindale listened to it with a sardonic smile.

"That is all that I wanted to know, my dear," he said. "And now you can
make the best of your time until our guests arrive. By the way, I
shouldn't wonder if you found Roy in the library. If you do, you needn't
trouble about me for a bit."

Alcie went off with a bright light in her eyes, and a warm, red flush in
her cheeks. And there, surely enough, in one of the big armchairs in a
window overlooking the sea, she found Roy Kindermere smoking a
cigarette. He threw this out of the window as Alcie approached, and held
out both hands.

"You are truly wonderful," he said, as he drew her towards him. "I must
have missed you, because Kindale told me that you had left the house a
minute before I arrived. Did he tell you that he had sent for me? That
he had invited me to luncheon?"

"Oh, I knew all about that," Alcie said shyly.

"Well, for the last half-hour we have been having a heart-to-heart talk.
You couldn't exactly expect a man of his type to apologise, but he was
quite meek for him, and frankly told me that he had been making a
mistake, so far as I am concerned, all these years. And then, for the
first time, I realised what a lonely old man he must have been. But, my
dear, he would never have sent for me but for that inspiration on Lady
Eva's part. He told me how he had been attracted to you from the very
first, because you spoke your mind freely and told him exactly what you
thought. At the end of half an hour we were on the friendliest possible
terms--so friendly, indeed, that he informed me, quite in his best
manner, that if I didn't marry you, I could--well--go to the devil as
far as he was concerned. So like him, wasn't it?"

"And what did you say?" Alcie asked demurely.

"Say? My dearest girl, what did you expect me to say? I told him I
didn't care two hoots about his money or his estate, but that you were
the only girl in the world for me, whatever happened. Then he stood up
and shook hands heartily, and, upon my word, I thought for a moment that
he was going to kiss me. How on earth did you manage it, Alcie? How did
you manage to convince him that you were the most wonderful creature
that ever happened?"

"Oh, I don't know," Alcie murmured. "I was just my natural self. I think
he appreciated the way in which I buckled to my work. And also
understood why I treated him as I did. And, oh, Roy, isn't the whole
thing splendid?"

There was only one fashion in which Roy could answer this question, and
he did it promptly and emphatically.

"So that's going to be all right, little girl," he said. "We are going
to have a grand luncheon presently to celebrate the event, and I am only
too sorry that Peter won't be here."

"Oh, I am disappointed," Alcie said. "Why isn't he coming? What has
detained him?"

"Oh, he's mad keen to get last night's business completed," Roy
explained. "He has gone into Barnstaple to get in touch with Inspector
Dwight over the telephone but with any luck he will be back here so that
we can all have tea together. Indeed, I don't know how we could have got
along without Peter."

Then followed the lunch, on which the earl had spread himself, and a
thorough understanding as regards the future. It was a long and
exceedingly pleasant meal, after which the earl absented himself under
the plea that he had letters to write in the library, so that Roy and
Alcie were free to sit in the rose garden and plan out all their
movements for a long and happy future. There was nothing now between
them and a lasting prosperity. It seemed as if they were absolutely
alone in the world in that quiet corner of the rose garden looking out
over the sea where, a little before teatime, Lantary burst in upon them
in a state of fine excitement.

"Oh, here you are!" he cried. "I have just got back from Barnstaple with
this copy of the 'North Devon Daily Gazette.' Let me draw your attention
to these few lines in the stop press edition."

Eagerly Roy snatched the paper from his friend's hand. And there he read
the few pregnant lines as follows:--

"Soon after noon to-day the London police arrested a man calling himself
Professor Rogers in an obscure lodging in Soho, and detained him in
connection with the recent dramatic murder in Marrion-square."




CHAPTER XXV.


"I don't quite follow," Roy said, as he glanced from the paper to
Lantary. "The whole thing is so inexplicably involved that it looks
almost like a problem of Euclid to me. Mind, I haven't forgotten what
you told me, but--here, Peter, old man, let's make some sort of a start
at the beginning. In the first place, why did you go off and leave us so
abruptly last night?"

"Because I had to," Lantary explained. "It was imperative that I should
follow Martin, when he was carrying the unconscious body of Professor
Rogers to the countess's house, because I had to know exactly what was
going on. So I left Alcie and yourself, together with Wren not very far
away, and tracked Martin as far as I wanted to shadow him. In the
meanwhile, what did you do?"

"Well, practically nothing," Roy admitted. "As soon as I saw that Alcie
was safe and not in the least frightened, I went back to our lodgings at
the farmhouse, where we are staying, and took Wren with me. He is there
now as far as I know to the contrary, and when you want him he will
come."

"Yes, and meanwhile all sorts of strange things have happened," Alcie
said. "To begin with, there has been a perfect reconciliation between
Roy and his uncle."

"And Alcie brought it about," Roy said proudly. "My dear chap, there
have been fault on both sides, and, perhaps, if I had been a little less
proud and independent----"

"Well, that's good hearing," Lantary said. "And now, perhaps, you would
like to know what happened when we parted last night."

"Of course we should," Alcie exclaimed. "And before we go any further I
should like to know if either of you had anything to do with my father
coming down here."

"Great Scot, you don't mean to say that?" Lantary exclaimed. "Of course.
I knew your father wasn't dead. In fact, I have known it for some time.
And it wasn't quite altogether an accident that enabled me to learn that
your father was alive. You see, I was instrumental in saving my friend,
Harold Mostyn from the clutches of that scoundrel Murdstone, and, when I
had done that, I made up my mind that it would be no fault of mine if
Murdstone did any more mischief. Then came that mysterious murder in
Marrion-square, and it looked as if Providence had intervened to settle
Murdstone's fate. As a matter of fact, Murdstone was not murdered at
all."

"You absolutely amuse me," Alcie cried. "Then who was it who was
identified as Murdstone?"

"A man called Tilson," Lantary went on with his explanation. "One of
Murdstone's own gang. I can only tell you the outline roughly, because I
have not yet verified all the links in the chain. So far as I can
gather, this man Tilson bore a remarkable resemblance to Felix
Murdstone; in fact, they were so much alike that the resemblance enabled
Murdstone to be in two places at once, so to speak. Alibis, and all that
kind of thing. But you will remember, Alcie, that I was in the house in
Marrion-square on the night of the murder. Indeed, it was I who found
the body. Bear that in mind, will you? Then Martin came forward and
professed to believe that he was looking down at his dead master. That
was the evidence that he gave at the inquest. But he knew that he was
lying, because it was through his assistance that the cunning scheme was
worked. You see, the time had come when Murdstone wanted to disappear,
leaving all the world under the impression that he was dead. That was
why Tilson was lured to Marrion-square that night, and killed in cold
blood. It was quite easy for Murdstone as Tilson lay there to so
disguise the dead man that he would pass for Murdstone himself. Even the
police were fairly taken in for the moment. But I put them wise, as the
Yankees say, and they pretended to believe that it was Murdstone himself
who lay on the hearthrug in the library. They quite agreed with my
scheme whereby Murdstone would go off under the comfortable impression
that he was no longer in the flesh. And there was an end to Felix
Murdstone, and directly he was apparently buried Professor Rogers came
on the scene. Now do you see, Alcie?"

"Why, of course," Alcie cried. "You mean Murdstone and Rogers are one
and the same. How stupid of me not to guess that last night when I saw
that long beard torn away."

"Precisely," Lantary went on. "And perhaps you wonder why the police
didn't immediately make the fraud public and set up a hue and cry for
Murdstone, and at the same time, let the general public know that Tilson
was the victim of the crime. But then, you see, they didn't know who the
dead man was. You can't arrest a murderer very well for killing a man
when they are not in a position to prove who he really was. So, on the
whole, they preferred Tilson to be buried under the name of Murdstone,
and lull the latter into a sense of false security. Of course, it will
all come out now, but, at the time, it was a sound scheme to keep the
whole matter a secret. Even Martin was under the impression that he had
thrown dust in the eyes of the police. It was up to me to discover who
Tilson really was, and I don't know how long it would have taken me to
find out if I hadn't more or less tumbled over your father."

"Do you mean to say he was in London?" Alcie asked.

"Indeed he was," Lantary replied. "He came to London almost as soon as
you did. He wanted to be near enough to you to ascertain for certain
that Murdstone was treating you as well as he promised. And, of course,
he wasn't. And your father didn't know what to do. You see, Murdstone so
contrived it that your father was under the impression that the police
were after him. It was a cunning story that Murdstone told him out there
in France, but there was not a word of truth in it, all the same.
Murdstone wanted to get your father absolutely under his thumb so that
he could be compelled to do anything that was required. I hope you won't
mind my speaking so plainly, but you must realise by this time that your
father had--well--something of a past."

"I gathered that last night," Alcie whispered. "And I learnt a great
deal more this morning when I was having a heart to heart talk with the
earl, and he told me that my father was expected down here some time in
the course of today."

"Ah, well, that makes my task a good deal easier," Lantary said with a
sigh of relief. "You see, Murdstone was at the head of a gang of
dangerous international thieves. Only he always pretended to his
confederates that he was really the second in command, and that the head
of the conspiracies was one professor Rogers who rarely, if ever,
appeared in person. It was a cunning idea, because if anything went
wrong, the police would be looking everywhere for Murdstone and never
suspecting for a moment that directly the danger point was reached he
would be hiding under his benevolent guise, long flowing beard and mane
of grey hair and all the rest of it."

"But surely my father----" Alcie began.

"Oh yes, I know exactly what you are going to say," Lantary picked up
the tale. "Your father refused to come into the big scheme. So did his
old friend and colleague, Rufus Wren to say nothing of Tilson. They
would not soil their hands with downright crime, and Tilson went so far
as to threaten to expose his chief. That was why he was murdered. You
see, Murdstone had no great fear either of your father or Wren, though
he kept a close eye on them, all the same. But Tilson had to be got out
of the way. To begin with, he was dangerous, and in the second place, it
was necessary that Murdstone should disappear in such a way that the
police should imagine that he was comfortably in his grave. But your
father knew, because, in his disguise of Professor Rogers, Murdstone
called upon him. I know that because I kept a close eye on Martin, and
when I realised what was taking place I called on your father in his
obscure lodgings and we talked the matter over at some length. I knew
perfectly well last night that Rogers, alias Murdstone, would make an
attempt to get away with the earl's plate and clear out of the country
altogether. I knew he was frightened, because it was I who arranged that
Wren should see him and ask him what had become of John Tilson. That
Wren did down here. And the interview had the desired effect. So, you
see, there was no time to be lost if Murdstone and his confederate, the
countess, were to get out of the country."

"Oh, of course I know all that," Alcie said. "But, tell me, what
happened last night? You see, the earl told me a good deal, because he
had suspected the professor from the first, and he knew a great deal
about the past history of Countess Visconti. Why, at his suggestion, I
called upon the countess this morning and inquired after the professor,
only to learn that he was no longer in the neighbourhood. He had met
with an accident, the countess said, and had gone off in a car to see
his doctor in London. But I suppose what I am saying is no news to you,
Peter."

"Not a scrap," Lantary said. "I followed those two last night and I
stayed long enough hanging about in the road to see Murdstone being
driven away by Martin, and I guessed the reason why. I felt sure they
were going to London, and directly I saw them start I walked into
Bideford to the police station there and got on the telephone to
Scotland Yard. I gave them a description of the car and asked them to
'phone to certain police headquarters on the road. I take it that they
did so, because you can see from the paper I have just given you that
Murdstone and Martin have been arrested, and I shouldn't wonder if the
countess didn't find herself in custody before the day is out. It will
be rather difficult to connect her with the affair at the Castle last
night because she is a clever and cunning woman, and would refuse to put
her head too far into the noose."

"Well, I suppose we can't do anything now but wait upon events," Roy
suggested. "Won't you come in the Castle and see the earl? He will be
most interested in your story."

"Certainly I will," Lantary said. "I have asked Dwight to call me up
here if there is any fresh news."




CHAPTER XXVI.


The Earl of Kindale was pleased enough to see Lantary and listened to
the extra ordinary story that he had to tell.

"Amazing!" he cried. "Most astounding! But why didn't you bring that man
Wren along with you?"

"He wasn't particularly anxious to come," Lantary explained. "He has
done his share of the business, and all he wants now is to get out of
the country without any fuss or bother. But you know something of him,
don't you?"

"I know all about his family," the earl smiled. "And I know something of
the past of that unfortunate man, Tilson. Those two and Alcie's father
were in the army together at one time, and they all of them went astray.
Kipling's black sheep, don't you know. Fine chaps, all of them, only
they could not go straight. Now perhaps you would like to look at that
patent safe of mine."

With that, Kindale led the way into the library, and began to expound
the virtues of his strong-room.

"It is a most ingenious mechanism," he said, "and, in the ordinary
course of events, should have been fatal to Murdstone when he tried to
saw through the outer case. Those steel bars are strong enough to crush
the life out of anybody. You see, that safe is hardly damaged, except
for a mark here and there, made by the saw. But Murdstone must have cut
deep enough to set the mechanism in motion, and he came very near to
ending his life in the experiment. So, you see why I am quite easy in my
mind as to the safety of my collection. If I heard a thief in the night
prowling about the library I should not take the trouble to get out of
bed to come and see. I should expect to arrive down the next morning and
find him lying dead by the side of the safe. And now, Alcie, go and put
your hat on, because the car's at the door and I am going to take you as
far as the station to meet your father."

Kindale and Alcie had hardly left the house before the telephone bell
rang, and a servant appeared with the information that somebody wanted
to speak to Mr. Lantary on the wire.

"Ah, that will be Inspector Dwight, for a million," Lantary said. "I
shall have some news when I come back."

With that, Lantary went off to a little room at the back of the hall
where the telephone had been set up, and closed the door carefully
behind him before he took down the receiver.

"Hello," he said gently. "Hello, Lantary speaking. Who is that at the
other end of the wire, please?"

"Dwight," came the reply. "I couldn't 'phone you before because there is
always the chance of a message being overheard. I suppose you know that
Murdstone was arrested."

"But that must have been hours ago," Lantary said cheerfully. "I have
already read the news in one of the local evening papers. You don't mean
to tell me he has escaped?"

"Not quite in the way you mean," Dwight said quietly. "I mean that the
man is dead."

"Killed by his injuries?" Lantary asked eagerly.

"No, I can't say that. In fact, he was not so badly hurt as you might
think. A couple of ribs broken, but nothing worse than that. So I
arrested him and Martin and had the ambulance brought round to take
Murdstone to a hospital. But he did us on the way. I suppose he had the
stuff in his pocket."

"Meaning prussic acid?" Lantary asked.

"Well, the next best thing. Cyanide of potassium. He must have had a
pellet in his waistcoat pocket and slipped it into his mouth on the way
to the hospital. Anyhow, he is dead, and I don't see what we should gain
by making the facts public. Of course, we could take proceedings against
Martin, and I dare say we could make things very uncomfortable for the
beautiful countess. But whether we should get a conviction or not is
quite another thing. My inclination is to keep the thing out of the
papers altogether. There is always a certain section of the public who
take a sentimental view of every case, and some of the Press might blame
us for burying a man under one name whilst at the time we knew that it
was nothing more than a pseudonym. We can't punish Murdstone now,
because he is beyond our grasp. However, I will let you know one way or
the other within two or three days. Meanwhile, I will ask you to accept
the grateful thanks of Scotland Yard for the amazingly clever way in
which you have handled the business. That is all for the present."

It was an hour or two later before Lantary was in a position to describe
the recent developments to the little party which had gathered under the
roof of Kindale Castle. Meanwhile, Alcie had been seated quietly in
another room talking over past events with her father. The revelation as
to his past came as a shock to her, but she could not forget the fact
that her welfare had always been his first concern, and that, so far as
she knew, he had been one of the best and kindest parents in the world.

"I hoped you would not find all this out, my child," Glynn said
presently. "I didn't want you to know about my past, because it has been
forgotten long ago, and the name of Rupert Glynn has faded from the
memory of all his old friends. I wrote and asked Kindale if I could come
down here, and he replied that I should be perfectly welcome. But one
thing he insisted upon and that was that you should hear my story from
my own lips. And, perhaps, on the whole, it is as well, because now Roy
Kindermere knows and you haven't to go through the humiliation of
telling him."

"It would have been no humiliation," Alcie said gently. "Because, you
see, Roy loves me, and anything that had happened in the past would not
have made the slightest difference to his affection for me. And I dare
say, in the course of time----"

"No, my child, no," Glynn said firmly. "I am not going to stay here,
where I might meet old friends at any time, and I am not going to bring
disgrace upon you through chance meetings. Everybody believes me to be
dead, except the few that matter, and I am quite prepared to let it go
at that. You see, I am a comparatively young man still, Alcie; not 45,
and without a grey hair in my head. I am going out to Australia with
Wren, who has the command of certain capital, and the earl has promised
to put up my portion. You see, he is not really the man that most people
take him for."

"Indeed he is not," Alcie said warmly. "He is really a kind and generous
friend, only he has allowed himself to fall into a sort of hermit-like
state, and come to imagine that there if no such thing as honour or
honesty in the world. I felt that from the first moment we met, and,
consequently, I was not in the least afraid of him. I think he liked
that, father; at any rate, he likes some one who can stand up to him,
and I did that, because my instinct told me that there was a heart of
gold under all that rugged exterior of his. And when I brought him and
Roy together, it was the happiest moment of my life. It would have been
so even if there had been no sort of affection between Roy and myself.
And now let us go back and join the others in the library."

There, in the library, they found Lantary telling the sequel to the
story of the amazing crime in Marrion-square, just as he had heard it
from Inspector Dwight, of Scotland Yard.

"Ah," the old man chuckled. "That inspector friend of yours, Lantary, is
no fool. It would be a stupid thing if the police allowed the story to
become public, and, so far as we are concerned, it is not likely to be
mentioned. But I should like to see the countess's face when she hears."

"It's long odds that she knows by this time," Roy said. "At any rate,
she must have seen the paragraph in the local evening paper to the
effect that the sham professor had been laid by the heels. My dear
uncle, I shouldn't be in the least surprised if that audacious lady were
to write you a letter asking you to dine with her this evening. She has
an almost divine audacity, and, in my mind, I can see her talking to
you, and bewailing her misfortune in being beguiled into extending her
hospitality to one of the world's greatest scoundrels, under the
impression that she had been entertaining a man of science of world-wide
repute. Oh, she'll stay down here and bluff it out, all right, but if I
were you I should certainly not run the risk of dining with her----"

"Thanks very much, my boy," the earl said dryly. "I have no intention of
doing anything of the sort. If she does write to me, I will send a
diplomatic reply, containing certain information, which she will be able
to read between the lines. Meanwhile, we will forget all about her, and
we'll all dine in the state-room this evening to celebrate the great
occasion. I can't give you much of a show at present, and I am not going
to ask you to dress. But this I can promise you--Kindale Castle is going
to be a very different place in the future. I am going to come out as
the hospitable head of the county. And I am going to give Alcie and Roy
the Dower House to live in when they are married, so that they can be
near me, and run in and out of the Castle just as if it was their own.
And I hope that that joyous occasion is not very far off."

"Not if I have my way," Roy said boldly.

Alcie glanced from one to the other with gleaming eyes and trying to
realise that all this happiness had actually come into her life, which,
only a few days ago, appeared to be dreary and blank. And yet, as if
some fairy wand had been waved over the Castle, all that had been
changed to warmth and sunshine.

"Well, my dear," the earl said. "What do you say?"

"Oh, I don't know what to say," Alcie cried. "It all seems so wonderful
and so different from what it was only yesterday. And if Roy really
wants me, and it will make you happy, uncle--I may call you uncle,
mayn't I?--then I should like to spend a week or two with that dear Lady
Eva, to whom I owe so much."

"That is a happy thought of yours," the earl said. "My dear child, it
shall be just as you like."



THE END


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