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Title: A Broken Memory
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: A Broken Memory
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in the Geraldton Guardian and Express, W.A., in serial form
commencing Saturday 28 January, 1933.

*



CHAPTER I.


The girl with hair the colour of heather honey came out of the cottage
into the thin, spring sunshine and paused before a bed of daffodils
nodding in the breeze. Behind her, a fitting background for beauty
garbed in a cotton sun bonnet, the low house with its ancient thatch
tanned to a dull brown by fifty years of storm and sunshine. In front
the garden in which Gladys Brooke took such a pride and delight. A
typical old world cottage garden in which was set the house which dated
back to the days of the Merrie Monarch. Beyond that a sort of broad lane
fringed by tall elms which straggled along until it reached the village
street. A shop here and there, a public house in black and white, the
smithy, and again the church, with the vicarage under its shadow
fronting the Georgian residence of the doctor and again the entrance to
the squire's domain.

It was not always that Gladys Brooke had lived in that ideal spot,
remote even from the rush and fret of motors and sightseers. Three years
before, she had been just the fortunate type of young woman with money
to spend and no heed, save for herself and her own recreation. She and
her brother, Wilfred, had been left alone in the world with more than
sufficient for their wants, which had been modest enough, so far as
Gladys was concerned. For she was essentially an open-air girl, keen on
sport and quite content to spend a few days in town occasionally, with
now and then a dance and dinner. And so it had gone on until the time
came when Wilfred, who was three years her junior, began to cause her
considerable anxiety.

Wilfred was not an idler, exactly, but headstrong and impatient of
advice, going his own way and gradually getting into a fast, monied set,
with the inevitable consequences. He had been wise enough to retain his
position in a great mercantile house where his father had placed him
before he died, but beyond that, he showed little sign of self-reliance
and a proper sense of responsibility. It was some time before Gladys
found out that Wilfred was spending a great deal more than he could
afford in following the fortunes of the turf. She had no idea, until the
crash came, how deeply he was involved in that insidious form of
gambling, though there were occasions when he had borrowed money from
her, which she considered that he had no right to do. With his salary
and private income of some three hundred a year and sharing a flat with
her in London, he ought to have been happy and comfortable enough and,
no doubt, would have been but for his passion for horseflesh.

And then, like a bolt from the blue came the tragedy. Gladys was still
thinking of it then, as she stood in the sunshine watching a bed of
nodding daffodils and the narcissi that filled the air with fragrance.
She could see it all as she stood there--the sullen look on that white,
handsome face of Wilfred's, and the words that came from his lips as he
told her of his shame. He had come back from the office early so that
she had been surprised to see him in the sitting room of the flat.
Wilfred had been dismissed and that in ignominy and disgrace by a kindly
employer, who had told him that he had only retained Wilfred's services
so long out of respect for the boy's dead father. And even he, the head
of the firm, would be powerless to prevent a prosecution unless
restitution was made.

"How--how much?" Gladys had ventured with pallid lips. It was
characteristic of her that she uttered no reproach. "What is it that you
have to find?"

"Six thousand pounds," Wilfred confessed sullenly.

"But your own money?" Gladys asked.

"Gone long ago," Wilfred said recklessly. "Not a penny of that left. If
you only knew what infernal luck I have had you wouldn't look at me like
that. If things had gone well I should have made a fortune, and now I
don't know where to turn."

"We have got to face this," Gladys said steadily. "If I understand
correctly, you will be prosecuted by the directors unless this sum is
forthcoming."

"That is about what it comes to," Wilfred confessed. "I have until the
end of the week and perhaps you----"

He paused and looked almost imploringly at his sister.

"Go on," Gladys interrupted with a touch of hardness. "You might just as
well say it as leave it to me. I am to find the money to save our name
from disgrace and keep you outside of a jail. Very well, I will do it."

"You always were a brick," Wilfred murmured.

"Oh, please don't," Gladys replied. "I don't want to do it, but I must,
and you see that I must. You came back this afternoon on purpose to ask
me to find it. Now, don't deny it. The money shall be found, and, when
it is, I shall have little more than a few hundreds left. That means
that I must find some way of getting a living and I dare say I shall
manage that because I have always been told that I could turn my talent
of painting to advantage. But there is one condition, Wilfred. If I get
you out of this mess, you must leave England."

"Oh, come, I say!" Wilfred protested.

"On no other condition," Gladys said firmly. "So long us you stay in
London and mix with the reckless lot who have helped to ruin you, it
will always be the same. I will go round to-morrow morning and see Mr.
Trevor. He seems to have behaved very well to you, and, for the sake of
our own good name, I am grateful, and perhaps, with his connections all
over the world he may be able to find you something to do somewhere. For
the moment there is nothing more to be said."

So Gladys had gone to the head of the great firm in Billiter street and
had found in him a kindly and sympathetic friend.

"Do I understand you will find this money?" he asked.

"Every penny of it," Gladys said. "I dare not go to relatives and I
cannot see my brother disgraced."

"I am afraid this will cripple you," the great man said.

"It will take practically all I have," Gladys said quietly. "Not that I
mind that, much, because, after all, mine is rather a selfish sort of
life. On the whole, I think I should be happier getting my own living."

"And how do you propose to do that?"

"Well, you see, I have a certain talent with my brush. Really I am quite
clever in designing. For instance, I design all my own dresses. More
than once, I have sent coloured sketches to the Paris firms where I have
occasionally been extravagant enough to buy a frock and they have
invariably been accepted and paid for. Oh, I have no anxiety about the
future."

The elderly man with the iron-grey hair looked admiringly at the pretty
girl who sat opposite him. There was something about her rather unusual
style of loveliness that appealed to the man of money. Besides, he had
daughters of his own and he had forgotten the rigid calls of business
for the moment.

"It is a great pity," he said grimly, "that your brother is not more
like you. Now, my dear young lady, listen to me. I want to help you if I
can. It isn't I who want the money, but I am merely the head of a great
limited liability company, and my co-directors are very bitter against
your brother. They regard it as a shameful thing that a young man like
himself with no encumbrances and, ostensibly in the possession of a
private income, should have got himself into this mess. They are not so
much concerned with the moral side of the matter as with the material
aspect. If I can assure them that the money will be paid, then you will
hear no more about it. So we may regard that as settled. But you I want
to assist. Now I have a good many irons in the fire. In confidence, I
have very large interests in a great Paris dress house, the name of
which I will give you. Moreover, I will give you a personal letter to
the head of the firm. Perhaps, between us, we can find you regular
occupation. No, I don't want any thanks. And now, as I am exceedingly
busy----"

With that the kindly old gentleman bustled Gladys out of the office, and
she went her way in a far happier frame of mind than that in which she
had arrived. Moreover, Mr. Trevor was as good as his word. Within three
months, Gladys found herself with more work, almost, than she could do,
work, moreover, for which she was exceedingly well paid.

And there was something in this great misfortune that seemed to bring
out all that was fine and noble in her nature. She turned her back upon
the life she had been leading, purchased the thatched cottage in the
country, where she settled down with an elderly servant who had been her
nurse in the old days. And there, almost to her great surprise, she was
wholly and entirely satisfied with her work and her garden and the
flowers that had been so carefully tended by the previous tenant. And
she had been as good as her word, so far as Wilfred was concerned. She
had seen him off to South Africa, where she had managed to secure a post
for him in a Cape Town bank. It was not a big opening, nor were the
prospects particularly good. But it meant work and discipline and a
strict supervision which she hoped in time would make another man of
that weak-minded brother of hers.

Not that she didn't feel the separation. It had been a terrible wrench,
but once it was over, she was good. And now Wilfred had been in Cape
Town for the best part of two years and his letters were beginning to
grow less frequent than they had been at first. It was two mouths, now,
since Gladys had heard from him and, as she stood there in the sunshine,
she was wondering if the post would bring her anything that morning.

The postman drifted down the lane presently and handed Gladys nothing
more than a newspaper over the gate.




CHAPTER II.


No letter from Wilfred, again, she thought. Still, the newspaper meant
something. Gladys could see at a glance that it was a copy of the South
African Banner, which came to her regularly every week as evidence that
her brother was alive and well. Wilfred had taken out a subscription so
that the journal in question arrived punctually every Monday morning. It
was disappointing that another mail should have arrived without anything
more tangible than that paper in question, and Gladys walked into the
cottage a little depressed and, to tell the truth, just a little annoyed
as well. She cheered herself with the thought that next Monday would
probably bring the desired letter, so that she turned into that
pleasant, beautifully furnished sitting room of hers where breakfast
awaited her. An old woman with a cheery, apple face, and a pleasant
smile hovered over the table with an air of expectation which Gladys did
not fail to note.

"No Marta," she said. "No letter again this morning. But the paper has
arrived, as you see."

"Yes, I see that, miss," the elderly retainer said with a sniff. "But
there, Master Wilfred always was that careless. Not that he means to
forget you. I'm sure."

Gladys finished breakfast leisurely and then, for the next hour or so,
was busy in that little attic studio with her work. She came down just
before lunch time and sat in the sunny porch of the cottage with the
South African paper in her hand. She had nothing to do for the next half
hour or so, and there was more than one item of interest in the news
sheet which she spread out over her knee. She came presently to a story
which was not badly told and evidently the work of some newspaper man
who possessed a considerable literary faculty and the gift of telling a
narrative in an attractive fashion.

It related to the adventures of three or four Englishmen who had gone up
from Cape Town, right through to the wilds of Upper Rhodesia in search
of treasure. There had been rumours to effect that precious stones had
been found there, rubies as well as diamonds, but that the locality was
in the hands of a certain none too friendly tribe that had spelt
disaster to more than one pioneer in the past.

But these fresh adventurers seemed to have been more successful than
their predecessors. They had not only contrived to make their way as far
as Tom Tiddler's ground, where the treasure lay, but had managed to send
letters down country describing their success. So far, there had been no
sensational find of rare gems, but here and there, they had picked up a
few stones which convinced them that they were on the eve of a discovery
that was likely to prove of great advantage. Beyond doubt, the treasure
lay there, and it was only a question of how soon the ground could be
properly laid out and used to the great commercial benefit of the
community.

All this was in the first part of the story. It was told in letter form
without mentioning any names and merely retailed as an item of interest.
Then a bit lower down in the column the drama began to develop itself.
The three white men who formed the party, together with their native
followers, had found themselves suddenly in great peril. They had
contrived, some way or another, mortally to offend some native chief on
whose land they had trespassed and, in the end, they had found
themselves taken prisoners. One of the three Englishmen had met his
death in an attempted escape and between the lines of the story, Gladys
could see that the victim in question had been more or less callously
abandoned by his two companions who were only too anxious to get away
with whole skins. They had managed to fight their way down country with
the aid of their rifles and camp followers and at length reached the
outposts of civilisation where the story was told to a trader who had
passed it on to the journalist who was responsible for the narrative.

And then and there, the tale more or less abruptly ended. There was the
suggestion that more would follow next week, and with this Gladys had to
be content.

It was nothing to her, she told herself, and, yet all the same, the
story moved her strangely. Why had those two men stolen away under the
cover of the night and abandoned their comrade to his fate? So far as
Gladys could gather, each of the Englishmen had been a bound prisoner in
separate huts. One of them had managed to escape his bonds and free his
nearest neighbour before the alarm was given. Then they had contrived to
secure a rifle each, and a plentiful stock of ammunition and collect a
handful of their black followers. But they had not troubled about the
third man, who was lying, bound, in a hut not half a mile away from the
scene of the fight. Surely two Englishmen, fully armed, could have held
their own against a whole tribe of savages whose only weapons were
spears, and have made an attempt, at least, to rescue their unfortunate
comrade whom they had so cruelly abandoned to torture by a savage tribe.
It did not sound like British pluck and courage at all.

Gladys was about to throw the paper down in silent contempt when her eye
caught a faint, badly printed paragraph opposite the leader page. It was
the familiar item in what is called the stop press edition, and
contained altogether but a few lines which ran as follows:--


"With regard to our adventure story on page five, some further
information has come to hand. It appears that the three Englishmen
concerned in the 'Through Upper Rhodesia in Search of Treasure' are
named respectively Patrick French, Walter Bland, and Wilfred Brooke. It
is the latter, who, unfortunately met his death at the hands of savages
after he was apparently abandoned by his companions who were apparently,
unable to effect his rescue. Mr. French is a wealthy young traveller and
explorer, who came to South Africa some few years ago in search of
adventure. Mr. Bland is also an Englishman, who, we understand, was
connected with the theatrical profession, and who has been with many
touring companies through the colonies for some considerable time. The
unfortunate man who lost his life was until lately, a clerk in the
Universal Bank, Natal. He was a comparatively newcomer."


The paper fluttered lifelessly from Gladys' hand. It was as if someone
had struck her a blow in the face. So, then Wilfred was dead. He had
perished miserably in a foreign land in circumstances that Gladys
shuddered to contemplate. Perhaps it was all for the best, but Gladys
was not in the mental condition to take this philosophical view of the
case yet.

She sat there, trying to piece this extraordinary puzzle together. To
begin with, what was Wilfred doing in that expedition? Why had he
suddenly abandoned his post in Cape Town and gone off wandering into the
wilderness so abruptly without writing a single line to his sister about
it? It had been little less than a miracle that had put Wilfred on his
feet again and turned his head in the right direction. And then, just as
he had the chance of making good and wiping out the disgraceful past, he
had wilfully flung to the winds the gifts the gods had sent him and
become a mere wanderer on the face of the earth. Why had he done
it--why? Gladys asked herself the question over and over again without
arriving at any sensible conclusion.

And then there came another dreadful thought. Had Wilfred fallen away
from grace again and lost his situation? Every circumstance pointed to
that conclusion. Doubtless he had fallen into evil hands again and been
led away by bad companions. Who was this man, Bland, for instance.
Gladys had never heard of him before. An actor of no repute, evidently
probably an adventurer touring Africa with a fifth-rate company, and
ready for anything that came along.

But French--Patrick French was a different proposition altogether.
Gladys knew all about him. In the early days when his correspondence was
regular, Wilfred had spoken of French over and over again. He was a
splendid chap--a top-hole fellow. One of the very best, generous and
handsome, and a man of family besides. Any amount of money, and only
wandering about to amuse himself. Never had there been such a man as
Patrick French, according to Wilfred's account. Very impulsive, too, and
candid to a fault. Why, had he not fallen in love with Gladys'
photograph the first time he had seen it, and sworn by all his gods that
hers was the face of the ideal wife of his dreams!

It all came back to Gladys with overwhelming force as she sat there with
her face in her hands. Poor Wilfred, as usual the worst judge of a man
in the world, had placed himself in the hands of this cowardly scoundrel
who had deliberately left him to a cruel and quite unnecessary fate.

But it was idle to sit there brooding when there were things to be done.
Gladys rose to her feet, and, putting on her hat, walked across the
fields to the neighbouring town of Marwich, rather than send off a
cablegram from the village post-office. She was not known at Marwich,
and from there she could cable to Wilfred's late bank manager at Cape
Town and prepay the reply, it was only a question of hours before the
response came, and, in the meantime, she could only sit down and wait.
She had to tell Marta, of course, but no more than it was necessary for
that excellent gossip to know. Mr. Wilfred was dead, he had died on a
hunting expedition, and Gladys had read all about it in the papers that
she had received that morning. And Marta accepted the explanation
without asking to see the account in print--which was, perhaps, just as
well.

It was quite late in the evening before the telegraph boy came with the
eagerly-expected message. It ran:--

"W.B. discharged over four months ago. Know nothing whatever of his
whereabouts since."




CHAPTER III


It was not in Gladys' nature to lie down beneath a blow such as this. It
had been bad enough to realise that Wilfred was dead, but to find that,
for the second time, he had been unable to resist temptation hurt Gladys
perhaps more than the knowledge of his death. In a queer, inconsequent
way, the mere fact that Wilfred was no longer alive was a sort of
relief. He might have gone on for years causing her grief and anxiety,
and, what was just as bad, probably coming to her at short intervals for
pecuniary assistance.

But she had hoped, at any rate, that the lesson he had learnt in London
would have been a permanent one. Yet, here he was, at the expiration of
a further two years, once more involved in disgrace and degradation.
Still, he was dead now and, with all his faults, Gladys mourned him
sincerely.

She had forgotten all about the man and his selfish pleasures--she only
recollected the bright, happy boy he used to be and how she had shared
in his youthful triumphs, because Wilfred had always been a good
sportsman and, both at school and afterwards, had shone where athletic
pursuits were concerned. But now that was all over, there was nothing
but a bitter-sweet memory left and the knowledge that time would heal
the wound.

All the same, Gladys would have given a good deal for a real friend. She
had always been fairly independent since her parents had died when she
was very young, and she and Wilfred had been left to the casual care of
relatives and guardians. She had seen something of her relatives at
intervals during the time she was in London, but after the disgraceful
affair in Billiter Street, she had been inclined to shun her own flesh
and blood. So far as she knew none of these had the least idea of why
Wilfred had left the employ of his London firm and gone but to South
Africa. One or two of them had expostulated with her when she had turned
her back on the metropolis and elected to bury herself in what her smart
relations called the dismal country. But she had done so and, from that
moment, had led her own life. She knew the doctor's wife and the vicar
and, on one or two occasions, had dined at their houses. But for the
most part, she had kept very much to herself, with an occasional
week-end on some distant golf links, or a flying visit to town to see
some play, the account of which had interested her.

And here she was now, at a crisis of her life, practically alone in the
world. Her first impulse had been to sell or otherwise dispose of the
cottage and go out to South Africa to make inquiries. For a brief
moment, she had entertained the wild idea of trying to find her
brother's grave.

But that, she realised, was out of the question. Still, she would have
liked to confront the two men who seemed to be entirely responsible for
Wilfred's death and denounce them to their faces. It had been so unlike
the unfortunate Wilfred to pick out the last men in the world as his
intimates. No doubt these two scoundrels had made use of him and then,
when the crisis came, turned their backs upon him without the slightest
compunction. There was that man, Patrick French, for instance. Wilfred
had spoken of him in his letters as if he were a sort of Admiral
Crichton, a being sans peur et sans reproche. A gentleman of birth and
fortune who would have scorned to do anything that suggested meanness or
cowardice. A man who had dared to admire her photograph and pretend that
he saw in it the ideal for whom he had been looking all through his
manhood! The angry tears came into Gladys' eyes as she thought of it.
And this was the man to whom Wilfred had offered his friendship!

Of the other individual she knew nothing, but she could imagine the
class of man he was. A strolling actor, a bragging boasting liar, who
lived like a parasite upon his acquaintances. Gladys dismissed him from
her mind without another thought. She was never likely to meet him face
to face, but perhaps, some day, she might meet this Patrick French and
expose him for the coward and false friend that he was.

At any rate, she could make inquiries. If he belonged, as he had said,
to a good English family, and if he was in the possession of means of
his own, it would not be a difficult matter to look up his record; but
that would have to remain for the moment and, in the meantime, she would
have to wait as patiently as she could for further details. They would
come to her, no doubt, in the course of time, through the medium of the
same South African paper when the story of the excursion into Upper
Rhodesia came to be concluded.

So Gladys hugged her grief to herself, saying nothing even to the
faithful Martha as to the ugly side of the tragedy. Wilfred was dead,
and there was an end of it. No occasion to let the faithful old serving
maid know that he had died under the shadow of a double disgrace.

It was three weeks before the post brought further news from the Cape.
There was the copy of the South African Banner which, strangely enough,
contained nothing more of the adventure story but with it arrived two
letters, both addressed in unfamiliar handwriting to Miss Gladys Brooke
at Heatherthatch Cottage, near Marwich. Gladys turned them over in her
hand, wondering who her strange correspondents could be. She broke the
seal of one and began to read.

The heading was an address in Elizabeth st., Cape Town, and the
signature at the end was that of one, Gerald Lewis. The name was utterly
unfamiliar to Gladys, so that she turned wonderingly back to the opening
lines.



"Dear Miss Brooke (it began)

"I dare say you will wonder why you are hearing like this from a total
stranger and why I am addressing you so familiarly. But, the fact is, I
was very friendly with your late brother and I conclude that you already
know of his death, because it has already been recorded for some weeks
in the South African Banner, which paper I have every reason to know is
regularly sent you from the publisher's office.

"Now, I have been on extremely intimate terms with your brother ever
since he came out here. He worked in one bank and I in another. We met
in the ordinary course of business and, both being Englishmen, and
knowing very few people in this part of the World, naturally chummed up
together. As we were equally fond of sport and had learnt our games in
the same public school, you can see that this was another bond between
us.

"I should have written to you two or three weeks ago only, unfortunately
I met with a rather serious accident which rendered such a course
impossible and I am taking this very first opportunity, of placing
before you certain incidents in your brother's life which I hope, will
place him and his memory in a more favourable aspect in your mind.
Because I am more or less the cause of all the trouble.

"I am taking it for granted, of course, that you have already learnt the
exact circumstances in which Wilfred left the bank where he was
employed. He was dismissed and, but for one or two little things that I
shall allude to presently, would undoubtedly have suffered for what some
people would regard as his criminal folly. But it was not as bad as
that. There were circumstances that show Wilfred to be not only a good
friend, but also one who never meant to do wrong.

"And now I come to what I really have to say. As I have told you, your
late brother and myself were great friends and very fond of sport. If we
had only left racing alone, nothing would have happened. And we should
never have touched that if had it not been for a poisonous scoundrel
called Walter Bland. At one time he was a gentleman, I believe--at least
by birth. To-day he is a dissipated, drunken actor--a brilliant type of
man who might have been anything if he had only kept straight. Just the
sort of man to make a deep impression upon young fools like ourselves.
He has been all over South Africa, and was full of stories about hidden
wealth, especially in Upper Rhodesia, where he always boasted that he
could put his hand upon unlimited treasure if he only had a little
money, and one or two resolute men behind him. Of course, we believed
this story, more or less, because Bland has a very convincing way of
telling a narrative, and, more than that, he showed us a sort of rough
map by means of which the scene of the treasure could be reached. We
were rather impressed by that, and so was another man we knew. This is a
chap called Patrick French, a rich young Englishman who had come out to
South Africa solely in search of adventure. But I dare say you know all
about him, because I am quite sure that your brother mentioned him in
his letters home.

"And here I am, wandering again. That man, Bland, got me into a terrible
mess in connection with a horse and a game of cards. Your brother was
more or less in it, too, but I was the loser in that swindle, and when
we came to balance up accounts, I found myself owing Bland over a
hundred pounds. Of course, the whole thing was a bare faced swindle, but
I could not prove it and so I was forced to pay.

"Now, at that time, I had not a hundred shillings in the world. I told
your brother all about it and, to my great surprise he offered to lend
me the money. This rather staggered me, because I knew that a week
before he was as hard up as myself. Then he told me that his bank had
been floating a new issue of mining shares and that he had contrived to
buy a block of these himself, feeling sure that they would go up. Well,
they did go up and he cleared over a hundred pounds. He hadn't actually
got it, because he was working the commission through a local broker,
but it was as good as in his pocket. The broker was a reliable man so
that I felt quite safe. The next day Wilfred came to me and gave me a
handful of notes which I duly passed over to Bland, and there I thought
the matter ended."




CHAPTER IV.


Gladys laid the letter on one side for the moment and drew a long, deep
breath of thankfulness. She knew instinctively that she had not yet
reached the dramatic climax of the letter, but she had read enough to
see that her dead brother had not wilfully fallen away from grace for
the second time. At any rate, if he had, it was more for the sake of
friendship than anything else, and he had nothing to gain by it.

She picked up the letter and resumed.

"And now comes the cruel part of the story. I, of course, was under the
impression that Wilfred had gone to his stockbroker friend and drawn the
money in advance. But, as a matter of fact he had anticipated things and
taken the necessary cash from the coffers of the bank. He had done this
being absolutely convinced that in a couple of days he would have been
enabled to make good. But it is always in circumstances like these that
fate chooses to play a spiteful part. The broker in question was waylaid
coming home from his club late at night by gang of hooligans who treated
him so cruelly that, when the police arrived on the scene, the
unfortunate man was dead. Needless to say the money that Wilfred had
expected, and which he had every intention of replacing in the bank
drawer, did not arrive till many days after, with the inevitable
consequences for poor old Wilfred. I could not raise a cent from
anybody, and the only man who could have helped us had gone suddenly up
country on a short shooting expedition. If Patrick French had remained
in Cape Town, I should never have had occasion to write this letter."

Gladys frowned as she read this, and her lips curled scornfully. She
could not see the man who had more or less led Wilfred to his death
putting himself out a single inch to save the boy's good name. Then she
went on with the letter.

"Well, there we were, both of us at our wits' end, not knowing what to
do, and, whatever the world may say or Puritans may think I shall always
maintain that Wilfred did a fine thing when he went to his bank manager
and made a clean breast of it. And I am quite sure that the manager
sympathised with him, more especially as the money was repaid within a
month.

"But what could the manager do? In the eyes of the directors, Wilfred
had been guilty of a serious crime, and, I suppose, from a banking point
of view it really was a serious crime. There was no prosecution, because
the money was voluntarily returned, but poor old Wilfred was dismissed,
and that was the last I ever saw of him.

"He didn't even give me a chance to reproach myself, he never came near
me, and the next thing I heard was that he had gone up country, together
with French and Bland, with a view to finding those new diamond and ruby
mines and making everybody's fortunes. The pity of it is that I had not
an opportunity of warning either Wilfred or French as to the true
character of the man with whom they were dealing. If I had, that
expedition would never have taken place. As it is, I am compelled to
regard myself more or less as the man who murdered your brother.

"I make no excuses, because, in a case like this excuses are puerile. I
don't ask you to forgive me because you never will, and I don't ask you
to see me because that would be too painful to both of us. But I have
had to force myself to write this letter out of justice to the memory of
poor old Wilfred. I want you to know that he had no criminal intent and
that he sacrificed himself on the altar of friendship.

Yours sincerely,

Gerald Lewis."



There were tears in Gladys' eyes as she laid down the letter. It was
good to know, at any rate, that Wilfred had erred out of mistaken
chivalry and with a desire to save the reputation of a friend. She liked
to feel that he had been doing his best to repair the past, and that,
but for an unexpected tragedy, he would have made good in his new
sphere. And, in a way, she felt rather proud of him. She would have
liked to have told the world all this, but there were reasons why she
was compelled to keep it to herself. Then, with a lighter heart, she
tore open the envelope of the other letter. It was more curt and
business-like and signed by the manager of the bank in Cape Town where
Wilfred had been employed during the last two years. In effect, it
merely confirmed what Gerald Lewis had said, with a few expressions of
personal regret. Thus:--



"Dear Madam.--I duly received your cablegram and replied as requested on
the prepaid form. You will be glad to know that things were not so bad
where your brother was concerned as might have appeared from my
necessarily curt message in response to your inquiry. Personally
speaking, if my directors had responded to certain suggestions I made,
your brother would still be in the service of the bank. That his action
was exceedingly wrong, not to say criminal, I do not attempt to
disguise. But there were extenuating circumstances of an unusual nature
and I think that it is my duty to disclose them.

"Your brother borrowed the sum of a hundred pounds from the bank without
saying anything to me or asking anybody's permission. In fact, the law
would say he stole it. This, of course, he did, but he had every reason
to expect that he could pay it back within a day or two, and the money
was necessary to preserve the good name of a friend. Unfortunately,
through unforeseen circumstances into which I need not enter, the sum in
question was not available by the expected date, which meant that within
a few hours your brother's defalcation would have been inevitably
discovered.

"Whereupon he acted very promptly, and, I think, very bravely. He came
to me and made a full confession. Of course, I could not overlook so
serious a matter and, consequently, I placed it before my directors. At
my earnest solicitation, they abstained from prosecution, but naturally,
they refused to retain your brother's services in the bank. He was
accordingly discharged and, I regret to learn since then, that he lost
his life somewhere in Upper Rhodesia. Assuring you of all my deepest
sympathy.--

Yours faithfully,

Peter Haggit."



And so that was the end of it Gladys thought sadly. She would never see
Wilfred again, but she would treasure his memory as that of one who was
more sinned against than sinning. In her heart of hearts she knew that
she had expected something much worse than this, some disgraceful
episode that would linger in her mind to the end of her days. And yet,
curiously enough, all the deep bitterness in her heart was against the
man called Patrick French. She knew that this was absolutely illogical,
but in a way she identified him with the rascal Bland and placed him in
exactly the same category. She would make inquiries as to French, and if
ever fate gave her the opportunity of meeting him face to face, she
would know what to say.

Then she dismissed the whole thing. Well, thank heaven, she had her work
to do, and her garden to attend to. There was no occasion, now, to call
in the aid of friends, or to tell anyone the story which she regarded as
sacred. With a much lighter heart she went about her duties, followed by
Marta, who had not failed to notice the postmarks on the two letters.

"And is there any news, Miss Gladys?" the old woman asked.

"Indeed, yes," Gladys smiled. "I don't want to talk about it, Marta, but
I know, now, what happened to poor Mr. Wilfred, and how well he behaved.
Some of these days I will tell you all about it, but I really cannot
bear to speak now. You go back to your work and leave me to mine."

Gladys finished the set of drawings she was making and dropped them in
the letter box of the village post office. Then she came back to her
tea, and, after that, sat in the porch in the fading sunshine of an
early April day, trying to interest herself in the latest novel she had
obtained from the library at Marwich. But it seemed rather a dull story
after the living drama of the morning, so that she threw it aside and
busied herself presently with a patch of late daffodils which were not
coming on quite as quickly as she had hoped. It was practically dark
before she had finished this task and she stood there just for a moment
or two in the scented, violet night, whilst Marta was getting the supper
inside.

It was a very still evening with the promise of a fine day on the
morrow, so still indeed that every sound from far off carried to her
ears. At the end of the garden, facing the road, she could just make out
the dim outline of a row of elms bordering the road that led to the
village. The peacefulness and silence were very soothing and Gladys was
quite reluctant to turn away from it when, suddenly, the sound of voices
broke on her ear. She heard the echo of two sets of footsteps, one slow
and plodding, the other swift as if the owner were running in pursuit of
some object in front. Then a voice cried out as if in pain. The voice
was followed by heavy breathing, as if two people were engaged in a
struggle.

"Here, what the devil----" one voice cried.

The words trailed off into nothing, and it seemed to Gladys as if the
speaker had come heavily to the ground. Followed other heavy footsteps
and, almost directly afterwards lighter footsteps moving with great
rapidity and dying away in the distance. Gladys pushed her way out into
the lane.

A man lay there with another standing over him. The upright figure
Gladys could just recognise.

"What's wrong here, Walton?" she demanded.

The village blacksmith, for he it was looked up.

"I dunno, miss," he said breathlessly. "But if I ain't greatly mistaken,
Miss Brooke, it's a case of murder. Would you mind bringing a light?"




CHAPTER V.


Gladys own troubles and anxieties slipped from her shoulders like a
cloak flung aside. The necessity for action acted upon her like a tonic.
She flew up the garden and into her sitting room where, from a corner
cupboard, she took a flashlight and turned to see old Marta standing in
front of her.

"Is anything the matter, miss?" Marta asked. "Seemingly, I heard some
sort of trouble going on in the lane."

"I am afraid it is serious trouble," Gladys said. "Even if it is not
worse than that. Now, bustle about and get me hot water and bandages and
anything you can think of that is likely to be of use in an accident. I
am going into the lane. Tim Walton, the blacksmith, is there and he will
help us. Now, be quick, Marta, there is no time to waste."

Marta rose to the occasion, as she always did. She began to bustle about
in her methodical way, whilst Gladys hurried down the lane with the
torch flaming in her hand. It was pitch dark now, so that the flashlight
was a real necessity. Gladys could see the big form of the village
blacksmith bending over an object that lay in the middle of the road,
and, as the flare from the lamp concentrated on the spot, Gladys noticed
the body of a man absolutely motionless on the ground.

"Is he dead?" she whispered.

"No, I don't think so, miss, but very nigh to it," Walton replied. "I
dare not touch him till you came back. Now, what do you think we'd
better do, miss?"

"There is only one thing to do," Gladys suggested. "We must get the poor
fellow into the cottage. There is nowhere else he can go, and it is a
good four miles from here to the hospital at Marwich. Can you manage
it?"

"Oh, I can manage it easy enough, miss," the burly blacksmith replied.
"He's a fine built chap, seemingly, but I could carry him in my arms as
if he was a babby. All the same, miss, I'm more afraid of lifting him.
And yet it might be dangerous to let him lie till the doctor comes."

"Turn him over on his back," Gladys demanded.

The injured man was lying on his face, absolutely motionless. A stick he
had been carrying lay by his side and, a yard or two away, was a bulky
suitcase, which was evidently the unfortunate individual's property.
Very carefully the big blacksmith turned the stranger over, so that the
light could shine on his face.

He was a youngish man, still in the early thirties, with, clean-cut
features and all that suggestion of refinement that goes with birth and
education. He was a fine figure of a man, Gladys thought, with the form
and shape that goes to make up the athlete. Gladys could see that he was
breathing still, and so far as she could make out, there was no sign of
a wound anywhere. It was only when Walton touched the back of his head,
accidentally, that a smothered groan came from the sufferer. Then, with
all the tenderness of a woman, Walton carried his burden into the
sitting-room of the cottage and laid it on the couch. There was
something almost pathetic in the aspect of Gladys' unexpected visitor.
He looked at once strong and capable and yet so pathetically weak and
helpless. And there was something in that refined, pleasant face of his
that seemed to touch a warm chord in Gladys' heart. Just for a moment,
she hardly knew how to proceed. It was Marta, standing in the
background, who made a really practical suggestion.

"Poor young gentleman," she said. "He do look mortal bad, I've done all
I can, miss, and everything is ready. Don't you think I had better go
down the village and fetch Dr. Carden?"

"Oh yes, yes," Gladys said. "Of course. We can do nothing until he
comes. Don't wait even to put your hat on."

But Marta, had already vanished. The blacksmith slipped out of the
cottage and came back a moment or two later with the wounded man's stick
and suitcase. Then they could only watch him and wait until the doctor
arrived.

The man of medicine came presently, a cheerful, breezy individual who
asked no questions, but immediately got to work upon his patient. Dr.
Carden Gladys knew fairly well, and his young wife was the nearest
approach to a friend that she had in the village. She liked the capable
way in which the doctor went to work and the skill with which he handled
his patient. Then he stood up and smiled.

"Will he recover, Dr. Carden?" Gladys asked.

"Oh yes, I should say there is no doubt about that," Carden said
breezily. "But he has had a nasty crack on the back of the head and
there is more than a suspicion of a fracture. However, I can't say
anything really definite about that for a day or two. Tell us all about
it, Walton."

"Well, there isn't much to tell, doctor," the blacksmith replied. "I was
coming across the fields and just getting over the stile that leads into
the road when I see the outline of this poor gentleman come plodding
along the road in the dark. A moment later, I heard footsteps, as if
someone was running in the direction of the village. But it was all done
in a flash, like. The poor gent, he takes no notice of the footsteps
behind him, naturally thinking it had got nothing to do with him. Then,
as if it had been a dream, I hears the sound of a dull blow, and the
poor gent, lying on the couch down there just says 'Here, what the
devil,' and down he goes as if he had been shot. Mind you, I heard the
blow as felled him and it fair paralysed me for a few seconds. I've
lived, man and boy, in the village for forty year and nothing like it's
ever happened afore."

"Then you interfered, I suppose?"

"I did that, sir. I shouted out and ran forward just as the other man
was bending over his victim as if he was looking for something in the
poor gentleman's pocket. Then up he gets and off he goes down the lane
like a hare. And that's all I can tell you. Only I did pick up a piece
of lead pipe about eighteen inches long, as might have done the
mischief."

"Ah, sandbagged, no doubt," the doctor said. "Sand bag or gas pipe, it
is all the same thing. That is an American trick. The nearest thing to
murder without actually accomplishing it. And that is all you have to
say, Walton."

"Every bit, sir," Walton concluded. "Then Miss Brooke comes out in the
road and asks what's the matter and she told me to bring the poor chap
in here, which, of course, I did."

"Very properly, too," the doctor said. "But what are you going to do
with him, Miss Brooke. He can't stay here."

"And why not?" Gladys asked. "Certainly there is nowhere else he can go.
It would be cruel to move him to Marwich in his present state, and I
should feel the same thing if he were a mere tramp, instead of one who
is obviously a gentleman. Evidently he was on his way to see someone in
the neighbourhood and probably came to Marwich by train and walked here.
Someone will be sure to claim him within the next few hours. It is just
possible that he is a guest on his way to the Hall."

"Not an unreasonable suggestion," the doctor agreed. "When I get home I
will ring up the Hall and inquire. All the same, I don't like to leave
you alone in the cottage with all this trouble on your hands."

"Oh, it is no trouble," Gladys said. "I am sure that I can manage quite
well with Marta to help me. There is a very nice spare bedroom
upstairs."

"That there is," the old servant agreed. "It's all ready, miss. I did
everything you told me."

A little later the wounded man lay more or less comfortably in bed with
Marta in attendance. There was very little to be done for the present,
the doctor explained, and went on to say that all the patient needed was
rest. He might recover consciousness at any moment and, on the other
hand, he might linger on in his present state for days.

"That is why he ought to have a nurse," Dr. Carden concluded.

"But I am not going to do anything of the kind," Gladys said. "I don't
see the slightest necessity. We can manage between us perfectly well, if
you will only tell us just what to do and how the patient is to be fed.
And if he does recover consciousness, I can send for you at once."

"Yes, you must do that," the doctor said. "That is most important. But I
am perfectly certain that that event is not likely to happen for a good
many hours yet."

Gladys followed the man of medicine downstairs, leaving the patient in
the charge of Marta. The brawny blacksmith had already disappeared and,
no doubt, the whole village knew by this time of the startling event
which had come, like a cyclone, into their peaceful midst.

"I don't think there is anything more I can say," Carden went on. "Pity
you haven't a telephone here."

"Why should I want a telephone," Gladys asked.

"Well, it is rather a handy instrument in times of stress," Carden
smiled. "You seem to have forgotten that this unfortunate individual is
not altogether our private business. Here we have something that looks
like a deliberate attempt at murder on the high road and, in its best
aspect, robbery with violence. Have you quite forgotten the police?"

"Oh dear," Gladys sighed. "I am afraid I had. Do you mean to say that we
shall have to call them in?"

"Most assuredly I do. We ought to have done it before. Walton could have
run down to my house and got my wife to call up the inspector at Marwich
on the telephone. I suppose you would like to see the assailant
arrested?"

"Why naturally," Gladys replied.

"Then I had better be off," Carden suggested, "Every minute is in favour
of the scoundrel. I will call up Marwich from my house and come back
again the first thing in the morning."




CHAPTER VI.


Evidently Garden had been as good as his word, for it still wanted a few
minutes to 11 o'clock when a two seater car stopped outside the gate of
the cottage and two men in uniform came up the path and knocked at the
door.

"You are Miss Brooke, I think," the taller man of the two, with the
black board, asked, as Gladys opened the door. "I am the inspector of
police from Marwich, and have come over here, at once, in response to
the telephone call from Dr. Carden. He tells me that your patient need
not be disturbed, and there is no occasion for me to see him. But, if
you don't mind, miss, I should like to examine the suit of clothes he
was wearing and the contents of his kit-bag. We have already sent out a
general call round the district, and that, for the present, is all I can
do. May I see that wardrobe?"

Gladys came down to the dining-room with what was required, and the
inspector made a thorough examination of the tweed lounge suit that the
injured man had been wearing at the time of the outrage. But a careful
search of the pockets revealed nothing beyond a plain gold cigarette
case and a brown leather pocket book which contained a very large sum in
Bank of England notes. The inspector shook his head gravely.

"Here, I think, miss, we have the motive for the assault," he said.
"There is over 500 here. But not a sign of a letter so far as I can
see. There is not even a tailor's name on the tab behind the collar of
the coat. Yes, shirt and underclothing and soft collar are all
practically new and none of it is marked. Soft collar has evidently been
made to order, for it hasn't even the maker's name on it. But perhaps I
shall find some identity mark on the suitcase."

There, again, he was disappointed. Beyond a railway label from Liverpool
Street to Marwich, which had evidently been affixed quite recently,
there was nothing likely to be of the slightest use. The suitcase
contained further articles of clothing and enough linen and odds and
ends of that kind to last the ordinary man for quite a long stay in the
house which he had evidently intended to visit. Beyond that everything
seemed to end in a sort of blind alley.

"The mystery deepens," the inspector murmured. "There is evidently a
great deal more here than meets the eye. It is quite certain that the
injured man came down from Liverpool Street to-day and got out at
Marwich with the intention of seeing somebody in this neighbourhood. It
is certain, moreover, that he meant to stay for a few days, at least, or
he would not have brought all this stuff with him. Now, as you know
miss, Marwich is at the end of a branch line which goes no further. So
whoever your mysterious visitor wanted to see, it was someone within
walking distance from Marwich station. I think, from what Dr. Carden
said, your involuntary guest is a gentleman."

"Of that there is not the slightest doubt," Gladys agreed. "Unmistakably
a gentleman of position, exceedingly nice-looking, with very attractive
features."

"Ah, just as I was informed. Now, doesn't it strike you as rather
strange that a man like that should come down here to stay with somebody
who lives at least four miles from Marwich without either engaging a
conveyance or having a car or something of that sort to meet him. He
must have walked at least four miles, lugging that heavy bag."

"Yes, but he might have come down unexpectedly," Gladys pointed out. "Or
there may have been some mistake about the time of the train."

"Yes, that is possible," the inspector agreed. "But it seems to me as if
your guest didn't want anyone to know where he was going. At any rate, I
feel pretty sure that the man who tried to murder him knew all about his
movements. Otherwise, he would never have been attacked in the way he
was in a lonely country lane. I haven't seen the blacksmith, Walton, but
I understand he is prepared to swear that, almost directly the attack
was made, he saw the assailant searching the body."

"That is perfectly true," Gladys said.

"Yes, and no doubt he was looking for these banknotes. However, we must
put that possibility aside for the moment. What we have to do now is to
circulate an account of this outrage in the hope that somebody in this
locality will come forward and identify the poor fellow who is lying
upstairs. Somebody is sure to be looking for him at the present moment."

The inspector went off a little later and Gladys repaired to the
sick-room where, during the whole of the night, she shared her vigil
with Marta. And then, for the next two days, the wounded man lay there,
quite unconscious whilst the whole countryside was in a ferment of
excitement regarding the crime which had taken place in its midst. But
though the story was broadcast and appeared displayed in the press,
strange to say, not a soul came forward who could throw light on the
mystery. Nobody, even in the neighbourhood or anywhere else, for that
matter, seemed to have lost a relative who had gone out from his home or
his rooms or hotel with the object of spending a few days with friends
in the vicinity of Marwich. The police were utterly baffled and the
Marwich inspector, who came over to the cottage more than once in the
hope of picking up some sort of a clue, confessed himself beaten.

"Why not call in Scotland Yard?" Gladys asked.

"Well, you see, we don't quite like to do that, miss," the inspector
explained. "And the Yard doesn't like it either. Of course, if we can't
get hold of something within a few days, our chief constable might think
it his duty to ask advice and help from headquarters and only then if
some relative comes forward and desires additional aid. By that I mean
somebody who has lost a relative and goes straight to the Yard about it.
All we can do is to wait and hope that the injured man will come round
and tell us all about it."

It was two days later, however, before the man lying upstairs in the
spare room showed the slightest signs of life. Then, one afternoon, he
opened his eyes and gazed dreamily round him. They were very pleasant,
frank-looking eyes, which held a strong attraction for Gladys, who
happened to be on duty at the moment. She moved anxiously forward.

"Yes?" she asked. "Yes? What is it you want?"

The man lying on the bed stared at her blankly, as if he had just come
out of another world, which, probably he had.

"I don't know you," he whispered.

"Quite naturally," Gladys smiled. "You met with an accident. You were
going along the road here in the dark and something struck you on the
back of the head. I know that, because I was almost near enough to hear
it. But please don't talk unless you want to. There is plenty of time."

The eyes closed rather wearily and then, after the interval of a few
minutes, opened again in the blank, helpless way that reminded Gladys of
those of a child.

"I don't know you," he repeated. "I don't know who you are or how I got
here...... pretty girl, very pretty girl. Reminds me of someone I used
to know.... I don't know. I want to go to sleep. Let me go to sleep,
pretty girl."

Still, it was not sleep so much as torpor that seemed to overcome the
patient, because, presently, the heavy fit passed and he was, once more,
looking into Gladys' face.

"Tell me your name," she asked gently.

"My name," the sufferer echoed. "I haven't got a name. I must have had
one once, but I forget what it was. Forget everything, just as if I had
been born yesterday. What's the matter with me? Why am I lying here when
I am quite all right? Why, why did--oh, I've forgotten again."

This time the eyes seemed to close finally, and, once more, the patient
slept in earnest. Gladys slipped out of the room and hurried from the
cottage into the road.

"I am going to fetch the doctor," she explained to Marta. "That poor
fellow has spoken, and I think Dr. Carden ought to know. You go
upstairs, Marta, and take my place."

"That's all right, miss," Marta said cheerfully. "That sick room wants a
bit of tidying up, and it's about time that suit of clothes the poor
gentleman was wearing were brushed and folded. Why, I haven't even
unpacked the things out of the suitcase. Nor hung them up as I ought to
have done. You go your way, Miss Gladys, and leave it all to me."

It was some time before Gladys returned. The doctor was on his way to a
pressing case, for she met him at his gate, but he promised to come
along in the course of an hour or so.

"That's good news you've brought," he said. "I was beginning to get a
bit frightened. Still, now that consciousness has come back, the odds
are all in favour of a recovery."

"But his memory seems to have gone," Gladys said.

"Um, that is not too satisfactory. This might be a long job. Now, you go
into the house and ask Joan to give you a cup of tea. You look
absolutely fagged out."

So Gladys entered the doctor's house, where his wife gave her the needed
cup of tea, and it was over an hour before she got back to the cottage
again. There she found Marta in a state of what might be called mild
excitement.

"I think I have found something, miss," the old servant exclaimed.
"Leastwise, I might have done so. When I was brushing that poor
gentleman's trousers, I felt something hard like a bit of metal inside
the turn-up of the leg. So I took the liberty of unpicking it and I
found this."

Marta held up a bright piece of steel which might have passed for a Yale
latch-key, stamped on it on a lozenge-shaped shield were the figures
255, K.R. Co. C.T.

"But it doesn't tell us much, Marta. Still it's something, at any rate."




CHAPTER VII


Gladys was not disposed to make too much of the discovery of the
mysterious key. It was possible that a clue lay there but, for the
moment, very difficult to see in which direction it lay. But Marta was
inclined to take a different view altogether.

"Depend upon it, miss," she said, "if we knew what this meant, we should
know all about this poor gentleman upstairs. He must have had some
object in hiding the key in that queer place, and he must have put it
there himself."

"But how do you know that," Gladys asked.

"Well, you see, miss, the stitching inside the turn-up had been unpicked
clumsily and sewn up again by a man who was not used to that sort of
work. Any woman would have done it much better, but perhaps the
police----"

"I don't think I will say anything to the police about it for the
moment," Gladys said. "I should like to show the key to our mysterious
visitor in the hope that it may jog his memory. For the time being, at
any rate, his memory has gone, though it may come back at any moment.
However, I can try. So don't you say anything about it to anybody,
Marta."

Marta gave the desired assurance and Gladys knew that there would be no
gossip, so far as the strange key was concerned. She would show it to
her patient presently, and perhaps, when he caught sight of it, it might
touch some chord of memory and thus lead to a solution of the mystery.

Gladys was more encouraged in this view when she went up to see her
patient the following morning and saw that he was marvellously changed
for the better. The ruddy glow had come back to his cheeks again and the
red to his lips. There was still that vague, puzzled look in his eyes;
but there was no mistaking the fact that his fine constitution was
shaking off the effects of that crushing blow.

He looked up at Gladys with a sort of apologetic smile and began to
stammer some excuses for the trouble he was giving. It was plain enough
that he knew that he was giving trouble and that he was quite aware of
the fact that he ought not to have been in the cottage at all.

"I still feel very dazed, Miss--that reminds me, I don't even know your
name."

Gladys enlightened the speaker on this point.

"I am only sorry I cannot respond," the stranger said. "I know I feel
wonderfully better this morning and, if you will allow me, I think I am
quite well enough to get up."

"You may be," Gladys said firmly. "But I can't hear of that until the
doctor gives permission. I will see him after breakfast and if he says
it will do you no harm, then I shall be delighted. But not just yet,
please. Now, tell me, can't you recollect anything?"

"Absolutely nothing," the stranger sighed. "The past is a perfect blank.
Every now and then things flash through my mind, as they do when one
dreams, but they are vague and shadowy and gone almost before they come.
I am like one who has been born in his manhood. I dare say it will all
come back sooner or later, but, just now you see how miserably helpless
I am."

"Perhaps I can help you," Gladys murmured, as she produced the key.
"Have you over seen this before?"

The man lying there clutched eagerly for the key and, for an instant,
real intelligence illuminated his eyes.

"Where did you get that from?" he demanded loudly. "You ought not to
have it. I thought it was safe."

"Then it really is of importance?" Gladys asked hopefully. "My servant
found it quite by accident when she was brushing your clothes. It was in
the turn-up at the bottom of one of your trouser legs. Stitched in."

"Gladys could see by the strange workings of her visitor's face that he
was greatly moved. Then he shifted uneasily in the bed and a groan broke
from his lips.

"It's all gone again," he said. "I almost had it then. I don't know what
it means, and, at the same time, I know that that key is of the most
vital importance. Everything seems to hang upon it, and yet, to save my
life, I couldn't tell you why. Take care of it. Miss Brooke. Hide it
securely somewhere and for goodness sake, don't speak a word of it to a
soul."

It was some little time before the strange, unnatural excitement passed,
and the patient grew calm again. Gladys was only too glad of the chance
of leaving him alone while she went into the lane and ran across the
field footpath opposite in the direction of the doctor's house. He had
not yet gone on his round, so that she found him at home and he listened
eagerly to all that she had to say.

"It is very remarkable," she said. "Your patient seems to be almost
well. That is, so far as his physical state is concerned. He looks quite
alright, except for that pathetic puzzled expression on his face, and he
actually wants to get up. Do you think the mind injury is permanent?"

"No, I don't," Carden replied emphatically. "All the same it may be a
long business and may necessitate a slight operation. There is some tiny
pressure on the brain, perhaps no bigger than a pinprick, which has
broken the continuity of the memory cells and obliterated the past. The
man has a wonderful constitution and a remarkably thick skull. I will
come over and see him in the course of the morning and if he is as well
as you say, there is no reason why he shouldn't get up. If he feels fit
enough to stroll about, I should let him. He may see or hear something
that will touch the right chord and bring back everything. But I am
afraid it is going to be a job for a specialist."

Gladys went back to the cottage a little easier in her mind. She took
the field path again and walked with her light swift stride across the
yielding turf until the path skirted a deep depression in the ground in
which sprawled the figure of a man, who was holding up to his eyes
something that Gladys recognised as a pair of binoculars. So intent was
he upon his work that he did not hear the girl's footsteps, which was
not surprising, considering that the ground was soft from recent rain
and the spring grass was growing thickly under foot. Gladys cautiously
skirted the hollow and, keeping under the shadow of the hedge, entered
the lane presently and crossed to the cottage. From her bedroom window
she could see the grassy hollow in which the man lay, and even make out
the rings of the pair of prisms which appeared to be pointing straight
in her direction.

There was no questioning the fact that the watcher was looking at the
cottage and nothing else; indeed, there was nothing else for him to see.
It was rather a strange, disturbing experience, and one that afforded
Gladys food for considerable thought. Who was this man, she wondered,
and what was he doing down here? Certainly he could have no concern with
her personally. But then, what about the man upstairs. Yes, that was it.
It might even be the would-be murderer himself slinking back into the
neighbourhood to study the result of his handiwork. Whilst Gladys was
still debating this point in her mind, she saw the watcher rise
stealthily from his hiding place and disappear into a spinney a few
yards away. She would mention this fact presently to the doctor and, if
necessary, inform the inspector of police at Marwich. She wished now
that she had taken a little more notice of the man with the binoculars
with a view to subsequent identification. But unfortunately, she had not
even noticed the sort of clothing he was wearing.

It was all very worrying and disturbing, but it slipped away out of
Gladys' mind when the postman came along the lane and delivered the
morning letters. There were only one or two which called for no
particular attention, but with them came a copy of the 'South African
Banner,' which Gladys opened eagerly. It was just possible that this
particular issue of the journal in question would contain some further
details in connexion with Wilfred's tragic end.

There was nothing of this, however, but something that was not unlike a
sequel to that sorry business. On one page of the paper there bulked the
name of Walter Bland. Above this name were various outstanding headlines
which contained allusions to some ingenious and far-reaching fraud. And
when Gladys came to read, she saw that an actor, giving the name of
Walter Bland, had been arrested at Natal in connection with a robbery
through the medium of forged bonds which appeared to have deprived a
considerable number of people of a large sum of money. Only formal
evidence, so far, had been given and, in the end, the defendant had been
remanded in custody, though the magistrates had expressed their
willingness to accept bail to a substantial amount. As this was not
forthcoming when the Court rose, the prisoner was detained by the police
for a week.

This was not quite all, however, for in another part of the paper, there
was a statement to the effect that the prisoner had been able to find
sureties and that he himself, had immediately disappeared and was
nowhere to be found. This, then, was the sort of man, Gladys thought
bitterly, that her brother's particular friend, Patrick French, had
chosen to associate with. As a man of the world, he must have known the
class of individual he was dealing with, indeed it seemed impossible to
think otherwise. It was a sordid story from start to finish and Gladys
sincerely hoped that this would be the end of it.

She was glad enough to put the paper on one side presently when she
heard the doctor's car coming down the lane, and that breezy individual
bustled cheerfully into the dining room with a demand to know how his
patient was getting on.

"I haven't seen him since I came across to you this morning," Gladys
said. "You had better go upstairs and judge for yourself. And if he
wants to get up I hope you will let him. I suppose you have heard
nothing from the police?"




CHAPTER VIII.


So far as the police were concerned, Carden had not heard a single word.
It was very strange, he said, that no one had turned up to claim the
injured man. Here was an individual walking about the country with five
hundred pounds in notes in his pocket, and obviously coming into the
neighbourhood to stay for a comparatively long while and moreover, a man
of position. And yet nobody had missed him and no resident in the
locality had come forward with a view to further inquiry.

"But, mind you, these things have happened before," the doctor said.
"Take the case of a man who has been staying on the Continent, Monte or
Cannes, or any of those places. I mean an unmarried man without
encumbrances. He is expected by his friends to stay abroad for a
considerable time and then circumstances compel him to change his mind.
The people he knows in foreign parts would naturally think he is staying
out there. Let us imagine for a moment that he is the sort of type who
writes very few letters. Wealthy bachelors moving about on their own
very seldom do indulge in correspondence. Can't you see how a thing like
this might happen to anybody? Of course, the mystery could not go on for
very long without somebody asking questions. There have been cases in
the English papers quite lately concerning persons of lost memory who
have been wandering about within a few miles of their homes for weeks,
and nobody apparently any the wiser. Depend upon it, somebody will turn
up before long and establish your visitor's identity. But, in the
meantime, isn't it rather rough on you? Why should you be put to all
this trouble for the convenience of a perfect stranger? Why not send him
to Marwich?"

Gladys resented the suggestion quite hotly. She would not dream of such
a thing. Besides, there was no great trouble, and the expense was merely
nominal. It did not occur to her to ask herself why she was taking so
deep an interest in this stranger. It was not altogether the romantic
side of the mystery as the physical attractiveness of the man who was
lying overhead. There was something about him that had appealed to
Gladys from the very first. As a rule, she took but little interest in
the opposite sex, save in an ordinary way, especially where sport was
concerned. She had never been in love in her life, though more than one
man had made love to her. Perhaps it was the maternal instinct that was
aroused, perhaps it was some deeper feeling, but Gladys did not stop
then to consider the psychological aspect of the case.

"You doctors are all alike," she said with a half-indignant laugh. "But
don't let us quarrel about it. You run upstairs and see how your patient
is getting on."

Carden discovered the fact that his patient was getting on surprisingly
well; indeed, from the physical point of view, there was very little the
matter with him.

"Oh, yes, you can get up if you like," he said. "Get out of doors in the
sunshine. It's a lovely morning and there is nothing like sunshine for a
case like yours. If you feel like walking, why walk, but don't overtire
yourself. I suppose there is nothing stirring? I mean as far as your
head is concerned?"

"Nothing whatever," the patient sighed. "Little flashes now and again,
just like lightning on a very dark night. But beyond that, I am up
against a blank wall. Look here, doctor, I am rather worried. I have no
right to be here at all. Why should I, a perfect stranger, intrude
myself upon that charming girl downstairs? Why should she and that old
servant of hers be at my beck and call all day? And yet, what can I do?
If I had any money to speak of----"

"But my dear chap, you have," Carden replied. "They found some five
hundred pounds in notes in your pocket. I suppose you had quite
forgotten that fact."

"Had I?" the patient asked. "I wonder where I got all that money from.
And what am I going to do with it? A funny thing, don't you think, that
I should come down to this place at night and drag a heavy suit-case for
nearly four miles without in the last knowing where I was going or why I
came. And those notes, Doctor. The average man doesn't stroll about the
country with that amount of money loose in his pocket. And yet I must
have obtained it from somewhere."

"From your bankers, probably," Carden suggested. "At a guess, you cashed
a cheque the day you came down here and brought the notes for some
specific purpose. It must have been a specific purpose, or you would
have paid away that money by cheque. Now, can't you think why you didn't
bring your cheque book? If you had done that we should have been able to
trace who you are. Through your bank, you know."

"But suppose I haven't got a banking account?"

"My dear chap, don't be ridiculous. A man of your appearance and general
bearing is bound to have a banking account somewhere. Without being able
to put one's finger on any definite point, your whole ego suggests
prosperity."

"No good," the patient sighed. "I am no better off than I was before.
Evidently I came down here for some good reason and I should suggest
that that reason was a strictly private one. Otherwise, why my suitcase?
Otherwise, why all that sum of ready money in my pocket?"

"Oh, there, there," Carden said soothingly, for he could see plainly
enough that his patient was getting worried. "Don't think any more about
yourself for the moment. Get up and walk about. Enjoy the sunshine. And
here, have a cigarette. I don't suppose you will care about my gaspers,
because I am told there were a hundred fine Turkish in your kitbag. Go
and get into a nice hot bath and don't try to think, whatever you do.
You are quite all right for the moment, and so far as money is
concerned, you have nothing whatever to worry about. Get Miss Brooke to
take you for a walk. She is a most charming and delightful girl and the
most beautiful I have ever met. Really you ought to consider yourself
very fortunate."

With that, Carden chaffed himself out of the room, and, presently, out
of the house. The stranger came downstairs at length, a fine picture of
clean, healthy manhood with the stamp of breeding upon him and the hall
mark of a gentleman in every line of his athletic figure. A curious sort
of tender thrill ran through Gladys as she turned to greet him.

"I am glad you are so much better," she said. "Now, I have positive
instructions from the doctor to see that you don't worry yourself. I
want you to look upon the cottage as your home for the time being and to
regard me as a personal friend."

"You are very wonderful," the stranger said. "And I am not going to try
to find words to thank you. I ought not to stay here a moment, but if
you can put up with me for a day or two, I shall be most grateful. I
dare say I shall be claimed sooner or later, like so much lost luggage.
Meanwhile, I would rather remain here than go anywhere else. I wonder if
you could find me comfortable lodgings in the village?"

"Oh, that will be quite an easy matter," Gladys smiled. "There is the
old postmistress, for instance. She lives in a cottage very like this
and, in the summer, always has visitors. You would be very comfortable
indeed there. I will see about it if you like. But, meanwhile, wouldn't
you like to walk round and look at the neighbourhood! There is a
favourite stroll of mine across the common and through the gates of the
Hall and along the woods, coming back by the river. There is nobody at
the Hall at present because Mr. and Mrs. Marony are on a long trip round
the world. But I have the run of the place and go in and out as I
please."

"That I am sure, will be delightful," the stranger said. "When you are
ready, I am yours to command."

They set out presently in the sunshine, across the fields, and from
thence into the woods and again by a bridle path into the main road.
Just opposite them was a thatched lodge behind a pair of magnificent
hammered iron gates with a family device surmounting each wing in the
centre. The stranger paused before them and a smile trembled on his
lips.

"The Clifford coat of arms," he murmured. "But I thought you said that
the name was Marony."

Gladys looked up wonderingly.

"It is Marony," she said. "And has been for the last five years. They
are very nice people, but they are what you call new. Since the War, you
understand."

"War?" the stranger asked. "What war! Oh, yes, I seem to remember a kind
of disturbance and I can see a dim vision of a lot of men struggling
together--ah, it's gone! But the Cliffords. Surely I knew somebody named
Clifford at one time. A very fine old family, but poor for their
position. Yes, yes, Cullendon Hall. That's it."

"Why, it is Cullendon Hall before you," Gladys cried.

"Of course," the stranger said. "At the end of the avenue of limes. A
stone terrace in front and a large lake at the back. The lake is covered
with water lilies and beyond is a sort of Grecian Temple. At least--I
don't know----"

Gladys drew a sharp breath. For it was exactly as the stranger had
described it. They pushed through the open gates. Gladys lingering
purposely a pace or so behind and allowing her companion to lead the
way, which he did without the slightest hesitation, until they came to
the silent lake with the great pads of water lilies beginning to show
signs of bloom.

"Ah, the temple," the stranger murmured. "And there was a woman, a young
and beautiful woman that I was very fond of. What was her name? Leonora,
Gloria, Dorinda. Some such classical name as that. She and I
together----"

The speaker broke of suddenly. The glow left his face, and, for a long
time afterwards, he was silent.




CHAPTER IX.


For the moment, at any rate, Gladys did not dare to ask any further
questions. She could see that her companion was deeply troubled in his
mind and that old memories were stirring underneath the surface in a
vague, nebulous way that could find no adequate expression. The pleasant
smile had vanished from the stranger's face, leaving behind it a certain
moody suspiciousness that rather alarmed the girl. At the same time, she
could see that her companion was worried and anxious, so that she
refrained from saying anything and walked by his side for a long time in
absolute silence.

In a way, Gladys was as much surprised as was her companion. There was
something almost sinister in the way in which the stranger had passed
through the gates of the Hall and led her along to the lake with the air
of one who knew every inch of the ground. Most assuredly, he had been
here before, but it must have been a long time ago. Gladys knew that the
present owner of the estate had been in possession of the Hall for at
least five years, in fact, ever since the Cliffords had sold it, after
the death of the then head of the family, and that Sir Godfrey Clifford,
the present baronet, was somewhere in Australia, sheep farming. But it
was rather strange that this unfortunate outsider should have come down
to this quiet part of the country to visit a house when he must have
known--before his accident--that the Cliffords had long since departed
and that, already, they were almost forgotten. Not one of the old
servants or attendants of the family was left, indeed, old Mrs. Easton,
who kept the village post office, deplored the fact unceasingly. So far
as Gladys could gather, the Marony family was neither popular nor
unpopular in the district. They were a middle-aged childless couple
without family, and very fond of travelling, so that, from time to time,
the Hall was closed and the servants, who had all been engaged in
London, placed on board wages.

Some of these facts must have been known to the stranger long before
this and it was hard to believe that he had come down to Cullendon
village to see anybody by the name of Marony. And yet he must have
journeyed down to that part of the world to see somebody, and, when that
somebody was found, then the mystery would be solved. But who was that
somebody and why was he, or she, hiding in the background when the local
paper and the London press had had so much to say about the man with the
lost memory. The more Gladys thought it over, the more puzzled she
became. Only one fact she had established beyond question and that was
that her visitor had been to Cullendon before.

She led the way back to the cottage and, a little time later, went
across the fields in the direction of Dr. Carden's house. She had left
the patient in an almost sullen mood, though she saw that he was doing
his best to throw off the black cloud that enveloped him and, from time
to time, glanced at her with the pathetic expression of a dog who thinks
that, in some way, he has offended a beloved master. It was a positive
relief to Gladys when the stranger said he was absolutely tired out and
thought that he would be better in bed.

Perhaps she had walked him too far, but Dr. Carden had not warned her
against that. At any rate, she would consult him and tell him the
strange event of the afternoon.

To all of this Carden listened gravely.

"No, I don't think you did wrong," he said. "I dare say your visitor has
a little overdone himself, in which case the tired body would react on
the tired mind. But it is strange to think that this poor fellow should
have been in this neighbourhood before. Mind you, I don 't think he came
down to see anybody at the Hall, unless he happened to know the Maronys
as well as the Cliffords. But then it would be absurd to suggest that
highly respectable and humdrum people like the Maronys could have been
in any way connected with such underhand business."

"Of course not," Gladys agreed. "But I had another idea as I came along.
Supposing my patient had been lured down here say by blackmailers. On
the other hand, it may not have been blackmailers, but some other sort
of criminals. It is evident that the poor fellow made his way to
Cullendon with a large sum of money in his pocket for some specific
purpose and that he was waylaid on the road and nearly murdered."

"Well, there certainly is something in that," Carden said thoughtfully.
"He was waylaid on the road and nearly murdered. Moreover, we have it on
the evidence of Walton that the would-be assassin was searching the body
of his victim for something as that unfortunate individual lay senseless
on the ground."

A sudden idea flashed into Gladys' mind. Was it the mysterious key that
the culprit was looking for? And should she tell the doctor all about
her discovery? But she could not very well do that in view of the
promise that she had given to her involuntary guest. That must wait, at
any rate, for the moment.

"There is a good deal in what you say," Carden went on. "The criminal,
for reasons of his own, lured the stranger down here. Probably made an
appointment, giving a false address. And very likely urging secrecy.
When I say a false address, I mean an address the scoundrel had made up
and to which your visitor was under the impression he was coming. Then
he was waylaid in a lonely spot and nearly killed. I shouldn't be at all
surprised if that murderous individual were still lurking about in the
neighbourhood. You see, whatever he wanted, he didn't get. He would see
in the papers the story of the outrage and learn that his victim had
lost his memory. He would naturally conclude that this would be a
longish business, in which case he would have plenty of time to try and
obtain the thing he was after. Yes, we are not far off the mark."

"I am quite sure of it," Gladys said decisively. "And unless I am
greatly mistaken, I have actually seen the man myself. It was very
stupid of me not to notice him closely. But perhaps I had better tell
you of the incident."

Carden listened with grave attention to the story of the man with the
field glasses that Gladys had seen more or less hiding in the hollow in
the meadow opposite her house.

"You ought to have told me this before," he said. "And in any case, you
ought to have told the police. I am going into Marwich to-morrow and, if
you like, I will call on the inspector."

"I wish you would," Gladys said. "And don't you think the police might
have done something in connection with those notes which they found in
the stranger's possession? They are Bank of England notes, and I was
under the impression that they could always be traced, through banks."

"Well, they can and they can't," Carden said. "Some banks take the
numbers of the notes when they are cashing a cheque for any amount and
others don't. It isn't certain that your man got the notes from a bank
at all."

"But they are perfectly new," Gladys pointed out.

"Oh, yes, I know that. And I know, also, that the inspector took the
numbers before he handed them back to the owner. You frequently get new
notes on a racecourse. I don 't know if you have ever backed a horse, or
not."

"Frequently in the old days," Gladys smiled. "Yes, I see what you mean.
My visitor might have been racing a day or two before he came down here
and won a substantial stake. But I feel convinced that those notes came
from a bank. You might suggest this when you see the inspector
to-morrow."

The suggestion was duly made some hours later by Carden in the police
station at Marwich.

"The point has not been overlooked," the man in authority said. "I took
the numbers of those notes and I have been making inquiries ever since.
I could do that through Scotland Yard, without actually calling them
into the case. I rang up headquarters on the telephone and gave them the
numbers, asking them to make inquiries of every bank in London if any of
those notes had passed through the clearing house. But we drew a blank
there. Then we tried the Continent, and there we made a discovery.
Practically the whole of those notes were paid by a commissionaire of an
hotel in Monte Carlo. He had exchanged a large number of francs into
English money on the instructions of one of the hotel customers who was
about to return to England. So far as we can gather, the customer in
question had won heavily at the tables the night before his departure
and wanted English money. There is no reason to doubt this story because
the commissionaire is a respectable man and has been in the employ of
his hotel for years. If necessary, we will bring him to England to see
it he can identify your patient. But there is no occasion to do that for
the moment so you can take it for granted, doctor, that the mysterious
individual at present under Miss Brooke's care was at Monte Carlo a few
days before his accident."

"Well, you haven't done so badly in the time at your disposal," Carden
remarked. "All the same, it doesn't carry us very much further, does
it?"

"Perhaps not," the inspector agreed. "But it does give us something to
go on. Unless, of course, the mysterious stranger happens to be one of a
gang of international thieves, who is suffering at the hands of an
accomplice whom he has treated none too well. That is only a mere
suggestion, mind you, but it is worth considering. If you take my
advice, Doctor, you will get your patient out of Miss Brooke's house as
soon as you can."

Carden looked a trifle uneasy.

"I hadn't thought of that," he said. "Anyone looking less like a
criminal would be hard to imagine. But then, you never know, do you?
Your gentleman crook to-day is able to look any man in the face."

"That is true enough," the inspector agreed. "But you take my advice and
get that man moved."




CHAPTER X.


"I most certainly will," Carden agreed. "But, in justice to my patient,
I must say that he is as anxious to get away himself. He doesn't want to
leave the neighbourhood and there, I think, he is right. In his present
state of health he is far better off than he would be in a town, or even
a nursing home, for that matter. You see, his bodily health is
satisfactory enough and I don't want him to be in an environment of
doctors and nurses. He may find his memory at any moment, or it may be
five years before he gets normal. We shall probably have to operate. You
see, the poor fellow has plenty of ready money to go on with and he
doesn't like the idea of being a burden on Miss Brooke's hands. I
understand that he contemplates taking rooms at the village post
office."

"Couldn't be better," the inspector agreed. "If friends come forward and
identify him, then the case is more or less finished as far as we are
concerned. But if he is a member of an international gang of crooks,
handicapped by a lapse of memory, then it is just as well he should be
under our eye."

All of which Carden duly reported to Gladys when he got back to
Cullendon. It was something, at any rate, and pointed to an ultimate
solution of the mystery, though there was much to be done before that
point could be reached.

"I don't agree with the police at all," she said. "It is impossible to
look at my unknown visitor and suggest that he should have anything in
the way of a past."

"Ah, that is how the sentimental woman speaks," the doctor laughed. "I
admit he is extraordinarily handsome and all that sort of thing, and
that he has evidently mixed in good society. Public school and that sort
of thing. But you never can tell. Now, before I set up in practice here,
I had a couple of years' experience with the police. I was a sort of
subordinate medical officer. I have seen a good many criminals of the
modern type, and quite a lot of them just as attractive as your visitor,
with a most pleasant manner and a charm that would fascinate anybody.
These men belong to a class of their own. They are all educated and know
their world thoroughly. They are to be met at the fashionable resorts
and stay in the best hotels. I knew one who was a first-class tennis
player and a great favourite on the Riviera before he was laid by the
heels and put away under his right name. Now, that man would not have
hurt a fly. I don't suppose he ever carried a firearm in his life,
because your swell crook despises that sort of thing. So, on the whole,
it would be just as well to get your visitor out of the house."

There was a certain amount of wisdom in what Carden had to say and
Gladys was not disposed to argue the point. All the same, she was quite
sure the doctor was mistaken. Nothing would induce her to believe that
there was a criminal strain in her visitor--it seemed impossible to look
into his face and harbour such a suspicion for a moment. Still----

There was no occasion for her to raise the question of a change of
domicile, because the man with the lost memory alluded to it himself
next morning.

"I really ought not to stay here any longer," he said. "You have been
more than good to me and I shall never forget your kindness. You have
treated me wonderfully, without asking a single question. I might be one
of the biggest blackguards that ever breathed. For all you know I might
be wanted in half-a-dozen countries."

"I don't think you are," Gladys smiled.

"I am inclined to share your opinion," the stranger said. "But then, you
never know. I don't feel like a criminal anyway, but I can't prey upon
you any longer. These changeable moods of mine must be very trying, but
I can't help them, because every now and then I seem to have a real grip
on my identity and then it eludes me as quickly as it has come. I should
like to go down to the village and see the old lady you spoke about."

"Don't let me influence you either way," Gladys said. "You are quite
free to stay if you like; indeed, I shrill be really sorry to lose you."

"You are an angel," the stranger said passionately. "An angel of beauty
and goodness. Ah, if I could only get myself back again! If I could only
prove to you that I am what I appear to be! Then, perhaps I could show
you how grateful I am for all your kindness. Grateful, did I say? Ah,
that is a poor way to express my feelings. I think about you all the
time. I wake up in the night and see your face before me, and then I
feel that you are the only girl in the world."

There was no mistaking the meaning that lay behind those burning words.
A thrill ran through Gladys' veins and the colour rose to her cheeks.

"You must not talk like that," she said. "There may be another waiting
for you. In your present deplorable state, you must not speak as if
Gladys Brooke represented the universe, because, I assure you, she
doesn't. When your mind comes back----"

"When my mind comes back, ah, when!"

"Oh, it will, sooner or later and then perhaps some other girl may
appear on the horizon. Do you remember what you told me by the lake in
the Hall grounds?"

"Yes, I remember that," the stranger said sadly. "I remember everything
that has happened since my accident. There must have been a girl
somewhere, some girl called Leonora or Victoria or something like that,
but there, it's all gone again."

Gladys changed the subject rather abruptly. In some vague way, she was a
little ashamed of herself. It was ridiculous that she should feel the
twinge of jealousy for this unknown woman with the name like that of
some Greek goddess. What had she herself to do with this stranger whom
she would probably never see again when once he was restored to health.

"Come along," she said. "Put on your hat and let us go down and see Mrs.
Easton now. It is a beautiful morning and the walk will do you good. Now
then, come along."

Down at the far end of the village stood the picturesque cottage where a
pleasant-faced woman combined the duties of post-mistress with the
keeping of a general shop. It was a roomy, well-furnished cottage, with
a small garden in front and a large one behind. It was in a sitting-room
facing the rambling old-world garden behind the house into which the old
lady ushered her visitors. She looked at the stranger with approving
eyes and a motherly expression not to be mistaken.

"This would be the sitting-room, Miss," the old lady said. "And the
bedroom is overhead. Both the same size. You, see I'm accustomed to do
for visitors in the summer, and I am a bit proud of my new bathroom. It
won't be my fault if the gentleman is not quite comfortable here."

"I am quite sure of that, Mrs. Easton," Gladys agreed. "Of course, you
know all about this gentleman?"

"Oh, yes, I've heard all the village says and a good deal more besides.
But that won't make any difference to me. I'll look after you sir, and
see to your comfort and your meals, and though I say it myself, there
isn't a better cook in the village. If you'd like to see the
bedroom----"

"I am sure that there is no reason for that," the stranger said
smilingly. "This is a charming cottage of yours, and I am quite certain
I shall be most comfortable here. And when will it be convenient for you
to have me?"

"Well, as to that, sir," the old lady said, "most any time. Suppose we
say the day after to-morrow, being Monday. That begins a week and gives
me time to get a few things together. And we shan't quarrel about
terms."

The stranger intimated that terms were a minor consideration and
suggested a sum for board and lodging at which Mrs. Easton held up her
hands in almost horrified protest.

"Bless and preserve us, sir, you certainly do want someone to look after
you," she said. "Why I never get half as much as that, even from my rich
city visitors who come in the summer. I couldn't take it, indeed I
couldn't; it would be downright robbery. Let's knock two pounds a week
off and I will both board and lodge you and see that you are properly
looked after. My niece will wait upon you and you can come and go just
when you like. Good morning sir, and thank you."

It was on the Sunday night following that Gladys came back rather late
across the fields from the doctor's house, where she had been spending
the evening. It had been rather a trying day for her, with her visitor
in one of his depressed moods, and she had been thankful when he
announced his intention of going to bed early and, indeed, had done so
before she left the cottage. She came back to find the house in darkness
and everybody apparently asleep. From under a stone outside the front
door she took the hidden key and let herself silently in. As noiselessly
she crept up the stairs towards her own room where she knew exactly
where to find her candle and, as she turned into the door, she was a
little surprised to see a thin pencil of light under the tiny
dressing-room door adjoining the apartment where her visitor was
sleeping. She could almost hear his regular breathing. Then what was the
matter with the light? Taking her courage in her hands, she flung the
door open and looked into the room.

A man was standing there, a man with his face hidden behind a mask, a
man who was evidently ransacking the stranger's kit bag. He looked up
and in the mirror opposite him caught sight of Gladys standing just
inside the doorway. Their eyes met for a moment and Gladys felt her
heart miss a beat.

"Stand still," came a hoarse command. "Don't move an inch till I give
you the word or I'll blow your brains out."




CHAPTER XI.


With those dark, menacing eyes reflected in her own from the mirror,
Gladys stood hesitating what next to do. Just for an instant, a deadly
fear swept over her, but that sensation had vanished as soon as it had
come and she was her own courageous self again, without actually
realising it. In an odd, detached sort of way there flashed into her
mind the recollection of something that she had heard from a soldier
after the war. She had asked him how he felt before some desperate
attack and sprawling over the top of a trench with the enemy machine
guns in front. And he had told her that his prevailing sensation was one
of amazing clearness of vision, both mental and physical, in which he
had noticed everything that was going on around him, even to a wild
flower that he had crushed under foot.

And at that moment of peril, Gladys was experiencing exactly the same
thing. Her mind was crystal clear. She noted involuntarily certain
peculiarities about the man facing her, the shape of his head, the
sinister curve about the left corner of his mouth, these little things
that were to come back to her later on. She noted, too, that the
intruder had but recently arrived, because the kitbag at his feet was
barely opened, and only one or two articles, so far, had been removed.
No doubt, he had approached the house from the back under the impression
that everybody was in bed and asleep, and had no doubt learnt his
bearings by a pretty thorough inspection of the premises. Probably with
a pair of field glasses, such as Gladys had seen in his possession not
very long ago. For, without being definitely certain, she was fairly
confident that this was one and the same man.

As to how he got into the room, that was an easy matter. The pitch of
the cottage was low and the magnolia outside afforded an easy way of
reaching the window and opening it from the outside. All these things
raced through Gladys' mind as she stood there, hot and indignant and yet
with a certain cautiousness that bade her be extremely careful.

She could have turned away and hurried off for assistance, but there was
danger in that. If she woke the man in the bedroom beyond the
dressing-room, he might appear half dazed with sleep and so invite a
tragedy more potent than the one which had gone before. For this ruffian
was armed, and if pressed he might use his weapon with deadly effect.
There was only one thing for it and that was to face the situation
alone.

"Who are you and what do you want?" Gladys demanded.

By way of reply, the man reached the door of the dressing room with one
bound and caught his frail opponent by the shoulders. Then he threw her
aside with a violence that left her sick and dizzy for the next few
seconds. When her eyes cleared and the world ceased to revolve around
her, the stranger had vanished. He had flung himself onto the window
ledge and, from thence, had dropped to a flower bed below. Rushing to
the window, Gladys could just make out his dim outline and hear dull
footsteps until they died away in the distance.

Not that she was satisfied to leave things as they were. If possible the
man must be caught. Without the slightest hesitation, Gladys made her
way down the stairs and out into the room. Then she raced across the
fields towards the village and, ten minutes later, was ringing Dr.
Carden's night bell.

He came down in his pyjamas and dressing gown and listened to all that
Gladys had to say.

"Well, there is nothing the matter with your nerve," he said. "Yes, I
think I know what you want me to do. You want me to ring up the police
at Marwich and tell them exactly what has happened. Is that the idea in
the back of your mind?"

"Of course," Gladys said. "The sooner the police are on the track of
that scoundrel the better. He can't be very far off, as yet. Oh, do get
to the telephone."

Carden went to the telephone promptly and, in a few brief words, told
the man at the other end of the wire exactly what had happened. When he
had finished speaking he replaced the receiver and turned to his late
visitor.

"That is all right," he said. "I got the sergeant in charge and he
promised me to send out an alarm at once. The whole countryside will
know all about it in a few minutes. I expect you will have a visit from
the inspector in the morning."

However, it was fairly late the following afternoon before the inspector
put in an appearance. He came, moreover at an inconvenient time, just as
Gladys had made final arrangements for the transporting of her
involuntary guest from the cottage to the village post office. So far,
she had said nothing of the events of the previous night so that even
the faithful Marta was in ignorance as to the visit of the midnight
intruder.

The inspector came into the dining-room where Gladys awaited him. He had
very little to say and no news to impart. He had done his best according
to his lights, but up to the time of his leaving Marwich, no news had
come to hand as to the movements of any stranger in the locality.

"How annoying; I did hope you would have got on the track of that man.
Of course, you know all that happened last night. You know how I caught
the ruffian in the dressing-room upstairs rifling my unfortunate
visitor's kitbag. I feel quite convinced that he is the same individual
who made that murderous attack in the lane. You know, Mr. Inspector,
this business is getting on my nerves. Can't you suggest anything?"

"I am afraid I can't," the inspector said. "One thing I can do, and that
is to protect you from further annoyance of this kind. I will put a man
on duty outside the cottage with instructions not to lose sight of the
house."

"Oh, I am not afraid," Gladys said. "The only thing I am afraid of is
that you will play with this business until it is too late. We evidently
have a most dangerous criminal to deal with, and one who will stick at
nothing to gain his ends. He hasn't even left the neighbourhood, though
he runs a great risk in remaining in this locality. Of course, he is
looking for something, something that he wants very pressingly indeed.
Perhaps I can suggest what it is, though nothing would be gained by
doing so at the present moment. Now, Mr. Inspector, can't you get your
Chief Constable to do something?"

The inspector smiled non-committally.

"Well, you see, it's like this, miss," he said. "Our chief, Captain
Creston, is comparatively new at his job. He is a gentleman, who spent
three years at Scotland Yard training for his present position. I dare
say you know that his people are an important item in the country and
very influential. They knew the late chief would resign before long and
that our present one would step into his shoes. He is clever, is Captain
Creston, and he does not mean to stay here all his life. And that is why
he doesn't want to call headquarters to his assistance until he is
obliged."

"Then, in that case I will see him myself. I will come into Marwich this
afternoon and call upon Captain Creston."

The inspector took his leave presently and for the time being Gladys put
him out of her mind. She went back into the morning-room where her guest
sat patiently awaiting her return. There was nothing for it now but to
walk with him down to the village and hand him over to the care of Mrs.
Easton.

"I shall be very sorry to go," he said. "I shall miss you very much
indeed. But, of course, I can't be a burden on you any longer. May I
come and see you sometimes?"

"Of course," Gladys cried warmly. "I want you to come in at any moment
you feel inclined. You know that my mornings are devoted to work, but,
apart from that, I shall always be glad to see you. And you will be
missed, too."

"Ah," the stranger smiled sadly. "I am glad to hear you say that. I
could be quite happy in this lovely little cottage all my life. But,
there is one thing I shall miss almost as much as I shall miss you. It
has been a great companion and consolation to me, especially during your
working hours."

The speaker indicated the wireless set that stood in the comer of the
room. Gladys understood without his saying any more. She had noticed
that the music and melody that came flowing from the Daventry Station
had soothed the stranger's restlessness and acted like some beneficent
drug upon the frayed edges of his nerves.

"Yes, I quite follow," she said. "There are times when a wireless is a
positive blessing to me. But I think that Mrs. Easton has a small set. I
seem to remember her telling me that she had put one in for the benefit
of her summer guests. But, whenever you feel that a little music will do
you good, come here and use my installation. You can walk into the house
as if the place were your own."

"You are more than good to me," the stranger said gratefully. "But I
must not detain you any longer."

The two moved off together presently in the direction of the village and
Gladys returned later on, feeling that she had done something to make
that unfortunate man happy. And now that he was more or less off her
mind, she began to revert to the other side of the business. Had she
acted wisely in allowing the stranger out of her sight? Would he not
have been safer if he had remained in the cottage because, sooner or
later, Gladys felt certain that the mysterious scoundrel hiding away in
the background would make a further attempt to get that which he so
urgently required, and which he was running so great a risk to get into
his possession. Still the police were on the alert now and possibly the
next move would end in disaster to the man who played so important a
part in the mystery. And there, for the moment, Gladys was fain to leave
it. There was nothing that she could do that she had left undone.




CHAPTER XII


As events turned out, it was two days before Gladys was in a position to
meet Captain Creston, the Chief Constable of the county. She found him
at length in his office ready to meet her and discuss the mystery in all
its bearings.

"You have found out nothing fresh?" she asked.

"Absolutely nothing, Miss Brooke," the tall, soldierly man seated at the
desk was loth to admit. "But, of course, we are only in the initial
stages at present. We are bound to lay that man by the heels sooner or
later--bound to. As a matter of fact, I have a little scheme of my own
which you will quite understand I cannot discuss with anybody. I
appreciate your interest in the affair and the really splendid way in
which you have acted, especially as your late guest was an absolute
stranger to you."

"But the whole thing is horrible--horrible," Gladys protested. "Here is
a gentleman who has lost his memory owing to a dastardly attack on the
part of some delinquent who obviously followed him for the purposes of
robbery."

"That, I think, is pretty clear, Miss Brooke."

"Oh, it is nice to find that you agree with me so far." Gladys said a
little sarcastically. "It seems almost incredible that a gentleman of
position like my late guest should be murderously assaulted and the
assailant allowed to escape with no more trouble taken to capture him
than if he had been a village labourer who had hurt some neighbour in a
drunken brawl. It is amazing to me that no one has come forward to claim
the poor man. He must have friends and relatives in a high position in
this country who are evidently under the impression that no harm has
come to him. There are lots of men of leisure who never write letters at
all. Put yourself in the place of my guest. Put yourself in the place of
his relatives. They are under the impression that he is enjoying himself
somewhere abroad, when, all the time, he might be within a mile or two
of them. I think he must be, or he would not have come down to this
neighbourhood at all."

With that, Gladys went on to tell Captain Creston all that happened
within the lodge gates of Cullendon Hall. It was a story that seemed to
impress the listener.

"I am glad to have that information," he said, "because it rather helps
me. At the same time, don't you think that it cuts the ground from under
your theory that your late guest was lured down here by a ruse?"

"Well, perhaps it does," Gladys admitted. "Oh, I don't know what to
think or what to do. If I were a man I am sure I could think of
something. I hope you won't think I am intruding or trying to advise
you, Captain Creston, but it seems to me that here is a case where the
Scotland Yard people ought to be consulted. Do say that you agree with
me."

"I should be only too glad, if I could," Creston said. "But it is early
days yet, and I am afraid you are a little impatient. There is one
thing, however, that I can do without allowing the strings to leave my
hands altogether. Would you mind giving me an accurate description of
your guest."

"But surely that has already appeared in the papers," Gladys pointed
out. "I don't suppose there is a newspaper in England that has not had
something to say about the Cullendon mystery. Still, if you require the
information, I will give it you."

"Thank you!" the chief murmured. "And please don't forget little
points--trifling peculiarities that the average person overlooks, but
which may immediately impress some friend or acquaintance who happens to
have noticed it. You know what I mean. A man picks up the paper and
casually reads all about an individual who has lost his memory. But if
the description of this party is photographic, then he may pick out some
little thing, such as a mole or a spot, and say to himself, 'By jove,
that sounds like old George Smith.' In ninety-nine cases out of hundred
he might be wrong, but in the hundredth case he would be right. Now,
bearing in mind what I say, Miss Brooke, will you try and give me what I
am asking? You need not dwell upon his clothing or his boots or his hat,
or anything of that sort, because these things convey nothing to
anybody. Now, you run over all the points, and I will carefully jot them
down in my notebook."

Very carefully and accurately Gladys gave the required details. But
there were no outstanding peculiarities. Captain Creston shrugged his
shoulders when she had finished.

"I am afraid that does not help much," he said. "You could meet hundreds
of men just like that at the Oxford and Cambridge or Eton and Harrow
cricket match or in the enclosure at Ascot. It is wonderful how our
English upper classes remain true to type. Still, I will do what I can."

Taking this as a gentle hint of dismissal, Gladys left the office and
made her way back to the cottage. It seemed rather an empty place
without the stranger, and Gladys told herself that she felt very much
like a woman who had lost her baby. Old Marta put the same thought in
other words.

"The house doesn't seem the same, like," she said. "I've met a lot of
gentlemen in my time, but never one I took such a fancy to as the
gentleman as 'as just left us. And he was a gentleman, too, if ever I
saw one."

"I think so, too, Marta," Gladys smiled. "But there are others who are
not so charitably disposed as we are. It has been suggested to me that
our Mr. Nobody might possibly be a gentlemanly scoundrel who met his
accident after a quarrel with one of his accomplices. I think the police
are under that impression."

"Fiddle-de-dee," Marta cried. "You don't get over me like that. It is
all very well for them police to talk, but it strikes me as that's all
an excuse to hide their own ignorance. Scoundrel indeed! Why, you've
only got to look in the poor gentleman's face to see as he was a
gentleman. Drat the police."

With which Marta moved off indignantly to her work. The day seemed to
drag slowly on to its close, so that the mere prospect of a morning's
work on the morrow came like a consoling balm to Gladys. During those
morning hours, at any rate, she could forget all about what happened,
but when the next afternoon came, leaving her at a loose end with no
sign of the stranger, she began to grow restless and uneasy. She could
not read and she could not write, even the library book in which she had
taken a passing interest, was slung aside. It was nearly nine o'clock
and the dinner was over when she turned into the morning room and
switched on her wireless set. At any rate, she would listen to the news,
and, perhaps get some music from one of the excellent orchestras playing
under the auspices of the B.B.C.

She touched the nob of her set, and, almost immediately the mysterious
voice out of the ether began to speak.

"London calling the British Isles," it said. "Before the weather
forecast, I have an announcement to make. The police are anxious to
trace the friends and relatives of a gentleman, name unknown, who was
found lying dangerously ill in a lane at Cullendon village, near
Marwich, on the night of April 5th. The police are convinced that this
man was the victim of a deliberate attempt at murder. He has entirely
lost his memory and is quite unable to give an account of himself. About
thirty-five years of age, tall, and of athletic build, with blue-grey
eyes and a clipped, military moustache. Very good teeth and a pleasant
smile. No peculiarities to speak of, with the exception of a small
depression just above the point of the chin. Brown, curly hair and
rather small, well-set-back ears. Speaks with a refined accent and
manners exceptional. Any person who can give information as to the
identity of the injured man should communicate with the Chief Constable
of Marshire, County Hall, Marwich, telephone 1875 or any police
station."

Gladys thrilled as she heard this message coming over the wire. She was
glad to recognise that Captain Creston was doing something at last. He
might or might not have called in Scotland Yard, but, at any rate, he
had evoked the powerful aid of the British Broadcasting Company. The
appeal would go out to the far corners or the kingdom and even to
British residents abroad. No doubt such a universal appeal as this would
result in something definite before long.

Perhaps some English resident on the Riviera would pick up the
broadcast. Gladys was aware that many of such people had installed
wireless sets in their villas for the purpose of listening to news from
home, and there was hope in this direction, more especially because the
unfortunate stranger had been closely connected with the Riviera quite
recently. At any rate, he was in possession of a large quantity of bank
notes which had lately been in the possession of a money changer at
Monte Carlo, which fact the police already knew.

Still, it was very thrilling to hear all this going out to the country
at large, and the realisation of it brought a comfort to Gladys which
she would have been hard pressed to explain. She had not yet asked
herself how far she was interested in her late visitor, beyond the usual
meed of pity which the average woman would feel for anyone in distress.
She did not realise that her feelings were more than really sympathetic,
nor did she want to inquire into herself too far at this point.

She felt now that something was being done, she felt that the police
were really awake at last, and that great events were likely to spring
from that appeal to the ether. She sat there listening and turning
things over in her mind to the accompaniment of soothing strains of
music, though what the wireless orchestra was playing she had not the
remotest idea.

She did not hear a ring at the bell, nor was she conscious that Marta
was in the room until the latter spoke.

"What's that?" she asked vaguely. "Someone to see me at this time of
night. Who is it?"

"I don't know from the dead, miss," Marta said. "It's a lady, and what's
more, she has sent her car away."

Gladys hurried into her little sitting room where a young woman in black
rose to meet her.

"You won't know who I am, of course," the stranger said. "But my name is
Cora Brooke. Your sister-in-law."




CHAPTER XIII.


Gladys stared at the speaker in undisguised astonishment. She was
conscious of a certain feeling of unreality, just as if she were in the
grip of some ugly dream that she could not shake off. It seemed almost
incredible that these amazing happenings should take place one after the
other, in so peaceful and serene an atmosphere. A few days ago, she was
happy enough with her work, and the contemplation of the future, and
then, all at once, the avalanches had begun to fall in such bewildering
succession. It seemed impossible to struggle against them.

And yet there was nothing in the aspect of the woman who stood, smiling
before her to raise alarm, even in the most timid breast. The woman was
not unduly girlish, nor, on the other hand, was there any suggestion of
maturity about her undeniable charms. She was small and beautifully
featured, fair with blue eyes and a mischievous mouth that somehow
suggested firmness behind that easy and natural smile. One of the sort
of women who might be any age between eighteen and thirty-five. She
spoke with a nice, unaffected accent which had, at the same time, a
distinction of its own, and her clothing was modest and sensible. A
tweed suit of tailor cut, and a neat hat set off what was altogether a
decidedly attractive figure. And yet, to Gladys' trained eye, the
costume suggested a modesty of means, and the rather thin shoes were
splashed with mud. All this Gladys took in almost without knowing that
she was ignoring the other's outstretched hand.

"My sister-in-law," Gladys contrived to say at length. "Surely there is
some mistake. I have no sister-in-law."

"Ah, then I suppose Wilfred never told you," the woman said with a shake
of her head. "I never could quite understand why he wanted to keep our
marriage a secret, because there was nothing to be ashamed of about it.
Of course, he knew that I should return to England one of these early
days, and he always pictured to himself what a surprise it would be when
I came down here and told you my name was Cora Brooke."

"Won't you sit down," Gladys said rather wearily. "At any rate, let us
talk this matter over. Wilfred never mentioned your name in any of his
letters. Please sit down. Can I get you anything? I don't wish to appear
abrupt, but I suppose that before you came here you made certain
arrangements."

"As to my movements, I suppose you mean," the woman asked. "I am afraid
I didn't. You see, Wilfred met me in Cape Town when I was on the stage.
I have been on the stage all my life. My father and mother were acting
before me. I dare say you will think it very silly of us, but our
marriage was a secret one. I expect you have noticed that stage people
are rather prone to that sort of thing."

"You mean that, you want to stay here?" Gladys asked.

"Well, that certainly was the idea," the other laughed easily. "I
managed to get home when our company broke up and when I landed at
Southampton I hadn't a bean--I mean I hadn't any money. But for a
providential meeting with a friend who motored me down here, I don't
know how I should have reached this village."

Gladys inclined her head with polite interest. Marta had informed her
that this unexpected visitor had arrived in a car but the comparatively
fresh mud splashes on the thin shoes did not altogether tally with the
statement.

"What a strange thing," Gladys said. "You must pardon me if I appear a
little bewildered in the circumstances. You say that you are my brother
Wilfred's wife----"

"You are not doubting it?" the other asked swiftly. "Oh, well I have
nothing to prove it, at least, not in my possession. But that will be an
easy matter. Only a question of writing to Cape Town for a copy of my
marriage certificate. Meanwhile, my dear Gladys, I will be perfectly
frank with you. Our company came to grief up country in South Africa and
a defrauding manager left us stranded. That was only a week or two after
I was married. You see, I had to fulfil my engagement which I should not
have done if I had known what was going to happen. I should have stayed
in Cape Town and then Wilfred would never have gone on that ill-fated
expedition where he met his death. He would never have started on that
wild goose chase at all if he had not been convinced that the bank
people were going to prosecute him. As things turned out afterwards they
had no intention of doing anything of the kind. Poor dear Wilfred. How
generous he was and how loyal to his friends! I don't know whether you
have heard the circumstances in which he got into trouble with the bank,
but if not I will tell you."

"I don't think we need go into that," Gladys replied. "I learnt all
about my brother's death from the South African paper, which reaches me
regularly. Also, I had a letter from the bank manager, and a further
communication from Wilfred's friend, Mr. Gerald Lewis, telling me
everything."

"Ah, Lewis was the man who was the cause of all the trouble, wasn't he?"
Cora said. "The man Wilfred helped, fully believing that he could
replace the money he had borrowed."

"In that case, we need not go any further into these painful details,"
Gladys said rather coldly. "Wilfred is dead now, and it is not for us to
judge him. Whatever his faults, he always meant well. Do I understand
that you want to stay here for the night?"

Cora Brooke looked up with mingled anger and sorrow clouding those fine
blue eyes of hers.

"Not if you speak like that," she sad sadly. "It is not my fault that I
am in my present position. My idea was to come down here and ask your
hospitality for a few days whilst I could find another engagement at
home. That won't be long, because I have so many friends in the
profession. And, after all, I am your brother Wilfred's destitute
widow."

Gladys softened before the appeal. Indeed, there was nothing else for
her to do. Her feelings towards the woman who sat opposite her were
absolutely negative. She neither liked nor disliked her, but her story
seemed to carry the stamp of truth upon it and in any case, it was
impossible to turn her out in the road.

"You must pardon me," Gladys said. "You can understand how this
revelation of yours took me by surprise. Of course you can stay here for
the present. If you will excuse me a minute or two I will consult my
servant as to your bedroom."

"Oh, anything will do," the fair-haired woman said. "I am used to
roughing it. I daresay if the positions were reversed I should feel
exactly as you do. Still, it is too bad to put you to all this trouble
when you have another visitor in the house at the same time."

"Another visitor?" Gladys echoed.

"Yes, the gentleman with the lost memory. Now, I dare say you wonder how
I know anything about that. As a matter of fact, I read something of it
in one of the daily papers. And I thought what a strange thing that I
should be on my way to the same house. That is why I hesitated."

"There was no occasion," Gladys said. "My nameless guest is no longer
under this roof."

"Then his relatives have identified him?"

"Unfortunately, no. But he felt he could not remain here any longer,
especially as he was amply provided with means, so he has taken rooms in
the village post office. But let me go and make arrangements for your
comfort."

A day or two passed without Gladys feeling herself drawn any further
towards the newcomer under her roof. She was sensitive enough to Cora's
attractiveness, but there was some vague, intangible something that kept
the two at arms length. Still, it would not be for long, Gladys told
herself, because already the newcomer was engaged in a considerable
correspondence which she declared to be letters she was writing to
various theatrical agencies. Beyond that, Mrs. Wilfred Brooke proclaimed
the fact that she was not in the least averse from studying the beauties
of the neighbourhood alone.

"I know something about it," she explained. "Some years ago, when I was
touring with an English company we put in a whole month at Marwich and I
covered the ground for miles around. I recognised this cottage directly
I got here. And those beautiful lodge gates at the Hall and the park
beyond. I have rambled by the side of the lake there many a time. Don't
you trouble about me, you go your way and I will go mine. Of course, I
know that I am an intolerable nuisance to you and what a lot of gossip
goes on in a country place like this. Thank goodness you didn't have to
tell your neighbours the details of poor Wilfred's death."

"I was certainly spared that," Gladys murmured. "But I have had to
explain you, and that has aroused a great deal of talk in the
neighbourhood."

"Well, so long as I don't disgrace you, it doesn't matter much," Cora
laughed. "And I don't think I shall do that."

With that, Cora changed the subject and began to ask questions about the
neighbourhood when the inspector of police from Marwich was announced.
He came into the little morning room, closely followed by a tall man
with a rather refined face and hair that was turning grey at the
temples.

"I am sorry to intrude," the inspector said. "But there is a question I
should like to ask you. My friend here is Sergeant Wilcroft of Scotland
Yard. He has been lent to us for the moment and he has an idea that he
can help."

"If I am in the way," Cora suggested. Then she stopped suddenly. She was
looking at the man from Scotland Yard with a queer, strange interest in
her eyes, and he was regarding her with a puzzled expression on his
face.

"I am afraid you will think me rather rude, madam," he said to Gladys.
"But this lady's face seems familiar to me."




CHAPTER XIV.


Cora laughed with frank unrestraint. There was no trace of embarrassment
about her as she looked at the man with the grey hair and seemed to
enjoy his confusion.

"I suppose that is rather a compliment, in a way," she said. "I don't
expect Sergeant Wilcroft is aware of the fact that I am an actress. I
have played in many London theatres and all over the provinces, and
perhaps----"

"Please don't say another word," the sergeant interrupted. "Of course, I
remember now. I saw you five years ago at Birmingham in pantomime unless
I am greatly mistaken."

"Well, that is a compliment," Cora smiled. "And what a memory. But then
I suppose you detective gentlemen are noted for your recollection of
faces. Gladys, I think I had better leave you to these gentlemen--they
might want to speak to you in private."

The inspector waved the suggestion on one side, but Cora had already
made her graceful exit. The man from Marwich asked Gladys a few
questions then turned to go. It was quite evident that he had come over
to Cullendon on some errand which he had no intention of dilating upon
or perhaps he had merely come to the village with the idea of making his
colleague familiar with the ground. Gladys detained him for a moment.

"You promised me a day or two ago," she said, "that you would place a
constable on duty in the vicinity of this cottage. But there is no
necessity as far as I am concerned. What I really want you to do is to
transfer your man to the village post office, where my late visitor is
living at present. I may be altogether wrong, but I have an uneasy
feeling that the poor man is not altogether safe where he is."

"I am not sure that you are wrong," the inspector agreed. "It shall be
done and done at once."

With that, the men of law departed and walked down the village in the
direction of their car.




CHAPTER XVI


"I wanted you to see Miss Brooke," the inspector said. "I have a very
high regard for her, and I should be more than sorry if she came to any
harm. Now, that other woman. Very fascinating and attractive, don't you
think."

"There is no doubt about that," Wilcroft agreed heartily.

"Um, perhaps you admire that type. Bit too florid for my taste. I
suppose she is an actress!"

"Beyond the shadow of a doubt," Wilcroft said drily. "Anybody could see
that. And when I said that I had met her before I was not paying her a
mere compliment."

"Met her in the course of business, do you mean!"

"Well, that I can't quite tell you. It may be, or, on the other hand, I
might have seen her on the stage. I have had a good deal of experience
with stage criminals, as you know."

"Are you suggesting that she is one of them!"

"Well, I won't go so far as that," Wilcroft said. "But I have met that
woman before, though, for the life of me, I cannot think where, or in
what circumstances. But I didn't want her to know it, and that is why I
made that shot as to seeing the lady in pantomine in Birmingham. It
happened to hit the bull's eye as things turned out, so there is no harm
done. But what is a woman of that type doing under Miss Brooke's roof?"

The inspector proceeded to explain.

"Sister-in-law," he said. "Though I only knew that last night. Turned up
here quite unexpectedly, more or less on her uppers. She is the widow of
Miss Brooke's brother, and he married her not very long ago in South
Africa."

Meanwhile, Gladys, glad to be alone for the moment, finished her
letters, and a little later, set off in the direction of the post
office. Before leaving the house she ascertained that Cora had obtained
a packet of sandwiches from old Marta and had gone off for one of her
long, rural rambles. Not displeased to have the afternoon to herself,
Gladys went along in the direction of the post office with a certain
sense of freedom which she had not enjoyed during the last few days.

She stamped and posted her letters and then turned for a few moment's
chat with Mrs. Easton. The place was deserted, as it usually was at this
time of the day, so that they could talk freely.

"And how is your lodger getting on," Gladys asked.

"Well, to tell you the truth, miss, I don't know what to make of him.
Some days he's so bright and cheerful that if you didn't know the
circumstances you wouldn't believe that he'd lost his memory at all. He
does all sorts of rational things. He even writes letters."

"Letters," Gladys exclaimed. "Letters!"

"Yes, miss," Mrs. Easton shook her head mournfully. "But he doesn't post
'em. He writes pages and pages and puts them in envelopes, and then he
can't think of the address. All sorts of names I've seen on letters, but
nothing more. Then he gets one of his moody fits and burns them. I don't
want you to think as I've been spying on him, miss, but I naturally take
a lot of interest in the poor, dear gentleman. He is the nicest lodger I
ever had. He was writing letters all last evening and as cheerful as
could be, but this morning you could hardly get a word out of him. He
went off about twelve o'clock and he hasn't been back since. I am
beginning to feel quite anxious about him."

"Which way does he generally go?" Gladys asked.

"Well, in his present mood he always goes through the Hall gates and
along by the lake. It's a lonely spot and one that makes even me
melancholy. I wish he'd come back."

"I will go round that way and see if I can meet him," Gladys said.

She went down the village street and, passing the great iron gates in
front of the Hall lodge, entered the park half a mile further down the
road, by a green door that gave entrance thereto. By doing this she cut
off a long detour and approached the lake by a narrow winding path
between dense masses of shrubs so that presently she found herself some
thirty or forty yards away from the ruined Greek temple on the far side
of the sheet of water. There the lake narrowed so that when Gladys
emerged into the open with the gloomy thickness of the laurels behind
her, she had a full view of the temple, which was really more of a
summer house, rather than a marble shrine.

She looked about her, but no sign of the mysterious stranger was to be
seen. Then, just as she was about to retrace her footsteps, voices broke
on her ear and, to her amazement she saw her sister-in-law seated on one
of the half-ruined benches within the temple in conversation with a tall
stranger whose features were plainly visible at that short distance.

He was a man, apparently, of some fifty years of age, handsome and
picturesque, and carrying certain marks of distinction upon him. Gladys
had never seen him before and, assuredly he was a stranger to the
district. But who was he, she wondered, and what possible connection
could there be between her sister-in-law and this man. Certainly Cora
had never suggested for a moment that she knew anybody in the locality
or that she was going to meet anybody in the afternoon. And even if she
were going to keep an assignation, there was no reason why she should
have made a secret of the fact. If some friend of Cora's had come down
to that locality, she should have mentioned the circumstances openly and
invited him to see her at the cottage.

Moreover there was an air of furtive underhandedness about this business
that Gladys did not like at all. If those two wanted to talk, why not
have met in the open, instead of that secret place which suggested
something sinister in the background. Gladys restrained a natural
instinct to retire, but, with all her suspicions aroused, she merely
slipped deeper into the background and watched them from where she was
standing.

Up to a certain point the interview appeared to progress pleasantly
enough until Cora said something to which her companion took exception.
He blazed out in an expression of wrath, but in an undertone that failed
to reach Gladys' ears. He bent over Cora so threateningly that Gladys
half started in alarm.

But Cora, apparently, was not in the least afraid. She rose to her feet
with a light laugh and a gesture of mocking courtesy after which she
came lightly down the steps of the temple and turned in the direction of
the drive. The man followed her, protesting as he went, and in a few
minutes they were lost to view.

What did this mean; what was going on? Gladys asked herself. Perhaps she
would learn presently, but, meanwhile, she was going to wait for Cora to
speak. She knew that she had not been seen by those two so, without
hesitation, she retraced her footsteps and returned to the post-office
again.

"Well, Mrs. Easton," she said. "I can't find my late visitor. Has he
returned by any chance?"

"Oh lor, yes, miss," the old lady cried, "Fact is, he has never been
away. Just been sitting in the alcove at the end of the back garden all
the time. He's there now. But perhaps you would like to see him. I am
sure it would cheer him up to have a chat with you, so you just step
into his sitting room, while I fetch him. I can't ask you into the
kitchen because I've got all my washing about. I'll be back in a
minute."

Gladys turned into a nicely appointed sitting room which had been
allotted to her late visitor. On a table was the book he had been
reading, and between the two latticed windows a writing desk on which
lay an envelope partly addressed. Half ashamedly, Gladys stepped across
the room and read the superscription--just one line and part of another
unfinished.

"Wilfred Brooke, Esq. 151, Avenue Ant----"

Gladys stood there gasping for breath. A letter actually addressed to
her own dead brother. In the writing of her late visitor, beyond doubt.
What, what did it mean?

Gladys looked at the envelope again to make quite sure that she was not
mistaken. But there it was plainly enough, with her brother's name in
full and that partially written address which pointed to some foreign
destination. It might be French or, on the other hand, it might be
Italian. And possibly, again, somewhere in Latin America. But why had
the visitor so suddenly broken off? Possibly he had been disturbed and,
what was far more likely, he had forgotten the latter part of the
address. Gladys was taking it for granted, of course, that the
handwriting was that of her unknown visitor, otherwise it would not have
been lying there on the table at all. All she had to do now was to wait
until the stranger came in out of the garden.

He strolled in presently, listlessly enough, though his eyes lighted up
as they fell on his caller.

"It's very good of you to come like this," he said. "But please don't
bother about me, because I am not in the least likely to come to any
harm. Mrs. Easton says she has been looking for me all over the place.
But I was close by all the time. I was coming up to see you this
evening."

"I hope you will do that in any case," Gladys smiled. "Do you know, I
have been guilty of an unpardonable piece of curiosity. I took the
liberty of inspecting your writing table, and on it I found an envelope
addressed to my brother."

"Your brother," he echoed. "Oh, yes, you told me you had a brother.
Dead, isn't he, poor fellow?"

"I have every reason to believe so, is that your writing on this
envelope?"

The stranger took the square of paper in his hand and regard it in a
sort of amused amazement.

"Yes, that is my writing," he said wearily. "But I don't know in the
least what it means. Every now and then, little flecks of light come
into my mind and, in flashes, I see things clearly. Then, as quickly as
they come, they vanish. I must have put that name on the envelope half
unconsciously. Your brother's name came to my mind and I wrote it down.
What the address means I really can't tell you. Another flash of memory,
perhaps, mixed up with the first, like a sort of compound photograph.
Very likely at one time I knew a man who lived in the Avenue something
or other. But I don't know. I never know anything. Directly I begin to
think, I get worse than ever."

"Then, don't try," Gladys said cheerfully. "I ought not to have
mentioned the matter at all, because, of course you could not possibly
have known my brother. Please forget it."

Gladys almost forgot it herself when she found herself a few minutes
later on her way back to the cottage. The envelope was puzzling and
disturbing enough, but not half so disturbing as the recollection of
that mysterious interview between Cora and the man in the alcove by the
lake.

Strange that Cora never mentioned the fact that she knew somebody in the
neighbourhood. But, given time, she might allude to the subject.

But tea came to an end, and an hour passed without a single word from
Cora on the subject. Evidently she was going to keep the matter to
herself. But Gladys had not the slightest intention of letting it pass
in that casual fashion.

"Where did you go this afternoon?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know," Cora said casually. "Across the fields and round by
the back of the Hall."

"Of course, it is no business of mine," Gladys said quite coldly. "But I
don't think you are being quite candid with me, Cora."

"And what does that mean?" Cora asked.

"Well, you see, I was in the neighbourhood of the Hall myself this
afternoon. I was looking for my mysterious visitor, because I was
feeling a bit anxious about him. He is fond of wandering about the
grounds round the Hall; it is quiet there now that the family is away,
and he seeks the solitude which is none too good for him. So I looked
for him there this afternoon, and though I failed to find him----"

"I know exactly what you are going to say," Cora interrupted with a fine
show of candour. "You went along by the lake, and you happened to see me
there talking to a stranger. Well, I was. But you would be none the
wiser if I told you the curious circumstances in which I met him. You
musn't mind my having a secret of my own, about which I will tell you in
due course. It is purely a business matter."

"I am very sorry," Gladys said coldly. "I am sorry now that I mentioned
the matter at all."

With that, pleasantly, but none the less firmly, she changed the
conversation. Still, she felt sure in the back of her mind that Cora had
not the slightest intention of telling her anything, and that she would
hear no more about the stranger by the lake side. But the whole thing
was very disturbing and only added to that feeling of helplessness that
had been growing on Gladys for the last two or three days. She felt like
some hapless fly that has been flung headlong into a clinging web of
intrigue from which there is no possible escape. Only a few days before
she had been free and happy in her work and looking forward with
pleasure to the future. But now, all that was changed.

To begin with, she had the unfortunate stranger on her mind. He had
fallen into her life out of the blue, and though he asked nothing at her
hands, every instinct in that fine nature of hers called aloud upon her
to assist him. Worse than that, she was taking more than a sympathetic
interest in him. She wanted to fight for him, to shield him from the
world as a mother shields a child from danger. And yet the feeling was
not altogether motherly--there was something deeper in it than that.
There would be trouble yet, Gladys felt, and perhaps tragedy. And one of
the elements of tragedy was not remote from the fair-haired, smiling
woman who sat opposite her. Gladys was not sorry when, half-an-hour
later, the stranger appeared.

He came across the room and then turned quickly as he saw Gladys was not
alone. His eyes met those of the woman who rose from her seat and smiled
vaguely. But behind the smile Gladys could see a strange expression that
was partly amusement, partly mischief, mingled with interest and
something that seemed to Gladys actually on the verge of fear. But only
for an instant, and then Cora held out her hand frankly.

"I have heard of you," she said. "I am very sorry and I hope you will
let me help you if I can."

The stranger stood still without speaking. Just for an instant, his eyes
became clear with the full light of reason in them. But the mood passed
swiftly.

"Leonora," he murmured. "Victoria. No, that's not right. There, it's all
gone. I thought for a moment that I knew you, but I am afraid that it is
a mistake. Of course, you are Miss Brooke's sister-in-law."

"That is quite right," Cora said. "People are always mistaking me for
somebody else. But then, you see, I have been on the stage for some
years. Many see me there and forget my features until we meet again, and
then they think that we have come together at some time which they have
quite forgotten. I dare say that once, when you were quite yourself, you
watched me from the stalls and that is why I remind you of myself now."

"I expect that is it," the stranger said. "I was rather fond of going to
the theatre at one time--at least, I think I was. But please don't let
us talk about my troubles any longer. I am perfectly happy here--or as
happy as a man in my position can be, and the doctor says it is only a
question of time before my memory comes back. I try to be patient, but
there are times when this blankness is past endurance."

Gladys moved across the room in the direction of the piano.

"Wouldn't you like me to sing to you?" she said.

"Ah, yes!" the stranger exclaimed. "Music always makes me feel more
resigned. Do please sing."

Gladys chose some simple melody, during which the stranger closed his
eyes, like a contented child about to sleep. The song had hardly
finished before Marta appeared in the door way.

"A gentleman to see you, miss," she announced.

"Ask him in here," Gladys directed.

"So I would have done, miss," Marta replied. "Only when he found you had
friends he preferred to wait for you in the morning room. He says he
will only detain you a few minutes."

Gladys went into the morning room where, to her surprise, she found her
visitor was none other than Captain Creston.

"I told your servant not to mention my name," he said, "because I don't
want anybody to know I have been here. I would much rather not come into
the drawing room where your visitor and sister-in-law are. I suppose you
heard the broadcast appeal on the wireless regarding your unfortunate
guest."

"Oh, of course. Everybody heard it, I think."

"Well, that was my idea. Nothing has come of it yet, but I am not
without hope. What I came here this evening to ask you is this. When I
saw you on the first occasion in connection with this unfortunate
affair, are you quite sure that you told me everything. No little clue
overlooked?"

Gladys shook her head, then, suddenly, the recollection of that
mysterious key flashed into her mind. She had not intended to tell
anybody that, but it seemed to her now that she might be withholding
something of more than ordinary importance.

"I am afraid I was not altogether candid," she admitted. "I did keep
something back. But perhaps I had better tell you in what circumstances
I found it."

"Ah," Creston murmured, when the story was finished. "I think I shall
have to trouble you for that key, Miss Brooke."




CHAPTER XVI.


With the key in his pocket, Creston strolled down the garden path and
into the road and made his way to the spot at the end of the village
where his two-seater car awaited him. It was not yet dark as he lingered
with his hand on the steering wheel until two figures appeared coming in
his direction. He made them out presently as those of the Marwich
inspector and the man named Wilcroft, who had come down there from
Scotland Yard.

"Ah, here you are," he said. "I have just been talking to Miss Brooke
and I have obtained something that may be of considerable use to us. I
ought to have had it before, but in Miss Brooke's eyes it was so casual
that she forgot to mention it. We will go into all that later on, and,
in the meantime, have either of you got anything to report?"

"Absolutely nothing, sir," the inspector admitted. "We have been
following your instructions all day without the slightest results. If
there is anything else----"

"Not for the moment," Creston replied. "I am going back now and I will
see you both in the morning. You had better get along in the other car."

There was a second car standing by the roadside a little way off and in
this the inspector and Wilcroft made their way slowly in the direction
of Marwich. They were silent for a moment or two and not particularly
happy after a long, fruitless search for an elusive clue which Creston
thought he had discovered.

"What sort of a man is he?" Wilcroft asked, as if reading the other's
thoughts. "I mean your boss."

"Oh, the captain. He's all right. A bit young and impetuous, perhaps,
but he has got his head screwed on. Good many people round here think it
was a put-up job when he got that chief constableship, and so it was in
a way, he being one of the county. But he did very well in the war, and
he had two years with the Yard afterwards. A real nice gentleman to work
under, too. There is nothing the matter with the captain."

"Yes, I had forgotten all about that," Wilcroft observed. "But then, I
haven't been at the Yard so very long myself. Now, what do you know of
this business, Irwell?"

Inspector Irwell did not know what to make of it, and frankly said so.
It was not a big business but, on the other hand, it was not a small
one. There were features about the case that gave it a distinction of
its own.

"In my humble opinion," he said. "Miss Brooke's guest is a gentleman and
a man of position. Plenty of money and all that kind of thing and, no
doubt, plenty of friends if we could only find them. You have only to
look in his face to see there is nothing wrong with him. There are one
or two of us at Marwich who argue that he belongs to some criminal gang,
and he got biffed on the head in consequence of a quarrel. But I don't
hold that theory at all. He either came down here on business or was
hired here and followed. It doesn't matter which way you look at it. The
rogues in the play wanted something that poor chap had got and that was
their way of getting it."

"But they didn't get it," Wilcroft pointed out.

"No, they didn't," Inspector Irwell smiled. "That is where we get a bit
of a pull. But they would have got it if the blacksmith had not come up
just in the nick of time. And I don't think it was the money in that
unfortunate man's pocket that was the main attraction. They were after
something much more important. And, if I am not greatly mistaken, they
will have another shot yet. Nobody but we know of the attempt made the
other night to burgle Miss Brooke's cottage, and nobody is going to know
for the present. But the man who tried that game on belonged to the same
gang that knocked the mysterious gentleman on the head. I should not be
surprised if it wasn't one and the same person. He is somewhere in the
neighbourhood still and he won't go till he gets what he wants."

"Ah, that is where we come in," Wilcroft said. "It will be our business
to see that he doesn't get what he wants."

"You have hit it," Irwell agreed. "But, as to laying our hands upon him,
that is another matter. I have been scouring the neighbourhood for miles
around looking for strangers at the various farmhouses, whilst you
stayed in the village. I want to find some man who is taking a holiday
and pretending to fish or something of that sort. You know the idea."

"Without finding anything, of course."

"Well, not directly," Irwell replied thoughtfully. "But I did spot one
chap a mile or two away who was evidently at a loose end. Nice-looking
chap who reminded me very much of the man who had something to do with
those Hasford turf frauds some years ago. The man who called himself
Ezra Gotto. If I hadn't known that he was out of the country for good
and dared not show his face in England I would have sworn to him. The
same, but altogether different if you understand what I mean. Perhaps
you don't remember the case I mean."

"Yes, I do, now that you come to mention it," Wilcroft said. "It was
worked by telegraph, wasn't it?"

"That's right," Irwell replied. "I was at Hasford at the time. And that
is only about thirty miles away as the crow flies. I did a good deal of
the donkey work in that case, but we could not bring it home to the man
who called himself Ezra Gotto, or to his woman accomplice for that
matter. They were never seen together. There was not a local witness or
even a London one who could couple them up in the slightest way. And
when an unusually astute bookmaker tumbled to the fraud that was going
on and gave us the office, those two suddenly vanished as if the earth
had opened and swallowed them."

"How was the game worked?" Wilcroft asked.

"Well, it was like this. The man called Ezra Gotto posed as a Yankee who
had plenty of money. He betted heavily and was trusted by the bookmakers
because he always paid his losses promptly, and, therefore, had no
difficulty in opening credit accounts. He was one of the last minute
fraternity. You know what I mean. A man who wired his bets from the
course, or from some country house where he was staying, sometimes
within a minute or two minutes of the race. Being well in with the turf
accountants, the thing went all right. Of course, it can't be done now,
because the swindle has been exposed and the bookmakers are too wide
awake. But, at that time, it was rather new and Ezra was working on a
big scale. What he really did was this. He laid his plans months ahead.
He would stay somewhere close to a big race meeting and wire his
bookmaker within a few minutes of the race up to hundreds of pounds of
wagering. He would get the result by telephone and then cross over to
the local post office and back the winner, sometimes to win thousands of
pounds."

"But the time figures on the telegram?" Wilcroft asked.

"Yes, I was coming to that," Irwell went on. "That was where the
ingenious part of the scheme came in. I told you just now that the whole
plot was worked out months beforehand. Well, the woman that Gotto was
never seen with, but who was his confederate all the same, would go down
and take rooms in the local post office. She posed as a lady clerk or
something of that sort who wanted a holiday badly. Her story was that
she had just come into a goodish legacy and was inclined to take it
easy. Her game was to get friendly with the girls in the village, and
especially with a girl who was attached to the local telegraph service.
Of course, in the circumstances, this was easy, being so friendly and
generous, she was all over the telegraph girl in no time. Then she let
slip the fact that in her early days she had been in the post office
herself, which wasn't quite true, although she could work a Morse
instrument perfectly. Sometimes, just for fun, she would slip into the
post office and help the operator at her work. Just to make it look
natural you understand. Then, suddenly, a nice-looking man in a car
would turn up and take the girls for joy-rides, making himself
exceedingly attentive to the telegraph girl, as you can imagine. Then,
on the day before the big race, the immaculate young man would offer to
take the girls over to Rothfield to see a matinee at the theatre there.
It wouldn't matter whether there was a matinee or a theatre or not,
because the girls would not know that. You can imagine how eager she was
to go, and how disappointed she would be to have to say that her duties
would prevent her. You see what is coming!"

"I think so," Wilcroft grinned. "I begin to remember the circumstances
now. Of course, the pretty adventuress who had seen practically every
actor or actress in London, offered to do the generous thing and take
over the operator's duty in the post office. Nobody would be the wiser,
and it was only for an hour or two in any case. And of course, the
temptation was too great with the result that the fascinating swindler
was left in charge of the telegraph department, also the telephone. All
she had to do was to wait for Gotto to phone the result of the big race
and send off the arranged telegram in his name to the bookie with the
winner, and put back the time on the wire by five or six minutes. Very
smart, wasn't it? Smart enough, at any rate, to do the bookmakers down
to the extent of thousands of pounds."

"Yes, that is exactly how it was," Irwell agreed. "We could have laid
the woman by the heels in one case, but she vanished just as completely
as the man, and the warrant for her arrest still lies in the office, and
is likely to remain there. The only clue we had was a snapshot
photograph of the woman which she was foolish enough to allow one of her
victims to take. I will show it to you when we get back to the office."

Irwell produced the photograph presently and Wilcroft studied it
carefully. Then his eyes lighted up.

"Why, don't you see," he cried, "making an allowance for a year or two,
that is the woman over at Cullendon."

"What. Miss Brooke's sister-in-law?"

"Got it for a million," Wilcroft cried.




CHAPTER XVII.


The glorious April days went on with a mild west wind and a sunny sky,
and Gladys' well-attended garden had grown into a thing of living,
breathing beauty. And yet, despite the fact that she had no trouble of
her own and that she had more work than she could conveniently manage,
she could not shake off a certain feeling of uneasiness and the fear
that something was going to happen. It hung over her like a cloud and in
vain did she try to laugh it off. But there it was and it grew rather
than lessened as she watched the woman who had come under her roof in
such strange circumstances. For Gladys was not getting on well with her
sister-in-law and it was useless to attempt to deceive herself into a
belief that this was merely a passing phase.

There was something about Cora that did not ring true. Not that she was
in the least common, or that she did anything to outrage Gladys' nice
sense of the proportion of things. But she was shallow and artificial,
and a score of times, at least, Gladys had detected her in some quite
superfluous lie.

To begin with, she appeared to be no nearer an engagement than she had
been when she first appeared, now some three weeks ago, though she had
confidently boasted that it was only a matter of writing a letter or
two. She was not going to be a burden to Gladys, she said, and Gladys,
after the first struggle to be loyal to her brother, was quite content
that it should be so. Nor did Gladys so much mind the fact that Cora was
without means. That might have happened to anybody, especially to the
woman who had married so improvident an individual as Wilfred Brooke.
But then, she had spoken about her wardrobe and the big cabin trunk
which she had brought from South Africa. There was still no sign of
this, meanwhile her entire outfit was borrowed from Gladys, who also
supplied her sister-in-law with money from time to time. It was all very
disturbing, none the less so because Cora had never mentioned her own
relatives.

As if this were not bad enough, there was the case of the mysterious
stranger. It seemed amazing to Gladys that no one had turned up to claim
him. Day after day went by without the slightest response to that
broadcast appeal which had been initiated by Captain Creston. Yet
perhaps it was not so very remarkable, after all, Gladys had read cases
in the paper of men who have been eagerly sought by their relatives
after only a few hours' disappearance, whilst these unfortunate victims
of lost memory were wandering about the country for two or three weeks
without, apparently, attracting the least attention. She would have to
go on possessing her soul in patience.

Meanwhile the mysterious one was a constant visitor to the cottage. He
had quite recovered his physical health, but memory was no nearer than
it had been from the first trouble and Dr. Carden was still hesitating
as to whether or not he should call in some specialist with a view to a
subsequent operation.

This was the state of things that afternoon when Gladys and her late
visitor set out for one of their afternoon rambles. She was not best
pleased when Cora joined them.

"Oh, I am not going to worry you," the latter laughed. "I shall leave
you on the common, because I want to see if I can find some more of
those anemones I was telling you about."

On the edge of the common Cora turned away with a smile and a wave of
her hand, and disappeared towards the valley at the foot of the hill.
The stranger gazed after her with a peculiar look in his eyes that
Gladys did not fail to notice.

"I don't like her," the man said. "I ought not to say so, but I don't.
And yet I did at first. Then she seemed as if she were part of my life,
if you understand what I mean."

"I am afraid I don't," Gladys said gently. "But if you would rather not
talk about her, we won't."

Meanwhile Cora had gone on her way alone. She came to a lonely spot and
sat on the grass and waited. A little time later, a motor cycle appeared
on the by-road and stopped a hundred yards or so away. The rider, who
was clad in mackintosh and goggles, pushed his machine into a gorse
bush, and then came along to the spot where Cora was seated. He took off
his spectacles and helmet and disclosed the thin, rather distinguished
face, with greying hair, of the same individual Gladys had seen Cora
talking to in the ruined temple on the lake.

"Ah, this is a new idea," Cora said with a certain mocking imitation in
her voice. "Why this disguise?"

"All very well for you to talk like that," the man said. "You are all
right. You've got a comfortable roof over your head and a confiding
friend ready to find you all you need. Very different from me. Nobody
suspects you."

"Now, my dear man," Cora said calmly. "I am not quite so sure about
that, I am too close to the police force to be altogether comfortable."

"Yes, but they are not after you."

"In the first place, perhaps, no. But they are always buzzing about in
connection with what my sister-in-law calls the mysterious stranger. And
one of them is a Scotland Yard official. He told me a week or two ago
that my face was quite familiar to him. And he wasn't altogether
satisfied when I told him that he must have seen me on the stage at some
time. He said that must be it, but I could see that he didn't altogether
believe that story. So we both have our troubles, my boy."

"Yes," the man grumbled. "Look at me. I don't know where to turn for a
shilling, and that motor-cycle doesn't belong to me. I got hold of it by
a trick."

"You mean to say that you stole it," Cora suggested.

"Well, that is about what it comes to. And now, as to that business for
next week. I dare not go near the Hall, but there is no reason why you
shouldn't. Did you do what I told you!"

"Oh, of course," Cora said with a sort of mocking humility, "I always
do, don't I? I have actually been in the house itself. Most of the
servants are on board wages and there is only a sort of butler man and
his wife on the premises just now. The plate chest is at the back of the
hall. And in the drawing-room I noticed two or three large cases of
ancient gold coins. Of course, we couldn't sell them as they are, but
they represent a considerable sum for old gold."

"That's the idea," the man said. "I want you to do just as I told you
when the evening of Friday comes. I have put it all down on paper so
that there shall be no mistake. You will have to creep out of the
cottage after the Brooke girl and her servant are asleep, and meet me
inside the lodge gates of the Hall as the clock strikes twelve. Oh yes,
I know what you are going to say. Wouldn't it be better to wait until we
have dealt with the mysterious stranger. I know that, but I am at my
wits' end to know how to pay my lodgings next week. I can bluff it out
for a day or two longer, but I must have some money. We don't seem to
have any luck at all with--you know who."

"We certainly have been unfortunate," Cora sighed. "If that blacksmith
man had been just a few minutes later, we should have got away with what
we wanted without all this masquerade. And then, just as you are on the
verge of the discovery, Gladys comes back to the cottage and catches you
in her guest's dressing-room. Of course, you thought she was in bed and
asleep, which is where you made a fatal mistake. However, it is no use
throwing stones at one another. You give me that paper and I will follow
out instructions to the letter. But when you get this money we shall be
none the nearer our objective."

"No, but we shall have some funds to go on with," the man growled.
"Well, here is the paper. Now, you cut along and I will get back to my
lonely lodgings on the moor."

The two parted a little later and Cora retraced her footsteps in the
direction of the cottage. She found that Gladys had already returned and
was sitting down to tea alone, the mysterious stranger having gone back
to his lodgings. Barely had Cora taken her place at the tea table when
Marta came in with the announcement that a man wanted to see her.

"What sort of a man?" Cora asked.

"Well, ma'am, he isn't a gentleman and he isn't just a workman," Marta
replied. "But you've seen him before. He is one of them two as come over
from Marwich the other day. The same day as Captain Creston was here."

"That sounds like the police," Cora replied.

She rose from her seat and went into the morning room with a cheerful
face, but some misgiving at her heart. As she entered Wilcroft rose and
confronted her.

"I am afraid that my visit is not a very pleasant one, madam," he said.
"I want to see you with regard to a matter that happened some five years
ago. I think that you will not deny the fact that you were in England
somewhere about that time."

"Why should I deny it," Cora demanded.

"Well, it doesn't much matter. It is just five years ago within a month
or so that the Hasford turf frauds were occupying a good deal of
attention. There was a woman in the case, no doubt acting at the
instigation of the man who called himself Ezra Gotto, and I have every
reason to believe you are that woman. Therefore, I have a warrant for
your arrest."

"And the specific charge?" Cora asked.

"Certainly," Wilcroft said. "On a certain date at Hasford Minor you, in
connection with a post office employee----"

Cora's face lighted up suddenly.

"Oh, really," she said. "I knew you had made a mistake. I have never
been in Hasford in my life. There is a witness not very far off who can
prove it. That is, of course----"

She broke off abruptly and her expression changed from one of smiling
contempt to something like blank despair.




CHAPTER XVIII.


Naturally enough, it was a great shock to Gladys to find that she had
been sheltering one suspected of being a criminal under her roof. She
was not going to make up her mind yet; but all the same, something told
her that this disgrace was not going to be wiped out by the discovery
that it was merely a matter of mistaken identity. Cora protested
passionately that she had never seen the village of Hasford Minor, but
the police seldom take a step like that without being sure of their
ground.

Anyhow, this was all part and parcel of the sea of trouble into which
Gladys had been plunged. A little while back and her life had been that
which is passed in a pleasant backwater, and now, here she was, plunged
to the hilt in an atmosphere of crime and intrigue. What manner of woman
was it, she wondered, had her brother married? He was just the sort of
rash, headstrong youth who would give his heart without asking a single
question and believe all that she had to say in conflict with every
demand of ordinary common sense. Still, Gladys was going to do her best.
An hour after Cora had gone off in company with Wilcroft, she hastened
across the fields to tell Dr. Carden all that had happened and to ask
his advice.

"Well, this is a nice mess," that cheery individual said when he had
listened to the story. "What do you think about it yourself? Are you
very indignant?"

"Well, I ought to be perhaps," Gladys admitted. "But I am afraid I am
not. There is nothing I can put my finger on, but, from the first, I
have felt that there was something wrong with Cora. Something mysterious
and underhand. I shall not be at all surprised if it turns out that she
is just a worthless adventuress. But that will not prevent me from doing
what I think is right. Cora has no money and no friends, and I must help
her to the best of my ability. I wonder if you will be good enough to
motor into Marwich and engage a solicitor to defend her. From what the
detective told me she will appear before magistrates in the morning,
when only formal evidence will be offered. She will be remanded for some
time, and I don't want Cora to stay in jail if we can possibility help
it. No woman ought to remain in jail under remand. My idea is to apply
for bail, which I shall be prepared to find. Now, if you will do this
for me, I shall be most grateful. I can think of nobody else."

"Of course I will go," Carden said. "You leave it to me. I am only too
sorry that this has happened."

The cheery little doctor was as good as his word, so that when Cora
appeared before magistrates the following morning she was represented by
a local advocate who had taken her instructions in prison an hour or so
before and was prepared to do his best on behalf of an attractive
client. Inspector Irwell in the witness box outlined the story of the
turf frauds, which most people in Court had forgotten. He went on to
tell the Bench exactly how the turf accountants had been defrauded and
how the chief criminals had disappeared within a few hours of their
fraud coming to light. More than that, for the moment, he was not
prepared to say. As he turned to leave the box, Cora's advocate stopped
him.

"One moment if you please," the latter said. "You have no witnesses
here, inspector, have you?"

"We have no witnesses here for the moment, sir," Irwell replied. "You
see, it has not been an easy matter to gather up the threads after all
this lapse of time."

"Quite so," the lawyer smiled. "Your witnesses, I take it are the female
telegraph operators, whom you allege entered into a criminal conspiracy
with my client to rob the bookmakers of a large sum of money. Is that
so?"

"Practically," Irwell said. "But I did not say that my female witnesses
were active accomplices. They were more or less innocent, although, of
course, they knew they were doing wrong when they allowed themselves to
be made the tools of the woman in the case. From their point of view
they were running a risk which was not a very dangerous one."

"I quite agree with you there," the lawyer said. "But have you anyone in
Court to-day who can identify my client?"

Irwell was bound to admit that he had not. He turned to the bench to
make an explanation.

"It is like this, your worships," he said. "It is a long time ago and I
need not tell you that those telegraph operators lost their jobs. They
were not prosecuted because it was felt that they had done nothing
seriously wrong, but were dismissed from the service and one of them
married and went abroad, and I fear never will be traced. Another met
with a motor accident, which ended fatally. These frauds took place in
three rural post offices within twenty miles of Hasford. One of them was
worked through the office of Hasford Minor. That is, the operator there
at the time is the only one of the three female post office officials
with whom I have come in contact. And when I say contact, I don't mean
that I have seen the girl. But I have found out where she is, and I
hope, before long, to be able to bring her here and put her in the
witness box."

"And that is all you have to say?" the defending counsel asked. "That is
your case so far?"

"That is my case so far," agreed Irwell. "And on that I ask the Bench to
remand it for a fortnight."

"Any objection, Mr. Waterford?" the chairman asked.

"No objection whatever, your worship." Cora's advocate smiled blandly.
"But I think you will admit that, so far, the police story is pretty
weak. At any rate, I am prepared to consent to a remand on the
understanding that bail is allowed."

The Bench glanced at Irwell, who stood there with stolid indifference.

"It was not for him to decide," he said. "The matter was entirely in the
hands of the magistrates. And if they liked to accept bail he had not
the slightest objection. But it would have to be bail to a substantial
amount."

"Yes," the chairman said. "Two sureties of five hundred pounds each and
the parties to be approved. Now, Mr. Waterford, are you prepared to give
this undertaking."

"Certainly," Waterford said. "I propose my client's sister-in-law. Miss
Gladys Brooke, and Dr. Carden."

"Quite satisfactory," Irwell said.

The recognisances were entered into and signed, and a few minutes later
Cora left the Court and was rapidly whirled away in Carden's car towards
Cullendon. The two detectives crossed over from the police court to the
station opposite, where they sat down to discuss the morning's
proceedings.

"I suppose it is all right," Irwell said. "But I think I should have
liked it better if we had waited another week or two. We have got the
right woman, but I am afraid we might have scared the man off. He is not
very far away."

"Of course he isn't," Wilcroft agreed. "You were not wrong when you said
that that chap you met two or three weeks ago reminded you of Ezra
Gotto. But will you be prepared to swear to him if we venture on an
arrest?"

"Oh, I think so," Irwell said. "You see, I have met the man personally.
I know it is five years ago and that makes a lot of difference. Again,
chaps like Gotto can alter their appearance. All really clever criminals
can. I am pretty observant; and there is not much the matter with my
memory. When that man was here five years ago, staying at a country
house, he had occasion to call upon me in connection with a slight motor
smash. Some young fool on a cycle had driven into his car and sustained
certain injuries. As Gotto wanted to clear himself, he came to see me
about it. He was with me for the best part of an hour or more. Mind you,
I am not talking about this station; I mean the one at Hasford, where I
was a sergeant in those days. And, after due consideration, I feel quite
certain it was Ezra Gotto I met the other day near Miss Brooke's
cottage."

"Ah, well, I was only testing you," Wilcroft said. "Because, you see, I
have been keeping my eye upon young Mrs. Brooke, as she calls herself. I
was close behind her yesterday when she was taking her afternoon walk,
and in hiding not very far off when she met a man on a motor cycle, who
was obviously using goggles and helmet this warm weather as a disguise.
I had a pair of field glasses with me, as usual, when I am on this work,
and I watched those two. From what you say, I haven't the least doubt
that the man in the goggles was Ezra Gotto."'

"Well, we seem to be getting on a pretty warm track here," Irwell said.
"It is a bit vague and shadowy at present, but if Gotto and this woman
ain't mixed up with the murderous attack upon that strange gentleman,
then you can write me down an idiot. If we could only find out who Miss
Brooke's late visitor is, I think we should unearth a pretty
conspiracy."

Before Wilcroft could reply, the door opened, and Captain Creston came
eagerly into the room.

"Well, you two," he said, "anything fresh? You haven't had a bad morning
on the whole. And I have got something to tell you. You both know about
that key that Miss Brooke's maid found sewn up in the bottom of a pair
of trousers that the mysterious man was wearing on the night he was
nearly murdered? That key has a good deal to do with the mystery. I have
been making wide inquiries about it, not only in London and the big
provincial towns, but in the colonies. Of course, it is the key to a
safe in some big repository, and those are not too many. As a matter of
fact, I have just had a cable from Capetown. That key belongs to a
compartment in the National Safe Deposit, and the owner is registered as
Walter Bland."

"Walter Bland!" Irwell cried. "Why that is one of the aliases that Ezra
Gotto sailed under."

"Good heavens!--is that a fact?" the captain asked. "Ah, I begin to see
daylight now, indeed."




CHAPTER XIX


It was not in Gladys' fine, courageous nature to sit down and allow her
troubles to overwhelm her. Not that she did not feel the disgrace,
although it had not been brought upon her by her own flesh and blood.
Still, this woman was her brother's wife and, as such, brought a certain
amount of shame and humiliation upon the owner of the cottage at
Cullendon. Nor was Gladys any the less disturbed because she had already
come to the conclusion that there was something wrong about the other
woman and that, sooner or later, there would be a scandal of some kind.

She did not believe for a moment that Cora was making the slightest
attempt to get anything to do. Not that it mattered much now, in the
face of that dreadful accusation, whether Cora could clear her character
or not. Gladys was determined that she should not stay in Cullendon much
longer. Meanwhile, there was nothing for it but to keep a brave face to
the world and tell the village gossips that they must not judge by
outward appearance, but wait until Cora had had an opportunity of
clearing her name from the charges that had been brought against her.

And this was not the only side, because Gladys was as greatly perturbed
about the mysterious stranger. It seemed almost incredible to her that a
man of his type and of his obvious social standing should remain in the
village without even so much as a chance acquaintance coming forward to
identify him. Surely there must be somebody in the world in a position
to put an end to all this suspense and anxiety. A mother, perhaps, or
even someone closer. But it was all in a fog of doubt and mystery and
Gladys was beginning to despair. She would not admit to herself how deep
an interest she took in the stranger, but there were moments when
certain questions flashed into her mind only to be resolutely dismissed
as they arose. And there was another thing--something which old Mrs.
Easton had told her. Her lodger had taken to wandering about at night.
He would go out quite late, when he thought his landlady had gone to
bed, and returned all hours of the morning. Gladys ventured to
remonstrate with him.

"You ought not to do it," she said. "Don't forget that you have an enemy
somewhere who might still be watching you. And if you go on these
solitary walks so late you may be giving him the very opportunity that
he desires."

"I hadn't thought of that," the stranger said mildly. "You see, it's
like this, Miss Brooke. Sometimes I feel that I can't stand it any
longer. My brain, such as it is, seems to take fire. And then I hardly
know what I am doing. I am so close to the realisation of everything and
yet so far away that I don't know what to do with myself. And then I
wander about in the lanes and fields when the whole world is quiet, and
you have no idea how soothing it is. And then I come back home and I can
sleep. Sometimes I sleep till well into the afternoon. But if you like I
won't do it any more."

There was something so trustingly confiding in this promise that Gladys
felt the tears rising to her eyes. Moreover, there was some consolation
in the recollection that the police were keeping a close eye on the
village post office in case of another attack upon Mrs. Easton's lodger.
No doubt he was closely followed wherever he went on his nocturnal
expeditions so that, with this comforting reflection in her mind, Gladys
went back home with the full intention of having a thorough explanation
from her sister-in-law.

So far, Cora had been exceedingly reticent. Beyond a statement to the
effect that the charge against her was ridiculous, she had said nothing
in her defence.

"But surely I am entitled to know more than that," Gladys said. "I am
doing my best for you and I am bound to believe that you are innocent
until I am convinced to the contrary. Let us look the facts in the the
face. You come to me, like a bolt out of the blue, and tell me that you
are my brother's wife."

"Do you doubt it," Cora challenged.

"It is not a question as to whether I doubt it or not," Gladys retorted.
"Though I might remind you that, so far, you have shown me no proof that
Wilfred ever married you. And, further, you have shown me no proof that
you have ever met him."

"Oh, well, perhaps you are right," Cora said carelessly. "But the proof
is on the way. I told you I was going to write to Cape Town for a copy
of my marriage certificate, and I have done so. But don't forget it
takes six weeks to write and get a reply. A few days more and you will
know all about it."

"I am content to wait," Gladys said. "I am quite prepared to believe
that all you say about yourself and Wilfred is true. But the matter
neither begins nor ends there. I want you to be candid with me. A
serious charge has been made against you to the effect that five years
ago you were concerned in a series of disgraceful frauds with a man
named Ezra Gotto. Am I to understand that this is entirely a mistake.
Are you going to tell me that five years ago you were not in England at
all?"

"Oh, dear no," Cora admitted. "I was in England. But I told you I have
been, since my childhood, connected with the stage. As a child I had no
friends and no one to look after me. I was very young when I first met
Ezra Gotto, and he made a great impression on me in those days. He was
an actor, too, and a very handsome and fascinating man. We were in the
same travelling company for a long time, doing indifferently well, but
with periods when money was exceedingly scarce. And when one company
broke up and neither of us could get an engagement, Ezra Gotto came to
me and told me a wonderful scheme for making our fortunes. Don't forget
that I was very young then, and very much under the influence of a man
of the world like Gotto. It all sounded so simple, too. I was to do
nothing whilst he worked out the scheme which was to bring him a
fortune. Really I didn't understand quite how it was to be done, but I
was told it was a new way of backing horses. From somewhere or other,
Gotto managed to get hold of a few hundred pounds and set up as a man of
means. He pretended to be a rich American who had come to this country
with the intention of starting a racing stable. Of course, a polished
man of the world like that, with the apparent command of considerable
wealth, soon began to make influential friends. Then he sent me to a
sort of school where I learnt the art of receiving and despatching
telegrams. I am what is called a quick study and, at the end of three
months, I had learnt all there was to know. After that, I was coached in
my part, which was to go to a certain village and make friends with the
telegraph girl there. I posed as a girl of some means who was taking a
holiday. Then, on a certain date, I was to lure the girl from her post
and take her place. It was not a very difficult matter, as you can
imagine."

"And after that?" Gladys asked.

"Oh, after that I has to wait for a telephone message with the name of a
horse on it. This in Ezra Gotto's name I telegraphed to a firm in London
that makes and receives bets, taking care, at the same time to mark the
hour and minutes on the form about a quarter of an hour back. In other
words, to send a telegram with the figures 3.45 marked on it."

"It seems simple," Gladys said coldly. "What you mean, I suppose is that
the bookmaker was to be deceived into believing that the wire was sent
off a quarter of an hour before it really was. Yes, I know quite enough
about racing to understand that. You were quite successful, I suppose?"

"For a long time, yes," Cora said. "Then, by some means or other, the
bookmaker discovered the trick. I think he must have got suspicious over
losing so much money and laid a trap for us. At any rate, I had an
urgent telephone message one day from Ezra Gotto telling me to disappear
at once, and, of course, I lost no time in obeying. I was pretty well
provided with money so I had no difficulty in getting out of the
country. I went to South Africa and remained there until Wilfred died
and I had to come back to this country and ask your assistance or
starve."

"It is a most disgraceful story," Gladys said coldly. "And what about
your confederate? I mean this man Gotto. Have you ever seen him since?"

"Never," Cora cried. "Neither do I want to."

"Then you are quite sure he is not the same man you met the other day by
the lake in the Hall grounds?" Gladys asked.

Cora darted a swift glance at the speaker. "Oh dear no," she said. "And
now I have told you pretty well everything. At least, I think so."

"But you don't seem to realise the serious position you stand in,"
Gladys protested. "If the police can prove what they say then I don't
see how you can escape punishment."

"But I don't think they can," Cora said coolly. "You see, there are only
three places from which those telegrams were sent off. It doesn't much
matter about two of them, because in those villages the regular
telegraph operators are not available as witnesses against me. One was
killed in a motor accident and the other married and went abroad, since
when she has been lost sight of. So I am safe in those cases."

"Yes, but what about the Hasford Minor village?" Gladys asked. "I
suppose the girl there whom you deceived can be found?"

Cora smiled shrewdly. She seemed quite at her ease by this time and not
in the least ashamed of herself.

"Ah, that is where the police are on the wrong track," she said. "I
never was at Hasford Minor. I was seriously unwell at that time and my
place was taken by a sister who is now dead. She was very like me, but
she was not me, that makes all the difference in the world. And it so
happens that I can prove by a reliable witness that I was at Brighton on
that day."

"You can actually prove that?" Gladys cried.

The question seemed to throw Cora into a state of confusion. She seemed
to be troubled in her mind.

"Yes," she said. "I can and I can't. Oh, I don't know how to explain.
You see my witness is seriously ill. And, even if I called him, then he
might not be in a condition.... Oh, it's a horrible mess altogether."




CHAPTER XX.


Gladys eyed the speaker keenly. She could not make up her mind as to
whether Cora was telling the truth or not, or partially revealing facts
that actually happened and, at the same time, keeping back material
information.

"I am afraid I don't understand you," she said coldly.

"I can quite appreciate that," Cora laughed unsteadily. "It is a most
frightfully complicated business. It is strange if you do anything wrong
how it always rises up against you. But please don't ask me any more
questions now, because I can't stand it. You have been very good to me,
Gladys, and I am deeply grateful to you for all you have done. I want
time to think this matter over and see if I can find some way to act for
the best without hurting anybody else. If you knew everything, I know
that you would be sorry for me. Let me go now, please."

Gladys said no more but sat there thinking after Cora had left the room.
She was still thinking when she locked up for the night and went to bed.
She lay for a long time turning that strange confession over in her mind
until she fell into a troubled, uneasy sleep, during which Cora's door
opened cautiously, after which she crept down the stairs and, quietly
unbolting the door, let herself out of the cottage and plunged into the
night.

Once in the road, she turned her feet in the direction of the village,
walking cautiously and keeping an eye open for anybody who was likely to
be passing. She reached the gates of the Hall presently and slid into
the drive. There a shadow emerged from beneath one of the big trees in
the avenue and Gotto stood before her. He spoke in a subdued whisper.

"So here you are," he said. "Now you know exactly what to do. You wait
here whilst I go on as far as the house. I am going to get into the Hall
by one of the back windows, the latch of which is easily pushed back. I
have studied the plan you gave me and I don't think it will be difficult
to find a way to the blue drawing-room without disturbing anybody."

"There is one thing you have to be careful about," Cora said. "You can't
use any of the electric lights. There are only the old man and his wife
and a boy on the premises and they use nothing but candles and lamps.
After the family went abroad in the autumn something happened to the
engine that generates the electric power and it has never been repaired.
The mechanic who looks after it went away to London and I don't suppose
he will trouble to come back until the family and the town servants
return. So you can't light yourself at your work, except by means of a
pocket torch. What are you doing about the plate chest?"

"Ah, that is on the lap of the gods," the man called Gotto chuckled. "If
it is one of the old-fashioned sort of things I think I shall be able to
manage. That is with the cold steel. If otherwise, we will postpone that
operation till I can think of some way of drugging the old man and his
wife so that we can use explosive without attracting attention. We
needn't trouble about the boy, he sleeps in a garret at the top of the
Hall and nothing short of an earthquake would wake a lad of that age
when once he had got firmly asleep. Now, what I am going to do is this.
I am going to get hold of those coins and everything else of value that
we can put in a small space. Then I shall bring them back to you and you
can slip off to London tomorrow and turn them into money. You know where
to go."

"Yes, I know where to go," Cora said with a tinge of bitterness. "I
always have to do the dangerous part of the work when it comes to
handling the swag. And what do you think the police at Marwich will say
when they find out that I have gone to London."

"Egad, I had forgotten that," Gotto growled. "But it will be all right.
Go in to Marwich and tell them that you have to be in London for a day
to see one of your witnesses. If you are above board about it, the
police won't object. Only you will have to promise to be back to-morrow
night. Now, then, no more talk. You just stay where you are till I come
back. With any luck I shan't be more than half-an-hour."

Cora took her place in the shadows and waited. She waited so long there
in the darkness that she began to wonder if something had not happened
to her companion in crime. She paced up and down restlessly as the
minutes dragged on.

Meanwhile, down in the village, Gladys was sleeping more or less
fitfully and dreaming that she was at some meeting, where a crowd of men
was making a great noise. She struggled into consciousness presently, to
the realisation of voices in the lane outside and the rush of heavy
feet. Then a big horse-drawn vehicle thundered heavily past.

Gladys threw the bedclothes on one side and, after a hurried glance at
the clock, which pointed to an hour after midnight, went to the window
and looked out. From somewhere in the distance came a shout, then
another and another.

"The Hall's on fire!" Gladys made out at length from the babel of din.
"The Hall's on fire!"

Gladys hurried into some clothing and turned to go down the stairs. Then
it occurred to her to wake Cora and tell her what had happened. But
Cora's bedroom was empty.

Very strange, Gladys thought. But then perhaps Cora had heard the noise
first and slipped out of the house without waiting for her hostess. At
any rate it was a small matter in the crisis of the moment and Gladys
raced off down the road in the direction of the Hall. In front of the
house it seemed as if all the village had gathered facing the west wing
where the fire seemed to have got a good hold. On the lawn was the
Marwich fire engine manned with its crew, but more or less helpless
because of the shortage of water. True, the lake was there, but it was
nearly half-a-mile from the house and the hose pipe was barely
sufficient to reach it. The firemen were doing their best with axes and
ladders. They might or might not get the blaze under control, but it was
very doubtful as a fair breeze was blowing and the flames, which
appeared to have started somewhere on the ground floor, were rapidly
eating their way up to the storey above and the annexe beyond, as Gladys
pushed her way through the crowd until she found herself standing close
by the village post mistress.

"Ah, Mrs. Easton," she said. "Perhaps you can tell me something about
this. How did it happen? Do you know what has become of the caretaker
and his wife? I hope they are not inside."

"Oh, they ain't inside, Miss," Mrs. Easton said cheerfully. "They got
away all right. With all this noise and talking going on I don't quite
know where I am. But I did hear somebody say something about a lamp as
exploded, and there's talk as a burglar was at the bottom of it. But I
don't know for sure."

In the hurly-burly none seemed to know anything. It was only when the
crowd parted slightly and Dr. Carden emerged from their midst, that
Gladys received authentic information.

"Ah, here you are, Doctor," she said. "Do tell me all about it. What has
really happened?"

"A few minutes ago I couldn't have told you," Carden said. "But I have
just been down to the head gamekeeper's cottage to attend the caretaker,
who has got his hands pretty badly burnt. When I had dressed his wounds
and given him an injection he began to talk more or less coherently. It
appears that he had locked up the house for the night and gone to bed
with his wife, when some time later he thought he heard someone moving
down in one of the reception rooms. He lighted a paraffin lamp, which he
keeps in his sitting-room, and went with this to locate the trouble. He
found a burglar in the blue room, and, old as he is, went for him. But
the intruder knocked him on one side and swished the lamp off the table,
where it exploded on the floor. That, in a few words, is the cause of
the trouble, and now you know as much about it as I do. Unfortunately
the burglar has vanished."

Gladys stood there for some time watching the flames eating their way
upwards and slightly checked every now and then by a few buckets of
water which had been brought up from the lake. Then one or two carts,
with barrels filled, arrived, but the united efforts of willing workers
were not sufficient to keep the blaze under proper control. Somebody in
the crowd made the statement that a car had gone into Marwich to bring a
further supply of hose, and that another local brigade was on its way.
Meanwhile, the firemen were working heroically with ladders and axes,
doing their best to cope with an overwhelming task.

But still the flames crept upwards until the ground floor of the east
wing was one sheet of vivid flames. Unless help arrived speedily the
whole of the wing was doomed.

And then, above the din, arose another cry, this time with a thrill in
it. The boy--had anyone seen the boy? The boy who helped the caretaker,
and whose bedroom was in one of the attics. Nobody had seen the boy
anywhere. Beyond question, he had been forgotten entirely in the
confusion, and was, no doubt, sleeping peacefully in his bed, utterly
unconscious of his peril. A long ladder was raised to one of the attic
windows, but the heat below was so intense that no one could face the
task of climbing it. Then out of the crowd a figure darted across the
lawn and through the front door into the blazing house. There were those
who called upon him to stop, but he took no heed. A few intense minutes
that seemed like hours passed, and then the unknown individual was seen
to throw up one of the attic windows and lean out.

"I've found him," he cried above the roar of the blaze. "He is quite
unconscious--overcome by the smoke. I'll let him down with a sheet as
far as I can. Spread out a tarpaulin and catch him. Now then, are you
ready?"

The crowd seemed frozen into silence, There was no sound but the roar of
the flames. Doubled in a sheet the unconscious body hung perilously,
then dropped straight into the outstretched tarpaulin below. Then the
man climbed through the window and came steadily and slowly down the
ladder. His grip relaxed on the scalding hot wood, and he fell crashing
to the ground.

"By heaven!" Carden breathed heavily as he turned to Gladys. "It's your
late guest--our mysterious stranger."




CHAPTER XXI


In all the welter of flame and danger with the shadow of tragedy behind
it, Gladys had forgotten Cora entirely. She might be somewhere near the
scene of trouble, but, just now, Gladys had other things to occupy her
mind.

But Cora was not far off. She had waited with what patience she could
under the shadow of the great trees in the avenue for her confederate to
return. And then, just as she had made up her mind that something had
happened to him, she saw a thin tongue of flame flickering behind the
spring foliage and, a few moments later, a man pelting down the avenue
crying out that the Hall was on fire.

That the man calling himself Gotto had had something to do with this
unexpected development, Cora felt sure. But she could do nothing but
wait there for Gotto's return. Perhaps he would not come back at all,
perhaps something had happened to him. But be that as it might, Cora was
not going to return to the cottage until she had something definite to
go on. She stood there, shaking with excitement until, presently, a row
villagers began to straggle into the park through the lodge gates, and,
later on, the fire engine from Marwich. And yet no sign of Gotto. So
that Cora crept back with the rest and stood amongst the crowd on the
lawn watching the progress of the fire until she almost forgot the real
errand which had brought her there.

It was when the blaze was at its fiercest and the confusion was at its
height that somebody touched her arm. In the light of the burning
building, she recognised Gotto. He put his finger to his lips as he
turned away and made a sign to Cora to follow him into the shadows.
There, in a quiet spot, he paused and in the red reflection Cora could
see the anger in his eyes and the moody frown between his brows.

"Well, you've made a nice mess of it," she said. "Now don't you think
you are foolish to hang about here?"

"Oh, I am not afraid of being recognised," Gotto said. "I had my mask on
when I was interrupted."

"Better tell me all about it," Cora suggested.

"Well, it was like this," Gotto explained. "I got into the house all
right, without any trouble. I didn't worry about the safe for the moment
but made my way directly into the blue drawing-room where I found the
gold coins. As a matter of fact, most of them are in my pocket at the
present minute. Just as I was about to creep along to the butler's
pantry on my way to the safe, it seemed to me that I heard footsteps
creeping softly down the stairs. And it wasn't fancy, either, because
suddenly the room was filled with light and an old chap came in carrying
a paraffin lamp in his hand."

"And what happened then?" Cora asked eagerly.

"Well, then the man put the lamp on the table and went for me. Never
hesitated for a moment. I was surprised to find one of his age so strong
and active. I couldn't shake him off, and I was mortally afraid of the
mask slipping from my face and exposing my features. So I made a grab
for the lamp, which slipped from my hand and exploded on the floor. You
never saw anything like it in your life. I would not have believed that
a pint of oil could have made such a conflagration. Before I could
realise it, the whole room seemed full of flame. Luckily for me, perhaps
it was, because the other man was paralysed for a moment, and that gave
me a chance to slip away. I went down to the place where I left you, but
you weren't there, so I guessed you had come back to see what was going
on."

"Which I did," Cora smiled. "Well, here we are, very little better off
than we were yesterday. All you have got for your pains is a few gold
coins. And let me remind you that we didn't come down here to commit a
vulgar burglary. What about the big thing?"

"Oh, don't ask me," Gotto said moodily. "It looks as if that is going to
be a failure altogether. When I made my second attempt to get hold of
that key, I got you to come down here, because I had a scheme for
putting you under the same roof as Miss Brooke's involuntary guest----"

"Yes, just a day too late," Cora interrupted.

"Well, that was not my fault, was it? Unless I am greatly mistaken,
somebody else has found that key by this time, and probably handed it
over to the police. I tell you, Cora, we are done. I am off the first
thing in the morning and, if you take my advice, you will vanish as
well. Go off into hiding somewhere, and wait until you hear from me.
Probably, in the meantime I can work out another scheme. As things have
turned out it would have been a great deal better if we had stayed in
Cape Town. But I was so sure of getting hold of that key that I took the
risk of coming back to England and bringing you with me, though I was
running my head into the lion's mouth."

"Yes, but what about me?" Cora demanded. "It is all very well for you to
talk like that. You are going to get away with enough money to carry you
on from the sale of those coins until you can find another pigeon to
pluck. But here am I, tied by the leg, a prisoner on bail, with every
chance of finding myself in a convict prison. You are going to run away
and leave me to face that, are you?"

"Oh, you will squeeze out of it all right," Gotto said. "Besides, how
are they going to prove that charge against you? You told me yourself
that you could see your way clear."

"I know that," Cora admitted. "I did say as much. But I hate the idea of
being left all alone to fight my battles by myself. Gladys Brooke is
very good to me, but would she be so if she knew everything!"

"Is there any reason why she should ever know anything?" Gotto demanded.
"In a way things have turned out very luckily. It was a piece of real
bad fortune that you should have been recognised, but that is all in the
game. And you know that you were not at Hasford Manor during that
particular raid on our bookmaker friends. It so happened that you were
laid up at the time and your sister took your place. Of course, the
under-study did her work all right and now that she is dead the law
cannot touch her."

"Yes, that is all very well in its way," Cora said impatiently. "But you
know how alike we were to one another----"

"Yes, that is just why I chose your sister," Gotto said coolly. "But
there are points of difference and I shall be very much surprised if
that Hasford Minor witness they have dug up will be able to swear to you
as the girl who came down to her village and managed to get her out of
the way on the day when I pulled off that big coup. Now, cheer up."

"It's all very well for you to talk like that," Cora said angrily. "But
I have got to face the music. I know it all happened five years ago and
I dare say I have changed in that time. But suppose that woman swears to
me? I shall be in a nice mess if she is one of the positive kind."

"Oh, I don't know," Gotto muttered. "And I don't think you have changed
a bit. You are one of those extraordinary women who look as young at
thirty-seven, which is your present age, as you did when we first met,
fifteen years ago. Now, don't be silly, but do as I tell you. I will
write you the first opportunity. But you can see why I don't want to
hang about here now, with a chance of being questioned by the police
with those coins in my pocket. Now, go back and see it anything turns
up."

With that, Gotto turned coolly away and disappeared under the cover of
the night. Hardly knowing what to do, and which way to turn, Cora went
back to the scene of the trouble just at the very moment that the
excitement was at its height. She saw a figure dash into the burning
building and heard the cry of protest that went up as the man vanished
behind a cloud of smoke and flame. She turned eagerly to a woman near
her and asked what it meant.

"There's a boy left in the house," the woman explained. "Up in the
attic. I couldn't quite make out who it was who went to his rescue, but,
as far as I can make out it's the poor gentleman that met with an
accident and who is now lodging with Mrs. Easton at the post office. I
wouldn't give a penny for his chance of coming back again."

Cora slipped quietly into the background. Her face was white and her
lips trembled as she glanced up at the flaming building. The last thing
in the world she wanted had happened and she could see the ground she
had prepared so elaborately being cut from under her feet. There was a
reason and a vital reason why she was so anxious as to the safety of the
mysterious guest. She stood there, half frozen with fear until she saw
the rescuer standing before the attic window with the unconscious boy in
his arms. Even then, with his face begrimed with smoke as it was, she
could not fail to recognise the stranger. She watched the process of the
rescue and drew a long, sobbing breath of relief as she saw the
mysterious guest coming down the ladder. Then he seemed to lose his hold
and crash headlong on the terrace, where he lay in a tangled heap.

With a cry Cora rushed forward, only to find herself anticipated by
Carden. With willing hands to help, the injured man was lifted on to an
impromptu stretcher and carried away.

"Take him to my house," Cora heard the doctor say.

"Is he dead?" a voice in the crowd asked.

"No, I don't think so," Carden replied. "I can't say anything at
present. Now, please stand aside and give us a chance to start."

The crowd parted, and the stretcher bearers disappeared down the avenue,
leaving a painful suspense behind them. Cora would have followed too,
but a hand on her arm detained her. She turned to find herself face to
face with Gladys.

"You had better go back to the cottage," the latter said. "I am going to
Dr. Carden's to hear his verdict."




CHAPTER XXII.


As matters turned out, the damage at the Hall was not as great as had
been expected. The arrival of another brigade that turned up with a
fresh supply of hose at the critical moment made all the difference in
the world, so, that, an hour later, the flames were quenched and only
the blue dining-room and part of a bedroom overhead were destroyed.
Beyond that, there was a certain amount of damage by smoke and water
and, gradually, the tumult died away and the villagers straggled back to
their homes.

Meanwhile, Cora had returned to the cottage, whilst Gladys remained
seated in Dr. Carden's dining-room until she had an opportunity of
speaking to him quietly. He came down presently from the bedroom where
the injured man lay and, at the first sight of his face, Gladys was
conscious of a feeling of relief.

"No, he is not so very bad," Carden said cheerfully "Very much shaken,
of course, and still unconscious. But, so far as I can see, no bones are
broken and the blow on the head is not likely to cause much anxiety.
Still, you never can tell and I am going to take the responsibility of
asking one of the specialists to come down from London and make a
thorough examination. There is every evidence of concussion which I am
not very afraid of; indeed, it might be the means of removing the brain
pressure from which our friend has been suffering. Personally, I should
suggest a minor operation, but I could not undertake that on my own
responsibility. When Catterel comes down here tomorrow, I am going to
put the question to him and I think he will agree with my diagnosis. It
will only be a small affair and can take place here. Now, you get back
home. You look absolutely worn to a shadow."

As Carden had anticipated, the specialist was of the same opinion as
himself. In a day or two they were going to operate and the big man from
London told Gladys that he was sanguine as to the result. There was a
strong probability that within a few days the patient would recover his
memory.

"There is a tiny pressure on the brain," the specialist said. "This is
caused by a slight indentation on the back of the skull which is almost
imperceptible. But it is there, right enough, and if I can remove it,
then, within a week, your mysterious friend ought to be as right as
either of us."

So the stranger lay there until the time came for his operation and the
day arrived when Cora had to appear once more before the magistrates at
Marwich. She was accompanied into the Court by Gladys, who took her seat
in the Public gallery and watched the proceedings with the keenest
interest.

It was inspector Irwell who first came forward.

"I have been making inquiries, your worships," he said, "and I have
found the witness I alluded to at the last hearing. She is Miss Jane
Marfell who was telephone operator in the post office at Harsford Minor
five years ago. The date, to be precise, was the fifteenth of April. It
was on the day of one of the classic races, the name of which I need not
mention. On that day Miss Marfell had arranged to go to London with an
individual called Underwood. I have not the remotest notion who this
Underwood is because I have never been able to trace him. He might have
been a criminal himself or some society friend of the prisoner in the
dock, and made use of her to get my witness out if the way. At any rate,
this man Underwood had offered to take my witness somewhere for the day
with a lunch at a London restaurant and a matinee to follow. My
contention is that Miss Marfell was deliberately lured away by the
prisoner with the intention of taking her place. Your worships will see
how cunningly the whole scheme was devised. The telegraph operator was
removed and her place was to be taken by a woman who professed once to
have been a telegraphist herself, but, subsequently, in possession of
ample means, was now in the neighbourhood for a holiday. In the end Miss
Marfell went away, suspecting nothing, and the prisoner took her place.
Of course it was very wrong of the telegraphist to leave her post, but
she was quite innocent of any evil design, and it was only for an hour
or two in any case. The rest of the scheme was easy."

Irwell went on at some length to explain all that had taken place, and
when he had finished Jane Marfell stepped into the witness box and
confronted the defiant Cora.

"Now, Miss Marfell," said the prosecuting counsel. "You have heard all
that Inspector Irwell has to say. Am I to take that as substantially
correct?"

"Quite correct," the witness said. "I did leave my post on a certain
date in April, and it was filled by the woman in the dock. Of course, I
had no idea there was anything wrong or I should never have gone away
that day."

"I quite understand that," the lawyer said. "What I want you to tell me
is this. Is the prisoner the same woman who came posing to your village
as a lady of means?"

It was a direct question, and the witness hesitated. She glanced long
and earnestly at the attractive figure in the dock and then stammered an
incoherent reply.

"I--I think so," she said. "In fact I am almost sure. But then, five
years make a good deal of difference. Yes, I am pretty certain that she
is the woman."

Cora's counsel jumped up in protest.

"Will your worships kindly note the fact that the witness is a long way
from being positive?" he pointed out. "I am going to prove presently,
that my client was not in Hasford Minor at all. She was in Brighton at
the time."

"Oh, well," counsel for the prosecution retorted. "If you can prove
that, there is an end of my case. I take it that my learned friend is
not without his witnesses."

"I think your learned friend knows how to look after himself," was the
retort. "I am not prepared to produce witnesses this morning, but no
doubt, they will be forthcoming in due course. Meanwhile, I should like
to ask the witness a question or two."

The figure in the witness box stiffened slightly.

"Now then, madam," the speaker went on. "Do you positively identify my
client as the woman who played that trick on you five years ago? I don't
want you to think, I don't want you to even feel almost sure, I want you
to know definitely if you can say without the slightest hesitation that
your false acquaintance and my client are one and the same person."

Again the witness hesitated and faltered.

"It is five years ago, sir," she almost pleaded.

"I don't care if it is five hundred years ago, or five minutes. You were
brought here by the police to make a certain statement, and, so far, you
merely think that my client is the woman you came here expecting to see.
Now, let me remind you that an oath is a very serious thing. Let me also
remind you that you might be swearing away the liberty of an innocent
woman. If you decide to declare definitely that you have met my client
before, then it is inevitable that she will be faced by a long term of
imprisonment. Come, just think of that. There is nobody to support you,
there is nobody to contradict you. If I can't shake your evidence, then
my client must inevitably suffer."

The witness faltered and began to sob.

"Oh, you are making it difficult for me," she pleaded. "I don't know
what to say. I think it is the same woman, in fact, I am really sure it
is, but I won 't swear."

On that, the advocate sat down with a significant smile, and Inspector
Irwell looked uncomfortable. The chairman of the bench turned to him and
asked a question.

"Not a very satisfactory witness, I think, Inspector," he said. "Are you
calling anybody else?"

"Not for the moment, sir," Irwell replied.

"Then, in that case, what are we to do?" the chairman asked. "We seem to
have come to a standstill."

"In the circumstances, I must apply for a further remand," Irwell said.
"I have no doubt there are other witnesses at Hasford Minor who remember
what happened five years ago, and I should like the opportunity of
calling some of them. I suggest that the case should be adjourned for
another fortnight and that the prisoner be allowed the same bail as
before."

"I am not going to oppose that course," Cora's advocate said. "But, at
the same time it is rather hard on my client. I was going to put her in
the witness box, but I think, in the circumstances, I can wait. All the
same, I should like to make a short statement. I handled the inspector's
witness as gently as I could because I know why she hesitated.
Undoubtedly there was a woman very much like my client at Hasford Minor
when those turf frauds were perpetrated by the man calling himself Ezra
Gotto. At that time my client had a sister alive. That sister knew Gotto
intimately and was very much under his control. Moreover, there was a
striking likeness between my client, and her late sister and that is
where the witness went astray. All this I shall be prepared to prove at
the next hearing of the case."

Having made his point the speaker sat down and the spectators began to
file out of the court. Gladys came down from the gallery, pleased to be
once more in the fresh air, for the atmosphere of that dreadful place
seemed to stifle her. As she stepped into the road a stranger accosted
her, raising his hat politely as he spoke.

"You are Miss Brooke, I think," he said. "May I be allowed to detain you
for a minute or two? Thank you very much. I am a friend of your late
brother and recently I wrote you a letter from Cape Town. I suppose you
remember it?"

"Mr. Lewis?" Gladys cried. "Is that so?"

"Yes," the stranger responded. "Gerald Lewis."




CHAPTER XXIII.


Gladys stood there, outside the court house at Marwich, confronting the
man whom she regarded from the first as the source of nearly all her
troubles. It might have been involuntary, perhaps, but if Gerald Lewis
had never come upon the scene probably the weak minded Wilfred would
still have been pursuing his lawful vocation in Cape Town.

If Gladys had consulted her first inclination she would have turned her
back upon this man with a curt intimation to the effect that she never
wanted to see him again.

But there was something about the pleasant-faced individual with his
appealing smile that touched the womanly side of her nature. She
hesitated and was lost.

"Indeed! You are my Cape Town correspondent. I am not likely to forget
that."

"No, I suppose not," Lewis said, with heightened colour. "It is very
good of you to speak to me at all. And, because you have done so, I am
going to ask you a further favour. Would you mind affording me an
opportunity for a personal explanation? There is a good deal that you
ought to know."

"Quite a reasonable request," Gladys said. "If you have the time to
spare perhaps you will be good enough to come over to Cullendon this
afternoon and talk the matter over. My cottage is about four miles away,
and----"

"That I understand," Lewis interrupted. "You see, I only reached Marwich
last night, intending to try and see you this morning. At the moment, I
am staying at the White Hart Hotel. It is a very quiet place, and having
nothing to do in the evenings I began to ask a few questions of the
landlord. He told me a great deal about you."

"Yes," Gladys said with a slight air of contempt. "I suppose he did.
Everybody is gossipping about my affairs at the present moment. Well, it
saves a lot of explanation."

"So I thought," Lewis went on. "I heard all about your mysterious
guest--and a great deal more. It all came as a shock to me. When I heard
you were coming in this morning on this painful business, I waited until
the police proceedings were over with the intention of speaking to you."

"I suppose somebody pointed me out."

"There was no occasion," Lewis said with one of his pleasant smiles. "I
recognised you immediately from your photograph--the one that you sent
to your brother, you know."

"Oh, yes, I remember. And now, perhaps, you will come over to Cullendon
some time this afternoon."

Lewis professed himself to be only too delighted at the opportunity. It
was shortly before four o'clock when he arrived, and was shown into the
drawing room. Gladys had said nothing about this meeting to Cora,
neither did she intend to do so for the moment. Cora had come back from
Marwich, and immediately after lunch had gone up to her room to rest.
She would not require any tea, she said, because she would try to get a
little sleep after what had been a broken night.

So therefore Gladys was free to receive her guest without much chance of
interruption. She installed Lewis in a comfortable chair and turned
towards him eagerly.

"Now, will you please tell me everything," she asked.

"That is exactly what I want to do, Miss Brooke. A month ago I had no
idea I should be in England so soon, but an unexpected opening offered
itself in our London headquarters, and I was offered the chance. I
jumped at it for more reasons than one, and on my arrival in England,
and finding myself with a day or two to spare before taking over my new
duties, I resolved to come down here and see you to try and convince you
that I am not quite what you think me."

"I don't think I ought to judge you at all," Gladys said with her usual
candour. "At first I felt very bitter. But you were not doing anything
wrong."

"Indeed I wasn't," Lewis said eagerly. "I assure you I had not the
remotest notion where your brother got the money from when I asked him
to help me. I daresay a few moment's thought would have shown me that he
could not have found it himself. And then there was the business of
those shares. It all sounded so convincing and besides it was all true.
Poor old Wilfred was rather fond of the grand gesture, especially where
his friends were concerned. You know what I mean."

"I know by bitter experience," Gladys murmured.

"Well, there it was, Miss Brooke. I was in a frightful mess, due,
entirely, to my own folly, and Wilfred professed himself ready to help
me. But I explained all that in my letter. The tragedy doesn't lie in
the fact that Wilfred lost his employment and was turned away in
disgrace because he could not resist acting in the grand manner. The
pity of it lies in the realisation that Wilfred's firm had no intention
of prosecuting him."

"So you told me in your letter," Gladys said. "But I don't see how this
fact makes things better."

"Oh, but indeed it does. The bank people would have been quite satisfied
to let Wilfred go. But he worked himself up into a state of nervous
tension until he was on the verge of collapse. So, instead of staying to
face the music, as he should have done, he looked up our friend Patrick
French, and, to put it bluntly, absconded. If he had only remained in
Cape Town another forty-eight hours, nothing would have happened to
Wilfred beyond being asked to send in his resignation. That is where the
tragedy comes in. Instead of doing that he went off on that excursion of
theirs and paid for his haste with his life. I never saw French
afterwards and that scoundrel Bland kept out of the way. When I realised
what had happened, I wrote to you because I felt that I could do nothing
less. And I think that is about all."

"Not quite," Gladys said faintly. "I should like to hear some more about
that mad expedition."

"I am afraid I can't tell you much," Lewis went on. "You see, the rogue
in the plan was that man Bland. He was an actor fairly well known in
South Africa and he and his wife had been touring round there for years.
By some means or another he managed to get hold of a rough map of that
wild track of country in Upper Rhodesia where somebody had found
diamonds. With this he induced Patrick French, who was always ready for
any sort of adventure, to take a trip up country. And because poor
Wilfred was in fear of hourly arrest he was only too ready to join the
expedition. He disappeared from Cape Town and that is all I knew about
him or the others until I came to read the account of Wilfred's death in
the 'South African Banner.' But you know as much about that as I do,
because you had the paper sent you. Before I came home I tried my best
to get in touch with French without avail. He seemed to have vanished. I
did hear rumours to the effect that the expedition had been more or less
successful and that Bland had managed to get hold of all the diamonds
that were found and left his companions in the lurch. I got that
information from a C.I.D. detective at Cape Town who has been waiting
for years to lay Bland by the heels. I suppose Bland is one of the most
poisonous scoundrels that has ever left his country for his country's
good. There was talk amongst a certain set in Cape Town that he was
'wanted' at home in connection with some big turf frauds. But that might
be only hearsay."

"I don't think so," Gladys said. "I wonder if this man Bland you are
speaking about ever used the name Gotto."

"Gotto, Gotto. The name seems familiar. Oh, yes, of course, I remember
now. You see, I am very fond of the theatre and I have done a lot of
amateur acting myself. So I spend a lot of my evenings amongst stage
people. And one night at a supper party when Bland and his wife were
present, some stranger came in, who immediately hailed Bland as Gotto.
How funny you should mention it. Do you know the man?"

Gladys shook her head. She did not, of course, know the man personally,
but she was perfectly sure now that Gotto and Bland were one and the
same individual and that the person she had seen Cora talking to in the
temple by the lake was identical with the creature that Lewis was
talking about.

"It doesn't matter for the moment," she said. "I was only struck by a
coincidence. And now you might tell me what manner of man is Mr Patrick
French."

"One of the best," Lewis cried enthusiastically. "A splendid fellow. I'd
trust my life with him."

"And yet he betrayed my brother," Gladys said sadly. "He and the man
Bland abandoned Wilfred to his fate and thought only of their own
safety. That must be so, because we have it on record in print. How do
you account for that?"

Lewis shook his head sadly.

"I can't," he said. "I was absolutely staggered when I read that account
in the paper. Miss Brooke, you may rely upon it that there is something
wrong somewhere. And I am not going to rest until I get to the bottom of
it. That scoundrel Bland left French somewhere up country and, after
coming down to Cape Town, vanished into thin air. Otherwise, I should
have sought him out and dragged the truth from him. But I cannot see Pat
French turning his back on my friend, especially in the moment of
danger. He would have taken every risk to save Wilfred. Some of these
days I hope to be able to tell the rest of the story. When I see Pat
French----"

"But where is he?" Gladys asked.

"Ah, that I can't tell you. Nobody seems to know. What beats me is why
he didn't come home and tell you the story himself. I dare say if he had
done that----"

Lewis broke off suddenly and rose to his feet as the door opened and
Cora came into the room.

"My sister-in-law," Gladys said. "Cora, this is Mr. Gerald Lewis, who
has just returned from South Africa."




CHAPTER XXIV


"Your sister-in-law?" Lewis cried.

"Yes," Gladys smiled. "I suppose you didn't know that Wilfred was
married. In fact, I didn't know myself until Cora turned up after the
poor boy's death, and she has been here ever since. It is just the sort
of headstrong thing that a romantic minded boy like Wilfred would do."

Lewis murmured something in reply. Under Gladys' unconscious eyes he
shot a swift glance at Cora who seemed to be regarding him appealingly
so that Lewis decided, for the moment, at any rate, to be silent. He
could only murmur something about his pleasure and surprise and a few
words to the effect that Wilfred had kept his secret only too well.

It was only after tea was over that Lewis found himself alone in the
drawing-room with Cora.

"I am afraid I shall have to leave you for a little while," Gladys said.
"I must go as far as Dr. Carden's and see how the mysterious patient is
getting on. I always make a point of doing that every afternoon. Please
don't hurry away, Mr. Lewis, if you have nothing else to do, you might
stop and have dinner with us."

"That is very good of you," Lewis said gratefully. "I am quite at a
loose end for the next few days. Indeed, I thought of coming over here
and staying at that picturesque old inn of yours. Please don't stand on
ceremony with me. I am sure Mrs. Wilfred will be a charming substitute."

Only when Gladys had left the room did Lewis turn suddenly upon his
white faced companion.

"Now what on earth is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Why do you
come here pretending to be Wilfred Brooke's wife. Kindly answer me that.
Cora Bland, alias Gotto, alias heaven knows how many other things."

All Cora's nervousness seemed to have left her. She smiled into Lewis'
face with perfect unconcern.

"This is a bit of bad luck for me. Who would have thought of anybody
turning up from the Cape and coming straight to this cottage to identify
me?"

"I think you had better cut all that out," Lewis said sternly. "Now,
look here, Mrs. Bland. Indirectly, I was the cause of poor Wilfred's
trouble and subsequent death. And your rascally husband had a hand in
that, too. But for him that Rhodesian expedition would never have taken
place. And when it did come off successfully Bland turned his back upon
his companions and robbed them, as he robs everybody he comes in contact
with. He got away with the spoil, and that would have contented most
men. But I suppose he had other plans in view, or he would never have
come to England where he was in danger of losing his liberty and brought
you with him. I'll bet he is not very far off. He never is when you are
about. I don't know what vile scheme you have hatched between you, but I
know that there is one, and I am going to get to the bottom of it.
Sooner or later you will have to tell Gladys the reason why you have so
grossly imposed upon her, and, if you don't do so, I must."

"Not just yet," Cora pleaded. "You don't know everything. None of us is
as bad as the world is inclined to think. I should have been a very
different woman to-day if I had not met Walter Bland. I was young and
romantic then and regarded him as a prince of men. But I was soon
undeceived, and because he has such a magnetic personality I was like
wax in his hands. I had to obey as if he had hypnotised me. And that is
how I began a life of crime. I implore you not to say anything to Gladys
until I am ready to speak. My husband has turned his back on me, and
goodness knows when we shall meet again. He knows that I am penniless,
but that won't prevent him leaving me to my own resources to struggle
through this business as best I can. Meanwhile I have nowhere to go and
not a penny in my pocket to pay a night's lodgings. You said just now
that Walter Bland got away with all those diamonds and so he did. But
not for long. He came to Cape Town and deposited them there in a safe,
under his own name. But though you were not aware of the fact, Patrick
French was on his track. He managed to find out what had happened, and
one night he followed my husband through a lonely part of the town and
there, violently assaulted him. His job was to get possession of the key
of the safe and he did so. That was all he wanted, because he knew my
husband dare not go to the police about it, and there he was, without
anything for his pains. You see what a pretty position it was. Here was
Walter Bland, beaten at the last possible moment, and Patrick French
walking about Cape Town with that key in his pocket, I need not tell you
that Walter Bland is not the man to sit down quietly under a reverse
like that. He was prepared to commit murder to get that key back again,
and he laid his plans for doing so. But Patrick French put an end to
that by taking an unexpected step. What he did----"

Cora broke off suddenly, and began lightly to touch on some other topic
as Gladys unexpectedly came into the room.

"I dare say you are surprised to see me back," she explained. "But I met
Dr. Carden a little way down the road and he asked me not to call at his
house until to-morrow. He had had the specialist down again this
morning, and they decided to embark on that small operation at once. It
was only a small matter, but very important to the patient. The doctor
was quite enthusiastic about it. He says it is the neatest bit of
surgery he has ever seen. At any rate he told me that the patient almost
immediately fell into a profound sleep, and that he would not be in the
least surprised to find, when the poor man wakes up, that he will have
regained his memory. There was some tiny pressure upon one of the cells
of the brain. I only hope the doctor is right."

Cora sat there, listening with rapt attention. She alone knew what all
this meant to her. The others would hear it in due time, but, for the
moment, Cora was not going to speak. She merely murmured something that
sounded like pleasure.

"You must be very gratified," Lewis said.

"Oh, I can't tell you how pleased I am," Gladys exclaimed. "Just one
moment, while I go out and speak to my servant. I quite forgot to tell
her about dinner."

"Well, go on," Lewis said. "Tell me what you can of your story before
Miss Brooke comes back."

"There is not much more to tell," Cora said. "I suppose you have been
here long enough to learn the mess I am in."

"Yes, I know all about that," Lewis agreed.

"Very well, then, I tell you that on the particular occasion with which
I am charged with being party to Gotto's turf frauds I was not in that
village at all. I was laid up in Brighton and my sister took my place.
You know that I had a sister."

"Yes, I knew that," Lewis said. "Very like you, wasn't she? At least,
that is what the theatrical set I was in in Cape Town used to say. But
surely, if your statement is correct, you can bring witnesses from
Brighton."

"It is such a long time ago and people forget. But there is one witness
and I was a party to rendering it impossible for him to come forward and
help me. You see how things recoil on the heads of the guilty. It is
just as if fate had gone out of her way to show me my wrongdoings.
Still, perhaps in the course of a day or two the witness will speak."

There was no more to be said for the moment, because Gladys returned and
conversation became more or less general. Lewis departed with the
intention of bringing his bag with him and putting up at the village inn
for a day or two, which project he put into effect on the morrow. Then,
for the next two or three days, things drifted on. The mysterious
patient up at Carden's house was much better. He was resting peacefully
and sleeping well during the night and, on more than one occasion he had
spoken to Carden in a manner that showed he was fast approaching the
normal.

"It only needs a little something now," Carden told Gladys, "to set the
mental wheels rolling. You know, sometimes a clock will stop when it is
over-wound and refuse to move. Then it gets a sudden jolt, the machinery
wakes into life. And that is how it is going to be with your late guest.
You come in to-morrow morning and I may have something good for you."

Accordingly, Gladys went up to Carden's residence, meeting Lewis on the
way. He walked as far as the front gate and was turning away when Carden
came out and called him.

"Look here, Lewis," he said. "You are more or less in this business so I
can tell you a few things without betraying any confidences. Miss Brooke
tells me you know a lot about these mysterious happenings and that you
came over to England mainly with the intention of setting everything
right. Come with me, because I want you to see my patient. He is sitting
up this morning in his bedroom and you will find him quite cheerful. He
is sleeping exceedingly well, and, consequently, resting his overwrought
brain. There is just the off chance that you might have seen him before
because--never mind about 'because,' but come along with me, and you,
Miss Brooke, as well."

With that, Carden led the way upstairs into the cheerful, sunny room
where his patient was seated in an arm-chair. He was so wonderfully
changed for the better that Gladys could only watch him with foolish
tears of thankfulness in her eyes. He looked at her and smiled and
passed his hand over a forehead which was no longer hot, but cool and
moist.

"This is very good of you," he murmured. "I----"

He broke off as Lewis darted eagerly forward and stood before the
arm-chair as if transfixed.

"Good heavens," he cried. "Don't you know me? Come, you must have met me
before. Gerald Lewis. Miss Brooke, this is my missing old friend,
Patrick French."




CHAPTER XXV


Just a few seconds elapsed before Gladys grasped the full purport of
what Gerald Lewis was saying. Then the whole force of it came upon her
and she could only gasp in astonishment as she contemplated the pallid
face of the man lying back in the arm chair with the pillows behind him.
But no longer in his eyes was that tired, worried, pathetic look that
had touched Gladys with an almost divine pity from the first.

So here was the man she had befriended and over whose head she had
poured all that sweet sympathy of hers, actually the very individual she
had the most reason to dislike and despise. And she couldn't do it. She
could not do it, even at that very moment when she ought to have
recoiled with disgust and horror from her late guest. It seemed
impossible to look into that frank face and those clear, honest eyes and
believe that Patrick French could even have thought of treachery and
deceit, much less have been guilty of either.

He looked, up with the full light of comprehension in his eyes and
smiled at Gerald Lewis.

"That's right," he said. "Of course I am Patrick French. I have known
that all along, only something seemed to prevent me from telling
anybody. Yet I don't know. I was doing something, going somewhere. For
some purpose or other. Ah!--yes, I've got it. I was going to London. And
I went to London, and then I was coming down her to see Wilfred Brooke's
sister. Oh, there you are, Miss Brooke. I wonder if I shall ever be able
to thank you for all your kindness and sympathy. It would have been all
right if somebody hadn't hit me on the back of the head.... in the
darkness, that was when I was trying to find my way to the Cullendon
Arms where I intended to stay for the night. And then--and then--Oh,
Lord how tired I am."

The speaker closed his eyes and lay inert in his chair. A white-capped
figure, hovering in the background, came forward and brushed the
visitors aside.

"I must ask you to leave my patient for the present," she said in the
cool, capable way that one always associates with a well-trained nurse.
"Don't you think so, Doctor?"

"Certainly, certainly," Carden said. "Come along, you people. He is
asleep again and may sleep for the rest of the day. When he wakes, he
will be quite himself."

With that, Carden ushered his guests out of the room and down the stairs
into the garden.

"Now you know all about it," he said. "It was quite a shot of mine in
suggesting that Mr. Lewis should come upstairs. Of course, I knew that
he had just got back from South Africa. It is impossible for a stranger
to come into the village without everybody knowing a great deal more
than he does about himself within a few hours. Late last night and early
this morning my patient was babbling a lot about South Africa and that
is why I took a long shot, and when you turned up just now with Mr.
Lewis, it occurred to me to ask him to see my patient on the off chance
that there might be a recognition."

"Very smart of you, Doctor," Lewis said. "I have known Patrick French
for a long time."

"Glad to hear it," Carden said cheerfully, "You gave him just the fillip
he wanted. Now, suppose you leave him alone for to-day and if he is all
right in the morning, as I expect he will be, I will send for you. It
was a splendid operation," the doctor went on enthusiastically. "And the
specialist diagnosed it right to a fraction of an inch. However, you
don't want to listen to the surgical details. Wait till I send for you
and take Miss Brooke home again. She looks rather done."

"And, indeed, Gladys was feeling the strain. She didn't know what to do
or what to think. She was relieved, beyond measure and, at the same
time, troubled by haunting doubts. But these she felt, she must keep to
herself.

"It is all very amazing," she murmured. "And yet I have felt all along
some subtle connection between Mr. French and myself. He must have been
coming down here to see me when he was attacked that night."

"I haven't the slightest doubt about it," Lewis said. "Miss Brooke, I
want you to get any idea out of your head that Pat. French played the
coward where your brother was concerned. Reserve your judgement until
you have heard what he has to say. I am certain he will clear himself,
as certain as I am that you have been made the victim of a conspiracy.
For some hours now, I have been keeping a secret from you. I shouldn't
have done so if there had not been a woman in the case, but everything
will come out now and you might just as well hear the main details from
my lips as anybody else's. You think that your brother was married.
Well, he wasn't. Of that I am assured."

"But Cora?" Gladys cried. "Cora?"

"Yes, Cora. Cora is the wife of a man whose real name is Ezra Gotto, but
who has been known practically all his stage life as Walter Bland. You
know the man I mean. The third party in the ill-fated excursion on which
your brother met his death."

Gladys sat down on a stile and appeared utterly overcome. "If you don't
mind, I will remain here and listen," she said. "I am utterly
bewildered. Why should that woman come here and pass herself off as
Wilfred's widow?"

"Ah, that we shall discover all in good time," Lewis said. "If you ask
me, I can't explain that side of it, but I have my suspicions as to what
really happened. As I told you, the base of the Rhodesian expedition was
a rough map that Bland had obtained from somebody and, on the strength
of it, he persuaded your brother and French to accompany him on a dash
to what appeared to be a new diamond field. Then the inevitable
happened. They found some treasure and Bland got hold of it, and,
leaving his companions in the lurch, made his way back to Cape Town. It
was just the sort of blackguardly thing he would do. Then, after your
brother's death, French came down in pursuit of Bland, with the object
of getting the treasure back. He is the sort of man who wouldn't allow
anyone to put it across him in that way. Very loyal and kind-hearted but
merciless when he has been wronged. My idea is that he did get the stuff
back and that he came to England with it. He returned home to see you.
And Bland followed him. I feel as sure as I am standing here that Bland
was the man who attacked French in the dark and nearly killed him. He
was looking for something, probably a deposit note, or something of that
sort. He would have found it, perhaps, but for the arrival of the
blacksmith."

"I am sure he would," Gladys cried. "Listen."

She went on to tell Lewis the story of the mysterious key, which was now
in the possession of the chief constable.

"That's it," Lewis cried. "That is what he was after. The key unlocked a
safe in some deposit, probably. No, perhaps I am wrong in my first
suggestion. That treasure was hidden in a safe by Walter Bland, and, by
some means or other, Pat managed to wrest the key from him, knowing
perfectly well that Bland would never dare to go to the police about it.
Instead of doing that, Bland followed old Pat home and dogged his
footsteps with the object of getting the key back. It was a pretty safe
move because if he had killed Pat, and recovered the key it would have
been very hard indeed to have traced the murderer. Then Bland could have
gone back to South Africa and removed the diamonds from where he had
placed them, and there would have been another mystery added to the long
list of undiscovered crime. Then, by a sheer fluke, Bland failed. That
was owing to the blacksmith. After that, he made another attempt when he
tried to burgle your house, as you told me just now. When he was foiled
for the second time, he thought of another idea. He got his wife to come
down here and pose as your brother's widow, feeling sure that the key of
the safe was under your roof. It was Cora Bland's task to get hold of
that key, which ought not to have been difficult, seeing that the woman
had the run of your house and was entirely unsuspected. That is why she
came down here and pretended that she was Wilfred's widow. An
extraordinarily complicated, mix-up altogether and I don't know what to
advise you to do. But you can see for yourself that things can't go on
as they are."

"Of course they can't," Gladys agreed. "I must have it out with Cora and
perhaps, some time in the course of the evening, you will come round and
we can discuss this affair further. Do you know, Mr. Lewis, in spite of
everything, I feel sorry for that poor woman. And I will help her, in
spite of everything. It must be an awful thing to be tied up to a man
like Bland."

"Ah, there I agree with you," Lewis said. "But for him, she would
probably have been different altogether. He had an extraordinary
influence over her and her sister. I mean, the sister who died some
three or four years ago."

Gladys went up the garden path presently with the full intention of
forcing some sort of a confession from Cora without any further delay.
She found the latter seated in the drawing-room over a book and,
directly the eyes of the two women met, Cora knew that some crisis had
been reached.

"Well, what is it?" she demanded. "Why do you look at me like that? What
has happened?"

"I have been up to Dr. Carden's house with Mr. Lewis," Gladys explained.
"When we got there, we found that the patient had recovered his memory.
He recognised Mr. Lewis, who spoke to him by name. The name is Patrick
French. And now, Cora, what have you to say to me? Don't lie and
prevaricate, because Mr. Lewis has told me about you. Your name is Cora
Bland, and your husband is the man who made that murderous attack on Mr.
French a few nights before you came here. Believe me, I want to be your
friend and help you if I can."

To Gladys' great surprise, Cora buried her face in her hands and burst
into a flood of passionate tears.



CHAPTER XXVI.


"I am glad you know--glad," she sobbed. "Glad from the bottom of my
heart. I am sick and tired of all this deception. I didn't want to come
here, and when I found how kind and sympathetic you were, I had the
greatest difficulty in preventing myself from telling you the whole
truth. But you don't realise what it is to be under the domination of a
man like Walter Bland."

"I think I do," Gladys said gently. "But we need not go into that side
of it because Mr. Lewis has already explained. I want to know for what
purpose you came here."

"I came to get possession of the key of a safe," Cora said. "It is a
safe in a big building in Cape Town, in which my husband had hidden some
stolen property which partly belonged to Mr. French and your brother,
and partly to my husband himself. But you know all about that expedition
in Rhodesia. My husband betrayed his comrades and bolted with the
plunder. But, as soon as he could, Mr. French was on his track, and
after a personal encounter, wrenched the key from my husband's
possession. That is why we followed him to England, because Walter dared
not call in the police. He followed Mr. French down here, and the rest
you know. I dare say you have guessed by this time that my husband was
the man I was meeting secretly by the lake inside the Hall domain. And
it was my husband who tried to burgle the Hall. He managed to get away
with a pocketful of gold coins, and then turned his back upon me and
left me to my own resources. When he wants me again he will come and
seek me out; meanwhile, he cares little whether I starve or not. But
this is the end; never again will I go back to him. And now I am going
to tell you something which will astonish you. You heard me say before
magistrates that it was my sister and not myself who was in that
business at Hasford Minor. That was no more than the truth. It would
have been me, but I was down at Brighton just before, and I met with a
bit of an accident. I had gone down there with an idea of borrowing
money from Patrick French."

"Oh, then you knew him in the past," Gladys cried.

"Certainly I did--over five years ago. And I didn't tell him I was
married. The name Cora Bland conveyed nothing to him, because he thought
it was my stage nom-de-plume, and I let him make love to me. He was very
much in love with me at the time, or thought he was, and I behaved
shamefully. Even long after, when he found out, he treated me as if
nothing had happened, and he helped me more than once in South Africa,
because he knew what a life I was leading with Walter Bland. And even
then I wasn't above deceiving him. And then Nemesis took a hand in the
game. By a bit of bad luck I fell into the hands of the police, and
though I was innocent of that particular charge I couldn't prove it,
because my one witness had lost his memory owing to a murderous attack
made upon him by my own husband. I was more or less a party to that
assault. What a situation! Here was the very man I had more or less
helped to kill prevented from securing my freedom by an act of my own.
You remember when I met Patrick French under this roof; he half
recognised me and spoke of Victoria or Leonora or something like that,
when, all the time, I could see he meant Cora. Then the cloud shot down
again, and I could see that the chance had passed."

"Where did you first meet," Gladys asked.

"Well, strangely enough, at the Hall here," Cora explained. "That is
nearly seven years ago. I came down for some private theatricals, and I
grew friendly with Pat French, also a guest there. If I hadn't been
married then, I think I should have allowed myself to fall in love with
him; but, bad as I am, I could not commit bigamy."

Gladys was silent for a moment or two. She was beginning to understand
now how it was that her late visitor had been so familiar with the
grounds at the Hall. But, by degrees, the clouds were rolling away and
all was growing clear.

"We must do what we can for you," she said. "You have behaved very
badly, but still it is not for me to judge. I am sure that when the time
comes Patrick French will be only too pleased to give his testimonial
before magistrates, and, after that, you ought to be free to go where
you like."

"I don't know how to thank you," Cora said. "You don't know how I have
been suffering the last week or so, and all the more, because you have
been so good to me. And now, would you mind if I went to my room for a
bit?"

It was the best part of a fortnight later before Gladys found herself
alone with the man who had been occupying her thoughts to the exclusion
of everything else for so many weeks. Meanwhile French had made rapid
strides towards perfect health; he had seen fit to appear before
magistrates at Marwich and, after hearing what he had to say, there had
been no alternative but to dismiss the charge against Cora Bland though
the chief constable and his assistants naturally regarded her escape as
a lucky one. But, on the whole, they were not dissatisfied, because they
had a deal of sympathy for Gladys and no disposition to probe the
scandal further. Bland had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed him
up and there was little doubt that he had managed to make his escape
from England.

"Not that it much matters," Irwell told Wilcroft when they were
discussing the case. "He will surely be picked up for something, sooner
or later. Of course, we might have detained him on a charge of trying to
murder Patrick French but I think we should have had a job to prove it
against him."

So there was an end of that side of the drama and it was only a question
of time before Marwich and the village of Cullendon began to forget a
highly sensational story. Cora departed, having contrived to obtain a
part in a company that was about to tour New Zealand, so that Gladys
hoped she was permanently outside the influence of the man who had been
such a menace and an evil to her during the past few years. And now, for
the first time in her own garden, on that perfect May afternoon she was
in a position to hear all that Patrick French had to say and how the sad
business had come about.

"There is not very much to tell, after all," French said. "When your
brother came to me, he was in great trouble and I, of course, did what I
could for him. He was perfectly certain that he was going to be
prosecuted and he wanted to avoid the disgrace of a sentence which he
thought would reflect upon you as much as himself. And yet, if he had
remained a few days longer, he would have discovered that the bank had
no intention of taking proceedings at all. Still, he was so sure to the
contrary that he impressed me with the same belief. It was just about
this time that Bland came to me with that map of his. I wanted
adventure, in fact, I always wanted adventure, so I jumped at the
chance. I did so for another reason, too. My idea was to get your
brother to join me and so escape beyond the borders of Cape Colony
before he could be arrested.

"He was duly too willing. So we started and, for a time, all went well.
Then Bland began to show his hand. But that was not until we had found
some diamonds. I knew he was up to some trick or other and I ought to
have stopped him when I had the opportunity. But I didn't. And then we
had a big find. The stones were hidden away in my tent, and I suppose
Bland found them. One day they were missing and Bland, too. But I said
nothing, though I meant to follow him and, later on, I did.

"But not till I had worked out a little scheme I had got in the back of
my mind. You see, I wanted to make your brother absolutely sure. So I
invented that story about the natives and their attack on our camp, and
how your brother had met his death. You see, I was particularly
anxious----"

"Then my brother is not dead!" Gladys exclaimed.

"Of course he isn't," French said. "That is what I have been trying to
tell you for weeks. A dozen times I was near it and then it all faded
away."

"I am beginning to understand," Gladys said. "You were always writing
letters and never finishing them. One day when I was waiting in your
room I saw an envelope actually addressed to my brother, or rather, an
unfinished address, evidently to some foreign part. That fairly startled
me."

"Yes, I suppose it would," French agreed. "That was a street in a town
in British Honduras. Your brother is there now, with instructions not to
communicate with you until he has heard from me. He need not have gone
at all as things turned out, but we did not know that at the time. My
idea was to come home, and tell you myself, with what result you know.

"You see, when I invented that story, I went down country a little way
and ran into a local correspondent of the 'Banner.' I gave him my little
bit of fiction and embroidered on it by the hint that Bland and myself
had left our colleague in the lurch. I thought that would make the thing
more convincing. But I am much afraid that I overdid my part."

Gladys flushed up to the roots of her hair.

"I am afraid you did," she said. "Because, even against my better
judgement, I was inclined to condemn you. Oh, you don't know what a
relief it was to find I was mistaken. When I looked at you I could not
make myself really feel that you were anything else but the man you
appeared to be. Do please forgive me. You see, I was very sorely tried."

"There is nothing to forgive," French murmured. "When we part, as I
suppose we must before long, then I want you to think of me as one who
tried his best to be Wilfred's friend and yours. I may have done wrong,
but----"

He turned away and for a moment neither spoke. Then Gladys put her hand
in his and he placed it to his lips.

But Gladys' heart was warm and soft within her, because something in it
told her that there would be no parting and that the future was in her
hands to decide.


THE END


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