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Title: The Riddle of the Rail
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200691.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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

Title: The Riddle of the Rail
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in the Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, N.S.W., in serial format
commencing Saturday 5 November, 1927.

*




CHAPTER I.


The foreman porter of the goods yard with two of his hands trailing
behind him paused at length before a waggon in the midst of a clatter of
laden trucks on the isolated siding and indicated it with grimy
forefinger.

"Now get to it," he directed. "And don't you leave that van till it's
empty, mind. Here's the manager of Tiptons downs in the office carrying
on as if the Devon and Central Railway belonged to them. Says that he
ought to have had the stuff three days ago."

"So 'e should," one of the porters said sotto voce.

"Yes, that's right enough, Bill," the foreman agreed. "It's this holiday
excursion traffic that throws everything out and gives us double work
for no more pay. But get on with it. Tiptons' lorry will be here any
minute now."

The two railwaymen mounted the waggon and proceeded to strip back the
heavy tarpaulin that lay over it to protect its somewhat fragile
contents from the vagaries of the English climate. The van itself was
filled with spring produce from the Warwickshire district--early
gooseberries, potatoes, spring rhubarb and the like--which had been sent
down to the West by goods train with a view to the Whitsuntide holidays.
But, as the foreman said, the goods train had been shunted here and
there over the hundred and fifty miles to make room for the various
excursion trains radiating from the Midlands right down to what is known
as the Cornish Riviera. It was rather unfortunate for the consignee of
these perishable goods, but there was no help for it. All the railway
authorities could do now was to expedite the unloading as quickly as
possible, and then their side of the task was finished.

Hardly had half the tarpaulin been rolled back before one of the workmen
looked across at his mate, who was tugging at the other end, and shouted
something that the latter failed to understand.

"What's up, mate?" the second man asked. "Blime, but you look as if
you'd seen a ghost, Bill!"

"You just come 'ere," the other man whispered hoarsely. "There, my lad,
what d'you make of that?"

The speaker pointed to something lying on the top of a layer of baskets
filled with early gooseberries. It was the body of a man, a middle-aged,
well-dressed man with a small brown moustache and pointed beard,
reclining there as if he had been asleep. But it was no ordinary sleep,
as both the railwaymen, looking down upon him, knew only too well. They
had seen too much of that sort of thing during the years in France to be
mistaken.

"Yes, he's dead enough," the first man said, as he glanced into the face
of his companion. "And it don't look as if there'd been any violence,
either. No marks and no blood, nor nothing."

"Yes, an' no robbery, neither," the other man put in. "Just twig 'is
watch chain an' the diamond pin in 'is scarf."

"Yes, an' that there hothouse rose in 'is buttonhole. He must 'ave crept
into the waggon when it was waiting in one of the sidings with the
object getting a lift on the cheap. An' yet a cove dressed as 'e is,
with that gold watch chain and diamond pin an' all the rest of it, ain't
the sort as can't pay 'is fare. Looks to me like a first-class
passenger."

"Yes, you're about right there. You nip along as far as the office an'
ask Mr. Gregory to come this way. This is a job not for the handlin' o'
the likes of you and me."

A little later on, a man in authority came down into the siding. He
asked a question or two, then made a brief inspection for himself and,
without further delay, dispatched one of the workmen to Barnstaple
police headquarters, in search of a superintendent.

A quarter of an hour later, the body of the dead man was lifted out on
to the line for the inspection of the superintendent. He made a more or
less perfunctory examination before he spoke.

"Um, I can't make this out at all. No signs of violence whatever, no
bones broken and no blood. I am not a medical man, so I cannot say for
certain, but I should say that the poor fellow has been dead for a day
or two. One of you go along and fetch the ambulance, so that we can take
the body as far as the mortuary."

Meanwhile, the superintendent, together with the man in authority, stood
idly waiting there. To them presently came a little, inquisitive-looking
man, with rimless pince-nez and an expression of something more than
curiosity on his pinched features. He was lame as to his left leg, but
he hopped along dexterously enough as he plied the superintendent with
all sorts of questions.

"Now, look here," the superintendent said. "It's no use worrying me, Mr.
Jagger, because I can't tell you any more than you know. Yes, the body
was found on the top of a waggon load of vegetable matter! and there it
lies for you to see for yourself. Who the man is and how he got there is
a mystery, and probably will remain so till after the inquest. But I
don't mind telling you that there are no signs of violence on the body,
and nothing to suggest that the man did not die a natural death. And
this much I don't mind saying. Whoever the man is, he wasn't short of
money. Beyond his diamond pin and gold watch and chain, I found over
forty pounds in his note-case. And that is all you will learn for the
present."

"Oh, that's good enough to get on with," the little lame man said
cheerfully. "You see, I must look after the interests of my paper, and,
besides, I am the local correspondent on the 'Daily Bulletin.' I must
get away and telephone this at once."

There was nothing more that could be done until the body of the dead man
had been examined by the police doctor, and even he was comparatively
puzzled when he made his examination in the mortuary, attended by the
superintendent of police.

"I can't for the life of me make it out," he said. "I can see no sign of
any marks that would indicate foul play. I can't find anything wrong,
not even the slightest derangement of clothing. And look at that rose in
the buttonhole. A Gloire de Dijon, unless I am greatly mistaken, and
certainly a flower that must have come from a greenhouse at this time of
the year. It is a bit faded, of course, but not a single leaf has been
disturbed."

"Poison," the superintendent suggested. "Man poisoned and then his body
carried, in the hours of darkness, and placed in the waggon. Not a bad
way of getting rid of a corpse, so that it will eventually be found
perhaps a hundred and fifty miles from where the crime was committed.
See what I mean?"

"No, I confess that I do not," the doctor admitted. "I presume that
train came direct from Brendham, or, at any rate was placed on rail
somewhere in that district."

"Well, certainly the train started near about there and, in the ordinary
course of things, wound have come straight through. But, you see, there
has been such a tremendous amount of holiday traffic which has only been
cleared off this morning, and that means that the goods train must have
been held up three or four times on the way. Of course, I can't say
without making inquiries, but the train might have been shunted in two
or three places during the nights since it started for the West.
However, we shall see."

"When would you like to have the inquest?" the doctor asked.

"Well, in the ordinary course of events, it ought to be to-morrow, but
in the circumstances, I should like to have it postponed for another
day, at least. You see, this appears to be something quite out of the
common, and, in any case, it may be a few days before the man's friends
turn up to identify him. He might be travelling on business and writing
no letters, so that his relatives would not have the slightest idea that
he was dead. I don't know why, but I feel that this is going to turn
into a very big thing. One of those tragedies that the public freeze on
to and all the papers lay themselves out for special features. We shall
have half the reporters in London down here before to-morrow is out.
That is why I want the inquest put off a bit, because I am quite certain
that the Yard will have to have a hand in this business. In fact, I
think I shall get on the telephone to London at once."

The superintendent was not far wrong in his conjecture, for the next
morning's issue of the 'Daily Bulletin' came out with flaring headlines
and a more or less pyrotechnic description of the strange event that had
come to light in the goods-yard at Barnstaple station. All of which the
superintendent recognised as the handwork of that smart reporter Jagger.
He had scarcely assimilated the melodrama before he was called to the
telephone. He could hear by the hum of the wire that he was on a
long-distance call and it did not require much intelligence on his part
to guess that Scotland Yard was at the other end of the line.

"Inspector Norcliff speaking," came the words, more or less distinctly.
"That Westport headquarters? Oh yes, Mr. Grierson. About that railway
mystery. Sorry I could not get on to you yesterday, but I was out of
town all day. As a matter of fact, I have just read the account of the
finding of the body in this morning's 'Daily Bulletin.' No fresh
developments, I suppose?"

"No, sir," Grierson replied. "And, so far, no inquiries as regards the
dead man. I may say that our doctor here is considerably puzzled. He
agrees with me that there has been foul play somewhere, but there is no
sign of that to be seen on the corpse. If you could only make it
convenient to get down here----"

"Oh, you need not trouble about that," came the reply. "I am catching
the eleven ten from town, and I am bringing one of our own
medico-scientific experts with me."

With that, the brief conversation ended and the superintendent went back
to his work. He was glad enough to hear that he was going to have the
finest assistance that the brains of Scotland Yard could lend him, with
a view to the solution to a case which he frankly admitted was a little
outside his grasp.

"Well, that's all right, so far," he told himself. "I can't do any more
for the present, though perhaps the 'Daily Bulletin' account might help
in bringing forward somebody to identify the body."




CHAPTER II.


Inspector Norcliff sat in the corner of a first-class carriage on the
Western bound express with a companion seated opposite him. They had the
compartment entirely to themselves, so that they could discuss what was
already known as the Barnstaple mystery without being overheard. The
inspector bore no sort of likeness to the average sleuth of fiction;
indeed, he presented an appearance much more like a successful
middle-aged business man than a hunter of his fellow creatures. He was
tall and rather inclined to slimness, with grey moustache and nearly
pointed beard, and his dress was that of a prosperous city man, such as
might be seen by the hundred every morning on the suburban lines.

His companion, on the other hand, was insignificant looking, not to say
shabby. He wore a blue serge suit, which might have been slept in, and a
soft collar that resembled a rag more than anything else. But his keen,
intellectual features and his high forehead proclaimed him to the
thoughtful observer as an individual distinctly out of the common. And
indeed, the man known as Vincent Trumble had more than a passing
reputation amongst the ranks of those who are interested in
psycho-analysis and medical jurisprudence. For the time being, at any
rate, he was more or less attached to Scotland Yard and one of its most
valued staff.

"Well, doctor, what do you make of it?" Norcliff asked.

Trumble looked up from the 'Daily Bulletin,' which he had been studying,
word for word so far as the railway mystery was concerned, ever since
the train steamed out of London.

"Oh, I am not going to commit myself, my friend," Trumble smiled. "All
the same, this is a most interesting account. That reporter chap down at
Westport must be a bit of a genius in his way. With very little to go
upon he hasn't missed a single point."

"Yes, that's all very well," Norcliff said. "But it doesn't get us any
further. Was that man murdered?"

"My dear chap, how on earth can I tell? If you ask me, as man to man, I
should suggest that he was. Of course, there might have been some reason
why he hid himself on the top of that vegetable waggon. For instance, he
might be a fugitive from justice. If you accept that view, then there is
nothing out of the way in the fact that he was wearing a valuable gold
watch and chain and a diamond pin, to say nothing of the fact of his
being in possession of some considerable means. The Midland police may
have been after him, for all we know to the contrary."

"If they had been, I should have known it," Norcliff said.

"Oh no, you wouldn't, my friend. There has been no time. The hue and cry
will not really begin until all the police offices in England have duly
digested that sensational column in to-day's 'Daily Bulletin.' A point
to me, I think, Inspector."

"One up, doctor," Norcliff smiled. "Go on."

"Oh, well, it is only a game, so far as we are concerned at present,"
the doctor said. "I am only showing you what might be. The man was
getting away from his pursuers, and he hit upon that ingenious method of
putting as much ground as possible between himself and those upon his
track. Probably, he hoped to reach Plymouth or Falmouth and get passage
on some outward-bound boat. And then, instead of a prosaic ending like
that, he died suddenly on the way. We may be in pursuit of a phantom,
after all."

"Yes, we might," Norcliff agreed, "but if he died a natural death, the
post-mortem examination will show that."

"Of course it will. But there is another side to the question. Suppose
it wasn't a natural death, and suppose the man was not running away from
justice? Don't you think it most extraordinary thing that one who was
evidently a professional or high-class business man should know exactly
how to get on board that goods train? I mean, he could not have boarded
it at the point of dispatch without being seen, because that smart
little journalist managed to elicit the fact that the waggon was loaded
in daylight. I don't know where he got the information, probably by
asking fruit dealers in Westport. At any rate, there it is, and it's a
guinea to a gooseberry that the journalistic faculty has not gone
wrong."

"But what does it lead up to?" Norcliff asked.

"Well, it leads up to this. That dead man, whoever, he is, must have
made a very careful study of railway procedure, so far as goods trains
are concerned. He must have discovered that, in certain circumstances,
covered waggons and the like might possibly be detained en route between
the Midlands and Westport. I mean, he must have been cognisant of the
fact that there were certain stopping places especially at this time of
year. I take it that, usually, those fast goods trains go right through.
They would not be much use for fruit trains if they didn't. But, on this
particular occasion, the train was side-tracked on more than one
occasion. We have to thank that Barnstaple reporter for that bit of
information. Unless my deductions are entirely wrong, the dead man knew
pretty well what was going to happen to that particular train. He knew
that it could not be relied upon to get through during the Whitsun
holiday traffic and that it would be shunted into a siding. And now I
will come to an entirely opposite theory to the one I advanced just now.
Let us suppose for a moment that somebody else knew all about this. Let
us suppose that the other person knew pretty well what was going on and
had discovered from the dead man exactly how he was going to escape. He
knew, moreover, a particular siding where that train would be shunted.
He wanted to get rid of the murdered man----"

"But you said just now----" Norcliff interrupted.

"Oh, never mind what I said just now. There were two of them in some big
criminal business. The second man wanted to get rid of the first, and,
knowing what his colleague knew about those trains, laid a little scheme
to that end. In other words murdered him somewhere in the neighborhood
of one of those stopping places and contrived to get the body hidden in
the waggon, where it was found. Moreover, by so doing, he would make it
almost impossible for you to lay your hand upon the exact spot where the
crime was committed. It might have been no further west than Abbotsbury,
or, on the other hand, it might have been as far as Bristol. You see,
these sidings are some times in very lonely places, so that under cover
of darkness it would not have been a difficult matter to handle a body.
Of course, the details would have to be carefully planned beforehand and
the victim lured to a certain spot, but a really clever criminal could
manage that easily. However, we cannot get any further until we find out
exactly where that waggon lay each night during the delayed journey
between the Midlands and the West."

"Most ingenious," Norcliff said. "You have certainly given me something
to think about doctor. Upon my word I shall be almost disappointed if we
discover that that man died a natural death."

"Well, it would certainly be like Hamlet with the Prince left out," the
doctor agreed. "Still, as King George said about the dumpling 'how the
deuce did the apple get inside?' You've got to find out how a
well-dressed, apparently prosperous man was discovered dead, hiding
himself on the top of a railway truck. And, unless I am greatly
mistaken, when you do discover that, you will find yourself on the track
of a great criminal conspiracy."

They were still discussing the case from more points of view than one,
when, finally, they stepped out of the train at Westport late in the
afternoon to find Inspector Grierson on the platform awaiting them.
Norcliff wasted no time in making the necessary introductions and then
they moved off in the direction of the mortuary.

"I want to see that body, Mr. Superintendent," Trumble said. "I
understand that your police doctor is a little uncertain."

"Well, he doesn't like to speak too positively, sir," the superintendent
replied. "Perhaps you would like to see him too."

"Later on, certainly," Trumble said. "Meanwhile, I should like to have a
chance of examining the body alone."

It was a long time before Trumble, busy in that gloomy little room,
began to speak. He had examined the body of the dead man with a
meticulous care that left nothing to chance. Then, at length, he turned
to the others and proceeded to enlighten them.

"Of course, no one can be quite certain until after the post-mortem," he
said. "I may be entirely wrong, but I have come to the conclusion that
the deceased was murdered."

"Poison?" the superintendent suggested.

"Well, in a way. Not exactly poison, perhaps, but certainly some very
powerful drug. I know the symptoms of most of the great poisoning
results, that is, poisoning pure and simple. And yet I can detect no
signs on the body of any poison of which I am cognisant. No congestion
of the eyes, no contraction of the muscles, but every sign that the
victim was at one time under the influence of a drug that rendered him
absolutely unconscious."

"And then?" Norcliff asked. "And then?"

"Oh, I am not suggesting that he was placed in the waggon when he was
insensible," the doctor said. "I am fully under the impression that he
was dead at the time. He was murdered when the drug was at its height,
quite simply and in a way that would show no signs of violence. It would
only be necessary for his murderer to hold a folded towel over his mouth
and nostrils when vitality was at its lowest ebb, and then he would have
just faded out of life without the slightest appearance of a struggle.
And that, in my considered opinion, is the way he was killed."

"The post-mortem should confirm that," Grierson said. "Then when the
facts are disclosed at the inquest----"

Trumble turned on him like a terrier on a rat.

"There must be no such disclosure at the inquest," he snapped. "It would
be fatal to our investigations. My idea is to do not more than give
simple facts at the inquest and then ask for an adjournment for two or
three weeks. And I am quite sure that in this my friend Norcliff will
agree with me."




CHAPTER III.


The local superintendent regarded Trumble with a puzzled expression. It
was quite evident that he did not know what the latter had in the back
of his mind.

"I am afraid I don't follow you, sir," he said.

"Well, it's this way," Trumble explained. "Let us take it for granted,
for the moment, that this is a case of murder. Mind you, I am not going
so far as to say definitely that it is, but permit me to assume it. If I
am right, then the murderer, whoever he is, has committed something
quite novel in the way of a crime. He has drugged his victim first and
suffocated him afterwards with a view to deceiving the doctor who
handles the case. It is hardly probable that the criminal knows anything
about medical jurisprudence; indeed, it would be a very strange
coincidence if he did. He is probably miles away now, hugging himself
with the delusion that the verdict will be one of 'found dead.' He will
naturally jump to the conclusion that he has deceived the doctors, and
that though the case is mysterious enough there is no evidence of
first-hand crime about it. But if it comes out at the inquest that the
man was drugged and then suffocated and that my evidence proved such a
contention up to the hilt, then the man for whom we are looking will be
put upon his guard. But why should we go out of our way to do so?"

"Meaning that the inquest is to be a sort of blind?" the superintendent
asked. "Deceiving the public."

"Well, you can call it that if you like. But I don't think we can work
this little scheme without the aid of the coroner. You see, what I want
at the first hearing is that there should be nothing but formal evidence
tendered. Then you, Mr. Superintendent, can formally apply for a
fortnight's adjournment in the interests of justice. Perhaps you will be
good enough to attend to that."

"Yes, that's the idea," Norcliff interpolated. "You see the coroner and
tell him all that we have discovered. Explain to him exactly what Mr.
Trumble has in the back of his mind, and ask him to see that nothing
beyond the mere formalities crops up. You never know what questions some
fool of a juryman is likely to ask. Nothing more for the moment, is
there, Trumble?"

Dr. Trumble, having said his say, intimated that he was perfectly
satisfied with the position of affairs as far as it had gone, and with
that the conference broke up. The two men from London went back to their
hotel to dine, leaving local matters in the hands of the superintendent.
There was nothing to do now but wait for the inquest, which was held, in
due course, two days later in the Town Hall, and, as Norcliff predicted,
caused a great sensation. Long before the proceedings commenced the
building was packed and the press table full to overflowing.

"What did I tell you?" Norcliff muttered, as he and his companion made
their way to the place allotted to them. "I told you we should have all
the reporters in the country down here, and you can see for yourself
that I am correct."

It was even as Norcliff had said. The railway mystery had gripped the
public imagination and the cheap press was making the most of it. There
was not much to go upon so far, but it was wonderful what they had done
with the small amount of material at their disposal. They had gathered
here now, from all over England, looking forward eagerly to sensational
details in which they were going to be disappointed. It was not for any
of them to know that Superintendent Grierson had seen the coroner and
explained to him the exact position of affairs. And he, of course, had
been only too willing to fall in with the suggestion that had emanated
from Scotland Yard.

He took his seat, after the jury was sworn, and immediately got to
business. First came the two railwaymen who had found the body, who had
very little to say that was not already public property, and after them
came the police surgeon, who had officially made a post-mortem. Even he
had very little to disclose.

"I was called in, in the course of my duty," he said glibly, "to examine
the body of deceased. So far as I can ascertain, the dead man came to a
natural end. I am not saying I am right, sir, because the case presents
peculiar features. I should say the dead man was about 50 years of age
and there was nothing about the organs of the body to point to any
particular cause of death."

"They were normal and healthy?" the coroner asked,

"Exactly, sir. The heart was sound and so were the arteries. In fact,
quite a healthy subject, and, moreover, a man who has taken great care
of himself, which was proved by the state in which I found both kidneys
and liver."

'"Then you think it is a case of natural death?" the coroner asked.

"On the face of things, I should say yes, sir. But there are peculiar
features of the case which I should prefer not to go into for the
moment. If you will allow me to say so----"

"Oh, quite, quite," the coroner said a little anxiously. "You found no
symptoms of poisoning, for instance?"

"Not the slightest trace. I may say that I had assistance in making my
post-mortem from a distinguished colleague who happens to be here at the
present moment, but whose name I need not mention, because he has
nothing whatever to do with the case. Neither of us could find the
slightest trace of poison, but, at the same time, we came to the
conclusion that though the deceased seemed to be normal in every way he
was not unacquainted with drugs."

"Which suggests an overdose," the coroner put in.

"It may be that," the witness said. "The deceased might have taken more
than he was accustomed to, and if he had turned over on his face, as
indeed he was discovered, with his head half buried in a basket of
produce, then he might have suffocated. But, of course, all this is mere
surmise on my part."

"Then you don't think it is a case of murder?" a juryman asked.

"I decline to express a definite opinion at the moment," the witness
said cautiously. "But it is just possible that deceased was alive when
he found his way into the railway waggon. I have had no time to apply
certain tests which were suggested to me by my colleague, but perhaps,
as the inquest is pretty sure to be adjourned, I shall be in a position
to speak more freely at the next hearing."

The last few words were a plain hint to the coroner, and he promptly
took them as such.

"Thank you, doctor," he said. "I don't think we shall want to trouble
you any further. Call the superintendent."

The superintendent stepped up to the table and gabbled off his evidence
in a professional manner. But nothing that he could say served to throw
further light on the mystery.

"It is all very strange," the coroner murmured. "There has been a good
deal of publicity given to this case; in fact, it seems to have
attracted attention all over the country. This being so, it is
remarkable that nobody has come forward to identify deceased. Here is a
man who is apparently of the professional or prosperous business type,
well dressed and bearing on his body certain valuables, who, apparently,
seems to have no one who knows him and is without relatives. Of course,
a good many people don't read the papers, but still, considering that
the man had evidently travelled by the train between Brendham and
Westport----"

"Interrupting you for the moment, sir," Norcliff said, "I would
respectfully remind you that that has yet to be proved. To begin with, I
have ascertained that the fruit train, or, at any fate, that particular
fruit waggon, was made up at Brendham in the broad daylight. Therefore,
the subject of this inquiry could not have started from that town.
Moreover, those particular waggons were shunted on more than one
occasion between Brendham and Westport, and twice, if not more, they
were side-tracked during the hours of the night. That being the
case----"

"Yes, yes, I quite see your point," the coroner said. "The mistake is
mine. But still I cannot understand why it is that no one has come
forward to identify the body. Am I to understand that no papers were
found on it?"

"So the superintendent tells me," Norcliff said. "There was not a single
scrap of writing of any sort. Moreover, there was no name or initial on
the man's handkerchief or on any of his underclothing. I have looked in
vain for the tab at the back of the coat collar, where the tailor
usually has his name and place of business. That may have been carefully
removed, but again I am speaking entirely without book."

"But the buttons on the clothing?" the coroner hinted.

"They were all plain buttons. And so were the buttons on the dead man's
trousers, which very often bear the tailor's imprint."

"From all of which it would appear that deceased was taking special
steps to preserve his anonymity."

"Possible," Norcliff agreed, "But so far I have seen nothing to lead me
to believe so. What we have to do now is to trace the various stopping
places of the train, so as to narrow down the two or three spots in
which the dead man could have entered the train, or his body was carried
there. You have had the medical evidence, sir, which does not throw much
light upon the mystery, and, if I may say so, I fail to see the object
of carrying this inquiry any further until I have had an opportunity for
closer investigation."

"Which means that you apply for an adjournment?"

"That is right, sir," Norcliff said. "Would you be good enough to put it
off till, say, this day fortnight?"

The coroner rose from his seat with alacrity.

"Very well," he said. "I quite agree with you, Inspector Norcliff. The
case is adjourned till this day fortnight, at half-past ten in the
morning, when all witnesses will be present."

With that, the disappointed audience filed out and the small army of
press reporters turned disconsolately away. For a minute or two Norcliff
and the rest of them lingered behind after the coroner had gone, and
talked the situation over together, though there was very little in what
had happened to take hold of.

"I suppose it's up to you now, sir," Superintendent Grierson said. "I
don't see how I can do anything more for the present."




CHAPTER IV.


"I am inclined to agree with you," Norcliff said. "Of course, you will
keep your eyes open in case anything should turn up, though I am not in
the least sanguine. Out there are one or two little points to which I
want to call your attention before we go any further. Now we have got
rid of the possibility of inquisitive jurymen, I want to point out to
you certain peculiarities in the clothing of the deceased. Of course, it
is a common thing for a man, especially if he happens to be a single
man, as the deceased might have been, to have his underclothing and
linen unmarked. Your average bachelor buys just what he wants from time
to time and sends it to his laundry without any means of identification,
because he does not know any better. Whereas, if he were a married man,
with women about him, then the articles I speak of would be branded with
his name, or at least his initials. And this, I conclude, tends to prove
that deceased was single. Quite a minor point, but it may turn out to be
important later on. And, another thing. Did you notice anything peculiar
about the clothing?"

"I can't say I did," the superintendent admitted.

"Well, first of all, he was wearing American shoes. No mistake about
them. You know those brown shoes with knobby toes that the well-dressed
Yankee always affects."

"Perfectly right," the superintendent admitted. "I ought to have noticed
that, but I am afraid I didn't."

"Very well, then. Let us go a step further. The cut of the coat, very
broad across the shoulder, and loose fitting. American again. Both the
shoes and the suit of clothes were made in the United States. So
probably, was the underclothing. Let us suppose, for a moment, that this
man was a tourist, travelling about England, as so many Americans do,
and getting into bad hands. He might have had thousands of pounds on
him. This being the case, it would be an artful move on the part of the
murderer or murderers to leave him his watch and chain and note-case, to
say nothing of the diamond pin in his tie. If I am right in this
surmise, then that accounts for the fact that nobody has come forward to
claim the body. The man might have been in England a week, he might have
been here six months. But somebody must have known him. I mean such
people as hotel-keepers and bank cashiers. We can't get any sort of move
on until we can lay hands upon somebody who can say who the man was or,
at any rate, what he called himself. And yet, there is nothing by which
we could identify him."

"Oh, yes, there is," a little squeaky voice broke in from the
background. "I have an idea."

Norcliff turned somewhat angrily in the direction of the speaker. Then
he saw, to his great annoyance, that he was face to face with the little
lame journalist who had been responsible for the flaring article in the
'Daily Bulletin.'

"What the deuce are you doing here?" he demanded. "Now, tell me exactly
what you came back for."

"I didn't come back at all," the little man smiled. "I haven't been away
yet. I sat in a corner there, writing my report, and I suppose you
didn't notice me. All the same, I shouldn't have butted in like this if
I hadn't heard what you said and if I hadn't had something in the nature
of a brain wave."

"Well, what is it?" Norcliff said more good-naturedly.

"Well, it's just this, Inspector. I am interested in this case. I was
the first to get on to it, and the first to publish the facts. It was a
bit of a scoop for me, and it ought to do me a spot of good. I am a bit
ambitious, I am, and I think I am a cut above the country reporting job
that keeps me down here. Now, I have been over that man's wardrobe as
carefully as you have. And, if I am not greatly mistaken, I have
discovered something like a clue."

"Out with it, then," Norcliff said encouragingly.

"Oh, half a mo'," the little man grinned. "Not quite so fast as all
that. I've got to get a bit out of this, as well as you, and the 'Daily
Bulletin' is going to know it. All I want is that my paper should come
first. There is a job going in Fleet-street, and if I make good over
this business, I stand a thundering good chance of getting it. You help
me and I will help you."

"Quite fair," Norcliff said. "It wouldn't be the first time I got a tip
from the press, and I am always ready to acknowledge it. I shall know
where to put in a good word for you."

"O.K.," the little man smiled serenely. "Now, perhaps you will send
somebody round to the police station and ask them to look among the dead
man's effects and bring his collar back."

A few minutes later, and the little man stood before what he felt to be
an interested group, with the double linen collar in his hand. He
pointed to the inside of the neck-band.

"There you are," he said. "No maker's name on that collar, and, no sort
of trade mark, I mean, it isn't called anything, like the 'Burlington'
or the 'Acme,' or anything of that sort. But there is a mark on it, as
you can see for yourself."

He handed over the strip of linen to Norcliff, who saw, in blurred
marking-ink by the side of the button-hole, the letters XX.L. roughly
scrawled and somewhat faint from constant washings.

"There you are," Jagger went on. "That's a laundry mark, that is. Wonder
you didn't tumble to it before, Inspector."

"Well, I didn't," the Inspector said shortly. "Go on."

"Why, certainly. It's a laundry mark all right, and, moreover, a laundry
of which the deceased was in the habit of making regular use, or the
letters wouldn't have run and faded as they have."

"I don't quite see it," the Inspector said.

"Oh, can't you?" the little man jeered. "Must have been the same
laundry, because if he had been in the habit of changing from one
washing establishment to another, then there would be other marks. Now
do you see what I mean?"

"Very smart, very smart indeed," Norcliff smiled encouragingly.
"Certainly one to you, my friend. But it means a good deal of spade work
to be done yet."

"Ah, that is where the press comes in and saves you all the trouble,"
the man Jagger grinned. "I am making up quite a good column for the
'Daily Bulletin,' and if I can work this bit in, it will round up my
article very nicely. Now, what I want you to do, Inspector, is this. I
want you to let me make an exact copy of that laundry mark and have it
reproduced in the 'Bulletin'--exclusive to the 'Bulletin,' and all that
sort of thing. With our million odd circulation that mark would be seen
by at least five times as many people. It will be a very strange thing
if amongst all that lot somebody doesn't come forward who knows all
about the laundry mark."

"Really, Mr. Jagger, you ought to be one of ourselves," Norcliff smiled.
"A most excellent idea. I suppose you will telephone your article
presently in the ordinary way?"

"You bet I will," Jagger responded promptly.

"Very well, then. You send your article and allude to some mysterious
clue that is coming along in time for the 'Bulletin,' not to-morrow, but
the day after. Then I will have the mark photographed and printed this
afternoon, and let you have a copy of it. A clever journalist like you
will be able to make a second sensational article instead of one for
your enterprising paper."

Jagger vanished, perfectly satisfied with what he regarded as a good
morning's work, and, after that, Norcliff and Trumble went off in the
direction of the station to make their inquiries there with regard to
the movements of the fruit train between the time it left Brendham and
the moment when the body was found at Westport.

"It will take some time gentlemen," the man in charge of the proper
department told his visitors. "You see, for the greater part of last
week, the whole of the traffic on our, and, indeed, every other line was
disturbed by excursion work. It was heavier than usual, because
Whitsuntide this year has been more than usually fine and warm, and
practically everybody in the country was on the move. If it hadn't been
for so many cars on the road, I don't know what we should have done. At
any rate, the train in which the body was found ought to have reached us
two or three days before it did. You see, the goods were perishable, and
I daresay we shall have to pay a good deal out in damage, for the delay.
But there it is, and I am quite sure that when I come to make the
inquiries you want, I shall find that that fruit train was shunted at
all sorts of places to make way for mainline and excursion traffic."

"Yes, I can quite see the point," Norcliff said. "But I want something
more definite than that. I want to know the exact spot at which the
fruit waggons were first shunted, the time of day or night, and how long
they were detained in the various places where they had to remain. A
sort of time-table, if you understand what I mean. If you tell your
people that this information is needed by Scotland Yard, you ought to
get it almost at once."

The traffic inspector smiled just a little pityingly.

"Oh, it isn't going to be as easy as all that," he said. "We are all
still busy, making up for the time we lost last week, and every man is
up to his eyes in it. If you get all that you want within the next three
days, you will have to be satisfied."

There was apparently no help for it, and so Norcliff and his companion
went off to kill time as best they could till they had something
definite to go upon from the railway company.

"It is a most infernal nuisance," Norcliff said. "But I don't see how we
can make the slightest move until these railway people stir themselves
sufficiently to provide the information we want. Meanwhile, I suppose we
must loaf about and wait."

It was four full days before anything definite transpired. Then it came,
not at the hands of the railway company, but through the man Jagger who
burst unceremoniously into the sitting room of the hotel where the
investigators were located, waving a telegram triumphantly in his
claw-like fingers.

"Got it," he cried excitedly. "Just received this from the office. The
mark on the collar has been identified by a laundryman who called on the
'Bulletin' people about an hour ago."




CHAPTER V.


"Excellent," Norcliff said. "But, before we go any farther, what does
your paper propose to do about it?"

"Well, you don't suppose they are going to keep the original information
in the office safe, do you?" Jagger grinned. "It is another scoop for
the 'Bulletin,' and don't you forget it."

"My dear young friend," Norcliff said, very gently. "Your paper can have
all the kudos that it wants. But you, with your ambitious outlook on
life, can hardly expect to benefit. It's all very well to argue that the
clue of the laundry mark was due to you, and, to a certain extent, it
was. I ought to have thought about it myself, and, no doubt, I should
have done so in time."

"But, all the same, you didn't," Jagger pointed out.

"Oh, I am willing to give you all that, but what I want at the present
moment is to keep that information from the public. It would be a real
misfortune if the 'Daily Bulletin' people came out to-morrow with one of
its flaming headlines announcing the fact that some laundry person had
identified the mark on the collar and that the police were hot upon the
trail. Can't you see how that is going to ruin my work to say nothing of
giving the murderer a warning to the effect that he had overlooked a
most important detail whilst he was getting rid of the body?"

"Yes, I see all that," the little reporter said grudgingly.

"Very well, then. And perhaps you will also see that your usefulness
comes to an end directly the 'Bulletin' publishes that information. You
won't get the credit for it, because your people will merely allude to
the work of their local representative. Whereas, if the information is
kept secret for a day or two, then I shall probably be able to put a
good deal more in your way. In fact, if you like, and the proprietors of
your paper are willing, you can come along with me as a sort of special
commissioner, and I will see to it that your journal gets in front of
all its rivals. Otherwise, I shall have to appeal to the Home Office for
an order prohibiting the 'Daily Bulletin' from publishing the
information."

The little reporter was not slow to see that which was being offered
him. Nor did he fail to weigh up the chances in his favor.

"Yes, that is very good of you. What do you want me to do? I mean, do
immediately?"

"In the first instance, go down to the hotel office and ask them to put
you through to your newspaper. Tell the local exchange that your
business is connected with the Westport murder, and that you are acting
on behalf of Scotland Yard. If you do that you will get through to them
in a quarter the time."

"Number, please," the little man grinned. "I mean the number which
Scotland Yard gives anywhere when they want the line held up at this
end. See what I mean?"

Norcliff gave the talismanic number that Scotland Yard always uses in
such cases so that Jagger found himself talking to his own head office
in little less than five minutes. He came back presently, beaming with
delight.

"It's all right," he said. "I got on to one of the big men and he saw
the point at once. I asked him to send somebody round to the laundry and
tell the man who called with that information that he was on no account
to mention what he had discovered."

"Now, that was very thoughtful of you," Norcliff said. "As to the other
matter, are you coming with us?"

"You bet," the little man said emphatically. "Any time you like to give
me a call I shall be ready."

"So that's all right," Norcliff said. "I think the best thing you can do
is to go as far as Brendham and wait for us there. We are coming up the
line almost at once, that is, as soon as I have heard from the people
here exactly what happened to the goods trucks between the starting
point and Westport. You can find out, if you like, who it was who
consigned the foods."

The lame reporter went off in a happy frame of mind, leaving Norcliff
and his companion together.

"What's the next move?" Trumble asked.

"Well, the next move is to cover the ground between Brendham and here,"
Norcliff explained. "I had all the figures and a general time-table of
the goods train delivered here before you came down to breakfast. I know
exactly what time that train left Brendham on the Thursday before
Whitsuntide, and where it was held up. It didn't go very far, to begin
with; in fact the first stoppage was at Abbotsbury, which is not more
than 25 miles from the big fruit centre. And there the vans were shunted
into a siding for the night and, so far as I can make out, all the
following day. Then, again, there was a delay of a good many hours at
Gloucester, and much the same thing happened at Bristol. We are going to
work backwards, with Bristol as our first stop."

But, as it turned out, there was little to be gained in the course of
their inquiries in the big Western city. There the train had undoubtedly
been held up, but investigations showed that it would have been
impossible for anybody to convey a bulky thing like a human body, even
under cover of the darkness, across the siding, and deposit the corpse
under the tarpaulin. For here the siding had been brilliantly lighted,
an essentially necessary course, seeing that there were some score of
lines and rails, and that, moreover, shunting operations were taking
place day and night.

Norcliff stood in the midst of those shining rails and pointed this out
to his companion.

"It could not possibly have been done here," he said. "I can't see
anybody conveying a body into a big yard like this with all those
electrics turned on. Besides, there were scores of men working here, and
there would have been positive danger to anybody attempting to cross
those lines without knowledge of the workings of a big goods siding.
And, even if the murderer had known all that, he must have been a giant
in strength to carry a human body, all dead weight, and hide it in that
van. Therefore, I think we can rule out Bristol and get on to Gloucester
without delay."

But Gloucester turned out to be quite as hopeless as Bristol had proved.
The goods train had been detained there in much the same condition,
though, perhaps, on a comparatively smaller scale. But, at any rate, the
scale was large enough to convince Norcliff that they had not yet
reached the scene where the murderer had succeeded in getting rid of the
body of his victim.

"Another blank," Norcliff said. "Now on to Abbotsbury. If we don't get
something definite there, then I shall come to the conclusion that we
are on the wrong track altogether, and that, moreover, the murderer must
have been working with the aid of accomplices."

"I don't think so," Trumble said softly. "I can't see for a moment, a
man who had worked out so cunning and skilful a crime calling in anybody
to help him. No, I think that we shall find the key to that side of the
mystery in Abbotsbury."

It was nearly dark when the two reached Abbotsbury, so that they decided
to postpone further investigations till the following morning.

Those in authority at Abbotsbury were quite ready and willing to give
Norcliff all the information in their power. A goods train for the West
had been shunted on to a siding there fairly early on the evening of
Whit-Saturday, having got as far as there from Brendham, which was the
point of dispatch, and then been held up by the excursion traffic. In
other words, the fruit van had been in a siding at Abbotsbury for the
best part of twenty-four hours, before there had been any chance of
dispatching it farther.

"I don't exactly follow what that means," Norcliff said to the goods
foreman who had been detailed to assist him. "Let us have it quite
clear. Am I to understand that the fruit train got no farther than here,
and that it spent the whole of Saturday night and perhaps the best part
of the following day in one of your sidings?"

"That's it, sir," the foreman said. "I can show you the exact spot where
the fruit van stood."

"All right; come along, then," Norcliff said.

They set out down the line for the best part of half a mile. By the time
the foreman pulled up, they were well clear of the station itself, and
standing on a long siding with just one line of rails that seemed to be
terminating almost in the open country. Certainly, it was quiet and
lonely enough there, with a high-road on one side of the line and, on
the other, four or five houses of the small villa type standing in their
own ground.

"This looks rather more like it," Norcliff said, turning to his
companion. "Quiet enough for anything. Nobody about after dark and,
unless my eyes deceive me, the gardens of those houses abut actually, on
to the sidings themselves. Yes, I begin to see my way. Is that a public
house farther down the road?"

The foreman informed Norcliff that it was.

"And a very respectable place, too sir," he said. "But they don't do
much trade in the ordinary way, because it is in rather a quiet, lonely
spot. But there is some very good trout fishing in the neighborhood, and
lots of gents from London come down here and stay at the White Hart for
the trout."

"Oh, do they?" Norcliff asked. "I am rather fond of a day's fishing
myself. I wonder if they would put us up."

"I feel sure they would, sir," the foreman replied. "The place is a
little bigger than you think."

"We'll take rooms there for a day or two, doctor." Norcliff said, as he
turned to the man by his side, and placed a ten-shilling Treasury note
in his hand. "We shall not want you any more, my friend; at least, not
for the present, at any rate."

The foreman went back to his work, and Norcliff and Trumble went through
a gate into the road where the public house stood.

"We are on the right track, for a dollar," Norcliff said. "The very
spot. No chance of interruption after dark, and the place as quiet as
the grave before midnight. Unless I am greatly mistaken, one of those
quiet little villa residences could tell a story. Yes, I think so. We'll
just be two fishermen looking for a likely stream, and mine host of the
White Hart will do the rest."




CHAPTER VI.


The proprietor of the White Hart, who apparently had at some time in his
career been a gentleman's servant, welcomed the new-comers respectfully,
and inquired what he could do for them.

"You can give us a couple of bedrooms, I suppose?" Norcliff asked "We
may stay a few days; that is, if the fishing comes up to our
expectations. We hear rather well of it."

"I don't think you will be disappointed, sir," the landlord said
civilly. "It is just a bit early for our water but some good baskets of
trout have been taken by my customers in the last day or two. And I can
give you bedrooms, of course, sir. Do you want them at once, or in the
course of a few days?"

"Oh, we will take them at once," Norcliff said. "Our traps are at
Abbotsbury station in the cloak-room there, and perhaps you can send a
man to fetch them. We have no rods or tackle with us, but my man will
send them down from town in a day or two. Can you manage to send to the
station?"

The landlord would send for the gentlemen's belongings at once.
Meanwhile, would the gentlemen please to lunch at the hotel, or had they
already made their arrangements?

"We'll both lunch and dine here," Norcliff said. "Meanwhile, we will go
as far as Abbotsbury and collect our handbags from the hotel where we
stopped last night. As it happens, my friend here has a certain amount
of business to do in Abbotsbury. But we will be back here in time for
luncheon at half-past one."

It was quite a good luncheon that the landlord of the White Hart
provided, and the dinner that followed, in due course, was equally
satisfactory. Then, after the house had closed for the night, Norcliff
strolled into the bar, which fortunately was empty, and ordered himself
a drink. It would be a pleasure, he said, if the landlord would join him
in a whisky and soda.

"I am sure you are very good, sir," the landlord said. "Have you been in
this neighborhood before?"

Norcliff replied, truthfully enough, that he had not.

"I had often wanted to," he said. "I have a weakness for these old
towns, and that Abbey of yours has a great attraction for me. I could
spend hours wandering about there. But don't you find this rather a
quiet spot in the winter?"

"Oh, a man gets used to that sort of thing," the landlord smiled.
"Besides, I have neighbors."

"Ah, so I noticed," Norcliff said casually. "It seems rather a pity that
those four houses down the road should be looking right down on the
railway track, with their gardens touching a siding. They must find it
rather a nuisance."

"No, I don't think they do, sir. You see, it isn't very often that any
shunting is done on that siding, because there is only a single line
there, and most of the heavy work takes place on the far side of the
station. You see, the siding is a comparatively new one, though the
hedges at the bottom of the gardens were there before the siding was
made, and when the ground that it stands on was a field. Quiet people
they are."

"What sort of people?" Norcliff asked.

"Well, one of the gentlemen is a retired bank manager. He came here
thirty years ago, and will probably end his days in Abbotsbury. Then in
another is a well-known tradesman in the town. The third belongs to a
solicitor and the fourth is the property of retired clergyman, who is
not in the best of health. You see, he spends quite half his time in the
South of France."

Norcliff had elicited all this information in his own outwardly simple
way, and the landlord would have been surprised if he could have seen
the back of his customer's mind. Norcliff had almost at once dismissed
the first three occupants of the houses, but there was something about
this invalid clergyman that appealed to him.

"Oh, does he?" he said. "I wonder if he would be prepared to let his
house during the time he is away. You see, there is fishing in the
Avon--winter fishing, I mean--which is quite as good as your trout
season. And if this old gentleman didn't want his house between say,
September and May, then I think I might find him a tenant, if he would
let his house furnished. I mean myself."

"Now that is an odd thing, sir," the landlord said. "The house is let
furnished at the present moment, and has been for months. You see, the
reverend gentleman rarely comes back home till the last week in May, and
goes off again at the end of September. Something wrong with his chest,
they tell me."

"Oh yes, and who has the house now?"

"A gentleman called Farr. He took the place over some time ago, together
with the owner's elderly housekeeper and he has been living there ever
since."

"An elderly man?" Norcliff asked tentatively.

"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that," the landlord said. "About
forty-five, perhaps. Well-set-up gentleman, who looks as if he had seen
service. In fact, a good many people here call him Captain Farr. But I
don't know anything about that, sir. He comes here sometimes, but he
doesn't say much, and keeps himself very much to himself. Not at all the
sort of man you'd like to tackle with gloves, though I could do a bit
myself that way at one time."

"But what on earth is a man like that doing down here?" Norcliff asked
"Is he a fisherman, too?"

"Never cast a line as far as I know, sir. He told me one day not so long
ago, that he came into the district with a view to purchasing a chicken
and bee farm about ten miles away, and I believe he has been negotiating
with the owner ever since. In fact I know he has, because the man who
has the farm lives close to a brother of mine. Not that it is any
business of mine."

"Or mine," Norcliff smiled. "I should like to have a chat with this Mr.
Farr, because, if he is giving up the house down the road, then I might
take it off his hands for a bit."

"I am afraid that can't be managed just now, sir," the landlord said.
"That is, not unless you are staying for a week or so, because Mr. Farr
shut up the house on the evening of Whit-Sunday and went away for a few
days."

Here was interesting information, Norcliff thought, though it might lead
to nothing in the end. Still, in the light of what he knew, it was
rather strange that a man who kept himself very much to himself should
take a house on the very edge of that siding and that he should shut it
up and leave it just at the time when the fruit train was shunted into
its solitary siding. A big, strong man, in the prime of life, and one
who evidently possessed the muscular development in the highest possible
degree.

"Ah, well, I suppose I must let the matter stand over, for the present,
at any rate," Norcliff sad. "I suppose you have no idea where Mr. Farr
has gone?"

"Well, I couldn't say for certain, sir, but on Saturday evening the old
housekeeper I was speaking of came in to see my wife, and told her not
to send any more eggs and butter up to the house until she came back
again. You see, sir, I have a bit of a dairy, and I supply a fair amount
of produce in the neighborhood."

"Then the housekeeper is not on the premises?"

"Oh no, sir; she has gone off to stay with some relations in Gloucester.
And she did drop a word to the effect that Mr. Farr was going to
Birmingham for a few days."

Norcliff went up to bed presently, feeling that he had not altogether
wasted his time. Before he had finished, he was going to know a great
deal more about the house--the garden of which ran down to the railway
siding and was only separated from it by an old quickset hedge.
Moreover, the tenant of the house had shut it up and gone away fairly
early on Whit-Saturday, somewhere about the time, probably, when the
fruit train was being dispatched from Brendham. Moreover, he was a man
who appeared to be interested in farming, and, as a resident of some
months standing, would have every opportunity of discovering all there
was to be learnt in connection with the goods traffic in and around
Abbotsbury. There was no reason whatever why he should not know that the
fruit vans should be shunted off the main line only twenty miles away
from the starting-place. He might have studied all that sort of thing
out minutely through his experience of what he could see for himself
during the short rush which made up the Easter holidays. It was more
than probable that exactly the same thing had happened during the first
holiday festival of the year, and that he had laid his plans
accordingly. Of course, it was no more than mere conjecture at the
moment, but the line of reasoning was sound enough to induce Norcliff to
probe a great deal deeper into the comings and goings of the man who was
known in the neighborhood as Captain Farr.

"All of which is distinctly fishy," he said to Trumble, when they met at
the breakfast-table next morning. "We are going to look over that house
and garden, and I shall be greatly surprised if we don't find something
there to reward our pains. Whilst you are smoking your pipe I think I
will slip down as far at Abbotsbury station and ask if that early
vegetable train for the West was held up here at Easter precisely as it
was on Whit-Saturday."

Norcliff was absent for the best part of an hour, and, when he came
back, a mere glance at his face showed Trumble that the man from
Scotland Yard had hot been wasting his time.

"It's all working out beautifully," he explained. "It appears that the
same thing happens practically before every bank holiday. I am not
talking about Christmas, but the other days, when the traffic is more
than normal. Anyway, I have elicited the fact that the corresponding
train, dispatched to the West on Easter Saturday, was held up in the
same siding for a similar period. If Farr is the man we are after, then
I take it he was aware of all that I have been telling you; and I am
going to suppose, for the sake of my theory, that he took the house by
the siding for the purpose of carrying out that dastardly crime."

"I am inclined to agree with you," Trumble said. "Now then, what's the
next move?"

"A visit to the house by this railway," Norcliff said curtly.




CHAPTER VII.


Norcliff did not propose to waste much time in elaborating any
particular scheme for seeing over the house by the siding in such a way
as to prevent the neighbors talking.

"That won't matter in the least," he said. "All we have to do is to take
care that nobody sees us entering the house, which will be my business.
My suggestion is that we potter about the grounds for the moment, and if
anybody sees us and asks questions, then I think we had better say that
we are friends from a distance who have dropped in to call upon--by the
way, what is the old gentleman's name? I quite forget to find that out."

"Well, I have," Tremble said. "As a matter of fact, he is the Reverend
Walter Temperley."

"So that is that. We are in the neighborhood with the intention of doing
a few days' fishing, and we happened to find out, to our great surprise,
that our old Friend Temperley has a house in the neighborhood. This will
enable us to go all over the garden and, after dark, enter the house.
That, of course, will entail a little quiet burglary. Do you get the
idea?"

"Oh, the idea is well enough, as far as it goes," Trumble said. "But it
has certain drawbacks. Suppose this man Farr told the police he was
going away and that they were to keep an eye upon the house? Just the
sort of job that some zealous young constable would like, and if he
happened to butt in----"

"Yes, I quite see your point. Perhaps, it would be as well if I went
down to the police station here and revealed my identity to the head
constable. Then he can drop a hint to his subordinates to be a little
blind as to what is going on at the house by the side of the rails for
the next night or so. I will just run down and see the chief, and then
we will cross the line and see what we can find outside the house."

Half an hour later the two turned into the garden gate and walked boldly
up a flagged path which was planted with roses on either side, and
thence came to the porch. The garden appeared to be wonderfully well
kept, and evidently the Reverend Walter Temperley was not disposed to
allow his flower garden to fall into disorderly untidiness, though he
was away from home for something like eight months in the year. Trumble
pointed this out to his companion as they neared the porch.

"So I noticed," Norcliff said. "But then, you see, as the old gentleman
is here all the summer, he would quite naturally make it a point that
his temporary tenant had the garden properly cultivated, and, upon my
word, it is a very nice garden. A beautifully trim lawn, with
well-arranged flower-beds and a big glass porch that forms a sort of
conservatory-entrance to the house."

It was exactly as Norcliff said. Outside the heavy front door a large
glass porch had been erected, shut in by an outer glazed door, so that
the enclosure formed something that represented an outdoor conservatory.
Peeping in, the intruders could see a double row of hot-water pipes
running the whole length of the place, which contained a perfect wealth
of hothouse flowers. Moreover, the arched roof was covered with a
magnificent rose tree, which just then was in the full flower of its
beauty. The outer door was not locked, so that the intruders could walk
in and inspect the little conservatory for themselves. Trumble looked up
at the hanging blossoms, then turned to his companion.

"You notice anything particular here?" he asked.

"I can't say that I do," Norcliff admitted.

"Well, cast your mind back a day or two. Don't you remember noticing
anything particular when you examined the dead body of the man in
Westport? Something he was wearing?"

"By Jove, you are right!" Norcliff cried. "A faded rose in his
button-hole. A hothouse flower."

"Yes, and a Gloire de Dijon bloom at that," Trumble said. "And so is
this. Now, it is too early in the year for these roses to bloom out of
doors, so, obviously, the flower in the dead man's buttonhole must have
come out of a greenhouse. I don't say that this is the particular
greenhouse, but it is certainly a most interesting coincidence. Let us
assume for a moment that the particular blossom came off this tree."

"Upon my word, I shouldn't be surprised if you are right," Norcliff
said. "Everything points in that direction. I feel practically certain
that we are on the spot where the crime was committed, and what you have
just discovered helps to prove my conclusion. Would you mind trying the
front door?"

"No entrance that way," Trumble said, as he tamed the handle. "We shall
have to go round to the back, where the kitchen garden is, and try our
lack on that side."

They had hardly closed the glazed door behind them and stepped into the
open when the sound of footsteps fell upon their ears. Almost at the
same instant a man came round the corner from the back of the house.
walking slowly and feeling his way with a stick as if his eyesight was
defective, or as if he were totally blind. He was a very pleasant
looking individual, young and well turned out, with a disarming smile
upon his lips.

"Is there somebody here?" he asked. "Unfortunately, I cannot see who it
is, but I thought I heard voices, and I am perfectly certain that I
heard somebody's footsteps."

Norcliff looked swiftly at his companion, and made a sign to him to be
silent. It was rather an unexpected interlude, and, just for the moment,
Norcliff was disturbed by it.

"Yes, we're two strangers," he said; "friends of the Rev. Walter
Temperley. We happened to be staying in the neighborhood, and we thought
we would look him up. But apparently the house appears to be closed. Is
our friend away?"

Before there was time for a reply, a sudden exclamation burst from
Trumble, and he stepped forward eagerly.

"Good gracious," he cried. "Why, it's George Marchmont. What on earth
are you doing here, George?"

"I don't quite place you," the young man said. "And yet the voice is
familiar enough. Let me think for a moment. I've got it. You're my old
friend, Trevor Trumble."

"You've guessed it all right," Trumble said. "Norcliff, this is a very
old pal of mine. We were out in France together when I was serving with
one of the big hospitals there, and Marchmont was in the artillery. You
know I was out in France looking after the men who were suffering from
temporary and other sorts of blindness, and Marchmont here came under my
care. You know, blindness is caused by all sorts of things, even by
shell shock, and that was Marchmont's trouble. But, my dear fellow, the
last time I saw you, you were well on the way to recovery."

"So I was," The man called Marchmont smiled. "In fact, at the time of
the Armistice I could see as well as you can. You told me to be
particularly careful, and not run any sort of risk, and you warned me
that even so much as a fly in my eye might affect me for years to come.
I was so much better when I left the Army that I began to look about for
something to do, and I forgot all about your warning. And now, you see,
I am suffering for it."

"I must go into this presently," Trumble said. For the moment, at any
rate, he had forgotten all about the Westport mystery. "I must see into
your trouble, George, because I know the history of it from the first
and it is just possible that I may be able to put you right again. Mind
you, I am not saying definitely that I can do anything of the sort, but
I might. If you are living here, and I can see you more or less
professionally----"

"Oh, I am living here," Marchmont said. "About a mile down the road. I
have a house there----"

"And your sister?" Trumble asked a little hastily.

"Sylvia, you mean. Oh, Sylvia is all right. She is keeping house for me.
I didn't want her to bother, because I have learnt to look after myself,
but she would insist upon giving up her hospital work, which she
continued for a year or two after the war, and devote herself to her
unfortunate brother. She is here."

The speaker raised his voice, and, in response, a girl came round the
corner, a girl whose eyes lightened up and whose face showed every sign
of pleasure and, perhaps something more when they lighted upon Trumble's
shabby exterior.

"Why, it's Trevor Trumble," she cried. "Fancy meeting you again like
this, after all these years. And just as untidy and careless of your
personal appearance as ever."

"Just the same," Trumble agreed. "I suppose that is because I want some
one to look after me. By the way, let me introduce my friend to you,
in--er--Mr. Norcliff."

Trumble pulled himself up just in time. These people were very old
friends of his, and, indeed, he had hoped at one time that Sylvia
Marchmont might be something more, but that was no reason why he should
forget his professional caution, the more especially that the last thing
Norcliff would want just now would be to have himself identified by
these strangers as Scotland Yard. Norcliff was quick to appreciate
Trumble's motives.

"Yes," he said hastily. "You see, I happen to know the reverend
gentleman who owns this house, and that is why I am here with my friend
Trumble to call upon him. By chance we are in the neighborhood, and I
didn't wish to lose the opportunity."

"A most delightful old man," Sylvia Marchmont said. "We have been on
terms of great intimacy with him during the two years we have been
living in the neighborhood, and our only regret is that he should be
absent abroad so much. However, he will be back in two or three weeks,
and if you are staying that length of time----"

"I shouldn't be surprised if we were," Norcliff said dryly. "But isn't
the house let furnished?"

"That is so," the girl explained. "Let, for the present, to a Mr. Farr,
who is quite a friend of ours, too; in fact, we were more or less
responsible for bringing him and Mr. Temperley together. But Mr. Farr
does not care much for the garden, and that is why my brother and myself
undertook to see that it was kept in order."




CHAPTER VIII.


"And very well you seem to have done it," Norcliff said, "if you will
allow me to say so. I haven't much time for that sort of thing, but the
garden strikes me as charming. Those wonderful roses in the porch, for
instance. And I suppose that the rest of the property is just in as
perfect order."

"Well, we do our best," Sylvia laughed. "And my brother helps as far as
he can. But, of course, we have to have a man in three days a week, and
he works here under my supervision."

"Mr. Farr ought to be greatly obliged to you," Norcliff said. "It must
save him a good deal of trouble. I wonder if he would allow me to go
into the house and write a few lines."

"Oh, you can go into the house," the girl said. "But Mr. Farr is away.
He locked up the place last Saturday, and sent his old housekeeper home
for a day or two. I don't suppose he will be back for another few days,
but he will write to us beforehand."

"Quite a good chap, Farr," George Marchmont said, more or less
incontinently. "I met him after I came back from a voyage that I took to
the South Pacific, and he has been kindness itself ever since. I ran up
against him quite by accident, and we have been seeing one another very
often lately. In fact, it was my suggestion that he should come down
here and take a furnished house whilst he looked about him for a poultry
farm, not so much because he needed anything of the sort, but so that he
could be within reach of Sylvia and myself. He has practically decided
upon a place, and I believe that he is now in Birmingham seeing the
owner."

Trumble listened to all this more or less impatiently. For some absurd
reason, which he only realised faintly himself, he was feeling just a
trifle jealous of this amiable Mr. Farr. There had been a time when he
had hoped to establish something like permanent relations with Sylvia,
but they had contrived in some mysterious way, to drift apart. Perhaps
it was because the girl was wrapped up in the hospital work which she
had commenced in those hectic days in France, and perhaps it was because
he, Trumble, had been so careless with the conventions. Moreover, Sylvia
intensely disliked his slack and untidy habits, which he persisted in,
apart from his professional enthusiasm, and, more than once, she had
been driven to expostulate with him. It was the motherly instinct that
every woman has for the man for whom she cares, and perhaps she had gone
a little too far. She realised if Trumble did not, that a man occupying
as distinguished a position ought, at any rate, to try and dress up to
it. And Trumble was the last man in the world to realise that, properly
dressed, he was a man of quite outstanding and distinguished appearance.
At any rate, there it was, and Trumble had almost got over the sore that
he had felt at the time, but it was all back again now when he found
himself face to face with this amazing and attractively pretty girl who
smiled so sweetly at him, as if there never had been any cause of
ill-feeling between them. Neither did she look a day older; indeed,
Trumble asked himself indignantly why she should. She could not be a day
over twenty-four, and there was nothing whatever about her to suggest
that she had seen so much of the loathsome side of human nature. And
this Farr, what sort of a man was he? Did he entertain any hopes that
sooner or later, he and Sylvia......

Then Trumble put the matter out of his head entirely. There were far
more important things to think of than that, though, for the moment, the
man Farr was more interesting as an individual under suspicion than as a
potential lover of the pretty girl who stood there smiling into
Trumble's face.

It was Norcliff who brought him back to himself again.

"It seems to me," the latter said, "that we are wasting our time here. I
don't think we need worry about leaving a note for Mr. Temperley, and,
at any rate, I can write him at our hotel. We are staying at the 'White
Hart,' Miss Marchmont."

"Oh, really," the girl cried. "That is on our way home. Our house is not
more than a mile farther down the road. I was wondering, if you
gentlemen had nothing better to do, if you would care to come along to
our cottage and have tea with us."

"Personally, I should be delighted," Norcliff said, before Trumble could
put in a word. "But if you don't mind, I should like to walk down the
garden and have a look round. Please don't trouble to accompany me, Miss
Marchmont. You can stay here and sit on this rustic seat and talk over
old times with my friend the doctor here, whilst I am pottering about in
the back."

Without waiting for any response, Norcliff turned away from the rest and
went round to the rear of the house past a tennis lawn and then down a
short flight of steps into the kitchen garden. There was a flagged path,
straight down the middle of this, which ended in a thick quickset hedge
which was already beginning to show signs of bud. In a short time it
would be in full bloom, but, for the present, the buds hung in green
clusters half hidden under the leaves which had been cut back after the
manner of a yew hedge, so as to resemble a well kept emerald wall. And
there, presently, Norcliff noticed, right at the bottom of the path, two
or three withered sprays which had, comparatively recently, been broken
off the living fence. The hedge itself was not more than four feet in
height and a foot in thickness, so that, by leaning against it, Norcliff
could see on to the ground on the far side. And there, again, he noticed
a handful of the immature blooms and some odd leaves that had faded
since they had been torn off.

"Very strange," he muttered to himself. "And very significant. However,
that can remain for the present. It's a clue, anyway, or if it isn't
that it's an indication. I don't think I can do anything further now
until I can get into the house."

With that he turned and strolled back to the house where the others
awaited him and, a little later, they were walking down the road in the
direction of Marchmont's cottage, Trumble a little ahead with his old
friend and Norcliff behind with Sylvia. It was easy enough for him to
gather all the information he wanted from the girl, who chatted in the
most unaffected manner.

"Yes, of course, it is a terrible misfortune from which my brother
suffers," she said, in response to a remark from her companion. "And
yet, at one time, he thought he was quite cured. Dr. Trumble's treatment
was absolutely wonderful. He was so pleased about it, too, because the
three of us were such great friends. And I am sure my brother will be
able to see as well as you or I if he had only been content to stay in
England instead of wandering abroad."

"Very fond of travelling, I suppose," Norcliff murmured.

"No, I don't think that was quite it," the girl replied. "You see,
George had been knocking about the world for some few years before the
war broke out. Australia and New Zealand and all over the Pacific. But I
think he would have come back and settled down if my father had not lost
nearly all his money through the war. Then there was not much left, only
sufficient to keep us in fair comfort. And that if we stuck together.
But then, you see, that is rather difficult, because people want to get
married and all those foolish things. Of course, I don't really mean
that, Mr. Norcliff, but you will see where the difficulty came in. So,
before his eyes were really right, my brother set out travelling again,
and found himself, eventually, in the South Pacific. I stayed at home,
and went on with my hospital work until the great trouble happened.
George was thousands of miles away when his sight suddenly failed him,
so he had to be sent home, and I was compelled to turn my back upon my
own profession and look after him. That is why, after a time, we came
down here and bought the cottage in which we live. So long as we live
together there is just a little more than enough for our wants, and, on
the whole, we are far from being unhappy. It is a dreadful misfortune
for George, all the same. He doesn't like anybody to allude to it, but
there are times when he speaks freely, and I expect he will tell you all
about it, now that he has come so happily in contact with his old friend
Dr. Trumble again."

Norcliff nodded understandingly. In fact, he understood a great deal
more than Sylvia imagined. So they chatted on in the friendliest
possible way until they came, at length, to a small old-fashioned
thatched cottage at the end of the lane with a rock garden in front of
it, and a perfect deluge of spring flowers behind.

"Here we are," Sylvia said. "This is our little cottage. If you will sit
outside in the sunshine, I will go in and get the tea. We only have one
sitting-room, and that is why I shall ask you to stay outside until I am
ready to receive you in state."

Norcliff sat there, forgetting, for a moment, his professional duties
and the call that had brought him so far from Scotland Yard. It was
quite enough for him, for the moment, that he should lie back in his
seat and smoke one cigarette after another. It was a warm and drowsy
afternoon for the time of year, so that Norcliff was perfectly content
to lounge there and listen.

"You will have to come up to town," Trumble was saying. "I must have
another look at those eyes of yours. My dear fellow, I can't understand
it at all. When I saw you last you were practically as well as I am. All
you had to do was to take care of yourself and not run any risks. I
mean, risks of catching severe colds or any sort of diseases such as
scarlet fever, for instance. If you had anything like this, then, of
course----"

"But I didn't," Marchmont smiled. "I haven't had a day's illness since I
left France."

"Do you really mean that?" Trumble asked. "It seems impossible to me. I
had diagnosed your case so completely that I had nothing else to learn
about it. There must have been some reason, some powerful reason why
your sight failed. An accident?"

Marchmont shook his head smilingly.

"It was no accident," he said. "The thing was done designedly."

"What, do you mean you were purposely blinded?"

"Something like that," Marchmont said. "I don't mean to say that the man
actually meant to deprive me of my sight--at least, not permanently. It
was red pepper that did it."




CHAPTER IX.


Marchmont made his dramatic statement quietly enough, and even with the
semblance of a smile on his face. But all the same, his listeners
deduced the fact that there was drama behind it. Not that it mattered
much so far as Norcliff and his companion were concerned, because they
were more or less wasting time. But still an hour or so could not make
all that difference, and it was not an easy matter to turn their backs
upon a blind man, especially when Norcliff was wise to the knowledge
that his comrade took more than a passing interest in Marchmont's
sister.

"How do you mean?" Trumble asked. "Do you imply that the incident was
deliberate?"

"I am afraid so. But, If you have an hour or so to spare, perhaps we had
better get back to the origin of things. You see, when I was fighting in
France, I made the acquaintance of a man whose name I need not mention,
because he is dead, and, curiously enough, if he were still alive I
don't suppose I should be here to-day, and I am quite sure that I should
be in possession of my eyesight. It is very strange how one thing leads
to another, and, what appears at one moment to be a trivial incident,
resolves itself, later on, into a tragedy. At any rate, that was my
case.

"My friend--let us call him Brown--was a queer sort of chap. A real good
sort, and one of the kindest-hearted men I have ever met, though he did
hide his generosity under a mask of cynical indifference. He always
struck me as a man who has had a great disappointment in life and yet
one who was never likely to talk about it, even to his most intimate
friends. He was in my own regiment, and, gradually, we drifted together.
I liked him and he liked me, without any effusive sentiment on either
side. If he had any relations he never mentioned them, and when,
eventually, he was killed, I didn't know in the least where to write the
usual letter of condolence. I took a lot of trouble in the way of
inquiries, but even the War Office could tell me nothing. I knew the
poor chap was a gentleman, and, of course, being one myself, I
recognised at once the free-masonry of the public schools. You can't
mistake that sort of thing."

"That is true enough," Trumble admitted.

"Well, I never even knew which school. And the War Office could tell me
nothing. The man called Brown had joined up at the beginning of the war,
when they were glad enough to have athletes of his type, and it wasn't
very long before he found himself in the commissioned ranks. He was some
years older than myself, and he had travelled all over the world. There
seemed to be no place where he had not been, and, from what he told me,
he knew the Pacific like an open book. Of course, all that sort of thing
is interesting to a man like myself, who always had an itch for
travelling, but it didn't lead me much further until Brown was fatally
wounded. We went over the top one night to cut some German wire, but,
unfortunately, the foe had hit upon exactly the same idea as regards
ours. They were a bit stronger than we were and we had to retire,
leaving a handful of dead and carrying our wounded as best we could.
Amongst the casualties was Brown--in fact, I hauled him into safety
myself--but I could see, at once, that the poor chap was done for.

"We get him into the hospital and there they made him as comfortable as
possible, but it was quite evident that he was finished. He realised
that, and, early the next morning, an hour or so before he died, he sent
for me. And of course I went.

"He was in no pain and perfectly conscious. And then, when we had both
looked the facts in the face, he began to tell me a secret. He didn't
mention his family or who he was, or where he came from, and I didn't
ask. Evidently he had no desire to talk about that side of his past, so
I humored him. And now I am coming to the point.

"What he wanted to talk about was this. He had spent some years in the
Pacific, hunting for pearls, more especially amongst those islands where
the fisheries were absolutely played out. Islands where nobody went
because it was felt that to do so would be a mere waste of time. But
Brown was not of that opinion. He knew a need deal about this subject,
and his theory was that near a good many of those islands, especially
those that had been left alone for twenty years or so, the pearls would
be back again. And, as events turned out, he was right. He found an
island and there were the pearls, right enough. Any amount of them. His
scheme was to gather them himself and, when he had procured enough to
make him rich, come home and settle down. With this intention, he landed
on the island in question with enough provisions to last him six months
and set to work quite alone, and doing his own diving.

"But even in the South Pacific you cannot do that sort of thing without
attracting attention. Things get talked about. The mere fact that an
eccentric Englishman had been landed by a certain boat on a desert
island began to spread. Then a small, adventurous trader hove in sight
one day and Brown knew that his secret was about to be discovered.
During the two or three hours that the boat was working into the shore,
Brown dumped the whole mass of pearl shell back into the lagoon and hid
the treasure he had recovered where it would be safe. Then he told the
captain of the schooner the truth, and, because he told the truth, the
people on board refused to believe him. They only laughed at him for a
fool, and he, falling in with their mood, agreed, telling them, at the
same time, that his provisions were nearly exhausted and that, if they
had not turned up providentially, he would have been face to face with
starvation. It was a case of one bluff against another, with Brown sort
of top dog at the finish. You see, he had made up his mind to stay on
the schooner until they had been to an island of some size and then
disembark and lie quietly until he could get some natives to take him
back to the island again.

"Now, I dare say all that would have been quite O.K. if something else
had not happened. Directly the schooner reached a certain island that
boasted a small white population and a telegraph office, Brown heard
something that put the pearl fishing entirely out of his mind. This was,
you understand, late in 1914. He heard that England was at war with
Germany, and that every man would be needed. Brown did not give the
pearls a second thought after that. He got back to England as quickly as
he could, and joined up. And, in the course of time, he was killed, as I
have been telling you.

"But not before he had told me quietly in the hospital all about his
adventures in the Southern Seas. You see, he wanted to do me a good
turn. So he gave me a plan of that island, with the latitude and
longitude, so that there would be no difficulty in finding it, and he
asked me to keep the matter a secret. There was nobody else in the world
that he cared about, and he knew that I had not much money of my own.

"'My dear old chap,' he said to me. 'You will want money later on. You
have given up some of the best years of your life to this big fight, but
in a way, it is nothing in comparison with the big fight that is coming
to men like you when the war is over. George, old man, that hope about
England being fit for heroes to live in is all very well, but when the
war ends, as it will, in a few months, you will find it devilish hard to
get a living. In a way you have wasted the years when you ought to be
carving a career for yourself. And in the British Army to-day there are
thousands like you. But I shouldn't worry about that if I were you.
You've got a few hundreds left, I suppose?'

"I told him that I had, because I really have a small income and, during
the whole of the war, I had saved the better part of my pay.

"'That's all right,' he said. 'You take my advice and go south and find
that island. Take half a dozen natives with you and clear out those beds
of all their pearls, before anybody tumbles to what is going on, and
then clear out. With any luck you ought to pick up a fortune. It is
there all right.'

"Well, half an hour later he was dead, and I had the plan safely in my
pocket. As a matter of fact, I have it now. It has never left me since
the day it came into my hands, though I know now that somebody was
following me and watching me all the time."

"Then you really went?" Trumble asked.

"Went? Of course I did. It was just the sort of expedition that appealed
to me. I couldn't settle down to regular work, anyhow. Mind you, I
didn't forget what you said about my eyes, but I didn't see how a voyage
round the world could hurt them. At any rate, I went, and, in the course
of time, I found that island. I did not remain on it alone, because I
could not have stood the solitude. But I took very good care to do all
my own sorting. And this took place generally at night when my natives
were asleep. Of course they knew that pearls were once found in the
island and they laughed in their sleeves to see this fool of an
Englishman wasting his time. Not that they minded, because they were
being well paid and well fed, and the longer the expedition lasted, the
better they would be pleased. But they didn't know that what Brown told
me was absolutely correct."

"Then you really found the pearls?" Norcliff asked.

"I most certainly did," Marchmont replied. "A great many of them small,
and of little value, but more than enough to pay the expense of the
trip. But amongst them, after six months' work, I had discovered exactly
12 superfine stones, which were worth a fortune. The rest I hid on the
island.

"By this time, I was getting tired of the loneliness, so I decided to
break off for a bit. With the 12 pearls carefully hidden I went across
to the main island about which I was telling you, and there took passage
on a sort of liner for New York. It was on that liner that the trouble
began, because, before I reached New York, the 'accident' of which I
speak had happened to me and I had lost those 12 wonderful pearls."




CHAPTER X.


"You mean they were stolen?" Norcliff asked.

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt," Marchmont went on. "Mind you, I had not
the slightest idea that I was being watched or followed and I don't
think I was. I mean that the thief, whoever he was, knew nothing about
the island itself, or whence I came, because I had left my handful of
natives behind me, intending to return to my private island again, after
I had been to New York. I think it must have been at the hotel on Tagela
that I was spotted, for an adventurer who was following up the lines of
the man called Brown and suspected me of having pearls in my possession.
At any rate, be that as it may, the man who robbed me was not far wrong
in his deductions. You see, there are all sorts of unscrupulous and
clever adventurers haunting those seas, so that our passengers were a
very mixed lot. We had people who were travelling round the world for
pleasure, American business men and a sprinkling of the fair sex, to say
nothing of several men who carried their characters on their faces.
Chaps to be distinctly avoided. But I felt so safe in my secret that
these fellows never troubled me at all. Besides, I had a cabin to
myself, so that I could not see anything to worry about. And that was
where I was mistaken.

"The pearls were hidden under the lining of one of my cabin trunks. And,
one night, when I went down to bed, which was pretty late because I had
been playing poker in the smoking room, I found somebody overhauling
that very trunk. I could not recognise him, because his back was turned
towards me. He heard me coming, and made no sign until I was close
behind him. Then he kicked my legs from under me by a backward movement,
so that I fell. Before I could recover my feet, some hot stinging stuff
was thrown into my eyes, but not before I recognised my assailant."

"Oh, then you would know him again," Norcliff suggested.

"Certainly, I should," Marchmont went on. "I had just time to visualise
his features when the stuff was dashed into my eyes and I was left blind
as I am till this moment."

"But you raised an alarm," Norcliff said. "You had the ship searched and
all that sort of thing?"

"Of course I did, my dear fellow," Marchmont said. "But what was the use
of that when I couldn't identify him? I hadn't the slightest idea how he
was dressed, because I didn't notice it. And, moreover, it was quite
impossible to say whether he was a gentleman or not. There was a
tremendous fuss and bother and a great deal of questioning, but the
pearls were gone, and I was blind, so that when I reached New York, all
I could do was to wait patiently until my sister came over to bring me
back to England, and, here I have been ever since. Not that I worried
very much, because a blind man's requirements are not many, and my
sister and myself have quite enough as long as we remain together. If I
ever do recover my sight again I am going back to the South Pacific to
pick up another fortune. I know it is waiting for me there, because
those Kanakas I employed must have left the island ages ago and, no
doubt, it is deserted now, exactly as I found it. And that in the end of
the story. What do you think of it, Trumble?"

"Most deeply interesting," Trumble said. "And all the more so, because I
shall be very much surprised if I find on a close examination, that your
sight really is destroyed. I suppose you have been to a good many
experts in the meantime?"

"Not one," Marchmont said. "Why should I? You told me if I didn't take
care of my sight that any accident might destroy it. So what was the use
of wasting money?"

"But why didn't you come to me, George?"

"Because, my dear fellow, I had lost sight of you altogether. I wrote to
your old quarters in London after the war and the letter came back to me
through the post office. For all I knew to the contrary, you might have
gone abroad."

"Yes, I quite understand," Trumble said. "You see, after the war I
turned into rather a fresh line. And I was in Paris for two years after
the Armistice. I was so busy that I had forgotten all about you, though
I ought to be ashamed to say it."

"But you surely don't mean to tell me that my injury is not absolutely
permanent?" Marchmont asked.

"Well, I wouldn't go as far as to say that on the spur of the moment,"
Trumble replied. "But that sort of accident was not exactly what I
meant. I referred more to diseases or illnesses, like rheumatic fever,
for instance. Oh, I know that your optic nerves were weak, and that they
required feeding, not to use a more technical phrase. Of course, a dash
of cayenne pepper in eyes like yours might have caused absolute
blindness, but, even after all this lapse of time I think the trouble
might yield to treatment. I wish I had time, at present, to go into the
matter. But, see you, my friend Norcliff and myself are down here on
very important business which is not to be talked about. It may take us
a month or it may take us six, but, in the meantime, I am absolutely at
my friend's disposal. Still, you won't get any worse. I think I may tell
you that without exciting your hopes."

And, with that, Trumble refused to say any more. They sat there, in the
little cottage sitting-room over their tea, talking in a desultory
fashion, with an occasional question from Norcliff that had a certain
bearing on the situation. What he wanted, if possible, was to make the
best of this quite unexpected clue to the doings of Farr, who,
apparently, was on the best terms with the inhabitants of the cottage.

"I should have thought you would have found it rather dull down here,"
Norcliff said, with more guile than appeared on the surface. "Unless,
perhaps, you have some congenial neighbors."

"Not many," Sylvia smiled. "There are one or two, of course, but
Tewkesbury is rather an old-fashioned place, and most people here don't
take quite the same broad view as we do. That is why I was glad when Mr.
Farr came down here."

"A very old friend?" Norcliff asked.

"Not from a point of years," Sylvia explained. "But I think I told you
that he was on the boat with George when he met with his accident and
was robbed of his pearls. He was very kind and sympathetic, and George
would have been quite at a loss without him. Then we lost sight of him
for a time, and, when I happened to meet him in London, quite by
accident, and he happened to ask me if I had a brother George, then I
was only too glad to have an opportunity of thanking him for all he had
done. It was I who persuaded him to come down to this neighborhood,
because he had told me that he was looking for a chicken farm, with a
view to occupying his spare hours, and I told him that I thought I could
find him the very place he wanted. So he came and took Mr. Temperley's
house. It was rather lucky that the place was empty at the time because
we could see one another frequently and, as I undertook to look after
Mr. Temperley's garden, there was no unpleasantness as there might have
been had the house been let to a stranger."

"Very nice indeed," Norcliff murmured. "I suppose Mr. Farr is a man of
many friends, one of those widely travelled men who frequently has
intimates to come and stay with him."

"Well, no," Sylvia said thoughtfully "He has been all over the world,
but he does not seem to have many friends. In fact, since he has been
down here, he has had no one to stay with him. And yet he is a most
genial companion."

"I suppose he knows the whole of the story that your brother has just
been telling us," Norcliff asked carelessly.

"He knows the story well enough," Marchmont smiled. "But, more than
that, nothing."

"He hasn't seen the plan of the island, for instance?"

"No, he hasn't," Marchmont said, quite emphatically. "I have that stowed
away so carefully in the cottage that even my sister doesn't know where
it is. I suppose a blind man gets a little suspicious, probably on
account of his helplessness. But, much as I like Farr I haven't the
slightest intention of taking him into my confidence to that extent. You
see, it might be placing temptation in his way. I hope you two will not
think I am speaking ungraciously, but I don't think I would even tell
Trumble that."

"And quite right, too," Trumble said heartily. In a flash of inspiration
he saw exactly what Norcliff was driving at. "Quite right, too. Doesn't
do you any harm to try and visualise the time when your sight comes back
and you can set out again upon a tour of adventure. Still, I must
confess that what you say has aroused my curiosity and I should rather
like to have a look at that plan myself."

"And so should I," Norcliff chimed in. "I know the feeling exactly. I
suppose we have all got it. After all, men are only children of larger
growth, and a good adventure yarn with treasure behind it excites us
just as much as it did when we were kids. Robinson Crusoe and Treasure
Island and all that sort of thing. I shouldn't wonder if Farr felt the
same."

"Oh, he does," Marchmont laughed. "He is always dropping hints about
that plan. Of course he has never actually asked to see it, because he
appreciates my particular outlook on the subject and would not force my
confidence for worlds. But he thinks I am a fool, all the same. He says
he has plenty of powerful friends who would form a syndicate on a fairly
large scale and go out to the South Seas and work that fishery. He says
that at the end of three years I should be a comparatively rich man."

"Which you don't want to be, if I read your character aright," Norcliff
said. "At least, not in that commercial way. You don't want your dream
of a restored sight and a year or two's adventure to make up for your
enforced leisure ruined in that fashion."

"Emphatically not," Marchmont said, almost curtly.




CHAPTER XI.


It was an amazingly interesting story that Trumble had stumbled on in a
totally unexpected fashion, and in the last place in the world where he
expected to hear it. It seemed very strange to him that he should find
this old friend of his, to say nothing of his sister Sylvia, almost in
sight of the very spot where he and Norcliff hoped to attain such vital
results. And the still stranger part of it was that Norcliff appeared to
be almost as interested as he was himself. And Norcliff was not the man
to waste his time.

It was because of this, perhaps, that Trumble waited for the next move
on the part of his partner. He expected now that Norcliff with so much
on his mind would want to get up without further delay and start about
the business in hand. He knew perfectly well that the inspector would
not take anybody else into his confidence, at least for the time being,
and, moreover, time was going on. It would not do to spend much more
time in that picturesque old cottage whilst the house by the side of the
railway cutting awaited inspection. It was evident, too, that the man
called Farr was somewhat erratic in his habits, and that he might return
to his country abode almost at any moment. And, if he did that whilst
they were wasting their time chatting in the cottage, then things were
going to be made a great deal more difficult for the representative of
Scotland Yard.

It was still fairly early, not much after 6 o'clock, and the two hours
of daylight before them. And yet, strangely enough, Norcliff showed no
signs of moving. On the contrary, he had started a conversation with
George Marchmont, which had, apparently, nothing whatever to do with the
case. Then he jerked his thumb over his shoulder and favored Trumble
with a significant glance. Evidently he wanted to be alone with the
blind man.

Trumble turned to Sylvia.

"I should rather like to have a look round this old garden of yours," he
said. "Do come and show me the way."

Sylvia rose to her feet at once and, together, the two of them passed
out into the garden. Trumble admired the arranging of the flowers there
for a few moments, and then began to talk on general topics, more
especially with regard to old times.

"It is very extraordinary, meeting you like this," he said.

"Very," Sylvia said dryly. "I admit it is only mere curiosity on my
part, but I should like to know what you two were doing in Mr.
Temperley's garden."

"Oh, well," Trumble said carelessly. "It really had nothing to do with
me. It is more Norcliff's business. He seems to know something about the
reverend gentleman, and I am bound to confess that I was not
particularly interested. But let's talk about something else. Your
brother and the matter of his sight. It seems a strange thing to me that
he should sit quietly down and make no effort to see a specialist. Of
course I am not going to say definitely that there is nothing vitally
wrong, but I can't altogether believe that even a handful of cayenne
pepper thrown direct into a man's face is likely to blind him
permanently."

"And yet he gets no better," Sylvia said mournfully.

"My dear girl, has he made any effort to do so? Has he done anything
whatever for himself? According to his own story, he has never been near
a specialist. It would be wrong on my part to tell you that he is going
to recover his sight, but it would be equally wrong on my part to tell
you that he hasn't got a chance. And that is why I am going to take the
case up. I have some very pressing business with Norcliff for perhaps a
month, but, when that is off my hands, I shall devote a good deal of
time to old George. You will have to shut up this cottage and come to
London. You may have to stay there till late in the autumn, because this
is going to be a slow business and I shall want to see George
practically every day. You see, there is no organic trouble, there has
been no kind of illness likely to so weaken the optic nerve as to render
it useless for the future. I can't go into technical details with you,
but I shall know what to do when the time comes. And, if I am very lucky
indeed, there is just a bare possibility that a fortnight will see such
a radical change in George's condition----"

"What, do you mean that he will be able to see?"

"Yes, even that. But you are not to say a word to him about it. Now,
promise me that."

Sylvia gave the necessary promise eagerly enough.

"You are just the same as you always were," she smiled. "Amazingly
optimistic where your own friends are concerned, and exceedingly
diffident and shy when you come in contact with the world. It is strange
to me that a man with a reputation like yours should be content to hide
in the background whilst scientists with a quarter of your knowledge are
regarded as famous and made a fuss of wherever they go. And, instead of
making huge sums of money, as you ought to do, you go quietly about the
world doing good to humanity as if you were ashamed of it. I wonder
why?"

"Oh, I sometimes wonder why myself," Trumble replied. "But it doesn't
matter. People benefit, and why should I arrogate myself the right to
swagger about it?"

"You will never swagger about anything?" Sylvia laughed. "But, apart
from all that, why do you go about as if you were a scarecrow? Look at
that suit of clothes you are wearing at the present moment. You might
have slept in them for years, and, as to that tie, it is not so much a
tie as a rag. And I am perfectly certain that you haven't put on a clean
collar for a week."

Trumble gazed at her with some alarm.

"Oh, come," he said. "It isn't as bad as all that. My dear girl, I
assure you I am quite clean. Bath every morning, and all that sort of
thing. Never neglect those things."

"But you don't have your hair cut," Sylvia went on mercilessly. "It is
absolutely ragged. Such nice curly hair it would be if you would only
take care of it. Do you know, Trevor, that the average woman would call
you a very good-looking man, and they would be right if you only threw
those glasses away."

"Mean to say I am a good-looking man," Trumble said, blushing faintly.
"Good Lord, have I come to that?"

"A stupid remark," Sylvia replied. "Just as if a man was any the worse
for being good-looking. And I am quite sure that those glasses of yours
are nothing more than a silly affectation. When I called your attention
just now to those tiny Alpine flowers in my rockery, you took them off
in order to examine the blooms more carefully. Oh, I noticed it! And why
not discard them altogether? Why hide those very nice eyes of yours?"

"What's all this leading up to?" Trumble asked. "You talk more like a
man than a woman. Just as if I were some sort of pretty girl and you
were making love to me. Now, what would you say if I complimented you on
that lovely mass of hair of yours and your eyes that really are
beautiful?"

"I should be very much pleased and flattered," Sylvia said.

She spoke a little hurriedly and nervously, and there was a wild dash of
color in her cheeks. But it was obvious, even to Trumble, that she meant
every word that she said.

"It would be no more than the truth," Trumble said sturdily.

"Well, I am glad you think so, because I value your good opinion a great
deal more than you are aware of. I saw a lot of you in the war,
remember, and you can't hide from me all the wonderful work you did
there. You were absolutely splendid, and, because I took such an
interest in you, I am bound to tell you that I was very much hurt and
disappointed when you went away, after the Armistice, and hid yourself
from us. Perhaps I ought not to tell you all this, because you may think
it bold of me. And now, having got rid of that, let's talk about
something else."

"Oh, no, you don't," Trumble said with a boldness that astonished
himself. "We will keep on the same lines, if you don't mind. Mean to say
you took an interest in me personally?"

"Of course I did, and so did every other nurse in the hospital. We knew,
and that is why I was bold enough just now to speak so freely on the
subject of your wardrobe."

"Never more flattered in my life," Trumble said, almost bashfully.
"Would it be any pleasure to you if I----"

"Consulted a good West End tailor," Sylvia laughed. "Yes, it would. A
silly vanity on my part, perhaps, but then, you see, I have a lot of
friends in town, and if we are to see much of one another there, I won't
want to be ashamed when you go about with me--oh, you know what I mean.
Women think so much of those things and, after all, it is only proper
vanity. Of course, if you are so utterly indifferent to public
opinion----"

"I don't care a twopenny damn about public opinion," Trumble stammered.
"But I do care a great deal about yours, Sylvia. I always did, but I
never dreamt that you would ever take the slightest interest in me,
though there were times when I was foolish enough to dream--well, all
sorts of things."

"And why not?" Sylvia said boldly. "Why shouldn't you have dreams about
any woman? You see, out there, in France, we had other things to think
about. I don't think we met half a dozen times, except in the hospital,
where, of course, we always had to be on our very best behavior. And
quite properly, too."

"I think I am beginning to understand," Trumble said slowly. "And, the
more I think of it, the more sure I am that you are right. Directly I
get back to town----"

Trumble broke off suddenly, and swore softly to himself as he saw
Norcliff coming down the path. For the time being he had absolutely and
entirely forgotten the reasons that had brought him to Tewkesbury.

"All right, Norcliff," he said. "All right, I'm coming. Sorry to have
kept you waiting."




CHAPTER XII.


Norcliff was smiling quietly to himself as he shook hands with Sylvia
and turned into the road with Trumble.

"I am not blaming you," he said jokingly. "She is an exceedingly pretty
girl, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, a highly intelligent one. You
might do a great deal worse."

"My dear fellow, what are you talking about?" Trumble asked. "I have
known Miss Marchmont for years. She was one of the best and most
competent nurses out there in France."

"All the more reason why you should not have forgotten her. You won't
mind my bit of mild chaff, will you? But we shall have to put little
pleasures of this sort on one side and get on with our work. Step out;
we have wasted too much time already."

"I am afraid we have," Trumble admitted. "But it seems to me, my
mathematically-minded friend, that you are just as interested in that
remarkable story as I am. I watched you when Marchmont was speaking and
you followed him closely."

"Yes, I must confess that I did. Those sort of stories always interest a
man of my profession, because you never know what they may lead to and
where they may come in later on. Many a time in my professional career I
have stumbled across that sort of odd crime and perhaps, a year later,
found it to dovetail into a different criminal case altogether. I don't
say that this is going to, but you never can tell."

"Then you don't regard it as information?"

"In connection with the train murder you mean? No, I don't. But it gave
me a touch of inspiration, and I shall be surprised if it isn't useful
later on."

"And, meanwhile, where are you going now?" Trumble asked.

"My dear fellow, we are going back to Mr. Temperley's garden and, if
necessary, into Mr. Temperley's house. I am not going to say, even now,
that this chap Farr has anything to do with the crime, but I have found
out quite enough to make me suspicious. To begin with, his habits seem
to me to be rather irregular. He comes and goes, locking his house up
for a few days at a time, and then coming back again. Again, don't you
think it is rather a strange thing that as soon as Farr met Miss
Marchmont in London he consented to come down and take a furnished house
in these parts? Rather a queer thing for a man to do, apparently on the
spur of the moment, unless, of course, he happened to be in love with
her."

"Oh, nonsense," Trumble said, a little hotly. "Why on earth should he be
in love with her?"

"Well," Norcliff remarked, "I should think a single glance at the young
lady would tell you that. What about yourself."

"Oh, hang myself!"

"All right, all right. No corns trodden on, I hope. To be quite serious,
don't you think that the suggestion really came from the man's side? I
mean, a sort of auto-suggestion, leaving Miss Marchmont under the
impression that the idea was her own and not his. You see, Farr has been
a good friend of Marchmont's, and his line of action was just the kind
to appeal to a woman's sense of gratitude. Therefore, Miss Marchmont
would be very glad to have him down here as a companion for her brother,
and probably went out of her way to find a house for him. And there is
yet another point of view, but I will not go into that for the moment.
What we have to do just now is to assume that we are on the very spot
where the body was conveyed to the goods train and search about for
evidence. That is why I want to get back in the daylight, so that we can
go over the garden. And if we cannot find anything there, then we will
do a little quiet burglary and get into the house through the good old
scullery window. Nothing like the scullery window for burglary, because
it is always the weakest spot in the house, and, generally, the farthest
from observation."

They turned into the garden presently, after assuring themselves that
there was nobody about, and walked round the rear of the house. Beyond
the tennis lawn were some steps leading to a rockery of sorts, and
beyond this the neatly trimmed quickset hedge that divided the garden
from the railway siding itself. Close to the hedge was a small patch of
dry ground, so close, indeed, that in consequence of its want of
moisture, nothing had been planted.

"Now, look at that hedge," Norcliff said. "You can see that it has been
trimmed in the last week or two and all the rubbish removed. Yet I want
you to notice, that, comparatively recently, three or four clusters of
hawthorn buds have been broken away, and there they lie on that dry soil
for anyone to see. When I looked over to the other side just now, while
you I were talking to the Marchmont, I could see other broken ends."

"Yes, I see all that," Trumble said. "But I don't precisely grasp the
significance of it."

"Oh, don't you?" Norcliff said. "Well, you will presently. Why has the
hedge been damaged? Who wants to get over from the side on to the
siding, or vice versa? I am telling you that, only about five yards down
the line, was the spot where the fruit waggon was held up on the first
occasion after it left Evesham."

"Yes, I've got that all right," Trumble said.

"Very well, then. The body had to be conveyed to the truck on the siding
and hidden under the tarpaulin by the criminal, who knew very well that
it would not be discovered until it reached Westport. That was the way
in which he covered his tracks and left such a large margin as a hundred
and fifty miles of search. That is, of course, if I am right and that
this is the exact spot wherein the body entered the train. Just for the
moment, I am assuming that it is. Also, I am assuming that the murder
took place in the house behind us and that, under the cover of the
darkness, it was conveyed to the truck on the siding. Quite obviously,
there was only one way of handling the corpse, and that was by means of
the garden path and over the hedge. That is why the hedge was damaged."

"Sounds very clear and logical," Trumble said. "But how was the body got
over the hedge? If there was a confederate----"

"Oh, I don't think there was a confederate. There would not be any need
of one. Farr is a big and powerful man and, as you know, the victim was
slight and slim. It would have been no difficult matter to carry the
victim down----"

"Yes, but what about this?" Trumble interrupted. "If a big, strong man
climbed that fence, dragging a body with him, he would have caused a
great deal more damage to that hedge than appears on the face of it. The
hedge is hardly disturbed."

"I was just coming to that," Norcliff said. "You are perfectly right in
what you say, and, if the murderer had acted in that fashion, then there
would be something like a gap in the hedge. But there isn't. And so you
must search for some other theory as to how the body was carried to the
other side. Suppose the body lay on the rockery for a moment. Suppose
the murderer went back to the house and fetched a step-ladder? Not that
he needed anything of the sort, as I shall prove to you presently. Mind
you, he was not blind to the fact that the damaged hedge might
ultimately prove to be his undoing, so that he was careful accordingly.
You see, the hedge is perfectly flat on the top, so that the body might
have lain there for the few necessary moments without doing any damage
at all. A few hours, and the flattened branches would have straightened
themselves out again. Now, what do you see there?"

Norcliff pointed down to the small patch of dry ground close against the
hedge. Looking carefully at his feet, Trumble could see four holes
drilled in the ground at regular intervals so as to form a rough sort of
square, some two feet across. The holes had crumbled a little on the
sides, as if the stakes that had made them had been withdrawn. But the
four holes were there plainly enough, and, apparently, Norcliff attached
a great deal of importance to them. Trumble glanced up inquiringly.

"Well?" he said. "What is the significance of that?"

"Well, I thought it would have been plain enough," Norcliff smiled.
"After the body was brought down to the house, it was laid on the top of
the hedge. And then the murdered went back and brought with him what I
believe to be a kitchen chair. He did not want to force his way through
the hedge for reasons I have already pointed out to you. So he placed
the kitchen chair against the green wall and vaulted over to the other
side. Then he took the body from the top of the hedge and hid it in the
waggon. Being a tall man, he could then lean against the hedge, and lift
the chair over by the back on to the railway side and use it to vault
back again. Then, all he had to do was to once more bend over and
recover the chair, which he apparently did without doing any damage at
all."

"Yes, it seems plausible enough," Trumble said. "But do you mean to say
he was fool enough to leave those four holes there?"

"I should say that he was," Norcliff went on. "Those are just the stupid
little things that criminals do forget. Even if he thought of it, he
would conclude that the soil would, being so very dry, dribble back into
the holes again and show no trace. Mind you, I am still only theorizing,
and, when we get into the house, I may find that I am altogether wrong.
And, if I am wrong, then we are simply wasting our time pretty
considerably. But I don't think I shall be wrong. Still, on that point I
cannot speak definitely until we have been in the house. Now, you just
walk as far as the front gate and see that everything is quiet. And, if
it is, come back and let me know and we will commit our burglary act."

Trumble came back in the course of a few minutes with the information
that the coast was clear and informed his friend to that effect. Five
minutes later, the scullery window was pushed back with a thin-bladed
knife, and the two were in the house.




CHAPTER XIII.


The two adventurers found themselves presently in the living rooms of
the house. It was a small residence of the better villa type, with a
drawing-room on the one side of the hall and a dining-room on the other.
At the back was evidently what was the reverend owner's study, with a
French window leading on to the lawn and, flanking it, the domestic
offices. It was in this latter apartment Norcliff spent some little
time. There were drawers in the writing desk and, again, in an old
bureau which he opened in a dexterous fashion with the aid of what
appeared to be a bent hairpin, to Trumble's great amusement. But, search
as he might, nothing came to light in the least likely to help in the
search.

"Absolutely blank," Norcliff confessed. "It is quite evident to me that
the temporary tenant of this house has not been tampering with the
owner's private papers."

"What about finger-prints?" Trumble suggested.

"Oh, there will be plenty of them. Both those of the old gentleman and
the man called Farr. But they prove nothing, because Farr is legally the
tenant of the house, and I have not the slightest doubt that he paid his
rent before he came into the place. And, mind you, in spite of
everything, I am not yet convinced that this Farr had anything to do
with the crime. It might have been somebody else, and probably so it
will turn out to be. The crime might have been committed in the dead of
the night when Farr and the elderly housekeeper were both asleep."

"You mean that other people used this quiet residence as a sort of
meeting house?" Trumble asked. "A couple of burglars, perhaps, who
quarrelled over their prey after they had secured it."

"Well, why not? Such things have happened before. We don't know what
treasures the old gentleman might have here."

"In that case, why not ask him?"

"Perhaps I shall have to," Norcliff said. "But I don't want to take your
friends in my confidence just yet, neither do I want to alarm the old
gentleman unless it is absolutely necessary. One thing at a time, my
dear fellow. I am assuming that Farr, and Farr alone, is the guilty man
and that he was playing a lone hand. To begin with, why did he lose
track of the man he helped? By whom I mean George Marchmont. You see, it
was more than a year after those two parted in London before Farr came
on the scene again. And then he met Miss Marchmont quite by accident,
or, at least, so she thought. But I am not quite so sure that it was an
accident. My idea is that he looked her up and pretended to meet her as
if the whole thing was a pleasant surprise. And then, for his purpose,
it was the luckiest coincidence in the world to discover that Marchmont
and his sister were living down here."

"Yes, I see what you mean," Trumble said. "But before the murderer could
work out his scheme to a definite finish he must have found out a great
deal about the railway system."

"Of course he did. He hit upon the ingenious idea of getting his victim
as far as possible from the scene of the crime so as to cover his
tracks. But that was only the beginning. Directly he had made up his
mind what to do, he set about making inquiries. Probably he spent weeks
travelling up and down the line looking for a likely spot to which to
lure his victim. When I say a likely spot, I mean a quiet siding on to
which certain trains were occasionally shunted. Not a very difficult
matter we will admit, though one calling for a good deal of time and
patience. And then, probably, he learnt all about the traffic confusion,
which was likely to be caused by the holiday trains. I mean, at Easter
and Whitsuntide. As soon as he tumbled to that particular source of
obstruction, he began to see his way. He must have known, for instance,
that the fruit train for the West would be shunted within a few yards of
where we are standing and left there for a night. If he could only gain
a footing, then he was all right, and, by a fortunate chance, he was
able to get that footing exactly where he wanted it. Not only that, but
he was able to be in almost daily contact with a blind man who is under
great obligations to him, and moreover the blind man is possessed of a
secret document which might mean millions to Farr if he could only get
hold of it. And, from what I can gather from Marchmont, he has made
every effort to do so."

"Yes, that is right enough," Trumble agreed. "I heard George Marchmont
say so himself. But what is all this leading up to?"

"Oh, merely clearing the ground. And now, having more or less
established my point, we will go a little farther. It is no use wasting
our time in this part of the house, so we will see what we can find in
the kitchen and scullery."

With that Norcliff led the way through a baize door into the kitchen.
The place had been rendered neat and clean before the old housekeeper
had departed on her brief holiday, a fact which Norcliff did not fail to
point out to his companion.

"Everything clean and bright and exactly in its proper place," he said.

"My idea is that Farr left first leaving his housekeeper to lock up
after he had gone. But he didn't go very far. He stayed hanging about in
the neighborhood, taking care not to be seen, and, when he felt sure
that the old lady was definitely off the premises, he crept back, and
let himself in the front door with his latchkey. He came back, because
he was expecting somebody and probably somebody who would not come to
the house before dark, so that he would not be observed by anybody as he
came along the road. Now, let us see what we can find. Ah, here we are."

Norcliff pointed to a windsor chair standing by the side of a
well-scrubbed kitchen table.

"What do you make of that?" he asked.

"I don't make anything of it," Trumble admitted candidly.

"Not after what we saw in the garden? Those four holes close to the
green hedge. My dear fellow, those four holes were made by the leg of
that particular chair. If you examine them carefully, you will see that
the lower part of the legs is covered with a thin cake of dry dirt. You
may be perfectly sure that a really competent housekeeper would have
noticed that and cleaned the legs before she departed on her holiday.
Look at the extraordinary cleanliness and tidiness of the whole kitchen.
In common parlance, you might eat your meals off the floor. And yet she
allows one of her kitchen chairs to show dirt on all four legs. Oh, no,
she would have done nothing of the kind. My theory leads me to believe
that that chair was used and taken off the premises and brought back
again some time after the old lady had left. The mere appearance of that
chair tells me, as plainly as words can be spoken, that Farr sneaked
back into the house again, after it was supposed to be closed, and
waited for his victim as a spider waits for a fly."

"Yes, it all sounds very logical," Trumble said. "I can quite see that
the chair was used in getting the body over the hedge where it had to be
hidden in the railway waggon. I presume that there would be finger-marks
on the back of the chair."

"Of course there would," Norcliff said. "But they would be blurred and
practically useless for my purpose, because they would he inextricably
mixed up with the marks of the house-keeper. If we are going to place
any reliance on finger-prints, which, mind you, I am not altogether
ignoring, I shall want something more definite than those which we are
likely to get on the chair."

"I follow," Trumble said. "Let us hark back a bit. Do you remember,
during the inquest, as far as it went, that the police doctor suggested
that the dead man had been suffocated? His theory was that deceased had
been heavily drugged, and that when he was absolutely insensible he was
killed by having a linen pad, or something of that sort, pressed over
his mouth and nose."

"Oh yes, of course I remember it," Norcliff said. "But I fail to see
where the point comes in."

"Well, you can't very well drug a man against his will. You couldn't
hold him down and stick a hypodermic syringe into any part of his body.
And even if that had been done, we should have found the mark. No, the
police doctor's theory and mine precisely tallied. The drug was
administered almost certainly in spirits of some sort. What about that
bottle over there?"

Trumble pointed to an empty whisky bottle standing on the kitchen table
and two dull glasses which had contained liquor of some sort not so very
long ago, because the sediment in both of them was not yet dry and
little globules of moisture had trickled down the side of the two
tumblers.

"There you are," Trumble said. "The man Farr was expecting turned up all
right, and the two of them probably sat in the dining-room or the study
to talk matters over with a drink apiece. You can almost see Farr
producing that bottle and asking his companion to say when! I am quite
sure that one of those glasses, at any rate, was drugged. But I shall be
able to speak more definitely when I come to analyse the contents. But
what beats me is why a man should be fool enough to leave potential
evidence like that about for any policeman to see."

"My dear chap, that is your criminal all over," Norcliff smiled. "The
cleverest of them make mistakes, or it would he a poor look-out for us
at Scotland Yard. Perhaps Farr was in a hurry. Perhaps he didn't think
it was worth while to trouble. And he thought he was safe, so he just
brought the glasses and bottle in here and left the former for the
housekeeper to wash up when she came back."

Trumble advanced to lift one of the glasses.

"Here, for heaven's sake don't do that," Norcliff said. "Don't you touch
them. Try and realise that they are absolutely smothered in
finger-marks, finger-prints of the dead man and Farr. We will have them
photographed later on and, also, photographs of the prints of that poor
chap in Westport. No, you leave them to me. I know exactly how to handle
them, and when we have got them properly packed, we will take them to
London and get the proper department at the Yard to see into the
business in a workmanlike manner."




CHAPTER XIV.


"Then you don't think we are likely to find anything more here at
present?" Trumble asked.

"I am pretty certain we shan't. The best thing we can do is to get off
the premises in case Farr turns up, and cut along to the White Hart and
get some dinner. After that we can take a late train to London and carry
on the business at that end. But, first of all, to pack those glasses."

The speaker looked around him as if in search of something before his
eye fell upon an empty biscuit box, the half-size sort of biscuit box
that measures some 12 inches by six. Very carefully indeed he lifted the
two glasses daintily between his fingers by their extreme tops and
placed them, some little distance apart, in the box.

"Now then," he said. "You hunt about until you find me a newspaper.
There is sure to be one in the house somewhere."

Trumble came back a minute or two later with a week-old copy of the
'Times.' This Norcliff proceeded to fold into a pad, just big enough to
fit the top of the biscuit box, and, with it, press the glasses so
firmly down in their places that they could not possibly move. Then he
jammed the lid on the top of the box and tied it firmly with a piece of
cord which he found in the kitchen drawer.

"There," he said. "For the moment that suffices. Now I suppose you know
what I want you to do next?"

"I think so," Trumble smiled. "You are going to take those glasses to
London and get the finger-marks printed. And you probably will want me
to go back as far as Westport and take the finger-print of the dead man
and bring them to you to Scotland Yard with as little delay as
possible."

"Yes, that is about right," Norcliff said. "That is exactly what I want
you to do. Now then, come along, we don't want to be caught here if we
can possibly help it. Besides, there are all sorts of things going on at
the other end. We can't even guess at the identity of the dead man, so
far. First of all, I must see that laundry woman and ascertain where the
collar the dead man was wearing was washed. And, even then, we shall
have to trace it to the place whence it was sent, and there is always
the danger that some fool of a journalist, anxious to score over his
colleagues, will blunder on the track of the laundry mark and give the
whole show away. You see, I am most particularly anxious that this man
Farr should not guess that we have even the shred of a clue in our
hands. In a week's time it won't matter so much, but just now it is most
important. Come along."

They dined together presently, and travelled as far as Gloucester, where
they parted, somewhere about midnight, Norcliff on his way to town and
Trumble retracing his steps in the direction of the West. It was quite
early in the morning when Norcliff found himself in London, and, after a
brief visit to his office and a hurried breakfast, made his way, early
as it was, to the office of the 'Daily Bulletin.' The editor, of course,
was not there at that hour, but the 'Bulletin' that published a
companion journal under the title of the 'Evening Bulletin' had a part
of the night staff still on duty so that Norcliff found no great
difficulty in finding somebody in authority ready to receive him.

"Certainly, Inspector," the man in the big, untidy office said after a
cursory glance at Norcliff's card. "Anything we can do to help you, of
course. You have been exceedingly good to our local representative at
Westport, and, therefore, I hope----"

"Oh yes, I saw Mr. Jagger," Norcliff smiled. "And I don't mind telling
you that he was of great assistance to us. He is a very smart young man,
and evidently wasting his talent in the country. Between ourselves, I
promised him that he should have the first public information with
regard to further developments, and I don't think the 'Bulletin' would
hurt by helping me in this little matter."

"Awfully good of you," the man in the chair said. "And now, what
precisely, can we do at the moment?"

"Well, in the first place, you can give me the address of that laundry
where a particular collar was washed. I mean, the one worn by the man
found dead at Westport. It was very good of you to keep the fact that
the laundry had been traced out of your paper, though I can quite
understand the temptation to reveal it."

"It was a temptation," the other admitted. "Still, I have no doubt that
we shall benefit in the long run."

"I am quite sure you will," Norcliff said emphatically.

"Well, then, here is the name of the laundry you want. I have had it
locked up in my desk ever since it came into the possession of the
office, and no one has seen it beside myself. And I am quite sure that
the man who brought the information has not spoken, because I told him
that it would be very much to his interest if he kept his tongue well
between his teeth. There you are, Inspector, and jolly good luck to you.
Good day."

The journalist turned abruptly and plunged into his work, and, once
outside in Fleet-street, Norcliff hailed taxi and was driven off in the
direction of Willesren Green.

Once arrived there, he found himself immediately facing a long row of
buildings, with the name of a laundry in white letters all across the
top, and a wide stretch of drying ground behind.

A few questions, and the sight of his card produced the manageress,
ready to do anything she could to oblige the great man who stood there
smilingly before her. For some little time she could not put her finger
upon what she wanted.

"Ah, here it is," she said. "You see, we have to keep a sort of register
of all those marks and it is one of the banes of my life. We have so
much casual work from the big hotels and, unless we are very careful,
are liable to make mistakes in returning the stuff. You see, some of the
gentlemen are shockingly careless in the matter of getting their linen
marked, and it takes me half my time to sort things out. That is why we
have to mark everything with figures and signs, so that if they come
back to us again we shall know from what hotel they came. Look here,
Inspector, there is the mark in my ledger, the same as the one on that
particular collar."

"So I see," Norcliff said, after a close inspection. "But what I want to
know is where that collar came from."

"Ah, that I can easily tell you. It came with a small parcel of linen
from the Palatine Hotel in Northumberland-avenue. And there my
information ends. I have no doubt, if you inquire at the Palatine, that
they will be able to give you the name."

It was all working out very satisfactorily, Norcliff thought, as he
drove back westward, and finally dismissed his taxi. At the door of the
Palatine he carried on his inquiries. It only needed the sight of his
card to stir the clerks in the office to almost frantic interest.
Naturally enough, they had not for a moment connected the collar with
the Westport murder, nor did Norcliff go out of his way to enlighten
them. But the mere fact of an inspector of Scotland Yard asking all
these pertinent questions seemed to exercise a magic influence on their
wits.

Then, at last, the right man appeared.

"I think I can help you, sir," he said. "Yes, I recognise that mark. It
is my business to recognise marks and sort out the laundry, so that it
can go back to the owners of such goods who are staying in the hotel.
The collar belongs to a Mr. Fishwick. It came back from the laundry
about a week or more ago with a parcel for the same gentleman and it was
placed in his bedroom."

"Where is Mr. Fishwick now?" Norcliff asked.

"Ah, that I cannot tell you," the clerk said. "Mr. Fishwick stays here
very frequently, but at rather irregular intervals. Sometimes he is in
London for a month, but sometimes only a day or two. He will go away,
saying he will not be back for a week, but he may be seen in the hotel
the next morning. He has a room reserved for him and pays for it,
whether he occupies it or not."

"Oh, that is all you know about him?"

"More or less, sir. A rather reserved gentleman who keeps himself very
much to himself and very seldom talks about his own business. I dare say
that if I was in the same line myself I should be just as cautious as he
is."

"Oh, what is his particular line?"

"Well, sir, he is the English representative of a great firm of American
jewellers. One of the greatest houses in the world. They sell diamonds
and pearls, both unset and in elaborate fittings."

Norcliff whistled to himself softly, under his breath. Here was a bit of
startling information, of no great value, apparently, on the face of it,
but opening up vast possibilities. The mere fact that the dead man,
whose identity as Fishwick was established beyond the shadow of a doubt,
was dealing very largely in precious stones, pointed to a big thing in
the way of robbery and murder. For the moment, Norcliff put this thought
aside.

"You say Mr. Fishwick is not here now?" he asked.

"No, sir. He hasn't been here for some days. He came back after a
journey last Thursday and told me when he handed his bag over for
custody in the office safe that he was staying till over the weekend.
However, the following morning he came and collected a parcel from the
cashier and went to Birmingham."

"Stop a minute," Norcliff said. "Before we go any further, are you sure
he was on his way to Birmingham?"

"Perfectly, sir," the clerk replied. "I happened to be doing nothing at
the time and, as the hall porter was otherwise engaged, I called a taxi
myself and I heard Mr. Fishwick tell the man to drive him to Euston. And
that is not quite all, either. Mr. Fishwick told one of my colleagues in
the office that if any letters came for him, they were to be forwarded
to the Grand Central Hotel, which is one of our group of hotels in
Birmingham."

Norcliff walked out of the office in thoughtful mood. He was getting on
the right track now, as the movements of the man Fishwick tended to
prove. And, undoubtedly, he had gone to Birmingham on business bent,
taking a valuable parcel with him from the office safe. And, moreover,
Birmingham was not very far from Brendham.

"Yes, it matches all right," he told himself.




CHAPTER XV.


Trumble was detained at Westport a little longer than be expected. It
was no difficult matter to take the finger-prints of the dead man lying
in the mortuary awaiting burial, but that was not all there was to it.
It was quite easy to keep in contact with Norcliff over the telephone,
and, so far as Trumble could judge, his services would not be needed for
the next day or two. Then again, it was necessary for the clerk in the
office of the Palatine Hotel to travel down west and identify deceased
as actually being the man Fishwick he had spoken of. It was imperative
that this should be done, seeing that the body would have to be buried.

It was left to Trumble to see these matters through, and, when he had
done so he telephoned to Norcliff.

"So that is all right," the latter said over the wire. "I don't think we
need trouble any further about identification, though there are one or
two more people with whom I am in touch who will confirm what the clerk
of the Palatine said. Still, I have sufficient for my purpose and we
need not bother any further."

"What shall I do now?" Trumble asked.

"Oh, well, that is in your own hands. You had better get back to London,
I should think. I want you somewhere where I can get you at the first
possible moment. Meanwhile, my address for the next forty-eight hours
will be the Grand Central Hotel at Birmingham."

"What are you doing in Birmingham?" Tremble asked.

"Ah, that I do not propose to tell you over the 'phone," Norcliff said
dryly. "All the same, I may want you, and if I send you a message or a
wire, be prepared to join me. I take it that you will go back to London
to-day to your own quarters."

"I don't think I shall," Trumble explained. "In fact, I was thinking of
going as far as Abbotsbury and putting up at the same hotel where we
stayed."

"What on earth is that for?"

"Oh, only a little idea of my own. There is one little matter that seems
to have escaped your attention altogether. Our friends the Marchmonts
haven't the slightest idea what we were doing in Abbotsbury. Neither do
I intend to tell them. But isn't it just possible that this man Farr
should have heard the name of Norcliff before? Being a potential
criminal----"

"Now, do you know, I never though of that," Norcliff's voice came over
the wire. "Stupid of me. Still, if you remember, we were taken by
surprise in the garden, and I suppose it never occurred to you to give
me another name."

"I must confess that that is so," Trumble said. "If I had given the
matter a moment's thought, I should have called you Smith, or Brown or
something like that. Of course it was no use pretending that I was
anyone but myself, seeing that the Marchmont are old friends of mine and
the best thing I could think of on the spur of the moment was to suggest
that we were acquaintances of the old clergyman. Don't you think I had
better get back to Abbotsbury and give the Marchmonts a warning? I don't
mean anything that is likely to suggest to them that there is anything
wrong with Farr, but merely to give a general idea that there are
reasons why our visit to Abbotsbury should not be mentioned to anybody.
Of course, if Farr is back again, then, to a certain extent, the
mischief may be done. But if I can get there first and tell them----"

"Quite a good idea," Norcliff approved. "Yes, you go down there and stay
at the White Hart. Anything more?"

There being nothing more, Trumble rang off, and as quickly as possible
made his way back to Abbotsbury. There he heard, to his great relief,
that Farr had not yet put in an appearance, but that he was expected
home in the course of the evening. In fact, he had written his
housekeeper to that effect, and the latter had already returned. There
was nothing for it now but to make the suggestion to Marchmont boldly
and openly.

"One thing I am going to ask you to do," Trumble said as he sipped his
tea in the little sitting-room of the cottage. "I don't want your friend
Farr to know that I am in any way connected with the Reverend Mr.
Temperley. There are certain reasons why my visit to the old gentleman's
house, accompanied by my friend Norcliff, should not be spoken of for a
day or two. Nothing wrong, of course, but please, don't mention it."

"Certainly not," Marchmont said.

"It sounds very mysterious," Sylvia laughed. "But like my brother, I can
keep a secret if I want to."

"Then that is all right," Trumble said carelessly. "Then we need not say
any more about it. I have got rid of my friend Norcliff for the time
being and, having nothing to do for day or two, I thought I would run
down here and have a serious talk with you two. Now, look here, George,
I hate the idea of taking you away from this charming cottage of yours,
and can quite understand how a man afflicted as you are would hate the
idea of being chained up in London for a week or two? But I think it
will be quite plain that I cannot give you the attention you need day by
day unless you are somewhere near me. I am not going to try any
experiments upon you, but I propose to put you through a course of
treatment, which means that I must see you at least twice daily. This
being so, I shall have to find rooms for you in London. You will have to
shut up the cottage and place yourself in my hands for a month, at the
outside. It may be a great deal less, but that I cannot say until I have
made a proper examination. Now then, when will you be in a position to
leave here and come to town?"

Marchmont hesitated for a moment and seemed to turn his eyes in the
direction of the chair where his sister was seated.

"What do you say, Sylvia?" he asked.

"Oh, my dear George," the girl said. "There is only one thing to say.
Give me two days to pack up and find a caretaker and I shall be ready.
It would be madness to throw away a chance like this. You must see that
for yourself."

"Oh, I do," Marchmont said, "I do."

"Of course he does," Trumble said cheerfully. "Mind you, I am not
guaranteeing success, and that is why I don't want you to say anything
to anybody about it. Not even your friend Farr. If I am successful, it
will be a pleasant surprise for him later on. You can say that you are
going to town for a course of treatment as a kind of last resource, and
that I have not held out any hope to you that you will ever recover. You
see what I mean?"

"Yes, there is a good deal in what you say," Sylvia remarked. "But why
this prejudice against Mr. Farr?"

"My dear Sylvia, there is no prejudice about it," Trumble said. "I have
never seen Mr. Farr in my life, and I am quite prepared to believe he is
all you say about him. It may be a fad on my part, but these are not the
things to broadcast. You see, I have my reputation to think of. If I am
successful, you can tell everybody you like; but if I fail, the more
reticence the better. Call it conceit if you like. Now, let us regard
that as settled. I go back to town the day after to-morrow and you both
travel up with me. You haven't got to worry about quarters, because I
know a nice little private hotel where you can stay and I can come in
and visit you at any hour I need. And now, please give me another cup of
tea, Sylvia, and we won't say any more about it."

Sylvia merely smiled, but Trumble could see that she was not easy in her
mind with regard to the business. The next afternoon when he came up to
the cottage she spoke to him again on the subject of what seemed to her
to be unnecessary secrecy.

"Of course, I am more than grateful to you, Trevor," she said. "But why
this mystery?"

"My dear girl, there is no mystery about it."

"Oh, yes, there is. I mean, as regards Mr. Farr. You have no idea what a
friend he has been to us."

"I don't doubt it for a moment," Trumble said, a little dryly. "But that
is not altogether the point. I think George was perfectly right in
refusing to trust his secret with regard to those pearl fisheries to
anybody. When he can see again and stands on the same level as his
fellow-men, then it may be another matter. But even your favorite Mr.
Farr is best kept in the dark. I take it that you think a great deal of
him?"

"Why, naturally," Sylvia exclaimed. "In the circumstances, who wouldn't?
And when you meet I shall be very much surprised if you don't like him
as well as we do."

Trumble fought down a certain unreasoning jealousy that troubled him
sorely just at the moment. He wanted to see this man whom he strongly
suspected of being a criminal; he wanted to stand face to face with the
individual who, he felt sure, was trying to lay hands on that plan that
George Marchmont was hiding so jealously. And if Sylvia really cared for
him, that is, cared for him beyond the limits of ordinary friendship,
then she was destined to meet with something more than a disappointment
later on.

"You will see him in due course," Sylvia smiled. "I shouldn't wonder if
he came up this evening."

"In that case I think I will wait," Trumble said quietly.

"Yes, I wish you would," Sylvia said. "I don't know why, but I feel sure
you are prejudiced against Mr. Farr, which is not in the least like you,
Trevor. Why, here he is."

A tall, well-set-up man came with easy strides down the path to the end
of the garden, where the other two were standing. It seemed to Trumble
that there was nothing about him to suggest the criminal, for his rather
handsome face was open enough and his blue eyes looked the whole world
in the face.

"Oh, here you are," Sylvia cried. "George will be very pleased to see
you again. And now, let me introduce Mr. Trumble, who is a very old
friend of mine. Mr. Farr."




CHAPTER XVI.


Meanwhile, Norcliff was not allowing the grass to grow under his feet.
He had no need, for the moment, for the services of his colleague and
was quite alone when he turned out of New-street station, Birmingham,
and made his way in a taxi to the Grand Central Hotel. Once arrived
there, he asked to see the manager, and was escorted into that
individual's private office. The mere production of his card was
sufficient to engage the attention of everybody.

"I will not detain you any longer than I can help," Norcliff said. "But
I think you can give me a little information with regard to what the
papers call the railway mystery."

The manager looked puzzled for a moment.

"Are you alluding to that affair at Westport?" he asked. "I mean the
body found in the railway truck?"

"Precisely," Norcliff said. "You may not be aware of it, but I think you
can help me."

"Certainly, if I possibly can," the puzzled manager said. "But seeing
that I haven't the slightest idea who the man is, and, moreover, being
under the impression that I never saw him in my life, I fail to see how
I can possibly assist."

"On the face of it, perhaps, no. But I think that the name of Fishwick
will be not altogether strange to you."

"Fishwick, Fishwick? Let me see. Oh, I know the man you mean. Quite an
old customer of ours."

"Staying here last week I believe?"

"Certainly. He went away on Saturday rather suddenly, having changed his
mind, or so I suppose. At any rate, he went. But what became of him
afterwards, I don't know. But you don't mean to say, Inspector, that Mr.
Fishwick----"

"Indeed I do," Norcliff said gravely. "Fishwick is the man who was found
in a railway van at Barnstaple. I have that beyond the shadow of a
doubt. I dare say you saw the reproduction of that laundry mark in the
'Daily Bulletin,' and by means of that mark, the manager of a certain
laundry in London was in a position to put us in contact with your
London hotel, the Palatine. That ought to be sufficient identification
in itself. But, meanwhile, a clerk at the Palatine who knew Fishwick
well has identified the body, so that we are no longer in doubt. Now,
Mr. Fishwick, before he left London, deposited two cases of valuables,
or rather three cases in the hotel safe. We know that he was on his way
to Birmingham, because I have the number of the taxi that took him to
the station. But though Fishwick left two packages of valuables in
London, he took a third with him. Did he leave them with you, by any
chance?"

"Certainly he did not," the manager said. "Almost directly he arrived
here, he got on the telephone to one of the leading jewellers in
Birmingham. I know that, because I heard him call up Mr. Fastnet himself
and make an appointment for Saturday morning."

"Oh, indeed? I take it that this Mr Fastnet is one of your big men here.
Where is his business?"

"Oh, he has two or three in Birmingham, but his headquarters is in
Municipal-street. I understand the he does an enormous business in
precious stones, probably the largest in England, outside London. You
see, we have many rich manufacturers here who made money during the war
and whose wives like to show their husband's wealth in the way that
these women do. I understand it is no novelty for Mr. Fastnet to sell a
diamond ornament or a rope of pearls up to the value of fifty thousand
pounds. But perhaps you would like to call up Mr. Fastnet on the
telephone yourself."

"Thank you," Norcliff said. "But just a moment first, please. Am I to
understand that Mr. Fishwick came back to the hotel after seeing the
jewel merchant and that he immediately packed up his bag and departed
for some unknown locality?"

"So far as I know, yes," the manager said. "He went off in quite a
hurry. He was on foot and took nothing with him, so far as I can
understand, so that naturally we concluded that he was coming back
again. You see, we always keep a bedroom for him whether he uses it or
not, he is here so frequently. And a good many of the leading tradesmen
visit him here. When they do, it is invariably at lunch time, and they
are entertained in a private room. Mr. Fishwick was always very
cautious, I know that he hated the idea of carrying valuables about on
his person, because, more than once, he told me so. If he had anything
extra special with him, he usually deposited it in the safe and only
took it out when one of the big men came to lunch. You see, that sort of
thing makes for safety. But last week he may have carried something of
great value on his way to Mr. Fastnet's shop."

Ten minutes later, Norcliff was seated in the private room at the back
of the great jewellery store in Municipal-street talking confidentially
to the senior partner himself.

"Yes, it is a very rotten business altogether," Fastnet said. "I must
confess that I never associated, for a moment, Mr. Fishwick with the man
whose body was found in the railway van. But, after what you have just
told me, there can be no shadow of doubt about it."

"Absolutely none," Norcliff said. "And now, Mr. Fastnet, let me go a
little further. On Whit-Saturday morning Mr. Fishwick came here, by
appointment, to show you something. I have a very strong suspicion that
he brought you a parcel of considerable value."

"One of the most valuable parcels I have seen in the course of my
career," the merchant said. "You see, Inspector, for a long time I have
been looking for a dozen or so of pearls to complete a rope that I am
making for the wife of perhaps the richest man in the Midlands. Money
being no object, and a proper gradation of the pearls being absolutely
essential, I have, for some time past been asking various dealers if
they could accommodate me. Amongst the rest, I asked Mr. Fishwick. When
he telephoned me from the Grand Central that he had got what I wanted, I
naturally asked him to see me without delay. I could not go round to
him, unfortunately, so he came here on the Saturday morning. He took
from his pocket a handful of pearls which fairly surpassed anything I
had ever seen. And yet, I was not surprised, because for some years
Fishwick has been the London representative of Neidermeyers, of New
York. I suppose they handle more fine pearls than any other firm in the
world."

"One moment," Norcliff interrupted. "You have just said that Fishwick
was the London representative of the firm you mention. Am I to infer
from that that he no longer represents them?"

"That is so," Fastnet explained. "He left them a few months ago and,
since then, he has been on his own. A thoroughly reliable man, and one
with whom I have been doing business for years. I trusted him so much
that I took his word when he said that the pearls had come into his
hands in the ordinary way of business. At any rate, those pearls were
just what I wanted, and I was anxious to have them. But, you must
understand, I could not buy them just out of hand. I knew that it would
be all right, of course, but the price asked was so big that in
justification of myself, I felt that I must show them to my customer
before I finally decided."

"So that the pearls were left with you?"

"They were. And now I come to think of it Mr. Fishwick appeared to be
very anxious to get rid of them. I don't mean as a business deal--I mean
that he seemed to be worried by the mere possession of them. My
suggestion was that he should come back again with them on Tuesday when
my customer would be present, but Fishwick did not seem to like the idea
at all. He asked me, almost as a favor, to keep them in my safe, and
there they are now. Are you any judge of such things, Inspector?
Because, if you are, I should very much like to have the pleasure of
showing them to you."

"Well, I am by way of being a bit of a quidnunc where the more valuable
jewels are concerned," Norcliff admitted. "You see, up to the last year
or two, my particular line has been in dealing with the international
gang of jewel thieves. I had a course of instruction at Amsterdam. I
believe I could tell the exact weight of a pearl in grains by the mere
feel of it."

"Ah, in that case, I am going to give you a treat," the dealer smiled.
"Excuse me for a moment while I go down to the strong-room with my
cashier and get the stones."

Fastnet was back in a minute or two, carrying a small leather bag in his
hand. There he proceeded to take from it a dozen or so small globular
objects, each carefully wrapped in cotton wool. These he placed in a row
before Norcliff's eyes.

"There," he exclaimed. "What do you think of that lot?"

"Wonderful!" Norcliff said, as he handled one pearl after another,
almost with reverence. "A most amazing collection, and so perfectly
graded too. You say that Fishwick brought you these?"

"Eh, what?" the jeweller cried. "Of course he did. Is there anything
particularly wonderful about that?"

"Well, yes, I think so," Norcliff said thoughtfully. "Did you ever hear
of an American lady called Van Geldt?"

"What diamond merchant in the world has not?" the jeweller asked.

"Yes, just so. But don't you remember, about a year ago, that Mrs. Van
Geldt lost some pearls? The police in New York could not say definitely
that they were stolen, but they are pretty sure of the fact, all the
same. And those pearls Mrs. Van Geldt had only bought a short time
before she lost them."

"Yes, I remember all that now," Fastnet said. "But you are not
suggesting that there is any connection between the lady's loss and
those pearls on the table before you?"

Norcliff smiled at the suggestion.

"I do," he said. "I told you I was a judge and I have the weights and
measurements of those pearls at Scotland Yard. If they are not Mrs. Van
Geldt's, then I am prepared to eat them."




CHAPTER XVII.


"Rather a sweeping statement, that Mr. Inspector," Fastnet said. "Of
course, you know as well as I do that most of the famous pearls in the
world have histories and we, whose business it is to keep in touch with
such things, know quite well where they are to be found. For instance,
if you gave me half an hour I could make you a list of every historic
gem in the world."

"Yes, except those that have been discovered from time to time,"
Norcliff smiled. "And, by that I mean new discoveries. I very much doubt
if you could tell me where those pearls of Mrs. Van Geldt came from.
Unless, of course, some famous rope was broken up for the purpose of
making hers."

"Well, as a matter of fact, it wasn't," Fastnet said. "Of that I can
assure you. Nobody quite knows where the dozen or so of pearls came from
that forms the base of the necklace. You know what I mean--they are
graded from the clasp downwards, increasing in size, and, to make a
really unique rope, something exceedingly efficient must be found for
what I may call the base of it. I was reading, not long ago, in a trade
paper, an account of Mrs. Van Geldt's pearls, written by an expert who
had actually had them in his hand. I dare say I could find that paper."

"Oh, I don't think that matters," Norcliff said.

"No, I don't suggest that it does, but it proves pretty conclusively
that no historic necklace was broken up to form that wonderful
collection of Mrs. Van Geldt's, which, taken one way and another, is
probably the finest extant. But, if you ask me to tell you where those
particular pearls came from, then, frankly I don't know. And, what is
more, I don't think that the firm in New York who did the setting is any
wiser than I am."

"Then you think that Mrs. Van Geldt supplied the pearls herself?"

"Yes, I do. But where she got them is a mystery. But she did get them
and, according to what you say, they are lying there, under your eyes,
at the present moment."

"I don't doubt it for an instant," Norcliff said. "However, it is an
easy proof. The missing pearls were weighed and measured and
photographed. I believe this was done at the instigation of the lady's
husband, who is one of America's former business men and a millionaire a
dozen times over. You can understand why he took these precautions. It
would make it almost impossible for thieves to dispose of those pearls
and for any jewel merchant to handle them with the prospect of profit
before his eyes. When the pearls were stolen all the details of which I
was just speaking were sent to every police headquarters in the world.
And the strange part of it was that the thieves only took those 12
particular pearls, leaving the rest of the necklace behind them."

"But how was the robbery committed?"

"Ah, that I cannot tell, you. I have had very little to do with the case
at this end, but all the details are at Scotland Yard, and if you like I
will send them down to you."

"I shall be very glad if you will," Fastnet said. "You see, if what you
say is correct I am placed in rather an awkward position."

"To a certain extent, perhaps. But, my dear sir, please remember that
you have paid nothing for those gems and that they are more or less by
accident in your possession. My theory is that some cunning scoundrel
knew that Fishwick had the pearls and murdered him, being under the
absolute conviction that he had them on him at the time of the crime. He
hadn't, as we know, but he was very nervous when he came to you, or he
would never have left those pearls in your custody, unless he had been
afraid of violence somewhere. He left them for two reasons: Firstly, for
safety, and, secondly, because he was pretty sure that you would induce
your client to purchase them. Then he could have come along and
collected the money, after which Mr. Fishwick would probably have never
been heard of again. I don't say that he stole them himself, but I do
say that he knew perfectly well that they had been stolen and that the
thief was an accomplice. And when you told me that Fishwick was no
longer in the employ of Neidermeyers I saw a ray of sunlight. I don't
doubt, for a moment, that Fishwick had abandoned an honest career or
that he had left Neidermeyers to traffic in contraband gems. You see,
with his knowledge of the markets all over the world he would be in a
unique position in that respect. Probably he had made money in this
fashion, probably he wanted to bring off one more big coup and then
retire, say to South America, on the proceeds. But evidently his
accomplice or accomplices mistrusted him. He was lured down here and
murdered at a certain house where I have been. Then, when the murderer
discovered that he had had all his trouble for his pains, he carried out
his original intention of placing the body on the railway van and
thought no more about it. At least, that is my theory. What I have to do
now is to trace Fishwick's movements between the last time he was in
America and the day when he met with his death. Meanwhile, I think you
had better take care of those stones, the more especially as nobody
knows they are in your possession, and, in due course, I will
communicate with you again."

They left it at that, and Norcliff went back thoughtfully to his hotel.
He had barely finished a hurried meal and was smoking a cigarette in the
lounge, when a little twisted figure accosted him. He looked up into the
shrewd eyes of the diminutive pressman who called himself Jagger.

"Ah, Inspector," he said. "I believe you had forgotten all about me. You
made me a promise----"

"Never mind about promises, for the moment," Norcliff interrupted. "Tell
me what you are doing here."

"Ah, thereby hangs a tale," said Jagger with his head on one side. "Fact
of the matter is that the 'Bulletin' people moved me up to town. They
wanted, to give me a chance. I waited at Evesham as you told me to do
so, but as it occurred to me that I was wasting my time there, I started
out to do a bit of investigation on my own account. You see, as I began
the big story for the 'Bulletin,' they decided to let me go on with it.
If I can pull it off, then I am a made man. But it is going to be a bit
of a job."

"It will be more of a job if you don't do as I tell you," Norcliff said
grimly. "Why don't you stay at Brendham?"

"Why, haven't I just told you? Nothing doing there, so I came on here,
knowing from what I gathered from my headquarters, that you were down
here following up the clue of the laundry mark on the collar. So I
wasn't far wrong, and if you had kept your eyes open a bit wider, you
would have seen that I wasn't very far off. Oh, I know where you have
been for the last hour or so, and I could give a pretty good guess why.
Now, Inspector, am I wrong in coming to the conclusion that the poor
chap was murdered because he was carrying certain valuables that the
criminal wanted to get hold of? And again, was I wrong when I decided
that the dead man had managed to slip his parcel of valuables to Mr.
Fastnet?"

"Well, you certainly are a clever little devil," Norcliff admitted. "I
am not going to admit or deny your question. Perhaps you would not mind
telling me on what you base your logic?"

"Ah," said the birdlike Jagger, with a funny little laugh. "You keep
your counsel and I will keep mine and, when the right time comes, we
will put our heads together and see how many beans make five. Meanwhile,
what do you know about Mrs. Van Geldt?"

Norcliff fairly started. The question was so sudden and unexpected that,
for an instant or two he was almost thrown off his balance. How on earth
had this crooked little journalist managed to blunder upon a clue like
that?

"Mrs. Van Geldt?" Norcliff said musingly. "Oh, I know who you mean. That
rich American society woman who made such a sensation when she came to
England last year. The woman whose jewels are the envy of all who see
them."

"Especially her pearls," Jagger chirped.

"Yes, I believe they are rather out of the common."

"Out of the common!" Jagger cried. "Great Scott, I should think they
are. Or rather, I should think they were. Now, come, Inspector, you
don't mean to tell me you don't know that she was robbed of those pearls
a few months ago?"

Norcliff decided to make a more or less clean breast of it. "Oh, of
course I knew that," he said. "It is common knowledge in police
headquarters all over Europe."

"Yes, and I suppose that the police of the world have been looking for
them ever since. Not very easy stuff to handle, eh? I mean that the
thief could not sell them to any respectable merchant. I remember
reading all that at the time in one of the exchanges, and it struck me
as being rather cute on the part of old man Van Geldt to have those
stones measured and photographed. And now, I will give you a bit of
information. I am not as reticent as you are, and, besides, you promised
to let me have the whole story before any other paper came on the scene.
Do you know Mrs. Van Geldt?"

"Never saw her in my life," Norcliff admitted. "I know that she took a
house in Grosvenor-square last year for the season. Beyond that, I am as
ignorant as you are."

"A great deal more so," Jagger said coolly. "You don't know that she has
taken the same house again this season and that she is already in
London. Even the society papers have not got hold of that yet. I thought
I would let you know."

Norcliff nodded gravely. It was important information and he would know
how to use it when the time came.

"You are sure she is in London now?" he asked.

"Well, nominally. She has the house and the staff and all the rest of
it. But what I should like to know, though I am quite sure you can't
tell me, is what she is doing in Birmingham?"




CHAPTER XVIII.


With one swift glance, Trumble took in the man opposite him. He saw a
person, very neatly turned out and quite a gentleman so far as
appearances were concerned, and moreover one who seemed to be on the
easiest terms with his surroundings. The rather handsome features were
pleasant enough, and a majority of people would have been only too ready
to take Felix Farr at his face valuation. It was, in a way, some
gratification to Trumble to note that the other man's hair was growing
slightly grey over the temples, and that his moustache was decidedly
grizzled. A well-preserved man of about 50 years of age, so Trumble
decided, and with that knowledge the slight hostility, born of certain
jealousy, left him feeling easier in his mind.

He was glad, too, that Farr made no attempt to shake hands. Instead, he
contented himself with a graceful raising of his soft hat and Trumble,
in his turn, did the same.

"It is always a pleasure to meet any friend of my friends the
Marchmonts," Farr said. "Charming little place they have here. Have you
known them very long?"

"Oh, on and off, a good many years," Trumble said. "But this is the
first time that I have visited this part and, indeed, I didn't know that
my old comrade, George Marchmont even lived near Abbotsbury. We met
entirely by accident and I may not tell you that I was exceedingly
pleased to see them again. And, all the more so, because of that
grievous affliction of his."

"You see, Mr. Farr, Dr. Trumble is quite an authority on eye troubles,"
Sylvia explained. "He wants George to go to London and stay there some
time to undergo a special treatment."

Farr turned almost suddenly to Trumble.

"Oh," he said. "Oh? That's--er--rather good news, isn't it? Anything
that sounds in the least hopeful----"

"Please don't begin to talk about hope," Trumble interrupted. He was not
blind to a certain uneasiness in Farr's eyes and he was on his guard
accordingly. "At least, I don't quite mean that. The impression I really
want to convey is that these cases are never quite hopeless. At the
best, I can only expect to give my friend George Marchmont a fraction of
his sight back again. And even that will be a long job. Of course I may
be mistaken, because we doctors can never be quite certain. But it will
be a long job, and if, at the end of six months----"

Trumble trailed off incoherently, at the same time watching Farr out of
the corner of his eye to catch any sign of relief on the face of the
newcomer. And, surely enough, there it was, even though for a fleeting
second, and Trumble did not fail to make a note of the fact. Farr
murmured something appropriate to the occasion and then the conversation
became less personal. But, all the same, Trumble was watching. He had
the feeling that his time was not being wasted and that, with any luck,
he was on the verge of a discovery. What that discovery was to lead to
in time it was impossible for Trumble to fully realise.

"Evidently Farr had come there with the intention of making an afternoon
of it. He strolled into the house presently with the air of one who is
absolutely at home, and Trumble, outside in the open air, could hear the
sound of voices in the cottage. Every now and again certain words came
to his ears which convinced him that Farr was talking to his host on the
subject of the treasure island in the South Pacific. The words were too
broken for the listener to get any real grip upon the thread of the
conversation, but it was quite enough to convince Trumble that Farr had
come with some definite purpose at the back of his mind. Perhaps he was
still a little startled and uneasy in the knowledge that Marchmont's
blindness was not of an absolutely permanent nature. It seemed to
Trumble that he had said enough on that head to put Farr off the track.

"Do you know, Trevor, I was rather disappointed to hear what you said
just now," Sylvia said. "After what you have been telling us. I had the
most sanguine hopes----"

"Precisely," Trumble replied. "And you can have them still. But there is
no reason why anyone outside the three of us should be told that. In a
way, it was a bit impertinent on the part of your friend Farr to press
me as far as he did. And now, if you don't mind, we will talk about
something else."

"Gladly," Sylvia laughed. "But I must confess that you gave me an awful
fright just for the moment. Come down the garden and have a look at my
roses. I am rather proud of them. They are not showing much bloom as
yet, but I expect to have a great show later on. And you will stay and
have tea, won't you?"

Trumble would be delighted, though he was not quite so pleased,
presently, when he found that Farr, also, was to be one of the party.
Still, he could not dispute the undoubted charm of the man and the
brilliant way he talked about his adventures and experiences all over
the world. It was getting dusk before the party finally broke up, which
it did when Farr hastily glanced at his watch and jumped to his feet
with an exclamation that he had important work to do and that he had no
idea how late it was.

"The charm of your company, my dear Miss Sylvia," he said gallantry.
"Dr. Trumble, are you walking my way?"

Trumble had no thoughts of anything of the kind. And yet it would be
just as well, perhaps, if he lingered a little longer in the company of
this fascinating stranger, and maybe discover something by a few adroit
questions. So he passed down the road, side by side with Farr, until
they came at length to the gate that led into the garden where Trumble
and Norcliff had found so much to interest them. Farr opened the gate
abruptly.

"Well, good-night, Dr. Trumble," he said. "I am sorry I can't ask you
in. Some other time I shall be only too delighted to show you something
in the way of hospitality."

Trumble murmured something by way of reply and the two parted. It was
quite dark by this time, with no suggestion of a moon as Trumble
prepared to cross the line to his hotel on the other side. Then, with a
sudden impulse, he retraced his footsteps and, very quietly, passed
through the gate into Farr's garden.

There were no lights in the front of the house, and none in the hall.
Evidently Farr was in the habit of using the garden room at the back of
the house that opened on to the tennis lawn. Trumble would have been
hard put to it to say why he was there and what he expected to find, but
that did not deter him from going on with the adventure. He had quite a
fine natural eye for locality and, moreover, he had been over the same
ground before. He found no difficulty, therefore, in reaching the back
of the house and making his way behind the little group of herbaceous
plants that fringed the grass and, there hidden, it might be possible to
see what was going on in the garden room. He had been perfectly right in
his deductions that this was the apartment generally used by Farr
because the electric light had been turned on and the blind pulled down.
There was just a thin slit of light showing under the bottom of the
blinds, and presently Trumble stole out of his hiding place and applied
his eye to the narrow rim between the bottom of the blind and the
framework of the window. It was quite sufficient to afford him a fairly
comprehensive view of the interior of the room and the figure of Farr
standing by the side of a table in his shirt sleeves.

He stood there, thoughtfully smoking a cigarette and helping himself
from time to time to a whisky and soda. There was a mass of odds and
ends on the table, together with a small looking glass. This Farr,
presently pulled a little closer to himself, and then, crossing the
room, carefully locked the door.

Something mysterious was about to take place, and, with any luck,
Trumble was going to see what it was. He had half expected to find
somebody else present besides Farr, and it was with a certain sense of
disappointment that he saw him lock the door. Once he had done this he
set swiftly and cleverly to work.

He was disguising himself, that Trumble could see at a glance. Over his
crisp grey hair he drew a still greyer wig with long hair at the back,
falling over his shoulders, and giving him an extraordinary appearance
of philanthropic benevolence. With the aid of the glass and the pigments
on the table the wig was so naturally touched up that Trumble, looking
as closely as he might, could not detect it from the real thing. Then
the cheeks were plumped out and slightly reddened, and after that, a
flowing beard with side whiskers that gave the man the appearance of one
of the elder prophets. He smiled in the glass as he noted the effect,
and then promptly began to divest himself of his outer clothing.

Five minutes later an elderly clergyman, and evidently one high up in
the church, had taken the place of the volatile and fascinating Farr.
The looking glass was folded up and placed, together with the mass of
make-up on the table, in an oak cabinet at the corner of the room, the
door of which Farr evidently kept locked. Then, with a shovel hat on his
head, he crossed the room.

Trumble crept away quickly and hid himself in a mass of foliage just
inside the gate. He waited until the sham clergyman emerged and followed
him at a discreet distance, into the heart of the town. And there,
before one of the ancient houses in the neighborhood of the Abbey, Farr
stopped and rang a bell. The door was opened just at the moment that
Trumble could almost have touched the man in front of him. He strained
his ears to listen.

"Yes, I think the lady is in, sir," said the maid who answered the door.
"But I understand that she does not want to be disturbed. If you happen
to be a friend of hers, sir----"

"That will be all right," Farr said. "Will you kindly tell the lady that
the Reverend Walter Temperley wishes to see her."




CHAPTER XIX.


Norcliff looked with a certain humorous shrewdness at the diminutive
speaker under his brows. He did not doubt for a moment that Jagger knew
exactly what he was talking about, but how this newspaper sleuth had
contrived to get upon the track of a woman believed by the detective not
to be in England at all passed his understanding. Evidently there was
something more than an ordinary mind behind those gleaming spectacles of
Jagger's.

And, moreover, Jagger had made an exceedingly important discovery at an
amazingly opportune time. Norcliff was as convinced as he possibly could
be that the pearls he had lately seen in the office of the merchant,
Fastnet, had been part of Mrs. Van Geldt's necklace. And here she was,
in England, probably upon the same quest as he was himself. Still, he
might be wrong there. Mrs. Van Geldt was the young wife of one of the
astutest operators on Wall-street and she had won her position in
society entirely from the base of her husband's extraordinary wealth.
Moreover, she was comparatively well known in England, since it had been
her custom of late to come over to London for the season and establish
herself in one of the princely houses in Mayfair and there dispense the
most profuse hospitality. The sort of thing that ambitious American
women will do when they want to establish themselves firmly in the good
graces of their fellow-countrymen and, to a much greater degree, their
fellow-countrywomen. Norcliff knew a good deal about that. He knew, for
instance, that the average American with means often failed to obtain a
footing in what New York proudly called The Four Hundred and that it was
ever so much easier to find a way into that exclusive circle by a
circuitous route through London and create something like a sensation by
a lavish display and boundless generosity and then with the aid of a
well-paid aristocratic chaperone, find her way into the most exclusive
circles. This being accomplished, it would be easy enough for a woman
like Mrs. Van Geldt to find herself a welcome figure in New York,
particularly when she was in a position to boast that she had made her
bow to royalty and that she had become a familiar figure in ducal and
other blue-blooded establishments.

This much, at any rate, Norcliff knew about Mrs. Van Geldt. More he
hoped to find out before long. During the three or four years in which
he had been engaged in the battle of wits with some of the cleverest
international thieves in the world, he had learnt a great deal about the
wives and female dependents of America's plutocracy. And, sooth to say,
he had from time to time, been given by them great cause for anxiety.
They came over to England, heralded by a sensational press and with
their precious valuables duly catalogued in print for the light-fingered
fraternity who stalked with the greatest patience during the time they
were in England. And now, here was Mrs. Van Geldt once more upon British
soil, established in a great house in Grosvenor-square and playing the
old game in the same familiar way. That was all very well as far as it
went, and, in a way, the knowledge was of value to Norcliff. But still,
he would have been hard put to it to have answered Jagger's pertinent
question as to what that fortunate woman was doing in Birmingham.

"You are quite sure she is here?" he asked.

"Oh, quite," Jagger replied. "You see I have a friend here on one of the
local daily papers and he has had over two years' experience of American
journalism. Interviewing celebrities and all that sort of thing. Amongst
the other society stars he saw was Mrs. Van Geldt. I happened to meet
him quite casually in the street and he told me that he had seen the
woman in question entering a taxi just outside New Street station. Of
course, I ought not to tell you this. I ought to pretend that I tracked
her down after the fashion set by the great Sherlock. But, seeing that
you are a friend, and relying on your promise to let me have the first
news of any note in connection with the railway murder, I am telling you
the more than simple truth."

"And you see the significance of it?" Norcliff asked.

"Oh, Lord, yes! You see, I am a bit of a reader, Inspector, especially
with regard to the criminal side of my profession. And what I read I
don't forget. I know as well as you do that Mrs. Van Geldt was robbed of
some of those precious pearls of hers a considerable time ago--in fact,
I read the story in the American Exchanges. What's the odds against the
victim of the railway murder being mixed up with Mrs. Van Geldt? Of
course that is only a sort of theory of mine, but you never know what
ideas like that lead to. At any rate, you might like to know that Mrs.
Van Geldt is here."

Norcliff nodded thoughtfully. He had not the least intention of telling
this inquisitive little journalist how closely the railway mystery and
the loss of Mrs. Van Geldt's pearls were connected. But all the same, he
did not fail to appreciate the logical reasoning and the quickness with
which Jagger had jumped to his conclusions.

"You didn't follow her, I suppose?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I didn't," Jagger said. "I don't know why,
except that the idea failed to occur to me for the moment. But now I
wish I had. At any rate, I came in to tell you, and you can make what
use of the information you like. Do you happen to know anything about
Mrs. Van Geldt?"

"Not more than most people do," Norcliff was fain to confess. "But I can
very easily find out. You see, the diamond thief and his associates are
no longer in my line, and I have lost touch with them. But all the
information I need is at Scotland Yard, and I can get it in the course
of a day or two."

"Why in a day or two?" Jagger urged. "Do it now, inspector; do it now.
Get on or get out and all that sort of thing. You may be wasting
precious moments, for all you know to the contrary. Why not go to the
police headquarters here and get on to Scotland Yard without delay? Use
their wireless."

"Now, do you know that never occurred to me," Norcliff said innocently.
"I suppose they have a set here."

"Of course they have," Jagger said impatiently. "I hadn't been a couple
of hours here before I discovered that."

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

"I know a good deal, anyhow," Jagger said. "It isn't so very long ago
that the whole system was explained in a special article in the 'Times.'
There seems to be no secret about it. You've got both receiving and
transmitting sets in most of the big provincial centres, all of them
under the directorship of Scotland Yard. More than that, you have
wireless vans, carefully disguised, travelling about the country at 20
miles an hour and communicating direct with headquarters. These vans
both receive and transmit, using a sort of cypher code. It was all in
the 'Times.'"

"Yes, now I come to think of it, it was," Norcliff said. "Now, come
along with me and see what we can do. The first thing is to find out all
about Mrs. Van Geldt."

Together the two moved off until they reached their destination, where a
few words of explanation put matters on a proper footing, and a little
later in the top of the building Jagger was introduced for the first
time, to the neat, workmanlike wireless set which, at the moment, had
been shut down. Presently an operator or two came along and Norcliff
explained what he required.

"It's like this," he said. "I want some information which I know is in
the possession of Scotland Yard. I want you to call the Yard up and say
that Inspector Norcliff is at this end. Of course, I can't handle the
code, but you can."

"Certainly, Inspector," the operator smiled. "I shall be only too
pleased to transmit any message you like to send. We have to transmit
them in code for reasons that are obvious. And, of course, the same code
is used in reply. My colleague here will take down what headquarters say
and I shall be able to translate almost as quickly as I can speak. One
gets used to it in a very short time; as one gets used to reading
shorthand. But I need not waste my time in telling you all this
Inspector Norcliff."

"That's right," Norcliff said. "But I think it will all exceedingly
interesting to my friend Mr. Jagger here."

Jagger was emphatically of opinion that it would. He watched every
movement out of those cunning little eyes of his and listened with his
head on one side as something like a reply came back across the ether
that sounded like some foreign jibberish, though it seemed plain enough
to the man who stood by the muffled loud speaker with his notebook in
his hand.

For the best part of half an hour or more, the droning voice came
through the black funnel, until, at length, it shut off suddenly and a
complete silence followed. The operator with the notebook turned
smilingly to Norcliff.

"There you are, sir," he said. "That is the whole story as far as
Scotland Yard knows it. And, if you would like to come down to my
office, I will translate the message. You may want to make notes on it.
And if so, I will translate slowly."

Down below, in the speaker's office, Norcliff and Jagger sat quietly
listening to the story as it came clearly and not too fast from the lips
of the man with the notebook.

"Oh, yes, we know all about Mrs. Van Geldt," the translator began. "She
is the young wife of Mr. Cornelius Van Geldt, who is one of the big men
on Wall-street. He is quite an elderly man, whose mind is entirely
wrapped up in his business so that he is rarely seen in society and is
quite an unknown figure at those brilliant receptions and parties that
his wife is fond of giving. He cannot be far short of seventy, whilst
Mrs. Van Geldt is, at the outside, five and twenty. He is a very hard
man, with none too savoury a reputation in his dealings, but being
successful, that covers a multitude of sins. Moreover, he is devoted to
his young wife."

"Oh," Norcliff interrupted. "I expected that."




CHAPTER XX.


"A case of May and December," the man with the notebook smiled. "I
suppose even the hardest of us has a soft spot somewhere. At any rate,
according to what I have written down here, Van Geldt is fairly under
his wife's thumb. Not that he allows her unlimited money to spend in
cash, because he is too good a business man for that. But she can run up
bills to any amount and, when he has checked them, he pays without a
murmur. He seems to have an obsession for handling his own money,
probably because he has found it so hard to make. But, roughly speaking,
Mrs. Van Geldt can have what she wants. And, amongst other things she
wanted a year or two ago, was to be able to boast that she possessed the
finest pearl necklace in the world."

"Um, rather a big order," Norcliff murmured. "But, attainable, provided
that there is a fortune to be spent."

"So Mr. Van Geldt seemed to find," the translator went on. "At any rate,
the time came when the lady was allowed to have her own way and she set
about her pet ambition. She did not employ one jewel merchant in New
York, but half a dozen. You see, it was too big a thing for a single
firm to handle. Not that it mattered much, because every merchant who
had a particularly fine pearl to dispose of took it straight to Van
Geldt's agent and offered it at a fancy price. The thing was talked
about in the newspapers and created a great sensation. This meant, of
course, that dealers in pearls from all over the world visited New York
with any that they had distinctly out of the common. And, naturally,
they asked big prices. And that is how the famous necklace was got
together."

"All of it?" Norcliff asked. "Every pearl?"

"One moment," the operator said. "I cannot answer that question without
looking further ahead in my notes."

He flicked the leaves over for a minute or two and then, apparently,
found the information that he wanted.

"Ah, here it is," he said. "No, there were several pearls needed to make
a clean job of it. These, needless to say, were the graduated gems that
formed the base of the necklace. And when they did turn up, they came
all at once."

"That I was quite prepared to hear," Norcliff said. "In fact, I should
have been greatly disappointed if you had said anything to the contrary.
The point is, where did they come from?"

"Ah, that nobody seems to know," the man with the notebook said. "So far
as one can gather, they came in to Mrs. Van Geldt's hands direct. She
showed them to her husband and, after they had been tested and approved
by experts, they were used in the necklace. Heaven knows how much the
old man paid for them. But there you are, and that, Inspector, is the
history of the famous rope of pearls."

"Yes, but all that is more or less public property," Norcliff pointed
out. "The papers had this at the time of the robbery. And, moreover,
when the robbery took place, it was only those twelve pearls that were
taken away. As far as I recollect, they were twisted on a gold wire in
the shape of a pear, so that, if necessary, they could be detached and
worn as a separate ornament. I don't quite know the facts of the robbery
itself, but I am going to make it my business to ascertain. So far as my
memory serves me, the case containing the pearls was intact with the
exception of the big ones at the base. That was the cunning part of it.
And now, if you don't mind going back over your notes again, I should
like to hear a little more about Mrs. Van Geldt herself. I am sorry to
interrupt you."

"Oh, not in the least," the man with the notebook smiled. "Let me see.
Yes, here it is. Nothing is known of Mrs. Van Geldt until four years ago
when she appeared on that Roof Garden with Zimmerstein's Midnight
Follies. She was in the chorus at first and immediately attracted
attention by her beauty and vivacity. She was taken up by the newspapers
and the public generally and made much of. So much of that adulation
would have turned the average girl's head. Naturally Zimmerstein, with a
draw like that, was not giving anything away. He wasn't going to
disclose the history of his find to inquisitive pressmen, and the more
reticent he was, the greater became public curiosity. Mrs. Van Geldt was
anything you like. She was the daughter of a millionaire who had adopted
the stage for a whim. She was the only child of a Southern aristocrat
who had met with a love disappointment. She had gone on the stage for a
wager. All that sort of thing. But Zimmerstein said nothing, because he
fully appreciated that there is no publicity equal to curiosity. In
three months Mrs. Van Geldt was a star."

"What did she call herself?" Norcliff asked.

"Well, upon my word, I don't seem to have gathered who she was," the man
with the notebook confessed. "I mean, I haven't got her stage name down
here."

"It doesn't matter," Norcliff said. "I can get that whenever I want it.
You can go on with the story."

"Well, there is not much more story to tell. There is not the slightest
doubt that Mrs. Van Geldt was a girl of considerable natural cleverness,
and, moreover, one who must have had a fairly good education. At any
rate she managed to get hold of a rich husband and, from that moment,
has shown no disposition to go back to her old life. But who she really
is and whence she came originally apparently remains a mystery."

"Well, at any rate, it is all very interesting," Norcliff said.
"Evidently one man knows, and that it Zimmerstein. If we really want to
get to the bottom of the whole thing, the New York police will be able
to persuade the Dutch impresario to open his mouth. I don't suppose he
will be so reticent now that his former star is of no financial
assistance to him."

"Well, that is for you to say, Inspector," the man with the notebook
smiled. "Is there anything else I can tell you?"

"Not for the moment," Norcliff said. "If I think of anything else, I can
come back again and make use of your wireless. Many thanks for all your
trouble."

A moment or two later, Norcliff and his companion were walking
thoughtfully along the street in the direction of the Grand Central
Hotel, where the inspector was staying.

"Queer sort of yarn, isn't it?" Jagger asked.

"Very queer," Norcliff said. "And the strangest part of it is that Mrs.
Van Geldt is in England again without the usual flourish of trumpets. Of
course she has come over for the season and I should not be at all
surprised to find that she has taken the same furnished house in
Grosvenor-square as she had last year. At any rate we can discover that
at our leisure."

"But what on earth is she doing here?" Jagger asked.

"Ah, there you have me guessing," Norcliff smiled. "It looks as if the
lady came over here more or less incognito. At any rate, she seems to
have avoided the press crowd, for I have seen no mention of her name in
the society news which I make it my business to scan carefully in the
papers every morning. Usually, ladies of Mrs. Van Geldt's position are
only too willing to have their name broadcast. In fact, a great many of
them pay for the privilege. But you come along with me and we can talk
the matter over whilst we are eating a bit of supper. I had no idea it
was so late. It must be nearly twelve o'clock. Unless you have something
else to do."

"Oh, I am entirely at your disposal," Jagger said. "And I should most
certainly like to carry this matter a little further. What do you
suppose that woman is doing in Birmingham at this particular moment. And
why has she come more or less secretly?"

"Ah, that we have got to find out," Norcliff said. "Now, here we are.
Come up to my room and I will see what I can do in the way of providing
you with something to eat and drink."

Leaving the lift on the third floor, Norcliff turned into his room and
proceeded to ring the bell. Then he faced half round and cried out in
astonishment when he saw that Trumble was there smoking a cigarette in
the depths of a big arm chair.

"The doctor," he cried. "Now, what on earth are you doing here at this
time of the night?"

"It is rather strange, isn't it?" Trumble laughed. "As a matter of fact,
I have some important information for you. And as to the rest, I called
up Scotland Yard from Abbotsbury just to make sure, and they told me
that I should find you here. Then I was fortunate enough to catch a late
train from Abbotsbury to Birmingham and--well--so to speak, here I am."

"And very pleased to see you," Norcliff said, as the three sat down to
the supper provided by the waiter. "And now that we are alone I should
like to know what you have picked up. You need not be afraid to speak
before Jagger, because he seems to know almost as much about the
business as I do. He has been giving me some most valuable information;
in fact, I think he is wasted as a journalist and ought to come in with
us. But never mind that for the moment. What did you come all this way
to tell me?"

Without further waste of time, Trumble told his story, to which Norcliff
listened with every sign of the liveliest satisfaction.

"Well, that's worth hearing, anyways," he exclaimed. "It looks to me as
if we had got a more than usually astute scoundrel to deal with. The
idea of impersonating the man whose house he occupies is distinctly
ingenious."

"Unless he happens to be Temperley as well," Jagger put in. "It might be
the case, inspector, eh?"

"Yes, it might be, but I don't think we should allow ourselves to be led
away on side issues like that."

"Oh, I don't know," the irrepressible Jagger replied. "Tell you what, I
have got another theory which may not appeal to you, but, again, as I
said before, you never know. Supposing this sham clergyman cum Felix
Farr should be calling upon a mysterious lady who turns out to be Mrs.
Van Geldt. What price that?"




CHAPTER, XXI.


Mrs. Van Geldt knew from the moment that she met her elderly husband
exactly what she wanted, and precisely how to get it. Not for a moment
had she cared anything about him and she was quick to recognise that, on
his side, there was none of that maudlin sentiment that often obsesses
the middle-aged man in his search for a wife. She was a beautiful
creature, a splendid young animal whose physical attractions none could
deny and, having been brought up in a particularly hard school, she saw
where her opportunity lay and grasped it with both hands. There were
many advantages on her side, and she did not fail to make the most of
them.

To begin with, nobody knew who she was or whence she came. She had a
stage name, of course, but concerning her origin not even the smartest
of the New York reporters could speak definitely. And, naturally enough,
when she fell into the shrewd managerial hands of the famous Zimmerstein
it was not for him to lift the veil. People could say and think what
they liked. If it pleased them to believe that this new star was of
aristocratic birth, so much the better. It all added to the
advertisement, and Cora Klein was wise enough to see that Zimmerstein
was perfectly right.

As a matter of fact he had picked her up in what the Americans call a
one-stand vaudeville far out in the woolly West. He had managed to get
rid of that drunken, dissipated old father of hers and, when Otto Klein
died of drink two months later, nobody was more pleased than Zimmerstein
himself.

"Ah, that removes one great difficulty, ma dear," he said to the
bereaved daughter. "You come to New York with me and I make you vamous.
But wait a leetle bit, dere is one or two things you haf to learn first.
You are my pupil."

There was a great deal that Cora had to learn; three or four months of
the hardest work she had ever done in her life. But she had ambition and
grit and a wonderful adaptability, so great that even Zimmerstein, with
all his experience, was amazed. He had put her in the right hands and,
for the moment, had forgotten all about her. And when he saw her again
at the end of the period of probation, he threw up his hands in
astonishment.

"Ach, wonderful!" he exclaimed. "But did not I always say you vos great?
Behold a lady!"

And, indeed, in so saying, Zimmerstein was not far from the mark. Gone
was the deplorable accent, gone every trace of the old circus life and
in the place of a mere lovely creature, absolutely ignorant of the world
except its more base and material side, was a finished product fit to go
anywhere and take her place in any sort of society. And moreover, she
knew it.

There was nothing immoral about her; she had come through a trying
period in the face of many temptations as pure and unsoiled as a girl
living her life could possibly be. But, under that gay and inconsequent
manner of hers, was a shrewd mind that saw a long way to an ultimate
brilliant goal.

To begin with, she refused to make any contract with Zimmerstein. Not
that she did this with any show of business acumen, but because she
professed her unwillingness to take advantage of her patron's generosity
until she had proved that she was worthy of it. She was quite willing to
take a small salary to begin with, and, on the other hand, Zimmerstein
was broad minded enough to increase that salary as time went on. But,
somehow or another, he could never manage to induce Cora to sign a
contract. It was not for him to know that so brilliant and versatile an
actress should hate and loathe the stage from top to bottom. Her early
life had been too hard to leave her any illusions, and she was quite
ready to turn her back upon what promised to be a great career at the
first moment that she saw a chance of setting her feet on the solid rock
of prosperity. And this chance came when she met Van Geldt.

They had come together at some social gathering and, from the very
first, the hard Wall-street magnate had been attracted. It was not the
attraction of the moth for the star, or anything so romantic. Neither
was Van Geldt in love with Cora. He appreciated her charms and talent
and, above all, that amazing, diamond-hard acumen that he could read
under those skin-deep charms of hers. He wanted to entertain, he wanted
someone to look after that great, big, stone-fronted house of his on
Fifth-avenue and bring all her talents to bear upon the personalities he
wished to gather about him. He was a very big man indeed, was Van Geldt,
but it was his ambition to be bigger still. Some day or another, if he
lived, he was going to be the great international financier and the
ruler of Cabinets. But, to do that successfully, it was absolutely
necessary that he should have the proper surroundings in that fine old
house of his, crammed with treasures from all parts of the world, in the
midst of which he lived as simply as a soldier on the battlefield.

He put it to Cora quite plainly as a great business proposition and she
promptly accepted it as such. It was in vain that Zimmerstein raged and
stormed and then almost on his knees implored Cora not to abandon her
career. He would make her great. He would lift her to the highest
pinnacle of fame, so that she would go down to posterity with other
queens of the stage.

But it was all in vain. Cora saw her chance and accepted it. Within a
year of her first appearance in New York, she was mistress of one of its
finest establishments, with the command of more money than she could
possibly spend. Not so much money in cash, because Van Geldt was not
given that way. But Cora could spend as much as she needed amongst the
tradesmen and Van Geldt was always ready to foot the bills. It was an
honorable bargain between them and both of them accepted the rules
implicitly.

But Cora's ambition did not stop there. She had her own friends, of
course--no woman who had been so prominently before the public as she
could possibly lack a brilliant following. Actors and artists and all
sorts of thing flocked to her house, but the exclusive ladies of the New
York Four Hundred held aloof, and were likely to do so, unless something
out of the common was going to happen, or Cora utterly failed to
understand her business. From the very first, she could see her way into
the most intimate New York coteries through the medium of London.
Accordingly, she would go to London for the season and engage the
services of some aristocratic chaperon, who would open every house to
the lovely American who was still little more than a girl and who was
the wife of one of the richest men in the world. And so, in the course
of time, it was so.

Cora came back to America in time to find that she was the centre of
publicity. She had seen to it, through the medium of the press
agents--that her meteoric career in London and Scotland and Egypt and
Monte Carlo, had not been overlooked. She came back having rubbed
shoulders with royalty and more than once having spent a night under the
same roof. And, because of this, she was in no hurry. She was not going
to be patronised; she was going to pick her own particular circle, and,
in the course of time, lead it. And because of this, the leaders of
society in New York called upon her and made much of her--at least, as
much of her as she would allow them. She was going to occupy no social
seat, except in the centre of the first row of stalls, and she let them
know it. She had youth and beauty and a fine sarcastic wit of her own,
so that any attempt at patronage recoiled on the head of the woman who
was hardy enough to try it. In other words, Cora was 'there.'

Nobody watched her flight upwards with greater delight and appreciation
than the man who had found the means to gratify her ambitions to the
full. It was just what Van Geldt wanted, and just what he expected,
though Cora had rushed to the front much quicker than he had anticipated
even in his most optimistic moments.

Mrs. Van Geldt was everywhere, Mrs. Van Geldt had her own special
columns in the daily press, and Mrs. Van Geldt had already stepped over
the heads of a dozen great ladies and taken their places as if she had
been literally born to the purple.

It was just about this time that Cora made up her mind with regard to
the pearl necklace. She was going to have the finest rope in the world,
and she found her husband quite willing to fall in with the suggestion.
After all, pearls were only another form of investment, and, moreover,
represented a considerable saving in the way of income-tax. And,
moreover, a bold and daring speculator like Van Geldt occasionally makes
mistakes, and now and then finds himself in the iron grip of a group
stronger than his own. It was the one fear that haunted Van Geldt. And
if the time ever did come when he was down and out, then that wonderful
pearl necklace would come in very handy after the fall.

But there was one point upon which he insisted.

"There are limits to all things," he told Cora. "All that I stipulate is
that the outfit shouldn't cost a penny more than two hundred and fifty
thousand dollars. That is, fifty thousand pounds English money, and that
you must make do."

"Oh, I dare say I can manage," Cora said, knowing perfectly well that
when Van Geldt said a thing he meant it. She was not particularly afraid
of the old man, but if there was a man in the world she feared at all,
it was that elderly husband of hers. She knew that he could be as hard
as the nether millstone if he liked, and, though he never issued any
commands, she was perfectly aware, from what he said, that he had
reached his limit.

"Very well," she said. "I think that ought to do. After all is said and
done, I don't suppose that even the finest necklace in the world would
fetch more than that. I want something that will be talked about,
something that those Press people make a great deal of, and I shan't be
happy till I get it."




CHAPTER XXII.


And thus it came about that the great pearl necklace was founded. It was
no difficult matter to obtain the great majority of the stones from the
various jewel dealers in New York, but when it came to the great pearls
to form the base of the necklace, it was a different matter altogether.
They came in so slowly, indeed, that more than once Cora was
half-inclined to abandon the prospect altogether. She needed about a
dozen of those semi-transparent little marbles to give her a treasure
almost unique. But whence they were coming and how she had not the least
idea. Moreover, what she had collected already had eaten a big hole in
the amount of money that Van Geldt had allotted for the purpose. And
when she told him this and hinted at a hundred thousand dollars more, he
shut his mouth like a steel trap and refused to go any further. And
Cora, knowing her man perhaps better than he knew himself, gracefully
yielded and discreetly said no more about it.

But, all the same, she was not going to be baulked. She never had been
beaten yet, and she refused to admit defeat now. And then the great
temptation came her way.

It was at some social function of no particular importance that she had
met the man who was in a position to help her. She had come out of the
refreshment room alone, for once in a way, and there, in the solitude of
the broad stairway, she had run almost into the arms of the man who
called himself Vane Egerton.

Just for a moment she had some little difficulty in breathing. She had
quite forgotten this man whom she had not seen since she was a child of
17, and whom, moreover, she had known in circumstances very different
from her present surroundings.

"And what might you be doing here?" she demanded.

"Oh, then you have not forgotten me," Egerton said, with a laugh that
had a sneer in it. "If it comes to that, I might just as well ask what
you are doing here."

"I think the circumstances are rather different," Cora said coldly. "You
see, I have won my way here. Oh, it is no use being modest about it. You
know who I am, and probably all my history or the last two or three
years. But I never expected to see you under a respectable roof like
this."

"Meaning that I am not a gentleman?"

"Oh, well, it is a very elastic term, isn't it? Of course you were born
a gentleman, and an English gentleman at that. And, no doubt, up to a
certain point, you behave like one. I know the type. You see, I have
spent the best part of a year in England, and I have met it over and
over again. And a very fine type it is. But when I met you in Arizona
you were hardly living up to the traditions of your ancestors, were
you?"

"Well, perhaps not," Egerton agreed, with a little smile. "But look
here, don't let's throw stones at one another. You keep my secret and I
will keep yours."

"Oh! As if I had something to be ashamed of?"

"Well, not exactly that, but something you don't want talked about. I
daresay, your position is an assured one now, but if New York learnt all
about the old circus days.... Oh, I am not threatening you, and if you
have any notions in your head with regard to blackmail, you can drop
them at once. That isn't in my line at all. So you are the great Mrs.
Van Geldt, and I am Vane Egerton, the son of an English baronet, who is
travelling for pleasure. If we let it go at that, there is nothing to
complain of."

"Certainly, as far as I am concerned," Cora smiled. "But you didn't
follow me here to-night to tell me that. But don't deny that you have
followed me, because my instincts tell me that you have been watching me
for some time. What do you want?"

"Well, really," Egerton protested; "I don't see any occasion to put it
quite as bluntly as that. Don't let's quarrel, Cora. Why should we? You
can't help me particularly, but I can help you, and I am all the more
anxious to do so, because my interests happen to lie in that direction.
Cynical perhaps, but true."

Cora led the way to a quiet little lounge at the head of the stairs, and
motioned Egerton to take a seat at her side.

"Now, then," she said. "What is it you particularly want?"

"Oh, it is rather a question of what you want. That pearl necklace of
yours, for instance. The papers have been more or less full of it for
weeks, and, when a paragraph or two came to my notice, I thought of you
at once--because I can put my hand on those pearls of which you are
short. Just a round dozen, my dear Cora, and quite the finest in the
world."

"Where did you steal them?" Cora asked casually.

"Oh, come, why be so personal? I haven't stolen them, because they are
not in my possession, though I can have them at a price. They belong to
a man who has recently arrived in America, and who does not read the
papers; in fact, I rather doubt if he can read. But I met him years ago
in the course of my wanderings about the world, and ran up against him,
quite by accident, in New York a few days ago. He has been prospecting
in the South Pacific, and there he had an extraordinary piece of luck.
At any rate, he has a dozen pearls that he wants to sell, though I don't
think he quite realises their full value. But he has just brains enough
to know that if he goes to a dealer here to sell them, he won't get half
their value. And I told him that that was so. If he refuses the first
offer and goes somewhere else, he will be followed, and the dealer in
the second office into which he goes will be called up over the
telephone with a view to dividing the plunder. I know all about that
game. So I told him that I knew a lady who would give him a lot more for
those pearls than he would get from any of the gang in New York. As a
matter of fact, I have one of them in my pocket now. Perhaps you would
like to have a look at it yourself."

Cora was interested, she was thrilled and intrigued, and no longer
openly contemptuous as far as Egerton was concerned. If what he said was
true, then she had come to the end of her search, and was in a position
to gratify an ambition that had become almost an obsession. But then, on
the other hand, she remembered her husband's warning. She was not to
spend more than a certain amount, and she knew perfectly well that if
she did this she would never be forgiven, and perhaps, what was much
worse, her expenditure would be curtailed until she had paid off the
difference. But, all the same, she was going to have these treasures at
any cost.

"Oh, do let me look at it," she cried.

A moment later the pearl was in her hand. It seemed to be just as
Egerton had described it to be, and was of a size the like of which she
had never seen before. She was by way of being a judge by this time,
because she had handled hundreds of pearls during the last few months,
but never anything quite like this.

"It looks quite right," she said. "And the feel of it is perfect. But I
couldn't say definitely for myself. And, besides, I am dealing with the
person called Vane Egerton."

"Oh, quite right, quite right," Egerton said, not in the least annoyed.
"You are wise to take every precaution. There are eleven more of these
little chaps where this one came from. And they are yours at a price."

"Yes, I suppose they are, but suppose they belong to somebody else?
Suppose they have come into your hands dishonestly? I think you know
what I mean, Mr. Egerton."

"Quite," Egerton said calmly. "But these pearls, the twelve of them, are
worth at least forty thousand pounds. There is nothing like them in the
world. Now, as a woman of the world, ask yourself a question. They must
have had an original owner some time or another, and if the owner had
lost them, do you suppose that he would have kept the information to
himself? Of course he wouldn't. He would have gone straight to the
police and told them his sorrowful story. And within eight and forty
hours every paper in the Anglo-Saxon language would have reams about it.
Can't you see the headlines in the New York Press? Why, they would
fairly hit you in the face! And yet you, with all your astuteness, ask
me if I came by them honestly. My dear woman, I haven't come by them at
all. I persuaded the finder to lend me that little gem that lies in the
palm of your hand so that I could show it to you. I showed him what the
papers said about your hobby, and promised him that if he would let me
do the business he could get double as much from you as he would from
anybody else, which is a simple fact. And I don't mind telling you that
I shall make a pretty handsome picking for myself. I know you don't
trust me, and I don't blame you. But here is a plain business
transaction, and when it comes to handing over the cash the business can
be done in your own drawing-room in the presence of half a dozen
detectives, if necessary. And I will bring the man who found the pearls
with me. Thirty-five thousand pounds is the price, and that is my last
word."

"Yes, it sounds all right," Cora said thoughtfully. "Moreover, you are
offering me just what I want. But, before I go any further, I must have
a real expert opinion. So far as I can judge, this pearl is everything
you claim it to be; but then, one never knows. If you will come with
me----"

"Not the slightest occasion," Egerton interrupted. "I don't want to
compromise you in any way. Suppose we were seen by some one who knew me
in Arizona five years ago. You can see that I am more concerned for your
reputation than I am for my own."

"That is very kind and thoughtful of you," Cora smiled. "But what,
precisely, is the mode of procedure?"

"Dear lady," Egerton murmured. "The point I am driving at is obvious.
You wisely don't trust me; on the other hand, I am entirely at your
service. Why not take the pearl away with you and let me know later on
if you are satisfied? Quite simple, what?"




CHAPTER XXIII.


The epic of the woman and her jewels has yet to be written. That is,
unless one takes the temptation of Marguerita as a typical example. But
it was very nearly an epic in the case of the woman whoso ambition it
was to possess the finest pearl necklace in the world. And here the
prize had been literally thrust into her hand by one whom she had known
for years as a polished scoundrel. She was quite well aware that he was
a man of education, and, in the cant sense of the word, a gentleman. But
that Vane Egerton was anything but a rascal, she did not doubt; indeed
she had every reason to hold to the contrary. He had been everything out
there in the West--gambler, forger, cheat, anything that goes with
congenial dishonesty. And here he was now back in society again,
beautifully turned out and, apparently, highly prosperous, offering her
the one thing that her soul most longed for.

"Very well," she said. "I am going to accept you at your word. I will
take this pearl and show it to one of the regular experts, and then I
will communicate with you."

"Ah, now you are talking business," Egerton smiled. "That is all I want
you to do. And, when you have proved the value of the gem, you can have
the rest to submit to the same authority. In other words, I am going to
put all the pearls into your hands, trusting you implicitly to do the
right thing. But one little stipulation before we part. I have told you
the price, and there will be no reduction on that score. And I would
much rather not accept a cheque. Notes or bearer bonds, if you like. Not
that your husband will make any objection, I am sure."

"I think you are rather a little inclined to count your chickens before
they are hatched, aren't you?" Cora asked. "Of course, you know that I
have already spent a vast sum on my collection?"

"Yes--the papers," Egerton murmured vaguely.

"Of course. You have read it all in the press. And, so far, I have spent
nearly all I am allowed to lay out, and it will not be an easy matter
for me to induce my husband----"

"That I utterly refuse to believe," Egerton said with an air of
gallantry. "I cannot see any man refusing you anything that you had made
up your mind to have. However, that is neither here nor there. Let me
know when you want me, and be as cautious as you like. A single line to
the address I am giving you, saying that the pearl is genuine, will
bring me along to any place you should care to appoint with the rest of
them. Say your own house."

"Very well," Cora agreed. "In two or three days you will hear from me,
and then, we can come to actual business."

Egerton bowed and went his way, leaving Cora with her head in a whirl.
Just for the moment she was swept almost entirely off her feet. It was
an unusual state for her, because she was a woman who kept an iron hand
upon her emotions, but now the mere feel of that smooth little
semi-transparent pebble in her hand set her thrilling from head to foot.
She did not doubt for a moment that the pearl was one of the highest
quality, or that the rest of them fell in any respect short of the
original. And yet there were one or two awkward fences to negotiate
before she could call those twelve little precious objects her own. She
knew perfectly well that it was no use going to her husband. She would
try, of course, but she knew exactly what he would say. Still, fairly
early on the following morning, she called up her car and set out for
Shiffany's, which, as everybody knows, is the finest jewellery
establishment in the world.

She was quite a well-known figure in that palatial establishment, and
there was something like a rush to attend to her needs. A little later
on, she found herself in a private office with one in authority, and to
him, without comment, she handed over the solitary pearl.

She could see the man's eyes sparkle as he examined it, she could see
that he was face to face with something decidedly out of the common. He
turned the pearl over in his hand, then he placed it on the delicate
scales, and after that regarded it long and earnestly with the aid of a
powerful magnifying glass.

"It would be interesting to know where madam procured this," he said.
"Though, of course it would be more than indiscreet on my part to ask
any questions."

"Well, let me ask a question," Cora smiled. "Is that pearl all that it
looks. Or is it a forgery?"

"Oh, no forgery, madam. I never handled anything finer. There are very
few pearls in the world to compare with it. It must have belonged to
some historic collection."

"No, I am quite sure that it didn't," Cora explained. "You are not
suggesting that it was stolen, are you?"

"Certainly not, so far as madam is concerned. That is the sort of pearl
that, if it were missed by its fortunate owner, would be advertised all
over the world."

"Oh, I don't think that you need trouble yourself on that score," Cora
laughed. "At any rate, I am contemplating buying it with a view to
adding to my own collection, and you may be astonished to hear that
there are eleven more where it came from."

"Absolutely impossible, madam," the expert said.

"My good man, there is nothing impossible under the sun," Cora said
coolly. "You see, there are thousands of people who know my ambition, as
far as pearls are concerned, and I suppose that that is why the owner of
this particular one came to me with it. Of course, I was immensely
attracted, and all the more so when he left it in my hands for expert
examination. Besides, if it ever belonged to a collection, it would be
bored, which this is not."

"Yes, I have thought of that," the manager said. "It has certainly not
been in the hands of any firm of jewellers. And you actually tell me
that there are eleven more of these pearls, waiting on your decision. It
sounds incredible."

"Nevertheless, I believe it to be a fact. However, we shall soon know,
because the rest of the pearls will be handed over to me in the course
of the week, and I shall bring them to you for your opinion. If they are
all right, then I shall buy them, and that necklace of which you have
heard will be complete."

"There will be nothing like it on the face of the globe," the expert
said. "We are very much honored, madam, by your confidence, and I need
hardly say that as regards what you have told us there shall be the
strictest confidence."

Cora went on her way gaily enough, and later on in the morning, when she
had finished her usual round of the shops, drove off down town in the
direction of the offices of a famous firm of private inquiry agents,
where she asked to see the manager. She was perfectly candid, as to her
name and requirements.

"You see what I want," she said. "You must send me two of your best men
just before four o'clock on Friday afternoon to my house on
Fifth-avenue, where I shall know how to dispose of them. They will be
hidden in a little room off my boudoir, with the door slightly opened,
and if they hear me sort of accidentally touch a little bell on my
centre table, they will come in at once. And I want them to be armed. I
don't for a moment anticipate the slightest trouble, but it is just as
well to be prepared."

This being finally settled, Cora drove back to the brown stone mansion
on Fifth-avenue, and there gave herself up to thought. She was going to
have those stones, she must have them; she would never be happy until
the money was paid over and they were safely in her possession. But
where the money was coming from she had not the slightest idea except
one, and that she put out of her mind as too dangerous even to be
contemplated. Still, if the worst came to the worst, she might fall back
on that.

She dressed herself presently with more than usual care, and went down
the stairs into the great dining-room, where she knew that her husband
would be awaiting her. She was not dining out that evening, and as to
Van Geldt, it was rarely indeed that he turned into Broadway after he
had consumed his frugal dinner.

She burst upon him, a dazzling vision of beauty and charm and
fascination. He stood there with his back to the fireplace contemplating
her as he might have contemplated some rare and exquisite picture. There
was nothing of the typical Wall-street man about Van Geldt. He was not
lean and gaunt and hungry, neither had he the face of a prize-fighter
nor the jaw of a shark. On the contrary, there was a certain mildness of
aspect about him that suggested a benevolent family solicitor, or,
perhaps, even a retired missionary. For Van Geldt was a connoisseur in
his way, and he knew the finer points of beauty when he saw them. The
prospect before his eyes filled him with a certain warm glow and a touch
of happiness, in the feeling that all this loveliness belonged to him.

And Cora set herself out to please him, as she had never tried to please
him before. She was sparkling and gay and tender by turns. She kept up a
rippling flow of witticisms throughout the whole of the meal, and then,
when it was over, she insisted upon pouring out Van Geldt's coffee
herself and lighting his cigar. When they were alone together, Van Geldt
turned to his wife.

"Well, what is it?" he asked. "Why am I honored to this extent to-night?
Do you know, this is the first dinner we have shared in the last three
weeks. And this morning you told me that you thought of going to the
opera this evening."

"Oh, well," Cora said carelessly, "I changed my mind. Besides, there is
something I want to show you."

"Something you want me to buy, I suppose?"

"I have heard worse guesses," Cora smiled.

With that she took the pearl from her bag hanging over the arm of her
chair, and laid it on the table.




CHAPTER XXIV.


"There, what do you think of that?" she asked with a rippling laugh.
"Did you ever see anything like it before?"

"Really, I don't know," Van Geldt said indifferently. "All these things
are out of my line. A pearl, isn't it?"

"Yes, you stupid man. And one of the finest ever found. There isn't a
finer in Europe or America. I am not going to tell you for the moment
how it came into my hands, but as I have informed you more than once, I
have been searching for ages for a dozen or so of pearls to finish my
collection. And, by the greatest good luck, in the world, I have found
them. This is a specimen. I had it valued this morning at Shiffany's,
and they told me that if I could buy the whole lot for thirty-five
thousand pounds English I might consider myself to be amazingly lucky."

"Oh, indeed! Are you going to buy them?"

"I believe I shall die if I don't," Cora said. "Lot's of women in New
York would jump at the chance, even if it was only to spite me. But
then, you see, I haven't any money."

"What, you actually mean to say----"

"Oh please don't go into that. You gave me a certain sum to spend on the
pearl necklace, and it has practically all gone, though the rope is
nothing like complete. It never will be complete until I have the stones
of which that is one."

Van Geldt shook his head slowly and smilingly.

"Nothing doing, my dear," he said. "I went my limit when you were
starting that very expensive stunt of yours. Haven't you had enough
advertisement out of it already? You are asking me now to give you
something like a quarter of a million dollars, and, honestly, I haven't
got it. When I say I haven't got it, I can't put my hands upon a sum of
ready money like that, without serious inconvenience. I suppose you
don't know, my dear that we millionaires are often hard pushed to find a
hundred thousand dollars in liquid cash. You shake your head, but it is
a fact, all the same."

"Then you won't let me have the money?" Cora said pleadingly.

"I won't, because I can't," Van Geldt said quite firmly, "I am on the
verge of a very big thing now, and I have raked together all the ready
dollars I can."

"Then I suppose it is no use my trying to persuade you any further?"
Cora said. "In that case I shall have to burgle your private safe. Don't
be surprised if you find it empty some day."

Van Geldt laughed easily enough. It had always been a sort of whim with
him to keep a considerable sum of money in negotiable bonds in the
strong-room behind the library. It was his theory that no man ever quite
knew when he might find himself plunged from uncountable riches into
absolute poverty. Then once untoward fate took a hand, one never knows
where misfortunes were going to end. He had seen this sort of thing,
happen more than once in the course of his business career; he had seen
men to whom Wall-street took off its hat one day trying in vain to
borrow a few dollars on that same thoroughfare the next. So in the
strong-room was what Van Geldt was in the habit of calling his last line
of reserves. A fortune in negotiable bonds and other easily manipulated
securities on which to fall back if misfortune or the machinations of
his enemies took him unawares. Two or three bad deals or, worse still, a
long and unexpected illness, might find him with his back to the wall at
any time. And if ever he did find himself in that position, he was not
going to be unarmed.

Cora knew all about this, of course. It had been a joke between them
many times. Moreover, she knew the combination that opened the lock. It
was a master combination, and Van Geldt had confided it to Cora in one
of his candid moments, and told her what to do in case he met with an
accident or had a sudden breakdown, which was the one great thing he
dreaded because, in his experience, that peculiar form of madness had
happened more than once in Wall-street. And there the stuff lay
untouched, as it had lain for years.

It was with a smile upon her lips that Cora touched upon this secret
understanding. And then she flitted gaily from it to another topic, much
as a butterfly lilts from one flower to another. She did not waste any
time in coaxing or the faint suggestion of tears, because she knew her
husband far too well for that.

"Sorry I can't oblige you, my dear," Van Geldt said finally. "But the
thing is impossible. Perhaps a little later on, when the big strain is
relieved I might be able----"

"Not another word," Cora said. "I know how generous you are, and after
all, well--it really does not matter."

All the same, she brooded over her lost opportunity for the next day or
two; but scheme how she would, she could not see her way to raising the
sum she wanted to crown her darling ambition. And all the time the demon
of temptation was whispering in her ear. Van Geldt would never find out;
he would never need that money for the emergency he contemplated, and
long before he would ever have occasion to open the steel drawer in
which those securities lay it would be possible for Cora, with due
economy, to replace it. Not the same bonds, of course, but bonds
belonging to the same corporation. Because Cora was as sharp and keen as
Van Geldt himself, and she had not lived under the same roof with him
all this time without learning something of the ramifications of high
finance.

It was on the third day that she put these thoughts out of her mind and
made her arrangements to receive Vane Egerton and the man to whom the
pearls belonged. Half an hour before their arrival, the two armed
detectives from the agency put in an appearance, and were brought up
into Cora's own private sanctum. There she explained to them what they
were to do, so that they were concealed behind a screen in the next room
with the door ajar when Vane Egerton was announced and came upstairs
with his companion.

Cora took them in with a sweeping glance, Egerton cool and
self-possessed and most perfectly appointed, the other man a rough,
sea-faring type of humanity who touched his forelock respectfully to
Cora as he took his seat on the extreme edge of a chair.

"This is the man Kennedy I was telling you about," Egerton explained.
"He it was who found those pearls. And, if you ask him he will tell you
the whole story."

"As well as I can," the man called Kennedy growled under his breath.
"But, Mr. Egerton, sir, you are quite wrong when you tells the lady as
'ow I found them there pearls."

"Well, it comes to the same thing," Egerton said.

"Not exactly as I did find 'em," the man on the edge of the chair said
doggedly. "You see, lady, I'm a rough man, I am, and I ain't feeling
none too comfortable in this yere beautiful room o' yours. Sort of
feeling as I might break something if I breathes too 'ard. So you must
jest let me tell my story in my own way."

"Oh, please do," Cora said. "And don't hurry."

"Well, it was like this, lady. I 'ad a pal, I 'ad, sort of chap wot was
very like myself, only a deal cleverer and with a proper headpiece upon
'un. Still 'e was only a common sailor, an' many's the v'yages we've
been together. And then I lost sight of 'im. Lost sight of 'im for three
years, I did. The War, or somethink, anyway, it doesn't matter. And when
I runs up ag'in 'im some time ago in Melbourne, I never sees such a
change in a man in my life. Dyin' 'e was. Anybody could see that at a
glance. But afore 'e went off, 'e told all about them pearls your
ladyship is aware of, and just where he'd 'id them. I don't rightly know
as 'e found them 'isself, but they didn't belong to nobody in
partic'lar, and so thinks I to myself they might just as well be mine as
anybody else's. They was found, original in the South Pacific, but where
I don't no no more than the dead. And my mate, 'e tells me as if I could
find 'em, they might be worth a few thousand dollars."

"And you found them?" Cora interrupted.

"Well, in a manner o' speaking, yes, madam. You see I ships on a fruit
steamer as was working on that line, and we gets into bad weather so as
we 'as to take to the boats--at least, some of us did, though I believe
as the captain and the rest o' the crew managed to reach safety. An'
this is where the story comes in."

"The really interesting part," Cora smiled encouragingly.

"Yus just as it is in books. We wasn't more than ten miles from the
place where the pearls were 'idden. I knows exactly where to find 'em,
and whilst my mates in the boat were makin' things snug on the island
against the time we was taken off by a passing ship, I sets off to look
for them stones. And, wot's more, I finds 'em. An' I brought 'em to
America to turn 'em into money when I 'as the good luck to run against
Mr. Egerton, who's bin a passenger on board a big tramp as I was working
on some years ago, and then, thinks I, I'll ask 'is advice. An' I does."

"And a very lucky thing he did," Egerton said, turning to Cora. "If he
had fallen into dishonest hands he would have been robbed surely enough.
But he didn't," Egerton went on rapidly seeing a smile playing about the
corners of Cora's mouth. "He was actually prepared to take ten thousand
dollars for those pearls, and when I told him he had a fortune in his
pocket, he was astounded. And that is why I have brought him here to-day
to tell his story and show his treasure, so that you might be disposed
to have the first chance to buy it, Mrs. Van Geldt."

"Ah, that was very kind and thoughtful of you," Cora said. "Have you got
the pearls with you, Mr. Kennedy?"

By way of reply, Kennedy rose slowly to his feet and produced a little
flexible leather purse from his pocket. Then he turned out the contents
on to the table, and Cora lingered lovingly over them with eyes that
sparkled like living fire.

"Oh, wonderful," she cried. "How lovely! And now, tell me Mr. Kennedy,
what are you asking for your pearls?"




CHAPTER XXV.


There the pearls lay before Cora's surprised and delighted eyes, twelve
little globular objects, each a small fortune in itself. But it was not
the intrinsic value that intrigued her so much as the knowledge that in
the possession of those translucent lures she would possess something
that no other woman in the world could claim as her own. And, on the top
of this, the beauty of the gems!

She let them slide through her fingers, she caressed them lovingly, and
touched them, one by one, with the tip of her pink tongue. No, she could
never part with these pearls again! It was a temptation that no ordinary
woman could resist.

And yet, the price! Thirty-five thousand pounds! A fortune, in itself!
And she had practically nothing--nothing beyond her reputation and her
credit and the knowledge that she was the wife of a millionaire. Yet,
despite this fact, the pearls in her fingers were as much beyond her
reach as if they had been behind iron bars. Still, she must have them,
even if she had to go down on her knees to Van Geldt and implore him to
let her have her way this once, with a promise to redeem the price by
sheer economy.

And yet, as these thoughts were running swiftly through her mind, she
knew perfectly well that it was absolutely hopeless. Her husband would
not be angry, he would not reproach her with extravagance, but in that
calm way of his he would be inflexible. And yet, by some means or other,
the pearls must be hers.

She came out of her waking reverie and glanced across the table at
Egerton who stood very quietly watching her.

"What is the price?" she asked.

"That I have already told you," Vane said. "And I need not remind you
that I could probably procure more elsewhere. The question is, are you
to be the purchaser, or not?"

"Why, of course," Cora smiled. "That is, if you don't mind leaving them
with me for few days. I shall have to take them to my valuer, and if he
says that they are all what they appear to be, then I will appoint a
time when you can come here and collect the money in cash. I should
prefer to pay that way."

"Quite reasonable," Egerton replied. "I have no complaint to make on
that score. Suppose we leave the pearls with you for a week? That will
give you plenty of time to ascertain whether they are genuine or not,
and I can call and complete the transaction. Say this day week, at the
same time."

Cora expressed her approval of that arrangement. She was not going to
trust those precious pearls out of her sight, because they would remain
in the private safe in her own bedroom until she could arrange for the
man from Shiffany's to call in person and settle the matter beyond
question. And, of course, Van Geldt would not be in the house at the
time. In fact, ever since they had been married, Cora had never known
her husband to be under the roof of the Fifth Avenue house between the
hours of nine and six. And then, within a week, Egerton could call and
take his money away, and there would be an end of the whole transaction.

"Very well," she said. "At the same time next Thursday. And when that
times comes, I will give you your money in cash, or I will hand you the
pearls back again."

A few minutes later and Cora was alone, gloating over those new-found
treasures. She carried them to her room presently and locked them safely
away. Within eight and forty hours, the pearls had been certified by the
man from Shiffany's, and he had taken away the rest of those unique gems
with a view to completing the necklace on the lines settled between
himself and Cora.

The next thing, of course, was to inform Van Geldt what had happened.
But not quite in the way that most honest people would have approved.
She brought up the matter casually one night after dinner, and Van Geldt
listened more or less abstractedly.

"Oh, you have found what you want have you," he asked.

"Oh yes," Cora explained. "I have had the greatest luck in the world.
And Shiffany's tell me that my necklace will be unique. It is in their
hands now and they are making a sort of loop of the new gems to form the
base of it."

"Then that is all right." Van Geldt smiled as he emerged once more from
the reverie into which he had fallen. "But where did the money come
from?"

"Oh, that was comparatively easy," Cora said. "One can't have
everything, so I parted with a lot of my diamonds. Indeed, I sold most
of them. I would rather have that pearl necklace than all the diamonds
and emeralds in the world. I shall have one unique thing, at any rate,
and everybody will envy me."

"Yes, I suppose that means a great deal to a woman," Van Geldt smiled.
"I should have liked to accommodate you, but just now I want all the
ready cash upon which I can lay my hands. I am interested in a big
railway combine, and if things come all right, I shall be president of a
huge new combination. I have been financing one of the lines which had
got into a bad way, mostly owing to mismanagement, and, if I can get the
control of that, then I shall be able to dictate my own terms. But it
may be necessary to find another million dollars or so to bolster up the
line of which I am speaking, and that is why I am keeping a tight hand
upon my banking account. I don't want, if I can help it, to touch those
securities in my safe downstairs."

Cora glanced up in some alarm.

"Is it as bad as that?" she asked.

"Bad, my dear child, bad? Things could not be better. I am only saying
what I am, because I want you to understand why I cannot let you run
wild with my cheque book at the present moment. No, I don't think I
shall have to go to the safe, but one never quite knows, and I must be
on the right side."

The color came back into Cora's cheeks and she was glad enough to
side-track the conversation on to other topics. At any rate, she had had
her warning, and she would know how to act. And yet, at the same time
Van Geldt had told her pretty plainly that there would be little or no
risk as far as his private strong-room was concerned. Therefore the
following morning, soon after her husband had departed for Wall-street,
Cora stole into the library, and closing the door carefully behind her
proceeded to open the great safe.

She knew exactly for what she was looking, and precisely where to find
it. With those bearer bonds in her possession, she went up to her own
room and there called up her broker on the telephone. He was a young
man, well known in society, who did a good deal of that sort of thing
for a select circle of lady clients who were fond of an occasional
gamble in stocks and shares. A discreet young man, too, who could be
thoroughly relied upon.

"Is that you, Mr. Cozens?" Cora said, directly she had got through. "Oh,
yes, it is Mrs. Van Geldt speaking. I wish you would send one of your
men round here to call for some securities I want to sell. They are
Anglo-Texan bearer bonds."

"I shouldn't sell those, if I were you," the man responded. "They are
high now, but likely to go still higher."

"Yes, I know," Cora said. "But I want the money. I have two hundred of
them. All thousand-dollar bonds. Could you possibly put the matter
through and let me have the cash to-day?"

"Delighted," came the voice over the telephone. "Of course, you know
your own business best, Mrs. Van Geldt, but don't say I have not warned
you. I will send one of my men round in a taxi within the next
half-hour. What's that? Cash? Oh, yes, the messenger can return again
before lunch-time with the money in notes. No trouble whatever, I assure
you. Good morning."

Well, the thing was done, now, and there was an end of it. Within a
couple of hours Cora had the money in her safe, and then she sat down to
await the coming of Vane Egerton. He arrived presently in his quiet,
almost languid, mood, and entered the room that Cora kept apart for her
intimates with a smile on his face.

"Well, Cora?" he asked. "Well?"

"As a matter of fact, it is well," Cora said. "I find that the pearls
are all you said they were, and at present they are in the hands of
Messrs. Shiffany. Oh, yes, I have bought them, and I hope the great
necklace will be complete, so that I can wear it next Wednesday to that
big affair of Mrs. Tamberge's! You know the party I mean. I believe that
several royalties will be present, and I think I can look forward to a
sensation."

"I am quite sure you can," Egerton said admiringly. "You could do that,
my dear Cora, if you hadn't so much as a jewel in the world. But, quite
seriously, let me congratulate you upon possessing so unique a set of
gems. Unfortunately, I shall not be present to see your triumph, though
I might have managed it if I had known of it beforehand. I suppose the
money is ready? Not that I want it for the moment, and if you haven't
got it, an acknowledgment from your husband to the effect that he is
good for the dollars, will be quite sufficient for Kennedy and myself."

"Oh, my husband doesn't do business like that," Cora laughed. "You see,
this is entirely my own affair, and he knows very little about it. If
you will wait here a minute or two, I will come back and pay you the
amount due in hard cash."

She flitted out of the room and came back, a minute later, with a bundle
of large currency notes which Egerton made some show of counting before
putting them away in his pocket.

"Well, that is a good thing well done," he said. "Upon my word, Cora,
you are a woman to be envied. Who would ever have thought that the
little circus girl would have come to this high estate? But you will go
higher still."

Cora swept him a little curtsy.

"That is my ambition." She smiled. "I think I am entitled to
congratulate you. But one thing, please. This transaction is entirely
one between ourselves."

"You can trust me implicitly," Egerton said.




CHAPTER XXVI.


Cora stood admiring herself in the long cheval glass in her
dressing-room with that wonderful string of pearls about her neck. She
had dressed up to her new treasures, and she was more than satisfied
with the result. She was going to create a great sensation in the big
mansion, only a few doors away from her house on Fifth-avenue, and she
was looking forward to her triumph without so much as an extra
heart-beat. She knew that there would be nobody present at that
brilliant gathering who could compare with her in the way of beauty and
charm and fascination. She was going to finish, eventually, absolutely
at the head of the Four Hundred, and she confidently expected those
marvellous pearls to carry her along in that direction. She would read
all about it in the papers to-morrow; indeed, in imagination, she could
almost read the description now. And if, occasionally, a little twinge
of conscience pricked her, or the shadow of guilt hovered over her head,
she put these troubles aside lightly, and trusted to the gods of happy
chance to see her through. If the worst came to the worst, she could
sell the rest of her extensive stock of jewellery and replace those
bonds with others belonging to the same incorporated stock, so that if
her husband ever came to need them he would be none the wiser for the
change.

Moreover, she had elicited from him adroitly that the crisis to which he
had alluded was not likely to recur, and this had made for ease of mind
and a certain sense of recklessness. Van Geldt had seen the pearl
necklace, which he dutifully admired as a husband should, but, from his
point of view, it was no more than a mere toy, and his smile showed that
he thought so.

"Better be careful with it, my dear," he said. "Every pearl crook in New
York knows all about it by this time. You take my advice, and keep that
necklace at the bank, and only get it out for special occasions. Then,
if you like, I will have a replica made for you to wear in a general
way, and, if you lose it, then the thieves will have the trouble for
their pains. Everybody is aware that you have got the necklace, which, I
understand, was shown in Shiffany's window before it was brought here,
so that there can be no doubt as to its being the goods. And, if you
wear an imitation, every woman will believe that it is the real thing."

It was quite a good suggestion, and Cora made up her mind to act on it.
In due course, she would get the bank to hand over the necklace to
Shiffany's, and then it would go back to the vaults again when the
duplicate was completed.

But not to-night. To-night of all nights, she must wear that glorious
toy about her white throat and move through the magnificent rooms of the
big house down the street with the air of one who quite outshines her
fellow women. Moreover, she was going alone. It was not the sort of
entertainment to appeal to Van Geldt, and he had steadily declined to
take any part in it.

So that Cora would have to chaperon herself. It was a perfect night,
warm for the time of year, and with a somewhat heavy mist hanging over
the city. And, it being absolutely dry under foot, Cora decided to walk
the hundred yards or so that lay between her and her destination. It
seemed ridiculous to order out the car to take her so small a distance.

She had not seen Van Geldt all day. For once in a way, he had not
returned to dinner. He had told her that the big combine had reached a
point when it would be possible, within a few hours, to spring it on the
public. There were some final important details to be settled, and these
might keep him late, so that it would be midnight before he was back on
Fifth-avenue.

Five minutes later, Cora walked down the wide staircase, smothered in a
scarlet wrap that fastened to her throat, and tripped down the more or
less crowded pavement until she came to her destination. By that time
the roadway for hundreds of yards in either direction was blocked by
great flashing cars, discharging their dainty burdens on the velvet-pile
carpet that led up to the big house. Then Cora, resplendently regal in a
cunningly simple dress and those magnificent pearls about her throat,
sailed up the head of the staircase where her hostess was awaiting her
friends.

"Ah Cora," Mrs. Tamberge said with her pleasantest and sweetest smile.
"Delighted to see you. My word, those are the pearls, are they?
Wonderful, magnificent! I had a glance at them in Shiffany's window a
day or two ago, and they filled me with envy. I am not a very murderous
person as a rule, but, really, my dear, at that particular moment--but
there, you know what I mean."

Cora passed on from group to group of people she knew, and through a
great many other groups who were strangers to her. She was happily
conscious of the sensation she was creating and, with the knowledge of
this uppermost in her mind, gave herself up to the enjoyment of the
evening. It was her triumph from first to last, and everybody seemed to
be inclined to bow down and acknowledge it.

"You are the most wonderful thing I have ever met, Mrs. Van Geldt," her
supper partner ventured to remark audaciously. "Upon my word, I look
upon myself as specially honored."

It was the society broker Cozens who was speaking. There was no
mistaking the sincere admiration in those rather audacious eyes of his,
but then, Mostyn Cozens was rather a privileged person, and moreover, to
him the secrets of half the women there were known. Not for nothing did
he handle their financial affairs.

"You admire my pearls, then?" Cora asked with a smile.

"Dear lady, who wouldn't? I never saw anything like them. Not that a
mere man's opinion is worth much. And you really have courage enough to
come here with that huge fortune round your throat?"

"And why not?" Cora asked. "We are amongst friends here, fair women and
brave men, and all that sort of thing. You are not seriously suggesting
a hold up in Fifth-avenue, surely."

"Well, hardly. Still, you never know. The thing has been done in a big
store in broad daylight, with hundreds of people in the street, and why
not in Fifth-avenue under cover of the darkness? The thing could be
done; you know. A sudden raid by three or four determined men and the
holding up of the servants and the rest of us. We are absolutely
unarmed."

"Oh, I am not afraid," Cora laughed. "But what a splendid thing it would
be for the papers! One of the greatest houses in New York held up after
midnight by some of those mysterious, fascinating crooks, and every
woman robbed of her jewels, whilst the men were hurried into a corner at
the point of a revolver. Yes, I suppose it would not be so very
difficult. A confederate in the house to cut the telephone wires and all
that kind of thing. Still, I am not afraid. Do you know that I walked
here?"

"Is that a fact?" Cozens exclaimed. "You actually walked here with a
king's ransom hanging round your neck? I hope you are not going to
repeat your experiment on the way home."

Cora evaded a direct response. She had not the least intention of
accepting this rather audacious young man's escort on the way back to
her own establishment. As she had come, so she would return.

It was nearly three o'clock in the morning when Cora said adieu to her
hostess and tripped lightly down the steps into the road. There was a
constant stream of cars coming and going, and, even at that late hour, a
handful of homeless outcasts watching all this ostentation and splendor
with hungry eyes. A heavy mist hung over the road, so that within a few
yards Cora was as much alone as if she had been in some quiet country
place.

Then, out of the mist loomed a shadow, a queer elusive shadow as black
as the night itself, and, an instant later, a bony hand clutched Cora's
throat, and she was conscious that the other hand was snatching at the
pearls about her neck. A wild scream burst from her lips, and, almost
before it had finished, another figure appeared, apparently out of an
area, and two shots rang out in quick succession. Then, the hand relaxed
its grasp, and the shadow vanished as if it had never been.

A big policeman, holding a still-smoking revolver in his hand, came up
to Cora and asked her if she was hurt.

"I was watching," he said. "In fact, I was down that area waiting
instructions. But when I heard you scream, I guessed pretty well what
had happened, and I fired at what looked to me like a man. Have you lost
anything, lady?"

"I don't think so," Cora said. "I was walking home the few yards to my
own house when I was attacked. I am Mrs. Van Geldt."

"I knew that, my lady," the policeman said. "There's two of us to-night
specially told off to look after you. Are you quite sure you haven't
lost anything?"

Hurriedly, Cora put her hand up to her breast, and then the awful truth
flashed across her. The necklace itself was intact, but the loop at the
bottom, with its 12 unique pearls, had been torn away and, no doubt, the
thief had got clear with it.

"Part of my necklace has gone," she gasped. "The part I value most. No,
please don't leave me. At any rate see me as far as my own door. I shall
be quite safe then, because I have a latch key in my bag, and, after
that, you can go off and give the alarm at once. But please don't leave
me alone."

A minute later Cora found herself on the right side of her own front
door, listening to the sound of the policeman's footsteps pounding down
the road. She knew that she was practically alone in the house, for her
husband and the servants would be gone to bed. Then she saw that there
was a light in the library. She walked in there to see if Van Geldt was
still sitting up.

Van Geldt was not sitting up at all. He was lying on his face in front
of the strong-room door, without life or motion. The door of the
strong-room was wide open, and Cora could see that the steel drawer
containing the securities she had stolen had been pulled out.

Shaken to her soul, she bent over the prostrate body.




CHAPTER XXVII.


Cora had seen too many crises like this in her short exotic life to lose
her head in such an emergency. It did hot need more than a cursory
glance to tell her that Van Geldt was dead. There was no sign on his
face or in the attitude of his body to suggest that a struggle had taken
place, or that robbery had had anything to do with it. It looked as if
he had collapsed there and died immediately after he had opened the door
of the strong-room. And one glance into the room itself clearly proved
to Cora that her husband had come there in search of that very parcel of
securities which she had abstracted when she had made up her mind to buy
the pearls. Undoubtedly, the sudden shock had killed him.

He would know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, exactly what had happened.
He would know that his wife had robbed him in order to gratify her
vanity, and, no doubt, the lightning flash of the discovery had brought
his life to an end.

Cora realised this just as clearly as if she had been in the room and
seen the whole thing happen. She could see Van Geldt coming home after
his late meeting on purpose to procure those securities which, at the
last moment, he had found that he needed. He was going to take them to
that secret meeting of his, and, no doubt, he had let himself into the
house with his own latch-key after the servants had gone to bed. For Van
Geldt had been quite firm on that point. Unless, some festivity was
going on in the house, he always insisted that the staff should be
allowed to retire at an early hour. Doubtless, there had been nobody up
when Van Geldt returned and went into the library with the intention of
opening his strong-room. Then he had discovered his loss with that awful
tragic result.

All this was clear in Cora's mind as she ran into the hall and switched
on all the lights. Then she climbed the stairs to her maid's bedroom and
aroused the woman from sleep.

"Get up, get up at once," she said. "Something has happened to your
master. He is lying unconscious in the library and I am very much afraid
that he is beyond human aid. I am going downstairs again to telephone
for the doctor."

The frightened servants appeared, one by one, and then, at length, the
fashionable doctor who attended the household from time to time when his
services were needed. He listened to Cora's explanation as to how she
had come home at that early hour of the morning to find her husband
apparently dead in the library.

"Yes, I am very much afraid he is," the doctor said, after he had turned
over the body and looked into the white, still face. "A case of sudden
heart failure, I should say. Have you any idea what time he came back
home?"

"Not the least," Cora said. "But perhaps the servants can tell you that.
You had better ask them."

But the servants, with one accord, were quite emphatic in declaring that
their master had not returned before they went to bed.

"In that case it is impossible for anybody to say whether he was alone
or not," the doctor said. "I mean, did he or did he not, bring somebody
with him? Or did he find some stranger already in the library? Has he
been robbed?"

"Ah, that I could not possibly say," Cora murmured. "But I see no signs
of a struggle anywhere."

The doctor admitted this to be the case. There was no sign of a
struggle, nor was there any indication on the face of the dead man that
he was suffering from any mental disturbance when he was stricken down.
It was as if he had died in his sleep.

"There is no suggestion of robbery," the doctor hinted.

"Oh, no, I don't think so," Cora said. "I know pretty well what was in
the safe, and it doesn't seem to me as if anything has been disturbed.
Don't you think it would be just as well if we called in the police? We
are wasting time here."

And the doctor leapt eagerly at the suggestion. He could see that Cora
was very white and shaken and that, at the same time, she was quite
under nervous control. So far as he was concerned, he could do no more.
He lingered there until the arrival of the police, and, after telling
them all he knew, he took his departure with a promise to return later
in the day. There would be a post-mortem, of course, which he would have
to conduct in person. It was the best part of two hours later before the
representatives of the law left the house, having sealed the library and
being firmly of opinion that neither robbery nor violence had had
anything to do with the case. It was just natural death and no more. And
that was the verdict of the jury, when the time came for them to
pronounce judgment. It was a verdict backed up by the doctor's evidence
and, indeed, there was no other conclusion at which to arrive.

Meanwhile, the affair created a great sensation throughout the whole of
the American continent. One of the biggest and most successful
financiers had died in the zenith of his career, leaving an enormous
fortune to his young wife. All this Cora learnt in good time. She learnt
that Van Geldt had left his secret meeting shortly after midnight with
the intention of going to his house to procure certain bonds. And he had
failed to return to the hotel where he and his financier friends were
settling the great railroad deal.

That exclusive gathering had not troubled any more about him, because
the business in hand was nearly finished before he left, and it was
found, at the last moment, that the documents for which he had gone in
search of were not needed.

All this Cora learnt from her husband's manager and confidential
assistant. It was part of the case that did not come out in court seeing
that there was no necessity for it.

"Do you know precisely, what he came for?" Cora asked the manager when
he was telling her the story.

"Indeed, I have not the slightest idea," the latter said. "If any man
was in Mr. Van Geldt's confidence, I was. But there were certain things
that he told nobody. I don't even know what he was after on the night of
his death. At any rate, whatever it was, it was not needed. Did you
know, Mrs. Van Geldt?"

"Why ask me?" Cora said with an air of innocence. "Of course, I knew
something of my husband's business, and I even know the combination that
opened the strong-room door. Curiously enough, he told me that because
he always had an idea that something might happen to him, something very
much like what did take place. You are not suggesting that anything is
missing, are you?"

"Oh, dear no, madam," the manager replied. "In any case, it makes very
little difference so far as you are concerned. Everything at the offices
is in absolute order, as your solicitors will tell you. Of course,
certain big transactions will have to be dropped now, unless you
instruct me to go on with them, which you will be able to do after your
husband's will is read. But if you like to dispose of the business----"

"Oh there is nothing I should like better," Cora said. "I never want to
hear that hateful word again. And I suppose that I shall have sufficient
to live upon?"

The manager smiled respectfully.

"Well, yes," he said. "There will be something like ten million dollars
at your disposal, probably more. And if you want to draw on the firm for
any amount in reason, I shall be only too happy to make the necessary
arrangements with our bankers."

It was only natural that the death of Van Geldt should have caused so
much comment all over America. And, on top of it, was the story of the
stolen pearls. A sort of double romance and melodrama occurring almost
simultaneously to the same woman and she one of America's leading
beauties. For days together, the press seemed to have nothing else to
talk about. A thousand and one theories were advanced to account for the
way in which the pearls had been stolen and amateur detectives from all
over the States were advancing theories in their favorite newspapers.

But the police themselves were absolutely at fault. The head of the
department in New York could hold out no hope to Cora that she would
ever see her wonderful treasures again.

"I cannot understand how it happened," he told Cora, when she went round
to headquarters to see him. "I don't suppose you know it, madam, but we
had you under close observation from the very moment that those pearls
were delivered to your house. I mean, directly after Shiffany had
delivered the complete article. We had a hint to the effect that the
robbery of those pearls would be undertaken from a certain quarter and
we acted accordingly. You were watched from your doorstep to the house
where you went. And it was one of our own men who hung about until you
left Mrs. Tamberge's establishment with instructions not to lose sight
of you. It was he who dashed out of the area and fired those two shots.
But, as you know, he was just a little too late, and I might tell you
quite candidly that I have not the remotest idea whose hand it was that
robbed you."

"But the people you are speaking about," Cora suggested.

"Well, as a matter of fact, we have ascertained beyond the shadow of a
doubt that the gang we had in view had nothing whatever to do with the
robbery. They were able to prove complete alibis. And, to be quite
candid, they were greatly disappointed to find that they had been
forestalled. You see, madam, there are so many of those gangs in New
York that we find great difficulty in keeping tabs with them. At any
rate, I might just as well confess that we are utterly at sea over this
business. We shall have to fall back upon the humiliating device of
offering a big reward for the discovery of the missing gems. That may
produce them, but even then we shall not be able to take proceedings."

"I am afraid I am not troubling much about that," Cora smiled. "All I
want is my pearls back. And, if you can manage that for me, I shall be
prepared to pay any price in reason."

"It should not be difficult," the policeman said. "Of course, those are
marked stones and very difficult to dispose of. Leave it to me and I
will do the best I can."




CHAPTER XXVIII.


The man called Vane Egerton--which, as a matter of fact, was his proper
name--sat in his apartment room in a small flat, just off Maddison
Square, smoking a cigarette and evidently awaiting the coming of some
expected guest. There was a box of cigars on the table, together with a
syphon and glasses and a bottle of genuine Scotch whisky, procured from
some dubious quarter, despite the laws of prohibition. And, on the
table, also, was a small packet containing 12 large pearls. Egerton
smiled from time to time as his eye fell on these, and the mere sight of
them seemed to fill him with the liveliest satisfaction. When, at
length, somebody tapped at the door, and he gave an answer in response,
he did not trouble to remove those gleaming objects from the new-comer's
gaze.

"Ah, here you are," he said, "I thought my message would fetch you. Sit
down, Fishwick, and make yourself at home."

"Good Lord!" Fishwick exclaimed, "You don't mean to say you have got
them? Well, you are a wonder!"

"Yes, there they are," Egerton smiled. "The twelve pearls that came so
romantically into the possession of the seaman who called himself
Kennedy. But I don't think we need worry any more about Kennedy. He is
just a minor actor in the comedy and he was only too glad to get back to
sea again, well rewarded for his labor. Therefore, exit Kennedy. And
now, what about it?"

The man called Fishwick stroked his chin thoughtfully. He was rather a
slightly built individual, quick and alert and looking the business man
to his finger-tips.

"Well," he said. "I should like to hear a bit more about it first. You
sold those pearls to Mrs. Van Geldt for a big sum of money, intending
all the time, to get them back again. I don't think there need be any
nice display of feeling between us two Egerton, because I know you and
you know me."

"Oh, I know you right enough," Egerton said with the suggestion of a
sneer. "You are a highly respectable man, trusted by your employers, and
I suppose you have handled more valuable stones than any assistant or
commissioner in the States. As Neidermeyer's traveller, both in America
and Europe, you are known to the trade as quite a big noise. And all the
time you have been with Neidermeyer's, you have been drawing a handsome
income in commissions and playing the game with them as a strictly
honorable and upright man. And all the time under that cloak, you have
been handling stolen property worth millions. You have gone about
disposing of literally tons of gems for people like myself, who have
come into possession of them in circumstances, well--we need not discuss
that."

"But why go into my biography like this?" Fishwick exclaimed.

"Oh, well, I thought it just as well to remind you. Now I think this is
the biggest thing we have ever handled together and it will be one
calling for all your cleverness arid resource. Now, can you handle those
pearls on the table safely?"

"Ah, that is a question I have been asking myself ever since I got your
note. I have had some pretty things through my hands between here and
Europe and I have never failed yet to get rid of all the stones that you
and others have trusted me with. And I don't mind telling you that I
have done very well out of it. Another trip like the last, and I am out
of this business altogether. I shall hand in my resignation to
Neidermeyer's and they will accept it with great regret. Then they will
probably give me a service of plate, or something of that sort, and I
shall disappear."

"And where are you going to, my pretty maid?" Egerton smiled.

"Ah, well, that is no business of yours. It is a little paradise of my
own, somewhere on the South American continent where the police are not
too inquisitive, though I don't fear them very much. Still, you never
know, and I am taking every precaution. I am in a position to go now, as
a matter of fact, but I could do with a few more thousand dollars and
that is why I am disposed to take up this pearl business."

"And you think you can manage it?"

"Oh I can manage it right enough. But not in America. Somewhere in
Europe, I think. I am due out of the States in a week or two, and, if
you like to trust those pearls to me----"

The speaker hesitated for a moment, as also did Egerton. He had never
seen his companion in crime in quite the same mood as he appeared in
that afternoon. There was a certain air of detachment about him that
struck Egerton as peculiar. He had half a mind to make some excuse for
breaking off the negotiations and attempt to dispose of the pearls
himself. But that was a line of rascality of which he knew nothing. He
knew how to obtain possession of articles of great price, but, the
disposal thereof was a sealed book to him. Moreover, that meant
something exceedingly delicate in the way of finesse and often led the
man who did the work into serious trouble. On the whole, he preferred to
hand the stuff over to be worked on commission and lie himself hidden in
the background.

"It was a difficult job," he said reminiscently. "You see, the whole
thing had to be worked within the distance of a few yards. Moreover,
there were a good many people about, even at that late hour of the
morning. And I had a hunch, as they say in these parts, that the police
were keeping a close eye on our lovely Cora. And begad, I was right. I
saw one of the flying squad lurking in the very next area to the one in
which I was hidden and I had to take a big risk when I saw Cora coming
along, knowing pretty well that she would scream out and that the fellow
next door to me was armed. It was touch and go, I can tell you. It was
only by the sheerest bad luck that I didn't get hold of the lot. Still,
I managed to snatch the bulk of the plunder, and there it is, on the
table for you to see. But a bullet passed within an inch of my head
before I was shinning it off down the road and I managed to reach the
car that was waiting for me and got clear. However, I managed it, so we
need not discuss that point any further. Now, what I suggest is this.
You take those pearls with you on your next trip to Europe and dispose
of them. That is, if you can."

"Oh, there will be no 'if you can' about it," Fishwick boasted. "There
are plenty of other women in the world who have the same ambition as
Cora and they would not mind taking the risk. And, there are lots of
dealers who would take the risk too. Big profit, you know, and no
questions asked. Oh, my dear fellow, I know my business. However, please
yourself."

Egerton hesitated no longer.

"Very well," he said. "That is your side of the game, and I am as
ignorant as a child as regards it. Take the stuff and make the best you
can out of it."

"Quite," Fishwick said, "But where do I come in?"

"Oh, halves, of course. We have always gone halves, haven't we? We went
halves over that Arizona copper mine."

"Oh, did we?" Fishwick said dryly. "We didn't get much out of that,
anyway. Not a penny, as far as I was concerned."

"Ah, that was because certain people opened their mouths a bit too
soon," Egerton hastened to say. "Anyway, it is the only failure we have
ever had. You trusted me over that matter, and I am going to trust you
implicitly over this. Now then, help yourself and we will talk about
something else."

Fishwick departed in due course with the pearls in his possession and
for the best part of a week Egerton saw no more of his accomplice. And
then, one evening, there came by post a few lines in Fishwick's
handwriting that brought the blood into Egerton's face and set him
pacing the room with curses on his lips. Only a few typewritten lines on
a plain sheet of paper that ran thus:--


"Dear Egerton,--

"By the time you get this, I shall be on my way to Europe with those
pearls in my pocket. I don't think you need look to me for any share of
the spoil, because, if you do, you are going to fall down badly. I shall
be able to dispose of them and, when I have done so, I shall leave for
the little paradise of which I told you within a month.

"You reminded me last time we met about that Arizona copper mine. You
double-crossed me over that and got away with over two hundred thousand
dollars, half of which belonged to me. I found it out almost directly,
but I said nothing because I have been waiting my turn ever since. And
now that turn has come.

"I have settled up affairs with my firm, by which I mean Neidermeyer's,
and they understand that this is the last trip I shall ever take on
their behalf. I am putting a few commissions through for them in Europe
and, once they are complete I shall be a free man. They think I am
coming back to America, but there they are wrong, because the land of my
fathers, so to speak, lies in quite another direction.

"I may be in England longer than I expect, possibly a month or two, but
I have not the least fear that you will follow me there, because, if
ever a man left his country for his country's good, you are that
distinguished individual."


For a long time Egerton paced up and down the floor of the room, his
face black with rage and with something like murder in his heart. He
knew that every word of the letter was true, and he knew that Fishwick
had deliberately made use of him with a view to getting even over that
Arizona copper business.

"Very well, my friend," he muttered under his breath. "You think I am
afraid to go back to England, do you? But you don't know that I have
been there for the best part of six months every year since I was
invited so cordially to turn my back upon the good ancestral home. Well,
Fishwick, we shall see."

Egerton turned and took down his telephone receiver. Then he called up
the offices of the Cunard Line and promptly booked a passage to England
by the next boat.




CHAPTER XXIX.


Fishwick, at once a trusted and reliable servant and an unmitigated
scoundrel, turned his back upon New York for what he hoped was the last
time. He had certain work for the great firm of Neidermeyer on the
continent of Europe and, when that was finished, he would be a free
agent in the future. Within a few months, he hoped to find himself
somewhere in South America, where, for the rest of his life, he could
live in ease and comfort.

For Fishwick was of a somewhat romantic turn of mind. He wanted the
sunny skies and the luxurious foliage in the background, with palm
beaches and blue lagoons, quite in accordance with the pattern laid down
by certain novelists. And it would be no fault of his own if he failed
to get away with all these things.

Still, he was not quite so easy in his mind as he might have been. He
had done a great deal of shady work in his time in connection with Vane
Egerton and, on nearly every occasion, Egerton had got away with the
lion's share of the plunder. And though Fishwick had not shown that he
felt this conduct on that part of his confederate, it had cost him a
great searching of heart and a good many bitter and angry moments. He
had waited patiently enough for the day when he could get even, and now
that day had arrived.

Perhaps it would have been just as well if he had simply vanished with
the pearls and never been heard of again. He had only to finish his work
in Europe and then to step upon a steamer bound for Rio Grande, leaving
Egerton to wonder what had become of him and what he had done with those
twelve precious pearls. But, at the last, he could not restrain a wild
longing to let Egerton know that he had not been fooled all these years
and that he was getting his own back at last. Hence the letter that had
caused Vane Egerton to figuratively tear his hair and set off in pursuit
of his partner.

He knew perfectly well that Egerton was the last man to take such an
affront lying down. He knew the vengeful and vindictive nature of the
man, so that his heart was full of fear. Still he had got a good long
start, and if he could keep out of Egerton's way for a month, then he
would be absolutely safe.

He lingered a few days in Paris, settling a matter there, and then
crossed over to London, where he put up as usual at the Palatine Hotel.
Another week would see his legitimate business at an end, and he
calculated that a further fortnight would enable him to get rid of those
pearls at a very handsome profit.

Yet, all the time, the shadow of Egerton was hanging over him. That was
perhaps why he took every step to hide his tracks. For this reason he
removed all the marks from his clothing and reduced identity to a
vanishing point. And then, when the right moment came for him to
disappear, he left the Palatine with only the pearls in his possession
and the two cases of valuables belonging to Neidermeyers were deposited
in the hotel safe. At the last moment he would forward the receipt for
these to Neidermeyer's financial agents in London with instructions to
collect the cases, and then he, himself, would go out into the darkness,
so to speak. It was rather a characteristic of his complex nature that
he made no attempt to rob or deceive his legitimate employers. From that
point of view he had always played a straight game; first, because it
paid him to do so, and, secondly, because, under a great name like
Neidermeyer's he could carry on his illicit work without danger of
suspicion. And, once this was done, he made his way to Birmingham with
the intention of trying to do a deal with the jeweller, Fastnet. He
arrived there on the evening before Whit-Saturday and made arrangements
over the telephone to see Fastnet the following day. He would have much
preferred Fastnet to come and see him, but he dared not make a point of
that, and he dared not linger much longer, because he had a vague idea
that Egerton was not very far off. It was all very well to tell the
latter that he was afraid to show his face in his native land, but it
was by no means a certainty. Neither was Fishwick to know that, for some
considerable time past, Egerton, under an assumed name and properly
disguised, was in the habit of spending some months in the year in
England. This was a vital matter which Fishwick was destined to find
out, in good time.

Meanwhile, he must get rid of those pearls. He must persuade Fastnet to
buy them and to ask no questions. He knew perfectly well that Fastnet
had a client who was as keen on collecting pearls as Cora Van Geldt had
been, because Fastnet had told him so during his last tour round the big
dealers in England. But then, so far as Fishwick knew, Fastnet was a
strictly honorable man and, not in the least likely to run any risks,
even if he could see an enormous profit dangling before his eyes. And,
moreover, Fastnet probably knew everything in connection with the recent
troubles in New York. He would know, for instance, the details of Van
Geldt's tragic death and most certainly be aware of the story of Cora
Van Geldt's missing treasures. That was the matter that the police had
seen to. No doubt by this time all police headquarters in Europe would
have been supplied with details connected with the missing pearls.
Still, there was just a chance, and, in any case, things like pearls are
not so very easy to identify.

Of course, Fishwick was not to know that Van Geldt himself, before he
died, had insisted upon those pearls being measured and weighed and
photographed. That was an important item that did not enter into
Fishwick's calculations. Anyway, if he could induce Fastnet to buy the
gems, it didn't very much matter what happened afterwards, because he,
Fishwick, would be thousands of miles away where he could afford to
laugh at the authorities.

But Fastnet was certain to ask questions. And, this being admitted, it
was up to Fishwick to tell him some plausible story as to how the things
had come into his hands. Perhaps he could induce the Birmingham dealer
to believe that they belonged to Neidermeyer's, and that they had come
into the hands of that famous firm as security for a loan to some noted
society women. Or perhaps he might fake up some sort of plausible story
with a touch of Russia in it.

Yes, that was the idea. Russian crown jewels. Hidden by the man who had
stolen them at the time of the imperial tragedy who had been waiting all
these years for an opportunity to transfer them to America where they
were offered for sale.

By the time that Fishwick stepped into Fastnet's office, he had got his
story more or less pat. He laid the pearls on the table before Fastnet
and asked his opinion of them.

Fastnet, of course, had been almost paralysed. These were just the
pearls that he wanted and, in ordinary circumstances, he would have been
ready to pay almost any price for them.

"Where on earth did they come from?" he asked.

"Oh, that," Fishwick, said coolly, "is a little more than I can tell
you. Question is, would you like them?"

"Most assuredly I should like them," the jeweller replied. "They are
precisely what I was looking for and never expected to get. I think I
told you all about that the last time you were here."

"Yes, I remember that," Fishwick said. "And that is why I am here again.
I could have sold them in Paris three times over but I remembered my
promise to you and and there they are for your first refusal."

"For which I am obliged," Fastnet smiled. "But you can hardly expect me
to buy a unique set like that without asking a few questions. If they
were just ordinary pearls, I should not hesitate for a moment. But they
are not. For all I know to the contrary, they might have been those
stolen from Mrs. Van Geldt."

"They might, but they are not," Fishwick said coolly.

"Then where on earth did they come from?"

"Ah, that I can't tell you precisely. Can't you think of some country in
Europe where such things were more or less plentiful before the war? I
dare say millions of pounds worth of gems were stolen and subsequently
lost in that big struggle. I mean looted from palaces and all that sort
of thing and then hidden, never to be recovered again, because the man
who originally stole them was killed in a fight, or perhaps a
revolution."

Fastnet looked up with understanding in his eyes.

"Oh, that's the idea," he murmured softly. "Russian crown jewels and all
that sort of thing. Belonging to nobody, unless you reckon with the
Soviet Government. Ah, in that case, it is a very different matter.
Can't you be more explicit?"

"No, I am afraid I can't, for the simple reason that there is nothing
more to be explicit about," Fishwick said. "You know as well as I do
that pre-war Russia was crammed with historic treasures. Crown jewels
and the family heirlooms of grand dukes and all that sort of thing. And
how much of it got away in the revolution? And how much more was left
behind? Why, during the last two or three years, Russia has been more or
less run on the proceeds of these family treasure houses. Well, that is
where they came from anyway. And, if you like to buy them, they are
yours at a price."

"Very good," Fastnet said. "They are exactly what I want and you may
consider them as good as sold. But I have to consult my client first,
because this transaction runs into big money. Come back to me again
after the holidays are over and I will arrange for the lady to meet you
here----"

"Yes, that's all right," Fishwick said hurriedly. "I will come any time
you like to make an appointment. At the same time, I should be glad to
leave these pearls in your hands. I never have been robbed yet, but,
mind you, it is nervous work, and I have been walking about the streets
with such things in my possession. I hope you won't mind if I ask you to
take care of the stuff."

"You mean lock them up in my safe?"

"That is precisely what I do mean," Fishwick replied.

"Very well then, I will. And I will let you know when my client is ready
for the interview. All the same, I would much rather you took the pearls
away with you. Still----"




CHAPTER XXX.


Fishwick returned to his hotel, feeling that his time had by no means
been wasted. He had managed to interest Fastnet without in the least
arousing his suspicions, and he knew enough of the world to be certain
that the lady in question would never be able to resist those rosy
treasures once she had caught sight of them. And, even if Fastnet
decided at the last moment to back out, then it would be no difficult
matter to obtain the lady's address and bring off the deal with her
privately.

So here was Fishwick, more or less at a loose end for a day or two until
the Whitsuntide holidays were over, and wondering what on earth to do
with himself. He had absolutely finished with Neidermeyer after he had
sat down and written a letter to their London agents, enclosing the
receipt for two cases in the safe at the Palatine Hotel. And this being
done, he wondered how he was going to kill time between now and next
Wednesday or Thursday.

He was turning this matter over in his mind after luncheon when he
noticed a letter in the grill outside the office addressed to himself
and this he took from the rack, wondering who his correspondent writing
from London might be. He sat back in the lounge with a cigar between his
lips and tore open the envelope.

There was not much inside, only a few lines typed on plain paper, but
those few lines filled him with dismay. A feeling of fear clutched at
his heart as he read as follows:--


"Leaving England for good, are you? Going to spend the rest of your life
somewhere down south in the eternal sunshine. And a very pretty
arrangement, too. But not quite yet.

"In making your arrangements, you seem to have forgotten all about The
Old Curiosity Shop. But other people haven't. If you value your future
and your safety and don't want to come to an exceedingly unpleasant end,
take the next train to Abbotsbury. And when you get up there, walk along
the Worcester-road until about a mile out of the town you come to a
country hotel called the White Hart. Then cross the line and walk back
four houses. When you reach the last one, walk up to the front door,
through the green-house where the roses are, and enter the house. You
need not trouble to knock. Just walk straight in, through the hall to
the garden room at the back and wait there. But don't do this until you
are pretty sure that your movements are not watched. And, whatever
happens, don't fail or--well, don't fail. Just remember Mr. Quilp!"


Fishwick read this again and again with the sweat pouring down his face.
He knew, only too well, what that letter meant and at whose hands it had
been dictated. And he knew, moreover, that he dared not defy so plain a
warning. He was being carefully watched and every movement of his noted.
Not that he had seen anything suspicious, but because now he knew.

The last thing in the world he wanted was to obey this summons. But he
was bitterly conscious of the fact that if he did not do so then he
would end up with a knife between his shoulders or his body floating
lifeless, down some convenient river.

He would go, of course, and purchase his life at the price of those
pearls. Whom, exactly, he was going to meet he could not guess, for
there are many men in the underworld with whom he had come in contact
during his illicit dealings in the last few years.

Well, if the worst came to the worst he would have to disgorge his prey
and once he was resigned to the fact, he called up a taxi and left the
hotel, and an hour and a half later found himself walking down the
Worcester-road leading out of Abbotsbury.

Yes, this was the spot, right enough, for there was the White Hart, and
on the other side of the railway siding four houses standing in their
own neat grounds. He passed these, until he came to the last where he
paused at the gate, and looking over it, saw the little greenhouse
jutting out from the porch. Outwardly calm enough, but inwardly greatly
disturbed, he made his way down the garden path, after satisfying
himself that nobody was in sight. The inner door yielded to his touch
when he turned the handle and passed along the hall into a room at the
far end. And there, he saw a man standing with his back to the empty
fireplace.

"Ah, Fishwick," he said. "So we meet again, my friend, a great deal
quicker than you expected. I suppose you carried out my instructions?
Nobody about when you came in?"

"Not so far as I could see," Fishwick stammered.

"That's good. Then there will be no one to know whether you ever came
out or not. Now, sit down and let us talk it over. You made a great
mistake, my friend, when you wrote and told me that Vane Egerton was
afraid to show his face in England. Well, here he is, and I should like
to know what you have to say about it."

"Oh, I am not afraid of you," Fishwick snarled.

"Oh, yes, you are," the other sneered. "You are trembling in your shoes
at this very minute. I can see the beads of sweat on your forehead. Good
Lord, to think that you should be such a fool! If you had played the
game with me, we could have divided the plunder and you could have gone
to the devil as far as I was concerned. You had served my purpose and I
didn't want you any more. But that impudent letter of yours fairly got
my goat, as they say in your country. If you had gone quietly off with
those pearls and vanished, I should probably have done nothing. But when
you threw me out a challenge, such as you did, then I felt in honor
bound to take it up. Now then, where is the stuff?"

"Oh, it's all very well to talk like that," Fishwick said with some show
of spirit. "Anyone would think you were an honest man talking to a
pick-pocket. You robbed me over those oils and you can't deny it. I
found it out at the time, but I said nothing because I was awaiting my
opportunity. And when the opportunity came I took it, just as you would
have done. If the position had been reversed, you would have acted in a
precisely similar manner."

"Oh, well, perhaps I should," Egerton smilingly admitted. "So we will
say no more about that. But I am not going to be done out of my share of
that plunder. It's no use your harking back to that oil business,
because that is over and done with long ago. Now, my friend, what have
you done with the pearls?"

"I have done nothing with them," Fishwick said. "I have a customer in
view who will probably buy them, but I can say nothing definite for the
next few days."

Egerton smiled to himself. He did not in the least believe a word that
his companion was saying. He felt as sure as he was of anything in the
world, that those pearls were reposing at that moment, safely in the
other man's pocket.

"Is that so," he asked, almost innocently. "Sit down and tell me all
about it. Help yourself to a drink."

Fishwick proceeded to do so with some avidity.

Two minutes later he was lying on the flat of his back on the floor,
lost to all eternity. Egerton stood over him, watching, until he was
sure that the drug had taken effect, and then proceeded without haste,
and with great deliberation, to search Fishwick's clothing for the gems
which he felt certain were concealed somewhere about his person. But
though he looked everywhere, and even tested the heels of Fishwick's
shoes, nothing rewarded his efforts. It was quite evident that Fishwick
had come there with the intention of striking some sort of a bargain
with whoever he was destined to meet, and that he had taken the
precaution to leave his valuables behind him. But where? That was the
question that Egerton had to decide. And, until he was decided, he had
not the slightest intention of allowing Fishwick out of his sight.

"Damn the fellow," he muttered under his breath. "Now what on earth am I
going to do with him? I can't let him slip through my fingers again. I
ought to have taken him by the throat and forced the truth out of him.
As it is, as it is----"

Egerton sat there, cogitating, for a long time with the body of his
confederate lying almost at his feet. The clock on the mantelpiece
ticked the time slowly away, until the shadows began to fall and Egerton
was still sitting there moodily waiting to make up his mind exactly what
was to be done.

Then, just as the gloom was turning to darkness, the figure at Egerton's
feet began to stir and Fishwick opened his eyes. In a fit of wild
passion Egerton sprang at him and pressed his head on the carpet. He was
beside himself with murderous rage. He was ready for anything to wreak
his vengeance upon the man who had dared to play him false, the man he
had been prepared to murder if necessary, because all his plans had been
cunningly laid for a week or two beforehand. And he knew precisely how
to get rid of the body in case the worst came to the worst, and Fishwick
put up a fight for it in defence of the pearls.

But the pearls were not to be found. The man should die! He should pay
the full penalty for his treachery.

Egerton snatched up a cushion from the sofa and pressed it with all his
force upon the mouth and nostrils of the half-unconscious man. He didn't
know how long he kept it there, but he did know when at length he
uncovered the face of Fishwick that the latter was dead. And the
knowledge troubled him nothing.

"Well, there is an end of that," he said to himself. "Some of these days
this cursed temper of mine will get me into serious trouble. Still, I
know exactly what to do and where to dispose of that carrion there.
Rather a good thing that I had taken the trouble to provide for an
emergency like this."

The leaden moments crept on until the room was black and dark. Then
Egerton opened the window leading to the garden and, throwing the corpse
of the dead man over his shoulder, carried it as far as the hedge
abutting on the railway line. It was very dark......




CHAPTER XXXI.


Egerton had played his hand for a big stake and he had failed. For once
in his life he had allowed that ungovernable temper of his to get the
better of him, with the result that he had resorted to violence, which
was a policy that he had steadily avoided in the past. It had always
been his boast that never, in the course of his criminal career, had he
allowed himself to lay murderous hands upon false friend or enemy. And
yet, here he was, unless he was more than usually careful, face to face
with a charge of murder. Not that he would have hesitated if it was a
question of gaining possession of those precious pearls.

But when Fishwick had defied him openly and told him that he was bent on
getting his own back again he could see no other way clear. And
circumstances had played into his hands.

To begin with he was the type of cosmopolitan scoundrel who works all
over the world. And Fishwick had been fatally wrong when he had taunted
Egerton with the fact that the latter would not dare to show his face in
England again. As a matter of fact, Egerton was in the habit of spending
a good many months at odd times in his native land. But not as Vane
Egerton. That would have been far too dangerous a game for a man who was
more or less under the eye of the English police. That was why he
usually masqueraded as the Reverend Walter Temperley with a quiet
country villa on the outskirts of a picturesque old town. With a nom de
plume like that and a plausible excuse for long absences in the South of
France it was easy enough to deceive people with the delusion that here
was a respectable old clergyman who was outside the pale of suspicion.

And then the time came when it was more or less necessary to drop the
clerical disguise and appear under the name of Farr, posing as the
tenant of the Reverend Walter Temperley. There was a certain amount of
risk in this, because Farr might be recognised as Vane Egerton, but this
troubled him little, because he was far enough from London and remote
enough from the part of the country in which he was born to feel quite
sure of his ground. Moreover, it was at his instigation that the
Marchmonts had taken the cottage in the neighborhood.

It had been an exceedingly difficult matter to persuade George Marchmont
to part with the secret of the mysterious island in the South Pacific;
and, until Egerton had got to the bottom of that, he had no intention of
disappearing from Tewkesbury altogether.

And now it seemed to him that he had successfully disposed of the body
of his late comrade in crime. He had had a rare opportunity there, but
one that he had not altogether overlooked long before Fishwick had shown
his hand. He knew all about the traffic in land produce at that time of
the year and, out of that knowledge, he had seen his way to get rid of
Fishwick in circumstances that would utterly baffle the police when at
length the body was found. On that head, at any rate, he had no qualms.
With any luck, he knew that the body would not be brought to light until
it had reached Devonshire. And, in this knowledge, he saw something like
safety.

It would never he possible, he thought, for the police to track the
crime to that modest little villa on the outskirts of Tewkesbury. And,
even if they did, he would be far enough away by that time.

And yet he was by no means easy in his mind. To begin with, his present
enterprise had ended in humiliating failure. He had come all this way
with the intention of recovering those pearls, feeling sure that
Fishwick would have the greatest difficulty in disposing of them, and
yet they had vanished as if they had never existed. What had become of
them? This was a question that Egerton had asked himself over and over
again. Almost as soon as he had landed in England Fishwick had been
carefully shadowed by one of Egerton's minor tools who was prepared to
do anything for a little money. This creature of course, had no
knowledge of the big scheme at the back of Egerton's mind, nor would he
ever learn what it was. But he was quite efficient in his work and he
kept Egerton advised of Fishwick's every movement until the latter
arrived in England, when Egerton promptly took up the trail for himself.

Carefully disguised in his clerical attire, Egerton had followed
Fishwick down to Birmingham and had actually seen him enter the premises
of the jeweller called Fastnet. He had seen Fishwick emerge from the
great establishment in Municipal-street and return to his hotel. Even
there, when Fishwick was making his final preparations for leaving the
Grand Central, Egerton, disguised as an elderly clergyman, was standing
close to his elbow. He had seen Fishwick take that mysterious letter
from the rack and had watched him furtively over the top of a newspaper,
whilst he was reading it. He could almost see what was passing in his
victim's mind. He knew with that cunning instinct of his, that Fishwick
would obey the summons; indeed, he felt confident that he dared not
refuse to do so. He looked forward, not many hours later, to an
interview with Fishwick in which the latter would surrender at
discretion and consent to part with the pearls or, at any rate, to share
them with the man he had been foolish enough to defy. It was obvious to
Egerton that Fishwick had called upon Fastnet with a view to disposing
of the pearls, and this being so, the rest would be easy.

But what Egerton had overlooked entirely was the possibility of Fishwick
leaving the pearls behind. It never occurred to the chief schemer that
Fishwick would take such a precaution and come to the interview with the
idea of driving a bargain. And yet, that was precisely what happened,
and precisely the reason why Egerton had lost his head and committed
that brutal murder in the exasperation born of a bitter disappointment.

Well, the thing was done now, and there was an end of it. Fishwick had
done something with the pearls, probably handed them over to somebody
for safe keeping. But who was that somebody? That was the question that
was racking Egerton's mind. He knew that Fishwick was an exclusive sort
of man who had no friends on this side of the Atlantic, therefore what
had he done with the pearls?

And then, suddenly, Egerton saw daylight. It was amazing to him that he
had not thought of it before. Of course, Fishwick had left the pearls
with Fastnet, so that he could show them to some client. Egerton was as
sure of this as he was of his own existence. Still, this got him very
little farther. Fastnet was not in the least likely to part with those
pearls, except to the man who had placed them in his custody. And when
the body of Fishwick was identified, as it was bound to be, sooner or
later, then Fastnet was all the more likely to hold those pearls until
they were legally claimed. It was obvious, therefore, that Egerton was
going to have all his trouble for his pains.

And then another idea occurred to him. In the month which had elapsed
since the tragedy in New York a great deal had happened. The papers on
both sides of the Atlantic were still harping upon that double disaster,
and the name of Mrs. Van Geldt loomed large in the public eye. And all
these details were by no means lost upon the man who passed,
alternately, as Egerton, Farr and the Reverend Walter Temperley. He
knew, for instance, from the printed word, that Cora Van Geldt was now
an exceedingly rich woman and that she had disposed of the great
Wall-street business. And he knew, moreover, that she had every
intention of spending the summer in England. He had underground sources
of information which led him to believe that the house in
Grosvenor-square would see Cora entertaining on a limited scale towards
the end of the London season. And he knew, what was much more important
still, that Cora was offering a reward equivalent to ten thousand pounds
English, for the recovery of those pearls.

Why, then, should he not be the fortunate man to get away with that
large sum of money? There was danger in attempting to do so; it meant
more or less coming out into the open, but the reward was great and
Egerton, as usual, was none to flush of money. He belonged to the
criminal type that spends as it goes. He made his money easily, and as
easily lavished it. And, just now, he would have been almost ready to
sell his soul for a reward like that. And he might manage it without due
prominence.

He had only to wait till Cora came to England and then write her a
letter asking her to meet him in Abbotsbury, or somewhere near there,
and inform her where the pearls were lying. He need not tell her any
more than that, she need not even know that he had ever heard of the man
called Fishwick. Then he could go back to the States, whilst Cora was
fighting out the matter for herself in England, and, in due time, he
would receive Cora's cheque for the money. Murder or no murder, mystery
or no mystery, those pearls belonged to Cora Van Geldt, who would have
no difficulty in identifying them. All this would take time, of course,
but it must be done more or less under the seal of secrecy and no
questions asked. So far, Fastnet had lost nothing, because the pearls
were not his and he would be ready enough to part with them when once
the ownership was established. Really, an excellent idea.

Egerton smiled to himself as he thought of it. If this thing went off
all right, then he was going to make as much out of the transaction as
he had expected at the beginning. Not quite as much, perhaps, but a
princely sum of money with which he could get away without the slightest
risk to himself. And then another idea occurred to him. Why should
Egerton appear at all? Why shouldn't the Reverend Walter Temperley be
the god in the car?

Yes, that was the idea. The Reverend Walter Temperley would write a
mysterious letter to Mrs. Van Geldt that would bring her hot foot to
Birmingham, or Abbotsbury for that matter. As soon as he knew that Cora
had crossed the Atlantic, then he would set to work upon that cunning
scheme of his.

It was a fortnight later that a confidential letter signed by the
Reverend Walter Temperley reached Cora Van Geldt within two days of her
landing in England.




CHAPTER XXXII.


Very quietly, and accompanied only by her maid, Cora Van Geldt slipped
out of London and made her way to Abbotsbury. There she came to an old
house in the centre of the town where she inquired for lodging
accommodation. The place was a shop, an old curiosity shop with a house
over it, and in the fanlight a simple card with the one word
'Apartments.' It was an old man who answered the door, a rather reticent
individual who had not very much to say except that his wife did let
rooms and that most of their visitors regarded her as an excellent cook.
If the lady wanted rooms for herself and her maid for a day or two, she
could have them. And the price would be so much. Would madam kindly step
in and inspect the rooms for herself?

They were excellent rooms and most charmingly furnished, which was
rather a surprise to Cora. Still, she was American enough to appreciate
the period furniture and the old leaded windows, to say nothing of the
open grates in her bed and sitting-rooms. She explained that she only
wanted to stay a day or two and that she was an American, passing
through the district and staying in Abbotsbury because she had come down
there to inspect its famous abbey.

It was on the evening of the second day when Cora was sitting in her
room that the Reverend Walter Temperley was announced. She saw an
elderly clergyman of benign expression, with grey hair and beard, who
beamed at her mildly through his thick glasses.

"I am very sorry to intrude upon you, madam," the stranger said, in the
throaty tones peculiar to the average cleric. "But, I wrote you a
letter."

"Yes," Cora said. "You did. I presume that you are the Reverend Walter
Temperley. Won't you sit down?"

The sham clergyman dropped into a seat and folded his hands over his
knee. He seemed thoroughly at home.

"I dare say you are surprised," he began, "that you have heard from me
at all. You see, I am a retired clergyman and most of my time I pass in
the South of France. I have to live there all through the cold weather
on account of my health, though I have a small pied-a-terre not very far
away from here. In fact I have only just got back from Nice."

"Indeed," Cora said politely. "But I understood that you wanted to see
me in connection with certain missing jewels of mine. You are not well
enough to come up to London, and you ask me to meet you here, at the
same time recommending these charming rooms. Well, here I am, Mr.
Temperley. And now, what about it?"

"Ah," the clergyman smiled. "I have met a great many of your compatriots
out there in France and they are all very much alike. Business-like, my
dear lady, business-like."

"Quite," Cora smiled. "It is a characteristic of the race. And, besides,
you asked me to come and see you on business. If you can inform me where
the pearls are----"

"All in good time, dear lady, all in good time. It was rather singular
that I should happen to read all about you in the papers. I do not study
them much, as a rule, especially the American ones, though we always had
the Paris edition of the 'New York Herald' in my hotel at Nice. And
there one cold day, when I did not care to venture out, I read all about
the tragic death of your husband and how you had lost some world-famous
pearls practically at the same time. And of course, I read all about the
reward you offered."

"But the pearls were not at Nice, were they?"

"Well, they were in a manner of speaking. But, before I tell you any
more, madam, I must impress upon you the necessity of not bringing my
name in the matter. Unless you give me that assurance, I am afraid that
I cannot go any further."

Cora turned upon the speaker impatiently.

"Why, of course," she said. "I don't want to bring anybody into the
matter. All I want is to get my pearls back as quickly as possible and
to insure that I am prepared to pay a handsome reward. Not necessarily
to you."

"My dear madame, the mere suggestion is an insult." Egerton said, with
some show of indignation. "I have nothing whatever to do with it. You
can keep the reward as far as I am concerned, though it is more than
possible that a person whose name I will give you presently, will expect
to receive that sum."

"And he shall have it," Cora said.

"Still that is more or less a matter of detail. You see, we clergymen
are in the habit of receiving all sorts of extraordinary confidences.
Even I, who hold the chaplaincy of a small English church near Nice,
have heard stories strange enough to fill half a dozen novels.
Generally, my dear madam, these secrets reach my ears when the subject
is in extremis. In other words, under the seal of confession. There is a
large cosmopolitan population out there and some of the people with whom
I have come in contact have led very sordid lives. Thieves of all
classes, well-dressed and well-educated scoundrels who are ready to prey
upon anybody. And many quite charming women, for the matter of that."

"And one of these made a confession to you?"

"That is what it amounts to," Egerton went on. "And, strange to say,
that confession concerns your pearls. A certain person who shall be
nameless met with a motoring accident, quite recently, just outside
Monte Carlo. When he realised he was dying he sent for me, and,
naturally, I went. I will not tell you who he was, or of his
extraordinary chequered career. He might have attained any position, had
he only kept to the straight path. A most charming and delightful man. I
can assure you it was a great shock to me when I learnt that he had been
a thief and a scoundrel ever since he left school. And you can judge of
my astonishment when he mentioned your name and spoke about your
pearls."

"It seems almost incredible," Cora cried.

"Well, there it was, my dear madam. Precisely how long is it since you
lost those precious possessions of yours?"

"Roughly speaking, about two months," Cora explained.

"Yes, that exactly tallies with what the man told me. It appears that he
was the actual thief. And once the pearls were in his possession, he set
about disposing of them. He gave them into the charge of a man named
Fishwick, who, at that time, was representing the famous house of
Neidermeyer in Europe. And, of course, I need not tell an American lady
like yourself what sort of a reputation that particular establishment
enjoys."

"Oh, I know Neidermeyer's all right," Cora smiled.

"Well, this man not only represented Neidermeyer's, but he was using
their name as a cloak for disposing of thousands of pounds worth of
ill-gotten jewels in England and France. And it was left to him to get
rid of those things. And, no doubt, he would have done it, in time, but
for the accident of which I am speaking."

"Oh," Cora cried. "You mean that this man Fishwick was the victim of the
accident of which you told me just now."

"Pardon me, I said nothing of the kind," the sham clergyman murmured. "I
am only giving you a certain amount of information. It is a very sad
case altogether, in which a very charming and delightful woman is
unfortunately mixed up. The accident I speak of will leave her without a
penny in the world and that was mainly the concern of the criminal who
told me all about the strange story. He wanted her to have no further
pecuniary anxiety and, at the same time, he did not want her name
mentioned in connection with your pearls. In other words, if those
pearls are recovered and you are prepared to part with that reward, the
money will go to the woman of whom I am speaking. I should ask you to
send it to her direct."

"I would do it without the slightest hesitation," Cora said. "In fact, I
would do practically anything to get those pearls back again. You will
find no trouble on my side, Mr. Temperley, and no desire whatever to ask
impertinent questions. I can't give you more than my word for it."

"And that word I am prepared to take," Egerton said gallantly. "Before I
go, I will give you the woman's name and her address in Paris, to which
the reward can be sent. And now, let me come to the point. It doesn't
much matter how it happened, or in what circumstances. But your pearls,
at the present moment, are not very many miles away from where we are
seated."

"You don't say?" Cora exclaimed. "Where?"

"In point of fact, in Birmingham. Unless I am greatly mistaken, they lie
at the present moment, in the safe of a big jewel dealer who has a large
establishment in Municipal-street. His name is Fastnet and the pearls
were handed over to him a little time ago with a view to a sale to some
client. I cannot tell you how they got there without betraying a sacred
confidence. But, I can assure you that they are there, and if you take
my advice you will go and see this man Fastnet and tell him roughly what
I have told you without, of course, mentioning my name. On the other
hand, you can tell him all I said about Fishwick and, on investigation,
that will prove to be true. Of course, it will take us some considerable
time before this business is settled and the pearls handed over to you,
but I have no doubt that, with the aid of the police and a respectable
firm of solicitors, all will be well."

"Fine," Cora exclaimed. "I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Temperley.
If there is anything I can do for you----"

A few minutes later, Egerton was walking down the street in a most
pleasant frame of mind. He had achieved this object and told his tale in
such a way that would lead him to pocketing that reward without the
slightest touch of danger on his side.

But he did not know that, fifty yards behind him, his footsteps were
being dogged in the darkness by Trevor Trumble.




CHAPTER XXXIII.


"What are we going to do about it?" Trumble asked.

He was alluding, of course, to his startling discovery that the man Farr
was, at the same time, known to certain people as the Reverend Walter
Temperley. And, moreover, that under that guise he, Trumble, had run him
down in the house in Abbotsbury, where he was actually calling upon Mrs.
Van Geldt, or the astute little journalist was altogether wrong. Not
that Norcliff thought so, because he was inclined to believe that Jagger
actually had hit the mark. There were many little things that pointed to
such a conclusion. In the first place, they knew that Cora Van Geldt was
in the neighborhood, and, moreover, it was quite a logical conclusion
that she was in England in search of her lost pearls. It was more than
probable that she had come to the country almost on purpose to do so,
and a fair conclusion that she had in some way got upon the track of the
thief. On the face of this and what Trumble had discovered in
Abbotsbury, Jagger was disposed to pride himself.

"That's it, you may depend upon it," he exclaimed. "Let us go a little
further, Inspector. Suppose Mrs. Van Geldt didn't get hold of those
pearls honestly? Oh, I don't mean that she stole them. But they might
have been smuggled, or she might have bought them from some mysterious
persons who had managed to get through the New York Customs. They might
have been Bolshevik stuff. One could think of a dozen ways in which the
lady obtained them. At any rate, they were phenomenal stones, and if
they had been stolen from some historic necklace, then there would have
been a hue and cry long before now. But not if they had belonged to some
noble Russian family that had been murdered in the revolution, because
there would be nobody left to kick-up a shindy. I should not be in the
least surprised if Mrs. Van Geldt hadn't bought them from some
international crook who afterwards stole them."

Norcliff smiled at the suggestion. He was to learn in due course how
startlingly true that little man's deduction was.

"Possibly," he said. "And possibly this man Farr had something to do
with it. Otherwise, why was he calling upon Mrs. Van Geldt disguised as
a reverend gentleman, and why was that spoilt beauty more or less hiding
herself in an obscure lodging house in the centre of a quiet place like
Abbotsbury?"

"I think that is pretty obvious," Trumble suggested. "Mrs. Van Geldt is
not the lady to come to Europe as if she were a sort of poor emigrant,
especially as we know that she has taken the house in Grosvenor-square
again. Of course, she has some reason for keeping her present movements
a secret. And that man Farr knows the reason why. She came to Abbotsbury
to meet him."

"Very likely," Jagger said. "But why should he disguise himself as a
parson? If she knew him before, under another name and in another guise,
there would be no occasion for him to pose as somebody else. Still, he
obviously did so, and if Mrs. Van Geldt was here now she would probably
tell us that she recently met the Rev. Walter Temperley for the first
time. In other words, for some reason of his own, he was humbugging her,
and the reason why he was doing so is a thing we have to find out. You
may depend upon it that Farr has some deep scheme afoot for getting
those pearls into his own possession. It's any odds he knows where they
are, and he won't be happy till he handles them."

"It will take him all his time," Trumble said.

"Of course it will," Norcliff agreed. "At any rate, I am rather inclined
to think there is something in what Jagger says, and I am disposed to
shape my policy accordingly."

"How would it be to see Mrs. Van Geldt?" Jagger suggested.

"Not a bad idea," Norcliff approved. "But, on the whole, I should much
prefer not to trouble the lady myself just at this moment, and it would
be running a certain risk if Trumble came prominently into the open.
Somebody else must do it?"

Jagger jumped eagerly at the opportunity.

"Let me," he said, "Why shouldn't I go? I am only an ordinary
journalist, out for copy, and if I can interview Mrs. Van Geldt in the
old curiosity shop on behalf of the 'Bulletin,' it ought to do me a bit
of good. You know the sort of thing. The beautiful society lady who has
come over here incognito with a view to seeing the beauties of ancient
England and study them for herself before she settles down in London for
the last part of the season. Just the right American touch. Abbotsbury
and Stratford-on-Avon, and all that sort of thing and spending money on
antiques. Just a whim of hers to spend a day or two in an old curiosity
shop and finds herself run down by an astute English journalist. Oh, she
will give me an interview fast enough when I tell her that it will
appear in a London paper, and is certain to be copied by the New York
press. I could find out a good deal that way, without the slightest
suspicion as to my bona fides. And if Farr is watching, he will not have
any suspicion, because it would be quite easy for me to prove that I am
first and last a journalist and that I have no ulterior object in
calling on the lady. I can ask her all about her plans for the future
and, of course, it would be only natural if I brought up the subject of
the stolen pearls. Now, Inspector do you think you can trust me as far
as all that?"

"I don't see why I shouldn't," Norcliff agreed. "In fact, on the whole,
I think it is a very good scheme. And I don't mind telling you I should
like to know a good deal more about that old curiosity shop. It is quite
evident to me that this man Farr is a most infernally clever
international crook who spends half his time in England and half in
America. That is a smart idea of his for being on this side of the water
in the summer and on the other in the winter under pretence of residence
in the South of France for the benefit of his health. I should not be at
all surprised if that old curiosity shop was one of Farr's own little
ideas through the medium of which he disposed of a lot of stolen
property. You can see how easily it could be managed."

They talked the matter over for a little time further and finally it was
arranged that Jagger should go to Abbotsbury the following morning and
introduce himself to Mrs. Van Geldt. His luck stood him in its usual
good stead and, shortly before 12 o'clock the following morning, he
found himself seated in Mrs. Van Geldt's artistically furnished
sitting-room quite at his ease in the presence of the most beautiful
woman he had ever seen.

"Of course, I know it is a liberty, madam," he said. "But, as an English
pressman----"

"Oh, I know all about that," Cora said with her sweetest smile. "They
are one of the curses of America. Indeed, I had the greatest difficulty
in getting away from New York without bringing a dozen or so away with
me. As a matter of fact, I managed to get away on the steamer without
encountering one of them. Up to a certain point, my present visit to
England is quite private."

"Yes, I suppose it would be, in the circumstances," Jagger murmured.
"After all the trouble you have been through, naturally you would shrink
from anything in the way of publicity. A double loss like that must have
been terrible."

Cora sighed deeply and waited for Jagger to proceed. But the little man
knew his business better than that. He favored Cora with a sympathetic
glance and paused for her to resume.

"Yes," she said at length. "It was very dreadful and the loss of all
those pearls----"

"You have not traced them, I presume?" Jagger asked.

"Well, do you know, I believe I have," Cora said confidentially. "The
most extraordinary thing in the world. I cannot tell you the story,
because it came to me under the seal of confidence. The dying man and
the priest and all that sort of thing. A really remarkable romance. But,
as I said before, I cannot go into any details. You must be content with
what I have told you."

"Oh, of course, of course," Jagger hastened to say. "And in the
meantime, you are down here studying the beauties of rural England. Am I
right in saying, Mrs. Van Geldt, that you are a great collector of
English period furniture?"

"I think every American is," Cora smiled. "As a matter of fact, I came
down here to be quiet. A little later on I am returning to London, where
I have taken the same house in Grosvenor-square that I occupied on the
occasion of my last visit."

"And meanwhile, I suppose you will enjoy living in an old curiosity
shop? Recommended you by a friend, I suppose?"

"Well, not precisely," Cora explained. "I really came down here in
response to a letter I had. Not exactly an anonymous letter, but one
that came to me intimating that if I put up here I might hear something
regarding my missing treasures. You see, when the Reverend Walter--but
now I am betraying confidence. You are a little to plausible, Mr.
Jagger, and I am afraid you are tempting me to say too much. Indeed, if
I was not the most amiable woman in the world, I should have refused to
see you altogether. But the cute way in which you found me out was
rather intriguing."

Jagger asked a few more questions, more or less of a general nature,
edged here and there with one that had a double meaning and 10 minutes
later he found himself in the street, by no means displeased with the
way in which he had passed the morning.

It was nearly two o'clock when he entered Norcliff's room at the Grand
Central with a smile on his face.

"Well?" the latter asked. "Do any good?"

"Oh, I think so," Jagger said. "I had to play my fish pretty carefully,
but one important point I hit upon. Mrs. Van Geldt is down here in
connection with the pearls and that reverend gentleman invited her. And,
moreover, she knows where the goods are!"




CHAPTER XXXIV.


'"Here, let us have it quite straight," Norcliff said. "Do you mean to
say that a certain clergyman----"

"Call him the Reverend Walter Temperley," Jagger interrupted. "It must
have been him, because she distinctly uttered the words 'The Reverend
Walter.' This could not mean anybody else, especially as the doctor here
actually traced the man Farr to that old curiosity shop, disguised as a
clergyman."

"What is the name of the place?" Norcliff asked.

"As a matter of fact, it is called the Coeur de Lion, with a quaint sort
of coat of arms over the front door. But I cannot see what that has to
do with it."

"Perhaps not," Norcliff said. "But it will be useful for me to know that
when I go into Abbotsbury later on and call upon Mrs. Van Geldt. I shall
have to see her."

"Is that quite wise, just at present?" the irrepressible little
journalist asked. "Don't you think we had better find out first exactly
who this man Farr is? It's any money that Farr is an assumed name, just
as the Reverend Temperley is. And how the Dickens does this chap Farr
come to know all about the movements of Mrs. Van Geldt and why is he so
anxious about the pearls?"

"I think that is pretty obvious," Trumble interpolated. "He is after the
reward, of course. He must have seen all about that in the newspapers.
As far as I can see, Farr must have been in America when those pearls
were stolen. He must have known into whose hands they fell, and, very
likely, they were taken from Mrs. Van Geldt by a confederate, then
handed over to the unfortunate Fishwick for disposal. In his peculiar
position he could handle a lot of that sort of stuff without suspicion
falling on him. As Neidermeyer's representative, the police would never
suspect him. Then I suppose he played his accomplice false, or the
accomplice thought so, at any rate, and he was deliberately lured into
the house by the railway siding and murdered by Farr who expected to get
the pearls back, in which expectation he was disappointed, for the
simple reason that they had been deposited with Fastnet. It looks to me,
Inspector, as if we were getting things down pretty fine now. But who is
this man Farr, exactly? He looks to me like a man who had a dozen
aliases. The sort of man who works on both sides of the Atlantic,
spending half his time here, and the other half in New York. You see, he
pretends to be the Reverend Walter Temperley, a retired clergyman, who
goes to the South of France every year for the benefit of his health,
but as a matter of fact he does nothing of the sort, because all that
time he is across the water. Then it suits him to let his house to a man
named Farr--in other words, to himself--and tells my friends the
Marchmonts that he has come down here with the idea of purchasing a
chicken farm. See how neatly it all fits in. Now, my idea is that over
in America he has another alias, and this we have to find out. Isn't
there anybody amongst the police at Scotland Yard who has an intimate
knowledge of American crooks--I mean a man who can identify Farr for who
he really is? If we could manage that our task should be easy. And,
there is another thing. We can't go on adjourning that inquest at
Barnstaple for ever. Sooner or later the dead man's identity must be
established, and, once it is, Farr will be put on his guard. Of course,
he has cunning enough to know that the name of Fishwick will become
public property sooner or later, but until that happens he feels himself
absolutely safe. Of course, we know that Fishwick has been identified,
but that is a secret to everybody else."

"Yes, I quite see your point," Norcliff said. "I dare say I can manage
to keep the name of Fishwick out of the papers for another two or three
weeks and perhaps it would be as well to do so. What would you suggest
as the next move?"

"I think that is up to you," Trumble said. "Go and see Mrs. Van Geldt by
all means and I don't think it would be a bad move to take her into your
confidence."

"I am quite sure it wouldn't," Jagger chirruped. "That woman is as
clever as she is beautiful. You will probably find her a good deal of
help. It is all very well to say that women cannot keep a secret, but if
Mrs. Van Geldt isn't the exception to the rule, then I don't know what I
am talking about. You go and see her, Inspector, and put your cards on
the table. Anyhow, the reverend gentleman is out for the reward and we
might get hold of him by sending a bogus cheque, which he will pick up
in due course, and we can lay hands upon him at that very moment."

"Yes, that sounds all right," Norcliff said. "Now, doctor, what are you
doing for the moment?"

Trumble explained that he proposed returning to Abbotsbury there to see
his friends the Marchmonts.

"You won't want me for a day or two," he said. "You will have plenty to
do for the next eight and forty hours, and if you want me, a wire will
bring me back as soon as possible. I have got a little idea of my own,
which has been forming in my mind for some little time past. I may be
altogether wrong, but, in the light of what I have heard to-day, I don't
think I am. Besides, I want to get George Marchmont up to town. I have
told you all about him and his blindness and the sooner he is in London
the better. Between ourselves, I don't think it will be very long before
my friend will have the use of his sight again. At any rate, I have got
the rooms for them and I shall probably take him up to London to-morrow
and make a start on my treatment. So, if you don't want me any more, I
will just go and take train to Abbotsbury."

There being nothing further to detain Trumble, he lost no time and, late
in the afternoon found himself outside the cottage door talking to
Sylvia who was accompanied by Farr himself. It was a very difficult
matter to treat that mysterious individual in a friendly way and to
smile at him as if he were nothing more than a mere acquaintance. Still,
Farr made no attempt to shake hands and for this Trumble felt almost
grateful.

And there was yet another thing about the mysterious Farr that he
resented, and that was the assumption of something more than familiarity
between himself and Sylvia. That the girl thought highly of him and,
that she was flattered by his attentions was palpable to Trumble, so
much so that he had considerable difficulty in keeping a grip on his
temper. It seemed to him to be a hideous thing that a girl like Sylvia
should be in daily intercourse with a bloodstained scoundrel like Farr.
Some of these early days, she must know the truth, but he, Trumble, must
tell her himself.

And there was a good deal of consolation in the fact that, within a few
hours, he was going to remove both Marchmont and Sylvia outside the
influence of that handsome, plausible scoundrel.

"Ah, here comes our friend the doctor," Farr said in his inconsequent
way. "I wonder what he wants this time, Sylvia."

"I have come to take our friends to London," Trumble contrived to say.
"In fact, I have made all the necessary arrangements, and I hope that
to-morrow night will see our friends in the rooms in town which I have
taken for them."

"This is rather sudden, isn't it?" Sylvia asked. "But still, I think it
can be managed. If you will wait here a moment, I will go into the
cottage and tell George what you say."

She turned away, leaving the two men facing one another. It was very
hard for Trumble to keep the antagonism he felt out of his face, but he
managed to keep a grip on himself and he was by no means displeased to
see the look of alarm and suspicion that dwelt for a minute or two in
Farr's eyes.

"Do you think it is any real good?" the latter asked.

"I have told you before that I could not possibly say," Trumble replied.
"Personally, I am not sanguine, and, in any case, it may be a long
business. But I am going to do the best I can and I am quite sure you
will wish me luck."

"Ah, of course, of course," Farr said hastily, evidently cheered by the
suggestion that it might prove a long task. "But don't you think that
our friend George is a bit foolish to keep that secret of his to
himself? I mean that plan of the island where he found the pearl's. You
know as well as I do that he is quite a poor man, and if he had the
command of means so that he could travel and hear all the best music and
all that sort of thing, he would be a much happier man. Now, my
suggestion is that he should confide in me. We are quite old friends by
this time, and I can serve him far better than anybody else. Besides, I
have travelled all over the world and I flatter myself that I know the
ropes. Why, I know the South Pacific as well as I know Paris and London.
More than that, I wouldn't mind paying the whole shot. I mean, I would
find all the money necessary for the expedition and, if it turned out to
be a failure, I should not dream of charging old George a penny."

"That is very generous of you," Trumble forced himself to say. "Few men
would go as far as that. Have you asked Marchmont about it? Have you
made the suggestion to him?"

"I have suggested it till I am tired of the subject," Farr said with the
semblance of a snarl. "Perhaps you will back me up. I have got to get
along presently, because I have pressing business in Birmingham. Just
give George a hint, will you?"

When Sylvia emerged from the cottage again, Farr was half way down the
garden path, to Trumble's immense relief. Sylvia followed him with a
glance until he was out of sight.

"Perhaps I am wrong," she said. "But it seems to me, Trevor, that you
don't like our friend Farr."

"I have never said so," Trumble murmured guardedly.

"No, not in as many words," Sylvia smiled. "Surely you don't know
anything against him?"

"Look here, Sylvia," Trumble burst out suddenly. "Honestly, is that man
anything more to you than a friend?"




CHAPTER XXXV.


A warm color flooded Sylvia's cheeks.

"We have known him a long time now," she said. "And I have already told
you how good he has been to George. You can't help liking and respecting
a man who goes out of his way to help a comparative stranger. And
besides, he is so good-looking and so cheerful. You couldn't look into
the face of a man like that and doubt either his honor or his
integrity."

Trumble groaned to himself in spirit. He was bound to confess that there
was a good deal in what Sylvia said. Outwardly at any rate, there was
nothing against this man Farr, he might have passed in any company as a
man of birth and breeding, and there was nothing in his face to express
the inner man.

"Yes, that's right enough," he admitted grudgingly. "Still, I am glad to
hear you say that Farr is no more than a friend. I wonder if you can
guess why, Sylvia?"

She looked up at him again under her long lashes, and a queer little
smile wrinkled the corners of her lips. For the first time she noticed
the change in the man who was speaking to her. To begin with, he was
wearing a suit of clothes that had obviously been made for him by a
tailor who knew his business; his collar and tie had a faint suggestion
of Bond-street about them, and his tan shoes were almost resplendent. It
was another Trumble altogether who stood there looking eagerly down into
the girl's face.

"Why, Trevor," she said. "How you have changed! Just for the moment, I
didn't notice it."

"Well?" Trumble challenged. "And who is responsible? Who is the girl who
told me that I was little better than a scarecrow? And who asked me to
make myself look respectable? Well, I have done it, Sylvia, though I
don't think I would have troubled to listen to anybody else. And perhaps
you can guess why?"

Sylvia looked down and swiftly up again.

"That is a great compliment to me," she said mischievously. "And, really
the improvement is wonderful Trevor, I had no idea you were anything
like so good-looking."

"Oh, well, if you only value me for that----"

"But I don't, I don't. Can't you understand that any girl who is
genuinely fond.... I mean, any girl, well, you know what I mean. It's so
nice to have one's friends looking so presentable. And, yet, there is
another change. How stupid of me not to notice it at once! What have you
done with your spectacles?"

"I left them behind me," Trumble said shame-facedly.

"Left them behind you! Which means, of course, that you never wanted
them. Why did you wear them, Trevor? Why does every scientist wear
glasses, just as every musician makes himself greasy and hideous with
long hair. Mere affectation. Trevor, I had no idea that you were such a
conceited man."

"But I am not," Trumble said humbly. "I am one of the most retiring of
men. And, look you here, my child, I have done all this to oblige you,
and you repay me by laughing."

"And you don't like doing it?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I do," Trumble admitted. "When I came to
look at myself in the glass this morning, I realised, for the first time
in my life, that there was something in clothes after all. Don't you
agree with me?"

"'A frog he would a-wooing go,'" Sylvia quoted. Then she looked down,
blushing vividly. "No, I am sorry," she said contritely. "Of course, I
didn't mean that."

"Are you quite sure?" Trumble said, speaking in a voice that Sylvia had
never heard before. "As a matter of fact, froggy has come a-wooing, and
he isn't going away until he has had his answer."

"And if he doesn't get the answer he hopes for? Then, I suppose the
scarecrow will come back again?" Sylvia said, almost in a whisper. "Oh,
Trevor, can't you understand that any woman who is fond of a man always
likes him to look at his best? She wants to take him round amongst her
friends, the same as she does her new doll, and make all the other
little girls jealous. Please, Trevor, please let me go."

"Never in this world," Trevor said. "There was never anybody else but
you and there never will be. Just think of what we have been through
together. Just think of the old days when we were in France. And now,
are you going to kiss me?"

They passed down the garden together, the world forgetting by the world
forgot, and, for the moment, at any rate, selfishly oblivious to the
blind man seated in the cottage. Then Sylvia came to herself with a
start.

"Trevor," she said. "We must get back to George. He will wonder what has
become of us. And, of course, he heard your voice. Let's go and tell him
all about it."

The blind man, sitting patiently in his chair, looked up with a smile as
the others entered. And, strangely enough, at the first sound of his
sister's voice, he seemed to know what had happened.

"All right, you two," he said gaily. "No reason to tell me. So old
Trevor has come up to the scratch at last, has he? What does he look
like, Sylvia? You don't mean to say you have promised to marry him
whilst he is wearing those old clothes you told me about?"

"Nothing of the sort," Trevor said indignantly. "Here is a different
Trumble altogether, the like of which you never saw. 'And all for the
love of a lady' too. Oh, my dear boy, I shall make quite a man about
town before I have finished."

"Do you know that he has actually sacrificed his beloved spectacles?"
Sylvia cried.

"Ah, evidently a very sad case," George Marchmont said sorrowfully. "I
only wish I could see it for myself."

"You are going to, my boy, you are going to," Trumble said, laying his
hand upon his friend's shoulder. "I haven't liked to say very much to
you before now, but once I get you in London under my course of
treatment you are going to have the use of your eyes again. And I think
you know me well enough to believe that I should never be cruel enough
to make a statement like that unless I was practically certain. That is
why I am here this afternoon. I am coming back here in the morning to
take you both to town into rooms which I have chosen for you, and there
you will do exactly as you are told."

An unsteady smile flickered over Marchmont's face.

"You fill me with new hope," he said huskily. "I had never expected
anything like this. God only knows what all this darkness has been to a
man who, like myself, has always been accustomed to outdoor life. I feel
inclined to run out of doors and shout all you have told me to the
skies."

"Nothing of the sort," Trumble said sternly. "You are not to tell a
single soul. Now, mind that, I am not joking. Not to a single soul. I
have my reasons."

"What, not even Farr?" Marchmont asked.

"No, not even Farr. He knows I am going to take you to town because I
have just told him so. And, more than that, he does not guess; in fact,
I rather inferred that your case was hopeless."

"Just as you like," Marchmont said. "But I should like to have told
Farr. He has been a jolly good friend to us, and I am sure that nobody
would rejoice more than he. Do you know, Trevor, that man has offered
more than once to make my fortune. He has offered to find all the money
necessary to explore those pearl fisheries and put untold gold into my
pocket. And if the thing was a failure it wasn't to cost me a penny. You
see, he realised what the possession of money would be to a man in my
position. Instead of living frugally in a little cottage like this I
could travel about with Sylvia and hear all the world's best music,
which is one of my greatest delights. And I was churlish enough to
refuse."

"I often wondered why," Trumble murmured.

"Well, upon my word I can hardly tell you myself. I suppose, when you
are blind and helpless as I am you become rather secretive and
suspicious of the motives of even your dearest friends. Anyway, I didn't
show that chart to Farr, and even Sylvia hasn't the remotest idea where
it is at the present moment. Oh, yes, a blind man can hide things as
well as anybody else. But, after what you have just told me I feel as if
I should like to see Farr and hand that chart over to him to do as he
likes."

"Oh, would you?" Trumble said grimly. "My dear boy, you are going to do
nothing of the kind. There are reasons, very urgent reasons, why you
should retain that secret. I want you to promise me that you will regard
this conversation as absolutely secret. And if Farr comes over to see
you in the morning, before you leave for London, then not a word of what
I have been saying. Now, give me a cup of tea, and I will get back to
Birmingham."

It was a very happy and elated Trumble who said good-bye to Sylvia at
Abbotsbury station and made his way back to Birmingham. He would be over
again in the morning, when he would expect Sylvia to have everything
ready for the move to London.

"It is going to be quite all right," he told the girl, just as the train
was moving out of the station. "What I prophesied to you and George is
going to be something more than a dream. And when that is done, I shall
have something to tell you of a very surprising nature. Perhaps I should
be more correct in saying that it will be George who makes the dramatic
disclosure that I have at the back of my mind."

It was just before dinner that Trumble strolled into Norcliff's private
sitting-room in the Grand Central, to find his comrade in arms smoking a
cigarette and reading the evening paper.

"Well," the former said. "Well, any news?"

"Oh, lots," Norcliff replied. "To begin with, I have seen Mrs. Van Geldt
and we have called upon Fastnet. Beyond doubt, those pearls are Mrs. Van
Geldt's missing property."




CHAPTER XXXVI.


Quite timidly for him, little Jagger put a question to Norcliff. Had the
latter any objection to being accompanied as far as the old curiosity
shop by a competent and discreet newspaper man who could be relied upon
in any sort of emergency?

"Do you mean to suggest that you should come along with me and interview
Mr. Van Geldt?" Norcliff asked.

"Certainly, unless you have any objection."

"My dear young friend," Norcliff said dryly. "You are an exceedingly
astute young man and I am bound to confess that you have been of
considerable assistance to me. But I really don't think it would be
exactly prudent to take you. Besides, for all we know to the contrary,
Mrs. Van Geldt might have left Abbotsbury already. And in, any case, the
fewer of us concerned, the better. We don't want to attract any
attention. And there is always the possibility that the man we know as
Farr is prowling about somewhere. I don't suppose he has the least idea
who you are, and I am pretty certain that he doesn't identify me with
Scotland Yard. Our friend the doctor saw to that. Still, you never
know."

"Oh, very well," Jagger said. "At any rate, you won't mind my travelling
as far as Abbotsbury with you? You see, I have already begun to write my
story and I must have my local color right. The railway siding and the
house close alongside and all that sort of thing. Moreover, I want to
bring in the doctor's blind friend and his sister, because I have a
hunch, as they say in the States, that both those people will prove to
be part of the jig-saw puzzle that you have to solve. I want to tell my
readers all about that picturesque thatched cottage where the blind man
lives and how it comes into the narrative. A regular romance that ought
to take up a whole page of my paper when the right time comes. Oh, I
have got my chance, and I should be a fool if I did not take every
advantage of it. So you won't mind my coming to Abbotsbury."

"I have not the slightest objection to your going as far as that,"
Norcliff said. "But you are not to be seen with me. I mean, we do not
leave the station together. You can follow me at a discreet distance if
you like, and if you see me enter the old curiosity shop you will know
that the lady is at home. If that suits you then there is no more to be
said."

Jagger was eager enough to fall in with Norcliff's views, and some
considerable time later he turned away from the direction of the old
curiosity shop, having satisfied himself that Norcliff was likely to
stay inside the house for some time to come. Then he strolled more or
less aimlessly away in the direction of the railway siding and the four
houses abutting on it.

He did not know exactly what he was going to do or what he was likely to
discover. But then one never knew, and something worthy of record might
chance to turn up. He might even be fortunate enough to see the man Farr
himself. So far he had never met the man who had already been
practically proved to be a cold-blooded murderer, but he had heard his
personal appearance discussed between Trumble and Norcliff, so that if
he should chance to run against the individual in question, he would be
able to recognise him. Moreover he had all the advantage on his side. He
would know the man, but on the other hand the man would not know him. So
he made his way slowly past the houses by the siding as if he were
waiting for someone and paused to light a cigarette as he approached the
last of the villas. This act enabled him to take a swift and
comprehensive glance of what was going on around him, nor was he in the
least pressed for time and quite prepared to hang about there for the
best part of an hour if it should be necessary to do so.

And then luck served him. From the back of the house a figure emerged,
followed by what appeared to be a working man with a spade in his hand.
These two paused at the gate within a yard or two of Jagger, still
intent on his cigarette, so that he could hear what passed between them.
Not that he was in the least interested in that trivial conversation,
because he was taking a swift mental picture of the man whom he knew to
be Farr. Then, with a chuckle, he went on down the road and did not stop
until he came to the little thatched cottage which he recognised as
belonging to Marchmont and his sister. He knew, of course, that Farr and
Marchmont were on intimate terms and that the former was in the habit of
spending a good deal of his time at the cottage. And then as he took in
the neat little garden and the old world building at the back of it
something in the way of inspiration flashed into his mind.

"Now, that is not a bad idea," he told himself. "By Gad, I will put it
to the Inspector directly I get back to the station. Might just as well
go and wait for him there and get a mouthful of grub before returning to
Birmingham."

Meanwhile, Norcliff had reached the old curiosity shop that stood in an
ancient street, not very far from Abbotsbury's famous abbey. He did not
ring the bell by the side of the private entrance, but strolled into the
shop as if he were a tourist or something of that kind in search of
antiques. He was surprised by the value and variety of the treasures
there. Evidently this was a famous establishment and one that
enthusiasts came from afar to see. Norcliff was not exactly a
connoisseur, but he knew enough to see at once that this was no mere
furnishing establishment.

From somewhere in the dusky back-ground, a slim figure of a middle-aged
man appeared and asked the visitor's business.

Norcliff started slightly and then immediately became himself again. For
in the man with the bald head and the black moustache he recognised an
old criminal. The last time he had seen this man had been seven years
ago at the now extinct Old Bailey. Norcliff had not been connected with
the case himself, so that he was quite sure in his mind that the
recognition was not mutual. Nor was he in the least inclined to call
this shopkeeper by his proper name. All that would follow in due course,
but meanwhile, his one task was to interview Mrs. Van Geldt. Perhaps
later on he would be able to take an interest in the career of the man
with the black moustache.

"No, I don't particularly want anything," he said. "At least, I don't
want anything for the moment. I looked in because I was somewhat
attracted by that Waterford glass you have in the window. I may come
back later on and see if we can do a deal. I really came here to see a
lady who is staying in your house."

"Oh, yes, sir," the man behind the counter said. "Mrs. Van Geldt. If you
would be good enough to ring the bell at the side door and ask for the
lady, I think it will be all right. Then we might do a little business
afterwards, sir."

Norcliff rang the door bell in due course and was interviewed by Mrs.
Van Geldt's maid. In the light of his recent discovery, he had no
intention of disclosing his real name and occupation, so that a little
diplomacy was necessary before he found himself in the presence of the
woman he had come to seek.

"Your mistress will not know me," he said. "But if you tell her that a
strange man is here who might be able to tell her something about those
missing pearls of hers, she may see me."

The maid was quite sure that her mistress would. So that the rest was
easy. Norcliff stood there, bowing to the most beautiful woman he had
ever seen, a woman young and attractive and nothing like what he had
expected.

"Yes," Cora said. "Yes. I don't know who you are or where you come from,
but if you can tell me anything about those missing pearls of mine, I
shall be more than grateful. As a matter of fact, I happen to know where
they are. Still, I must be discreet. Would you mind telling me your name
and what brought you here?"

Norcliff proclaimed his identity, at the same time handing his card over
for Miss Van Geldt's inspection.

"You see why I am here now, perhaps," he said. "The loss of your pearls
is only part of a big mystery with a terrible crime at the bottom of it.
And I am the man who has been selected by Scotland Yard to solve the
puzzle. Of course, I know where the missing pearls are at the present
moment and how they came into the possession of the present holder. In
fact, I have seen them."

"You have seen them," Mrs. Van Geldt cried.

"Yes, I have had them in my hand. I am quite convinced that they are
yours, but, before we go much further, that fact will have to be proved
beyond the shadow of a doubt. Now, will you do me a favor, Mrs. Van
Geldt? I am ready to help you in every way I can, but, on the other
hand, I shall have to ask your assistance. Will you meet me to-morrow
morning at 11 o'clock at the establishment of Mr. Fastnet in
Municipal-street in Birmingham?"

"I will meet you anywhere," Cora said impulsively.

"Then that is settled. I want you not to tell anybody where you are
going, not even your maid. If you will be advised by me, you will stroll
quietly out after breakfast, as if you were just taking a walk round the
town and then hire a taxi cab and drive straight to Birmingham. This
should not take you more than an hour and a half at the outside. What I
want to guard against is that you should be followed. And now, Mrs. Van
Geldt, would you answer me another question? Taking it for granted that
those pearls belong to you, would you mind telling me where you got them
from?"

"Where I got them from," Cora echoed.

"Precisely. I understand that those twelve pearls are almost unique, if
not entirely so. Of course, they might have been stolen gems from
Russia, otherwise I cannot conceive where they came from. You could not
have purchased them in the open market without the fact being recorded
widely in the press and the same thing would have happened if you had
obtained them through a dealer. Now would you mind telling me the name
of the man who sold them?"

"Not in the least," Cora smiled. "They came from a gentleman friend of
mine named Vane Egerton."




CHAPTER XXXVII.


Not a muscle of Norcliff's face moved at the unexpected and startling
piece of information. Here, almost by chance, he had blundered upon a
solution of more than half the problem. For the name of Vane Egerton was
no strange one to him. It had come to Scotland Yard more than once
through the New York police in connection with a series of daring
robberies, but all of them so cunningly planned that the master criminal
had eluded the meshes of the law. Here was a man who was well known in
New York society moving in the best circles under his proper name, a
member of exclusive clubs and all that sort of thing, and yet one who,
at the same time, was being watched almost day and night by the
greyhounds of the law. Some day or other he would fall into their
clutches, some day or other he would make one false slip, and then the
vultures would pounce. But in the meantime, it was the policy of the
police to let the man have full rein lest he should be alarmed and take
himself elsewhere.

More than that, Norcliff knew that Egerton belonged to a good English
family, and that he had left home in deep disgrace, many years ago. All
this of course was information of the most sensational kind. Moreover,
it was perfectly clear now that Vane Egerton was none other than the man
who called himself Farr, and who, occasionally posed when it suited him
as the Reverend Walter Temperley.

"But you don't suspect him?" Cora went on.

"I did not say that I suspected anybody," Norcliff said diplomatically.
"I am merely making inquiries, and though I don't suppose it matters
very much to you, I think I shall be able to save you the amount of the
reward you offer. However, we will come to that later. Where did Mr.
Egerton get those pearls?"

"Really, I could not definitely say. He is always dealing in valuables;
in fact, I think he got his living that way. When he brought the pearls
to me, he told me that they had come to him through a sailor. In fact,
he brought the sailor with him. Let me see, what was his name? Oh yes,
Kennedy. The usual rough type of seafaring man who told rather a strange
story as to the way in which the pearls had found their way into his
possession. The sort of story you read in Jack London's books. So I
bought them, and I suppose Mr. Egerton shared in the transaction."

"And that is all you can tell me?"

"Yes, that's all," Cora said. "You see it was a matter of indifference
to me where those pearls came from. I was just glad to get them, and it
seemed like a dispensation of Providence."

"But your husband----" Norcliff suggested.

"My dear man," Cora said coolly, "my husband never worried about
anything except his own business. But say, Mr. Inspector, I am not
likely to get myself in trouble over those pearls, am I? Perhaps I ought
to have asked a few more questions, but then, you see, I was so mad to
get hold of the things that I could not think about anything else! And I
paid a big price for them."

"That I don't for a moment doubt," Norcliff smiled. "Neither need you
worry yourself as to the consequences. All you have to do is to identify
those pearls as your property and say whence you obtained them, after
which you can leave the rest to us. I don't think I need worry you any
more for the moment, and I shall hope to have the pleasure of meeting
you in Municipal-street, Birmingham, to-morrow morning."

It was late in the evening when Norcliff joined the little journalist in
Abbotsbury station. Quite frankly he told Jagger exactly what had
happened, and what the programme was for the following morning. Jagger
grinned happily in reply.

"Great stuff," he said. "This is going to be scoop of the century. Now,
listen here Inspector. While you have been busy with the lady, I have
not been wasting my time. I have been lucky enough to see the man Farr.
Saw him standing at his front gate talking to his gardener. Fine figure
of a chap, young for his years, and I should say a nasty customer to
tackle in a row. Anybody less like a murderer it would be hard to
imagine. The man looks the ideal of a country gentleman."

"Well, there is no doubt about his birth and family," Norcliff said. "I
should say that his personal appearance is a great asset. But what have
you got in the back of your mind?"

"Well, it's like this," Jagger explained, "When I was having my little
chat with Mrs. Van Geldt, we talked on a variety of subjects that I did
not mention to you, because they did not seem to have anything to do
with the big story. Sort of leading up remarks on my part so as to give
me time to ask her the questions I wanted answered just in the right
way. And, in the course of that talk, I discovered that Mrs. Van Geldt
had come down here to meet Farr, otherwise the Reverend Walter
Temperley, and during the few hours she had been here she had fallen in
love with the place. The real Yankee touch, Inspector. Plum crazy on
antiques and all that sort of thing. I thought, from what she said, that
she would like to go down into the shop and buy the whole place up. At
any rate, she told me that she would stay down here a week or two and
explore the neighborhood. Shakespeare's birthplace and all that sort of
thing. Abbotsbury seems to have fascinated her stiff."

"I know," Norcliff said, "I have seen that sort of crase in Americans
before. But what's the point, Jagger?"

"Sorry," Jagger said. "I had almost forgotten that. The point is, that
Mrs. Van Geldt has more than half a mind to take a cottage down here.
Week-end affair, where she can retire from the fatigues of the season.
She doesn't want one of those sham cottages with electric light and loud
speakers and half a dozen cars in the back yard. No, sir, she wants the
real, genuine thing. Roses and thatch and so forth. And then the idea
came to me. As a matter of fact, it came to me after we had started
to-day. Now, the doctor is going to take his blind friend and his sister
to town for a few weeks, and Mr. Marchmont, not being over-endowed with
this world's goods, would probably like to let his cottage furnished. I
am sure the lady would pay any rent that he cared to ask."

"Very likely. But where does the point come in?"

"Well, it's like this," Jagger grinned. "You leave it to me. I will see
Mrs. Van Geldt after a chat with the doctor, and if the Marchmonts have
no objection to letting their house, I will call upon Mrs. Van Geldt and
offer it to her. I will conduct the lady over the premises myself. I
should dearly love to see her face when this man whom we must now call
Vane Egerton comes over in a day or two to say good-bye to the
Marchmonts."

"But they are going to town to-morrow," Norcliff objected.

"Yes, I know. But why shouldn't they put it off for a day or two? There
is no great hurry."

"Oh, I don't know that I am very enthusiastic," Norcliff said. "All the
same, I can see what you are driving at. You want a highly dramatic
situation to introduce into your story, and that highly dramatic
situation will be the meeting of Mrs. Van Geldt with Egerton in the
Marchmonts' cottage. Is that it?"

"You've guessed it first time," the little journalist admitted. "Then
you don't think it worth trying?"

Norcliff pondered the matter for a minute or two.

"I will think it over," he said finally. "It may be the means of
strengthening our hands, and, conversely, it may be the means of putting
Egerton on his guard. However, we will talk it over to-morrow after Mrs.
Van Geldt reaches Birmingham."

Jagger was wise enough to leave it at that, nor was the matter mentioned
again, at any rate, for the moment.

It was just on the stroke of eleven the next morning when Norcliff
strolled into Fastnet's establishment in Municipal-street and asked for
the proprietor. Mr. Fastnet was awaiting the coming of the inspector,
and welcomed him in the office. There they waited for some considerable
time, so that Norcliff was beginning to get a little anxious when a taxi
cab drove up before the shop.

"I am very sorry to keep you waiting," Cora said as she bustled into the
room. "I guess that Abbotsbury of yours is a pretty sleepy place, and,
anyhow, it was no easy matter to get a taxi so early in the morning. I
had to show the man outside a handful of notes and promise him a big
fare if he would start at once. He said he hadn't his breakfast, or some
paltry excuse like that. So perhaps one of you gentlemen will send him
to get something to eat, and tell him to come back in half an hour."

This being accomplished, the door of the office was closed and Fastnet
produced the pearls. Cora gave one glance at them and threw up her hands
with every manifestation of delight.

"Yes, those are my pearls," she cried. "I could swear to them anywhere.
And it is lucky that you won't have to take my word alone. You see,
before those pearls were handed over to Shiffany's to be made up with
the rest of my rope they were all weighed and measured and even
photographed. It was my husband who made that suggestion, and I was wise
enough to follow it. Why, all these details, including the photograph,
are in the hands of the police in New York, and very likely they have
got them at Scotland Yard."

"They most certainly have," Norcliff smiled. "Now, all this is most
satisfactory as far as it goes, Mrs. Van Geldt, but it doesn't go quite
far enough for our purpose. I want you to say nothing of what has
happened this morning, and whoever approaches you or writes to you, you
are to take no notice. Even if that reverend gentleman calls upon you
again with a mild inquiry as to why that cheque has not come along, you
will please put him off. Make some excuse for not sending it, but don't
do anything to incur his suspicions. And I think you will agree with me
that, for the moment, your treasures are very much better where they
are."

"Oh, that's all right," Cora said. "I am perfectly content to leave the
pearls in the hands of Mr. Fastnet, because I don't want the
responsibility of taking them from one place to another. I am not going
to be robbed again if I can help it."




CHAPTER XXXVIII.


Jagger was particularly anxious to hear the result of the interview
between Mrs. Van Geldt and Norcliff. He had already begun to work up his
story, because it seemed to him that the time had come when it was safe
enough to supply his paper with one or two sensational chapters without
in any way interfering with the inspector's work. And Norcliff was quite
candid as to the course of recent events. He and Trumble and Jagger sat
in the private sitting-room in the Grand Central and talked the matter
over as they had done on more than one occasion.

"Fine," the little journalist said. "Everything going exactly as it
should. I gather from what you say, Inspector, that you know all about
this man who calls himself Vane Egerton?"

"Indeed I don't," the Inspector replied. "I don't suppose anybody does,
except that slippery person himself. But, anyhow, he is an Englishman,
who belongs to one of our great families, and he disappeared from home
many years ago, after a disgraceful business into which I need not go."

"Well, at any rate, we are pretty sure now that he is three persons
rolled into one," Jagger went on. "To say nothing of the fact that he
murdered Fishwick. But I have got another idea besides that. I don't
know whether it has occurred to either of you two gentlemen, but I have
a feeling at the back of my mind that this chap, Vane Egerton, calling
himself Farr at the time, was the rascal who stole those pearls from the
doctor's friend Marchmont. I don't see how he could have handled them
otherwise."

Trumble smiled to himself and Norcliff nodded.

"It seems to me," the latter said, "that we have all hit upon the same
discovery simultaneously."

"Well, that certainly was my idea," Trumble said. "And soon as ever I
found my friends down here and heard all about Farr, alias Egerton, I
felt pretty certain that he was the man that Marchmont had to thank for
all his trouble. You see, Farr--I mean Egerton--was always so anxious to
get hold of that chart. And, moreover, he went out of his way on board
the steamer, where the trouble happened, to befriend a perfect stranger.
I am absolutely certain that he followed George Marchmont half way
across the world to get hold of those pearls. There would be no great
difficulty about it. Once he had practically blinded my unfortunate
friend, he was perfectly safe, and as long as Marchmont remains blind,
then Farr--I must call him Farr--feels himself on sure ground. And that
is the reason why I want to get away from here as soon as possible with
Marchmont and operate upon his eyes. I shall have the assistance of two
of the best men in London, and, between ourselves, I have not the least
doubt as to the result. Of course, I didn't tell Farr so, because if I
had, he would probably have disappeared altogether, and the murderer of
Fishwick would never have been brought to justice. My idea is to
confront Farr with Marchmont when the proper time comes, and, when I do,
Marchmont will tell us that the man who robbed him is the man who, all
this time, was pretending to be his friend. I think we ought to be able
to manage that a little later on."

"Precisely my idea," Jagger cried. "Yes, I tumbled to that, too. Now
look here, I can see a way to manage it. That is if you will put off
your journey to London for a day or two, doctor."

"And why?" Trumble asked.

"Well, it's like this. As I have already explained to the inspector,
Mrs. Van Geldt has a fancy for renting a cottage down in these parts.
She wants the real thing, with roses over the front door and an ancient
thatch, where she can run down for week-ends and lead the simple life.
Where can she find a more ideal place than your friends', the
Marchmonts, cottage? She would be an ideal tenant, too, and quite
willing to pay any rent she was asked. And I dare say Mr. Marchmont
could do with the money."

"Well, as a matter of fact, he could," Trumble said. "Upon my word, I
rather like that idea of yours, Jagger. But how do you propose to bring
it about?"

"Nothing easier in the world," Jagger grinned. "I can go and see Mrs.
Van Geldt anytime I like. Nobody will suspect me of having anything to
do with the inquiry over Fishwick's death, so that I shall be able to
move about quite freely. Now, let me go over to Abbotsbury this
afternoon and open my batteries."

"What do you say, Inspector?" Trumble asked.

"Oh, I have no objection," Norcliff said. "Perhaps you had better go
over too, doctor. Only don't get into the same carriage with Jagger,
because you may possibly be followed. Travel in the same train with him,
if you like, and go straight to the cottage. Then you can tell your
friends that the visit to town is put off for a day or two. But stop,
the Marchmonts know nothing at all about the Fishwick mystery, or Mrs.
Van Geldt's pearls, do they?"

"Of course they don't," Trumble said. "I deemed it prudent to keep them
entirely in the dark. They still regard Farr as a great friend, and I
don't propose to disturb that belief until the proper time comes. I can
tell them that I cannot get to London for the next day or two and, at
the same time, I can suggest the advisability of letting the cottage,
provided that they can find a good tenant. Then I can tell them that I
met Jagger, quite by accident, and that he is looking for a house for an
American friend of his who wants just that type of cottage."

"That's the game," Jagger cried. "Then I will go and see Mrs. Van Geldt
and try and induce her to come as far as the cottage. And if you can
arrange to have Farr there at the same time, I think we can pull off
something in the way of a dramatic meeting."

"You will have to be very careful," Norcliff pointed out. "It would
never do, just at this particular moment, for Mrs. Van Geldt to
recognise her American acquaintance Vane Egerton in the presence of Mr.
Marchmont and his sister. She would immediately address him as Egerton
and then all the fat would be in the fire."

"Oh, that's easy enough," Jagger smiled. "Why not go to town this
afternoon with your friends, as you arranged, doctor? Then, if they are
quite agreeable, I can meet you as if by accident at the station, and
you can get Miss Marchmont to hand me over the key of the cottage. I can
tell her that the key will be returned to her if nothing comes of the
business, and, as you can vouch for me, no suspicion will be aroused.
Then we will get Egerton there----"

"Very neat," Norcliff said. "But how are you going to do it? I mean, how
are you going to manage to assure yourself of Egerton's presence when
you are taking Mrs. Van Geldt over the cottage?"

"Ah, there is the snag," Jagger admitted. "Upon my word that point
escaped my attention. But suppose I gave some working man, of an
out-of-work for that matter, a message, asking Egerton to come up to the
cottage this afternoon, after they had gone, and see a lady--no, a
prospective tenant who, at the very last moment, had expressed a desire
to take the cottage furnished for a few months. Yes, that is the idea. I
shall be there too, though of course I shall take good care to
obliterate myself. I don't think there is anything in the scheme that is
likely to arouse Egerton's suspicion, and if he doesn't come, then I
shall have had my trouble for my pains."

"Very well," Norcliff said. "It isn't a bad idea of yours, though I
can't see it is going to carry us very much farther. And, if everything
goes right and Mrs. Van Geldt recognises Egerton, which she must do,
there is just the possibility that he will be put on his guard. Have you
thought of that?"

Jagger was quite sure that he had thought of everything.

"Of course I have," he said. "I am working out this story just as a
novelist works out the plot of one of his books. And don't you worry
about Egerton taking to his heels or any calamity of that sort, because
he will not do anything of that kind. Don't you forget that he badly
wants that five thousand pounds. I mean the reward Mrs. Van Geldt is
offering for the recovery of the pearls. And don't you forget, again,
that that little matter was all arranged between Mrs. Van Geldt and
Egerton when the latter was masquerading as the Reverend Walter
Temperley. Egerton won't go very far away until he has got that money.
And, of course, he won't get it, because you have already put Mrs. Van
Geldt on her guard. Now then, doctor, why not make some sort of a
start?"

It was in due course, therefore, that the little journalist called upon
Mrs. Van Geldt at the old curiosity shop, and was fortunate enough to
find her on the premises.

"What, you again?" Cora smiled. "Really, Mr. Jagger, I am getting
positively afraid of you. Now, what information concerning my dreadful
past are you after this time?"

"Nothing of the kind, my dear madam," Jagger assured her. "As a matter
of fact, some friends of mine who live about a mile from here are
leaving for London this afternoon, where they expect to remain for a
considerable period, and they are rather anxious to let their cottage. I
think you will remember telling me, the last time I had the pleasure of
seeing you, that you were looking for something of the sort in this
neighborhood. If you are still of the same mind, I wonder if you would
care to accompany me as far as the cottage at four o'clock this
afternoon? It is just what you are asking for, and I think it would suit
you admirably."

"A real cottage?" Cora smiled. "A seventeenth century cottage with roses
and a thatched roof and all that."

"Precisely," Jagger said. "Time of Charles II., and just as you picture
it. Small, of course, but beautifully furnished in the period style and
every convenience."

"Then I will come," Cora said eagerly. "If you will be back here just
before four o'clock with a taxi, I shall be ready for you. And, more
than that, I am grateful to you for giving me the opportunity of looking
over so charming a place."

"It's a pleasure," Jagger said gallantly.




CHAPTER XXXIX.


It was all working out exactly the way in which Jagger hoped. To begin
with he had the best part of an hour or more in which to carry out his
preliminary plans. He found the messenger he wanted, and dispatched him
as far as the villa adjacent to the railway siding, and, in due course,
had the satisfaction or hearing that Mr. Farr would come up to the
cottage about 4 o'clock. Then, a little before that time he picked up a
taxi and called for Mrs. Van Geldt, whom he found eagerly awaiting him.

It is hardly necessary to say that Mrs. Van Geldt fell promptly in love
with the cottage. It was precisely the sort of house that generally
appeals to a certain type of American; indeed, within the first five
minutes she asked Jagger if his friends would have any objection to
sell. So far as she was concerned the owner could name their own price.
They were still debating this point when they emerged into the garden
just at the same moment that Egerton appeared at the gate. As he he came
up the garden path Jagger turned a little on one side, as if he were
admiring one of the roses, so that when Egerton and Mrs. Van Geldt came
face to face Jagger had more or less obliterated himself, and was,
apparently, out of earshot. Not that it really was so, because he was
close enough to catch every word that passed between the two outside the
cottage door.

He heard Mrs. Van Geldt's sudden cry of astonishment, and did not fail
to note the chagrin on Egerton's face.

"Good gracious," Mrs. Van Geldt exclaimed. "Do my eyes deceive me, or am
I seeing visions? In another phase of existence I should have said that
you are Mr. Vane Egerton.

"A true bill," Egerton laughed uneasily as he pulled himself together.
"But will you kindly tell me what you are doing here?"

He managed to ask the question naturally enough, but he was palpably
shaky and uneasy, though Cora Van Geldt did not appear to notice it. Not
so Jagger, who turned away with a grin as he appeared deeply engrossed
in the flowers at his feet.

"Oh, that is easy enough," Mrs. Van Geldt said. "I am in England for a
few months, and a little later on I am going to entertain on a mild
scale in the same London house I took on the occasion of my last visit
to England. Just now, in view of recent tragic events, I am living very
quietly. And that is why I came down to these parts to look for one of
those delightful cottages that some of my friends are always talking
about. A quiet spot where I can spend peaceful weekends. I heard of this
place by sheer accident. You see, I am staying in the town here, over an
old curiosity shop that you might have heard of."

"Yes, I think I know the place," Egerton said casually. "You see, I have
one or two acquaintances in Abbotsbury, and, being in the neighborhood,
I thought I would look them up. The people who own this cottage are
friends of I mine, and I offered to keep an eye on the place whilst they
were away. But they never told me that they contemplated letting the
place."

"They didn't," Cora said. "I heard all about them quite by accident, and
it was all settled at the station. Now, tell me, are you back in England
for good?"

"Oh dear, no," Egerton said easily. "I only ran across to see certain
relatives of mine. In the course of a few days, I shall be going back
again. But it is a most extraordinary thing that I should run against
you like this. Any further news of the pearls?"

He put the question casually, and with something like a smile upon his
face. He would have given a great deal to have avoided this meeting, but
now that fate had thrust it upon him he would know how to go through
with it to the finish. It was amusing to his hard and cynical nature to
realise that the last time he had seen the lady before him had been in
the guise of the Reverend Walter Temperley, when he had told her where
the pearls were to be found and where the reward was to be sent. Also he
was a little anxious because, up to now, there had been no sign of the
expected cheque at the address which he had given Cora. Nor could he ask
her anything like a straight question without betraying himself.

"Oh yes," Cora explained. "I haven't got the pearls back yet, but I have
seen them. They are quite safe where they are, and as I can have them
pretty well when I want them, I am not worrying."

"That is good news," Egerton said with feigned heartiness. "But how did
you get on the track of them?"

Quite artlessly Cora told her story with Jagger grinning in the
background. He could hear every word that was passing, and was satisfied
that Egerton should ignore his existence.

"What an extraordinary story!" Egerton cried. "Fancy that old clergyman
hitting upon those pearls in that fashion. It only shows you what a
small place the world is. I am sorry I can't stay and talk to you now,
Cora. As a matter of fact, I ought not to be here at all, but I got a
message from my friends the Marchmonts, asking me to look in here this
afternoon and see to certain little things which I need not trouble
about if you have made up your mind to take the house. I suppose you are
thinking of it?"

"I have absolutely made up my mind," Cora said. "I shall come in
to-morrow and bring my maid with me. I am so enchanted with the place
that I can hardly tear myself away from it. If you are staying in the
neighborhood, you might give me a call."

Egerton gave the desired assurance and strolled leisurely out into the
road. Directly he was alone, the expression on his face changed to one
of perplexity and anger, and he increased his pace, hurrying along the
road until he reached the town. There he made his way straight to the
old curiosity shop and entered, pleased to find that he had the place to
himself. The man with the bald head and the black moustache came forward
and smiled knowingly.

"I didn't expect to see you this afternoon," he said.

"And I didn't expect to see you," Egerton snarled. "Now then, let's get
to business. Tell your wife that if anybody comes she must look after
them herself. Come into the office."

The man in the shop led the way into the office and closed the door
carefully behind them. He took down the mouthpiece of a speaking tube
and gave certain directions to some unseen person overhead. Then he
turned, a little anxiously, to Egerton.

"Anything gone wrong?" he asked hoarsely.

"Oh, I am damned if I can tell," Egerton muttered. "I had the shock of
my life this afternoon. I went up to the Marchmonts' cottage, in
response to a message, and whom do you suppose I met there?"

"I am not guessing any conundrums," the other said.

"Well, as a matter of fact, it was Mrs. Van Geldt, your lodger, my
friend. It appears she has fallen in love with the cottage, and has made
up her mind to take it furnished."

"Well, suppose she has? How does that concern us?"

"Upon my word, Falcon," Egerton said bitterly, "you are a bigger fool
than I took you for. The very last person I wanted to run against in
this country was Mrs. Van Geldt. She knows my proper name, and if I had
met her in the presence of Marchmont and his sister and she had insisted
upon it that my name was Egerton, then all the fat would have been in
the fire with a vengeance. They would know that Farr was merely an
assumed name and, oh, well--you can see for yourself what a complicated
business it would be. But by sheer good luck the Marchmonts had gone, so
I was safe in that direction. But not for very long, I tell you, Falcon.
I am infernally uneasy. I shall have to disappear for the time being,
and as usual I am short of ready money. You must manage to raise me five
hundred pounds in cash to-day, if you have to pledge some of the stock.
But don't do it here. Collect a bag of valuables and pawn them in
Birmingham. I will come in late to-night and pocket the proceeds. Nobody
guesses that the old curiosity shop has been used for the last three
years as the channel through which we dispose of stolen property. And
nobody must know. But that money is vital."

"Yes, but what about the reward for those pearls?" the man called Falcon
asked. "You ought to have got that before now. The Reverend Walter
Temperley's trick was sound enough, and I am quite sure Mrs. Van Geldt
does not guess that you have anything to do with that reverend
gentleman."

"I don't think she does," Egerton said. "At any rate the money hadn't
reached the proper quarter this morning. I shall have to leave you to
collect it. And you can take your share of the money and send the rest
on to an address which I shall give you by means of the old letter
cypher in the 'Times' in the course of a day or two. So watch the agony
column of that paper accordingly."

The man called Falcon turned his head aside to disguise a smile. He knew
his partner through and through, and he had been anxious enough about
his own share of Mrs. Van Geldt's reward. Now he could see his way to
collecting it in safety.

"I must be off," Egerton said. "I must be off in the very first train in
which I can get away. Meanwhile, you lie low and keep me posted through
the medium of the cyphers. Nobody suspects you, and I am not in the
least likely to give you away. My house will be shut up for a day or
two, and the housekeeper will have a few days' holiday. But next
Thursday night at 10 o'clock I shall be in my villa for an hour all
alone, though the place will be in darkness. You must come along there
directly you have cashed Mrs. Van Geldt's cheque, and bring me my share
of the money. You can walk straight in, and you will find me in the
garden room at the back. That is all for the present. I will come in
just after dark this evening when you come back from Birmingham, and
after that--well, after that everything depends upon circumstances."

"That will be all right," Falcon said. "I shall just have time to catch
a train which will land me in Birmingham before the big pawnbrokers are
closed. But I shan't catch that train if you stay here talking much
longer."




CHAPTER XL.


Jagger related his story to Norcliff with a certain amount of pardonable
pride. It seemed to him that he had done a good afternoon's work in the
cause of justice, and he was just a little disappointed at the calm way
in which Norcliff accepted his statement.

"Oh, that's all right, of course," Norcliff said. "But I don't see that
you gain very much by it. You have established the fact that the man
Farr and the other man called the Reverend Walter Temperley are
identical with another person whose real name is Vane Egerton. Beyond
that, where are we?"

"Well, I like that," Jagger protested indignantly. "Just as if that
discovery is of no value."

"Of course it is. But I don't see how it puts the noose round Egerton's
neck. There is no law to compel a man to keep to his own name. You seem
to forget what we are after. Mind you, my lad, I am not out to write a
three-volume novel for the 'Daily Bulletin,' but to hang a man who calls
himself Farr. And I fail to see exactly how your semi-comedy helps very
much. It seems a very long way indeed yet from proving that Fishwick was
anywhere near Abbotsbury on the night he was murdered. We think he was,
and, as a matter of fact, I know he was. But what I know is not likely
to carry much weight before a judge and jury. Still, I won't say your
information is useless, because it isn't."

"Then you think nothing of it?" the dejected Jagger asked.

"On the contrary, I think a good deal of it," Norcliff said with a broad
smile. "I like to pull your leg sometimes, because you are so infernally
cocksure. You are a smart little chap, Jagger, and I am quite sure that
you will go far in your profession. But I wouldn't feel quite so sure of
my ground, if I were you. Still, you have told me enough to enable me to
compel Mrs. Van Geldt to come out into the open, which is a thing I want
to do, because I am not quite sure in my mind that she is as innocent as
she appears. I mean, she may know that those pearls were stolen in the
first place. I don't say that she does, but she might. However, we shall
see all about that in due course. To-morrow I am going off on a little
quest of my own, and I don't want you. You shall know all about it when
I come back, so you had better put in your time polishing up your story
so as to be ready for me when I shall be able to give you all the
material you want for your final chapter."

Jagger was quite content to leave it at that, and judiciously
obliterated himself for the next three or four hours. Meanwhile,
Norcliff journeyed once more to Abbotsbury, and dropped, casually, into
the curiosity shop where the man with the black moustache and the bald
head was polishing some old Irish glass. Falcon looked up with the
ingratiating smile of the shopkeeper who sees a prospective customer,
and civilly gave Norcliff good morning.

"I think I have had the pleasure of seeing you here before, sir," he
said. "Didn't you look in an evening or two ago when you were calling on
my lodger and ask to see some Waterford glass?"

"Perfectly correct," Norcliff said gravely.

"Well, here you are, sir. A fine lot of stuff that came in only
yesterday. I haven't handled such a collection for a long time. And I
can put it to you very cheaply."

"We will come to that presently," Norcliff said. "Now, look here, Mr.
Falcon, you may not be aware of it, but we have met before."

"At some sale room, probably," Falcon smiled.

"I think not," Norcliff said. "If my memory serves me correctly--and it
is a pretty good one--we met at the Old Bailey. That was some years ago.
You may not recognise me, but I remember you perfectly well. I came into
the court in connection with a case in which I was interested, and I saw
you standing in the dock. I think that three years was the sentence,
wasn't it?"

Falcon's jaw dropped as he stared at the speaker with uneasy
astonishment. He was evidently shaken, and, before he could recover
himself, Norcliff returned to the charge.

"Yes, I am quite sure I am right," he went on. "Three years for fraud
and forgery, but not under the name of Falcon. The name matters very
little, seeing that you are the man I mean. I would not deny it, if I
were you, because you have been under the observation of the Birmingham
police for some days, and they have your history all neatly written out
at head-quarters. As a matter of fact, for the last year or two, ever
since your employer put you into these premises, you have been dealing
very largely in stolen goods. I mean the proceeds of many a big robbery
have filtered through your hands from all parts of the world. At the
same time, you have been carrying on a certain amount of legitimate
business, being an expert in all kinds of valuables, and this, so far,
has diverted suspicion from you. But it isn't your business at all. It
belongs to a man who is known in these parts by the name of Farr.
Sometimes he is also known in the clerical guise of the Reverend Walter
Temperley. His real name, however, is Egerton--Vane Egerton."

The man called Falcon listened to all this with a white face and a look
of fear in his eyes.

"Well, what do you want me to do, sir?" he asked.

"I want you to put yourself entirely in my hands," Norcliff went on.
"There is my card, from which you will see that I am an inspector from
Scotland Yard. You can take it from me if you like, that I am not
charging you with anything in particular, and whether you figure again
in the dock or not is entirely in your own hands. If you tell me the
truth and do as I ask you, then you may get off scot free. But don't
lie, because I know everything and if you attempt any of your tricks
with me, you are going to suffer."

Falcon capitulated without the slightest signs of a struggle.

"Oh, Lord, yes, sir!" he said. "Anything you want to know."

Norcliff smiled to himself. It was a far easier task than he had
anticipated, but he had no intention of telling Falcon that.

"Very well," he said. "Now, to begin with, what do you know in
connection with Mrs. Van Geldt's missing pearls."

Falcon gazed, open-mouthed, at the speaker.

"You don't half know anything, you don't," he gasped, dropping into the
vernacular of his tribe.

"I told you I know everything," Norcliff said sternly. "Now, go on and
don't make any comments. The pearls."

"Oh, very good, sir; certainly sir. Those pearl's were stolen by Egerton
during a voyage in a tramp steamer from the South Pacific. I know all
about that, because Egerton told me."

"And you had your commission, I suppose?"

"Well, I am not going to deny that I didn't get a bit of a rake off.
They were the finest pearls ever found. And Egerton risked a good deal
to get them. He had to blind a man in the attempt, but that wasn't the
sort of thing that troubled him much."

"And the name of the blind man was Mr. George Marchmont."

"Yes, you are a bit of a wonder," Falcon said in tones of involuntary
admiration. "That was the gent. And after the pearls had been sold to
Mrs. Van Geldt, Egerton made it his business to keep a close eye upon
Mr. Marchmont, especially after he came down to this neighborhood to
live. That is the meaning of the house by the railway and calling
himself sometimes Farr and sometimes the Reverend Walter Temperley. You
see, Egerton had got on to a good thing, but there, was a still better
one if he could only pull of off."

"You mean the business of that chart, I suppose?"

"Ah well," Falcon sighed. "You said you knew everything and by gosh, you
do. For a long time now, Egerton has been trying to get hold of that
chart, but Mr. Marchmont wasn't having any. He looked upon Farr as his
best friend, never knowing that this so-called friend was the very man
who blinded him. But, in spite of all that, Mr. Marchmont wouldn't part
with that chart."

"Yes, I am quite well aware of all this," Norcliff said. "But what do
you know about Fishwick's murder?"

Falcon looked up, in wide-eyed astonishment.

"It's the first I have heard of that," he said. And he spoke so
sincerely that Norcliff believed him.

"Of course, I knew Fishwick," he said. "He was one of us. Playing the
double game of honest representative of Neidermeyer's and handling the
stuff we got hold of at the same time. But you don't mean to tell me
that Fishwick is dead?"

Norcliff went on to explain. He told Falcon how Fishwick and the man
found under the tarpaulin in the goods train were one and the same
person. He told Falcon practically everything he had discovered, having
a purpose in the back of his mind for doing so.

"And now you must do just as I tell you," he concluded. "I suppose you
know where Mrs. Van Geldt is going to send the cheque which she promised
as a reward for recovery of her pearls. But of course you do. What I
want to know at this particular moment is what you propose to do with
that cheque when you have got it and where you are going to meet Egerton
with the proceeds."

"Oh, I will tell you all about that, sir," Falcon said with an
ingratiating smile. "When I get hold of that cheque and turn it into
money, I am going to meet Egerton and share the spoil. He has gone away
to-day and shut his house up."

"Yes, but he is coming back," Norcliff said swiftly.

"Now, how did you guess that?" Falcon asked. "Not that it matters very
much, seeing that you do know. Well, it's like this, sir, I am going to
meet Egerton at his house by the side of the railway next Thursday night
at ten o'clock. The house will be all in darkness, but I know what to
do."

"Very good," Norcliff said. "I will call for you on the way and we will
go together. I really ought to put you under arrest as much for your own
sake as mine. But you will be carefully watched, and if you make any
attempt to communicate with Egerton----"




CHAPTER XLI.


Meanwhile, Trumble was losing no time so far as his promise to George
Marchmont was concerned. For the time being, at any rate, he put the
railway mystery entirely out of his mind and devoted himself
whole-heartedly to his friends. He had an intimation the day after he
reached London that things were likely to stand still for the best part
of a week, and that Norcliff had no intention of making an arrest until
his plans were perfectly matured. And, moreover, when the arrest came,
it would take a dramatic form in which it was more than possible that
Trumble himself would take a hand.

Therefore he had nothing to worry about. What he had to do now was to
keep Marchmont very quiet for a few hours in a dark room with a view to
an operation on the morrow.

"Strictly speaking, it is not really an operation at all," he told
Sylvia. "I can't understand why George has been content to let all this
long time go by without having some really expert advice. Oh, yes, I
know that he spent a few months in one or two hospitals, but he didn't
go to the right place. Really, I don't believe he is blind at all. My
idea is that the stuff thrown into his eyes paralysed the optic nerve,
or perhaps it filled up the ducts with some irritating matter which they
have never got rid of. At least, that is the opinion I formed when I
gave George a casual examination at the cottage. If I am right, those
ducts want cleaning out very much as if you were sweeping a chimney.
Then when we have got rid of those inflammatory particles and washed the
ducts clean the sight will probably return. The trouble was that George
always had rather weak sight and I am afraid he always will have. But
there is no reason why he shouldn't see as well as you or I with care,
though, of course, he will have to wear powerful glasses for the rest of
his life. Oh, I am quite sanguine!"

"It seems almost too good to be true," Sylvia murmured. "I would give
anything in the world to see George with his sight back again. It has
been a terrible trial to him, because he is so different from the
average man. It isn't as if he was the sort of creature who is content
to sit down in a chair and do nothing. He has always been a restless
wanderer and I am afraid we shall never cure him of that. I am perfectly
certain of one thing. If he does get his sight back, the first thing he
will want will be to go off to the South Pacific again and find some
more pearls."

"Well, why not?" Trumble smiled. "Why shouldn't he find another big lot?
Then he can come home and buy a nice little property and settle down to
the life of a country gentleman. And he won't have you to think about
this time."

A few hours later Trumble emerged with a couple of his confreres from a
dark room in the house where he had established Marchmont, with a smile
on his face and something like triumph in his heart. In the sitting-room
down below he found Sylvia anxiously awaiting him. One glance at his
face was enough for her.

"You have been successful!" she cried.

"Successful?" Trumble echoed. "Of course I have. As things turned out it
was really much easier than I had expected. There were certain hard
particles in the ducts which we had to remove. And once the flow--but I
need not go into that, because you wouldn't understand it. George is
just coming nicely out of the anaesthetic now and you will be able to
see him in the course of an hour. And, what is a great deal more
important, he will be able to see you. Oh, yes, it's all right. At the
very first sign of consciousness he looked up at me before the bandage
was placed over his eyes and hailed me just as he would have done four
years ago. Of course, he will have to stay in the dark till to-morrow,
and then I think we shall be able to allow him a little latitude. I am
going off now to get him the right sort of glasses which he will have to
wear for a few days, but by the beginning of next week he will be able
to walk about as if nothing had happened."

And so it turned out exactly as Trumble had prophesied. It was a time of
great rejoicing for the trio, a quiet happy time during which Trumble
deemed it his business to play the arbitrary taskmaster. What he seemed
particularly to desire was that Marchmont should not appear in public.
There were large gardens attached to the square in which the house was
situated, and wandering about these, Marchmont gradually regained the
full use of his sight, so that he could stand even bright sunshine
without inconvenience, though not for a moment was he allowed to leave
the house without the glasses provided for him by Trumble. It was not
for him to know that Trumble had heard at considerable length from
Norcliff and that it was imperative in the altered circumstances, that
Egerton should not have the slightest idea of the important development
which had taken place as regards Marchmont during the last day or two.
In other words, Trumble was taking no risks. He did not anticipate for a
moment that Marchmont might meet Egerton face to face; but he was
certainly going to do his best to guard against such a contingency.

And Marchmont was so grateful that Trumble was actually embarrassed by
all this show of feeling.

"My dear chap," he expostulated, "I have done nothing that any ordinary
specialist could not have accomplished. I can't understand why you
haven't been to one of them before. All you have to do now is to keep
quiet for a bit and you will be as right as I am. You want to get in the
country where you will have plenty of fresh air and as much freedom from
dust as possible. That is a very important point, and I don't want you
to forget it."

"Yes, I quite under stand that," Marchmont replied. "What a pity it was
that we let the old cottage!"

"Oh, I don't know," Trumble smiled. "Perhaps you will be glad you did so
before so very long. Anyway, there are other cottages, and if you like I
will find one for you. And afterwards?"

"Oh, well, afterwards we'll have a go at that chart together. Mind you,
I am just as keen on that game as ever I was. Besides, I don't want to
spend the rest of my life living on three hundred pounds a year, and if
ever I do get another haul of pearls from the reefs of that secret
island of mine, I shall not allow myself to be robbed again. And I may
meet the man who served me such a dirty trick before. Oh, I shall
recognise him all right! That man's face is photographed on my memory
indelibly. I can see him now, just as I saw him the night he came into
my cabin. Then, now that I am no longer helpless, I think I shall look
up my friend Farr and ask him to join in with me as he was so anxious to
do. I think it would be only fair, especially as he offered to pay all
expenses. If I run down to Abbotsbury and look him up----"

"I don't think I'd do that, if I were you," Trumble interrupted. "There
are reasons why you should do nothing of the kind. I have got an
amazingly unpleasant story to tell you, George, but I should like to do
it when Sylvia is present. If you will wait until she comes in from her
walk, then we can go into details."

Sylvia appeared in due course, bright and rosy after her stroll in the
park, and then, at Trumble's instigation, she sat down by his side
whilst he told his story. He told it at great length, with every detail,
and the narrative was followed with a rapt attention on the part of the
listeners. Not till he had actually finished did the slightest
interruption come from the others.

"It seems incredible, amazing!" Sylvia cried.

"Farr, above all men in the world!" George exclaimed.

"Well, there it is," Trumble went on. "I think I have said enough to
convince you, George, that you have been living in a fool's paradise all
these years."

"But what are we going to do about it?" George asked.

"We are not going to do anything about it till we have heard from
Norcliff," Trumble explained. "Everything is in his capable hands and it
would be a great mistake on our part if we interfered. I have heard from
Norcliff and now I am awaiting a further letter. He knows that you have
recovered your sight, which means that you are likely to be an important
witness when the villain comes to stand his trial. Meanwhile, we must
stay here and wait on events."

And there being nothing else to do, they waited accordingly. But it was
a great shock for both Marchmont and Sylvia. The mere thought of all
this perfidy on the part of a man she had trusted so implicitly brought
the blood flaming into Sylvia's face. But for the grace of God, she
might even have found herself tied up for life to that scoundrel. She
made a faint attempt to say something of this to Trumble, but he waved
the suggestion aside.

"Don't talk about it," he said. "My dear girl, there are thousands of
men in the world like Egerton. Presentable men, well-educated and
utterly unscrupulous, who are ready to take advantage of their nearest
and dearest friends. If I were you, I wouldn't mention Egerton's name
again, I wouldn't even think of him."

"But it all seems too terrible," Sylvia murmured.

Trumble picked her up and kissed her. He looked almost sternly down into
her eyes with his hands on her shoulders.

"You are not to think of it," he commanded. "My dear girl, anyone would
imagine that you are to blame. Now, let's all go down to Eastbourne for
a day or two and put up at some quiet hotel there. You will have plenty
of worry and anxiety over this case later on, at least George will. But
we must keep you out of it."

But the proposed flying visit to the south coast was not to take place,
for an hour or two before their departure came a telegram that was very
brief and to the point. Thus:--


"Meet me Abbotsbury, Thursday evening outside station. Quarter to ten.
Not a moment later.--Norcliff."


"Yes, I rather expected this," Trumble said. "It means all of us. Oh
yes, undoubtedly we shall have to go."




CHAPTER XLII.


Under cover of the darkness there crossed the fields by a circuitous
route the man called Farr or the Reverend Walter Temperley or Vane
Egerton, as the case called for. He came presently to the house by the
railway siding and, creeping softly as a cat, reached the conservatory
porch where the roses were in full bloom. He was there that Thursday
night to meet the man Falcon and obtain from him the proceeds of Mrs.
Van Geldt's cheque. Nor did he for a moment anticipate that the funds
would not be forthcoming.

He stepped into the darkened passage and, feeling his way along to the
garden room at the back of the house, switched on the lights there. Then
he glanced round the room.

He half expected to find Falcon there awaiting him. But it was not
Falcon seated in the big armchair facing the door, but another man whose
face was oddly familiar.

"Who the dickens are you?" he asked. "Where have I seen you before? Oh,
yes, I remember now. You came to my friend Marchmont's cottage with Dr.
Trumble. Your name is----"

"Well, strictly speaking, it isn't," Norcliff said, for he it was. "I
forget under what name I was introduced by the doctor, but I am
Inspector Norcliff, of Scotland Yard, and I am here to arrest you for
the murder of one Fishwick."

The expression on Egerton's face was one of blank astonishment. Not for
a moment did he betray himself; though for some days now, he had been
terribly uneasy in his mind. He was astute enough to realise that Mrs.
Van Geldt's presence in England was not altogether an accident and, more
than once, he had had an uneasy feeling that he was being followed.

"What the devil do you mean?" he asked.

"I don't think you will gain anything by playing the innocent man,"
Norcliff said. "Because I have my duty to perform and I am going to
carry it through. No, you needn't look towards the door, because there
is no escape from that direction and the same remark applies to the
window. If I were you I shouldn't attempt to put up a fight. Far better
to come quietly."

Egerton dropped into a chair and faced the speaker resolutely. He was
not going to give in yet.

"Do you happen to know to whom you are talking?" he asked.

"Most assuredly I do," Norcliff responded. "Your real name is Vane
Egerton, alias Farr, alias the Reverend Walter Temperley. And, I may add
that we have your finger-marks at Scotland Yard. Oh yes, you need not
stare. I know you have never been in the hands of the police before, but
we have those marks, all the same."

"It would be interesting to know how," Egerton said quite coolly. "Now,
look here, Inspector, I should like to know something more about this
before we go any further. You are going to arrest me, of course, still
you won't mind answering a few questions."

"Not in the least," Norcliff said cheerfully. "Now, as to those
finger-marks. I believe you have a pigskin cigar case mounted in silver
which you are in the habit of using pretty frequently. But when you left
here just before Whitsuntide the case remained on your writing-table
yonder. Here it is. You are not going to deny that it is yours, because
I found it in this very room. And from that we obtained your
finger-prints."

"All very clever," Egerton sneered. "But how does that identify me with
this Fishwick of whom you are speaking?"

"To answer that, I shall have to go a bit further back. Fishwick was a
friend of yours in America, also he was the representative of the great
firm of Neidermeyers, the jewel dealers. And, at the same time, he was
hand in glove with you in the disposal of certain stolen goods, mostly
gems of great value. Amongst other things, he handled Mrs. Van Geldt's
pearls."

"All very interesting, Inspector, but go on."

"Mrs. Van Geldt's pearls were passed on to Fishwick after you had stolen
them from the lady whose name I mentioned. But, in the first place, they
came from you. Now, you are not going to deny that you stole those
pearls of Mrs. Van Geldt in the first place because the lady is in
England and will testify to the fact. Nor am I going to ask you where
you got them from. I am not going to ask you that, because I know. But
you stole them late one night on Fifth Avenue, after which you handed
them over to Fishwick, knowing that he was coming to England on business
on behalf of the firm, and would probably be in a position to dispose of
them to some customer on this side of the water. I am not asking you to
say you did or you didn't, because, that is a point for your counsel to
fight out when you face a judge at the Central Criminal Court. Probably
you repented parting with those pearls, because you had an idea that
Fishwick was going to play you false. At any rate, you followed him to
England and lured him here one night on the eve of Whitsuntide and
murdered him. It was a big risk and, as things turned out, an absolutely
wasted crime. It was a wasted crime for the simple reason that Fishwick
hadn't the pearls on him, having left them for safety with a dealer
called Fastnet in Birmingham. You didn't trust Fishwick and he didn't
trust you, and that is why you had your trouble for your pains. Those
pearls, at the present moment, are in the possession of Mr. Fastnet and,
in due course of time will be handed over to Mrs. Van Geldt, pending the
necessary legal inquiries as to their ownership. Mrs. Van Geldt knows
you very well as Vane Egerton and you were perfectly safe in assuming
that she didn't recognise you in the guise of the Reverend Walter
Temperley when you called upon her at the old curiosity shop and told
her that pretty story about the clergyman and the dying man."

"Really," Egerton drawled. "This amazing story leaves me bewildered, but
absolutely cold. What in the name of fate have I to do with what you
call the old curiosity shop?"

"Absolutely useless," Norcliff said curtly. "I have been all over the
house in the last half hour, and I have found the whole of your clerical
disguise. And I may tell you this. I have seen your tool, Falcon, and he
has made a full confession. As soon as he realised that he was face to
face with a long term of imprisonment, he didn't hesitate for a moment
to give you away."

For the first time, Egerton was shaken. His lip shook and the muscles at
the corners of his mouth twitched. A grey pallor crept over his face as
he looked at Norcliff.

"Yes," the latter went on. "Falcon told us all he could. Whether you
escape the capital charge or not, you will he tried for the robbery of
those pearls. And I haven't finished yet."

"Go on," Egerton said hoarsely. "Tell me the worst."

"I thought I had already done so," Norcliff murmured. "I told you I was
going to arrest you on a charge of the murder of Fishwick, who was
killed in this very room on Whit-Saturday. Fishwick came here to see you
and you killed him. You drugged him with a dose of whisky and, when he
was lying absolutely insensible, you choked the life out of him probably
with one of the cushions on that sofa. Then you carried the body of the
dead man down the garden and laid it on the top of the hedge that
divides the garden from the railway siding. You climbed over the hedge,
using one of the windsor chairs out of your kitchen for the purpose.
Then the body was placed under the tarpaulin of a fruit van and was
subsequently discovered at Westport a day or two later. You know all
about that, because you must have seen it in the papers."

Egerton shook his head, but none too resolutely.

"Of course you did," Norcliff repeated. "And I venture to say that the
long adjournment of the inquest made you feel a bit uneasy. That
adjournment I arranged for on purpose. I didn't want you or anybody else
to find out the way in which my friend Mr. Trumble discovered how the
poor fellow had been murdered. But there was no doubt about it, as you
will hear, all in due course. It is a very strange thing to me that,
after the care and cunning which you bestowed in luring Fishwick here
and covering up your tracks, that you should have been so criminally
careless after you had disposed of the body. For instance, you made no
attempt to cover up the four holes made by that chair in the dry soil
under the hedge. You were alone in the house, and yet you never troubled
to wipe the soil off the feet of that chair. It is at Scotland Yard now
and when the time comes will be produced as evidence against you."

"A point in your favor, I admit," Egerton said.

"I have not finished yet. Do you remember what became of the glasses,
used on the night of the murder?"




CHAPTER XLIII.


Once more Egerton started violently. Then, with an effort, he faced his
tormentor stolidly.

"What glasses do you mean?" he asked.

"The glasses you used when Fishwick called upon you on that particular
Saturday night. You sat at this table and each of you had a drink of
whisky and soda. You took the glasses away after the crime was committed
and, with almost criminal carelessness put them in the kitchen sink. You
didn't even trouble to wash them. We have those glasses at headquarters
and they have been treated for finger-prints. On one of them are your
prints and on the other those of Fishwick. More than that, the sediment
in Fishwick's glass shows distinct signs of some sort of narcotic
poisoning. We obtained Fishwick's finger-prints from his dead hands. And
now, Mr. Egerton, I don't think I need tell you any more. I must warn
you that anything you say will be taken down in evidence against you;
but, of course, if you like to make a confession----You can tell me, for
instance, where those pearls came from originally."

"That," Egerton said sullenly, "is my business."

"Oh, just as you like," Norcliff said casually. "Perhaps you would like
to see the man from whom you stole them?"

Egerton showed his teeth in an evil grin.

"Yes, if you can produce him," he snarled.

Norcliff rose to his feet and threw open the door. As he did so, he
switched on the hall light and then into the room came Trumble closely
followed by George Marchmont.

"Ah, here you are," Norcliff said genially. "Now Mr. Marchmont, have you
ever seen this man before?"

Egerton looked up swiftly. It seemed to him ridiculous that a blind man
should be asked to identify him. But the blind man took a step forward
and stared the other in the face.

"The man who stole the pearls from me," he cried. "The man who came into
my cabin that night, on the tramp steamer, and did his best to destroy
my sight. What is his name?"

Egerton looked from one to the other in almost pitiful helplessness.
Then, like a flash, he realised what had happened. George Marchmont was
no longer blind.

"Yes, that's the man," Marchmont went on. "I would swear to him
anywhere. His face is indelibly fixed in my mind. Who is he? And what is
he doing here to-night?"

"Then you haven't guessed?" Trumble asked.

"Guessed, my dear fellow, what do you want me to guess?"

"Perhaps I had better explain," Norcliff interposed. "This, Mr.
Marchmont, is the man who calls himself Farr, the man who has professed
to be your friend all these years, the criminal who stole your pearls.
His real name is Egerton."

Egerton stood up and glared round him defiantly.

"Why deny it?" he cried. "Yes, Marchmont, I am the man who robbed you of
your treasures and would have robbed you still further if you hadn't
been so obstinate over that chart. And all this long time it has amused
me to pose as your friend and earn your gratitude. I wouldn't tell you
this, only there is a much more serious charge hanging over my head.
Perhaps the inspector will explain."

With that Egerton flung himself back in his chair and lighted a
cigarette. It was a characteristic piece of bravado on his part, with
the knowledge behind it that perhaps he was enjoying a smoke for the
last time in his life. He refused to say another word, but listened with
a faint smile of amusement on his face as the inspector and Trumble
proceeded to explain.

"Perhaps I ought to have told you all this before," Trumble said.
"Anyhow, now you know why you were brought here to-night. For any
further details I refer you to the inspector."

Norcliff finished his tabloid narrative with as few words as possible,
then he went to the door again and two constables in uniform came
heavily into the room.

"There is your man," Norcliff said. "You had better read the warrant to
him, sergeant."

It was all over so far as Norcliff and Trumble were concerned, and a
little later they were walking down the road with Marchmont in the
direction of the cottage.

"What are we going to do now?" Trumble asked. "It is too late to get
back to Birmingham to-night so the best thing we can do, Norcliff, is to
go across the line and take up our old quarters at the White Hart. I
dare say they can find us all beds."

"Not so far as I am concerned," Marchmont said. "It is rather fortunate,
as things have turned out, that Mrs. Van Geldt has not taken over the
cottage; in fact, she doesn't come in till to-morrow. So, to-night,
Sylvia and myself are staying there. We can get back to town with you in
the morning, Trumble, and then, I suppose, we can carry out that little
trip to Eastbourne that was so rudely interrupted by our friend the
inspector here. Won't you come as far as the cottage and have a whisky
and soda with me?"

"That is very kind of you," Norcliff said. "You two go on and I will
call in at the White Hart and see about our quarters. Then I can follow
you on to the cottage, and if there are any points about this sordid
business that I haven't explained yet, I shall be very pleased to tell
Miss Marchmont all about them."

But Norcliff was not destined to get as far as the cottage quite so soon
as he had expected. Rather to his surprise, he found the ubiquitous
Jagger lying in wait for him at the corner of the lane leading to the
crossing.

"How on earth did you get here?" the inspector asked.

"Never mind about that," the little man grinned. "No getting rid of me
until the fall of the curtain. Oh, I know all about certain recent
events. The arrest at the railway villa and so on. I wasn't very far
off. Now you give me just ten minutes and after that I won't trouble you
any more. Let me get the last chapter down in shorthand and little
Jagger asks no more. I'll supply all the frills and then hey for London
and the office of my paper. Look out for a newspaper story in the
morning the like of which has never been equalled in point of style or
dramatic intensity. Now don't make a fuss, old chap, but trot it out.
You owe me more than a bit."

Norcliff surrendered at discretion. At the end of ten minutes Jagger
closed his notebook with a snap.

"So that's that," he said. "My love to the bride and groom and say my
piece of plate will materialise in due course. Something extra neat in
the way of toast-racks. So long."

Norcliff smiled as he made his way to the cottage where Sylvia had been
waiting anxiously for the others. She had not been taken entirely into
Trumble's confidence. But now that the arrest was made and the inspector
had that off his mind, it mattered little what anyone said on the
subject of the amazing criminal who had been originally known as Vane
Egerton.

"I am so glad you have come back," Sylvia said. "For the first time in
my life, I have been afraid of being left alone. Now, Trevor, tell me
what all this mystery means."

Trumble was only too willing to oblige. It was a long story, but he
finished at length and, for a long time, Sylvia sat there, trying to
grasp the essential features of the most amazing story of crime that she
had ever heard in her uneventful life.

"It sounds to me absolutely incredible," she said. "Fancy all this long
time George sitting in darkness in this very cottage under the
impression that he owed a deep debt of gratitude to the very man who had
robbed him and who had not hesitated to deprive him of his sight. And,
sooner or later, I am quite sure that George would have parted with that
chart of his. And, perhaps, if he had done so before now, that poor
fellow would never have been murdered."

"I dare say I should," Marchmont said. "In fact, I have been on the
verge of handing the chart over to Farr--I mean Egerton--half a dozen
times over. And, mind you it has been a bit of a shock, because I
trusted that man and would have done anything for him. Strangely enough,
he didn't look like a rascal."

"Not a bit," Sylvia concurred. "With that handsome face of his, to say
nothing of those steadfast blue eyes, he could look the whole world in
the face and no one would ever suspect him. But please don't let us talk
about him any more."

"Oh, I am quite willing," Marchmont laughed. "'All's well that ends
well.' It is no end of a good motto."

"Yes, but will it end well?" Sylvia smiled. "Oh, I know you, George. As
soon as you are absolutely all right again, you will be off on another
of those expeditions of yours, and you will keep me on tenterhooks for
years. You won't be happy till you have visited your magic island and
made a fortune."

"Of course I shan't," Marchmont said. "You don't suppose, after these
years of enforced idleness, I am going to sit quietly down again. It
will be all very well for you, my child. You are going to marry a
husband who has a great future before him, to say nothing of a private
fortune of his own. But for that, I might be content to remain in
England. But then, you see, I can so implicitly trust you with old
Trevor, can't I, dear boy?"

Trumble glanced smilingly at Sylvia and she returned the look with a
fond glance in her eyes that repaid him more than any words could have
done. For the moment, at any rate, the tragedy was forgotten and three
of the happiest people in the world sat round in the little cottage
sitting-room as if such things as care and trouble and crime had passed
entirely out of existence.



THE END



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