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Title: Queen of Hearts
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Queen of Hearts
Author: Fred M White


*


Published in The Central Queensland Herald, Rockhampton, Qld. commencing
Thursday 30 December, 1943.


*



CHAPTER I.


The younger of the two two men standing just outside the Royal enclosure
at Ascot on that sunny Cup day heaved a sigh of relief as the more or
less informal mannequin parade mingled with the well-dressed crowd and
vanished. The other--tall and distinguished, with his silver hair and
hawklike, aristocratic features, smiled just a little grimly as he
caught the expression on his junior's face. His smile, though humorous
and perhaps a trifle mocking, did not lack a certain austerity that
hinted at stern determination of character behind the jauntiness of the
mere man of the world.

"Yes," he said. "She is an amazingly pretty girl, but, if I were you,
Tom, I would not think seriously about her."

Tom Gilchrist looked a little uneasy. There were times when his uncle,
Sir Walter Vanguard, seemed to read his thoughts in an almost uncanny
fashion.

"And why not?" he asked. "What is your prejudice against Maudie
Vascombe? Dash it all, uncle, if she does get her living as a mannequin
and serve in a milliner's shop, that is no disgrace these times, is it?
And, anyway, she is a lady. And, what is more, I have known her and her
brother Ian practically all my life. It was not so many years ago since
the Vascombes were big people, before the smash came, and the war
reduced them to poverty. But, of course, seeing that you have spent most
of your life in China, you have probably forgotten that. Don't you think
you are rather inclined to be old-fashioned? Everybody nowadays is in
business of some sort or another. And I don't see any difference between
a girl getting her living as a shop girl and hanging on to some of her
aristocratic friends, waiting for a chance to sell herself to some rich
man who probably started life in a marine store."

"I dare say there is something in what you say," Vanguard replied. "But
that is not exactly the point, my boy. I know what hard work is, nobody
more so. When I was a boy I could have hung about the old house and
watched my father beggaring himself over horses and cards and selling
the family estates by instalments, as he did, and found myself today a
pauper. Instead of which, I went out to China, about the time most boys
are leaving school, and made a fortune there by my own exertions. And
that is why I am a rich man today and why you, the last of the race, and
my dead sister's only son are enjoying a handsome allowance after
ruffling it at Eton and Cambridge with the best of them. I dare say you
will think this is no time for a moral lecture, but I think you owe me
something. Tom----"

"Of course I do," Tom Gilchrist said warmly. "I owe you everything. And
I am not ungrateful. But, dash it all, uncle, I don't want to marry Mona
Catesby and might just as well say so sooner or later. Because that is
what you are driving at, though why, goodness only knows."

"But, my dear boy, a little consideration would show you. Who bought the
best part of our family property 20 years ago? Tell me that."

"Why, Mona's father, of course."

"Now happily dead," Sir Walter said, a trifle sardonically. "A self-made
man of the worst type, but he had the money and the best part of land
which has belonged to our family for 300 years. And, what is more to the
point, he had a daughter, to whom he left everything. She is still
single and so far as I know, unattached. And anybody can see with half
an eye that she would be only too willing to throw her lot in with yours
and, once that was done, the ambition of my life would be satisfied. I
should like to live to see the Vanguard property back in the family
again, though your name is Gilchrist. And you can't say she is not an
attractive girl, and you can't say she is not a lady."

"Oh, attractive enough, if you like," Tom Gilchrist agreed. "But she
doesn't come out of the top drawer. I don't care for those big girls,
though I must admit that she carries it off very well. I can't see----"

Sir Walter turned away a little impatiently. There was a hard gleam in
his eye and the humorous lines about the corners of his mouth had
stiffened into something like cruelty.

"Well, we won't discuss it now," he said. "I didn't mean to bring it up
at all yet, only you looked so infernally sentimental when those girls
were passing that I felt impelled to speak. Come inside and we can watch
the big race together."

"Presently," Tom said. "You go alone, uncle, and I will follow a little
later."

Sir Walter passed in through the gates of the Royal Enclosure, whilst
his nephew turned and pushed his way through the crowd. He came
presently to the object of his search. She was standing quite alone,
gazing about her with an interested air, for it was the first time she
had ever been on the famous heath and she was enjoying the prospect to
the full now that her rather trying ordeal was over.

A beautiful girl, slim and rather tall, with a certain haughty carriage
of her head and a free movement of her slim limbs which spoke of perfect
health. There was something about her that would have attracted
attention anywhere. Even had Maudie Vascombe been dressed in rags, she
would have stood out from her fellow women with a distinction that is
more easily imagined than described. And now, beautifully dressed for
the occasion in the last word of fashion, she stood there with a hundred
curious eyes upon her. If she was aware of the fact, she did not show
it, for she had all that savoir faire and serenity which is the hall
mark of birth and breeding all the world over.

She turned with a brilliant, almost caressing smile as Tom Gilchrist
murmured her name.

"Oh, you, is it?" she said. "I saw you just now with Sir Walter, though
you may not know it."

"Did you?" Tom asked. "That is very sweet of you, Maudie. But what are
you doing here all by yourself?"

"All my lovely companions have faded and gone, like the last rose of
summer," the girl laughed. "As a matter of fact, I am looking for Ian.
He is about somewhere, taking notes. You know what he is. A most
forgetful boy, especially when he has his notebook in his hand."

Gilchrist smiled. He knew all about that. He was perfectly aware of the
fact that Ian Vascombe made a fair and increasing living by dress
designing--a rather ignoble profession for a man who had once been
captain of the Eton cricket eleven, but then, in these strange times,
the mere fact of getting a living at all is no mean achievement.

"Oh, never mind about Ian," Gilchrist said. "Have you had any lunch? No,
I can see you haven't. I suppose Madame Ninette sent you and the rest
down here without making any provision of that sort."

"We are supposed to take care of ourselves," Maudie smiled.

"Ah, yes, I thought so. Now, you come with me to the club tent, and I
will give you a glass of champagne and a lobster salad or something like
that."

"My dear Tom, are you actually proposing to entertain a mere mannequin
in your exclusive club tent? You would never hear the last of it."

"I am not troubling about that," Tom said. "Besides half the women there
get their own livings, don't they? And some of them not half as honestly
as you do. Now, come along, don't be silly."

With that, Gilchrist led the way to the gaily decorated tent which, by
this time, was half empty. He found seats for himself and his companion
and, over a more or less elaborate lunch, proceeded to discuss certain
intimate affairs.

"How long are we going on like this, Maudie?" he asked. "I simply hate
to see you leading this sort of life. It is damnable to think of a girl,
bred and born like you, going to shows like this, dressed up doll
fashion for a lot of male and female cads to make remarks about. Why
don't you marry me and have done with it?"

Just for a moment a soft look crept into the great grey eyes that were
turned on the speaker.

"Now, my dear Tom, do be reasonable. How can I marry you? Oh, I am not
saying I am not fond of you, but am I as fond as all that? I live fairly
comfortably and with what I earn and Ian earns, we can afford to run the
cosy little flat we have been living in for the last year or so. And now
answer me one straight question. What are we going to live on? When you
tell your uncle that you are going to marry a mannequin, what will he
say, and, more to the point, what will he do?"

"Make the best of it," Tom said sanguinely.

"Oh no, he won't, my boy. He'll cut you off with a shilling. I don't say
he hasn't been a good uncle to you up to now, but if you don't offer to
marry Mona Catesby, then you will have to look to yourself. Oh, Tom,
don't make it harder for me than you can help. Let's be happy whilst we
have a chance. Of course I could listen to what you say and ruin your
life, but you may be sure I shan't do that."

"Well, it's dashed hard," Gilchrist groaned.

"Of course it is," Maudie laughed. "And perhaps it is a good deal harder
on me than it is on you."




CHAPTER II.


Meanwhile, Sir Walter had returned to the sacred enclosure as if the
subject recently under discussion had been settled once and for all. It
was the first time that he had ever spoken freely to his sole surviving
relative on the subject of the latter's future, and, from his point of
view, there was no more to be said. Tom Gilchrist was entirely dependent
upon him and he was not in the least likely to imperil his future and
ruin his prospects for the sake of a romantic attachment to a girl who
was no more than a mere shop assistant. Of course, Maudie Vascombe was a
lady and all that sort of thing, but it was ridiculous to imagine that
she could fly that little kite of hers to the detriment of a scheme
which Sir Walter had had in his mind since the day, twenty years ago,
when his only sister had died and he had made up his mind to see to the
future of his nephew, for even in the midst of his activities in china,
where he had remained for upwards of forty years without a break, there
had always been one object uppermost in his mind.

And that object was the restoration of the family estate. A considerable
portion of it had remained to him after his father's death, subject to
heavy mortgages, and these he had gradually paid off, but the old family
residence and the home park had been sacrificed to strangers, and,
unless luck stood him in very good stead, they had gone for ever.

And then, a few years before had come the news that the new man,
Catesby, was dead, leaving an only daughter to inherit the property that
Sir Walter so coveted. And when he returned to England, he found that
the girl was much more presentable than he had expected, that she was
single and unattached and by no means averse to fall in with his scheme
which had shaped in his mind directly he had discovered how the land
lay.

It seemed to him to be an excellent plan and one, moreover, which he
could bring about without any expense to himself. He was quite prepared
to buy the old homestead, but if it came back into the family through a
marriage between his nephew and the present owner, so much the better.
It almost looked as if the whole thing were providential.

And when once Sir Walter made up his mind to a thing, he carried it
through. In his way, he was a kindhearted, genial man, but a business
one to his finger tips and not inclined to allow sentiment to stand
between him and his ambitions. And now he had warned his heir and if Tom
liked to defy him, then that foolish young man must take the
consequences. He had spoken his mind and there was an end of it.

It was characteristic of the man that, once having come to this
decision, he could turn aside to other and lighter things without giving
it a second thought. He strode through the crowded enclosure in search
of somebody he knew with a view, presently, to getting up to the top of
the stand and watching the great race of the day, for it was nearly 3
o'clock and before long the numbers of the starters in the Gold Cup
would go up on the board opposite.

It was just at that moment that Sir Walter came face to face with the
one individual who had been recently uppermost in his thoughts. Here was
Mona Catesby herself, beautifully dressed and strikingly handsome and
alone.

"Oh, Sir Walter," she cried. "You are quite a godsend to me. I have been
deserted by my party because I didn't want to go into that wretched
paddock to see the horses. They are all very well when they are racing
and you have a bet on, but otherwise I dislike the creatures extremely."

"Ah, the modern touch," Sir Walter laughed. "You, of course, prefer
cars."

"Of course I do. Who wouldn't?"

"Oh, well, it is all a matter of taste. Now, if my ancestors had
preferred cars to horses, if such a thing had been possible, you would
never be in the happy possession of my ancestral home, and I should not
have had the pleasure of being your faithful cavalier. Now, what do you
say to coming to the top of the stand with me and watching the race?"

"Nothing would be more delightful," the girl said. "I suppose you have
made all your bets?"

"I have made my modest one," Sir Walter explained. "You see, I have no
use for gambling. And that is where I differ from those who preceded me.
I have backed Comus for a modest five pound note and that is the extent
of my wager. Just sufficient to have an interest in the race, you know."

"And I have got my money on The Palmer," Mona said. "Only I have gone a
bit further than you have; in fact, I have a whole hundred on the horse.
Disgraceful, isn't it?"

"Oh, well, a bet is a relative thing, after all. What's gambling with
one person is merely a pastime with another. Now supposes we have a
little bet on between us. I'll back my horse against yours----"

"For how much?" Mona asked eagerly.

"Oh, it need not be for money. Didn't you tell me a night or two ago
that you were going to The Twin Arts Ball and that you couldn't think of
a really original costume?"

"Fancy you remembering that!" Mona cried.

"So you are still undecided to your mind?" Sir Walter asked. "Very well,
then. You bet me a dinner at the Carlton against an absolutely original
design for your dress, the loser to pay. If you win, I supply you with a
dress design that has never before appeared in public, and if I win, you
shall stand me a dinner at the Carlton and give me the pleasure of your
company. What do you think of that for a new----"

Sir Walter broke off abruptly as he caught sight of a man a few yards
away who took off his grey top hat to Mona as he passed in the direction
of the paddock. It was almost as if someone had struck Vanguard a blow.

"I am rather short-sighted," he said huskily. "But that man who saluted
you strongly reminds me of an individual who some years ago, struck a
note of tragedy in my life. I may be wrong, but would you mind telling
me who he is?"

"Oh, that," Mona said with some surprise. "His name is Heek. I have met
him once or twice lately. Not an Englishman. I think, in fact, it would
be rather difficult to say what nationality he is. But everybody says he
is enormously rich and within the last few months he has been seen
everywhere. You know how those sort of people get taken up."

Sir Walter seemed to control himself with an effort.

"I may have been mistaken," he said, more quietly. "Come along to the
top of the stand and watch the race."

It was a fine race for the Cup and, by a strange coincidence the two
horses which were the subject of the wager between Sir Walter and his
brilliant companion finished first and second. As they flashed past the
post Mona turned to her companion with a smile of triumph.

"There you are, Sir Walter," she said. "What did I tell you? I knew that
The Palmer would win, so I not only get my money, but your wonderful
design as well. Do tell me what it is. I hope it is something oriental."

"That much I can promise you," Sir Walter said. "But I don't want to
spoil your pleasure by telling you too much in advance. Who is your
dressmaker?"

"Why, Ninette, of course," Mona said.

The sight of the dark, foreign-looking man who had bowed so politely to
Mona Catesby had stirred up a whole train of unpleasant memories. For
Sir Walter had not lived for the best of 40 years in the heart of China
without coming face to face with more than one thrilling tragedy. And
amongst these, outstanding like some nightmare, was one horror which, in
all the passing years he had been unable to forget. Why, then, had that
man who was obviously a stranger to him, brought the whole thing back so
vividly to him.

"Very well, then. I will meet you at her establishment tomorrow morning
at 12 o'clock and bring the design with me. I am not going to part with
it because it is beyond price, but one of those bright young designers
of Ninette's can make a sketch of it which will serve the same purpose."

The two drifted apart presently, and for the rest of the afternoon Sir
Walter saw nothing of the girl whom he designed to play so important a
part in his future plans. Truth to tell he was just a little ruffled in
his his mind? And why had it happened at the very moment when he had
just promised to give Mona Catesby that wonderful design? Because the
design itself had practically been at the bottom of the whole ghastly
business.

Sir Walter was still thinking it over when he reached his flat in
Mayfair where, for the most part, he lived in bachelor state with one
trusty servant to look after him. Once arrived there, he went into the
library and locked the door behind him.

Then, from a safe in the corner, he took out of a carved ivory case a
pack of playing cards.

They were not cards in the ordinary sense of the word, but each was
etched on a sheet of the thinnest ivory. And each bore on the back a
different design in amazing colours of gold and green and blue, in fact,
a pack of cards which dated back the best part of three centuries.
Amazingly beautiful they were, and the work of a great artist.

From these 53 lovely objects Sir Walter selected one particular card and
placed it carefully away in his gold cigarette case. There was a grave
look on his face as he did so, and his eyes were troubled.

"Foolish thing to do," he murmured. "Very foolish."

He gave one last glance at the card in his case.

It was the Queen of Hearts.




CHAPTER III.


Although Tom Gilchrist was inclined to bemoan the fate which had
overtaken the woman of his heart, Maudie Vascombe's circumstances were
not anything like as bad as the infatuated young man was inclined to
make out. She had, of course, been born to better things and there had
been a time when she and her brother had lived in the lap of luxury. But
that was before the War, followed by a series of disastrous
speculations, had reduced the head of the family to poverty and broken
his heart. For though the elder Vascombe had been in business he was a
member of a good old family, and his children had ruffled it with the
best of them. It was, perhaps, fortunate that the crash came at a time
when Ian Vascombe and his sister were old enough to realise their
responsibilities. There was absolutely nothing saved out of the wreck,
which meant that they were flung entirely on their own resources.

And Ian Vascombe, that young athletic god so highly appreciated in
sporting circles, had not wasted his time in importuning his rich
friends for some nominal occupation, but had turned his one talent to
account. He had a flair for water colour painting and designing, so that
almost from the start he had begun to make a living. Certain drawings of
his in connexion with the latest production had brought him under the
notice of a famous manager.

"These are devilish good, laddie," the great man had said. "You go on as
you started and there is a jolly good living waiting for you. But if you
take my advice, you will stick to the commercial side of Art. There will
be plenty of time for big work later on. Meanwhile, I can give you a
commission or two if you like to undertake it."

Which Ian had done gratefully. And then it occurred to him that if he
could design theatrical costumes, it might be possible to do equally
well in woman's sphere. So, with one of two original designs, he had
boldly called on the famous modiste, Ninette, in her Bond Street
establishment and shown her his work. And she, being an artist as well
as a business woman, had recognised something like genius in her own
line, so that henceforward Ian knew that he had a comfortable living
waiting for him at the end of his brush.

And, meanwhile, Maude had not been idle. There was not an atom of
snobbishness in her nature, she had not the least desire to become a
city typist at two pounds a week, or seek uncongenial secretarial work.
She was naturally conscious of her own amazing physical charms, and her
perfect manner and carriage did the rest.

"Why shouldn't I help, Ian?" she had asked. "You are making ten or
twelve pounds a week and you are going to do better. But that is no
reason why I should live upon you, and I am not going to. Besides, you
may take it into your head to marry some of these days and then where
should I be? Certainly not a burden on your establishment."

"What's the idea?" Ian had asked.

"Why shouldn't I go into Ninette's shop. I am certain she would give me
a job if I offered myself."

"Not a doubt about that," Ian agreed. "Why you'd be the most beautiful
mannequin in London."

And so it had come about. Because Ninette was something more than a
clever business woman who was rapidly making a fortune. She was an
artist to her finger tips and loved her work for its own sake. And when
Maudie presented herself in all the freshness of her young beauty the
highly strung and excitable Frenchwoman did not hesitate.

"Ma cherie," she said. "You are the assistant I 'ave been looking for
all these years. Ze ideal figure, ze ideal face. I will give you more
zan any other assistant in Bond Street, and you shall have a commission
as well. Is zat a bargain? Yes, no. It is zat you agree?"

"I should jolly well think so," Maudie said.

And with that the bargain was completed. It was one that Maudie had had
no cause to regret, save when she was in company with Tom Gilchrist who
never ceased to mourn the fact that the girl of his heart had so far
demeaned herself.

"But I have done nothing of the sort," Maudie pointed out. "I am getting
an honest living in an honest way and, what is more, I am paying my
share in the upkeep of this flat. If I didn't, Ian would never be able
to afford his studio at the top of these buildings. Oh, don't be silly,
Tom. If I were secretary to some member of Parliament or a governess or
something dreadful of that sort you wouldn't mind in the least. And
anyway, what business is it of yours?"

Gilchrist muttered something in reply. He was seated in the sitting room
of the flat in Trinity Buildings on the evening of the Ascot Cup day,
where he had come after dinner to try and induce Maudie to accompany him
to some show. He had taken advantage of Ian's absence in the studio at
the top of the block of flats where he was doing business with some
customer to air the special grievance which Maudie was beginning to
resent. He did not know how much the girl really cared for him, and she
had been careful enough to disguise the full extent of her feelings with
regard to himself.

"Well," Tom protested. "When you are going to marry a girl--I mean--oh,
I dash it, you know what I mean."

"Yes, I dare say I do. But you listen to me, my boy. Let us be practical
for a moment or two, and don't think me hard, Tom dear, because I am
not. But I haven't forgotten those two bitter years that followed after
Dad died. Two years of suffering and degradation and something like
starvation in horrible lodgings in a mean street. That is a lesson I am
not likely to forget. And if Ian had not been the man he is, heaven
knows what might have become of us."

"Yes, but that is all over now," Tom pointed out. "You've got this nice
little place here, and Ian getting on like anything. And yet you choose
to sell your beauty in a fashion, and prance about in a Bond Street shop
showing off fashions to a lot of women who are not fit to black your
boots. And they treat you like dirt. Oh, I know they do. Of course, it
is all petty, stupid jealously, but don't tell me you don't feel it."

"Not now," Maudie confessed. "I did at first, but what does it matter? I
don't see any difference between myself and a popular actress, except
that I don't get a quarter of her money. And suppose I gave up my job to
oblige you. What then, I should like to know?"

Gilchrist flushed uncomfortably.

"I don't quite follow," he stammered.

"Oh, yes you do. How much better off should we be? I should be sponging
on my brother for a living, which I should simply hate to do, and you,
well, let's be plain, you couldn't marry me, Tom. You know what would
happen if you did. You are absolutely dependent on your uncle for every
penny you get, and if you told Sir Walter tomorrow that you were
marrying Maudie Vascombe he would cut you off with the proverbial
shilling. Oh, you need not shake your head, you know he would. He is a
dear old man and he can be very charming when he likes, but he is as
obstinate as the devil. He has already told me in as many words that he
intends you to marry Mona Catesby. He won't die happily until he sees
the estates back in the family through you. And all your talking and
arguing won't make the slightest difference. I dare say you think you
are the most unhappy of men, but you have a deal to be thankful for. Let
sleeping dogs lie Tom, and make the best of it."

Before Gilchrist could respond, the door of the sitting room opened and
Ian Vascombe came in. He was not alone, for with him came a tall, dark
man, slant-eyed and bearded, with the suggestion of the Slav or Tartar
about him. He was a man of more than middle age who carried his years
easily and addressed himself to Maudie with an easy assurance which
bespoke the thorough man of the world.

"Ah, Miss Vascombe," he said, in an accent that was almost, but not
quite purely English. "How are you this evening? I do not come to
intrude. But I have business with your brother which is now settled. He
is a very clever artist, and there was a Japanese picture of mine that I
wanted him to restore. And he has done the work very nicely indeed."

"This is Mr. Mortimer Heek," Ian exclaimed to Gilchrist. "He is a
wealthy collector of Japanese water colours. You know the sort of things
they paint on tissue paper. And Mr. Heek has honoured me by placing one
or two in my hands for restoration. It is rather delicate work----"

"And my young friend has done it to perfection," the man called Heek
replied.

"I have done my best," Ian said modestly. "But I think that the picture
I have in Bond Street where the light is better than in the studio
upstairs will please you still more, Mr. Heek. Any time you like to come
round to Madame Ninette's, I shall be only too happy to show you how I
am getting on with that particular picture. There is one bit of
foreground about which I am rather doubtful, and I should hate to spoil
it."

"Is that so?" Heek asked eagerly. "Then I come round to the
establishment you speak of tomorrow morning and we will study the
picture together. Good night, Miss Vascombe."

With that, the stranger bowed himself out and was seen no more.
Gilchrist turned inquiringly to Ian.

"Rather a queer fish, isn't he?" he asked.

"Well, he is a bit of a mystery," Ian agreed. "But he seems too have any
amount of money and he goes everywhere and if he pays me well, it is no
business of mine."




CHAPTER IV.


Despite his dreams and ambitions as to the future of his family estates,
Sir Walter Vanguard was in the habit of spending very little time on
what remained of the ancient property. To begin with, the historic old
house now belonged to Mona Catesby and the fact was a constant pang to
Sir Walter, like some aching tooth. So, for the most part, he lived in
London in a flat in Royal Mansions, where he was looked after by an
excellent service and a personal attendant named Withers, who was nearly
as old as himself and who had attended him in most of his Chinese
wanderings.

As a matter of fact, though he belonged to a very old and distinguished
family, the title that Sir Walter bore was not hereditary, but merely a
knighthood carrying certain letters which had been bestowed upon him by
a grateful Government for distinguished services in China. He had not
been attached to any particular office or mission but, nevertheless, he
had served his country well and, in the meantime, had amassed a
considerable fortune. He was an authority on Chinese matters and,
indeed, some years before, a book of his, called 'China--the Menace,'
had attracted a great deal of attention.

But that was all forgotten now, and when Sir Walter was approached on
the subject, he was wont to say that it was next door to impossible to
obtain a copy of his famous book unless, perchance, a collector might
happen upon an odd volume in one of the twopenny boxes in Charing Cross
Road.

On the whole, Sir Walter was a fine specimen of an English gentleman,
wonderfully well preserved and active for his sixty years and as keen on
the enjoyments of life as ever, despite his 40 years of exile. To most
people he was a pattern of geniality and kindly humour, generous to a
fault, and tolerant of the weaknesses of others.

But there was another side to his nature which he kept carefully to
himself. A dogged determination in pursuit of any object he thought
worth while, an iron will and a fixity of purpose that could not be
deflected whatever happened. And so far as the future was concerned, the
particular object of the moment was to see his only relative married to
Mona Catesby and so crown the work of a lifetime.

And there was no reason, so far as Sir Walter could see, why Tom
Gilchrist should object to such an admirable arrangement. True, Miss
Catesby was the daughter of a rather unspeakable father, but he was dead
now, and he had made his money early enough in life to enable his only
child to benefit by all the advantages that one usually associates with
birth. She had been brought up in the best schools and taken in hand at
an early age by a society chaperone who had initiated her into all the
mysteries of the higher cult.

To all practical purposes, Mona Catesby belonged by birth and right to
the set in which she mixed, she had brains and ambition and was capable
of taking her place anywhere. Besides this she was strikingly handsome
in a bold Rubenesque style and certainly did not lack her train of
admirers. There were many young scions of nobility, to say nothing of
older men, literally born to the purple, who would have been only too
glad to have had the chance which was held out so openly to Tom
Gilchrist.

That the girl cared more for Tom than all the rest of her admirers put
together was a fact that even a child of ordinary intelligence could
see. And Sir Walter ground his still excellent teeth and shut his lips
grimly as he watched this golden opportunity being frittered away.

But he was not going to stand it much longer, he told himself, and
before the end of the week he was going to speak pretty plainly to the
wrong headed young man who was making a sublime a fool of himself over a
pretty mannequin. He would let Tom know that the time for this sort of
thing was past, and if he ventured to kick over the traces, then, in the
future, he would look to himself. He was brought up to do nothing, he
was utterly useless outside sport and such ephemeral pleasures as
holiday resorts afforded. And Sir Walter could not see his misguided
heir getting the barest of bare livings.

This thought was uppermost in Sir Walter's mind when he set out on the
morning following the Ascot Cup day to beep his appointment with Mona
Catesby in Bond Street. It was just a little singular that when he
reached Madame Ninette's establishment he should find his nephew in the
front shop.

"What on earth are you doing here?" he asked irritably.

"Oh, well, I might ask you the same question," Tom said. "As a matter of
fact, I came here to see Ian Vascombe. He has a workshop upstairs you
know, and though Madame Ninette employs him, he is free to come and go
pretty well as he likes. I dropped in here to ask him if he would care
for a game of golf this afternoon."

The excuse was good enough, and Sir Walter allowed it to pass. But he
did not believe it, all the same, especially as he could see Maudie
Vascombe in the background showing off an elaborate evening cloak to a
lady customer. Sir Walter was about to say something not particularly
pleasant when a big car pulled up in front of the shop and Mona Catesby,
in all the full flush of her Junoesque beauty came sailing into the
establishment.

"Ah, you are punctual, Sir Walter," she said. "I hope I am not late.
Where is Madame Ninette?"

It was sot so much a question as a command. From somewhere in the
background the tall, graceful French woman appeared. She was as thin as
a knife and as slender as a lath, but there was no mistaking the
artistic fire that burnt in her big brown eyes. She advanced, rubbing
her hands together.

"What can I do for Madame?" she asked.

"It is rather a question of what you can do for me," Sir Walter
interrupted.

"You see, Madame Ninette, I had a bet with Miss Catesby yesterday and I
lost. It is up to me now to provide Miss Catesby with an absolutely
original design for a new dress which she is going to wear at the Twin
Arts Ball. And you, Madame, are going to make it."

"Oh, charming, charming, it would be as exquisite delight," Madame
murmured. "And the design, Sir Walter?"

By way of reply, Vanguard took the big gold cigarette case from his
pocket. From it he produced the thin, ivory card on which was painted
the Queen of Hearts. He laid this on the glass counter and Madame
pounced on it with a cry of delight.

"It is exquisite, unique," she murmured. "And the colouring! Surely Sir
Walter, there is nothing like in the world today? And ze back, it it
almost more lovely zan ze front. Oriental at its best."

"Perfectly right," Sir Walter smiled. "That card forms part of a pack
which was designed and painted in China over three hundred years ago. It
was made for an Emperor of the Ming dynasty and, according to tradition,
it took three generations of artists to paint and finish the fifty-two
cards."

"And there is nothing like it in the world?" Madame murmured.

"Well; yes, there is one other set which belongs to an American
millionaire and yet another which is not complete. Where the incomplete
pack is I don't know, but I can give a pretty shrewd guess. But mine is
complete and this is the Queen of Hearts. What do you think of it?"

"Ah, Sir Walter, I 'ardly know what to think," Madame cried. "Never 'ave
I seen anything approaching it before. It will be a rare happiness to
copy that and make a dress on those lines for Miss Catesby. I have, I
think, the very material to suit. One moment, and I will fetch it."

A minute later, and Madame Ninette returned with a length of some
shining material over her arm. She laid it out on the counter under Mona
Catesby's admiring eyes. Then the latter turned and beckoned imperiously
to Maudie, who was watching the proceedings in the background.

"Come this way, young woman," she said haughtily. "Take that material
and drape it round your shoulders. No, not that way you stupid creature,
across from right to left. Yes, that is better. You can go now."

Very demurely, Maudie retired into the background, whilst the hot blood
flamed into Tom Gilchrist's face. The insult was so gratuitous, so
pointed, that the young man could hardly restrain himself from bursting
into speech.

Madame Ninette looked up at Sir Walter.

"You will leave this card with me, yes," she asked.

"Oh, dear, no," Vanguard responded. "I cannot trust that out of my
possession. You must get one of your designers to come down with his
paintbox and make a sketch of it. It won't take him many minutes. But I
can't part with it."

Madame Ninette took the whistle from a speaking tube and called out to
someone overhead. A moment later Ian Vascombe came into the shop with a
sheet of paper and a box of water colours. And then, for the next ten
minutes, he was busily engaged in what he considered a hopeless attempt
to reproduce the amazing colours of that wonderful card.

So intent was that little group in watching that none of them noticed
the intrusion of a tall, dark man with brilliant eyes and a black beard.
He stood just behind the group with his gaze fixed with almost magnetic
force on the card lying there on the centre of a glass counter. Then,
without a word or a sign, he tiptoed away into the street.

It was the man called Heek.

"Yes, that was it," he murmured to himself. "Now I know. Well, look to
yourself, Vanguard, look to yourself."




CHAPTER V.


It took an hour's successful golf in favourable circumstances to bring
Tom Gilchrist back to his customary good humour and even then he could
not help an allusion to the unfortunate happenings of the morning in
which Mona Catesby had played so offensive a part.

"Oh, what does it matter?" Ian Vascombe laughed. "Besides, it comes to
the same thing in the long run."

"Oh, does it?" Tom scoffed. "If you think I am going to marry the girl
to please my uncle or anybody else, you are mistaken. Nothing would
induce me to. I am going to see my uncle tonight and have it out with
him."

"Better be careful," Ian suggested. "You don't want to find yourself out
in the cold with nothing to do."

Gilchrist nodded grimly.

"You leave that to me," he said. "When the old man sees I have made up
my mind he may change his."

But, as matters turned out, the anticipated interview failed to
materialise. When, at length, Gilchrist got back to his rooms he found
his uncle's faithful servant awaiting him. It transpired that Sir Walter
had been spending the afternoon at a public display of the dansant where
he had contrived to slip on the polished floor and damage his ankle.

"No, nothing serious, sir," Withers explained. "Only Sir Walter will
have to lie up for a day or two."

"He won't like that," Tom grinned.

"No, sir, certainly not, sir. He told me to come round here and ask you
if you would call at the flat about half-past eight tonight for a game
of bridge. He has a friend coming and wants you to bring someone with
you."

"Yes, tell Sir Walter I will come," Tom said. "Say I will be there at
the time and that I will ask Mr. Vascombe to come along as well. I am
sorry to hear what you have to say, but I suppose it is only a matter of
a day or two?"

With that Withers departed, and Tom proceeded to ring up Ian Vascombe on
the telephone. In a few minutes the matter was arranged and, after an
early dinner, the two young men strolled as far as Royal Mansions where
they found the semi-invalid eagerly awaiting them.

"It is a most confounded nuisance," Sir Walter said. "No, there isn't
much the matter. The doctor says if I rest my foot I shall be able to
get out by the end of the week. It is very good of you youngsters to
come round here tonight and amuse an old man, and I am grateful."

"Oh, that's all right, sir," Vascombe said. "I am rather keen on bridge
myself and one does not often get a chance of a game with a player of
your calibre."

"Who is our fourth, uncle?" Tom asked.

"Oh, a man named Lechmere. You don't know him, but he is one of the best
players in London. Now, then, Tom, get the table out and make the room
comfortable. I think Withers has seen to our creature comforts. Yes,
apparently everything is on the side board and you will find a couple of
packs of new cards in the top drawer of the secretaire. We shall have to
wait upon ourselves, but you won't mind that."

"Where is the ever faithful Withers?" Tom asked.

"Oh, it's Withers night out," Sir Walter explained. "He offered to stay
in, but I have discovered that he was going to some theatrical
entertainment with a friend of his, so I told him he need not trouble
about me. I can manage to hobble as far as my bedroom and look after
myself."

"Yes, but who lets Withers in?"

"Why, himself, of course. He has his own latchkey and I have mine. And,
in case of accidents, there is a spare one hanging up in the hatstand in
the hall. When we are not using our keys we always hang them up there."

"Then you don't lock the front door?"

"Very rarely. When Withers is off duty he comes and goes as he likes,
and there are occasions when I am pretty late myself. The latch is a
patent one, something after the Vale style, so I don't have to worry
about burglars."

Gilchrist proceeded to put out the table and the cards when the
telephone bell rang. At a sign from Sir Walter, Tom took the receiver
off the hook.

"I am very sorry, uncle," he said at length. "But that is your friend
Lechmere. He says he has been unexpectedly detained at the very last
moment and can't possibly get here tonight. Is there anybody I can ring
up?"

"What an infernal nuisance," Sir Walter cried. "I can't think of anybody
for the moment."

"May I make a suggestion?" Vascombe asked. "I know a man who would be
only too pleased to come. I believe he is an excellent player, though I
have never sat down with him."

"Oh, that will do, anybody will do," Sir Walter cried. "What is the name
at your friend? Do I know him?"

"I don't think so. I only know him through business. He is called
Mortimer Heek."

"Oh, it doesn't matter his name or who he is as long as he fills the
gap. If you happen to know his telephone number, ring him up. If you
don't, go and fetch him."

A quarter of an hour later Vascombe returned to the flat with the rather
mysterious-looking individual who was known to his acquaintances as
Mortimer Heek. He came into the room, calm and self-possessed and bowed
gravely to his host. In the strong light of the electrics Sir Walter
studied the features of his guest. Then his bland, friendly expression
changed for an instant and he seemed on the verge of an outbreak. Then,
as quickly, his mood altered and he was expressing himself politely
enough to the newcomer.

"Very kind of you to come to our aid like this," he said. "And I am
greatly obliged to you. Will you kindly sit down, Mr. Heek? Now, let us
cut for partners."

They proceeded to cut in the usual way and, for the next hour or two,
the game proceeded without much conversation between the players. They
were all keen enough on the cards and sufficiently interested in the
science of bridge to ask for nothing in the way of social amenities.
Then, at the end of a second hour, when a rubber had finished, Gilchrist
rose to his feet and walked to the sideboard.

"I think we are forgetting our obligations, uncle," he said. "I suggest
that before we cut for a new rubber we will have a whisky and soda
apiece. Mr. Heek, may I?"

"Not for me, if you please," the man called Heek said gravely. "I never
drink. But if I may be permitted, I will take another of these excellent
cigarettes of Sir Walters."

"Shall I mix for you, uncle," Gilchrist asked.

Sir Walter shook his head.

"Oh, well, if you don't mind me having one myself, and I am sure you are
ready, Ian. Say when."

They sat down again with the tumblers placed on the corners of the
table. A few hands had been played before, in reaching for one of the
packs of cards which it was his turn to shuffle, Sir Walter overturned
one of the glasses of amber fluid so that it spread over the table,
deluging the best part of the pack he was gathering together in a liquid
stream.

"How infernally clumsy of me," Sir Walter cried. "And what an infernal
nuisance. I am afraid we shan't be able to use that pack again and I
haven't another one in the house. Mop up the table, Tom, and I will see
what can be done."

With that, he gathered up the sodden cards and pitched them in a heap on
the floor. In his slow, observant way, Mortimer Heek watched the
proceedings.

"You have no other cards, Sir Walter?" he asked.

"Haven't I just said so," Sir Walter said a little irritably. "When I
play bridge I like to use fresh cards every evening and Withers either
destroys or otherwise gets rids of them, afterwards. I suppose we can
try and manage with one pack, but it will be most infernally awkward."

"Are you sure you have no others?" Heek asked.

"Well, no," Sir Walter said. "Yes, by Gad, I have. Not that I am
particularly anxious to have them used but, in the circumstances, I see
no alternative."

"Oh, I suppose you mean that wonderful pack of yours," Tom cried. "You
know the one I mean Ian. You saw the Queen of Hearts this morning."

"By Jove, I should think I did," Ian cried. "A most wonderful pack of
cards, Heek. Made and designed in China three hundred years ago. The
loveliest work, painted on ivory. I never saw anything like it."

Heek combed his beard with his long slim fingers.

"Is that so," he said gravely. "It will be a great privilege and
pleasure to see those cards."

Sir Walter took a little key from his watch-chain and handed it to
Gilchrist. Tom took the key as directed and opened a drawer in the
secretaire from which he produced the carved ivory box in which the
precious cards were hidden. Then they were thrown on the table, and,
after being duly admired by Heek were used in the game as if nothing had
happened. It seemed almost a sacrilege to put such works of art to so
common a usage, but, in the circumstances, there was nothing else to be
done and, so long as Sir Walter was agreeable it was not for anybody
else to demur.

And so the game went on with varying fortunes till the clock was
pointing towards the hour of twelve and then, once more, the telephone
bell rang.




CHAPTER VI.


Tom jumped up end took off the receiver. Then he turned to the direction
of the stranger.

"I don't know who it is, Mr. Heek," he said, "but somebody wants you. It
is a man who is speaking and he seems to be in rather a hurry. Shall I
hold on?"

Heek rose slowly and moved towards the telephone. He listened gravely
for a minute or two before replacing the receiver. He turned
apologenically to his host.

"I am very sorry," he said, "but I fear much that I will have to go. It
is a relative of mine who is leaving England tomorrow and he says he
must see me tonight, however late it is. I suggest we finish this
present rubber and then I shall have to ask you to excuse me."

There was no help for it, so, when the rubber came to an end and the
settlement of the account was affected Heek rose in his quiet, grave way
and bowed to his host. It was a little strange, perhaps, that neither
man made the slightest attempt to extend a hand to the other.

"Good night, Sir Walter," Heek said, "and thank you for a very pleasant
experience."

"Oh, well, if you are going," Ian said, "I might just as well say good
night, too. What about you, Tom?"

"Oh, I think I will stay a bit," Tom said. "I didn't hear Withers come
in, so I'd better remain and give my uncle a hand. Good night, old chap,
good night."

A minute or two later and uncle and nephew were alone together. Sir
Walter sat as if deep in thought by the side of the card table, whilst
Tom gathered up the one undamaged pack and threw the other into the
fireplace. In a mechanical sort of way Sir Walter took the wonderful
collection of painted ivory slips in his hand and slowly laid them out
on the table in a row in suits. They lay there presently, four lines of
them, fifty two in all, from the aces up to the kings in a dazzling
flash of colour that seemed to fill the room with a light and beauty
that was all its own.

"They are a wonderful lot," Tom said. "I never saw anything like them. I
suppose there was a time when some Chinese swell or another used them
regularly. But if those cards belonged to me, nothing in the world would
induce me to put them down on a bridge table."

"You are quite right, my boy," Sir Walter said. "There are only two
complete packs like that in the world. I happen to know there is
another, but in that set there is one card missing and that one card
will never be recovered. Three packs were made by the same family, and
they are identical in every detail. They don't vary by the fraction of
an inch, and the design is so perfect that you could super-impose one
card upon another and never know the difference. But never mind about
the cards for a moment. Leave them where they are. I'll manage to put
them away before you go and Withers will clean up the rest when he comes
in."

"Then you don't want me to help you to bed?"

"No, I can manage that presently. Now you sit down in that chair and
take a cigarette and listen to me. My boy, the time has come when we
must have an understanding. And that understanding might just as well be
arrived at now as at any other time. You know my life-story as well as I
know it myself. You know that my father gambled away one of the finest
estates in the kingdom and that when I was turned out of my home to get
my own living he was on the verge of ruin. Well, he was ruined. He had
to sell the best part of the property and the house, and between my
lawyers and myself we managed to save the rest. It was the object of my
life to make money enough to come home some day and re-purchase
Vanguards. And I made enough and more than enough. And my idea was that
when I was dead that you should take my place as head of the family and
live in the old homestead as a gentleman should, with more money than
you wanted even in these hard times."

"Yes, I know that," Tom murmured.

"Very well, then. When a man has worked as I have to achieve an end, he
is not disposed to relinquish it because someone whom he intends to
benefit greatly chooses to stand in the way for no particular reason. Of
course, it was just possible that Catesby might leave some sons behind
him, but fortunately for me he didn't. There was only one child, and
that a girl, and equally fortunately that girl is quite willing to marry
you if you will only hold up your little finger.

"But, unfortunately, I don't want to marry her," Tom said stubbornly.
"She may be rich and all that, but she is no lady. You know that as well
as I do. You saw that for yourself this morning in Madame Ninette's
shop. Good heavens, uncle, you are not asking me to marry a woman who
goes out of her way deliberately to insult a girl like Maudie Vascombe.
The idea is preposterous."

The hot blood mounted to Sir Walter's face.

"And all the more so," he said, "because Maud Vascombe is the girl you
want to marry yourself. Mind you, I haven't a word to say against her.
She is all you think she is, and I admire the way she has buckled to and
got her own living. But that has nothing to do with the case. I want to
see the property back in the hands of the family, and you are the only
one who can help me to crown my ambitions. Nobody will be able to say
that you married Mona for her money because you will have plenty of your
own. Now--is it to be or not?"

"I am very sorry, sir," Tom said. "But I am afraid not. No man with any
self-respect could live with a woman like that. I would rather go out
and starve."

"Oh, you would, would you?" Sir Walter sneered. "Was there ever such a
fool born in the universe before? You would sacrifice everything for a
pretty girl who serves behind a counter. And she wouldn't marry you
unless you could keep her. How do you propose to do that?"

"Oh, I daresay I shall find a way," Tom said. "I am not ungrateful to
you for all you have done for me, sir, and I would do anything in reason
for you. But sell my liberty and freedom to a woman I hate and despise I
will not!"

Sir Walter dragged himself painfully to his feet. His face was white and
set, and his eyes were gleaming with fury. He seemed to lose entire
control of himself, for he reached suddenly forward and with all his
strength struck Tom Gilchrist a blow between the eyes. It was so severe
and unexpected that Tom fairly staggered back.

"I think you will be sorry for that, sir," he said. "In a case like this
violence never does any good."

But Sir Walter was past listening. He raised his hands above his head
and shouted at the top of his voice:

"You are an ungrateful scoundrel," he raged. "You can go and never let
me see your face again. From hence-forward we are strangers and until
you know what it means to starve and crawl back to me on your hands and
knees I want no further communication with you. You--you rascal."

Once more Sir Walter lunged forward, but this time Tom beat the upraised
hand and forced Sir Walter back into his chair. The quick, heavy
breathing of the two men filled the room until, at length, Tom sprung
back and vanished, closing the door behind him. The whole thing had been
so quick and so unexpected that it all might have happened in a dream.

"Well, that was that," Tom told himself, as he walked along the deserted
streets in the direction of his lodgings. He had burnt all his boats
now, and there was no possible way of retreat. Beyond the remains of his
last quarter's allowance he was entirely without means, but, he
reflected, he had little or no debts to pay, and he was in the best of
health. Surely there was some way for a man of his position of getting a
living. If the worst came to the worst, he could emigrate and, perhaps,
after the expiration of a year or two he might be justified in asking
Maudie to come out and join him. But, for the present, the bottom of his
universe had fallen out and the future was very black indeed.

Perhaps he had not been altogether blameless. He had allowed himself to
be rushed at a moment when Sir Walter was at his worst, instead of
temporising and playing for time as he ought to have done. He took these
melancholy thoughts to bed with him and lay awake half the night trying
in vain to sleep and rising eventually a good hour or so before his
time, feeling more worn and exhausted than he had ever remembered. He
looked with disgust at his breakfast and pushed the appetising dishes
aside. A cup of coffee and a cigarette was all he wanted for the
moment--that and time to think.

He was still brooding over the future when the door of his sitting room
was flung open and the usually self-restrained and reserved Withers
burst into the room. He did not appear to be fully dressed, for he was
without a tie or a collar and his waistcoat was partly unbuttoned.

"Why, what on earth is wrong?" Tom demanded. "What do you mean by
turning up like this, Withers?"

"It's the master, sir, the master." Withers gasped, as if he had some
difficulty in getting the words out. "Dead. Lying dead in his sitting
room when I went in just now."

"Dead!" Tom echoed. "My uncle dead!"

Withers grasped at his throat. He might have been trying to wrench the
words out of himself.

"Yes, sir," he choked. "But worse than that. My poor dear master has
been brutally murdered!"




CHAPTER VII.


Gilchrist looked into the rugged face of the faithful Withers with an
expression of horror in his eyes. Just for the moment, he could hardly
grasp the full force of the tragedy. It seemed almost incredible that
such a thing could have happened to a man who had apparently, not an
enemy in the world.

"Impossible, Withers," he murmured. "Impossible. Don't say murdered."

"I am afraid I must, sir," Withers almost whined. "I found him lying in
the sitting room, face downwards and a wound between the shoulders that
must have reached the heart. Oh it is perfectly true, sir. So I came
round here as fast as I could to tell you all about it."

"Yes, but did you leave anybody behind in the flat? Did you telephone
for the police?"

"No, I didn't, sir," Withers confessed. "I didn't know what to do or
think. It was just as if somebody had struck me a blow in the face and
stunned me. So when I come to myself I came around here, just as I am,
without a hat, to tell you what had happened. You must come back with
me, sir, to the flat and take charge. I hardly know what I am doing."

"Oh, pull yourself together, man," Gilchrist said almost impatiently.
"The whole thing is horrible to the last degree, but that is no reason
why we should behave like two children. Try and tell me all about it."

"Well, it's like this, sir," Withers said with chattering teeth. "I came
in late last night and went straight to bed, as I always do on my night
out. Sir Walter always allowed me to do that and never wanted me to be
on duty after I had come in from my evening's pleasure."

"Yes, but what has that to do with it?"

"I must tell my story in my own way, sir, else I shall get all mixed
up," Withers said. "I came in not long before twelve, or it might have
been sooner, and I went straight to my room. You hadn't left, then,
sir."

"No, I suppose not," Tom remarked. "Did you happen to hear my uncle and
myself talking?"

Gilchrist asked the question, because he saw that Withers eyes were
fixed with a rather startled expression on his face. Then he remembered
the bruise on his cheek caused by the blow from his uncle's fist and the
blackening of his right eye. The knowledge strangely irritated him.

"What the devil are you staring at?" he demanded.

"Beg pardon, sir," Withers said humbly. "But I was looking at your face.
You see I happened----"

"Oh, never mind about that," Tom interrupted. "You probably heard more
last night than you cared to confess. As it happens I had a violent
quarrel with my uncle and he struck me. It is no business of yours,
Withers, but, in the circumstances, I am bound to tell you."

"I didn't hear no blow struck, sir," Withers said, as if the words had
been dragged from him. "But I did hear a lot of violent language as I
was passing on the way to my room. But I didn't take much notice of that
because Sir Walter was given that way sometimes."

"Well, we will put that on one side for a few minutes," Tom said. "Do
get on with your story."

"Well, sir, I went to bed and, slept. And I slept too long. When I woke
up it was long past eight and I knew master would be waiting for his
morning tea. So I just slipped on some clothes and went into the sitting
room to tidy up a bit before I telephoned to the restaurant in the
basement for the tea and bread and butter. It was dark in the
sitting-room because, as you know, sir, we have heavy curtains over the
windows. And when I pulled them back I saw my poor master lying on the
floor, face downwards, in a pool of blood. Then I suppose I lost my head
for I don't recollect anything else till I found myself on your
doorstep. Won't you come back with me, sir?"

"Well, for the moment, I think I had better not," Tom suggested. "You
should never have come here at all. You ought to have rung up the police
without a moment's delay, and then communicated with me afterwards."

"Perhaps so, sir," Withers admitted. "But it is rather a pity as things
have turned out that you were quarrelling----"

Withers' voice trailed away into a broken whisper, as he had been afraid
to say any more. But there was a certain significance in what he said
that was not lost upon Gilchrist.

"Oh, yes, I understand," the latter said. "I am afraid it is going to be
rather awkward for me. But, of course, that dispute of ours was a mere
coincidence. Now, you go back to the flat as fast as you can and call up
the police. Tell them, if you like, that I was there last night and
presumably that I was the last man who ever saw my uncle alive. There is
nothing to be gained by concealment. Off you go."

Withers went off on his uncongenial errand and a quarter of an hour
later found himself confronted by a Scotland Yard official in the person
of Inspector Winch. He told his story as coherently as possible, whilst
the policeman took in his surroundings with a comprehensive grasp.

"You say you were out till late in the evening, and that you let
yourself in with your latchkey and went to bed without seeing your
employer?" the inspector asked. "What was going on in this room? I mean
was Sir Walter entertaining friends or was he quite alone?"

"Entertaining friends," Withers replied. "Playing bridge with his
nephew, Mr. Tom Gilchrist and Mr. Ian Vascombe, together with another
gentleman, whose name I don't know."

"They were still playing when you got back?"

"I don't think so, sir, because I heard my master and Mr. Tom discussing
a private matter which they would not have spoken of before strangers.
Besides, they were having high words."

The inspector pricked up his ears.

"Oh, a quarrel, eh? Then I take it that they must have been alone. You
went straight to bed without waiting for any further orders, and found
your master lying on the carpet there when you got up this morning. But
who tidied this room? If they were playing bridge, I suppose they were
smoking and probably had a drink or two as well. Where are the ash trays
and the decanters, and all that sort of thing?"

"Oh, I put those all away. After I telephoned you this morning I thought
I might just as well tidy up the room, so I took my master's pet pack of
cards and put them away in their case. They are in the secretaire over
yonder. I put them there, because it was open and the key in the lock."

"Well, we need not trouble about the cards," the Inspector said testily.
"But you have done an exceeding foolish thing, Withers. You ought not to
have touched a single thing in the room--not even a bit of cigar ash on
the floor. You ought to have telephoned for me at once and waited till I
came. Goodness knows what sort of a clue you might have destroyed. Now,
tell me, when you came downstairs this morning was the front door open?
I mean, was it unlocked?"

Withers explained that the door never was locked. There was a special
latch on the door, one key of which he possessed himself, the second
being carried by Sir Walter, and a third kept on the nail in the hall in
case of emergencies. He was quite sure that when he came down the outer
door had not been bolted or chained. The inspector seemed to think that
this was rather an important point, and that it indicated some unknown
person who possessed the means of entering the flat by way of a fourth
key. Otherwise it was impossible for the murderer to have entered unless
by some unfortunate chance the front door might have been left unlatched
on the previous evening. And there was another 'unless' which brought a
frown to the inspector's face as it occurred to him.

"Now let us get to another point," he said. "You say that Sir Walter and
his nephew were quarrelling last night. Was it a very violent
altercation?"

"Well, it was pretty hot, sir," Withers admitted. "Something about a
lady as far as I could make out."

"Very likely," the Inspector said drily. "Am I to take it that Sir
Walter and his nephew are on pretty good terms?"

"Well, they were and they weren't, in a manner of speaking," Withers
replied. "At least not lately. You see, I have been in Sir Walter's
service for the last thirty years and I am pretty well in his
confidence. He told me lots of things he would not tell anybody else. I
knew that, for family reasons, he wanted Mr. Tom to marry a young lady,
whilst Mr. Tom, he was set on another. And that has been the cause of a
good deal of friction in the last month or two."

"Oh, there has, has there? Am I to understand that Sir Walter regarded
Mr. Gilchrist as his heir."

"That's right, sir. So far as I know, Mr. Tom was the only relation my
poor master had. The son of his dead sister. Brought him up and educated
him, he did."

"In which case I take it that Mr. Gilchrist was entirely dependent upon
his uncle's good nature."

"I think I might go as far as to say that, sir. I know that Mr. Tom did
nothing and that Sir Walter made him a very handsome allowance."

"Then I suppose that as he paid the piper he liked to call the tune? In
other words, he was the kind of autocratic gentleman who might cut his
heir off with a shilling if the latter was foolish enough to defy him.
Yes, I can see by your expression that he was. Now, you go to the
telephone and tell Mr Gilchrist that I want to see him immediately."




CHAPTER VIII.


The summons on the telephone was precisely what Tom had expected, so he
lost no time in getting round to Royal Mansions, where he found
Inspector Winch awaiting him.

"I think you can give me a bit of information, Mr. Gilchrist," the
policeman said. "Your late uncle's servant, Withers, has no doubt
acquainted you with the story of his master's death."

"That is so," Tom said quietly.

"Very well then. He has also told me that you were the last person to
see Sir Walter alive. That is, of course, excluding the man who
committed the crime. I will be quite frank with you, Mr. Gilchrist.
After the card party broke up here last night you were alone with your
uncle. Is that so?"

"There is no object in denying it," Tom said. "I was alone with my uncle
till nearly 12 o'clock. I left hurriedly, closing the front door behind
me."

"You are quite sure that you did close it?"

"Certainly. I was extremely angry and indignant, and I banged the door
behind me in a manner that could not leave any doubt as to its being
properly closed."

"You were angry because of the violent quarrel you had with your uncle.
You came to blows, I see!"

"Well, that is hardly the right way of putting it," Tom suggested. "I
suppose you gather that from the bruise on my cheek and the black eye.
My uncle did strike me, but there was no retaliation on my side. He
would have struck me again, only I held him down in his chair. Then,
because I feared further strife, I left the room abruptly and made my
way home."

"And the cause of your quarrel?"

"Ah, that I would rather not discuss," Tom said. "I don't want that made
public if I can help it. You may take it from me that I owe everything
in life to my uncle, but when it comes to a question of interfering in a
man's matrimonial affairs then it is time to draw the line."

"Which means you refuse to tell me."

"That is what it comes to," Tom replied. "Besides, in any case, what
does it matter? Suppose the names of two ladies were dragged into this
ghastly business. How could that possibly help you to get on the track
of the criminal? I have admitted freely that after the card party broke
up last night I had a bitter quarrel with my uncle and that he told me
to leave his presence and never show my face to him again. To all
practical purposes, I took him at his word and that, so far as I am
concerned is the end of the matter."

"Possibly," the inspector said drily. "But am I to understand that you
were entirely dependent upon Sir Walter for your living? I mean, but for
him you have no means of support. He has been keeping you ever since you
left school and you have not been trained for any work or profession.
Moreover, you are the only survivor of the murdered man. This means, of
course, that you inherit all his property. Don't you see, Mr. Gilchrist,
that you are in an invidious position."

"I am fully alive to all that," Tom said. "In fact, I recognised its
significance as soon as I knew that my uncle was dead. I can only repeat
that I am telling you the truth. This has been a great shock to me, and
I am profoundly grieved over it, but my hands are clean, thank God."

"I am not saying otherwise," the inspector said. "Anyhow, it is a point
we can leave for the present. What I want you to tell me now is who were
the other two gentlemen playing cards in this room last night."

"Well, a friend of mine named Ian Vascombe, and a stranger who, I
believe, is called Mortimer Heek. I don't know anything about Mr. Heek,
but as the original fourth fell out at the last moment, my friend
Vascombe, who does business with Mr. Heek, went round and fetched him to
make up the table."

"Heek, Heek!" the inspector frowned. "I seem to know that name. Oh, yes.
He is a foreign gentleman who has not been in England so very long. A
big man with a black beard and very dark, rather oriental eyes. Very
rich, I understand, and entertains a great deal on a lavish scale."

"That is the man," Tom said indifferently. "You seem to know much more
about him than I do."

Winch asked a few more questions and then intimated that he need not
detain Tom any longer.

"There will be an inquest, of course," he said. "Probably tomorrow
morning at the Borough Rooms. You will get a summons to attend, but, of
course--however, we won't go into that."

Naturally enough, the tragic death of so popular a society figure as Sir
Walter Vanguard caused a profound sensation. The evening papers were
full of it, and hardly anything else was talked about in certain
circles. The Press had got hold of a good deal of information in that
mysterious way peculiar to the fourth estate and, consequently, Tom
Gilchrist's name figured largely in the countless columns which were
poured out by the evening newspapers. So that half London was led to
believe, more or less indirectly that Gilchrist knew much more about the
ghastly business than he cared to confess.

Later on in the evening, Tom read some of this in the solitude of his
rooms and smiled bitterly to himself at what was, at best, a libel on
his character. Nor was he rendered happier presently, by the appearance
of a policeman who served upon him a summons to attend the inquest the
next morning in the Borough Hall. Well, he would go, of course, and tell
them all he knew. He had nothing to disguise and nothing to hide, though
he told himself grimly that wild horses would not drag from him any
details concerning the quarrel between himself and his uncle. There was
no occasion for anything of the sort, not sort of reason why the public
curiosity should be gratified at any rate, at the expense of Maudie
Vascombe.

He was still turning it over in his mind when the door of his
sitting-room opened and Maudie, accompanied by her brother, Ian, burst
impetuously into the room.

"What's all this vile talk about?" Maudie demanded, as she shook a copy
of an evening paper in her hand. "My dear boy, we have been waiting all
the evening for you to come round and see us. It must be horrible for
you to be sitting here all by yourself brooding over that ghastly
tragedy. And, of course, you had nothing to do with it. Tom, if you
stood up before me now and told me that you had killed your uncle, I
wouldn't believe you. The idea is unthinkable."

"Then we won't think about it," Tom said forlornly. "Look here, Maudie,
it is awfully good of you and Ian to come round here like this, and I am
not ungrateful. But if you think I am going to tell the Coroner, or
anybody else what the quarrel was about, you are greatly mistaken."

"Just as if I didn't know," Maudie said, with a look in her eyes that
set Tom's pulses leaping. "Just as if I didn't know that I was the cause
of all the trouble. Your uncle was insisting upon your marrying that
dreadful Catesby girl, and you refused. Now, isn't that right, Tom?"

"Well, that is about what it amounted to," Tom confessed. "And because I
would not hear of it and I would not hear of you being abused, the poor
old man lost his temper and struck me. With that, I cleared out of the
room lest worse should happen. But, unfortunately, Withers, who happened
to come in late, heard most of the quarrel, and that places me in a most
awkward position. I have been interviewed by Inspector Winch this
morning, but I don't think he got much change out of me. I have to
appear at this inquest tomorrow at the Borough Hall----"

"Oh, have you?" Maudie cried. "Then I shall come, too. And Ian will be
with me, of course."

"You bet I will," Ian said heartily.

"I would rather you stayed away," Tom murmured.

"I am not going to do anything of the sort. What is the good of having
friends if they don't stick to a man in time of trouble? I don't care
what you say, Tom--I am coming to the inquest. No power on earth shall
keep me away."

True to her promise. Maudie appeared in the crowded hall on the
following morning. She contrived to make her way across the floor to the
place where Tom was seated and smiled into his eyes as she clasped his
hand warmly. Then she sat quietly enough whilst Withers gave his
evidence which he did with a hesitation that did not impress the Coroner
any too favourably. It seemed to him, and, indeed, to the spectators
generally, that Withers was hiding something though, indeed, he was only
doing his muddled best to make things as easy as possible for Tom
Gilchrist. By the time that he was ordered to stand down he had
contrived to convince most people in that court that Tom Gilchrist knew
a great deal more about the tragedy than was apparent on the face of it.

Then, after Inspector Winch had told his brief story, there was a pause
for a moment or two whilst the Coroner shuffled the papers to front of
him and looked round the Court.

"Who is the next witness?" he asked.

"He will be Mr. Thomas Gilchrist, sir," the Inspector said. "That is, in
your discretion."

The coroner looked over his spectacles at Tom.

"Are you legally represented?" he asked.

"Why, no, sir," Gilchrist stammered in some surprise.

"Ah, well, that is a pity. At any rate, you need not answer any
questions bearing upon your side of the case unless you like. It is just
as well that I should warn you."

"I am greatly obliged to you, sir," Tom said gravely. "But I have
nothing whatever to conceal."




CHAPTER IX.


Unobserved by the rest, Maudie slipped her hand into that of Tom and
smiled up into his face with a glance that there was no mistaking. It
was an expression he had hoped to see there many times before, and now
he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that all Maudie's worldly wisdom
had been no more than a shield between herself and her affection for
him. He stepped forward to give his evidence with his head high and an
assurance that two people at least, believed in his innocence.

So far the police had not taken a hand in the proceedings. They were
quite content, for the present, to leave it to the Coroner. Later on,
perhaps, the law would have its say, but, for the moment, it was a
matter of formalities.

"Now, Mr. Gilchrist," the Coroner said, "will you kindly tell us exactly
what happened between the time when you reached your uncle's flat and
the moment when you left."

Very simply and plainly Tom told his story.

"Then I am to understand," the Coroner suggested, "that the bridge party
broke up prematurely--that is, one of the players was called away by
telephone and left hurriedly?"

"That is so, sir," Tom said. "Mr. Heek was called away, and when he
left, my friend, Mr. Ian Vascombe, accompanied him."

"And you remained behind, I suppose?"

"I did, sir. It was my uncle's suggestion."

"Presumably, he had something private to say to you?"

"That is quite correct. He wanted to speak to me about my future. As a
matter of fact, what he had to say concerned the future of both of us.
My uncle was very anxious that the old family property should be
consolidated. In, other words, he wanted to see the house in which the
Vanguards had lived for generations in their possession."

"Which means, of course, that he regarded you as his natural successor
and the heir to his fortune. May I take it that Sir Walter was an
extremely rich man?"

"That is the general presumption," Tom said. "I have always been led to
believe that he was very wealthy indeed. And I have always been told
that some day or another everything he had would come to me."

"Quite so," the Coroner murmured. "Am I justified in saying that you
were dependent upon him for your living?"

"Absolutely," Tom replied. "He took me under his protection when I was
quite a child. He paid for my education both at school and college. I
should like to have taken up some profession, but he would not hear of
it. He preferred to make me a very handsome allowance, saying that there
was no occasion for me to work, because, some day, I should be rich."

"Quite so," the Coroner murmured. "Quite so. Then if you quarrelled, and
he turned you adrift, you would face the world absolutely penniless?"

"That is correct," Tom said.

"In which case it behoved you to be careful. Now, was there any
disagreement on the night of your uncle's death?"

'"May I be allowed to explain, sir?" Tom asked.

"Take your time," the Coroner said. "Tell me your own story in your own
words and omit nothing."

Whereupon, Tom told the story of the quarrel, evidence of which he still
carried on his face. But though the Coroner questioned him keenly as to
the real cause of the dispute, the witness was stubborn and silent on
the point.

"With due respect, sir," he said, "I don't think it matters at all. My
uncle made certain suggestions to me which I could not accept. What
those suggestions were I decline to say, not because I have anything to
be ashamed of, but because I decline to bring the names of other people
into a tragedy which does not in the least concern them and which might
breed a deal of very unpleasant gossip. When I refused to listen to what
my uncle had to say, he lost his temper and struck me and, a minute or
two later, I was in the street."

"Just as you please," the Coroner said. "You are perfectly justified in
declining to say anything which might in any way incriminate you, and if
the police have nothing further to say in the matter, you may sit down."

Inspector Winch shook his head and, for the time being, at any rate,
Tom's ordeal was over. His place was taken by the police surgeon who had
viewed the body and made a professional examination on the cause of
death.

"The deceased died from what I should judge to be a dagger thrust
between his shoulders," the professional witness said. "He had evidently
fallen from his chair and must have expired instantly, for the weapon
had penetrated the heart and had been in the hands of some powerful
person."

"What sort of a weapon?" the Coroner asked.

"Well, that I can hardly say, sir. Inspector Winch tells me that no
weapon was discovered, but I should say that it was a dagger of some
kind and not an ordinary one either, for the wound was deep and jagged
as if inflicted by a blade of some wavy nature. That is, not straight,
but serpentine, much after the fashion of a Malay Kriss. If you know
what I mean, sir."

"I know perfectly well what you mean," the Coroner said. "I have seen
weapons in museums and private collections. You think death must have
been instantaneous."

"I have not the slightest doubt of it," the doctor replied.

There was a good deal more to the like effect, and then, after a hurried
consultation with Inspector Winch and the Coroner the proceedings were
adjourned for a week. The spectators faded away and presently Tom found
himself in the street with Maudie walking quietly by his side.

"Where are you going now?" she asked.

"Oh, what does it matter where I go?" Tom asked bitterly. "I know
perfectly well that if I try to leave London the police will stop me and
if I remain here I can't go to any of the usual haunts with this cloud
hanging over my head."

"Precisely," Maudie smiled. "And that is why you are coming back to the
flat to have lunch with Ian and myself. I have begged the day off from
Bond Street so that I am entirely at your disposal. Come along."

Gilchrist was only too glad and only too grateful. He found himself,
presently, seated in the familiar sitting room of the cosy little flat
and listening to the soothing words that came from Maudie's lips. They
were still talking when Ian entered the sitting-room with the man, Heek,
close behind him.

The latter glanced in Tom's direction and a thin smile crossed his dark,
inscrutable face.

"Ah, Mr. Gilchrist," he said. "This is a very sad business. And you have
all my sympathy. I am very sorry indeed for what has happened, and all
the more so because I feel that in some way I am responsible."

"But that is absurd," Tom protested. "It had nothing to do with you. You
were only there by accident."

"Very likely, but if I had not been called away, we might have gone on
with our game and all have left the flat together. I cannot say how
sorry I am."

Tom murmured something appropriate and a moment or two later Heek made
his adieux and left the flat.

"Where did you pick that man up, Ian?" Tom asked. "His manners are all
right and I suppose he is as rich as people say, but there is something
about him I don't like. Have you any idea what nationality he is?"

"Not the slightest," Ian said carelessly. "Some sort of Russian or Slav,
I suppose, with a dash of the oriental. When I asked him if he had
bought those Japanese paintings, that I am touching up for him, in China
he gave me a very emphatic no. Anyway, he is a good customer and I have
done very well out of him during the last two or three months. He comes
here entirely on business and so long as those are the terms between us
I am not curious about the rest."

"Well, I don't like him," Tom said.

"I don't know why, but there is something about him that repels me. What
do you think, Maudie. Woman's instinct is rarely wrong."

"He always strikes me as being slimy," Maudie declared. "But as he takes
practically no notice of me I have no cause for complaint. But I wish he
wouldn't come here quite so often."

"Well, you are never here in the daytime," Ian pointed out. "Heek comes
and goes exactly as he likes and looks upon my studio upstairs almost as
part of his own establishment. But what is all this talk leading to?"

"Oh, well, it doesn't matter," Tom said. "I have got quite enough on my
mind without worrying about mysterious foreigners. I suppose you
realise, Ian, that I am in a very tight place."

"Oh, tight place be hanged," Ian cried.

"But I am," Tom persisted. "Don't you see that the police strongly
suspect that I had a hand in my uncle's death, that there was a quarrel
overheard by Withers, and my own statement that we had a violent
disagreement in which a blow was struck. And, if that isn't bad enough,
there is the fact that I have been entirely dependent upon my uncle for
a living and at his mercy if I do anything of which he does not approve.
Worse than all, the poor old chap was a rich man and, in ordinary
circumstances, everything comes to me. I should be very much surprised
if during the next few days I don't find myself inside a gaol."

"Oh, don't be horrid," Maudie said with a shiver. "Now, sit down and let
me get you some lunch; just as if anybody who knew you could regard you
as capable of such a crime!"




CHAPTER X.


It was on the eve of the adjourned inquest and Tom Gilchrist was sitting
alone in his solitary lodgings waiting for his dinner when the servant
came in with the evening paper. Tom picked it up languidly and without
much interest until, on the centre page, his eyes caught a flaming
headline at the top of a paragraph connected with the Vanguard murder.

Apparently, the police had found a clue, and an important one at that.
Following up a careful search of the room where the tragedy had taken
place, it had occurred to a zealous officer to get outside one of the
sitting room windows and examine the leads immediately below. And there,
jammed down a gutter they had come upon a Malay kriss, still stained
with blood which had congealed on the blade. How the weapon had got
there was a mystery, but, according to the writer of the paragraph, the
police had little doubt that this was the instrument with which the
murder had been committed. It was further hinted in the paragraph that
sensational details were expected to follow within the next few days.

There was no more but it was quite sufficient to fill the Coroner's
Court to suffocation on the following morning indeed. Tom had great
difficulty in finding a seat at all. He sat there deeply interested,
whilst Inspector Winch rose to make what was destined to be a most
sensational statement.

"I dare say you have seen the papers, sir?" he asked the Coroner. "I
have very little doubt that we have found the weapon with which the
murder was committed. It was discovered in the gutter on the leads
outside Sir Walter Vanguard's sitting room window. On it is a quantity
of congealed blood. This fact we have ascertained by analysis. I produce
the weapon."

With that, the Inspector handed up the sinister blade with its
serpentine twists, and the Coroner and jury made a close examination of
the gruesome thing.

"Very significant, Inspector," the Coroner said. "But it does not seem
to lead us very much further."

"I think it will, sir," Winch replied. "Because I am going to prove the
ownership."

A thrill ran round the Court at these quietly uttered words and many an
eye was turned in Gilchrist's direction.

"You have a witness then?" the Coroner asked.

"I have more than one," the Inspector said. "Will you ask the usher to
call Mr. Isadore Kohn, of the Variety Circle Theatres. He is, I believe,
somewhere in Court."

There stepped out a little, glossy man of unmistakably Semitic origin,
who took the oath, and, with the examination of Inspector Winch,
proceeded to give some startling evidence.

"I am the manager of a theatrical syndicate," he said. "We have many
theatres in different parts of the country. We send out a lot of
companies with long plays and short sketches, and, from time to time, we
have to employ artists who design costumes for us. One of the artists I
have employed for this purposes is a painter who is known as Ian
Vascombe."

Tom started back as if someone had struck him a blow between the eyes.
It seemed almost like a nightmare to find Ian mixed up in this amazing
and complicated business. Then he forced himself back to follow the
evidence of the witness.

"I wanted some Moorish or Arab costumes," the little Jew went on. "And
one of them had to be a figure that was armed with a dagger. It is for a
sort of Sheik play or Sketch on what you call the Grand Guignol pattern.
Everything turned upon the dagger which, of necessity, had to be of a
particularly original type. So when I told Mr. Vascombe this, he
produced what he called a Malay Kriss and asked me if that would do. I
looked at it for a moment and I said that it would do to perfection. So
it was in the original sketch for the design placed in the belt of the
Sheik and the drawing handed over to me with the others."

"But not the original dagger?" Winch asked.

"No, no, there was no occasion for that. It was enough for us that I had
the design, because the dagger could be reproduced in wood. You see,
there is danger in using real weapons on the stage, and wood was quite
sufficient for our purpose."

"But what does this tend to prove?" the Coroner asked.

"Just one moment, if you please, sir," Winch said. "Mr. Kohn, you take
that weapon in your hand, will you? Is it anything like the one that Mr.
Vascombe showed you?"

"It is absolutely the same," the witness said softly. "I recognise it by
the missing Jewel that ought to be on the top of the shaft, also,
because some of the gold wire, round the handle is no longer there. Yes,
it is the same dagger that Mr. Vascombe showed me in his studio."

"That you swear," the inspector asked.

"That I swear," the witness said emphatically.

There was no disguising the tense, electrical atmosphere in the hall,
though the majority of those present were still bewildered by a
development in the problem which left them all guessing. To begin with,
they had not the slightest idea who Ian Vascombe was, beyond the fact
that he had been present at the fatal bridge party and that he was an
intimate friend of the man who was already strongly suspected of the
murder of Sir Walter Vanguard. It was just possible, perhaps, that there
were two criminals in the ghastly business and that they were
overhearing the first developments of a conspiracy to put an innocent
man to death. The one person in the hall who appeared to be taking no
interest in the proceedings was Tom Gilchrist himself. He was too
utterly bewildered to think. Perhaps presently he would be able to
collect his scattered senses, but, for the moment, he sat like a man in
a dream.

Meanwhile the witness was going on with his evidence.

"When I read the statement in the evening paper last night," he said, "I
went straight to Scotland Yard and told them what I am now telling the
Court. It is not for me to say whether my evidence is valuable or not,
but that is for Inspector Winch to judge. I am here because I was sent
for."

"That is perfectly correct," the Inspector said. "I caused a subpoena to
be served on the witness very late last night and another on a fresh
witness this morning. For the moment I do not wish Mr. Kohn to be asked
any further questions, and, with your permission, sir, I will call my
second witness, who will tell you certain things. Ian Vascombe."

The nightmare feeling descended on Tom Gilchrist again and he almost
doubted the evidence of his own senses as he saw Ian enter the witness
box. The latter was pale and agitated and the nervous twitching of his
fingers showed the tension to which he was being subjected. He flashed
just one mute look in Tom's direction and then averted his face. He bent
down and kissed the Book before he confronted Inspector Winch.

"You are an artist and your name is Ian Vascombe?" the latter asked.
"You are a designer of costumes."

"That is perfectly correct," Ian submitted. "I design costumes both for
the theatrical profession and for certain ladies' establishments
besides."

"You were in Court and heard what the last witness had to say, I
presume? Do you agree with his statements?"

"Certainly," Ian said. "I did do those designs for him and I believe
that they were copied, so far as the sheik's dagger was concerned, from
the weapon in Court."

"Are we to understand it is your weapon?"

The witness hesitated for quite a long time.

"No," he said. "It belonged to a friend of mine. I borrowed it from his
lodgings a few months ago, because the design struck me as being rather
unique and I thought I would make a little sketch of it with a view to
further designs and then I put it on one side--at least, I thought I
threw it on one side, but I must have forgotten the fact that I had
returned it to its owner, because, a week or two ago, when I wanted to
use it again, it was not to be found amongst the odds and ends in my
studio, which confirms me in my impression that I returned it to the man
from whom I borrowed it."

"And who was the man you borrowed it from?"

"It was my friend, Gilchrist, who lent it to me."

The words were quietly uttered, but they seemed to ring through the room
like a clarion call. It was very much as if Tom Gilchrist had risen up
from his seat and proclaimed himself to be guilty. But he sat there like
some graven image looking blankly into space before him.

He did not seem to realise that the proceedings had suddenly come to an
end. He never heard Inspector Winch ask for a week's adjournment and not
until he came to appreciate the fact that he was practically alone in
the hall with a few policemen around him did he sense his absolute
peril. He rose to go, but Winch laid a detaining hand on his arm.

"One moment, if you please," the officer said. "You heard the evidence
just now, you heard what Mr. Kohn said and Mr. Vascombe's statement. I
don't want you to incriminate yourself, but if you like to deny that
that dagger belongs to you----"

"I--I don't," Tom whispered. "I am not in a position to say that it is
not my property."

"Then say no more," the Inspector warned. "Not another word, if you
please, Mr. Gilchrist. But please regard this as a warning. You are not
to leave your lodgings, you are not even to take your car as far as your
golf course without giving notice to the police. Do you understand?"

Tom nodded mechanically.

"Oh, I understand," he said hoarsely.




CHAPTER XI.


Tom Gilchrist was destined to remember those next two or three days
until the end of his life. There were other hours more fraught with
peril to follow, but, before then, the keen edge was taken off his
mental sufferings, so that he was more able to bear them. But after the
dramatic disclosures at the inquest, it seemed to him that he was
utterly alone in the world and that everybody was disposed to regard him
as an outcast and a criminal. There were some who greeted him cheerfully
enough but others who seemed uneasy and embarrassed and yet a few who
passed him with their heads averted as if they deemed him already beyond
the pale. He could not go near his clubs, he could not appear openly
before the world, he could only wait with what patience he could for the
police to make the next move.

And that they would make a move he did not doubt for a moment. It was
poor consolation to him that the coroner's jury at the final hearing had
brought in a verdict of wilful murder by some person or persons unknown,
because that meant precisely nothing. The jury very prudently had thrown
the onus back on the shoulders of the police, so that whatever
conclusion the jury came to, it could not possibly fetter the actions of
those in charge at Scotland Yard. So, therefore, there was nothing for
Tom to do but to wait until that dread moment when Inspector Winch, or
one of his subordinates, came along and arrested him in the name of the
law. He would, almost, have welcomed that summons, for the tension was
getting almost more than he could bear. Moreover, he had refused, so
far, to call in a lawyer or barrister to his aid. He would have to do
that sooner or later; but meanwhile, he preferred to remain alone in his
rooms until the next step was taken.

It was getting towards the end of the week in which the coroner's jury
had finished their deliberations, and just as evening was beginning to
close in there came a knock on the sitting room door and Maudie entered.

Without the slightest hesitation, she went up to Tom and placed her
hands on his shoulders.

"Why are you behaving like this, my dear boy?" she said. "Why haven't
you been to see us? Why didn't you reply to the note I sent you? Upon my
word, you don't deserve to have friends. Do you imagine that Ian and
myself----"

"Oh, I know. I know, but why should I drag you into this wretched
business. And you ought not to have come here alone like this. Where is
Ian?"

"Oh, he is not far off," Maudie said. "He will be here in a few minutes.
But I wanted to speak to you first, so I came on in advance. You
wouldn't come to us, therefore you oblige us to look you up. Tom, you
are behaving very stupidly."

"Perhaps I am," Gilchrist admitted, "but you must make allowances for a
man in my position. Just try and realise what a chain fate is weaving
about me. I don't suppose there are a dozen people in London who regard
me as being innocent of my uncle's death. And I don't blame them. If I
were a disinterested outsider I should probably think the same thing."

"But it isn't true, Tom, it isn't true. Nothing would ever convince Ian
and myself that you were guilty of that atrocious act. Oh, I know that
the evidence is all against you, I know that you stand in peril of your
life. But nothing will be gained by sitting down with your hands folded.
Now, listen, Tom. You are very fond of me, are you not?"

"Fond of you!" Gilchrist said huskily. "Why, you know I worship the very
ground you tread on. That is a moth-eaten old cliche, but you know what I
mean. There is nothing I would not do for you, Maudie, and it is because
I am so fond of you that I feel my position all the more keenly."

Maudie looked up into his face with something more than affection
gleaming in her eyes.

"And because I am so fond of you," she said, "your sufferings are mine.
I want you to understand that, Tom. There must not be any more
misunderstandings between us. It was all very well for me to talk as I
did when you were entirely dependent upon your uncle, and I had my
living to get, but that is all past and done with now. You are my man,
Tom, and there never was any other. And because I think you owe me a
good deal, you must listen to reason. You must have a solicitor to
represent you, and later on, one of the best criminal barristers at the
Bar. You see the necessity, don't you?"

"I see the necessity all right," Tom said. "But where is the money
coming from? I have practically nothing when I have paid my few debts,
and there is very little in these rooms that I could turn into cash. And
I don't suppose anybody would lend me anything on a reversion of my
uncle's property."

"Oh, don't joke in that grim way," Maudie implored. "The money will be
all right. Never mind where it is coming from, but it will be there when
it is wanted. Now, kiss me, Tom, and then we can sit down, and discuss
the matter."

A few moments later Ian Vascombe came into the room and then the
conference began in earnest.

"Now let us look at this this from all sides," Ian said. "Let us regard
it as if we were talking of an impersonal matter. To begin with, here is
a man who is suspected of murdering a relative for two reasons. First of
all, because he has had a violent quarrel with an individual to whom he
owed everything which, in itself, looks very suspicious, and all the
more so because the suspected person benefits to such an extent by the
death of the man with whom he has quarrelled. Moreover, he is entirely
dependent upon the dead man. And if that is not bad enough, we trace
beyond the shadow of a doubt the weapon with which the crime was
committed to the suspected individual. Of course, I am speaking about
that peculiar dagger. How on earth the real murderer managed to get hold
of that I cannot understand. Do you suppose he got into this room and
stole it?"

"He might have done so if it had been in this room," Tom said. "But, as
a matter of fact, it wasn't. Because you had it. Surely you have not
forgotten that?"

"Of course I have not forgotten it, my dear chap. Neither have I
forgotten that I gave it you back again."

"Gave it me back again?" Tom echoed.

"Of course I did. I borrowed it when Kohn came to me became it was
exactly what I wanted to complete that sheik design. I wish to Heaven I
had never asked you at all. However, it is no use talking about that
now. But you had it back."

"Indeed, I did not," Tom protested.

"Let me try and refresh your memory," Ian said patiently. "You came
round to our flat one evening and I remembered that I had not restored
your weapon. I went upstairs to the studio and brought it down and laid
it on the dining-room table."

"Yes, I remember that," Tom agreed. "You did lay it on the dining-room
table. But I did not take it with me when I left because we started
talking and I forgot it."

"Then what became of it? Where did it get to?"

Maudie jumped from her seat and gave a little cry.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear," she said. "How very dreadful. You are both right
and both wrong. I remember the occasion very well. You went out with
Tom, Ian, and the knife was forgotten. I saw it lying on the table, an
ugly-looking thing without a sheath, the mere sight of which was
repugnant to me. So I carried it upstairs again to the studio and placed
it on a shelf there. I cannot think how I could have forgotten it. At
any rate, Tom didn't have it back."

"Well, that is a consolation, anyway," Ian said. "But, my dear old girl,
who is going to believe you when you tell that story. Practicably
everybody who knows us is aware of the fact that you two are more or
less engaged, and you may be pretty sure that counsel representing the
Crown in a prosecution will drag that fact out of you when you come to
give evidence."

"She mustn't give evidence," Tom exclaimed.

"Oh, yes, she must," Ian retorted. "First of all, it is her duty to do
so in the face of what she had just told us, and in the second place, if
we don't call her as a witness, the Crown will. And don't forget
Withers's evidence. He heard the quarrel between you and your uncle and
he knows that it was connected with Maudie and the Catesby girl. It
doesn't matter how unwilling he is to speak on that point, because
counsel for the Crown will drag it out of him. And the more reluctantly
he gives his evidence, the worse will be the impression in your favour,
Tom."

"But I shall be speaking the truth," Maudie cried. "I am not in the
least afraid to face any counsel. Do you suppose I mind admitting in the
open court that Tom is the only man I ever loved, and that I am doing my
best to save his life? What, then, should I have to fear?"

"It isn't what you have to fear, old thing, as what the judge and jury
will think of your evidence," Ian pointed out. "They will naturally
assume that you are perjuring yourself to save the man you love. And I
can't help you, because I shall have to say that I was honestly under
the impression that Tom had got his dagger back. Oh, let us look facts
in the face, Maudie. Don't you think that after all this time your story
will sound very thin? Don't forget that I have already testified that
Tom had his dagger back. But we are arguing in a circle. You must have a
lawyer Tom, and I have got the very man for you."

"Very well," Tom said dully. "It is all the same to me. I will go and
see your man if you like."

"And I will come with you. His name to Parkhurst, and he has offices in
Lincoln's Inn Fields. He is about the best man in London for this sort
of work. I'll call for you tomorrow morning about 11 o'clock, and we
will see him together."




CHAPTER XII.


The famous criminal lawyer received his visitors the following morning
and listened carefully to all that Tom Gilchrist had to say. It was a
pretty lengthy statement and, at the end of it, the lawyer nodded
gravely.

"It seems a very complicated case," he said. "But there are certain
points which are not unfavourable. Of course, Miss Vascombe's evidence
will be regarded with a certain amount of suspicion, that is, unless we
can get someone to substantiate what she says. Speaking on the spur of
the moment, what I most fear is that the jury would regard Miss
Vascombe's evidence on the subject of the dagger as sheer perjury.
Assuming that, my client, Mr. Gilchrist, is correct, he did not have the
dagger back again, and, therefore, it was returned to the studio. Let us
assume for the moment that it was returned to the studio, and I am
rather inclined to believe, myself, that it was. Who had access to the
place?"

"Well, nobody, as far as I know," Vascombe explained. "It is never
tidied, and no servant ever goes near it, and I don't suppose my sister
enters the room once a month. Of course, I have had one of two of my
artist friends in there from time to time, but always in my company. I
can't see any of them taking away the dagger, all the more so because it
is not an antique, and is of no special value."

"Where did you get it from, Mr. Gilchrist?" Parkhurst asked.

"Well, as a matter of fact, I picked it up in Mespot during the last
year of the war," Tom replied. "It was after we had had a dust-up with
an irregular tribe and I presume some native must have dropped it. At
any rate, I picked it up and brought it home as a souvenir. Not that I
attach any particular value to it, and if I had known it was going to
cause all this mischief I would have seen the thing damned before I
touched it."

"Well, we need not dwell upon the point. Let us assume for a moment that
Miss Vascombe's evidence is true. If that is so, then somebody who had a
hatred of Sir Walter Vanguard found a means of stealing that dagger and
killing him with it. It sounds to me rather like the clever plot to get
hold of a weapon belonging to Mr. Gilchrist so as to throw suspicion on
him. More than that, I am inclined to think that the murderer, after
despatching his victim, coolly got outside the window of Sir Walter's
sitting room and placed the weapon where it was found, knowing pretty
well that the police would stumble upon it sooner or later. At least,
that is the theory that occurs to me on the spur of the moment. Now, Mr.
Vascombe, can you think of any acquaintance of yours capable of that
sort of cold-blooded crime? Because, if my theory is to hold water,
somebody who knows of your movements must have had access to your studio
and smuggled the dagger away in his pocket. Do you see what I mean?"

"I see perfectly well what you mean," Ian said. "But I can't for the
life of me think of anybody who is likely to have done a thing like
that. I believe, if I had time, I could tell you the name of everybody
who has visited my studio during the last two months. But you don't
suppose that this crime was committed solely with the idea of placing
the responsibility on the shoulders of my friend, Gilchrist?"

"Certainly I don't," Parkhurst said. "That side of the crime was merely
a sort of red herring across the track. It was designed to secure the
retreat of the murderer. But you may depend upon it that the criminal
had some other reason for killing Sir Walter. I never met that gentleman
myself, but I have heard of him frequently, and I understand he is a man
who has spent the best part of his life in China. A sort of gentleman
adventurer, if I may use that expression."

"That is perfectly correct," Tom said. "I told you that when I was
relating my story just now. My uncle went out to China to make his
fortune and buy back his family property. He was a man of strong will
and indomitable courage. Whatever he made up his mind to do he did at
any cost. He was a good servant to his country, but he never lost sight
of the main object of his long exile. I should think it is exceedingly
probable that in the course of his wanderings in China he made more than
one enemy. And if he happened to fall foul of one of the Chinese secret
societies or have trouble in getting hold of some treasure he coveted,
then he might have been a marked man. You know, Mr. Parkhurst, from your
own experience, that more than once an Englishman has come home and been
murdered in his own house by some fanatic Chinaman who has followed him
all across the world. It may be that such a thing happened to my uncle,
though he never said a word to me as to any probable peril of that sort.
In fact, such a thing never occurred to me."

"I don't suppose it did," Vascombe pointed out. "But I daresay that old
Withers could tell us a thing or two."

"Of course he could," Tom cried. "I never thought of that."

"And who is Withers, pray?" Parkhurst asked.

"My uncle's body servant," Tom explained. "He was with my uncle in China
for nearly forty years. Born and bred on the estate and devoted to his
employer."

"Ah, that is very interesting hearing," Parkhurst said. "Now suppose we
take a taxi round to your uncle's flat, and have a chat with this man,
Withers? I mean now."

A taxi was called and half an hour later Withers was being interviewed
in the kitchen of the flat. He seemed disinclined to say much, and it
was only at Tom's earnest solicitation that he began to speak freely.

"Very well, Mr. Tom," he said. "I am all on your side, sir, and I don't
believe as you had any more to do with this business than I. Of course,
I heard a good deal of the quarrel between yourself and your uncle, and
I am not looking forward to telling that story, if it ever comes to a
case of judge and jury. I don't hold with dragging those two young
ladies into the case, and I am not going to if they will let me alone."

"Come, get on, get on," Parkhurst said impatiently.

"Begging your pardon," Withers said. "But I must tell my story in my own
way and I don't rightly understand now what it is you want me to say."

Parkhurst proceeded to explain lucidly.

"Lor' bless you sir," Withers went on when the lawyer had finished. "Sir
Walter he had lots of enemies. He used to go where he liked, when he
liked, and how he liked. And some of those Chinese swells didn't care
for his way of going on a bit. He could speak their languages like a
native, and so could I, for the matter of that, and when I say
languages, I don't mean dialects--I mean the Chinese that all the
mandarins and that class speak, though we did know a few of those
provincial lingoes, pidgin-English and the like."

"Then Sir Walter was not exactly persona grata with high personages?"
Parkhurst asked.

"Well, no, he wasn't, sir, anything but. You see, my master he was
always a collector. There is a fine lot of stuff in this flat but it is
nothing to what Sir Walter has stowed away in his bank. And I can tell
you that a good many of those wonderful things were--were----"

"Appropriated," Parkhurst suggested.

"Well, sir, that is as good as any other word," Withers smiled. "Sacred
things, some of them were. I can recollect two occasions when we got
away by the skin of our teeth and had to lie up, in hiding for three
months before we dared show our faces, again. There is a good deal about
that in a book that Sir Walter wrote. Let me see, what was the name of
it?"

"I can tell you," Tom said, "it was called 'China--A Menace.' I never
saw a copy of it and I believe it has been out of print for some years.
I remember once trying to get the book from the publishers, but they
told me they had not a single copy left."

"Indeed," Parkhurst muttered. "Now, do you know, I should like to have a
look at that book. It may contain a deal information likely to be of use
to us."

"I believe it would, sir," Withers smiled grimly. "Not as I recollect
any trouble with anybody after we got away with some particular
treasure. You see, sir, China is a very large country, where there are
no less than four hundred languages, so that news travels slowly. And
that was all in our favour. Still, I never remember any trouble after
the first two or three months and I am sure my master would have told me
if he had suspected that anybody was following him to England. You see,
I know the Chinaman and his little ways, and if there had been anything
of that sort, Sir Walter would have certainly taken me into his
confidence. It must be ten years since our last exploit and I have even
forgotten the names of the Chinks who were mixed up in it. But I should
not be at all surprised if one of that lot was responsible for my poor
master's death."

"I should be very much surprised if one of them wasn't," Parkhurst said.
"Well, you haven't told us very much, Withers, but I believe you have
put us on the right track. What we have to look for now is a highly
educated Chinaman who came to this country not long ago, actuated by
motives of revenge. I think that will do for the moment, Withers. You
had better not tell anybody that we have been here."

Withers gave the desired assurance and his visitors departed. They were
hardly outside when a man, unmistakably of the detective type, placed a
hand on Tom's shoulder.

"I have a warrant for your arrest, sir," he said. "I think I am speaking
to Mr. Thomas Gilchrist? Yes, I thought so. I arrest you on a charge of
wilful murder of Sir Walter Vanguard and I must warn you that anything
you say will be liable to be used in evidence against you."




CHAPTER XIII.


As was only natural, the dramatic arrest of Gilchrist caused more than
an ordinary sensation. For here was no mere vulgar murder charge, but
one against a man who was well known and popular in society and a
sportsman of repute. There were those, of course, who were disposed to
condemn him off hand, but there were others who positively refused to
believe that Tom Gilchrist could be guilty of such a crime, and these
were ready enough to some to his aid. They could not, of course,
approach him directly, but they could offer assistance through Ian
Vascombe, and that they did without the slightest hesitation. So far as
Ian knew, Gilchrist, had no immediate resources available for his
defence, and this, on the face of it, was a serious matter. He discussed
the question with Parkhurst in the latter's office, and was informed
that at least five hundred pounds would be necessary, but Ian was not
dismayed.

"Oh, I could find that myself," he said. "I have been pretty lucky
during the last twelve months, and if you want a cheque for a hundred or
two on account, I can give it to you."

"Then you had better do so," Parkhurst said. "But surely there are
others ready to help?"

"Of course there are, but I haven't asked anybody yet. Oh, I know that
there are lots of people who believe in Tom's guilt, but, thank
goodness, there are more who don't. I will send you a cheque tonight.
What is the next move?"

"Well, we shall have to go slowly," Parkhurst said. "You see, Gilchrist
will be brought before magistrates at Bow Street probably two or three
times. Of course, that won't cost much, because I can appear for him
myself. Then, when he gets committed for trial--as he is bound to be--I
propose to brief George Lyttleton. He is about the biggest man available
at the moment, and I think I can get him to take up the case for three
hundred guineas or so. Mind you, Vascombe, it is a pretty black case.
There is the bitter quarrel, an interchanging of blows, and don't forget
most of this was overheard by Withers. That old servant may be very
unwilling to give his evidence, but the other side will drag it out of
him. It doesn't matter how much he tries to conceal a point which tells
against the prisoner, and I hope he won't attempt it, because it will do
more harm than good. Well, that is something for the prosecution to open
with, isn't it? Then we have the much more serious case of that knife.
He can't deny that it is his own property, because that would mean
nothing less than downright perjury, not only on his part, but also on
yours, and, to a certain extent, on your sister's. You see, in stating
our own case, we are merely strengthening the case for the prosecution.
It will be very difficult to convince the jury that your sister is
telling the truth when she says that she put that dagger back in your
studio."

"But I am quite sure she did," Vascombe said.

"Of course, she did. I have discussed the matter with her, and she
convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt. But that is a very different
thing from standing up to the witness-box in a crowded court facing a
famous advocate who has to think as much about his reputation as he does
about his case. I don't envy your sister her ordeal, I can tell you."

Vascombe nodded his head moodily. He could quite see the force of what
Parkhurst was saying. And then, again, it was bound to transpire that
Maudie and Tom were something more than friends. And that, again, would
tell strongly against the prisoner. At any rate, if it didn't, it would
seriously prejudice the value of Maudie's evidence in the eyes of the
jury.

"Yes, it looks very black," he admitted.

"And that is not all of it," Parkhurst went on. "I happened to be dining
at my club last night, and I ran against a junior partner in the legal
firm that has Sir Walter Vanguard's affairs in hand. He told me quite
casually that Sir Walter had left everything to his nephew, except his
collection of Chinese antiques which goes to the nation. Of course, you
can see how this tells against your friend. It is not a very big point,
but when there are so many others--well, I won't labour it. We have got
to be up and doing. And that brings me to a most important item in the
case. Now, we know pretty well all that happened on that fatal night to
you and to Gilchrist, and we have heard what Withers has had to say. But
we seem to have overlooked the presence of another individual. I mean
the man who made up the four at the bridge table."

"But what could he have had to do with it? It was I who suggested that
he should be asked, because Sir Walter's friend had failed him at the
last minute. It was I who went to fetch him. He had never met Sir Walter
before, and when I left he left with me. So why trouble about him?"

"I don't know that I am troubling particularly," Parkhurst replied. "But
my idea is to suspect everybody. No doubt this man is as ignorant about
the affair as I am, but, all the same, he was more or less in it, and I
should like to have a few words with him. I do not even know his name."

"Oh, his name is Heek--Mortimer Heek. I can't tell you much more than
that. I believe he is very rich, and lately, he seems to have been taken
up by a good many of the best people. He is vary lavish in his
hospitality, and, consequently, more or less popular. But who he is and
what his nationality, I cannot tell you. Certainly not English."

"Oh, not an Englishman, eh?"

"No, something Slavonic or Tartar with, perhaps, a dash of the
Mongolian. Very tall and dark with a black beard and piercing eyes. But
you must have heard of him."

"Oh, that is the man, is it?" Parkhurst exclaimed. "Oh, yes, I did hear
something about him. One of those mysterious individuals who suddenly
emerges from nowhere and seems to have the command of unlimited capital.
A romantic prototype of the 'new' City man. Nobody yesterday and a
capitalist today. I should very much like to meet Mr. Heek. Tell me, how
did you manage to come in contact with him?"

"Oh, that was natural enough. I do a bit of restoring work from time to
time and touched up some Japanese prints for one of the big firms in St.
James Street. Heek happened to see it, because he is a collector in a
large way himself and, as he had some rice paper pictures that needed
attention, he got my address from some people and called to see me. To
make a long story short, he gave me some work to do, which I did to his
satisfaction."

"And I suppose he had the run of your studio?"

"Certainly. He came several times to see how the work was getting on.
But, look here, Parkhurst, you don't----"

"Who said I did?" Parkhurst asked. "I am merely asking questions which
will probably lead to nothing, but information in cases like this is
always useful. I am not suggesting for a moment that Heek has anything
to do with this business. There is a famous dramatist who says 'You
never can tell.' I want you to arrange a meeting between Mr. Heek and
myself. Over a game of bridge, if you like, but there is no hurry about
that. There is no hurry at all for the next few days. I am going to see
Withers presently. I didn't have a chance to ask him all I wanted to the
other day, so I dropped him a line asking him to call here this
afternoon. I need not detain you any longer now, and I will let you know
if anything turns up."

Vascombe went away feeling that he had done all he could for the time
being and a little while later, Withers was ushered into the lawyer's
office.

"You sent for me, sir?" he asked.

"Yes, I did, Withers, because I wanted to ask you one or two questions.
First of all, is there any other way into your late master's flat than
by the front door?"

"No, there isn't, sir. You see, we are on the ground floor and there is
no occasion either to use the lift or the fire escape. And all the back
windows are barred. I have examined them myself, and they have not been
tampered with."

"Yes, I can quite believe that. Now, look here, Withers, you told me
last time I saw you that you were very late in getting up on the morning
when you found the dead body of Sir Walter."

"Very late indeed, sir," Withers admitted.

"Very well, then. What did you do first?"

"First of all, sir, I slipped into my shirt and trousers and went into
the kitchen to light the fire and put the kettle on the gas ring. That
was for my own breakfast. I was ashamed of myself for being so late and
that is why I didn't disturb my master who, of course, I thought was in
his bedroom. So it was some considerable time before I got in the
sitting-room. I wanted to tidy that up before I woke Sir Walter, because
he sometimes goes into the sitting-room directly he rises to get a
cigarette. So, you see, the poor gentleman was lying dead in that room
for nearly an hour after I got out of bed."

"Just so. And all that time you saw and heard nothing. You didn't admit
anybody in the flat or anything of that sort, I suppose. Nobody came to
the door?"

"No, sir. Oh, yes, they did. I can't think how I came to forget it. It
has only just come back to my mind. I suppose I was too upset to
remember. About half an hoar after I got up, which would be after nine,
I did have to answer a ring at the door, and let a gentleman in."

"Well, sir, he was a stranger to me, but he told me he had been playing
bridge with Sir Walter the night before, and that he went away leaving a
silk handkerchief behind him. When I asked him his name he said he was
Mr. Heek."




CHAPTER XIV.


Parkhurst smiled quietly to himself.

"Oh, Mr. Heek, was it? Yes, I heard that was the name of the fourth
gentleman who was at the bridge table. And you say he was an absolute
stranger to you?"

"I had never seen him before, sir, though I have met many like him. I
was with my master for nearly forty years in China, so I know something
about the breed. Mr. Heek was dressed like an Englishman and his accent
was almost perfect. I am not saying he was real Chinese, because you
very seldom see one of them with a full beard. But apart from that, I am
pretty certain."

"Oh, he came to call for a handkerchief?" Parkhurst asked. "Rather a
strange thing for a rich man to do."

"It was a beautiful handkerchief, sir," Withers said.

"Oh, then I suppose you found it?"

"Oh, yes, we found it, at least, he did. I don't suppose you could buy
anything like it in London. I have had some beautiful Chinese fabrics
through my hands and I know what they are worth, because Sir Walter had
a lot in his collection, but nothing finer than the squared silk Mr.
Heek came to look for."

"And you say he found it himself?"

"Yes, sir, he did. Bunched up in the bottom of the umbrella-stand. He
thought he must have dropped it out of his pocket last night, when he
was putting his overcoat on."

"I should think that is very probable," Parkhurst said.

"Well, there it was, sir. He spotted it when I was looking all about the
hall. I wanted to go into the sitting room and look for it, but Mr. Heek
said it was no use doing that because he remembered having it in his
hand just before he put his over-coat on. So he took it and went away."

"And that is all that happened? Are you quite sure that is all that
happened, Withers. No other little thing? Because you never know. In
cases like this, even the smallest trifles turn out to be of the most
vital importance."

"Well, sir, he gave me half a crown. He dropped it on the tiled floor
and picked it up again before I could save him the trouble. At least, I
suppose he dropped it because I heard something tinkle. And that is all
I can tell you, sir."

"And that is all I have to ask you for the moment," Parkhurst said, as
he made a sign towards the door. "When I want you again, Withers I will
let you know."

For some time after Withers had gone, Parkhurst sat at his desk with a
thoughtful frown on his face. Then he smiled as he muttered a few words
to himself.

"That is curious," he murmured under his breath. "Very curious. Still,
it is a long way between a curious action on the part of a mysterious
foreigner and something like a free pardon for Tom Gilchrist. But I
should like to know why Heek went round there so early in the morning to
recover what he might have got any time during the day. Also, I should
like to know a good deal more about that dropped half-crown. Now, I
wonder if--by gad, it is just possible."

Parkhurst broke off suddenly and reached for his telephone. It was some
time before he got the number he wanted and when he did he spoke
rapidly.

"That you, Kelly?" he asked, "Oh, it is Parkhurst speaking. Are you
doing anything about five o'clock?"

"Nothing particular," the voice at the other end of the wire replied.
"Want to see me?"

"Yes, I want to see you rather particularly. Will you meet me at my club
at five prompt? Or shall I come round to your flat? All the same to me
which it is."

"Better come round to me here," the other man said.

"Very well, then, I'll be there."

It was just a few minutes past five when Parkhurst entered the flat of
the man known to his friends as Eden Kelly. He was about 65 years of
age, small and slim, with an alert manner and a pair of equally alert
eyes. His dress was neat without being in the least dandified by his
diminutive stature, he carried a certain easy dignity which would have
stamped him as above the ordinary to any company.

"Sit down, old chap," he said. "And help yourself to a cigarette. A
whisky and soda? No! Very well then, I will ring for tea and you shall
tell me what you want."

It was after a manservant had brought in the tea that Parkhurst began to
unfold his tale.

"Now, look here, Kelly," he began. "I suppose there is no man in London
who knows more diplomatic secrets than you do."

"Yes, I think I do know a few," Kelly said modestly.

"Well, you can put it that way if you like, but I am rather under the
impression that you know them all. Of course, I know you have retired
from the game for some time, but I believe there are occasions when you
are still consulted and sent on some delicate mission or another."

The man called Kelly smiled drily.

"Well, as a matter of fact, I am just back from one now," he said.
"Though I am somewhat of a dug-out, I have my uses. Of course, you know
that I was attached to an Eastern legation before the war, and that
during the conflict I was in half a dozen countries, generally in
disguise and at the imminent risk of my life. I am not boasting, old
chap."

"I know that perfectly well," Parkhurst said. "Or I should not have been
here this afternoon."

"Well, during that time I did a fair amount of good work and I was up
against some of the greatest scoundrels in two hemispheres. Some of them
were pretty big scoundrels, too, sitting on thrones and all that sort of
thing. But it was fairly nerve-racking work and I was glad enough to
drop it after the War was over. Now, don't tell me that I am to be
dragged into another secret service adventure."

"Not this time, anyway," Parkhurst smiled. "Now, amongst your many
adventures, were you ever in China?"

"China! I was all over the Mongolian empire. Mind you, during the War,
China was our ally. At least she was at war with Germany, and, if things
had been handled properly, there would never have been all that trouble
and all the bloodshed in South China which has so disgusted Europe. We
could have stopped all that if we had only had time. However, I don't
want to go into politics. You know what happened. The Chinese Dynasty
collapsed and the country was over-run by about a thousand Generals, so
called, hardly one of which was anything but a pirate and a brigand. Men
who knew no more about warfare than you do, though they called
themselves generals and all that sort cf thing. But they cared nothing
for their country. They were nearly all on the make, encouraged by a
power which I need not mention. I knew a great many of those chaps and a
rotten lot they were. Mind you, properly handled, they might have been
exceedingly useful, but, as there was nobody to lick them into shape,
they all went their own way."

It seemed to Parkhurst quite time that he should stop these
reminiscences. Therefore, he went straight to the point.

"Did you know one of them called Heek?" he asked.

Kelly pulled up almost as if he had been shot.

"Heek," he echoed. "Now, look here, Parkhurst, I don't know whether you
are aware of it, but you are treading on very dangerous ground and, what
is more, you are practically asking me to betray Government secrets.
Why?"

Parkhurst proceeded to explain at some length.

"Oh, that's the idea, is it?" Kelly asked thoughtfully. "So you are
concerned for Tom Gilchrist. Tom is by way of being a friend of mine
and, if I can help him in any way, I will. But it is very strange if
Heek is mixed up in this tragedy."

"What is he doing in this country at all?" Parkhurst asked.

"Ah, now you are again treading on dangerous ground. There are lots of
rascally foreigners in this country today and they are permitted to stay
here during the Home Secretary's pleasure. But every movement of theirs
is watched and they can't make a move without the authorities knowing
it. Can't you understand why some great international scoundrel is
allowed the freemasonry of our Empire? He is much less dangerous in
London than he would be, say in Pekin. And if the Home Office wanted to
deport him when the time came, he would simply be arrested and sent out
of the country. I know the names of half a dozen men who answer the
description I have given."

"Yes, but what has that to do with Heek?" Parkhurst protested.

"Oh, we will come to Heek presently. Now, I daresay you take a pretty
keen interest in International affairs. Do you remember, about two years
ago, hearing a lot about the activities of Chinese general called Quong
Pi?"

"I think I do," Parkhurst said. "Yes, that is the sort of name that does
stick in your mind. Wasn't he concerned with some particularly atrocious
business at Hung Ling?"

"Yes, that is the man. Looked like being a dictator at one time. Then he
mysteriously vanished. He was supposed to have gone up country
recruiting and never heard of again from that day to this. Of course, he
was merely collecting all his loot together with a view to a change of
scene."

"But what has this Quong Pi to do with Heek?"

"I am coming to that. Mind, this is absolutely under the seal of
secrecy. If you repeat it, I shall get into serious trouble. Can't you
guess what I am driving at? My dear chap, it is as clear as the nose on
your face. You see, Quong Pi, and Mortimer Heek are one and the same."




CHAPTER XV.


Ian Vascombe had acted more wisely than he knew when he had suggested
that Parkhurst should be called in to act for Gilchrist in the hour of
his trouble. Because Parkhurst was not a solicitor in the ordinary sense
of the word, that is to say he was not content with the ordinary routine
of the law which is a dry thing in itself, but because he was a man of
imagination and a close student of criminology. Therefore, he had
chosen, when he left school, to become a mere attorney instead of a
barrister. And, having considerable means of his own, he was quite
content to wait until some particularly fine piece of work should bring
to him the type of client he was seeking.

That was the man or woman who was either in some sort of trouble or
trying to escape from it. Intricate missions connected with family
secrets, the delicate manipulation of negotiations where blackmail was
concerned or the hushing up of some scandal hanging over a great house,
all that sort of thing. And from the first, Parkhurst had been
successful.

And now he was on a case in which his logical soul delighted. He did not
under-rate the difficulties before him, he knew he had a long way to go
before he could set his client free to face the world again, nor was he
disposed to make light of the charge hanging over Tom Gilchrist's head.
Yet, all the same, he was beginning to feel his way towards a sound and
logical theory. Sooner or later, he would be able to put that into shape
and hand it in due course, to the brilliant advocate who had been
selected to defend Gilchrist when he came to face the ordeal of a judge
and jury. The fine eloquence and the apparently shrewd handling of
witnesses would, to the public eye, at any rate, be entirely the work of
a barrister. But the case itself from the start till the time it was
handed over to the advocate, in the shape of a brief would be entirely
Parkhurst's work.

Up to that moment, he could handle the case as he chose. He could, and
did, appear for Tom during one or two hearings before the magistrate at
Bow Street, but this was merely an ordinary day's work and had no
bearing on the task that faced him.

He had gone about the business much in the same way as a clever
detective would, and, already, a theory was beginning to shape itself in
his mind. There was not much to go on at present, but there were certain
shreds and patches which, later on, might be woven into a harmonious
whole.

He was hinting at something of this as he sat in his office one morning
confronted by Ian Vascombe. Gilchrist had been remanded for the second
time, after an intimation from the police that their case was
practically complete and that, at the next hearing, they would ask the
Bow Street magistrate to commit the accused on the capital charge.

"And what will happen then?" Vascombe asked, following up a conversation
on the subject.

"Well, our friend will have to face his trial, of course. It won't be
for a month or so, which is all to the good, because I want as much time
as I can get. When the case comes to be heard, one of the big men at the
Bar will act for the prosecution and we shall depend, of course, on
Lyttleton. If you ask me what the end will be, I don't know, candidly.
But I have some sort of idea what our policy will be."

"I wish to goodness you could tell me," Vascombe said dolefully. "I
can't see any light anywhere. There was that fatal quarrel with Withers'
evidence to drive it home, and there was my evidence that the knife,
with which the crime was committed had been handed over to me by poor
old Tom. I wish to heaven he had taken it with him that night when I got
it out of the studio and put it on the dining-room table in our flat.
Still, there is one consolation--Maudie will be able to say that Tom
never had the knife back again and that she took it upstairs into the
studio after he had gone off without it."

"Yes, I am quite aware of that," Parkhurst said. "But I am afraid your
sister's evidence is a two-edged weapon. Now, without being impertinent,
is there any sort of understanding between Miss Vascombe and my client?"

"Oh, well, there always has been a sort of understanding. Tom is very
keen on Maudie, but she always kept him rather at a distance. You see,
she is an independent sort of girl, and all the more so since we fell
from our high financial estate, and she has had her own living to get.
Mind, she has known for some time that Sir Walter Vanguard had set his
heart upon Tom marrying Mona Catesby, and that is why my sister held
back. Of course, if Tom had been independent of his Uncle there could
have been no question by this time. I think she would have married Tom,
because she is fond of him."

"But no actual engagement?"

"Well, there wasn't until this trouble came and then, of course, being a
woman, Maudie was beside herself with anger and indignation that anyone
should dare to hint that Tom was guilty of that cold-blooded murder. She
flung herself literally into his arms, and declared her intention of
marrying him whatever happened, even if she had to keep him herself. You
know how girls talk when they lose their heads."

"Yes, that is what I meant when I said that her evidence would be a two
edged weapon," Parkhurst remarked. "You may be pretty sure that the
prosecution knows all about the attachment between your sister and
Gilchrist, and you may be equally sure that they will make the most of
it."

"What--they won't believe her?"

"I am pretty sure they won't. They will make every endeavour to shake
her evidence in cross-examination. Oh, you don't know the law as I do.
If we get the man on the other side I expect, he will flight like a
demon for a verdict. He won't say in as many words that your sister's
evidence with regard to that dagger is a lie, but he will contrive to
make the jury believe it, all the same. I am afraid Miss Vascombe is in
for a terrible ordeal--and I don't think yours will be much better."

"Never mind mine," Ian said magnanimously. "I suppose the idea is that
Maudie and myself put up the story to save Tom from going to the
scaffold. Well, let them think it if they like, it is absolutely true."

"You need not impress that upon me," Parkhurst said, "because I am
absolutely convinced of it. But I shall be glad when your sister escapes
from the witness box."

"Oh, I don't think you need worry much about Maudie. To begin with, she
will be telling nothing but the truth, and that must help her. Besides,
she has a fine pluck of her own. Oh, she will come through it all
right."

Parkhurst switched on to another side of the case.

"Now, look here," he said. "You and I were old school-fellows, and I am
more interested in this case then any I have been in before. More than
that--I am absolutely convinced that Gilchrist is as innocent as I am. I
am building up a theory, but it is only a very shadowy one as yet. I am
not going to tell you what it is, because you would only laugh if I did.
In a way, it would be like showing a person ignorant of art a picture in
its early stages. Now, I want you to tell me, without omitting a detail,
however small, exactly what happened on the night when you went round to
Sir Walter Vanguard's flat to play bridge. Tell me everything--the
minutest fact may turn out to be of absolutely vital importance."

"Well, I will do my best," Ian responded. "You see, to begin with, the
man Sir Walter himself had invited to make up a four had to cry off at
the last minute. That was after we reached the poor old chap's flat. He
was very keen on his game, especially as he was confined to the house,
with a damaged foot. So I made a suggestion. I said I thought I could
find a fourth, and I was invited to do so. That is how Heek came to
appear on the scene."

"Here--not quite so fast!" Parkhurst said. "I know how you became
acquainted with Heek, but what put him in your mind?"

"Oh, I don't know. I had to think of somebody, and I had heard one or
two people say that Heek was a remarkably fine bridge player. So I went
to fetch him."

"Oh, you did. And you found him. Now, how far away does he live from the
Vanguard flat?"

"Well, a matter of about five or six minutes' walk," Ian said. "But why
do you ask?"

"Well, never mind that for the moment. It is all part of my little
theory. Go on with your story."

"Upon my word, there is no story to tell. Heek seemed to be doing
nothing that evening and came in to oblige, as the servants say. We
played for quite a long time, and then Heek had the telephone message
from some relative, I think he said, who was leaving England the next
day----"

"But, dash it!--something must have happened in the meantime," Parkhurst
interrupted impatiently. "Any incident?"

"Nothing, unless you call spoiling a pack of cards an incident."

"Ah!" Parkhurst said significantly. "Now we are getting to it. A pretty
fine hand at a story you are. I told you not to a miss a single detail,
and here you are, slurring over something that might change the whole
course of your friend's future. I don't say it will, mind you--but it
might. Now, continue, and don't forget anything."

"Well, it was like this," Ian explained. "We were playing with two new
packs of cards which Sir Walter produced himself. He always played with
new cards, and he told us casually that those were the only ones in the
house. Then Sir Walter himself knocked over a glass of whisky and soda,
and the stuff fairly soaked one of the packs. So, as we couldn't use
them any more, another pack was required."




CHAPTER XVI.


"But my dear chap, you told me just now that there were no more in the
house."

"Neither were there; at least, not ordinary cards. But Sir Walter
produces a most amazing pack which he had got hold of in China during
his wanderings there. Every card on the thinnest ivory, my boy, and the
designs in the most amazing colours. You never saw anything like them.
There is not an artist living today who could even copy them. I was
almost wild with delight when I saw one of those cards beforehand."

"Oh, you saw one beforehand, did you? Now, my ingenious friend, tell me
how that came about."

Ian proceeded to explain at some length exactly how one of the court
cards from the famous pack had been more or less in his possession for
an hour or so. Parkhurst listened with his eyes half closed until the
recital was finished.

"Now, that is interesting," he murmured. "Most interesting. What was the
card you copied?"

"The queen of hearts," Ian replied. "By jove, Parkhurst, if you could
only have seen it."

"Very likely I shall," said Parkhurst quietly. "But we are getting a
little off the track, I think. Am I to understand that you played for
the rest of the evening with those amazing cards? Oh, you did, did you?
And you saw nothing significant about the fact. Did my client or Heek
particularly admire them? Or did they pass as a matter of course?"

"Well, you see, we were there to play bridge. Sir Walter briefly
explained that the cards were of considerable value and beauty, but
nobody commented upon them. I am perfectly certain that not one word was
said."

A few more questions and Ian was permitted to go about his business.
When he was once more alone, Parkhurst took up a copy of the current
issue of the 'Daily Picture' and turned to the first page. On it,
prominently displayed in the centre was a photograph of a man with dark
eyes and a black beard and underneath it a outline to the effect that
this was Mr. Mortimer Heek, the well-known Levantine financier who was
reported to have recently obtained control of the Anglo-Irak Oil
Corporation. It was a striking photograph, though undoubtedly a
snapshot, and Parkhurst smiled as he cut it out from the paper neatly
with a pair of scissors and locked it up in a drawer. It occurred to him
as rather strange that he, the man who went everywhere and knew most of
the celebrities by sight, had never seen the man known as Mortimer Heek
in the flesh. Now, he had not only a picture of that undesirable
individual, but also a tabloid impression of Heek's lurid past in the
back of his mind.

Once having transected some routine business, he called a taxi and went
off in the direction of the late Sir Walter Vanguard's flat, with the
intention of having a further chat with Withers. That faithful
individual was still in occupation of the premises as a sort of
caretaker, and was likely so to remain until Sir Walter's executors had
had time to dispose of the contents of the flat and the lease. The
police had finished their investigation there, so that Parkhurst was
free to carry on his inquiries without the chance of encountering some
member of the Scotland Yard force.

He found Withers killing his time with a sporting paper and quite
willing to meet Mr. Parkhurst in any way that that gentleman should
happen to require.

"Oh, I don't know that it is anything particular that I want to see you
about," Parkhurst said carelessly. "Just one or two questions that
occurred to me as I came along."

"Anything I can do to help, sir," Withers suggested earnestly.

"Well, I am going to ask you to cast your mind back to the night of Sir
Walter's death. No, I don't mean the night. I mean, next morning, early.
When you woke up and found it was so late. Now, when Mr. Heed called you
told me that he found his handkerchief himself."

"That is quite right, sir," Withers said firmly.

"At the bottom of the umbrella stand?"

"Yes, at the bottom of the umbrella stand. Mr. Heek picked it up
himself?"

"What were you doing meanwhile?"

"Well, sir, I was looking behind the curtains and under an oak chest. I
thought the handkerchief might have fallen at the back of the oak chest,
but, of course, I was mistaken."

"Not the slightest doubt of that," Parkhurst said drily. "Then, I think,
you told me that Mr. Heek dropped a half-crown."

"I am pretty sure he did, sir."

"Just so, the half-crown he gave to you. You heard it tinkle on the
parquet flooring."

"Sounded like it, sir. But you see, I was on my hands and knees and
couldn't make certain. As a matter of fact, I wasn't thinking about it
at all. Didn't seem worth while."

"Oh, by the way, Withers. When you came down in the morning, I mean,
after you let Mr. Heek out, did you happen to see whether the three
latch keys were in their place? I saw that they were all then when I
came in just now, but were they hanging in their proper places when you
discovered the dead body of your late master and ran round to Mr.
Gilchrist's rooms?"

"I am quite sure they were, sir," Withers replied. "One doesn't know how
one really knows those sort of things, especially in moments of
excitement, but I seemed to see them on the shield as I rushed out of
the front door. When the police came that was one of the first questions
asked me."

"Oh, well, it is hardly worth discussing," Parkhurst said carelessly,
though there was a gleam in his eye as he spoke. "Now another thing,
Withers. About that book your master wrote. I never saw a copy of it,
but I believe it was called 'China--a Menace,' he did many years ago. Do
you think you can find me one somewhere about?"

Withers shook his head regretfully.

"I am quite sure I can't, sir. My master had only one copy left and he
lent it to a friend who never brought it back. Sir Walter was rather
annoyed about it at the time."

"Then you don't know anybody who has one? I have tried the publishers
without effect. I suppose I shall have to trust to one of those
second-hand book dealers in Charing Cross Road. I think that will do for
the present. Withers. This is a very sad business, but we must hope for
the best."

With that, Parkhurst went off and, for the next hour or two was busy in
various establishments along Charing Cross Road and Kingsway, trying to
get on the trail of the missing volume. But though dozens of assistants
searched hundreds of shelves, there was no sign of Sir Walter's work.

"I know something of the book you are after, sir," one of the shop
people said. "I don't think more than a thousand copies were printed,
and I should gather that not more than a quarter as many were sold. You
see, it is a good many years ago now, and that makes it all the more
difficult. You might get a copy by advertising in the 'Times,' but I
doubt even that. I will keep my eyes open, if you like, sir, and write
to one or two people in the trade in Manchester and Liverpool."

"I wish you would," Parkhurst said. "It sounds like a forlorn hope, but
I am most anxious to get hold of a copy of that volume. I suppose it is
just possible, seeing that Sir Walter's name has been brought before the
public in connexion with the murder tragedy that somebody might remember
they had a copy of the book. Then, if they happened to see the
advertisement, I shall have a chance. Look here, there is my card and my
address. You take it all off my hands and I will be prepared to pay
handsomely, even if you have all your trouble for nothing. You put the
advertisement in the 'Times' in your own words. Then I will come along
in a few days and see if there is any luck awaiting me."

The bookseller expressed his willingness to act as suggested, and
Parkhurst wandered down the street. It was late in the afternoon now,
and too late to go back to his office. On the other hand, it was too
early to think of dressing for dinner, so it occurred to him that he
might just as well take a leisurely stroll down Charing Cross Road, and
this time make a rather closer examination of the boxes of twopenny
volumes, exposed for sale outside some of the cheaper establishments.

He had spent the best part of a couple of hours on his rather fruitless
occupation when, outside one dinghy shop, his eye caught sight of a row
of boxes marked with the legend, 'All in this box 3d.' A bent figure was
gazing down into one of the boxes through a pair of horn-rimmed
spectacles. Then, as the stranger grabbed eagerly at one of the books
and darted into the shop with his prize, Parkhurst saw that another
volume had fallen over on its side. He gave one glance at it and then
his eyes lighted up eagerly.

It was a copy of Sir Walter's book.

Having paid for this unexpected treasure, Parkhurst went off with the
book under his arm and made the best of his way to his lodgings. There
he proceeded to examine the book carefully and to run his eye over the
numerous views and photographs which it contained. He came, presently,
to a pair of photographs side by side, one an unmistakeable Chinaman
with thin, drooping moustache peculiar to his kind, and the other a
face, full-bearded and dark-eyed. Running underneath the two photographs
was the printed line, 'The greatest scoundrel I have ever met.'
Evidently the same man in two different guises.

But there was something more than that, something that set Parkhurst
aflame with excitement.

For the man in the left hand picture, the man with the beard, was none
other than Mortimer Heek.




CHAPTER XVII.


Nine o'clock on the same evening that Parkhurst found the book in which
Sir Walter had written so much and so vividly on the inner history of
modern China, saw him in Lyttleton's chambers in the Inner Temple,
discussing Tom Gilchrist's affairs with the man who was going to defend
him at his trial. These two were old friends and had been at school
together, so that legal etiquette had little to do with their
conversation.

Lyttleton was one of the coming men, keen-faced and alert, and more than
unusually interested, seeing that he and Tom Gilchrist belonged to the
same clubs.

"Well," Lyttleton asked. "Is there anything fresh? Or have you merely
come round here this evening to discuss generalities? Or perhaps you
have found the real culprit."

"I am pretty sure I have," Parkhurst said quietly.

"The Deuce!" Lyttleton exclaimed. "Come, the plot thickens. Now, look
here, Parkhurst, I am not prejudiced in Gilchrist's favour because I
happen to know him, but because I honestly believe that there had been
some ghastly mistake somewhere. And if you have put your finger on it,
speak out."

"Well, the trouble is that I can't," Parkhurst said. "It is all too
nebulous at present, and, what is more, I don't see how anything really
important can transpire before our poor friend will have to take his
trial. Now, I have discussed the case in detail with you, over and over
again, and you know pretty well as much as I do. At least, you did until
I made a startling discovery this afternoon."

"Oh, indeed? Well, let's have it."

"I can't so straight to the point like that. I told you, I think, that I
was anxious to get hold of a book on China that Sir Walter Vanguard
wrote some years ago."

"Yes, I remember that. And you couldn't find it."

"Well, I have found it. I picked up the volume outside a shop in Charing
Cross Road just after tea. And I have been reading it on and off ever
since. It is a most fascinating story, full of intimate character study
and not a few thrilling adventures. But here it is. Now, you turn to
page 243 and you will see two portraits. At least, they are two
portraits of the same man in different guises. In one he is a typical
Chinaman with a thin, drooping moustache and in the other he has a big,
bushy beard. But see for yourself."

Lyttleton turned over the pages and for some minutes looked carefully at
the two photographs.

"Well, I am bound to confess that they don't convey much to me," he
said. "But stop a moment. I seem to know that man with the beard. It's
Mortimer Heek!"

"Perfectly right, it is Mortimer Heek. Then, you see his name is not
really Heek at all, but Quong Pi, described by Sir Walter as the
greatest scoundrel he ever met."

"Well, that is a most remarkable thing," Lyttleton said. "Because I have
met this man, Heek. In fact I have met him more than once. I was
introduced to him by a man who spoke of him as a great Levantine
financier. Supposed to be worth millions. Portraits in the papers and
all that sort of thing. One of those mysterious capitalists who emerge
out of nowhere and come into the full blaze of publicity like a comet.
They are just as likely to go out like a comet, but that has nothing to
do with it. Anyway, Sir Walter Vanguard seems to have known this chap
pretty well to have formed an adverse opinion on him. But, of course,
that doesn't mean that Mr. Quong Pi, alias Mortimer Heek, murdered the
man who had libelled him."

"Of course it doesn't," Parkhurst said. "And if you ask me if I have any
proof I shall have to say no. But those two were deadly enemies. On two
or three occasions, according to the book, Sir Walter was within an
second of losing his life at the hands of Quong Pi, or his murderous
hired assassins. He got the best of him each time, but more by good luck
than anything else. You can read all that from the story."

"Yes, but where does it lead me?"

"Ah, that for the moment, I cannot tell you. But it certainly opens up a
new field for conjecture."

"No question about that," Lyttleton admitted.

"Well, then, let me go a little further. As far as I can make out in
reading Sir Walter's story, he came to loggerheads with Quong Pi over a
pack of playing cards."

"Interrupting you for a moment," Lyttleton said. "Do you mean those
cards you told me about a day or two ago? You remember what I mean, that
amazing pack painted on ivory that Sir Walter produced after the little
accident during the game of bridge. Is that what you mean?"

"That is precisely what I do mean. It seems that Quong Pi is about the
last of a very ancient Chinese family. Their history goes back for
centuries, indeed, once it looked very much as if they might succeed to
the Chinese throne. Anyway, they were very important and powerful and
poets and painters delighted to honour them. Some time or another,
during the Ming dynasty an artistic family hit upon the idea of making
two or three packs of these ivory cards and offering them to the head of
the clan. That was done and for a long time those cards were regarded by
the family as almost sacred. But changes came with tribal wars and all
that sort of thing, and one of those famous packs was stolen. At the
present moment it belongs to a New York millionaire, so that it is
outside our ken. The second pack was damaged to a small extent, and the
third, by some means which Sir Walter doesn't explain, found its way
into his hands. I should say that he more or less stole it. But he is
discreetly silent on that point. Anyway, he had it and there is no doubt
that Quong Pi, alias Mortimer Heek, tried to get it back again and
didn't hesitate as to his methods of doing so. But he failed, as we
know."

"Yes, we know that. But you are not suggesting that Heek came all this
way after these years to recover those cards at any cost, not short of
murder?"

"Indeed, I am," Parkhurst said solemnly. "And when you hear what I am
going to tell you, you will believe me. Now, on the backs of those
cards, woven into the beautiful colours is a sort of intricate pattern
in gold. Anybody might think it was merely an artistic device, but, as a
matter of fact, the pattern really represents old Chinese characters and
is practically a history of the Quong Pi family, running down the
centuries. Of course, I shouldn't have known that if I hadn't read it in
Sir Walter's book."

"That is very interesting," Lyttleton murmured.

"Yes, isn't it? Now perhaps you can understand why a hundred per cent.
Chinaman, with all his superstitions and ancestor worship, is prepared
to take any risk to get those cards back again. He will think it a
sacred duty. Now Quong Pi was too poor to carry out his ambition until
fairly recently. But when all that trouble started in China, Quong Pi,
or Mortimer Heek, whichever you like to call him, set up in business as
a general. Being a man of great courage and originality, he soon found
himself at the head of a large force. Of course, he was only out for
himself and when he had collected enough loot he faded out of the
picture and came to England, where he renamed himself Mortimer Heek. I
had all this from Eden Kelly, under the seal of secrecy. He told me the
Government knew all about Heek's activities and that the Home Office had
its own reasons for not deporting the fellow."

"Yes, that is all right enough," Lyttleton said. "But you told me that
Heek was actually playing cards at Sir Walter's flat on the night of the
murder and that Sir Walter, who must have recognised him, gave no sign
of having done so."

"That is perfectly true," Parkhurst admitted. "But then, Sir Walter was
rather a peculiar man. To begin with, he was very keen not to spoil the
enjoyment and I can see him with that sardonic humour of his
appreciating the subtlety of the situation. Of course, he knew Heek and
Heek knew him. These two had crossed swords more than once before and
Sir Walter was well aware that his assumed ignorance was calculated to
impress Heek considerably. So Sir Walter chose to ignore the past and
they sat down to their game together, just as if they were strangers.
More than that, I can almost hear Sir Walter chuckling to himself when
he produced those ivory cards after the accident I told you about. It
was a sort of challenge to Heek to do his worst, and, by inference,
quietly telling Heek that there was not the least chance of his
obtaining the very thing that he had come all the way to England to get.
You see, Heek knew the ropes, because he was educated in England. But he
might have been educated here all his life, yet he would have remained
the celestial that he is. Can't you imagine his rage and fury when Sir
Walter was pulling his leg like that, and can't you imagine him losing
his head and reaching out for his vengeance without letting the grass
grow under his feet."

"Yes, I can see all that," Lyttleton said. "Personally, I think you have
made a most important discovery. But how are we going to make use of it?
By some means or another, Heek managed to get into the flat that same
night and murdered Sir Walter. Did he take the cards with him?"

"No, he didn't," Parkhurst admitted. "I haven't looked at them because
there has been no occasion. But Withers tells me that he gathered them
up when he tidied the sitting room and that they are now in the
secretaire quite safe."

"In that case, where does the motive come in? You see, we have got to
establish a motive and if the cards have not been stolen your theory is
still in the air."




CHAPTER XVIII.


Parkhurst was fain to admit that much remained to be done without much
time in which to accomplish it. Still, he had established the
possibility of a mistake on the part of the police and he was not the
man to abandon hope so long as a single glimmer of it was left. He felt
as sure as he could be sure of anything that he was almost within
grasping distance of the actual murderer without being able to go to
Scotland Yard and lay his discovery before the authorities there, and,
within a day or two, Tom Gilchrist had to stand his trial.

It was a wet and depressing afternoon when at length Gilchrist faced a
jury charged with what appeared on the face of it to be a cold-blooded
murder. He gave one glance round the crowded court and the public
gallery at the back, to the judge, sitting in state upon his throne, and
something like a thrill passed through him when he saw, not far from the
solicitor's table, the pale face and hollow eyes of Maudie Vascombe. It
was only for a moment or two, and then he felt that he could look at her
no longer. He knew that presently she would be ordered out of court with
the rest of the witnesses when Sir Timothy Jessop, KC, had finished his
opening statement, and from the bottom of his heart he wished she had
not come at all. And then, for the next hour of two, the case went
drearily on, so that Tom, listening to the solemn periods of the
advocate for the Crown, found himself, before the great man had
finished, almost believing himself guilty of the crime.

It was worse still when, late in the afternoon, Withers followed
Inspector Winch into the witness box. Evidently Withers was trying to do
his best to help the prisoner in the dock, but his hesitations and
evasive answers were certainly doing Tom more harm than good, and,
clearly enough, the jury was feeling the effect of this, under the
skilful questions of Sir Timothy. By the time that Withers was allowed
to go, it was almost as if he himself had put a rope round the neck of
the prisoner.

Then the theatrical producer, Kohn, stepped smartly into the box and
gave his evidence glibly. He was not prejudiced in either way, and as he
had a plain story to tell and was anxious to get away he kept closely to
the point. All he had to prove was that he had had the dagger with which
the crime had been committed in his possession for some time, and he
proceeded to identify it in a manner that left no doubt whatever upon
the mind of the court. The little man finally stepped down without even
a single question from Lyttleton.

Following him came Ian Vascombe. He told his story as to how he had
obtained possession of the dagger and the way in which he had used it in
connexion with the theatrical costume designs he was making for the
producer. It was only when he reached the point of actual parting with
the weapon that his examination became keen and close.

"You had the dagger from the prisoner?" Jessop asked.

"Certainly I did," Ian replied. "He lent it to me at my own request, and
I showed it to Mr. Kohn. Then the weapon was left about in my studio and
remained there until I brought it downstairs one day when the prisoner
was calling upon me and handed it back to him."

"Then he took it away when he left you?"

"I thought he did, but I understand that was not the case. He forgot it
and it went back to the studio."

"You mean that he took it back himself?"

"No, sir, my sister did that. She saw it was overlooked and, I presume,
returned it to the studio. I didn't know that for quite a long time
afterwards."

"Which means that you subsequently found it."

"No, I didn't sir, I had no idea that it was on one of the shelves. I
never knew till after Sir Walter Vanguard's death and inquest and the
subsequent finding of the dagger in the gutter that the weapon had
remained in my possession."

"Well, how did you find that it was?"

"My sister told me. Mr Gilchrist was very much disturbed at what had
happened and when he came round to discuss the matter with me at my
flat, I told him that he had taken the dagger away with him on the
occasion previously alluded to. He declared that he had not, and my
sister confirmed it. She said that he had forgotten it and that she,
herself, had taken it upstairs and put it on a shelf."

There was a good deal more to the same effect, but nothing in
Lyttleton's cross examination shook Ian's statement in the slightest.
There was a stir in court as he left the witness box and Maudie took his
place. She looked almost defiantly round the court with a sort of hard
glitter in her eyes, much as if she had been some lithe and beautiful
animal caught in a hunter's net. But after she had taken the oath she
spoke in a voice that was perfectly steady.

She told her story as outlined by the previous witness and then
stiffened as Sir Timothy addressed her.

"You are a great friend of the prisoner's, are you not?" he asked. "You
have known him for years."

"Ever since I left school," Maudie said.

"Would it be too much to say that you are rather more than friends?" Sir
Timothy asked suavely.

"It would not," Maudie said, in clear tones which carried all over the
court. "I am engaged to be married to the prisoner. I hope to marry him
yet."

She flung these words at counsel almost defiantly, and Sir Timothy
smiled into the calm and beautiful face.

"Precisely," he murmured. "Precisely. Then, naturally, you are concerned
for his safety. In other words, you are prepared to go a long way to see
him free."

"It would be strange if I were not," Maudie said.

"Oh, quite so, quite so. But don't you think, Miss Vascombe, that you
might have been mistaken on the occasion to which I am alluding? I don't
want to remind you, but you are on your oath. An intelligent young lady
like yourself must see how much depends upon whether your evidence is
sustained or not. Now, you say that the prisoner did not take away the
weapon on the occasion when your brother brought it downstairs but that
it was forgotten. After the prisoner had left and your brother was no
longer in the flat, you took the dagger upstairs again and placed it on
a ledger in the studio."

"Most assuredly I did," Maudie said.

"That you state absolutely on oath?"

"That I state absolutely on oath, if it was my last breath. I am
prepared to do everything I can for a man whom I regard as innocent, but
I am not perjuring myself as you are good enough to suggest. I am
telling the truth."

But Jessop was not letting Maudie off quite as lightly as all that. He
could not shake her main statement, but by certain ingenious questions
and half insinuations, he was making a strong impression on the jury as
he very well knew. When the time came for adjournment, there was not a
single expert in the court who would have given sixpence for Tom
Gilchrist's chance of escaping the gallows.

And so it went on all the next day and the day after. Lyttleton put up a
very good fight, but he did so, knowing that he was losing ground,
especially after it had been established that the cause of the quarrel
between Sir Walter and Gilchrist had been the very witness who had
evidently done her best by sheer perjury to save the lift of a murderer.
This was the view of the man in the street and most of those in court
who were familiar with such cases. It appeared, also, to be the view of
the judge, for, though he was fair and impartial enough, he was all
against the prisoner, so that when the jury left the box to consider
their verdict, there was only one opinion as to what that verdict would
be.

Parkhurst turned to Ian Vascombe who was seated close to him and
whispered a few hurried words in his ears.

"For Heaven's sake," he said, "get your sister out of court. I cannot
understand why on earth she came. This is no place for any woman, let
alone one so intimately connected with the case. Take her away,
Vascombe, take her away and give her some tea, and don't come back. The
jury will probably be away for an hour and you know what they will say."

It was almost by force that Maudie was removed from the court. It was no
maudlin sentiment that had brought her there, but an impulse she could
not overcome. She had sat there all day until she was dazed and confused
and moving in the centre of what seemed to be a hideous nightmare. But
one side of her brain was active enough and she could see clearly the
peril in which Tom Gilchrist stood. Yet she could not tear herself away,
she protested, but in the back of her mind was grateful for the outer
air so that she could try to shut out the scene that seemed to have
seared her very soul.

"Now come with me," Ian said. "I know a quiet little place off the
Strand where we can get a cup of tea. You look ready to drop. And then,
when we know the best or worst, I will call a taxi and take you home."

It was a good hour later before the news came, in the shape of a newsboy
carrying a placard in his hand which bore in black letters the words
"Vanguard Case. Verdict."

Ian tore one of the papers from the boy's hand and threw him a shilling.
The lad hesitated until Ian waved him aside, then he went off, shouting
down the street. Trembling, Ian turned to the stop press edition.

"What is it?" Maudie whispered, "What is it?"

But Ian only covered his face with his hands.




CHAPTER XIX.


Oh the face of it, the end of the double tragedy seemed to be
inevitable. After four days' patient trial by a jury of his
fellow-countrymen and a fair summing up, Tom Gilchrist had been found
guilty of the murder of Sir Walter Vanguard and, unless some miracle
happened, it was certain that he would find himself standing on the
gallows. For the most part the public regarded him as guilty, though
there were one or two who were inclined to question the verdict.

Parkhurst, for one, had not expected it. To his legal mind, there had
been one or two flaws in the evidence and he still hoped to prove this
on appeal. Of course, there would be an appeal in the course of two or
three weeks, but if it was to be successful, Parkhurst would want
something more than mere suspicion of some third party to save the neck
of his unfortunate client. It seemed to him that he knew perfectly well
where to place his hand upon the actual criminal, but so far, he had
very little to go upon.

It was a day or two later before he took the first step in what he hoped
to be a series of successful investigations. In the first instance he
went round to Vascombe's flat with the intention of asking him a few
pertinent questions. He found his man at home, sitting moodily before an
empty grate with Maudie on the other side of the fire place.

She looked up with a wan smile on her face and an expression in her eyes
that moved Parkhurst to pity. She seemed pale and worn, as if she had
suffered from want of sleep, and her manner was altogether supine and
listless. It was as if she had ceased to take an interest in life
altogether.

"You ought to be in bed," Parkhurst suggested.

"Oh, what is the use of that?" Maudie cried. "I cannot rest, I cannot
sleep. I have hardly closed my eyes since I saw the announcement in the
paper. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to sit here
looking at one another whilst Tom suffers for a crime he never
committed? You know that he is an innocent as I am."

"Yes, I know that, if it is any consolation to you," Parkhurst said. "We
have not given up hope altogether, you know, Don't forget there is such
a thing as the Court of Criminal Appeal."

"Ah, I had forgotten that," Ian said. "Of course there must be an
appeal. No matter what it costs, no stone must be left unturned."

Parkhurst nodded approvingly.

"I have talked the matter over with Littleton," he said. "And he is
quite prepared to go on, without further fee or reward. Now, mind you, I
am not promising anything and my hopes for the moment are not based upon
anything substantial. But I have satisfied myself that the criminal is
not very far off. It is no use my telling you what I suspect, because
that would be a foolish thing to do, unless I can give chapter and verse
for it. Now, let us go back a bit. Just for a minute, Vascombe, cast
your mind back to the night of the murder. It was you who took Mortimer
Heek round to Sir Walter's flat to make up the four at bridge."

"Perfectly right. But I don't see----"

"Never mind what you see or don't see, for the moment. Just answer my
questions and don't interrupt. Would you be astonished to hear that Sir
Walter and Heek were not strangers?"

"Why, I introduced them," Ian cried.

"Yes, I know you did. But you can take it from me as gospel that those
two men had met before and that there was bad blood between them. In
fact, on more than one occasion Heek directly and indirectly made an
attempt on Sir Walter's life. I don't mean lately--I mean in China, many
years ago."

"But the thing sounds ridiculous," Vascombe protested. "I brought the
two men together and they met in Sir Walter's flat just as if they had
been casually introduced. There was no sign on the face of either of
them to show that either had ever seen the other before."

"Yes, in the ordinary way it would pass, but that was not an ordinary
occasion. The whole business was one of those amazing coincidences which
is supposed to happen only in fiction and yet takes place often in daily
life. I can prove to you beyond the shadow of a doubt that those men
were old enemies. I can imagine Heek showing no signs of recognition,
because he knew that you were taking him round to the flat of a man he
hated, and, therefore, was quite prepared. Besides, he is a Chinaman,
and no man can read a Chinaman's face."

"A Chinaman. Good Lord!" Ian cried. "But then Sir Walter hadn't the
least idea that Heek was coming."

"Very likely not. But don't forget that Sir Walter lived for a great
many years in China, and had learnt all about the natives and their
ways. I can imagine him, after the first instant, being grimly amused at
the idea of entertaining a man who had tried to murder him more than
once. Now, tell me, did those two shake hands?"

"No, they didn't," Vascombe said. "Neither when Heek entered the flat
nor when he left. What on earth are you driving at?--Even supposing that
Heek----"

"Oh, well, perhaps I had better show you my evidence," Parkhurst
interrupted. "It will save a lot of talk."

With that, the speaker produced his copy of Sir Walter's book and
proceeded to quote extracts at length. He showed his two more than
interested listeners the pair of photographs with the striking line
underneath. And when, at length, he had finished he was glad to see that
the listless look had died out of Maudie's eyes and she was taking more
than an ordinary interest in the story he was unfolding.

"No, no," he said in answer to a shower of questions. "I can't go any
further at present. I am not even going to say that Heek had a hand in
Sir Walter's death. The police made a great point of the fact that the
dagger belonged to our friend Gilchrist, and that after the murder he
must have crept out of the window and pushed the weapon down the
waterspout. Now, to my mind, that is the last thing that Tom would have
done. Why should he? He had the flat to himself, he knew that Withers
was in bed and asleep, and that there was no suspicion whatever against
him. He would have taken that dagger away and got rid of it. Oh, no. The
man who murdered Sir Walter knew perfectly well whose dagger it was and
he placed it cunningly in the spot where the police were bound to find
it sooner or later. He wanted to divert suspicion from himself and fix
it on somebody else at the same time. And now, Ian, we come to the
point. Who had the run of your studio? Who came to see you pretty well
when he liked?"

"Why, Heek, of course," Ian gasped.

"Precisely. He could have taken that dagger away without your being any
the wiser. Why, you didn't even know, latterly, that you had it. You
thought Tom had had it back, when, all the while, it was in your studio,
where it had been put by your sister. You see, I am proving nothing, but
I am showing you that there is another side to the case. Now, let us go
a little further. Let us talk about that wonderful pack of cards. You
know what I mean. Those beautiful pictures on ivory that you played with
in the flat that night, after the accident with the glass of whisky and
soda. I have found a lot about them out of the book just now, and that
they belonged to the Heek family. Or rather, I should say, had belonged
to the Heek family. You can see for yourself in the book that there is
no such person as Heek. The patronymic is Pi, and the man we know today
as Mortimer Heek, the capitalist, is none other than Quong Pi who up to
a little time ago, was a Chinese General, in other words a pirate out
for himself, and who came to England after he had looted a big fortune
and assumed the name of Heek. Now, he knew perfectly well who had that
missing pack of cards and when he discovered beyond the shadow of a
doubt that Sir Walter was the owner of them, he made up his mind to get
them back at any price. No doubt, he knew months ago where the cards
were, but there was just the possibility that Sir Walter kept them at
his bank. My idea is that Heek had made up his mind to use violence and
that he took that dagger out of your studio for the purpose, knowing
that by so doing he was minimising his risk and at the same time,
throwing the blame on somebody else. Well, we will leave it at that for
the moment. Now, to revert to something else. You had seen one of those
cards before, hadn't you?"

"Of course I had," Ian said. "I saw it in Madame Ninette's Bond Street
Shop. Sir Walter brought it round to have it copied after he had lost
his bet to Mona Catesby, so that Miss Catesby should have a dress
designed from the Queen of Hearts which dress she was going to wear at a
public dance. Sir Walter would not allow it out of his possession so I
made a water colour sketch of it."

"Do you happen to have that sketch still?"

"Certainly I have. It is upstairs in my studio at the present moment.
Shall I fetch it down?"

Parkhurst nodded an assent. In a moment or two Ian was back again, with
the exquisite little water colour in his hand. Parkhurst examined it
carefully.

"It seems to be a pretty faithful reproduction," he said. "But what are
those faint blue lines on the top left hand margin? It looks like a
finger print."

"I am pretty sure it is," Ian said. "It is almost invisible, but if you
examine it through a strong magnifying glass you will see signs of
whorles. Here, Maudie, just give Parkhurst that glass from the
mantelpiece."




CHAPTER XX.


With the aid of the glass, Parkhurst made his examination. The lines
were faint indeed, but they were distinct and had evidently been made by
the artist who painted the original and who had not restored them after
the face of the card was finished.

"Why did you copy that?" Parkhurst asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Matter of habit, I suppose. You see, I was so
interested in the Queen of Hearts herself that I made a really faithful
copy of the card. I thought at first, it was a sort of signature in
Chinese characters and I am not quite sure now that it isn't. At any
rate, there it it--a faithful copy of a magnificent piece of work and
one that I intend to keep amongst my curiosities."

"Well, keep it carefully, mind," Parkhurst warned the speaker. "Very
likely I shall want you to produce that piece of paper again. For the
present, I think I have told you all you ought to know. So keep smiling
and hope for the best."

Parkhurst went off presently, and later the same evening he called on
Lyttleton to discuss the information he had so recently obtained from
Ian Vascombe.

"Well, it certainly doesn't amount to much," Lyttleton said. "All the
same, it may be useful. What is your next move?"

"Well, I don't quite know," Parkhurst confessed. "I have told you all
about Heek before. I don't think there is much doubt that Heek or Quong
Pi, to give him his proper name, could tell us a great deal if he
wished."

"Ah, there I am quite with you," Lyttleton said. "And it is precisely
because Quong Pi, alias Mortimer Heek, knows so much that I was careful
not to mention his name during the proceedings in the Criminal Court. We
talked about my client and Vascombe, but designedly Heek was not brought
in at all. Now, didn't you tell me that there were three of those packs
of cards?"

"I did. One belonged, or belongs to Heek, a second is in New York, and
the third, of course, is round at Sir Walter's flat. But why are you
asking?"

"Well, because the cards may give us a further clue. According to that
book of Sir Walter's, the gold patterns which are weaved into the backs
of all the cards contain a life history of the Quong family. It all
looks like artistic tracery, but the story would be plain enough to any
profound Chinese scholar. Suppose you borrow that pack of cards of Sir
Walter's and bring them round to me tomorrow about tea-time? Then we
will go round to the British Museum and see my friend, Professor
Pilditch, who knows more about Chinese than any man living in Europe. If
those gold signs are legible, he will read them fast enough."

This being arranged, Parkhurst called the next morning at Sir Walter's
flat and interviewed Withers, who was still in charge there. The latter
was pleased enough to see Parkhurst, for he was feeling the loneliness
of the situation.

"Is there anything I can do for you, sir?" he asked

"Certainly there is," Parkhurst said. "I know it is altogether out of
order, but I want to borrow that pack of cards which Sir Walter produced
on the night of his death. I mean the ivory ones. I suppose they are
still here."

"Oh, yes, sir," Withers explained. "Nobody has taken them away, and
nobody has ever asked to see them, not even the police."

"Good," Parkhurst said. "I want to borrow them for a day or two. I
suppose you don't mind."

"Oh, I don't mind, sir," Withers said. "Only I was told by the gentleman
who came from Sir Walter's lawyer that nothing was to leave the flat.
But seeing as how it is you, sir, well, that makes all the difference."

With that, Withers went across to the secretaire and produced the
wonderful pack of cards in their carved ivory case. Parkhurst slipped
the box casually into his pocket.

"You put those cards up the morning after the murder, did you not?" he
asked.

"That's right, sir. You told me it was wrong to do so, but I thought
there was no harm in tidying up, and I gathered the cards and slipped
them inside the ivory case."

A sudden thought seemed to strike Parkhurst.

"Were they lying about?" he asked eagerly. "Lying anyhow? One or two on
the floor; perhaps?"

"No, they wasn't," Withers replied. "They was laid out in rows on the
table. Four rows with every suit separate. Just as if my poor master had
been playing a game of patience when the murderer came in and struck him
down."

Parkhurst nodded but said nothing. An astute observer would have noticed
that this reply was not displeasing to him. A few minutes later he went
off with the cards in his possession and a little after five o'clock the
same afternoon, he found himself, together with Lyttleton, in the
private room of Professor Pilditch at the British Museum. Lyttleton
outlined the object of the visit and, when he had finished Parkhurst
took the cards from their case and spread them face upward on the table.

The professor bent over them with every sign of delight.

"Ah, wonderful, wonderful!" he cried. "Of course, I have heard of these
cards before. There were three packs of them originally and they took
three generations of artists to complete them. I have been trying for
years to get a sight of these cards, but it is as if they had vanished
from the face of the earth. Where did you get them?"

Parkhurst proceeded to explain. He went at some length into the history
of the packs, how they had originally belonged to one Sin Pi and how the
last descendant of the race, Quong Pi, was in England, though, for the
moment, Parkhurst said nothing with regard to the alias of Mortimer
Heek.

"Dear me, how interesting," the professor said. "So one pack is in New
York, the other lies before me and the third you believe to be in the
possession of Quong Pi. Now, I should very much like to see Mr. Quong
Pi."

"So you shall," Lyttleton promised. "But for the moment, if you don't
mind, I want you to forget, professor, that the man exists. There are
very urgent reasons why this interview of ours should be a profound
secret. In fact, a man's life depends upon the secrecy. The reason we
came down here today is to invite your cooperation in translating those
wonderful gold designs on the back of the cards into everyday English.
We think rightly or wrongly, that the knowledge derived therefrom may
help us in an important clue we are following up."

"Delighted, delighted," the professor said. "As I told you just now, I
know all about those three packs of cards and when I say that, I mean I
know of them in my reading. But how did you know that the gold
lettering----"

Parkhurst interrupted with a few extracts from Sir Walter Vanguard's
book. The professor nodded.

"Oh, yes," he said, "I didn't know Sir Walter personally but his
knowledge of China was infinite. However, let us see if I can make out
something of those cards."

He took one of the ivory tablets casually from the table and turned it
face downwards. For some few minutes he puzzled frowningly over the gold
tracery and then, gradually a smile spread over his keen, sensitive
face.

"Ah, here we are," he said. "Here is an incident that happened years
ago. You must understand that each of those few lines, represents not so
many letters, but so many sentences. It is all in the purest Chinese,
the sort of Chinese that is rarely spoken now-a-days, even amongst the
mandarin class. You see, there are no less than four hundred languages
in China and perhaps as many dialects. You may not be aware of the fact
that if you were a Chinaman today, living, say, in Brixton, you would
not understand the dialect of a man who resides at Clapham. That is why
the traders invented Pidgin English. But I am getting a bit off the
mark."

The professor stopped speaking for a minute or two and pored over the
card once more.

"I am getting through it all right," he said. "But I don't seem to have
the key card. There is one card in each pack which is a sort of index
and until I can find that particular card I am rather at sea. Yes, I've
got it. Mr. Parkhurst, will you kindly sort me out the Ace of Spades?"

Parkhurst found the card and handed it over.

"Yes, that is right," the professor said. "I find I am perfectly
correct. It is simply wonderful how these signs and symbols interlock
with one another, like some amazing puzzle. And yet they are so purely
artistic. I don't know if you want me to read out what I am translating
or whether you prefer to leave the cards with me so that I can work it
out and get one of my secretaries to type it."

"I think that would be the best," Lyttleton said.

"Very well then, I will do so; but this is wonderful. This discovery
will be of interest to thousands. It will throw quite a new light on
Chinese history. I have just found--no, I have not--it breaks off just
at the most interesting part. Now, let me see what it means. Yes, I
begin to have an idea. Here is a break that points clearly to another
card in the pack. If you will be patient with me for a minute or two, I
will tell you which card it is. Um--yes--and yet----"

For quite a long time the professor bent over the Ace of Spades with a
palsied frown between his fine brows and then, suddenly, his face
cleared again.

"How very stupid of me," he said.

"Mr. Parkhurst, I wish you would find the Queen of Hearts for me."

Eagerly, Parkhurst shuffled the cards through his hands. "The Queen of
Hearts is missing," he cried.




CHAPTER XXI.


Parkhurst and Lyttleton exchanged significant glances behind the back of
the professor. It was as if the same thought had occurred to both
simultaneously.

"Dear me, this is very unfortunate," the expert said. "Are you quite sure
that the Queen of Hearts is missing?"

"I am afraid there is very little doubt about it," Parkhurst exclaimed.
"I had no idea when I came here that the pack was incomplete. Does it
much matter?"

"Well, it breaks the continuity of the story," the professor said.
"However, if you will leave the cards with me, I will see what I can do.
This is a most interesting business and I am intensely curious as to the
result."

Lyttleton glanced at his friend as much as to suggest that the next move
should come from Parkhurst.

"Oh, keep them as long as you like," the latter said. "It is rather
unfortunate that this should have happened, but it may not make much
difference in the long run. Now I wonder, Professor, if you can tell me
anything about the history of the other two packs. I have a pretty
shrewd idea where one is, but I should like to know the whereabouts of
the third and how the present owner became possessed of it. It went to
America, I know. I suppose there is no way of finding out the name of
the American gentleman and the circumstances in which the cards found
their way into his possession?"

"Oh, yes, there is," the Professor smiled. "We have a wonderful
collection of Chinese works of arts in the museum with their histories,
and not only that, but we keep a record of all kinds of transactions
concerning Oriental treasures which are outside the museum. I don't
think that there is a unique object in the way of a Chinese curio in
Europe or America of which we have no record. Whenever there is a big
sale of these sort of things, we always follow it up and note down the
names of the purchasers. If you would like to see the gentleman here who
is responsible for that particular department, I will take you to him at
once."

"That is very good of you," Parkhurst said. "You can't do anything more
for us at the moment, so we will leave the cards and you can write to me
about them at your leisure. But I should like to see the gentleman who
keeps the records."

A few minutes later Parkhurst and Lyttleton found themselves in another
office, talking to an elderly gentleman who listened attentively to what
they had to say.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I can tell you what you want. Excuse me a moment, I
will just look at my records."

The speaker came back a few minutes later with a brief, pencilled
memorandum in his hand.

"Here you are," he explained. "About four years ago a pack of those
cards was put up for sale in the auction rooms of Messrs Whitestrands,
the famous art dealers. How it came into their possession I cannot tell
you, but that I could find out, if necessary. Probably loot. At any
rate, it was sold for a considerable sum to an American gentleman named
James P. Riff. I believe he is one of the New York millionaires, and has
a perfect museum in his house on Fifth Avenue. I will give you my card,
so that if you want to call upon Messrs Whitestrands, they will answer
any questions you like to ask."

There was nothing for it for the moment but for Parkhurst and his
companion to take their departure. They walked along in gloomy silence,
and no word was exchanged between them until they reached Lyttleton's
chambers.

"Well," Parkhurst asked. "What do you think of it?"

"I certainly begin to see daylight," the lawyer admitted. "Now, just
what is your opinion?"

"My opinion is that Heek murdered Sir Walter Vanguard with the
deliberate intention of stealing the Queen of Hearts from his pack. I
daresay you will ask why he did not take the lot while he was about it,
but that might have led to serious trouble. He only wanted the Queen of
Hearts and he took a big risk on the night of the murder to get it."

"Yes, but how was the murder committed?"

"Well, I think that I can tell you. Mind you, it is only theory, but
every step we take strengthens it. Let us just go for the facts. We
know, now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that when Heek went to Sir
Walter's flat, he knew whom he was going to meet, and the recognition
was mutual. That was a pure bit of luck for Heek which he didn't expect.
I mean in finding himself under the same roof as his enemy, and with the
very object he so much coveted practically in his hand."

"Yes, but why did he want it so badly?"

"Well, to complete his own pack, in the first place. But there was
something deeper than that. Ancestor worship and all that kind of thing.
When Heek escaped from China with the plunder, he came to Europe with
one great object in his mind. And that object was to get the three packs
in his possession again. That was part of his queer religion--a
fanatical obsession that overwhelmed everything else. If you will grant
me that, I will go on."

"Yes, I think so," Lyttleton said thoughtfully. "Sir Walter made rather
a point of that sort of thing in his book."

"Very well then. He meant to get that Queen of Hearts, even if he had to
wade through blood to do so, and luck favoured him to a wonderful
degree. And beyond the shadow of a doubt Heek has that Queen of Hearts
in his possession at the present moment."

"Not much doubt about that," Lyttleton murmured. "But how was the crime
committed?"

"I am just coming to that," Parkhurst went on. "Don't forget what I told
you with regard to Sir Walter's flat, and the fact that the front door
was never properly fastened. There was a peculiar sort of Yale lock
which was fitted with three keys. One of these Sir Walter had, the
second was entrusted to Withers, and the third was an emergency key
which hung on a shield behind the front door. It was the custom of both
occupants of the flat to hang their key up on that shield when they came
in. I know this, because I have closely examined Withers on the subject.
He is quite certain that when he came home on the night of the murder
after his evening out, he hung the key on the shield. He is equally
certain that at that moment the other two were in their places. Have I
made that absolutely clear?"

"So far--perfectly," Lyttleton said.

"Let us go a step further. Somewhere about midnight Heek had a telephone
call, and the bridge party broke up. He and Vascombe left the flat
together, leaving Gilchrist behind. My idea is that, as the two men
passed through the passage, Heek abstracted one of those keys from the
shield and slipped it in his pocket. Now, mind you, he knew perfectly
well that he would be safe in so doing. In the street Heek parted from
Vascombe, and then he hung about until he saw Withers return to the
flat, and Tom Gilchrist leave. Then, when he felt sure that the coast
was clear, and that Withers was safe for the night, he crept back into
the building and opened the front door with the spare key. Everything
went smoothly, and Sir Walter died. Heek picked up the Queen of Hearts
from the table and hurriedly fled with it. We know the cards were lying
on the table because Withers found them there before he tidied up. And
then Heek made his first mistake."

"And what did that happen to be?" Lyttleton asked.

"Well, he was in such a hurry to get away that he forgot all about the
latch key. He only realised he had still got it in his possession when
he returned home or probably when he woke in the morning. Now, to make
assurance doubly sure, he had to put that key back in its place. By
doing so, he made the mystery still more obscure. So he invented some
excuse for calling at the flat. He said he had left a silk handkerchief
behind him the night before, and, apparently, he had, because it was
found in the bottom of the umbrella stand."

"Yes, but didn't he find it himself?"

"Precisely," Parkhurst said. "He found that which was not lost. What he
wanted to do was to divert Withers' attention for a moment whilst he put
the latchkey back. As you know, Withers told me that he was on his hands
and knees, looking behind the oak chest, when Heek exclaimed that the
handkerchief was found. And then you will remember I told you about the
dropped half-crown. I don't believe Heek dropped a half-crown at all. I
am firmly convinced that Heek allowed the latchkey to slip through his
fingers on to the floor in his hurry to get it back on the nail again.
He had time to snatch it up and replace it, muttering something about a
dropped half-crown which he then took from his pocket and handed to
Withers. And see how amazingly his luck crept in. He was actually in the
flat before Withers had found out that his master was dead."

"Yes, it seems like it," Lyttleton replied. "And I am bound to say that
your theory is rather convincing. But how are you going to put it to the
proof?"

"Ah, that for the moment I don't know," Parkhurst contested. "All the
same, I am pretty sure that I am right, and if I had any doubt, the fact
that the Queen of Hearts is missing would remove it."

"I am inclined to agree with you. But, tell me, why were you so keen on
seeing that old gentleman at the British Museum who kept the records of
those art sales?"

"Because I believe that his information about Whitestrands is going to
help us. I shall be very much surprised if I don't find that they have
had dealings with Heek."




CHAPTER XXII.


When, a day or so later, Parkhurst came to make enquiries of the famous
firm of auctioneers in St James' Square, he was pleased to find that his
suspicions were correct. One of the partners was quite ready to help him
in his search, and equally obliging, when, asked to regard Parkhurst's
visit as secret and confidential.

"I quite remember the circumstances you allude to, Mr. Parkhurst," the
Whitestrand representative said. "Of course I can't tell you the name of
the man who brought those cards to us for disposal. You see, we take a
good deal on trust, and it is no business of ours to make enquiries as
to the bona-fides of our clients. Every day people from all over the
world, sailors and explorers and other wanderers, come here with
valuable things for disposal. In a way we stand in the same relation to
them as if we were pawnbrokers. I have no doubt, whatever, that the pack
of cards we sold about the time we mention was brought us by some
traveller. I think he must have got them honestly, because he hadn't
this remotest idea of their value. I have no doubt that he was amazingly
surprised when he got our cheque. Of course we could look up his name,
but it might be an assumed one, for all we know to the contrary, still,
if you want us to try and trace him, it may not be impossible."

"I am not in the least interested in him," Parkhurst smiled, "but what I
am interested in is the man who purchased the pack of cards when you put
them up for auction."

"Ah, that," the auctioneer smiled, "is a different thing altogether. I
can tell you without looking at our register who bought them. They went
to a Mr. Riff, an American millionaire, who spends vast sums on that
sort of thing. He not only bought that pack, but he told us there were
two more like it in the world, and he offered us a small fortune it we
could get hold of them for him. We did our best, of course, but without
avail. We did discover that one pack belonged to Sir Walter Vanguard, a
gentleman who was murdered not long ago, but nothing would induce him to
part with them. Curiously enough, within the last month of two, we have
ascertained that a third pack belongs to Mr. Mortimer Heek. You may have
heard of him."

"I certainly have," Parkhurst said a little grimly. "You mean the
mysterious Levantine financier, who has lately come into such
prominence."

"Yes, that is the man. He was most anxious to obtain the cards from Sir
Walter and also from Mr. Riff. He knew that Mr. Riff had one pack and we
gave him that gentleman's address. I don't think that Mr. Heek had any
success, though, by a strange chance, Mr. Riff is in England at the
present moment."

"The Dickens he is," Parkhurst exclaimed. "Would you mind telling me
where he is to be found?"

"Not in the least," was the reply. "He is staying at the Majestic, where
he has a suite of rooms, and he also is the tenant of an old black and
white house not far from Sevenoaks. He is very keen on old English
architecture, and at the moment is negotiating with the purpose of
buying one of the finest specimens of what is called 'magpie' work in
the kingdom. He told me the last time I saw him that he should settle
down in this country. This information he gave me when I went to see him
on business at Sevenoaks last week."

"Does he happen to be down there now?" Parkhurst asked.

"Well, as a matter of fact, he does. He spends all his spare time there.
If you want to see him, you had better make an appointment with his
secretary at the Majestic."

Pankhurst murmured something indefinite in reply, and, after a few more
questions, left the offices of the famous auctioneers. For the moment he
had obtained all the information he wanted, and was not disposed to be
dissatisfied with it. But there was much work to be done yet, before he
was in a position to lay all the facts before Lyttleton if there was to
be the slightest chance of success before the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Parkhurst turned his steps in a more easterly direction until he came at
length to a block of offices in one of the business streets. There he
ascended in the lift to the top floor, and knocked at a door outside of
which was a brass plate bearing the name 'John Bent,' and underneath it
the word 'Enquiries.' A little later he was seated opposite a small,
rather nervous-looking man, who welcomed him with all the respect due
from a private enquiry agent to a leading criminal solicitor.

"Now, Bent, I want you to listen to me carefully," Parkhurst said. "Get
out your notebook and take down all the facts. They concern the murder
of Sir Walter Vanguard, and my client, Mr. Gilchrist, who is under
sentence of death. Now, this is going to be a big thing, and if you can
do what I hope you can do, then it will be more than a feather in your
cap. And you are not to spare any expense, mind. Now, are you ready?"

For the best part of half an hour the little man behind the desk was
busy with his notebook. There was not a single detail connected with the
Vanguard murder which Parkhurst had not contrived to convey to him.

"I think that is about all, sir," Bent said. "Would you mind telling me
exactly what you want me to do next?"

"That, for the moment, is quite simple," Parkhurst explained. "I want
you to keep a close eye on every movement of Heek's. Get one or two of
your men on his track at once and follow him day and night. If he leaves
London in his car, then follow him. Take a taxi, or have a private car
at my expense, if you like. But wherever he goes, he is to be kept under
observation. I will give you his address which is rather a modest one
for a millionaire. Here it is. It won't be very difficult for you
sleuths to keep him in sight, especially as he has not the remotest idea
that he is being watched, or that we have, in any way, connected him
with the Vanguard murder. I expect you to report to me every evening as
to your progress."

With that, Parkhurst went his way, and the little detective lost no time
in getting to work. It was two evenings later when one of his
subordinates came to him with information to the effect that Mortimer
Heek was dining at the Cecil, and that his big car was standing waiting
outside to take him as far as the Sevenoaks, Bent wasted no time in
asking how his employee had obtained this information. He flew to the
telephony and in less than five minutes the car he had hired at
Parkhurst's instigation awaited him.

Then, later on, began a stern chase of Heek's car from the hotel in
London, and thence as far as Sevenoaks. Once arrived at his destination,
Heek's car passed through a pair of great hammered iron gates and stood
at the entrance to a house where the American millionaire was in
residence, and, just outside, Bent's two-seater pulled up in the
shadows.

"You stay where you are," Bent whispered to his chauffeur. "I am going
through the wicket gate as far as the house to watch. Keep your eyes
open for anything suspicious, and use your whistle if you want me.
Unless I am greatly mistaken there is some mischief afoot tonight and I
don't want to miss it. Whatever you do, don't smoke."

With these instructions, the chauffeur drew a little closer into the
roadside, and Bent crept through the side gate and made his way along
the dark drive till he saw, right in front of him, the lights from the
house. It was a very dark evening for the time of the year, with a thick
mist overhead, and a drizzling rain falling without a break. And there
Bent listened for the best part of an hour until the front door of the
house opened and Heek appeared, evidently in no pleasant state of mind.
As he climbed into his car, it seemed to Bent that he could hear the
sound of something very like a threat. Then the big car jumped forward
and was almost by the gates before Bent could get a proper move on. A
moment later something that sounded like a shot rang out on the muffled
air and Bent spurted at full speed for the gates. By the time he had
reached them Heek had passed through, and was out of sight in the mist
before Bent's two-seater could start up again in pursuit.

"Did you see anything?" Bent asked the chauffeur.

"No, sir, I didn't see nothing," the latter replied. "I thought I heard
the car stop for a second or two and then go on again. All I know is
that it was so close to me I was afraid of a smash. Pity you weren't a
bit quicker, sir; we shall never catch that car in this mist now."

Bent nodded approval. The mist was getting thicker and thicker, and the
little man had no desire to court a disaster on the high road. There was
nothing for it but to pick a way into London and then call up Parkhurst
on the telephone, and and let him know exactly what had happened.

"Oh, well, I suppose there is no great harm done," Parkhurst replied
over the wire. "I don't suppose you would have discovered anything
tonight in any case. I will come round and see you in the morning. I
have made one or two little discoveries of my own which may be useful,
Good-night."

Parkhurst replaced the receiver, and finished his cigar before going to
bed. He was down fairly early in the morning, and, after breakfast,
turned for a moment or two to the contemplation of the papers that were
neatly folded by the side of his coffee cup. He opened one of then at
the centre page and gasped as he saw something there in big type that
brought him up all standing. Just two headlines that were filled with a
dread import:

TRAGEDY OF A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE

Mr. MORTIMER HEEK MURDERED




CHAPTER XXIII.


From one point of view, the startling information with regard to
Mortimer Heek was something of a blow to Parkhurst. Naturally, he had
not contemplated another tragedy within a tragedy, for somewhere in the
back of his mind was a scheme which would have enabled him to confront
Heek with proofs of his crime, and force a confession from him. Now, of
course, he would have to abandon that and start from another base.

There was little or nothing in the newspaper beyond the fact that
Mortimer Heek had come to a violent end.

But, later on in the day, when the evening papers appeared, there was an
amazing amplification of the first announcement. The evening journals
were full of it, in the astonishing way in which the Press gathers
detail, and its representatives seemed to have done their work
thoroughly.

Apparently, Mortimer Heek had been killed just outside the lodge gates
of an old-fashioned house near Sevenoaks, where he had gone to pay a
call on an American gentleman named Riff. After he had parted from the
man in question Heek had re-entered his car and had been driven through
the lodge gates into the high road. There the car had been pulled up for
some reason or another, possibly owing to the fact that the night was
extremely foggy with drifting patches, so that probably the chauffeur
had noticed some obstruction in the road. It was only for a moment that
the car had stopped and had gone on again after the lodge keeper had
heard what he thought to be a shot. He had not troubled about that
because the noise might have been caused by a backfire, and the
lodgekeeper was positive that he had heard the car move again after a
very short delay.

Then, a strange discovery was made. Heek had not been driven back to his
flat and when, very late at night, he had not returned, his housekeeper
gave the alarm. A visit to the garage where the car was kept disclosed
the fact that the big Daimler was safely housed, and that the chauffeur
was nowhere to be seen. When the police were called in, they found Mr.
Mortimer Heek sitting dead in his car with a bullet through his brain.
Knowing that the chauffeur occupied a bedroom over the garage, the
police forced the locked door, only to find the man lying in his bed,
gagged and bound. According to his story, he had been surprised and
overpowered in the garage, just before he was about to take it out to
convey his master to Sevenoaks, after which he remembered nothing until
the police forced their way into his bedroom. Another strange
circumstance lay in the fact that the chauffeur himself was a Chinaman,
and that his assailants had been men of the same nationality.

So far as the police could make out, a strange driver had taken the car
as far as Heek's flat, whilst the owner was quite unaware of the fact
that someone was acting as substitute for his regular chauffeur. One
Chinaman being very much like another, it was not unnatural that the
dead man should make such a mistake. Then the police had discovered a
further important clue to the mystery.

Inside the car, lying on the floor they found a piece of paper on which
was drawn a rough outline of three cormorants with some Chinese
inscription below. Whereupon an extra intelligent reporter had mentioned
this fact to an oriental scholar of his acquaintance, who claimed the
cormorants to be the sign manual of one of the most sinister and
powerful tongs in China. After that, there could be no doubt that the
crime was one of revenge. It had been planned carefully and carried out
with swiftness and despatch.

All these facts Parkhurst read in the evening press, and more or less
verified by turning up a chapter in Sir Walter Vanguard's book, which
was devoted to Chinese secret societies. He found there an actual
mention of the Three Cormorants, and a great deal concerning their
activities at the hands of those who had used them as a sign and a
menace.

"What do you think of all this?" Parkhurst asked Lyttleton when he
called on the latter in the evening.

"I have been reading the whole thing myself," Lyttleton replied.
"According to my interpretation, Heek was a member of that tong, and
probably betrayed it. I mean, when he got away from China with all that
loot, after playing the game of general officer, he probably thought
that the rest of his followers who ought to have shared in the booty
would trouble no further about him. But you see, they did. They followed
him to England, and I have no doubt they have been tracking him down for
weeks. But all this doesn't help us much."

"On the contrary, it blocks our way," Parkhurst said. "I was hoping to
bring Sir Walter's murder straight home to Heek and force a confession
out of him. Now we shall have to reconsider our position. What do you
suggest?"

"I have been thinking about that," said Lyttleton. "If I were you, I
should go and see Inspector Winch, who had the Vanguard case in hand. It
was his work that put the rope round poor Gilchrist's neck. Of course,
he was only doing his duty, and I don't suppose he has any feeling
either way. If you take my advice, you will see him and lay our case
before him and invite his assistance. What we want, and want badly, is
to get hold of that missing Queen of Hearts. If I could produce that in
Court then I think I could save Gilchrist. But without it, we are like a
ship without a rudder."

After a little more discussion, it was arranged that Parkhurst should
lose no time in calling at Scotland Yard and seeking an interview with
Inspector Winch.

The latter was quite ready to see Parkhurst and listened with more than
a passing interest to all that he had to say. By the time Parkhurst had
finished, Winch was walking up and down the room with a restlessness
that proved how deeply all this was disturbing him.

"Every word you say is quite new to me," he said at length. "Why didn't
you bring it out during the case?"

"What would have been the use?" Parkhurst countered. "Besides, the last
thing I wanted to do was to put Heek on his guard. He would have read
all about it in the papers, and taken steps to hide his tracks. It would
have been madness to let that man know how much we had learnt about his
past from that book of Sir Walter's I was telling you about just now. I
don't suppose he even knew that such a book existed. And, another
thing--the jury regarded with great suspicion the evidence which was
given by our witness, Mr. Vascombe. They were quite persuaded that he
and his sister were perjuring themselves over the missing dagger in
order to save the life of a man Miss Vascombe loved. At that time we
knew nothing at all about the missing picture card. It was only by
accident, as I told you just now, that I discovered that the card was
missing at all. You remember my saying that, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, certainly I do," Winch said. "I don't think I have missed a
single point you have made. I am quite prepared to believe that Mortimer
Heek and Sir Walter were deadly enemies. And I can understand the
psychology of both when they met as strangers under Sir Walter's roof. I
am supposing for a moment that every word you say is correct. I am
supposing that Heek made up his mind on that fatal night to murder Sir
Walter and get away with the Queen of Hearts. Let us say that he
subsequently did. Let us go still further, and take it for granted that
Heek behaved exactly as you suggest. I mean that he got away with the
latchkey when he left the flat and hung about outside somewhere until
the coast was clear. It is quite logical that he did make his appearance
at the flat the next morning with the intention of restoring the missing
latchkey to its place. I can quite understand his having forgotten all
about that. Again, the evidence of the man, Withers, as to the search
for that handkerchief and the dropped half-crown is perhaps logical. In
the face of all this, I am prepared to believe the testimony of Miss
Vascombe and her brother. And you have convinced me that Heek, who had
the run of Mr. Vascombe's studio, could easily have stolen the dagger.
Now, you tell me that a copy of the missing Queen of Hearts was made by
Mr. Vascombe, to enable Madame Ninette's dressmakers to work out a
costume for Miss Mona Catesby. Lots of people must have handled that. I
mean the copy. Furthermore, you tell me that on the original was the
faintest mark in a corner made by the artist who painted the original
card."

"Yes," Parkhurst said eagerly. "The faintest green outline of a thumb,
as if the artist had been dealing in that colour and had touched the
card when his thumb was wet. I will show you the copy if you like, and
you can see much the same impression on it as it appealed to Mr.
Vascombe's eye. When we find the missing Queen of Hearts and compare it
with the copy, you will see that my theory is sound."

"Yes, I believe it is," Winch said. "Now, look here, Mr. Parkhurst, I
only did my duty at the trial, and I have no prejudice whatever. If Mr.
Gilchrist is innocent, then you can count upon me to do whatever I can.
In the first place, tell me exactly what you want."

"Well, so far as you are concerned, there is only one thing, and that is
the missing Queen of Hearts. I am perfectly certain that Heek has it
somewhere in his flat, and because you Scotland Yard people can do
exactly as you like, I am appealing to you, in the cause of truth and
justice, to help me to try and find that vital piece of evidence. I
can't search Heek's flat, but you can. That is if you have the case in
hand."

"I haven't," Winch said, "but my colleague, Docker, has. I will see him
for you this very afternoon."




CHAPTER XXIV.


As a general rule, cases before the Court of Criminal Appeal do not
excite much interest, became they are usually a forlorn hope on the part
of some unfortunate prisoner that something may turn up in his favour at
the eleventh hour. But in the matter of Gilchrist public curiosity had
been stipulated by various rumours which had somehow got abroad, so that
when the three judges took their seats, the space available to the
sensation-mongers was filled almost beyond capacity.

The proceedings opened quietly enough. Lyttleton arose to address the
Bench, and proceeded to outline the case, so far as it had gone. It was
only when he hinted of fresh evidence bearing on the crime and, quite
apart from the usual dry legal arguments, that the listeners were
conscious of the first thrill in an entirely new and original drama.

"I am not going to trouble your lordships with any legal arguments,"
Lyttleton began. "I am not even suggesting the usual misdirection of the
jury or that the witnesses were not given a fair chance during the
trial. I am going much further than that, I am gong to prove, to the
satisfaction of the court, that my client is absolutely innocent of the
charge against him, and that the murder was committed by somebody else.
This may seem obvious to counsel defending a prisoner, but I am going to
name the man who murdered Sir Walter Vanguard."

One of the three judges bent forward eagerly.

"That is a very serious statement, Mr. Lyttleton." he said. "I trust you
can substantiate it."

"I hope to, my lord," Lyttleton went on. "Now, your lordships are all
conversant with what happened to Sir Walter Vanguard. As judges sitting
in the Court of Criminal Appeal each of you has shorthand notes of the
proceedings and I will not venture to suggest that you have failed to
study those notes with the utmost care. I have mentioned this because I
want to call your particular attention to what happened on the night of
the crime. When two witnesses at the recent trial left Sir Walter's flat
on the night of his death, he was apparently alone there with his
nephew, Mr. Tom Gilchrist. Now, those two witnesses are exempt from any
sort of suspicion, or so it appears. Mr. Ian Vascombe, who told the
Central Criminal Court all about what happened on that fatal evening,
and also his version of what I may call the dagger incident, left Sir
Walter's flat with Mr. Mortimer Heek, and that was the last time he saw
the unfortunate gentleman alive. But the same statement does not apply
to Mr Mortimer Heek."

"One moment," the second of the judges interrupted, "According to my
notes, Mr. Heek left the flat at the same time that Mr. Vascombe did.
They parted in the road outside and went different ways. According to
the evidence of Thomas Gilchrist, given on his own behalf, he was the
last person to see Sir Walter alive. He left the flat, closing the front
door behind him in the belief that the man, Withers, had come in and
gone to bed. In the face of all this, Mr. Lyttleton, are you asking us
to believe that Mr. Heek saw Sir Walter again that night?"

"I am not only asking your lordships to believe it," Lyttleton said.
"But I am going to prove the fact. I am going to show you how Mr. Heek
went back, and why. And, lastly, I am going to prove that Mortimer Heek
murdered Sir Walter Vanguard."

Something like a shout went up from those assembled in court. Nothing
like this had ever occurred before the judges of criminal appeal, and it
might be a long time ere such a dramatic statement was made again. It
came like a thunderclap after two or three hours of something like
dreariness.

The three Judges bent forward simultaneously.

"That is a most serious claim, Mr. Lyttleton," one of them said. "You
actually want us to believe that you are in a position to prove what you
say? The suggestion is all the more disturbing because you are speaking
about a dead man."

"I am quite aware of that, my lords," Lyttleton went on. "I can assure
the court that I have put a lot of anxious thought to the matter before
I decided to speak of it in public. But before going any further, I am
going to tell your lordships that Sir Walter Vanguard and Mortimer Heek
were deadly enemies. Your reading of the notes of the previous trial
will not disclose that fact to you. You will have come to the natural
conclusion that Mr. Heek's visit to Sir Walter's flat that evening was a
pure accident. Well, I am not going to deny it. It was one of those
amazing coincidences that only happen in real life. One of the four
players had fallen out, and Mr. Vascombe agreed to find a substitute. He
thought of his customer, Mortimer Heek, who lived not very far off, and
Mr. Heek was fetched accordingly. He was welcomed without a word on Sir
Walter's part, and if you had known Sir Walter as well as his friends
do, you would not be surprised to learn that Heek was received just as
any other stranger might have been. But, all the same, those men had met
in China, years before, and had crossed words more than once. In fact,
on the testimony of Sir Walter himself, Mr. Mortimer Heek had attempted
his life on several occasions."

"You are actually prepared to prove this?" the Bench asked.

"It is not a question of my proving it, your lordships," Lyttleton said.
"I am going to prove it from the written testimony of Sir Walter
himself. Some considerable time ago he wrote a book called 'China--A
Menace.' It was a volume that had very little vogue, and I have had
considerable difficulty in obtaining a copy of it. But the whole story
is there, and I would venture to suggest to your lordships that when
these proceedings are adjourned at four o'clock, as they must be, you
will take an opportunity of studying the book in question. I have marked
certain passages and certain photographs that tell their own tale. It
will facilitate my case and save a great deal of public time if this
course is adopted. And one word before I apply for an adjournment. Your
lordships will find that the man known as Mortimer Heek was a Chinaman
of family whose real name is Quong Pi. He was, until recently, a
so-called general, leading one of the brigand Chinese armies, and he
escaped to England when he had sufficiently lined his pockets. And this
is not my statement merely, but a quotation from information in the
hands of the Foreign Office. And I think, when your lordships come to
read the volume I am speaking about, you will understand the reason that
brought Quong Pi to England. May I ask for an adjournment till tomorrow
morning?"

The three Judges of the Bench agreed with Lyttleton's request, and the
excited listeners regretfully left the court, together with the
reporters, who hurried off to their respective offices with a life story
to tell. There could be nothing more now until the following morning,
when the court was crammed to suffocation by an excited mob, wild to
hear the latest development of the strangest case that ever came before
the Court of Criminal Appeal. It was the President who spoke first.

"We have had an opportunity of reading the remarkable book, which you
passed up to us yesterday afternoon, Mr. Lyttleton, and my colleagues
and myself would be more than interested to hear the rest of your
speech. It is quite clear to us that this Quong Pi and Sir Walter
Vanguard were enemies, and that the Chinaman was actuated, not only by a
desire for vengeance, but also to obtain possession of a certain card
which was missing from that remarkable pack in Sir Walter's possession.
But you have a long way to go before you can satisfy this court that
those sinister activities were carried out."

"That is just what I expected your Lordships to say," Lyttleton replied.
"And now, with your permission, and without wasting your further time, I
will call the evidence."

First of all, Withers stepped into the box. Up to a point, he told the
three eminent men on the Bench very much what he had told the jury in
the Central Criminal Court. He told the story of the quarrel he had
overheard as he was on his way to bed, and how he had found his master
dead the following morning. He also described the unexpected visit of
Mortimer Heek in search of his lost handkerchief, whilst the audience
listened open-mouthed to what seemed to be the first clue in the theory
that Lyttleton was ingeniously building up. Then, deftly and skilfully,
Lyttleton elicited the information as to how the room where the dead man
lay was cleared up and how the pack of cards was put away in its ivory
case in the old secretaire. Then, when Withers had finished, Parkhurst
took his place. He told the court all his suspicions as to the dropped
half-crown and the latchkey, and then went on to say how it was he
himself who had discovered that the Queen of Hearts was missing from the
famous pack of cards which had been used on the night of Sir Walter's
death. He told the court, also, how he had found Sir Walters book
outside a second-hand book shop in Charing Cross Road.

Then came the turn of Ian Vascombe. He spoke of Heek as one of his
wealthy patrons, for whom he had done a great deal of work from time to
time, and how Heek had the run of his studio. Then he began to describe
the scene in Madame Ninette's shop when he had made a copy of the Queen
of Hearts for the benefit of that fashionable modiste's dressmakers. He
produced the drawing which was handed up to the Bench.

There was a stir in court at this moment, and Inspector Docker came in.
He bent over to Lyttleton and whispered something in the latter's ear.
Lyttleton rose immediately.

"My lords," he said huskily. "A most important discovery has been made
by inspector Docker, who has the Heek case in hand. In a safe in Mr.
Heek's flat, opened just now, the missing Queen of Hearts has been
found. I call for it."




CHAPTER XXV.


Amidst a silence which could literally be felt, Inspector Docker handed
to Lyttleton an object wrapped in tissue paper. The latter tore the
covering off and, without comment, handed up the thin ivory card to the
bench. For some few minutes, the three judges bent their heads over the
card and examined it carefully. Then one of them asked for a strong
magnifying glass, and, with this, made a still closer inspection. The
president turned towards the court.

"This appears to my learned brethren and myself," he said, "to be a very
remarkable piece of work. It is a Queen of Hearts and obviously belongs
to an ivory pack of cards of rare workmanship and beauty. But that I
need not go into. I understand, Mr. Lyttleton, that you claim this card
as the one missing from the late Sir Walter Vanguard's collection."

"That is my contention, my lord," Lyttleton said.

"In that, the court is inclined to agree with you. Through a powerful
glass, it is plainly established that on one of the corners is the mark
of a thumb in a faint green pigment. We should like to hear how this
card came into the hands of Inspector Docker. The proceedings are
somewhat irregular, but then, this is an irregular case. I suggest, Mr.
Lyttleton, that you put Inspector Docker into the box."

The officer in question came forward and took the oath. He turned to
Lyttleton and awaited his questions.

"Now, Inspector Decker," counsel said, "will you kindly tell the court
how that card came into your possession?"

"It came into my possession, sir, in the course of my duty. I have Mr.
Heek's case in hand. I am charged with the responsibility of bringing
Mr. Heek's murderers to justice."

"Quite so, inspector. But before we go any further, I should like to
show if Heek was the dead man's real name."

"No, it wasn't, sir," the Inspector replied. "He chose to be known in
this country as Mortimer Heek, but he was really a Chinaman of a good
old family called Quong Pi."

"Is that all the information you have about him?"

"No, sir. From information received, Quong Pi, until the last few years,
had sustained losses that reduced him almost to poverty. He was an
educated man in fact, he was educated latterly at an English university.
When the trouble broke out in China and the Emperor was deposed Quong Pi
assumed the role of a general. In this country we should have called him
a bandit. In his new capacity, he achieved considerable riches and,
having conveyed his fortune abroad, left his own country for good. I may
say that I have this information from the Foreign Office. When he was
murdered, it was my duty to make inquiries, and I have satisfied myself
that what I say is correct."

"Have you formed any theory as to why this particular crime was
committed?" Lyttleton asked.

"Certainly I have. I should say revenge. We believe in the Yard that
Quong Pi was followed to England by the emissaries of a secret society
called the Three Cormorants. What the Chinese call a Tong. In fact,
their badge or insignia was found in Quong Pi's car after his death."

Lyttleton turned a moment to the bench.

"I have already mentioned this secret society, your worships," he said.
"Moreover, you have read all about it in Sir Walter Vanguard's book."

"Perfectly correct, Mr. Lyttleton," the president murmured.

Lyttleton turned again to the witness.

"And in the course of your investigations you made a search of the
murdered man's flat, I presume."

"I did, sir, and there I found the card which I have just produced. It
was in an ivory case with its fifty-one companions. I brought it here
this afternoon because the solicitor who is representing the appellant
in this case suggested that I should find the card amongst Quong Pi's
possessions."

Once more Lyttleton turned to the bench.

"I don't think, your worships," he said, "that I need ask the witness
any more questions. I promised to bring this particular crime home to
Heek, alias Quong Pi, and I am sanguine that the production of that
particular card has achieved my object. Your lordships have heard what
my witnesses have had to say and, in particular, the evidence of Mr.
Vascombe who made a copy of that fateful Queen of Hearts in the presence
of several people. I have that copy here on the table before me and I
should like your lordships to inspect it."

Followed another tense silence, during which the court examined Ian
Vascombe's work. Then the president looked at Lyttleton and addressed
him.

"So far we are with you," he said. "This seems to be quite a faithful
copy of the original, made under Sir Walter Vanguard's own eye, and in
the presence of several people in the Bond Street establishment of
Madame Ninette. I understand that you say the card, I mean the original
card, was, up till the night of Sir Walter Vanguard's murder, in his
possession."

"Can there be any possible doubt about it?" Lyttleton asked. "But that
does not complete my case. You can stand down, Inspector. Call Mr. James
P. Riff."

Into the witness box came a little, round man with a red face and white
moustache, an American not in the least like the typical Yankee of the
caricatures. He stood there, perfectly calm and master of himself.

"Now, Mr. Riff," Lyttleton said, "I understand that you were practically
the last man to see Mortimer Heek, otherwise Quong Pi, alive. On the
night of his death, he called at your home in Sevenoaks, and, within
five minutes of his leaving, he was shot outside your gates. I want you
to tell me what his business was, and what brought your visitor to
Sevenoaks."

"Well, it was like this," the witness said. "I am an American and a very
rich man. It is my hobby to spend a large portion of my income on rare
works of art. I believe I have the finest collection of Chinese
curiosities in the world. Amongst these, in my New York museum, is a
pack of ivory playing cards which I bought some considerable time ago
through Messrs Whitestrands, the famous art auctioneers in St James'
Square. I am told that they are almost unique. At any rate, nobody had
seen anything like them and I was under the impression that no duplicate
existed until I got in contact with the man who called himself Mortimer
Heek. He wrote to me and made me a most generous offer for my pack of
cards. Naturally, I refused it, as money is no particular object to me,
but I could not put Mr. Heek off. Finally, I agreed to see him at my
temporary headquarters at Sevenoaks, and he came. And when he did come,
he told me his history. He even told me his proper name and all about
his family. I learnt for the first time that, originally, there were
three packs of those cards and that all the gold tracery on the backs of
them represented the history of the Pi family. From what I could gather,
Quong Pi was an exceedingly religious man, according to his lights. I
don't mean religious from our point of view, but from his. Ancestor
worship and all that sort of thing. He regarded it as his sacred duty to
get those cards back. He seemed to think that if he failed to do so he
would never join his ancestors in what is his celestial idea of heaven.
Now, that was all very well in its way, but it didn't induce me to part
with my pack, not even when he offered me 30,000 for it. He told me
that he knew where the second pack was and that his own was one card
short."

"On the night of his death?" Lyttleton asked.

"No, I am wrong," the witness said. "It was the first time I met him he
told me that."

"And when would that be?" Lyttleton asked. "Do you think you could fix
the exact date?"

The witness, on reflection, thought he could. Then he was sure. He gave
the date and Lyttleton smiled.

"Then on the first occasion, Sir Walter Vanguard was alive?" Lyttleton
remarked. "Will your lordships kindly note that fact? Now, Mr. Riff, did
Quong Pi happen to say which card was missing from his own special
pack?"

"Yes, he did. It was the Queen of Hearts."

At this there was a profound sensation in court. The witness looked
unconcernedly around him, for, apparently, he was not aware of the
significance of his statement.

"Now, Mr. Riff," Lyttleton went on. "I have almost finished with you. I
suppose you met Quong Pi's suggestion with a flat refusal. You would not
sell him your treasure."

"You bet I wouldn't," the witness smiled. "I regard his point of view
sheer superstition and told him so. Then he got very angry and I had,
practically, to turn him out of the house. I saw him get into his car
and that is all I know."

One of the three judges on the bench leant forward. "I understand, Mr.
Riff," he said, "that you have already given evidence before the coroner
who is inquiring into the death of this unfortunate Chinaman. That being
so, why did you not tell the coroner what you are telling us now?"

"Well, my lord, because I wasn't asked to, for one thing," the little
American smiled. "I was merely called upon as the last person, besides
the actual murderer or murderers, who saw my visitor alive. And it
didn't seem to me that this card business had anything to do with the
case."

The judges on the Bench asked no further questions and the witness was
allowed to stand down. Then, once more, Lyttleton took up his story.

"That, my lords," he said, "is practically my case. You may wish me to
address you at some length and if such is the case, I shall be happy to
do so. But I think I have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, that my
client is innocent. I have shown the court a real motive for the crime
on Quong Pi's part and the emotional forces that compelled him to commit
the crime for which my client is about to suffer."




CHAPTER XXVI.


The president raised his right hand.

"One minute, Mr. Lyttleton," he said. "At the moment I don't think we
need ask you to go any further. I need hardly say that all this
sensational evidence was utterly unexpected by my learned brothers and
myself. And I think I am speaking for them when I say that today's
proceedings have made a profound impression upon all of us. It seems to
me that at this point we might adjourn until tomorrow."

"Just as your lordships please," Lyttleton said. "But my unfortunate
client is naturally in a state of cruel suspense, and anything your
lordships like to say in his favour----"

Once more, the president interrupted the speaker.

"We hardly know what to say," he remarked. "There has never been a case
like this in the Court of Criminal Appeal before. There has been no
instance when the verdict of a judge and jury on a capital charge has
been reversed by the Court of Criminal Appeal. Such a thing has never
happened in the history of this bench. Of course, it was bound to occur
some day or another, but no one seems to have foreseen what would
transpire when we were called upon to squash a conviction."

"Then you are going to squash the conviction?" Lyttleton asked eagerly.

The president glanced across to his two grave companions and three heads
were nodded as one.

"It seems to me that we shall have no alternative," the president went
on. "Still, there is a lingering doubt. Have you no other witness to
call. Mr. Lyttleton?"

"Just one, if necessary, your lordships," Lyttleton said. "And that is
Mrs. Mary Merrell, who was acting as housekeeper to the man she knew as
Mortimer Heek."

A little woman in black entered the box.

"My name is Merrell," she said in answer to Lyttleton's question. "My
late employer let his flat for the season to Mr. Mortimer Heek and I
remained on as housekeeper. On the night of Sir Walter Vanguard's death
a gentleman came round to the flat and asked for Mr. Heek. Yes, I see
the gentleman in court. He gave the name of Vascombe. Just before he
went out again with Mr. Heek, the latter came to me and gave me certain
instructions. I was to call him up on the telephone at half-past 11 and
tell him that he was wanted on urgent business. And this I did before I
went to bed."

"That is my last piece of evidence," Lyttleton said, as the woman left
the box. "I think I have now satisfactorily explained the reason why the
card party broke up prematurely. My suggestion is that directly Heek
realised that he was going to the flat of his old enemy--and, moreover,
an enemy who held one of the packs of card so greatly coveted--he made
up his mind instantly, as to what he was going to do. He meant to steal
Sir Walter's pack that very night, or, at least, to steal the Queen of
Hearts that he wanted to complete his own. Hence the breaking up of the
party by that telephone call. But I need not elaborate the point because
I think I have already said enough and proved enough to set my client
free."

"It would seem so," the president said gravely. "But in the amazing
circumstances, I should like to have the opportunity of consulting with
my colleagues. We will adjourn till 10 o'clock tomorrow morning, but, be
that as it may, Mr. Lyttleton, we are of opinion that the conviction
must be squashed."

A sudden cheer brake out in court, and then the excited crowd poured out
into the street. Lyttleton found himself side by side with Ian Vascombe
and Parkhurst, all three of them talking excitedly together.

"What is the next move?" Parkhurst asked.

"Oh, well, I think you can leave that to the court," Lyttleton said. "It
is only a matter of a few hours before Gilchrist will find himself a
free man. Vascombe----"

But Vascombe had already vanished. His one idea for the moment was to
get back to the flat and tell Maudie what had happened. She had remained
behind at the earnest solicitation of her brother, and, as he burst into
the flat, she looked up swiftly and jumped to her feet.

"It is good news," she cried. "I can see it in your face."

"The very best," Ian said. "Within a few hours Tom will be free. The
judges as good as said so."

Then, for the first time since the trial began, Maudie broke down and
cried. It was some time before she had sufficiently recovered herself to
ask the obvious question. Then at length she smiled once more.

"It is rather a strange thing," she said. "But I had a visitor this
afternoon. You will never guess who it was. So I had better tell you.
Mona Catesby."

"What on earth did she want?"

"Well, she came out of sympathy. I wouldn't believe she could behave so
well. She apologised for the way she had treated me in the past and then
she told me that she was going to marry Lord Martinborough. Of course,
he is poor and she is rich, but she seems to be happy enough about it.
What she told me was this--if Tom got off and she felt quite sure he
would--he could have the old house back again at a price, because she
was going to concentrate on her husband's old castle and had no
intention of keeping up two establishments. So if things go as you say
they are going, then that poor old man's wish will be gratified after
all, because, you see, Tom will have all Sir Walter's money, which
sounds rather like a fairy tale, though it is true enough. But, oh, Ian,
what a ghastly business it has all been. And partly my own fault. I
believe if I had gone to Sir Walter myself months ago and told him that
I loved Tom, instead of behaving so prudently, the old gentleman would
have come round sooner or later. Oh, Ian, I am so tired. I feel as if I
want to go to bed and sleep for a month. Sleep, why I have almost
forgotten what it is like. And even when I have dozed off I have always
wakened again with a start. Still, the mere idea of seeing Tom
again----"

Maudie broke off and said no more, for indeed, at the moment, there was
nothing left to say.

It was the best part of a week later before Tom Gilchrist passed through
the prison gates a free man once more. It was not for him to know that
during the past week the papers had been full of his case and that, on
all sides he was believed to be absolutely innocent of the crime which
had nearly cost him his life. He walked out into the sunshine of a July
morning, rather dazed with the brightness of the world and hardly
knowing what to do next. He had not gone many yards before he felt a
hand on his shoulder and turned to find the beaming face of Ian Vascombe
regarding him with every sign of satisfaction.

"Well, old man," he said quite casually. "Here we are at the end of your
adventure at last. By Jove, it has been a time, hasn't it? Where are you
going?"

"I don't quite know," Gilchrist said vaguely.

"I do," Ian said decisively. "I have got a taxi waiting for me down the
road and I am going to take you straight back to our flat. There is
somebody waiting there to see you."

"Maudie," Tom said huskily. "What does she think----?"

"Oh, dash it all, old chap, you know perfectly well what she thinks. And
so does everybody else, for that matter. The papers are full of it. I
have not met a single man or woman who does not regard you as anything
but an ill-used individual. You will be welcomed with open arms by all
the world and his wife. And that is not the end of it. What do you think
of Mona Catesby calling upon Maudie and mingling tears with her? Fact, I
assure you. Abject apologies and all that sort of thing. It appears that
Mona is going to marry into the poorer aristocracy and devote all her
fortune to rebuilding the ancient castle of the man she is going to wed.
So, if you want to buy the old property back again, she says you can
have it. Of course, you can do that now you have come into Sir Walter's
money, which means that the dream of his life will be accomplished.
Funny, isn't it, how everything goes right once things are straightened
out? But come along and see Maudie."

"How is the dear girl?" Tom asked.

"Oh, splendid," Ian said. "You never saw such a change to a girl in your
life. She looked about a thousand years old a week ago and now she is
prettier than ever. And blaming herself, my dear boy, for what has
happened."

"Blaming herself?" Tom cried.

"Oh, well, you know what women are. Ah, here we are. No, I am not coming
in. I know when I am not wanted. Now, you just have it out with Maudie,
and meet me in the Carlton Grill at 1 o'clock for lunch. You've got to
face the world sooner or later, and that is why I want you to start
without delay. And it's going to be some lunch, I promise you."

With that, Ian vanished and Tom went up the stairs to the flat where he
knew that Maudie was awaiting him. She opened the door to him herself
and with a little cry of pleasure and delight, flung herself into his
arms.

Then he led her gently into the sitting room and for the next hour or
two the world was entirely forgotten.

"How you must have suffered," Maudie murmured.

"Not more than you did, I am sure," Tom said. "Don't let us talk about
it any more. I want to forget it. I want the open air and the sunshine
and the sense of freedom. Which reminds me, Ian wants us to lunch with
him at the Carlton at 1 o'clock. It will be a bit of an ordeal, but it
has to be faced. Of course, if you don't want to go I am quite
content----"

Maudie faced her lover proudly.

"But I do want to go,", she said. "I want everybody to see how happy we
both are and how happy we deserve to be. Why, look at the clock, it's
nearly 1 now!"



THE END.



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