DefectiveByDesign.org Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

 

Title: The Poisoned Goblet
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201811h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2012
Date most recently updated: May 2012

Produced by: Walter Moore

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE


The Poisoned Goblet

by

Arthur Gask



Published in The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld.) commencing Friday 5 April 1935.

Also published in:

----The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. commencing 14 December, 1934,

----The Advicate, Burnie, Tas. commencing 17 February, 1939, and

----In book form by Herbert Jenkins, London in 1935.


DETECTIVE FICTION

To readers of detective stories, the publication of a new Gilbert Larose story is always something of an event. When Arthur Gask created Larose he created a character who was destined to become of the most popular in detective fiction.

Larose has figured in a number of successful stories but in none so successful as The Poisoned Goblet, which tells of the efforts of a gang of men to kidnap the child of Lady Ardane. Larose takes a hand and immediately finds himself faced with one of the most puzzling and certainly one of the most hazardous cases of his career.


CONTENTS:



CHAPTER I.—THE WARNING
CHAPTER II.—LAROSE DRAWS FIRST BLOOD
CHAPTER III.—THE SHADOW OVER THE ABBEY
CHAPTER IV.—IN THE HOURS OF THE NIGHT
CHAPTER V.—LAROSE UNMASKED
CHAPTER VI.—THE HOUSE ON THE MARSH
CHAPTER VII.—THE WHITE POWDER
CHAPTER VIII.—IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH
CHAPTER IX.—THE RAID UPON THE ABBEY
CHAPTER X.—THE HOUNDS UPON THE TRAIL
CHAPTER XI.—THE ART OF LAROSE
CHAPTER XII.—THE DARK FENS
CHAPTER XIII.—THE CRACK OF THE RIFLE
CHAPTER XIV.—HELEN ARDANE


CHAPTER I.—THE WARNING

"We may say what we will, Mr. Larose," remarked the thin scholarly looking man in a rather regretful tone, "but evil in a jeweled setting is less repugnant to the human mind, than when met with in sordid surroundings, and crime among the well-to-do is more intriguing than breaches of the law among the lower classes."

"That is quite true, Mr. Jones," replied the smiling young man opposite to him. "Wrong doing amongst educated and refined people seems always to have more element of adventure behind it"—he smiled—"and certainly the smells of Mayfair are much to be preferred to those of Bethnal Green."

The two were closeted one morning in the private room of Gilbert Larose, in Scotland Yard, and as usual the great investigator, Naughton Jones, was laying down the law with his accustomed gusto.

"But I am sorry to note from the reports in the Press, Mr. Larose," he went on frowningly, "that your energies of late seem to have been almost entirely confined to the East End; to Shoreditch, Wapping, Limehouse and other unpleasant places."

"Well, I have to go where I am sent," laughed Larose, "and I can't pick and choose like you can, now can I?"

"No, no, of course you can't," agreed Jones at once. A thought seemed to strike him suddenly, and he regarded the detective with cold and reproving eyes. "By-the-bye, although I saw you got the Limehouse murderer in the end, still I think you were hardly up to your usual form in that case."

"No!" exclaimed Larose, rather surprised, "but I had him in the cells within four days!"

Jones raised one long forefinger solemnly. "But it would have saved you a lot of trouble if, when you had been brought to the scene of the crime, you had at once realised the significance of two things. The first—that according to the medical evidence, the knife with which he had stabbed the woman and cut her throat must have been of small size and as keen as a razor, and the second—that the two disreputable old boots he left behind him were odd ones and of differing sizes." He shrugged his shoulders. "These two facts, taken together, immediately suggested to me, as you discovered later, that the murderer was a boot repairer by trade, for there was the sharp knife of a man whose occupation included the trimming of leather, and there were the odd boots that had been left behind with him upon his informing their owners that the fellows to them were beyond repair." He regarded Larose with the frown of a schoolmaster reproving a pupil. "Where now, pray, would you be likely to find nearly worn-out odd boots of differing sizes—except among the discards in a boot repairer's shop? It is so very simple."

The detective flushed slightly, "It certainly does seem so now," he remarked slowly, "after you have pointed it out. Still—"

"Not that I have not always a great admiration for talents," broke in Jones quickly, "or indeed I should not be here." He smiled coldly. "I suppose that with my well-known aversion to any association with the regular police, except for the purely mechanical part of effecting the arrest when I have myself run the criminal to earth, you are wondering why I have come here at all."

"Yes," replied Larose, "for I know you are always busy and never given to wasting any time."

"Exactly," said Jones with a sigh, "and it is on that account that I am here now." He passed his hand over his forehead, "I have been overdoing it and my medical adviser, Sir Bumble Brown, insists that I go into a nursing home for rest and treatment. I am a nervous wreck."

"Oh! I am so sorry," exclaimed Larose with great sympathy, "for you will be missed by such a lot of people."

"Yes," nodded Jones significantly, "and it is in the interest of one of them that I have come to you now." He drew his chair up close to the detective and lowered his voice significantly. "I am in the middle of an important case and have to drop it, because, as I have told you, of my health, and as you are going to be sent in my place, I am wanting to put you wise to a few things so that you may commence your investigations under the most advantageous conditions possible."

"I—going to be sent in your place!" exclaimed Larose, looking very surprised.

"Yes," replied Jones. "I have arranged it."

The detective laughed quietly. "Then you must have great influence, Mr. Jones, to be able to dictate to the Chief Commissioner what he is to do. I often find him hard to manage."

"It is not I who really have the influence," frowned Jones, "but a pretty society woman. It is she who has pulled the strings; but now listen, and I'll explain everything."

He took a map and some papers from his pocket and laid them before him upon the desk.

"Now, of course, you have heard of Lady Helen Ardane," he began, and when Larose shook his head, he snapped, "Well, you ought to have heard, for she is one of our best-known society hostesses." He went on. "She is the widow of the late baronet, Sir Charles Ardane, the big whisky distiller, and lives at Carmel Abbey, in the north-west corner of Norfolk. She has one child, whom she idolises, a boy of four, the present baronet. She is an American by birth, and at the age of nineteen was married by her parents to the late Sir Charles, a man well over fifty. She is a very wealthy woman."

"How old is she now?" asked Larose.

"About twenty-seven," replied Jones, "and, like your Commissioner, difficult to manage, for she has been spoilt and pampered all her life, and has red hair." He paused a minute here as if to collect his thoughts and then went on quickly. "Well, three weeks ago she received an anonymous letter, warning her that the child was going to be kidnapped, and bidding her look out."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose, smiling, "she herself an American and her child going to be kidnapped. Really, it would make her feel quite at home with us!"

"She took no notice of the letter," continued Jones, ignoring the interruption, "for in the security of this country, she believed it to be only one of those cranky communications that people of means are always receiving, but a week after its receipt she got a terrible shock, for, but for an almost miraculous happening, her child would have undoubtedly been seized and taken away."

"An attempt was actually made then?" asked Larose.

"No," said Jones, "an attempt was not actually made, but it was within an ace of being made and carried to a successful issue, too. Not only that, but from what did happen, the very disquieting fact emerged that the would-be kidnappers were undoubtedly in possession of inside information as to what exactly were going to be the child's movements upon that particular day, and that therefore there was a confederate helping them, some where among the inmates of the Abbey."

He went on. "Now what took place is this, and please listen carefully. On the Tuesday night Lady Ardane arranged with her head nurse, a woman, by-the-bye, of unimpeachable character that if the weather continued fine and mild the child should so on the morrow to play on the Brancaster sands, about three miles away. Her ladyship would be prevented from accompanying them on account of her social duties, but a little party was to be made up, consisting of the housekeeper, the two nurses and an elderly chauffeur, and they were to leave after an early lunch, in one of the Abbey cars. Well, the Wednesday turning out to be a beautiful day, everything was carried out as arranged, and by a quarter to two they had arrived by the sea shore and the car was parked upon the sands. Then the women and the child went in for a paddle, while the chauffeur, taking himself off about 250 yards, lay down among the short grass upon one of the sandhills and proceeded to amuse himself with a small telescope that he had brought with him. I must mention here that Brancaster Bay is a very lonely spot. There are no habitations anywhere near, and except when rifle practice is going on at the butts at the far end, there is hardly ever anyone to be seen there."

"I've got a good idea where it is," said Larose. "I motored round that coast last year, and it's about five miles from Hunstanton."

Jones nodded. "Yes, just over five miles. Well, the chauffeur says he was almost dropping off to sleep, when a car, driven at a good pace, appeared upon the narrow road, and pulled up behind one of the sandhills, about a quarter of a mile from where he was lying. He saw four men then get out and was at once interested in them, because their actions were so peculiar. With bent backs and every appearance of not wishing to be seen, they crept up the sandhill nearest to them, and then lay down among the sand-grass just as he was doing. One of them then produced a pair of binoculars and it was evident at once that they were particularly interested in the little party from the Abbey, who were paddling on the sands. The chauffeur began to wonder what the deuce was up."

Naughton Jones broke off here and asked the detective if there were any objection to his smoking. He smiled dryly as he took the cigarette that the detective at once offered him. "I know the red-tape in these places," he remarked, "and I don't want to run counter to any of their absurd regulations."

He went on. "Now let me see. Ah! I had got to the point when the chauffeur was watching those four men. Well, nothing happened for about a quarter of an hour. The men just watched the paddlers and he watched them. Then suddenly it became apparent to him that the man with the binoculars had all at once become very excited and was pointing out to the others something at sea. So he put up his little telescope and scanned the horizon too, and was at once rewarded by the sight of a small motor yacht cleaving swiftly through the waters and leaving behind it a broad wake of foam. Its progress shorewards was very rapid, and barely five minutes could have elapsed since it was first seen, so the chauffeur estimates, when it slowed down, turned sharply at right angles and dropped anchor, less than a hundred yards from the sands.

"The four men then immediately jumped up from where they had been lying and spreading themselves out as they ran, proceeded to race down the sandhills in the direction of the all unconscious little party from the Abbey.

"The chauffeur says that instantly then a feeling of dire consternation took possession of him, for as one who has lived the greater part of his life in America and is conversant with the customs of that great country, it came to him in a flash what was about to happen.

"The little baronet was going to be kidnapped." Naughton Jones paused here and smiled at the expression of absorbed attention upon the detective's face.

"Looked pretty hopeless unless a miracle happened, didn't it?" he remarked. "At least six men, and probably all of them armed, against a defenseless elderly chauffeur!"

"Great Scott! it did look hopeless," exclaimed Larose. "Hopeless to the world!"

Jones nodded. "But the miracle did happen." he went on, "for just as the chauffeur was running down on to the sands to put up what resistance he could, the roar of motor engines was again heard among the sandhills, and two motor charabancs came tearing up, with their passengers, about fifty or sixty strapping young fellows, all carrying rifles. It appears it was the afternoon of the yearly match between the rifle clubs of Holt and Hunstanton, and they were going to shoot it off as usual at the butts on Brancaster Sands.

"The charabancs stopped and the riflemen sprang down. Then the chauffeur ran up to them, and waving his hand in the direction of the nurses and the four men shouted 'Load up, boys, and go to the rescue of those girls down there. Quick!'

"The young fellows thought it was a joke, but entering into the spirit of the fun, they snapped at their magazines and ran down on to the sands. The four men stopped and looked round in amazement, and the chauffeur swears he saw two of them produce pistols, but perceiving the crowd of armed youths swooping down upon them, after quick signs to one another, they turned upon their heels and sauntered back to their car. The two rowers in the boat, also taking in what was happening, pulled round and rowed back to the yacht."

The great investigator leant back in his chair. "It was all over in three minutes, and in six the men had disappeared in their car and the motor yacht was heading back to sea." He rubbed his hands together. "Quite a little epic in its way."

"Very dramatic, Mr. Jones," said the detective, "and you told it very nicely, too. Really, you are a born teller of stories!" He frowned. "But it doesn't end there! Surely, they made some attempt to arrest the men?"

"What for?" asked Jones blandly. "There was no evidence about anything against them, for the nurses hadn't even set eyes upon them until all the danger was passed. They had been too occupied in watching the motor yacht and thinking how pretty it looked with its wake of foam." He frowned now in his turn. "No, that's the trouble. There was not a shred of evidence against anyone, and the only suspicion"—he nodded solemnly—"what the chauffeur saw."

"Well, what happened next?" asked Larose.

"The chauffeur very rightly insisted upon returning at once to the Abbey, and as a precaution went back in a roundabout way and took two of the armed riflemen along with him."

"And that's all," asked Larose, because Jones had stopped speaking, "that finishes everything!"

"That begins everything," replied Jones testily, "for that same night I was called down." He tapped impatiently upon the desk. "Yes, sir, her ladyship is no sluggard, and awakening from her dreams of fancied security, and realising that trans-Atlantic methods were being brought over here, with no hesitation she proceeded to form her own bodyguard and to obtain the best services that she could." His voice hardened. "And she is neglecting no precautions, I can assure you, for she knows the ghastly toll of little lives that has been taken in her own country. She remembers the dead body of the Lindberg baby and has no intention that her child shall be put under the ground in the same way." He nodded solemnly again. "So, today, Carmel Abbey is an armed camp."

"But why does she not leave the Abbey for a few months?" asked Larose sharply, "for so near to that lonely stretch of coast, she must see there is always the possibility of being raided from the sea."

Naughton Jones smiled disdainfully. "You don't know Lady Helen Ardane yet, but when you have had speech with her you will not repeat the question. She is a woman of spirit with that red head of hers, and not only is she refusing to leave Carmel Abbey but she is carrying on her social duties as if nothing had happened, and she has even made no alterations for the house party that will begin assembling tomorrow for the opening of the pheasant shooting on the first, although she has been warned by a second letter that among her guests," his voice hardened sternly, "will be another traitor in league with the kidnappers."

"Then with a confederate inside the Abbey, as you say," commented Larose, "the kidnappers must be quite aware that she is being warned and therefore I cannot understand how—"

"They are not quite aware," interrupted Jones sharply, "and that is the only pull we have over them. They have heard nothing of either letter, for Lady Ardane's widowhood has developed considerable powers of self-reliance in her, and she has not taken every one into her confidence."

"She has told no one!" exclaimed Larose, very surprised.

"Only her father, Senator Harvey, who is upon a visit to her," replied Jones, "and not even her aunt who lives with her. The first letter she immediately threw into the fire, not considering it worth mentioning to anybody. Then when the affair upon the sands took place, she grasped instantly the supreme importance of not letting it be known that she had a friend in the enemy's camp and she held her tongue." He nodded emphatically. "Yes, we are fortunate there."

"Then the kidnappers, not being aware that she had any warning," said Larose, "cannot be positive that it is definitely realised what was intended to happen that afternoon upon the sands."

"Well, they must be very dull witted," scoffed Jones, "if they did not at once become positive of that fact when they saw the precautions that were taken at the Abbey immediately afterwards." He thumped upon the desk. "Not positive! Why man, they knew I had been called in, and I was shot at upon the third day, following upon my arrival, the very first time that I set foot outside the Abbey walls, and then the day before yesterday a second attempt was made upon my life by a wretch endeavoring to run me down in a big car. I was upon my bicycle and just outside the castle grounds. Also the two Alsatian hounds that upon my suggestion were procured to keep guard outside the Abbey, were promptly poisoned before they had been on the place for even four and twenty hours." He laughed sardonically. "You take it, it is not a picnic that I am sending you down to, and they may be playing the 'Dead March' over you in much less than a week." He spoke carelessly. "Her ladyship is most generous and is certain to pay for a choral service."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Larose at once looking very pleased, "then I see I shall relish the whole business, for I am sick of going after people who commit only one crime, and then hide away like rabbits until I dig them out." He nodded. "I admire this red-haired woman of yours for sticking to her guns."

"It is the only thing she can do." said Jones with a shrug, "unless she prefers to go on being haunted every day of her life." He looked very stern. "She must carry on the fight to a finish now, and not only must she break up the kidnapping gang, but she must unmask, too, the traitors in her own household and among her own friends." He put his finger to his lips. "Ah! that's the trouble, for as I tell you, she can make no move in any direction to protect the child, without its becoming known at once to the people who are after him. We have definite proof that they leave instantly, and I cannot, for the life of me, find out how it is done." He appeared very disturbed. "Just as they got to know that the child was going on the morrow to the Brancaster sands, so they got to know that I was in the Abbey, and so"—he threw out his hands—"I have no doubt they will know who you are the very moment you arrive."

"You have been staying there a fortnight, then, Mr. Jones?" said the detective thoughtfully.

"A fortnight to-day," growled the great man, "and I have never spent two more unprofitable weeks in my life." He spoke sharply. "You know my reputation and my methods, Mr. Larose, and if I tell you I have discovered nothing, then you will realise that the secret is well hidden."

He spread out the map upon the table. "But now for chapter and verse, for I am going into a nursing home tonight, and have a lot of things to arrange. See, this is Burnham Norton and there is the Abbey, and as you have remarked, their comparatively isolated position leaves them open to attack. Well, the affair upon the sands took place on the afternoon of Wednesday, and at 11.30 that night Lady Ardane rang me up. She impressed upon me the extreme urgency of the matter, but I was not able to go at once, for I had an appointment with a Cabinet Minister at midnight. Still, at 8.30 the next morning I was breakfasting in the Abbey."

He sighed heavily. "And I at once found I had a most difficult task before me. For the moment I was not concerned so much with the kidnappers outside, realising that the vital thing was to discover at once who was the confederate inside the Abbey. That was what was terrifying Lady Ardane, and I agreed with her that there must be a confederate." He nodded emphatically. "You, too, can be perfectly assured on that point, and you can be assured also that whoever he or she may be, or perhaps there are two or three of them there, they are not only able to learn all that is going on inside the Abbey, but, as I tell you, they are in a position to pass on that information in the most expeditious manner possible to those who are waiting to operate outside."

"But why are you so certain there?" asked Larose.

"Firstly," replied Jones, "because the fact that the child was going to the Brancaster Sands on the Wednesday was not mentioned or even thought of until the Tuesday evening about half-past six when he was bidding goodnight to his mother, and yet by two o'clock on the following afternoon the kidnappers had been able to perfect most elaborate arrangements for abducting him there. Not only were some of them gathered in readiness among the sandhills to prevent all chances of the Abbey party getting back to their car, but others were approaching from far out to sea in a motor yacht which must have been waiting a long way away, because neither before nor after can we light upon any traces of it anywhere along the coast. Everything, then, pointed to preparations that could not possibly have been carried out on the spur of the moment."

"Go on," said Larose, because Jones had stopped speaking.

"Secondly," said Jones, "because the third night after I arrived, I happened to mention at dinner that I had thoughts of cycling into Wells to obtain a favorite tobacco, and Lady Ardane suggested that if I wanted to extend my excursion for exercise, I should proceed there by way of Overy Marshes and return through Holkhum Park. I did so." He spoke very slowly. "Well, with no resource to the telephone, plans were made instantly by someone to waylay me, for I was fired upon, both going and returning, which proves conclusively that within a few minutes of my decision, the miscreants had been informed in which particular directions I should be proceeding upon both parts of my journey."

"But perhaps you were followed from the moment you left the Abbey," suggested Larose.

"Impossible!" exclaimed Jones sharply, "for it was bright moonlight and I was keeping far too good a look out. No, I was ambushed both times, and from the crack of the rifles—I am an old rifleman myself—I was fired at with two different rifles. On the marshes an old Mauser was used, but in the park I don't know what was fired."

"Anything else?" asked Larose.

"Yes, a third happening," replied Jones, "and it is in every way as significant as the other two. To hark back to the morning following the attempt at Brancaster Sands, Lady Ardane had requisitioned five young fellows of the Hunstanton Rifle Club to come and stay at the Abbey as a temporary bodyguard, and it was arranged they should be picked up at The Drake Hotel in Hunstanton at 3 o'clock. She sent a car from the Abbey to fetch them, and until they were all ready it was run into the hotel yard. Then, when a quarter of an hour later it was proceeding at a good pace along the Burnham Norton road, one of the front wheels came off and a terrible accident was narrowly averted. It was then found that the hub caps of all the wheels had been unscrewed and the safety pins pulled out." He shook his head gloomily. "There could not be more conclusive evidence that there is a confederate inside the Abbey, for someone had at once passed on the information that these men were coming out."

He handed a sheaf of papers to the detective. "Now, here are some notes that I have made and they should save you a lot of trouble. They include the life histories of the twenty-six employees at the Abbey, and impressions I have formed of the temperaments and characters, also my opinion of the friends of Lady Ardane who were staying with her when I arrived and are still there now."

He shook his head disgustedly. "Really, I have never fished in more empty waters, for none of these men or women appear likely to be taking any part against Lady Ardane. She is most popular with everyone and the child, too. It is true that few of the servants have a record of long service behind them, but they are a foolish lot, and I can pick out no one among them who seems in any way competent enough to be assisting in a conspiracy such as this. And the same with these friends of hers now at the Abbey, including some very uninteresting and shallow society women." He shrugged his shoulders. "At any rate, I gave the women the 'once-over' and then dismissed them at once from my calculations." He smiled sarcastically. "But perhaps you may be more successful there than I have been. I am no ladies man."

"Well, what exactly am I being sent down for?" asked Larose.

"Mainly to determine who are the confederates inside the Abbey and through them get a line as to where the gang are, outside, and incidentally, help keep an eye upon the child and make sure nothing happens to him."

"And those letters that Lady Ardane received?" asked Larose. "What about them?"

"Both in the same disguised hand-writing and very short. The first, as far as her ladyship remembers, 'Look out or your child will be taken from you, but on no account let it be known that you have been warned or I shall suffer,' and the second, received only yesterday, 'Be on your guard more than ever now, for among your shooting party will be another who is your enemy and the luck may not be with you this time.' Both posted in Norwich."

"And she has asked for no police protection?" frowned Larose.

Naughton Jones shook his head. "What would have been the good of it? She could not have the police hanging about indefinitely, and besides, Mr. Larose"—he looked very stern and uncompromising—"her ladyship is, as I have told you, an American, and she has a profound distrust of all police officials, indeed, it was with some difficulty that I persuaded her to ask for your services. She was very much against it at first."

A short silence followed and then Larose said slowly. "And you really must throw up the case, Mr. Jones?"

"Yes," replied Jones curtly. "I must"

"But you and I together," began the detective, "we——"

Jones turned away his eyes. "I must throw it up," he repeated. "There is no help for it."

"But I should have thought," persisted Larose, "that at such a critical stage——"

Jones turned on him angrily. "I don't want to leave it," he said quickly. "Don't you understand that, and don't you understand also, what two weeks of complete failure mean to a man of my temperament? Do you think I am not sorry, too, for that poor woman eating out her heart, and night and day expecting some dreadful blow to fall?" His voice dropped suddenly to gentler tones. "I am doing the best I can for her and in advising her to ask for your services I am thereby going against all the prejudices of my life." He frowned scornfully. "Must I again refer to my estimation of the official police, and must I ask you to realise how humiliating it is for me to come here this morning? Please, please Mr. Larose, stress no more upon my enforced departure. It is unavoidable."

"All right, Mr. Jones," said Larose quickly. "I will not refer to it again." He glanced down at the papers on the desk. "So I am to appear there as a guest, am I?"

Naughton Jones smiled a disdainful smile. "You may appear to some people there as a guest, but if I have any grasp of the situation at Abbey, to those with whom we are most concerned your true identity will become known at once."

He pointed to the papers before them on the desk. "You will find all your instructions there. Yes, you are to go down as a friend of her cousin Paris Lestrange, the K.C., and you are to call upon this gentleman straight away at his chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields, so that you will not be entirely unknown to each other when you meet at the Abbey. I have just come from him and made an appointment for you at 12.30." He looked rather annoyed. "We had to take him into our confidence because it would have seemed strange for Lady Ardane to have invited a man of your age—as her friend."

"What sort of a man is he?" asked Larose.

Naughton Jones pursed up his lips. "Oh! quite reliable and all that, but personally, one I do not particularly care for." He frowned as if at some unpleasant memory. "I crossed swords with him last year at the Leeds Assizes when he was defending the forger, Stringer Blake, and although he was most rude and discourteous to me when in the witness box, it is generally conceded he did not come too well out of the encounter. At any rate my evidence turned the scale and friend Stringer was sent down for seven years."

"Ah! I remember now!" exclaimed Larose. "I've seen this Lestrange in the Courts. Between thirty-five and forty, dark and rather good-looking. He goes in for racing and owns a few horses himself."

Jones nodded. "Yes, that's the fellow, and if the report speaks true he's anxious to hang up his hat at the Abbey. Admiral Charters, one of the visitors up there, told me last week that he'd proposed many times to Lady Ardane and everyone knew it." The great investigator smiled acidly. "A very presumptuous and conceited man!"

"And I am to go and see him now," asked Larose, "directly I have received that order that you told me I am about to have from the Chief."

"Yes," nodded Jones, "I have just come from Lincoln Inn Fields, and have arranged the appointment for you." He looked amused. "I might mention he did not seem over-pleased."

Larose looked amused. "What displeased him?" he asked. "Association with a policeman?" He laughed. "I suppose he thinks I'll be disgracing him by putting my knife into my mouth! Really——"

But the telephone tinkled and he cut short what he was going to say. He lifted the receiver and then making the reply, "Very good, sir, I'll come at once," replaced it and rose quickly to his feet.

"It's the Chief, Mr. Jones," he explained. "Just wait a minute or two, will you. He says very little, and I don't suppose he'll keep me long," and then, receiving a nod of acquiescence, he left the room.

With the closing of the door, the gloomy look dropped at once from the face of the great investigator, and taking a highly-colored pink newspaper out of his pocket, he began to scan down its columns with all appearance of great interest.

"Hum! hum!" he remarked, "a very tricky programme with the winners well concealed, and if anyone's not careful, he'll be brought home a cot case this afternoon. Ho! ho!" he went on, "but 'Track-Watcher' is all at sea in these selections and that nap for the 3.30 is indicative of very poor judgement, to my mind." He shook his head emphatically. "'Wet Kisses' will never act in the heavy going, and 'The Bishop' will come right away from her as he turns for home." He snorted contemptuously. "Then, of course, 'Maid of Orleans' will be too strong for 'The Parson's Nose,' and 'Sweet Seventeen' will beat the 'The Unwanted Babe' every time."

His contempt became accentuated as he read on. "Numbskull! Fool! Imbecile!" he ejaculated. "So, his best bets of the day are 'Slippery Dick' and 'Dirty Dog!' Why, 'Slippery Dick' will never get round those turns and 'Dirty Dog' just hates the mud!" He almost gasped. "Great Scot! the man must have been intoxicated when he picked those out and——" But he heard someone outside, and in a lightning movement the pink paper was back in his pocket.

The door opened, and Larose returned to the room. "Yes, it's all right," he announced cheerfully. "I'm to go and I'll be starting in less than half an hour." He reseated himself at the desk and went on in sharp and business-like tones. "And now, please Mr. Jones, just tell me who at the Abbey, besides Lady Ardane, know that I am coming down?"

"No one, not a soul," replied Jones emphatically, "and there, at any rate for the time being, we are quite safe. We only decided upon everything this morning, and our conversation took place outdoors, in whispers, and in a part of the garden where we could not possibly be overheard."

"Good," exclaimed Larose, "then I'll get you to give me an introduction to her ladyship at once."

"There's a letter among the papers there, and you'll present it to her when you arrive."

"But that's not the sort of introduction I mean," said Larose. "I want you to introduce me over the phone, so that she'll be able to recognise my voice, and I want to say something particular to her, as well. What's her number?"

Jones gave it with a frown and then sat with a very bored expression on his face until the call was put through.

"Just say that you want to introduce a friend to her," whispered Larose quickly, when Jones was holding the receiver to his ear. "Don't on any account mention my name."

Jones flashed him a look of withering scorn, and began to speak into the mouthpiece. "Yes—yes—a most pleasant journey, thank you... Certainly, everything is all right... No thanks at all. I knew I could manage it... Now, I have a friend here and——"

But Larose had deftly plucked the receiver from his hand, and with a smile of apology to the amazed Jones, he at once took up the conversation.

"It is the friend speaking... Good afternoon... I'm sure it's very kind of you to ask me down for the shooting, although kangaroos are more in my line than pheasants... Still, I have shot more than kangaroos in my time, and as I'm quite handy with my gun, I may be a welcome acquisition to your house-party. I'm starting almost at once, but I want to speak to you to-night, right away from where you are now... You understand?... Yes, I want to have a chat with you before I arrive... Let me see. Now it's exactly 12 o'clock... Certainly, it is absolutely necessary, and not a soul must know, until the last moment, that you are motoring anywhere... Well, say the Royal Hotel, then... In the lounge at ten minutes to six... Yes, I must see you. All right then, you'll be there at ten minutes to six and please don't be late... Oh! I shall recognise you, and I'll come up and speak to you... Oh! one thing more. Please bring a plan of your place, if you have one. No, that's all. Good morning."

He hung up the receiver and turned to Naughton Jones. "Well, that's all right," he smiled, "and now, I shall start off with a clean sheet."

"But you're giving her a journey of thirty-five miles each way," frowned Jones reprovingly, "and you won't always find her so complaisant. She has a strong will, and ideas of her own."

"Then it will be a pleasure to work with her," commented Larose.

They talked on for a few minutes, and then Jones got up to take his leave. "Now, you go very carefully through those notes," he said, "and I hope you'll do credit to my recommendation."

"I hope so, too, Mr. Jones," smiled Larose. "At any rate, I'll do my very best."

"You've improved a lot in appearance lately, I notice." went on Jones with great condescension. "Your face has filled out and shows a lot more character." He nodded. "Some women might almost call you handsome."

"Thank you, Mr. Jones," said Larose, with an appearance of great humility, "I'm sure it's very good of you to say so."

"Well, you be most careful," nodded Jones, "for you may be all that stands now between that poor woman and a dreadful tragedy." He shook his head gloomily. "This morning before I came here, I was scanning through my book of newspaper cuttings dealing with scores and scores of kidnapping cases in America, and although I have been quite aware of the fact for a long time, still I realised more than ever, that the mentality of the kidnapper is as debased as that of any type of criminal in the world, and that he is crueller and more merciless than any jungle beast of prey."

"I'll be careful," replied Larose reassuringly, "and I promise you I'll not be fighting in kid-gloves, either."

"And you remember for your own sake," were final words of Naughton Jones, "that you will not be the only one with a secret at the Abbey, or the only one who will be masked night and day." His voice vibrated in its earnestness. "Among those smiling men and women will be another guest who will be masked, too, and he will be close near you every hour. He will be at your elbow as you sit at meals, he will stalk behind you as you pass from room to room, and he will stand by your pillow, as you toss and stir in your troubled dreams. Yes, and he will be waiting for you to make just one mistake. Just one little mistake, Mr. Larose, and then his mask will drop off, and you will see in your last waning consciousness, that all along your shadow has been death. You understand! Good-bye."

"Whew!" whistled the detective when he was again alone, "and after that I think I'll have a cigarette." He helped himself to one out of a well filled box upon his desk and then added with a grin. "Really it's a pity perhaps, that I bought so many, for I may not want them all."

A quarter of an hour later he was being ushered into a beautifully furnished room which formed part of the chambers of the rising King's Counsel, Paris Lestrange.

The barrister was seated before a large table upon which was heaped in orderly disarray a number of papers, tied together with countless pieces of the usual red tape.

He was dark and handsome, with a long intellectual face and deep-set, penetrating eyes. His hair was as beautifully brushed as if he had just come out of the barber's chair. He was immaculately dressed and his expression was proud and rather disdainful.

He rose and inclined his head ever so slightly when the visitor was announced, and then, making no effort to shake hands, sank back into his chair and assumed a very bored expression.

"This is an unfortunate business," he began in a deep voice, "but of course you have been coached in the part you are to play?"

Larose nodded. "Mr. Naughton Jones has just been with me," he replied. "I am to go down as a supposed friend of yours."

"Yes," said the K.C., dwelling slightly upon the adjective, "as a supposed friend." He eyed the detective critically and asked in a haughty tone:—

"Then have you had any experience of the usages of Society, Mr. Larose?"

"Oh! yes, all except the divorce parts," replied Larose, annoyed at his unfriendly manner and willfully misunderstanding the question. "Over here and in Australia I've been in the Criminal Investigation Department for more than ten years."

The K.C. stared hard as if uncertain how quite to take the reply. "But that is not what I mean," he said quickly. He frowned as if rather worried. "Do you think, Mr. Larose, that you will be able to pass as one accustomed to associate with the class of people you will meet at Carmel Abbey?"

The rudeness of the question was patent, but the detective repressed the anger that he felt, and continued in his previous vein. "Yes, that will be quite all right," he said meekly, "for only a few months back I served as a footman in the household of the Duke of Blair when it was thought an attempt was about to be made upon the family jewels, and no one but his Grace ever became aware who I was. I picked up quite a lot of wrinkles then." He smiled cheerfully. "I play a good hand of bridge, I am something of a judge of wine, and from overhearing many conversations, I know exactly what kind of stories are considered good form to tell to the ladies." There was just the faintest trace of amusement in his voice. "You need not be afraid that I shall let you down."

Lestrange continued to frown, but now went off upon another track.

"Of course" he said, "at Lady Ardane's request I have agreed, as Mr. Jones puts it, to sponsor you as my friend, but at the same time, I am by no means convinced that there is any need at all for your services. The evidence as to any intended kidnapping is in my opinion, most lamentably weak. The imagination of an excitable chauffeur, the forgetfulness of some motor mechanic when replacing those car wheels,"—he drummed upon the table with his fingers—"and the entirely unsupported conjectures of Mr. Naughton Jones!"

"But Mr. Jones says he was actually fired upon," said Larose.

"Yes, yes, of course," commented the barrister. "Still, Mr. Jones is always positive that he is the centre of every happening that occurs. I have had some experience with him in court." He looked sharply at the detective. "But, never mind that. The question is, if you are supposed to be my friend, where did I meet you?" He screwed up his face as if he were partaking of a dose of particularly unpleasant medicine. "What have we in common?"

The detective pointed smilingly to a gold cigarette case upon the table. "Smoking," he exclaimed with the delight of one making a great discovery, "and you can say you met me somewhere in a tobacconist's shop."

The K.C.'s eyes hardened and his face flushed. "Humor, Mr. Larose," he began sternly, "is out of place now and I am——"

"Well, say you met me in racing circles," interrupted Larose quickly, and speaking now in sharp and decisive tones and very different to those he had hitherto used. "I am, of course, aware that you are interested in racing, and I am interested, too. I've stayed twice with Lord Garnet at his place in Newmarket, so we can say we became acquainted there." He rose up to terminate the interview. "Now how are you going down to-morrow?"

"By car of course," replied Lestrange sharply, and in spite of his self-assurance, decidedly nonplussed by the rapid change in the demeanor of the detective.

"Will you pick me up then, in Norwich to-morrow," asked Larose, "or would you prefer that I went to the Abbey on my own?"

The K.C. considered. "I had better pick you up," he said. He smiled sourly. "That will obviate any effusive greetings when we meet."

"And what time will you be in Norwich?" asked Larose.

Lestrange considered again. "Between two and five," he replied carelessly, and then added as if only his own convenience were to be considered, "You will have to wait for me."

"All right," said Larose, "then I'll be ready in the lounge of the Royal Hotel from two o'clock onwards," and with a nod quite as off-hand as that of the barrister's, he let himself out of the room.


CHAPTER II.—LAROSE DRAWS FIRST BLOOD

Lady Ardane was certainly a very pretty woman and as she sat in the lounge of the Royal Hotel that evening, warming her feet before one of the big fires, all the men who passed through, and not a few of the women, too, thought how attractive she looked.

With good chiselled features and a beautiful pink and white complexion, she had large, clear blue eyes and the glorious, burnished copper hair of a Raphael-painted angel. She was of medium height and her figure was graceful and well-proportioned.

Ordinarily of a rather imperious expression, just now she looked annoyed as well, and she tapped impatiently with her foot every time she glanced at the watch upon her wrist.

"Seven minutes late, already," she murmured, "and he told me to be sure and be there on time."

Suddenly then, she saw a smartly dressed youngish looking man enter the lounge at the far end and turn his head interestedly around. His glance fell upon her, and immediately he began to thread his way through the chairs in her direction.

"But that can't be he," she thought instantly. "That man is much too young and not a bit like a detective. He looks educated."

But the young man approached unhesitatingly, and then with a bow and a pleasant smile, pulled a chair up close and sat down beside her.

"I'm sorry I'm late," he said, speaking in low and modulated tones, "but there was a little bother in getting a place for my car. Still, I'm only eight minutes behind. It hasn't struck six yet."

Her heart beat unpleasantly, and with a little catch in her breath, she regarded him without speaking. He was alert and intelligent-looking, with keen blue eyes and a good chin. He smiled as if he were amused.

"Oh! it's quite all right," he said. "I'm Mr. Larose."

She spoke at last, and holding herself in, asked coldly, "And how am I to know that!"

He laughed lightly. "Well, you left the Abbey at five minutes to five; you motored here alone; your carburettor needs adjusting, and that"—he pointed to a roll of brown paper in her lap—"is the plan of the Abbey that I asked you to bring with you. Also"—and he took a letter from his pocket—"this is the introduction from Mr. Naughton Jones."

She frowned. "And in that case," she said quickly, "I must tell you that I am rather troubled, for I believe I have been followed here. There was a car behind me all the way, and it made its pace to mine. When I slowed down, it slowed down, too, and when I accelerated——"

"That's quite all right," he interrupted. "You needn't worry there. It was I who was behind you. I wanted to make sure you were not going to be followed, and so drove over to the Abbey this afternoon and waited among that clump of trees, just as you turn into the road, to see you come out." He shook his head. "But it was unwise of you to come alone, for they are just as likely to try to get hold of you."

Lady Ardane flushed. She was annoyed at having expressed any anxiety, and yet at the same time comforted at this proof of the thoroughness of the man who had been sent to help her.

"I am sorry that I made you uneasy," smiled Larose, "and I kept a long way behind, hoping that you would not notice me." He saw her embarrassment and went on, "But that carburettor of yours certainly wants adjusting, for as you slowed down, coming out of the Abbey ground, you were back-firing badly."

"Yes," she nodded, with an effort to appear unconcerned. "I saw my engine was running hot."

He looked up at the clock. "Well, what about going in to dinner? I'm hungry and we can talk better there. I have booked two seats in a corner, where we shall not be overheard."

She shook her head coldly. "No, thank you," she replied. "I want to get back as soon as possible. I'm not interested in meals in these times and I'm not at all hungry."

"Nonsense," said Larose. "I saw you getting a piece of chocolate out of the automatic machine just now, and besides, I can't think properly if I'm not fed." He laughed. "We can both pay expenses for ourselves, or else I'll pay and put it down in the expenses. So, you'll be under no obligation to me, either way."

She hesitated a moment, and then rising reluctantly from her chair, preceded him into the dining room.

"What would you like to drink?" he asked, when they were seated at the far end of the long room. "It's my birthday to-day, and I'm 29, so I feel inclined to celebrate it."

"Anything will do for me," she replied, all at once becoming most annoyed that she was going to dine tete-a-tete with a detective from Scotland Yard. She ought to have persisted in her refusal, she told herself, and would let him see most plainly that she was in no way interested in any of his conversation, except that strictly appertaining to the matter that had brought them together.

But she had been really hungry, and the dinner being a good one, under the mellowing influences of the food and wine, she soon found herself unable to keep up the haughty attitude she had decided upon.

The detective had at once assumed the role of host, and critical as she was, she had to admit that he filled it very well.

He was quite easy and natural, and in his manner there was nothing lacking in what she was accustomed to in her own circle. Apart from that, indeed, he was far more interesting and entertaining than most people she was usually brought in contact with. He was entirely unassuming, too, and with all his obviously would-be friendliness, there was not the slightest familiarity about him, and if she saw, as she did, that from time to time he was appearing to be taking her in admiringly, there was yet evidently no intention on his part that he wanted her to be aware of it.

He talked of books and plays, of race meetings and the places he had visited in England; he told her about Australia, and the differing conditions of life and climate there, and altogether she soon realised she was far from finding his company disagreeable.

He seemed just a light-hearted and easy-going young fellow, with no cares or troubles at all.

But the instant the waiter had served the coffee and left them, his whole manner changed. His face hardened his chin seemed to become firmer an his eyes lost their smiling look.

"Now, Lady Ardane," he said sharply, "we'll talk business, and please only answer my questions, for you must be starting for home in half an hour. I shall return with you, and come back by the late train from Burnham Market. No, I insist upon that, and you must, please, bow to my judgment. It was foolish of you to come here quite alone, for with all your courage you are a woman, and also, incidentally would be quite as valuable a hostage as your child."

"But I could not have brought an army," she retorted, "and against a gang, surely one companion would have been of no use at all."

"I don't know so much about that," he replied, "for they might hesitate about murder, with you as an eye witness. Well," he went on quickly, "about these kidnappers, I take it the only motive for them wanting to get your child can be that of ransom? You have no enemies, and it is not a question of revenge? Oh! none that you know of, and no one would benefit either by the death of your son. Yes, Mr. Jones told me the baronetcy would die out then. Now, how did Sir Charles leave his money?"

She looked annoyed at this line of questioning, and hesitated, but after a moment replied coldly.

"Equally between me and my son, his portion being, of course, held in trust until he comes of age."

"And the estate was a large one?"

She nodded. "I am quite well to do."

"I only asked that," said Larose, "to assure myself that the ransom they are after may be large enough to induce them to persevere, for you see a number of men with cars and a motor yacht require some financing." He shook his head. "The man behind all this must have ample means at his command." He looked sharply at her. "Now, another question, please, it is three years since you lost your husband is it not!" He spoke in cold, level tones. "Well, in your circumstances I expect you have had suitors since?"

Lady Ardane's eyes flashed. "Because of my money, you mean?" she asked sharply.

"Not necessarily," replied the detective, repressing a smile, "but you have had them, of course."

"Plenty," she replied laconically, then she added, "but I have no intention of remarrying, and all my friends know it."

"Then is it not possible," suggested Larose, "that in rejecting the advance of some one of these suitors, you may have incurred his enmity?"

Her eyes flashed again. "Not for a moment," she replied. She tilted her chin disdainfully. "My friends are gentlemen, Mr. Larose."

The detective ignored the rebuff as if he were quite unaware one had been intended. "Now to another side of the matter," he said, "and although I am quite sure Mr. Jones will have gone over the ground here, still I must satisfy myself upon one or two points." He regarded her intently, making a mental note how pretty she looked when she was angry, and spoke very slowly. "Now, after you had told the head nurse when the child was with you that night, that she should take him upon the sands on the morrow, I understand she is certain she made no mention of the matter to any one until she was in the act of getting into bed, and then she told the other nurse. That is so?"

Lady Ardane nodded, and the detective went on. "And both nurses are sure it was not referred to again until the maid was clearing away the nursery breakfast, which would be about half past eight."

Lady Ardane nodded again. "And the girl who cleared the breakfast away," she added, "is positive she did not speak about it to anyone until she went down into the servants' hall for morning lunch, which would make it about half past ten. She was busy with her rooms, upstairs, and would have had no opportunity of speaking to anyone until then."

"And where were you that evening when the child was bidding you good night?" asked the detective.

"Where I generally am, for a few minutes, every evening about that time," she replied, "in my writing room, a little boudoir that leads out of my bedroom. I attend to any private letters then that have come in the late afternoon post-bag, and need answering by the mail that night."

"Could your instructions to the nurse by any possibility have been over-heard?"

"Most improbable, for the door would almost certainly have been shut, and the window is eighteen to twenty feet above the ground."

"And about the bringing of those riflemen from Hunstanton," asked Larose, "when did you decide upon that?"

"About half past ten the next morning."

"Did you discuss the matter with anyone?"

"Yes, I was in the library, with my father, Senator Harvey, Sir Parry Bardell, a great friend of mine who lives near the Abbey and is the co-trustee with me of the Ardane Estate, and Admiral Charters, another old friend. Then I sent for my head chauffeur, the one who was with the car that afternoon upon the sands, and he was back before noon, with everything arranged."

"And where were you when he told you what he had done?"

"In my boudoir again, with my secretary, Miss Wingrove."

A short silence followed and then Larose went on. "And I understand from Mr. Jones that since this trouble began every telephone call has been checked at the exchange, and every one satisfactorily accounted for. There is no possible chance then that whoever is acting as the spy inside the Abbey can have passed on his information through that channel."

"No, we can be quite certain of that," replied Lady Ardane.

"And I see from these notes Mr. Jones has given me, that as a Mr. Ernest Maxwell, the friend of your cousin, I have come from Australia, and am supposed to have made a fortune in sheep out there." He smiled. "Very nice, if it were only true."

He folded up the notes, and placing them in his pocket, became very stern again.

"Now, Lady Ardane," he said solemnly, "it is evident that we are up against very determined men. But as we have seen, they will resort to any means to obtain their ends. The sanctity of life is apparently nothing to them, and they will take any act of violence in their stride, as a matter of course. Unhappily, too, up to now they have been in a position to forestall every move that you have made to protect yourself." He nodded emphatically. "Well, we are going to stop all that, and now I am going to be an unknown force working against them, in exactly the same way as they have been an unknown force working against you."

He broke off suddenly and said, "I am taking it for granted, as Mr. Jones told me, that no one in the Abbey knows that I am coming down."

"No one," she replied quickly. "Not even my father, Senator Harvey, who is upon a visit to me, and who is very prejudiced against calling in the official police, nor my aunt, who lives with me. No reference has been made to your coming at any time except when Mr. Jones and I were discussing the matter in the garden."

The detective nodded. "Good!" he said, "then from the moment when I set foot in the Abbey you will forget that I am a detective, and regard me only as one of your guests. We must never be seen holding a private conversation together."

"Now," he went on, "you give me three minutes, and I'll leave the hotel first. Then you call for your car, and pick me up by the cathedral. I shall be just outside the main entrance."

They parted in the lounge, but a few minutes later were seated, side by side, and speeding swiftly along the road towards Burnham Norton. It was a fine night and there was a good moon.

"We need not worry about anything until we have passed Fakenham," said the detective, "and after that, if you don't mind, I'll take the wheel."

They drove on in silence, each busy with their own thoughts. Larose inhaled the delicate perfume that emanated from her hair and sighed softly. It was so incongruous, he thought, this dainty and beautiful woman and the evil forces he was there to combat.

A short distance from Fakenham, he said, "Now, please."

Lady Ardane slowed down and the exchange of seats was effected. "But I don't consider it necessary," she said coldly, "nor either, as I have told you, that you need have put yourself out to come with me."

The detective did not argue the point. "Well, you look out of the window at the back," he said most politely, "and take particular notice as we pass the by-roads to see if any car is parked up there."

Lady Ardane made no comment, contenting herself with a disdainful smile, but if it had been in her nature to ever feel sulky, she would have felt so then. However, she twisted her head round and did as she had been requested.

Nothing then happened for a few miles, and she was upon the point of remarking to the detective how unreasonably apprehensive he had been, when, just as they had passed a field bordered by a thick hedge, she saw a light waved three or four times and with no delay, but with some reluctance, she informed the detective.

"But it's gone now," she added quickly, "and perhaps it was only a farm light."

"And perhaps it was not," snapped Larose. "At any rate, I'm taking no chances to-night," and so approaching a bend in the road before them, he immediately slowed down to a little above walking pace. Then suddenly he began to tug fiercely at the steering wheel.

"Hold steady," he called out sharply, "I'm going to turn. There's a car half blocking the road in front, and it looks as if two men are stretching a rope across."

Then things happened very quickly, for he had hardly turned the car round and straightened up, when a man carrying a hurricane lantern came bursting through the hedge about fifty yards in front of them, and springing over the ditch, jumped on to the road. Instantly then the detective accelerated, and drove straight at him. For a couple of seconds or so, it seemed that the car would hit him, but he tumbled back into the ditch just in time, and they could hear him swearing and shouting furiously as they passed.

"But you didn't intend to purposely run him down?" gasped Lady Ardane.

"Certainly I did," replied the detective. "Didn't you see what he had got in his other hand? Ah! here it comes," and they heard three sharp reports, and a bullet pinged somewhere on the back of the car.

"We'll go back to Fakenham," called out Larose, "and I'll——"

"No, no," interrupted Lady Ardane quickly, "there's a lane just past these trees, and we can turn into that and escape. We are not three miles from the Abbey now."

They turned where she indicated and speeded along the high-hedged lane as quickly as the car would go, but very soon Lady Ardane, looking back through the window, called out with a quiver in her voice, "They're coming after us, they're not far behind."

"Well, they won't catch us at the rate we're going now," called back Larose. "We must be very nearly at the Abbey."

But all at once the engine began to run unevenly and the car to jump and lose pace.

"Damn!" swore Larose. "She's misfiring. We've got a dirty plug." His voice rose sharply. "Quick! tell me how far they are away."

"Three hundred yards at the most," replied Lady Ardane, steadying her voice with an effort, "and they're getting much nearer."

The detective was quite cool and collected. "I'm going to slow down," he said, "and you must take the wheel. Don't get flurried, and we'll give them a surprise."

He almost stopped to allow her to slip into the driving seat, and then, a moment afterwards, came the crash of breaking glass.

"Sorry," he called out, "but that was me. I had to break the window to use my gun. Now go for all you're worth up that hill."

A few seconds passed and then, just as they were topping the rise of a small hill, for the second time that night a bullet impinged upon the back of the car.

"It's quite all right," said Larose calmly. "No harm's done and our turn's coming now. Slow down, please, for I must catch them as they come over the hill. I don't want to be too far away. Now, steady. Here they are."

Crack—crack—crack, and three bullets sped through the little window.

"Ah!" shouted Larose exultingly, "I got one of their tyres and they've turned into the ditch. Gad! but they almost went over. Yes, they're finished with, and you'll get home this time. Now, quick, go as fast as you can."

He dropped back into the seat beside her and went on cheerfully, "Quite a nice little scrap, and it'll make them more careful in future." He looked intently at her. "But I hope you weren't very frightened."

"I was—dreadfully," she faltered, "but not as much as I should have been if I'd had anyone but you with me. Mr. Naughton Jones told me you would shoot your best friend if you thought it necessary."

"Exactly," laughed Larose, "but only if I thought it necessary." He became serious again. "But now just go about half a mile and then pull up and drop me. I'll hop back and if I'm quick I may get a look at them and see what make their car is, and get the number. I don't suppose the car'll be much damaged, for that ditch wasn't more than a couple of feet down and the hedge would act as a buffer, but still it will take a few minutes to get it out and change the tyre and I'll——"

Lady Ardane was aghast. "But you're not going back," she cried. "Why, they'll kill you."

Larose laughed. "I'll take care of that," he said. "They won't see me." He went on quickly. "Now the instant you get home ring up the Fakenham police and tell them part of what's happened. Just say an attempt was made to waylay you and that you were fired upon. Don't mention anything about me and don't say I fired back. Tell them exactly where the car went into the ditch." He shook his head. "I don't think there's the ghost of a chance of them getting here in time, but still we must try it. Ah! here we are at your corner and now you'll be quite safe. Pull up, please."

They had come out of the lane and through two fences on either side of a narrow road were turning into a wide expanse of meadow-land, with the beautiful outlines of Carmel Abbey about half a mile away, silhouetted against the moonlit sky.

Lady Ardane brought the car to a standstill. "But I don't like your going back," she said breathlessly. "I think it very foolish."

"Oh! I shall be quite all right," said Larose. "Now how far do you think it is to where we left them? About a mile or a little more? Well, goodnight, until to-morrow. I must run."

He had gone a few steps when she called out quickly. "Wait, Mr. Larose, I want to speak to you," and when he turned with a frown, she pointed to a shed under some trees, about a hundred yards away. "If you must go," she went on, "there's a bicycle in that shed, belonging to one of the gardeners, and you can borrow it. The door will be locked, but the key is generally left under one of the big stones that you'll see outside."

"Splendid!" exclaimed the detective. "Thank you very much. Now you get home and ring up, quickly. Goodnight."

She drove off and he ran over to the shed she had indicated. He found the key under one of the stones and was quickly inside. He was just wheeling the bicycle out, when, noticing a couple of jackets and some very dirty overalls hanging upon the wall, an idea struck him.

"Good!" he ejaculated, "better and better, and I shall be able to play the exact part. If they're still there, I'll go up and have a little talk."

He took off his jacket and slipped on one of the overalls, then, with a grimace, he put on one of the ragged coats and also changed his neat brown shoes for a pair of very clumsy boots.

"Awkward to bicycle in," he remarked, "but still it's not for a great distance." He took off his wrist watch and put it in his pocket. "Not nine o'clock yet, and I shall have plenty of time to get back and catch the 10.45 at Burnham Market,"—he smiled to himself—"that is if I come back at all, and if I don't,"—he sighed—"well, nothing will matter, as far as I am concerned."

Mounting his bicycle, he shot like an arrow into the road, but he had not gone a couple of hundred yards before he almost ran over a small dog that was chasing a rabbit. The dog caught the rabbit and then immediately a lad of fifteen or sixteen, who was carrying more rabbits over his shoulder, dashed through the hedge. The boy almost dropped in dismay when be caught sight of the detective, and for the moment seemed as if he were going to bolt.

But Larose jumped off his bicycle and stood before him. "Hulloa!" he said. "What's this! Poaching, eh?"

The boy looked very scared, and receiving no reply, the detective went on, "Never mind. I won't squeal. How many have you got?"

"Foive," replied the boy in great relief at the friendly tones.

"Well, give me a couple and here's a tanner for you." With no demur the boy at once complied and the sixpence was passed over in exchange.

"Now cut away quick," said Larose, and with the scampering off of the young poacher, he stuffed one rabbit in each of the capacious pockets of his ragged coat, and mounting the bicycle, pedalled swiftly on again.

"Very nice," he chuckled, "and now I shall be quite above suspicion."

In a few minutes his heart began to beat a little quickly, when turning a bend in the lane, the car that he was looking for came suddenly into view. It was about 300 yards away and, no longer in the ditch, it stood now in the middle of the lane with all its lights extinguished. Two men were kneeling by one of the front wheels and he could hear a sound of hammering. One of the men was holding an electric torch.

"Changing the tyre!" he whispered. "Then I must hurry or they'll be getting off."

Jumping from the machine, he quickly soiled over his hands and face from the ditch-side and then riding on for another 150 yards, dismounted again at the foot of a small hill and began pushing his bicycle slowly before him.

The hammering still continued, and approaching nearer to the car, he was so taken up with trying to see all that was going on that he did not hear a man push through the hedge behind and pad softly after him.

Suddenly then he found himself gripped tightly by the back of the neck and a stern voice demanded. "Now then, what are you doing here?" and at the same time he felt something very like the muzzle of a pistol, poked into the small of his back.

He swore under his breath at his carelessness, and shivered in real earnest. But he did not lose his wits and made no attempt to struggle.

"All right, sir," he called out in frightened tones, "I'll go quietly. Who are you? Mr. Thomson?"

The grip upon his neck was let go, and turning shakily he found himself gazing into the cold eyes of a very determined-looking man of big build and with a very square jaw. The man was holding one hand behind his back.

"Who are you?" snarled the man, "and who's Mr. Thomson?"

"I'm Mat Capper, sir," whined Larose, "and I thought you were the constable, Mr. Thomson."

"Well, what are you doing here," went on the man, "and what are you sneaking along like that for?"

"I wasn't sneaking along, sir," replied Larose, "and I was just walking up the hill because I'm short of breath. I've been very ill lately."

The man eyed him doubtfully. "Well, you must stand where you are," he said gruffly. "Not a movement and don't you turn your head. Perfectly still, you understand," and he made a long, low whistle in a peculiar manner.

The detective felt a most unpleasant tightness in his chest. "He's got a gun in his hand, right enough," he thought ruefully, "and my conscience, if they search me and find mine!"

For a few moments, then, the two stood facing one another and a cloud starting to cross the moon, the man stretched out and grasped the detective by the arm, with the evident intention of making sure that he should not bolt away in the darkness.

The sound of hammering still came from the direction of the car.

Then the detective heard quick footsteps behind him and a second man came running up and flashed the rays of an electric torch full upon his face completely blinding him with the glare.

"What is it?" asked the newcomer in a low fierce whisper. "Who is he?"

"Don't know," replied the square jawed man quietly, "but we'd better make darned sure and find out."

"Who are you?" came the whispering voice, and the detective thought it sounded like the hiss of a snake.

"Mat Capper, sir," replied the detective once again. "I'm a farm hand and I work for Mr. Andrews, at Willow Bend."

"Where's that?" asked the whisperer, and certainly with no friendliness in his tones.

"At North Barsham, sir. About three miles from here."

"And what are you doing at this time of night?"

The detective hesitated and made his breathing appear quick and jerky, then he blurted out, "Only after a rabbit or two, sir," and in proof of his statement he pulled out the rabbits he had thrust in his pockets, and held them up for inspection.

Both men immediately touched them. "Yes, they're warm," said the one holding the torch, very slowly, and as if weighing up everything in his mind. Then, after a moment's silence, he went on sharply, but still in a very low tone. "A farm laborer are you? Show me your hands." Then his arm darted out and he seized the detective in a grip of iron. "Damnation! you scoundrel!" he swore, "those are not the hands of a farm laborer. You're lying to us. You're——"

But the detective broke in with a sharp cry. "No, no, sir," he gasped. "I'm only speaking the truth. I tell you I've just come out of hospital. I've had my lungs bad for three months and have done no work. That's why my hands are so smooth." He almost wept. "I'm an honest chap, sir, except for these rabbits."

At this display of such obvious fright, the rage of the man with the torch appeared all suddenly to die down, but he did not relax his grip and the detective realised quite well that he was still in great danger. A pistol was pointed, not ten inches from his heart and he had even heard the slipping back of the safety catch. He knew they were desperate men that he was interfering with, and from their actions that night, violence of every form was undoubtedly no stranger to them.

A sweat burst out upon his forehead.

His interrogator, who appeared to be the leader, was evidently of two minds. "A farm hand, you say you are," he said at length, very softly and then with all his quietness, he rapped out a question like a bullet from a gun. "How long then does a sow carry her young?"

"Sixteen weeks, sir," replied Larose, making his legs even more shaky than they were.

"And a sheep?"

"Five months, sir. Five months and three days."

For a long minute the man stood motionless as if still unconvinced and then suddenly he let go the detective's arm and pushed him roughly away. "Get," he said, "and go back the way you've come. No, leave your bicycle here. We'll take care of that. I dare say it's been stolen, like the rabbits. Now, get quick, and don't you dare to look round, or else——" He turned to his companion. "Follow him and put a bullet in him if he does."

With a great thankfulness in his heart and yet furious that he had not been able to approach near enough to discern either the make or the number of the car, Larose made every appearance of going off with as much haste as possible. The moon was now clear again and with all his courage he dared not look round, not knowing if there were anyone just behind him.

Then all at once he heard the car being started up, and from the sounds that followed he knew that it was being backed and turned. Risking everything, he looked back over his shoulder. No one was following him, he was alone in the lane, and in the distance the car was just moving off in the direction of the main road.

"And I don't even know what make it is," he exclaimed, "nor which way it is going, or how many men are in it. So any ringing up Fakenham will have been quite useless, for we can't identify the car."

He retraced his footsteps in the hope that after all they might not have gone off with his bicycle, and found, as he had half-expected, that it had been left behind. It had, however, been thrown into the ditch and not only that, but all the wind had been let out of the tyres.

"The beasts!" he ejaculated, "and there's no pump on it!" Pushing it before him, he walked disgustedly back to the Abbey grounds, and regaining the shed without encountering anybody, changed into his own clothes. Then, with plenty of time to spare, he made for Burnham Market, and catching the 10.45 train, was in Norwich again before midnight.

The following morning, as he was not due to arrive at the Abbey until the late afternoon, he spent some time in the public library, reading up from a local Guide Book all he could about Carmel Abbey.

Amongst other things he learnt that Sir Charles Ardane had bought it about ten years previously and apparently much regret had been expressed at the time that he had turned it into a private residence.

However, apparently, as little interference as possible had been made with the outside appearance of the Abbey, the general scheme of the rebuilding having been to erect a modern residence within the old walls. A very large sum was supposed to have been expended upon the restoration, and the building now contained an enormous number of rooms.

About eleven o'clock he paid a friendly visit to the Superintendent of the Norwich police, with whom he had a slight acquaintanceship, and informed him that he was on holiday and motoring round the eastern counties.

They talked of matters in general for a few minutes and then the detective asked casually, "And how's business? Anything doing?"

"Not too brisk," replied the Superintendent with a smile. "Just jogging along with an occasional murder or burglary every now and then to liven us up"—he sighed—"but mostly drunks and petty larcenies." He shook his head frowningly. "Ah! but we had a rather disquieting call last night." He looked very impressive. "One of our county notabilities, a pretty society woman, phoned up that an attempt had been made to waylay her when she was returning home in her car and that she had actually been fired upon, on the high road."

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Larose, "was it a fact?"

"Yes," said, the Superintendent gravely, "the Fakenham men report there are certainly two marks upon the chassis of her car that look like bullet ones"—he screwed up his eyes—"and there are other disturbing features as well about the case."

"Tell me about it," said Larose. "The wickedness of this world is always more interesting than the good."

"Well, what happened was this," said the Superintendent, "Lady Ardane, of Carmel Abbey"—he broke off—"have you ever heard of her?"

"Oh! yes," replied Larose, "very beautiful and very rich; the widow of Sir Charles Ardane. I've seen her at Ascot."

"That's she," nodded the Superintendent, "a lovely woman, with red hair. Well, last night at half-past eight or thereabouts, when about a mile and a half from the Abbey, a man in another car shouted to her to stop, and when she took no notice of him, he set off after her and fired two shots with the evident intention of puncturing her tyres. Then something happened to his car and it ran into a ditch and she got away. Immediately then, when she reached home, she attempted to ring up and report to us what had happened, but found to her consternation that she could not get the exchange. She kept on ringing, she says, for quite five minutes and then realised that something must be wrong, sent round to the garage and one of the chauffeurs dashed into Burnham Market, the nearest town. The police there at once got in touch with Fakenham, and two men immediately went out to where she said the car was ditched." He shrugged his shoulders. "But what was the good of it? It was nearly ten o'clock by then and of course, the car had gone."

"Was it only one man who was after her?" asked Larose innocently, and desirious of getting the Superintendent to talk as much as possible.

The Superintendent looked very disgusted. "She doesn't know," he replied. "She knows nothing, neither the appearance nor the number of her pursuers, what they wanted, nor what the car was like, and all we know is that her car was undoubtedly hit twice and that the wires of the Abbey telephone were deliberately cut"—he shrugged his shoulders again,—"Heaven alone knows why."

"The wires cut!" exclaimed Larose in startled surprise. "The telephone wires cut at the Abbey!"

"Yes," replied the Superintendent, "and just outside the main door, too." He shook his head. "Really, it's very strange, and if we could be certain there was any connection between the two happenings I should not be too easy in my mind." He frowned uneasily. "In any case, I tell you I don't like the idea of gun-men in my district."

They chatted on for a few minutes and then the detective left the police station, like the Superintendent, very disturbed and uneasy in his mind.

"Whew!" he whistled when he was out in the street, "but I'm certainly up against something very hot here, and there's no doubt about a confederate being inside the Abbey." He looked very grave. "Someone must be watching her every minute. She was marked down directly she left home; arrangements were then made to get hold of her as she returned, and the wires were cut, so that in the event of the kidnapping being successful, as long a time as possible should elapse before her absence could be notified to the police." He whistled again. "Yes, I shall have to be darned careful what I am about."

Larose had still an hour to spare before lunch, and annoyed in some way by the memory of the immaculate appearance of Paris Lestrange, he visited a couple of hosiery shops, and among other items purchased some quite unnecessary and very expensive silk ties.

"He looked at me like some strange animal," he thought angrily, "and so I'll let him see I can dress quite as well as he, with all his aristocratic and wealthy surroundings."

Passing a jeweller's shop, he stopped idly to look at the many attractive things displayed in the window, and his eyes happened to fall upon a large gold cigarette case, reposing upon a cushion of white silk. The case was beautifully chased and jewelled in one corner.

"Better than that one of Lestrange's," he murmured, "and would cost a lot of money."

For a few moments he could not take his eyes off it, and then suddenly an idea striking him, he grinned, and proceeded to walk briskly into the shop to ascertain the price.

"Seventy-five pounds," said the Jeweller, scenting a good customer, and all smiles. "It's a lovely piece of work," and he at once went to the window and took it out.

The detective handled it admiringly. "But £75," he remarked, "is a lot of money!" Then he said hesitatingly. "Now, if I take it and bring it back any time within a month, will you return me the money, less, say, 10 per cent?"

The jeweller hesitated. "You want to hire it?" he asked.

"No, not necessarily," replied Larose. "I like it very much now, but I may get tired of it, and then it would be a lot of money to have thrown away."

The jeweller hesitated in his turn. "Yes, sir," he said at last, "you can take it on those terms, but, of course, it must be returned to me in the same condition in which it is now."

"All right," said Larose. "I understand that. But," he went on, "I'm a stranger to Norwich, and am only passing through, so, of course, I'm not carrying that amount of money on me"—the jeweller's amiable expression at once vanished and was replaced by a stern frown, "but if I write you a cheque, and bring a responsible person in to guarantee it, I suppose that will be all right?"

"A responsible person," replied the jeweller with a pronounced emphasis upon the adjective.

"Good," said the detective, "then I'll be back in ten minutes."

Returning quickly to the police station, he sought out the Superintendent and told him what he wanted.

"Certainly," replied the Superintendent at once, "I'll give him my cheque and take yours in exchange." He smiled slyly. "You're going to buy an engagement ring, of course"—he sighed—"and I only wish I were young myself, and going through it all again."

He accompanied Larose to the jeweller's, and the latter upon seeing him was at once all smiles and amiability again. Cheques were exchanged and the cigarette case made over, but the Superintendent professed great disappointment that the purchase was not an engagement ring.

"Gosh!" he exclaimed, when they were out of the shop, "but nobody would take you for a detective with that cigarette case."

"No," laughed Larose, shaking hands in parting, "and that's just what I want. Good-bye."

By two o'clock he had finished his luncheon and was sitting in the lounge of the hotel awaiting the coming of the barrister. Tired of watching the people continually passing through, he presently picked up one of the London morning papers, and began idly to scan down its pages.

Suddenly then his attention was arrested upon a name in the social column, and with astonished eyes he read:—

"We regret to learn that the well known private Investigator, Mr. Naughton Jones, has been suddenly taken ill and removed to a nursing home."

"Great Scott!" he ejaculated, "and won't old Jones be furious if he sees this. It looks as if those wretches had got to learn of it, and out of bravado given the paper the tip to make inquiries."

He returned to the hotel to await the coming of the barrister, but the latter did not put in an appearance until nearly four o'clock, and then made no apology for the tardiness of his arrival.


CHAPTER III.—THE SHADOW OVER THE ABBEY

That night during dinner, his first meal at Carmel Abbey, in the brief intervals of chatting with his charming and vivacious neighbor, a Miss Patricia Howard, Larose philosophically considered whether the possession of ample means was to be desired above most things, and he came to the conclusion most definitely that it was.

"It is all nonsense," he reflected, "for people of no means to keep on repeating like parrots that money isn't everything, as if it were no good at all, because we get nearly all our happiness from what money brings, and without it we are poor things and have a rotten time."

He looked round the room and sighed with great contentment. "Now, tonight is typical of what money can give! Here am I in the most comfortable surroundings possible, with every opportunity to snatch a most perfect hour from the sadness of this vale of tears. I am banqueting in the company of distinguished-looking men and beautiful looking women, and everything about me is conducive to comfort and happiness. The food is delicious enough to satisfy the most exacting taste, the wines are a very nectar of the gods, the room is as beautiful as that of any medieval church and I am being waited upon as if I had been crowned a king." He nodded emphatically. "Yes, it is good to be alive to-night."

He went on. "And this delightfully pretty young woman who was consigned to me to escort into the meal and the gleam of whose white shoulders is so disturbing to me every time I turn my head—well, she is very gracious to me and smiles and shows her dimples whenever I speak. She is wishing, of course, that I should form a good opinion of her and she continually droops those pretty lashes for me and flashes at me with those violet eyes. But undoubtedly she does all this because she assumes that I am of her own class in wealth and position." He shook his head sadly. "Now if she knew who I really was, and the exact figures of my very modest banking account, then—good gracious!—there would he no more dimples for me, no more pretty smiles and those white, gleaming shoulders would surely stiffen up and lose all their friendly pose." He drew in a deep breath. "Yes, money is a wonderful thing to have."

He looked round the large and sumptuously furnished room again. "And how perfect the service is here, and how beautifully the harmony of everything has been fitted in! Those maids in their dainty uniforms are as pretty as butterflies themselves, and there is not one of them who is not good to look upon. Why, endowed with high sounding names and a bit of money, as far as appearances go, they could any moment with equal distinction take their places among the guests! And the footmen! Quite refined and certainly the best type of their class! They glide rather than walk and their bearing is courtly, as if they had acquired grace by attending to the wants of emperors and kings."

He smiled. "And the butler! Ah! I must not forget him. He certainly does not seem to do much, except stand behind his mistress's chair, but I note his head is continually turning round and round, with his eyes everywhere upon the menials whom he controls. He is like a great general, directing a field of battle, and the men-servants advance and retreat, and go this way and that, upon the slightest movement of his eye." He nodded. "Yes, no doubt he is among the great masters of his calling."

He looked towards the head of the table. "And Lady Ardane herself! The mistress of it all. She is certainly lovely to-night and her beauty outshines that of all the other women here. The soft candle lights are poor rivals to that red head of hers and their timid rays show up the ivory of her skin to the perfection of a lover's dream." He sighed once more. "Yes, she is very lovely, but what good is all that loveliness if she will give it to no one to delight in? Is all the romance of her life closed and will she never in abandon again——"

But his reflections were suddenly broken into by the silvery voice of his partner.

"Mr. Maxwell!" exclaimed that young lady with a great assumption of indignation, "I have spoken to you and you did not answer! I do believe you were looking at the maids."

"No, no," replied Larose instantly. "I was just thinking how beautiful our hostess is to-night."

"She is always beautiful," commented the girl sharply. She tilted up her chin mockingly. "And I don't believe there's a man here, married or unmarried, who would not run off with her to-morrow, if he could only get the chance."

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Larose, "but is she as devastating as all that?"

"Quite," replied the girl laughing. "Why, look at the reverence with which the great Sir Arnold is regarding her, and by nature he is as cold as a fish."

"Which is Sir Arnold!" asked Larose at once.

"Oh! I forgot," exclaimed the girl. "Of course, you don't know us all yet." She nodded. "Sir Arnold Medway is that very handsome man talking to her now. He is one of the great surgeons of the world, and Royalty are among his patients." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "He is supposed to have received seventy thousand guineas last year for going over to India to operate upon that Rajah's wife. But isn't he distinguished looking?"

Larose regarded the fine, strong face of the man she indicated and agreed that he was, for not only, the detective thought, was the great surgeon handsome, but his whole demeanor suggested that in whatever walk of life he was, he would excel.

The girl went on. "Come now, I'll be nice to you and tell you everything about everybody you want to know."

"Well, that dark man," asked Larose at once, "right opposite to us, with the girl in pink? Mr. Daller is, I think, his name. Who is he?"

"The Bernard Daller, the air-man," was the reply, "and a dare-devil if ever there was one. He's crashed more times than anyone knows, and he still carries on as if he liked it." She smiled archly. "Another devoted slave at the foot of Helen Ardane."

"And that man with the big glasses, who is always smiling," asked Larose, "the one with the bald head?"

"Sir Parry Bardell, and Helen's greatest friend," Replied the girl. "He lives close near here, just across the meadows. Founded the Bardell line of steamers and used to own them all. Retired now, and a most eligible bachelor in spite of the absence of raven locks." She pretended to look very sad. "I set my cap at him every time we meet, but it's quite hopeless for he'd marry no one but"—she sighed—"Helen again." She turned smilingly to the detective. "But he seems rather interested in you, for I've noticed him look this way several times."

"At you, of course," smiled back Larose, "and I can quite understand it, for except for being able to talk to you, I'd rather sit opposite to you every time."

"Quite nice of you, I am sure," laughed the girl. "Now, is there anyone else you are curious about?"

"Yes, that tall, big man, a friend of Senator Harvey, I believe."

The girl shook her head. "I know very little about him," She replied, "except that he's an American and his name is Rankin, Theodore Rankin. He only arrived yesterday. He's a wheat fiend, I think, for he comes from Chicago, and was arguing about crops and prices all the morning with the Senator."

"Another person," said Larose, "that bronzed man over there upon the left? I haven't noticed him until dinner to-night."

"Clive Huntington, a naval engineer. He's a friend of Sir Parry, who, of course, has only come in for the evening. Still you'll be seeing a lot of Sir Parry for he is always in and out of the Abbey, looking after the affairs of the estate."

"Is there a lot then to look after?" asked Larose.

"Good gracious, yes!" exclaimed the girl, opening her eyes very wide. "Why, Helen rules over more than ten thousand acres, and all the villages round here belong to her."

Miss Howard was a very intelligent and observant young woman, and by the time the meal was over the detective was in the possession of many facts that would otherwise have taken a long time to collect. She gave him thumb-nail sketches of almost everybody there, and her comments, he thought, were shrewd and very much to the point.

The evening was passed with music and bridge, and, in view of the shoot upon the morrow, the company dispersed early and by midnight everybody had retired to their rooms.

But it was not bed-time for Larose yet, for at twenty minutes after midnight he was to have a talk with Lady Ardane in her boudoir, which was next to his own room. She was going to tap upon the wall when she judged it would be safe for him to come in.

He was not too pleased somehow with Lady Ardane, for her manner towards him when they had been enabled to have two words together had been stiff and formal, and as icily cold as if he were a complete stranger and it were necessary for him to be kept at a distance.

He had been formally introduced to her in the lounge, in front of them all, by the very casual and off-hand Lestrange, and she had received him graciously and hoped he would enjoy his stay at the Abbey, but then, when a few moments later, he had spoken to her when no one was close near, she had informed him in the manner of a mistress speaking to her servant, and a female one at that, that she had arranged for his room to be next to her suite, in case she should require his services. Then when he had said that he wanted to have a talk with her and would need to know in which particular room everyone was sleeping, she had told him as if she were speaking to a block of wood to come to her's after midnight.

Yes, he was annoyed with her, for her manner was so off-hand, and as if she were quite oblivious to the services he had already rendered her.

He sat before the radiator and considering everything, notwithstanding his usual buoyancy of disposition, was in no very cheerful frame of mind.

"Yes, I am being handicapped in many ways here," he told himself, "for apparently I am to ask no questions of anyone. As a guest myself, I cannot, of course, talk to the servants, and my fellow guests are undoubtedly intending to ignore the fact that there is any shadow over the Abbey, and hold it bad taste to want to discuss it. That charming Miss Howard shut me up at once when I referred to it, and the old Admiral almost pretended to know nothing about it when I started to ask him about what had taken place that afternoon upon the Brancaster sands."

He shook his head frowningly. "Now there is something most sinister about this whole business, for it must be that the arch-traitor lies near home and when I uncover him I shall probably find he is no stranger to this poor woman whom he is terrifying. Indeed, he must be on intimate terms with her, for if there be any truth in the second warning she has received, his influence is such that he has actually been able to arrange for an ally to be received here as another guest." He thought for a moment. "Then he must be the master-mind directing the whole conspiracy, for it is not likely that anyone in the position of an intimate friend of the family here would be the paid tool of a professional gang outside."

He rose to his feet and paced softly up and down the room. "But if the conspiracy originated here and its master-mind has been here all along, then surely the solution of the problem should be very easy, for only five of the men whom I saw to-night at dinner were here at the time of that attempt to kidnap the child, Admiral Charters, Sir Arnold Medway, Lord Wonnock, Sir Parry Bardell and Senator Harvey." He whistled softly. "Ah! Senator Harvey, the most inconceivable of them all and yet——"

He was silent for a long while. "And this second conspirator among the newcomers, who then is he? Is he the airman, Daller; Rankin, the American, the friend of the Senator, or Clive Huntington, the friend of Sir Parry?"

He went on. "And where did this gang spring from, this gang which we know for certain must consist of, at least, six men? Was it called specially into existence to kidnap the Ardane child, or did it exist before, and were its energies simply diverted from other nefarious projects to this?"

He nodded emphatically. "Yes, yes, it certainly existed before, and I must therefore consider who here would have been most likely to have been able to get in touch with it."

But suddenly he heard a muffled tap upon the wall, and at once switching off his radiator, he tiptoed to the door and passed out into the corridor. It was only a few steps to Lady Ardane's boudoir, and he could see a faint light under the door. He drummed softly with his finger-nails and the door yielded noiselessly to his touch and he stepped into the room, closing the door again as noiselessly behind him.

The boudoir was half in shadow, for the only light was that of a cowled reading-lamp upon the desk. The door leading to the bedroom was pulled to, but not shut. Lady Ardane put her finger to her lips. "Speak quietly," she ordered, "for my son is very restless to-night." She was standing by the desk, and beckoning the detective to approach, did not, however, invite him to sit down.

"Well, did you see those men?" she went on sharply.

"Yes, I saw them and spoke to two of them," replied Larose, "but that was all. They stopped me and I did not get near their car."

"Then you did no good," she said almost as if she were annoyed.

"No," said the detective, "except that I should recognise one of them again. They threatened me with a pistol and I could do nothing with that pointed against my chest. I tell you these are desperate men, who came after you last night." He was nettled by her manner and went on, speaking as sharply as she had spoken. "Now, I want to know about that telephone wire, please. I heard in Norwich this morning that it had been cut."

"Yes, it was cut," she said, "and there have been two detectives here nearly all day, questioning the servants about it." She bit upon her lip. "The publicity is dreadful."

"It was cut by the main door, I understand," said Larose.

She nodded. "Someone fetched a ladder from the garage, when dinner was being served, and cut the wires, ten feet up. He put the ladder back after he had used it, but the detectives saw the gravel marks upon it. They say he must know all the arrangements of the house, and are certain it must be one of the servants"—she shook her head—"but whatever they think, that is impossible, for the movements of all the men can be accounted for at the time it must have been cut." She bit upon her lip again. "It is a terrible thought to know that I have such an enemy here."

"But it mayn't have been a man," suggested Larose. "It may perhaps have been a woman."

Lady Ardane shook her head. "No, it is a heavy ladder, twelve feet in length, and it must have been a man."

"And how do you know it was done during dinner?" asked the detective.

"Because Senator Harvey rang up the chemist just before dinner, at a quarter to eight, and at a quarter to nine, when I went to ring up the exchange, it was dead."

A short silence followed and then Larose said quietly, "Well, now I shall have to ask you some questions that you may not like, but the situation in my opinion is so grave that I cannot allow any feelings of sentiment to hamper me in my work."

"Feelings of sentiment!" exclaimed Lady Ardane quickly, as if she had not heard aright. "What on earth do you mean?" She spoke angrily, and it was evident to Larose that her nerves were all on edge. "What, pray, has any sentiment to do with what you are here for?"

"Oh! you'll understand what I mean in a minute," replied the detective. "Now, please tell me at exactly what time they went into dinner last night."

"At a quarter to eight," was the frowning reply. "They had waited a quarter of an hour for me and then, as I had told my aunt, Mrs. Chalmers, I might be delayed, she gave orders for dinner to be served."

"And who were actually present at the meal?" asked Larose.

Lady Ardane considered. "My aunt, Mrs. Chalmers, Mrs. Challans, Miss Howard, Miss Montgomery, Lord and Lady Wonnock and Sir Arnold Medway. It was a small party because Senator Harvey was indisposed and Admiral Charters had gone to bed with a bad cold."

"A bad cold!" exclaimed Larose. "He was lively enough to-night."

"But he thought he was sickening for one and he's always nervous about his health. As a matter of fact, he sent for Sir Arnold in the middle of dinner to go up and see him."

A moment's silence followed, and then Larose said grimly, "Now for the sentiment, your ladyship." He paused for a moment, and regarding her intently, asked quickly, "Are you on good terms with your step-father?"

Lady Ardane returned his intent gaze. "Certainly," she replied haughtily.

"And you always have been?"

"Always."

"Well," said Larose, "and please don't get angry now, is there any insanity in Senator Harvey's family?"

Lady Ardane drew in a deep breath and looked furious. "What do you mean?" she gasped. "Are you out of your mind yourself?"

The detective looked very uncomfortable. "Lady Ardane," he said firmly, "it will be a dreadful thought for you but it must be one of only five people who has all along been your enemy in this house, for if we leave out the servants, there have only been five persons here in a position to betray you as you have been betrayed—Senator Harvey, Lord Wonnock, Sir Arnold Medway, Admiral Charters and Sir Parry Bardell. They alone were present here before the beginning of this trouble, and if we rule out the motives of ransom and revenge, then it can be only insanity that has urged one of them on to attempt this dreadful wrong." He raised one hand in his earnestness. "Think—if Mr. Jones is right, and from the notes that he has given me I am inclined to believe that he is, and none of the servants are involved, then who else but one of the five I have mentioned can have been the one who is helping these wretches outside."

"But it is impossible!" gasped Lady Ardane. "All these gentlemen you mention are proved friends of mine. They are dear friends of long standing and every one of them would give his life for me." She gasped again. "My step-father, above all people, for he has been the same as if he were my own parent, from my childhood's days! Good heavens! what suspicion have you against him?"

"You tell me he was not at dinner last night," replied Larose grimly "you say the ladder was used by a man, you are sure all the men servants are accounted for"—he shrugged his shoulders—"well, however improbable, I must consider everyone, one by one."

Lady Ardane made no comment. She had sunk down into an armchair and was lying back as if all the spirit had been taken out of her.

The detective went on, but speaking now with great sympathy, "Come, your ladyship, just answer my question without any comment, and then we'll soon be finished with the unpleasant part. Now, no insanity in the Senator's family? None at all? Well, tell me about Admiral Charters—none there either? And how long have you known the Admiral?"

"Since my marriage." was the low reply, "but my husband had known him since his boyhood."

"And he is a man of substance, in no need of money?"

Then Larose dragged out of her all she could tell him of her guests, and among other things that the Admiral was wealthy and one of the directors of Lloyds Bank, that Lord Wonnock was a rich north country iron magnate and a pillar of finance in the city and that Sir Arnold Medway's income must run into many thousands of pounds.

"And now for the last of them," said the detective, "this Sir Parry Bardell who has had his eyes upon me the whole of the evening."

"The life-long friend of my husband," replied Lady Ardane weakly, "and my greatest friend, too. He has the affection for me of a father." A little of her spirit began to come back and she laughed scornfully. "You may as well suspect me myself."

The detective frowned in disappointment. Everywhere he seemed to be up against a dead wall. He proceeded to try in another direction now.

"And this second enemy," he asked, "this newcomer who, according to your last warning, was to join up among the shooting party to help enemy number one. Tell me, please, about the later arrivals, and particularly about Mr. Daller and Mr. Huntington, for either of these gentlemen might perhaps fill the bill."

"Thank you, Mr. Larose," said Lady Ardane with icy politeness, "for Mr. Daller is a particular friend of mine and has stayed here several times and upon more occasions than I remember has flown me to Paris and the South of France. As for Mr. Huntington, he certainly is a stranger to us all here, but as he has been in Sir Parry's service on his vessels ever since he was a boy and is a personal friend of Sir Parry, too, that speaks for itself."

Then for half an hour and longer, Larose questioned her, and before he had finished, every one of her guests had been passed under review.

A short silence followed and the detective said thoughtfully, "Then as far as I can see, it all amounts to this. Your guests are all of impeccable character, your servants are all above suspicion"—he smiled dryly—"and yet there is someone here, as callous and pitiless a malefactor as you would find anywhere in the world of crime." He regarded her curiously. "But surely, Lady Ardane, you must be suspicious of someone yourself. You know the traitor must be among those we have been talking about, and in your own mind you must have had doubts about someone."

Instantly Lady Ardane's face fell and the spirit seemed to go out of her again. The lines of her body lost all pose of self-reliance and she looked the very picture of distress.

"I have no suspicions, Mr. Larose," she whispered piteously, "for I can by no possibility conceive of anyone willing to do me this wrong. I know with you that someone here is my enemy and that he is only biding his chance to strike another blow, but thinking it over night and day—and I am always thinking of it—I have no suspicions of anyone, no distrust at all."

"Never mind," said the detective gently, touched by her distress, "we'll find him sooner or later, and at any rate they shan't get your child whilst I am here." He shook his head slowly. "But you know, with all these people to watch, I think that in many ways it would have been better if I had come down here in my official capacity, for then I could have gone openly everywhere, and asked questions where I wanted to. As it is, although my anonymity certainly has its advantages, it hampers my search in too many ways."

"But that will remedy itself," said Lady Ardane with the ghost of a smile, "for if Mr. Jones is right, they will soon find out who you are, and then you will be able to have a free hand."

"With a bullet inside me, perhaps," commented Larose grimly, "for that seems to be how their discoveries of identities becomes known."

"But when they found that Mr. Jones was here," asked Lady Ardane plaintively, "why did they try to injure him? And why did they try to cause a fearful accident to the car that was bringing out those men from Hunstanton? Why did they want to let me know they were up to every move I was making to protect my son?"

"Probably only frightfulness," replied the detective promptly, "just to make you realise that they don't mind to what extremes they go, so that if they get either you or the child in their clutches, you will be so terrified that you will come to terms with them at once." His face frightened. "Still, they've not got either of you yet and we're not beaten by a long chalk. Now, please, give me the numbers of the bedrooms where everyone sleeps and I'll get to work at once."

Back in his own room the detective went carefully through the list she had given him, and his face lost a little of its worried expression.

"Now, if there's any reliance to be placed on human nature," he whispered, "the boss of this conspiracy will want to have a talk to-night with his new hand, when he thinks everybody is asleep, so I'll just mark all their doors and in the morning see who have left their rooms during the night."

He crept out into the corridor and, one by one, low down upon the jambs of every door of the men guests affixed a minute piece of plasticine. Then he returned to his own room and setting his mind to awake before dawn, threw himself upon his bed to try and snatch a few hours' sleep.

But he need not have worried about waking up in time, for his sleep was very troubled, and half a dozen times, at least, he stirred himself to look at his watch.

Then a few minutes before five he got off the bed and made his way into the corridor again to examine the traps that he had set, and he frowned in great perplexity when he saw what had happened.

One, two, three, four doors had been opened during the night, those of the Senator, the American, Rankin, Daller, the airman, and that of the handsome and debonair naval engineer, Clive Huntington.

"Great James!" he exclaimed, when he was back again in his own room, "but can half the gang be here? Now, what the devil were all these people after, moving about in the night?"

At breakfast time it was pouring with rain, and it looked highly improbable that there would be any going out that day, so following upon the meal, the party proceeded to amuse themselves in their own particular ways. The detective joined Senator Harvey, Mr. Rankin and Sir Parry Bardell in the library, and for an hour and more they discussed everything in general.

Finally, the detective came away very disappointed, for none of the three, he had reluctantly to confess to himself, exhibited the slightest signs that they would for one moment be mixed up in any criminal conspiracy.

Sir Parry was just a quiet gentleman, with courtly, early Victorian manners. He was charming to talk to, and was so unassuming that, with all the undoubted strength and character in his face, the detective found it difficult to associate him with the authority he must have wielded to have gained the outstanding success in commercial life that he had.

Theodore Rankin was apparently nothing other than a shrewd, level-headed business man, most patently anxious to enjoy himself among the historic surroundings of the Abbey, but all the time chafing under his enforced absence from his beloved Chicago.

Senator Harvey, the detective did not like very much, for the stepfather of Lady Ardane was inclined to be haughty, and distant in his manner and several times Larose had caught him frowning in his direction, as if he were not too pleased that he, Larose, was there.

"A stuck-up man," was the detective's comment, "and as I have no title or ancestors that he knows of, then I suppose I am not good enough for him." He shook his head. "Still, he doesn't look a man who'd be mixed up with a gang."

Leaving them still talking in the library, and with a certain project in his mind, the detective obtained a small pair of binoculars from his room and made his way along the long corridors towards the old belfry. He knew how to reach it without going outside the Abbey from the plan Lady Ardane had given him, and he was minded to get some idea of the surrounding country from its tower.

"For it is just possible," he told himself, "if they do not use the telephone and yet are able to communicate so quickly with one another, that they are resorting to some kind of signaling, and if they do, then the high tower of the belfry would be the very place."

He soon arrived at the door shutting off the modern part of the Abbey from that which had been left almost untouched, and started to mount the steps of the tower. He reached the big room where the bells had once been and was negotiating the ladder that led to the little room of the tower above, when he suddenly became aware that there was someone already up there, for he heard the sounds of feet shuffling upon the wooden floor and then a loud cough.

"Hullo! hullo!" he ejaculated, "now who on earth can have come up here, and what does he want?"

A few steps higher and with his head now level with the floor of the room, his eyes fell upon a man, with his feet planted wide, leaning out across the broad sill of one of the windows looking seawards, and peering intently through a pair of large glasses. The man was holding an unfolded handkerchief in his hand.

For a few seconds, not being able to see his face, the detective did not determine who the man was, but then from his broad shoulders and the general outline of his figure, he knew him to be Admiral Charters.

The Admiral had not heard him, and Larose waited longer than a minute to see what he was going to do with the handkerchief, but then, nothing happened, and not wishing to run the risk of being caught watching so intently, he coughed in his turn, and climbed up into the room.

But the Admiral was still so engrossed with his observations that it was not until the detective was almost up to him and he had probably then been disturbed by the shaking of the very ancient floor-boards, that he turned with a start and, open-mouthed in his surprise, surveyed Larose with all the consternation of a child who had been caught in a guilty action.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, very red in the face, "but you gave me a shock. I've never known anybody else come up here before."

"You haven't?" remarked Larose carelessly. "Well, I just came up to have a look at the view, although it's certainly a bad day for it."

"You're right there," agreed the Admiral, and now furtively stuffing the handkerchief back into his pocket, "but I came up to have a peep at those destroyers. They're making heavy weather and it reminds me of my own bad days upon the sea."

Larose advanced to the window and putting his own glasses up, swept them quickly round in the hope of noticing something of more interest than the destroyers the Admiral had pointed out. He was realising with a little quickening of his heart how admirably the situation, not only of the belfry tower, but of the whole Abbey itself, would lend itself to the exchange of signals with anyone outside, for the historic building was on slightly rising ground, and the view of a dozen and more habitations across the meadows and over the marshlands was clear and uninterrupted in the direction of the sea.

He scanned quickly over every house in sight, but except for a woman leading a saddled horse into a stable of one of them, about a mile away, there were no signs of life to be seen anywhere. He turned sharply and caught the Admiral looking at him in a peculiar manner. The old man at once began to talk very quickly.

"Most interesting country this," he said boisterously, "because of its association with Anglo-Saxon times. All along the coast every place has got its little bit of history. Now you see that hut there across the marshes, Overy Marshes they're called, well, it's on the site of an old Danish camp that is more than a thousand years old."

"No one lives there, of course," said the detective.

"Oh, yes, but someone does," replied the Admiral. "Old Henrik, the fisherman, has been there years and years, and that's his boat upon the foreshore. Funnily enough, he's a Dane himself and he's got quite a romantic history. He was master of his own ship once and it was wrecked here more than thirty years ago, when he was quite a young man. He was the only survivor. He lost everything and his wife was drowned. He went half out of his mind, they say, and they couldn't get him away from the spot so they subscribed and bought him an old boat and he's been there ever since. A darned good fisherman, but he wears his hair long and is supposed never to have a wash. He brings his fish up to the Abbey sometimes."

"And those other houses on the shore," asked the detective, "they look very dilapidated, are they inhabited?"

"Some of them are," replied the Admiral, "but most are empty." He pointed with his arm again. "But I notice two men have lately come to that stone one nearest the camp. They are the usual sporting chaps, I suppose, and have come after the wild duck." He laughed. "They're deuced early if that's their game, for the duck won't be here in any number for some weeks yet."

"Oh!" exclaimed the detective, interested at once, "then how long have those men been there?"

The Admiral considered. "About a month, I should say. I've been staying here now for seven weeks and I didn't notice them at first." He smiled and pointed to a quantity of cigarette butts upon the floor. "I'm often up here for an old sea-dog can't keep his eye very long away from the sea. Hullo!" he went on, looking out of the window again, "here comes Sir Parry out in the rain." He laughed. "There are two things that occupy Sir Parry's mind. His big telescope and our gracious Lady Ardane, and I almost think that the telescope comes first."

"That's his house then with the long windows at the top," commented Larose, pointing to a high pagoda-like structure about half a mile away. "What a queer-looking place for a wealthy man, as he is said to be!"

"Yes, but he's a bachelor and lives there all by himself," said the Admiral.

"What! no servants," exclaimed Larose,

"Oh! yes, two," was the reply, "but they live in another building, a hundred yards and more away behind those trees. He won't have them sleeping in the house. One's almost stone deaf and the other is a deaf-mute." The Admiral chuckled. "Sir Parry's quite a woman-hater except for Lady Ardane."

For half an hour and more Larose remained up in the tower, and when ultimately the two descended together he had almost as good an idea of the surrounding country as if he had tramped it on foot. The Admiral had been coming to the Abbey for several years and there was not a village that he did not know something about, or a creek with which he was not familiar. He chatted so openly, too, about everything, that although the detective was certain he had not come up there solely to look at those destroyers, and also that the matter of the handkerchief was suspicious, still he could hardly bring himself to believe that the old man was one of the plotters.

Returning into the Abbey and parting with the Admiral, Larose came upon Lestrange, alone in the library. The barrister was reading, and after a quick look at the detective, lowered his eyes again upon his book, but Larose went up to him and said quietly:—

"Anyone been curious about me?"

Lestrange favored him with a cold stare. "What do you mean?" he asked. His lips curved to a contemptuous smile. "People in our class, Mr. Larose, do not display their curiosity about fellow guests, whatever may be their private thoughts."

"Oh!" exclaimed the detective in no way abashed, "then no one has asked you anything particular about me?"

"No," was the reply with a cold smile, "and no one has even mentioned your cigarette case."

Proceeding into the lounge, the detective, under the pretence of warming himself before the fire, drew up a chair close to the airman and Clive Huntington, who were talking earnestly together, and he noted they abruptly broke off their conversation as he did so. Also, the airman frowned slightly, as if he were annoyed at their being disturbed.

However, Clive Huntington at once began to ask Larose about Australia, informing him that he had twice been there himself. The young naval engineer had very nice manners, and as the detective regarded his open and handsome face, he thought with a pang that it would be very hard to associate so pleasing a personality with any form of heartless crime.

But of Bernard Daller he did not form quite so good an opinion. He was good-looking certainly, and no one could deny the atmosphere of courage and capacity that surrounded him, but still, the detective thought him to be just the type of man who would be disposed to take risks other than those in the air, and risks, too, that might be of a very questionable nature. Certainly he was a cold gambler, for the previous night at bridge he had been wanting to play for higher stakes than were agreeable to any of the others.

They chatted for a few minutes and then the Senator and his friend, Rankin, came and joined them, and the detective realised suddenly with a start that all the four men who had left their rooms during the night were now gathered round him, and for some reason they were all undoubtedly interested and curious about him.

Daller continued to eye him frowningly, Huntington never wanted to leave him long out of the conversation, the Senator was taking good note of everything he said and putting in a searching question every now and then, and the large, placid eyes of the American were always turned upon him.

Presently he took out his cigarette case and passed it round, and Rankin, being the last one to handle it, after he had taken out a cigarette, continued for a few moments to interestedly examine the case.

"My!" he exclaimed, "that's pretty." He held it up for the brilliants to catch the light, and then added as he passed it back—"But when you've had it a little while, you'll find it'll show the scratches badly. That high carat gold always does."

Larose flushed with annoyance. He had played a bad card, for this shrewd-looking man had dismissed with a word all pretension that a seventy-five guinea cigarette case formed part of his, Larose's, daily life.

And then, all at once, as if to compensate for his discomfiture, he became positive that he was now the centre of a little comedy in which two sets of players, both upon their own, were trying to find out all about him; the Senator and Rankin on the one hand and the airman and Clive Huntington upon the other, with the curiosity in both cases being shared by the respective partners.

That they were all trying to turn him inside out he was certain, for whenever the Senator asked him a question about his life in Australia, Rankin immediately supplemented it with a further one, and whenever Daller, who had now thrown off his frown and was all amiability, wanted to be informed about something, Huntington invariably chipped in for a more detailed form of reply.

It was exactly, he thought, as it they were all doubtful if he were what he was making himself out to be and were putting him well through the 'once over,' and he wondered with a grin, which, however, he instantly suppressed, if he did not come too well out of the ordeal, from which of the two parties he would be receiving a bullet in due course of time.

And he certainly would have been highly gratified with himself if he had heard the remark that the airman made to Clive Huntington as later on they were all trooping into lunch.

"I don't quite understand that fellow," said that dashing gentleman quietly. "He's altogether too plausible and innocent for a man with those eyes and that facial angle."

After lunch the weather began to clear up a little and someone suggested that they should go for a blow by the sea.

"Oh! yes, do let us go," exclaimed Patricia Howard with animation. "Let's go over to Holkham Bay and see if old Henrik has caught any fish."

"Yes," supplemented Sir Arnold Medway, "and I ought to have a look and see how the old chap's hand is getting on."

So, soon after three, five car-loads of the guests, along with Lady Ardane and the little baronet, proceeded in the direction suggested, the detective being in the car driven by the great surgeon and containing Miss Howard, Mrs. Charters and the very affable Rankin.

The girl was full of energy and talk, and for the benefit of Larose and the American gave them full details of the romantic history of the lonely fisherman at the hut upon the Danish Camp.

"And he's never been really right since," she added, "for he's like a child in many ways and even after these thirty years has only picked up a few words of English. He understands what you say but cannot answer back."

Their short journey was soon over and their cars were parked upon the sands of Holkham Bay. There was no sign of old Henrik or his boat, however, and proceeding to his hut, as they expected, they found it empty.

"But look what a place to live in," said Lady Ardane, "for over thirty years. No comforts and not even the bare necessities of life, and yet he appears quite happy."

And certainly there could not be much comfort about the hut, for it contained no furniture of any description. Empty boxes formed the table and chair of the old man, and where he kept his few battered and dilapidated cooking utensils. In one corner there were a quantity of old sacks, and scattered about everywhere were his lobster pots and nets. A number of empty bottles were heaped in a corner.

"And those are the great consolation of his life, ladies and gentlemen," said Sir Arnold with a smile. "Rum, just rum, for I am sorry to say our friend often gets very drunk. He half severed one of his fingers a couple of weeks or so ago, when he was in that condition, and it was quite accidentally that I noticed his injury and gave him some treatment the other day."

Returning on to the sands, they passed within a hundred yards of the stone house Admiral Charters had pointed out to Larose that morning as being now the dwelling-place of two newcomers to the marsh, and the detective had a good look at it as they went by. Smoke was rising from one of the chimneys and he was half-minded to go up for a closer inspection and even to make some excuse and obtain word with anyone there, but he thought better of it, determining to make a secret investigation later on.

Arriving upon the seashore, the little party became aware of a boat just coming round a spit of sand that jutted out into the sea, and it was immediately seen to be that of Henrik.

They waited for him to pull in, and as soon as the boat grounded the old man sprang out, and seeing Lady Ardane among the little group awaiting him, shouted eagerly. "Bacco, bacco, me have good fish."

He was certainly a most disreputable looking old fellow, tall and gaunt and with cadaverous features, hollow cheeks and toothless gums. His hair was long and matted and drooped over his face and almost down to his shoulders. Around the fingers of one hand was tied a filthy rag.

"And he was said to be very handsome once," said Miss Howard with a grimace of disgust, "and see him now."

"Let's have a look at your hand, Henrik," said the great surgeon firmly, "and not a cigarette until I've attended to it. Come up to the car. I've got a fresh bandage there."

The hand was re-bandaged, and from the fish in the boat Lady Ardane pointed out which she wished to take.

"But put them in a bag, please, Henrik," she said, "and be quick about it because it's going to pour with rain in a minute," and with the sweeping up of a threatening cloud from over the sea, they all hurried back towards the cars.

The old man, shouldering his basket of fish, disappeared into his hut, to emerge again, however, very quickly with the selected fish in a small sugar bag.

The ladies of the party had already seated themselves in the cars, but some of the men were still standing about to finish their cigarettes. Henrik tied the bag of fish on to the luggage grid of Sir Arnold's car, and with the rain beginning to fall in real earnest now, everyone proceeded to take their places.

It happened that Larose and the airman were the last two to make for their respective cars and the detective, a few paces behind the latter, suddenly became aware that someone was pulling at his sleeve.

He turned and saw it was the old fisherman. At first he thought Henrik was begging for a tip, and he was putting his hand into his pocket to find a sixpence, when Henrik all at once screwed up his face in a peculiar manner and with his damaged hand pointing furtively to the airman, whispered hoarsely, "Smuggler—watch." Then as Miss Howard called out shrilly, "Come on, please, Mr. Maxwell, the rain is blowing in the door," the amazed detective would have sworn that the sunken lips of the old fisherman framed the word "Dope."

For the moment the detective was too astounded to take in what had happened, but then, quickly recovering his wits, he put out a hand to lay hold of Henrik and ask him what he meant. The old man, however, avoided his grasp and with an amused chuckle as a good-bye, proceeded to shuffle quickly off to his hut.

Then, Miss Howard calling out again for him to come, and the rain now beginning to fall in sheets, the detective, as puzzled as he had ever been in his life, jumped into the car and seated himself beside her.


CHAPTER IV.—IN THE HOURS OF THE NIGHT

It was a very puzzled and uneasy detective who was driven back to the Abbey that afternoon, for he was finding it impossible to determine the significance of what had just happened.

It seemed incredible, but he had to believe the evidence of his own ears. The old fisherman had called the airman a smuggler and had almost certainly, too, used the word "dope."

But it was not that that was so particularly disturbing, although the incident there was extraordinary in itself. It was that the fisherman had chosen him, Larose, to whom to impart the information, and had added the word "watch!"

It was exactly as if the fisherman were aware who he, Larose, was and was warning him.

And yet he was quite certain he had never set eyes upon Henrik before, for when Sir Arnold had been bandaging the dreadful wound upon the man's hand, he had taken good stock of him, and had been particularly impressed by the unusual-looking appearance of the fisherman.

Then if it were really true that Daller was in the illicit drug traffic, how had that become known to this lonely old man, who was supposed to be half-witted, and who was living a life almost entirely out of touch with human kind?

But Larose was thrilled, too, with his thoughts, for if Daller were indeed a member of a dope gang, then he, Larose, had under his hand one undoubted criminal among the aristocratic party now up at the Abbey, and from one known criminal he would be a poor sort of detective, he told himself, if he did not succeed in tracking down the others.

He smiled with some satisfaction. He had not been at the Abbey twenty-four hours and he had already two clues to follow! The dashing airman and the two newcomers to the home upon the marsh.

Arriving back at the Abbey, and as they were passing through the lounge, he moved up close to Lady Ardane and under cover of expressing his enjoyment of the little excursion they had just had, whispered that he wanted to see her as soon us possible. She frowned slightly as if not too pleased at the request, but whispered back, "In my boudoir, just before six."

At five minutes before six then he was alone with her in her room and explaining to her what he wanted. He must be able to go outside the Abbey at night, he said, and he was afraid, although he did not like the idea, that the night watchman upon the ground floor must be taken partly into the confidence.

For some reason, Lady Ardane seemed rather disturbed at his request, and asked immediately why he wanted to be able to go outside.

"Oh! I want to be quite free at any time in all my movements," he replied non-committally, "and be able to go just where I like." He smiled. "You see, your ladyship, we detectives do a lot of our work in the dark."

She did not, however, smile in return, and after hesitating a few moments, opened a drawer in her desk and brought out a key. "You can have this, then," she said rather reluctantly, "but take great care of it, because it is the only one left. It opens the small door at the far end of the Abbey, in the corridor beyond the library. There are only two keys to this door and Sir Parry has the other one."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose. "Sir Parry has one, has he? Then he can come in and out here whenever he wants to?"

"Certainly," replied Lady Ardane. "He attends to all my business affairs for me, and can go into the office at all times without disturbing anybody. He uses the library too, very often."

"Well, just one thing," said Larose preparing to leave the room, "how long have you known Mr. Daller and where did you first meet him?"

Lady Ardane's manner was icily cold. "About three years," she replied, "and I met him at Hurlington. I have already told you he is a great friend of mine." She inclined her head. "So you need not look for the culprit there, for Mr. Daller would do anything for me."

"No doubt," thought Larose with an unreasoning pang of jealousy as he left the room, "even to the extent of making you Mrs. Bernard Daller, if he could."

With an hour and more to spare before he need get ready for dinner, the detective made an inspection of the little door for which he had just been given the key. It was, as Lady Ardane had said, at the very end of the building, and in that part that had once led out from the old cloisters. The walls were very thick and old, and the door was narrow, and only just wide enough to admit one person at a time. He inserted the key in the lock with the idea of dropping in a little oil if necessary so that the door might open quite noiselessly when he came to use it, but he at once found no lubricant would be required, for not only the lock but the hinges of the door also had been oiled recently. He could smell the oil distinctly.

He bent down, and for a long minute examined the hinges, then returning slowly along the corridor and desiring to be alone with his own thoughts for a little while, he opened the door of the library, feeling sure that at that time of the evening the large room would be empty.

But he at once found he was mistaken, for Sir Parry Bardell was seated at one of the tables and with a large tome before him, was making notes upon a sheet of paper.

The knight looked up with a frown at the opening of the door, as if annoyed at being disturbed, but then perceiving who it was, the frown changed instantly into an engaging smile, and he beckoned the detective into the room.

"Come in, come in, Mr. Maxwell," he called out to the hesitating detective. "You won't disturb me. Indeed I shall be glad of your company, for I always find this huge room very lonely, by myself."

He rose to his feet and, pulling out the chair next to him, invited the detective to sit down.

Larose was nothing loath, indeed nothing pleased him better, for it was the first time he had had an opportunity of studying Sir Parry at close quarters.

Larose took the chair that Sir Parry offered him and the latter pointed to the book that he had been reading. "Look at those quaint old characters, Mr. Maxwell," he said. "This book is five hundred years old and I'm digging out some information from it about this very Abbey. I am writing a history of the Abbey, you know, and I've been on it now for over three years. Lady Ardane asked me to do it"—he made a wry face—"but I really wish I hadn't taken it on now, for it absorbs such a lot of my time. I seem to be always in here, and it keeps me from my great hobby, the study of the stars." He laid his hand lightly upon the detective's arm. "Ah! but you must come and see my place one day and I'll show you my big telescope. It's wonderful and I'm very proud of it."

He chatted on in the most friendly manner possible, passing from one subject to another with an almost boyish enthusiasm, and as the conversation progressed, he was most interesting to watch. When he was animated, there was all openness and simplicity in his expression, but with his features falling into repose, the detective noted they could set in very stern and uncompromising lines, with nothing of weakness or indecision about them. Sometimes, too, Larose thought then that he looked very sad.

Presently, when happening to refer to Lady Ardane and the great responsibility that had fallen on her in her widowhood, he lowered his voice suddenly and, regarding the detective with great intentness, asked with an ominous shake of the head. "But you have heard something of this trouble she is in?"

"Ah! now I may learn something," thought Larose gleefully. "Someone's going to talk about it at last."

"Yes," he nodded at once, "Mr. Lestrange told me an attempt had been made to kidnap the little baronet."

"But not only that," said Sir Parry, gritting his teeth savagely together, "for someone, the night before last, tried to waylay her when she was alone in her car."

"Oh! do tell me about it," exclaimed Larose, looking as horrified as be could. "I have heard nothing about that."

And then Sir Parry, with some emotion, related what had happened upon the Norwich road when Lady Ardane had been fired upon, and from the narrative he gave, the detective realised how cleverly the mistress of Carmel Abbey had managed to suppress all mention that she had had a companion with her at the time.

When Sir Parry had finished, he heaved a big sigh. "But perhaps I ought not to have told you anything about it," he said, looking very troubled, "and yet it is such a relief to me to discuss it with anyone." His voice dropped almost to a whisper. "Among ourselves here we talk about it as little as possible, and I believe we all want to think that Lady Ardane dreamt it." His eyes blazed and he slapped his hand upon the table. "But I ask you, Mr. Maxwell, as a man of the world, what do you think of it and whom can you imagine the wretches can be?"

But Larose could, apparently, make nothing of it, for in his country, Australia, such happenings as this had never occurred, and all he could suggest were the ideas he had picked up from reading about kidnapping gangs in America.

They talked on for a long while until indeed Larose had to leave to get ready for dinner. Sir Parry shook him warmly by the hand as they bade each other good night and the last glimpse the detective had of the very troubled, retired shipowner, was of him sinking back despondently into a big armchair with no thought any more, at any rate for the time, of the history of the Abbey he was writing.

"A very kind-hearted man," was Larose's comment as he mounted the stairs to his room, "but the hard, relentless work of his business life has taken its toll, both physically and mentally, and he looks very much older to me than fifty-seven." He smiled whimsically to himself. "Yes, whatever people may say, if you want to really enjoy riches, you must inherit them and not acquire them yourself. The process of acquisition seems much too exhausting, and takes too much out of you."

Just before midnight, and having plasticened a number of bedroom doors, as he had done the previous night, Larose let himself out the little cloister door, and skirting round the back of the Abbey, made his way to among the trees that everywhere lay close up to the low fence that circled all round the Abbey grounds.

He was reckoning that by keeping among the trees he could watch, unseen, every side of the Abbey that he wanted to, but, all the same, he knew it was to the sea aspect that he must give most attention. He was of opinion that there was just a chance someone might signal from one of the windows of the Abbey, and in return receive an answer from some distant house.

He was not too hopeful about it, but at any rate, he told himself, it was the first thing to be considered, and must not be neglected at any cost. Later, about 2 o'clock, he intended to make his way over the marshes and have a talk with old Henrik. Waking him up in the middle of the night would mean nothing to the old fisherman, for he was, of course, accustomed to rise at all hours to attend to his nets.

The moon was shining, but there were clouds all about, and it looked as if more rain would fall during the night.

The detective gained the shelter the trees and scanned over the many windows of the Abbey, but everyone was apparently in bed and no lights were showing anywhere.

Keeping always to the shelter of the trees, he promenaded twice, in a wide circle, all round the Abbey. The moon was fitful and continually disappearing behind the clouds, and he thought with a pang of uneasiness that it was an ideal night for anyone, waiting upon his opportunity, to leave the place unseen.

Nothing happened for more than an hour, although once for a few moments he had half thought he saw a figure among the trees about two hundred yards distant from him, but warily approaching the suspected spot, he had found no one there, and had returned to what he considered his best point of observation, right opposite to the main entrance to the Abbey, facing towards the sea.

All at once, when the moon was showing faintly after a short period of disappearance behind a cloud, he thought he saw something moving along by the fence, a good distance away from where he was standing.

He put up his glasses with the full expectation that he was going to disappointed as before and then—his heart began to beat quickly—for he distinctly saw a shadow move up to the fence and then stand motionless as if it were peering through the rails.

The figure was slight and small and looked that of a boy.

Instantly, then, he began to move towards it with the utmost speed that he could, but his progress was slow, for he was hampered by the many bushes he had to push through. He had, too to proceed in a crouching attitude all the way, and he took so long in covering the distance that he was fearful at any moment the boy would run off and he would not have seen which way he had gone.

Presently, however, when he judged he could not be far from where he had first seen the boy, he rose to his feet behind the trunk of a tree, and to his great relief caught sight of him, not fifty yards away.

The lad was now a few feet away from the fence and, muffled well in scarf and long macintosh with a high collar, was standing quite motionless except that every now and then he turned his head to one side as if he were listening, and then glanced up at the sky.

"The little devil!" muttered the detective. "He's only waiting for the moon to cloud over again and then he's going to bolt away."

But all at once, to the great joy of the detective, the boy began to walk slowly to where he was hiding.

A minute passed, and pausing every few steps to turn his head round and round in every direction, the boy came on.

Then the detective pounced, and in a lightning movement grabbed at him and lifted him into his arms. A half-stifled scream came from the muffled figure and it struggled furiously, then getting one arm free, it struck at the detective's face and the latter felt a stinging scratch upon his check.

"You little devil!" he exclaimed angrily. "Stop that and don't make a sound or I'll choke the life out of you. Now, keep still," and almost as quickly as they had begun, the struggles ceased.

Then Larose gasped in amazement. It was a woman he was holding and from the scent of her—it was Lady Ardane.

He smiled grimly as she lay limp and helpless in his arms, but with his recognition now perfectly sure, he yet still continued to hold her. She was soft and sweet-smelling, and it was at all events, he told himself, some recompense for the trouble she had given him.

He let her on to her feet at last, but then for a few moments continued to support her, as, apparently quite exhausted by her struggles, she leaned heavily against him.

"So it's you, is it?" he said grimly. "Now what are you up to, out here at this time of night?"

"You were rough," she said shakily, chafing over her arms, and with her words coming in jerks. "You are a brute."

"If it comes to that," replied Larose calmly, "who would not be when he is trying to hold a scratching woman?" He passed his hand over one side of his face. "Your nails are sharp, my lady, and you've scratched me right enough. It stings horribly."

"I didn't know who you were," she panted, "and I thought you were one of those men."

"Well, never mind about that," he said. "I want to know what you are up to here, at this time of night."

"Mind your own business," she replied sharply. "I refuse to tell you. You were not engaged to spy upon me, anyhow."

"Oh! I wasn't, was I?" said Larose. "Then let me tell you straight, I'm here to spy upon everyone."

"I wish you had never come," she went on passionately. "I've grown to hate the very sight of you."

"Quite a lot of people have felt like that," he remarked calmly, "and those of them who are not dead are mostly in prison." He repeated his question again. "Now what are you up to out here?"

She began to cry, but in a quiet and very restrained manner, and at once all his annoyance left him and he felt very sorry for her. "Of course," he said lamely, "if you were only going to meet a sweetheart, I know it is no business of mine, and I don't want to interfere. I quite——"

"You fool!" she burst out, with the tears instantly drying up; "a woman in my position meeting a sweetheart here!"

"Well," remarked Larose judicially, "I could understand it, and indeed might almost consider him a lucky man. After all, you are only like other women and I suppose——"

But he stopped suddenly, and gripping her by the arm, pulled her quickly down behind a tree. "Hush! hush!" he exclaimed, "there's a man over by those bushes. Crouch as low as you can and don't move. He's looking this way."

All her anger forgotten in her terror, she obeyed him instantly, and crouching down close beside him, he could feel the quick beating of her heart as her body touched his. She felt for his hand for protection and then, realising what she had done, instantly snatched it away again.

Holding their breaths together, they stared out between the trees.

Quite close to them and less than a hundred yards away they could see the head and shoulders of a man silhouetted against the sky. The man was partly hidden by a bush, and that he had not caught sight of them was evident, for with a pair of glasses to his eyes, he was sweeping everywhere around. Then after a few moments they saw that his glasses were fixed upon the Abbey.

"Now, you remain here," whispered Larose, straightening himself up, "and I'll try and stalk him. The cover's bad but I may be able to get behind him and make a grab."

But she seized him tightly by the arm. "No, you're not to leave me," she panted, "and I won't be left here alone. There may be others with him and I'm afraid."

"But——" began Larose.

"No, you shall not go," she went on. "I won't have it." And the detective, seeing it was useless to argue, sank back into his crouching position, with the reflection as she still continued to hold on to his arm, that the work of a detective was not without its privileges.

For quite five minutes the man with the binoculars remained motionless and then with a long sweep round again in every direction, he began to walk warily but quickly towards the Abbey.

"But where's he going?" asked Lady Ardane tremulously. "He can't get in, for every door is locked and every window has an alarm now."

"Wait," said the detective, "we shall soon see."

And very quickly they saw, for the man, with no hesitation at all, made straight for the little cloister door, and pausing for just two seconds to look intently behind him, thrust in a key, and, the door opening, he disappeared into the Abbey. He closed the door after him.

"Good gracious!" wailed Lady Ardane, "but what will happen now!"

The detective put down the glasses through which he had followed every footstep of the man. "Nothing, tonight," he said a little chokingly. "He'll just go upstairs and put himself to bed. That's all." A grim note came into his tones. "I know who he is. I saw his face that last moment when he turned round."

"You recognised him!" exclaimed Lady Ardane incredulously. "Then who is he!"

"One of your guests," replied Larose sternly, "but I'm not going to tell you which one. If I did, your manner when you meet him to-morrow would let him know instantly that something was wrong."

"But I ought to know," she said warmly. "One of my guests! But it is incredible."

"But it's what we've always expected," said Larose gruffly, "and it's no surprise to me. What I am wondering"—and his eyes glinted suspiciously in the darkness—"is how he got hold of a key to that door if, as you say, there are only two in existence. The lock's one of the best and a new key for it was not made in a hurry."

"But there are only two," insisted Lady Ardane. "I am sure of it. Sir Parry has one and you have the other." A catch came into her voice. "I'll ask Sir Parry to-morrow if he's lost his."

"No, no, you won't, please," said Larose sternly. "You'll just let me handle this, and you'll not breathe a word about to-night to anyone." He held her eyes with his in the moon light. "Now you promise, don't you?"

"But I ought to know who that man was," she said warmly, "for after all this matter most concerns me."

"But I am dealing with it," was the sharp reply, "and I know more about criminals than you do. So you'll have to leave it with me, please, and you promise, don't you?"

She hesitated. "All right," she said wearily, "have it your own way. You keep your secret and I'll keep mine"—her voice quivered—"but I shall get no sleep to-night."

He ignored her plaintive tone and asked in a most business-like way, "Now how did you get out of the Abbey!"

"By the hall door," she replied, "and young Hollins will open it again for me when I tap."

"You can trust him as a watchman!" asked Larose.

"Oh! yes. He's quite young, and he's an assistant scoutmaster at Hunstanton. He's just twenty-one."

"Good," said the detective, "and we'll wait until that cloud covers the moon and then you can run home. It looks as if the rain's coming on again."

They stood in silence under the trees, and such is the mystery of life that, with all the excitement of the manhunt surging through him, the thoughts of the detective were now more upon the woman beside him than upon the man whom he had seen enter through the cloister door. This red-haired woman had scratched his face and called him a brute and a fool, and yet in the darkness there, there were tender lines about his mouth and he was smiling to himself that he had held her in his arms.

Suddenly the moon went under and it became pitch dark and began to rain. "Now you can go," said the detective, "and you needn't unduly hurry, for it look's as if we shall get no more moon to-night."

"But you're coming with me," she said quickly.

"Of course," he replied, although until that moment he had had no thought of accompanying her.

She held to his arm, as a matter of course, and without a word they crossed the three hundred yards or so to the Abbey door. Then she drew herself quickly away.

"Good-night," he said in very matter-of-fact tones, "and don't you forget your promise."

"No, I'll not," she replied. She stretched out and touched his arm again in the darkness. "I'm sorry I scratched you, Mr. Larose," she went on, "but I was just terrified when you caught hold of me."

"Quite all right," he laughed. "I've had worse things happen to me than scratches. Good-night."

Larose made sure she had entered the Abbey in safety, and then, as the rain had now begun to fall heavily, he flattened himself close against the wall to obtain what shelter he could.

"Gee!" he exclaimed, now turning his thoughts resolutely to the matter that had brought him out that night, "but that was the American right enough. I saw his face distinctly. Rankin, the friend of the Senator! Now what the devil does that mean? The trusted friend of her step-father prowling about at night! And how did he get a key to that door, too, when Sir Parry Bardell has the only other one!"

His thoughts ran on. "And this red-haired party that I have just been holding in my arms. What was she out for to-night, and what was she doing by the fence? It must have taken something very urgent to make her come out in the middle of the night, for with all her red head she has a gentle streak in her and can get frightened like any other woman." He shook his head. "Yes, I'm up against some things that are very puzzling and they'll want a lot of straightening out."

He remained where he was for quite a quarter of an hour and then, the rain falling faster and faster, gave up all thoughts of any further excursions that night. He let himself in very cautiously by the cloister door, pausing for a long time to examine the hinges again by the shrouded light of the electric torch. Then he tiptoed up to the first floor and made a round of inspection of all doors against which he had placed his plasticene. One only had been opened, and as he expected it was that of Theodore Rankin.

"Yes, it was he, right enough," he murmured, "and I'll keep a good eye on my gentleman now."

Back in his own room, he switched on the light and ruefully regarded a long scratch upon his cheek. It extended right down from the corner of his eye on to his chin.

"And there'll be no hiding it tomorrow," he said with a shake of his head. "Everybody will see that I've been in the wars and wonder what I've been up to."

He took some tincture of iodine out of his suitcase and generously swabbed it into the scratch.

"Never a rose without its thorns," he sighed. "She has a pretty little hand, with beautiful white fingers, and I suppose I ought to feel honored to have had it upon my face. Yet, if I don't well disinfect the mark it left, I may get as nasty a septic wound as if some dustman had been at work there." He made a wry face as the iodine smarted. "Funny world this, and we men are strange creatures! Now there was I, simply thrilled with that red head upon my shoulder and imagining it quite a little bit of Heaven while it lasted, and yet"—he sighed again—"if I had it there half a dozen times, the thrills would be nearly all gone and it would need a black or a brown head to bring them back." He sighed for the third time. "One so soon gets accustomed to the most delightful experiences, for we are so made that novelty and change are the very spice of life."

In the morning, leaving his room to go down to breakfast, he almost ran into Theodore Rankin in the corridor. They bade each other good morning and the American eyed him very solemnly.

"Dear me!" thought Larose as they descended the stairs together, "but he seems every bit as interested in me as I am in him, for that look he gave me was anything but a cursory one."

In anticipation of the forthcoming shoot, nearly everyone had come down early, and they chatted animatedly together. Lady Ardane showed no traces of her adventure, looking as fresh as a rose and as if she had slept all night.

Suddenly, during a lull in the conversation. Patricia Howard exclaimed interestedly, "Oh! Mr. Maxwell, what a nasty scratch upon your cheek! Have you been playing with the cat?" And everyone at once turned to regard the detective.

Larose muttered a bad word under his breath, but replied with a ready smile, "Yes, I have, and you see she didn't like me over much."

"Well, it'll be a lesson to you," smiled back the girl, "to leave strange cats alone."

"But cats are like the ladies, I've always found," remarked Admiral Charters with an assumption of great knowledge of the other sex. "They scratch you one moment, and the next they are purring up to you as close as they can get," and Lady Ardane looked down and bit hard upon her lip in a vain endeavor to prevent her face from becoming very red.

The meal was certainly not without its interest to the detective, for he was exerting his psychological powers to the utmost in a study of everyone at the table, and he eventually came to the conclusion that there was a most unusual feeling in the attitudes of three of the people there towards him.

He was not including Lady Ardane, for as he had rather expected, she was very subdued in her manner and never once, as far as he noticed, gave a single glance in his direction.

But it was very different with Senator Harvey, Rankin and Clive Huntington, for he caught all three of them looking covertly at him many times. The Senator, frowning as if he were very puzzled; Rankin, quite amiable, and as if he were a friendly adversary taking stock of a rival with whom he might have to come to grips at any time; and Huntington as if he were very amused about something.

Larose was sure he was not imagining it all, for in his life of the tracking down of crime he prided himself upon having developed most sensitive powers of determining when he was an object of special interest to anyone.

He began to feel rather uneasy, for he was so certain that since he had arrived at the Abbey he had given no cause to anyone to think that he was anything otherwise than what he was making himself out to be.

The weather had improved during the night and the sun was now shining; nevertheless there were still indications that it was going to be a showery day. However, it was arranged that the shooting party should make a start at ten, and in the meantime, with breakfast over, nearly everyone went outside and stood sunning themselves before the big door.

Presently a tall, slouching figure was seen striding down the drive and it was recognised at once as that of Henrik. He was evidently coming up with the lobsters he had procured.

"Most opportune," thought Larose, "then I'll go beyond the fence and talk to him when he comes into the road."

So about a quarter of an hour later the detective, hidden now from all sight of the Abbey by the trees, stepped out in front of the fisherman as the latter was ambling along with his empty basket.

"Good morning," he said with a smile. "You remember me? I held your hand steady whilst it was being bandaged yesterday."

"Yah, yah," said Henrik smiling back. He stretched out his hand. "Bacco, bacco," he went on.

Larose took out his case and gave him a few cigarettes. "Now," he said, when Henrik with no delay had set light to one of them, "what do you know about Mr. Daller being a smuggler!"

But the old man did not take any notice of the question. "Goot," he said with, a deep puff at the cigarette. "Henrik like 'bacco."

"Well, what do you know about Mr. Daller?" asked the detective, repeating his question sharply.

Henrik smiled blandly. "No mooch Inglish," he replied, "no speak mooch."

"Nonsense!" said the detective. "You spoke it right enough last night. Now what do you mean?"

The fisherman shook his head. "No understand," he said.

Larose scowled, "Now look here, my friend," he said sternly, "I'm going to stand no nonsense from you. You pointed distinctly to Mr. Daller and said he was a smuggler and told me to watch."

"No," said Henrik stubbornly. "No speak Inglis."

The detective became furious. "You old liar," he cried, "you can speak it quite well when you want to." He gripped him tightly by the arm. "Now, tell me at once what you meant."

But the old man was so patently taken aback by the rough usage that he was receiving, that Larose all at once began to waver in his absolute conviction. Either Henrik was speaking the truth, or else he was one of the best actors the detective had ever seen.

"And do you mean to tell me," he said, still holding to the fisherman's arm, "that you never used the word smuggler, or watch, or dope?"

"No Inglis," replied Henrik shaking his head vigorously and looking really frightened. "Verra few words."

Larose let go his arm. "Look here," he said in his most persuasive tone, "you tell me what I want to know and I'll give you all the cigarettes I have here and a whole new box as well," and he took out his case again and let Henrik see there were still plenty in it.

The fisherman at once lost all his frightened appearance and flashed him a cunning look. "Goot! Goot!" he exclaimed eagerly and stretched out his hand.

"No," said Larose firmly, "you must tell me first," and he drew back the cigarette case.

The fisherman looked as disappointed as a child.

"No Inglis," he repeated plaintively. "Verra few words."

Larose gave it up. "Get off," he said angrily. "Either you are a knave or I am a fool," and he turned on his heel and started to walk back to the Abbey.

Henrik watched him for a few moments and then, with a grin at the half-dozen cigarettes he was holding in his hand, turned also and started to walk away.

Larose was in a great state of doubt. One moment he was sure that the fisherman had been lying and the next he was anathematising himself as an imaginative fool.

And yet he could swear, he kept on telling himself, that Henrik had said "smuggler," and "watch," and also with his sunken lips over his toothless gums, had mouthed the word "dope."

But for the time being, at all events, Larose was to have no further opportunity for speculation, for, arriving back at the Abbey, all was bustle and animation in preparation for the shoot. The men were to start away first, then, if it continued fine, the ladies would be joining them at the picnic lunch.

Always an enthusiastic lover of the gun, the detective was now delighted at the thought of his first meeting with the lordly and aristocratic pheasant.

So, notwithstanding his many perplexities and the very disappointing interview with the fisherman, he was in quite an elated state of mind, as, together with Sir Parry Bardell and Rankin, he found himself being driven swiftly along in the car of the great surgeon. Four cars in all were then leaving the Abbey.

But it was well for him that he was not aware of what exactly were going to be the happenings of the next few hours.

The death of many a beautifully-plumaged bird was knelling on that bright October morning, but had Larose only known it, his own death was almost being knelled too, and it was only by the merest chance that he was to return in the evening alive.

He had been marked down by one to whom another's life was of no account if it could be taken secretly, and in the pocket of one of the very men now leaving the Abbey were two cartridges whose missions of destruction were not intended for any bird.

However, everything went well until late in the afternoon, and although the detective had had no experience at all of the conditions appertaining to shooting in England, and had been feeling quite apprehensive that he might occasion satisfaction to the sneering and supercilious barrister if he failed, he had really acquitted himself handsomely, indeed earning the warm approval of the grim-visaged head gamekeeper, who had not seemed too pleased when he had been first informed that there was a novice among the party.

"But you'll do, sir," he said, when he saw Larose, with a clean right and left, bring down two rocketing birds that came over flying very high, "both beautifully-timed shots, sir."

The detective was delighted with himself. The birds had come bursting into sight above the trees, like projectiles from a gun, and in a lightning flash he had made a most accurate calculation as to how far they must travel to exactly run into his messengers of death.

After that, he had lost all his nervousness, and continued to do good execution among the birds. When all the party forgathered to partake of the sumptuous picnic lunch that had been provided, not a few of them congratulated him upon his prowess.

Larose was quite sorry Lady Ardane was not present to hear them, but a drizzling rain having set in about noon, none of the ladies had put in an appearance.

"And are you as good with the rifle as you are with the gun, Mr. Maxwell?" asked young Huntington presently with a most friendly smile.

"Oh! I've had a lot of luck this morning," laughed Larose, "and the birds would come my way." He nodded. "But I've done a good bit of kangaroo-shooting with the rifle."

"And the pistol?" asked Huntington very interestedly.

"Pretty fair," replied Larose, and he would have sworn that his interrogator suppressed a smile.

His good luck continued during the afternoon, and with the head gamekeeper, with an eye to a big tally at the end of the day, now invariably placing him in a favorable position, he brought down plenty of birds, and he smiled to himself many times, with the reflection that he was certainly combining pleasure with business.

A little before dusk the last covert was about to be beaten, and he was stationed at the extreme end of a rather dense wood.

He was about a hundred yards distant from the wood, among a number of scattered bushes, about waist high. Just in front of him ran a deep ditch and behind him, not ten paces away, was a tall, thick hedge, separating the field he was in from a tarred public road.

It had been close and muggy all day, but on account of the rain he had had to wear his macintosh nearly all the time. Now, however, the rain had stopped, and feeling uncomfortably warm, he took it off and threw it carelessly over a bush just beside him.

The wood was a long one and the guns were in consequence spread out. On his right, about 150 yards away, was Sir Arnold Medway, and on his left, although he could not see him, because of the bending round of the wood, he knew the American, Theodore Rankin, was stationed.

A few minutes passed in inaction, and the light beginning now to fade rapidly and hearing no sound of gunfire anywhere, he began to think that the shoot was over and that the beaters had been called off.

So, feeling a little tired with the unaccustomed exertions of the day, he sat down upon the ditchside and, with his gun across his knees, took out a cigarette.

Then suddenly—like a veritable crack of doom—came a deafening report right behind him, and the seething hiss of shot just above his head, and he saw his macintosh jerked off the bush as if someone had heaved it up with a vicious kick. Then not three seconds later the sounds were repeated, the bang and the vicious hiss, and his unfortunate macintosh, in whirls which he could not follow with his eyes, made another upward movement and then disappeared into the ditch.

His brain worked automatically, and realising something of what was happening he literally hurled himself, face forwards, into the ditch.

"Gosh!" he gasped, wringing the mud and water from his eyes, "but those were intended for me."

He waited only a few seconds and then, with his heart pumping like a steam engine, started to run at his utmost speed along the bottom of the ditch.

Less than a hundred yards brought him to the end, and he was now close to the tarred road, with a wide gap through the thick hedge, behind which he knew his would-be murderer must have been standing when he fired.

With his automatic pistol ready in his hand, he raised himself up stealthily and then, seeing no one near, wasted no time and sprang up on to the road.

But the road was quite deserted, and neither to the right nor to the left could he see any movement anywhere.

"Gone!" he muttered disgustedly, "and he probably thinks I'm dead." He nodded grimly. "But how right old Jones was! They soon found me out." He gritted his teeth. "And I'll soon find out how. It's a fight in the open now."

Larose turned suddenly, to find Sir Arnold only a few paces from him, walking slowly up. The great surgeon was carrying his gun upon his shoulder and was smoking a cigar. With eyes for everything, the detective noted that the cigar had only just been lit.

"Some birds came over then, Mr. Maxwell?" said Sir Arnold. "But they'll probably be the last, for Lord Wonnock has just signaled me that the beaters have been called off." He regarded the white face and muddied figure of the detective and his face puckered up into a frown. "But what's happened to you?" he asked. "You've been in the wars!"

"Nothing much," replied Larose, forcing a smile. "I slipped into the ditch. That was all."

But the surgeon's frown deepened, he took the cigar out of his mouth, hesitated a moment and then asked abruptly, "Are you a detective, Mr. Maxwell?"

Larose almost choked in his astonishment. He felt stifled and could hardly get his breath.

"Pardon my asking you," went on Sir Arnold quickly, "for I know of course that it's no business of mine, but the idea just came to me, very suddenly." He spoke with great kindliness. "Now, I see you are in distress. Can I help you in any way?"

Quick-witted as he was by nature, for once Larose could not for the second call up a sufficiently evasive reply, but instead asked hoarsely, "What makes you think I am a detective?"

Sir Arnold smiled. "Your face is ghastly white, sir," he replied, "and its pallor shows where you are made up." He shrugged his shoulders. "We are all aware of the trouble that is over Lady Ardane, and although, as far as I know, we have none of us discussed it, I think we are all of opinion that a detective has been introduced into the Abbey." He nodded gravely "So seeing you in this condition, it came to me that——" He broke off and asked sharply, "But tell me, what has just happened?"

"My macintosh got the contents of two barrels," replied Larose dryly, "but fortunately I was not in it at the time, as it was hanging upon a bush." He drew in a deep breath. "Someone fired twice, from behind that hedge, with the deliberate intention of killing me." His color began to come back, and he spoke now in a sharp, decisive tone. "Yes, I am a detective, Sir Arnold, and now please excuse me for taking a liberty," and stretching out his hand, he laid his fingers lightly upon one of the surgeon's wrists and felt for his pulse.

The great man looked very amused. "Taking no chances, I see,"—his face assumed a very grave expression—"and you are quite justified. No, my pulse is steady, and it was not I who fired upon you."

"I never thought it was," replied Larose quickly, dropping the wrist at once, "and I only touched you as a matter of form. Now," he went on, "if you will, you can do me a great service, but wait just a moment until I go and get my gun. I left it in the ditch."

"No, I'll come with you," said the surgeon instantly, "and if the assassin is still about, he may hesitate to fire again with me with you."

The detective retrieved his gun and the sadly-mutilated macintosh, and then together the two made their way on to the tarred road. Then almost immediately they saw Theodore Rankin step out from another gap in the hedge, some little distance away.

"Make some excuse, please, Sir Arnold," said Larose quickly, "and feel that man's pulse with as little delay as possible. Say I have been arguing with you that Americans are a very excitable race." His face darkened. "But not a word to anyone, please, that I have told you I am a detective."

The American looked in their direction, and then stood waiting for them to come up, and approaching him Sir Arnold lost no time in doing as the detective had asked.

"This Australian friend of ours, Mr. Rankin," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "has some very original ideas, and among others, he will have it that you Americans are excitable constitutionally, and so wear yourselves out much quicker than we cold-blooded Britishers do."

"Well, what I mean," explained Larose quickly, "is that in everything you undertake you get more excitement out of it than we do. Take the slaughter of these poor birds to-day, for instance. Now——"

"Give me your hand at once, Mr. Rankin," broke in Sir Arnold with mock solemnity, "and we'll settle this matter forthwith. The pulse-rate is a sure indication of the degree of excitement."

The American, looking rather puzzled, held out his hand and Sir Arnold proceeded very gravely to feel his pulse.

"Hum! hum!" he remarked after holding it for only a very few seconds, "quite quiet and regular." He turned to the detective. "So your theories, Mr. Maxwell, will not hold water in the case of this gentleman at any rate. As for you, sir," he went on to the American, "your pulse is much too slow. You smoke far too many cigarettes."

But the American made no comment. He was apparently too occupied in taking in the muddied condition of Larose.

"Don't be anxious, Mr. Rankin," laughed Sir Arnold. "Our friend has not been in a fight. He's only fallen into a ditch, and after covering himself with glory, he has now covered himself with mud."

The American smiled a slow, inscrutable smile. "But what did you get with those last two shots, Mr. Maxwell?" he asked.

"Nothing," replied the detective, shaking his head.

"Both were misses!" exclaimed the American, raising his eyebrows.

"Yes," replied Larose with a sigh, "misses with both barrels."

They proceeded to walk back to where all the cars had been left, and realised they must have been the last of the shoot to leave their stations, as they met the other three cars upon their way back to the Abbey. Larose was greatly disgusted, for he had been hoping to discern disappointment upon the face of some one among the party when he appeared unhurt.

A few minutes later they got into their car and Sir Arnold drove off at a good pace. They had not, however, proceeded a couple of hundred yards before a dreadful accident almost occurred. A boy upon a bicycle came careering out of a side lane and it was only by a matter of inches that he escaped being run down.

But Sir Arnold had kept his presence of mind, and well judging the distance, had swept by just the very fraction of a second before the bicycle came into the track of the car.

The great surgeon seemed quite unperturbed and made no remark, but Sir Parry, who was sitting next to him, uttered a long-drawn "O-oh," and then looked round with a ghastly smile to the detective and Rankin behind.

For the second the detective had felt his own heart stand still, but then, quickly alive to his opportunity, he turned to the American and laid his fingers lightly upon one of the latter's wrists.

Rankin only smiled. "Still steady and quiet," he remarked blandly, "and not a beat above the 65." He nodded. "I'm in the wheat gamble, you know, and you want nerves of steel to succeed there." He nodded again, "Nothing really upsets me, and I believe I could commit a murder without turning a hair."

And the detective, sinking back in his seat, was inclined to think so, too.


CHAPTER V.—LAROSE UNMASKED

Arriving back at the Abbey, the detective, avoiding the crowd assembled in the lounge, proceeded to make his way quickly up towards his room, in order to change his clothes as speedily as possible. At the top of the staircase, however, he came upon Lady Ardane with the little baronet and one of the nurses.

Stopping to reply to Lady Ardane's enquiry as to how the shoot had gone off, he made a quick movement of his head in the direction of her room to let her understand that he wanted to speak to her.

She took in at once what he wanted, and directing the nurse to take the child downstairs into the lounge turned back and motioned to the detective to follow her.

In her boudoir, with the door closed the detective told her quickly and in a very few words what had happened, holding up his macintosh for her inspection.

She went white to the lips. "Oh! how awful it is that they are so pitiless!" she exclaimed. "They will kill us both if they can't get us alive."

"But don't imagine things are even coming to that," said Larose reassuringly. "They blundered badly in not finishing me off to-day, and they'll never get such another chance." He looked quite cheerful. "I shall be fighting in the open now, and that will strengthen my hand a lot. So don't get downhearted, for I am certain we shall beat them in the end."

Lady Ardane made a great effort to pull herself together, "And you have no idea who it was?" she asked tremulously.

"Not the slightest," replied the detective, "and all that is clear is that they must have found out who I am, as Mr. Jones said they would." He went on briskly. "No, I won't come in to dinner to-night and you can tell them all about me. Then I'll appear just before the meal is over for I want to get a few words with the men before they have a chance of going up to their rooms."

"But wait a moment, please, Mr. Larose," said Lady Ardane quickly, "and let me think. No, no," she went on, "it mustn't be done like that. You must come in to dinner just the same, but I'll speak to the Senator at once and we will decide exactly what to do." She drew in a deep breath. "My step-father will be dreadfully angry that I have called in anyone to do with the police." A little assurance came back into her voice and she spoke much more firmly. "But, whatever he says, I am glad you are here"—she smiled wanly—"for I can see nothing frightens you, and you'll be quite as merciless as they are."

"Thank you," smiled Larose, "I'm sure I'm very much obliged for your opinion of me." He made a grimace. "But you're quite mistaken, for I do get very frightened sometimes, and I confess I'm a bit frightened now." He shivered. "I've been in these wet clothes for nearly an hour and if I don't change them soon I may have a peaceful death in my bed, instead of meeting with the honorable and violent one that I expect."

She was all sympathy at once. "Then go and have a boiling bath and I'll give you some special bath-salts of mine to put in. They're splendid if you're feeling chilled," and she darted into her bedroom, to return almost immediately with a daintily-ribboned jar.

Larose thanked her very much, and she gave him a smile, the pleasantest one, he was sure, that she had yet given him.

"Yes!" he remarked to himself when he was stripping off his sodden clothes, "that young woman can be very appealing when she wants to."

An hour later, feeling warm and comfortable and quite himself again, he was chatting to some of the ladies in the lounge, when he saw Senator Harvey enter, and before sitting down, glance intently in his direction. He could see instantly that the Senator had been told everything, and so excusing himself to the girl he was talking to, he walked over to him and sat down in a chair alongside.

"Good!" said the Senator dryly. "I wanted to have a word with you, young man." There was no one near them, and in the noisy buzz of conversation they could speak as privately as if they were alone.

"Well," went on the Senator with a sigh, "I've been told who you are and what has been happening, and I am very shocked about both pieces of information." His face expressed his keen displeasure. "Calling in the police was the last thing I wanted"—he shrugged his shoulders—"but of course it can't be helped now."

"In my opinion," said Larose sternly, "it ought to have been done at the very beginning, for there is all evidence that we are dealing with a very desperate gang of men."

The Senator smiled a cold, grim smile. "I am not quite a simpleton, Mr. Larose," he said, "and as the step-father of Lady Ardane I have been most fully alive to her danger, and keeping my eyes open very wide." He looked amused. "For one thing, I have had you under close observation from the moment you arrived, and am quite aware that you have been prowling about, out of your bedroom, upon both nights that you have been here."

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed the detective rather taken aback.

"Yes," went on the Senator, "a piece of hair was blobbed on to your door with white of egg each night directly you went in."

Larose felt very disgusted, but he passed the matter over as if it were of no importance.

"Now, none of the guests have been told," he asked, "of the two warnings Lady Ardane has received?" He spoke sharply. "I want to be quite sure about that."

"No," replied the Senator slowly, "none of the guests have been told."

"And not Sir Parry?" asked Larose.

"No, not even he," was the reply. "Lady Ardane and I promised that Naughton Jones we would not mention the matter to anyone, and although we were both most annoyed that the fellow took himself off as he did, we have adhered to our promise." He regarded the detective with a frown. "Now, what is it you want us to do?"

"I suggest a slight alteration to the plan I proposed to Lady Ardane," said Larose, "and would prefer now to come in to dinner as usual, and then towards the end of the meal bring out in the course of conversation who I am." He nodded confidently. "I'll manage it without any fuss."

The Senator considered. "All right," he said wearily, "have it your own way," and then as if glad to be relieved of all responsibility, he rose up without another word and moved over to join the ladies.

Larose remained where he was, and a few moments later, catching the eye of Sir Arnold, who had just come into the lounge, made a motion with his head that the surgeon should take the vacant chair nearby.

Sir Arnold strolled leisurely over and sat down. "Well," he said quietly, "you feel all right now?"

"Quite all right, thank you," replied the detective. He spoke very quickly. "I'm a detective, as I told you, and I come from Scotland Yard. My name is Larose, Gilbert Larose."

"Ah!" exclaimed the surgeon, and his calm, impassive face broke into a pleasant smile, "I've heard about you."

"Yes," went on the detective, "and I'm going to take you into my confidence, because you can render a great service to Lady Ardane by helping me." He bent towards Sir Arnold and spoke very quietly. "Now during dinner I'm going to let everybody know who I am"—his voice hardened—"and what I am here for. Then I am going to ask all the men to come with me into the blue morning room for a short talk." He nodded. "You must understand I want to get them all in there before any of them can have the chance of going up to their rooms. Then directly the door is closed upon us, I shall demand that each of them hand over his keys, so that I can go through any suitcase or trunk that he is keeping locked."

"But what on earth for?" asked the surgeon, looking very puzzled. "What do you expect to find in them?"

"A pistol, and probably narcotics and perhaps a hypodermic syringe," replied Larose instantly. "The criminal of to-day is scientific and it is quite on the cards that with any opportunity to get at Lady Ardane or the child, they may be drugged first." He nodded again. "Anyhow, I shall be very disappointed if I do not find something suspicious in the belongings of one of them."

"And how can I help you then?" asked Sir Arnold.

"By at once consenting to let me make a search when I ask, for that will make it difficult for anyone else to refuse."

"All right," said Sir Arnold, drily, "so I see I am to act as decoy."

That night at dinner Larose was at his brightest, and not a few wondering glances were from time to time cast his direction. He seemed to have become all at once quite a different man and was no longer the quiet and rather diffident young colonial they had hithereto regarded him.

Instead, he spoke now as an experienced man of the world, who had been brought in contact with many celebrities in his time, and had acquired a keen insight into human nature, generally. He told them, too, a lot about Australia; of its wide open spaces, its vast distances and the many adventures he had had there.

But, as none of them yet knew, he was doing it all for a purpose, and only waiting for the chance of disclosing in as careless and casual manner as possible, exactly what his profession was.

And presently the opportunity came. He had been telling them about the black trackers and how once, without a single mistake or false step, one of them had followed unerringly the trackless bush for ten days upon the trail of a desperado who was wanted for a murder in New South Wales. He told it very well, and everyone stayed their conversation to listen. Then when he had finished, Clive Huntington smiled and showed his beautiful white teeth.

"Really, Mr. Maxwell," he said with a glance of sly amusement round the table, "but you describe everything so graphically, that you might almost have been there yourself."

"And I was," replied Larose, smiling back. "I was the police officer in charge. I was a detective-inspector in Sydney then, and mine was the responsibility to obtain the man's arrest."

An amazed silence followed, and even, it seemed, the well-trained staff had been thrown out of their stride.

Lips were parted and every eye in the room was fastened upon Larose. It was as if no one there could believe their ears.

"Yes," went on Larose carelessly, "but I've been over here for more than a year and am attached now to Scotland Yard." He laughed. "Of course, Maxwell is not my real name. It's Larose, Gilbert Larose," and he swept his eyes round the table and in a lightning glance took in the expressions of them all.

Lady Ardane was flushed, but in a proud and queenly way quite at her ease. Senator Harvey was frowning heavily; the American seemed most interested; Sir Parry Bardell was looking very mystified and as if he could not understand it at all; the airman was scowling; Lord Wonnock looked very shocked; Lestrange was only bored; Admiral Charters looked as if he were going to burst; Clive Huntington was looking down his nose and smiling very thoughtfully and Patricia Howard was simply thrilled.

The girl was the first to break the silence. "And you are really the great Larose?" she asked breathlessly. "The man who's always shooting at people and killing them, and who never fails!"

"Oh! Come, Miss Howard," said the detective with a laugh, "please don't give me such an awful character, for I assure you I am a very peaceful man. I only shoot when I have to and then"—his face lost its smiling lines—"I naturally shoot as straight as I can."

Lord Wonnock cleared his throat "And are you down here in an official capacity, sir, if I may ask?"

"Certainly," replied Larose readily, "and I want to have a little talk with all you gentlemen in a few minutes. I am here——"

"Excuse me, please, Mr. Larose," broke in Lady Ardane quickly, "but I think I would prefer to explain." She looked round and her glance took in all at the table. "It is useless to make out to any of you that I have not been in great anxiety lately"—her voice trembled—"for I have been as distressed as any mother could be. As you all know, Mr. Naughton Jones came down to help me, but he was taken ill and had to go away. Then, upon his advice, I applied for Mr. Larose and we thought it best that no one here should know who he was. I acted all upon my own, and until this evening not even the Senator was aware what I had done. Now"—and her voice had become quite firm—"we think it is best you should all be taken into the secret and that is why"—she smiled—"Mr. Larose has been making himself known to you just now."

She paused for a moment to draw in a deep breath, and then went on with some emotion. "I may tell you now that Larose has already been of great service to me, for he was with me the other night when that attempt was made to waylay me in my car. He fired upon them when they were after us, and burst one of their tyres and that is only how we managed to get away."

Then suddenly all eyes were turned from her to the butler behind, for the man, ghostly pale, was seen to stagger and almost fall. One of the footmen rushed up to him, and steadying him upon his feet, half supported and half carried him from the room.

The incident occasioned no little concern among the ladies and Lady Ardane herself looked very upset.

"He's served the family for over 30 years," she explained, "and he's very devoted to me. He's very highly strung and has been anything but himself these last two weeks."

But Bernard Daller immediately proceeded to bring back the conversation to Larose.

"And now that we know who this gentleman is," he said pleasantly, "I expect we are all curious to know in what way it concerns us."

"Well, I want first to speak to you all, please," said Larose very quietly. "You gentlemen, only, I mean, and so when we have finished here, I'll get you all to come with me into the blue morning-room. Lady Ardane has arranged for it."

"Of course we'll come," said Sir Arnold promptly. "You want to enlist our help, I suppose."

Larose flashed him a grateful look. The surgeon had spoken in exactly the right tone and as if it would be only the natural thing for them to want to come.

A few minutes later, and the ladies having left the room, Larose moved to the door and held it open.

"Now, please, if you'll oblige me," he said briskly.

Sir Arnold went first, and with Larose following last of all, to make sure that no one slipped away, they were being shepherded into the morning-room.

Then, apparently greatly to their surprise, they perceived that one of the men servants was seated there, in a chair near the door, but he rose instantly to his feet upon their entrance and stood to attention with a very grim-set expression upon his intelligent face. He was Peter Hollins, the one time Assistant Scoutmaster in Hunstanton, and now the nightwatchman of the Abbey.

The detective shut the door, locked it and then calmly proceeded to put the key in his pocket.

"Hullo! hullo!" instantly exclaimed Bernard Daller, with a scowl. "What does this mean? We are prisoners! Eh!"

"Not at all," replied the detective diplomatically, "but I want to make sure we shall not be interrupted." He moved over to the window and took up a position so that he was facing then all, but separated by the width of the table.

"Now," he said sternly, "I'll waste no time on preliminaries, and you shall all know why I have brought you here." He paused a moment and let his eyes rove round upon each one.

Then he rapped out like the crack of a whip. "One of you gentlemen here this afternoon, tried to murder me. Now which of you was it?"

A dead silence followed, and in the hush it was as if the room was untenanted and it was the dead of night. His audience stared incredulously and as if they thought he had gone out of his mind.

"One-two-three-four," up to nine, counted the detective. "You are all of you here, the same number as round that wood when one of you left his station and fired point blank at what you thought was me, from behind that hedge." He bent down and from the seat of a chair pushed under the table, whipped out his macintosh and held it up. "Look, this was hanging over a bush and in the fading light the assassin made sure it was me and emptied two barrels into it."

Still the same silence, but some of the faces were white and strained now, the looks of incredulity having changed to those of horror.

It was Clive Huntington who at last broke the silence by striking a match. He had taken out a cigarette.

"A mistake, of course," he said quietly. "Most certainly a mistake." He looked coolly at the detective. "You say the light was failing"—he shrugged his shoulders—"and in a half-light anything may happen."

"A mistake!" snarled Larose. "A mistake! And he was not ten paces behind me when he fired! The birds would have been high up in the air and the macintosh was not three feet above the ground!"

"But come, Mr. Larose," said Sir Parry huskily, and although it was evident that he was very much unset, there was nevertheless a stern and almost angry note in his tones, "you are not justified in saying it was one of us. It is only conjecture on your part."

"No conjecture at all," replied Larose sharply. "There was a gamekeeper at each end of that stretch of road, and I have questioned them both. They are certain no stranger passed during that last quarter of an hour, and that it was accessible to only you nine." He inclined his head and added very solemnly, "And my life was attempted, gentlemen, because it had become known to one of you that I was a detective, and here to protect Lady Ardane and her son." He looked challengingly round. "Now, what have any of you to say?"

But no one spoke in return. They just stared at the macintosh, then at the detective, and then back at the macintosh again.

"Well, we'll get to business at once," went on Larose, "and just put your innocence to the test." His eyes again passed rapidly from one to the other of them and then he nodded in the direction of young Hollins. "Now, I am going to send this lad up to all your rooms, and from each room he will bring down any suitcase, bag, grip or anything that he finds locked. Then you will please hand over your keys and I will go through your belongings in front of you all here."

"But what for, Mr. Larose?" asked Senator Harvey with some irritation. "What has anything that we have in our rooms to do with your being shot at this afternoon?"

"You will learn that in a few minutes," said the detective sternly "Now, please give me your keys," and he held out his hand to Sir Arnold, who was standing nearest to him.

With a grim smile the surgeon at once complied, but then a quiet voice came from behind them all.

"I object," said Theodore Rankin, "on principle. It is an insult, and I won't put up with it."

"And I object too," said Clive Huntington, who was smiling blandly, "also—on principle."

"And I object as well," burst out the airman. "Not on principle, but because it's the worst piece of cheek I've ever heard." He glared at Larose. "You say we are not prisoners, although you've locked the door, and who the devil are you then, to treat us as if we were pickpockets and thieves?" His anger rose. "You've no authority for this."

"Oh! Haven't I," snapped Larose. "You make a great mistake there. I am an emissary of the law, an attempt has been made by one of you upon my life, and I am justified in taking any means to find out who is the would-be assassin." His voice was stern and uncompromising. "Now, I tell you I am going to see the insides of your trunks."

"Produce your search warrants first, then," sneered the airman. He scoffed. "We are not quite country bumpkins, sir, nor entirely ignorant of the law. You can do nothing without an authority, and I'm not going to knuckle under to——"

He paused, as if unable to think of an epithet sufficiently insulting, and then Lestrange spoke up in a very bored sort of way. "As to the legal aspect, Mr. Larose," he said, "this gentleman is quite right, for you have no authority, for the moment, to go through anybody's belongings here." He looked as if he were trying to suppress a yawn. "After all, too, you have produced no corroborated testimony that some unknown individual fired at your macintosh, for there is no evidence before us that you did not actually fire at it yourself."

Larose almost choked with fury at the studied insolence of the barrister, but before he could frame any suitable reply, Senator Harvey broke in quickly.

"As a near relative of Lady Ardane," he said, "I give my support to these gentlemen in their objections. To insist upon searching their belongings is not only an insult to them as her guests, but to my mind it is most ridiculous as well."

Larose had got himself well in hand, and he realised that the opposition had now become too strong to combat with out further help.

"Very well, Senator Harvey," he said. "But kindly wait a minute, will you." He took the key out of his pocket and unlocked the door; then beckoning to young Hollins, he said, loud enough for them all to hear, "Go and ask Lady Ardane to spare me a minute, if she can."

Hollins at once left the room and then Bernard Daller remarked with another sneer, "Not very chivalrous, Mr. Detective, is it—to send for a woman to fight your battle for you?"

Larose made no reply, and they all stood in silence, waiting for Lady Ardane to appear. But they were not kept waiting long, for hardly a minute, it seemed, had elapsed before the door opened and she swept into the room.

She looked paler than usual, but she carried herself with her head held high and there was no lack of spirit in her expression.

The detective spoke up at once. "I am sorry to have troubled you," he said, "but I have asked all these gentlemen for permission to examine the contents of the suitcases in their rooms and some of them are refusing to grant it. Now, will you please try and persuade them?"

But Lady Ardane had not quite taken in what he meant. "You want to examine their suitcases?" she asked, looking rather puzzled, and when the detective nodded, her face cleared and she went on, "Well, why has anyone any objection?" She turned to her guests and said very quietly, "To oblige me and shorten all this unpleasantness, kindly consent."

"But, Lady Ardane——" began Daller with a scowl.

"Excuse me, Daller," interrupted Senator Harvey quickly, "but I'd like to speak to Lady Ardane first." He walked over to the door, and opening it, held it for her to pass out. "Just a moment, please, Helen," he said, and then with a backward glance over his shoulder to the others, he added, "We shan't be two minutes."

But it was much nearer five minutes before they returned, and then Larose perceived instantly from her heightened color that Lady Ardane was upset in some way.

"Mr. Larose," she said quickly, and the detective knew instinctively that she was speaking against her inclinations, "Senator Harvey is right and you are not justified in asking these gentlemen for permission to go through their belongings." She shook her head. "I cannot support your request with mine."

The detective masked all signs of his bitter disappointment, and accepted his defeat with a pleasant smile. "All right," he said quietly, "I'm only sorry I bothered you," and he held open the door for her to pass out.

He closed the door after her, and returned to his position before the table. "Well, gentlemen," he said dryly, "if you won't let me examine your suitcases, then perhaps, very graciously, you will allow me to ask you a few questions"—he looked round upon them all—"and I'll take Mr. Rankin first."

He, regarded the American very intently and then rapped out—"And what, please, were you doing, sir, at one o'clock this morning, out in the grounds with a pair of binoculars?"

The American looked very wooden. "Out—in—the—grounds—at—one—o'clock?" he repeated. He shook his head. "No, you are quite mistaken. I was in bed and asleep then."

"No, no, you weren't," said Larose sternly. "I was watching you for more than a quarter of an hour, before I saw you re-enter the Abbey through the cloister door."

Rankin did not repeat his denial. "Well, if you watched me, as you say," he drawled coolly, "for longer than a quarter of an hour, then you can inform yourself what I was doing and obtain all the information you want, at its very source."

Larose turned instantly to Sir Parry Bardell. "You have a key to the cloister door?" he asked. "Then show it to me, please," and when the knight held out one on a bunch, the detective proceeded to examine it very carefully. "Now has this been out of your possession at all?" he went on.

Sir Parry shook his head and replied instantly, "No."

Larose made no comment, but turning now to the airman and Clive Huntington, embraced them both with the same glance.

"Now, Mr. Daller," he said briskly, "perhaps you'll be good enough to tell us where you met Mr. Huntington before, for you are old acquaintances, I see."

The airman flushed and for a long moment made no reply. Clive Huntington was looking very scornful, and started to champ his jaws as if he were chewing a piece of gum.

"I have known Mr. Huntington," said Daller very slowly and weighing every word, "for exactly forty-eight hours. Previous to then I did not know even that he existed."

"And you, Mr. Huntington," Larose asked sarcastically, "of course, you subscribe to that?"

"Two days ago," replied Clive Huntington, adopting the slow and precise tones of the airman. "I did not know of his existence either."

"What!" thundered the detective, with the quickness of a flash of lightning, "you a sailor and crossing the Atlantic a score of times each year in the Bardell steamers, never to have heard of Bernard Daller, the airman, who has three times made the record trans-Atlantic flight!"

It was the first time anyone had seen Clive Huntington lose his pleasant smile. "Oh! I have heard of him in that respect, of course," he said irritably, "but I meant, as a private individual."

The detective smiled. One of his shafts had at last gone home. He turned at once and addressed Admiral Charters.

"Now, sir," he snapped, "it is your turn." He emphasised each word with his finger. "To whom do you signal when you go up in the tower?"

All eyes were now turned upon the Admiral, who got as red as a turkey cock. "Darn your impudence," he spluttered furiously, "I don't signal to anyone. You came sneaking up after me yesterday and I thought at the time you were spying." He could hardly get out his words. "I go up there to look at the sea."

"And the unfolded handkerchief, sir, that you were holding in your hand?" asked Larose scornfully.

"To blow my nose with," barked the Admiral. "Darn your impudence, again I say."

The detective waved his hand in the direction of the door and then sank back into an armchair.

"The interview is over, gentlemen," he said, "and you are now all free to return to your pursuits of innocence." His eyes glinted. "I have asked questions of many suspected persons in my time and can generally tell pretty well when they are lying or speaking the truth."

With disdainful glances from some, but with no comments from any, they all trooped out of the room, and Larose and the Assistant Scoutmaster were left alone.

"Well, Hollins," said the detective slowly, "I've only known you a few hours, but I'm going to trust you quite a lot. As a scout, you have always, no doubt, hankered after adventure and you're going to get plenty of it now." He smiled as if it were a good joke. "You've heard what has just passed, and you can guess that one or two of those nice gentlemen, who have just gone out, would stick a knife into me with much pleasure, so with you acting as my assistant, you are quite likely to get a jab too."

The young fellow smiled back. "It's all right, sir, I'm quite willing to take my chance."

Larose eyed him solemnly. "But it's no game, my lad, and so I'll be giving you a few hints. Here's for one. You've got a pocket-knife with a sharp blade? Good! Well, when you go on duty into the hall to-night, have it open in one of the side pockets of your jacket. It will come in very handy then if anybody necks you from behind. I've saved my life twice that way." He nodded. "You can go now, but I shall be wanting you to-night and mind"—he held up a warning finger—"not a whisper to anyone about me."

Then with the departure of young Hollins, the detective proceeded to weigh up the situation.

"Well, it's no good to imagine that I am not very disappointed," ran his thoughts, "for I am. But I don't blame that red-headed young woman at all, for there was undoubtedly something behind her refusal to support me, and I shall be learning what it was in due time." He smiled cheerfully. "Now I rattled some of those gentlemen quite a good bit, and I certainly put a lot of my cards upon the table. But I meant to do it, for these guests here can't be all guilty, and now I've made them suspicious of one another, and they'll be watching amongst themselves."

He nodded. "But I've just been told a good few lies, and of that I'm quite sure. The airman and Huntington were lying, and that Yankee chap too, also"—his face puckered to a frown—"I'm just a little bit suspicious about Sir Parry. His 'no' was so very ready when I asked about the key, and exactly as if he had been expecting the question."

He shook his head. "Well, never mind about their lies for the present, for I've something much more urgent to tackle right away." He looked very puzzled. "Now how did they get to know so quickly that I was an enemy and had been planted here to watch? I'm sure I've done nothing to give myself away, for I've never been seen talking to Lady Ardane for more than a few seconds, and then we've spoken very quietly and with no one by us, so that we could not possibly have been overheard. I've been with her twice in her boudoir, but the door and window were shut both times." He stopped suddenly and then went on very slowly. "Ah! but I'm inclined, somehow, to be rather suspicious about that little room!"

He was silent for a long while, and then with a sharp snap of his fingers, he exclaimed, "Yes, there have been matters that have been talked about only in that boudoir of hers, that have very speedily become known to the gang! To my certain knowledge two, and"—he hesitated—"perhaps three; the proposed excursion on the morrow to those Brancaster Sands, the arrangements that the head chauffeur had made for bringing out the riflemen from Hunstanton and—surely my talk with her last night when she kept on saying, 'Mr. Larose.'"

His heart began to thump quickly. "Great Scott!" he went on, "and the explanation of it all could be so very simple if conversations in there could be overheard, not through the keyhole or the window, but through the large ventilator, above her writing desk and facing the bedroom door."

He snapped his fingers again and whistled softly. "Yes, I must learn where that ventilator opens out."

Midnight had just sounded, and the detective and young Hollins were padding softly along one of the passages upon the third, and top floor, of the Abbey. They were carrying a 12-foot ladder between them.

Arriving at the end of the passage the detective flashed a torch upon the ceiling and nodded to his companion.

"All right," he whispered; "that's the one, and mind the ladder doesn't slip when we get it up. You must wait, and not make a sound. I may be gone ten minutes or it may be an hour for the roof's large and I'll have to climb over those rafters like a cat. Now, up with it quickly."

The ladder was lifted into position with its topmost rung less than a foot below a small trap-door in the ceiling. The detective mounted quickly and pushed up the door.

"Now don't get anxious," he whispered down, as a final injunction as he climbed through the opening, "and if you hear any noises, you'll know that they'll only be mine."

As Larose had expected, the roof loomed very wide and long, and as he swept his torch round, it seemed as spacious as a cathedral. Its ends and sides were lost in the shadows, and in all directions there stretched a vast sea of rafters, with hundreds and hundreds of small iron pipes everywhere.

"And I hope they well and truly insulate the electric wires," he muttered, regarding the pipes a little doubtfully, "for I shall be touching them nearly the whole of the time."

He took a long look round to get his bearings. "Now, I go east," he went on, "towards the rising sun, for all the bedrooms of the guests face that way and I shall probably find a well for the electric light pipes going down in each corner."

Quickly, but with great care, he proceeded to cross over the rafters. He counted a hundred of them and then stopped for a short rest. "Gosh!" he exclaimed, "but I shall have to be careful or I'll get bushed, and not be able to find my way back."

He walked over more than another hundred and then, just as he was beginning to think he must surely have been travelling in a circle, he saw the roof taking a downward slope, and in the corner yawned a large square opening.

"Exactly," he whispered, "the well where the pipes go, but now, how the deuce do the electricians get down?"

He was soon, however, relieved of all anxiety upon that score, for his eyes fell upon an iron ladder bolted to one of the sides of the well. The ladder was very narrow and barely a foot in width.

He bent over and pulled strongly at it to make sure it would bear his weight. But it was securely bolted and as immovable as a rock.

With no delay, then, he entrusted himself to it, and started to go down, stopping, however, every now and then to ascertain how far he had descended.

Presently, when he judged he must have come down 20 feet, and could not now be far above the floor level of the first story of the building, he perceived a sort of side shaft, leading off at right angles to the main shaft he had been descending.

He stepped off the ladder and found himself in a long passage between two walls, lined as the well had been, with the innumerable iron pipes, conducting the electric wires, but now added to these were much larger pipes of lead.

"The water service," he exclaimed, "and very easy to get at if anything goes wrong!"

The passage was very narrow and he edged along sideways to get as little dust as possible upon his clothes, then flashing his torch up, he saw a long line of ventilators just above the level of his head and extending along the passage farther than the rays of his torch would reach.

"And those are the ventilators opening into the bedrooms," he whispered, "and my room should not be far off here."

But suddenly he trailed his torch down upon his feet, and then for a few seconds switched it off altogether, for in the distance he had seen a glow of light coming out from one of the ventilators.

"Ah! a night-bird," he exclaimed, "and so someone's not gone to bed yet"—he made a grimace of disappointment—"but the ventilator will be just too high for me to see through."

But then approaching nearer and flashing on his torch again, to his amazement he saw that under this very ventilator that was showing the light was a small wooden box, about 2 feet in height.

"Gee!" was his startled comment, "and it's been placed there on purpose for someone to see through."

Instantly, then, he switched off his torch and mounted the box. His eyes were then just level with the ventilator, and peering through, he gave a gasp in which consternation and triumph were both blended.

He was looking straight down into Lady Ardane's boudoir. The door leading into the bedroom was wide open, and he saw Lady Ardane in the very act of getting into bed.

His heart beat furiously. Then this was the secret of it all. Into the passage had come the spy, upon the box it had been his wont to take his stand, and a few feet only below his eyes, he had both seen and heard everything that had been taking place in the room below!

And then the detective began to blush furiously, and he ground his teeth in his rage. So this wretch, perhaps night after night, had been spying upon Lady Ardane and she, poor creature, if she only knew it, would die of shame!

Fascinated, he watched her settle herself comfortably down into the bed. She sank her red head into the pillow, she pulled the bed-clothes warmly up around her neck, one beautifully moulded arm came into view for two seconds and then—the light was gone.

"And a good thing, too," growled Larose, angry that for a few seconds he had been playing the spy himself, "a darned good thing, for otherwise that young chap might have been waiting for me all night."

And then the great significance of his discovery thrilled through him and his face glowed with delight.

"And now," he exclaimed, "it should be easy to discover at least one of the conspirators, for he will come here again, and I shall have only to watch to catch him." His face clouded over. "But how the devil does he get up here? He certainly doesn't come the way I came."

He stepped softly off the box, and flashing his torch again, continued to make his way quickly along the narrow passage. He passed eleven ventilators and then another opening yawned before his feet, but, as before, there was an iron ladder running down the side and with no hesitation this time he climbed on to it.

But his descent took much longer now before he finally landed into a sort of little square chamber that formed the bottom of the well. Three sides of the chamber were of concrete, but the wall of the fourth consisted of planks of rough wood.

There was no door to be seen anywhere, and for a few seconds the detective thought there was no means of getting out, but passing his hands over the planks, he felt two of them were loose, and a very brief examination showed him that the ends of both of them were unnailed and retained in their positions only by short cross pieces of wood. He lifted them up from the bottom, and pushing them apart, stepped out between them.

He found himself in a small untidy lumber-room, littered everywhere with miscellaneous articles appertaining to the building and decorating trade. Pots of paint, tins of calsomine, whitewash, sacks of lime and brushes of all descriptions.

Making no sound, he crossed over to the door and softly turning the handle, found it was unlocked.

He stepped into a long passage outside, and flashed his torch up and down, but he was now in a part of the building in which he had never been before, and it was not until he had proceeded for quite 50 yards, in a direction that he knew must eventually lead to the main door, that he could get his bearings.

Then in the distance he saw the door of the library, and switching off his torch, he stood considering what his next move must be.

"No," he told himself at last. "I'll go back the way I came. It'll be a dirty climb, but I won't startle that lad by appearing from another direction." So he passed back through the lumber-room, and pushed to the boards behind him.

"Now, in the ordinary way," he whispered, "there should be plenty of finger-prints about, but I take it that if anyone is accustomed to come here pretty often, it is almost certain, that knowing how dusty it is, he will be wearing gloves to keep his hands clean."

And that he was quite right in this conjecture was apparent when he reached the top of the first ladder again, for, upon the landing just above the well, he could see plainly where someone had placed his hand to climb up into the passage. But the impression in the dust was broad and blurred, and certainly, he knew, could not have been made by a naked hand.

He regained the roof without any more discoveries, and was welcomed with great relief by young Hollins.

"I was afraid something had happened to you, sir," whispered the boy, "and was wondering what I should have to do. Have you seen anything interesting?"

"Yes, something very interesting," replied the detective, smiling to himself, "but now we'll put back this ladder and then I'm off to bed."


CHAPTER VI.—THE HOUSE ON THE MARSH

It was an hour and longer, after Larose had tucked himself into bed, before sleep at last came to him.

He had thrown off his clothes on the full determination that it should be only a matter of minutes before he would be in the land of forgetfulness, and dead to all his troubles.

He relaxed his limbs peacefully, drew in slow, deep breaths, and tried to imagine he was falling from a great height. He turned his tightly-closed eyes upwards and inwards, and he fell, fell, fell into unfathomable depths.

But it was all to no purpose, for his mind was much too active, and would keep on reverting to the perplexities he was in.

Why had Lady Ardane gone into the grounds during the night? Why had she agreed that the belongings of no one should be searched? Why had the Senator been against it too? Was it really possible that it was not the American whom he had seen go through the cloister door? Why had Admiral Charters lied about the handkerchief? What had Daller and Huntington to hide, and why had they lied too?

He shook his head angrily. Of course these last two were old acquaintances! He had been struck with their easy and intimate attitudes towards each other, the very first night when they had arrived, and he had noted that always when they were together their voices were lowered as if all they were saying was of a private and confidential nature.

And who, then, was the man who had been standing on the box and—but at last the detective succeeded in falling over his favorite precipice and sleep overtook him.

But the worry and tossing about had played havoc with his subconscious willpower, and instead of waking up, as he had intended, at half-past six, it was nearly an hour later before he opened his eyes.

He was intensely annoyed, for, arranging with Lady Ardane that henceforth he should have all his meals in the housekeeper's room, the latter lady had informed him that 7.30 was the breakfast time with her.

He had mapped out, too, such a busy programme for the day, for, notwithstanding he had a most profound faith in the acumen of Naughton Jones, he was going yet again over all the latter's ground, and intending to pass under review every employee in the Abbey.

He made his toilet hurriedly and proceeded with all speed to the housekeeper's room, to find, however, as he had expected, that the housekeeper and Polkinghorne, the butler, had already started the meal. They both rose at once upon his entrance, and Polkinghorne looked very nervous. It was evident that the latter did not relish sitting now at table with one whose wants he had been so recently attending to, among Lady Ardane's distinguished guests.

Polkinghorne was a portly man, about 50 years of age, heavy of feature, and with big, grey ox-like eves, and the traditional side-whiskers of followers of his calling. Beside him, upon another chair, sat a beautiful Persian cat, looking very smart in a bright red collar to which was attached a large silver bell.

"I'm sorry I'm late," said Larose, with a most apologetic smile, "but I overslept myself, a thing I very seldom do, for, when upon any case"—he spoke as if it were a good joke—"we detectives are really not supposed to take any sleep at all."

He had purposely at once brought in his profession, for he had always found that in the easy and informal conversation of a meal, most people would reply more naturally to any questions that were asked, and also, would be much less upon their guard if they had anything to hide.

The housekeeper, Miss Baines, was a tall, refined-looking woman of good appearance, and she at once took up the conversation.

"We are very glad to know that it is you who are here, Mr. Larose," she said quickly and as if she were a little nervous too. "We've all heard of you, of course, and it is a great relief to us that her ladyship is in such good hands."

"But I shall want all the help everyone can give me," said Larose looking intently at the butler, "and the staff ought to be able to help me quite a lot."

"I'm sure we'll do our best, sir," said Polkinghorne, uneasy at the hard scrutiny of the detective, "for we know we are all under a cloud." He looked very troubled. "The gentleman from Norwich, sir, will have it that it is one of us who cut those wires, and Inspector Dollard gave us a terrible gruelling."

"But it must have been someone who's well acquainted with the Abbey," said Larose sharply, "for he knew where to find that ladder he wanted."

"That's true, sir," admitted the butler gloomily, "and he chose his time well, too. The telephone is used very little in the evening, and that night, except for Senator Harvey's trunk call, no one went to it from before six, until her ladyship tried to get the exchange when she came in."

The detective's memory was a good one. "The Senator was ringing up the chemist, wasn't he?" he asked with studied carelessness.

"Oh! no, sir, it was a trunk call to Norwich. I happened to overhear him as he put it in." The butler smiled. "We have a good chemist in Burnham Market and don't need to ring up Norwich for anything. We are not so out of the world as all that."

"Ho! ho!" thought the detective. "Then I must make an enquiry there. I understood the Senator said it was the chemist he had been ringing up." He looked intently at the Butler again. "And you feel quite all right this morning, Mr. Polkinghorne.

"Yes, thank you," replied the butler. He shook his head disgustedly. "It was very foolish of me to have become faint last night, but until her ladyship spoke, I hadn't realised in what danger she had really been. It was a great shock to me." His heavy features lightened. "You see, sir, I was in America with Sir Charles when he went courting her. I was his valet at the time. I watched it all, and then I even accompanied them upon their honeymoon. Then I came here, and the child was born." His voice quavered. "So you'll understand, sir, how I feel. I've watched her grow up and she has such trust in me. I have a big staff here to look after for her."

The detective enjoyed his meal, and in rising from the table, remarked upon the beauty of the cat. The butler's face at once glowed with pleasure. "He's an aristocrat, sir," he said enthusiastically, "and he's been three times champion of Norfolk. He's won seven cups for me, and I have his pedigree right back for eleven generations, to the world champion, Assyrian King. He has two wives, sir, Marie Antoinette and Queen of Sheba." He pursed up his lips, and looked very important. "I paid a lot of money for them."

The detective appeared duly impressed. "But good gracious!" he exclaimed, "why on earth has he got that bell upon his collar. He'll never get near any mouse."

The butler looked shocked. "Mouse-meat, sir," he said very gravely, "is bad for his coat, and I put that bell there on purpose, so that he shall never catch any." He drew himself up proudly. "Breeding Persians is my hobby, sir, and I have made a great study of it."

The detective had a very busy morning, and with the notes of Naughton Jones before him, one by one, went through all the domestic staff. Some of the maids, as he had noted upon that first night at dinner, were very pretty, and he congratulated himself upon his judgment when he found that not a few of them were of quite gentle birth. Lady Ardane was always most particular, the housekeeper told him, and as she paid very high wages, she could pick and choose wherever she wanted to.

And it was the same, he found, with the men. There was not one of them of a coarse type, and he could light on nothing of a suspicious nature in any of their histories or demeanors.

"Now," he asked himself, when the last of them had left the room, "who among these young men and women, for the butler and the housekeeper seem to be the only middle-aged employees here, would be likely to spy upon their mistress and report upon their spying to do her harm?" He thought for a long time, and then shook his head. "Not one of them that I can see, for there are none of them of the type."

He went on. "Still, I've got a splendid card to play, for I'll watch in that lumber-room to-night, and very likely catch the spy red-handed. But first I must go there this afternoon and prepare a snug little hiding place among those sacks and tins."

As with breakfast, he took his early midday dinner in the company of the housekeeper and the butler, and several times during the course of the meal it struck him most forcibly that the latter was now very nervous and uneasy.

The man only pecked at his food, and seemed very preoccupied, and the detective would have sworn that he had some trouble on his mind. He spoke very little, too, and then only when he was directly addressed.

"And I suppose," thought the detective, "that I upset him this morning by those personal questions that I asked. Still, I had to examine him like everyone else, and he's only just one of the servants to me."

The meal over and with the butler departing to superintend the serving of the luncheon in the dining-room, Larose had quite a long chat with the housekeeper, but the sum-total of all he learnt there seemed to be, as Miss Patricia Howard had stressed to him, that all the eligible men were wanting to marry Lady Ardane.

"All except Sir Parry Bardell," said the housekeeper, "and he knows he's too elderly." She laughed. "But he acts the part of a watch-dog and keeps the others away. He's like a father to her ladyship and I don't know what she'd do without him."

Towards the middle of the afternoon, and with everybody out of the way, the detective set out for the lumber-room to prepare his hiding place for the night.

Encountering no one upon his journey, he passed the library and entered the long passage. Then just as he arrived at the door of the lumber-room, and was about to turn the handle, he started as if a wasp had stung him, for he had distinctly heard someone moving about inside.

He listened for two seconds to make sure, and then darted on up the passage, and flattened himself against the wall. There was no window anywhere near there, and he was confident that he would not be noticed in the gloom.

A few minutes passed, and he heard the handle of the door turn and then saw a man step into the passage. The man was slow and stealthy in his movements, and shutting the door very softly, he took a key out of his pocket and locked it. Then, with head bent and shoulders bowed, he remained standing perfectly still and in the unmistakable attitude of one who was listening. His back was turned towards the detective, and he never once glanced in the direction where the latter was hiding.

Then all at once he straightened himself up and tip-toeing swiftly off, disappeared round the corner by the library door.

The detective was dumbfounded, for the man—was Polkinghorne, the butler.

"Great Scot!" he ejaculated, moistening his dry lips with his tongue, "but who would have thought it? The last man I should have picked out as a conspirator!" He shook his head vexatiously. "I can hardly believe it."

Waiting a good two minutes to make certain that the butler was not going to return, Larose hastened up to examine the door.

"Yes, it's locked right enough," he frowned, "and with a darned good lock too. One of those new patent ones with triple springs, and I doubt if I can pick it, without damage which will show." He made a grimace and then sighed. "Well, this is another surprise, and I'll have to concentrate now upon shadowing this precious butler every moment he's off duty." He looked at his watch. "Half-past three, and next, I'll have a little talk with Lady Ardane."

He enquired of one of the footmen where Lady Ardane was, and learning that she was outside in the garden, made his way there to find her. She saw him coming and detached herself at once from her aunt and Mrs. Charters, with whom she had been talking, and advanced to meet him.

"Good afternoon," she said pleasantly, "I hear you've been very busy."

He nodded. "Yes, I have been." he replied. "I've had a talk with everyone of the staff"—he hesitated—"but I can't say I got much out of it. They all seem all right."

She looked worried at once. "That's what I've always thought," she replied. "My enemy cannot be among them." She was silent for a moment and then asked quickly, "But what is it you want now, Mr. Larose?"

"A lot of things," he replied vaguely, and then looked sharply at her, "but I don't quite know what to make of you."

She sensed instantly to what he was referring, and her color heightened. "I am very sorry that I had to side with my step-father, Mr. Larose," she said, "but there are some things I am not able to explain to you. They are not my secrets, and I can't tell them to you." She spoke very firmly. "But you can be quite certain you are not being hindered in any way."

"Well, I don't like it," said Larose sharply, "for at a time like this there should be no half-confidences. I'm not too popular with some of these gentry here, and they're taking unpleasant means to let me know it. So anything that would help to put me further on my guard should be told to me."

She seemed quite distressed. "But I assure you, Mr. Larose, these things I am not able to tell you are not harmful to you in any way. If they were"—and her bosom rose and fell in her emotion—"I wouldn't be a party to them for a second and you should be told instantly."

The detective was impressed by her earnestness. "Very well, then," he said. "I'll rely upon your common-sense." He nodded quickly. "But now you'll have to do something I want you to, and do it without questioning, please."

"I'll do it if I can," she replied submissively, "What is it?"

"It's about that boudoir of yours," he said. "I don't like that room, and it's been unlucky for us both. Things you talked about there have been given away at once, and I'm thinking they got to know who I was from our conversation there, too." He spoke very solemnly. "So if you please, in future, you'll say nothing there that everyone may not know about and also"—he hesitated a moment—"I suggest you close the boudoir door whenever you go into your bedroom. You understand?"'

"There doesn't seem much sense in it," she replied, "but still I'll do as you tell me." She laughed. "I suppose it's one of your secrets, to pay me back for one of mine."

For the remainder of that afternoon and during all that evening, taking good care, however, that the man should by no possibility learn that he was being watched, Larose kept his eye upon the butler.

But he got absolutely no reward for his pains, for when off duty, Polkinghorne never once left the sitting-room which he shared with the housekeeper, being absorbed the whole time in the perusal of a small volume entitled 'Cats and Their Management in Health and Diseases.' At supper he still looked nervous and worried, partaking most sparingly of the excellent fare provided.

One little incident, however, had struck the detective, and that was, when passing through the lounge just before the house party had been summoned into dinner, he had seen Polkinghorne and the Senator talking very earnestly together. Their heads had been almost touching, and Polkinghorne had been speaking rapidly as if he had been pouring some very important piece of information in the Senator's ear. Then upon one of the ladies coming near to them, they had broken away instantly with the Senator's lips framing what looked very much like the word "hush."

"Gosh!" exclaimed Larose, more puzzled than ever, "but that's funny. It looks as if the Senator were in this too!"

Just before ten he secreted himself at the end of the passage and prepared to await with all patience the appearance again of the butler at the lumber-room door.

And it was well he had patience for the passage was cold and the time passed very slowly. Half-past ten came, eleven and then half-past again. Finally, he heard midnight chime without anything happening, and then waiting yet another twenty minutes, he gave up the vigil in disgust and prepared to mount to his room.

He tried the door in passing, but it was still locked.

"But I cannot be mistaken," he reflected, as he was talking off his clothes, "for if ever I saw stealth and secrecy in a man's actions, I saw then this afternoon in Polkinghorne's when he was at that lumber-room door."

The following morning he rose early and descending into the sitting-room a few minutes before half-past seven found only the housekeeper there.

"Then Mr. Polkinghorne's not down yet!" he remarked. "I was afraid I should be last again."

"Oh! yes. Mr. Polkinghorne's down," replied the housekeeper. "He was here quite a quarter or an hour ago, but he bustled off somewhere in a great hurry," she smiled, "which is rather unusual, for he is a great one for the morning newspaper."

The detective rose instantly to his feet and, making the excuse that he had forgotten his handkerchief, hurried away in the direction of the lumber-room.

"And there's a good chance he's on the spy," he panted, "for the nurse will most probably be going to Lady Ardane's bedroom every morning about this time, to get the little boy and receive her orders for the day." He thrilled with excitement. "Great Scott! if I only catch him coming out."

And catch him coming out, he did, for he had just reached the door of the lumber-room when it opened and he was face to face with the very startled Thomas Polkinghorne.

The butler was pale, with staring eyes, and he was breathing quickly, but then before the detective had uttered a single word, and to his great astonishment, the man made a gesture of authority as if he were in command of the situation.

"Hush! Don't talk loudly," he exclaimed. "How is it you have come here?" and he interposed his body to prevent the advance of the detective.

Larose gritted his teeth and was upon the very point of gripping the butler by the collar when in an instant the expression upon the latter's face under went a startled change, and in place of alarm and apprehension, there was now all triumph and delight.

"She's got five!" he ejaculated. "Three tabbies and two toms, and she's drunk the milk and eaten all the meat I gave her, and the Senator is going up to five guineas for one of them."

"What do you mean?" thundered Larose.

"Hush! hush!" exclaimed Polkinghorne angrily and with all his appearance of alarm coming back, "don't speak so loudly or you'll frighten her." Then something in the detective's face seemed to pull him up and with an effort he became the quiet and respectful butler once again. "It's Marie Antoinette, sir," he exclaimed breathlessly, "and she's got five kittens. She's most highly bred, sir, and very temperamental, and a strange voice may upset her. She's been a great worry to me, for at her last kittening she wouldn't take any notice of her children, but just left them, and they all died." He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat upon his forehead. "She had too many visitors, sir, and that was the trouble, but this time I didn't let anyone know when she was due, and I brought her here, and not a soul knows where she is."

Then it seemed that, realising he had spoken with some heat in his excitement, he was now anxious to make some atonement for it, and so, stepping back into the lumber-room, he motioned to the detective to enter.

"Just one peep, sir," he whispered. "I think I can allow that."

And all this time a medley of tumultuous and disturbing thoughts had been rioting through the detective's brain.

Triumph and exaltation, perplexity, profound disappointment, intense disgust with himself, and finally a feeling of real sorrow that he had so misjudged a harmless and very simple-minded man.

So he followed humbly after the butler, and as if greatly appreciative of the honor conferred upon him, gazed with becoming reverence upon a beautiful-looking grey tabby, snugly ensconced in a small packing case.

But he was not allowed to gaze long before the obsession of a breeder of prize Persian cats, again mastered the traditional servility of the butler, and Polkinghorne plucking him by the sleeve, would have pulled him almost forcibly away.

"But what a funny little room!" exclaimed the detective, beginning now to recover his equanimity, and looking round most interestedly. "And why is that side boarded up?"

"It isn't boarded up, sir," replied the butler quickly, and anxious at all costs to get the detective away from the vicinity of his highly-bred and temperamental cat. "Some of those planks are loose, and you can get through them into the electric service well, which leads on to the roof."

"Good gracious!" remarked Larose. "Have you ever been up there?"

"No, sir," replied Polkinghorne. "A least, only part of the way." He smiled. "I've seen the passage and it's too narrow for a man of my bulk." He was most respectful. "But if you don't mind, sir, we'll come away now and let this little mother be quite quiet." They proceeded into the passage and the door was very softly locked behind them.

"Do you always keep that room locked up?" asked the detective carelessly, as they moved away. "Except for that very lovely cat of yours, there doesn't seem to be anything valuable there."

"No, sir, it's never locked in the ordinary way," replied the butler, "and indeed, I had a great job to rout out the key. But I shall keep it locked now until to-morrow, and then I must move Marie Antoinette, for the place is much more draughty than I thought."

He was quite a different man at breakfast, and all his nervousness seemed to have passed away.

"And to think that I wasted all those hours upon him," sighed the detective under his breath, "and cut short a good night's rest by at least two hours."

Directly breakfast was over Larose set off to see what luck he would have with the strange tenants of the house upon the marsh. He had commissioned young Hollins to make some enquiries about them in the village, and had learnt, somewhat to his satisfaction, that although they were known to have been residing in the stone house for more than six weeks, they had never visited the village, and no one had even any idea what they were like in appearance.

"They're shy birds right enough, sir," had been the comment of young Hollins, "and no one knows, even, exactly how many of them there are there. They've got two bicycles, but when they go out on them they wear big scarves and their caps are pulled so low down upon their heads that no one can tell if they are seeing the same ones upon different days. One of them has colored glasses."

"Excellent!" had exclaimed the detective. "They seem the very kind of gentlemen I want, and I'll go and get as near to them as I can."

But no one could be more wary and circumspect than was Larose when it was necessary, and he fully realised that if these men had anything to do with those he was after, then they would be on guard all the time and on the look out for anyone watching their movements.

Added to that, too, if the men did belong to the gang, they would by now be quite aware that he, Larose, was in the neighborhood, and doubly on the lookout, in that case for anyone answering to his description.

But of course, he told himself, they might be quite harmless, inoffensive men, and here, as with the butler, he might be wasting all his time. Still, he must try and find out something about them, and the difficulty was, he could not approach them openly, and without being seen, would not be able to get nearer to the house than four or five hundred yards.

He made a wide detour round the marsh and approached his objective by way of the line of high sandhills that stretched along the shore. Then he lay down among the tall sand-grass and glued his eyes to his binoculars. Upon his left, also in good view, was the hut of Henrik the fisherman.

There were no signs of life about the stone house, and it looked quite untenanted. The door was shut and no smoke was rising from the chimneys.

For more than two hours he lay motionless. The sky was overcast and a cold east wind was blowing and he was glad of the shelter that the tall grass gave him.

At last, when he had put down his glasses to rest for a moment, and was upon the point of sitting up, to chafe his stiffened limbs, a movement in the distance caught his eye, and he saw a car leaving the bitumen road, about a mile away, and turn off across the marshes.

Up went his glasses again. "Well, here's a little diversion anyhow," he told himself, "if the car even passes right by."

But he soon saw that the car was not going to pass right by, instead, to his great joy, he saw it make straight for the stone house. It was a touring car, with one man in it, and approaching rapidly and driven with great confidence along the muddy and tortuous road, it was evident that its driver was well acquainted with every dip and corner.

Reaching the house, it swept round sharply, stopped, and was then backed smartly into an open shed, that was obviously more accustomed to cows than cars.

Then a man sprang out and walked up quickly towards the house door. He had got his back to the detective and was wearing a long overcoat and a cap with carflaps to it, tied under the chin, so that all idea Larose could form of him was that he was tall and of a rather slight build. He was carrying a parcel under his arm.

His approach to the house had evidently been noted by someone inside, for before he reached it the door was opened wide. He walked in and the door was now left open.

"And a good thing that I didn't go straight up," remarked Larose. "Fancy! I've been here a solid two hours and not seen a sign of life, and yet all the time, perhaps, someone has been watching behind those windows, on the lookout for this chap to arrive."

Ten minutes passed, the door was banged to, and then suddenly the detective saw three men moving away from the back of the house and proceeding along the marsh road in the direction of the bitumen. Two of them were pushing bicycles before them, and apparently they were all conversing animatedly together.

Larose with his eyes glued to his glasses, followed every step they made until they gained the bitumen road. It was evident, he surmised, that the two with the bicycles were finding the road too muddy to negotiate except on foot. Reaching the bitumen road, suddenly the man without a bicycle disappeared, and the other two, mounting their machines, had gone quite three hundred yards away before the detective could see what had happened to him.

The man had squatted low down at the bottom of a thick hedge, and from his attitude it was evident he did not want to be seen by any passers-by upon the road. The detective's glasses were very good ones, and he saw the man take a newspaper out of his pocket and commence to read.

"Good!" he said, "then he's going stop there some time, and it looks exactly as if he's on the watch."

Feeling certain that there was no one left in the house, because the door had been banged to in a manner as if to make sure it would shut securely, the detective rose quickly to his feet and made off in its direction.

Then, to his amazement, he almost stumbled upon the recumbent figure of Henrik, in a thick clump of grass, not twenty yards from where he had been lying.

He swore under his breath, for he realised instantly that the man must have been there all the time and might have been a spectator of all his watching through the binoculars.

But the man was lying in the attitude of one in a profound slumber. He was on his side, his head was buried in the crook of one arm and upon the hand of the other arm, stretched to its full length, was the filthy bandage covering his wound.

Taking no risks, the detective bent over him, but Henrik was breathing evenly and he stank of rum.

"Drunk!" muttered Larose. "The filthy beast!"

Wasting no further time, the detective ran over to the house, with the full intention of effecting an entrance somewhere.

But he soon found that the idea was not too feasible. Both doors had good stout locks that could not be picked all at once, and the windows were all well bolted, indeed, so immovable were the frames there that he was almost of opinion there were screws somewhere inside.

Very disgusted, he was about to make a determined attack upon the back door with a piece of stout wire and a pair of pincers that he had brought with him, when pausing for a moment to take a good look all round he thought better of it.

The country was so open and over-looked behind him, and either the Admiral with his binoculars, or Sir Parry with his telescope, if they only happened to be on the lookout, could pick him up as easily as a fly upon the wall. Added to that, he noted there was a slight rise in the marsh road, not two hundred yards away, and if the man whom he had seen squatting under the hedge should return unexpectedly, then he, Larose, if he were fiddling with the door, would be caught red-handed and without any warning.

So giving up all thoughts of breaking into the house, he went round to the shed where the motor had been garaged.

Now it was always the pride of Larose that he tried to be most thorough in everything, and that morning after his inspection of that car in the shed he was certain that he had overlooked nothing.

He went over it, discouraged the whole time by the enervating thought that he might perhaps be wasting all his energy upon a perfectly upright and law-abiding man, for, as he told himself many times, he had nothing really tangible against the inmates of the house.

Added to that, he was hampered in his investigations by his train of thought being continually broken, when with the passing of every minute, almost, he had to bob out of the shed and look round to make sure that none of the men were returning. He had no mind to be caught there in a trap.

But he reckoned that in the end he had made a good job of it. He took its number, of course, and he was puzzled that he could not get the engine number as well, but the latter he could not find anywhere. He examined all the tyres, noting the condition and approximate age of each one. He crawled underneath and scraped at the different kinds of mud upon the chassis. He tried to estimate about how much petrol had been used from the tank and he poked about in the honeycomb of the radiator.

Then the inside of the car came under his inspection, and after he had passed under review the mats and upholstering, one by one, he examined the contents of the pockets in all the doors. He found the remains of some sandwiches, wrapped in a plain white paper, and he even took the trouble to open the sandwiches and find out of what they were made. Then he examined the contents of a pocket flask and poured some of it into the palm of his hand. Then he looked at some newspapers he found, scrutinising their folds very carefully. Then he picked up a pair of almost new fur-lined gloves, and held the palms and fingers up to the light, putting them to his nose and sniffing at them many times.

Finally, after a long moment of hesitation, he went quickly through the contents of the tool box. "Everything is neat and tidy about this car, and its owner has a methodical mind," was his final comment. He shook his head in disapproval. "And now I'm going to do him a very dirty trick, if he's an honest man."

He bent down and unscrewed the cover of the valve top of one of the back tyres, and putting it in his pocket, proceeded next to let out a little of the air.

"Now not too much," he chided himself, "for he mustn't notice it until he's well away from here."

Then, with another sigh, he took the valve top off the spare wheel, and pocketed that too. "And now I'll be going," he said, "and I expect it'll be another long wait before they come back."

He returned to his former place upon the sandhill and was in part relieved, and in part uneasy, to see that the fisherman had gone. Then, settling himself down comfortably into the grass, he prepared to continue his watch, noting with some satisfaction that the man under the hedge by the bitumen road was still in the same position.

Suddenly he saw Henrik come out of his hut, and with unsteady steps, start to make his way in the direction of the stone house. He was holding a small sack in one hand, a bottle in the other, and half-way upon his journey, stopped to refresh himself with a drink.

At length, reaching the house, he staggered up to the front door and gave it a resounding kick with the evident intention of attracting the attention of anyone inside.

He waited a few moments and then kicked again, repeating the operation at intervals, several times. But the door remained closed, and at last it appeared to dawn upon his fuddled brain that no one could be at home, and so, with the same staggering gait, he started to return to his hut.

Passing the open shed, however, the car inside must have caught his eye, and after a long hesitation and some further refreshment from the bottle, he lounged up to it and passed inside. A good five minutes passed, and he was still there.

Then Larose saw the three men returning along the marsh road and began wondering what would happen when they found Henrik in their shed.

But just before they came to the back of their house, Henrik emerged again, and now more staggering than ever, plumped himself down upon the ground outside.

One of the men did not come round to the front of the house, but the other two did, and they almost fell over the fisherman as they came round the corner.

The detective saw their faces plainly, but they were both quite unknown to him, and much to his disappointment, neither of them was the square-jawed man, nor, he was sure, the man he had just seen waiting under the hedge. They were evidently the two who had been riding the bicycles.

Henrik at once jumped excitedly to his feet, and thrusting his arm into the sack, produced a large fish. He gesticulated wildly and was evidently offering it for sale.

A few words passed between the two men, and then one of them handed something over to Henrik, receiving in exchange the fish that was then thrust back into the sack. The fisherman was given a cigarette, and then pushed off unceremoniously towards his hut, with a half-kick to accelerate his progress.

The two men then went into the shed, but almost immediately the detective heard the car being started, and in a few seconds it shot into view and took its way along the marsh road.

Only one man, he saw, had been in it, and the other, now emerging from the shed, disappeared round the back of the house.

Larose watched the car through his glasses, and noted that, upon gaining the bitumen road, it turned off in a direction exactly opposite to that which had been taken by the bicycles.

His watch over, and waiting a couple of minutes or so until he had seen Henrik disappear into his hut, he made his way down the sandhills, and then stood for a few moments taking in his bearings.

"I'll come here to-night," he told himself, "and just see what that third chap is like to look at. There are no curtains to their windows, and if they show a glimpse of light, I shall be able to see everything inside." His forehead wrinkled thoughtfully. "Of course, he was a long way away, but still I'm half inclined to think that that man under the hedge was not unlike the square-jawed blackguard who grabbed me that night when I fired upon their car."

Then in the same roundabout way that he had come he started upon his journey back to the Abbey.

When about half a mile from the Abbey grounds he perceived someone walking across the fields in a direction that would eventually bring them together. He did not recognise who it was, until they were much closer to each other, and then he saw it was Sir Parry.

Sir Parry had evidently recognised him, too, and waited by a stile for him to come up. "Good morning, Mr. Larose," he called out cheerfully. "A most unexpected pleasure, and I hope you keep a good lookout to make sure that no one takes a shot at you from behind. I'm glad I've met you," he went on, "for I've been waiting to have a little talk with you. Now, are you in a great hurry?"

"No," replied the detective, by no means averse to the meeting, "and I'd like to ask you a few questions, too."

Sir Parry looked at his watch. "Nearly half-past twelve," he said, "and you'll be late for your dinner at the Abbey," he smiled in a most friendly way—"so what about coming into my place and having a refresher and a biscuit?"

"Very nice," replied the detective, "I'm sure I shall be very pleased to."

"All right, then," said Sir Parry, "and I'll give you the finest of all morning drinks, a goblet of Royal Shandy."

"What's that?" asked Larose as they started to walk towards Sir Parry's house. "I've not heard of it in Australia."

"A small bottle of champagne with a hint of the immortal Guinness," replied Sir Parry with great reverence. "A beverage that was a favorite with King Edward." He walked briskly forward. "Come along, young man, it's a great treat to me to indulge in it, because of my lumbago, and the very thought of it now makes my mouth water."


CHAPTER VII.—THE WHITE POWDER

As the crow flies, Larose saw that it would not be much more than half a mile from where he had encountered Sir Parry to the latter's residence, and mindful of the keen anticipation expressed by the knight for the forthcoming draught of Royal Shandy, the detective was a little surprised that he was not now taking the direct way along a path leading across the open meadows.

Instead, however, after walking only a very short distance, Sir Parry turned off at right angles to the path and made for the opening in a long and curving plantation of small larches, that extended almost up to his house.

"I think we'll go this way," he remarked cheerily, "for although it's a little longer, it's such a pretty walk and I always like, too, to make sure that there are no trespassers about. This is all Lady Ardane's property and the people round here are inveterate poachers." He smiled. "You see, I act as a sort of honorary bailiff for her, and I don't let anyone take any advantage because she's a woman."

And he certainly appeared to be most zealous in his self-imposed task, for he kept on looking back, almost as if he had thought some trespasser would be appearing behind, the very moment that he had passed.

Reaching the end of the wood and now barely a hundred yards from the house, he made yet another slight detour.

"We'll go in the back way, if you don't mind," he said, "because it's not as muddy as the path by the front door," and the detective was speedily of opinion that the mud must be very bad indeed in front of the house, if it were worse than that through which he was then walking.

Sir Parry let himself in through a door that he unlocked, and then invited the detective to follow.

"We shall be able to talk quite freely," he remarked, pausing for a moment before he closed the door, "for the house at this hour is always empty." He smiled. "I'm a crusty old bachelor, Mr. Larose, and have developed peculiar ways of my own. For instance, I have two servants to look after me, but they are only on the premises during certain hours. They live quite apart by themselves, in a bungalow I had built for them, a good two hundred yards away among those trees. They arrive to perform their duties at 7.30 punctually every morning. They get my breakfast and attend to the house and then by eleven are away again and I don't see anything more of them until half-past four, when they return to prepare my evening meal."

"Very lonely for you, isn't it!" asked Larose.

"But I like it," nodded Sir Parry. "It just suits me. I partake of nothing, except perhaps a biscuit or two at midday, and so I am quiet and undisturbed all day, am able to pursue my studies without interruption." He seemed very pleased with himself. "I have so trained my servants that they perform all their duties automatically and I hardly ever speak to them." He laughed. "And I should certainly have some difficulty in holding much conversation with them at any time, for one is practically stone-deaf and the other is a deaf-mute."

As the recipient of so much information touching upon Sir Parry's domestic arrangements, the detective was beginning to feel rather bored, and, very thirsty after his long walk, was wishing his host would proceed quickly to hospitality and produce the long draught of Royal Shandy that he had promised. So he was relieved when Sir Parry at last led the way along the passage, and ushered him into a cosily furnished dining-room.

But there a surprise awaited them both, and with Sir Parry, from the expression upon his face, no little annoyance was mingled with the surprise.

A tall, thin woman, well in middle-age, was standing upon a short step-ladder and putting up some clean curtains to one of the windows, and she turned a pair of very startled deep black eyes upon them as they entered the room.

Sir Parry looked most annoyed, and motioned sharply to her to leave the room, but then apparently perceiving she had nearly finished the work, and that if she were now sent peremptorily away, the room would be left uncurtained, with another sharp jerk of his head he motioned her to continue.

"My housekeeper; and she knows she has no business to be here at this time," he explained to the detective, "but she is a woman of low intelligence, and I suppose, seeing me go out, she thought regulations were made to be broken."

The detective was regarding the woman interestedly, and was certainly not agreeing with Sir Parry that she was of low intelligence. On the contrary, he told himself, she had quite a thoughtful, if a very sad, face. She seemed desperately afraid of her master and was trembling, he noted, as she went on with her work.

Sir Parry, however, had quickly recovered his good humor. "We can talk quite unreservedly before her," he said, "for I don't think she'd hear a gun fired, if it went off right by her very ears, and it's her deafness that so adds to her stupidity."

"Has she always been deaf?" asked the detective.

"No, it came on six or seven years ago," replied Sir Parry. "I had the local doctor to her, but he said nothing could be done. However, she wasn't satisfied and wanted to go to some quack in Norwich and spend thirty or forty pounds." He looked very scornful. "But I put down my foot on that right away and absolutely forbade it."

He moved over to the sideboard, and his whole tone of voice altered. "But now I'll show you something," he said with great pride, bringing out two beautiful, old-fashioned silver goblets. "Look at these, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, and, as you are the guest, you shall drink out of the Seraphim, who, in Jewish lore, as I expect you are aware, was of the highest angelic order. These goblets are very old and have been in the possession of my family for many generations. In fact, you know"—and he dropped his voice into a whisper—"I shouldn't wonder if they were not once used as chalices, and stolen from some monastery at the time of Henry VIII. A few years back a dealer offered me four hundred guineas for them." He laughed as if very amused. "And fancy! a detective from Scotland Yard going to drink champagne out of one of them! Here, look at it closely."

The detective took the goblet he held out. It was beautifully chased, and below the figure of an angel was engraved in quaint old English characters, "Ye guardian of ye threshold."

Sir Parry seemed as happy as a child. "Now you go and rest in that armchair," he said, "for you must be tired after your walk, and you can amuse yourself with this morning's paper. I don't suppose you have seen it. And I'll go and get the ingredients for this royal beverage."

He bustled quickly from the room and the woman, having finished putting up the curtains, came down off the steps. In so doing, however, she knocked over a little box of curtain rings and miscellaneous odds and ends and scattered them all upon the floor. The detective immediately rose from his chair and, moving over to her side, helped her to gather them together again. She flushed uncomfortably, and then, with everything replaced, gave him a shy and grateful look as she hurried from the room.

Sir Parry returned very soon with the stout and champagne. "No, don't you get up yet," he said with an assumption of stern authority. "The mixing of this shandy is almost a ritual, and must be done in most exact proportions to bring out the exquisite favor. So you just read on for a minute or two, and I'll tell you when I'm ready."

But then just as he was about to pull the cork of the bottle of stout the telephone began to tinkle loudly in some distant part of the house, and he made a gesture of intense annoyance.

"I must go," he said ruefully, "for I expect it is my doctor in Norwich, and if I don't answer it he may not trouble to ring again." He shook his head. "He's a big man and very offhand!"

And then, as if flurried at being interrupted in the middle of preparing the kingly beverage, he popped both the goblets quickly back into the sideboard and shut the door upon them again.

"I shan't be two minutes," he called out as he hurried from the room, "and you go on reading your paper."

The detective heard him running up the passage, and then his voice, quite a long way away, speaking into the phone. But he had hardly uttered two words before his housekeeper glided into the room and made straight for the sideboard.

Opening the door, she quickly abstracted the two goblets.

"The master is very absent-minded," she explained with a smile back at Larose. "These goblets want dusting inside."

The detective had glanced up upon her entrance, and his eyes continued to remain fixed upon her, until she had left the room. Seemingly, he was interested in her.

And certainly he would have been more interested still, if he had been a spectator of what she was doing half a minute later for, with all appearance of frenzied hurry, she was putting a heaped-up teaspoonful of white powder, which she had just taken from a small box in a drawer, into the goblet of the Seraphim from which he was so shortly to imbibe the draught of Royal Shandy.

She was back in the dining-room, and replacing the goblets and re-closing the sideboard door, had glided away again before Sir Parry had finished his conversation upon the phone.

"I am so sorry to have kept you," apologised the latter when at last he returned, "but I had to take in all the instructions he gave me. It was my doctor, and I was getting advice about my lumbago."

He bustled back to the sideboard. "Now, where was I? Let me think! Ah! I remember, I was just going to open the stout."

With a frown, most probably at his absent-mindedness for having replaced the goblets in the sideboard, he took them out again, and with great care poured in the stout and champagne, in equal proportions.

"Now, Mr. Larose," he said, "a biscuit and we're set."

He handed over to the detective the brimming goblet of the Seraphim, and went on fussily, "A big draught, if you please, sir, for that's the only way to drink champagne." He raised one finger solemnly. "No sipping ever at a sparkling wine."

They raised the goblets to each other. "Well, here's luck," said Larose, "and to the memory of a great king," and, after a deep breath of pleasurable anticipation, he took a long and steady draught from the goblet of the guardian of the threshold.

They put down their goblets together exactly at the same moment. "Like it?" said Sir Parry, beaming over with good nature.

"'Too right,' as we say in Australia," replied Larose, "too right I do." He moved his tongue about and swallowed several times. "But it has a slight saline taste, I think."

Sir Parry moved his tongue about too, and then nodded, "Yes, I think it has—but very slight. It's probably the stout."

The goblets were filled again and the shandy drunk to its last drop.

"Now there's only one thing about this drink," said Sir Parry meditatively, "and that is it makes you very sleepy. I always begin to feel drowsy after it, in a very few minutes, and then want to lie down and have forty winks."

"Well, it hasn't made me feel drowsy," smiled Larose, "at any rate yet."

"Talking about doctors," went on Sir Parry meditatively, "as a profession, I think they are very wonderful," he screwed up his eyes—"but there are a lot of duds among them, and they make great mistakes sometimes. Now, take my own case, for instance. For years and years I suffered from obscure internal pains, and doctor after doctor averred that stones were forming in various parts of my poor body, and held over me the threat of most unpleasant operations later on to cut them out." His face assumed a reverential look. "Then, just by chance, I lighted upon a great master in the calling, and in 2 minutes he had swept aside all ideas of operations and X-rays and just said that from time to time crystals were formed in my body, oxalate crystals, he called them, and it was these that gave me all the pains." He smiled. "As for treatment—it was nothing. Only a little simple matter of diet. I gave up all milk, tea, cocoa, spinach and a few other things and—I was cured in a few days. Wonderful, wasn't it?"

He ambled on and on, quite content to do all the talking and showing no sign of coming to the point and explaining why he had wanted to have a talk with Larose, but the latter noted that many times he half-paused in his remarks to give him a very intent look.

At last the detective, who realised all his time was being wasted, broke in upon one of Sir Parry's discursions into philosophy.

"Excuse me," he said most politely, "but I must be going soon and I want to ask you a few questions." He went straight to the point. "Now can you vouch for the character of young Huntington?"

Sir Parry spoke most decisively. "Most certainly I can," he replied. "I've known him since he was 14 and he's one of the best and most trusted officers who have ever been employed upon my boats."

"But he was not speaking the truth," said Larose sternly, "when he made out his acquaintance with Mr. Daller dated only from the night they both arrived at the Abbey."

"On the contrary," said Sir Parry warmly, "I believe implicitly that he had not met Mr. Daller before." He looked very stern. "Apart from his saying so"—and he now picked his words very carefully—"I am sure Mr. Daller is not of the type of man he would be having any friendship with." He spoke most emphatically. "I do not like Bernard Daller, Mr. Larose."

"Hullo! hullo!" thought the detective, "now perhaps I'm going to learn something at last."

"But why don't you like him?" he asked at once. "He seems to be very devoted to Lady Ardane."

"And perhaps that's one reason," smiled Sir Parry, "for I am quite aware that he would propose to Lady Ardane at once, if she gave him the slightest encouragement. Happily, however, her ladyship has more sense."

"But what have you got against him!" persisted the detective.

"Nothing really particular," was the reply. "Just instinct. I don't like him, that's all."

"But have you any suspicions about him in relation to this kidnapping?" asked Larose.

"It's no good pressing me," remonstrated Sir Parry, "for I have nothing to tell you. If I knew anything you would have heard it long ago." He nodded testily. "Yes, I have suspicions about him, but then I have suspicions about others too." He spoke very solemnly. "I have suspicions, sir, that are so monstrous and unbelievable that in entertaining them I sometimes think I must be going out of my mind." Tears welled up in his eyes. "But unsupported suspicions help no one. We can do nothing, and that poor woman there is suffering all the time."

He refused to discuss the matter any further, and to all the enquiries of the detective just answered curtly, "No."

The conversation languished and died down, and then Sir Parry put up his hand to suppress a yawn.

"Don't you feel sleepy too?" he asked in a very tired tone of voice.

Larose shook his head, and taking the yawn as a hint, rose up to go, but Sir Parry was at once all protests.

"No, no," he said "surely you're not going yet? Why, I haven't shown you my telescopes! We'll go up to my observatory at once."

The detective was not particularly keen, and half inclined to refuse, but a couple of minutes or so later, up in the big observatory, he was very glad that he had not, for, taking advantage of the moment when Sir Parry was adjusting a blind at the far end of the room, he glued his eye to a telescope that he saw on a tripod, and sweeping it round, got something of a shock.

Every yard of the way he had traversed that morning could be followed foot by foot, and not only that, but the very patch of grass in which he had been lying as he watched the stone house, stood out as clearly as if it were in the garden just below.

"Gee!" he muttered, and he took his eyes from the telescope to find Sir Parry close behind him, and for some reason not looking too pleased.

The detective suppressed all signs of the uneasiness that he was feeling, and remarked enthusiastically, "By Jove! but this is a beautiful telescope. How plainly old Henrik's hut comes up!"

"Yes," replied Sir Parry, still with a half frown, "and I don't know what's come over him lately. He always seems to be rolling about dead drunk, as if he had discovered treasure somewhere, and were spending it on rum."

"Do you look through this little telescope often!" asked Larose, with a backward glance at the very big one in the middle of the room, and then he would have sworn that Sir Parry was about to answer "No."

"Y—es," however, admitted the knight hesitatingly, and then his face brightened suddenly and he gave a sly smile. "I quite understand why you ask me, for naturally you are wondering if I saw you this morning." He nodded. "Well I did. You were watching that stone house there and saw the motor car drive away." He lowered his voice mysteriously. "Now may I ask if you have any suspicions about anybody there?"

The detective realised instantly that any prevarication would be quite useless, for Sir Parry was certainly not simple enough to believe that he, Larose, had been watching there with no purpose in view.

"Well, I don't know whether there are suspicions," he replied slowly, "but I certainly want to know something about these men, if only because they were newcomers to the neighborhood just before all this trouble started."

"And what did you find out?" asked Sir Parry, very interested.

"Nothing," replied the detective stoutly, "except that they've got a very nice car."

Sir Parry stared intently at Larose and then yawned again, but, as before the yawn did not seem to be infectious, for the detective was looking uncommonly bright and alert. Then, apparently after a few moments of very hard thinking, Sir Parry frowned.

"I think," he said reproachfully "that it would have paid you better to have taken me a little more into your confidence." He pointed across the marshes. "Now I could have told you a lot about those men, for I pick them up often in the telescope." He paused to marshal his facts. "There are three of them, and they go out very little and then only to fish. They have no visitors and I have never seen them speak to anyone except Henrik. They get their provisions once a week, they go to bed early, and they get up late." He smiled. "A little mysterious, for Heaven only knows how they can put in their time."

"They go to bed early," commented Larose.

"Yes, their light goes out about nine o'clock. Ah!" and Sir Parry made a low whistle. "Now if you want to get a close-up view of them, without their knowing anything about it, then night's the time, for they don't appear to possess any blinds. You could creep close up to the house and look through that one window at the side. That's the room where they always are."

He mentioned to Larose to pick up the telescope again. "Now, I'll tell you the best way to go. Keep on the bitumen until you are two hedges beyond where the marsh road turns off. Then make your way direct across the field, hugging the hedge close upon your right. When you get almost up to the end of the hedge you'll see a stile, but don't get over that. Instead, creep through a hole in the hedge that you'll see close by and you'll come out within 20 yards of the house."

He repeated his instructions and Larose took them in carefully. Then putting the whole matter of the kidnapping out of his mind, for nearly an hour Sir Parry explained the wonderful mechanism of his big telescope.

Time after time the detective said he really could not stay any longer, but always Sir Parry found something to delay his departure.

At last Larose started to walk down the stairs upon his own accord, and his host was then obliged to follow.

"I'm very sorry you must go, Mr. Larose," he said, "for you're most agreeable company. I always heard that you were a remarkable man and now I quite agree."

He let the detective out of the door, and then stood thoughtfully watching him as he made his way down the path.

"Yes, you're certainly a remarkable man," he repeated with a very puzzled frown as he at length closed the door and turned back into the house, "indeed, so remarkable that I don't understand you at all."

And Larose, as well, was full of puzzled thoughts. "What's bitten you, Gilbert?" he asked, looking very annoyed. "You're nervy. Do you think somebody's been walking over your grave?" He shook his head. "I ought never to have been given the shandy out of that Seraphim. That's it, for I've had a ghost looking over my shoulder every since."

The detective had told Sir Parry that he should be walking back to the Abbey through the wood, but directly he was out of sight of the house he doubled back and made off in exactly the opposite direction. He wanted to have a look at the bungalow where Sir Parry's servants lived.

Coming out of the wood he saw the bungalow right before him. Its situation was certainly very lonely and secluded, for the wood was upon three sides of it, and even upon the fourth side it had only about a hundred yards of open space before another wood closed it in.

In front of it was a small garden, trim and beautifully kept, and as the detective approached, he saw the housekeeper busy by the little fence, pruning a rose tree. The woman, however, did not catch sight of him until he was almost up to the gate, and then she looked the very picture of consternation and surprise.

But Larose, with a reassuring smile, doffed his cap and then made signs asking for permission to open the gate. The woman ran to do it for him and then he pointed to the door of the house, making her understand that he wanted to go in. Here the permission did not seem to be so readily accorded, but the detective mouthing the words 'want to speak to you,' after a moment's hesitation, the woman led the way into the bungalow and then into a small room which was obviously the sitting-room.

She pointed to a chair, and Larose pointing to another, they both sat down, with the width of a small table between them. Then the detective took a note-book and a pencil out of his pocket, and tearing out a leaf from the book, wrote on it, "I just want to ask you one or two simple questions."

He passed the paper across to her, and after glancing down upon it, she looked up and nodded. She seemed, however, rather frightened as she passed it back.

Then Larose wrote, "Now, please do exactly as I tell you," and after reading it, she looked more frightened still.

Then Larose again penciled a few words—this time: "Look me straight in the face, please, and keep your eyes fixed on mine."

The woman now seemed terrified, but she did as he commanded, and he rewarded her with a pleasant smile.

He waited perhaps five seconds, and then putting the pencil and paper back in his pocket, said in his ordinary tone of voice, "You are not deaf at all. You can hear quite well what I am saying."

The woman became pale as death, her jaw dropped, and her eyes opened widely. She clutched at the table with both hands and began to breathe quickly.

"Now don't distress yourself," said Larose kindly, "for it's your secret and I have no intention of giving you away. I'm a detective, it's true, but I'm not after you, and if you choose to serve a very eccentric master as a deaf woman," he shrugged his shoulders, "well, it's nothing to do with me, and I'm certainly not going to interfere."

The woman made no attempt at any denial. "Then what do you come here for?" she asked hoarsely and in a very deep voice.

Larose smiled a most reassuring smile. "I was just interested, that's all," he replied. "I wanted to make sure that my conjecture was right. I saw you flush when Sir Parry said you were of low intelligence, and when you were putting those goblets back in the sideboard you knocked them together and then you hesitated a couple of seconds or so, as if to learn if the tinkling had reached your master." He laughed lightly. "It looked to me as if you knew you were doing something which would displease him."

The woman had in a great measure recovered her composure, and now the expression upon her face was one of resentment rather than fear.

"The master loses his temper very quickly," she said, "and he had no business to call me 'low.' My father was a minister and my mother taught in a school, and if I am a servant I'm not 'low.'" She began to cry. "I've had a lot of trouble in my life and a lot of misfortune, and now if the master gets to know that I have been deceiving him about my deafness, he'll send me away and I've nowhere to go. I have no friends at all." Tears trickled down her cheeks. "He can be very hard sometimes."

Larose, touched by her distress, leant across the table and patted one of her hands.

"Never mind, never mind," he said gently, "I'll not tell anyone." He spoke as sympathetically as he could. "Really, I am very sorry that, just to gratify my vanity, I've made you tell me your secret." He rose up from his chair. "Now, I'll go off and you can forget that I've been here."

"No, no," she cried quickly, and she begun at once to dry her tears. "You, mustn't go like that. You are being very kind to me and I'm not accustomed to any kindness." She choked, back a sob. "I live a very lonely life and I always seem to have been unhappy." Her face brightened and she began to smooth down her hair. "But now you'll stop and have a cup of tea. The kettle's just boiling. You'll stop, won't you?"

"Certainly," said Larose. "I'd like a cup very much."

And then over tea and bread and butter he heard the story of a truly unhappy life.

She was a widow, Kate Dilling by name, fifty years of age, and had lost her husband after only one year of married life. She had had one child, a little boy, and he had been burnt to death by the upsetting of a lamp, before her very eyes. For fifteen years she had been Sir Parry's housekeeper, and at first he had been very kind to her, but the last few years he had been becoming more and more eccentric, and lately, especially, he had altered a lot. He was very morbid now. Eight years ago she had begun to grow very deaf, and she knew Sir Parry had been glad about it, for he had developed the habit of muttering a lot to himself, and he did it out loud, and was quite aware of his failing.

The local doctor had said he could do nothing for her deafness, but unknown to Sir Parry and very much against his wish, she had been treated by a Norwich herbalist, and now was quite cured. She dared not tell Sir Parry, however, for she was sure he would send her away at once if he knew. She had to keep up the pretence to everyone that she was stone deaf and had no friends in consequence, and never went out anywhere. Her only companion was a deaf-mute girl of seventeen, and no one ever came near them, not even Sir Parry. He had not visited the bungalow for years and years.

"What a lonely life!" exclaimed Larose when at last she had finished. "I only wonder how you can put up with it."

"But I have my flowers and my canaries," she said—she smiled—"and I play patience every evening." A peculiar look came all at once into her face and she regarded the detective with suddenly troubled eyes. "I know a lot about cards," she went on quickly, "and I'll tell your fortune for you if you like," and without waiting for any acquiescence she rose up to get a pack.

The detective smiled indulgently. He wanted to go away, but he felt really sorry for the woman and realised what a relief it was to her to talk to someone.

"Now, don't interrupt, please, whatever you do," she said as she resumed her seat, "or you will break the train of my thoughts and spoil everything. Keep quite silent and just watch."

She shuffled the cards well and spread them before her upon the table. Then, in accordance with a ritual of followers of her craft, in dead silence and with frowning brows, she began picking them out, and continually changing their positions. Her face became the more and more troubled as each minute passed.

At last she spoke. "You are under a dark cloud," she said slowly and with her eyes still intent upon the cards, "and a great danger threatens. You have recently been in great danger, too—so never again go where you have been to-day, for I see evil there. You are too sure of yourself, and you do not understand the forces that are up against you. I see blood"—she spoke with an effort—"and someone is going to die. The ace of spades is continually falling into the line." She shook her head. "You are being deceived somewhere. So trust no one, for the seemingly most harmless man may be your greatest enemy. In particular, beware of a young man with a sunny smile."

She spoke now in a hoarse whisper. "But never, never go where you have been to-day, for you have been standing over an open grave"—her voice trailed away to nothing—"and the grave was yours."

With a quick movement, she gathered up the cards and flung them back into a drawer. Her face was very pale and she was trembling.

The detective was looking amused, but all the same he felt a little bit uncomfortable. He prided himself that he was not in the least bit superstitious, but she had been twanging upon the self-same chords that not an hour ago had been vibrating so violently in him.

"Then I'm not to go anywhere where I've been to-day," he said banteringly. "Well, that's certainly rather rough upon your master, for I've been a solid three hours with him"—he thought agreeably of the royal shandy—"and he opened a bottle of champagne for me."

"But he's not very pleased with you, Mr. Larose," she said quickly, "for he doesn't like her ladyship being so friendly with you!"

"Friendly!" ejaculated Larose. "Why, I'm only there as a detective from Scotland Yard."

The woman smiled. "But her ladyship told him you were the bravest man she had ever known, and that it was a fortunate day for her when she met you."

Larose felt the blood surging riotously through his veins, and for one moment the memory of that red head upon his shoulder was blotting out consideration of all else. But then, very quickly, that moment passed, and, with his face set hard, he was the cold and calculating detective again.

"Look here," he said sternly, "you know too much about me, I'm thinking, and there was something behind all that jargon over the cards just now." He moved up close to her and spoke very slowly. "Now for one thing, Mrs. Dilling, how did you come to know that my name was Larose? Your master never mentioned it when you were in the room this morning."

She looked rather frightened, but nevertheless answered readily enough.

"I've told you the master is continually talking to himself," she replied, "and he's mentioned your name several times, as the detective from Scotland Yard, at the Abbey. Then yesterday I had to have tea ready for Senator Harvey, who was coming over in the afternoon, and be there to wait upon them, and they spoke a lot about you."

"What did they say about me?" asked Larose.

"I didn't catch it all," was the reply, "because I was in and out of the room, but they both agreed you might have done something that had happened—to excite sympathy."

The detective gulped down his rage. "Did you hear someone had tried to shoot me?" he demanded.

She looked shocked. "No-o, I never heard that."

"Well, someone did," went on Larose, "and it is a near thing I'm not in that grave you talked about just now." He eyed her intently. "Now, does the Senator often come up to see Sir Parry?"

"Not when I'm about," she replied. "I've never seen him there before." She seemed suddenly to remember something and laid her hand upon his arm. "But Senator Harvey was out in these woods last night and met someone just at the corner here."

"Here!" ejaculated Larose. "Tell me about it."

"I don't know anything," said the woman, "except that I woke up at half-past twelve and saw him in the moonlight, coming out of the wood. He stood still for about a minute, just in front of this bungalow and I saw his face plainly. Then another man came out of the wood from the other direction and they talked together for a very little while, and then they both went off again."

"Together?" snapped Larose.

"No, not together. They both went back into the wood where they had come out."

A short silence followed and then the detective asked, "You know why I am here!"

She nodded. "Yes, to see no one gets the child. Some men have tried to take him to get a ransom."

"Who told you?" came the question as quick as lightning. "Who told you, if you never speak to anyone?"

"Two of the girls from the Abbey," was the instant reply, "Miriam and Gladys. They are housemaids there. They were out for a walk one afternoon about three weeks ago and stopped to admire my roses and I invited them in for a cup of tea. Everyone knows I am supposed to be deaf and so they wrote it down on a piece of paper for me, and I learnt a lot besides, from their talking in between, when they were deciding what to write down." She added, after a moment, for the detective had made no comment, "and the master talked a lot about it, too." She shook her head slowly. "It's very sad about the master, and it all comes from living so much alone. When he's upset about anything, he talks on and on to himself, as if he were arguing with someone who is in the room."

"But what does it matter to him," asked the detective gruffly, "whether her ladyship speaks well of me, or not?"

The woman smiled a slow, meaning smile. "The older the man, Mr. Larose," she said, "the bigger the fool, and the master's always hoping to marry Lady Ardane himself. I know that that's on his mind."

"Has he ever asked her?" scoffed Larose.

She made a gesture of ignorance. "I shouldn't think so," she replied, "for he's very cautious and makes sure of everything before he acts." Her face suddenly assumed a very anxious expression. "But they won't get the child, will they, now you are here, and they won't be able to injure you now you are on your guard."

"I don't know so much about that," replied Larose gruffly, "and I'm not sure that I'm too easy in my mind, now that you've read all about me in the cards." He eyed her again very sternly and raised his voice suddenly. "Now, no nonsense, you know something. Yes, you do, and you've been trying to warn me in a roundabout way." He stretched out and gripped her by the arm. "Come on. Tell me at once, I intend to know."

She burst instantly again into tears. "I don't know anything," she said, "and you are being very unkind. You are making a great mistake, and I only imagine things. That's all. This lonely life is unnatural to me, too, and I'm all nerves."

Then seeing from the expression on his face that he did not believe her, she suddenly checked her sobs and all at once becoming calm, faced him in a resolute and defiant manner. "Well, you shall know my secret," she cried, "if you will drag it from me." She hesitated a moment. "I am unbalanced and not an ordinary woman, for ten years I was in an asylum for the insane."

"I don't believe you," said the detective instantly. "You are telling me a lie."

"I am not," she replied passionately. "It is quite true."

"What asylum were you in then?" he asked quickly. "Now don't stop to think."

"In the one at Norwich," she replied.

"And the name of the superintendent? Now, no hesitation. You must remember."

"Dr. Alfred Turner," she said instantly.

The detective let go her arm. "And what made you go out of your mind?" he asked.

"The death of my child. I was a melancholic case and fed through a tube they used to put into my nose."

The detective cross-examined her sharply, but it was soon evident to him that she had been an inmate of an asylum, for she described most graphically the varying kinds of treatments that had been given to the other patients in a manner that left no doubt in his mind that she was speaking the truth there. He asked her a lot of questions, but he could not trip her up in any way. He left her at last upon quite friendly terms, but he could not shake off the conviction that she had been upon the verge of telling him something, and had only refrained from doing so because she was afraid of the consequences, if she had done so.

He walked back through the wood in a very thoughtful frame of mind, and then, instead of going direct to the Abbey, proceeded into Burnham Market and in the little post office there put through a trunk call to Norwich.

The superintendent of the Norwich police was soon at the other end of the phone and seemed very amused when he learned who was speaking.

"You're a sly dog, aren't you," he chuckled. "On a holiday, you said you were, and now it's all over the country that you're at Carmel Abbey upon the very job that you pretended so innocently you had heard nothing about. Never mind. What can I do for you?"

Larose told him. He wanted an enquiry made at once at the Norwich Asylum, regarding a woman, Kate Dilling. She was supposed to have been a patient there for ten years, when a Dr. Alfred Turner was the medical officer, and he wanted to know all about her.

"And I'll ring up again," he said, "in about an hour. You ought to have managed it by then."

He returned to the Abbey straight away, and, interviewing the two maids, Miriam and Gladys, learnt that everything had happened as Sir Parry's housekeeper had said.

They had had tea with her, and they had written down everything exactly as she had said, and that was all the information they could furnish about her.

Then Larose rang up the Norwich superintendent again and learnt that the latter had obtained all the information required.

A Kate Dilling had been in the asylum for ten years and two months, leaving just fifteen years ago. But she had not been a patient there. She had been one of the attendant nurses, and had left with a record of very efficient service behind her to go and live with a relation of hers. Dr. Alfred Turner was now dead, but the secretary of the institution, who remembered her quite well, stated that she had always been esteemed as a conscientious and trustworthy woman.

"But she can tell lies when she wants to, for all that," muttered the detective as he hung up the receiver, "and I think to-morrow I'll go and have another little talk with her. She was certainly friendly towards me, but she's hiding something. Yes, she's hiding something, for sure."


CHAPTER VIII.—IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH

Larose was very troubled, as, late that afternoon, he sat alone in his room and gave himself up to his thoughts.

He was intending to make his way to the house upon the marsh as soon as darkness fell, and determine once and for all if the man who had been crouching under the hedge that morning were indeed the same one who had come up behind him that night when he had fired upon the pursuing car.

And now in the interval of waiting, he was trying to sum up exactly what his position was, and if he had really made any progress at all, and discovered anything since he had arrived at the Abbey three days ago.

His eyebrows puckered in perplexity. He had so many tangled skeins to unravel, and in whichsoever direction his thoughts travelled, they were soon, so very soon, brought up against a dead wall.

He had been all along so sure, as he had put it almost brutally to Lady Ardane, that her arch enemy must be among those five people who had been her close intimates at the time of the attempt to kidnap her little boy.

Yes, he had been so sure of that, even before he had come to the Abbey, and nothing he had found out since had shaken him in that idea.

One by one, he now went over the possible five men again, and he frowned and shook his head many times.

He had nothing really definite against any of them.

There were certainly some things that he did not like about Sir Parry Bardell, but it was inconceivable that a man who was as devoted to Lady Ardane, as undoubtedly the knight was, whatever might be his motive, would hire desperadoes to go shooting at her car and expose her to all the risks of a terrible accident.

Still, he was suspicious about Sir Parry, for, in the light of what the woman Dilling had told him, he could not help thinking that there was some motive behind the invitation to partake of the royal shandy that morning. Of course, Sir Parry had seen him through the telescope as he, Larose, was coming over the marshes, and he had gone purposely to intercept him at that stile.

Then he had brought him up to his house in a very secretive sort of way and had kept on looking back as if he were desirous of ascertaining if anyone were seeing them together. They had come in by the back door, too, because the path by the front door was muddy. And yet the mud by the back door was as bad as any he had been in that morning, with all his long walk. Yes, Sir Parry's conduct had been very peculiar.

Then the matter of the 'stone-deaf' housekeeper came in, and there was undoubtedly something very funny there. She did not seem a bad lot, and he rather thought she was of the kind to be trusted. She was certainly friendly disposed towards him, and had been giving him a warning right enough. Then when he had pressed her for an explanation, she had become frightened, and made up that clever lie about the asylum to save herself. Well, he would go and see her again to-morrow. She had asked him to come and see her again, and that looked as if she were wavering and half-inclined to unburden herself of some secret that she held.

Then next there was Senator Harvey—and somehow he did not like the man. But it was inconceivable again there, that the Senator would conspire against Lady Ardane. Still, some mania might have seized him and he could not be overlooked, for there was the matter of his having been out in the wood at night to be explained, and his meeting with the other man. There was no doubt the housekeeper had been speaking the truth there.

Then what about Admiral Charters? Certainly he was not of the type of man to be a conspirator, and yet—under that hearty and buff exterior might lurk a man of very evil mind. In the annals of dark crime there were records beyond number of deceiving appearances such as that.

It was all very puzzling.

Ah! but he was forgetting Sir Arnold Medway and Lord Wonnock, and leaving them out of his calculations altogether! Now, could he be making a mistake about them? Was it conceivable that Sir Arnold could be associated with a gang of desperadoes? He, a man of seemingly unimpeachable character, and a most distinguished member of a great profession.

Impossible! Impossible!—but yet, again, history had recorded many such instances.

Then there was Lord Wonnock! Lord Wonnock, stodgy, unimaginative, a worshipper of tradition, and whose whole obsession, it seemed, was to so live his life so that it would add dignity and prestige to the ruling classes!

No, Lord Wonnock was certainly impossible.

But dusk had passed and the darkness of the night was falling upon the countryside.

The detective let himself out of the cloister door, pausing, however, as he always did, to take a frowning glance at those well-oiled hinges.

It was a dark night, fine and clear, and the moon had not yet risen.

Larose had made some little alteration in his appearance, and, an adept in disguise, he flattered himself it would take more than a cursory look from any of those he had been brought in contact with since his arrival at the Abbey, for them to determine who he was, from a chance encounter under artificial light.

But if he could help it, he did not intend to be seen by anybody, although he was not coming back, he told himself, without having passed the 'once over' upon the inmates of the stone house. If he could not get sight of them through any of the windows, then he was going to knock boldly at the door and make out that he had lost his way.

He was sure it would be quite safe, for if they were indeed members of the gang, and being warned about him, had been given a description of his appearance, they would never recognise in the moustached and heavily-eyebrowed visitor, the clean-shaven and well-trimmed detective of Scotland Yard.

He crossed diagonally to the low fence and climbed over it, then making sure he was not being followed, he took the bitumen for about a mile until he was well beyond the marsh road. Then he turned off across the meadows, and keeping all the time close to the hedge side, after a rather muddy walk saw the outlines of the stone house close at hand, silhouetted against the sky.

Making a detour, the back of the house came into view, and he saw lights shining out of both the windows, and, rather to his astonishment, a large beam of light also from the door, which was half-open.

He crept up to within twenty yards, with only a tall hedge now separating him from the little garden, and then, the door opening wider, he saw two men standing just within the threshold. They were talking earnestly together.

Then one of them came out, and the light falling upon his face, the detective gave a gasp of amazement as he saw the man was Sir Arnold Medway.

There was not the slightest doubt about it. Sir Arnold had got his overcoat well buttoned up and his cap was pulled down well upon his eyes, but there was no mistaking that fine profile, the Grecian nose and the good, firm chin.

But if he had had any doubts they would have at once been dispelled, for, in the act of his turning away, the cultured voice of the great surgeon came up clearly and distinctly.

"Well, don't you forget. I tell you he wants looking after."

The man in the doorway called back. "All right. We'll keep on the lookout," and then, continuing to hold the door wide open until Sir Arnold had passed through the little gate and gained the marsh road, he closed it and the garden was in darkness again.

It was difficult for Larose to determine what were his exact feelings at the moment.

Amazement, disappointment, doubt and fierce rage surged in quick succession through him.

"If they are only honest men here," he panted, "then the explanation of his visit will no doubt turn out to be a very simple one, but if I find out they belong to the gang, then, good God!"—he almost choked in his rage—"I have allowed myself to be hoodwinked like the silliest little servant girl." His face puckered up in his distress. "But fancy! Sir Arnold, about the last man in the world one would have suspected to be associated with criminals! Fancy! Such a gentleman and——" But he pulled himself up sharply. "Gilbert, Gilbert, you're a fool. Get to business and find out the facts and then abuse anybody you like afterwards."

For a moment he was inclined to follow after Sir Arnold and demand an explanation straightaway, but he speedily thought better of it.

"No," he told himself, "I've got to learn about these men, and now's the chance, when it's any odds they'll be discussing what Sir Arnold has just been telling them, and won't be on the lookout for another visitor so soon."

He bent down to push through where the hedge was very thin, and then, without the slightest warning, received a stunning blow upon the head from someone who had been in waiting upon the other side.

With a deep groan he crashed to the ground, and then, before he lost consciousness altogether, was dimly aware that he received a second blow, also upon his head.

He remembered nothing more for a long time, and it might have been hours and hours before his senses began finally to come back. Then his return to sight and hearing was hastened by the pain of someone plucking roughly at his eyebrows.

"And his moustache, too," he heard a voice say, "and then we'll wash his face."

More pain followed, and then he felt water being splashed over him and, finally, he was rubbed hard with a cloth.

"Exactly!" he heard someone say, "and he's not only that darned Larose, but he's the farm laborer as well who came up to us on the road the other night. The devil!" and he felt his face stung with a contemptuous flick of the wet cloth.

He opened his eyes dully, and far quicker than the two men who were watching him imagined, acquired a grasp of the situation.

He was in a low room, lighted by a single paraffin lamp upon a table, and lying upon a sofa on the other side of the room, opposite to a small window. There was no blind to the window, but a newspaper was pinned across it. His ankles were tied tightly and his arms were pinioned to his sides by a rope that cut cruelly into his wrists. He felt very sick, and, moistening his dry lips, he tasted the salt of his own blood. He had a terrible pain in his head and felt very thirsty. He saw two faces bending over him.

He shut his eyes and groaned.

"Wake up, wake up," came a soft and bantering, but not unkind, voice. "Don't you want to talk to us, Mr. Gilbert Larose, farm-laborer employed by Mr. Andrews at Willow Bend?"

He opened his eyes again with an effort, and they fell at once upon the square-jawed man of his dreams, but he sensed instinctively that it was not he who had just been speaking.

"Come, come, you're not dead—yet," came from the soft voice again, and the detective was in such pain and distress that a marked interval between the uttering of the last two words occasioned him no apprehension at all.

"Something to drink, please," he said weakly, looking up at the man who had spoken, "I'm very thirsty."

"Give him a tot of brandy, Luke," said the man with the soft voice, turning at once to his companion.

"Waste of spirit!" was the surly comment of the latter, who made no move to comply with the request.

"Never mind that," said the first speaker peremptorily. "It'll be his last drink, poor devil, and you hit him darned hard. Here, pass over the bottle and I'll give it him myself," and in a few moments the detective was receiving a generous draught of the fiery spirit.

"Feel better, eh?" asked the donor. "Well now, you can talk or not, just as you want to. We're not anxious. We know all about you and there's nothing more we want to find out."

And then, seeing that either he could not, or would not, enter into any conversation, they moved away and left him alone. Seating themselves at the table, they then proceed to talk earnestly in low voices, every word, however, of what they said, being perfectly audible to the detective.

He learnt very soon, as he had fully expected, that he was going to be put to death. His captors made no secret of it, discussing in a most business like way their arrangements for accomplishing it.

Henrik was out in his boat, laying his nets about a mile off-shore, but the tide was such that he would be back very soon, for to escape the labor of much hauling, they knew he always returned upon a flowing tide. Then directly his keel had touched the sand, according to his invariable custom, he would proceed with all haste to his hut to get very drunk, and they would then, unknown to him, borrow his boat.

They would then attach part of a derelict plough, that was close handy, to their prisoner, and pushing out to sea, drop him overboard, about a quarter of a mile away.

It was all going to be very simple.

"And you are lucky, Mr. Larose," smiled the soft-voiced young man, noting that the detective was taking in what they were discussing, "that our friend Roy isn't here. He would have cut your throat as a preliminary, but we are more tender-hearted and are just going to let you drown." He laughed as if it were a good joke. "Besides, we want no messes here."

He was quite a pleasant-looking man, this young fellow with the soft voice, for he had curly hair, a good profile and a humorous mouth. Indeed, it was only his eyes that were not nice, and they were hard and steely.

The detective uttered another groan, but this time it was mental as well as physical, for he had now recognised in this soft-voiced man, his whispering cross-examiner upon the night when he had driven from Norwich with Lady Ardane.

Their arrangements completed, the conversation of the two men died down. The square-jawed man smoked stolidly, but his companion, evidently of a more restless nature, kept on going outside every other minute or so, to ascertain if there were any sign yet of the fisherman.

"Put out the lamp," he said sharply after one of these excursions. "There's light enough from the fire, and then I can pull off that paper," and the lamp being extinguished, he stripped the window bare.

"Not a glimpse of his lantern yet," he said looking through, "and it may be half an hour before he comes." He cast his eyes back upon the recumbent form on the sofa. "But we're quite safe however long he is, for it's notorious that this chap always works alone."

He walked over and looked down upon the detective. "Vanity, my friend," he said with his pleasant smile, "has always been your besetting sin, and now you're paying for it. In all your work you've always wanted all the credit, and you never would take in a pal." He shrugged his shoulders. "So now, to-night, the wages of your sin—is death."

He was silent for a few moments, with his eyes still fixed intently upon Larose. "Not going to speak, eh?" he went on. "Still stubborn!" He nodded. "But you're a brave man, and know it's no good crying out." He sighed and turned away. "I'm sorry for you."

And surely the hardest heart would have experienced some feeling of compassion for the detective then.

He was not a pleasant sight. Muddied and bloodied, glistening with sweat, and limp as if every bone in his body were broken, he looked in the very last stages of exhaustion. His face, ghastly white except where the blood was clotted on his brow, had already assumed the leaden hues of death, and his breathing was faint and very shallow.

But his physical distress, so apparent to the eye, was as nothing to the mental distress that his captors could not see, indeed, so overwhelming was the depression of his thoughts that he was almost unmindful of his exhaustion and his pain.

He was in the lowest depths of humiliation, and no remorse could have been more deep than was his.

He had failed, and failed just as he had been upon the very point of success, and it was his pride that had been his undoing. He had known that he was in the midst of enemies, yet he had taken no precautions, and just allowed himself to be trapped, like the veriest booby, without striking a blow.

And others would suffer by his folly. That was the bitter thought.

But it was all over now and in a few short minutes he would be dead. Never again would he thrill to the trail of the man-hunt, no more would he triumph over his enemies. Never again would he see Helen Ardane, never—

His eyes, wandering to the table, fell upon his little automatic pistol, which, among other things, had been taken from his pockets.

Ah! if only a miracle would happen and for five seconds he could hold that in his hand! For only five seconds and then—

But his train of thought was interrupted by a sharp exclamation from the man who had given him the brandy.

"Hell!" cried the latter, looking out through the window. "What's that? Someone's lit a fire close near."

The square-jawed man jumped to his feet as quickly as if a wasp had stung him, and, ranging himself beside his companion, stared out into the night.

There was no doubt about it. The reflection of a fire was coming up from behind a sandhill about three hundred yards away.

"What the devil is it?" came from the younger man. "It's not a camp fire. It's much too big for that. Damnation! Whatever it is, it will bring everyone down here if it goes on for long!"

"We must go and see," snapped the man the other had called Luke. "One of us'll have to." He jerked his head in the direction of the sofa. "We don't want unexpected visitors with that here. You go. I'll stop."

"No, we'll both go," insisted the younger man. "That drunken fool may have landed by the breakwater and set fire to those baskets and rubbish underneath, and it'll take two of us to put it out quickly. Come on. It'll be quite safe. I'll throw this rug over him and no one will see what's on the sofa, even if they look in. He won't move. I believe he's gone off again, now."

A rug was snatched up hastily and thrown over the detective and then the door was opened and they ran out.

But the detective was not unconscious, indeed he was very wide awake, and galvanised into action by the thought that he was unguarded, with no clear intention, however, of what he could by any possibility do to effect his escape, he started to try and wriggle on to the floor.

But the first movement of his head gave him such exquisite pain that he did almost sink into unconsciousness again. However, he pulled himself together with a great effort, and was upon the point of making another attempt, when he heard the sound as of the door being opened very quietly and—his heart stood still.

Perhaps ten seconds of agonising silence followed and then things began to happen very quickly.

Through the fibres of the thick rug that was lying over him, he saw a point of light spring up from somewhere and flit like a firefly round the room. Then it came waveringly to rest in his direction, and he heard the pad of footfalls coming close. Then he felt the rug being lifted, almost reverently, as if the one who lifted it were afraid of what he might see underneath. Then he felt the wind of the rug being flung quickly away, and his eyes were blinded by a fierce light not three inches from them.

He blinked painfully and a hoarse, rum-laden whisper came from behind the light.

"Goot! goot!" said the voice, and the detective knew in a flash that it was Henrik! Then such a thrill of thanksgiving, beyond all expression in words or prayers surged through him, for the fisherman in quick deft strokes was striking at his bonds.

He was lifted to his feet, he tried to stand and then he was caught, just in the nick of time, as he was falling.

"Broken, broken?" asked the fisherman in a most anxious tone, and he ran his hands quickly down the detective's legs.

"No," groaned the detective, "I was only hit on the head. I'll be all right soon." A terrible thought assailed him and his voice gathered strength. "But help me away quick. They'll be coming back."

"Right, right," said Henrik, and with a heave of his gaunt body, he swung the detective onto his shoulder and started to run from the room.

"Stop! stop!" cried the detective as they were passing the table, "get my pistol there."

The fisherman steadied himself under the burden, and then disengaging one arm, grabbed at the pistol and a small heap of other things from the table and thrust them into the detective's pocket. A moment later and they had passed into the night.

The moon had just risen, but it was obscured by misty clouds.

For a hundred yards and more the fisherman ran quickly, but then, his breath coming in big gasps, he slowed down to a walk. For another hundred yards he went on, proceeding all the time in a direction parallel to the sea. Then he stopped, and, depositing Larose underneath a high bank of drifted sand, bent down and peered closely into his face.

"'Orl right?" he said after a very brief inspection, and pointing to an opening between two sandhills added, "Path."

For a moment, then, he stood listening with his face turned in the direction of the stone house, but, apparently finding nothing to occasion any disquietude, without another word, or even a glance at the detective faded away into the shadows.

Larose lay back and drew in deep breaths of the cold night air. His head was hurting terribly, and he was distressed beyond measure that the slightest movement made him giddy, for, now that he had got back his pistol, the strong urge was possessing him that he should return instantly and tackle the two men before they could get away.

That they would bolt now there was no doubt. They knew who he was and they would be thinking that he would be returning with help.

But he soon realised that not only was he physically incapable of any further effort, but mentally, also, at any rate for the moment, he was not in a condition to pit his wits against anyone. He could not concentrate or think coherently.

And then in a confused and dull sort of way the dreadful thought came to him that when his late assailants did make their flight, then the marsh road would be the very last way to escape they would take, and in that case it was quite possible they might chance upon the very path he was now on.

In a perfect fever of apprehension then, he fumbled for his pistol and tried to slip the safety catch. But his fingers were quite nerveless and he could not find it, let alone slip it back.

He pushed the pistol back into his pocket and half walking and half crawling, proceeded along the path the fisherman had indicated.

The first few yards were agony, and he thought with every step that he was going to drop, but in a few minutes he found a position in which he could hold his head with the minimum amount of pain, and his progress at once became more speedy, and at length developed into a slow and dragging walk.

Gradually then his confidence began to come back, and notwithstanding that his head was throbbing like a piston, he was soon half-minded to retrace his steps and mete out punishment, for the injury that had been inflicted upon him.

But he at once discarded the idea when, upon bringing himself to a halt to consider it, he found that his legs were so wobbly that he would not be able to use his pistol arm unless he were lying prone, and so he resumed his journey.

Three-quarters of an hour passed, and having emerged from the sandhills and now crossing over a meadow, he was just reckoning that he could not be very far off the bitumen road, when, upon one of his frequent turnings round to make sure no one was coming up behind him, he suddenly caught sight of two moving objects less than a hundred and fifty yards away.

A gasp of incredulity, a mighty leaping of his heart, and he dropped like a plummet into the long grass at the side of the path! The moving objects were men upon bicycles!

They were coming from the direction of the sandhills and crossing along that side of the meadow where there was no path. As if anxious to escape observation, too, they were keeping as close to the hedge as a wide ditch would allow them, and from the course they were taking, the detective saw they would pass within thirty feet of where he lay.

He felt for his pistol, and this time, although his hands were shaking, found the safety catch and slipped it back, but a sudden feeling of faintness reminded him that he must take no liberties, and he steadied his pistol hand in the crook of his left arm.

Then he strained and strained with his eyes to make out who the riders were, for if they proved to be the men from the stone house, he was intending to shoot without warning and, at least, disable them so that they should not get away. He would aim at their legs.

They were riding quickly, and it was only a few seconds after he had thrown himself upon the ground, before they arrived opposite to him, and he recognised them instantly.

"The devils!" he hissed, and with the first word his automatic cracked.

The square-jawed man who was the nearer to him, and riding just in advance of his companion, made a sudden swerve with his front wheel and then crashed on to the ground, bringing down the machine and the rider behind him.

There was a loud curse from one of them and then the man who had only fallen, and was not hurt, sprang up to disengage his bicycle from the other over which it had toppled.

For the moment the detective waited and did not press again upon the trigger of his pistol.

He had got them in the open, he told himself, and they could not get away. He held all the cards.

"Hands up!" he shouted, "or I fire again."

But three seconds later he realised the tragic mistake of withholding his fire. He had not taken into account the ditch along which they had been riding, and now the unwounded man, after making a pretence of throwing up his hands, slipped down into it, as if he had melted into the ground, and not only that, but before the half-dazed detective could take in what was happening, he reached up and dragged his wounded companion and the two bicycles after him.

For the second time that night, Larose had no word of condemnation deep enough for himself. He had failed again, and this time, with all the cards in his hand, had let the game slip from him.

And now he was alive once more to the dreadful throbbing in his head, and physical distress was super-imposed upon mental. He felt sick and wanted to close his eyes and forget everything.

But with a mighty effort of will he pulled himself together and forced his numbed brain to think.

No, things were not so hopeless after all, for he had brought down one man, and he certainly would not be able to get away. Then, even if the other man escaped, they would be able to learn something from this prisoner as to whom were the other members of the gang. A sick man was much easier to deal with than one who was strong and well, and this man would not be injured enough to prevent his speaking. He was sure he had not inflicted any vital injury or hit the man in the body, for he had aimed very low, and the man had not crumpled up as he fell, but had tried to save himself by thrusting out his arm.

He thought hard.

But, surely, the other man could not escape either, for the thick hedge stretched behind him, and emerging from the ditch at either end, he would be at once exposing himself to his, Larose's, fire.

A wan smile crept into the pale and bloodied face of the detective as he considered what the thoughts of the two men must now be.

They would be in a terrible state of perplexity, and quite unable to weigh up the situation and determine what forces were against them. They would be sure they had fallen into an ambush, and yet they would be wondering by what possibility anyone could have known they would be coming by this particular way. There were a score and more of paths that would have led them from the sandhills, and yet their flight by this particular one had seemingly been expected and prepared for.

He looked round to make sure of his own position. He was upon slightly rising ground and hidden among the long grass; there was no danger of his being out-flanked. It was bright moonlight now and every foot of the meadow was visible to him from where he lay.

Two or three minutes passed and then it came to him unpleasantly that although he was in no condition for any physical exertion, he must yet do something. He could not just lie there and wait, as if he were expecting them to pop up over the ditch like rabbits and give him another shot.

But suddenly he heard the sharp crack of a pistol, coming from the direction of where the two men had disappeared into the ditch, and although no bullet had whined over him, he flattened himself instantly, thinking they must have caught sight of him somehow.

Nothing, however, followed. He heard no pistol crack again and all was still and silent as the grave.

Then it flashed into his mind that the firing was a ruse upon their part, for, becoming impatient, they had done it to see if anything would happen.

He waited, perhaps, another two minutes, and then, realising that his must be the next move, drew in a deep breath and prepared for action.

Following the lay of the land with his eye, he saw that he could cross the meadow under cover of the tall grass the whole way, and strike the ditch about fifty yards beyond where the men were lying. He would then be able to look over it and see along its entire length. He must chance it that the unwounded man would not double back at the exact moment when he was at the other end.

He would be quite safe, he thought, for whatever happened, his enemies could make no move to get behind him without his seeing them, and even if the unwounded man had anticipated his action and were coming to meet him, then at all events he would have him in front.

Resolutely endeavoring to forget his pains and giddiness, he started to crawl through the grass, never for one moment, however, taking his eyes off the ditch. It was a painful journey, and many times he had to stop and rest, lest he should collapse altogether.

Then the very thing that he had been fearing happened, for suddenly he saw a man rise up out of the other side of the ditch about a hundred and fifty yards away, and using his bicycle as a battering ram, begin thrusting it backwards and forwards into the hedge, with the evident intention of forcing a way through.

The detective ground his teeth in rage, for he realised that he could not prevent it. Where he lay, it was much too far away to shoot, and to approach close enough to make any effective use of his pistol, he would have to run the whole way in the open and be exposing himself a good part of the time to the possible fire of the second man, who, although wounded, might yet be not incapacitated enough to be of no danger.

So he just lay where he was and watched the man thrusting his machine into the hedge. It was all over in two minutes and then man and bicycle disappeared.

The detective wondered what was going to happen next, and then, determining that the second man should not escape too, began crawling again through the grass, but this time proceeding in a direction parallel to the ditch.

Arriving at a spot not very far from where the two men had been travelling when he had shot the first one down, and chafing under the thought that everything seemed to be slipping away from him, he took a risk, and crawling to the ditch-side, leant boldly over.

A wave of thankfulness surged through him. The second man and his bicycle were still there, at the bottom of the ditch.

They were not twenty yards away and the man was lying upon his side among the dead leaves, with his head upon his right arm, which was outstretched. His pose was as if he were unconscious, or asleep.

The detective, however, was taking no risks, and covered him with his pistol, "If you move," he called out, "I'll put another bullet into you."

But the man did not move and he did not speak. The detective frowned. The man's pistol hand was covered over lightly with the leaves, and while he might be unconscious, yet still—he might be only just waiting his chance.

About a minute passed, and then the detective taking aim, put three bullets in quick succession all round the recumbent figure, scattering the leaves in all directions.

But nothing happened, and then with a sharp ejaculation, he slipped down into the ditch, and springing to the side of the man, bent over him.

The man was quite dead. There was a bullet wound at the back of his head, and he had been shot at such close range that the hair was all singed round where the bullet had gone in.


CHAPTER IX.—THE RAID UPON THE ABBEY

It was an hour or more after Larose had bent down over the dead man in the ditch before he was again in the full possession of his senses. The injuries he had received and the varying emotions of the night had been too much for him, and he had just collapsed and fallen where he was.

He had lain in a sort of stupor among the dead leaves, close beside the body, and when at length he opened his eyes, it was to find them within a few inches of a tired, white face, fouled over in blood and mud. He had flung one of his arms, too, as if protectingly, over the head of the dead man and his fingers were sticky, in an unpleasant way.

For a few seconds he stared incredulously at his companion among the leaves, and then with a choke of horror, he snatched his arm away and recoiled in disgust.

Then in a flash everything came back to him. The stone house upon the marsh—the room where he had lain, awaiting death—the coming of Henrik—his path of agony among the sandhills—his firing upon his enemies—and finally his discovery of the bullet hole in the head of the man who was now lying so near to him.

He sat up and began chafing his legs for they were stiff and cold. His head was still hurting, but the pain there was now bearable, and he thought that with an effort he would be able to make his way home to the Abbey. Then he would decide what must he his next move, for there were so many things to consider, and he could not determine anything, off-hand.

He looked mechanically at his wrist to ascertain the time, but instantly remembered that his watch had not been upon him when Henrik was carrying him away. Then, turning again to regard the dead man, he perceived that the latter was now wearing it.

He smiled a grim smile, as he unstrapped it. The way of the world every time. How quickly the wheel of fortune swung over. So soon was the despoiler—despoiled!

But if he did find the watch upon the body—that was the only thing he found, for all the man's pockets had been emptied and turned inside out.

"And to think what a nerve his murderer had!" he thought wearily. "To stay here and empty his pockets, when at any moment, for all he knew, a dozen enemies might be leaping down upon him over the ditch side!"

He saw where his own bullet had struck the man, through the bone just below the knee.

"Well, I am in no condition now to go over him more thoroughly," he sighed, "but to-morrow we'll come and see what we can learn!"

Then an idea struck him, and with the intention of riding away, at the price of much renewed throbbing of his head, he hauled the bicycle up on to the meadow.

But he realised instantly that he would never be able to mount it, for he was too shaky in all his limbs and indeed twice, fell over it in his attempts to raise it up. So he left it where it was and started away on foot.

And he soon found that there was a dreadful pilgrimage before him. His giddiness came back at once, his head throbbed like an engine, and it was agonising even to proceed very slowly, taking only a few stops at a time.

But he plodded on and on, with each hundred yards becoming an eternity of time.

At last it dawned upon him that he would never succeed in reaching the Abbey, and he was half-minded to give up all further struggling, and pass the rest of the night under a hedge. But the air was so cold and chilling that he was afraid with any lying down he might pass into a stupor. He looked at his watch and saw that it was getting on for half-past one.

Then he remembered that it would be much nearer to go to the bungalow where Sir Parry's housekeeper lived, and he smiled in comical relief at the thought that there, as well as shelter, he would be able to receive treatment for his hurts.

A nurse attendant at a lunatic asylum would certainly know something about blows and bruises, and be able to relieve his pains!

So he turned his steps in the direction of the wood behind Sir Parry's house and at length was standing before the bungalow where the housekeeper lived.

The place was all in darkness, but one of the windows was open and he called out over the garden fence.

"Mrs. Dilling, Mrs. Dilling, I'm Mr. Larose and I want you." He could not have shouted loudly if he had wanted to, and his voice was very faint, but the woman heard him, and almost as soon as he had finished speaking had put her head out of the window.

"What is it?" she asked quickly. "What do you want?"

"I've been hurt," replied Larose, "and I feel as if I were almost going to faint," and he started to totter up the garden path.

A sharp exclamation came from her, and before he had had time to reach the door, it opened and she stood before him, in a dressing-gown.

"I'm sorry——" he began, and then she caught him in her arms.

Then with all the competence of one who had been trained in a good school, she took everything in hand.

She lifted him up bodily and carried him on to her bed. She lit the lamp with fingers that were perfectly steady. She felt his pulse and gave him two tablespoonfuls of brandy. She partially undressed him and covered him over with blankets. She lit the oil heater and gave him two hot-water bags, one at his feet and one over his heart. She bathed and bandaged his head, and finally brought in a basin of soup and fed him with it herself.

And it was all done without any fuss or bother, and with the thoroughness of one who was delighting in her work. And not only did she do it with thoroughness, but with sympathy as well, for Larose saw her eyes fill with tears as she was bending over his wound.

"Now, you're not hurt much," she said cheerfully, "and there's no bone broken. A good long sleep and you'll almost be your own self again."

The detective felt his heart too full for words. Hopeless and in the last stages of exhaustion but a little while ago, he had passed suddenly into peace, comfort and tender care. This gaunt-faced woman was as a mother in her loving-kindness and the gentleness of sweet heart was in the touch of her hands.

A feeling of delicious drowsiness began to creep over him and he seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper into a delightful feather bed. Then all his pains and troubles passed from him and he was unconscious to all the world.

"He'll do," nodded the woman as she bent over him. "He'll sleep now for twelve hours."

But several times during the night and long after dawn had broken, she crept in to listen to his breathing and feel his pulse. He was, however, quite oblivious to her presence.

Just before half-past seven she locked the doors of the bungalow, and, accompanied by the deaf and dumb girl who lived with her, proceeded to Sir Parry's house.

But the detective slept on and on and on.

Sir Parry was in a bad humor that morning and directly he set eyes upon his housekeeper he handed her a piece of paper on which was written in precise and neat handwriting, "I shall not be in to dinner to-night, and don't you forget you are never to come here except during your prescribed hours. I am annoyed with you."

The woman nodded, pointing with an apologetic gesture, however, to the curtains, but her master only frowned.

"She has no intelligence," he said out loud, "just the duster and the kettle mind."

* * *

Larose awoke at last and felt very sorry for himself straightaway. His head ached and was very sore. His body ached, too, and he was not certain he had not got a chill. He was very thirsty.

He looked at his watch, but it had stopped, and he could form no idea of the time from the light outside, because the blinds were drawn.

There were a water-bottle and a tumbler upon the table near his bedside, and he reached out and gave himself a long drink.

The housekeeper must have been listening for any movement, for before even he had put the tumbler down, the door opened and she came into the room.

"You are feeling better?" she asked, and then seeing the hesitating look upon the detective's face, she added quickly, "But, of course, you won't be feeling too good yet, for the wound will be stiff and sore and your head may ache for days."

"Never mind my poor head," said the detective ruefully, as she was proceeding to raise the blinds a little, "tell me, what is the time?"

"Just half-past four," was the reply, "and you've had a nice long sleep. You needed——"

But Larose had started up in the bed, and was now regarding her with angry eyes. "Half-past four!" he ejaculated. His voice was very stern. "Then you drugged me, Mrs. Dilling."

"Yes," she nodded calmly. "I put some luminal in your soup."

He dropped back weakly upon the pillows. "Good God!" he exclaimed, "but you don't know what you have done."

"Oh! yes I do," she replied, "and I've saved you from an absolute breakdown. You were sick unto death when you came here last night."

She moved over to the bedside and sat down. "I've a lot to tell you, Mr. Larose," she went on, "and I'm going to keep nothing back." She hardly breathed the next words. "My master intended to poison you yesterday, but I changed the poison for bicarbonate of soda, and that is why you are alive now. Listen to me."

Two hours later, and when it was quite dark, a very pale-faced and rather tottery Larose was making his way through the little door in the fence that separated Sir Parry's property from the Abbey grounds.

He was feeling weak and ill, but the expression upon his face was a bright one, and, indeed, he seemed in quite a cheerful frame of mind.

But the moment he had closed the door behind him the cheerfulness all passed and his face puckered into a frown as he looked round.

"What the devil is happening?" he asked himself breathlessly. "Has everyone gone mad?"

And he might well ask, for not only was the Abbey itself a blaze of light, with every window lit up, but in all directions in the grounds, he could see lanterns and torches flashing among the trees.

In dreadful foreboding he raced over to the light that was nearest to him. "What's happening?" he asked of a man who was beating through some bushes, and he saw he was addressing one of the under-footmen. "I'm the detective from Scotland Yard."

The man appeared to be in a state of great excitement, and he jerked out, "The little master's missing, sir. He can't be found anywhere and we are beating all round the park."

The heart of the detective almost stopped still. "When did it happen? Tell me quick," he commanded.

"About twenty minutes ago, sir," replied the footman. "Not more than that."

"But tell me all about it," snapped Larose, "and don't waste a second. Where was he last seen?"

"He was with Sir Arnold Medway, sir. He had cut his finger and wouldn't let anyone attend to it. Then Sir Arnold coaxed him into the library and was going to put some plaster upon it, when he found he'd left his glasses in the lounge and went to fetch them. Then when he came back the little boy had disappeared!" The man spoke very quickly. "And we are being sent to search the grounds now, but I don't see how he could have got out of the Abbey, for the only door that was open at the time was the front door, and one of the gardeners was in the drive just at that time, looking for a trowel that he had dropped, and he is sure no one passed him."

Larose thought like lightning. The last place where the child was seen was the library! The library was close to the lumber-room! The enemy in the Abbey knew of the existence of the lumber-room and the boarded-up well-chamber behind it! Then if the child had been taken, what was more probable than that he was hidden there! He might have been gagged or silenced somehow, with his kidnapper just waiting until the hue and cry had gone down outside, to return and get him away. Ah! but had the butler finished with the lumber-room and left the door unlocked?

With a nod of thanks to the footman, Larose ran to the cloister door, rejoicing that its key had been among the things that Henrik had returned to his pocket along with the little automatic.

He passed into the Abbey and ran up the long passage to the lumber-room door. It was shut but not locked, and he was inside in two seconds.

He had no torch with him, but quickly striking a match, saw at once that the child was not there. Then, starting to thread his way among the tins and rubbish towards the boarded-up end of the room, as the match flickered and died in his fingers, he suddenly became aware of a smell, other than paint or varnish. It was faint, but distinctly ether-like in its character; it reminded him of a hospital.

"It's not chloroform or ether," he panted. "It's more like ethyl chloride," and knowing the explosive nature of all ether-like vapors, he refrained from striking another match.

He groped his way warily across the room, with the strange smell certainly becoming no weaker, and then, reaching the boards shutting off the well-chamber, he pushed them quickly apart and dropped on to his hands and knees to pass through. The smell had now become quite strong.

Holding his breath in his excitement, he started to crawl round the sides of the little chamber, and almost immediately was electrified by one of his hands coming in contact with a warm face.

He passed his hands down to the body and with no surprise found that it was a little child. He bent his head down and heard slow and regular breathing. Then in one lightning flash of thought he made up his mind what he would do.

For the moment no one should be told that the child had been found, and he would himself hide him away again. Then, a watch being set upon the well chamber, they would catch at least one of the kidnappers red-handed, as, all unknowing that his secret had been discovered, he would be coming later to take the child.

Yes, that was the right thing to do, for it was imperative, above all things, that everyone involved in the kidnapping should be unmasked. If the child were now at once restored to his mother, then the position would be exactly as it had been before, with the unknown enemy lurking close at hand, and waiting for the opportunity to strike.

He lifted the child tenderly into his arms and groped his way back into the lumber-room. Then, replacing the boards carefully, in a few seconds he was outside and running swiftly down the long passage to the little cloister door.

He let himself out and pushed to the door, without, however, closing it. Then, proceeding for about twenty yards and keeping all the time close to the walls of the Abbey, he laid the little boy down in the middle of a bed of chrysanthemums. Then be raced over to where he saw the searchers were still busy with their lanterns and addressed the first one he came to. He recognised him as one of the gardeners.

"Quick!" he said. "I want you. Put out your lantern and come with me," and the man, recognising the detective, obeyed at once.

He led him with all speed through the cloister door, and then, at the beginning of the long passage, stopped abruptly and spoke very sternly.

"Now you know I'm a detective from Scotland Yard," he said. "Well, I'm going to give you a special job to do and you'll have to keep all your wits about you to do it properly."

"All right, sir," said the man, "I'll do my best."

The detective went on. "You know the lumber-room up on the left there?"

"Yes, sir, where they keep the paint?"

"Good! then I'm going to leave you to watch that door, for I expect someone may be coming to it any minute, and I want to know who he will be."

The man spoke in a hoarse whisper. "But I mayn't be able to see him come, sir, in the dark like this."

"Oh! you'll have light enough," snapped the detective. "There's the reflection from that light round the corner, over the library door." An idea came to him suddenly and he added quickly, "and if that light goes out, tip-toe instantly up to the lumber-room and grapple with anyone who comes near. It'll be the man I want, and you're to shout and shout until help comes, and you learn then whom you have been holding. You understand? You are not to let him go until there are witnesses present. Myself, I shan't be gone long, perhaps only a quarter of an hour, but on no account are you to go away until I return."

The detective left the man on guard, and a few minutes later, along with Sir Parry's housekeeper, was bending over the little baronet, who was lying upon her bed.

"They've given him morphia," she said in an awe-struck tone, as she lifted up one of his eyelids, "and, look, there is where they put the needle into his arm." Her face lost a little of its anxiety. "But the pulse and breathing are good and he's not injured in any way."

Larose looked her straight in the eyes. "And I can trust you?" he asked sternly. "There'll be no going back now?"

"You can trust me," she replied firmly, "and no one shall see him if he's here a week, for, as I've told you, no one ever comes here." She laid her hand upon the detective's arm and her anxiety seemed to come back. "But you be careful, Mr. Larose," she warned. "You ought to be in bed yourself and not rushing about like this."

"All in the day's work," smiled the detective wanly, "and I'm really much stronger than you think. I shall be quite all right, so don't worry."

But he was not feeling quite so sure about himself as he hurried back to the Abbey, for the dreadful giddiness was returning, and, altogether, he felt very weak and ill.

He gained the cloister door without meeting anyone, and then, to his consternation, found that he had lost the key. It must have dropped out of his pocket, he thought, as he had been running with the little boy. Anyhow, it was a most unfortunate happening, for now he would have to go right round to the other side of the building to enter by the back door, and the possibility was that he might not now get in unseen by those he was particularly wishing to avoid. He was, however, relieved to find that the big front door was now closed, for no broad beam of light was streaming from it on to the gravelled drive.

But his good fortune was dead out, for just as he was passing the door, it swung open, and Sir Arnold Medway, standing just inside the hall, called out loudly, "Oh! here is Mr. Larose. He's here. Lady Ardane."

The detective would have muttered many bad words if he had not been feeling altogether too exhausted to expend any unnecessary breath.

There was now no help for it, and he had to cross into the lounge and become at once the centre of all interest and the cynosure of all eyes.

Everyone in the Abbey seemed to be there, but among the little sea of faces that confronted him, that of Lady Ardane stood out most clearly.

She was standing by her step-father, and deadly pale. It was evident that it was only by a tremendous effort she was restraining herself from tears. The expression upon her face was one of absolute terror, and her eyes were drawn and strained, as if she were already seeing the dead body of her child before her.

But the detective was given no time to indulge in any feelings of pity, for the moment Senator Harvey caught sight of him, he shouted angrily.

"Where have you been, sir? Do you know my grandson cannot be found?"

The detective nodded. "Yes, one of the men has just told me," he replied very quietly.

"And what were you brought down here for," went on the Senator furiously, "except to see that they didn't get him?"

"I can't be everywhere, Senator Harvey," said Larose in the same level tones, "and I had to go away upon some inquiries."

"Inquiries, you dud policeman!" thundered the Senator, "and when you were making them the child was taken. You told my daughter he would be quite safe as long as you were here, and she believed you, but I never did think much of you from the first moment you arrived"—he sneered scoffingly—"with your gold cigarette case and your wonderful ties!" He snapped his fingers together. "Anyhow, we've rung up Norwich and told them you're no good. They've got the matter in hand now."

"We rang up Norwich, Mr. Larose," explained Lady Ardane with studied calmness, "because we didn't know where you were and"—she bit upon her lip to express her emotion—"we had no one here to give us any advice."

"But you ought not to have left the Abbey for so long, Mr. Larose," broke in Sir Parry sharply. "It was very ill advised and quite inexcusable, and you haven't told the Senator yet where you've been."

The detective's great anxiety was to get away as speedily as possible, and he ignored Sir Parry altogether. Instead, he turned to Lady Ardane.

"It's not hopeless yet," he said quickly, "and we mustn't lose heart. The Superintendent at Norwich is a most capable man, and he'll have had every road blocked within ten minutes of your call. The wretches can't get very far away." He put his hand up to his head with a grimace of pain. "I've met with a little injury here, but directly I've changed my clothes I'll want to speak to you again."

He left the lounge in a direction as if he were going up to his room, but, perceiving that no one was following him, turned off in the corridor and made his way as quickly as he could to the passage where he left the gardener on watch. The man was still there and the detective asked breathlessly, "Anyone been?"

"Yes, sir, quite a lot of people," replied the man. "They came just after you had gone."

"Then who were they? Tell me, quick," went on Larose with a dreadful sinking at his heart, for the man had spoken so cheerfully.

"Mr. Polkinghorne, Sir Parry, Senator Harvey, Sir Arnold, one of the new gentlemen whose name I don't know, and Mr. Lestrange," rattled off the man as if very pleased with himself for remembering everyone so pat.

"Who came first," snapped Larose, "and what did he do?"

"They all came together," was the reply, "with a lantern and torches, and they went inside and I heard them moving the tins about." He seemed half afraid that he had done something wrong and added hesitatingly, "I didn't interfere."

"Of course you didn't," laughed Larose, with a hollow laugh. "You kept away."

"Yes, sir, and they didn't see me. They only stayed a couple of minutes."

The detective sighed. "Well, light your lantern now," he said "and we'll go and see if they've made the room untidy."

But the room seemed just as he had left it except that the loose boards at the end were now gaping open and the ether-like smell had gone.

He thanked the gardener for his services, and then a great feeling of faintness coming over him, he asked the man to help him up to his room. "And we'll go up the back stairs, please, so that we'll be less likely to meet anyone."

The gardener looked very concerned and well he might, for it seemed the detective could hardly stand. The many emotions of the last hour, following upon his sufferings of the previous night, had proved too much, even for the iron constitution that he possessed.

The man saw him to his room and was then despatched with an urgent message to Peter Hollins to come at once.

Larose lay back upon the bed, too exhausted even to undress. It was not only that his head was throbbing and he felt sick and giddy, but every bone in his body seemed to ache, and he knew he was running a temperature. And his mental state made his physical one much worse, for if ever, he told himself, a cool head were required it was required then—and he knew he was almost down and out.

In the light of what he had learned from Sir Perry's housekeeper, coupled with what he had found out for himself, the position of Lady Ardane stood out as a terribly dangerous one, and she must be warned, with no delay, of what was threatening.

He had not dared to warn her openly in the lounge, for her possible enemies were there with her then, and a premature disclosure would have ruined everything.

It was dreadful that he should be struck down at the critical moment and——

But his thoughts were interrupted by a tap upon the door and the young nightwatchman entered the room.

"A pencil and a piece of paper from the desk," whispered Larose, "and an envelope. I'm not very well."

Hollins at once brought what he required, regarding the detective, however, with very troubled eyes.

Larose proceeded to inscribe in shaky characters: "Don't worry, I have got your child back. He is safe with friends, but on no account breathe this to a soul, or he may be taken again. Trust me and burn this at once. P.S.—I am not very well. I got hurt last night. That is why I was away."

"Now take this to Lady Ardane," he said, "and give it to her, but only into her own hands. Tell her I'll be better soon and will then come and speak to her. You understand?"

The young follow nodded, thinking at the same time that if he had never seen a sick man before, he was seeing one then.

Just as he was leaving the room, however, Larose asked with a great effort, "Oh! one thing, before you go. Did anything happen here to-day, before the child was taken, that would interest me?"

"Nothing that I know of," replied Hollins after consideration, "except that one of the footmen told me old Henrik came up early this morning with a letter for Sir Arnold, and when Sir Arnold had read it, he got his car out of the garage and drove away at once. He took Henrik with him. Also we've just heard that the body of a man who's been murdered has been found in a field about two miles away from here."

The detective made no comment, and Hollins, thinking he had dropped off to sleep, tip-toed from his room.

Now the assistant-scoutmaster was accustomed to shoulder responsibility, and having walked very thoughtfully down the stairs upon his mission to find Lady Ardane, he first inquired of the butler, whom he encountered in the lounge, where Sir Arnold Medway was likely to be found.

He was sent to the drawing-room and, going up to Sir Arnold there, explained respectfully that he had just come from the detective, and was of opinion that the latter was looking very ill and ought to be seen by a doctor. The detective was so weak, he added, that he could hardly speak, and, indeed, seemed upon the point of collapse.

The great surgeon rose up at once. "Thank you, young man," he said. "You did quite right in coming to me. I thought just now that Mr. Larose was looking ill."

And so if happened that a few minutes later Larose, feeling someone's fingers upon his pulse, opened his eyes wearily, to find Sir Arnold Medway bending over him.

The detective's mind had by this time become very confused, and, drawing his hand away, he tried to shout "Traitor," but the shout never rose above a whisper, and then he was only very dimly conscious of what happened afterwards.

He thought he was being undressed again, the second time he had undergone that indignity within twenty-four hours. Then something was done to his head, and he received a hypodermic injection in his arm. After that he speedily became unconscious of everything.

The next day, when he awoke, he found there was a nurse in uniform in attendance upon him. He started to speak, but, she told him that he was not to talk and he dropped off to sleep again.

Then he thought Lady Ardane came to speak to him, and he called her "Helen," but a man, something like Sir Arnold to look at, ordered her away and the room became very dark. Then an eternity of time seemed to pass before he awoke one day to find that at last he could think quite clearly, and, seeing the nurse by the window, he called her to him.

"I'm much better," he said cheerfully. "I'm nearly all right now. How long have I been here?"

"Never mind that," she replied with all the importance that some people always feel when they are withholding even the simplest form of information. "When one is sick days don't count at all."

"But that's all nonsense when one is being taken away from one's work," argued Larose. "Well, what day of the week is it? Ah! you needn't tell me. It's Sunday, for I hear the church bells." He passed his hand over his chin. "And it isn't weeks that I've been here—only days, and therefore today is the fifth one, as I was taken ill on Tuesday."

With no comment the nurse left the room, and a few minutes later, returned with Sir Arnold, who, drawing a chair up to the bedside, nodded smilingly.

"And how are you feeling, Mr. Larose?" he asked.

"Much better, thank you," replied the detective. "Except for being rather weak, I feel almost well."

The surgeon shook his head. "I know you've the heart of a lion," he said, "but a little time will have to pass yet before you're anything like well. You've been a sick man, you know."

"But I want to get up," said Larose. "I must get up to-day."

Sir Arnold shook his head. "No," he said emphatically, "you'll do nothing of the sort." He leant over and laid his hand upon the detective's arm. "Look here, my friend. You're a master in your kingdom"—he shrugged his shoulders—"and I'm supposed to be not without some authority in mine." He looked very stern. "Well, you are in my territory now and you'll have to obey me, so you'll get up when I allow you and not a minute before then. No, no, I know how urgent everything is"—his voice was very gentle—"and for the sake of Helen Ardane I'll let you out of bed the first minute that I dare."

"Well, may I speak to her," asked Larose, "only just a few words?"

Sir Arnold held up his hand protestingly. "To-morrow we'll talk about it, but to-day"—he patted him kindly upon the hand—"you'll just take your medicine and be a good boy."

"But what made me feel so ill?" asked Larose. "You can at least tell me that."

Sir Arnold screwed up his eyebrows. "What I might almost call," he said slowly, "a form of delayed shock coming upon the top of a chill. You had a very nasty head wound, and from the crumpled state of your clothes, you had also been lying out upon the wet ground for some time; indeed I almost thought that first night that you were in for pneumonia." He rose from his chair. "But there, that's enough for to-day. To-morrow, perhaps, we'll have a little talk together and tell each other lots of things." He laughed. "Really, it seems that you detectives are always getting into the wars."

Larose meditated for a long time after he had gone. "And for a man whose actions want a lot of explaining," he sighed, "I am prejudiced a lot in his favor. I don't understand it at all, unless it be that a thoroughly bad man in private life can yet be a saint in his profession."

He asked the nurse for a newspaper, and upon her emphatic refusal, sighed again and tried to compose himself for sleep.

The following morning he felt very much better, and in the absence of the nurse for a few minutes, slipped on to the floor and walked round the room. But he was very glad to reach the bed again, and made a wry face as he tucked himself into the clothes.

"No, no, Gilbert, not to-day," he said. "To-morrow, perhaps, or maybe about Wednesday, you'll be beginning to make things unpleasant for someone." He sighed. "The devil of it is, you have so many people to put before the sights of your gun."

All that morning he waited for the coming of Sir Arnold, but to his great disappointment there was no sign of him. The afternoon began to wane and still he did not come. Then just before dusk and when the detective had almost given up hope of seeing him, the surgeon strode into the room, and briskly pulling up a chair to the bedside, with a curt nod laid his fingers upon Larose's pulse. The latter was too angry to speak.

"Good!" said the surgeon after a few moments, "and now you are in a fit state for us to have our little talk." He smiled. "No, don't look so angry, I purposely stayed away to ensure of your having another day in bed. When I have gone you can get up for a couple of hours, and to-morrow—well, to-morrow you shall get up and come down stairs."

He turned round. "You can leave us for a few minutes, Sister," he said to the nurse. "We have some private matters to discuss. I'll ring when I'm going," and when she had left the room, he turned to the detective and eyed him very grimly.

"Now, Mr. Larose," he said, "I have a lot to tell you, but before I begin I want to know how we stand and what exactly are our relations to each other." He spoke very deliberately. "Since I have had the privilege of giving you my professional services, you have called me a traitor, a betrayer, a scoundrel and quite a lot of other unpleasant things, and that you were not mistaking me for someone else is evident, because you kept on coupling these epithets with references to my profession and the disgrace that I was bringing upon it." He spoke very sternly. "Now, please, what did you mean and what have you against me!"

Larose was quite calm and collected. All his professional instincts had been aroused and he was in no way over-awed by the stern tone of the great surgeon.

"I'll mince no words," he said sharply. "I'm not sure of you."

"Oh!" exclaimed Sir Arnold sarcastically. "That's unfortunate."

"You were the last person to be with the child before he disappeared," said Larose.

"Quite so!" agreed the surgeon. "I was the last."

"Then I know you," went on Larose, "to have been consorting with two members of the very gang who took part in that attack upon Lady Ardane when I was with her in her car." He punctuated every word. "I saw you come out of that house upon the marsh where they were hiding. I was not ten yards away, between the hedge, and with my own ears, I heard you warn them to be on the lookout for someone—presumably me." He tapped his still bandaged head. "And I got that, because of your warning."

Then, to his astonishment, Sir Arnold looked very amused. "So, you were there," he said with a smile, "when I was bidding good night to those two gentlemen, one of whom, later in the evening"—the smile dropped from his face now—"you pistolled in the back of the head at very close range, after you had already drilled a hole in his tibia."

The detective flushed hotly. "The head injury was not mine," he said, "but I admit the leg one was."

"I am glad to learn it," commented the surgeon, "for, upon the face of it, it does not seem a very sportsmanlike action to shoot anyone from behind, when he's already down and out from another injury." He went on, but now speaking very quietly. "The explanation of my calling at that house is very simple, and when you have heard it, if you are the reasonable man that I believe you to be, it will exonerate me in your eyes"—he smiled—"from all consorting, as you call it, with criminals."

"I shall need some convincing," said the detective stubbornly, "for I cannot put out of my mind that you have been close at hand upon the occasion of two other misfortunes besides that of the disappearance of the child. You were stationed next to me when that attempt at murder was made upon the afternoon of the shoot, and the third time, you were close by when I nearly suffered death in the house upon the marsh." He shook his head. "The three things taken together look suspicious."

But Sir Arnold smiled again. "Hear me, my friend, and then be my judge. The explanation of my calling at that house is very simple. I had not been too pleased with the condition of that fisherman's hand and walked over to have a look at it that evening. But he was away, setting his lines, and I did not see him. Then, starting to return, I saw a light in that stone house, and the idea struck me that I could leave a message there for Henrik to come up and see me the next day. The occupants were most polite and I went in and had a little chat with them. Then, upon leaving, you must have overheard the one who opened the door for me promise to keep a look-out for Henrik's return and give him my message."

He shrugged his shoulders. "No, Mr. Larose, I had never seen those men before I called that night and one of them I have not seen since. The other I have, however, seen—in the mortuary shed at Burnham Market. His body was discovered not many hours after he had been shot, and from certain information which I received I was of opinion that his death was your handiwork." He nodded. "That opinion, however, I may add, I have kept strictly to myself."

With each word that Sir Arnold had uttered the suspicions of the detective had been growing weaker, and he began to realise most uncomfortably that not only had his judgment been at fault, once more, but also that instead of making discoveries about Sir Arnold, the latter had been making discoveries about him!

"Well, Mr. Larose," said Sir Arnold with a smile, "now what's the verdict? Do you believe me—with no reservation in your belief?"

The detective regarded the calm, proud face before him; the serene truthful eyes; the broad, open brow; the mouth, with its strong, yet tender lines; the firm, resolute chin, and the whole mien as that of a man who had no fear that anything might be found out against him. He regarded him intently for a few moments and then was quite convinced.

"Yes, Sir Arnold, I do," he said quickly, "and I realise now that I was foolish to ever doubt you. The only excuse is that there were some things that did need explaining." He nodded. "There were, were there not?"

"Certainly," nodded back Sir Arnold. "If you saw me talking to those men, and found it imperative to shoot one of them afterwards, I don't wonder your suspicions were aroused." His face assumed a most serious expression. "But now, sir, I have some bad news for you." He looked him straight in the eyes. "They got Lady Ardane three days ago. She was seized and carried off before our very eyes about half-past four on Thursday afternoon."

Larose was too stunned to speak. His heart seemed to stand still and he stared at Sir Arnold with the face of a ghost. The latter went on——

"It was no one's fault, for no vigilance could have foreseen what was going to happen. She was with Sir Parry, about midway between the Abbey and the fence, when the red delivery van of Burnham Market Store came up the drive. Suddenly then the van turned round and stopped. Four men sprang out and seized Lady Ardane and Sir Parry. They both struggled, but it was quite hopeless, and they were dragged into the van and off it went. The whole thing was over in two minutes."

"But some one went after them in the Abbey cars!" exclaimed Larose hoarsely and in a perfect agony at the recital.

"Every car was out of action," said Sir Arnold solemnly, "for the commutator in each one had been taken away. Also, the two motor bicycles had been tampered with, and as before, but this time a quarter of a mile away, the telephone wires had been cut."

Then the horror-struck detective learnt all that had happened that Tuesday afternoon, but there was not really very much to tell in detail, for the kidnappers had just come and gone and left no trails behind them.

It appeared, however, that the customary Thursday afternoon route of the grocery van must have been well known to them, for their work there, as in the Abbey grounds, had been accomplished without a second's waste of time.

The driver of the van had been hailed in an unfrequented lane by a man who was lying upon the ground, as if he had been seriously hurt, and the driver had at once stopped to find out what was the matter. Then suddenly, as he had told afterwards, a number of men had sprung out of the hedge, and stunned and bound him and thrown him into the ditch.

Then, apparently the van had been driven straight to the Abbey and the abduction carried out.

The police had been communicated with, with all possible speed, but although the country had been scoured in all directions, as before with the disappearance of the little baronet, they had not caught the kidnappers, and indeed could light upon no traces of them in any direction, after they had got away.

The grocery van had, however, been recovered the next day. It had been run into a thick wood, not three miles distant from the Abbey, upon the Falenham road. And that was all Sir Arnold could tell about what had happened.

By the time he had finished speaking, Larose had apparently recovered his composure, with all signs of his distress having passed. It was not, however, that he was not in terrible anxiety, but he was determined that by not giving way to emotion would he delay by one minute the hour when he would be allowed to take up his work.

But another shock was yet in store for him, although this time it was by no means of so unpleasant a nature as the last one.

Sir Arnold spoke again. "In one thing, however, Mr. Larose," he said very solemnly, "we can both rejoice, for Lady Ardane did not go away a stricken woman, in terror of what had happened to her little boy. She did not know what had happened to him, but she had your note, and with implicit faith in your word, she knew her enemies had not obtained possession of her child."

"What do you know about my note?" asked Larose sharply. "Did she tell you what it contained?"

"No," replied Sir Arnold at once, "and it was not until she had been gone a day that I guessed what you had written to her, and could then understand the calm assurance with which she had taken the loss of little Charles."

The detective frowned, with the dreadful thought now coursing through him that he might have given away many secrets during the time he had been ill.

Sir Arnold patted him in a most kindly fashion upon his hand. "But I haven't told anyone," he went on, "least of all, your brother police, that I go twice a day to see how the little boy is getting on." He smiled good-humoredly. "Oh! it's quite simple how I came to find out. The day after Sir Parry had been seized along with Lady Ardane, I thought it only decent to go and let his servants know what had happened. But they were not at Sir Parry's house, so I went round to find the bungalow that I had heard of, among the trees, and imagine my amazement when Charles came running out directly he heard my voice calling over the fence. The housekeeper at first refused to tell me anything, but upon learning that I intended to take the child away, she broke down and confessed everything."

"No blame can attach to her in any case," said Larose instantly. "She took her orders from me, and I am responsible for anything she has done."

"And in my opinion," continued Sir Arnold, "you neither of you could have acted better than you have done. I won her confidence by assuring her that I was your friend and was looking after you professionally, and I got the whole story from her as to how the child had been found." He laughed. "Really it was most audacious of you to hide him again, and it was pure bad luck that so many of us went with Polkinghorne to search that room."

"Who first suggested going there," asked Larose, "for that will at all events clear some one?"

"Polkinghorne," was the reply, "for he was afraid he might have left the door open after he had removed some kittens that had been there and he thought the child might have fallen over and got stunned among those tins."

"And I suppose," said Larose drily, "that the house party has all broken down now. Bernard Daller has gone, Clive Huntington has gone and probably that Theodore Rankin." He scoffed. "The hounds have been called off, now the deer has been taken."

"You are quite right about the first two," replied Sir Arnold, "but Rankin is still here. He and the Senator are very busy and out all day, but I have no idea what they are doing."

"One thing more," asked Larose. "I am curious to learn how you came to associate me with that man who was shot."

The surgeon shook his head. "And that is the one little thing I may not tell you," he replied, "for it is a secret, not all my own." He changed the subject abruptly. "Well, you may get up now for a couple of hours, to-morrow you may be up all day, and on Wednesday"—he smiled—"I suppose you will be your own willful self again. I will wash my hands of you then."


CHAPTER X.—THE HOUNDS UPON THE TRAIL

The morning of the day but one following upon the confidential talk between Larose and Sir Arnold Medway, a little after nine o'clock the two set out in the latter's car to visit the house upon the marsh, where but a few nights previously the detective had lain, awaiting death.

At least, the detective was going to visit the house, and Sir Arnold, with the excuse that he was wanting to see how the fisherman's hand was getting on, was driving him there.

Larose was still weak, and the pallor of his countenance was evidence of the sickness he had passed through, but mentally he was very much on the alert, and considered himself now quite well enough to start upon the trail of the abductors of Lady Ardane.

According to his usual custom, he was going to try to pick it up where the kidnappers had last lived, for it was one of his most profound convictions that no one could reside anywhere, if only for a few weeks, without imposing something of his individuality upon his habitation, and by the evidence of his habits and mode of life that he had left behind him, suggest to a reasoning observer something of where he might have gone, if he had been forced to suddenly fly away.

At his request, Sir Arnold dropped him at the dip in the road about a hundred and fifty yards distant from the back of the house, and reminding him that he would be waiting for him upon the sands, whenever he was ready to return, drove off in the direction of Henrik's hut.

With an unpleasant beating of his heart, Larose walked over to the exact spot by the hedge where he had been struck down that night.

"Yes," he reflected ruefully, "it almost seems as if that charming Sir Parry had informed them where, if I followed his directions, I should be pushing through, and I walked into a regular booby trap in consequence." He shook his head sadly. "Really, Gilbert, you are a great ass sometimes."

He had brought some tools with him to force the lock of the door, but to his surprise upon approaching it, found that the door was not only unlocked, but was actually standing ajar.

He pushed it wide open and at once stepped into the room that held such dreadful memories for him.

Then, to his annoyance, he saw that it was not unoccupied, for a man was seated there in an armchair. The man was quite motionless, and except that his attitude was one of profound meditation, it might almost have been thought he was asleep. Coming out of the bright sunlight, for the moment, the detective could not form any idea of his face.

Hearing the footsteps of the detective, the man looked up sharply and uttered a phlegmatic "Ah!" Then a deep voice came from the depths of the armchair. "So, you've come, have you, a week late?"—and Larose almost jumped out of his skin, for the voice was that of the great investigator, Naughton Jones.

"Yes," went on Jones coldly, "like myself"—his voice took a mournful tone—"you are a week too late."

Larose repressed the astonishment that he felt, and seating himself down in another chair, replied quietly and as if it were quite the natural thing that they should meet. "Yes, unhappily, if you have only just come, Mr. Jones, we are both a week late, but I have been ill, too, and this is the first day I have been allowed out." Then, perceiving that Jones himself looked pale and thin, he added quickly—"But ought you to have come here, Mr. Jones! Ought you to have left the nursing home so soon?"

The great, investigator looked scornful. "Mr. Larose," he replied in icy tones, "such men as I do not go into nursing homes, except as a prelude to their immediate decease, and I have paid no visit to any such place in all my life."

"But you said you were going into one," exclaimed Larose looking very mystified, "and——"

"Never mind what I said," broke in Jones sharply, "I have never been near one." His voice became almost angry. "When I told you twelve days ago that I was intending to seek the seclusion of a nursing institute, as a man of intelligence, you should have regarded it as a polite way of my informing you that I did not desire to be cross-examined about my future movements." He looked very stern. "I wished it to appear to everyone that I had retired from the case, so that with me out of the way, the rascals we were after would be less upon their guard than if they knew I was upon the spot." He spoke hurriedly, as if he were quite aware that he was skating upon thin ice. "But I may tell you now, sir, that I have never left the case, and the whole time have never been three miles distant from the Abbey."

A wave of furious resentment that he had been so deceived surged through Larose, and he was upon the point of giving speech to his anger when something in the wan and drawn face of Jones made him pause. The man had been ill, he was sure, and deserved pity as much as blame. Besides, he told himself, there was nothing to be gained by quarrelling, for Jones was a most efficient colleague, and with all his pompous manners, was always worth listening to.

So he just choked down his indignation and said very quietly. "Then you know everything that has happened?"

"Everything," replied Jones majestically. "There were two persons in the secret at the Abbey who kept me well informed. Lady Ardane and Polkinghorne."

"Lady Ardane!" exclaimed Larose, "then it was you she went to meet that night, when I caught her by the fence?"

"Exactly!" replied Jones carelessly. He frowned. "And I was a spectator of the scene when you laid hands upon her. I caught sight of you just before you seized her, and it was fortunate for you that I recognised you." He spoke very sternly. "I may tell you, young man, that with all your escapes, you have never been nearer death than you were at that moment. I had covered you with my revolver and was steadying my finger upon the trigger, when you moved and the moon shone upon your face, between the trees. It was a near thing and—ah!" He seemed suddenly to remember something and went on dryly. "Yes, and in my opinion you retained her in your arms much longer than was necessary. You must have seen who she was directly you looked under her cap, and, besides, that scent she uses is always unmistakable."

Larose turned the subject at once. "But where have you been, Mr. Jones," he asked quickly, "and what has made you look so ill?"

"What has made me look so ill?" snorted Jones angrily. "Why association with a drunken sot who leaves broken bottles about, all round his hut, and who, when I fell over some oars that he had left in the doorway and stunned myself and almost bled to death from a gash that involved the radial artery, was too intoxicated to be able to go for help for more than twelve hours!" His voice vibrated angrily. "That, sir, is why, to-day, I am weak and ill, notwithstanding the skill and care of a gentleman who in his time has incised the cuticles of kings and princes." But then suddenly his whole expression changed, and stretching out his hands he gave a hoarse chuckle and croaked, "Bacco, bacco, me not mooch Inglish."

Larose gasped incredulously. "Mr. Jones!" he exclaimed, "then you have been Henrik! and all along——"

"Not at all, not at all," replied Jones testily. "Thank heaven, I am not that beast. There have been two Henriks, I may inform you, and I have passed as the real Henrik only when it was necessary. My suspicions were aroused about these men here and I started to watch them. Fortunately, I happen to speak Danish, and continual and copious supplies of rum succeeded in buying Henrik, body and soul." He shrugged his shoulders resignedly. "So, for an unpleasant period of time, I shared with him, his hut, his vermin, and in order that our effluvias might not differ too greatly, a certain portion of his rum."

"Then it was you who saved my life here!" said Larose breathlessly.

"Of course, of course," snapped Jones, looking intensely disagreeable, "and I may tell you, sir, that I was not too pleased to have to do it, for it upset all my plans."

His icy tones and haughty air completely cut short the expressions of gratitude that were rising to the detective's lips, and for the moment he felt like a child who had been slapped in the face.

"Yes," went on Jones carelessly, and as if the matter were of small account, "when I saw that they had got you and gathered, from my position under the window, something of what their intentions were, I went and kindled some straw under the breakwater yonder, feeling sure that the light would bring them out." He lit a cigarette. "It might interest you—they must have thought you had somehow managed to effect your own deliverance, for they searched over a wide area of ground around the house, before they became really apprehensive and finally bolted with great haste away."

"But why didn't you shoot them, Mr. Jones?" asked Larose sharply. "You have just mentioned that you possess a revolver."

Naughton Jones smiled sarcastically. "Because, Mr. Larose," he replied, "I have a greater regard for the sanctity of human life than you have and do not shoot indiscriminately. Also," he added as an afterthought, "that drunken brute had been playing with my revolver and emptied the cartridges out of it, where I could not find them in the dark." He shook his head. "It was a near shave for me, too, and I had to hide under the heaps of sacks that constitute Henrik's bed for longer than an hour." He sighed. "In consequence I am still inconvenienced by the insect bites that I received during my sojourn there."

Larose looked very puzzled. "But it was Henrik who sold the fish to Lady Ardane that afternoon," he said, "and whose hand Sir Arnold bound up!"

"Certainly!" replied Jones.

"Henrik sold the fish and went into his hut to get the bag to put them in, but it was I who brought them out."

"And you warned me against the airman," frowned Larose. "How do you know he had been smuggling dope?"

"Because Henrik recognised him," replied Jones. "Daller was flying over here one night a couple of months or so ago, and had trouble with his engines and had to come down upon these sands. Then before he attempted to find out what was wrong with them, he rushed into the sandhills and buried a number of packets beneath the sands. Then, having very quickly rectified whatever was wrong with his engine, he retrieved the packets in great haste and dumped them back into his plane and flew away." The great investigator put up his hand to suppress a yawn. "It was therefore obvious to me that, being forced down and unaware if he would be able to get up again, his first thought had been to dispose of whatever he was carrying, so that in the event of any prolonged stay, and the authorities appearing to make enquiries about his landing in an unauthorised place, nothing of an incriminating nature would have been found upon him."

"And Henrik watched all this?" asked Larose.

"Yes, it happened to be one of the rare occasions upon which he was sober," replied Jones, "and he was quite close among the sand-grass all the time. He avers he saw Daller's face distinctly, and it even struck him as peculiar that the airman should devote quite half an hour to burying his parcels, before attempting to remedy the trouble in his plane, which, later, occupied only a very few minutes." Jones nodded emphatically. "This Henrik is quite an intelligent man when sober and not half the fool people imagine him to be."

"But why, Mr. Jones," asked Larose sharply, "have you kept me in the dark about your movements all this time? You could have been of great service, if I had only been aware that you were here."

Naughton Jones flicked the ashes from his cigarette. "We are rivals, Mr. Larose," he said coldly, "and it is always my preference, as you are well aware, to work alone. Besides"—and his eyes glinted sternly—"you do many things of which I do not approve. Why, for instance, did you kill that man they called Luke? You had disabled him already and we might have got some information out of him if you had inflicted no further punishment."

For the second time that morning Larose was inclined to tell Jones what was in his mind, but for the second time he thought better of it. After all, he told himself, Jones was still a sick man, with all the irritability of a peevish sufferer. So he patiently related all that had happened that night after Jones had carried him away from the stone house.

Then he asked, "But how is it, if you have been laid up all this time, that you knew I had shot the man?"

Jones elevated his eyebrows. "I had been seeing Sir Arnold," he replied, "at least once every day, and he, mentioning to me where the body had been found, I was at once certain it was your handiwork, for it was in that direction that I had started you upon your return home." He frowned angrily. "But you know, Mr. Larose, I am not pleased with you. You have muddled up everything."

"Well, Mr. Jones," said Larose slowly, "I have been unfortunate and——"

"You have been more than unfortunate," broke in Jones quickly. "You have shown poor judgment as well. Firstly, you seriously inconvenienced me, when that afternoon you were out here in the sandhills when that car arrived. I had been waiting for it for a week, and you took so long over it in the shed, that a bare five minutes was left for me, and I had no time to see all I wanted." He nodded. "Of course, it was you who took off those valve-cap covers! I thought so. Well, it was most unwise, for, from the absence of mud upon the valve-caps, if he had happened to look, the man would have seen that the covers had only just been taken off and then naturally"—he scowled—"he would at once have suspected me."

"But I did not know you were here, Mr. Jones," began Larose, "and you did wrong in not telling me. If I had known——"

"Then the second occasion," broke in Jones rudely, "when your actions were those of a raw country policeman was when you allowed yourself to get caught here that night. I was an eye witness of the whole happening, and you just pushed through the hedge, taking no thought as to who might be waiting for you on the other side." He scoffed. "'I'm Gilbert Larose,' I suppose you told yourself, 'and I'm quite safe, because no one can plot or plan to do anything, except me.'"

The insolence of the great investigator was so studied that Larose could hardly suppress his rage, but he had always been so furious with himself about his carelessness that night that he did not now trouble to argue in defence.

Jones went on. "And what was the result?" He shook one long forefinger angrily. "You stampeded these men just at the very moment when I wanted them most, for I had learned they were keeping up a close personal contact with someone inside the Abbey, and upon the next occasion when either of them went out at night, I was intending to follow him and learn who the traitor was."

"But how do you know they were in touch with someone in the Abbey?" asked Larose, his curiosity now quite over-mastering his anger.

Jones punctuated every word with his finger. "On the day that you arrived, Sir Arnold advised Admiral Charters to use Ferrier's snuff to clear up a cold in the head. Two days later the man, Luke, was employing the identical remedy here. On the Saturday the Abbey party had its first pheasant shoot of the season, and the same night they were plucking pheasants in the kitchen of this house." He snapped his fingers contemptuously. "As Henrik I have often been in here with my fish, for, sufficiently filthy in my person and attire, and with my artificial teeth in my pocket, I am not unlike him in appearance."

"Then can it be the Admiral they have been meeting," asked Larose incredulously, "and it was he who gave them the snuff?" He nodded. "I caught him once, about to signal to someone with his handkerchief, from the belfry tower."

"Tut! tut!" scoffed Jones irritably. "It's a woman he's after, a farmer's wife not half a mile from here. He's continually calling at her farm for glasses of milk, and he takes her expensive boxes of chocolates. The old fool! It's the joke of the village, and the woman only tolerates him because of his chocolates."

Larose bit his lip in disgust. This Jones was like a child in his vanity, and yet he had so often, in a few quiet words, made him, Larose, feel as if he were a baby in arms.

Jones sat up straight in his chair and regarded the detective intently. "Well, although I prefer, as I have told you, to work alone, up to a certain point you are welcome to the benefit of any discoveries I have made. I am quite aware that your stay at the Abbey has not been of much profit"—he laughed disagreeably—"except that you have learnt something of the troubles of a breeder of Persian cats."

Larose made no comment and Jones went on sharply. "Now I have learnt something about these two men who were here and you can make of it what you will." He spoke with the assurance of a man who never made mistakes. "Luke was a seaman, evidently, by trade. No, no, he didn't drink rum or walk bandy-legged, and he wasn't tattooed and he didn't smoke plug tobacco. No, nothing like that, but I noticed that whenever he stepped out of the door, his first thought was to look up at the sky. Seafaring men invariably do that, even if they have been half a lifetime off the sea. It's a habit with them, and they look up automatically to see which way the wind is blowing. I have always noticed it. Apart from that, too, he was always interested in ships, and a sailing barque would keep him looking through his glasses as long as she was in sight. The other man, he was called Prince, was of quite a different class. He was a gentleman."

"Every inch of him," commented Larose sarcastically, "and you would need no convincing of that if you had heard him discussing the best way of putting you to death without making a mess."

"He had served in the war, too," continued Jones, ignoring the interruption, "for I saw three scars, once when he was coming out after a dip in the sea. Bullet wounds in his arm and shoulder and a bayonet one through his thigh."

"More likely he was a gangster," said Larose, determined now to disagree with Jones as much as possible, "and acquired those injuries in a get-away after a hold-up."

Jones shook his head. "I don't think so," he said. "He was particular about his person, he carried himself well and he shaved every day. Besides, that was a bayonet wound in his thigh, for it had gone right through and the scar was evidence of a wide cut." His voice took on a sneering tone. "And I know of no policeman in any country of the world who employs bayonets in hindering get-aways after a hold-up." He screwed up his face. "This man, Prince, too, at one time of his life had probably had something to do with farming, for some sheep one day straying upon the marshes, I heard him tell his companion that they were of the Lincoln breed, big animals with long wool."

For the second time then within a few minutes, Larose paid a silent tribute of admiration to the acumen of the great investigator, for, remembering the questions that had been asked him that night in the lane, he realised how sound the latter's deductions now were.

"Well, Mr. Larose." said Jones, and he smiled now for the first time, "I will admit that from the moment they were informed that Lady Ardane had been taken, the county police have shown themselves to be most energetic and capable, for I have had concrete evidence from the enquiries that I made from a sick bed, that within ten minutes of the call getting through to Norwich, they had blocked not only every road in Norfolk, but also in the adjoining counties as well."

"Yes," nodded Larose, his good humor now coming back, "the Norwich Superintendent came to see me yesterday, and even now, although a week has passed, no car can proceed very far upon any main road without being bailed up and searched."

"And they are of opinion," suggested Jones, "that she is still held prisoner somewhere in this neighborhood?" He screwed up his face and asked sharply, "Is that your opinion, too, Mr. Larose?"

The detective hesitated. "I am not certain," he replied. "On the one hand, a swift car may have met that delivery van just outside the Abbey fence and, it is possible, have got forty or fifty miles away with the prisoners before the cordon was set—yet on the other hand, the under-chauffeur, who bicycled into Burnham Market, said he was speaking on the phone there within nine minutes of the delivery van having got away, and in Norwich, the Superintendent swears the news was being put over the air four minutes after he received it. So thousands and thousands of people must have been on the look out, yet no one, in any direction, has come forward to say that he or she saw a car passing at undue speed at that time of the day."

"Yes," nodded Jones, after a minute. "I'll admit there is something in that. You mean, of course, that to have escaped being caught in the meshes of the cordon when it was set, the car must have travelled at such excessive speed that it would have been remarked upon in many quarters."

He drew in a deep breath. "Well, we'll drop that side of the problem for the moment, and discuss these gentlemen who were up at the Abbey, and the puzzle to me at once is, that having obtained possession of the child, they made no demand upon Lady Ardane, but, instead, waited to get her, too." He smiled dryly. "Now I think we can both honorably exchange confidences, and if you have indeed made any discoveries at all during your five days' sojourn at the Abbey, then you can tell me and I will comment upon them." He nodded in great condescension. "But you must certainly have found out something, to have come to this house and got knocked out as you did. You had some reason for being curious about these men."

Yet a third time was Larose upon the verge of a downright quarrel with the half-sneering and wholly sarcastic Jones and he thought deliciously with what interest he could pay back the latter's rudeness, by throwing into his vanity the bomb that the little baronet was not now a prisoner on the kidnappers' hands.

But he reflected that Jones had been much longer upon the scene than he had, and by reticence and tact he might pick up some useful information. So he told him most of what he had discovered at the Abbey, keeping back, however, all reference to his visit to Sir Parry's house, the latter's housekeeper, and the recovery of the child.

Jones puckered up his brows when he told him of the straight-out talk with the Abbey guests in the morning-room, and frowned heavily when he learnt of the listening box behind the radiator.

"Tut! tut!" he exclaimed when the detective had finished, "then I admit I have to a great extent misjudged you. That discovery of how the scoundrel had been learning of Lady Ardane's intentions was a very valuable one and really"—he smiled quite genially now—"I ought to have thought of it myself." He nodded. "Yes it was bad luck that you got nothing by it." He thought for a moment. "Now tell me candidly, whom do you suspect?"

The detective's reply was prompt and instant. "Sir Parry, the Senator, Clive Huntington, and the American Rankin," he said. "I suspect them all and cannot separate them."

"Ah!" exclaimed Jones gleefully "so you are rehabilitating yourself in my estimation." His eyes glowed. "I suspect them all, too, and, as with you, I cannot separate them. Sir Parry and the Senator, I believe, are the master minds, and Huntington and Rankin are their jackals." He held up one warning finger. "But wait. I would add Daller to the list."

Larose spoke very quietly. "Daller doesn't enter into it now," he said, "for last night he was found murdered in his rooms in Wickham Chambers, Albury street. Stabbed to the heart and no trace of his murderer to be found. The Superintendent phoned me from Norwich this morning."

Jones almost jumped from his chair, and then, sinking back, gave a long whistle. "Wheels within wheels," he muttered, "and now we have another line of investigation to follow up. Dear me! dear me!" he went on, "and from the moment you told me you were of opinion Huntington and Daller were no strangers to each other, it came to me in a lightning flash that we might get at the whole gang through the airman. I have been making enquiries of a friend of mine in the Customs and have learnt they have been curious about Daller for some time. Dear me!" he repeated again, "what a piece of bad luck."

"Yes," said Larose, "the Superintendent told me this morning that for a long time they had been suspecting a great deal more about Daller than any one thought."

"And your work being nearly all homicidal cases," commented Jones sadly, "you, of course, knew nothing about it. What a pity! What a pity!" He sighed. "But now to return to that lot who were at the Abbey." He shook his head vexatiously. "I never did like Sir Parry, for, with all his outward charm of manner, he looked to me like a man who was always drugging his mind with unnatural thoughts, and he has been by no means, too, the upright business man of cold and severe probity that people think." He thumped upon the side of the chair. "He was a rum-runner for one thing, and certain vessels of the Bardell line had a most evil reputation on the American coast. I've no doubt young Huntington picked up his villainy there, and was hand in glove with him in the trade."

The great investigator regarded Larose very shrewdly. "Now, did you never notice anything in Sir Parry's attitude toward Lady Ardane?" he asked.

"He was most devoted to her, if that's what you mean," replied Larose.

"Yes," snapped Jones, "with would-be lover-like devotion, certainly not a paternal one." He laughed scornfully. "The old reprobate! Why, he's most likely to have been the very one to make a nightly pilgrimage and stand upon that box to watch"—he scowled—"but there, there—" He looked interrogatively at Larose. "Now, you must have noticed how he used to follow her about with his eyes."

Larose was annoyed at the trend the conversation was taking. "Of course I saw it," he replied quickly, "and it is inconceivable that with this devotion to her, he could have been deliberately torturing her during all these weeks with the thought that at any moment she might lose her child."

"That's nothing," argued Jones "for nearly everything about this case is inconceivable, and my opinion is that both Sir Parry and the Senator are bad eggs—but bad in a different way. Now about the Senator. I have had enquiries made about him by my agents in America and this is what I have found out. He is a gambler and a reckless one at that. Last year he lost huge sums over the failure of the Argentine wheat crop, and it was confidently predicted he was bankrupt. But he came hurriedly over here to see his step-daughter and huge credits were cabled at once, and he was saved. Then his affairs at the present time are not too good, and he has again been worrying her for money, but this time I think he has been refused, because some weeks back he sulked for a whole day."

"But how on earth do you know all this?" asked Larose. "I'm sure Lady Ardane never told you."

Jones laughed. "Ah! then I have had an advantage over you," he replied, "for Polkinghorne has been informing me of quite a lot of things I should not otherwise of learnt. No, no," he went on, noting the disgusted expression upon Larose's face, "don't run away with the idea that Polkinghorne is a traitor, for he is not. He would do anything in the world for his mistress, and on that account he thought it his duty to tell me. I may add that I have known Polkinghorne for some years. He is an old client of mine, and came to me once in great trouble when one of his cats had been stolen. I was the means of restoring the animal to him, for I found the thief among the domestic staff. But to return to the Senator. A month back he tried to borrow from Sir Parry, but met with a rebuff, there, too, for Polkinghorne heard Sir Parry saying he was sorry, but all his money was tied up. Then he took to chaffing Sir Parry about his age, before Lady Ardane, and their relations were strained until a couple of weeks ago, when all at once they became quite friendly again, and the Senator has been almost deferential to Sir Parry ever since." He drew in a deep breath. "Now, what do you think of it all?"

The detective was silent for a moment. "But where does this man Rankin come in," he asked, "for if the Senator is in it, Rankin is in it too, for they are thick as thieves together, and it was the Senator who prevented my searching his room."

"Bah!" scoffed Jones, "he is a crook for sure, and Rankin is not his name." He frowned and carved the air again with his long forefinger. "I can't place that man, and yet I am sure I have seen his face in an American newspaper somewhere, in connection with a prosecution of certain members of a gang." He rose from his chair and began pacing up and down the room. "But the chief thing that puzzles me is, why they wanted Lady Ardane as well as the child? Either would have answered their purpose equally well for demanding ransom!"

"When did you last see Lady Ardane?" asked Larose evading the question.

"The night after the day they tried to shoot you," replied Jones, "Ah!" he nodded quickly, "and that precious Rankin did that. Polkinghorne says he ran up to the Senator and whispered something directly he came in, and old Harvey looked as glum as if he were going to be shot himself. Polkinghorne, too, heard him distinctly mention the word 'macintosh.'"

He sank down into his chair again. "Well, to sum the whole matter up, Sir Parry and the Senator are under strong suspicion, and they are probably working in collaboration with the idea, perhaps, that Harvey is to receive a huge sum of money if her ladyship can be induced by threats or otherwise to marry Sir Parry. That's all I can make out of it, at any rate." A thought struck him and he asked sharply. "What's Senator Harvey doing now?"

"Making a house-to-house search of every likely habitation within a radius of twenty miles," replied Larose grimly. "Rankin is helping him, and two plain-clothes men from Norwich have been detailed to accompany them."

"Really! Really!" scoffed Jones, "and it will be a nice little picnic for them all together." He nodded solemnly. "I have myself two very capable helpers coming down to meet me here today. Both old hands. One's just out, after seven years, and the other is referred to in police circles as an habitual offender. He is a shining light in the underworld, this chap, but was a prize-fighter in old days, and well known as The Limehouse Bruiser. His name is Bloggs. I saw him once give Stammering Jack, the Yorkshire champion, a glorious knock-out in the tenth round." He rubbed his hands together. "A very useful man, I assure you, to have in a tight corner."

"Ah! one thing more," he exclaimed as Larose was getting up to go round the house, "I don't understand this." He spoke very slowly. "If Sir Parry is in it up to the neck, as we both believe, why did they go through the farce of kidnapping him as well? The riding away of two persons, instead of one, would certainly not make it easier for them!"

"It looks to me as if Sir Parry acted as a decoy," replied Larose, "and drew Lady Ardane far enough away from the house so that they could get hold of her before help could arrive."

"I thought of that," said Jones instantly, "but that doesn't explain why they took him. I understand, too, that he received rough usage from them and was actually knocked down."

"He didn't actually fall," said Larose, "for another man caught him just as he was going down." He shook his head. "It's quite possible it may have been all play-acting, but still with you I understand why he was taken." He turned to the door. "Well, now I think we've talked over everything, and so I'll just be casting an eye round and see what I can pick up."

"You won't learn much," remarked Jones with a cold smile, "for I've been everywhere and drawn almost blank. Second-hand furniture, every bit; mattresses and pillow, new, but tags of place of origin all torn off. Cooking utensils new, likewise the few knives and forks. Lived a lot on tinned stuff, but all of quite good quality. Plenty of newspapers about, but every one a London one. A few books that are moderately suggestive and an expensive fountain pen, practically new. They left in a great hurry and burnt three or four newspapers in the fire, but can pick out no bits, the burning having been carefully done. Apparently had everything ready for quick flight at any time, and, to my thinking, they were anticipating going off very closely about when they did."

"What do you mean?" asked Larose. "They couldn't have foreseen what was going to happen here, that I should be coming that night."

"Perhaps not," said Jones, "but you remember I told you they were plucking the pheasant upon the same night of the shoot, when it had only been killed a few hours! Well, would a man like this Prince, who is most particular about his food, have been intending to cook the bird straightaway if he knew he could have hung it for a few days? Certainly not. Therefore, he was expecting to clear off any time, and intended to enjoy the pheasant as best he could." He waved his arm round the room. "But get on with your investigations, please, for I want to be left alone to think."

The detective suppressed a smile, and, leaving Jones to his meditations, proceeded to go minutely over the house, soon, however, coming to the conclusion that Jones' terse epitome of its contents was quite correct. The soiled and scanty furniture was impressed with many personalities and nothing was to be learned there. As Jones had said, too, the men certainly lived well, for the emptied tins in the rubbish tip had all contained food of good quality, the best salmon and most expensive sardines. Also he had noticed some empty bottles of vintage burgundy, all half ones, however, with the labels, 'Chambertin, 1904.'

"And only one wineglass among those tumblers on the chimney-piece," he murmured. "Yes, the two men were of quite different class and entirely different in their tastes, too. One apparently drank beer and smoked the filthy pipe that he left on the floor by his bed, and the other smoked Abdullah cigarettes and enjoyed a vintage wine."

Returning to the living room he thoughtfully regarded the books and magazines upon the table, that he had already once gone through, noting out of the tail of his eye that Jones was now regarding him intently. A number of cheap paper novels of the detective and adventurous kind, some current monthly magazines, a copy of the British Medical Journal, dated September 4th, and two historical and scientific works. H. G. Wells's 'The Outline of History' and Haldane's 'The Inequality of Man,' both evidently quite recent purchases, and each showing upon their covers where the bookseller's label had been torn off.

He picked up the British Medical Journal. There was a big oily-looking smear upon the cover and he gave it a hard sniff. Then, re-seating himself, he began turning over the pages, to try and make out what possible interest it could have been to the two men who had been living there. The titles of the papers and articles, he thought, did not certainly seem too interesting. 'Duodenal Ulcer,' he read, 'The Deficiency Anaemias of Childhood,' 'Measles,' 'Anuerism of the Aorta,' and then he came to a well-thumbed page with a heading upon it, 'Basal Narcotics.'

"Ah! that's it," he thought instantly. "I told Sir Arnold that the criminal of to-day was scientific."

He read quickly through the article, and came upon the names of many drugs that he had never heard of, Avertin, Nembutal, Sodium Amytal, etc., and finally Sodium Evipan, faintly underlined in pencil. He turned over the other pages and paused for a few seconds when upon one of them he came to an erasure in ink. Under the title of a short article, 'An Unusual Case of Hay-fever,' was the name of E B. Smith, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., and the letter B, in the initials had been run through and over it had been put the letter D.

He was turning to the following page when suddenly the hum of a car was heard outside, and Jones jumped quickly to his feet and peered out of the window.

"Hullo! hullo!" he exclaimed "someone's pulling up here, and by Jupiter, I do believe it's that Huntington. Yes, it is. Quick, back to our seats and he'll be inside before he knows that we are here. But what the deuce can he want?"

Satisfying himself with one quick look that it was indeed Sir Parry's friend, Larose dropped back into his chair, and the two waited in silence for Huntington to come in.

But he did not come in at once.

They heard his footsteps right up to the door, and they stopped abruptly and quite half a minute passed, as if, finding the door ajar, he was uncertain what to do. Then, apparently realising that if anyone were in the house, he must have heard him outside, he tapped sharply with his knuckles upon the door.

"Come in," called out Jones, making a quick sign to the detective not to speak, "Come in."

The door was at once pushed wide open, and Clive Huntington, with his hat in his hand and a most pleasant smile upon his lips, stepped into the room. For the moment he did not see Naughton Jones, but his eyes falling at once upon Larose, who was sitting directly in the light, his face dropped sharply. But it was only for an instant, and then he was all smiles again.

"Now, I do hope you have got over your illness, Mr. Larose," he said with the utmost politeness. "We were all very concerned when we heard you were laid up."

"Yes, thank you," replied the detective, smiling back and determined to keep up the farce. "I'm quite all right again, but I got a nice crack over the head here, about a week ago, and now I'm well enough, I've come back to see if the gentleman who gave it me has left his name and address."

He thought suddenly of a way of getting a rise out of Naughton Jones, and made a motion of his hand in the latter's direction. "But let me introduce you to my friend, Dr. Wisefellow, of Saint Bartholomew's, London. Doctor, this is Mr. Clive Huntington, who was staying with us in the Abbey, up to a few days ago."

Jones bowed gravely, and the imp of mischief stirring in Larose, he went on, "But it's no good, I am afraid, Mr. Huntington, asking my friend for a prescription, because, although he's in mufti, he's a doctor of divinity and not one of medicine."

"Just so, just so," commented Jones solemnly, and at the same time looking rather annoyed. "A minister of the soul and not of the body, and as my parish includes the Newgate Prison, I have plenty of work to do." He nodded in the direction of Larose. "But it is pleasing sometimes to be off duty and able to advise my young friend here in his work." He shook his head sadly. "He makes bad mistakes sometimes."

Young Huntington looked highly delighted. "Yes, he does, sir," he exclaimed, "for only a few days ago he was accusing me, among some others, happily, of having made an attempt upon his life."

"Pooh, pooh!" commented Jones. "That's nothing. He's always thinking people must be coming after him now he's such a famous man."

Larose smiled a sickly smile, at the same time making a mental note that he would not again attempt to make fun of Jones in public, for the fellow had a nasty way of hitting back.

Jones was now looking in a most friendly fashion at their visitor. "Sit down, sir," he said pointing to a chair near the chimney-piece, "don't stand on ceremony," and Huntington, after a moment's hesitation, complied.

Then Larose, some of his pleasantness having passed, looked intently at Huntington and demanded rather sharply, "And what are you wanting here, if I may ask?"

The young man looked unhappy, and shrugged his shoulders. "What we are all wanting, Mr. Larose," he replied gravely, "some news of my benefactor and Lady Ardane." He raised his voice dramatically. "The Abbey draws me like a magnet and I cannot keep away. I am not rejoining my ship for a little time, and so I came down here again. Then, passing along the high road, I thought I would get a glimpse of the sea, and imagine my surprise then, when I saw Sir Arnold's car upon the sands. Then, seeing the door open, I half thought he might be in here, so came to have a little chat with him." He smiled his pleasant smile again. "So very simple and yet such a marvelous coincidence that I should meet you again!"

Then suddenly Naughton Jones plucked a little spirit flask from his pocket and put his hand over his heart.

"I feel faint," he said weakly. He pointed to a glass upon the chimney piece, just above where Huntington was sitting. "Be so kind, will you, sir," he went on shakily, "and hand me that glass there. Ah, thank you so much. I'm getting old and liable to these attacks."

He tipped a generous tablespoonful of the spirit into the tumbler that had been handed him and sipped at it with evident benefit, for at once his voice grew stronger. "Yes, Sir Arnold is down here, and I expect you'll find him in Henrik's hut. I know he was coming to see the fellow this morning." He put his hand upon his heart again. "But, if you don't mind, I think you had better leave me, for I'm always better when left alone."

Huntington rose up with alacrity, as if he were pleased to escape any further questioning. "Well, I hope you'll soon be better, sir," he said. "I am sorry to leave you, but I'm rather in a hurry too," and then, waving his hand to Larose as if they were on the best of terms, he passed out of the room, and they heard his steps upon the garden path and then the starting up of his car.

Jones, with all signs of his sudden indisposition having disappeared, sprang to the window, still, however, retaining the tumbler in his hand.

"Yes, he's gone," he exclaimed gleefully, "and I've got his fingerprints here." His breath came in quick gasps. "Do you know, Mr. Larose, a sudden inspiration has come into my head. I won't tell you all now, but one part of it is that that young fellow who has just gone out is a blood relation of the man Prince, who has those pleasant manners, too. They have both that pretty curling hair, their foreheads are of the same shape, and when they smile, they arch their eyebrows in exactly the same way. Also, their voices are not dissimilar." His eyes twinkled in amusement. "I feel much, much better now, and whilst he's having that little chat with Sir Arnold, we'll go over and have a good look at his car."

But they got no chance of looking at his car, for, passing out of the house, they saw, to their disgust, that, making no attempt to find Sir Arnold, Huntington had turned his car round and now, at a lightning pace, was shooting back along the road he had come.

"No good! no good!" exclaimed Jones ruefully. "We frightened him and he made sure to give us no chance. Still one thing, we are certain now that he is in with them." He smiled sourly at the detective. "I enjoyed your little pleasantry, but, in other circumstances, it might have been unwise." He drew himself up proudly. "Still, upon this occasion, it doesn't matter, for directly he gives them my description, they'll all know at once to whom he has been talking."

Larose felt altogether too disgusted to make any comment, for he saw, now that Jones had mentioned it, the resemblance between Huntington and the man Prince. He was furious with himself, too, in the remembrance that several times whilst at the Abbey, he had been thinking that there was something familiar in Huntington's voice, and yet, putting it all down to imagination, he had never troubled to harass his mind as to where he had heard the tones before. Yet another thing—it was unpardonable that he had not himself obtained Huntington's finger-prints when the latter had been at the Abbey. He had thought about it once, but he had not considered it necessary, for there was nothing of the jail-bird about young Huntington, and his youth and bearing were all against his having served any time in a prison. Yes, he ought to have obtained them, although even now he was certain there would be no record of them with the authorities.

They returned disconsolately to the house, and then Jones said quickly, "Now, he came here to fetch something; that's certain. Something they left behind, probably of no value, but something that, after all these days, they suddenly came to think might put us on the trail if we found it." He looked round the room. "Now what can it be? You have been through everything and so have I." He shook his head frowningly. "Never mind, I shall think of it presently. I am an old dog for the trail, and for me the scent is never cold. Come on, we'll go through everything again."


CHAPTER XI.—THE ART OF LAROSE

An hour later, having bidden goodbye to Naughton Jones, who, however, did not take the slightest notice and remained sitting back in the armchair with his eyes closed as if he had fallen asleep, Larose was again seated in Sir Arnold's car and being driven back to the Abbey.

"I did not intrude upon you," said the surgeon, "for Henrik told me Mr. Jones was in there, too." He smiled. "Our learned friend I know is very temperamental, and if I had disturbed him, without being sent for, it is quite probable I might have only received a snub for my pains. A very remarkable man, Mr. Jones, but he's most touchy sometimes."

"Yes, and he's not in too good a mood this morning," said Larose, "but he's quite a genius in his way, and his kind often want a lot of handling."

"So we found," commented Sir Arnold dryly. "He was nearly dead that morning when I got him into the Cottage Hospital in Burnham Market, but within a few hours he was laying down the law as if I were the patient and he the medical man. In a couple of days, too, his room had become almost like a post office, with the number of telegrams that he was sending and receiving."

"One of the big arteries was severed, wasn't it?" asked Larose.

Sir Arnold smiled again. "Well, hardly," he replied, "but I had to exaggerate his injury in order to keep him quiet. He was furious that I wouldn't allow him to get up the next day, and demanded stout and oysters to pick up his strength."

They had almost reached the bitumen when suddenly a dilapidated-looking car turned into the marsh road and pulled up, almost blocking the narrow way. A burly-looking man sprang out and held up his hand for them to stop.

"Hullo!" exclaimed the surgeon quietly, "but this gentleman doesn't look too prepossessing, and in these days of violence and abduction, we'd better be a little careful."

"Oh! it's all right," replied Larose quickly. "I guess who he is. I recognise that car. It's a four-cylinder Goat and belongs to Naughton Jones."

The man advanced to speak to them, and, as Sir Arnold had said, his appearance was certainly not of a reassuring nature. He was big and thick set, with a big square head and small, blinking, pugnacious-looking eyes. His ears were thick and large and stood out, almost at right angles.

"Beg pardon, gentlemen," he said touching his cap, "but is this the road for Holkham Bay?"

Larose repressed a smile. "Yes," he replied, "but what do you want there? There's not much to see."

The man jerked his thumb back in the direction of the car. "But me and my mate are going to do a bit of shrimping."

"Well, you won't get any," said Larose, "for it's high tide."

"We'll have a go, anyhow," said the man gruffly. '"We got the nets," and he turned to go back to his car.

"One moment," called out Larose, putting his head out of the window. "Are you by any chance the gentleman who is looking for Mr. Naughton Jones!"

The man's eyes twinkled suspiciously. "Jones! Jones!" he exclaimed, "never heard of him."

But the face of Larose suddenly assumed a startled look. "Good gracious!" he called out, "but aren't you 'The Limehouse Bruiser' who once knocked out Stammering Jack in the tenth round? Great James! I'm sure you are. I remember you distinctly."

The man's face became at once a study, with pride and suspicion struggling for the mastery. He blinked his eyes violently, he smiled and he swallowed hard several times. Then he beamed all over. "Yes, guv'nor. You've placed me. I got him square on the jaw."

Larose laughed merrily. "It's all right, my friend, quite all right, and you'll find Mr. Jones up there, waiting for you both. I've just come from him and he told me he was expecting you. I know all about you."

The man touched his cap once more and grinned. "Beg pardon, sir, again," he said, "but you see we has to be careful, and it was no good us throwing our names about, was it?"

"Certainly not," replied Larose, "you were most discreet. Now, you go up along this road and it's the only house you come to, on the right. You'll find the door open and Mr. Jones inside." He laughed again. "You tell him Mr. Larose directed you. Remember the name, Mr. Gilbert Larose."

The man's jaw dropped. "Larose!" he ejaculated, "not the 'tec!"

"Yes," smiled Larose, "but don't worry. I'm not after you, and I wish both you and your pal good luck. Good-bye and hurry up, for you know Mr. Jones never likes to be kept waiting."

"Quite an amusing little comedy," remarked Sir Arnold as they speeded along, "and it was funny to watch the man's face." He smiled. "All you great men seem to like to make yourselves known to one another."

"Yes," smiled back Larose, "but it wasn't exactly vanity on my part, this time. Jones says he and I are rivals, and I wanted to pull his leg and let him know I should recognise his assistants now, when I see them." He changed the conversation. "But tell me, doctor, what is Sodium Evipan used for?"

"It's a wonderful new anaesthetic," replied Sir Arnold, "and we expect great things from it. You don't inhale it like you do chloroform or ether, but it is injected into you with a hypodermic syringe, and you go off almost at once into profound unconsciousness. It is very rapid in its action and the unconsciousness lasts for from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour."

"Then you go off quicker than when you are given ether or chloroform?" asked Larose.

"Good gracious, yes," replied Sir Arnold. "You don't know what's happening after about a minute." He looked curiously at the detective. "But what are your plans now, Mr. Larose? Remember you are not too strong yet and must go easy for a few days."

"I'm hiring a car from Hunstanton," replied Larose, "and with two good private-clothes men who are coming from Norwich to help me, am starting off about one o'clock. I have no idea yet in which direction I am going, but with any luck"—he gritted his teeth together—"I'll be hot on the trail of those devils within twenty-four hours."

"Then you found something just now in that house that may help you?" asked Sir Arnold eagerly.

"Yes, several things, I think," nodded Larose, "but I shan't know what they are worth for a few hours."

The surgeon looked very astonished. "And do you really mean to tell me," he asked, "that you have any hope of finding where Lady Ardane is being held prisoner, say, within a week from now?"

"Most certainly, yes," replied Larose, "and perhaps within half that time. That's my trade, Sir Arnold"—he frowned—"and if I know anything of Naughton Jones, it'll be a close thing between us, who finds where she is first."

"Then I'll wait on at the Abbey," said Sir Arnold. "I was intending to return to London to-night, but as you seem so confident, I'll remain on for a few days." He shook his head. "But you'll have to be a quick mover, my friend, for those wretches have had a long start."

And certainly Larose was a quick mover, for before half-past one he came out of the Hunstanton Public Library and proceeded at once to give some very definite instructions to two men who were standing by a motor bicycle and side-car outfit.

"It's at Cambridge you'll have to ring me," he said sharply, "at the Bull Hotel, there. Ring up at nine, and if you don't get me then, ring up at every succeeding half-hour until you catch me. Now you know what you've got to do. It's very simple. You are to keep to the main road and enquire at every garage, beginning at those in this town, if, since Monday week last, they have sold to any driver of a six cylinder grey-colored Jehu, two valve cap covers. The tyres he had lost them from were the off-side back one, and the one on the spare wheel, but you needn't make any account of that. You want to know anyone with a Jehu who has purchased two valve-cap covers. If any garage can inform you, you are not to approach the man who has bought them, but tactfully find out all you can about him. You understand?"

"Yes, sir," replied one of the men, "if we locate him, we are to do nothing until we have spoken to you."

"And if the garages can't tell you," went on Larose, "get a list from them of all their clients who possess grey Jehu cars." He made a grimace. "Unhappily grey Jehus are pretty plentiful, and there are a lot about, but the driver you want to know about is a fairly tall man who stoops a bit, over six feet I should say, has a long face with a biggish nose, and he sometimes wears a cap with car flaps tied under his chin. The two back tyres on his car are nearly new ones, and so were probably both bought at the same time, so you are to ask everywhere if they have any record of two such tyres being sold recently. Now is everything quite clear!"

"Yes," replied the man who had spoken before, "and the number plates of his car are V.F. 2113."

"But you can't count on that, Hale," said Larose sharply, "for, as I have told you, that number does not belong to him, and he may have others that he makes use of as well. I can't tell you anything more, except that the first part of his journey from where he had set out to come to Holkham Bay was a muddy one, for scraping at the mud under the car that day, there was first the little mud from the marsh crossing, then a hard layer that had evidently become dried from coming a good few miles over the bitumen, and then underneath that, much moister mud again. Ah! one thing more, I noticed three dried dragon-flies stuck in the combs of his radiator, so he probably comes from where there is swampy ground." He waved his hand. "Now off you go and good luck to us all."

The detective was in quite a cheerful frame of mind as he drove along towards King's Lynn. "A glorious day," he told himself, "and I've a lovely drive before me. I shall pass through these beautiful little English villages and through these quaint, old-fashioned market towns. I shall touch the lonely Fen country, once all marsh and swamp and where the great Hereward the Wake fought so valiantly that the soil of England should not pass under the Norman yoke. Then I shall come to the wonderful cathedral city of Ely, and finally I shall reach Cambridge, with its old world colleges and churches, hundreds and hundreds of years old."

He sighed. "But I'm not going all this way to see the beautiful countryside or the wonder of man's craft down the ages. I'm on a much more prosaic mission." His face hardened and took a solemn look. "I am wanting to get upon the track of these wretches whose trade is murder and violence, and probably law-breaking of other kinds. It's a gang we're after, too, I'm sure, and although I am taking this long journey to Cambridge, I don't for a moment believe they have their hiding place within many miles of there. When I went over that Jehu car, the petrol that had been used, assuming even that the tank had been full when the journey started, couldn't have taken it a yard over fifty miles, and Jones agreed with me, too."

He shook his head. "No, they don't live anywhere near Cambridge, but all the same, with any luck, I'm going to pick up the trail there, and by to-morrow I shall probably be back, close here again. There were quite a number of things that struck me in that house, but that one in the Medical Journal was, I am sure, the most important."

He looked at his watch and at once proceeded to reduce his speed. "No, I've plenty of time, for the gentleman I am going to interview in Cambridge is not likely to be home much before his dinner hour, and I've only seventy-five miles to go." He drew a deep breath. "Now, let me reason it all over again and see if there's anything glaringly wrong with my argument. A Dr. R.D. Smith, of King's Parade, Cambridge, writes what is probably an intelligent and illuminative article on 'Hay Fever,' and it duly appears in the official organ of his profession. Naturally then, he expects to derive some credit from it, not only from his professional brethren, but also from certain of his patients as well. So imagine his disgust, when, with his name a very common one, the journal gives him a wrong initial and prints 'R.B.' instead of 'R.D.' Hay fever is not a rare complaint by any means, and several of his patients having probably suffered from it, it is quite natural he would like them to read his article. But he couldn't lend it to them with the initials all wrong, so before doing so, he rectifies the mistake and with his pen puts a D. instead of the B."

He paused for quite a long time to go back over his deductions and weigh up whether they seemed feasible or far fetched. At length he went on. "Then assuming that it is Dr. Smith himself who has rectified the mistake in his own copy of the journal—and by no stretch of the imagination can I conceive of anyone else taking the trouble to do it—all I have to find out is to whom he lent the journal, and in that way I ought to soon get at this man Prince." He shook his head. "But if it were not for the altering of that initial my whole theory would fall to the ground, for undoubtedly this issue of the journal was in the possession of these men, not because of that article on 'Hay Fever'—but because of that one on 'Narcotics.' The page there was well thumbed and 'Sodium Evipan' had been underlined." He shook his head again. "Yes, they might have bought a copy of the journal for themselves."

His face brightened. "But no, I am not altogether coming to Cambridge because of this medical journal, for I was intending to go there in any case. Those sandwiches that I found in the car were made of pate-de-foie-gras, and that was a good brown sherry in the pocket flask, and I thought of some big cities at once when I saw them. Those sorts of things are not to be bought in little country towns, and so Norwich and Cambridge leapt instantly into my mind, for they are the nearest places where they could be obtained. It was the same, too, this morning, directly I saw that expensive burgundy had been drunk. Shopping in a big city somewhere, where all kinds of expensive luxuries are on sale."

He pressed down upon the accelerator. "Yes, upon second thoughts, I'd better hurry up a bit, so that if the doctor isn't at home, I can go the round of the wine merchants at once."

He arrived at Cambridge a little after four, and learning that the doctor was out and that his evening surgery hours were from seven to nine, gave his card to the maid who had answered the door, and asked her to inform her master that he would be much obliged if he could spare him a few minutes just before seven. He was not coming as a patient, he said, and would return at ten minutes before the hour. The girl regarded the card with very curious eyes and replied that she thought the arrangement would be quite all right.

Then he inquired of a postman whom he met which was the best firm of wine merchants in the city, and was directed to one in Sydney street. Asking to see the chief one in authority there, he was shown into the manager's office, and producing his card, was at once treated with the utmost respect.

"What I want to know, sir," he said, "is whether you have made a sale, lately, of any pint bottles of Chambertin 1904, accompanied perhaps at the same time by some bottles of brown sherry, and if you have done so, to whom you sold the wine."

The manager smiled. "Happily, sir," he replied, "we have a good connection and are very often disposing of the wines you mention. Now, can you give me any approximate date?"

"Unfortunately I can't," replied Larose, "but I am very interested in an unknown party, a tall man, with a rather long face and big nose, who has been purchasing these wines, and I want to find out who he is."

The manager pursed up his lips and looked very doubtful. "I may be able to give you the names of a score of persons who have bought them," he said, "and yet"—he looked more hopeful—"if this party you want bought the two wines at the same time, I may perhaps be able to help you, and particularly so, as you say the burgundy was in pint bottles. The still vintage wines are nearly always preferred in quarts." He rose up from his chair. "I'll go and look through our sales books."

He left the room and was absent for quite a quarter of an hour. Then he returned with a big ledger under his arm. "You are lucky," he smiled, "I can give you the exact date." He pointed to a page in the book. "See, on September 9 we sold a case of Chambertin pints and six bottles of brown sherry and a bottle of 1906 brandy, all to the same person."

"Who was he?" asked the detective eagerly, thrilled to the core that he had hit the bull's-eye with the first shot. His hopes, however, were immediately dashed to zero when the manager replied, "Ah! there I'm afraid my services end, for the sale was a cash one, and in consequence there is no name of the purchaser recorded in our book."

"And there is no possibility of finding out?" asked Larose with a choke in his voice.

"None whatever," replied the manager. "Ah! wait a moment. Our cellar man may know something about him, for he will have delivered the wine." He touched a bell upon his desk and a clerk immediately appeared. "Send William to me," he said.

A minute or two later a stout, heavy man in a big leather apron appeared, and the manager put the question to him as to whether he remembered the sale.

The man thought for a moment and then nodded his head. "Yes, sir, I do," he said. "I carried everything out to a car, and packed it in for the gentleman."

"Who was he?" asked the manager. "Do you know?"

"No, sir, he was quite a stranger to me." The man smiled. "But he gave me a shilling and was very particular how the Chambertin was put in the car and asked me how long he ought to let it rest after he'd got it home. He said it was going to have a good shaking, for he'd be travelling nearly forty miles."

"What was the car like?" asked Larose.

"Couldn't tell you, sir," was the reply, "except that there was a lot of mud about, because I remember having to clean up my apron afterwards."

That was all the information the detective could extract, and then, proceeding to the Bull Hotel, he put in a good hour studying a big ordnance map that he had purchased in Hunstanton.

At a quarter to seven he presented himself at the doctor's house, and was at once shown into the surgery, where the doctor himself was seated at his desk. The doctor was a round-faced, plump little man, beaming good humor and good nature, and with a merry twinkle in his eye. He looked about fifty-five years of age.

"Well, what have you found out about me, sir?" he asked at once, wagging his finger playfully at the detective. "Oh! yes, I've heard about you, Mr. Larose, and know your favorite hobby is murder work." He pretended to look very frightened. "But in my case I can inform you straightaway that you'll need a perfect host of exhumation orders to secure any conviction, for everyone for whose death I am responsible is well buried under the ground."

Larose smiled back. "It's not quite as bad as that yet, doctor," he replied, "and so far we've not had too many complaints about you up at the Yard. I've come about that article of yours on 'Hay Fever' that was published in the issue of the 'British Medical Journal' of September 4."

"But that's not a crime!" exclaimed the doctor instantly. "An indiscretion, if you like, but certainly no indictable offence!" His face sobered down. "But what do you mean, sir?"

"Now have you got a copy of the journal, with your article in it?" asked Larose.

"Certainly," was the reply, and the doctor at once reached forward and picked one off the desk. "Here you are and there is the offending article." The hopes of Larose dropped again, but he was in part reassured, when he saw the initial had been corrected as before. "But is this the original copy that was sent you," he asked, "for, of course, I presume you are a member of the British Medical Association and receive one every week."

The doctor nodded. "Yes, I am," he said, and then he added, looking very surprised, "no, this is not the copy that was sent me. Someone stole that from my waiting-room and I had to buy another."

Larose put his hand in the breast pocket of his coat, and plucking out the journal he had brought with him, handed it dramatically across to the doctor.

"Then is this your original copy?" he asked, and he saw the doctor's jaw drop, and his brows contract, as his eyes fell upon the correction under the title of his article.

"My oath, it is!" he gasped, "but how the very devil did it come into your hands, and bring you all this way to question me?"

"The position, Doctor, is like this," replied Larose. "We are after some very bad men, and we should have got them about a week back up Hunstanton way if they had not suddenly become aware that we had located them—and bolted away. Well, in the house they had been living in, we came across this journal, and thinking it must be yours, I have come over eighty miles to-day to speak to you."

"How extraordinary!" exclaimed the doctor, "but there is no doubt this is the journal that was stolen from me." He leant back in his chair and reflected. "Now let me see. The journal is published on the Saturday and I always get it on the Monday." He spoke very slowly. "Then it was probably on the Wednesday that I put it on the waiting room table, and on the Friday when I went to look for it, it had gone. One of the patients must have taken it."

"Well, can you remember among your patients a tall man, with a long face and rather big nose," asked Larose, "who was probably suffering from some form of chest trouble about that time?"

The doctor shook his head slowly and then smiled. "I see from sixty to seventy people a day sometimes, and I can't remember them all. No, I have no recollection of any such man."

"But you are quite correct as to the date, doctor," said Larose. "The journal was taken on the Thursday, for on that day, September 9, we have found out that this man, one of those we are wanting, was in Cambridge. Now, can you show me a list of the patients, with their addresses, who consulted you that day, most probably in your afternoon surgery, because I have reason to believe the man is not a local man, but lives a good way away."

"Yes," nodded the doctor, "my wife shall make it out for you. She keeps all my accounts for me, besides occasionally acting as my nurse." He hesitated. "But it will take quite a little time, for she will have to go through a lot of cards." He pulled out a drawer and lifted it upon the desk. "You see, when the patients come, I don't enter their names into a book, but a card is allotted to each one, and the date, name, address, ailment and roughly what I have prescribed, is written upon it. Then the card is placed alphabetically in this index and when the patient comes again it doesn't take two seconds for me to pick up all about him." He put the drawer under his arm. "Now come with me into the dining-room. I'll introduce you to my wife and she'll pick out the list from these cards." He paused just before opening the door, and whispered, "But tell me, what are these men wanted for, anything serious?"

Larose nodded. "Murder and other crimes besides that."

The doctor whistled. "Whew! but my wife will be thrilled. She's very romantic and loves to hear about murderers." His eyes twinkled. "That's why she married a doctor!"

"Oh! one thing more," said Larose, and he stepped back to the desk and picked up the original journal. "See this oil mark on the cover? Well, it has a faint smell of camphor to me, and that may help us in picking out the thief, for he probably took the paper home with him in the same pocket as some camphorated oil that you prescribed."

The doctor sniffed hard at the paper and then shook his head. "You have a very lively imagination, young man," he said with a smile, "for I can't smell anything." He shrugged his shoulders. "Still you may be right, for I smoke a good deal. Are you a smoker?"

"As a rule," replied Larose, "but I've not had a cigarette for over a week now, and my scent is pretty keen. I've been laid up from a crack over the head that one of the gentlemen I'm after gave me."

"That's bad," said the doctor. He laughed. "But I expect it makes your wish to get him as keen as your smell. But come on now, we'll see the wife. She knows who are the patients, and can tell you all about them."

The detective found Mrs. Smith a pleasant-looking, placid woman, many years younger than the doctor, and certainly the very last person, he thought, to be thrilled with murders. Her husband introduced him and explained what was wanted; then he pointed to the grease splash upon the journal and asked her to smell it. "A bit of detective work, Mary," he said, "and Mr. Larose will be getting you a job at Scotland Yard if you can tell him what it is."

Mrs. Smith smelt it delicately. "Camphorated oil," she said at once. "I can recognise it plainly."

The doctor threw up his hands. "And that's what Mr. Larose declared," he said disgustedly, "and I told him it was all imagination." He bustled to the door. "Well, I'll have to leave you two detectives together and go off and do some work. I hear a lot of coughing and scraping of feet going on in the waiting-room, and that means the poor wretches are getting desperate."

Alone with the detective, Mrs. Smith proceeded to go through a great number of cards, but she worked quickly and soon had a little heap of them put to one side upon the table.

"Thirty-seven," she said at last, "and those are all the patients my husband saw in the surgery that day." She sorted out the cards. "The pink ones are the panel patients and the white ones the private ones. Now do you want to go through the panel patients?"

Larose smiled. "I don't think so," he replied. "They'd hardly be buying cases of expensive burgundy like the man I'm after."

"Well, that simplifies our work a lot," said Mrs. Smith, "and leaves only nine to deal with, and I'm sure I know nearly all of them. Five are women." She proceeded in a brisk and most professional manner to go through the cards. "Mrs. Colliver, aged 22, and expecting a baby. No, she's the grocer's wife and most respectable. Mrs. Astley, age 41, and being treated for eczema. Nice woman and keeps a milliner's shop. Mrs. Davis, 46, indigestion and sore tongue, the solicitor's wife. Mrs. Rumbull, 33, nerves and nothing the matter with her. Husband keeps a boot shop. Miss Dander, 24, school teacher, indigestion from over-smoking and drinking too much tea."

"That's all the women, now for the men. B. Hawker, 34, stomach pains. Ah! he's since gone into hospital and had his appendix out. Employed in the Post Office. R. Wellington, 35, aching limbs, earache. Temperature 100.2. Probably influenza. Occupation not given. Address Crown Hotel. 5 gr. Dover powder and 5 grains aspirin prescribed. Hum! No, I don't know him, but he evidently took up some time, for I see the doctor charged him 7/6. Next, R. P. Walker, 51, tonsillitis, temperature 102. He's a butcher, and we have dealt with him for twenty years. Quite all right."

She started to replace the cards. "Well, that's all, Mr. Larose, and except this R. Wellington, every patient I have mentioned lives in Cambridge and is well known to us." She held up her hand. "But wait a minute, I've thought of something. You shall ring up the Crown Hotel straightaway, and find out what they know about this Mr. Wellington. Yes, you ring up and then I'll get the doctor out of his surgery and we'll show him this card."

The detective, with a great admiration for her shrewdness, did as she suggested, but upon getting in touch with the hotel, was not at all surprised to learn that they knew nothing about a Mr. Wellington. The proprietor himself answered the phone and was positive that no person of that name had stayed there, at any rate, during the past year.

Then Mrs. Smith knocked at the surgery door and the doctor came out. He was told everything had been sifted down, and that in all probability the Mr. R. Wellington must have been the purloiner of the journal, for he was the only stranger whose respectability the doctor would know nothing about. Also the prescription that had been given him suggested that a verbal injunction might have been made at the same time, that he should rub his chest with camphorated oil. Added to that, he had told the doctor an untruth when he had said he was stopping at the Crown Hotel.

"But why should he have wanted to mislead me about his address?" asked the doctor doubtfully.

"Well," replied Larose, "if he had stolen something from your waiting room, he would naturally not want you to know too much about him, now would he?"

"But can you remember him, Roger," asked Mrs. Smith quickly, perceiving that her husband was anxious to get back to his surgery. "You ought to, for you put the P.A.A. at the bottom of the card."

The doctor's eyes twinkled. "That means 'probably an alcoholic,'" he whispered to the detective. "I have to make little notes like that to jog my memory." He stared hard at the card.

"No, I'm sorry, but I haven't the very slightest recollection of him, but still—I'll try and think about him later on. Now where are you staying the night? The Bull Hotel! Good! Then I'll ring you up later if I think of anything. Apart from that your only chance is to try the chemist. I tell all strangers to go to Griffin's." He shook his hand. "Good-bye and good luck. I'm pleased to have met you."

The detective found Griffin's, but they told him they had no record on their books of any prescription having been made up for an R. Wellington, likewise the next chemist down the street, but at a third shop he was heartened at once when the man behind the counter, after only a minute's search, furnished the information that they had made up a prescription for a gentleman of that name on September 9.

"Can you remember him, a tall man with a long face and a big nose?" asked Larose anxiously.

"No, sir," replied the man, "but one moment," he added. "I'll ask my son, for I see from the prescription book that he made up the powders." He shook his head. "But I'm afraid there's very little hope."

But at once a very bright-faced young man emerged from a back room, and stated that he not only remembered Mr. R. Wellington quite clearly, but knew to the minute when he had made up the prescription for him on the afternoon of Thursday, September 9.

It happened, he explained, there was a race meeting at Newmarket that afternoon, and a horse called 'The Duke of Wellington' was running in the 3.30. He had been thinking all day about having a few shillings on it, and the coincidence of a gentleman named Wellington coming in very shortly before the time of the starting of the race, had seemed to him so marvelous that he did back it and won quite a nice little sum, for the horse had started to 33 to 1.

He remembered it was nearly a quarter-past three when the prescription had come in, and he had been so expeditious in serving the gentleman in order to get in touch with his bookmaker in time, that he spilt some camphorated oil that was also being purchased, all down his coat, and he had never been quite able to get the smell away since.

"And you are sure you remember what your benefactor was like?" asked the delighted Larose.

"Yes, sir. He was tall and slight and had a long narrow face with a long nose. He had a very deep voice and, from his fingers, he's always smoking cigarettes."

"Then do you know where he came from?" asked Larose, trembling at the very thought of the answer he might get.

"No, sir, but it was some long way. Somewhere towards the coast, for he was taking a pint bottle of methylated spirits away with him too, and would not allow me to make one parcel of it with the camphorated oil, because the road just beyond Littleport, he said, was under repair, and, as he would be getting a good jolting, he didn't want any broken bottles in his pocket." The young fellow smiled. "In case it may help you in any way, I think the gentleman had been drinking. He smelt very strongly of spirits and kept on blinking his eyes a lot."

Larose was quite pleased with his day's work, and when later the plain-clothes man, Hale, rang up at the Bull Hotel, and reported no success for the day, he was by no means downhearted.

"Now, at any rate, I've found out something," he said. "I know he lives about forty miles from Cambridge and, as I expected, back in the direction of Hunstanton. Also, I know he kept to the main road and did not begin the muddy part of the journey to his house until he'd gone at least thirty miles, therefore, he turned off, right or left, somewhere a few miles before he reached Downham Market, with the muddy fen country on either side."

His eyes sparkled. "Now, I have thought all along that these wretches who were after Lady Ardane were members of an organized gang that existed and was at work as a gang, long before there was any idea of this kidnapping, and if they were engaged in the illicit drug traffic, then that would explain their number and the resources at their command. There must be quite eight of them in the gang, and they must be well financed to possess a motor yacht, and at least two cars. Those false number plates upon the Jehu, too, were not new, and the clear indication therefore is, that they have been employing them upon unlawful expeditions for some time, and that their coming into existence had nothing whatever to do with the recent happenings at Carmel Abbey."

He took out his ordnance map and spread it upon the table. "And what better place could a gang want for their headquarters than among the Fens? In places, for their areas, the Fens are still among the most desolate and lonely parts of England, and the roads that lead on to them lead nowhere but to the few isolated farms that the lands of the reclaimed swamps shelter. The cultivated parts that have been wrung from the mud and the quagmire and the slime are still like islands, with the narrow bridges over the drains and cuttings, the only means of communication with the bad, heavy roads that lead away outside on to the bitumen and then on to the towns." He traced an imaginary circle with his finger upon a part of the map. "Why, there are miles and miles of country here about these Methwold and Feltwell Fens that do not appear to be crossed by a road in any direction."

He undressed quickly and got into bed. "Well, it'll be bad luck if we don't forge ahead quickly to-morrow."

The next morning he was early upon the road, for he had instructed the plain-clothes men to meet him sharp at nine o'clock in the town of Downham Market.

Passing through Ely a few minutes after half-past eight, his eyes suddenly became riveted upon a very shabby-looking car standing outside an iron monger's shop, and he gave a startled exclamation and half stopped, but then moved slowly on. "Gosh!" he whispered, "but I'd swear that's Jones' car!"

He pulled his car into the kerb close near to a small public-house and, stopping his engine, was upon the point of alighting when he suddenly sank back into his seat and ducked his head sharply. The two assistants of the great Naughton Jones were just issuing from the bar, and the ex-Limehouse Bruiser was rubbing the back of his hand appreciatively over his mouth, as if he had just partaken of some agreeable refreshment!

"Hah! hah!" hissed Larose, melodramatically, "then they've struck a trail, if it's only a beer one." The grin left his face and he peered furtively through the curtains of his car. "Yes, and, the hounds are running up to meet their master, for here's Jones himself coming out of the ironmonger's."

He saw them all get into the car, and then off it went with a great noise and in a cloud of smoke.

"Now what's brought Jones here?" He whistled. "And he's taken the Cambridge road too!"

He thought a moment and then ran quickly into the ironmonger's shop, as if he were in a great hurry. "Did my friend, that gentleman who's just gone," he asked breathlessly of the man behind the counter, "remember to leave you the pattern of the wick he wanted."

"No, sir," replied the man at once, "he didn't show me any pattern, but he just asked for a Ventnor wick, and I've never heard of it. He said someone he knew had bought one here, but I'm sure he's mistaken."

"Dear me! How very annoying!" said Larose. "My friend is so forgetful. Who was it, he said, had got the wick here?"

"A Mr. Henderson, sir, but I don't remember him, although he gave me his description."

"Tall and slim, with a long nose?" exclaimed Larose.

"Yes, sir, and he said this gentleman always bought his cartridges here."

The detective left the shop as if most annoyed with his forgetful friend, but directly he was outside the annoyance passed. "Really!", he exclaimed smilingly, "but great minds do generally think alike. A wick was the first thing I thought of and—Jones thought of one, too. Something that would enable us to put in a few questions, and yet we wouldn't be able to purchase." He looked very thoughtful. "Now I wonder what's taking Jones to Cambridge? He didn't want that medical journal, and yet he's got upon the trail, just as I have, but almost certainly in some other way. What a pity it is that he's so difficult to manage, for with he and I together"—he grinned—"no one would be safe."

Arriving at Downham Market, he found the plain-clothes men waiting for him. They had covered a wide area of ground the previous day, but although they had collected the names of a large number of persons who possessed Jehu cars, there was nothing of an encouraging nature in their reports.

"Well, now," said Larose, "I'll get you to alter the line of your enquiries to-day. This man we're after seems a bit of a boozer and you must try the hotel right now. Also, his fingers are stained a lot from smoking cigarettes. Comb this town first and then try the villages up the main road as far as Littleport. We'll make the King's Arms our headquarters here, and I expect to be back by six at the latest. I'm going to work round Swaffham and Brandon for I'm a bit suspicious of those Fens upon the Suffolk border."

Within an hour then, Larose, after making enquiries at every village upon his way, found himself in the pleasant little town of Swaffham, and was electrified to learn at the very first garage he called at, that a man had purchased two valve cap covers a couple of days previously.

"But he hasn't got a Jehu," supplemented the proprietor of the garage, "for he drives an Ariel. Still that doesn't matter for his covers are the same size." He nodded grimly. "But if you think you'll find out anything hanky-panky about Dick Hart, you'll come a cropper straightaway, for Dick's one of the straightest men about here and I've known him for some years and he's highly respected. Someone pinched these covers of his last week when he'd left his car upon the road for a few minutes to go down his meadows after some sheep. He lives near Oxborough and about six miles from here. Enquire at the inn there, and they'll direct you to his place."

Larose thanked him for his information and then was thrilled again, when the man gave him the names and places where they lived, of two men who owned Jehu cars, for one of them, Roy Fensum, lived in the heart of the Methwold Fens.

"But Fensum isn't a customer of mine," nodded the man, "and I don't see him once in a blue moon. Still his car occasionally goes through here, although often he's not driving it himself. Yes, it's a grey one and when he's not driving it, it goes pretty fast. No, he's not tall by any means. He's medium sized, and you can't mistake him, for he's very dark. What is he?" The man laughed. "Why a farmer, of course, and he goes in for Romney Marsh sheep! No, I don't know the other chaps who drive it, for they've always got the curtains up and don't appear ever to stop in the town. Quite welcome, sir. Good morning."

The detective went off in high glee. Things were now shaping splendidly, and he was sure he was getting close.

He found Dick Hart with no difficulty, but met with no very favorable reception, after crossing over a very muddy field to get speech with him. The man was ploughing with four horses, one of which became very restive, as the plough was stopped when Larose came up. Hart was a fine, well-built fellow about forty-five, with a big face and very fearless-looking eyes. He scowled irritably when Larose started to ask him about his recent purchases in Swaffham.

"And what's the hell's that to do with you?" he asked. He looked very fierce. "You'll play no tricks with me, young fellow, for I was a policeman once. What! a detective, are you? Well, show me your badge."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Larose. "It couldn't have been better," and he at once produced his badge and told him who he was.

"Gee!" exclaimed the man, his whole expression altering. "Then you're this Gilbert Larose are you? I'm proud to meet you, sir. I've heard all about you, of course, Detective Inspector," he went on, giving Larose his proper title and now saluting most respectfully. "I was in the Metropolitan Police Force." He drew himself up proudly. "Sergeant Richard Hart and fifteen years with never a bad mark against me. I still keep in touch with things a bit, for I've a brother in the City Police and he sends the Gazette every now and then." He expended a few curses upon the restive horse and then turned back to Larose. "Now, what do you want to know, sir?'"

The detective realised at once that he was in the presence of a man of sterling character, and told him quickly what he wanted. Then in a few terse sentences, and without the use of one unnecessary word, the ex-policeman related all that had happened.

He had left his car unattended upon the road the previous Monday week about two o'clock in the afternoon, and gone about a quarter of a mile down the meadow, to look at some sheep. He had not actually seen any car pass, because for part of the time he had been in a dip in the field, but he had heard one go by, and then returning to the road a few minutes later, had noticed at once that his valve-cap covers had gone. He was positive beyond any possibility of mistake that they had been there a few minutes before, because not half an hour previously he had put some air in each of the tyres and had then screwed up all the covers tightly.

Then, assured from his whole bearing and demeanor that the man could be thoroughly trusted, Larose went straight to the point and asked him about Roy Fensum, as one who was under suspicion of the authorities.

"I just know Fensum very slightly, and that's all," replied Hurt. "He's not a type of man that I like and I'm hardly ever brought in contact with him. I see him at Brandon Market sometimes, but he never appears to mix much with anyone. He keeps himself very much to himself, and I don't know any farmer round here who's friendly with him. He's a widower and employs several hands. No women, I believe, about the place at all. Yes, I've been there once lately. I bought a horse off him about six months ago. Oh! you want to go and see him, do you?" He nodded vigorously. "Well, you be very careful and don't stop your car until you're right up to the house, for he's got two big, ugly-looking Alsatians that come up at once and go for strangers. Oh! you want to go up there without being seen! Well, that's rather difficult, for he's right in the heart of the Methwold Fens." He looked hard at the detective. "What do you want to go and look at him for? What's he supposed to have done?"

"Murder, perhaps," replied Larose sharply, "and other things as well. At any rate, that's what he's mixed up in, and I think there's a gang of bad men up there."

The ex-policeman's face paled a little under its tan. "Whew!" he whistled, "so it's as bad as that!" He considered for a moment and then looked at his watch. "Here, sir, you just wait until I've finished this round, and then come in and have a bit of dinner with me." He nodded. "I may be able to help you a lot, for I was born among these Fens and have fished every cut and dyke. Yes, you come, sir, and we'll have a talk." He laughed and looked very pleased with himself. "It will remind me of the old times when I was P.C. Richard Hart, and handling the drunks up Hoxton way."


CHAPTER XII.—THE DARK FENS

A quarter of an hour later the detective was being ushered into a large, homely kitchen, and the ex-policeman was putting a cold leg of pork upon the table.

"We've got the whole place to ourselves to-day," he explained, "for the children are at school and the missis is out gadding about. I let her out of the cells for the day, and she's in Downham Market buying things we don't need and don't want. Bless her heart! She's like all women—directly she's got a few bob in her pocket she must let them go. Beer? Ah! that's right. I thought you might be one of those tea-drinking fiends." He went on. "I remember there was a doctor once on my beat, a very clever chap, but always on the booze, and many a time I've popped him into his own doorway, instead of running him into the station as I ought to have done. Well, he told me once that the early morning cup of tea some people take was more responsible for indigestion than anything else. He was a fine fellow and married a barmaid afterwards, and then she wouldn't let him touch a drop of drink. Cut it right out and made a splendid chap of him. When I left the Force he had got four kiddies and was a bit of a nob on Harley street. Consulting physician and becoming a big bug on nerves."

They proceeded to do justice to the meal, and then suddenly, looking out of the window, Hart remarked, "My days! but your luck's in, Mr. Larose. There's a fog coming up from over the Fens and I'm thinking that's the only hope in the world of you getting near Fensum's place without being seen."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose, "do you get bad fogs here?"

Hart laughed. "Bad!" he exclaimed, "why, good old London's nothing to them! Mind you, they're not black or yellow, but just a thick, heavy white. They come up all at once, and they may last a fortnight, and when they're really bad you can't see your own feet. Then it's almost like having a blanket over your head." He nodded. "I'll lend you my little compass, and you can send it back any time. I shan't be here to-morrow, though, for the missis is giving me a holiday, and I'm going to London for the day."

"Well, about this man Fensum," asked Larose, "what is the name of his place?"

"Black Gallows," replied Hart, with a grin, "and it seems like proving a darned appropriate name." He looked intently at the detective. "But the more I think about it, sir, the more I'm inclined to believe that if there's anything in the nature of a gang up there, as seems to be your idea—then you're taking a great risk, going alone."

"But I'm not going to make any arrests to-day," replied Larose, "I only just want to get a peep at all the men who are living there. I've some good glasses with me and if I get within half a mile of them, it will do."

"And that's about as near as you will get," nodded the ex-policeman, "for it's all level ground at once when you get on Fensum's lands. He's got about 1,600 acres of it and every yard was swamp and quagmire once." He looked very serious. "It's a regular trap for anyone, directly they get on it, who doesn't know the place, for it's cut off from everywhere by great wide drains, deep dykes, and the dangerous little River Wissey. Apart from that, it's criss-crossed in lots of places with dykes that, although they are certainly not so wide, you would never get over."

"Why not?" asked Larose. "I could swim at a pinch."

"Swim!" ejaculated Hart scornfully. "Yes, you could swim if there was any depth of water in them, but you couldn't swim in the Fen mud. There's nothing like it anywhere else. It's ten and twelve feet deep in parts, as thick almost, as tar, and as heavy as lead when it clings to you." His eyes dilated. "Why, I saw a bullock once disappear in less than three minutes after it had slipped down into the Big Cut Drain that borders upon one side of Fensum's property." He shook his head. "No, Mr. Larose, as well face a bullet at point-blank range as try to cross over those drains."

"Well, tell me how I'll get there," said Larose, in no way dismayed, "and I'll take a chance. It's like this, Mr. Hart," he added, "I may be entirely at fault in my suspicions and this Fensum may be a perfectly innocent man, and there may be no one upon his premises who has done anything wrong. So, I don't want to come down with a search warrant and a large party of officers, and besides making a fool of myself, rouse all the countryside, and give the real culprit a chance of breaking away when they learn I'm after them. I want to be sure, first. I want to catch sight of either one of two men, and then I shall be certain once and for all how I stand."

"You've no certain knowledge then," asked Hart, "that any of the men who are wanted are there?"

"No," replied Larose at once, "no certain knowledge at all, but"—he spoke very slowly—"I have come a long trail, and it leads most definitely to somewhere about here. To a man who has some reason for covering up all his tracks wherever he goes, who lives in the Fen country, who drives a Jehu car and uses false number-plates, and who, finally, has been in need of two valve-cap covers such as yours, within the past few days." He broke off suddenly and asked, "Now, do you ever get any aeroplanes coming over here, on moonlight nights?"

Hart nodded. "Yes, we do, occasionally," he replied. "Not very often, but when we do get one, we always get two"—he frowned—"or, now that you are making me suspicious about everything, we hear the same one going and returning."

"Exactly!" commented Larose, looking very pleased, "and it's a dope gang I'm after. Someone drops the stuff, I'm thinking, from these aeroplanes you hear." He smiled. "Another link in the chain, my friend."

"All right," said the ex-policeman briskly, "and I'll not try and dissuade you any more." He fetched a piece of paper and a pencil. "I'll draw you a map. Oh! that's all right," he went on as Larose took his ordinance map out of his pocket, "then I'll only need to draw you one of Fensum's place."

They bent their heads over the map and he pointed out the way to the detective. "There's Black Gallows, and it's seven miles from here. Now, you'll go along the Methwold Road until you see an inn on the left, just at the beginning of Methwold village." He shook his head warningly. "But whatever you do, don't go near that inn, for the proprietor, Jowles, is about the one pal Fensum has. He's got a face like a ferret and if you ask anything about Black Gallows there it's a hundred to one he'll tell Fensum about it. So leave the main road about two hundred yards before you get to this inn and take the side road to the right. This road won't look very inviting, because it's always muddy. Then go straight along for about three miles until you come to a small plantation." He paused for a moment and considered. "There, I think, you'd better leave the car, for beyond that it'd be a black spot on the landscape that could be picked up easily. Yes, run your car round the back of the plantation. There's a dip in the ground there and it'll be quite safe. Then about a quarter of a mile farther on you'll come to a big, deep drain, about three times as wide as this room and you'll see a gate, opening on to a black wooden bridge crossing the drain."

"An iron gate?" asked Larose sharply, "that's not been painted lately?"

"Yes," nodded Hart looking very surprised, "how do you know that?"

"Only that the inside of the fingers and the palm of some motor gloves that belong to one of the men I'm looking for," replied Larose, with difficulty suppressing the exultation that he felt, "smelt strongly of rust, when I was handling them the other day. Go on."

"Open this gate—you'll have to lift it up, for one of the posts has sunk—and cross over the bridge. It's only made of planks and there are wide spaces between them." He picked up his pencil and piece of paper. "Now comes the dangerous part of the journey, and I'll draw you a map. Look, you'll be now about two miles from Fensum's houses. There are two of them. One is where they live, and the other is a long, two-storied building that is not occupied, and has long since fallen into ruins."

"That's interesting!" exclaimed Larose. "What was it built for?"

"It was the cracked idea of the man who had Black Gallows about thirty years ago," replied Hart. "He was a Jew, called Bernstein, and he thought he would train horses upon Black Gallows and no one would be able to spy upon him, and learn how good his animals were. So he built a racing stable, with the ground floor all stalls and loose boxes for the horses, and the storey above them for his trainer and the stable hands. He spent a lot of money on it, and some of the rooms above were quite comfortably fitted up. But this Bernstein died, and, as I say, all the place has gone to ruin since."

"What sort of a farmer is Fensum?" asked Larose.

Hart shook his head. "A poor one, and with plenty of good land, he makes little of it. He crops a few acres and he's got a good few Romney Marsh sheep. But he never troubles much and folks often wonder how he makes it pay." He looked down at the map he was drawing, and went on. "Well, now you're inside Fensum's property and your real difficulties begin. Don't take the road leading up to the house, but hug the side of the big drain for about four hundred paces, then if there's any fog, which it looks likely there will be, set your compass, turn off at right angles and, keeping straight north for two miles or just a little more, you will come bang up against these stables."

The detective studied the map carefully. "It seems quite easy, Mr. Hart," he said, "and I ought to have no difficulty."

The ex-policeman looked very serious. "But for the Lord's sake," he said warmly, "keep your eyes on this compass and go straight north the whole time, for if you don't, you'll get among a maze of dykes and you'll never find your way back again, until the fog lifts."

"And about those dogs," said Larose thoughtfully, "do you know if they run loose after dark?"

"I should hardly think so," replied Hart, "for no farmer leaves his dogs unchained at night. They don't learn what discipline is if they're not on the chain sometimes." A thought came to him. "Now have you got a good knife on you, Mr. Larose!"

"A pocket one," replied the detective, "but not a dagger."

"Then I'll lend you a bayonet," replied Hart, "a good one that I took off a German on the glorious Vimy Ridge. Poor devil. I'd just given him the haymaker's lift with mine." He bent over towards Larose. "Now look here, sir, I'll give you a good tip for dealing with a dog when it comes rushing at you. Meet it crouching down, or even, if you've got a good knife, some say, lying down. Then he loses all the benefit of his rush and the impetus of his big body doesn't knock you over. I'll give you a nice square of wire netting, too. That foggles them and you can strike through the meshes." He shook his head. "I'm afraid for you if you meet with those Alsatians in the fog and don't want to pistol them and let everyone know you are about the place. Generally, they don't bark when they come to you. You only hear a blood-curdling snarl!"

The detective parted with much gratitude to the ex-policeman for his kindness. "Really, my luck's in," he told himself, as he drove away, "and I couldn't have met with a better man."

Larose was rather disappointed when, for the first two miles or so, the weather appeared to be clearing, but when he judged he was halfway upon his journey, he ran all at once into a thick bank of fog and began to almost wish it had been so.

He could not see a dozen yards beyond the bonnet of his car, and he had to take out his ordnance map and with the help of an electric torch, tick off the turnings to the right and left as he went by.

He came at last to the turning on to the muddy road, and there was no doubt about the mud there, for his tyres squelched into it most unpleasantly and it was flung up in big spots all over the windscreen. In the fog he was desperately afraid of missing the plantation, but, taking Hart's estimate of three miles as being quite accurate, he stopped when he had gone that distance and walked on on foot. But the estimate had been a very good one, and within a hundred yards he came upon the trees looming like ghosts out of the fog.

He parked the car where he had been advised and, greatly heartened that now he would find the going much easier, taking a few things from the tool-box, he set off blithely for Black Gallows.

He found the iron gate without much difficulty, and tip-toed up to it, with his heart beating strongly. "Yes, Gilbert, my boy," he whispered, as he noted the rust upon his hands as he climbed over, "you've not lost quite all your punch yet, although you do make big bloomers every now and then."

The fog was now lifting a little and he regarded with no pleasant feeling the deep, wide drain under the wooden bridge. It was evidently one of the main ones that had been dug to drain the Methwold Fens, and its waters, he judged, were at least fifteen feet below the top of the drain sides.

"A nice place to be thrown into," he thought with something of a pang at the dangers that were now facing him, "but it would make funeral expenses very cheap." He grinned. "What price, Gilbert, commencing your last long sleep down there, with the eels gnawing the 'Dead March in Saul.'"

Still keeping most minutely to the directions of Dick Hart, be turned sharp to the left and hugged the side of the drain for four hundred carefully counted paces. Then he turned again at right angles but to the right this time, and was quickly swallowed up in the silence of a dead world.

Very, very soon it came to him, that he had lost a friend, for he realised now that the sullen gurgling of the water in the drain had been a comfort to him and a reassuring thought that he could turn back at any time if he so wished, and reach his car and safety again. But now he was cut off from everything, and in all directions, less than fifty yards away, stretched a wall of ghostly and impenetrable fog.

His life's work among dangers had however, hardened him, and with no quickening of his pulses, and with the little compass held close up to his eyes all the time, he proceeded to walk briskly forward, to cover the two miles that the ex-policeman had told him would now be separating him from the racing stables of the dead Jew, Bernstein.

"And once I'm there," he thought confidently, "I shall be only 300 yards due east from the farm where they all live."

He did not seem too happy, all the same. "But I may have to wait until dark," his thoughts ran on, "and that will make it about half-past five. It's quite on the cards, too, that those dogs may spoil everything, and it isn't too good to think they may turn up when I'm too close to the buildings to dare to use my gun. Still, I should imagine that with this dense fog, they have been chained up long ago, for the sake of the sheep."

He kept on looking round, however, and held his square yard of wire-netting unfolded, and the German bayonet ready in his hand. "But what a come down," he grinned, assuring himself for the hundredth time of the sharpness of the blade. "Once making history in the great world-war, and now being hawked about upon a lonely fen, to thrust into the throat of a snarling dog if he comes near."

The fog was lifting slightly, and his area of observation had now become a little wider. Then when, according to his calculations, he could not be more than a quarter of a mile from his objective, he took a zig-zag course for a hundred yards or so, to assure himself that his compass was functioning correctly. He found it was quite all right and was just setting his course due north again, when suddenly he heard a slight noise behind him.

He paused for a moment, thinking he might have been mistaken, but then he heard the sound again—the labored panting of some animal!

His blood froze in horror as he stood peering in the direction from which the sound was coming, but all was fog—fog everywhere, with earth and sky in the grip of their dark master.

Then suddenly a huge form, magnified by the vapor, loomed into view. "A calf! only a calf!" he ejaculated in great relief, "and I have been giving myself a fright for nothing."

But in two seconds the horror all returned, for, with his head bent close to the ground, the creature was now nosing along each foot of the zig-zag course that the detective had just taken. To the left, to the right, and then to the left again, on came the animal.

"One of the Alsatians!" gasped Larose. "He's picked up my trail!" and then he smiled, as a brave man often does in the presence of danger. His hand was steady, his pulse had quietened down, and he sank gently on to the ground in such a position that he would be lying upon his left side, and facing it, when the Alsatian had finished with the zig-zags and came to nose along the straight trail.

A few breathless seconds followed, with the hound quickening his pace and now beginning to whimper eagerly. Then he stopped suddenly and with his fine head upraised and one fore paw lifted off the ground, stood staring straight in front of him.

He had caught sight of Larose.

The detective was lying quite still. The square of wire netting was tucked under one side of him, covering his head and the greater part of his body. In his right hand he held the bayonet, and in his left, clutching to the wire netting, was his automatic.

Perhaps ten seconds then passed, and becoming aware, perhaps by some instinct or perhaps by some unconscious movement that Larose had made, that his prey before him was living and not dead, the great beast drew back his lips with a savage snarl, and then without an instant's warning, dashed straight for the detective's throat.

But with his head down, there was no force behind the impact, and with his muzzle coming in contact with the wire netting, he fixed his teeth in it and tore at it to pull it away.

But the deadly bayonet plunged instantly between the meshes of the wire and drew blood from somewhere in the dog's head. The blow, however was not an effective one, and the enraged beast, snarling furiously in his pain, returned savagely to the attack, this time planting his great forefeet upon the detective's shoulder and rolling him over upon his back.

But, like lightning, the bayonet plunged again, and now, penetrating deeply into the flesh, it tore a ghastly wound across the animal's throat. The effect was instantaneous, and the Alsatian sank down groaning upon his side.

Larose sprang to his feet, and not discarding the wire netting, plunged the bayonet again and again, into the dog's heart.

The whole happening had not lasted two minutes, from the moment when the detective had first seen the Alsatian to when he was kneeling down beside it and wiping his hands upon the damp grass.

But there was no exultation in his face. On the contrary, it was more gloomy and downcast. "But this is most unfortunate," he thought, "for there's no possible chance of hiding the body, and with the beast missing they'll find it at once when the fog lifts and know that someone's been here." He shook his head. "It's no triumph, it's a real disaster."

A few moments later, however, he was regarding it as a disaster of quite a minor kind, for, to his horror, he discovered he had now lost his compass.

In a fever of haste, he began to search all over the ground, where he had been standing when he had first heard the pantings behind him, where he had lain, awaiting the coming of the Alsatian and where, finally, he had sprung to plunge the bayonet into its heart.

At last he found it close to the dead dog's side, trodden into the ground, its glass smashed to atoms and its needle broken off!

For a long moment he stood surveying it as he held it in the palm of his hand. Then he looked round at the fog, now beginning to close down thicker and thicker than ever, and a choking feeling came up into his throat. In all his life he thought he had never been in a more unpleasant position.

"Gilbert! Gilbert!" he exclaimed sorrowfully, "you're losing grip of the game"—he looked down at the Alsatian—"and if this poor beast only knew it, he has triumphed even in death."

But he was never down-hearted for very long, and, always of a sanguine disposition, he was very soon endeavoring to discern some way out of his predicament.

He tried, first, to place the exact position in which he had lain down, and from that determine in which direction the Alsatian had approached, for the path of the dog, he told himself, following in a bee-line up his own track, would point directly due north, and towards where the stables lay.

He worked it all out as well as he could, and then, to make sure he should not wander in a circle, walked forward in distances of only ten paces at a time, and after the first ten paces, with two directing ground-marks always behind him.

The procedure was very simple. He dropped his cap, covered the ten paces, stuck his bayonet into the ground, and then went on for another, ten, but walking backwards this time in order to keep the cap and bayonet always exactly in the same straight line. Then he dropped his piece of wire netting, went back and retrieved the cap, and using the bayonet and wire netting now for the straight line, walked backwards as before for another ten paces and dropped his cap once more.

It was very slow work, and he was by no means too hopeful about it, but it was the only thing he could think of, and all along he kept buoying himself up with the hope that with the fog lifting any moment he might catch sight of the disused stables, not far away, and perhaps be able to hide himself until night fell and the other Alsatian was chained up. Then circumstances must determine what he must do.

Larose walked on and on, but nothing happened and no building came into sight, just fog, impenetrable fog everywhere, and the ghostly silence of the lonely fen. Then at last, when he knew he must have proceeded much farther than the allotted quarter of mile—he realised that he was lost.

He heaved a big sigh, and sitting down, proceeded to light a cigarette. "No good worrying," he told himself, "and no good tiring myself out"—he grinned—"I'll just wait until the tea bell rings and then walk in with the farm hands. They can't refuse me a good meal, even if they do shoot me afterwards."

An hour passed, two, a weak and bastard dusk crept down and seemed to argue with the fog as to which was the better blanket, and then night fell, so chilling to the very marrow of his bones and so dark that it could almost be felt.

"But this won't do," he told himself, "or I'll be getting another fever," and he began to walk backwards and forwards, jerking his arms about all the time.

Then suddenly he was electrified by a muffled sound that came out of the darkness just upon his right, and his heart stood still in his excitement, for it had sounded like the banging of a door.

It was not repeated, but because there was not a breath of air stirring anywhere to make noises of its own accord, it came to him instantly that he was in the close vicinity of some animate beings, and most probably, for surely it was hardly likely to be otherwise, of human ones.

So he plucked up heart at once, and before he had lost the direction of the sound, plunged boldly into the darkness before him. Then came one of the minor shocks of the day, for he had not proceeded fifty paces when he banged right into a hard wall. For a moment the impact made him feel sick, but in a few seconds he had pulled his torch out and was inspecting what had brought him up so dead.

Yes, it was a stone wall, and higher than he could flash the rays of his torch; he knew it must be the racing stables that all along he had been making his objective. But how cruel Fortune had been, for these two hours and more he had been pacing up and down, less than forty yards away from the very spot he had come so far and through such danger to visit!

But he must be careful, very careful, he told himself, for a banged door meant the presence of someone, and evidently then the stables were not uninhabited, as the ex-policeman had said.

Flashing his torch every few yards, he began circling cautiously round the building. He had struck the end of it, he found, for a very few yards' progress brought him to a corner. Then he crept along the side, and, a very little way down, a light from an upper window attracted his attention. He could just see the window sill, and the window was square, and from the interruptions in the rays, he thought it must be a barred one. He stood for a long time listening, but he heard no sound, and passed on. Next he came to a door. It was approached by three steps, and it was a big, heavy-looking one, fitting closely. There was a big handle to it, with the brass green and discolored, as if it had never been polished. He was half inclined to turn the handle, but it did not look a door that could be opened noiselessly, and so he passed on.

Next he came to two more lighted windows, close together, and still on the upper storey, and he thrilled as he heard the sounds of deep voices and some laughter, but both windows were shut and he could not catch a word that was being spoken.

He moved on, quite a long way, it seemed, and then came to the end of the wall and another sharp corner. He counted 20 paces as the length of the end of the building. No lights anywhere and no windows that he could see! Then he turned the corner, and proceeded slowly down the other side. Big doors, a few of them shut and locked; some chambers, doorless and gaping open. Derelict loose-boxes and stalls that had gone to wrack and ruin! Two barn-like sheds where cows were evidently sheltered at times, and finally another shed with only half its door standing, that from a pulley and tackle and pools of dried blood upon the ground, was evidently used as a place where sheep were slaughtered. In this last shed was a hay loft, and upon the floor in the corner, just under the loft, were stacked a number of trusses of straw.

He made the round of the building again. There was no light shining now from the first window, but from the other two it was still there, and the talking and laughter was still going on. He was considering what he must next do, when suddenly all the talking ceased, and a few seconds later the haunting strains of 'Ave Maria' came floating through the air.

In spite of his anxiety and a full recognition of the danger he was in he stood still to listen.

"Life! Life!" he murmured when it was all over. "The beautiful and the foul things so intermingling. This den of murderers and the music of the angels! The black evil in men's hearts and yet their appreciation of the outpouring of Gounod's soul! My clothes fouled with the blood of that Alsatian hound, and so soon my ears entranced with a melody that surely falls from Heaven!" He shook his fist up at the window. "Those men may laugh in happiness to-night, but to-morrow the shape of the scaffold shall loom up into their dreams."

Then all at once a sound came through the fog, very different to that he had just been listening to. The mournful baying of a hound not very far away!

As so often in his life, Larose had to think quickly, and two minutes later he was racing round to the other side of the building and climbing into the hay loft in the shed.

"Blood to blood!" he murmured breathlessly. "The blood upon me will make the scent strong, but if the beast comes here, the sheep's blood below will turn off his attentions.

"There's no help for it," he went on, "I must remain here until daylight and then chance it what I must do. Everything depends upon the fog and if it is still thick, I may get off and away before they discover what has happened to the other dog." His heart began to beat a little quicker. "I hardly dare to think it, but it is just possible Helen Ardane may have been behind that light that was extinguished so early. Here would be an ideal place to be keeping her, and I am sure—I am as sure as I have ever been about anything in all my life—that Prince, the long-faced driver of the Jehu, and I will be all sleeping under the same roof to-night."

He was consoling himself that he was lucky to be having a warm bed among the hay and could quite well do without any further meal that night, when he experienced an agreeable surprise. He found three eggs close beside him in the loft, and breaking them carefully under the light of his torch, was of opinion they were all quite fresh. So he experienced for the first time in his life how very satisfying raw eggs can be, assuring himself, after he had eaten them, that even a most succulent grilled steak would then have lost most of its attraction for him.

He had just finished his frugal meal, when suddenly he made all his muscles tense and rigid, and holding himself like a thing of death, he drew in breaths so shallow that he felt almost suffocated.

He had heard the padding of soft footfalls below!

A long minute passed, two, three, four and then he drew in a long breath again. The beast, evidently the other Alsatian, had sniffed and sniffed and poked among the trusses of straw. Then the click of his big nails had sounded as he pawed up on the boards under the loft, and finally he had padded away.

"My conscience!" ejaculated the detective, "but if only anyone had been with him it would have been all up with me."

He nestled himself down among the hay, and, aware that all his energies would be required upon the morrow, tried to compose himself to sleep. He had been sure that sleep would be a long while coming, but he was so exhausted by the varying emotions of the day, that he dropped off almost at once.

Then he had a strange dream, and he always remembered it afterwards. He thought he was going to die, and Naughton Jones came into the room humming the Funeral March, and advised him to back Angel's Wings, for it was bound to win on Saturday. Then Lady Ardane came in and kissed him and told him he was going to get well, but Naughton Jones seemed most annoyed, and said it was very inconsiderate, for he had just bought a black tie and had an appointment with the Archbishop of Canterbury at half-past ten. Then Polkinghorne, the butler, appeared in a great hurry, and said the coffin had been ordered for someone else, but he got up and fought him, and was made Sir Gilbert Larose for knocking him out in the tenth round. Then Lady Ardane put her arms round his neck and told him that with all his courage he was afraid to ask her to marry him, but acting upon the Limehouse Bruiser's advice, who said he believed in Woman's Rights and often bashed his wife one or two, exactly as he did his men pals when he'd had a drop of liquor, she was going to propose to him herself. So she put her red head upon his shoulder and someone pulled down the blinds.

It was a very pleasant dream.

Larose slept long and heavily, and to his disgust the sun was shining through the open door when he awoke. The fog had all gone and it was a beautiful late autumn day.

He hopped quickly down from the loft to see if anyone were about, but then hopped back even more quickly still, for a man was standing by a fence not two hundred yards away, and another big Alsatian was prowling about and nosing along the ground much nearer than that.

"Now what am I to do?" he asked himself ruefully. "It's only half-past seven and I may have to stay here all day long."

Then he heard faint sounds of movement, just overhead, and he thrilled at the thought that they might be those of Helen Ardane. He took out his glasses, and leaning over the rickety loft, swept them round. He could see the Ely road plainly, and a motor car going along, also Fensum's house was not far away, and a man there was saddling a horse. The man had got his back turned to him, but directly he mounted, his face was towards the glasses.

"Oh! oh!" murmured the detective brokenly, "it's the driver of the Jehu, the long-faced man!" He wrung his hands in his distress. "I've all the good cards in the pack and yet I dare not throw one down."

Then he swung his glasses round in the other direction, and at once picked out the body of the Alsatian he had killed. "And it won't be five minutes," he nodded grimly, "before it's seen by someone, and what will happen then?"

But he had no time for grieving over his unfortunate position, for at that moment he heard the sounds of someone whistling merrily and the rumbling of a wheelbarrow over the bricken path outside. The whistler was whistling 'Love's Old Sweet Song.'

In a few seconds the whistler hove in sight, and Larose groaned when he saw it was the debonair and pleasant-mannered Prince!

"Another of them!" he ejaculated with a terrible feeling of oppression over his heart. "The whole gang here and I am as helpless as a dead man!"

Prince was trundling a sheep, with its legs tied, upon the barrow, and he made straight for the shed door. He was evidently going to slaughter it inside. He was in riding breeches and an open shirt, and bare-headed, with his hair nicely brushed, and altogether fresh and clean; he looked a fine specimen of young manhood. He could not, the detective thought, be much over twenty-six or twenty-seven.

"And yet he is a murderer," muttered Larose, "and to save his own skin, pistolled one of his friends with the same callousness, no doubt, as he's now going to butcher this sheep."

He flattened himself against the side of the loft, and well back among the hay, gripped fiercely at one of the boards, so that by no movement should he betray his presence there. He was not ten feet from the pulley and tackle.

Prince pushed the wheelbarrow into the shed and gently lifted the tethered sheep off on to the floor.

"It's all right, old girl," he said, smiling and showing his white even teeth, "you don't know what's going to happen so you oughtn't to be afraid." He took down a knife and steel that were hanging upon the wall and began sharpening the knife briskly. "It's quite nice not knowing you're going to die, and I only hope my end will come like this. No long, tiring pains for you, no bed of sickness, no melancholy good-byes—just two seconds of agony and you'll feel nothing after."

He tested the sharpness of the knife and decided that it was not yet quite to his liking. He went on, but with a sad note in his voice now. "But there'll be no more sunrises for you, old girl—no more browsings in the meadow, no more wee lambies to come snuggling up at night. Those times are all gone for you, for you've grown too old." He came over to the sheep. "It's a shame, isn't it, old dear, but it's the way of the world, you know. I'm stronger than you and you've got to suffer for it. No pity for the weak down here, whatever you've been told. They go under every time."

He was just about to kill the sheep, when the long-faced man rode up to the shed door.

"You devil!" he exclaimed seeing what Prince was doing, "I believe you love that job. You and young Clive ought to have been butchers. No, wait till I've gone. I don't particularly like the smell of blood, and I want to speak to you."

"Speak on, my son," replied Prince. He pointed to the tethered sheep and added solemnly, "But let your words be meek and reverent, for you are in the presence of one about to die. What's the trouble, Clem?"

"There's no trouble," said the other, and then he asked a question himself. "Seen Helen yet, this morning?"

"Yes," nodded Prince carelessly, "and she was just as sulky as ever and gave me a black look, as usual. I took in her breakfast, eggs and bacon, coffee and toast, and she barely said 'Thank you' for them, and then refused to speak another word. What about her?"

"Well, the old fool says he won't wait any longer," was the reply. "He's sure her spirit must be broken by now and she'll agree to anything he asks."

"Good!" exclaimed Prince, "and I, for one, will be glad to get rid of both of them. Business is business, I know, or I'd have never had anything to do with it, but when we're all going to be set up for life with plenty of cash, any risk is worth taking." He shook his head. "Still, it's brought Larose into the picture, and I tell you straight that I'm afraid of him, and if it wasn't for my dogs, I would be having some very bad nights."

"Pooh!" scoffed the other. "We're all right." He nodded in his turn. "Then we'll fix up about Helen."

"Yes, tell Jakes to do it at once," was the sharp reply. "They're both upstairs now. He's to hustle the old fool in roughly, and say that tomorrow we'll be willing to treat for the ransom of them both. Remember it's to be £100,000 and not a penny under. Whoever pays, they can well afford it."

In the meantime, Larose was almost choking in the bitterness of his grief and rage. He did not trouble to consider who the 'old fool' was, but he grasped most clearly from the conversation that Helen Ardane was being subjected to horrible indignities, for men evidently had access to her room and were actually waiting upon her as if she were one of their own sex! He was half-minded to pistol the two below without any warning, but he did not know what other forces might be against him, and for the sake of Helen he was not going to risk his own life unnecessarily.

The one-time driver of the Jehu car rode away and Prince proceeded to go on with his interrupted task.

He knelt down, with one knee upon the sheep's body. "Come on, dearie. I'll be very quick and make it as easy for you as I can."

Larose watched the swift and dexterous manner in which he despatched the animal. No fuss, no hesitation—just one quick, deep cut, the neck broken, the spinal cord exposed and severed, and in five seconds the animal's sufferings were over.

Then her slayer broke the shanks of her back legs, inserted the gamble between the tendons and had just hauled up the carcase with the pulley and tackle, and was about to start the skinning when the noise of hoofs was heard outside and the driver of the Jehu came quickly galloping up.

"Prince! Prince!" he called out sharply as he sprang on to the ground, "someone was on Black Gallows yesterday afternoon and has killed Ishmail!" He pointed with outstretched arm. "His body's over there and he's got five wounds. He was killed with a knife."

"Damnation!" swore Prince, "where is he?" and the two at once raced out of the shed.

"Exactly!" nodded Larose, "and now I've stirred up a hornet's nest." He clenched his jaws together tightly. "One thing, if I come to my end here, I'll take that fellow Prince with me."

In a few minutes Prince returned alone and proceeded with great haste to skin and dress the sheep, but he was a very different man now to the one of a few minutes ago. He was glum and thoughtful, and frowning heavily all the time. He had nearly finished his work when the man he had called Clem came racing back, now carrying a rifle upon his shoulder.

"It's as I said," he began shouting long before he had reached the shed door, "and I don't believe the devil can have got away. Ishmail must have come upon him just after half-past three, for Roy is sure the dog was by the house up to then. The man must have been wandering about, lost in the fog, but how he got away I can't think. He may have fallen into the big drain and is finished with." He nodded his head emphatically. "He hasn't left Black Gallows since the fog lifted, that's certain. Peter was at work by the bridge at sunrise and the fog hadn't lifted then. He's been by the bridge ever since."

"You've served out a rifle to every one?" asked Prince sharply.

"Yes, and drain or no, we'll make a thorough search everywhere. I've told the men to hail any stranger up and shoot instantly if he doesn't stop. There's not one here that can't put in a bull at 500 yards. I've brought a rifle for you, too," and he bent down from his horse and leant one up against the door.

"All right," commented Prince, "and not only will we search here, but I'll go over to Methwold and find out at the inn if any nosey people were about yesterday."

"But we may be only disturbing ourselves about nothing," went on the other, "and probably it was just a casual tourist who strayed on to Black Gallows and fell in somewhere. Just an ordinary man."

"An ordinary man," said Prince sharply, "would not have had to inflict five wounds upon a dog like Ishmail to kill him, without at least having one wound on himself, and remember there was no blood on Ishmail's muzzle or upon his fangs." He spoke in a tone of authority. "Now you go off at once and search the north banks, and in three minutes I'll be starting for the big drain."

Alone again, he proceeded to work feverishly upon the sheep, and had just finished the dressing and was methodically proceeding to cleanse his knife, when suddenly he stopped, and like a graven image, stood staring up at the hay loft.

The foot of the detective had slipped and fallen with a thud upon the wall!

Seconds of intense silence followed, and then the worst happened, for pressing against the board at the end of the loft flooring, in order to retain a condition of perfect immobility, Larose exerted too much force, and the board, breaking from its fastening, fell with a resounding crash below.

The detective and the gangster were now staring at each other, face to face!

Larose recovered from the surprise first, and his hand slipped like lightning to his hip pocket and plucked out his automatic, but Prince was only the fraction of a second behind him and leaped to reach the rifle by the door.

He had almost got his hands upon it, when the pistol cracked, and then with a convulsive clutch at his right side, he toppled over on to the ground.

Larose was after him, like a terrier after a rat, and long before the smoke of the pistol had risen to the height of the loft, had dragged him back into the shed, and seeing now that he was quite helpless, was tearing at his shirt to expose and staunch the wound.

"Oh! leave me alone," he groaned, "and let me die in peace. You've hit me in the liver, and I know I shall be bleeding internally as well. Leave me alone, please."

"No!" exclaimed the detective sternly, "I may want you to give evidence against the others."

"Then—I'll—give—it—in—kingdom—come," sighed Prince. A fleeting smile came into his face and he whispered very faintly, "How many—pigs—does—a—sow—have—in—a—litter Mr. Larose?" then closing his eyes, his jaw dropped, and he was dead.

Larose had all his wits about him, and darting to the door, crouched down and peering in all directions, fully expecting that the noise of his automatic would be bringing someone at once to the spot. But apparently no one had heard it, for everything was quite. Two men with rifles upon their shoulders were talking earnestly together by the farmhouse door, while another one, also armed, was right in front of the stables, about a quarter of a mile away, and walking slowly along, what looked, to the detective, like the slightly raised bank of another big drain. The other Alsatian was not far from this last man, and moving backwards and forwards, nosing, as before, close to the ground.

Larose considered quickly. It was obvious that for the time being he could not move from where he was, but he knew Prince would be missed soon, and someone would come to look for him. Then his dead body would be ghastly evidence that all was not well on Black Gallows and that there was an enemy in the camp.

So he made no bones about the matter, and quickly carrying the body over to the trusses of straw in the corner, making sure, however, that no blood dripped as he did so, laid it upon the top of them and then thrust it well down at the back, pushing the disturbed trusses again into their places. Then he heaved up the long board that had fallen from the loft, and with some difficulty, got it back into the position it had originally been in. Then he hid himself again among the hay.

Half an hour passed before anything happened. Then another man, a stranger to him, appeared, closely followed, to his horror, by the Alsatian.

"Prince," called out the man, "where are you?" and then, seeing the shed empty, he kicked viciously at the dog who had suddenly become very excited and wanted to rush on in front of him. "Get out, you beast," he cried. "Come away from that carcase," and reluctantly the dog obeyed, going, however, no further away from the door than a few yards and then sitting down upon his haunches and whimpering softly.

The man cursed that Prince had left before finishing everything, and snatching a long white bag from a shelf, lifted it up round the carcase of the sheep and tied it at the top. Then calling the dog to heel, he walked off in the direction of the house.

"Whew!" whistled Larose, "and there may be trouble again from that quarter. The dog may come back."

And come back again the dog did, in a few minutes. He slipped in the shed like a shadow, and taking no notice of the now shrouded carcase, nosed backwards and forwards over the floor.

"It's his master he smells, as I expected," breathed Larose. "Good heavens!" and he groped stealthily for the bayonet that was lying by his side.

The detective had already rehearsed the scene that was about to follow, and when the great beast jumped up upon the heap of straw and thrust his head down towards where the body of his master was hidden, he bent down over the loft side and, selecting the exact spot, drove the bayonet into the animal up to its very hilt, just below the left shoulder.

There was no need for any second blow, indeed he could not have given it, for the Alsatian, with just one long-drawn sigh, rolled over on to the floor, his heart transfixed by the deadly length of steel that had been plunged into it.

Once again Larose lost not a moment of time, and five minutes later was back again in the loft with all traces of his last encounter removed, as far as possible.

The dog slept with his master, and as their caresses had mingled in life, so now their bloods were mingling in death.

The detective's eyes were beaming now, and for the first time since he had arrived upon Black Gallows, his face was lit with triumph.

"And now things will be so much easier," ran his exultant thoughts, "and if those devils had not got their rifles, I'd chance it straightaway. Anyhow, if I have to wait here all day, directly its dark, I'll get away from this cursed fen, and before dawn we'll have the place surrounded."

So all day long he waited patiently for the coming of darkness, with nothing happening except that, late in the afternoon, a man, again a stranger to him, came and fetched the sheep carcase, remarking, as he gave a curious glance round, "Bah! how this place stinks of blood."

Then towards half-past five Larose did a foolish thing, for, in the half light of evening, thinking that dusk had at last fallen sufficiently, he crept out round to the corner of the building and stood for a few minutes, crouching by the wall to get his bearings.

But the move proved almost disastrous to him, for suddenly three bullets in quick succession zipped upon the wall near him; he heard the crackings of a rifle, and turning in a startled jump to see from which direction the bullets were coming, he saw a man barely a hundred yards away, down upon one knee and taking deliberate aim to fire again.

Then things happened very quickly. The detective raced to the other corner to gain the shelter of the side of the building and two more bullets zipped as he ran, the wind from one of them actually driving across his face, but he reached the corner in safety and with no set purpose in his mind, turned and began to run down the side.

There, however, another ghastly surprise awaited him, for he had not gone a dozen yards before he heard a car being started up near by, and then a search-light broke the dusk, swept quickly round, and picked him up as clearly as if it had been broad day.

But if, on the one hand the search-light presaged sudden death, on the other it pointed to a possible way of escape, for he suddenly became aware that the open doorway of the building was close beside him, and without a moment's hesitation he plunged into it and banged to the heavy door.

There could only have been the merest fraction of a second between him and disaster, for, as the door clanged, a perfect fusillade of bullets broke through it.

He shot the two big bolts into their sockets and then started to run up the stairs. Breathlessly gaining a small landing, he came upon two doors. One of them was open, but the other, shut, with the key in the lock. The open door led into three rooms, but there was no one in them. The first was a living-room, with the table laid already for a meal. Beyond that a small kitchen, and then came a bedroom, with three beds in it. At the far end of this last room was another door and opening it, he saw a narrow flight of stairs leading to somewhere down below. There was no key to this door, but he immediately pulled up a bed against it, so that it could not be opened without noise.

Then he ran back on to the landing and tried the handle of the closed door. It was locked, but with a great thrill at his heart, he turned the key, and thrusting the door wide open, stepped into the room beyond, to find himself, as he had expected, in the presence of the amazed and startled Lady Ardane and Sir Parry Bardell.

"Good evening!" he exclaimed cheerfully. "I'm a bit late, but I've come at last, as you see."


CHAPTER XIII.—THE CRACK OF THE RIFLE

It had been a terrible shock for Lady Ardane when, upon that sunny afternoon in the Abbey grounds, quick strong hands had been laid upon her, and, struggling furiously, she had been carried into the delivery van.

It was not that she was seized and held with great violence. On the contrary, for a calm voice enjoined those who were carrying her to be as gentle as possible, and on no account to bruise her.

Naturally, she was terror-stricken, but added to that was the awful indignity of being handled like she was. She, Helen Ardane, who all her life had been treated with the greatest of respect, and had never known what rough treatment was!

In her childhood, in those far-off days in Virginia, all tender and loving care had been lavished upon her. In her years of budding maidenhood she had held her court as a princess, and her smile or the touch of her hand had been gifts then, to be received, by her admirers, almost as a sacrament.

Then when she had come to Carmel Abbey as the young wife of the wealthy Sir Charles Ardane, her life had been almost that of a queen, for the highest in the land had paid tribute to her youth and beauty, and in the countryside around the great historic Abbey, she had been the one above all others to be revered and respected as the sovereign lady who held the livelihood and well-being of so many employees and dependants in her hands.

So, the events of that afternoon, apart from their awful terror, were a dreadful blow to her pride. It had all happened so suddenly, too. One minute she had been free and the proud mistress of her domain, and the next—she was a prisoner and cut off from all that world where it was hers to order and issue commands.

Once inside the van, the doors were banged to, a cloth was pressed against her face, a rug was wound quickly round her, and stretched out at full length upon the flooring, she was held down by many hands, so that she should make no movement. Then one of her arms was drawn out and she heard a calm voice say, "Steady now, you must keep her absolutely still."

A moment later something was swabbed upon her arm, and she felt the sharp prick of a needle. "Now, don't distress yourself," she heard the voice say. "You are not going to be hurt in any way, but just going to be sent to sleep."

Then a great peace began to fall upon her. The faces above became indistinct and faded away, she sank down and down, and finally was conscious of nothing more for a long time.

Then she began to awake, and her head was lifted up gently and she was given something to drink. Its taste was unpleasant, but she drank it quickly, for she was very thirsty.

After that everything was a confused dream. She was being jolted slowly along, and the smell of hay was strong in her nostrils. She thought she heard a man talking, and he must have been speaking to a horse, for he said, "Gee up, now," many times, and often she heard the cracking of a whip.

The jolting ceased after a long while, and then she was lifted up and carried into the cold night air. Then she was laid carefully upon something soft, rugs were tucked all round her, and once again her head was lifted up and she was given something to drink that tasted now like hot milk.

"You're quite all right," came the same voice that she had heard before. "No one's going to do you any harm, you're just going to sleep, that's all."

She opened her eyes drowsily and saw the stars shining through the trees. She thought she was dreaming and lying in a dark wood. She closed her eyes again and dropped off to sleep.

Next, she partly woke up, and saw that the sun was shining, and at once someone bent over, and gave her more hot milk. Presently she was lifted up very gently, once again came the smell of hay, and the jolting recommenced.

Now she was conscious of the rumbling of wheels, and it seemed to go on for ever and ever. Her legs began to feel stiff, and moving them, she found that they were tied loosely at the ankles. She stretched one hand down to unloosen them, and at once a man with a pleasant face came from somewhere behind her and did it for her.

"We'll soon be there now," he said kindly, "and then you'll be made more comfortable."

Then she seemed suddenly to come to her senses altogether, and found that she was lying in a hay cart with hay piled all around her. She could only see the sky, and her eyes filled with tears when she saw it was so beautiful and blue, but she felt weak and heavy headed, and too listless to make any attempt to move.

Then the man who had loosened her bonds called out something, and the cart was stopped, and a few minutes later she was sitting up and given a basin of soup, but there must have been some drug in the soup she was sure, for she began to feel drowsy again at once, and very soon was asleep once more.

Her next awakening was in a soft bed, and opening her eyes she found she was in quite a fair-sized room, with a door at either end. It was scantily and shabbily furnished, with just a table, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a couple of chairs. There was no carpet upon the floor, and the one window was barred across with thick iron bars. She was partially undressed, with her frock hanging over the back of a chair near the bed.

For quite a long time she could not collect her thoughts or remember anything of what had happened. Then a flood of memories surged into her mind and she burst into tears. Everything had come back to her.

She was in the hands of her enemies at last.

She remembered being seized and carried into the van, the injection being put into her arm, the cups of hot milk, the night in the wood, the long journey among the hay, and finally, dimly, very dimly, being carried up some stairs in someone's arms.

She slipped shakily out of bed, and turning the handle of the door nearest to her, found that it was locked. It was a thick and heavy door of solid oak. The door at the other end of the room was, however, ajar, and pushing it open, she found herself in a small bathroom. The bath was old and rusted, but apparently quite serviceable, and there was an oil heater attached. Upon a chair nearby were two clean folded towels, a sponge, and new cake of soap.

Returning to the bedroom, she looked out of the window, but could not see for any great distance, because of a white fog. There were no other habitations anywhere in sight, and it appeared to her that the house she was in was situated in a big meadow.

Suddenly she heard a sharp knock upon the locked door and a moment later, hearing the key being turned, she jumped hastily into bed.

A man entered the room, quite young and of nice appearance. He smiled when he saw her pulling the bed clothes up to her head.

"Good morning," he said, in a very pleasant voice. "How do you feel? A little bit heavy, I expect, from the sleeping draughts we had to give you."

"Where am I?" she asked hoarsely. "What have you brought me here for?"

The man seated himself upon a chair and regarded her in quite a friendly way.

"There need be no mystery about anything," he said quietly, "and I'll give you an explanation at once, so that you'll know exactly how everything stands." He took out a cigarette and lighted it. "You have been abducted, kidnapped, or whatever you like to call it in order that eventually we may obtain a certain sum of money for your release. You are not going to be hurt or ill-treated in any way"—he laughed—"and as it's purely a matter of £. s. d., and you have plenty of it, you really need have no anxieties at all."

"Then how much do you want?" she asked quickly.

"Ah! that is not settled yet," he replied. "You see, we have your friend, Sir Parry Bardell, here as well, and we have not decided how much we can get out of you both." He nodded. "But it will have to be a good sum for it means us all clearing away from the farm where we now live, and taking up new occupations in another part of the world." He laughed. "It's just like selling you our land here, with you paying a good price for it."

"I'm willing to pay anything reasonable," she said with a choke in her voice, "and so, I am sure, is Sir Parry, too."

He shook his head. "But it's not quite so easily settled as that, for we have to consider how the money is going to be paid over. That's the trouble, for with the whole country roused and every police officer on the look-out for us, no cheque you might write would be of the slightest value. We should never dare to present it."

"But where am I?" she asked again.

"And there again," he replied at once, "there is no reason that you should not know. As I have told you, the property is going to be all yours very shortly, and so naturally you would like to learn something of what you are purchasing. You are upon the Methwold Fens, my lady, and the farm is known as Black Gallows. It is 1600 odd acres and will carry a large number of sheep, but my uncle and we boys have been busy in other ways of late, and in consequence the farm has been very much neglected." He pointed to the window. "It is nicely situated, and on a clear day you can see the spire of Ely Cathedral. Your nearest town is Downham Market and as the crow flies you are not much more than a mile from the main London road." He looked at his watch and rose to his feet. "But it's nearly five o'clock and you must have something to eat."

"I don't want, anything," she replied brokenly. "I couldn't touch a thing."

"Nonsense!" he replied. "I'll bring you some cold chicken and ham and a small bottle of wine, but I'll get you a nice hot bath first. It will do your head a lot of good. Oh! one thing more," and he paused to give her a whimsical smile, "I'm called Prince and I'm afraid you'll have to accept me as your maid as long as you are staying with us, for, unfortunately, you are the only woman upon the premises." He shook his head. "But your ladyship need never give a thought to me, even if I come in when you are washing or dressing, for I have no personal interest in you at all. I never allow pleasure to interfere with business, and you are just business to me. Nothing more, you understand. I shall be coming into this room at all times."

Lady Ardane blushed furiously, and her bosom rose and fell in her emotion.

"I hear you," she replied, her voice shaking, "but it is a great indignity. I shall be obliged if you will always knock, and wait until I have answered you before you enter."

"But it will be quite unnecessary," he said carelessly, "for you can regard me as your doctor, quite uninterested—your clergyman, quite harmless—or as just the man who has come to mend the sash-cord of the window. I repeat I have absolutely no interest in you. I have carried you in my arms several times, and yet honestly, I do not remember whether you have a good figure or whether your bones protrude or not." He bowed. "You are just a business proposition to me and to keep you in a good state of preservation is all my concern."

He disappeared into the bathroom and she heard him whistling cheerfully as he prepared the bath.

"All ready, your ladyship." he said with a bow, when presently he returned, "and you won't be able to say you haven't been well looked after." He approached the bed. "Oh! by-the-bye let me look at your arm. I want to see the place where I gave you the injection. You won't show it! Well, no matter, for it's sure to be all right. I used a disinfectant before I inserted the needle. I was a medical student once, and the knowledge I gained has come in very useful." He bowed. "Well, I'll come back in half an hour and you shall have your dinner then. I'll bring a lamp with me, too."

She had the bath, and, greatly refreshed, partook of the meal he had soon provided. She had now in part resigned herself to her misfortunes, and was determined to make the best of things. She had not forgotten Larose and Naughton Jones, and although she was aware from Sir Arnold that they were both laid up from the injuries they had received, yet he had told her they would both soon be about again, and she had every confidence in them both—she blushed ever so little—especially in Larose.

But then followed long, dreary days of unvarying monotony. She saw Prince only when he brought in her meals and half an hour later when he returned for the tray. At first he had started asking her every morning how she was feeling, and passing remarks, too, about the weather, but she had either made no reply at all or just responded in curt monosyllables, until, in the end, he had ceased speaking to her at all, and some days, "Thank you" were the only words uttered in the room.

For some reason Prince would not explain, she was allowed no books or papers, and in consequence, in addition to looking out of the window, her own thoughts were her only occupation. She could see the carts and cars passing along the Ely road, and she used to brood over how care-free and happy their occupants would probably be. At any rate, she was sure they could have no such troubles as were hers, and how willing they would be to help her, she thought, too, if they only knew of the sad and lonely woman behind these prison bars!

Several nights, at dusk, when the wind was in the right direction, she heard the sound of church bells, the bells of eventide, and tears would well up into her eyes as she thought of how often she had sat with her little boy in the dim and shrouded light of the old Abbey chapel.

She thought a lot, too, about Larose in those days, for, since that night among the trees, her feelings towards him had undergone a great change. She had cordially disliked him up to then, for he had been so masterful and had treated her, not as if she were Lady Ardane and the proud chatelaine of Carmel Abbey, with its broad acres, but just as if she were a Mrs. Anybody on whose behalf his services had been called in in just the ordinary way.

But that night he had held her in his arms and she had been affected as she had never been affected before.

As a young girl she had been given for wife to a man whom she had learned to love and respect and in due time she had borne him a son. But she had had no thrill of passion for him, and he had never delved deeply into her woman's nature. He had never roused in her what lifts man and woman, if only for a few short hours, into a heaven upon earth, and he had never touched upon those strings in her being, that in their vibrations make all else in life a common thing.

But now had come this stranger and, far above him in station, possessions and all that counts for honor in the social life, she was stepping down from the pedestal and looking up to him as if he were the sovereign ruler of her kingdom. She was often hot and angry with herself, and yet in her inmost thoughts there was a strange and wonderful sweetness in her homage and submission.

The days passed on, and then one afternoon a dense fog fell upon the Fens, and looking out from her window she was glad of it, because it hid the great world beyond. It was as an opiate for her longings for freedom and soothed and calmed her as if it were the end of everything, and she would soon sleep in peace and be mindful of her sufferings no more.

But the next morning the bright sunlight was streaming through her window again, and it brought back all her yearnings and sad thoughts again.

She had just finished breakfast, and then the monotony of everything was broken, and never again, had she only known it, was she to be without either hopes or fears to occupy her mind.

Suddenly she heard a strange voice shouting angry words outside upon the landing, the door was opened sharply and then, to her amazement, Sir Parry, the true and trusted friend of her widowhood, was thrust violently into the room, to be followed immediately by a man whom she had never seen before.

"Here he is," shouted the strange man loudly, "and you two are to remain together until to-morrow and arrange how our money is to be paid over. It's £100,000 we want, and you'll have to think over how we're going to get it. Tomorrow I shall come back to hear what you've got to say," and with a black look that embraced them both, he went out and slammed and locked the door.

Lady Ardane almost choked in her great joy, and then running up to Sir Parry, who was standing trembling upon the threshold of the room, she threw her arms round his neck and burst into tears.

"Oh! uncle dear," she sobbed, with her head buried into his shoulder, "how glad I am to see you. I have been so miserable."

The tears were streaming, too, down Sir Parry's face as he patted her fondly upon the cheek. "My darling Helen," he exclaimed brokenly, "how you must have suffered, too!"

For a few minutes they stood clinging to each other, and then gently disengaging herself from his arms, she began wiping the happy tears away.

"Never mind, dear," whispered Sir Parry in great emotion. "It will soon be over now, and then we shall all be happy again."

They sat down upon the bed, side by side, and they told each other all that had happened since they had last been speaking to each other that afternoon in the Abbey grounds.

It appeared that Sir Parry's sufferings had been much the same as her own. He had been drugged like she had been, and the same dreadful journey had been his through those long weary hours.

They calmed down presently, and then Sir Parry, holding her hand all the time, began discussing everything in a practical and business-like way. They were going to let him go away on the morrow, he said, and he would raise every penny he could find and bring back the ransom. But they had warned him, with many horrible threats, that if he gave the slightest inkling to anyone why he wanted the money, or where he'd been, or what had happened, then he would never see her again, for they were going to poison her and escape away.

Lady Ardane trembled and shuddered as she listened, and then, clinging to him tightly, averred that every penny of the money would be returned to him, for, directly she was free, she would raise it from the Ardane estates.

Then suddenly, in the midst of their talking, a sharp, vicious crack came up from just below them, and Lady Ardane, her nerves all on edge, sprang to her feet.

"What was that?" she asked with widely-opened eyes. "It sounded like a pistol being fired."

Sir Parry looked startled, too, and seemed very frightened, but the sound was not repeated, and after a moment, he exclaimed reassuringly, "No, no, it was not a pistol. It was only the cracking of a whip. Someone was going by on a horse."

So their conversation was resumed, and hour after hour they considered how the huge sum of £100,000 could be raised.

Then gradually, very gradually, a subtle feeling of embarrassment began to mar Lady Ardane's supreme happiness in being re-united to her friend, for Sir Parry's affection for her became so effusive, and he kept on kissing her, and would not let go her hand. He kissed her once on the lips, too, and asked her to kiss him back. Finally, she rose and moved away from him and sat down upon a chair, but he followed after her, and moving up another chair close beside her, again wanted to hold her hand.

Then when, just after noon, the same man who had thrust Sir Parry so unceremoniously into the room appeared with the dinner tray and plumped it down upon the table and retired again without a word, Sir Parry wanted to drink out of the same glass she was drinking from, and she did not like it at all. He never took his eyes off her either, and in the end she became really frightened. At last a remark he made almost terrified her.

"Of course, dear," he said nervously, and evading her eyes, "my being alone with you here until to-morrow will compromise you, if anyone hears of it, but we must try and keep it from everyone and get married the first moment we can. I'll bring back a special license with me and it'll be as my wife that you will return to Carmel Abbey."

Her heart almost stood still, but she had perfect control of herself.

"No, uncle," she replied firmly, "I shall never marry again. I'm determined upon that."

He looked very upset, and shook his head solemnly. "But you must think it over," he said, "for a woman's reputation is the most precious possession that she has"—his eyes filled with tears—"and I could not have a breath of scandal against you, for anything in the world."

Then she began to doubt him, and was sure that he was deceiving her in some way, for he said suddenly, "And I'll be a good father to little Charles." His face brightened as if he were imparting good news. "He's included in the ransom money, of course, and they will give him up directly it is paid."

"Where is he?" she asked suspiciously.

"Somewhere in London," he replied. He hesitated. "They won't tell me exactly where, but I think he's in Kensington."

"Who got him for them?" She asked, and her voice was now as hard and stern as a cross-examiner in a court.

He hesitated again. "I'm not quite certain," he replied. "They never told me, but it was one of the servants, I think. Charles was hurried on board that yacht they have, and they said he was in London the next day."

Then an instinct told her that he was lying, and had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the child, for his eyes had been everywhere but upon her when he had spoken, and he picked his words slowly, as if he were making it all up as he went along.

From that moment a great change took place in her, and she was no longer the weeping, clinging creature broken all to pieces by her misfortunes. Instead, she had become all at once, in the space of a few seconds, so it seemed, a strong and resolute woman, nerving herself to face new dangers and deal with them as they came.

But she was tactful with it, too, and to check the amorous advances of Sir Parry, without any appearance of noticing them, at once gave him some work to do. "Now you clean out that bath-heater," she said sharply, "there's something wrong with the carrier of the wick, and you'll have to take it all to pieces. I can't raise it up far enough to get any heat in the water," and she herself began remaking her bed and shaking up the mattress violently.

But the tasks could not last forever, and Sir Parry was soon back in the bedroom again. She would not now, however, allow him to come near her. "I'm hot and tired," she said crossly, "and want to think. So, leave me alone, please, and don't talk any more."

He received the rebuff with a disagreeable frown, and then with his eyes still fixed intently upon her, began muttering angrily to himself. Some of his words she did not catch, but others she could not help hearing, and they almost froze her blood in fear. He seemed like a man who was going out of his mind, for he muttered on and on and on.

The afternoon waned and dusk began to fall. She lit the lamp, wondering, with a lump in her throat, how long the light would last if it were turned very low.

Then suddenly the silence outside was abruptly broken, and three loud reports in quick succession came from somewhere close near to the house, and rushing to the window, she flung up the bottom sash and pushed out her head as far out as the bars would allow.

The light was fading quickly but objects close near could be picked out distinctly.

She heard hoarse shouts coming from round the side of the building, that were answered immediately by someone in a slow-moving car in front of the building, that was then instantly brought to a standstill, with a jerk. Then its searchlight was switched on and in two seconds focused straight upon the house, a man at the same time springing out and dropping upon one knee to level a rifle.

The rifle cracked, once, twice, three times, and then the whole building seemed to shake as the house door was banged violently to. Then she heard both bolts shot into their sockets and for a few seconds silence reigned.

Hurried steps sounded upon the stairs, about two minutes of silence followed, then the key in the lock of her door was turned, the door was pushed open and—Larose stepped into the room.

"Good evening," he said quietly, but with his breath coming quickly, "I'm a bit late, but I've come at last, as you see."

Then before either she or Sir Parry could utter a word, the whole demeanor of the detective altered.

"Take that lamp away," he cried sharply to Lady Ardane. He pointed to the open door of the bathroom. "Go in there and put it on the floor. Shut the door behind you, and wait until I tell you to come out."

Then, when she had at once complied, as if it were the most natural thing to do, he advanced menacingly to Sir Parry, who, with his mouth open and his face a ghastly pallor, was trembling violently.

"You devil," he hissed, "I know all about you. Up with your hands! Have you got any weapon on you?" He passed his hands rapidly over his body. "Any poison?" he asked, and he plucked the wallet out of the trembling man's breast pocket. Then he pushed him violently into a corner. "And there you stay," he went on, "and the slightest movement and I'll blow your brains out."

"But don't tell her," wailed Sir Parry in a hoarse whisper and with tears welling up into his eyes. "I only did it because I loved her so." He held up his hands imploringly. "She must never know, and I'll destroy myself presently."

"And it's the best thing you can do," replied Larose sharply. The tone of his voice changed in an instant, and he called out cheerfully, "You can come in, Lady Ardane, but, don't bring the lamp with you, and keep out of the line of the window, whatever you do. They'll be firing in, in a few moments."

Then he sprang to the window and, bending down, with his head just above the sill, made a trumpet of his hands. "I'm Larose," he shouted in loud and clarion tones. "Gilbert Larose, and here's my visiting card," and at the same moment he fired twice with his pistol at the stationary motor car, before he bobbed down.

"Had to do it!" he explained quickly to Lady Ardane. "I wanted to let them know that I was armed, so that they'll hesitate about coming too close. I don't want them to start upon breaking in that door below. I gave them my name, too, to set them thinking. They may bolt away now, not knowing who else is in the neighborhood."

"Oh! I'm so thankful!" exclaimed Lady Ardane brokenly. "I can't tell you how I feel."

"That's all right," replied Larose cheerfully, "but down upon the floor at once," and that his advice was good was evident almost immediately, for bullet after bullet came crashing through the window. The panes were smashed to atoms and the bullets scattered the plaster upon the wall in all directions. The fusillade lasted about half a minute and then all was still.

"And that's about all they dare to do," went on Larose in matter-of-fact tones, "for if they bang any more, they'll be afraid of attracting attention in the surrounding villages and bringing people here to know what's happened."

Ignoring Sir Parry altogether, he asked Lady Ardane what was in the other room, and where the window was there. She told him and that there was no window, only a skylight.

"Well, you stand by the door," he enjoined, "and I'll just have a wash. Call me instantly if you hear the slightest sound."

In the meantime an anxious conference was being held by five men, huddled together behind the stationary car outside.

Their faces were white and grim and they looked at one another with uneasy and furtive eyes.

"I don't like the look of things," said a man with a big scar across his forehead. His voice shook. "Where's Prince and where's Juno? I believe they've had a knife into them, too. It's all up, I say, and there may be a mob of police round here in no time now. We'd better cut whilst we can."

"No, no," exclaimed the tall man, Clem, sharply, "don't you be a blithering coward, Peter. Prince will turn up soon, I'm certain. He's a match for a dozen like that Larose, and not one to be knifed quietly behind his back." He sneered scornfully. "We're not going to lose our heads and be beaten by one single man." He pointed to the racing stables, still held under the ghostly rays of the searchlight. "That fool there made the mistake of his life when he bawled out he was Larose, for everyone's heard of the devil and knows he always works alone. Prince says it's notorious he always spies out everything by himself to get all the credit, and never asks for any help until the very end." He was most emphatic. "No, we can be quite sure that no one knows he's here." He put his head round the side of the car and shook his fist in the direction of the shattered window. "We've got the devil in a trap right enough, and it's only a question of keeping him there and then we'll be quite safe and nothing will happen."

Roy Fensum, a dark man, but with a face now of a horrible sickly color, swore an obscene oath. "And I can see all that's happened," he exclaimed savagely. "It's as plain as day to me. He came on to Black Gallows yesterday and got lost in that fog. Then Ishmail nosed him out somehow, but he managed to kill the brute and find his way to the stables here. Then he hid in that shed with the hay loft that I caught him sneaking out of just now. He's been there all last night and all today." His voice rose excitedly. "Yes, he's been on Black Gallows for more than twenty-four hours and that means for certain that he's all alone and no one knows where he is, or the police would have been here long ago. If we wait——"

"But how can we get at him?" broke in another man with a scowl. "He's got a gun on him and I've heard tell he's the best pistol shot in Australia."

"Starve him out," snapped Fensum, "and the old fool and woman, too. The only thing, we must watch the stable on both sides and never give him a chance of breaking away. The moon'll be out in half an hour and then we'll shift this car back a couple of hundred yards." He laughed mockingly. "I'll bet he's feeling pretty glum."

But had he been only there to see him, Larose was not feeling at all glum. On the contrary, refreshed by a good wash, he was squatted on the floor just opposite to Lady Ardane, and she was pouring out a glass of wine for him as he was eating sparingly of some of the ham and chicken left over from her dinner with Sir Parry Bardell.

Lady Ardane was looking quite a different woman now, for her face was no longer strained and the shadows had all gone from her beautiful eyes.

"And it can't be long," Larose told her cheerfully, "before we are rescued. Any moment, in fact, but most probably to-morrow. I've got two good men helping me. They know in which direction I was making my enquiries, and they'll soon ferret along the trail. Then there's another man, only seven miles from here, and he'll be looking for me, too. He's an ex-policeman and knows exactly where I was coming. He's been away from home to-day, but he'll be back to-night, and if I am any judge of character, hearing nothing about me, he'll be going to look where he told me to leave my car and finding it still there—then I don't know exactly what he will do. He'll probably, however, ring up the police at Downham Market and then"—he laughed merrily—"the fat will be in the fire for those gentlemen outside."

She watched him as he spoke, and she thrilled with a feeling of great happiness, which she took no thought to analyse.

Her dress was soiled and crumpled by the rough usage it had undergone, for a week and more she had been denied all the little toilet luxuries that make a woman pleasing! She was squatting in semi-darkness upon the bare boards of a room that had at all times been shabby and comfortless! The night air was rushing in through a window that had now no panes! There were bullet marks upon the wall just above her head! She was in an atmosphere of strife and violence and sudden death! There were men near her whom she knew would have no compunction in committing any horror to hide their evil deeds and yet—she was quite happy!

The man who had been so often in her thoughts had come into her life again, and all faith that she could render, she had in him. She was no longer the proud mistress of Carmel Abbey, and he was not a policeman from Scotland Yard. They were just man and woman together, and in unspoken words the old, old story was being told once again.

Only one thing marred the absolute harmony of everything, for Larose would not tell her where her son was. He assured her that the boy was all right, and inclining his head ever so slightly in the direction of Sir Parry, added that although for the moment it was a secret, she would nevertheless soon know.

And all this time Sir Parry had remained seated in the corner where Larose had pushed him, with his hands clasped together and his eyes staring on to the floor. He seemed like a man in a trance and oblivious to all that was going on around him.

Presently the moon rose in its cold and silvered majesty and the search light on the car was switched off. "But it'll be death to anyone to look," warned Larose speaking rather loudly, "for they'll be watching during every second of the night."

Then came the question of how they would all sleep, and Larose issued his orders in no uncertain manner.

"I'll push your bed up to the end of the room," he said to Lady Ardane. "Sir Parry will sleep where he is, I see his overcoat is here, and I'll lie down by the door."

"But you'll both be so cold," protested Lady Ardane. "I have two blankets and you are quite welcome to one." But the detective would not hear of it, and speaking both for himself and Sir Parry who, however, made no comment, assured her they would be quite warm enough if they kept out of the current of the draught.

Then gradually silence fell upon the room, with surely as strange an assortment of room-mates there as could be found anywhere. Lady Ardane had climbed into the bed and slipped off her dress under the clothes, Sir Parry was leaning back heavily in the corner from which he had still never moved, and Larose was lying before the door with his head upon his arm.

An hour passed and they were all awake, two hours and then Sir Parry's head sagged upon his chest and he began to snore lightly. A cloud passed over the moon, and then, with the room in total darkness, Larose heard soft foot-falls come from the direction of the bed. Then he felt a hand groping for him, but he did not move because he knew whose it was. His heart beat terribly and he trembled as if he were in an ague.

"Mr. Larose, I must speak to you," breathed a voice so faintly that he could hardly hear it, and Lady Ardane bent down to whisper in his ear. He turned his head so that he could take in what she was going to say, and then his lips brushed against hers. Instinctively then, and acting upon an impulse that he made no attempt to control, he raised himself up nearer and kissed them, and for one brief second they were not withdrawn. Her burning face was close against his and he could feel her heart beating as violently as was his own. Then with a quick movement she drew herself away.

"You oughtn't to have done that," she reproved, but so gently that there was no sting in the reproof. "Still, I'm so happy in your coming that I could forgive you almost anything for the moment."

"But it was not nice of me to do it," whispered back Larose sharply, and now in a fury of remorse. "It was taking advantage of your overwrought feelings and I humbly beg your pardon."

"It is all right," came the soft reply, and the darkness hid her smile. She touched his arm lightly. "Now I have a lot of things to ask you," and then he could feel that she was rising to her feet, "but wait a moment until I fetch a blanket. I'm cold and shivering here."

But it was not the cold that made her shiver. It was the kiss that he had given her and the thought that she had had no wish to draw her lips away.

She was back in a few seconds. "Here's the other one for you," she whispered. "No, don't be foolish." She laughed softly. "You are not the only one who can give orders here." Something of her old imperious manner came back. "Now tell me at once about my boy."

Then with the blankets wrapped round them and sitting so close together that each could feel the warmth of the other's body, Larose told her most of what had happened, refraining, however, from all mention of Sir Parry in any way.

A long silence followed when he had finished, and then she asked hesitatingly, as if fearful of the answer he would give, "But who then, has been the instigator of it all?" He could feel her trembling against him. "Who—has—been—my—enemy—all—along!"

He answered her very solemnly. "You know quite well, Lady Ardane," he said, "that the strongest urge in life is what we call love, and while the passion of a man for a woman can be the most glorious thing on earth, yet at the same time it can be the most terrible one. It can so warp his mind that while sane in everything else, he is stark, staring mad in that one particular." He picked his words carefully. "Well, a certain man conceived a passion for you that he knew was hopeless and with no fulfillment—he went mad. That is all. I cannot tell you more now, but unhappily you will have to learn all one day, and then it will be a great sorrow for you." He spoke sharply. "Now, not another question, please."

Her voice shook. "I understand a little," she said slowly, "and I don't want to know any more."

"Well, you go back to your bed now," he went on. "We must both try and get some sleep."

"I'll go back in a few minutes," she sighed, "but I was very cold there and I'm quite warm now. We won't talk."

Then a deep silence fell upon them, and gradually, very gradually, he felt that she was leaning heavily and more heavily against him. Then her breathing became slow and regular and he knew she was asleep. The red head was now upon his shoulder.

"Poor little woman," he murmured, "and she'll be so sorry for it later." He smiled sadly. "Part of my dream has at all events come true"—he grinned—"but there is no blind to pull down." His face became sad again "and alas, there is no need of it."

The night waxed and waned, it was cloudy and then fine, and the moon and the searchlight playing hide-and-seek together. Always, one of them was shining on the building, and, perhaps, the moon was curious as to what was going on inside that chamber with the shattered window panes.

Then finally the night was over and Larose, who had been dozing on and off a score of times, saw that the dawn was coming and that objects were now distinguishable in the room. He pushed against Lady Ardane very gently and she awoke suddenly and looked at him with startled eyes. Then face, neck, and the opening to her bosom crimsoned furiously.

Larose pointed to the still slumbering Sir Parry. "Go back to your bed," he whispered and she obeyed instantly. Then, once more ensconced among her pillows, she gave him a roguish smile and closed her eyes as if she were going to sleep again.

An hour and more passed and then with the sun high in the heavens, she whispered to him that she was going into the bathroom.

"And don't you come out until I call you," he replied sternly. "I am going to see if they are still on the watch and they will probably fire again. So don't be afraid. I want to make them fire, to draw attention in the villages that something unusual is going on."

Then the moment she had gone into the bathroom and shut the door, he sprang up and shook Sir Parry roughly.

"Wake up," he whispered sharply. "The time has come."

"What time?" whispered back Sir Parry hoarsely, and from the expression upon his face it was plain that a realisation of all his terrors had come back to him.

"The time for you to decide what you are going to do," replied Larose, "and you have only a few minutes to do it, for Lady Ardane will be back very quickly. Now listen to me." He regarded the wretched man with a face as hard and pitiless as a stone. "Consider your position. The police may be here any moment, and they will arrest you directly they come. You tried to poison me, but I shall say nothing about that, for it was one of the risks of my profession. Your wits were pitted against mine, and you showed yourself the better man."

"I was mad," gasped Sir Parry, "I was——"

"Of course, you were mad," snapped Larose, "you have been mad all along. Well, I'll lay no charge against you there, but you'll be arrested for conspiracy, and you'll have to stand your trial."

"Oh! but I loved her so," wailed Sir Parry, "and as I knew she would never marry me for love, because I am too old, I thought perhaps she would marry me out of gratitude if her child was stolen and I got him back for her. So I took young Clive into my confidence and he said he knew some smugglers who would arrange it all for me. Then it got out of my hands, for they are evil men who will do anything. I could not restrain them and it got worse and worse, and I became a would-be murderer myself."

"But I am quite aware of all that," said Larose quickly, "and it's a waste of time your telling me," His voice was cold and hard. "I want to know what you are going to do."

"But what can I do," gasped Sir Parry. "I can't undo what I have done now."

Larose pointed to the broken window. "You can go and stand there," he said sternly, "and your friends, your co-conspirators who have brought such misery upon this poor woman, will put a bullet through your head and you will escape everything, and it will all be over. Button up your jacket and put my cap on, and then they'll think that they are firing at me."

Sir Parry recoiled in horror. "You mean me to be killed?" he gasped. He shook his head. "I daren't do it."

"Think of the shame that is coming to you!" hissed Larose. "You will stand in the dock, and the story will be told, how, night after night, you used to creep up into that corridor and, standing upon that box, watch Lady Ardane disrobe. The Crown Prosecutor will describe your gloating eyes, how the bestiality of an old man's mind——"

"Stop, stop," choked Sir Parry, "I can't bear it."

"Lady Ardane will be there," went on Larose pitilessly. "She will hear how her best friend and a man old enough to be her father, spied upon her in her most private movements and ravished her nightly with his eyes; how——"

"That's enough," exclaimed Sir Parry springing up. "I'll do it; but push me there, so that I don't try to draw back."

For the first time, the detective felt a little pity for the wretched man whom he was sending to his doom. "Your death will be quite painless," he said kindly, "for you will not feel anything, and not even hear the bullet that will kill you."

"Shake hands, Mr. Larose," sobbed Sir Parry. "I'd like to feel that I die with someone who has pity for me, by my side."

But the detective drew back sharply. "No, Sir Parry," he replied with the utmost coldness, "I cannot, for I draw the line at you. I have shaken hands with murderers who were about to die, but you—you are worse than any of them."

The scorn in his voice braced the doomed man like a deep draught of wine, and he drew himself up proudly. "Very well," he said calmly, "then I would prefer to die alone," and with not the slightest hesitation and with steady steps he walked over to the window and stood full before it.

Half a minute of breathless silence followed, and then Sir Parry remarked calmly. "Here it comes. He's resting his rifle upon the bonnet, of the car. I think it's the man they call Clem, Clem Lamb. He boasts he is a very good shot."

Then two bullets came crashing into the room in quick succession. They missed and buried themselves into the wall behind. Sir Parry stood quite still. He had not flinched a hair's breadth.

"You're a brave man!" exclaimed Larose hoarsely, "and I will shake hands with you now."

Then, as Sir Parry, with a cold smile, stretched back his right hand for Larose to grasp, a bullet struck him square in the middle of his forehead and he fell back dead, into the detective's arms.

The crack of the rifle died away and Larose called out shrilly. "Don't come in yet, Lady Ardane. Sir Parry's killed. They got him with a bullet in the head," and a gasp of horror came from behind the bathroom door.


CHAPTER XIV.—HELEN ARDANE

At about nine o'clock upon the night of the evening when Larose had burst so unceremoniously into the chamber of Lady Ardane above the racing stables upon Black Gallows, Naughton Jones, accompanied by his two very criminal-looking associates, stalked into the coffee-room of the King's Arms, in Downham Market as if he were the now proprietor taking over, and demanded a hot supper for three, at once.

There were two men already in the coffee-room, partaking of a cold supper of bread and cheese and onions, when he entered, and they regarded the little party curiously, but Mr. Jones' friends, notwithstanding the intent scrutiny to which they were subjected, and which made them kick each other slily under the table many times, partook of a highly satisfactory meal of ham and eggs, washed down with copious draughts of good, strong beer.

Proceeding into the yard early the next morning, Jones observed the same two men again, now attending to a motor bicycle outfit in one of the stable stalls, and after hesitating a moment, he turned back into the hotel and made a few enquiries about them from the landlord, the young person behind the bar, the waiter, and the boots.

Then returning into the yard, he found that they had gone away, but that the motor bicycle was still there. However, a few minutes later he overtook them as they were walking along very slowly, just before they arrived at where was situated the police station of the town, and he stopped to address them.

"I beg your pardons," he said sharply, and as if he were speaking to inferiors, "but are you by any chance waiting for a Mr. Gilbert Larose?"

The men seemed as surprised as if they had received a very sudden and unexpected slap in the face, and then the older of the two asked gruffly, "What the devil do you mean?"

Jones made a careless motion with his hand. "You have a motor bicycle outfit of the make used generally by the authorities, you walk like policemen upon a beat, and it is is my opinion that you are plain-clothes men from the Yard. Also, I have learnt that the morning before last you were closeted for more than an hour with a gentleman whose description exactly tallies to that of my friend, Mr. Larose." He spoke as if the matter were quite settled. "Therefore, I take it for granted that you are now waiting for him."

The men appeared staggered. "Who are you," asked the one who had spoken before, "and what business is it of yours?"

"My name is Naughton Jones," was the haughty reply, "and if my surmises are correct, kindly follow me into the station here. I may be able to be of service to you, and you may not be without service to me."

Without a word then, they followed him into the police station, and soon all three were in the presence of the inspector there.

"I am Naughton Jones," announced Jones grandly, "and I am close upon the heels of the gang who recently abducted Lady Helen Ardane, of Carmel Abbey, also, if I am not mistaken, upon the heels of the Antwerp-Rotterdam coterie of illicit drug traffickers, too." He bowed gravely. "I require your assistance in effecting the arrests."

The inspector thrilled at his words. Downham Market was a well-behaved little town, the chief offenders against the law there being, in the main, drunks, and small boys who were caught riding bicycles at night without lights. So prospects of distinction and promotion for him were, in consequence, never at any time bright, but the world famous case of the abduction of the beautiful Lady Ardane and the rounding-up of a dope-traffic gang—ah! those were very different offences altogether, and might alter the whole course of his life.

He knew Naughton Jones, well by reputation, and association with that great investigator would be another feather in his cap. So, he listened with profound attention.

"The matter is quite straightforward," went on Jones. "I——" He hesitated. "Mr. Larose and I were going through a house upon the sands of Holkham Bay, where certain members of the gang who were concerned in the abduction had been hiding, and I came upon two recently-purchased books of an unusual and abstruse character. Then from certain facts that I deduced, I traced the purchase of these books to a shop in Cambridge, and learnt that they had been despatched to a Mr. C. Lamb, at the Southery Post Office, seven miles from here. Yesterday, however, upon making enquiries, I was informed by the young woman in charge there that she had no knowledge at all of this Mr. Lamb. As far as she knew, she had never seen him, and certainly did not know where he resided, but she remembered the coming of the books most distinctly and that they had been called for by a Thomas Jowles, whom she knows quite well, and who keeps the inn at the little village of Methwold."

"I know him, too," broke in the Inspector grimly. "He's a fellow of not too good a character and we've had trouble with him several times. Trading after hours, etc., and suspected of being a poacher."

"Well, the matter is very simple," said Jones. "We have only to learn from him where this C. Lamb is living and raid the premises, and without doubt we shall find both Lady Ardane and Sir Parry Bardell there." He looked sharply at the inspector. "You are the Clerk of Petty Sessions here and can issue a search warrant."

'The inspector nodded. "Yes, I can issue a warrant all right"—he hesitated—"but how, Mr. Jones, do you connect this Mr. Lamb so positively with the abductors of Lady Ardane?"

Naughton Jones spoke very sharply. "I have seen him, sir," he replied, "in company with certain members of the gang, before, however, we were aware that they were the gang. He is a tall, spare man, with a long face and big nose, and——"

"Ah!" broke in Hale, the elder of the two men who had been accompanying Larose, "that's the man we're after, tall, long face, and big nose." He turned excitedly to the inspector. "It's quite all right. We can go straight ahead."

"Of course it's all right," snapped Jones, "or I shouldn't be here." He looked impressively at the inspector. "I know this Lamb personally, sir, and when disguised, have actually spoken to him. One of the men who was with them is called Prince, and he is wanted for the murder of that unknown man who was found shot upon that ditchside on the Fakenham road last week." He turned round to Hale. "And where is Mr. Larose?"

"We don't know, sir," replied Hale, looking very troubled, "and are getting quite anxious about him. We last saw him the day before yesterday and were to have met him the same evening at six o'clock, but he didn't turn up. We know, however, in which direction he was going and have traced him up to within two miles of Swaffham. He was enquiring at all the garages for a party who had recently purchased two valve-caps for a grey Jehu car, but he doesn't appear to have reached Swaffham, for none of the garages report any enquiries having been made there. Our only hope is that he went to one particular garage, the proprietor of which is at present away, and learnt what he wanted to know there, but we shan't be able to get in touch with this man until tomorrow." He took out his handkerchief and wiped over his forehead. "It looks an ugly business to me."

The inspector was a man of action, and rose at once to his feet. "How many men do you think we shall want, Mr. Jones!"

"I have two," replied Jones. "There are these gentlemen here," he nodded. "Come yourself, and bring three others. Can you raise them, or should we ring up King's Lynn!"

"No, no, I've got them," exclaimed the inspector, quickly, and anxious that at all costs the matter should not pass out of his hands. "That will make nine of us altogether. Meet me in ten minutes at the west end of the town."

"And come armed," said Jones significantly, as he prepared to leave the room. "Truncheons will not be sufficient here."

Less than three-quarters of an hour later then, two cars and the motor bicycle outfit pulled up, by pre-arrangement, about a hundred yards short of the Methwold Inn, kept by one Thomas Jowles, licensed to sell beer, wines, spirits and tobacco.

"I'll go in with one of my assistants," said Jones, "and then if the fellow has anything to hide, he won't, perhaps, be quite so much upon his guard as if we all appear together," and so, accompanied by Bloggs, the one time Limehouse Bruiser, he made at once for the inn.

The tap-room was unoccupied except for a big, heavy-looking man who was reading a newspaper behind the bar. He was unshaven and rather dirty-looking. His face was large and full, and he had small eyes, set very close together. He rose leisurely to his feet when the two appeared.

"Mr. Jowles, I presume," said Jones very politely.

"Yes," nodded the man, "I'm Thomas Jowles," and he gave a hard intent stare at his visitors.

"Well, we're not exactly customers," explained Jones, "but we may be after you have answered a question or two." He spoke very casually. "You know Mr. Lamb, I believe?"

The man's face puckered instantly into a frown and he looked quickly from Jones to his companion, who, according to instructions, was standing in the background.

"Lamb!" he exclaimed slowly, and as if he were putting a great tax upon his memory. He shook his head. "No, I don't know any gent of that name."

"He's tall and slight, with a long face and rather big nose," went on Jones, still speaking quite casually.

"No, I've never heard of him," said the innkeeper convincingly. "Of course, I may have seen him, but I'm a bad one at all times for faces and I get a lot of strangers in here."

"Think again, Mr. Jowles," said Jones sternly, and with all the pleasantry now gone out of his tones. "You remember him all right."

"No, I don't," said the man doggedly. "I've never heard of him."

"Then why," asked Jones very slowly, and raising a warning finger to emphasise his words, "did you, three weeks ago, last Tuesday, pick up a parcel of books from the Southery Post Office, addressed to a Mr. C. Lamb?"

The man's face became as black as thunder. "I never picked up any parcel for anyone," he blustered, "and he's a ruddy liar who says I did."

"But the young woman in the Post Office remembers the incident most clearly," snapped Jones, "and it's no good your attempting to deny it."

A crafty look came into the man's face. "Then does this Mr. Lamb accuse me of stealing it?" he asked. "If so, bring him here and I'll deal with him myself." He sneered. "You're not this Mr. Lamb, apparently." and ducking under the counter of the bar, he advanced threateningly towards Naughton Jones, remarking coarsely at the same time, "Get out."

Whereupon the ex-bruiser thought it time to take part in the conversation, and in a round of extreme brevity stretched the innkeeper upon the floor. Then when the great investigator was examining the extent of the man's injuries, Bloggs ducked under the counter in his turn, and with a skill and dexterity born of long practice, absorbed 'two pints' in the twinkling of an eye. He was back again behind his master before the latter had pronounced that the landlord was all right, and safe, now, to be allowed to recuperate by himself.

Leaving the inn, Jones crossed over to a little general shop upon the other side of the road and made some enquiries that heartened him considerably, and in no small measure compensated for the disappointing interview at the inn. The woman there knew nothing of the names of any cars, but she had many times seen a tall man, with a long face, drive up to the inn in a grey-colored one and stop there for quite a long time. She had no idea who he was, but pointed out the direction from which he always came.

Returning to the waiting cars, Jones reported all that had happened. "But we are hot upon the trail," he added confidently, "and the gang are close here. Now follow me, for I have another good card to play."

At the first turning, then, off the tarred road, he stopped his car and the others followed suit. "Where does this road lead to?" he asked the inspector. "It looks pretty muddy and as if it isn't often used."

"It's a by-road to Feltwell village," replied the inspector, "but very few people take it, because the surface is always bad. There's only one place you pass on the way and that's a farm called Black Gallows, belonging to a man named Fensum."

"Who is he," asked Jones, "do you know anything about him!"

"Not much," was the reply, "but I've been there once about two Alsatian dogs he's got. There were complaints that they had been straying and killing sheep, but I couldn't bring it home to them."

"Well, you all get out," ordered Jones quickly, "and we'll go down this road and look for the imprint of a nearly new tyre that has got one square in the middle of its tread almost cut away. I shaved it down low myself, and it ought to show up clearly in this mud. It's a Nathan cover with the lines of boldly cushioned squares. It's the offside wheel and upon the car of the man we want."

They all jumped out on to the road and walking in line, with their eyes glued upon the surface, proceeded slowly along.

"A car's been here quite recently," said Jones, after a moment, "but it isn't the one we want. Its tyres are much too small."

Nothing happened for about a hundred yards, and then one of the plainclothes men called out gleefully, "Hullo! here's something that looks like it. There's a square missing here."

They all bent over the imprint he indicated and then the face of Jones flushed deeply, but he remarked quite calmly, "Yes, that's it, and there's another and another, still." He looked round with an exultant smile. "I have my methods and they seldom fail. On to this Black Gallows, my friends."

They jumped back in great excitement into their cars and proceeded quickly along the road, but they had not gone very far before they came upon a man standing by a car that was stationary close near a plantation of small trees. They all slowed down as they approached and then the man by the car called out, "Hullo! Inspector Bain. Stop, please. I want you." His face was very anxious. "Are you by any chance looking for the detective, Gilbert Larose?"

Explanations quickly followed, and then the man jumped back into his own car, with the inspector now taking a seat beside him.

"But it's lucky we met you, Hart," said the latter, as the car drove swiftly on. "This business looks very bad to me, with Mr. Larose now missing for nearly forty-eight hours."

They reached the gate leading on to Black Gallows and the ex-policeman of Hoxton gave his orders quickly as if he were now leader of the party.

"We must rush them," he said, "and go straight round to the far side of the farmhouse. That's the only direction in which they can break away, for it's quite possible they may have boards ready to throw across the narrow dykes. So all of us in the cars will go round to the front, but you"—he pointed to the plain-clothes men in the sidecar outfit—"stop directly you get near the outbuildings and cut off an escape from that way. I think there'll be six or seven to account for."

The cars went like the wind, and Naughton Jones' dilapidated-looking Goat, goaded on to fury by the pressure upon its accelerator, avalanched over the ground for all the world as if it were upon exhibition before an intending purchaser.

Fortune favored the raiders, for it so happened that Lamb and the man with the big scar across his forehead were at that very moment adjusting the carburetter of the Jehu, and with their heads close together under the bonnet, were roaring up the engine to get the adjustment correct. So they heard nothing of the rush of the oncoming cars until they were just upon them, and then, too astonished to make any attempt at escape, they were pounced upon by the Downham Market men.

"Handcuff them," roared Jones in a voice of thunder, "that's Lamb and the other one is at all events consorting with criminals."

Then with the two manacled at once and with no parley, Jones, the Inspector and Hart rushed round to the front door. They met Roy Fensum, coming out with another man close behind him. The two had evidently been partaking of morning lunch, for the latter was holding a slice of bread and butter in his hand.

Jones flourished a big revolver. "Hands up!" he shouted, "and no tricks," and then pointing to Fensum whose face had turned a ghastly yellow under its tan, he gasped excitedly, "But, who's that?"

"He's the owner of the farm," replied the Inspector, "Roy Fensum."

"No, no, he's not," shouted Jones exultingly, "and clap the darbies on him at once, for he's wanted, at all events, for breaking his ticket-of-leave." He laughed scornfully. "It's no good your trying to screw up your face, Joe, for it won't deceive me." He turned to the Inspector. "He's an old lag, sir, Joseph Minting Shaver, and in 1919 got fifteen years for burglary when carrying a revolver, but he was released some six years ago and has never reported since." He rubbed his hands together delightedly. "Yes, it was I who traced him to a house in Shoreditch and put the police on him. Didn't I, Joe?"

The man's face was in a muck sweat, and neither he nor his companion made any resistance.

"Now where have all you beauties got Lady Ardane and Sir Parry Bardell tucked away?" asked Jones sternly. He shook his fist in Fensum's face. "By heaven, if any harm's come to them you'll——"

But suddenly there came the sound of a swiftly approaching car, and looking round, they saw one drive up, almost stop, and then after a very white face had peered out through the window, turn almost in its own length and start to race off at a great pace back along the way it had just come.

"After him!" shrieked Naughton Jones. "He's Clive Huntington and one of the worst of the gang. He's wanted for the murder of Bernard Daller, the airman."

The plain-clothes men from the Yard jumped into their outfit and started off in pursuit.

"No chance!" wailed Jones despairingly. "It's going eighty, and they'll never catch it," and then his eye fell upon a rifle standing in the porch. He made a snatch for it, and his face became transfigured. "It's loaded," he gasped. He dropped upon one knee and his breath came in quick jerks. "I was a crack shot once."

Then with a supreme effort he calmed himself down. His muscles became taut, and then unstrained and under perfect control. In five seconds he was as steady as a rock. He looked down the sights and smiled a cold grim smile.

An intense moment followed. Then—bang went the rifle, bang and bang again. "Got him," he said calmly, "in one of the back tyres!"

Then a report almost as loud as the rifle reached them, and the swiftly racing car was seen to describe a dreadful curve. The wheels of one side rose up and for a few seconds hovered in the air. Then the car turned completely over and slid its own length along the ground in a dense cloud of smoke.

The side-car men raced up and were just in time to grab hold of Clive Huntington, who was climbing, badly shaken but unhurt, through one of the windows.

Naughton Jones wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "But I was runner-up for the King's Prize at Bisley once," he remarked carelessly to the astounded spectators, "and after this, if I could spare the time, I almost think I would be inclined to compete again." He nodded. "Yes, when Daller was murdered four days ago, his murderer was careless and left plenty of fingerprints behind him, but the authorities did not know whose they were, until I sent up a print of Huntington's, and then a warrant was issued for this gentleman at once."

In the meantime Larose and Lady Ardane, with quickly-beating hearts, had been aware that something very unusual was happening, but the detective, suspecting a ruse, had not ventured to look out of the window. Earlier in the morning he had cautiously lifted the little mirror off the dressing table and had held it just above the window sill in order to see if anyone were still on guard outside, and within ten seconds it had been smashed to atoms and the glass all scattered over the room. That experience had made him chary of taking further risks, and so they had just sat waiting patiently through all the roar of the cars that they had heard.

But when they heard the rifle shots at some distance from where they were, and the resounding bang of the bursting tyre, Larose became convinced that they must do something.

"I've got an idea," he said, with the cheerfulness that he had kept up all along. "We'll hang one of the sheets off your bed out of the window and they can bang away at that as much as they want to," and so in a few seconds the sheet had been swung over the window sill and was flapping as a signal of distress in the wind.

So almost immediately it came about that Hale, returning with Clive Huntington handcuffed in the side-car, caught sight of the sheet and, depositing his prisoner with the Downham Market officers, instantly rode over to see what it meant.

To his amazement, then, the machine almost ran over a man who was lying prone in the long grass before the stables. The man had got a rifle by his side, but he was so cowed by all that he had seen happening around him, that, although he refused to give any reason for his being there, he allowed himself to be marched off a prisoner to the farmhouse. Then Hale returned at once to where the sheet was hanging out.

"Hullo! hullo!" he shouted, "who's up there? Is that you, Mr. Larose?" and to his unbounded delight Larose put his head out of the window, and, too overcome to speak, waved his hand. Then the end of everything came very quickly, and in a few minutes Lady Ardane and Larose were seated at the table in the farmhouse, and surrounded by friendly and sympathetic faces, partaking of hot coffee and bread and butter.

But the food almost choked Lady Ardane. She wanted to be away by herself and weep oceans and oceans of tears, but she saw that Larose was suffering, too, and for his sake kept herself under control. Her mind was bruised and lacerated, and she thought that surely it would never be at peace again, but her heart was whispering a great secret to her, and if she wept, she knew it would not all be for grief.

Naughton Jones was in great form, and time after time congratulated the Downham Market inspector upon the captures that had been made. "A small thing, my services," he observed magnificently, "and all the credit may be yours. My reputation is well-known and I would wish that no undue stress be laid upon the information that I was able to give you." He raised his hand warningly. "But search every nook and cranny of this place and I shall be very much surprised if you do not obtain most clear and certain evidence of the illicit-drug traffic that I am positive has been carried on from here." A thought seemed suddenly to strike him. "But there is yet one man unaccounted for, and I would have dearly liked you to have got him." He turned sharply to Larose. "By-the-bye, have you seen anything of that fellow Prince? Prince is, of course, only his nickname. They call him that because of his dandified appearance." He spoke carelessly. "He is Clive Huntington's brother, Rupert."

Larose looked very astonished.

"Yes," he replied, lowering his voice and hoping that Lady Ardane should not hear, "I had a little argument with him yesterday in one of the sheds of the stable, where the hay loft is."

Naughton Jones glanced round at the company generally and smiled a slow, grim smile. "And if I know anything of Mr. Larose's little talks," he remarked loudly, "I think some of you had better take a stretcher or in preference a hurdle round to where the conversation took place."

To spare the feelings of Lady Ardane no one made any comment, and then, perhaps, the greatest surprise of the morning occurred.

A limousine and a big police motor van came roaring to a standstill outside. Senator Harvey and Theodore Rankin sprang from the limousine, a dozen burly men from the police van, and then, the party dividing, some spread themselves round the house and others came rushing up to the front door.

"Great Scot!" exclaimed the Downham Market inspector. "It's Superintendent Roberts, of Norwich, and a posse of his men."

The new-comers crowded into the kitchen, and the amazement upon the faces of the Senator and Theodore Rankin was laughable to behold.

With a cry of joy, Helen ran to her step-father, and big tears welled from the latter's eyes. "So, we're too late," he exclaimed, "and the caged birds are free." He looked round and asked quickly, "But where is Sir Parry?"

Larose laid his finger upon his lips and nodded in the direction of Lady Ardane. "There's a great deal to tell you, sir, but it can't be told all at once."

"But the gang, Inspector Bain?" exclaimed Superintendent Roberts, "Have you got them all?"

"Six of them, sir, in the back room," replied the inspector, looking across at Larose, "and the seventh, I think, is dead."

Naughton Jones at once stepped forward. "We regret to have forestalled you, Superintendent Roberts," he said calmly, "but you are just one hour too late. Inspector Bain, ahem!"—he coughed over so slightly—"acting upon information received, has rounded up the whole lot,"—his voice rose in grandiloquent tones—"not only the abductors of Lady Ardane and Sir Parry Bardell, but also, I am nearly certain, the heads of the Antwerp-Rotterdam illicit drug traffic gang." He frowned. "Only one thing is as yet achieved. We are not in possession of the child, and two of the wretches here who have been prevailed upon to speak, deny all knowledge of his whereabouts. They admit that he was taken, but aver he was removed from their custody almost at once, in a manner they have never been able to understand."

Lady Ardane instantly looked up, smiling through her tears. With all her gratitude to Naughton Jones, she did not like it that he had not mentioned Larose. "My child is all right," she said happily, and glancing round upon everyone. "They only held him for about ten minutes, and then Mr. Larose rescued him and placed him in a place of safety where he has been ever since. Charles has never been a mile away from the Abbey." Her voice choked a little. "Sir Parry's housekeeper has been looking after him."

Naughton Jones, although obviously discomfited, received the blow with great fortitude and good humor. "You young dog!" he exclaimed, playfully wagging his finger at Larose. "You are always trying to go one better than me"—he made a wry face—"and with all my experience, you sometimes manage to succeed."

"But how did you come here, father," asked Lady Ardane. "How did you know where I had been taken?"

"That matter, my dear, as our good friend, Mr. Jones, would say, is very simple. A letter addressed to Mr. Larose and marked very urgent, but which, however, under very dreadful circumstances, had been delayed, arrived last evening at the Abbey and"—he bowed apologetically to the detective—"I ventured to open it. It was from Bernard Daller." He spoke very solemnly. "He has since passed away, but this letter was written just before his death, and found afterwards among his effects. Very briefly, he wrote that on the morrow he was setting out upon a solo flight to South America, and he had a premonition that he would never return."

The Senator steadied his voice here, and then went on. "He wrote that, unhappily, about a year ago he had become mixed up with a criminal gang who were engaged in smuggling forbidden drugs into this country. In that association he had met Clive Huntington, and lately it had come to his almost certain knowledge that Huntington had had something to do with your disappearance." The Senator had to steady his voice again here. "So, with the great regard that he had for you, he was writing to Mr. Larose, informing him where the headquarters of the gang was situated, believing that here upon Methwold Fens you would be found." He patted his step-daughter's head affectionately. "You shall see the letter later on, my dear."

A solemn silence followed, the dreadful tension of which was, however, almost immediately relieved by a humorous happening, when Theodore Rankin was seen to advance with outstretched hand to Naughton Jones.

"I am delighted to meet you, Mr. Jones," he said heartily. "It is a pleasure that has been long deferred."

But Jones, refusing the proffered hand, regarded him with a rude stare. "The pleasure, sir, is all yours," he remarked in icy tones, "for I do not know who you are." He eyed him most suspiciously. "For one thing, I am of opinion that Rankin does not happen to be your real name."

"Certainly not," replied the smiling and in no way abashed American. "I'm Mark Rattle, of Gunning's Detective Agency, New York City, and I was specially summoned over by the Senator to assist in this case. Only he and Sir Parry knew who I was until Mr. Larose here," he smiled at the detective, "wanted to search my belongings, and then we had to take her ladyship into our confidence, because I was in possession of some handcuffs and a few other things that it would not have been wise to allow everyone to see."

Jones' face was that of a man prostrated by a most stupendous surprise.

"Mark Rattle!" he ejaculated hoarsely, "the only man that in your great country I acknowledge to be my master! Why, of course, it was your face that I remembered seeing in the newspapers, when you broke up the Bud Reily gang! You killed Bud yourself by gunning him from the hip!" He reached out and gripped the American's hand as if he would never let it go. "My dear sir, this is one of the proudest moments of my life."

A few minutes later two cars had left Black Gallows and were making for Carmel Abbey. Lady Ardane, the Senator and Larose were in the first one, and in the second were Naughton Jones, the American detective and Jones' two faithful henchmen.

Hardly a word was spoken in the first car during the whole of the fifty odd mile journey, except when, at Swaffham, Larose alighted at the Post Office to send off a wire to Sir Arnold Medway.

Reaching the Abbey, there was a joyful reunion between Lady Ardane and her son, and then Sir Arnold bent gravely over her hand and kissed it, without, however, saying a word. Early afternoon tea was served in the lounge, and Polkinghorne was so overcome with emotion that he had to retire and was seen no more.

Then they all went up to their rooms to rest, Larose being now relegated to one in another wing, and as far away as possible, he thought, from that of Lady Ardane.

They met again at dinner, an early one, because Sir Arnold was returning to London that night and taking Larose with him. Lady Ardane had made no comment when the detective had announced that he was leaving so soon.

Everyone at the meal was quiet and subdued, but it was carried through with its usual ceremony, with Polkinghorne, as commanding and important as ever, and the noiseless, soft-footed footmen and the pretty waiting maids. Lady Ardane was seated once more at the head of the table and was again the queenly chatelaine of the Abbey, a little sad, perhaps, but with a gracious smile for all her guests.

Many times, with a pang, Larose thought how beautiful she looked, and many times, too, with a horrible feeling of trepidation, how he had dared once to kiss her upon the lips. But she spoke very nicely whenever she addressed him and evidently intended all there to see that she regarded him as one of the most honored of her guests.

After dinner, as they were smoking a farewell cigarette in the lounge, Senator Harvey beckoned Larose into the library, and with the door closed behind them, shook him warmly by the hand.

"We cannot be too grateful to you, my boy," he said, "for, although Naughton Jones actually brought the rescue party, still you, by your arriving the previous night, saved my step daughter from"—he threw out his hands—"well, I really don't know what. She tells me that madman was actually threatening her just before you came and every moment she was afraid that she was going to swoon away and be unable to defend herself." He laughed bitterly. "But just fancy us being so sucked in about Sir Parry! Why I actually took him into my confidence and told him who Rattle was so that we could borrow the key of the cloister door that night and get Rattle into the grounds." He shook his head angrily. "He was a real devil, that man!" He took a cheque-book from his pocket and his face broke into an exultant smile. "But now for something much more pleasant to talk about." He dropped his voice into a stage-whisper. "I don't mind telling you that during the last week I've made a pot of money over wheat, and so, on behalf of Lady Ardane, I am now going to present you with a substantial cheque."

"Did Lady Ardane suggest it?" asked Larose with a horrible sinking at his heart.

"Certainly not!" came the quick reply. "She has far too much regard for you to dare mention it." He nodded smilingly. "But you and I are men of the world and so, what about a couple of thousand pounds?"

But Larose refused absolutely, and after much argument, and with great reluctance, the Senator put back the cheque-book into his pocket.

The parting with Lady Ardane was very brief. "Thank you so much, Mr. Larose," she said quietly. "You know I can never be grateful enough." Then with a slightly heightened color, she whispered quickly, "I shall be writing to you in a day or two."

During the drive London-wards Larose proceeded to tell Sir Arnold much more about Sir Parry than he had hitherto told anyone. "But Lady Ardane must never know," he concluded, "for it would be a terrible memory to her if she ever learnt everything."

Sir Arnold smiled. "But if you ask me," he remarked dryly, "I think there is nothing she does not know, for that Kate Dilling spent an hour with her this afternoon, and from what the Senator has just informed me, I think the woman told her everything. For certain, Mrs. Dilling told her how she had learnt about the proposed kidnapping from Sir Parry's habit of talking to himself, and in consequence had sent those two warning letters. Then she told her of the attempt to poison you with a dessert spoonful of Barbitone, and how she had substituted bicarbonate of soda instead. Finally, she said how, night after night, the wretched man had gone into the Abbey through that cloister door and spied through the ventilators." He swore softly. "His ending was much too merciful a one."

A long silence followed and then he asked curiously, "But how did he come to stand before that window and court certain death?"

"I suggested it," replied Larose. "In fact, I goaded him on to do it."

"Exactly!" nodded the great surgeon. "The moment I heard about it, I thought it seemed like your work." He turned and regarded Larose very solemnly. "If both your positions were equal, young man, and I were Lady Ardane's father, I would do all in my power to make you her husband for that." He nodded again. "You probably saved her honor, my friend."

Just a week later Larose received the promised letter from Lady Ardane.

"Dear Mr. Larose," he read, "you can render me yet another service, if you will. Now, can you get away for a week and perhaps longer, and meet me the day after to-morrow in Norwich, at ten minutes to six in the lounge of the Royal Hotel, just as we met before? If any objection be raised to your coming, please telephone me directly you get this. I have some influence in the Home Office, and think that in any case I can arrange for it. With my kindest regards to you, Sincerely yours, Helen Ardane. P.S.—Don't book a room at the hotel, for you will be staying at the Abbey."

"Of course I'll go," sighed Larose, "although I'm a fool to do so." He intoned mockingly. "I publish the banns of marriage between a policeman—and Helen Ardane." He sighed again. "No, not this side of Jordan."

The following evening then, at ten minutes to six, he walked into the lounge of the Royal Hotel and saw Lady Ardane seated where she had been seated once before. She rose as he approached and shook hands with a charming smile. She looked very well and showed no signs now of the dreadful times she had been through.

"I'm your hostess to-night," she said as the dinner gong sounded, "and as it is nearly my birthday and I shall be twenty-eight, we'll have a bottle of champagne as we had before. I've booked the same table and we shall be able to talk in peace."

Larose felt very mystified. She looked as amused as a child who had some great surprise in store.

She was very bright and chatty during the meal and told him of all the little happenings at the Abbey. How Polkinghorne's kittens were getting on all right, how she had taken young Hollins permanently into her service, and how the Senator and all the other visitors had gone away. "So, I am now quite alone with my aunt," she said, "and the peace and quiet are very soothing"—a shadow flitted across her face—"after all the adventures we went through."

But she made no mention at all of why she had asked him to meet her, and so Larose, at length dismissing the whole matter from his mind, set himself to enjoy her company, and association with one of the most lovely women, he thought, he had ever seen.

He never wanted to take his eyes off her, and drank in her beauty thirstily. The finely-cut aristocratic profile, the most perfect complexion, the lovely deep blue eyes, the mouth like a cupid's bow—he blushed violently here—and the crowning glory of her angel-colored hair! She seemed so happy, too, and as if she had not a single care in all the world.

The coffee upon the table, however, and the waiter moving away, her whole demeanor altered in the passing of a second, as his had once done, when, those few short weeks ago, he had started to question her. But she was not stern and uncompromising as he had been, on the contrary she had become all at once nervous, and was now blushing furiously.

Larose saw her embarrassment and tried to help her out. "Well, now we are alone," he said gently, "in what way can I help you?"

She hesitated for a moment as if to choose her words very carefully, and then, having apparently recovered from her nervousness, said quickly, "I have I proposition to put before you, Mr. Larose, and as we are neither of us children, and unless I am very mistaken, have both had the matter in our minds for a little time, we can decide without any delay." She dropped her business-like tone all at once, and giving him an arch look, asked smilingly, "You like me, don't you?"

"Of course I do," he replied, with his heart beginning to beat very quickly. "Everybody does."

"You kissed me upon the lips once," she went on musingly. "Didn't you?"

Larose felt horribly uncomfortable. "But it was a very wrong thing to do," he said sharply, "and I have regretted it ever since."

"I haven't," she replied calmly, "for it comforted me quite a lot at the time, and you might have given me fifty or a hundred then and I shouldn't have minded." She shuddered. "Oh! I should have gone mad that dreadful night if you hadn't been there to protect me." She laughed a little tremulously. "Do you remember how I sat near you in the darkness, with only a blanket between us? And then, how I went to sleep leaning up against you"—she nodded—"but I wasn't asleep all the time, although you may have thought so." She heaved a big sigh, and regarding him intently, went on very quietly, "So, as you say you like me, if you were rich as I am and our social lives were just the same, tell me, do you think you would be asking me to marry you?"

Her meaning was so unmistakable that Larose felt his knees knocking together under the table. "A million, times, yes!" he exclaimed hoarsely. "I wouldn't wait a second!"

She laughed as if it were a good joke. "Then forget you've not got all the riches in the world and ask me and see what I'll say." She puckered up her brows prettily. "Didn't Mr. Jones tell me that you were a very brave man?"

"But I'm a policeman!" gasped Larose.

"And a gentleman," she bowed, "and one to whom any woman might entrust the keeping of her happiness. You are kind, a man of honor, and I have a great respect for you." She went on quite calmly. "Our differing social positions need have no bearing upon the future of our lives, for, every time, it is the man and the woman who count and never their possessions or the forbears from whom they have sprung." She raised one beautiful white hand before her. "Listen to what I am going to tell you. I have just found out that I am a very lonely woman and missing quite a lot of the happiness of life. I am growing old, Mr. Larose. The years are slipping by me, and soon, very soon, I shall be without many of the attractions that now are mine. Women of my type lose their beauty long before they are forty. They grow stout, they become wrinkled and their skin coarsens. My mother is like that."

"But you will be always beautiful with those eyes of yours," protested Larose.

She shook her head and went on. "Well, I have just realised that I want something that I am sure every woman, in her heart of hearts, must always want. I want to love as well as be loved, and I long for those moments that I know most other women have, before I am too old for anyone to want to give them to me." She spoke very sadly. "I'll be quite frank with you. I was married before I was nineteen to a man of fifty-two and I honored and respected him, and in course of time bore him a child. But I never wanted him to kiss me, and when he held me in his arms, although I was always submissive—I was always cold. I thought I was a woman who could never give back love in return." She blushed furiously. "Then when you held me in your arms that night, and later, when you kissed me, a different world opened all at once for me, and I began to think that I had all along been imagining myself to be"—she bit her lip to repress her emotion—"so——"

And all this time Larose, had been realising with a sickening feeling at his heart what this confession must be costing her.

The shame of this so frank appeal to him to take her, and the dreadful humbling of her pride that she might make a golden bridge for him to pass over! The disclosing of her secret thoughts and the lifting of that veil that most women during all their lives lift never, even for those whom they love most! And the glorious and sublime courage of it all.

"Then will you marry me, Helen!" he interrupted quickly, and determined at all costs to spare her any further explanations. His voice shook in its emotion. "I've loved you, I think, from the first moment that I saw you."

She dropped her eyes. "Yes, Gilbert," she replied, with a great shyness now. "I will if you really want me to."

"When?" he asked, and he could not have added another word, even if his very life had depended upon it.

She flashed him a quick look and then her voice steadied all at once. "Tomorrow, here in the Cathedral, by special license. I know the bishop, and he'll marry us." Her bosom was rising and falling quickly. "I want to get it all settled, before any of my friends know anything about it, and then"—a tear trickled down her check—"we'll make a little world of happiness, all of our own." She shook her head. "I'm sick to death of the hollow, empty life that I see now I have been leading, and if every social tie is broken, it will be nothing to me." She averted his eyes. "We'll spend our honeymoon, if you like, at the Abbey, at my home"—her eyes were like wet violets—"and yours."

Larose felt like a man in a trance, the ecstasy and the happiness of it all for the moment depriving him of all power of speech. His head was in a whirl and he gave no thought to anything except that this peerless woman before him was going to become his wife.

But Lady Ardane was quite herself again, queenly, stately, and very practical. "Come, Gilbert," she said, rising from her chair, "we'll go home now and tell my aunt." She looked supremely happy. "To-night, you'll be my guest, and to-morrow, my husband," she made a pretty little grimace—"and if I know anything about you, my master, too."

They passed into the lounge, and she then turned and asked. "Should we stay for a cigarette?"

"Certainly!" replied Larose. "No," he added quickly, and he smiled to himself, "we'll go off straightaway."

They went round to the garage and were soon seated in her beautiful limousine, Larose, as a matter of course, taking the wheel. Then without a word, for their hearts were much too full for speech, they drove away in silence.

Presently, when they had gone for about two miles and were well clear of the city, Larose suddenly swerved the car into the narrow opening of a little unlighted lane.

"But we keep straight on," called out Lady Ardane.

"No, we don't," replied Larose, with a laugh. "For once, my lady, we're going to take the wrong turning."

He ran the car for only about a hundred yards, and then drove it on to the side of the road and brought it to a standstill. He switched off the headlights, leaving only the parking and rear ones on.

Then he turned to his now trembling companion. "I'm just going to make your mind quite easy, you pretty creature," he said with a thrill of delicious expectation in his tones, "that I'm not marrying a thing of ice," and with one hand he drew her to him, and with the other he pulled down the blind.

Part of his dream was at all events coming true!

* * *

It was a glorious evening in the days of early June, the following year, and Larose met his wife, just inside the Abbey grounds, as he was returning from a walk into the village.

They greeted each other affectionately, and then he said with a frown, "But ought you to have come so far, sweetheart! Remember, you are not to over-fatigue yourself."

"But I'm not at all tired," she replied, "and I had to bring you some news." Her eyes sparkled. "Sir John Tullock has just rung up to say that you have been made a Justice of the Peace."

"Splendid!" he laughed, "and I'll be able to let all the offenders off, or pay their fines for them. Our good friend, Jones, always says that I'm half a criminal, myself."

She put an arm through his and smiled happily. "You're going to get on, dear, now," she said, "and one day I'm sure you'll be Sir Gilbert Larose." She went on, "But come among these trees for a minute. I want to see if I can revive a memory." Then when close to the fence and hidden from all sight of the Abbey, she pointed to a big oak tree with gnarled and far-reaching branches. "It was here, Gilbert," she said with a pretty blush, "that you first held me in your arms. Do you remember?"

Larose nodded solemnly, and kissing her tenderly, lifted her up and looked fondly into her eyes.

"So history repeats itself," she laughed.

"And I hope it will go on doing so," he laughed back, as he lowered her gently to the ground, "for I want, at least, a boy and a girl."


THE END

This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia