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

Title: The Hidden Door
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1201861.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2012
Date most recently updated: May 2012

Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

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

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

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

Title: The Hidden Door
Author: Arthur Gask

====================================

WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT

During a few short weeks, four persons residing in adjoining towns and
villages upon the coast of Suffolk had mysteriously disappeared from
their homes, leaving no traces behind them. The local authorities were
disinclined to move in the matter, but Scotland Yard was doubtful if all
these disappearances could be merely coincidences, and despatched
Gilbert Larose to determine if the country-side were not choking under
the grip of an unknown and bloody assassin.

Another thrilling adventure of the great international detective.

=====================================

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE JUDGMENT OF LAROSE--7s. 6d. net.
GENTLEMEN OF CRIME--3s. 6d. net.
THE HOUSE ON THE ISLAND--3s. 6d. net.
DARK HIGHWAY--2s. 0d. net.
CLOUD THE SMITER--2s. 0d. net.
THE SECRET OF THE SANDHILLS--2s. 0d. net.
THE SECRET OF THE GARDEN--2s. 0d. net.

======================================

THE HIDDEN DOOR
BY
ARTHUR GASK

HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED 3 YORK STREET, ST. JAMES'S LONDON S.W.I.

First printing 1934

MADE AND PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY PURNELL AND SONS PAULTON (SOMERSET)
AND LONDON

=======================================

Serialized in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. 14 August, 1934.
Serialized in The Courier Mail, Brisbane, Qld. 27 August, 1934.
Serialized in The Daily News, Perth, W.A. 9 February, 1935.
Serialized in the Advocate, Burnie, Tas. December, 1938.

=======================================


CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I.--BIRDS OF PREY
II.--THE LORD OF THRALLDOM
III.--THE TASK OF LAROSE
IV.--THE SECRET OF THE MARSH
V.--THE HALESWORTH BUTCHER
VI.--THE TRAIL OF BLOOD
VII.--LAROSE AT THRALLDOM CASTLE
VIII.--THE SECRET DOOR
IX.--THE MYSTERY OF THE MOAT
X.--THE MORNING AFTER
XI.--THE VAULTS OF THRALLDOM CASTLE
XII.--THE SUSPICIONS OF WILLIAM
XIII.--AT NIGHT IN THE CHAPEL
XIV.--THE DREADFUL VIGIL
XV.--THE RAID UPON THE CASTLE
XVI.--THE MAJESTY OF DEATH
XVII.--THE MASTER MINDS
XVIII.--LAROSE PREPARES TO STRIKE
XIX.--THE TOLLING OF THE BELL


*



CHAPTER I.--BIRDS OF PREY


Grim and grey was Thralldom Castle. Eight hundred years and more its
mighty walls had reared their heights to Heaven, scorched by the suns,
buffeted by the tempests and fretted by the lashing rains.

Old, old was its story and many were the dark and sinister secrets that
it held. Its dungeons had echoed to the groans of the dying and its
vaults had witnessed many a hurried burial of the dead. All down the
ages the tides of battle had beaten round it, cruel and devouring as the
storm driven tides of the sea. Its great stones had been hewn and
fashioned in the days of the lance, the battleaxe, and the arrow, and
the turmoil and din of battle had been its cradle song and the anthem of
its later years.

Generation upon generation of the fierce lords of Thralldom had been
born there, and always the lust of strife and conflict had flowed
strongly in their veins. Often, in the heyday of Merrie England they had
fought for their kings, and often, again, they had fought against them,
but always, the shadow of their might had loomed dark and chilling upon
the country-side.

And now the last of the Thralldoms lived there, Roger, 27th lord of
Thralldom, a frail, worn, and childless old man.

Grim and grey was Thralldom Castle.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The well-dressed man spoke irritably, and with a frown upon his
handsome, but rather dissipated-looking face.

"The telephone wires are all laid underground, there are burglar alarms
to every door and window, and there is a bell in the belfry of the east
tower that can be heard five miles away. There are four men-servants and
at night they are all armed. The great door of the castle is locked and
barred at ten and opened for no one after then. There is a strong steel
grille cutting off the hall and, at the entrance to the picture gallery
there is an even stronger one." He nodded emphatically. "I tell you the
whole place is guarded like a prison and"--he flicked the ashes from his
cigarette--"there are paintings there worth a hundred thousand pounds."

Four men were seated in a long oak-panelled room of an old house that
stood close beside the sea-shore upon a lonely stretch of the Suffolk
coast. It was late afternoon, the light was waning and the moan of the
sea mingled with their low voices. From the windows, it could be seen
that the sky was overcast with heavy clouds. A storm was working up from
over the sea.

"And you can suggest then no way at all in which we can get in,
Captain?" asked a tall, shrewd-looking man, with a small Vandyke beard,
speaking with a slight American twang. He added sharply: "Surely, after
all this time and with all the opportunities you have had, you must have
formed some ideas."

"No satisfactory ones, Hudson," was the reply. "The place seems
absolutely fool-proof to me."

"But with you staying right in the castle," went on the American,
obviously in some annoyance, "could you not arrange for some door or
window to be left unsecured one night?"

"Impossible," replied Captain Bonnett, "for directly it is dark, two of
the men go round and bolt and lock every door and set the alarms, and as
often as not, Lord Thralldom goes with them to see that it is properly
done. He's a tottering old man, but he's fierce, and rules the castle
with a rod of iron. As for the windows, they are barred outside with
thick steel bars, and if you lift any of the sashes at night, the alarm
rings instantly in the hall." He shook his head frowningly. "Besides,
the only way in which you can approach the castle at all is through the
big spiked doors on the drawbridge and they are locked at ten and an
alarm switched on that would wake the dead."

"But we could avoid the drawbridge altogether," said Hudson, "by getting
over across the moat."

"Ten feet deep," commented the captain dryly, "and a barbed wire fence
on both banks." He shook his head again. "No, old Thralldom has thought
of everything and we have a hard nut to crack."

"But I am certain, Captain Bonnett," said a third man with a high
forehead, and the long and oval face of an artist, "that this secret
passage under the moat exists. As I have told you, it is referred to
most definitely three times in those 'Chronicles of East Anglia,' and
the writer, from his perfectly confident tone, evidently knew what he
was writing about."

The captain sighed. "But what good is that to us, Fenner," he replied,
"if we don't know where the passage is?" He raised his voice a little.
"But, mind you, I agree that the passage exists and I am certain
Thralldom knows about it, too, for I brought up the matter casually at
dinner last night, and he denied all knowledge of it in a way that made
me suspicious at once. He seemed most annoyed that I had mentioned it,
and pressed me as to where I had got the idea. But I just told him all
old castles were supposed to have secret passages and tried to pass it
off at that. Still, he was annoyed, as I say, and showed his annoyance
plainly."

"Of course he'd know all about it," exclaimed Hudson testily. "It's not
likely that a man whose ancestors have been at Thralldom Castle for all
these hundreds of years would not know everything about his own place."
He snapped his fingers disdainfully. "But he's not going to shout about
it to all the world, especially now he's got that Rubens there."

"Well, anyhow we ought to be making more efforts than we are to find
it," said Fenner warmly, "for its discovery would solve our greatest
difficulty at once." He raised one long slim forefinger solemnly.
"Remember, the information I have obtained about it is exclusive, for it
must have been more than 300 years since anyone had touched that
manuscript until I chanced upon it among the archives in the Cathedral
Library at Norwich. As I have told you, it was dated 1586, and the
writing was so faded that I could hardly read it." He looked round
challengingly at the others. "I risked my whole career in taking it, and
I say we ought to concentrate upon finding the opening to that passage."

The captain shook his head. "But it is not practical, Fenner, for if you
went searching anywhere in the castle grounds you'd be seen and it would
be reported to Lord Thralldom at once."

"But I've been searching at night," replied Fenner quickly, "and these
last three nights I have located several likely spots and one
particularly--the ruins of the Priory, for it was built about the same
time as the castle and, although it is at least 300 yards away, still,
the lie of the land would favour a passage there. I can only search,
however, when there's a moon, for its dangerous crossing over the
marshes in the dark."

Silas Hudson looked contemptuous. "Well, I don't think much of your
secret passage and I never did." He turned sharply to the captain. "Have
you made any attempt to look for it inside the castle?"

The captain seemed greatly amused. "Made any attempt!" he laughed.
"Why,--although I've been his guest there for nearly three weeks now,
and although he has known me since I was a boy and my father before me
for nearly all his life--he would trust me little more than he would a
perfect stranger and the walled-up part of the castle is barred to me,
as to everyone else." His voice hardened in emphasis. "I tell you, now
he's bought that Rubens, the safety of his paintings has become an
obsession with him, a perfect mania, and since his friend, the Earl of
Blair, lost those two Hogarths, night and day he is terrified that
Thralldom Castle is going to be raided. He is crazed about it, and I
hear him asking the servants a dozen times a day if they have noticed
any suspicious strangers about." He shrugged his shoulders. "As to
exploring any of the underground parts on my own--why, he's had a big
iron door fitted at the top of the stairs leading to the dungeons and
it's always kept locked."

A fourth man spoke gruffly. "Well, if a door can be locked, it can be
unlocked, and I'd like to see the one that would trouble me for long."

The last speaker was quite different in appearance from any of the three
men who had already spoken. He was obviously of the superior artisan
class and dark and swarthy of complexion, and short and thick in
stature, there was nothing attractive about him. His expression was a
quarrelsome one, and he was now regarding his companions from scowling
eyes under big and bushy eyebrows.

"All right, Kelly," said the captain in a careless, offhanded way, "we
don't doubt that, of course, and if we could only put you alongside any
door, I am sure that part of the business would be easy." He turned back
to the others. "But I admit I'm quite at a dead-end now, and unless
chance comes to our aid, I have little hope of our getting at any of
those paintings." He added impatiently. "I've been there nearly three
weeks already, and I can't stretch out the copying of that Turner for
ever. If I hadn't been pretty competent with my brush, he'd have been
suspicious of me long before now, but I'm really surprised at the
colours I've managed to put in."

"Those burglar alarms could be knocked out of action, quick and lively,"
said Kelly, "and once in the castle, I'd soon make short work of them."
He regarded the captain resentfully. "Surely they must go to sleep there
sometime. They can't be keeping awake all night."

"That's true enough, Kelly," replied the captain, "but how to get you
all into the castle when they are taking that sleep, and arrange for you
to work undisturbed, is the difficulty."

"You may think the castle fool-proof," went on Kelly brusquely, "but if
I could get a squint inside, I reckon I could soon find a weak place
somewhere."

"Yes, that's it," exclaimed Hudson, quickly, "and that's been our
mistake. Kelly's the practical man when it comes to breaking in
anywhere, and he ought to have been given a chance to look round."

"Quite so, Hudson," commented the captain dryly, "and it's so simple
that I only wonder we did not think of it before." He smiled
sarcastically. "We might drop his lordship a line--'Mr. Kelly presents
his compliments and would like to look over the castle, with a view to
effecting a forcible entry later on. If his lordship has no objection,
Mr. Kelly will leave his bag of tools, ready to hand, just outside the
premises.'"

"You're funny," snarled Kelly, "but it's not funny business we want, and
as for those armed men-servants, I'm not worrying about them. I met one
of the footmen in the bar of the Westleton pub last week, and, although
he's a big lout of a chap, there wouldn't be much fight in him,
besides"--and he looked more unattractive than ever--"two could play at
that game, couldn't they?"

"But no violence, Kelly," exclaimed the American quickly. "I would never
countenance that. We want a peaceful acquisition of those paintings, and
we must come and go in complete secrecy. No one must see or hear us, and
we must leave no trails behind."

"That's all very well," growled Kelly, "but how are we going to do it?"
He laughed coarsely. "As for violence--you were pretty ready with your
knuckle-duster, weren't you, that afternoon in the Jew's shop in
Houndsditch? I remember you----"

"That'll do," interrupted Hudson hastily. "Our hands were forced then,
and we had to make a quick getaway at any cost." He shook his head and
looked very stern. "But Thralldom is not Houndsditch, Kelly, and those
methods won't do here."

Kelly scoffed contemptuously and then directed his black looks again
upon the captain. "And you told us it was going to be an easy job
directly you got into the castle," he said sourly, "and the boss put up
the money and rigged you up to go visiting your flash friends, and now
after all these weeks,"--he sneered--"you come here and tell us the
time's been wasted and there's nothing doing."

The captain reddened angrily. "Well, you don't want to be told a pack of
lies do you? I'm doing my part and shirking nothing." He thumped his
fist upon the table. "I'm up to the neck in this as deep as any of you,
and if the thing's going to be done at all, I'll see it's going to be
done properly, and we'll attempt nothing unless there's a reasonable
chance of success." He dropped his voice suddenly to a cold contemptuous
tone. "You can't barge into Thralldom Castle, Mr. Kelly, like a bull
crashing through a gate. It needs thought and preparation and a certain
amount of intelligence as well." He spoke most politely. "So we'll
decide what is best to be done, Mr. Kelly, and then when the purely
mechanical part is required"--he bowed--"your services will be most
handy, I am sure."

Kelly looked as black as thunder and was obviously about to make some
furious retort when the American broke in quickly.

"All right, all right," he said, "we'll take it you are doing your best,
but all the same, it's annoying with expenses mounting up every day and
nothing to show for them." He turned the subject abruptly. "Why didn't
Lord Thralldom answer Fenner's letter?"

"He never will let people in to view his paintings," replied Captain
Bonnett, "and it's his craze now to keep everyone away from the castle."

"But Fenner wrote he was the curator of the Norwich Art Gallery," went
on Hudson, "and that should have been a passport anywhere." He pursed up
his lips as if he were very puzzled. "Fenner wrote a most courteous
letter."

"Too courteous," laughed the captain, "and so he just threw it in the
waste-paper basket in consequence." He nodded his head. "Now, if Fenner
had written and called him a selfish old fool for keeping his paintings
to himself, he'd have probably taken some notice of the letter and sent
an angry reply. He's a fiery old fellow, his lordship."

The American whistled. "Oh! he's like that, is he? Well, I'll write and
call him one," he exclaimed. "I'll string him on into starting a
correspondence and then perhaps I may get a look into the castle that
way." His voice rose excitedly. "Yes, I know what I'll do. I'll write
and tell him that his precious Rubens is not genuine. I'll write and say
it's only an early Van Dyck." He rubbed his hands together. "That'll
rattle him. He's sure to have heard of me as a dealer of some standing,
and if I give that as my considered opinion, he's bound to take notice."
He beamed round at the others. "I know these crazy collectors, and if
you can only manage them properly, you can draw them every time. What do
you say. Captain?"

The captain looked thoughtful. "Not at all a bad idea," he said after a
moment. "You write like that and when he gets your letter I'll boost you
up and say you're the biggest noise in the picture world over in New
York. I'll tell him----" He stopped suddenly and eyed the American
intently. "But if he's heard of you, he may have heard some queer
things, Hudson. You've been in the newspapers a few times, remember, and
although no one's been successful in their actions against you, still
there've been some nasty remarks published about you."

"And I could have sued those who made them, if I'd wanted to," replied
Hudson quickly, "but it wasn't worth my while."

"No-o," agreed the captain slowly, "it wasn't worth your while, was it."

"But where do I come in?" asked Kelly, frowningly, of the American.
"Your getting into the castle will be no more good to us than the
captain, here."

"Oh! won't it?" exclaimed Hudson gleefully. "You just see. If old
Thralldom says I can inspect his Rubens, then I'll take you in with me
as my servant as a matter of course. I'll make out I'm crippled with
rheumatism and can't walk without your help." He turned to the captain.
"What do you say to that, Bonnett?"

Captain Bonnett nodded. "If you can screw Thralldom up to the point of
agreeing to let you into his gallery, I don't suppose he'd mind Kelly
coming too." He laughed spitefully. "But Kelly'll have to cultivate a
slightly more agreeable look, or the whole business may fall through
directly he sees him."

Kelly made no comment and contented himself with regarding the speaker
contemptuously.

The captain went on. "And another thing strikes me. If ever we are
successful at getting at those paintings, we shall have to be devilish
careful afterwards." He spoke impressively. "None of you here can bolt
away at once."

"We never intended doing so," replied Hudson smiling. "We shall just
hide the canvases and remain on here as simple holiday-makers until
things have blown over."

He laughed. "We've thought of somewhere to hide them, where no one would
look in a thousand years."

"Well, that's all right," said the captain, "because apart from Fenner
being a known authority in the Art world and you a dealer in
pictures,"--he grinned--"friend Kelly's got a sort of reputation as
being an artist in his profession, too, and the police would be
interested in him at once."

"There's never been any conviction recorded against me," exclaimed Kelly
quickly; "the police have nothing on me."

"That may be," commented the captain dryly, "but don't you forget,
Kelly, you've been up for trial, and the old judge said then you were
devilishly lucky to have been given the benefit of the doubt, also----"

"Well, well," interrupted the American, anxious to prevent any
quarrelling, "there's no need to go into that. We've got plenty of other
things to think about, and we must find a way of getting that Rubens.
After all this trouble we're not going to be beaten by a dodderry old
man."

"Oh! but he's not dodderry," said Captain Bonnett quickly, "and don't
you go imagining it for a moment. The old boy's seventy-live, and weak
and shaky in his legs, but in his mind he's as keen and alert as he ever
was and, except in the matter of his paintings, he's a shrewd and
capable old man."

"Well, I'll write that letter to him anyhow," commented Hudson, "and
pitch it in hot and strong and we'll see what'll happen then." He
stretched out his hand. "Now, pass over that plan you've made and it'll
be hard luck if it doesn't come in useful some time."




CHAPTER II.--THE LORD OF THRALLDOM


It was breakfast time at Thralldom Castle and four persons were seated
at one end of a long table, in a very large room that at one time had
formed part of the old banqueting hall.

The room was replete with every comfort and furnished in a modern
fashion with a rich, thick carpet covering the huge floor.

The meal was proceeding with its usual ceremony, and three men servants
were in attendance, a butler and two footmen, with the latter attired in
the Thralldom livery of gold and green.

The owner of the castle was seated at the head of the table, and
notwithstanding his general appearance of weakness and ill-health, his
sunken cheeks and pallor of complexion, he looked every inch a great
lord of Thralldom.

Tall and gaunt and of tremendous frame, it was evident that at one time
he had been of great strength, and if now his body were yielding to the
infirmities of age, there were yet all signs that the spirit in him was
still unquenched.

His whole mien was one of authority. He held his head in the commanding
poise of a man who was accustomed to be obeyed. The lines of his face
were set and stern, and his big, fierce eyes glared out of their bony
sockets with the same fire with which his ancestors had glared over the
battlefields of Agincourt and Crecy.

That he was not in a particularly good humour that morning was evidenced
by the silence of the others participating in the meal.

Lady Deering, his niece by marriage, made no attempt to start any
conversation; her step-daughter, Ann Devenham, was pensive and
thoughtful and his guest Marmaduke Bonnett, looked bored and as if he
would be glad when the meal were over.

Presently Lord Thralldom spoke, and his voice was deep and vibrant and
very different from what might have been expected from his frail
appearance.

"And are you sure, Bevan," he asked frowningly of the butler, "that
Rawlings had not arrived before I sat down?"

"Quite sure, my lord," replied the butler with great deference.

"But I ordered him to be here at a quarter to nine," went on Lord
Thralldom, looking round impressively at the others, "and it's a nice
thing when my bailiff does not condescend to obey my orders."

"But he's generally most punctual, Uncle," remarked Lady Deering,
meekly, "and I never remember him being unpunctual before." She was a
pretty but rather faded-looking woman in the middle forties and
evidently stood in great awe of her lordly relation.

"Well, he's not punctual this morning," boomed Lord Thralldom, "and I
shall have something to say about it when he arrives." His voice
hardened. "Ring up at once, Bevan, and ascertain why he's late." He
turned to his grand-niece and eyed her sternly. "You look tired this
morning, Ann. Didn't you sleep well, last night?"

Ann Devenham had just turned twenty-one, and a charmingly pretty girl,
she showed all signs of her aristocratic ancestry. She was slightly
built but of a beautifully proportioned figure. Her features were finely
chiselled and she had large, very dark, blue eyes. Ordinarily of a
bright disposition, just now she looked quiet and rather sad.

"Yes, thank you, Uncle," she replied in a melodious voice. "I slept
quite well."

"But you look tired," went on Lord Thralldom. "I expect you had too many
late nights last week at Saxmundham."

"But I didn't," replied the girl quickly. "The vicar would only allow me
to go out twice." She smiled. "He said he had strict orders from you."

Lord Thralldom eyed her solemnly. "But your sleep was broken last
night," he said. "You heard noises and were disturbed by the hooting of
the owls."

"No, I was not," replied the girl. "I heard no noises at all and slept
quite well, I tell you."

Lord Thralldom turned to one of the footmen. "You heard noises, you say,
William? You heard the hooting of an owl?"

The footman addressed inclined his head in assent. "Several times, my
lord," he replied. "It kept me awake."

Lord Thralldom frowned uneasily. "I don't like it," he remarked. "It was
very disquieting. I heard it many times."

"But what's wrong in that, sir?" asked Captain Bonnett, looking very
puzzled. "There are plenty of owls about here, and night is their time
to hoot."

Lord Thralldom shook his head ominously. "But it wasn't an owl that
hooted. It was a man."

Captain Bonnett put down the cup he was in the act of raising to his
lips. "Good gracious!" he exclaimed, "but what was he hooting for?"

"That's what we want to know," replied his lordship sternly. "It was a
signal of some sort. The castle is being watched." He turned to the
footman whom he had addressed before. "It didn't sound like an owl, did
it, William?"

"No, my lord," replied the footman instantly. "It didn't sound like
one."

"It was someone trying to imitate an owl, wasn't it?" went on Lord
Thralldom, and when William had at once acquiesced, he turned to the
other footman. "And you heard it, too, didn't you, James?"

"Quite plainly, my lord," was the reply. "Several times."

His lordship looked satisfied. "Well, you always have your automatics
ready, both of you?" he asked.

"Yes, my lord," instantly replied the two footmen together.

"Then don't hesitate to use them," said his lordship. "Shoot at once if
you see any movement below the castle, at night."

"Oh Uncle! But it would be so very dreadful if anyone were killed,"
exclaimed Ann Devenham quickly. "It would be terrible--and they might be
quite innocent people."

"Not they," returned Lord Thralldom brusquely. "They'd certainly be
armed themselves, and at any rate, they'd be there for no good purpose.
If they come round here spying at night and meet with any accident," he
shrugged his shoulders, "then, that's their own look out."

"But it frightens me," went on the girl impulsively, "the very idea."

"Frightens you!" echoed Lord Thralldom. He laughed grimly. "Why, there's
nothing in killing a man when he's out to kill you. It takes very little
getting used to, and the novelty soon passes." He stirred his coffee
slowly and continued reminiscently. "I was a young subaltern in India
when I killed my first man, and I remember it was just as dawn was
breaking in a deep valley between two high hills. I stabbed him in a
hand-to-hand fight and I admit the look upon his face, as he fell,
haunted me for quite a little while"--he frowned--"until I had had my
breakfast, in fact, but after that I might never have thought of it
again if I had not happened to have broken a good knife." He eyed Ann
again very sternly. "But nothing ought to frighten you, Ann, for you
have Thralldom blood in you and a Thralldom never knows fear."

"But I am frightened of lots of things," exclaimed the girl quickly,
"and if I thought as you do, I should be afraid to be living here.
Really, Uncle," she went on frowningly, "I am sure you must be imagining
everything."

Lord Thralldom's eyes glowed like coals of fire. "I imagining!" he
retorted angrily. "You don't know what you are talking about, girl." He
clenched his bony hands together convulsively. "Why, since I bought that
Rubens, six months ago, all eyes in the art world have been focused on
this castle, and a thousand miscreants, if one, are scheming to obtain
it." His voice rose in the intensity of his passion. "Night and day, if
we only knew it, we are being watched, and only the utmost vigilance on
our part can preserve my collection of paintings intact." He glared
round at everyone. "Night after night, when you have all been sleeping,
I have laboured up on to the battlements and seen figures flitting
through the mist. Yes, it may be thought that I am mad and crazy in my
precautions, but I realise, only too well, that I am not."

The footmen preserved the uninterested and impassive expressions of
well-trained servants, but the others at the table glanced covertly at
one another and then turned down their eyes.

Suddenly the door opened and the butler glided in. "Well," enquired Lord
Thralldom irritably, but dropping his voice at once to a quieter tone,
"why is not Rawlings here?"

The butler spoke very quickly and in some excitement, "He's not at his
home, my lord. He went out just before eleven and has not been home all
night. No one knows where he is, and Mrs. Rawlings is very anxious. She
thinks he must have met with some accident."

A moment's silence followed and then Lord Thralldom exclaimed angrily,
"Rubbish! What possible accident can he have met with?" He glared at the
butler as if he were the offender. "More likely she's had a quarrel with
him and is afraid to say, and he's absenting himself now to teach her a
lesson." He looked round at the others at the table. "His wife's a
nagger and he's sick of it. That's it." He waved to the butler. "At any
rate, ring up again and say I'm most annoyed."

The butler left the room and Lady Deering gave an amused little laugh.
"Really," she said, addressing herself to Captain Bonnett, "it's
becoming quite the fashion for husbands about here to go off and leave
their wives and now, if Rawlings has gone off, he'll be the third one
who has done so in the last few weeks."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Captain Bonnett politely. "That's very
strange."

"Yes," went on Lady Deering, "first there was Mr. McHenty, from the bank
in Saxmundham, who went off with a school-teacher from Leiston,
then----"

"Oh! Mother, don't be so horrid," broke in her stepdaughter warmly. "You
are only repeating the scandal of these little towns. It may not be true
at all that he went off with Miss Pascoe. No one is sure of it. He may
just have lost his memory, like many over-worked people do and not
remember where he lives."

Lady Deering smiled indulgently. "Well, they both disappeared the same
night, dear, didn't they? And it came out afterwards, too, that they
were both upon unexpectedly friendly terms." She turned again to Captain
Bonnett. "Now it looks suspicious, doesn't it? A middle-aged man and a
young girl both missing at the same time?"

The captain hesitated a moment. "On the face of it," he replied
judicially, "I am afraid it does. When did it happen?" he asked.

"About a month ago," replied Lady Deering, "and nothing's been heard of
either of them since. Of course it created a great sensation, because
they were both naturally well-known where they lived." She smiled again.
"But really, as I say, this running away seems to be quite infectious,
for not a week after they were missing, a man who keeps an inn at
Yoxford, went off and left his wife in exactly the same way. Everyone
said----"

"Nagging wives," interrupted Lord Thralldom sharply. "I tell you, men
won't put up with what they did years ago, and Rawlings' wife must have
tried his temper quite a lot."

"Oh! Uncle," reproved Ann Devenham reproachfully, "She's not a nagger.
I'm sure of it. She's very quiet and good-tempered."

"Well, she never looks it to me," said Lord Thralldom coldly, "and I'm
not likely to be mistaken in a woman at my time of life."

The butler brought in some letters upon a salver and handed them round.
There were several for Lord Thralldom, two for Lady Deering and one for
Ann. Ann did not open hers but, after one quick glance at the
handwriting, laid the envelope, face-downwards, upon the table and
turning to Captain Bonnett began talking to him in a subdued tone of
voice.

The captain regarded her admiringly. She had beautiful, even, white
teeth and a very pretty mouth and when she talked or smiled, an
attractive dimple appeared upon her cheek. There was nothing in any way
intimate in the nature of their conversation, and the girl was only
apparently now indulging in it in order to give her relatives an
opportunity of going through their correspondence undisturbed.

Presently rumbles of annoyance began to come from Lord Thralldom, and as
usual with him when upset, he began talking to himself. He was reading a
letter written in bold, big, handwriting, and his lips quivered and his
face grew furious as his eyes travelled down the sheet.

"Impertinence!" he muttered, "insolence, a brazen piece of effrontery!"
He looked up suddenly with blazing eyes. "Listen to this, Marmaduke," he
said. "Can you conceive of greater impudence in all your life?"

"What is it, sir?" asked the captain with an appearance of great
interest.

Lord Thralldom spoke in a tone of concentrated fury. "A man writes, a
fellow writes"--he could hardly get his breath--"that my Rubens is not
genuine and that it is only an early Van Dyck."

"Ha! ha!" laughed the captain, "quite a good joke." He scoffed. "Some
jealous crank, probably, who just writes to annoy you."

"An early Van Dyck!" repeated Lord Thralldom breathlessly. "What
colossal impertinence!" He scowled. "It certainly does annoy me. It
annoys me a great deal."

"Well, tear it up," said the captain promptly, "and don't give it
another thought." He shook his head. "I can never understand these
anonymous letter-writers, wasting the price of a postage stamp."

"But it's not anonymous," frowned Lord Thralldom. "He signs his name
and"--he scowled again at the sheet before him--"it looks like
'Hudson'."

"Hudson! Hudson!" repeated the captain. "Well, that's a very common name
and I've never heard of any Hudson who knows anything about paintings
except a Yank, and he's a Silas Hudson, of New York."

Lord Thralldom was glancing at the letter in his hand. "This signature,"
he said slowly, and there was just a little quiver in his voice, "looks
like 'Silas Hudson,' 'Silas Q. Hudson,' I think."

The captain almost fell back in his chair in astonishment. "Silas Q.
Hudson!" he exclaimed. "Why that is he. Silas Quaver Hudson, one of the
greatest experts in the United States." He leant forward excitedly.
"Good heavens! What does he say?"

Lord Thralldom was now coldly contemptuous. "He writes this," he
replied,

"'SIR,

'"I consider it my duty to inform you that I have strong reasons for
believing that 'The Man of Sorrows' you purchased last march from Mr.
Claud Happer is not a genuine Rubens. I think I know the painting, and
if so, it is one of the early works of Van Dyck! If you wish, I shall be
agreeable to examine it and pronounce my opinion. I am approaching you,
because I happen to be in your neighbourhood and upon a holiday.

"'Yours faithfully,

"'SILAS Q. HUDSON.'"

A few moments' silence followed and then Lord Thralldom burst out
angrily. "The man's an imbecile, a perfect fool! How dare he suggest
such a thing?" He turned sharply to the captain. "You say you know him?"

Captain Bonnett nodded. "Slightly," he replied. "I was introduced to
him, a couple of years or so back, in New York. I just spoke to him and
that was all, for, as usual, he was monopolising all the conversation."

Lord Thralldom glared. "Well, he's mad, isn't he, quite mad?"

The captain shook his head. "I wouldn't like to say that, sir, for"--he
hesitated and then admitted as if with some reluctance--"he's supposed
to be about the cutest dealer on the other side."

"The sharpest, perhaps, the most unscrupulous," sneered Lord Thralldom.
He lifted his hand suddenly. "Ah! I remember now. I've heard of him. It
was he who paid that poor widow in Denver two thousand dollars for her
Botticelli last year and sold it the same week to Sir Charles Medway for
more than ten times that amount."

"Well, two thousand dollars," commented the captain slowly, "was all the
executors under the will asked, and Hudson was quite justified in
accepting those terms upon the spot, besides "--and he smiled--"that
widow was not in any way poor. Her husband left her over a hundred
thousand--not in dollars, but in pounds."

"Well, Hudson's a rogue, anyhow," said Lord Thralldom, "and I'd never
trust him a yard." Anger flared up into his eyes again. "But what does
he know about my Rubens? He's never seen it?"

The captain looked very impartial. "Oh! I wouldn't like to say that,
sir. He's supposed to have seen every painting of note that's come into
the market during the last twenty years, and remember--your 'Man of
Sorrows' has changed hands three times since Lord Molesbury died."

"Yes," sneered Lord Thralldom, "and in the salerooms the greatest art
experts in the world have examined it and pronounced it genuine, so this
Hudson's opinion is of no value and," he snapped his fingers
together--"I'll ignore him."

"Yes, that's right," agreed the captain instantly. "Treat him with
contempt and don't reply to his letter." An idea seemed to strike him
suddenly and he shook his head slowly. "But the fellow's a great talker
and of course he'd broadcast it all about that you don't dare to allow
him to examine your painting."

"Don't dare?" sneered Lord Thralldom. "Don't condescend, you mean!"

"And it'll be disappointing in a way," went on the captain meditatively,
"for I'd have loved to have watched him when you showed him the Rubens.
He's such a cocksure beggar and it would have been such a slap in the
face for him."

"Probably not," growled Lord Thralldom, "for whatever opinion he'd come
to--to save his own face he'd still stick to it that he was right."

"No, no," exclaimed the captain most emphatically, "he'd never do that,
for whatever his faults, Art is an obsession with him. His whole life is
wrapped up in the works of the great masters and he thinks of nothing
but them." He spoke with enthusiasm. "No, Silas Q. Hudson would grovel
in abject humility before his worst enemy, if that enemy possessed a
canvas of great beauty or note."

"Well, my 'Man of Sorrows' has great beauty," said Lord Thralldom
slowly, "and it's one of the great paintings of the world," He was
silent for a few moments and then went on hesitatingly, "Really, from
what you tell me of the fellow, I'd like to humiliate him. I detest all
Americans."

"Oh! you'd humiliate him right enough," laughed the captain. "In two
minutes he'd be as limp as a rag."

"What's he like to look at?" asked Lord Thralldom thoughtfully.

"Well, you couldn't mistake him for anything else but an American," was
the reply. "He's tall and skinny and has a sharp, hatchet face with
hard, calculating eyes, and lips that are pressed up tight. He'd walk in
here as if he owned the earth, with no respect for anyone, and as if he
were better than you and, indeed, it would almost be an act of grace, I
think, if he took off his hat."

Lord Thralldom regarded the letter again. "And he's on the telephone,"
he said slowly. "He's stopping at that old house on Minsmere Haven." He
suddenly snarled savagely. "Gad! I'll have him up." He turned to the
butler. "Ring up Minsmere House, Bevan. Ask for a man called Hudson, and
instruct him to come up here at eleven this morning. Order him to be up
at the exact time. And you, William and James," he went on, "see to it
the whole time that this man is here, that you keep by him. Never leave
his side unless I order you to."

The old man, with no further appetite for his breakfast, then rose
shakily from his chair and with tottering steps, and leaning heavily
upon Lady Deering's arm, passed out of the room.

A couple of minutes or so later the Captain and Ann Devenham were
together in the music room. She had made a sign to him to follow her,
and never loth to dance attendance upon a pretty girl, he had, with no
demur, complied. But it was quickly apparent that it was for no
sentimental reason that she wished to speak to him alone, for addressing
him at once, she said sharply,

"Captain Bonnett, I am very angry with you. You know what uncle is and
yet you deliberately egged him on to ask that American to come up to the
castle. It'll only upset him and perhaps make him downright ill again."
She stamped her foot. "I don't know what you did it for, but you ought
to have had more sense."

Captain Bonnett's face flushed. The accusation was so direct and so
unexpected that, for the moment, he was not ready with any reply.

"Yes," went on the girl with her eyes flashing, "it was very clever the
way you did it, and you may have thought no one would have seen through
it, but I did."

The captain had quite recovered himself now, and smiled as if he were
amused. "But you are really too clever, Miss Devenham, and like so many
of your charming sex, too quick in jumping at conclusions." His voice
hardened resentfully. "I never tried to influence your uncle in the
slightest and am not in the least bit interested in this man, Hudson,
coming up."

"Well, it looked like it," said Ann Devenham, "and at any rate, you
might have influenced him the other way."

Captain Bonnett shrugged his shoulders. "But does it matter?" he asked.
"Besides, if you want my candid opinion, it'll do him good. He wants to
throw off this nonsensical idea that everybody is trying to rob him." He
lowered his voice to gentleness. "But look here, Miss Devenham, you've
not been at all nice to me these last few days, in fact ever since you
came back from Saxmundham. I've noticed it in many ways. You're
different from what you were before you went away."

It was now the girl's turn to flush, but she answered quickly enough. "I
am sure I don't know what you mean. I am no different from what I have
ever been." She regarded him, as cold as ice. "I was never particularly
nice to you at any time, was I?"

"But you let me kiss you that night in the chapel," he retorted, stung
to anger by the contemptuous look she was now giving him.

"Let you!" she exclaimed indignantly. "It was done before I could
prevent it. You kissed my arm when I was playing at the organ, and if
the matter had been worth mentioning I should have spoken to my uncle
about it." She inclined her head, and added cuttingly, "But it was after
dinner, Captain Bonnett."

"Bah! a woman always knows when a man is wanting to kiss her," scoffed
the captain, "and you deliberately put temptation in my way. You were
quite----" but the girl had turned quickly and was leaving the room.

"Pretty little vixen," he remarked after she had gone. "She wants a good
slapping, and I'd like to be the one to give it to her." He nodded his
head smilingly. "But I'd make love to her well, first."

At eleven o'clock, when Lord Thralldom was reading in the great library
of the castle, the door opened and the butler announced, "That Mr.
Hudson has arrived, my lord."

His lordship looked up sharply from his book. "Oh! he has, has he?" he
frowned. "Well, tell Captain Bonnett to come here and then bring the man
in."

Captain Bonnett was quickly on the spot, and a couple of minutes or so
later, Silas Hudson was ushered into the room. He was accompanied by
Kelly and was leaning heavily upon the latter's arm. Kelly, dressed
decorously in sober black and with his hair well plastered down, was
trying hard to assume what he believed to be the correct appearance of a
gentleman's servant.

As Captain Bonnett had prophesied, there were certainly no indications
of any feelings of awe about the American, and the moment he was within
speaking distance of Lord Thralldom, and almost, indeed, before he had
crossed the threshold, of the library door, he called out loudly,

"Good day, my lord. I'm up to time, you see."

Lord Thralldom regarded him intently but in chilling silence, and
Captain Bonnett, standing close beside his lordship with difficulty
repressed a smile, for he was intrigued with the spectacle of the
truculent Kelly endeavouring to mask his pugnacious features with lines
of respectful servility.

Silas Hudson went on as if he were well content to be doing all the
greetings, "Nice little place you've got here--this castle, and I reckon
if you carried it across the water, I could guarantee you a quarter of a
million dollars for it, easy." He looked round the walls of the room.
"Pretty old, I should say."

Lord Thralldom turned to Captain Bonnett. "This is Mr. Hudson?" he asked
quietly.

Captain Bonnett nodded. "Yes, he's Silas Q. Hudson, of New York."

The American looked quickly at the captain. "I don't know you, sir," he
remarked, frowningly, "and I don't reckon I've seen you before, but
you've got me all right, and I'm Silas Q. Hudson and no one else."

"And this other gentleman," asked Lord Thralldom sharply, indicating
Kelly, "who is he?"

"My body-servant and my masseur," replied Hudson promptly. "It's my bad
luck to have become rheumatic since I came over here and I can't walk
well without him." He patted Kelly on the shoulder. "He's a capable
fellow."

Lord Thralldom regarded Hudson with contempt. "And you say you have
reason to believe"--he spoke with an effort--"that a certain painting in
my possession is not what it purports to be; in other words, that it is
a forgery."

"Not at all, not at all," exclaimed the American loudly. "I never used
the word forgery. I believe your 'Man of Sorrows' may be a true and very
great painting but, from what I know of its history, it was never
suggested by anyone until within the last fifty years that it was the
work of P. P. Rubens."

He plunged headlong in the matter and went on glibly. "You bought it
from Happer, Happer bought it when Kreutz sent it up for sale seven
years ago, and we know everyone who has possessed it since 1893. Prior
to 1893, however, and back to the end of the eighteenth century, we
cannot trace any of its places of domicile and my belief that it is
purely a Van Dyke is based on the fact that in 1797 it was sold by the
heirs of Otto Hansen, of Stuttgart, and Hansen was a known collector,
almost exclusively, of the paintings of that artist." He paused a moment
to take breath. "And that is why, my lord, I have consideredly formed
the opinion that your 'Man of Sorrows' is no work of Rubens at all."

Lord Thralldom's face had paled a little, and it was evident that he was
perturbed to some extent by the confident assurance of the American
dealer. He kept opening and shutting his mouth, and moistening his lips
with his tongue.

"But it is nonsense," he burst out angrily. "Not one--but a hundred
experts have examined my Rubens and pronounced it genuine."

"Well, I haven't done so," asserted Hudson truculently, "and until I've
looked it over, I keep to my opinion that it is not a Rubens." He looked
contemptuously in his turn at Lord Thralldom. "But I'll tell you in one
glance, if it's a Rubens or not. That's my life's work and I've got
paintings in my blood."

Lord Thralldom composed himself with a strong effort. "Follow me, then,"
he said haughtily. "I'll teach you a lesson."

"And I'm willing to learn one," almost shouted back Hudson. "I'll take
any lesson you can give me and thank you for it."

Followed by Captain Bonnett and his two visitors and with the footmen
pressing close behind, Lord Thralldom moved with slow and shaking steps
along a richly-carpeted passage to the picture gallery of the castle.

The gallery was some distance away and was a long oblong chamber,
obtaining its natural light from above, and from long windows, the whole
length of one side. To all of these windows there were stout steel bars,
and the door was a heavy, closely-meshed, steel grille. There was a
number of deeply-cushioned arm-chairs along the middle of the gallery
with their backs turned towards the windows.

Lord Thralldom advanced to about half-way along the entire length of the
gallery, until he came to a large painting hanging alone and separated
by many feet from any other. A stout brass rail waist-high, prevented a
too near approach to this painting.

He stretched out his arm. "'The Man of Sorrows'," he exclaimed, with a
deep note of challenge in his voice, "painted by Peter Paul Rubens, year
1621."

Silas Hudson, supported by Kelly, limped forward and with a swift
backward glance over his shoulder at the light, took up a position above
half a dozen paces from the canvas, facing it exactly in the middle.

A long minute's silence then ensued, everyone in the gallery standing
perfectly still, their eyes fastened intently upon Hudson, while the
latter stared at the painting.

The American stood as immovable as a rock, with the exception of his
eyes, which shut and opened several times. Then he sighed, a deep,
intense sigh that everyone there heard. Then he swallowed hard and, at
last, he spoke, but hardly louder than a whisper. It seemed as though he
were quite oblivious to the others standing round him and were talking
to himself.

"Wonderful! wonderful!" he ejaculated. He seemed to hardly breathe. "The
most beautiful thing on earth. Wonderful," he repeated. "A miracle of
colour and design! One of the greatest masterpieces in the world of
art!" His voice trailed away to silence and, head bowed and hands
clasped, his attitude was one of awed reverence.

"And it is a forgery?" sneered Lord Thralldom who had endured the
American's silence with great impatience. "It is not the work of Rubens
you say?"

Hudson awoke from his reverie with a start. "No! no!" he exclaimed
passionately. "It is all Rubens and perhaps"--his voice was harsh in its
earnestness--"the greatest of all his works!" and then, obviously with
great reluctance, he withdrew his eyes from the canvas and faced Lord
Thralldom.

"My lord," he said humbly, now a very different person from the arrogant
picture dealer of a few minutes ago, "I owe you no apology, for a
sincere and honest man should never need to apologise for anything he
has said when he believed he was speaking the truth, but"--he bowed most
respectfully--"I am most devoutly sorry that I wrote you that letter.
No,"--he corrected himself quickly, and with something of his former
spirit appearing to return--"selfishly speaking, I am not sorry at all,
for it has been the means of enabling me to stand before one of the most
beautiful paintings I have ever seen."

He went on in sharp and businesslike tones--"It did not take me that
long time before I spoke to determine it was a Rubens. It did not,
indeed, take me five seconds to discern the truth, for with my lifelong
experience of the works of the great masters, one glance only, was
sufficient to convince me that no other brush save that of Rubens has
touched this canvas." He bowed again. "I congratulate you, my lord, from
the bottom of my heart upon its possession."

The expression upon Lord Thralldom's face had been gradually softening
whilst the American was speaking, for the heart of no collector could
remain for long hardened against such unstinted praise. His face now
became suffused with pride and pleasure and, indeed, he was so gratified
with the abject capitulations of the dealer, that the taunts and sneers
he had prepared for him, died still-born.

"And you don't want to examine the signature?" he asked with a smile.
"Surely, you have brought a magnifying glass with you?"

Silas Hudson smiled back. "No need, my lord. That rich colouring and
bold design, that superb mastery of detail, and that glorious portrayal
of the fullness of life can only be Rubens and Rubens alone." He nodded
his head. "And I have had some experience, you know."

"And you admire the painting then?" asked Lord Thraldom, thirsting to
hear, again and again, such words of praise.

"Admire it!" queried Hudson. "Why, I could spend days before it and then
not have absorbed one tenth of the beauty of its detail. Three weeks
ago, I viewed what I consider now may perhaps be its companion picture
'The Descent from the Cross' in Antwerp Cathedral and"--he nodded his
head solemnly--"it lacks something of the mastery of this."

Lord Thralldom could hardly contain himself in his delight. "And I have
other paintings here that you may perhaps admire," he exclaimed, rubbing
his hands together, "if you would care to inspect them."

"I shall be delighted, if I may," returned Hudson warmly, and his eyes
ranged quickly round the gallery. "Ah! a Botticelli, I see; an Andrea
del Sarto, a Titian, a Paul Veronese, a Rembrandt. Good Heavens!" he
exclaimed in astonishment. "What a priceless collection! I had no idea
you possessed all these."

Lord Thralldom chuckled like a pleased child. "And there's a Hogarth
over there," he said, "a Gainsborough, a Constable, an M. W. Turner and
lots of others."

The American appeared most astonished and then, suddenly, his expression
altered. He frowned and looked apprehensively round. He limped a few
paces from Kelly, and close up to Lord Thralldom, lowered his voice to
an intense whisper.

"But, my lord," he breathed softly and with his eyes as round as
saucers, "do you realise that, in a lonely spot like this, you are
running a great risk in gathering together so many valuable paintings?"
He raised a warning finger. "Have you taken all precautions against
burglars?"

Lord Thralldom nodded, but at the same time looked rather uneasy. "Every
precaution," he replied. "It is quite impossible, I think, for anyone to
break in and, more impossible still, to take my Rubens."

Silas Hudson seemed greatly relieved. "Well, that's good," he said,
"for, in the interests of Art, it would be a calamity if any of your
pictures were stolen."

"And you think I am wise," asked Lord Thralldom anxiously, "in being
prepared for any such attempt?"

"Sure," replied the American emphatically, "for if it's generally known
that you have got all these paintings here," he nodded his head
significantly--"you can bet your life the castle is being watched."

"That's what I say," exclaimed Lord Thralldom excitedly, "and yet all
the others here think that I am alarming myself unnecessarily. It is
quite a bone of contention between us." He became most friendly. "Sit
down, Mr. Hudson. I'd like to have a good chat with you." He raised his
voice. "James, take Mr. Hudson's man into the servants' hall and give
him some refreshment." He turned back to the American. "And you'll have
something, too, sir, presently, or perhaps you will do me the favour of
staying to lunch? No, it will be a great treat to me, I assure you, for
I don't often get someone I can talk paintings to."

"It's very good of you and I shall be most pleased," replied Hudson. "My
time is quite free for I'm on holiday, as I told you."

Lord Thralldom turned to Captain Bonnett. "You needn't wait, Marmaduke,"
he said dryly. "You can join the ladies. I know you're wanting to. No, I
shan't require anyone to remain. Mr. Hudson and I shall be staying here
until lunch-time," he smiled at the American, "talking shop."

Captain Bonnett and the footmen at once left the gallery and for two
hours Lord Thralldom and the American enjoyed the benefit of each
other's society. The former was delighted with his visitor, for the
American was unstinting in his praise of all the paintings, and was
moreover, able to point out their merits with the knowledge and
experience of a man who had travelled all over Europe in the pursuit of
his calling.

Then at lunch, Silas Hudson gathered yet further laurels from Lady
Deering and Ann Devenham. The latter had at first been minded to be very
cool and distant, but the frank yet respectful admiration with which he
regarded her and the beneficial effect that she could not help seeing he
was exerting over her grand-uncle, very quickly disarmed her, and in the
end, she was smiling at him as much as was Lord Thralldom himself.

Hudson was a good talker and not only had he, as Captain Bonnett had
said, actually seen most of the great paintings of the world, but he was
able to describe his travels and adventures in pursuit of them in a most
interesting way, and grip the attention of his hearers with everything
he said.

Indeed, the only one at the meal who did not appear to be enjoying the
presence of their visitor to the full was Captain Bonnett, and his
annoyance sprang from two sources. He did not like it that Hudson was so
lavish with his compliments to Ann and evidently meant them, and also he
was really angry because the American chaffed him so unmercifully about
the unfinished copy of the Turner upon the easel in the picture gallery.

"Gosh!" Hudson had exclaimed with a merry glance round at the others,
"but I can see, Captain, you're dangerous. If you go on copying
paintings like that, no one in the art world will be safe. One day
you'll make a copy of his lordship's Rubens here, and then he'll wake up
one morning and see two canvases and not know which is which." And he
had laughed so merrily at his wit that Bonnett would have liked to have
slapped his face.

In the meantime, Kelly was all eyes and ears in the servants' hall and,
never at any time averse from female society, was soon enjoying himself
quite a lot.

None of the maids was bad looking and indeed, two of them were
distinctly pretty, and all five of them did their best to make their
visitor feel at ease. Then too, the chef turned out to be a most
obliging man, and in addition to the really dainty meal that he had
provided for the staff, for Kelly's special benefit he produced a most
delicious sweet omelette.

The lunch in the dining-room over, it was the turn of James, the
under-footman, to be off duty, and in the men-servants' special little
room over a renewed supply of good sound ale, he opened out and gave his
guest quite a lot of information about the castle and its inhabitants.

Old Thralldom was a bit trying with his cranky ways, he told the
American's servant, but the wages were very good and the food could not
be better.

No, there wasn't much freedom for the staff, for everyone had to be
indoors by ten o'clock and then the castle was sealed up like a tomb.
There were locks and bolts and bars everywhere, as if the place were a
blooming prison, and they had to keep wicked-looking pistols--one of
which was exhibited in proof of the assertion--in case burglars should
attempt to break in.

Old Thralldom thought of nothing but his pictures and he would sit for
hours and hours at a time staring at them, for all the world as if they
were a row of pretty girls.

Lady Deering was uppish but Ann was sweet. She was a deuced pretty bit,
but her uncle took darned good care that she should not get a boy. She
had recently, however, been stopping for a week in Saxmundham and there
were rumours that she had at last met someone whom she liked. At any
rate, she had had five dances with a young chap in a bank there, at the
Shire Ball. He, James, had heard it, with his own ears from a gent, a
friend of his, who had been in charge of the cloakroom at the Assembly
Hall upon the night of the ball.

Ann was a wonderful musician, too, and once when she had been playing
upon the organ in the castle chapel, Bert Bevan, the butler, who
privately was a bit of a Bolshevist, had stated openly that he felt
inclined to sing a hymn or say his blooming prayers.

Oh! Captain Bonnett! Well, they knew more about the captain than he
dreamed, for Bertha, one of the girls he, Mr. Kelly, had just seen, had
once been in service in a family in London when Bonnett had been
visiting there. The captain didn't remember her but she remembered him
right enough. He was a gay bird--a darned gay bird, and he had been
bankrupt twice and was always hard up. He had been divorced from his
wife and there were lots of tales going about him; in fact his
reputation was none too good, but old Thralldom lived in a world of his
own, and never heard anything about anyone, and as Bonnett was some
distant connection of Lady Deering, he was allowed to visit the castle.
He thought he could paint but he, James, and the butler were in complete
agreement that he daubed on rotten stuff.

About the castle? Yes, half of it had been walled off and a devilish
good thing too, for horrible murders had been done in it and ghosts
walked at night. Yes, of course there were secret passages all over the
place and twice he had caught the chef tapping the walls to try and find
them. The chef was a poor specimen of a man, but a darned good cook, and
was always making sweets for the girls.

For a solid two hours and more Kelly was entertained by the loquacious
and friendly footman, and then returning once again to the kitchen, he
topped down the four glasses of ale he had imbibed with two cups of
strong tea. By that time he had come definitely to four conclusions.

The first--he would like to take Bertha, the under-parlourmaid out for a
walk one evening and, preferably, he would choose a night when there was
no moon.

The second--although the elaborate system of locks and bolts and bars
that existed in the castle might be most perfect, still, the human
element behind it--he did not put it to himself in quite that way--was
weak and could be easily dealt with.

The third--the panes of glass in the windows appeared to be of an
unusual size everywhere, and if they were cut, it would be quite
possible for a full sized man to pass through, without in any way
interfering with the window sashes to which the alarms were fixed.

The fourth--he didn't like the dandy-looking chef, for the chap was by
no means the softy the other servants took him to be. His eyes were
everywhere and nothing escaped him.

A summons came for Kelly at last and he was called to assist his master
back into the car, and into such esteem had the latter leapt, that a
little group were assembled round the big entrance door to bid him
good-bye. Kelly noted, with distinct approval, the aristocratic beauty
of Ann Devenham.

"Mind you come again on Friday," said Lord Thralldom, "and we'll have
another long talk together."

"Sure, I will," replied the American heartily, "and I'll be greatly
pleased." He screwed up his face into a grimace. "But I realise I made
one great mistake, my lord. I thought this morning that your Rubens was
the most beautiful thing in the castle but now"--and he made a gallant
bow in the direction of Ann Devenham--"I see I must modify that
opinion."

"And perhaps you're right, sir," laughed back Lord Thralldom. He made
the pretence of nodding his head doubtfully. "But at any rate, it's a
close call."

The two drove away with Hudson at the wheel, and for two hundred yards,
at least, neither of them made any remark. Then the American leant back
in his seat and gave vent to a long, intense chuckle of laughter.

"Gad!" he exclaimed delightedly, "but sure, I'm some actor. It was a
miracle the way I did it, and things couldn't be going better."

"Oh! you pugged up the old fool, right enough," growled Kelly, "but it
was child's play. He's a darned fool about his pictures."

"And I'm to go up on Friday again," chuckled Hudson, "and you"--he could
hardly speak for laughing--"are to go up to-morrow and massage his
niece."

"Massage!" snarled Kelly. "What do you mean?"

"You've--got--to--give--her massage for--her back," jerked out Hudson in
an ecstasy of merriment. "I--have arranged--it--for--you."

He sobered down at the fury in the other's face. "It was like this," he
explained. "I told them you were my body-servant and my masseur, didn't
I? Well it came out after lunch that his niece was suffering from
lumbago and her doctor had said she must have a course of massage. Then
Lord Thralldom hopped in with the suggestion that as there was no
masseur, nearer than Norwich, perhaps I'd oblige by lending you." His
eyes twinkled again. "So what could I do?"

"Well, it was damned foolery," exclaimed Kelly. "I don't know anything
about massage."

"But you soon will," replied Hudson quickly, "for between now and
to-morrow at eleven when you've got to go up to the castle, I'll give
you some lessons and you shall learn on Fenner. I know something about
it, for, two years ago, I had to have fifty dollars' worth in Chicago."
He was most enthusiastic. "Why, man! It's a wonderful chance of spying
out inside the castle, for you're to go up every day for a fortnight,
and it's quite the luck of our lives."

"But I don't look like a man who gives massage, do I?" snarled Kelly.

"Perhaps not," agreed Hudson with a covert smile, "but as she says she's
never had any massage before, she mayn't notice it." He spoke sharply.
"Now, no nonsense. You've got to massage that female's back, and you'll
have to wear rubber gloves to cover those dreadful paws of yours. Oh!"
he went on quickly, "I was forgetting. Did you find out much to-day?"

"Of course I did," replied Kelly in a surly tone. "I'm not a fool like
that dandy Bonnett. I found out quite a lot." He jerked his head. "The
place'll be quite easy to get into, but I'll talk about it when we're
out of this rotten old car. The bumping makes me sick."

A long silence followed and they drove on quite half a mile before
either of them spoke again. Then Kelly said meditatively, "And the niece
is that girl, Ann?"

"No," grinned Hudson, "it's her mother," and Kelly just ejaculated "Ah!"




CHAPTER III.--THE TASK OF LAROSE


"And it is an entirely mistaken idea, as no one will of course know
better than yourself, Mr. Larose," said the Chief Commissioner of
Scotland Yard, "that crime, as we understand it, finds its most fertile
soil in great cities, and where people are gathered together in large
numbers." He shook his head slowly. "The lonely places of the land, in
proportion to the dwellers there, have just as many dark and sinister
secrets to hide." He smiled sadly. "The little, sleepy village tucked
away in some quiet corner of the country-side, the almost desolate coast
about some lonely stretch of sea, or the moor that shelters only some
isolated shepherd's hut, may all hug, if we only knew it, their secrets
of dark and undiscovered crime."

Gilbert Larose nodded. He was a boyish-looking man, still under thirty,
and no one would have imagined, from a cursory glance at his frank and
open features, that he was a detective of international reputation, and
in his own country was responsible for many an unmarked grave within the
prison walls of the cities of the great Commonwealth of Australia.

"Individual crimes, sir," he said respectfully, "particularly those of
violence are, I think, always more prone to occur where people live much
by themselves. They seem to become morbid then, and brood over little
things. I have often noticed that in the lonely parts of Australia."

"Exactly," said the Commissioner, "for they lose the right perspective
of things." He smiled. "Now, leading up from these conclusions, I have a
nice little problem to place before you. No," he corrected himself
quickly, "I am not sure whether it is a problem at all but to determine
it, one way or the other, is why I have summoned you here."

He motioned Larose to bring his chair nearer, and unfolding a large
ordnance map, spread it out upon the desk before him.

"Now, this is a map of Suffolk," he went on, "and there is a small
corner here that just now is very interesting." He pointed with his
pencil. "It is this part adjacent to the coast that embraces the towns
of Saxmundham, Leiston and Yoxford, and the little village of
Westleton."

He leant back in his chair and regarded the detective very thoughtfully.

"To put it in a nutshell, Mr. Larose, within the last few weeks, or to
be exact, thirty-five days, four people in this district, all unrelated
to one another and of varying ages and differing conditions of life have
just walked out of their homes and disappeared, and we are
wondering"--he paused a moment--"we are wondering if their several
disappearances are just merely coincidences, or if, on the other hand,
they are all linked up together by happenings of which we have no
knowledge and the significance of which we do not understand."

"Very interesting," commented the detective, "and did all these
disappearances take place on different dates?"

"No," replied the Commissioner reaching for a paper that lay upon the
desk. "On the night of Sunday, August 13th, the manager of one of the
banks in Saxmundham and a school teacher from the neighbouring town of
Leiston, about three miles away, disappeared. On the night of Tuesday,
August 29th, an innkeeper from Yoxford went, and on Friday, September
15th, just two weeks ago, the bailiff of Lord Thralldom, of Thralldom
Castle, walked out into the night and has not been heard of since."

"They all disappeared at night, then?" commented Larose.

"Yes, the bank manager, and the school teacher left their respective
homes just before 9.30, but the innkeeper and the bailiff left later.
The innkeeper just after ten and the bailiff at a quarter to eleven."

"And were the bank manager and the school teacher acquainted with one
another?" asked the detective.

The Commissioner of Police laughed, and raised one hand in mock reproof.
"Ah! I knew you'd ask that. That was, of course, the first thought that
came into everybody's mind, and it must have been a nice tit-bit of
scandal for the two towns. Yes, they were acquainted, and, added to
that, the school teacher, although, as I have said, a resident in
Leiston, had an account in the Saxmundham bank." He shook his head.
"Yes, that made people talk."

"And what is the general view then that people take of these
disappearances?" asked Larose.

"Oh!" replied the Commissioner, "that the two of them eloped, of course;
that the innkeeper went off with another woman, unknown; and that the
bailiff fell over the cliffs in the dark and was drowned."

"Then what made the Suffolk police come to us?" asked Larose. "There
would seem to be no particular need unless they are in the possession of
more facts than you have outlined to me."

"Well," replied the Commissioner, "there are wheels within wheels." He
nodded his head. "It so happens that Mrs. Rawlings, the wife of the
missing bailiff, was at one time a cook in the service of the present
member of Parliament for the Borough of Ipswich, and, dissatisfied with
the efforts of the local police, and angry, so she said, that they were
taking no more interest in her husband's disappearance than they had
taken in the cases of the others, she went to her one-time master for
help. He is an influential supporter of the Government and approached
the Home Office direct. They got in touch with me and upon my
suggestion, the Chief Constable of Suffolk then forwarded copies of the
police reports." He smiled. "That's how it is we come to be drawn in."

"And the local police are not much impressed then? asked Larose.

"No," smiled the Commissioner, "in fact they are inclined to be very
annoyed that we have been applied to, but the Chief Constable of Suffolk
is a particular friend of mine and, in the course of some conversation
over the phone yesterday, he suggested jokingly that as we had got the
celebrated Gilbert Larose here, then he ought to be sent down." The
Commissioner shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "So, here am I,
obliging a friend."

"And what do you think of it yourself, sir?" asked the detective,
laughing back.

The smile immediately left the Commissioner's face, and he hesitated
some moments before replying. Then he said very slowly, "Frankly, Mr.
Larose, I do not know, for taking the reports singly, the four
disappearances seem trivial and of no importance except to those
intimately concerned." He spoke sharply. "Taken singly, I say, but"--and
he looked troubled--"taken all four together, there are features about
them that I do not like and I am now wondering if that pretty little
corner of Suffolk"--he pointed to the outstretched map upon the
desk--"usually so given up to holiday-makers and happiness, is not now
choking under the grip of some unknown and bloody assassin."

He picked up a bundle of papers lying before him and in a quick movement
handed them across to the detective.

"Here, take these," he said, "and go down into Suffolk, the first thing
to-morrow." He was smiling again now. "You will come back looking rather
foolish or else"--he nodded his head grimly--"I shall expect you to be
giving evidence, in the near future, at the Ipswich Assizes."

For a long time then, when alone in his room that night, Larose
considered the reports that the Chief Commissioner had handed over, but
it was the photographs of the missing persons that first engaged his
attention. They were all of fairly recent dates.

The school teacher was a plain-looking brunette of an unattractive type.
She had a grave, thoughtful face, with oval, rather dreamy-looking, dark
eyes.

The bank manager was a plain, matter-of-fact looking man, with closely
cut hair over a square forehead. He had a shrewd face, and a chin that
spoke of resolution and self-control.

The innkeeper looked jovial and merry. His face was round and chubby and
his lips were parted in a smile.

The bailiff's face was long and taciturn-looking. Its expression was
grave and he had the appearance of a man with no imagination but with a
strong sense of duty.

"Well, certainly this bailiff was no gay Don Juan," muttered the
detective, "nor the banker, either, I should say. The innkeeper,
however, would appreciate the good things of life, for he looks a bit of
a sport. As for the girl"--he hesitated--"well, I can't think of anyone
eloping with her and certainly not a man of the type of the bank
manager. Indeed, I can hardly imagine either of them inspiring romance
in anyone."

He unfolded the reports. They had been drawn up by the local constables,
and amplified later by the enquiries of special plain-clothes officers
who had been sent down from Ipswich. He carefully and methodically
proceeded to pick out the main facts.

Rita Ethelton, single, lived with her parents at Leiston. She was
twenty-seven years of age and had taught in the town for upwards of
three years. She was well-thought of by her superiors. She was not
keeping company with anyone. She was grave, studious, and of a quiet
disposition. Her only out-door recreation was walking, and she often
went for long walks by herself.

On the night of her disappearance, she had announced to her parents that
she would go out for some fresh air, and had left her home about 9.30.
No one in the town seemed to have noticed her, and consequently it was
not known in which direction she had gone. It was a moonlight night, but
clouds were threatening and she had taken her macintosh with her. It was
certain she was carrying no money, for her bag with her purse in it had
been left behind in her bedroom.

She had not been missed until the next morning, for her parents,
accustomed to her roaming expeditions, had retired to rest as usual at
10 o'clock, leaving the front door unlocked.

There were no circumstances that could suggest to them any reason for
their daughter going away. She was their only child, she had no troubles
that they were aware of, and was in perfect health.

She was quite well-off for she had more than 30 in the Post Office
Savings Bank, and 200 on fixed deposit, in the Saxmundham branch of the
East Anglian bank.

The plain-clothes officer, sent down from Ipswich, was of the opinion
that if the going off were a premeditated one, then most elaborate
precautions had been taken to prevent it being established as such.

Augustus Andrew Holden was forty-two years of age and had been the
manager of the East Anglian bank in Saxmundham, where he had two
assistants under him, for upwards of five years. He was married and had
three children, two boys, aged eight and eleven, and a girl, six. He was
apparently living on happy terms with his wife, who was five years his
junior. He resided over the bank premises in the High Street, and there
was a private entrance to his house at the side.

He enjoyed a good reputation in the town and was respected by everyone.
He was a man of simple habits, golf being his only recreation. He was
invariably in good health.

He was in no financial trouble, and had a good balance at the Ipswich
branch of Lloyds bank. He had also 1,200 invested in Government
securities.

He was regarded as a valuable and trusted servant of the head office of
his bank in Norwich.

On the night of his disappearance, he had been writing after supper and
then, just as Mrs. Holden was upon the point of going to bed, he had
remarked that he was suffering from a slight headache, and would go for
a brisk walk before turning in. He had taken a cap and stick from the
hall and let himself out of the door, and that was the last that anyone
had seen of him.

Mrs. Holden, retiring to bed, had at once fallen into a sound sleep, but
awakening during the night and becoming aware that her husband was not
beside her, she had switched on the light and found to her consternation
that it was past three o'clock.

She had then immediately rung up the police station and, getting speech
with the officer on night duty there, had explained what had happened
and had insisted that a search should be made at once. But as she could
furnish no idea as to in which direction her husband had gone, nothing,
of course, had been done.

Later, she had stated that she had no idea how much money Mr. Holden had
had upon him when he left the house, but it would not have been much,
she was sure, for it was never his habit to carry more than a few
shillings about with him at a time.

Samuel Baxter was 34 and had been the landlord of the Yoxford Arms for
just over three years. He was married to a woman about his own age and
there was one child of the marriage, a girl of six. He was apparently
quite happy in his married life.

The inn was a small and unpretentious one, but he did a good trade and,
keeping a good table, on market days had always as many customers as he
could accommodate. He was one of the local bookmakers of the town and
being of a happy, care-free disposition, was liked by everyone.

The night of his disappearance, it had been noted by those then present
in the inn that he had closed the bar sharp to the very second of ten
o'clock. Indeed there had been remonstrance upon the part of one
customer that Baxter was turning them out before the legal time.

Then next, one of the two serving maids, an elderly woman, had heard him
go into the back yard as she was getting into bed and she had told the
police that it could not have been later than five minutes after ten.

Mrs. Baxter was out at the time, having gone to the talkies in the town.
She had, however, returned home a few minutes after eleven and, not
seeing her husband, she thought that he must have gone out, as he
sometimes did, to have a chat with some friend. So she had gone to bed,
and quickly falling asleep, had not awakened until the maid had brought
in a cup of tea just before seven the next morning. Then she had been
astonished to find that her husband was not in the bed alongside of her.

No information was then forthcoming in any direction as to what had
happened to Baxter. He had visited none of his friends, no one had seen
him after he had closed the inn, and no traces of any of his movements
had been found anywhere.

It was remembered, however, by the Yoxford townspeople that once before,
about eighteen months previously, Baxter had been missing for a week,
and upon his return had given the information that he had been called
suddenly to London upon important business.

Peter Rawlings was forty-five years of age and for twenty-two of those
years had been in the service of the present Lord Thralldom. For the
last nine he had been his bailiff and had had entire charge of the farms
and lands attached to the castle. He resided at what was known as the
Home Farm, and his house was about a mile distant from the castle. The
land belonging to Lord Thralldom was roughly 3,000 acres, and comprised
arable land, pastures, plantations, marshes and a stretch of the
sea-shore, and as Lord Thralldom was old and an invalid, the bailiff had
plenty to look after and was a busy man.

Rawlings was married and his wife was five years older than he was. They
had no children and kept one maid, a young woman of twenty. They were
supposed by everyone to be a happy and contented couple.

The bailiff had the reputation of being a quiet, sober, and industrious
man, and financially he was in good circumstances. He had saved money.
He lived a very uneventful life and had never been known to take a
holiday. He was most zealous in looking after all his master's affairs,
but his chief interest was supposed to be in the herd of pure-bred
jersey cattle that Lord Thralldom possessed.

On the night of his disappearance, he and his wife had retired to bed,
as usual, about 9.30, but Rawlings had been very restless and unable to
get to sleep. Suddenly, just before eleven o-clock, so his wife judged
to be the time, he had jumped out of bed, and huddling on some clothes,
had muttered something about some matter he ought to have seen to before
going to bed. His wife had been too sleepy to take much notice of what
he had said, but she had heard him pull on his boots and then go out
through the back door. Then she herself had been unable to get to sleep
and finally, beginning to wonder what her husband had gone out for, and
thinking that at any rate he had been gone long enough, she had struck a
match and found it was half-past twelve.

Then she had not gone to sleep at all and the hours going by with no
return of her husband, she had at first become frightened and then
hysterical. She had awakened the maid and the two women had sat
together, waiting for daylight to come.

And when it had come, they could find out nothing. Nothing had been
heard or seen of the bailiff since.

As to what he had been wearing when he had left the house, he had been
only partially dressed, for he had just put his trousers and jacket over
his pyjamas. There might have been a few odd shillings in his pockets
but certainly nothing more.

That concluded the four reports. There was a note added by the Chief
Constable of Suffolk that the investigations in all four cases had been
of a most exhaustive nature, but that in not any one of them had
anything been discovered to furnish a satisfactory explanation for the
disappearance.

Larose put down the reports with a frown. "Four very ordinary persons,"
he remarked, "and it is difficult to conceive of any of them leading a
double life, still," and he shook his head slowly, "you never can tell."
He looked musingly out of the window. "No one but our own selves can
ever know the secrets of our own hearts and, if we are honest, we must
admit that moments have come to us all when if we had followed our own
inclinations, the law of the jungle would have been the only law we
should have obeyed. We have thought things we have never dared to write
down, we have had longings we should never dare to express, and we
have"--he shook his head in annoyance--"but Gilbert, Gilbert, I believe
you're a very bad man. All people are not like you."




CHAPTER IV.--THE SECRET OF THE MARSH


The following morning just after ten, the detective drove up in a small
car to the house where Rita Ethelton had lived in the little town of
Leiston in Suffolk, just over a hundred miles from London.

The girl's mother answered his ring, and learning he had come from
Scotland Yard, admitted him at once and led him into the sitting-room.

"But what is the good of your coming?" she asked tearfully. "I am sure
now that she is dead."

"But you would wish to know what had happened to her," said the
detective gently, "and if, after all, it were an accident?"

"Oh! it was no accident!" she exclaimed passionately. "Someone killed
her, and it's no good shirking the truth. I am sure of it because there
is no place within miles of here where an accident could have occurred.
I've gone over everything in my mind thousands and thousands of times."

"Well," persisted the detective, "if anyone did her any injury, you
would like him punished for it, wouldn't you? No, no, I'm not going over
all the old ground again," he said quickly, "but I just want to satisfy
myself on one or two points."

"Then you don't think," said the woman with her face darkening, "that my
daughter went off with Mr. McHenry?"

"Not for a moment," replied Larose emphatically. "That's only the idle
gossip of these little towns, and I don't believe that any people really
believe it themselves." He took the chair that she offered. "Now, Mrs.
Ethelton," he went on in a sharp and business-like tone, "the great
difficulty that has presented itself to everyone who has attempted to
find out what happened to your daughter that night, has been that they
had not known where to begin. They haven't had any idea in which
direction your daughter went when she started for that walk."

"No," admitted the woman sadly, "there are so many ways she might have
gone. There was no particular walk that I know of which was her
favourite one. She was fond of them all."

"Well, Mrs. Ethelton," said the detective, "please listen to me very
carefully and then perhaps we shall be able to pick up what the others
missed." He spoke very slowly. "Now there is nothing that any of us do,
in any moment of our lives, that is not the result of some previous
thought or act." He shook his head. "We do nothing, as people call it,
'by chance.' Something always decides what we must do. Something we have
thought or said or done, just before." His face brightened. "So let us
put our heads together and try to guess something of what were your
daughter's thoughts in the last minutes before she went out."

"I wish I could," sighed Mrs. Ethelton, "but Rita was always a very
reserved girl and no one ever knew what she was thinking about."

"Well," went on Larose again, "in these dreadful weeks you must, of
course, have recalled many, many times, every trifling little thing that
happened that night."

"Everything," replied the woman, "over and over again."

"Then tell me exactly," said Larose, "what happened, say after eight
o'clock."

"I can't tell from eight o'clock," said Mrs. Ethelton, "for Rita was in
her own room until half past. She came in here then to listen to the
wireless. There was 'An hour with Chopin' on and she had been waiting
for it, because Chopin was her favourite composer."

"Go on," said the detective, because she had stopped speaking.

"Her father and I were reading, and she brought in a book herself. Then,
I don't think any of us said a word for the whole hour until the music
stopped. And then I remember Rita looking out of the window for a few
moments--the blind was drawn--then she got up suddenly and said she was
going for a walk. Then she came over and kissed Dad and me."

"That was meant to be good night?" suggested Larose.

"Yes, because Dad and I always go to bed directly the clock strikes ten,
and I suppose she was thinking she mightn't be back before we had gone
upstairs."

"And she went out of the room then," said the detective, speaking very
softly, "and that was all?"

"Yes," replied the woman equally softly and with a catch in her voice,
"that was all. We never saw her again."

"What book had she been reading?" asked Larose after a pause.

"Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe," was the reply. "It was a
favourite book of hers and she had read it many times."

"And I understand," went on Larose, "from what you told the others who
have been here, that she changed her indoor shoes for walking ones and
went out in her mackintosh and a beret?"

Mrs. Ethelton nodded. She could not speak.

The detective rose briskly to his feet. "And now, just one more thing,"
he said. "I'd like to look over her room if I may."

The woman's woe-begone expression changed instantly into a frown and,
for the moment, she hesitated.

"Well, I suppose you may," she said rather reluctantly, "although no one
has asked to go in there before." She sighed. "It's just as she left it,
except, of course, that its been dusted every day." Her voice choked. "I
know she'll never return, but I hope against hope that she will."

She led the way into a daintily furnished little room at the back of the
house and the detective stepped reverently over the threshold. Then, for
a long minute, he let his eyes roam all round, over everything. He took
in the small, narrow bed, with the counterpane of sky blue, the bright
curtains draping the window, the pictures upon the walls, the
tortoise-shell backed brushes upon the dressing table, and the little
simple ornaments on the mantleshelf.

He looked thoughtfully at the pictures and apparently was particularly
interested in three large, framed photographs that he saw. 'A Rough Sea
at Aldeburgh' was printed under one, 'Dunwich Cliffs' under another, and
'Thralldom Castle in the Moonlight,' under the third.

Then he looked at the titles of the books in a small bookcase.

"So she was fond of poetry," he said gently. "Chaucer, Swinburne,
Tennyson and Sea Music, and she liked history and novels of an
historical kind. Now, where is that Ivanhoe she was reading when the
music was on?"

Mrs. Ethelton indicated the book and Larose, picking it out from among
the others, opened it where a bookmarker had been left in. Then, to the
woman's astonishment he pulled a chair forward and sitting down,
proceeded carefully to scan through the opened pages. It was quite a
long time before he rose to his feet again and replaced the book.

"Thank you," he said quietly, "and now about that photograph, 'Thralldom
Castle,' I see. How far is it from here?"

"About two miles and a half," replied Mrs. Ethelton, "or a little longer
if you go round by the sea."

"And she might have gone in that direction?" suggested Larose.

The woman threw out her hands. "She might have gone anywhere," she
exclaimed. "That is the dreadful part of it all."

The detective asked a few more questions and then, bidding her good-bye,
in less than twenty minutes was interviewing the bank manager's wife in
Saxmundham.

Mrs. Holden was still living in the bank house, as an act of grace, he
learnt afterwards, of the bank authorities who were reluctant to accept
as a fact that their trusted manager would never return.

He found her a very different type of woman from Mrs. Ethelton, and
rather difficult to make any headway with. She seemed to be resenting
his coming, and every second to be waiting for him to couple up her
husband's name with that of the missing school-teacher from Leiston. Her
answers to his questions added no further information to that he already
had.

At his request, however, although certainly not without some reluctance,
she took him into her husband's little private room and, under her
watchful eyes, he proceeded to look round. He noticed a large
old-fashioned telescope bracketed upon the wall, with the initials of
"J.B.H." on its broad, brass end and at once asked Mrs. Holden if it had
belonged to her husband's father.

"No," replied Mrs. Holden, "to his grandfather, Captain John Holden. My
husband's ancestors were all sea-faring people," she added, "and his own
father was a captain in the P. & 0. Company. My husband, too, would have
gone to sea, if it had not been for his eyes. He was very short-sighted
as a young man, and it was a great disappointment that they wouldn't
pass him."

"Where was Mr. Holden born?" asked the detective thoughtfully.

"At Tynemouth," she replied. "The Holdens are a very old Tynemouth
family."

"And you have not the very faintest idea in which direction your husband
started for his walk, upon that night?" asked Larose, following upon
some further questioning.

"Not the very faintest," was the reply. "My husband was always fond of
walking, and knowing every road in the country for miles round, he may
have gone anywhere."

The detective next went into the bank and obtained a brief interview
with the clerk who had been the second in command under Mr. Holden's
managership. He was a good-looking young fellow, John Harden by name,
with a clear-cut profile and frank, open, blue eyes. He was quite polite
but very firm in his assertion that he could not help the detective in
any way.

"And if you want to put it to me," he said warmly, "that there is the
slightest truth in the rumour that there was anything on between that
girl in Leiston and Mr. Holden, then I'll tell you straight, it's a lie.
Mr. Holden was not that type of man and Miss Ethelton simply did her
banking here, in preference to her own town because"--he looked very
disdainful--"in these little country places everyone likes to poke their
noses into other people's business and I suppose, naturally, she did not
want hers known."

Larose visited the local police station and made a few enquiries in the
town but, the disappearance of the bank-manager being now five weeks
old, almost all the interest seemed to have died down and he got nothing
for his pains.

But one thing struck him as peculiar. All that morning, not one single
person he approached made any reference at all, either to the
disappearance of the inn-keeper at Yoxford or to that of the bailiff of
Lord Thralldom. Indeed, it seemed that they had not heard about them.

The afternoon found him in the pretty little town of Yoxford, and
calling at the Yoxford Arms, he came upon Mrs. Baxter in the bar, which
happened to be empty at the time.

She was a handsome woman of a rather florid type but her eyes, he
thought, were rather hard. Directly she learnt who he was, to his
surprise, she gave him an annoyed and frowning look.

"I'm sick of you police," she said bluntly, "and I don't know what you
want by coming bothering me any more. I've told everything I know, and
all of you round here are an incompetent lot. You've found out nothing
and I don't want to have anything more to do with you."

"But, Mrs. Baxter," exclaimed the detective, very astonished, "surely
you want to know what has become of your husband?"

"All in good time," snapped the woman, "and when I do know, I'm sure
from your methods, that it won't come through any of you." She
tossed her head angrily. "So, I'm not going to answer any more
questions, and if you want to know anything, you can just go off to the
police station here." She sniffed contemptuously. "They've got all my
answers written down."

The detective eyed her very sternly. "But you'll have to give me an
answer to every question that I put," he replied sharply. "I've come
down expressly from London and I want, too, to look over the inn."

"Want to look over the inn!" gasped the woman in great astonishment.
"Why, do you think Sam's in hiding here?"

"Certainly not," replied Larose in matter-of-fact, business-like tones,
"but I've come all the way down from Scotland Yard and I have to make a
full report." He spoke most politely. "I'd like to go over the place
straightaway, please."

The woman hesitated and looked as if she were going to refuse but then,
shrugging her shoulders in contempt, she called for one of the maids to
attend to the bar in her absence and led the way into the living parts
of the inn.

The detective looked into every room, and noted from the guns and
fishing tackle upon the walls in one of them that Sam Baxter's
activities ran in more than one direction of sport. He asked Mrs. Baxter
several questions, but she replied in curt monosyllables whenever
possible, or else made her answers snappy and short.

In their common bedroom he came upon a large framed photograph of a
group of cricketers, and approaching it closely, he recognised the
round, smiling face of the innkeeper amongst them.

"Alfreton Cricket Club, August, 1923," he read.

He made no comment but out again in the hall, asked suddenly, "And for
what reason, in your opinion, did your husband go into the back-yard
that night? Can you think of anything he might have been wanting there?"

"Yes, lots of things," replied Mrs. Baxter flippantly. "Pigs, dogs,
cats, fowls or even ducks down by the ponds."

She smiled coldly. "He was always wanting one thing or another."

Larose gave her up at last and proceeding to the police station in the
town, the sergeant-in-charge there showed him in neat handwriting, upon
many pages of foolscap, all the information that had been gathered
together and the detective went through it carefully.

"And why," he asked presently, "was Mrs. Baxter so antagonistic towards
me? She was as uncommunicative and unpleasant as possible."

"I don't know, sir," replied the sergeant, shaking his head. "She's only
been like that lately. I think she's been upset by so many outsiders
pestering her with questions. Not that I've ever quite understood her,"
he added thoughtfully, "for she's been a bit queer all the time. At
first, as you have read, she never said a word about Baxter's
disappearance to anyone, and for a few days everybody was told he was
away on business. Then she came here crying and said she was sure
someone had murdered him and then, this last week, she's shut up like an
oyster, and been rude to everyone."

"What reason did she give for thinking he'd been murdered?" asked
Larose.

"No reason at all," smiled the sergeant. "Just a woman's intuition, she
said." He shook his head. "But we didn't think much of it, for Baxter
had gone off for a week once before." He smiled again. "Sam is a good
publican and when he does go on the booze, he boozes away from home."

"But his wife is keeping back something now," said Larose sharply, "and
there must be some reason for her not wanting the enquiry to go on. It
wasn't mere annoyance that made her so evasive with me just now. She was
fencing the whole time." He looked intently at the sergeant. "Was she
supposed to be fond of her husband?"

"Oh! yes, and she was!" was the reply. "She was very proud of him, too,
for he was a popular chap. She bossed him about and kept him in order,
but she was fond of him right enough, and only as late as yesterday, I
saw her with her eyes heavy and swollen from crying."

"Anything known about him before he came here?" asked Larose.

"Nothing much," replied the sergeant. "The references he had to put in
when he applied for the transfer of the licence of this inn both came
from London, where he'd been a barman for three years."

"Anything known about him before that?" asked Larose.

The sergeant shook his head. "No, I never heard tell where he'd lived
before."

"Well, ring up a place called Alfreton," said the detective sharply,
"and get me the police station there. Baxter was in the Alfreton Cricket
Club in 1923, and we're sure to learn something from them. Be quick
please, because I'm in a hurry."

"Alfreton's in Nottinghamshire," said the sergeant, "and it may take a
bit of a while to get through."

However, in less than ten minutes Larose was speaking to the Alfreton
police, and was soon in possession of some interesting information about
the missing inn-keeper.

Yes, they remembered Sam Baxter quite well. He had kept the 'Wheatsheaf'
public-house there six years ago, but the licence had been taken away
from him because he had been sentenced to two months' imprisonment for
poaching. He had been known to be an inveterate poacher for a long time,
but he had been very artful and they had not been able to catch him. No,
beyond that there had been nothing against him. He had been a good
fellow and very popular in the town. He had married a London girl, Sally
Matters.

Larose hung up the receiver and passed the information to the sergeant.
"Now," he asked, "was Baxter given to poaching here?"

The sergeant frowned. "Not that I know of," he replied, "for he would of
course have lost his licence here, as well, if he'd been caught." He
reflected. "He might have been, for when I come to think of it, he kept
a very good table at his inn, and either rabbit pie or jugged hare were
often on the bill of fare. Not that he'd have had to poach for the
rabbits though, for there'd have always been plenty of farmers who'd
have given him a day's rabbiting whenever he wanted it, but hares"--and
the sergeant shook his head--"hares are a different matter, for they
belong to the gentry and the big landowners."

"But he kept dogs that would have coursed hares," said Larose. "I saw a
greyhound in the yard just now."

"It's not a pure greyhound," remarked the sergeant. "It's a bit of a
mongrel, but still it would run down hares right enough."

"And if he wanted to get a hare," asked Larose, "where would he go for
it?"

"Sefton Park, or on the meadows adjoining Thralldom marshes," was the
prompt reply. "There are plenty of hares in both those places. But it'd
have been a bit risky taking a dog near Thralldom Castle just now for,
of late, there have been a number of them poisoned there. Someone has
been laying down strychnine baits."

"Who's laid them down?" asked the detective.

The sergeant laughed grimly. "That's what we'd like to know. The
Thralldom people say they know nothing about it." He looked very stem.
"It's against the law, you know."

The detective asked a few more questions and then left, to make his last
enquiries, at the home of Lord Thralldom's bailiff.

After a couple of miles or so, he arrived at the top of a hill. A wide
view of the surrounding country spread itself before his admiring eyes
and, almost involuntarily, he drew up to the side of the road, and
switching off his engine, sat silent and enthralled, to drink in the
beauty of the scene.

Only about five miles distant from the sea, between the hill and the
glistening waters, rolled a wide and slightly undulating plain, dotted
here and there with farm buildings and little groups of cottages, and
with a narrow river winding in and out among the pasture lands.

But it was Thralldom Castle that dominated everything, and its majesty
and beauty gripped him with delight.

It stood alone, in a wide clearing of its own, and like some great
over-lord of the country-side, its massive heights were a landmark in
every direction.

"What a glorious old pile!" he ejaculated, "and what a view one would
get from those battlements!" He sighed. "We have nothing like that in
Australia and never shall have. Those days are gone."

He soon found the bailiff's home, and directly she knew from where he
came, was welcomed thankfully by Mrs. Rawlings. She took him into what
was obviously the best room, but the carpet there was folded up and all
the pictures and furniture stacked in one corner.

"I'm moving," she explained with a choke in her voice, "and the new
bailiff is coming in to-morrow."

"But it's very sudden, isn't it," queried Larose, "with your
husband----" he hesitated.

"Only gone a fortnight to-morrow," supplemented the woman quickly. "And
it's very unkind of his lordship, and I don't understand it, for"--her
voice broke again--"we can't be certain yet that my husband is dead."
She wiped away a tear. "It's so unsympathetic."

"Is Lord Thralldom a hard man then?" asked the detective.

"No, usually not at all so," was the quick reply. "He spoke very kindly
to me when I went up to the castle last week, but since then he's got to
hear that I went to my old master, Colonel Edis, who's a member of
parliament, and he's very angry about it. He told me not to go to the
police for they couldn't get me back my husband if he'd walked over the
cliffs and got drowned which, he was sure, had happened, and he said any
publicity would attract attention to the Castle and then people would
come and rob him of his pictures." She began to cry. "Of course he's
very old and ill, and can think of nothing but his pictures now." She
clasped her hands together. "Oh! do you think, sir, that my poor husband
is really dead?"

"Sit down and tell me all that happened," said Larose soothingly, "and
then, we'll see what we can find out."

For upwards of an hour the detective questioned her, but at the end of
that time he had reluctantly to admit to himself that, once again, he
had added little to the knowledge he already possessed.

"You see, Mrs. Rawlings," he said at last, "if you could only give me
some idea where your husband was going that night, then we should be
able to start our search in some definite direction."

"But as I say, I can't tell you," she replied tearfully. "My husband
never talked to me about any of the business of the estate. He was a
very reserved man and spoke very little at any time and he had the idea,
too, that all a woman's interests should be in the home. But he was a
devoted husband to me and all our married life we have been very happy
together. He never, however, brought his business worries to me at any
time."

The detective thought for a moment. "And you don't know, then, what
particular work your husband had been doing during the day previous to
the night when he disappeared?"

Mrs. Rawlings shook her head. "No, he was busy the whole day," she
replied, "and I only saw him at meals, and then he was writing all the
evening."

"He kept a diary?" asked Larose.

The woman's face brightened. "Oh! yes, and I believe he put down the
minutest things that happened."

"Show me the diary, then," said the detective, and she at once led him
into another room and began looking among a number of books and ledgers
piled upon the table.

"Here it is," she said and Larose pulled up a chair, and sitting down,
began turning over the leaves of the book she had handed to him. The
scrutiny, however, was very short before he spoke to her again.

"What does that mean?" he asked, pointing to an entry under the date of
Saturday, September 16th. The entry consisted of two words only, "Queen
Guinivere," upon an otherwise entirely blank page.

The woman smiled a wan smile. "We have a herd of Jersey cattle," she
replied, "and Queen Guinivere is one of the cows. She was due to have
her calf on that day. She is the matron of the whole herd and a valuable
animal. She has taken lots of prizes."

"And did she have her calf on that date?" asked the detective.
"Remember, it would be the day after your husband disappeared."

"Oh! no," replied Mrs. Rawlings, "not until the day before yesterday.
Look, you can see them, if you want to. They are both in the meadow
there."

Larose walked over to the window. "And do you think it is likely," he
asked, "that your husband went out that night to see if she was all
right?"

For a few moments, the woman stood silent. "It might be," she replied,
speaking very slowly. "Yes, it might be, for I know he was rather
anxious about her. She's getting old and nearly died with her last
calf." She bit her lip in vexation. "I never thought of that."

"And where would she have been that night?" asked the detective, "if he
had gone to her."

"In the same meadow where she is now," replied Mrs. Rawlings, "somewhere
between here and the castle. The Home meadow, we call it."

"Now, another thing," went on Larose. "Poison baits are said to have
been laid about here. Do you know anything about that."

"They've been laid," she replied slowly, "because several dogs have died
and now no one dares to keep one on the estate." She shook her head.
"But no one knows who lays them and it's been a mystery to everyone for
some time. It's very queer."

The detective made no comment. "And you have a lot of hares here, I
understand," he said after a moment. "Now whereabouts would you find
them?"

"Oh! all round," she replied. "They come to feed in the clover fields at
night."

A long silence followed, and then Larose got up to bid her good-bye. "I
shan't be far away," he said, "for I'm going to stop for a few days at
that inn, there by the beach. Oh! I was forgetting," he exclaimed.
"Where will you be if I want to ask you any more questions?"

Her face brightened. "At Westleton," she replied, "and it's only a mile
from here. Lord Thralldom has been very kind about that and has given me
a cottage and two pounds a week for as long as I live."

"Well, that's good," nodded Larose. "Good-bye," he said smilingly, "I'm
sure to be seeing you again soon."

But the smile dropped from his face directly he was outside.

That night, as upon every night when he was engaged upon a case, Larose
went very carefully over everything that had happened during the day and
with a map of Suffolk spread out before him, began talking softly to
himself.

"Well, I'll sort out all my cards," he said, "and just see what sort of
a hand I have. Now what does it all mean?" He spoke very solemnly.
"Within the space of a few short weeks these four persons, all residing
within a few miles of one another and all in happy and comfortable
circumstances have all disappeared off the face of the earth, and I ask
myself, from what I have learnt to-day, am I dealing with four separate
happenings, having no connection or relation to one another, or am I
faced with one main problem, of which each of these four disappearances
form only a part?"

He punctuated every word slowly with his hand. "Is it reasonable to
suppose that the same unaccountable urge came to each of these four
persons--to break all in an instant from the peaceful and settled order
of their lives, to forsake kith and kin, father, mother, wife and
children with no word or message of regret and no goodbye? To leave
those who loved them, to be night and day, and day and night, torturing
their brains as to what calamity could possibly have overtaken them?"

He shook his head emphatically. "No, no, I can rule that out at once.
Upon the face of it, I can be sure the disappearances of all these
people were not voluntary. They were forced upon them. Something
happened to keep them from returning to their homes and that
something"--he spoke in a whisper that was almost inaudible--"can surely
only mean that they are dead."

He paused for a long time here before going on. "Yes, that is the only
way I must account for their silence, for their silence can only be the
silence of the grave." His tone became much more brisk. "Well, what
happened? Did they then all meet with some such accident that their
bodies as a natural consequence have been hidden ever since from the
gaze of human eyes?" He shook his head again. "No, impossible. The
coincidences would be too strained. They were killed somehow. Yes, they
were killed and the fact that no traces of any one of them have been
found, suggests that they all came to their deaths in the same manner
and by the striking of the same hand."

He paused again as if to check up his thoughts. "Then, if that were so,
surely the killer did not seek them all out individually in the vicinity
of their own homes. He was not waiting at Leiston for the
school-teacher, at Saxmundham for the bank-manager, at Yoxford for the
innkeeper and here at Thralldom for the bailiff. No, no, they came to
him, and it was upon some single, common meeting-ground that they
encountered him and passed into eternity. Each of them upon the night
when they disappeared, by chance, came within reach of that uplifted
arm, and it remains for me to find out when they set out upon their
journeys; where their paths eventually converged; and at which
particular place they all met with their mysterious ends." He was quite
convinced. "Yes, I am dealing with one main problem, and the four
disappearances are part of a whole."

He considered for a moment. "So, I'll try and put myself in the minds of
some of those people upon the nights when they disappeared, and see
where their thoughts will lead me if, in my subsequent actions, there be
anything in common with them at all."

He settled himself back in his chair. "First, I am that school-teacher,
and I am twenty-seven, and well among the years when, if any lover were
coming to me, he should have come by now. But I am plain and
uninteresting-looking and no man has arrived to give me those mad
moments for which I crave. Oh, yes, I want them. I want them badly, for
I am very romantic. I love all the beauty in life. I love the sea, I
love flowers and I love scenery. I love poetry, too, of the romantic
kind." He nodded; "I could see how often that Tennyson of hers had been
opened at 'Idylls of the King.' In effect, I am a girl who must be
finding my unfulfilled womanhood very hard.

"Well, that night I am sitting with my parents and there is no
conversation. I am reading, but the soft, sensuous music of the divine
Chopin is filtering through into my brain. I am reading Ivanhoe and I
have just come to that part,"--he frowned--"now what were those lines in
particular that caught my eye when I opened the book? Ah! I
remember--'they hurl the defenders from the battlements, they throw them
into the moat'."

He shook his head and sighed. "But I close the book there and, for a
little while sit thinking. Then what are my thoughts? Surely I am
thinking of gay ladies and gallant knights, of battle-axes and shining
armour, of a mighty castle with high towers and towering battlements,
and--Thralldom Castle at once leaps up before my eyes."

His own eyes sparkled. "Of course it would, for all my life I have known
Thralldom Castle, and night and morning in that large photograph its
grim walls have been always under my gaze. So the castle in Ivanhoe
becomes real to me and I picture it as Thralldom is, and see them
hurling defenders over battlements that are familiar to me, and into a
moat that I know quite well."

"Then I look out of the window and see the moon is shining." The
detective made a muttered aside here. "There was some moon shining on
each of the nights when those poor souls disappeared." He went on. "So
all on the instant, I make up my mind to take a walk and then, what is
more natural than that, with these thoughts in my mind, I should turn my
steps in the direction of Thralldom Castle?" He paused for a long
moment. "Surely I should have gone that way."

He leant back in his chair and sighed. "Guess-work, Gilbert, just
guesswork and nothing more," he nodded his head grimly, "but for all
that you may not be very far astray."

His voice took on a sharp and business-like tone. "Now, for
disappearance number two, and I am the bank manager in Saxmundham. It is
after supper and I have a headache. I have been writing all the evening
and am not unnaturally tired. I think I will go for a walk. It will do
me good and clear the cobwebs from my brain. Well, where shall I go? It
is just a walk that I want, and therefore, I suppose all directions will
be the same to me. Ah! but will they? I was born by the sea and all my
boyhood's recollections are associated with the shore, the sands, the
waves and the breezes of the sea. My father was a sailor and his father
before him and his father before that. So, I have the very salt of the
sea in my blood, and what is more natural then than that I should turn
to the sea when I am feeling tired--as a tired child turns to his mother
in any distress? Yes, I'd take my walk in the direction of the sea."

He looked down at the map before him and went on. "And if I take my walk
towards the sea, by where will it lead me?" He spoke very slowly and
deliberately now. "I shall pass Thralldom Castle"--his voice trailed
away to nothing--"Thralldom Castle again!"

There was a long pause and then he shook his head. "A guess in the dark,
Gilbert, just a guess and yet"--he nodded--"for all that, you may be
dead on the spot again."

He smiled. "Now, for disappearance number three, and I am Sam Baxter, a
merry-hearted publican and I shut up my bar sharper than usual to-night.
Punctual to the tick of ten, for I have something to do and I am in a
hurry to get on with it. I put on my cap and let myself out into the
yard."

He screwed up his eyes and looked very puzzled. "Now what do I go into
the yard for? What could I be wanting there at that time of night? I
have gone there to get something and I am afterwards going for a walk or
upon an expedition of some kind for I have taken my cap from the hall.
Well, what am I wanting from the yard? There is no car, nor horse there.
Nothing but sheds, with fowls, ducks, pigs and a dog. Ah! a dog."

His thoughts ran on. "Yes, I was a poacher six years ago, an inveterate
poacher, so the Alfreton police said, and I suppose once a poacher,
always a poacher. So perhaps, I am going out poaching to-night, and I
have gone into the yard to get the dog. Well then, if I am going
poaching, what am I going poaching for? Not rabbits--the sergeant ruled
that out--and certainly not partridges or pheasants, for they are out of
season, and could not be put on the public table, and again, I should
not be wanting a dog to get them. Then, I must be thinking about hares,
and that means that I am going either to Sefton Park or Thralldom.
Sefton Park or Thralldom," he repeated slowly, "and I shall most
probably choose Thralldom because it is a moonlight night, and my inn is
on the Thralldom side of the town, and so by going in that direction
there will be less chance of anyone seeing me with my dog."

The detective nodded. "And that brings me to Thralldom again--always
Thralldom." He looked very grave. "It may be that I am only guessing
again, but now the startling fact is emerging from my guesses that by
deductions that are perfectly reasonable, and by no undue stretching of
the imagination, I am leading each of these three persons, the
school-teacher, from Leiston, the bank-manager from Saxmundham and the
inn-keeper from Yoxford, all to the very spot where we know for certain
that the bailiff himself disappeared. Yes, Thralldom lures them all to
their destruction; Rita Ethelton, because she is thinking of the castle
by moonlight; Augustus Andrew Holden because he and his forebears have
been all born by the sea, and Samuel Baxter because it is there he must
go poaching for his hares."

He nodded his head again. "Yes, and if anyone had deliberately planned a
common meeting place for these three, where they would have to travel
the least distances from their several homes, he would have chosen
Thralldom, for Thralldom is the centre of that circle from the
circumference of which they would have all started upon their journeys."

He went on. "So, I come finally to the case of Rawlings, and, in a way,
his last movements present the smallest difficulty of all, for if I
cannot with certainty say he was going to visit that much-prized matron
of the Jersey herd, I can at least assume from his half-dressed
condition that he was not going far away from his home." He pursed up
his lips. "But I can be pretty certain he was going after that cow in
the meadow there, for if he considered the matter that was worrying him
after he had retired to rest, to be of such urgency that he felt
compelled to get out of his bed almost in the middle of the night, then
it undoubtedly suggests that he was going to attend to some living
creature, and the fact that he took no lantern with him indicates that
he was content with the light of the moon for whatever he had to do"--he
nodded for the third time--"which brings in the meadow where the cow was
again."

He leant back once more. "And if these four poor creatures have met with
some untimely and violent form of death, who but a madman could have
inflicted it upon them, for what reason other than the sheer lust of
blood could have urged him upon his path of murder? It could not have
been for money that they were killed, for they practically carried none,
and it could not have been for any feelings of personal animosity, for
they all came from widely separated places and there was nothing that
one can conceive, except pure chance, that could have brought them one
after another, within reach of the wretch who assassinated them."

He rose up from his chair and began taking off his clothes.

"Yes, Gilbert," he said, "to-morrow, it's a madman you've got to start
looking for, and you'll have all your work cut out to find him. You
have, however, two things in your favour. You know the exact date when
this nice gentleman first started business"--his eyes glinted--"and you
know the place about where he takes his walks at night." He fished his
pyjamas out of his portmanteau. "So, to-morrow after supper you'll go
out to try and meet him and say 'how-do-you-do.' You can be very nice
and polite and all that, but I think first you had better shoot him in
the legs."

And he put out the light and composed himself placidly to sleep.




CHAPTER V.--THE HALESWORTH BUTCHER


The next morning Larose was early abroad and driving into the adjoining
village of Westleton, proceeded to interview the village policeman.

Police Constable Plummer was fat and comfortable-looking and from his
general appearance might easily, with no make-up at all, have just
stepped off the stage from taking part in some old-time blood and
thunder melodrama.

He was heavy and ponderous in manner, with a big and rather stupid face
and very round blue eyes, but it was evident that he regarded with
becoming gravity the responsibilities of his position as village
constable, and so answerable to the Crown for all the crimes and
misdemeanors of the one hundred and fifty and more souls under his
charge.

His uniform fitted him closely, and although the weather was far from
being warm, he perspired freely. He lived in a small house and seemed
himself to fill the greater part of the little room in which he
interviewed the detective.

He was duly impressed when he learnt who his visitor was, and regarded
him stolidly, breathing hard.

Without disclosing in any way what his mission was, Larose began at once
to enquire about the people in the district.

"Now," he said briskly, "what I want to know, Constable, is this. Is
there anyone in this neighbourhood who has the reputation of not being
quite right; who is eccentric in his ways, amongst other things, is
known to be in the habit of roaming about alone, late at night?"

The policeman looked very solemn for a moment and then suddenly a gleam
of intelligence stirred in his face. "Yes," he nodded, "I know the man
you want," and the detective's heart gave a bound at the apparently so
easy termination of his quest.

"The Reverend Finch answers to all these descriptions," went on the
policeman. "His mind is failing and he mutters a lot to himself. He will
preach for longer than an hour on Sundays until the people begin to walk
out, and sometimes he is missing from the Rectory for hours at night."

The face of the detective fell. A clergyman did not seem very promising,
but still--still, he thought, one never can tell.

"He goes out at night!" he ejaculated. "For how long is he away?"

"A couple of hours and more," replied the policeman, "and quite half a
dozen times lately, I've been fetched by Miss Finch at one and two in
the morning to go and look for him."

"And where does he go to?" asked Larose quickly. "Do you know?"

"Oh! not very far," was the reply. "Never more than two or three hundred
yards. He's ninety-three next birthday and not too steady on his pins."

The detective muttered a bad word, but his face betrayed no sign of his
disappointment.

"Anyone else?" he asked.

The policeman thought hard. "Young Pidgeon," he said, "but you'd hardly
call him a man. He's fifteen and mazed on fishing. He'd sit all night on
Minsmere Jetty if his mother would let him, and his father often has to
bicycle over and fetch him home."

The detective realised there was evidently going to be no corn in this
mill, so he rose to his feet. "Well, Constable," he asked, "which doctor
has the largest practice in this neighbourhood?"

"Dr. Steven, of Halesworth," was the reply. "He's my doctor and if it's
for rheumatism----"

"How far is Halesworth from here?" interrupted the detective.

"About eight miles," said the policeman. His eyes brightened. "But if
you want to see Dr. Steven you can catch him in the village now." He
pointed through the window. "There's his car just outside old Mrs.
Rumbleton's. He's attending her for lumbago, but her sister died of
cancer a couple of years or so back and everyone believes----"

But Larose bade him a quick good morning and hurrying out into the
street, was just in time to catch the doctor as the latter was getting
into his car.

"Can I speak to you for one minute, please, Dr. Steven?" he asked and
the doctor, after one hard scrutiny of his interrogator, nodded a quick
assent. The doctor was a keen, intelligent-looking man in the middle
fifties, cleanshaven, with a good chin and a pair of very shrewd grey
eyes. He looked exactly what he was, a busy country doctor, sharp and
businesslike and with no time to waste.

Larose told him who he was and showed him his badge. "I am very sorry to
trouble you, Doctor," he said, "but you may be able to do me a great
service. I need not mention," he added, "that I am speaking to you in
the strictest confidence."

"Of course, of course," nodded the doctor frowningly, "that is
understood."

"I am down here on a special mission," went on Larose, "and, in a
sentence, I am looking for a man of deranged mind with homicidal
tendencies. Now, do you happen to know of anyone about here who answers
to that description?"

The doctor regarded Larose with a grim smile. "If I did," he replied, "I
should get him put away at once, for I am a magistrate as well as a
doctor." He shook his head. "No, I know of no one like that."

"You have been practising here for some time?" asked the detective.

"Thirty years," was the reply, with a deep sigh. "Thirty out of my
fifty-four."

"Then you know everyone in the neighbourhood?"

"Nearly everyone. Two thirds of those under thirty I have brought into
the world and for half of them"--another deep sigh--"I have not yet been
paid."

"And you can think of no one," went on the detective, "who, although
outwardly normal in appearance, may yet be the man I want?"

The doctor shook his head again. "No, I can think of no one."

"Are there any drug-addicts about?" was Larose's next question.

"A few," was the reply, "but quite harmless."

"Well, are there any private asylums in the neighbourhood, or any
doctors who have charge of private lunatics?"

"There is a private asylum at Beccles, about eighteen miles away, and a
practitioner in Framlingham has two certified cases under his care." Dr.
Steven smiled. "But these latter are both old ladies, so I am afraid
there will be nothing to interest you there."

A short silence followed and then Larose asked. "Well one more question.
Doctor, and then I am afraid I shall have finished. Now, is there anyone
at present living in the neighbourhood who, to your knowledge, has at
one time been in an asylum for the insane."

Instantly then, the doctor's face hardened and looking very sternly at
the detective, he replied quickly--"Now there, sir, you are asking a
question I am not prepared to answer. I say neither yes nor no to that
for there are some things a medical man may not divulge."

A great exultation thrilled through the detective's heart. Was he upon
the trail at last?

"But, Doctor," he went on impressively, "what I am asking you may be a
matter of life or death, and if you refuse to tell me, you may be
condemning yet another poor soul to a ghastly and bloody end."

The doctor opened his eyes wide in astonishment. "Then has some murder
been already committed in this neighbourhood?" he asked sharply. "I have
heard of none."

Larose picked his words very carefully. "That for the moment, sir, is
impossible to answer with any certainty, but I assure you there are
strong suspicions that more than one has been already done." He spoke
very solemnly. "We are looking for a man whose mental condition is such
that he might be a murderer, and it is only by lighting upon such an
individual and setting a watch upon him, that we can determine whether
or not he has already taken life, not once, but several times."

The doctor looked very puzzled. "I would help you if I could," he said
slowly, "but to put it bluntly I don't feel justified in exposing to
your attentions anyone whom I, as a medical man, consider to be
perfectly harmless."

"But, Doctor," persisted Larose eagerly, "it is exactly a man whom
everyone considers as perfectly harmless that I am looking for. A man
who by day is perhaps just an ordinary respectable member of the
community, but who, by night, is a maniac and prowling about the
country, as dangerous to all he meets as the angel of death. He may have
bouts of mania, too, that only come on at intervals, and in his sane
moments may be quite ignorant of all he does at other times." He spoke
very sternly. "I am not appealing to you as an officer of the forces of
law and order only, but in the name of a humanity common to us all."

A troubled expression came over the doctor's face. "You are quite
eloquent, sir," he said, "and almost I feel inclined----No, no, I'll not
tell you." He smiled pleasantly. "But at any rate I'll give you some
good advice although you need not mention to anyone that it was I who
gave it to you." He started his engine and let in the dutch. "Go and see
Inspector Ferguson, in Halesworth. He may be able to help you when I
can't." And away he drove with a friendly wave of his hand.

"Good!" remarked the detective as he climbed into his own car. "Now, my
instinct tells me I'm going to get something out of this." His face
fell. "But I hope they don't put me on to anyone who lives in
Halesworth, for Halesworth is a good nine miles from Thralldom."

Inspector Ferguson, of Halesworth, proved to be a smart, intelligent
officer and there was no hesitation about his answer when after due
formalities of introduction had been effected, Larose put to him the
question.

"Yes," he said, regarding his visitor interestedly, "I do know of a man
living here who, at one time, has been confined to a lunatic asylum. The
information, however, came to me quite by accident and not in my
official capacity, and I believe only one other person in the town is
aware of the fact. The man is Ridgeway Turnbull and he is a butcher
here."

The detective suppressed the excitement that he felt. "Well, tell me
everything you know about him," he said sharply.

Inspector Ferguson had been well trained and, in the presence of one of
the reputation of Larose, asked no preliminary questions, but proceeded
at once and with no appearance of curiosity, to impart all the knowledge
he possessed.

"It happens I am well acquainted with him," he said, "for I come from
Saxmundham, near here, and we were boys together. Ridgeway Turnbull is
forty-five years of age and was born in the village of Westleton, eight
miles from here. His father was a labourer in the employ of the then
Lord Thralldom, the uncle of the present one, and Ridgeway, as a boy,
worked on the Thralldom lands too. He was a wild youth and gave his
parents a lot of trouble. At seventeen he ran away and went to sea and
we heard nothing of him for six or seven years. Then he came home on a
visit, with a girl whom he married. He had given up the sea and was
working for a butcher in London. Then we lost sight of him for about ten
years until he came to this town, and obtained employment as an
assistant to one of the butchers here. He is prosperous now and a
well-to-do man. He is a widower, having lost his wife the year before
last. He has no children."

Larose listened with an intense thrill to the Inspector's recital. Here
might be the very man he wanted. One who had an intimate acquaintance
with the Thralldom lands and whose occupation would have hardened him to
the shedding of blood, and tended to make him callous to the suffering
he was inflicting.

"And when was he in an asylum?" he asked.

The Inspector hesitated. "I cannot tell you that with any certainty," he
replied, "but it was not long before he came here, which would make it
about thirteen or fourteen years ago. He was in an asylum for more than
two years and the information reached me in a very curious manner. I
play bowls, and so does he, and four years ago I won the trophy and he
was the runner-up. I sent a copy of the local paper with all the details
in about the match, to an uncle of mine who is also interested in the
game, and in acknowledging the receipt of the paper, my uncle asked who
the R. Turnbull was, because, he said, a butcher's assistant in Forest
Gate, of that name, and with that initial, had once been put into an
asylum after attempting to cut his wife's throat, and the description he
gave coincided exactly with the appearance of Turnbull here."

"And who else knows about it in this town?" asked Larose. "You said a
second person had heard about it."

"Yes, Dr. Steven here," replied the Inspector. "Turnbull's wife told him
about it, once when the doctor was called in after one of her husband's
heavy drinking bouts. I had taken Ridgeway home that night and heard her
telling him."

"Then he drinks!" said the detective.

"Yes, he breaks out every few months and we've had to gaol him several
times. He's been up before the magistrates twice this year."

"What's he like to look at?" asked Larose.

"He passed you just as you were getting out of your car to come in
here," was the reply. "I was standing at the window and saw you both in
the same glance. He's a tall, gaunt man, with a big nose and a rather
distinguished-looking face." The Inspector smiled for the first time and
lowered his voice to a whisper. "In fact there's a little bit of scandal
about his father's parentage, for his father was supposed to be an
illegitimate son of the Lord Thralldom of that time, and there may be
something in it, for Ridge is not unlike the present lord."

"Good gracious!" ejaculated Larose. "Do you really think it's true?"

"Well," said the Inspector judicially, "his grandmother was a maid once
up at the castle and she left hurriedly and--Ridge's father was born. At
any rate, she had an allowance from some source she would never
disclose, and when Ridge gets drunk he boasts he is a cousin of the
present Lord Thralldom."

The detective smiled. "And does Lord Thralldom know about it?" he asked.

The Inspector looked amused. "You bet he does," he replied, "for I heard
Ridge tell him so once openly to his face. Lord Thralldom was presiding
on the bench that day, and Ridge was up as usual for being drunk, and
when his lordship gave him ten days without the option of a fine. Ridge
shouted out that if a priest had only mumbled a few words over his
grandmother, he'd have been the Lord Thralldom now, instead of only a
blanky butcher selling chops and steaks."

They both enjoyed a good laugh, and then Larose asked. "And what about
the man's mental condition now? Does he show any signs of not being in
his right mind?"

"No," replied the inspector, "he seems quite all right to me."

"And except for getting drunk then," went on the detective, "you have
nothing against him?"

"No, he's quite a good member of the community and very good company."

A short silence followed and then Larose asked sharply, "Does he go out
by himself at night on a bicycle or in a car?"

The Inspector looked embarrassed and almost as if he had been found out
in some misdemeanour himself.

"Yes, he does," he frowned, "in his car, and I've caught him twice
lately coming home without any lights."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed the detective, "and when was that?"

The Inspector considered. "I can't tell you exactly," he replied, "but
the last time was about midnight, three weeks ago. No, it's no good. I'm
sorry I can't give you the exact date."

"Well, does he often go out at night in his car?" asked Larose.

The Inspector hesitated. "I really can't tell you that either, although
we live almost opposite to one another. It's like this. His shop and my
house are both about half-way up this hill running through the town, and
if he wants to go out on the quiet after dark, he can just push his car
out on to the road, and then free-wheel down and not start his engine
until he's out of hearing. Then, he can return home by another way and
come into the road at the top of the hill this time, so that by shutting
off the engine again, he can just glide down into the yard without a
sound."

"What does he go out at night after, do you know?"

The Inspector raised his eyebrows. "Oh! after some woman, I suppose, and
if he's of Thralldom descent that would be the natural thing, for
they've always been a gay lot," he nodded his head, "and half mad too."

"Is he bitter against the present Lord Thralldom?" asked Larose.

"Very," was the reply, "for his lordship always makes it hot for him if
Ridge comes up when he's on the bench, and when Ridge is drunk he talks
a lot about having his revenge."

A short silence followed and then the detective remarked: "Well,
Inspector, I've no doubt you are wondering why I'm interested in the
man."

"Naturally," smiled the Inspector, and he bowed, "for we don't often get
anyone of your reputation coining down into these parts."

"It's about that bailiff of Lord Thralldom's I've come," said Larose.
"We are not satisfied up at the Yard with the explanation, or rather the
want of explanation, relating to his disappearance."

"And I should think not," said the Inspector decisively, "for it's most
mysterious." He looked sharply at Larose. "What about those other
disappearances? Have you heard of them?"

The detective nodded. "Yes, and I don't like the look of them either."

Inspector Ferguson frowned. "I knew that Mr. Holden, of Saxmundham,
well, and he was a good fellow. I met him one evening only the week
before he disappeared. He was going down to have a bathe at Minsmere
Haven, and he was making a short cut across Lord Thralldom's land."

Larose pricked up his ears. "Oh! now tell me exactly where you met him?"

"Just by the Thralldom marshes," replied the Inspector, "and close near
a little plantation of larches where the ground begins to rise. About
300 yards from the ruins of the old Priory. He was trespassing of
course." He smiled. "But we all trespass when we go near Thralldom
Castle. It ought to belong to the nation, and public opinion is dead
against all the notice boards that his lordship has put everywhere.
People do no harm in crossing over his meadows."

"Well," said Larose sharply, "I'm looking for a madman who prowls round
Thralldom at night and who attacks anyone he comes across. That's the
only theory I can form to account for all these disappearances, and if I
am right, I am pretty sure, for reasons that would take too long to tell
you now, that they have all occurred near Thralldom Castle itself."

The Inspector whistled. "What an idea!" he exclaimed. "I'd have never
dreamed of such a thing." He thought for a moment. "But what about the
bodies? No traces of any bodies have been found."

"All in good time," nodded the detective. He spoke sharply. "Now about
this Turnbull here. I want to go over his house. How can I manage it?"

"A search warrant!" suggested the Inspector.

"No, no, the last thing in the world," exclaimed Larose. "I must go over
it without anyone knowing. Not a soul must know I'm interested in the
man. Now how can it be arranged?"

The Inspector snapped his fingers together. "You couldn't have come at a
better time. It's early closing to-day and Turnbull is playing bowls
this afternoon. There'll only be his housekeeper in the house, and she
will be going out to visit her sister who's in hospital with a bad leg.
All you've got to do is to come over to my place, wait until the coast
is clear, and get into the house through the back door. I don't suppose
for a moment that it will be locked." He laughed. "Turnbull's a careless
man, and besides, we are all supposed to be honest people about here."
He shook his head. "But of course this is going to be done unofficially.
I must know nothing about it."

"No, of course not," agreed Larose. He rose to his feet. "And now I'll
go and have a close-up view of this descendant of the Thralldom's. I
suppose he'll be in his shop."

"Most probably," replied the Inspector. "He was going that way."

Larose parked his car behind the police station and proceeding to the
butcher's shop, walked in and for want of something cheaper, ordered a
pound of chops. He recognised Turnbull instantly from the description
the Inspector had given him. The man was alone in his shop.

The butcher had a proud and not unhandsome face. His eyes were big and
fierce under bushy eyebrows and he had a high forehead and a large
mouth, with very tightly-closed lips. He was clean shaven, his
appearance being not unlike that of a priest. He gave his customer a
hard scrutiny as he came in.

"Nice weather," said Larose, and the butcher looked up from cutting the
chops and nodded. "Yes, very nice," he replied.

"We could do with some rain though," went on Larose, and the butcher
looked up and nodded again.

"How far is it to Thralldom Castle?" asked the detective next, and this
time the butcher did not look up as he replied quietly,

"About six miles, I should say."

Larose left the shop in two minds. In one, he was disappointed that the
butcher looked so normal and matter-of-fact, and in the other, he was
elated that the man had not stated correctly the distance to the castle.

"Of course he would know," ran his exultant thoughts, "but he mis-stated
it deliberately because he wanted to make out he took no particular
interest in anything about Thralldom. He evidently noticed me, a
stranger to the town, going into the police station, and is prepared to
be careful about anyone whom he knows has been speaking to the police."
He smiled to himself. "Therefore he has something to hide, and things
look quite hopeful."

He had lunch at the Inspector's home, and then watched behind the
curtain of one of the front rooms for the butcher to go out.

"The bowling green is only just up the road," the Inspector informed
him, "so Turnbull won't be taking his car."

Just after two, the butcher, dressed in a smart navy-blue suit, came out
and proceeded up the road, to be followed half an hour later by an
elderly woman in a mackintosh, carrying a bunch of flowers.

"And that means," said the Inspector, "that she won't be away long.
She's not dressed herself up as she usually does, and has only just
slipped the mackintosh over her ordinary clothes. Now, off you go, Mr.
Larose, and if you find the back door locked, which is not very likely,
you are sure to find one of the windows unlatched."

Waiting until the woman was well up the road, Larose strolled across and
slipped into the butcher's yard. The back door was not fastened and he
was soon inside the house.

There were four rooms at the back of the shop and he at once picked out
the two that belonged to the butcher. They were not over clean and very
untidy. He soon finished with the bedroom, but in the other room there
was more to interest him. It was evidently used partly as an office and
partly as a sitting-room and in one corner there was a big desk with
three good-sized drawers down upon each side.

"Now, what am I looking for?" he asked himself as he rapidly surveyed
the contents of the room. He made a grimace. "I really don't know."

There were a number of books upon a long shelf and they were all piled
anyhow, with no regard to shapes or sizes, one upon the top of another;
novels with highly coloured jackets, books on history and travel,
Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Carlyle's French
Revolution, books on popular science and a ten year's old
edition of Burke's Peerage.

"Not an uneducated man by any means," commented the detective, "and that
class of criminal is always the more dangerous." He picked up the
Burke's Peerage and it opened, as if of its own accord, at the Barony of
Thralldom. "So, so," he smiled, "then our friend is evidently seriously
of opinion that he comes of the Thralldom stock."

He turned to the desk and began pulling out the drawers. They were
crammed untidily with bills, receipts and stock reports. Five of them he
glanced through hurriedly and then, coming to the sixth, he found that
it was locked.

"Ah! now what's in this?" he remarked, and he took a small bunch of keys
out of his pocket and, one by one, tried to fit them into the lock. But
they were none of them of any use, so after one quick glance round to
see if there were anything more of interest in the room, he ran out into
the yard to the garage. The garage door was pulled to but not fastened
in any way, and as he slid it open, wide enough to pass in, a clucking
fowl darted through his legs into the yard. He searched quickly for a
pair of pliers and a piece of stout wire.

"Waste of time, probably," he muttered, as when back in the sitting-room
again he was kneeling before the locked drawer, "but it's curious that
only this one drawer of the six should be locked."

The lock was a common one and he had soon dealt with it to expose to
view, as in the other drawers, a mass of untidy papers pushed in anyhow.

"Still," he nodded, "there was probably purpose in the man's mind when he
locked this drawer, and as a matter of routine, I'd like to know what
that purpose was," and he thrust his hand down among the papers to feel
round at the sides and bottom of the drawer.

Instantly then the expression on his face became more intent and he drew
out a small, flat packet from under all the papers and at the very back
of the drawer. Its covering was just ordinary newspaper folded several
times, and dirty with traces of oil upon it. Unfolding it quickly, he
was staring at the number plates of a car, with the inscription on them
"AN-17151."

The figures had been evidently home-painted for they were straggling and
uneven and slovenly. They were well splattered over with dried mud.

"Now, that's funny," he remarked, and after a few moments' thought, he
laid them upon the floor and ran into the garage again. There were two
cars there. A meat delivery one and a Ford tourer. Their number plates
were RF-2709 and RF-8421 respectively.

"Whew!" he whistled, "then those are false number plates he is hiding in
that drawer." He bent down and examined the fastenings of the plates.
"And it's the tourer that he uses them upon."

He spent five minutes in the garage and then returning into the house,
replaced the number plates where he had found them, and left everything
as before. He next proceeded to the police station and informed the
Inspector of his discoveries.

"And the piece of newspaper they are wrapped in is a sheet from the
Ipswich Guardian," he said, "and it is dated August the 5th.
That would be eight days before Mrs. Holden and the school-teacher
disappeared. From the look of the paper, the plates have been wrapped
and unwrapped many times since it was first brought into use, for it
fits them now almost like a case, and folds of its own accord into their
shape. The plates are muddied, too, which shows that when he has been
using them he has been driving the car off the bitumen and in by-lanes."

"It looks fishy," commented the Inspector, "very. He's up to something
right enough."

"And it's the tourer he's been using them on," continued Larose, "for
the nuts of the plates on the delivery van are well rusted whereas those
of the tourer have been oiled recently and unscrew easily, which
explains the oily finger-marks on the paper. There's another thing, too,
that wants some explanation. I lifted the piece of carpet upon the floor
of the back of the car,"--he looked impressively at the inspector--"and
saw unmistakable stains of blood upon the floor-boards there."

The Inspector shook his head. "But I shouldn't bank much on that," he
said, "for two or three times lately his van has broken down, and the
meat has been delivered in the tourer."

"No matter," said Larose, rather disappointedly, "at any rate we've got
enough to go on to make it desirable--if not in my interests in
yours--to set a watch upon him and find out what he's after."

"Certainly," agreed the Inspector, "but he's a sharp man, and will be
difficult to trail."

"Yes," said Larose, "for up to a certain point the more insane a man is,
the more cunning he is." He took a map of Suffolk out of his pocket and
spread it out upon the desk. "Now, we'll take it for granted that he's
not finished with those false number-plates of his, but will go on using
them for the same purpose he's been employing them up to now, and we
must trail him to find out what that purpose is. Well, of course, it's
no good our trying to start following him anywhere near the town. We
must pick him up when he's a good distance from here, so that he will
have no idea anyone is interested in his movements and that being so, if
he is going to Thralldom, when is it likely he will first turn off from
the main road?"

"At one of those by-roads there," pointed the Inspector, "after he's got
on to the Norwich-London road. About half a mile this side of Darsham,
perhaps."

"Well, you have a man ready at Darsham, with a bicycle say every night
for the next week, starting with to-night. Let him be waiting where you
can phone him and you keep watch this end and ring up if Turnbull leaves
his house. If he does leave, it should not be later than ten o'clock and
when there's a moon shining. Ten to eleven is the critical time when all
these people have disappeared, also, the maniac I have in my imagination
never works in complete darkness. Then, if your chap gets a ring, he can
bicycle up this way and meet Turnbull, and he'll be a poor fellow if he
doesn't find out which way Turnbull goes. Myself, I'll be on the
look-out on the Thralldom lands every night, and I ought to hear his car
if he comes anywhere near." He held out his hand to the Inspector. "But
now I think I'll be getting back, for I want to take a walk round the
castle lands before it gets dark. I am staying at the inn on Minsmere
Haven and let me have a ring at once if the butcher starts out to-night.
I'll wait at home on the chance."

When the butcher came home for his tea that evening, his housekeeper met
him with some very disquieting news. "I found that white hen shut out of
the garage when I got back," she said. "I was rather late because I had
met some friends at the hospital, and all her eggs were stone cold.
Someone must have been to the garage and let her out, when I was away."

Her master was in the act of taking off his coat, but at her words he
stopped, with one arm out, and opened his mouth very wide. Then he went
into the garage, and for a long while stood staring thoughtfully round.

"What's happening?" he whispered at last. "A man with a London
registration plate on his car, goes into the police-station and then
comes round to me for a pound of chops. He stares at me so hard that he
forgets to pick up his change. Then someone comes in and lets the fowl
out of the garage when we are both away." He frowned, "Yes, what's up?"

The detective had bad luck that afternoon, for he was delayed at Yoxford
with a broken spring, and in consequence did not get back to Minsmere in
time to make a survey of the land round the castle as he had told the
Inspector he was intending to do, before dark.




CHAPTER VI.--THE TRAIL OF BLOOD


The following morning Larose, leaving his car in the garage of the inn,
went for a three hours' tramp, circling round Thralldom Castle in every
direction, but never going much farther than a mile away from it. Once,
he approached to within a few hundred yards, and only desisted from a
very close inspection, because of the many warning notices he saw
displayed everywhere, that trespassers would be prosecuted.

"A most exclusive old gentleman," was his comment upon the lord of the
castle, "and perhaps it is a good thing that his line is dying out.
Surely a castle like this should belong to the nation and not to any
particular individual."

Still, he had a pair of good binoculars with him and taking up a
comfortable position against a fence, he sat back and, for a long time,
took in the beautiful proportions of the castle. The longer he regarded
it, the more he was inclined to appreciate its loveliness. "Yet, upon
what violence, what cruelties and what bloodiness has it looked down,"
he murmured, "and who dare say it is not now looking down upon more
bloodiness, still?"

He returned to the inn in good time for the midday meal, and proceeding
first into the bar for a glass of ale, found a couple of fishermen
likewise intent upon refreshing themselves. He nodded good-day to them
and then, taking his tankard with him, moved off to a long wooden form
by the window, leaving the fishermen to continue their conversation with
the landlord.

Presently the door of the bar was pushed open and a fourth customer
appeared. He was a tall, thin man with a meditative, gloomy face, but
upon every stitch of his attire was written 'holiday-maker.' Thick
woollen stockings covered his lanky legs, and he wore baggy trousers and
a short jacket. A big tweed golfing cap was pulled down low upon his
forehead and he carried a thick, hefty-looking walking stick.

He was standing at the counter of the bar with his back turned toward
the detective when Larose first happened to catch sight of him.

The latter thoughtfully regarded the lanky figure for a few moments and
then frowned in a puzzled way, for some chord of memory had
subconsciously been stirred in him.

The man received his tankard and turning round, walked up to the bench
where Larose was, and seated himself at the other end. In the act of
sitting down he nodded a casual good-day, following it up at once,
however, with a slow and solemn wink.

"Naughton Jones!" gasped Larose. "The greatest private detective of the
age! The cleverest and yet the most conceited worker in the trade! Now
what on earth is he doing down here, got up like that?"

But it was evidently not the desire of the great Jones that he should be
spoken to, for he now turned his face away and puffed steadily at a big
pipe.

"Dinner is ready, sir," called out the landlord a minute or two later,
and Larose, rising leisurely to his feet, proceeded to pass out of the
bar. When, however, he was just level with Naughton Jones, he stooped,
and bending down to adjust a bootlace, at once received a communication
as he had expected he would.

"I'll be outside in half an hour," came from the half-closed lips of
Naughton Jones. "Follow me, at a distance. It's important."

And so, accordingly, half an hour later, Larose was following in the
wake of the lanky holiday-maker who walked about a hundred yards in
advance.

Jones led the way round a corner of the cliffs and when they had gone
about a quarter of a mile and had lost sight of the inn, he sat down
upon the beach and beckoned to the detective to come up to him.

"Good-day, Mr. Larose," he said with a dry smile. "I'm pleased to meet
you again. I had my eye on you the day before yesterday."

"Oh! you had, had you?" exclaimed Larose, looking rather taken aback.

"Yes," went on Jones carelessly. "I saw you pull up at Mrs. Rawlings'. I
was in the small plantation near there, watching the house." He laughed
slily. "I thought there was just the chance that Gilbert Larose would be
turning up, for it has been shouted all round the country that she had
applied to Scotland Yard." He looked hard at the detective. "You've been
sent down on a special mission, have you?"

Larose nodded. "Yes," he replied quietly. "I've come down to try and
find out what happened to the bailiff."

"And I'd like to know too," commented Jones dryly. "I'd like very much
to have a little talk with that gentleman."

"So you're interested too, are you?" said Larose. He spoke as if with
great respect. "May I ask how it happened you have come down?"

"You may ask," replied Jones curtly. He appeared to consider for a
moment and then added, "And I see no reason why I should not tell you.
In fact," and he smiled quite genially now, "I have been thinking that
you might, perhaps, be of some help to me. I don't forget you proved
very useful when we were hounding down the racketeers of Ephraim Smith."

Larose suppressed a smile. "I always try to do my best, Mr. Jones," he
replied, "but of course I have not had your experience."

"No," commented Jones grandly, "for you're younger than I am and
experience can only come with age." He went on a quick crisp tone. "Now,
I'll tell you what I am down here for. I am acting on behalf of a Mrs.
Baxter, whose husband kept the Oxford Arms, four miles away." He looked
sharply at Larose. "You have heard, perhaps, that he disappeared three
weeks ago?"

The detective drew in a deep breath, and it was with a great effort only
that he managed to suppress an exclamation of surprise. He composed his
features, however, to a calm and casual expression.

"Yes," he nodded, "I heard that he could not be found." He put up one
hand to cover a yawn. "Do you know anything about him?"

"Only that he's dead," snapped Jones. "Murdered on these meadows here
and within a mile of where we are sitting now."

This time Larose made no effort to suppress his surprise. "Dead!" he
exclaimed incredulously. "Murdered! Good God! Are you sure?"

"Well, I found his cap," replied Jones, smiling grimly at the
consternation in the detective's face, "and it had been full of blood.
It had a great slit in it and sticking to the edges of the slit were
scalp, brain tissue and sandy-coloured hairs. Baxter's hair was sandy
and he had undoubtedly been killed with a chopper, or an axe of some
kind."

Accustomed as he was, by his life's work, to horrors of all kinds, the
detective nevertheless experienced a feeling of nausea at the words so
glibly spoken, and he swallowed hard, several times.

"Tell me about it, will you," he said after a few seconds.

Naughton Jones settled himself comfortably back upon the beach. "Well,
I'll begin from when I first took up the case. I had----"

"One moment, please," interrupted Larose. "Does his wife know?"

A cloud passed over the face of the great investigator. "No," he
admitted reluctantly. "I have not thought it wise to inform her yet."
His expression brightened a little. "In fact I am waiting by express
purpose, for I am hoping to present both heads upon the same charger,
her husband's and that of his assassin."

Larose made no comment, and after an impressive pause, Jones went on.
"Eight days ago, I had a call from this Mrs. Baxter to find her husband
for her, but I should not have thought of taking up the case, for I am
very busy, had she not reminded me that last year I was instrumental in
getting a cousin of hers five years for burglary, and she seemed to
think that gave her a certain claim on me. So, upon consideration, I
complied with her request."

He looked very stern. "I told her, however, straightaway, to have no
further dealings with the official police, and on no account to mention
to anyone that I was investigating the matter. If she did, I warned her,
I should return to London immediately. I also enjoined her that if any
of the police called again, she was to refuse to answer any of their
questions."

Larose frowned and seemed upon the point of making some sharp comment,
but he thought better of it, and with a half smile turned away his eyes.

"Now," continued Jones in sonorous tones, and as if he were a
schoolmaster addressing a class, "when I take up a case I always insist
upon no half confidences. I demand entire confidence from the party
calling me in, and with Mrs. Baxter it was particularly fortunate that I
did so, for I learnt at once that she had let four days pass before
informing anyone that her husband was missing, and I at once wanted to
know the reason why. She was reluctant to tell me at first, but at
length I dragged from her that he was given to poaching, and had indeed
once served a term of imprisonment for that offence and it was her
belief that he was out again upon such an expedition the night he
disappeared."

Naughton Jones paused a few moments to rekindle his pipe and then went
on.

"You must understand, of course, Mr. Larose, that poaching is a serious
offence with anyone in Great Britain, but doubly so in the case of a
publican, for to hold a license of a hotel or public-house in this
country a man must be of exemplary character and with no history of any
bad conduct against him. So we can quite understand why Mrs. Baxter had
not dared to broadcast her suspicions at the time, even though they
might materially have helped the authorities in their investigations.
She was hoping, too, on the other hand, that her husband might possibly
have gone off upon a drinking bout--he had done that several times in
the nine years of their married life--and there again, she wanted to
hush things up as much as possible."

"Well, having got this far, I probed for the reason why she thought her
husband had gone poaching, and learnt she was of that opinion, because
firstly, she had noticed him mending an old dog leash in the afternoon,
and it was no longer to be found upon the premises, and secondly,
because the greyhound or lurcher, or whatever kind of breed the animal
is, had been found unchained in his kennel the following morning, which
was most unusual, and moreover, he had been very tired and stiff all the
succeeding day, as if he had had a hard night's work. Added to that, the
beast had refused all food as if he had recently had a surfeit."

Jones nodded solemnly. "I thought over everything well, and came to the
conclusion that the deductions were quite sound and that therefore, the
next matter for me to consider was where the poaching had been done. I
was of opinion pretty soon that Baxter could have only been going after
hares, because he had taken the lurcher with him, obviously with the
intention of running them down, and I straightaway started upon discreet
enquiries in the town as to where most hares were to be found."

He paused for a moment again and Larose asked curiously, "And you picked
upon Thralldom at once, Mr. Jones?"

Jones looked very pleased with himself. "No, no," he smiled, "and there,
Mr. Larose, I flatter myself upon a very pretty little piece of
reasoning." He lifted one long forefinger. "There are several places
around Yoxford where hares can be found, but I was emphatically warned
by a richly-complexioned individual, to whom I supplied certain forms of
liquid refreshment, and who was undoubtedly of opinion that I was going
to indulge in a little poaching myself, above all places to avoid
Thralldom for there, he averred, poison baits had been extensively laid
down."

"Go on," said Larose, for the great master was tantalisingly making a
long pause.

"Well," smiled Jones, "I at once thought of that dog-leash and hurried
back to Mrs. Baxter to question her about the dog. It was a most
obedient animal, I learnt, and would follow and always come to heel.
Then where was the necessity for the leash? I asked myself, unless----"
and he nodded his head significantly--"it were needed to keep the dog
close to his owner's side so that no poison baits should be picked up on
the journeys to and fro? In effect, so that the animal should only have
his head free when in actual pursuit of a hare."

"A most sound piece of reasoning, Mr. Jones," commented Larose, "and it
seems so simple when you explain it."

Naughton Jones smiled with appreciation at the compliment and went on
briskly, "So to Thralldom I came, and I spent four hard days among these
meadows, these plantations, and these marshes going carefully almost
yard by yard, over the ground." He frowned. "I received several rebuffs,
and three times was warned away by different employees of Lord Thralldom,
but I invariably returned from another direction a few minutes later,
and in the end, I obtained my reward. I found the cap by the end of a
small plantation of larch trees, about a quarter of a mile from the
castle itself."

"You are sure it had belonged to Baxter?" rapped out Larose sharply.

Naughton Jones smiled again. "Quite sure," he replied. "His wife had
given me the description of the only cap that was missing, and besides,
it had his initials 'S.B.' in the lining, in indelible blue pencil. It
had evidently been blown under the bush when I discovered it."

"But you have found no traces of the body?" asked Larose.

"None whatever, and there was nothing to show that Baxter had been
killed within a hundred yards of the plantation. From the bloody
condition of the cap, a lot of blood must have been spilt, but I could
see no sign of it anywhere about." Jones shook his head. "But that is
not to be wondered at for it was exactly three weeks to the day after
Baxter disappeared that I found the cap and there had been several rainy
days in between."

"But the body!" exclaimed Larose. "If Baxter were killed as you say, it
must surely have been hidden somewhere near?"

"Not necessarily," smiled Jones. "It may have been carried a long way,
with the cap falling off at any moment of the journey."

"But who would have gone to the trouble of carrying the body a long
way?" asked Larose bluntly. "Once the man was dead, surely the murderer
would have cleared off and left the body where it was?" He looked with
hard intentness at Jones as he put the question and almost as if he had
no belief in his own suggestion, but were only desirous of learning what
the other's opinion might be.

"No, no," replied Jones quickly, "and that is just my point." His face
grew very stern and he spoke in a slow and solemn tone. "Whoever killed
Sam Baxter was not content only that he had killed him but he also held
that it was necessary that nothing that had happened should be known. He
was killing upon ground to which he desired no suspicion should be
drawn, for"--and here Jones paused dramatically--"it was in his mind
that it might be necessary for him to kill there again."

The heart of the detective was beating rapidly, and once more he had to
mask from his face all indication of what was passing in his mind. So,
this pompous and long-winded pedant, with his petty and laughable
conceits, was nevertheless trailing unerringly upon the very path that
he, Larose, had been imagining he, alone, had picked up!

"Yes," went on Jones calmly, "and in my opinion we have a madman here
and I know who he is."

"Who?" burst out Larose quickly.

"James Augustus Rawlings," was the instant reply. "He came upon Baxter
poaching, but thought Baxter was there to injure his blessed cows.
That's the whole thing in a nutshell."

A long silence followed and then Jones dropped into sonorous academic
tones again. "The human mind, Mr. Larose, is at times the victim of its
own marvellous evolution for its weakness lies in its very strength.
Concentration in any particular and strictly definite direction is
always prone to induce a condition of morbidity, a pathological----"

"But have you the very slightest evidence," broke in Larose sharply,
"that Rawlings had anything to do with Baxter's murder even if it be, as
you say, that Baxter is dead?"

Naughton Jones held up his hand. "Listen, Mr. Larose. It is now three
days since I found that cap, and I have not been idle, indeed, I do not
think I have ever worked harder in all my life. I have enquired into the
private histories and dispositions of most of the responsible people
about here, and this is what, amongst other things, I have found out."
He spoke in natural tones now. "Rawlings is a quiet and taciturn man,
and passionately devoted to all his duties. He is thorough in
everything, but is not liked because he is hard, cold and unsympathetic
in his dealings with everyone outside his home. Lord Thralldom, a weak
old man, and thinking of little now except his paintings, leaves all the
management of the estate to him and the bailiff does pretty well
everything he likes. His word is law. Well, his one passion in life
appears to be a herd of Jersey cows. It is his obsession and, to the
exclusion of everything else, it is the only thing he loves. He has been
very successful with them, and the Thralldom strain is spoken of
wherever men talk of cattle, and at all the Agricultural Shows, when a
beast is entered in his name, Lord Thralldom is invariably a
prize-winner."

"Go on," said Larose, because Jones was exasperatingly stopping to fill
his pipe again.

But Jones was not to be hurried, and not until the pipe was well alight
would he condescend to continue.

"Now, Rawlings is quite aware he is not popular, and, of late, he has
come to the idea that, to spite him, people are on the look-out to
injure his cows. He has been heard to state that to several, and to
prevent any dogs coming on to the estate, he has been laying strychnine
about. He denies it, but his denial is not credited. Well, just now he
has been very much on his toes because the pride of the herd, a beast
known as Queen Guinivere, is calving and he is certain that many of his
enemies would like to get at her. So, what does he do?"

"Well, what?" broke in Larose impatiently, because Jones had stopped
again.

"He takes to roaming about at night. He stalks the meadows, the cliffs
and the marshes. He----"

"How do you know this?" interrupted Larose, with his eyes opened very
wide.

"Because several lots of people have seen him and it can be
corroborated. Not single individuals, I tell you, but groups of people.
Four men and a woman met him about three weeks ago towards midnight,
when they were coming back to Dunwich from Saxmundham. Two couples met
him last Sunday night, near Thebarton, and this week, no later than
Tuesday, half a dozen glee-singers passed him as they were going to
Darsham."

"This week!" ejaculated Larose. "Since he disappeared!"

"Certainly," replied Jones, "five nights ago, and they all recognised
him."

The face of Larose was the very picture of astonishment. "Did they speak
to him?" he gasped.

Jones shook his head. "No, they called out to him, but he did not
answer."

"But his wife never mentioned to me," said Larose frowning, "that he
ever went out at night."

"Did you ask her?" demanded Jones, and when Larose shook his head, the
great investigator rapped out, "And perhaps she didn't know. Do they
sleep in the same bed? Did you make sure of that?"

"No, I didn't," replied Larose, now beginning to look annoyed. "I never
went into their bedroom, and it would have been of no use if I had. She
was moving out late yesterday afternoon and the place was all upside
down." He spoke very sharply. "But, good heavens! if the bailiff is
still alive, then what on earth has he disappeared for?"

Jones looked very mysterious. "That's what I want to know," he replied.
"My personal opinion is that he has gone mad and has just pretended to
disappear, in the expectation of the more easily catching one of his
enemies in the act of attacking his cows."

"Well, his master thinks he's dead," said Larose bluntly, "for he has
appointed a successor to him." He rose to his feet. "Well, at any rate,
I intend going up to the castle to see Lord Thralldom this afternoon and
then I'll be able to tell you what his opinion is of his late bailiff,
but I'll go and have another talk with Mrs. Rawlings first." He looked
sharply at Jones. "But if Rawlings killed the innkeeper, what did he do
with the body?"

"Buried it," replied Jones promptly. "I am now looking for a grave upon
the ploughed land. I can find no trace of recently turned earth anywhere
in any of the plantations." He nodded. "I was suspicious of the castle
moat until I learnt that it is cleaned out periodically, and the last
occasion was not three weeks ago. They open a sluice gate and the moat
empties itself on to the marshes. Then it is filled again by water
pumped from the river. It is one of the present Lord Thralldom's fads to
keep the water always fresh, and a very good fad too. He had the pipes
laid down some years ago."

They walked slowly back in the direction of the inn and then, suddenly,
Naughton Jones swept his arm all round upon the lands of Thralldom.

"A beautiful scene, is it not, Mr. Larose?" he remarked. "All peace and
quiet and the tranquillity of the smiling countryside," he shook his
head frowningly, "and yet I am sure that at the present moment it
shelters forces of evil that do not meet the eye." He lowered his voice.
"There are some queer people about here, I tell you." He pointed with
his hand to an old house, close down upon the shore. "Now there are
three birds living there that are interesting. One is an American--I
have heard him talk--and he is a purposeful, bustling type of man that
looks quite out of place down here; a second is supposed to be his
servant, but he has the cut about his jib of a house-breaker to me, and
to the third I have given the time of day four or five times upon the
marshes, and he always looks at me with a sort of look 'I am up
to some fishy business and what are you here for?'" Naughton Jones
sighed. "I listened under their window last night, but it was well shut
down, and all I got for my pains was a torn stocking and some tar upon
my clothes."

Larose smiled. "You are always so energetic, Mr. Jones. Do you never
allow yourself any rest?"

"I have so trained my subconscious mind----" began Jones grandly, and
then suddenly he clutched his companion by the arm, and pointed to a man
coming towards them upon the sands. "Quick, quick," he exclaimed, "isn't
it that fellow Croupin?"

"Yes, Raphael Croupin!" ejaculated Larose. "So it is. Our lively
colleague from Paris!"

"Quick, down under this groyne," commanded Jones sternly. "He mayn't
have seen us and may pass by," and almost dragging the detective with
him, he darted behind a big, wooden groyne, one of the many erected
there, to stem the inroads of the sea.

"Our lively colleague from Paris!" he went on sneeringly, as they were
crouching upon the stones. He looked very sternly at the detective. "Do
you know, Mr. Larose, I have thousands of times regretted my association
with that man in the assistance I gave to Ephraim Smith last year? It
detracts from my self-respect to think that I ever worked, side by side,
with a thief."

"But he was a great help to us, Mr. Jones," said the detective gently,
"and personally, he is a pleasant, likeable fellow."

"But a thief!" exclaimed Jones, "a self-admitted thief. A man who in his
own Paris has his own organisation of crime." He laughed scornfully.
"And just because he is good-looking in his simpering way, and comes
from aristocratic forbears, and steals only from the very rich, and
broadcasts his successful thievings from the housetops, and has amorous
intrigues with silly women in Society," he shrugged his shoulders
contemptuously, "he is the idol and joke of all France, and of that
France I should say who would be great rogues themselves if they had the
courage and the brains." He pressed hard on the detective's arm. "But
look out, here he comes."

The man, whose demerits Naughton Jones had been so energetically
discussing, reached to within a few paces of where they were crouching,
and then stayed his steps and stood quite still, looking out over the
sea.

As Naughton Jones had said, he was certainly good-looking. Of medium
height and slight in build, he had wavy chestnut hair and nicely
chiselled features. He had an aristocratic, aquiline nose and a
sensitive, refined mouth. His dark eyes were large and dreamy, and
shaded with long lashes. Indeed, he was as pretty as a woman except for
the firmness and virility of his expression.

For quite a long while he stood gazing upon the sea, as if drinking in
to the full the beauty of its rolling waves. Then he sighed and was
about to continue upon his walk, when his eyes fell upon the two figures
crouching under the groyne. He just gave a careless glance but suddenly,
then, looked very puzzled, and finally his face broke into a radiant
smile and he came forward quickly with outstretched arms.

"My friends!" he exclaimed in perfect English and speaking with only a
very slight accent. "Gilbert Larose and the great Meester Naughton
Jones! Oh! but I am pleased to meet you."

Naughton Jones rose up with a frown and Larose followed, looking very
amused.

"How do you do, Monsieur Croupin?" said the detective, smiling, and he
at once took the hand the Frenchman proffered and shook it warmly.

Jones, however, kept his arms close to his side and made no movement to
shake hands. "Good day, Mr. Croupin," he said with marked disfavour in
his voice. "I did not expect to meet you again in England." He eyed him
quickly up and down and added rudely, "But I notice you are not attired
after your usual fashion."

Croupin opened his eyes wide, as if very surprised, and then with a
worried look proceeded to glance down over his clothes.

"But I am all right," he said wonderingly, "all good English clothes.
Everything bought in London."

"But they are black," persisted Jones, with a sour smile. "Where is your
cravat of peacock blue, your vest of rainbow colours and the buttonhole
of the philanderer?" He laughed sneeringly. "Your whole get-up is less
of the style of the seducer, Mr. Croupin."

"Oh! Meester Jones!" exclaimed Croupin reproachfully, "and I am thinking
of joining the Young Men's Christian Association. I have been pressed by
several clergymen to do so."

"Well, what are you doing here?" asked Jones truculently and as if it
were his right to know. "Up to no good, I am sure."

The Frenchman looked aggrieved. "I am on holiday, just on holiday in
your beautiful country." He grinned confidingly. "I am too popular just
at present over the sea, and my company is too much desired in my
beloved Paris." An idea seemed suddenly to strike him, and he looked
with interest at the great Jones. "But you, Meester Jones, what has
happened to you? You are dressed differently now"--he spread out his
hands--"and you look less like a bloodhound. You----"

"Where were you staying?" broke in Jones angrily.

"Oh! staying!" ejaculated Croupin apparently in no wise aggrieved at
being so unceremoniously interrupted. "I am staying at Southwold, ah!
and that reminds me." He glanced at his wrist watch and then whistled in
dismay. "Oh! I have to be back at four o'clock. There is a Mission
Service on the sands then and I am to lead the singing of the hymns." He
raised his hat hurriedly, with a grand flourish and then, with the
suspicion of a wink in the direction of Larose, called out "Good-bye,
good-bye," and turning upon his heels made off as quickly as he could.

"A natural rogue!" remarked Jones with a scowl following the retreating
figure with his eyes, "and upon another thieving expedition, without
doubt." He nodded his head viciously. "At any rate, I'll make some
enquiries in Southwold to-night."

The two parted a few minutes later, with Jones enjoining upon the
detective to meet him on the morrow at the same place, and inform him as
to the result of his interview with Lord Thralldom.

Returning to the inn, Larose took out his car and drove into Thebarton
to have a few words with Mrs. Rawlings. He was very perplexed about the
discovery Naughton Jones had imparted to him. "But if Rawlings be still
alive," he argued to himself, "and if he is the madman I am looking for,
then where does that Halesworth butcher come in?" He shook his head.
"But it does not seem feasible to me that the bailiff could have been
leading that double life without his wife having had some suspicion
about it, and she is certainly in the dark, for her distress is genuine,
and she is not a woman who could play her part in a conspiracy like
this. She is genuinely grieved, too, at being turned out of her house."
He tossed his head contemptuously. "And if she knows her husband to be
still alive, why was she at such pains to obtain the intervention of the
Yard."

He found Mrs. Rawlings in her new home, and asking her at once if her
husband were in the habit of going out at night, she replied most
emphatically, "No." She admitted, however, that they had always occupied
separate beds, and indeed that she was not a light sleeper, but she
scoffed altogether at the idea that Rawlings could have gone out more
than once or twice without her hearing him.

"Besides," she said in conclusion, "I know every pair of boots he's got,
and clean them all, so if he had been going out at night, I should have
noticed it, at once." And the detective parted from her, more puzzled
than ever.




CHAPTER VII.--LAROSE AT THRALLDOM CASTLE


John Harden was certainly no laggard in love. He had seen Ann Devenham
often at the bank, had met her twice outside, had danced with her seven
times, and was convinced that she was the most beautiful and wonderful
creature in all the world. Also, he was certain that she had not
resented that last final pressure of the hand that he had given her upon
the night of the Shire Ball, and almost, he thought, and his heart beat
tumultuously at the idea, she had in a gentle way returned it.

He was in no wise deterred by the knowledge that she was a relation of
the great Lord Thralldom and he only a bank clerk upon a salary of 5 a
week, with his father a struggling doctor in the East End of London. It
was sufficient to him that she was a woman and would one day, he knew,
be he rich or poor, noble or otherwise, respond to the advances of a
lover.

So that bright afternoon found him tramping over the Thralldom marshes
to the castle, to obtain speech with her again, his excuse being that he
was bringing up some books they had been discussing at the last dance.
He had written her that he might be passing, one day, and would leave
them for her.

He was striding along full of his own thoughts, wondering if she would
be at the castle, how she would meet him, what she would say, and what
sort of reception he would get for his enterprise from Lady Deering and
the great Lord of Thralldom, when gradually he became aware that a motor
car was coming up behind him and, turning round, recognised in the
driver, the detective from Scotland Yard who had called at the bank the
previous day.

Larose recognising him at the same moment, pulled up, and asked if he
would like a lift.

"You are going to the castle, of course," he said as the young fellow
jumped up beside him, "I understand this road leads only to there."

John Harden nodded and then asked smilingly, "Found anything yet to help
you about Mr. Holden?"

Larose looked sideways at him. He was quite a handsome boy, with good
chin and mouth and nice honest eyes. He saw he was being well
scrutinised, and noticed, too, the hesitation of the detective in
replying to his question.

"But I suppose I ought not to have asked you that," he added. "All
detectives, I understand are very secretive."

"On the contrary," laughed Larose, "for we often obtain vital
information by imparting information ourselves, first. No, I haven't
found out anything for certain yet, but I am staying for a few days at
the inn on Minsmere Haven and may pick up something any time. But tell
me," he added, "did Mr. Holden know Lord Thralldom?"

"Oh! yes," was the reply, "his lordship has an account at our bank. He
very rarely comes in, however, and we haven't seen him at all since his
illness about six months ago. He can hardly walk now."

"And you are going up to see him on business, may I ask?" said Larose.

"No-o," replied the young man hesitatingly, and the detective made a
mental note that he had got rather red.

A moment's silence followed and then the boy went on--"A wonderful old
place this, sir, is it not? One of the best preserved castles in
England. There's a lot of romance about it, too, for gold treasure is
supposed to be hidden somewhere, and generations of Thralldoms have been
trying to find it."

They chatted on during the short journey and then, as they were
approaching close to the castle young Harden exclaimed suddenly, "Oh!
you might just put me down here, if you don't mind; I may not be going
into the castle until later."

Instantly, Larose following the direction of the boy's eyes, saw the
bright colour of a woman's dress among the trees of the big garden upon
one side of the road.

"Ah! ah!" he thought, "but I might have guessed something of that nature
from his happy expression." He sighed. "Really, I am not much of a
detective and am growing old."

He dropped his passenger as requested, and with his eyes roaming
everywhere, crossed the bridge over the moat. Alighting from the car, he
pressed upon the bell at the side of the big door.

"My conscience!" he ejaculated looking round, "but this place looks
prepared for a siege, even now. With that great spiked door shut, it
would need a battering ram before one could cross the bridge and,
although this front door is invitingly open, that steel grille inside
has first to be passed before one can enter the castle." He nodded,
"Yes, this old chap here certainly keeps himself select."

A tall footman, resplendently attired in the livery of the Thralldoms
appeared, and with a sharp movement of his arm, opened a small door in
the grille.

"I want to see Lord Thralldom, please," said Larose.

The footman, eyeing him intently, shook his head. "I'm sorry, sir," he
replied, "but his lordship sees no one except by appointment and he has
made no appointments for to-day."

"But he'll see me," said the detective. "I'm from Scotland Yard. Take
this card to him, please."

The footman received the card and glanced down at it, but he still
looked doubtful. "I'll enquire, sir," he said, and retreating behind the
grille, he pushed it to and disappeared.

Larose looked out across the moat and was an interested observer of the
meeting of young Harden and the wearer of the bright dress among the
trees. The lifting of a hat with great reverence, the outstretching of
two hands, and the gentle inclination towards each other of two heads.

"Like two doves meeting upon the roof," he commented dryly. "The madness
of life, its greatest mystery, its greatest urge!" He sighed. "Nothing
in it at all and yet--the very glory of life itself." He looked again at
the huge, spiked door upon the bridge and then at the grille. "But it
seems I shall be getting a cool reception here."

But he was quite mistaken there, for the footman returning in less than
a minute, the grille was opened and he was conducted through an immense
hall and down a long corridor into the library where the great Lord of
Thralldom received him with a courteous, if haughty, bow.

His lordship was standing, supporting himself against a big arm-chair,
and he waved the detective to another chair placed at the other side of
the table, before seating himself. He stared intently at his visitor
with big, fierce, penetrating eyes. The footman, evidently acting upon
instructions, took up a position behind his master, and immediately
proceeded to assume the detached and impassive pose of the well-trained
servant.

"I must apologise for troubling you, my lord," began the detective,
"but----"

"You say you are from Scotland Yard," interrupted Lord Thralldom. "Show
me your badge. I am a magistrate and understand these things."

Larose at once complied and then began again. "I am sorry, my lord,
but----"

"What do you want of me?" came the deep, stern tones.

"I have come about your bailiff, Rawlings," replied Larose.

"So I supposed," commented Lord Thralldom instantly. "I understand his
wife had approached the London police." He looked scornful. "But what
her reason was, I cannot see. The local police are quite capable enough
to deal with a matter such as this."

"What do you think has happened to him?" asked Larose.

"Happened!" exclaimed his lordship. "How do I know? I am as much in the
dark as anyone. He may have walked over the cliff and got drowned. I
have been losing a lot of my sheep lately, that way. He was
short-sighted and very obstinate in refusing to wear glasses, and those
over-hanging cliffs are dangerous to people of good sight, even in the
day time. He may have done that or he may----" He turned sharply to the
footman. "You can leave us, James, and close the door after you."

He ceased speaking until the footman had left the room and then went on
very quietly. "Or he may have had a quarrel with his wife and just taken
himself off to be away from her for a few days." He nodded his head.
"That is quite possible, for she is pig-headed and obstinate, that
woman. Just as obstinate as he used to be."

"But you are certain he is dead, are you not, my lord?" persisted
Larose. "You are assured of that in your own mind?"

"Not at all, not at all," replied Lord Thralldom quickly. "I am assured
of nothing, I tell you, except that his absence from his duties dates
from that morning when he could not be found."

"But you have made Mrs. Rawlings leave her home," frowned Larose, "and
appointed a new bailiff."

Lord Thralldom shrugged his shoulders. "As a matter of routine, sir," he
replied. "Upon a large estate like mine, I cannot spare any servant for
any length of time."

"Another question, my lord," said the detective. "I understand that
Rawlings was in your service for over twenty years and therefore I am
quite sure you must have formed a very accurate estimation of his
character." He looked sharply at him. "Now did it ever strike you that
he was unbalanced in his mind?"

"Certainly not!" replied Lord Thralldom promptly. "He was a cold,
unemotional man, and secretive and reserved, if you like, but there was
nothing, no nothing, mentally deficient about him. He was as sane as you
or I." He bent forward confidingly towards the detective. "Now, you take
it from me, sir, that there is no occasion to go further into this
matter. Either Rawlings has given himself leave of absence and will
return of his own accord in due time, or else he has fallen over those
cliffs and been drowned. Of course there is nothing certain, but those
are the only two alternatives that I can suggest." He smiled in a
friendly way at the detective. "So you just go back to Scotland Yard,
say you have seen Lord Thralldom and that there is no need to make any
further enquiries." He frowned. "It is most annoying to me to have
detectives coming about the place, and it is most distressing for Mrs.
Rawlings to have the matter kept open for so long."

"But if he has been drowned," said Larose, "the body----"

"Bodies are never washed up here," broke in Lord Thralldom. "It is a
peculiarity of the current round this coast, that they are carried out
into deep water and then--well I suppose they are eaten by the conger
eels. We never see anything of my drowned sheep."

"But is your lordship aware," went on Larose, "that it is rumoured
Rawlings was in the habit of roaming about in the dark, even as late as
midnight and at hours after that?"

"No, I am not aware," replied Lord Thralldom, instantly. He looked
scornful. "But then the gossip of the villages never comes to my ears."

"Do you believe it?" asked Larose.

Lord Thralldom appeared quite uninterested. "I knew nothing of my
bailiff's private life." He looked sharply at the detective. "But what
if he did? It might have been his habit to take walking exercise at
night."

"But there are people who say they have actually met him," continued
Larose, "even upon nights later than the one upon which he disappeared.
Upon one occasion, as recently as last Tuesday."

Lord Thralldom was interested now. He looked astounded and raised
himself quickly with a jerk. "What!" he exclaimed, with his eyes opened
very wide, "who saw him last Tuesday?"

"Some men who were returning from Darsham," replied Larose. "They called
out to him, but he didn't answer."

For a few moments then, there was silence, with Lord Thralldom staring
hard at the detective, with his face all puckered into a heavy frown.
Then he laughed scoffingly.

"I don't believe it," he said sharply, "for if he's about the place, he
would have returned to duty. I know enough about the man to be sure of
that."

"But these men----" began Larose.

"Will say anything," interrupted his lordship, "and spread any tales."
He shook his head solemnly. "None but they, sir, who have lived on the
countryside can realise the foolishness and credulity of these
villagers. They will see and say anything. They believe in ghosts and
charms and witches and nothing is too gross for their superstitions." He
looked contemptuous. "They never saw Rawlings, they just imagined they
did."

A long silence followed, and then the detective said slowly, "So you can
give me no help at all, my lord?"

"None whatever," was the reply. "Either the man will turn up of his own
accord, as I say, or else--his disappearance will remain a mystery for
ever."

The detective was rising to his feet to terminate the interview when
Lord Thralldom said suddenly, "Oh! whilst you are here, sir, perhaps you
will very kindly give me your opinion upon another matter." The fierce,
intent look came again into his eyes. "I have some very valuable
paintings here, and among others, have recently acquired a Rubens that I
would not sell for 40,000. I have taken every conceivable precaution
for their safety, but do you think"--he looked most worried and
anxious--"that any miscreants would dare to make use of explosives, to
break in here."

Larose laughed. "Explosives make a lot of noise, my lord," he replied,
"and this castle is not sufficiently isolated for any burglars to run
the risk of arousing the countryside."

Lord Thralldom pursed up his lips. "But the Earl of Balir lost two
Hogarths that way, and remember, they used explosives there."

"A lonely house in the Highlands," smiled Larose, "an aged caretaker and
his wife, and no help forthcoming within twenty miles."

But Lord Thralldom looked unconvinced. "I am an old man," he said
wistfully, "and have little to live for but my paintings"--he
sighed--"and they are a great worry to me. I am in poor health and an
invalid and have to leave everything to others." His face grew hard and
grim again. "And this castle is being watched, I know. These last few
days even, an evil-looking man has been seen prowling about the meadows.
I have seen him myself through my glasses, several times. He is
disguised, I am sure, for he is got up like a golfer on the stage. I
have had him ordered away, but he always returns."

"Well, I don't think you need worry, my lord," smiled Larose, very much
amused at this description of the great Naughton Jones. "You are well
protected. That grille in the hall would take a lot of breaking
through." He rose to his feet and inclined his head. "I am much obliged
to your lordship for seeing me."

"Not at all," replied Lord Thralldom, brightening up. "I only wish I
could help you. But you'll take some refreshment," he added. He pressed
a bell upon the table. "Oh! but I insist. My footman will take you to
the pantry."

The detective acquiesced. It was a hot day and he was thirsty, besides
he was nothing loth to have the chance of picking up some information
from the servants and accordingly, he was led away in the direction of
the kitchen regions.

Reaching the servants' hall, where three prepossessing maids were having
tea, the footman paused. "Which would you prefer, sir?" he asked the
detective, "a glass of beer in the pantry, or a cup of tea with the
young ladies here."

"Oh!" replied Larose gallantly, "a cup of tea, of course," and at once a
place was made for him at the table, and tea poured out by one of the
smiling girls.

"Froggy, Froggy," called out the footman, "we've got a visitor, so bring
out some of those poisonous cakes of yours," and then winking at the
detective, he whispered, "We've got a new French chef here and he can
beat the world with his stuff."

"'Orl right, I come, I come," came a merry voice from the kitchen and
Larose gasped in surprise, for the voice of the unseen Froggy was
undoubtedly that of the jovial thief, Raphael Croupin.

Half a minute later, the chef came into view, carrying a generous pile
of cakes upon a dish, but dish and all began slipping from his hands as
his eyes fell upon Larose. His jaw dropped and he was the very picture
of consternation.

"Steady, Froggy," called out the footman angrily. "What's up with you?
You'll be spilling all your trash."

The chef recovered himself instantly, and the look of consternation
changed in a flash to one of impudent amusement.

"This is Froggy," introduced the footman, "and this gentleman, Froggy,"
he added in mock severity, "is a detective who has come down from
Scotland Yard to arrest you for bigamy."

"Non, non," laughed Croupin showing his beautiful white teeth, "for I
have nevaire even a sweetheart until I come here and now"--he bowed to
the giggling girls--"I have three all at once."

He set the dish upon the table with a great flourish, and then asked
smilingly of Larose, "You speak French, Monsieur?"

"Not much," replied the detective, a little grimly, "but I understand
it."

Immediately, then Croupin spoke rapidly in French. "Meet me at nine
o'clock at the old hut by the plantation on the marsh road. I will
explain. It is urgent." And then he turned with a mirthful eye to the
girls. "Zat means in my language, 'You must not fall in love with any of
zem, for I love zem all.'" And he laughed heartily at his own impudence.

Over the tea and cakes the detective then proceeded to chat easily with
the servants, and was at once on good terms with them. He speedily
brought round the conversation to the disappearance of the bailiff, and
soon learnt that they were unanimously of opinion that the man had
fallen over the cliff and been drowned.

The footman, James, a big, strong fellow, but apparently not over-gifted
with brains and inclined to be loquacious, was sure of it. Two
holiday-makers were drowned there last year, he gave as his reason for
being so certain, and as things always happened in threes, then of
course, it had been for the bailiff to complete the sequence.

At the last moment, when the detective had made his good-byes to the
girls and was leaving the room, Croupin again spoke in French and, as
before, very rapidly.

"To-night at nine," he called out, "and I'll startle you. I believe that
man was murdered." And then he smilingly explained to the girls, "Zat
means I shall be marrying one of you, but I am not certain which one
yet."

The detective was not a little thoughtful upon his journey back to the
inn, and he had to confess to himself that his ideas were now in a state
of bewildering chaos. Was Rawlings alive or dead, and could the
information that Naughton Jones had picked up be relied upon? If Jones
were right about Rawlings, then everything would fit in with the ideas
that he, Larose, had conceived, and the disappearances of the other
three missing people would be explained. A madman roaming upon Thralldom
at night, and striking down indiscriminately everyone he met! But if
Jones were wrong then the mystery was in a way as far from being solved
as ever, unless the butcher from Halesworth stepped in to fill the bill.

He gave it up at last with a sigh and then he nodded his head with a
grim smile. "Well, we'll see what Monsieur Croupin has to say to-night.
He may be a thief and everything that Jones said about him, but for all
that, he's a shrewd fellow, and it's a Heaven-sent gift having him now
as an ally inside the castle."

Now there is always a mystery about the way of a man with a maid and the
wile of a maid with a man, and when the two have fallen in love with one
another, long before the boundaries of the polite and distant
conventionalities of life are passed, there is always a perfect, though
it may be wholly unconscious, understanding between them.

And so it was now with Ann Devenham and young Harden. They were in love
with one another and both desirous, in their differing ways, that the
raptures of real love-making should eventuate as speedily as possible.

The boy, man-like, would have stormed the castle at once with no delay,
and the girl would have been quite willing, except that the usages and
customs of her class demanded that she should be courted with due
ceremony, in stages, and with the usual maddening uncertainty upon her
lover's side. She had never been really in love before, but now she had
quite made up her mind that she would like young Harden for a husband,
and so, when she had said good-bye to him after the last dance at the
Assembly Hall, she had smiled upon him in such a way that only the
densest youth could have failed to realise that he was being encouraged
to seek further opportunities for seeing her.

Ann was quite a determined young woman, and although she knew that
neither her step-mother nor her great-uncle would look with favour upon
his suit, she did not forget that she was over twenty-one years old and
her own mistress, as far as the bestowal of her affections was
concerned. She was sure Lord Thralldom would be furious, for he was
always reminding her of her Thralldom blood, and took it for granted
that she would, one day, ally herself with a family that was as old and
distinguished as her own.

She was weary of her days at Thralldom Castle, however, and the advent
of John Harden into her life was like the sunshine breaking through upon
the drab and dreariness of a winter's day.

But, of course, when young Harden appeared among the trees that sunny
afternoon, the ordinary happenings as usual upon such occasions,
occurred.

She saw him coming perfectly well, but pretended not to have done so,
and turned a slim and dainty shoulder in his direction. Then when he
spoke, she appeared startled, as is customary, and returned his greeting
with a most becoming blush upon her face.

They shook hands, and while his would have lingered, she drew hers
gently away.

"I've brought you those books of poems that we spoke about," he said,
and his voice was a little husky.

"Oh I how very nice of you! I've wanted to read them for ever so long,"
she fibbed sweetly, for she was quite aware there were copies of the
same books, that she could have perused any time, in the castle library.
"Did you walk here?" she went on, evidently desirous of giving him the
impression that she had not seen him alight from a car.

"Part of the way," he replied, "but then someone who was going to see
Lord Thralldom, gave me a lift."

"Still, you must be tired," she said smiling. "Come over here and we'll
sit down," and she led the way to a big garden seat that was partly
hidden from view among the trees.

They were soon chatting easily and naturally to one another, but each
with a set purpose in everything they said. He told her that his father
was a doctor in London, that his life in the bank was very monotonous
and dreary, but that he was ambitious, and writing a book, and she told
him about herself and her life in the castle.

Her father was dead and she had intended to be a nurse once, then she
and her stepmother had come to Thralldom because they had not been left
well off, and her grand-uncle had offered them a home. Not that he would
have been lonely if they had not come, for he lived so much for his
paintings and nothing else really mattered to him. His paintings,
however, were a great worry to him and often at night he would hobble up
on to the battlements, and through his glasses, imagine he saw people
watching the castle. Also he used to walk up and down the corridors when
everybody else was in bed.

The castle was really very wonderful--she would take him there
presently--but there were many parts of it she had not seen. More than
half of it had been walled off for more than fifty years and the
uninhabited portion was very much as it had been, hundreds of years ago.
No, she had never attempted to explore it, for Lord Thralldom was
fidgety in some ways and did not like anyone to go in. Once, she had
just been shown the entrance to the dungeons and that was all.

But there were a tremendous number of rooms under the castle she
understood. Huge storage places, dungeons, vaults with graves and
coffins in them, and long passages that descended even deeper than the
moat.

Yes, of course, it was said there were ghosts haunting the castle. She
had never seen any, but occasionally she had heard noises at night
behind the walls, but she had imagined they had only been rats and she
had not been afraid.

Strangers often wrote, asking if they might go over the castle, but Lord
Thralldom always refused. There was supposed to be treasure buried
somewhere in the vaults, gold plate that had been hidden away when Henry
VIII. seized the monasteries, and the lords of Thralldom had been
looking for it for hundreds of years but none of them had found it.

Her great hobby was music, and she would have been very lonely but for
that. There was a beautiful organ in the chapel--the last Lord Thralldom
had paid a fortune for it--and she played on it every day. Certainly she
would take him into the chapel and show it him, after she had given him
some tea.

So, for an hour and more, they talked on, and then having walked round
the garden, they turned their steps towards the bridge over the moat.

Passing upon their way, they met Larose, who was then leaving the
castle, and the detective flashed an admiring glance upon the girl.

"Nothing in it, did I say?" he sighed, as he sped by. "Well, perhaps I
might be inclined to qualify that statement in certain
circumstances"--he smiled--"and this might be one."

Harden was introduced to Lady Deering, who was very polite, if a little
curious, when she learnt that her stepdaughter had met him at a dance
during her recent stay with the vicar at Saxmundham. She was puzzled,
however, why Ann had mentioned nothing about his coming up, for, of
course, she told herself, he would not have come without being invited.

Captain Bonnett was puzzled, too, but for a different reason. He had
recognised Harden at once as having been one of the clerks who had
changed one of Silas Hudson's 5 bank notes for him in the bank at
Saxmundham, and he wondered how the devil it was the fellow came to be
having tea at the castle. The captain was not only puzzled, but in a way
of being distinctly furious as well, for he noticed a most becoming
blush upon Ann's face, and there could be no doubt from her manner
towards young Harden, what had brought it there.

Lord Thralldom came in later, and after one hard glance at the visitor,
was courteous but quite uninterested until he heard them discussing
Ruskin's Modern Pictures, and then finding that, at any rate,
the boy knew a little about art, upon Ann's suggestion, he consented to
take them into the picture gallery. There, Harden was so obviously
enthralled with the beauty of 'The Man of Sorrows' that his manner
towards him thawed considerably and finally, he invited him to stay to
dinner.

At first young Harden was not a little awed with the ceremonies of the
meal, but Ann was an inspiration, and an incentive to his courage and he
soon appeared as if it were quite an ordinary thing for him to be waited
upon by a butler, and footmen, attired in gorgeous liveries.

Dinner over, Lord Thralldom retired to the library, and Lady Deering
commandeering Captain Bonnett for a game of chess, Ann took Harden into
the chapel. There, she played for him, like an angel herself, he
thought--among the angels in the stained glass windows and the frescoes
on the walls.

She played soft, dreamy pieces in the dim religious light, and carried
away by the beauty of the music, he was soon regarding her with such
reverence that he chided himself it was a sacrilege ever to have been
hoping, one day, even to kiss her hand.

She was hallowed, she was divine, and no one was worthy even to kiss her
in their secret thoughts!

But it all came to an end at last with the rapturous sweetness of a
mediaeval vesper, and a few minutes later he was walking through the
scented dusk, bearing in his heart so great a happiness that he was
astonished it did not burst.

She had invited him to come again!

Ann returned to the drawing-room where her stepmother was still engaged
at chess with the angry Captain Bonnett. Lady Deering looked up as the
girl entered, and it was evident from her manner that she had now been
informed by the captain as to the status of their visitor.

"You shouldn't have brought him in, Ann, before asking us," she said
querulously. "You know how particular your uncle is," and when the girl
made no reply, she asked--"What did he come after?"

Ann smiled as if she were very amused. "Why me, of course," she
answered, and then when her stepmother looked scandalised at so
unmaidenly an avowal, the girl added with mischief in her eyes, "or else
after uncle's paintings."




CHAPTER VIII.--THE SECRET DOOR


It wanted yet five minutes to nine when Raphael Croupin slipped into the
ruined hut by the marsh road and found Larose waiting for him, seated
upon a heap of stones.

"Good evening, Monsieur Croupin," said the detective dryly. "Then you
are not staying in Southwold after all?"

But there was no embarrassment about the Frenchman, and his eyes
twinkled. "Oh! but it was droll you should meet me in the castle," he
exclaimed smilingly, "and yet, when the shock was over, I was never more
glad of anything in all my life, for I have so much to tell you."

He spoke in excellent English and there was now no trace of the
exaggerated accent that he had made use of in the servants' hall earlier
in the day.

The detective eyed him very sternly. "Well, what are you doing up there,
my friend," he asked, "masquerading as a cook?"

Croupin threw out his hands in a gesture of amazement. "Masquerading!"
he exclaimed indignantly. "And did you not notice the flavour of my
cakes?" He shook his finger accusingly. "You ate four of them, I saw."

"Never mind about the cakes," said Larose sharply, "but what did you
take that situation at the castle for?"

Croupin appeared surprised at the question. "Why, for the Rubens, of
course." He was quite calm and unflurried. "I thought it much too
beautiful to be in this cold and unappreciative country and so, I came
to borrow it--for France."

"Oh! you did, did you?" commented Larose grimly. "Then I'll stop that
and you'll clear out at once."

"But it is not necessary, for I have no longer any hope of it," went on
Croupin sadly. "First because it is an old man's treasure and I would
not break his heart, and secondly," he sighed--"I see I cannot get it."
He shook his head. "No, I make no attempt to touch it now for I do not
understand the wiring of those alarms. They are of a kind I do not know
and are even fused into the glass. There is talk, too, that they ring
direct into the police station at Saxmundham." He shrugged his shoulders
resignedly. "So, I leave that 'Man of Sorrows' alone."

"Then for what purpose are you continuing on at the castle?" asked
Larose as if not yet convinced.

The Frenchman's face became all smiles again. "Ah! now that is quite a
different matter and I wait there"--he lowered his voice to a
whisper--"because I am in the midst of one of those mysteries that I
love."

Larose shook his head frowningly. "Monsieur Croupin," he said, "you'll
have to make a clean breast of everything. I have a certain regard for
you, as you know, but as an officer attached to Scotland Yard"--he
nodded--"but you understand."

"Yes, I understand," nodded back Croupin. He beamed in the most friendly
maimer at the detective. "But I am going to be of great help to you,
Monsieur," he went on, "for I think I know who killed that bailiff of
Lord Thralldom." He paused dramatically. "He is in the castle now and he
is William, one of the footmen up there."

If he had expected Larose to show any astonishment, he was disappointed,
for the detective eyed him with an expression in which there was no
surprise. "Oh! he is dead, is he?" he said quietly. "How do you know?"

"I do not know," exclaimed Croupin quickly. "I only guess. But it looks
like it. Now, you listen to me." He went on very solemnly, "That night
when the bailiff disappeared, I was up on the battlements. I had no
business to be there because it is forbidden. It is one of the rules of
the castle that the servants must not go anywhere except where their
work is. Besides, it was late and we are all ordered to go to our rooms
at ten. We are kept like prisoners there, for at ten o'clock to the
minute, the castle is locked and barred everywhere because of those
pictures the lord has, and if you touched a door or a window, alarms
would ring all over the place. Well, it was not long after eleven and
close near to the time when the woman said her husband had got out of
his bed. It was half-moonlight and there was a mist rolling over the
meadows from the marshes, and the moon was blurred over with clouds.
Suddenly I saw someone running and he had one arm raised up higher than
the other. He ran on his toes, as we run when we do not want our
footsteps to be heard. I only saw him--just a glimpse--and then I lost
him in the mist."

"Then?" exclaimed Larose, for Croupin had stopped speaking.

"Then," went on the Frenchman, breathlessly and stirred into excitement
by his own recital, "I heard a little cry, a cry that just began and
then stopped. I was sure of it. Just a little cry and very short but--it
was a cry. Then I leant over the battlements and stared into the shadows
of the mist again and then, whilst he was in my sight for perhaps a
dozen yards"--he spoke very slowly--"I saw, it might have been a
different man go by."

"Not the same man?" asked Larose quickly.

"I do not think so," was the reply, "but I only saw him from above the
waist for he was in the mist up to his loins. He looked tall and big and
he walked heavily, as if he were very tired." Croupin nodded solemnly.
"Do you know, Monsieur, I believe the first man was running with
something lifted in his hand, and the second man"--his voice had dropped
to a whisper now--"was carrying a body."

"In which direction was he going?" asked the detective sharply.

Croupin shook his head. "I cannot be quite sure," he replied, "but it
might have been towards the Priory, I often think."

"And where exactly was this man, or these men, when you saw them?" went
on Larose.

Croupin shook his head for the second time. "Again, I am not sure, for
the mist was so deceiving, but I looked across the battlements upon the
next night, when it was clear, and I thought it may have been on this
side of the plantation, close to the edge of the big meadow where the
cows are."

"And you recognised the footman, you say," asked the detective with
obvious doubt in his voice, "in the mist and darkness and all that way
away?"

"No, no," replied Croupin quickly. "I did not recognise him. I saw no
face at all, and it was not until a few days ago that the idea came to
me that it was William, and then it exploded in me like a bomb." He
spoke most impressively. "It was like this. Last Tuesday two men came up
to the castle to deliver coal and one of them hurt his wrist in backing
the horses and could not lift the sacks. They told Lady Deering, and as
the other footman was in the village, William had to help. He did not
like it, but he got some overalls from the garage and went carrying the
sacks. Then, then----"

"Go on, Monsieur," said the detective sharply, for Croupin was
hesitating as if he did not know what to say.

"Then," said Croupin slowly, "I was sitting in the kitchen and I saw him
pass before the window every time he carried a sack. I was not a bit
interested at first, but then he got tired and began to walk slower and
slower every time he passed, and suddenly, I could feel that I was
frowning. I was puzzled about something, and I moved up to the window to
make out what it was. Then, all in an instant I knew why I had frowned."
He leant forward and almost hissed in the detective's ear. "He was
walking in exactly the same way as that second man had walked that night
when I thought he was carrying a body with him through the mist."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose and he glared at the Frenchman.

"Yes, his head was bent, his shoulders were bowed and he walked with the
same peculiar, short stride." Croupin threw out his hands. "It gave me a
shock for their way of walking was exactly the same."

"But how could that footman have got out of the castle," asked Larose
incredulously, "to have been walking about at that time of night? You
say the place is all locked up at ten."

"Ah!" exclaimed the Frenchman in his turn and his eyes were bright as
stars, "and now I come to something that will even puzzle the great
Larose." He raised one finger warningly. "Listen carefully for I have a
lot to say and must be quick, for remember, I have to be back in the
sacre castle by ten or I shall be locked out."

He paused a moment as if to marshal all his facts in their proper order
and then went on.

"You have not seen William yet, but only James." He shook his head. "But
of course their names are not really James and William. The lord always
calls all his footmen James and William, just as if they were his slaves
and he has bred them like his cows. Well, this William is a peculiar
man. No, he is not common. He is educated and has books upon his shelves
about great men who are dead, that I would never read. He is a favourite
with the lord and waits upon him, more than anybody else. He talks very
little and is tall and big. He never opens his eyes wide. They are like
slits, and he turns them from side to side without moving his head.
Rosa--she is one of the maids--says she is sure he is not right and
sometimes I, too, have thought him half mad."

Croupin broke off his narrative and asked suddenly: "You have never been
in prison, Monsieur Larose?" He smiled. "No, I thought not, but it
happens I have. It was when I was quite a young man and I was punished
for what I had not done." He nodded. "That's what made me the man I am
now." He screwed up his face and picked out his words very carefully.
"Now, I think somehow that William has been in prison, too. I have been
in his room several times and he is very tidy, and always, I notice, he
folds up his spare blanket, just as we did ours in our cells. And
another thing, if you speak to him very suddenly, very softly, he
answers you back without any movement of his lips, just like we did in
prison too."

Croupin smiled again. "So I began to be puzzled about William soon after
I came to the castle and I kept my eyes on him. Then one morning he
borrowed a penknife from James and went out for his free afternoon
before he had returned it. And James wanted it back and went into
William's room to try and find it. And he looked in a drawer that he
ought not to have looked into and found something hidden at the bottom,
so secretly under a lot of clothes, that he brought it out to show me."

The Frenchman laughed at the intent look upon the detective's face. "No,
nothing startling yet. It was just a book about the castles of England,
but there were well-thumbed pages where it spoke about this castle here,
and it said that there was gold hidden underneath which had never been
found." He shrugged his shoulders. "But of course we have all heard
about that, and secret passages too. It is the common talk in the
villages. So James was only amused and he put back the book, but he
mentioned then that weeks before he had caught William tapping upon the
chapel walls with a small hammer. James thought nothing of it, but
I"--and Croupin drew in a deep breath--"knew at once what must be in
William's mind."

He broke off his narrative here. "That chapel, Monsieur, is the most
interesting of that part of the castle, where we live. It is very, very
old, and it has never been altered in any way. It is right at the end of
the castle and up against the old walls. We are none of us allowed to go
in there, except Rose, who dusts it every morning, but I have paid
several visits, for the stained-glass windows are supposed to be of
great value, and I was wondering," he grinned, "if they could be cut out
and taken away."

"Go on, Monsieur Croupin," said the detective sternly. "You can make up
your mind that the belongings of the castle will remain intact. You will
take nothing away."

A merry smile was Croupin's only reply, and he picked up the threads of
his story again. "Then, two weeks passed and I was taking notice, too,
to try and find a passage to those vaults. I thought of likely places
and whenever I could get a chance I sounded upon the walls. But I could
discover nothing, and in the end I told myself I was a fool, for hundred
and hundreds before me must have done the same thing." He lowered his
voice impressively. "Then suddenly I made the startling discovery that
William was in the habit of leaving his room in the middle of the night.
His room is next to mine and many nights, I remembered, I had heard
noises. I had given no thought to them at the time, believing they were
only the rats. We have no rats where we live in the castle, but we can
often hear them in the parts that are bricked off. Then one night I was
wakeful and I heard him coming into his room about four o'clock in the
morning, and the next day I noticed that he looked very tired."

Croupin paused a few seconds to puff at his cigarette, and then went on.

"So, that night I kept awake and watched, all ready to follow him if he
went out. But nothing happened that night nor the next, and the third
night I was so tired that I fell asleep, and I was furious, for I woke
up just before four o'clock and heard William creeping into his room
again. Also I heard him pulling out his trunk that is kept under his
bed."

"You are very interesting, Monsieur Croupin," remarked Larose grimly, as
the Frenchman paused again, "but it would be best if you got on a little
quicker, because it will soon be ten o'clock."

"Yes, I was furious," went on Croupin taking no notice of the
interruption, "and I made up my mind I would stand no more nonsense. So,
that night I put fifteen grains of veronal into his coffee and at one
o'clock in the morning went in to search his room. He was sleeping like
a dead man and I knew I was safe. It was a long while, however, before I
could find his keys for he was carrying them in a belt round his body. I
wanted to get them, for the lock on his trunk was a Yale and difficult
to pick. I opened his trunk quickly and made a thorough search "--a note
of triumph came into his voice--"and what do you think I found?"

Larose shook his head. "It is not fair to ask me"--he looked at his
watch--"and you are wasting time."

"Two old bracelets of beaten gold with the Thralldom arms upon them and
a gold crucifix," exclaimed Croupin excitedly, "tied up in some shaving
paper and a handkerchief, and stuffed in a pair of slippers at the very
bottom of the trunk, also a big overall and a jacket that smelt horribly
of earth, wrapped round in newspaper many times."

"So, he'd found a way down into the vaults, had he?" commented Larose.
"Go on, Monsieur."

"Well, after that," went on Croupin, "I let nothing escape me, and I
watched William as a cat does a mouse. Night after night, I sat up in a
hard chair with my ear close to the door and with no shoes on, and never
allowed myself to go to sleep until well after three o'clock. But
nothing happened until last night," he heaved a great sigh of relief,
"and that is why I am so pleased to have you now."

"Go on, Monsieur," said Larose again. "Quick, come to the point."

"Well, last night just before twelve," said Croupin, "I heard a movement
in his room, but he was too quick for me and when I followed into the
passage, I could not see which way he had gone. I wondered if it was to
the chapel and crept round the many corners and down the long corridors
until I came there. The chapel door was shut but the key was outside, in
the lock, and I saw it was not turned. I waited a moment and then went
in. Then, as everything was silent, I ventured to flash my torch, but
the chapel was all empty except for a big rat which darted from under
the organ and ran straight across the floor. I was in despair and raced
up to William's room to see if he was really gone. I risked everything
and opened his door. Yes, he had gone and his bed had not been slept
in."

Croupin looked the very picture of despondency as if he were
experiencing all over again the disappointment he had received then.
Soon, however, his face brightened.

"But suddenly the idea came to me that if I could not find out where
William had gone, I could at least find out from whence he was going to
return. I would stretch black cotton across all the passages and as he
broke it coming back, it would be as plain as footsteps in the sand. I
almost laughed with joy and then I was in despair again. It was after
midnight and I had no black cotton."

Croupin paused dramatically and the detective did not speak. He judged
it best to let him take his time.

Croupin continued. "Then I did something that I have never done in all
my life before and I did it in great fear." He looked very troubled. "I
went into a young girl's room when she was sleeping and she might have
wakened and thought I was a bad man. It was Bertha's room I went into.
She is the sewing maid, and I knew I should find cotton there." He
looked interrogatively at Larose. "You remember Bertha? She is the
little dark one whose figure I saw you admiring this afternoon when she
was pouring out the tea. She is very pretty with those dark eyes and
long lashes of hers, and I do not wonder that you were looking at----"

The detective got rather red. "Go on, Monsieur," he interrupted testily.
"You are too imaginative in your observations and we shall be here all
night."

Croupin grinned. "Well, I went to her door and found it locked, as I
expected, but I had a few things ready in my pocket that I had thought I
might want when I was intending to follow William, and I knew I could
soon make short work of that. I listened and heard no sound and so
quickly had the door opened. Then I crept in." He spoke very softly now.
"The moon was shining on her as she slept and everything was plain. Her
dark head was on the pillow, her neck was open and her bosom rose and
fell. I stopped for one moment and my heart was in my mouth for she
looked so beautiful and I thought of the husband she would one day have.
Then suddenly she turned upon her back and oh! she commenced to snore!"
He threw out his hands in horror. "I just grabbed up the cotton from the
work-basket and got as quickly as I could from the room."

"She didn't hear you at all?" frowned Larose, who, from the expression
on his face, had been getting restive at this part of the recital.

"No, she did not wake and I ran to the kitchen and made a little piece
of dough. Then, I stuck the cotton with it, across all the passages and
went back to my room to wait until it was light. William came back just
after three, and in the morning," the Frenchman made one of his
irritating pauses here, "I found all the cottons broken in all the
corridors leading to the chapel and so I knew where he had been."

"Good!" remarked the detective, "a fine piece of work!"

"But that is not all," went on Croupin quickly, "for again I took
another risk. Just before the family had finished lunch, when I hoped
everyone would be out of the way, I left my kitchen and ran into the
chapel, for during the morning I had been seized with an idea. It was
associated with that big rat that I mentioned had rushed out when I
flashed my torch round the chapel. I remembered it had run straight to
one place in the wainscoting where there was no possible cover for it,
and for two or three seconds perhaps, it had run backwards and forwards
there, as if looking for some opening that it could not find. Now, as I
have told you there are no rats in our part of the castle and therefore
I knew it had come up from the dungeons and had certainly got in when
William had opened the secret door that he must have found. So, when I
disturbed it, I argued to myself that it had run where it had, to try
and get back to its home by the way it had come."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Larose nodding his head. "A piece of good
reasoning."

"Well," smiled Croupin, gratified at the compliment, "I examined that
part of the wall to where it had run. It was oak panelling and black
with age. I tapped it everywhere but could get no hollow sounds. Then I
held a lighted match low down where the panel reached the stone flags of
the chapel floor and"--he rubbed his hand delightedly--"there was a
draught blowing and immediately my match went out."

"Excellent again!" exclaimed Larose.

"Then," said Croupin, "I began pulling and pushing at the panels, and
almost before I knew what had happened"--he could hardly speak in his
excitement--"a panel slipped to one side, there was a gush of air, and
an opening, big enough to admit a man, gaped before my eyes."

He paused for a moment as if quite exhausted and then added quietly.
"And that is the end of my story. Monsieur Larose."

"You didn't go down?" asked the detective. "You made no attempt to see
where it led to?"

Croupin threw out his bands. "How could I?" he exclaimed. "It was only
this afternoon that I found it."

Larose regarded him frowningly. "But how does this help us to link up
the footman with the man who was out on the marshes that night?" he
asked.

"It helps us a great deal," replied Croupin quickly, "for it is common
talk that there is a passage from the dungeons leading under the moat to
somewhere on the castle lands. The tradesmen who come to the door have
talked about it to us, and a guest at the lord's table, a Captain
Bonnett, asked about it at dinner the other night. James told us the
lord was very angry and said it was all nonsense, but"--he shrugged his
shoulders--"everyone believes it, although no one knows where the
entrance is, outside." His voice rose in excitement. "But I will find
it, now I know of that panel that slides back in the chapel."

"No, no," said Larose emphatically, "you must not take it on by
yourself." He held up his hand. "Now wait a minute. I want to think."

The Frenchman lit a cigarette and Larose, looking out into the darkness,
sat biting at his lip in his perplexity. So another supposed madman had
come upon the scene and there must be madness in the very air about
Thralldom! What was he to do, with these three trails to follow--the
footman's--the bailiff's and the butcher's from Halesworth?

A long silence ensued and then the detective spoke as if he had at last
made up his mind.

"Croupin, my boy," he said, and he laughed good-humouredly, "you're not
quite a prize-packet for a Sunday school, and I'm quite sure that our
mutual friend, Mr. Jones, does not think too much of you at any time,
still--" and he pretended to heave a great sigh--"we'll have to go into
partnership, you and I, and work out this puzzle together." He pointed
into the darkness in the direction of the marshes and spoke very
sternly. "And it is not one death only we shall have to consider, but
four, for three men and one woman, I am thinking died bloody deaths
within one mile of where we now are."

Then very briefly but omitting no material facts, he told Raphael
Croupin about his mission from Scotland Yard and how far his discoveries
had led him.

The Frenchman listened wide-eyed in horror, but with the recital over,
snapped his fingers exultingly together.

"We will find him, you and I," he exclaimed, "whether it be William or
some one else. He will be a cunning fox that will hide his tracks when
we are hunting together." He suddenly remembered something and his face
fell. "But about Meester Jones, what shall we tell him?"

"Not much," replied Larose grimly, "and we can leave you out,
anyhow." He smiled. "We will solve his problem for him and give it him
as a present."

"But one moment," exclaimed Croupin quickly. "There are yet some things
going on in that castle that we must understand, although I think they
have nothing to do with William." He spoke very impressively. "Now, two
men who are staying at a house on the beach here come up to the castle
almost every day and I have my suspicions about them. One is a man
called Hudson who is from America, and sells pictures there. He is
clever and is great friends with the lord, because he praises that
Rubens so much. The butler and James say he agrees with everything the
lord says, to please him. I have only seen him once, but he looks to me
like a man who would not waste his time so--for nothing. The other man
is his servant and is called Thompson and he gives massage to Lady
Deering. He has had refreshments many times with us, in our hall, and he
is always asking questions about everything."

"What sort of questions?" asked Larose frowning.

"Oh! why the windows have such big bolts, and why the doors are so thick
and where we all sleep. He asks what we are afraid of, and who sets the
alarms, and isn't it a business to always remember to turn them off in
the mornings." Croupin nodded his head significantly. "But I notice he
does not ask questions now when I am there. He does not like me, and he
watches me. He says he is this Hudson's body servant but"--and the
Frenchman laughed slyly--"he has more, to me, of the air of a man I
would give work to if I were wanting to open a safe."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose. "I have heard of them. Our friend Jones is
interested in them too."

"Then a third man," went on Croupin, "and he is this Captain Bonnett who
is staying at the castle as a visitor. He is an unpleasant fellow. He
wants that beautiful Ann, but she does not want him." An eager note came
into his voice. "You have seen Ann? Ah! you do not know. Well, she is
like an angel. She has a figure better even than Bertha's. She has eyes
that are pools of love. She has a mouth----"

"That'll do, that'll do," interrupted Larose sharply. "Now, what about
this Bonnett man?"

"He knows more about Hudson than he makes out," replied Croupin, "and
secret signs pass between them when the lord is not looking. James has
caught them at it. And the servant, Thompson, sneers at Bonnett as if
they were familiar and did not like each other." He shook his head.
"They look like a gang to me and are up there for something."

"But this captain is a visitor there, you tell me," said Larose.

"Yes, but the servants say he is a bad lot. He has no money and there is
much talk about him. He has been warned off the turf."

"Well, never mind him for the present," said Larose, "for he's not
likely to be the man we want, and we've something much more important to
think about." He rose to his feet. "Now, off you go, quick, and do
nothing in the castle for the moment, except keep watch. There's too
much at stake for you to work alone. Can you get out and meet me
anywhere to-morrow?"

"My afternoons are always free," replied Croupin. "Make it here, at four
o'clock."

"Good," said Larose, "and by then I'll have thought out some plan." He
gripped the Frenchman by the arm. "It's in my mind, Monsieur, that
you'll have to get me into that castle one night, without anyone seeing
me, and open that secret door."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Croupin, "but it is impossible. The castle is all
bolts and bars."




CHAPTER IX.--THE MYSTERY OF THE MOAT


Half an hour after he had parted with Croupin, Larose was sitting just
inside the corner of the small plantation where Naughton Jones had
described to him the finding of the missing Sam Baxter's blood-stained
cap.

The night was misty and vapour was rising from the marshes. There was a
faint moon showing, but every now and then, it was obscured by the
clouds.

The detective had placed his folded mackintosh under him, for the ground
was very damp. He had a small pair of binoculars in his hand, and from
time to time, he lifted them to his eyes and searched the marshlands
round. He was only about three hundred yards distant from Thralldom
Castle, but could not see where its mighty walls sprang from the ground,
because of the mist. He was frowning thoughtfully.

"Now it is incredible," he whispered, "but it must be we are dealing
with a maniac, and as I surmise that all four of these people were
murdered in this locality, and am certain that two of them were killed,
actually within a few yards of where I am now sitting, it must be,
again, that this is the particular place which he haunts." He nodded his
head. "So if I am patient and come here every night about this time when
there is a moon showing, sooner or later, I shall catch him and lay him
by the heels, whether he be that butcher, the footman, or the bailiff,
risen from the dead."

His thoughts ran on. "Croupin told a very straightforward tale and he is
a shrewd fellow and can be relied upon. He is very observant and misses
nothing." He lifted his glasses and swept them round in every direction.
"Now according to him it was just such a night as this when the bailiff
was killed. A fitful moon, hidden every other minute by the clouds and a
heavy mist rising from the marshes. So, if this madman is looking for
another victim, everything is propitious for him to be prowling about
now. Nothing could be more in his favour for----" But he suddenly became
aware of a faint rustle behind him and he jerked up his head, in doubt
as to whether it was only a rustle of the wind.

Now in after-days, it was always a bitter memory to Larose that he had
not been quite quick enough that night, when he sat watching upon the
marshes of Thralldom, for, hitherto, it had been the obsession of his
life that he was always alert and ready, and that in moments of danger
or uncertainty his hand would slip to the safety catch of his automatic
as quickly as that of any man in the world.

But that night, at any rate, he was caught napping and, for just the
fraction of a second, he waited too long. And this fraction of a second
proved nearly fatal to him, for, the thought of possible danger at last
avalanching itself upon him, he was springing to his feet, when he felt,
rather than heard, the swish of something passing close by his head.

Whatever it was, it almost missed him altogether. It missed his head but
fell with a glancing blow upon the extreme edge of his shoulder, and he
felt a pull as if someone were tearing at his jacket there, as some
weapon hurtled forward and slapped on to the ground.

It had not hurt him in the least, but it had unbalanced him, and the
next second, before he could recover himself, he was gripped fiercely by
the back of his neck, and almost lifted off his feet by a hand of steel,
was forced down until his face was pressing into the moist earth. Then
he heard heavy, stertorous breathing, and from the movements of his
assailant, it seemed as if the latter were groping with his free hand
for the weapon that had slipped from his grasp.

The grip on the detective's neck was agonising, and a feeling of
faintness surging through him, he realised that he was losing
consciousness, but with a last despairing effort, he struck a spasmodic
blow behind him with the binoculars that he was still gripping in his
hand.

He felt them strike something and then, to his immense relief, his neck
was instantly released. He heard a deep gasp, a groan of pain, and then
complete silence reigned.

For perhaps ten second he lay on exactly where he had fallen. Then, with
shaky movements, he sat up and drew in a deep breath. He could not think
coherently, and it felt as if his neck were dislocated, but the feeling
of faintness had passed.

The moon was behind a cloud and the darkness was complete.

Gradually, at first, but then very quickly, he regained his senses and
he scowled with rage at the poor figure he had cut. He had missed the
chance of a lifetime, he told himself. He had let everything slip from
him when he had almost had the assassin actually under his very hands.

Then suddenly, the miracle of his escape came to him, and galvanised
into activity by the possible danger that might be still threatening,
with many grimaces of pain, he crawled, with what speed he could, until
he was a good twenty yards and more distant from the spot where he had
so narrowly escaped disaster.

"I won't be caught napping again," he scowled, gritting his teeth, "and
maybe, I have not finished with him yet. When that cloud passes I may
get another chance. The brute may be still about, for probably, I've
winded him. I must not forget, however, that if it's dark for both of
us, he knows the place better than I do and is fighting upon his own
ground," and he sat on as if carved in stone, straining his ears into
the darkness, with his finger upon the trigger of his automatic.

One, two, five minutes passed, and still the moon was hidden. Then all
at once the cloud passed, and everything was flooded in a ghostly light.

Holding his breath in his excitement, he darted his eyes round and round
in every direction, but for a few moments could perceive no movement
anywhere. Then suddenly, about a hundred yards away a shadow seemed to
rise up from the ground and started to glide slowly along by the edge of
the plantation.

It was not near enough for the detective to use his automatic
effectively, and added to that, he was not minded to disclose his own
whereabouts, but he sprang to his feet and bending down so that his body
was almost doubled, darted after the shadow.

But the owner of the shadow, glancing back over his shoulder, apparently
at once became aware that he was being followed, and changing his
direction instantly, he accelerated his pace and sped furiously down the
slope, towards the deep belt of mist that was enveloping the base of the
castle.

All his pains forgotten in his eagerness, Larose raced after him, but
then, when he judged he could be only about seventy or eighty yards from
the moat, the mist swallowed up the shadow and it was gone.

"Damnation!" swore the detective and he, too, plunged into the mist, but
he pulled himself up short after a few strides and with his electric
torch in one hand and his automatic held hip-high in the other, stood
stock still, hoping that his enemy would betray his whereabouts by some
sound.

"He can't get far away," he whispered, "for we are right by the moat
now, and as there's every probability he's not got a gun, things are
distinctly in my favour, if he doesn't hear me."

A long minute went by in the ghostly silence and with the sweat dripping
from his forehead, the detective was yet chilled to the bone by the icy
vapour rising off the moat.

"A devilish unhealthy place," he muttered, "and I wonder they don't all
get ague in this castle." Then finding the inaction intolerable, he
moved forward stealthily, step by step, until his hand came in contact
with the wire fence encircling the moat. He rested the hand holding the
torch upon the uppermost strand of the wire and then--his heart began to
beat furiously.

He had felt the wire vibrating, as if someone else were touching it and
perhaps, feeling his way along by its help.

A long time now passed, hours it seemed to the detective, although he
knew it could be only a matter of minutes. Then, suddenly, the wire was
pulled taut, it oscillated violently, and a tremendous splash came from
the moat--a splash as of some big body plunging in.

Larose darted forward in the direction of the splash, and risking
everything now, flashed his powerful torch upon the black waters. They
were rolling up in small waves against the bank, thousands of bubbles
were rising to the surface and across the moat a huge eddy was spreading
in ever-widening circles.

"Great Scott!" gasped Larose, "he's jumped in!" and just beyond the rays
of his torch, he fancied he could make out a dark shape moving under the
water.

The waves died down, the bubbles ceased to rise and the eddies all faded
away.

"The luck's been all with him," snarled the detective, "and he's escaped
me now."

But for several minutes he ran up and down and along the wire fencing
all round the moat, flashing his torch in all directions across the
water and straining his eyes everywhere, in the hope of catching sight
of the swimmer pulling himself up on the opposite bank. But he saw
nothing, and he heard nothing, and gloom and silence surrounded him on
every side.

"Now, was it that butcher?" he asked himself breathlessly, "and has he
climbed out of the moat somewhere, and slipped off to where he's hidden
his car? That shadow might easily have been his and that grip on my
neck"--he felt it tenderly with his hand--"was just the grip of a man
who could have felled an ox." He frowned thoughtfully. "But he was out
of condition. His breathing was very hard."

He shivered violently. "Now, quick back to the inn and I'll ring up
Halesworth and then have a hot bath."

He set off at a sharp run away from the castle, but very soon began to
slow down, for his neck was hurting and he was hampered by having to
hold it to one side, finding that, the least uncomfortable position.

And then, all in a moment, the excitement of the manhunt again surged
through him. He threw off his pains in a lightning flash, and like a
plummet, dropped into the ditch that bounded the meadow along which he
had been running.

He had caught sight of a dark figure coming up stealthily behind him.

It was only by chance that he had seen him, and he swore angrily at his
own carelessness. He had happened to glance back to see how far he had
come from the castle and then to his amazement had become aware that he
was being followed.

That the man who was now trailing him was his adversary of not half an
hour ago, he was quite sure. It was true he had had only the briefest
glimpse of his would-be murderer then, but the figures of the two were
identical, except that now this man behind him appeared to be of less
bulky build, which would naturally be accounted for, he told himself, by
the saturated condition of his clothes which would be clinging to him.

"He's mad, right enough," panted the detective, "quite mad, for no one
but a madman would dare to make a second attempt and right out in the
open this time. Well, we're pretty clear of the mist here, and he has no
chance of escaping as long as the moon does not go in."

He raised himself up cautiously to look across the meadow but, to his
dismay, could now see no sign of his pursuer, and so, after a moment's
consideration, he started to crawl back along the bottom of the ditch.

"I'll get behind him," he muttered, "and I'll shoot on sight. But I'll
shoot him in the legs."

A hundred yards of laborious crawling, looking up every ten yards or so
but seeing no sign of his enemy, brought the detective at last to the
end of the ditch. Then he slowly straightened himself, inch by inch,
until his eyes were level with the grass upon the meadow and--his heart
gave a great bound.

Not thirty paces away from him, a man was crouching behind a bush.

The man was crouching, perfectly still, but from his attitude he was in
every way as much upon the alert as the detective. He was apparently,
however, keeping watch in the other direction.

A thrill of exultant joy surged through Larose for he felt that by his
strategy he was now atoning for his failure earlier in the night.

"But a little too far off for a shot," he whispered with his raised
automatic before him, "and I don't like to risk it, for it's his legs I
want."

And then came a quiet voice, close behind him. "Don't shoot, please, Mr.
Larose, I paid three guineas for that coat and it's still serviceable,
also that cap is an old favourite of mine."

Larose almost jumped out of his skin and, jerking himself round, thanked
Heaven that the shadows hid the shame and mortification in his face.

It was Naughton Jones who was speaking and it was his coat and cap only
that were hanging upon the bush.

"Oh! that's you, is it, Mr. Jones?" the detective replied carelessly,
and repressing his rage with a tremendous effort. "I was ready for
whoever it might have been." He spoke as if with some concern. "But you
will be catching cold without your coat."

The great investigator was by no means a romantic sight. He was minus
cap and coat and his long lanky figure, now stripped almost bare, was
skeleton-like in its proportions. But his manner was just as pompous and
pedantic as ever.

"Excellent!" he commented judicially. "You have, certainly, a most
wonderful gift of recovery, Mr. Larose. I must have startled you pretty
considerably, and yet there is no trace of emotion now in your voice."
He sighed and went on with a great affectation of humility. "But I do
not come out of it too well myself, for I have been trailing you for the
last half mile, thinking you were that man Rawlings. Your stoop and
style of walking were not your natural ones." He looked curiously at
him. "But what's the matter with your neck?"

"I have had fingers on it that I do not want to feel again," replied
Larose grimly, "and it was a near thing that I was not killed, too, by
that plantation where you found Baxter's cap." And then he proceeded to
relate to Naughton Jones everything that had happened.

Jones listened without any comment until he had finished and then
remarked: "Rawlings, of course. There cannot be the shadow of a doubt
about it. He has got a hiding place somewhere upon the Thralldom lands.
He is a tall man, just six feet, but stoops a lot. He is of great
strength, and in his youth was a noted swimmer. You will find, if you
enquire, that until a few years ago, he used to dive off the end of
Minsmere jetting every morning, winter and summer, and he could stay
under water for so long that strangers, observing his display, often
began to think that he was drowned."

"But where is he hiding then?" demanded Larose, without the slightest
belief, however, in Jones's statement, and yet curious to find out what
the latter's ideas might be. "He must come out to eat and drink."

"Exactly," replied Jones sharply, "and that is what we have to find out.
I've got my eye upon that ruined Priory, but I have had no luck there
yet." He appeared to remember something. "Yes, and there's something
more that interests me now. You remember I mentioned to you this
afternoon those three queer birds who are staying at that house upon the
foreshore. Well, one of them, the individual who goes under the name of
Martin Fenner, has been nosing round here upon these meadows to-night.
I've seen him three times, and he spent quite half an hour in that old
hut by the marsh road." The great investigator spoke very sternly. "I'm
half inclined to call upon him tomorrow morning and ask him what he
means by it."

Larose shivered. "But I must be getting home," he said. "I'm wet through
and want a hot bath."

"Good," commented Jones, "I'll walk with you, when I've picked up my
bicycle which is hidden in that long grass over there, and you can be
telling me what Lord Thralldom said to you this afternoon as we go
along." He tossed his head. "Not that it will alter my opinion in any
way for I am convinced that Rawlings is our man."

"Oh! but my neck's sore!" exclaimed Larose. "The wretch had fingers like
steel claws."

Jones stopped and flashed his torch. "Let me have a look at it. I'm as
good as a medical man." He handled the detective very gently and then
pronounced his opinion. "It's only a bruise, and there are no nail
marks, and the skin is not even broken." He spoke thoughtfully. "It
seems that Rawlings must have been wearing gloves, and you're fortunate,
for his dirty finger nails might easily have given you a septic wound."

They parted at the inn and Larose found the landlord waiting up for him.
A telephone call had come for him, the man said, but the caller had left
no message and had rung off without giving his name. Larose immediately
then rang up the Halesworth police station and the inspector himself
answered the call. Yes, the butcher had driven out in his car at 9.42
with the proper number plates on and and had gone as they had expected
in the direction of Yoxford. He, the inspector, had at once warned the
plain-clothes officer waiting at Darsham that the butcher was on the
road and the officer had immediately set out to meet him. But he had not
succeeded in getting in touch with him although, for an hour and a half
and more he had patrolled the Halesworth-Darsham Road. Finally, at 11.32
he had returned to Halesworth to report his non-success. Three minutes
later, then, Turnbull had driven up the road and turned into his yard.
The Inspector was very annoyed and would like to see Larose on the
morrow to make further plans.

It was a long while before the detective dropped off to sleep that
night. His neck was hurting him and he was very troubled in his
thoughts.

"Yes, he is a madman, right enough, who is haunting these marshes," he
said, "and that I have been in actual contact with him, I can be quite
sure, but that he is not Rawlings I am equally as sure. Rawlings is
dead, and Croupin's testimony upon that point, seems to me, conclusive.
Then, in that case, who is the man whose mind has given way? It may, of
course, be this William, but for the moment there is only the very
faintest suspicion in his direction and, indeed, until it is
strengthened by further discoveries, it is of no value at all, except
for inclining us to look pretty closely into all that gentleman's
activities." He shook his head. "Still, William is worth looking after,
apart from the idea of Croupin that he was walking like that man did in
the mist, because the very fact that he now has access to the dungeons,
suggests that he, of all others, may have come upon that passage under
the moat and so is able to go to and fro upon the Thralldom lands at
night, whenever he will." He thought for a long while. "Well, what about
the butcher? It is most unfortunate he was not picked up to-night, for
it leaves us exactly in the position we were in before, except of course
that we know he was abroad upon one of his mysterious expeditions and
seen to be proceeding in this direction during the very hour when I was
attacked. As for his carrying his correct number plates when he started
out, I think nothing of that. Of course he would always do that, and
only change into the false ones when he was parking his car somewhere,
preparatory to patrolling these marshes."

He rubbed his neck tenderly to ease the pain. "So, I'll go up to the
castle to-day, on the chance of setting eyes on this William and to have
another talk with Lord Thralldom at the same time. I'll tell his
lordship what happened to-night and upon the way in which he receives my
news, will depend what confidences I shall give him. If he does not take
a serious view of the matter, which somehow I am inclined to think will
be his attitude, I won't tell him anything about his footman, but will
then just trust wholly to Croupin's resource to get me into the castle,
so that I can make some investigations upon my own."

He laughed to himself. "As for the great Jones, well, he is so certain
about Rawlings that it would be a pity to unsettle his mind, at any
rate, for the present."




CHAPTER X.--THE MORNING AFTER


A few minutes after ten the next morning, Larose set off at a good pace
to walk to the castle. It was a lovely morning, and he thought the
exercise would do him good. He was not feeling much the worse for his
adventure of the previous night, except that his neck was very stiff and
there was a big, ugly-looking bruise where he had been gripped so
forcibly by his unknown assailant.

When about a mile from the castle, he saw a young girl coming towards
him and, as they approached closer, he recognised her as the one he had
seen with young Harden, the previous afternoon.

"Miss Devenham, of course!" he ejaculated to himself, "and she's almost
as pretty as Croupin said, in fact, I think, she's quite."

The road was lonely and as a matter of country politeness, he lifted his
hat to her as he was passing. "Besides," was his thought, "I'd like to
see her smile. A pretty girl is always doubly worth looking at when she
smiles."

The girl acknowledged his courtesy with a little bow and, as he had
hoped she would, with a smile as well. Then suddenly, she stopped and to
his surprise, addressed him.

"I beg your pardon," she said, in a voice like a silver bell, "but are
you not the gentleman who gave Mr. Harden a lift yesterday afternoon?"
and when the detective had smilingly admitted that he was, she added,
"And did he by any chance leave a book in your car?"

Larose shook his head. "Not that I know of," he replied. "I remember,
however, that he had got a small parcel with him."

"Yes," she said, "but there should have been three books in it and there
were only two. He had dropped one somewhere and he thought perhaps it
might have been in your car."

"Well, I'll look for it when I get back," replied Larose, "and if I find
it, I'll send it up to you. You are Miss Devenham, are you not?"

"Yes," the girl replied, "and you are Mr. Larose from Scotland Yard. You
are going up to see my uncle again?"

"Yes, I want to see him for a few minutes and I hope he won't mind."

She looked a little doubtful. "I don't think he's up yet. At any rate he
wasn't half an hour ago. Some days," she explained, "when he's not
feeling too well, he breakfasts in his room."

"Well, I can enquire," said Larose, "and if he can't see me this
morning, I'll have to come back this afternoon."

The girl hesitated a moment and then spoke very quickly. "But it's very
dreadful about Mr. Rawlings, is it not? And I'm so sorry for his wife."
She frowned prettily. "Do you think there's any chance that he's still
alive?"

"It's very hard to say," replied the detective. "The whole business is
very mysterious." He regarded her thoughtfully. "Of course, you knew Mr.
Rawlings?"

"Oh! yes!" she replied. "He and I were good friends. I am interested in
Botany and he used to collect wild flowers for me."

"What kind of man did you think he was," said Larose, "that is, if you
don't mind my asking you?" He bowed. "You see, Miss Devenham, I ask you
because I always think a woman is so often a much better judge of
character than a man. She doesn't necessarily reason, but she blunders
on to the truth somehow."

The girl pretended to look indignant. "She doesn't blunder at all, Mr.
Larose, but she can generally tell at a glance what sort of person a man
is." She smiled. "I wouldn't be talking to you here, now, if I didn't
think you were quite nice, although you are a detective."

Larose smiled back at the compliment. "Well, what sort of a man was Mr.
Rawlings then?" he asked. "Was he nice too?"

"Yes, quite nice," was the reply. "He was quiet and reserved, but a very
high-principled man. I have many times heard my uncle say he was the
best servant he had ever had."

"I expect he misses him, then," suggested Larose.

"Very much," she replied. She looked troubled. "But I think as people
grow old, Mr. Larose, they are not quite as sympathetic as they used to
be. Uncle is seventy-five, and he seems to take the loss of Mr. Rawlings
quite as a matter of course, and it's rather sad." She shook her head
slowly. "His only anxiety now, seems to be for his paintings, and from
time to time, they are a great worry to him. One day he is sure people
have been watching round the castle all night, but the next, he forgets
that, and has a new idea that thieves are coming up hidden in the
tradesmen's vans."

"It must be very trying for all of you," said Larose sympathetically.
"Now one question more, if you'll forgive me. Is it likely, do you
think, that Mr. Rawlings did fall over those cliffs?"

"Not at all likely," she replied instantly. "He'd lived all his life
here and knew quite well where the cliffs are dangerous. Besides, what
should he have been doing upon the cliffs, more than a mile away from
his home at that time of night?" She looked scornful. "I have always
thought that suggestion ridiculous."

They chatted for a minute or two longer and then the girl looked at her
wrist watch and with a smiling goodbye, turned to walk on. "And you
won't forget to look for my book, will you?" she called out, glancing
back over her shoulder. She blushed prettily. "It has my name in it,
'Ann Devenham'."

"A very charming young woman," remarked Larose as he walked on, "and
quite a shrewd one, too. She's certainly given me some things to think
about and one, that uncle of hers is a selfish and callous old man."

Arriving at the castle bridge, he paused before passing over and allowed
his eyes to rove round upon the moat. "Now, that's about where he jumped
in," he said thoughtfully, "for I remember that tower was right above me
when I flashed my torch."

He looked meditatively at the wire fence over which his adversary of the
previous night had flung himself to gain the sanctuary of the water. It
was stout and strong, and pinned down at the bottom, along its whole
length, by large pieces of rocks that had been laid down methodically at
regular intervals. They had evidently been placed there to keep the
wires from lifting up should cattle or sheep stray up against them.

Suddenly, he gave a sharp exclamation, for he had become aware that the
even row was broken and there was a gap where one of the rocks should
obviously have been.

He ran quickly down to the moat side and bending down over the ground,
uttered a cry that he had difficulty in stifling.

The missing rock had been only very recently removed for the edges of
its bed were sharp and clear.

He clenched his hands together fiercely. "Oh! what a fool! What an
abject fool I was!" he groaned. "Of course the wretch threw this rock
over to make me believe he'd jumped in and then when I was dancing
about, staring at the ripples it had made, he got away. He took in the
large size of the hole left in the ground. But, by James, he must be a
strong man to have been able to lift a rock like that, and no wonder I
was helpless when he'd gripped me by the neck."

In a few moments his anger had abated and he moved away with a grim
smile upon his face. "Gilbert! Gilbert!" he murmured, "and you even
thought that you saw him moving under the water."

Ringing the castle bell, the door was answered by a footman, whom he
knew instantly must be William.

The man was tall, and, of a lithe, greyhound-like build, was quite
refined in his appearance. His forehead was high and he had a
good-shaped nose, but his complexion was dead white and he had dark eyes
of a peculiarly constricted shape. His mouth was straight and he held
his lips pressed tightly together. Altogether he was not unhandsome but
his expression was stealthy and not pleasing, and his eyes suggested
that he would be always watching what other people did.

He subjected Larose to a hard scrutiny.

The detective asked to see Lord Thralldom, adding that he had called the
previous afternoon and was an officer from Scotland Yard.

The footman's face betrayed no interest. "I'll tell him, sir," he said,
and he took Larose into a small room just off the entrance hall and
retired noiselessly, closing the door behind him.

"So that is William," thought Larose, "and he would just fit the bill
everywhere we want him to. He's crafty and secretive if ever I saw
anyone that was, and the expression of those eyes is not normal, but
he's capable and determined and that forehead of his means that he can
think and plan." He stroked his neck gingerly. "Well, this afternoon
Croupin will tell me whether the gentleman went out of his room again
last night."

The detective was not kept waiting very long, for the footman speedily
returned.

"His lordship will see you, sir," he said, "if you will follow me," and
he led the way up a broad flight of stairs, to the door of a room upon
the first floor.

"Whew!" whistled Larose softly to himself, "the castle may be hundreds
of years old, but everything in this part is new, and no expense has
been spared either."

The room the detective was ushered into was very large. It was
comfortably furnished with every modern convenience and the only antique
thing was a huge four-poster bed with a high canopy at the far end.

"The dickens!" thought Larose, "and I suppose then, that that is the
great ancestral bed upon which long generations of the Thralldoms have
been born."

The owner of the castle was sitting up in the bed wearing a
dressing-gown of cardinal red, but clad even as he was, he had evidently
no intention that anyone should forget he was the great lord of
Thralldom, and he glared now out of his fierce eyes, as a man accustomed
to regard only his inferiors.

"So you've come to trouble me again, have you?" he said instantly, in
commanding tones, and giving the detective no time to speak first.

"I'm very sorry, your lordship," replied Larose in as conciliatory a
manner as possible, "but I have an important communication to make to
you, and when you have heard what I have to say, I am sure you will
excuse me."

"Well, what is it?" came the sharp reply. "What is the communication?"

"I should like to make it to your lordship alone," replied Larose with a
glance in the direction of the footman who was standing motionless and
seemingly uninterested, by the bedside.

Lord Thralldom lowered his eyebrows frowningly, and then nodded to the
footman. "You can go, William," he said, and when the man had left the
room he repeated his enquiry with some irritation.

"I regret to have to inform you, my lord," began Larose, "but I have
every reason to believe that your bailiff was murdered. He----"

"Murdered!" ejaculated Lord Thralldom incredulously. "Then you have
found the body?"

"No," replied the detective, "I have only evidence, so far, that it is
probable he met with foul play, for a few minutes after the time when it
is known he left his home that night, a cry was heard upon the marshes
and----"

"A cry!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom interrupting again. He looked
scornful. "Why, that's nothing. Plenty of cries are heard upon the
marshes at night. Stoats, weasels, foxes and rabbits and many other
creatures make their noises there. The hours of darkness are never
still."

The detective spoke very quietly. "But this was a human cry, my lord,
and a witness is prepared to come forward and state that there were two
men upon the marshes that night, and, after the cry, one of them was
carrying the other."

Lord Thralldom's eyes were now half-closed and inclining his head
sideways, he looked in a strange and curious manner at the detective.

"Oh! he is, is he?" he said slowly, and there was the suspicion of a
sneer in his voice. "Then who is this witness and what was he himself
doing upon the marshes at that time of night?" The sneer gave place to
anger and his voice rose. "He was a trespasser on my lands."

"I am not prepared, for the moment, my lord," replied the detective, "to
disclose who my informant was, but I assure you that he is a reliable
person."

Lord Thralldom straightened himself up in a grand gesture of disdain.
"Well, no matter, I don't believe a word of it," he said emphatically.
He smiled suddenly in a quite genial manner. "You must know, sir, that
upon an occasion such as this, when any mystery presents itself, there
are always people ready to come forward and say they've seen one thing
or heard another." His voice became scornful again. "It is the
opportunity of their common lives to crawl into the limelight, and they
are ready to swear anything for purposes of publicity."

"But that is not all, my lord," exclaimed Larose sharply, "for we have
every reason to believe another man met a dreadful death upon the same
marshes, less than three weeks ago." He paused a moment to let his words
sink in and then continued very slowly. "The cap of the innkeeper of
Yoxford, who disappeared then, was found near the same spot where those
two men were seen, and it was cut and bloodied, as if he too, had come
to a violent end."

Lord Thralldom had listened as if he had not been taking in what the
detective was saying, and he now regarded him with a puzzled stare.

"Yes," went on Larose sternly, "and we cannot ignore the significance of
these two happenings. Each one, singly, is suspicious, but the two
together, are very damning evidence that all is not right about here."

"What inn-keeper do you say?" asked Lord Thralldom finding his voice at
last.

"Baxter, who kept the Yoxford Arms," replied the detective. "He's been
missing now for nearly three weeks and the cap, with his initials in it,
was picked up close by the small plantation by the marshes, not 300
yards from here."

"And what was he doing on my land?" burst out Lord Thralldom, his anger
flaming up again.

"Poaching," replied Larose, "or, at least, it is supposed he came here
after hares."

"And who found the cap?" went on Lord Thralldom. He scoffed. "The same
witness as before, I suppose, the one who saw the body of my bailiff
being carried away."

"No," replied Larose instantly, "quite a different man this time, but
one whose evidence is equally reliable." He spoke very sternly. "But I
have more, yet, to tell you, Lord Thralldom, for there is a third
happening to record that I can verify myself." He stepped up to the bed
and bending down, turned his head sideways, so that Lord Thralldom could
see his neck.

"Look at that bruise, my lord. I myself was attacked last night upon the
same spot and, from the ferocity of the attack, was fortunate to have
escaped with my life."

Lord Thralldom's face was a study. His lips were parted, his eyes were
wide and staring, and his whole expression was one of dumbfounded
surprise.

"Yes," went on the detective, "someone sprang upon me when I was sitting
by that plantation of larches. He struck at me with some weapon, but he
missed me and then tried to choke me, when he had got me on the ground."

Lord Thralldom could hardly get his breath. "But it is incredible," he
gasped, "unless he were one of some gang who is after my paintings." He
hesitated a moment and then asked hoarsely, "But what kind of man was
he? Did you see his face?"

"No," replied the detective, "unhappily I did not. I got out of his
clutch but he was too cunning for me, and escaped in the mist." He went
on. "And that can only mean, my lord, that some madman is haunting these
marshes at night. We can be almost certain that he has killed two
people"--he paused a moment--"and there may be others that he has killed
as well."

Lord Thralldom had calmed down and now spoke very quietly. "And what
were you doing, sir, by the plantation?" he asked.

"I was watching," replied Larose, "for I had already come to the
conclusion that a madman is making a nightly round there and that it is
dangerous ground."

Lord Thralldom meditatively regarded the detective for a moment, and
then he sighed as if he were very troubled.

"Show me that bruise again, please," he said and then when Larose had
complied he went on: "And now, I'll tell you what I think it was." He
seemed quite himself again, now, and smiled grimly. "You interrupted a
courting couple, sir; that is all, and, as is not unusual at such times,
the man lost his temper. You flashed a torch, perhaps, and the man
thought you were spying upon them--with the result he tried to punish
you."

The detective was too angry to mind his words. "Your suggestion is
childish, my lord," he said sharply, "and unless you are wilfully
refusing to face the facts, the attitude you are taking up is not
understandable. You must realise that bloody murder has been done upon
your lands and that the murderer is still at large, and lurking
somewhere, a menace to everyone who passes by."

"In the hours of the night, you should add," was the stern rejoinder,
"when folks of decent character are in bed and not trespassing, for
nefarious purposes, upon other people's lands." His whole demeanour
altered suddenly and he sank back limply upon the pillows. "But what, in
any case, has it to do with me, and how can I prevent it? I am an old
man, sir, and my health is not good"--he was almost pathetic now in his
distress--"and why do you come worrying me? You are a policeman and it
is your business to find out these things. So, please find them out and
leave me alone."

"But you can help me." said the detective sternly, "and it is your duty
to do so."

"Help you!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom piteously. "How can I help you when
I can only walk with difficulty and am a frail, old man?"

"You know every part of your property?" asked the detective in
business-like tones.

Lord Thralldom looked astounded, and was animated at once. "Know every
part of my property!" he repeated. He looked scornful. "Every yard of
it, sir, every foot." His eyes dilated. "Why, as a boy I played in every
wood and every meadow and, as a man every part of the estate came under
my supervision. I planted those very larches even where you say you were
attacked."

"Then where do you think any madman can be hiding?" asked Larose.

"Nowhere," was the instant reply. "Nowhere, when as you say, the fellow
has been hiding for weeks. It is quite impossible." He spoke
contemptuously. "There are no caves, nor caverns upon Thralldom where a
murderer could hide away and sally forth at night as a beast of prey."

"But there are said to be secret hiding places, my lord," said Larose
sharply, "both in the castle and among the ruins of the Priory as well."

Lord Thralldom sat up with a jerk. "Kitchen talk," he sneered. "The
gossip of the scullery and the servants' hall." His eyes glared
suddenly. "But you don't seriously suggest, do you, that anyone here in
the castle is masquerading as an assassin at night?"

Larose smiled as if the very idea was absurd. "But as an officer of the
law," he replied, "it is my duty to make all enquiries about everybody
and everything in a quarter where we suspect crime has been done." He
eyed Lord Thralldom intently. "Now, my lord, is there a secret passage
under the moat leading into the castle from the Thralldom lands?"

"Certainly not," replied Lord Thralldom emphatically, adding
sarcastically, "Or at least not one that is known to me or has been
known to any of my ancestors for eight hundred years."

"And the walled-in parts of the castle," went on the detective, "are
inaccessible to everybody?"

"Except to me," was the reply. "I, of course, possess a key to the door
that opens to them, but I have not unlocked it for a number of years."

"And the dungeons underneath?" asked Larose.

"Can only be reached through the closed door."

There was silence for a moment and then the detective asked: "And your
servants are quite trustworthy?"

Lord Thralldom nodded. "As far as I know. They all came to me with
excellent references. I saw well to that."

"And have they all been with you for a long time?" asked Larose.

An amused chuckle came from the bed. "The longest, the butler, for five
months, and the shortest, Antoine, the chef, for five weeks. You must
understand, sir," went on Lord Thralldom "that when I acquired my
Rubens, last March, I took every conceivable precaution that it should
not be stolen. I expressly brought over an electrician from Berlin, to
do all the wiring of the alarms, and I only employed him upon the
distinct understanding that he could not speak a word of English. Then,
with his work completed, in order that no hints as to the system of the
wiring should leak out, I got rid of all my servants at a day's notice,
butler, footmen, maids, every one of them. I made a clean sweep."

"And your present butler?" asked Larose.

"Came from Lord Tenterden, James from Sir Charles Saxby, and William
from the household of an old friend of mine, Professor Dangerton, the
great archaeologist." He nodded. "I was very lucky to get William, for
the professor had died only the previous week."

"That was William who was here just now," said Larose.

"Yes, and a most valuable servant," was the reply. "He valets me and I
have come to depend upon him for many things. He is a most intelligent
man."

Lord Thralldom now became much more communicative, in his manner, and
all traces of his irritation having passed, he answered with no
hesitation, a number of further questions that the detective put.

"But mind you," he said presently, "although I think this notion of
yours about people being killed upon my lands is all nonsense, still,"
and a strange faraway look came into his eyes, "when I shall have
thought over what you tell me happened to you last night, I admit it may
be very disturbing to my peace of mind,"--he nodded his head very
solemnly--"because, for many months it has been my considered opinion
that strangers are watching round the castle here. But they would not be
madmen," he added quickly, "far from it. They are shrewd, keen,
level-headed men, waiting to catch me unawares," his voice trailed away
to a troubled sigh, "and rob me of my Rubens."

Larose sighed too. "No help for me in this quarter," he thought sadly as
he rose to take his leave. "He's a cranky old man, and to take him into
my confidence would be fatal at once. I can only depend on Croupin now,
here in the castle."

He had another good look over the footman as the latter was showing him
out, pausing at the hall door for a short conversation.

"And what do you make out of Mr. Rawlings's disappearance?" he
asked, coming at once to the point.

The man's body remained quite immovable, but his eyes, under their
half-closed lids, shifted restlessly from side to side. "I make nothing
out of it, sir," he replied quietly. "It is very mysterious."

"Oh! you think it very mysterious do you?" said Larose. "Well, is it
your idea that he fell over the cliffs?"

"I have no idea at all, sir," was the reply, "but that seems to be the
general opinion."

They talked for a few minutes, but Larose could get no satisfaction out
of him. The man was ready and polite with all his answers and most
respectful, too, in his demeanour, and there was nothing in any way to
suggest that he had anything but the most casual interest in the
bailiff's disappearance. He seemed to be merely what he purported to
be--a deferential and well-trained gentleman's servant.

"And yet we know," ran the detective's thoughts, when finally he was
upon his way back to the inn, "that he is leading a double life, and
under that calm and unruffled exterior, is a man who goes nightly upon
his mission of theft." He started to nod his head and then winced. "Yes,
and with all his gentlemanly appearance, only a few hours back his
fingers may have been upon my neck with all the ferocity of a wild
beast." He sighed. "Well, I have nothing much to tell Croupin this
afternoon, except that I have been nearly killed, and that by hook or by
crook he must smuggle me into the castle to-night."




CHAPTER XI.--THE VAULTS OF THRALLDOM CASTLE


That same evening, just after half past eight, Monsieur Antoine, the
amiable and very efficient chef of Thralldom Castle, was entertaining
James, the footman, in the former's little private sanctum just off the
kitchen regions. A bottle of wine and two glasses stood upon the table
before them, and that there had been no lack of the wherewithal for good
fellowship was evidenced by an empty bottle that lay upon the floor
beside them.

James looked hot and red in the face, but the Frenchman was as cool as a
cucumber, and brimming over with the vivacity of his race.

"But drink up, James, old boy," he said, filling up the footman's glass.
"Zere is no headache in a whole bottle of zis." He poked his companion
in the ribs. "But it is good that I have a key of ze cellar for I am
good judge of wine."

The footman laughed thickly. "Oh! you're a good judge, right enough,
Froggy," he exclaimed, "and not half as stingy as the last bloke was. We
could screw nothing out of him."

The chef patted him upon the shoulder. "But I do good service to zis
great lord of Thralldom in seeing zat you have a little of his wine, for
wine is good for ze stomach and with a good stomach, you work better for
him."

"You're right, Froggy," nodded the footman. "Feed me well and I'll work
well. That's my motto every time." He looked knowingly at the chef. "But
you're flash. You're all togged up to-night. Got a date with a skirt,
somewhere?"

The Frenchman instantly leant forward and clutched him by the arm.

"Hush! hush!" he hissed sharply, "not a whisper! Not a word!" His eyes
sparkled joyfully and he put his mouth down close to the other's ear.
"Yes, I have an appointment, to-night"--he spread himself out like a
peacock--"wis a lovely girl."

The footman breathed heavily. "Gee! but you're lucky. What tart is it?"
he asked.

Monsieur Antoine shook his finger playfully. "No, I not tell you,
Meester James, for I have fear of you. If my girl see you, I not know
what would happen." He poured out another glass of wine. "But drink up,
son. I must leave by nine o'clock for I meet zis girl at nine and a
quarter." He threw up his eyes. "Oh! but she is lovely." He looked
searchingly at the footman. "You have kissed many girls?"

The footman's rather stupid face looked annoyed. "I've asked plenty," he
began, "but----"

"Asked!" almost shrieked the Frenchman. "Oh! James, ze great mistake."
He spoke very earnestly. "Nevaire, nevaire ask a woman for a kiss, for
she have never love for a man who ask her." He lifted up one finger
impressively. "Take hold her hand, James, and if she do not draw it
away, zen you know you can kiss her, quick, for she is all for you at
once." He looked horrified. "But ask! No, nevaire ask. It is indelicate
and it offend ze modesty of ze girl."

The footman looked muddled. "Oh! that's the dodge is it? Good for you,
Froggy." He blinked his eyes alcoholically. "I'll try it next time."

The Frenchman took out his watch and then rose sharply to his feet. "But
see, I must not wait." He placed his hand upon his heart. "Love calls."

"Lucky beggar!" grunted the footman. "Alone with a tart, to-night. I
wish I was you."

"Now, listen, James," said the chef, and speaking now with a sharp note
of authority in his tone, "you must do exactly as I tell you, and if you
do not, not anozzer drop of wine for you as long as I am here." He
buttoned up his jacket in a business-like way. "I am to meet zis girl at
nine and a quarter, I tell you, and if she is not zere, zen I know her
mother will not let her out and she will not come." He nodded his head
emphatically. "So, I come back at once, you understand?"

"All right," said the footman. "I'll let you in. I shall be at the door
all the evening."

"Yes, and let me in quickly, too," went on the Frenchman, "for I shall
be angry and not want to speak to anyone. I will not ring ze bell. I
will tap on ze window of your little room and mind you be ready for me."

"All right, I'll be ready, Froggy," replied James, now blinking his eyes
more than ever. "I may be having a little snooze then."

"And if I meet her," exclaimed the chef, raising his eyes ecstatically,
"it will be just before ten when I come in and zen I will tap on ze
window too."

"And don't you be later," said the footman, frowning, "for you know old
Thralldom may be starting on the prowl. What!" he went on, "you're
taking your mackintosh. What for? It's a fine night and not going to
rain."

"It might," said the Frenchman. He grinned delightedly and lowered his
voice. "Besides, it will come in for sitting down."

James winked to the full extent that the wine he had imbibed would allow
him, and accompanying the amorous chef into the hall, let him out of the
front door.

"Now, mind and be ready," were the last whispered instructions of the
latter, "for I don't want ze lord to know I am out. He complain zis
morning that I go out too much, and want to know what for. You bring
your wine into your little room and finish it zere. See, don't switch on
ze lights when I come in."

The Frenchman gone, the footman made himself comfortable in the small
room just off the hall and had soon finished up the wine. "And I could
drink another bottle of it," was his grumbling comment. He smiled
stupidly as he sank back into a big chair. "Still, Froggy's not a bad
sort, and wouldn't old Thralldom grouse if he knew the booze I've had."

He closed his eyes luxuriously, and in a few minutes his deep snores
were testifying eloquently to the potency of the wine he had imbibed.

But he had not slept ten minutes, it seemed only one to him, when his
dreams were disturbed by a gentle tapping upon the window.

"Let me in, James," came the sharp voice of the chef. "I am all tears
for she have not come."

Rising a little unsteadily to his feet, the footman tottered to the
steel grille and unlocked it. Then he fumbled for a few moments with the
catch of the big door.

"Quick, quick," called out the chef angrily. "I am in bad temper for zat
lovely girl have cruel mother and she would not let her come. Do not
speak to me for I am full of tears."

The door was opened at last and, without a word of thanks, a
mackintoshed figure, with cap well pulled down over its eyes, darted
through.

"Straight on to the end of the hall," it muttered in a voice very
different from that of the musical one of the chef. "Then round to the
right for about ten paces, then to the left and up the staircase at the
end of the passage, then to the left again, and it is the fourth door on
the right. Good! and I am to tread like a cat and get under the bed."

The footman closed the big door and, relocking the grille, returned to
his interrupted alcoholic slumber. His head was beginning to ache.

He slept for more than half an hour this time, without any disturbance
and then was awakened by a sharp pinging on the bell within a few feet
of his ear.

"Blast!" he exclaimed, looking hazily at the clock. "It's nearly ten and
who the blazes is ringing at this time. They're all in, in the castle."

He passed through the steel grille and, approaching close to the big
door, demanded, according to his usual instructions, who was there.

"It is I, booby," came the angry voice of the chef. "You have kept me
waiting and I told you not to. I tap ze window and you not hear it, an I
have to ring ze bell."

The footman fell back aghast. "What do you mean?" he called out, sobered
in his surprise. "It's not Antoine. You've been in an hour ago."

"Open ze door, you fool," hissed the Frenchman, "and speak softly.
You'll wake all ze house."

"But I've let you in once already," insisted the footman. "You said
you'd not met the girl."

"You great fool," returned the chef. "You have been dreaming. You have
had too much to drink. I have been with ze girl all zis time and she was
lovely. I tell you about it when I am in. Open ze door, quick."

And then, suddenly, James heard a movement in the hall and turning, saw
the gaunt figure and grim visage of Lord Thralldom just behind him.

"Who is it, James, and what's this noise about?" asked his lordship
sternly.

"I thought, my lord----" began the footman.

"Open ze door, James," called out the chef, his voice now rising almost
to a shout. "It is I, Antoine and if you do not open quickly, I nevaire
have you in my little room again and nevaire give you more----"

"It's Monsieur Antoine, my lord," exclaimed the flustered James,
speaking now himself very loudly, and anxious that at all costs his
master should hear nothing about the wine. He added spitefully, "He's
very late."

"Open the door, then," was his lordship's command, and then when James
had complied, and the chef came tripping blithely into the hall, the
latter was pulled up in consternation at the sight of the scowling face
of the lord of the castle.

"And did I not, only this morning," boomed Lord Thralldom fiercely,
"express my displeasure at the many occasions upon which you went out at
night?"

The Frenchman was all excuses and apologies, "But it was ze toothache,
to-night, my lord," he explained volubly, "and I go to the doctaire to
have it pulled out. Look, see," and pressing a handkerchief to his lips,
he withdrew it, with the stain of blood showing.

"Oh!" grunted Lord Thralldom, and he frowned as if annoyed that there
was something in the excuse.

"Yes, my lord," went on the chef, "I was in pain, and in fear that my
cooking would be spoilt."

"Well, don't go out at night any more for a week," grunted his lordship
again, "and don't make your Tartare sauce so thick in future. I don't
like it," and waiting until he had seen the footman close the doors upon
the bridge, he strode out of the hall.

The chef made a grimace behind his back and then turned frowningly to
the footman. "But what is up with you, my son?" he asked. "You have too
much wine and got drunk. Zat is it and you get me into trouble with ze
lord."

James was angry, with the anger of a man with a thick head. "I'll
swear," he said huskily, "that I let you in an hour ago." He blinked his
eyes hard. "Now where's that mackintosh you went out with?"

"Hush! hush!" exclaimed the chef with his eyes twinkling in amusement.
"I lend it to ze girl to cover her white dress wiz. It show too much in
the dark." He threw out his hands disconsolately. "And I forgot to ask
for it back. Nevaire mind," he went on. "I get it back on Sunday." He
seemed suddenly to remember something. "Oh! she want to see you, and I
am to take you wiz me next time. You will come?"

But the footman was not to be so easily mollified, and it was not until
Monsieur Antoine had produced two stiff liqueur brandies from his
private cupboard, that James would consent to view things in their
proper light.

"I was half-shickered, Froggy, that's what it was," he explained
thickly, "and my legs feel all wobbly now. Help me to bed, old man, and
I'll sleep it off."

The forgiving Frenchman did as he was requested, but not until he was
certain from the footman's heavy snores that the latter was finally
settled for the night, did he seek the sanctuary of his own room.

"It is all right, Mr. Larose," he whispered delightedly, as the
detective crept out from under the bed, "I managed it fine," and he
proceeded with many chuckles, to relate everything that had happened.

"You are a great artist, Monsieur," commented the detective, smilingly,
"and if only you turned your talents into the right direction, you might
become as renowned as Mr. Jones."

Croupin screwed up his eyes. "Oh! but it was droll to see that look on
James's face, and it was difficult to persuade him that he had been
dreaming. He was most suspicious about it." He grinned in amusement.
"Really, that James is more intelligent when he is tipsy than when he is
sober." His grin broadened and he looked slily at the detective. "And it
is droll, too, that I should now be helping a great detective from
Scotland Yard to break into a nobleman's castle."

Larose frowned. "It is not breaking in, Croupin, and I am here in the
interests of the law. I consider it best for all concerned to act in
this way." He brushed the matter aside. "And now we can do nothing until
after midnight, you are sure?"

"Quite sure," replied Croupin, "for it is never certain that the lord
has gone to his room until after then. He prowls up and down the
corridors; he goes and sits for an hour in the gallery worshipping his
Rubens, or else, he drags himself up on to the battlements with some big
field-glasses that he has." He nodded his head solemnly. "I tell you, I
have had some narrow escapes of meeting him."

"Then why hasn't he caught William?" frowned Larose.

"Ah! William has privileges," was the reply, "and he can always have the
excuse that he is about to see if the lord wants anything. He does a lot
for the lord, and can be always sure when the lord is in bed and it is
safe for him to go down to the chapel. Some nights the coast will have
been clear for him soon after ten, but it will always be clear after
midnight."

"Where is that music coming from?" asked the detective suddenly, lifting
up his hand.

"It is Ann," replied Croupin, "and she is playing upon the organ in the
chapel. We are not far from the chapel here." He paused a moment to
listen. "It is a funeral dirge she is playing. She is very sad."

For a little while they sat silent as the glorious strains of the Dead
March in 'Saul' came up softly to their ears, but with the ending of the
march, the music ceased.

"It was an omen, perhaps," sighed Croupin, "for are not we ourselves
going down among the dead? They say that twenty-three of the lords are
buried in the vaults and all of their ladies too. Yes," he went on,
turning his thoughts now back to the music, "the beautiful Ann is very
sad. She has a lover and he came up to see her yesterday but after he
had gone, the lord and her stepmother were angry with her. The
stepmother told her she was to have no hopes of him because he was only
a clerk in the Saxmundham bank, and one day she was to marry a man of a
higher birth. James listened at the door and heard it all."

"Well," remarked the detective, "if I am any judge of character, she'll
have her own way whatever they say."

"Her stepmother is not fond of her," remarked Croupin, "and is often
angry with her. James listens a lot at the doors, I tell you."

The detective was restless and kept looking at his watch. "And you are
sure," he asked, "that William is safe for the night?"

"Fifteen grains of veronal again," smiled Croupin, "and he is sleeping
like a dead man. I put it in his coffee and looked to see that he drank
it too." He nodded. "I wish I'd given him a dose last night, then he
would not have half-broken your neck. I am sure it was William who
attacked you, and I grieve that I went to bed directly I got in. But I
was so tired because I had no sleep at all the night before and could
hardly keep my eyes open." He snapped his fingers together. "So, with
the lord in bed early, too, with a bad cold, William could have been in
the dungeons by ten o'clock and passed the whole night there."

The minutes dragged slowly by but, at last, Larose rose briskly. "Come
on," he said. "It's time now. I make it a good quarter past twelve."

Croupin opened the door very softly and then, for a long while, stood
with his head craned forward listening.

"It is all right," he whispered at last. "Now hold tightly to the bottom
of my jacket. It will be pitch dark but I know every foot of the way and
shall not have to flash my torch."

They were both wearing rubber shoes and, by touch only, they crept down
the stairs, feeling along the walls of the long corridor leading to the
chapel door.

"Now wait," Croupin breathed softly. "They lock this door when they
remember it and then the key is hung in the hall, but unless the lord is
with them they don't generally trouble. Ah! it is not locked to-night
and so our adventure commences well."

They crept into the chapel like shadows and closed the door behind them.
They were still in inky blackness, for the night was stormy and no
moonlight was filtering through the stained-glass windows.

Then, at last, Croupin flashed his torch, trailing the light, however,
cautiously upon the floor.

"Are you sure you can find the opening again?" whispered Larose.

"Quite sure," Croupin whispered back. "I killed a fly and stuck it upon
the wall the breadth of my left hand from where the panel opens. If the
fly's dropped off, I shall still see the mark of blood."

But the fly had not dropped off and some thrilling seconds followed.
Then Croupin found the right spot and, with a slight grating noise, the
panel slid back and showed a gaping aperture just wide enough to admit a
man.

Both their hearts beat tumultuously. "I'll go in first," whispered
Larose, "and then we must make sure how it opens from inside before we
shut it."

But there was no mystery about that for there was an oak knob upon the
inner side of the panel, and so they very quickly pulled it to behind
them and started to descend the narrow spiral staircase that they saw
before them.

"Splendid! Meester Larose," ejaculated Croupin with enthusiasm. "We are
wonderful when we work together, you and I. Everything runs smoothly,
like the ticking of a clock."

"Yes," replied the detective complacently, "we take some risks,
certainly, but we minimise those risks as much as we can."

But they would not by any means have been so assured in their minds had
they been aware of what was taking place in the chapel at that moment.

A white-faced and badly frightened girl was sitting bolt upright in the
high chair before the organ there, staring wide-eyed at the wall through
which they had just passed.

Ann Devenham had fallen asleep when she had finished playing the Dead
March in 'Saul,' the solitary candle above the keys had burnt itself
out, and the girl had awakened suddenly to catch a fleeting glimpse of
Croupin as he was passing through the secret door behind Larose.

For a minute and longer, unwilling to believe the evidence of her eyes,
she sat on as if paralysed and then regaining the use of her limbs, she
sprang up with a little sob of terror and, groping her way out of the
chapel, tore along the more familiar passages outside, finally locking
herself, breathlessly, in her own room.

In the meantime, all unknowing of what was happening behind them, the
detective and Croupin had descended the winding stairs. Eighteen of
them, they counted, and then they were brought up dead against what
appeared to be a solid wall. But the detective at once noticed upon one
of the big stones that faced them, a small patch that was darker than
anywhere else.

"That's where they press," he whispered, "and there should be
finger-marks." He hesitated a moment. "But it doesn't matter," he went
on, "for we know who comes down here," and he immediately pressed upon
the dark patch with his open hand.

The stone revolved at once, easily and without noise, and they stepped
into a long corridor whose ends were lost in darkness in both
directions. The roof of the corridor was low and not much higher than
their heads. Its walls were made of big blocks of stone, roughly hewn;
its floor was also of stone, but there, the long flags were smooth and
fitting closely into one another.

A peculiar smell at once assailed their nostrils, dank and stinging, as
of a cellar in which the air had not been stirred for many years.

"Oh! what a dreadful place!" exclaimed Croupin with a shudder. "And what
a graveyard smell!" His voice rose in horror. "And, oh! look at those
rats!"

He might well exclaim, for with the flashing round of their torches,
myriads of rats seemed to have sprung out from everywhere. They dashed
out of the open doors that gaped into the corridor, they raced along the
ledges just under the low roof, and they scampered over the very feet of
the intruders in their frantic efforts to hide themselves, as speedily
as possible from the fight.

"Never mind the rats," said the detective, "they won't hurt us. But we
mustn't let this smell get up into the chapel," and carefully noting its
position, he pushed round the big stone until it was flush again with
the other stones in the wall of the corridor. "See how beautifully it
fits," he went on, "no wonder they smell nothing up there." He tucked
the ends of his trousers into his socks and smiled as if he were quite
pleased with everything. "Now, friend Croupin, at any rate we'll find
out where that precious footman of yours has been digging for the
treasure."

But they soon realised they had an almost superhuman task before them,
for the dungeons and other chambers seemed innumerable, and there were
passages branching off from the main corridor, that led in all
directions.

They went into dungeon after dungeon but their conditions were all the
same. Empty, as they probably had been for hundreds and hundreds of
years, with only their big iron staples, embedded in the walls, and
lengths of gruesome-looking rusted chains to testify to what dreadful
uses they had been put in years gone by.

"Look at those doors, Monsieur," whispered Larose. "There are no locks
to them that you or I could have picked. They are just banged to, and
those heavy bars fall into their sockets automatically, and there is no
opening them from inside."

They came, at length, to four broad steps and descended by them into a
chamber, larger and loftier than any they had hitherto been in. It was
paved with large oblong stones and many of them had been cut by deep
lettering.

"The vaults!" exclaimed Croupin breathlessly, "where the lords are
buried!"

Larose flashed his torch upon the flags. The lettering worn and corroded
by the years, was yet quite decipherable upon many of them.

"Maurice, seventh lord of Thralldom, 1374," he read. "Thomas, tenth lord
of Thralldom, 1493. Berenice----" But suddenly he darted forward and
bent low over the stones. "Look, look," he exclaimed with a catch in his
voice, "this stone has been lifted recently, this grave of Berenice." He
clutched Croupin by the arm. "It is here that William got that crucifix
and those bracelets. He has been rifling the graves."

"Mon Dieu!" ejaculated the Frenchman. "If the lord only knew!"

There was no doubt that the flag had been interfered with, for its edges
were chipped and broken, and the intervening mortar scraped away. There
was also a deep hole where a crowbar had evidently been inserted in a
final effort to lift up the flag.

"And it is not the only one that has been lifted," cried Croupin
excitedly. "Those others have been tampered with. See, that and that."

In all then, they found four flags had been lifted and the chipping
round of a fifth begun.

"And but for that dose of veronal," grinned the Frenchman pointing to
the last stone, "this night the bones of Alicia would have been rattling
in her coffin."

The detective made no comment. He was searching behind a heap of
crumbling stones and rubbish at one end of the vault.

"And here are his tools," he said. "A spade, a crowbar, a hammer and
chisels and a paraffin lantern"--he examined the wick--"recently
trimmed."

He sat down and considered everything for a few minutes. "But this does
not help us in the least," he said finally. "I want to find a passage
leading from under the moat to somewhere on the Thralldom lands, and
unless I do, all the risks I am taking with you will have been wasted."
He sprang to his feet again. "Come, Monsieur, it is half past two and
the night will not last for ever. We must search quickly."

"But where are we to begin the search?" asked the Frenchman
despairingly. He threw out his hands. "It will take months to go over
all these dreadful places."

Larose looked anxious, for remembering the accuracy with which the
revolving stone had been fitted, he realised it would be a stupendous
task to examine the walls everywhere, with the minute care that would be
required to find another opening--if, indeed, it existed.

And then, suddenly, his eyes fell carelessly upon a broad, stone slab
that had been built into the wall just at the entrance to the vaults. It
was about three feet in height and had evidently been placed there to
rest the coffins upon when they were brought into the vaults and before
they were lowered into the graves.

He regarded it without interest for a moment, but his eyes, trained by
his life's work to notice anything out of the ordinary, he noted there
was a black patch upon one end of the slab. It looked like paint at
first sight, and he began to wonder sub-consciously what paint could be
doing there. His interest quickening, he moved forward and flashed his
torch upon the patch. Then he bent down closely and then, suddenly, he
straightened himself up and his eyes opened very wide. "But this is
blood," he exclaimed hoarsely, "and there is a long hair sticking to it.
It is a woman's hair and jet black"--he could hardly get his
breath--"and Rita Ethelton's hair was jet black."

Croupin sprang to his side and flashed his own light upon the patch too,
and then, in startled silence they stood regarding each other, with
faces that showed up pale and ghastly even among the shadows of the
vault.

The detective was the first to recover his composure. "Yes, that is
blood," he said quietly, "and see--it has dripped too over the edge of
the slab. The hair is human because of its length and, for the same
reason, it must have belonged to a woman. Therefore the body of a woman
was placed here and if she were already dead, from the extent of the
bloodstains, it could only have been very shortly after the moment of
her death." He paused a moment and then added very slowly, "Unless, that
dried blood there be the blood of all four deaths, and each time the
assassin has waited here to rest."

Bidding Croupin stand back, he proceeded to minutely examine the stone
flags all round the base of the slab, and was at once rewarded by
further discoveries, for he picked up quite a number of small pieces of
dried black mud.

"And they were brought in upon the boots of someone who had just come
off the marshes," he whispered. He could not hide the exultation in his
voice. "Oh! how it all fits in!"

"Then William is the madman who has been killing all these people,"
exclaimed Croupin excitedly, "and he found those gold ornaments, only by
chance." He grabbed Larose by the arm. "Don't you see it, Monsieur? It
is as clear as daylight to me." His eyes were almost starting from his
head. "He has killed four persons and he has brought them all down here
by that passage he has discovered, and has buried them under those four
flagstones he has lifted up. Quick! where is that crowbar you saw?"

The detective whistled. "By Jove! you may be right," and in a few
seconds they were handling the crowbar and proceeding feverishly to
raise the first flag.

But the flag was thick and heavy and they could only raise it inch by
inch, and then were obliged to wedge stones under it to prevent it
falling back.

And their exultation died down quickly with the coming up of the stone,
for there was no suggestion at all that any body had been interred there
recently.

"But perhaps it is well covered over," panted Croupin "and that is why
there is no smell."

The stone was up at last and they were gazing upon a bed of dry and
crumbled earth with no suggestion, however that any corpse had been
interred there recently. A few minutes of strenuous digging and then up
came a piece of bone.

"A leg bone," said Larose grimly, "and from the look of it, it's been
there for hundreds of years." He shook his head. "No, it's no good
digging deeper here. Now for the other ones."

With great labour, one after another, they lifted up the three other
flags, but made no attempt at digging very deep down for the earth
beneath was just the same as in the first one, crumbled and disturbed,
but with no odour other than that of the dried earth of hundreds of
years.

"Now," said Larose, "we'll just sit down and sum everything up," and he
was joined by Croupin upon the steps at the entrance to the vaults. "No,
no smoking, Monsieur," he went on sternly, for the Frenchman had been
upon the point of lighting a cigarette. "To smoke here, might prove as
dangerous to us as smoking in a powder magazine. You say William doesn't
smoke, and a non-smoker would detect the smell of tobacco smoke, even
after forty-eight hours. Switch off your torch, too, for we'll probably
want every minute of our lights now and we can talk just as well in the
dark."

Croupin complied at once and the inky blackness of the vaults enveloped
them. A short silence followed and then the detective began in a calm
and measured tone.

"This is exactly what the position is. We are looking for a madman whom
we suppose killed a girl, with jet-black hair, in the neighbourhood of
this castle here, and disposed of her body in a place we cannot
find--and our attention has unexpectedly been drawn to an individual
whom we have found out has access to these vaults. Our attention was not
drawn to him, in the first instance, because of the disappearance of
this girl, but because we imagined him to have had something to do with
the killing and disappearance of quite another person. We suspect him of
murderous tendencies, quite apart from anything to do with this girl."

Larose paused here for a moment, and, in the silence and darkness, the
emotional Frenchman edged up a little closer to him to make sure that be
had not moved away.

The detective went on. "Well, we get on to this man's tracks, we follow
them and they lead us down to this slab of stone upon which we find
dried blood and a long jet-black, woman's hair." He lowered his voice
impressively. "We have suspected him of one killing and we find concrete
evidence of another, in a spot that we know he is in the habit of
frequenting. We also find mud here similar to that upon the marshlands
outside." He reached out and gripped Croupin by the arm. "Now, what
conclusion, therefore, are we justified in arriving at?"

"Firstly," replied Croupin promptly, "that he is the killer of both
these people and secondly, that the secret of that passage under the
moat is his." A little of the assurance in his voice died away. "But
where has he hidden the bodies?"

"They should be close here and the entrance to the passages too,"
replied the detective sharply, "for he laid that woman's body upon the
slab either as I have suggested, to rest himself after having brought it
under the moat, or else to get the burial place prepared."

But all at once the Frenchman was disturbed by an idea that had come to
him. "Why should he have brought the bodies down here?" he asked
anxiously. "Why should he have gone to all that labour?"

"Why should he have killed these poor people at all, if it comes to
that?" replied Larose. "You see, Monsieur," he went on, "we are
undoubtedly dealing with a madman here, and therefore we cannot judge
his actions by what we should have done ourselves. We can conceive, as
yet, of no reason why he should have taken these poor creatures' lives,
but when we do find out what turned him all at once into an assassin, we
may, at the same time, learn why he chose to hide the bodies here."

"I realise that," said Croupin slowly, "but not knowing his motives will
make our work ever so much more difficult."

"And another thing," said Larose. "We cannot be sure yet that it is
William. We can only surmise, too, that it was he who gave me this
bruised neck last night. Don't forget we know for certain that that
Halesworth butcher has been in a madhouse once, and remember--he was
born near here and should therefore know every yard of the Thralldom
lands. As a boy, he worked on them and what is more possible than that
in the course of his work in his young days, he learnt that very secret
that we think William now possesses? No, no, we can't rule out that
butcher yet. After last night things are very suspicious about him." He
switched on his torch and looked at his watch. "But it is nearly four
o'clock and you must be back again up those stairs before morning
comes."

"And we must think, too, how I am to get you out of the castle," said
Croupin, "and how you are to get back again to continue the search."

"I shall not go out," replied Larose quickly. "I shall remain on down
here, and whether I find the bodies or not, I shall wait for that madman
to come here again." He nodded his head. "He will return sure enough if
he does not learn anyone is after him."

"Well, William, will certainly come again," said Croupin gleefully, "for
he has those other graves to dig up yet." He looked anxious. "But I
don't like leaving you, for this is a dreadful place to be in, alone."

Larose laughed. "It is a great adventure, Monsieur, and one which I
shall love. But you must go up now and get me a few things that I shall
have to have, a blanket, some candles, a bottle of water and a little
food."

"But what about to-night?" asked Croupin. "I cannot come before midnight
because of the lord and after that"--he shook his head ominously--"I may
run into William."

"Now, that's awkward," said Larose frowning, "for I must keep in touch
with you all the time. Let me think."

"I could come down just as it begins to get light," said Croupin, "or
failing that, you could come into my little room just off the kitchen
and I will leave food for you there and a note, if I have anything to
tell you, under the leg of the kitchen table. There is always a wedge of
paper there to keep it from rocking."

They replaced the flags they had lifted and removed all traces of their
work and then after Croupin had been up to obtain the things that the
detective required, the latter was left alone in the darkness, among the
rats, and in the presence of the dead.




CHAPTER XII.--THE SUSPICIONS OF WILLIAM


The following morning William awoke with a head, which if it had
belonged to James, the latter would have described as 'muzzy.'

But William was not aware what a muzzy head was, for he had never
indulged in too much alcohol. Indeed, he had been a teetotaller all his
life, and had always a great contempt for those who took anything
stronger than water or tea or coffee.

He felt languid and depressed and he counted his pulse and found that it
was very slow. Also, he had a bitter taste in his mouth, and he looked
at his tongue in the mirror which showed that it was furred and of an
ugly colour.

He sat upon the edge of his bed and thought. This was the second time
that he had felt like this lately; the other time had been not a
fortnight ago. Then, as now, he had slept all night like a dead man, to
awake in the morning with all the symptoms of one who had taken a heavy
dose of some powerful drug. And he had been suspicious then that someone
had been drugging him, and had looked hastily to see if any one had been
opening his trunk while he had been asleep.

But he had found his keys in their usual pocket in the belt that he
always wore upon him, night and day, and all his locked up belongings
had been intact. Still he had half thought that the two gold bangles he
had tied up in his handkerchief and had thrust at the bottom of all the
other things in the trunk, were not tied up in exactly the same way as
he had left them, and he had been doubtful, too, if the crucifix were
not wrapped up differently in the piece of shaving paper.

Yes, he remembered how strong his suspicions had been then, and he
became doubly suspicious now.

He knew something of the after effects of drugs, for there had been a
time in his life when drugs had played a prominent and unpleasant part.

It was true he had only very vague memories of those days and nothing
stood out really clearly to him, except a large garden with very high
walls. But he could dimly remember being given nasty-tasting things to
drink, and if he refused them, as he sometimes did, a cultured voice
would say, "A fiftieth of hyosine, I think." And then would come a
struggle and someone would prick his arm, and he would fight fiercely
and then--drop off to sleep for a hundred years.

Then next, he would wake up with a head exactly like he had now.

He screwed up his eyes in perplexity.

Surely this heavy head, this tired feeling, and this bitter taste he was
now experiencing for the second time, could not be natural? It must be
something he had been given to eat or drink that was causing it.

He went carefully over all he had had for supper the previous night.
Just some cold lamb and bread-and-butter, some salad, a little stewed
fruit and a small piece of cheese. They had all had the same things in
the servants' hall and they had all been served from the same dishes.

Then he had had two glasses of water and a small cup of coffee. Ah! he
remembered now--that coffee! It had tasted burnt and he had remarked
upon it, but everyone else had said theirs was all right.

And Antoine, the chef, had handed him that cup of coffee! A hot wave of
colour surged his sallow face. Yes, then if anyone had doped him, it had
been that cursed Antoine, and he believed the chef had done it.

He clenched his teeth together and his thoughts ran on.

No, he had never liked Antoine, and from the first moment of the
Frenchman's arrival at the castle, for some reason that he had never
been able to explain, he had always been doubtful about him.

The chef was such a watchful-looking, prying fellow, and he was always
so curious about everything. And it was strange, too, about that old
violin of his that he could play upon like a professional musician. He
had always denied that it was of any particular value, and yet once when
one of the girls had accidentally knocked it off a chair, he had gone as
white as a sheet and had trembled all over until he had found it had not
been injured.

The footman thought rapidly. But if Antoine had drugged him, what had he
drugged him for? Who was Antoine and what was he after?

Antoine was nothing but a cook, an ordinary cook. Ah! but was he only a
cook? He wasn't ordinary either. He was clever, much too clever, he,
William, had often thought to be taking service in a private family.
Yes, there was something very unusual about him.

William thought on for a long while and then, realising that he would be
late for his work, began to make his toilet hurriedly.

"Yes, I'll watch that Antoine," he snarled. His face suddenly took on an
ashen hue. "But what if he's been watching me?" A cruel and cunning
expression came into his eyes and he shifted them rapidly from one side
to the other and added menacingly. "It'll be bad for him if he has."

So Croupin noticed a subtle something about William the first moment
that morning when he set eyes upon him.

He felt, rather than saw, that the footman was watching him, and when he
handed him his cup of coffee, William sipped the first few drops very
cautiously, as if he were not quite sure it was all right.

During the morning, whenever the two were brought in contact with each
other in the course of their duties, William's manner towards the chef
was more constrained and unresponsive than ever.

When he took his lordship's breakfast tray from him, he lidded his eyes
so that their expression should not be seen, and when Croupin spoke, he
answered curtly and in the coldest manner possible.

Croupin would have been terribly mortified if he had known that William
was remarking something peculiar in him, too. The footman was sure that
there was embarrassment in the chef's manner, and that he was more
anxious to ingratiate himself and more anxious to please.

And then suddenly, when alone upon his duties in the library, William
began wondering with a sort of shock, if there were anything in
connection with the visits of the detective from Scotland Yard and the
drug that he was now quite certain had been administered to him the
previous night.

He had not been present when the detective had come into the servants'
hall, but he had heard about all that had happened from the girls and
how the chef had twice spoken very rapidly in his own tongue to their
visitor.

Now, was Antoine acting in collusion with the police, and had those
hurried, sharp words meant any passing on to the detective of some
discovery that he had made? And if he had made any discovery might it
not be that he was aware of the secret passage leading down into into
the vaults and that he knew that he, William, had been making use of it,
night after night?

He looked stealthily round, but he was quite alone in the room. His
thoughts ran on.

What if he were found out and they were going to take those nights from
him?

He bent his head forward with a strange light in his eyes.

Those nights! Ah! he was a different being then! He was no longer a
hireling, decked out in the livery of servitude and carrying out menial
tasks at the bidding of a querulous old man!

Another life came to him amid the dust of those dead years and he was
the sovereign of all about him there! The reek of the bone earth was an
opiate then to his scarred and tortured brain and he was King, Emperor
and God in a dark world all of his own!

Myriads of rats were among his subjects and he had dealt out death to
them when he had been in the mood! With his bare hands, he had torn them
from the crevices along the corridors and their blood had been sprinkled
upon the stones!

"Ah! there had been blood sometimes! Blood! Blood!" Then he passed his
hand over his forehead and stared wonderingly round, like a man
awakening from a dream.

But he heard shuffling footsteps behind him, and in the passing of a
second was the quiet and subservient footman again.

His thoughts had, however, left their aftermath, but with cunning now
taking the place of rage, and no one at the midday meal would have
dreamed, from his impassive demeanour, the red mist that he was seeing
before his eyes.

He would not leave his room for a few nights, he told himself, and, in
the meantime, if he could murder the chef in a manner that would not
direct the slightest suspicion upon himself, he would do so. But nothing
must be done that would bring him in contact with the police. He shook
his head energetically. No, he had no wish to be questioned by them.

He thought of many unpleasant ways in which he could get rid of Antoine,
but all his ideas were tempered with a foresight that would leave
nothing to chance.

To induce the chef to come up upon the battlements and then throw him
over would be the simplest plan, but it was not practicable for he could
think of no excuse to inveigle him into going up there.

Then he thought of poisoning him, and he remembered some mice poison
that he had seen upon a shelf in the scullery. It would contain
strychnine, probably, and he would look for an opportunity to place it
in something the chef was going to eat or drink.

So choosing a moment early in the afternoon, when no one was about, he
tiptoed into the scullery and reached for the tin of poison upon the
shelf. But ill-fortune was dogging him there, for he had only just taken
it down when Rosa, the under-housemaid, came in and seeing what he was
handling, asked immediately what he wanted mice poison for.

He was quite calm and collected and explained he was looking for
Insectibain, as he had just seen a black-beetle going under the big
cupboard in the servants' hall. She told him where the Insectibain was
and he had to replace the mice poison and that cut out all thoughts of
dealing with the chef in that way.

Later, about four o'clock, it being his afternoon off, he went for a
long walk to clear his head, and when passing through the village of
Westleton, he suddenly saw Antoine coming out of the little general
shop, with a parcel in his hand. The chef did not see him, but turned at
once to walk back in the direction of the castle.

William waited a couple of minutes and then went into the shop himself
and bought three pennyworth of boiled sweets, asking laughingly when the
sweets were handed over, if the Frenchman had just been buying any
chocolates for the girls up at the castle.

"No," replied the shopman, laughing back, "he only bought a pound of
candles."

"Candles!" ejaculated William uneasily, when he was outside the shop
again, and continuing his walk towards the sea. "Now what does he want
candles for? I used candles until I'd bought that hurricane lamp." And
he became more disturbed in his mind, than ever.

The goddess of ill-fortune was certainly following William that
afternoon, for he had not left the shop two minutes when Croupin
returned to it. He had forgotten he was out of cigarettes.

"And I was sure it was chocolates you'd come back for," laughed the
shopman. "Mr. William's just been in, and he asked if you'd been buying
any for the pretty girls up at the castle. He saw you go out with your
parcel and was very astonished you'd only been buying candles."

"Oh! he was, was he?" commented the very discomfited Croupin. "Well,
he's always as curious as an old woman that chap." And he proceeded to
walk back to the castle, feeling most uneasy, looking many times over
his shoulder, to see if William were coming up behind him.

"He suspects something," he muttered hoarsely. "I am sure he was
different this morning, and now, he'll murder me if he gets the chance."
He nodded his head. "I'll not leave my room to-night." A catch came into
his voice. "But I must warn that Gilbert somehow. Croupin's not the man
to let down a friend."

And so, directly he arrived back at the castle and had changed into his
chef's clothes, he chanced everything and ran into the chapel. He had
put a big dab of flour upon his face and carried a big rolling pin with
plenty of flour adhering to it, with the intention of declaring
excitedly that he was chasing a rat, if he were unlucky enough to meet
anyone upon his way.

But he encountered no one and very quickly had negotiated the spiral
staircase and was running along the corridor leading to the dungeons.

"Meester Larose," he called out shrilly, "it is I, Croupin and I want
you! Quick!" The detective at once appeared with his torch flashed.

"What is it?" he asked anxiously.

"William suspects something," he exclaimed breathlessly, "and is
watching me now! I don't suppose he'll come down to-night, and I'd
better not either."

"Thank you, Monsieur," exclaimed Larose. "You're a good friend to have."

"Found anything?" asked Croupin. "I can't stop a second."

"No, nothing as yet," replied Larose, "but I've a lot more places to
search round."

"Well, as I'd better not come down with your food to-night, you must
come up and get it yourself, directly it begins to get light in the
morning. I'll leave it all ready under the dresser in my kitchen. You
know where it is. Au revoir. Good fortune to you." In two
minutes he was back again in the kitchen, without having encountered
anyone.

"Bien, Monsieur Croupin," he chuckled as he got busy with his pots and
pans, "but you are a great man and like Napoleon, nothing is impossible
with you." He shook his head slowly, "But you have had a worrying day."

And he was by no means the only one in the castle who had been worried
that day for in addition to himself and William, both Ann Devenham and
Lord Thralldom had had their unpleasant times.

The girl had risen that morning after a very broken night, and had tried
in vain to persuade herself that what she had seen in the chapel had
been only a dream.

But she was too certain she could not have been mistaken. She had seen a
man carrying a light pass into the solid wall that she had many times
helped Rosa, the housemaid, to dust.

"What did it mean," she asked herself. "What could it mean but that
someone, unknown to them all, had access to the underground parts of the
castle and was descending into them for some sinister purpose of his
own. And that purpose could not be a good one," she argued, "because who
would be moving about in the dead of night unless he were doing
something wrong?"

She was angry with herself that she had no idea at what exact time she
had run from the chapel for, upon gaining the sanctuary of her bedroom,
she had been so frightened that she had just flung herself upon the bed
as she was and not until the dawn was beginning to filter through the
windows, had she undressed properly and put herself into bed.

Then when the hour for getting up had come, she was oppressed with the
thought that she must tell her uncle. It would worry him, she was sure,
but it was not right that he should not know what had happened, and so
she must find the first opportunity she could and speak to him alone.

But it was not until the morning was well advanced that she could get
that opportunity and then, following him into the library, she told him
everything.

With her first words a look almost of consternation came into his face,
but it was quickly succeeded by a look of stony incredibility. He made
no remark, however, until she had finished. Then he asked sharply. "What
was the man like?"

"I couldn't say," she replied. "I didn't see his face. His back was
towards me and he was flashing a torch before him and stooping to pass
through the opening in the wall." She hesitated a moment. "But, oh!
uncle, it was someone I know, I am sure, for there was something
familiar about his figure to me."

Lord Thralldom eyed her very sternly. "Have you said anything about this
to anyone else?" he asked.

"No, I've spoken to no one," she replied. "It would terrify mother if I
did. But I thought I ought to tell you."

A long silence followed and then Lord Thralldom heaved a heavy sigh.
"I've lived nearly all my life here," he said slowly, "and until these
last few days there has been no nonsense about mysterious secret
passages. Then, within a few days, Marmaduke Bonnett mentions them, that
man from Scotland Yard brings them up, and now you come with a tale that
I can hardly believe to be true." He rose wearily from his chair. "Come
with me and show me where you saw this door." He smiled kindly. "I
believe you dreamt it all."

They went together into the chapel and shutting the door behind them, he
asked her to point out where the opening had been.

Ann hesitated. "I don't know exactly," she said, "but it was somewhere
about there," and together, they approached where she indicated, and
proceeded to examine the oak panelling carefully.

They tapped upon every inch, and pushed and pulled against the panelling
in all directions, but the oak was firm and solid as a rock and no
discovery rewarded their efforts.

With every minute Lord Thralldom's face grew sterner. "I'm not pleased
with you, Ann," he said at last. "You're a foolish girl and are worrying
me unnecessarily. Of course you didn't see a man go in here and if you
mention about it to anyone"--his voice was almost menacing in his
displeasure--"there will be a pack of rumours going about that will
torment me out of my fife."

"But I'm certain, Uncle----" began Ann.

"You are not certain," interrupted Lord Thralldom angrily. "You are just
at that unbalanced age that comes to all women, when their judgment and
reason cannot be relied upon." He snapped his fingers in a gesture of
contempt. "Look at your conduct with that young fellow that came up the
other night and whom I foolishly asked to stay to dinner. Why, Marmaduke
Bonnett informs me he is only a clerk in a bank and you"--he glared
angrily at her--"are a Thralldom. I am ashamed of you, Ann."

Ann was upon the verge of tears, but she restrained them bravely.

"He is in every way a gentleman, Uncle," she said quickly. She tossed
her head defiantly and with something of her lordly relation's spirit.
"But that has nothing to do with what I saw last night."

"And I say you saw nothing," insisted Lord Thralldom firmly, "and if you
persist in your folly, it will occasion me great annoyance." He clenched
his hands together. "Don't you realise, girl, that if it gets about that
you say you saw a man going through a secret passage here, all the
gossips in the county will be talking about it, and it will draw
attention to my paintings. Good Heavens!" he ejaculated, "just as if
they were not a great enough responsibility already."

Ann made no comment and he went on very sternly, "Now, you listen to me.
You must give me your solemn promise that you will not mention about
this to a soul in the castle." He glared at her. "You understand?"

"Yes, I understand," she replied.

"And you promise?" he went on sharply.

"Yes, I promise." Her face was very pale but her expression was not a
cowed one and indeed, she looked just as angry as he was.

"Good," he remarked, and he added grimly, "a Thralldom never lies." And
he left the chapel without another word.

Ann went up to her bedroom and gave way to her emotions in a flood of
tears. She felt very miserable, but all her fear of the man whom she was
still certain she had seen going through the secret passage, was now
lost in the indignity under which she was smarting. Her uncle had
treated her in a way that was humiliating. He had not only been
contemptuously incredulous about what she had told him, but also he had
spoken as if there were something despicable in her friendship with John
Harden.

She recovered herself very quickly, however, and sponging her face well,
with cold water, there was nothing at lunch time to give any indication
of the emotional stress through which she had passed.

She was losing, too, something of the resentment she had felt towards
her uncle. After all, she told herself, he was an old man, and he could
not have many years to live. The doctors told them he might have another
stroke any time and the next one might be fatal. It was less easy to
forgive his reference to John Harden, however, but there again his mind
had undoubtedly been poisoned by that detestable Captain Bonnett.

All these thoughts coursed quickly through her mind, and very soon she
was smiling again at her uncle as if there had been no unpleasantness
between them that morning. She was considering, too, how she could help
him, notwithstanding that he was incredulous of all she had told him and
so insistent that he was not in a position to need any help.

Something was going on in the castle that was mysterious and, with those
almost priceless paintings in the picture gallery, she was sure it was
not safe there should be any strange happenings that could not be
explained.

She had promised her uncle that she would not speak to anyone about what
she knew had happened in the chapel the previous night, but that promise
she reminded herself, only extended to those inside the castle and she
had made no promise about anyone else outside.

She wondered then how she could get in touch with that detective from
Scotland Yard. He had seemed to be a man whom she could trust and, if
she told him everything he would surely advise her, and in any case she
then would have done what she felt she ought to, whether any misfortune
came upon her uncle or not.

So, after lunch, finding an opportunity when no one was about, she shut
herself up in the telephone cabinet and with a little quickening of the
beatings of her heart, rang up the bank at Saxmundham and asked for John
Harden. She was put through to him at once and she flushed happily when
she caught the thrill in his voice as he answered her.

Yes, of course, he would be delighted to do anything for her, he said.
No, he did not know where that Mr. Larose was staying, except that he
knew it was somewhere in Minsmere Haven. But he would soon find out, for
he would go there straight away directly he was free, which would be
about four o'clock. Should he come up and tell her? Oh! well, he was to
get the detective to ring her up! Exactly at eight o'clock, and if he
could not get hold of the detective, he was to ring her up himself and
tell her!

"And don't let Mr. Larose give his name," she enjoined impressively,
"nor you either, if you ring up. I don't want anyone to know. Just ask
for me and say there's a message from Miss Smith, but if the call is put
through exactly at eight, I will be by the telephone cabinet myself and
answer when anyone rings."

Then followed a few minutes' conversation, which would have meant
nothing to any outsider listening, but where every word of it was
nevertheless laden to each speaker with the most beautiful message in
all the world. It was the message that man and woman have been
whispering to each other as long as time has run.

Ann left the telephone with her eyes sparkling. "I don't mind what
anyone says," she told herself defiantly, "as long as he wants me." Her
face flushed. "And I know he does."

Three minutes before eight, she was again in the telephone cabinet and
holding back the hammer of the bell with her fingers. It vibrated at
exactly eight o'clock.

It was John Harden speaking and he told her he had not been able to get
in touch with Larose. He had found out where the detective was staying,
at the inn on Minsmere Haven, but he had not been home since the
previous evening, and no one knew where he had gone. He had not left for
good, however, because his car was still in the garage and so he, John
Harden, had left a note for him, telling him exactly what to do when he
came back.

She rang off reluctantly a few minutes later, and, with no inclination
to visit the chapel, went into the drawing-room, where she found her
stepmother sitting alone.

"Captain Bonnett has been looking for you," said Lady Deering. "He
wanted you to go up on the battlements with him. There's a big schooner
anchored in the haven." Ann made no remark and she added with a smile,
"Marmaduke is very interested in you, Ann, and you might do worse. He
comes of a very good family and your uncle likes him."

The girl tossed her head contemptuously. "Well, I don't, Mother," she
replied. "He bores me more every time I see him."

Lady Deering frowned. "Well, don't be foolish, Ann," she replied, "for
you cannot afford to offend your uncle. Remember, he's an old man and
all your future lies in his hands. He may make ample provision for you
if you do as he wants you to." She spoke sharply. "I know he's annoyed
with you about that young fellow in Saxmundham."

Ann made no comment. "Where's Captain Bonnett now?" she asked. "Do you
know?"

Her stepmother smiled. "That's a good girl," she replied. "You will find
him with your uncle in the gallery."

"I don't want to find him," said Ann calmly. "I only wanted to know
where he was so that I could avoid him," and before her stepmother could
think of any adequate reply, she swept from the room.

Shortly after half past nine Lord Thralldom, who was alone in his
bedroom, summoned James and announced that he was going up on to the
battlements.

"I've heard the hooting of the owl again, just now," he said sternly,
"and we'll go up and see if we can stop that nonsense for good."

James cursed under his breath. He had been disturbed at a most
interesting moment in a game of bridge, when he and Rosa were winning
from the butler and Mary, and it should have meant a couple of shillings
at least. He had just sorted a good no-trump hand, too, when the bell
had rung.

But he bowed most deferentially. "Very good, my lord," and he added as
if with great solicitude for his master's health, but really with the
hope that he might put him off from the ridiculous excursion, "Your
lordship had better wear an overcoat for I think it's going to rain."

"You've got your pistol, of course?" asked Lord Thralldom sharply, and
James cursed under his breath again, as he replied that he had.

They ascended the stairs leading up on to the battlements, very slowly,
and with Lord Thralldom leaning heavily upon his servant's arm. A slight
drizzling rain greeted them when they arrived at the top and were in the
open air.

"Now bend down and don't show too much of yourself," said his lordship
sharply. "I'll go the north side. You go the other way and we'll meet at
the east tower. Hold your pistol ready and shoot on the instant if you
see anything moving."

"Very good, my lord," replied James, and he cursed under his breath for
the third time. He hated firearms of all descriptions, considering them
always as an abiding source of danger to their possessors.

He commenced circling slowly round the battlements, as ordered by his
employer, but he took no interest in anything that might be below the
castle, all his thoughts being directed upon what they were probably
then doing in the servants' hall.

"I'd have given old Bevan hell," he muttered, "and with any help at all
from the tart, it'd have been a grand slam."

But his meditations were interrupted suddenly by a sharp call from Lord
Thralldom. "Over here, at once, James. I see something moving." With a
grimace of resignation but with all appearances of great energy, the
disgusted footman ran to his master.

"Quick, there he is at the end of the ditch," hissed Lord Thralldom.
"It's a long shot, but if you're pretty good with a pistol as you told
me when I engaged you, you may at least wing him."

James released the safety catch of his pistol with a shudder and raising
his arm shakily, pointed his weapon in the direction indicated. He had
seen nothing, but that did not matter. He pulled the trigger and the
pistol went off.

"Did you hit him?" asked Thralldom. "I thought I saw him fall."

"Yes, my lord, I hit him," replied the footman grinning to himself in
the dark. "In the leg, I think. I aimed pretty low."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom. "That'll teach him a lesson
anyhow." He peered over into the darkness. "Now can you see anybody
else?"

But the footman was thankful his master could pick out no more shadows
at which to make him fire that awful pistol, and so, after circling
round the battlements several times, they descended the stairs into the
castle.

James was free again at last, but almost racing into the servants' hall
directly he had got rid of his master, dreadful news awaited him. In his
absence, Isobel, the head-parlourmaid, had been given his hand to play
and she had slipped badly by going down four tricks. The game was
finished and he had three and twopence to pay.

Then in due time they were all sleeping in Thralldom Castle, but in
their slumbers their subconscious minds were all stirring in curious and
widely differing ways.

Lord Thralldom dreamed happily that injury had at last been inflicted
upon one of his phantom enemies; William was restless and tossed about,
dreaming that he was back among those high walls again; James had a
horrid nightmare that he was missing another grand slam; Larose had only
snatches of sleep because the rats ran over him and even crept under his
blankets. Ann dreamed--ah! but what were Ann's dreams and who would dare
pry among the slumbers of a young girl in love? No, let us leave Ann
alone.

In the meantime Naughton Jones was most annoyed. Rawlings had shot a
hole right through the side of his overcoat and he had only recently
purchased the garment for four pounds ten! He was sure it was Rawlings
although he had not actually seen him nor, indeed, had he been able to
find any trace of the man afterwards.

The great investigator had been prospecting round the castle in the
darkness, hoping that he might catch the demented bailiff upon the
warpath again and then suddenly he had heard a hissing noise and felt
some disturbance in the garments at his side. Then had come a sharp
crack from behind him and he knew a pistol had been fired. He had turned
like lightning but was too late to see any flash and so could not
determine from which direction the shot had come.

Feeling his rent garment, he realised what a narrow escape it had been
for him. But any thankfulness on that account was quite out-weighed by
the knowledge, firstly, that he had been beaten in scoutscraft by a
madman, for he had never been aware of the presence of his assailant and
yet the latter had evidently seen him, and secondly, that Rawlings was
now evidently in the possession of fire-arms.

The position, in Jones's opinion, had become so serious that he took two
hours and more crawling along ditches with his stomach flat upon the
ground, before he reached in safety the little cottage where he had
taken rooms.




CHAPTER XIII.--AT NIGHT IN THE CHAPEL


The following day it was as if a number of trains of gunpowder were
being laid in the great castle of Thralldom, with the possibility of any
one of them exploding at any moment.

Larose was searching feverishly for the place where the body of a woman
with jet-black hair had been interred; William was nursing murderous
thoughts towards Antoine, the chef, and racking his brain how best to
put them into action; Ann was hoping--with what possible consequences
she did not dream--to have speech with the detective from Scotland Yard
before another night had fallen, and Silas Q. Hudson, of New York, was
perfecting his final arrangements for breaking into the picture gallery
and purloining the Rubens and any other canvasses he and his companions
could manage to carry away.

The American was lunching in the castle and his faithful body-servant
and masseur was participating in the midday meal in the servants' hall.

"As you are coming up to lunch, Mr. Hudson," Lord Thralldom had
telephoned earlier in the morning, "your man may just as well wait and
return with you later in the car."

Nothing could have suited Silas Hudson better, for with arrangements
almost complete for breaking into the castle, it was yet most desirable
that Kelly should have a close-up view of the wiring of the alarms
attached to the frame of 'The Man of Sorrows' before the actual night of
the attempt.

Thus far, although Kelly had been coming up to the castle upon every
other day, to give his customary half hour's massage to Lady Deering,
the gang had not been able to think of any reasonable excuse to get him
into the picture gallery, but with the near approach of the critical
hour, Hudson's imagination had been stirred into activity and at last he
had thought of an idea.

He began to work round to it directly he arrived at the castle.

They were all sitting in the lounge waiting for the luncheon gong to
sound when he turned smilingly to Lady Deering.

"And how is the lumbago getting on?" he asked. "It ought to be getting
better by now."

"It is, Mr. Hudson," replied Lady Deering thankfully. "I am beginning to
feel quite a different person." She flushed ever so little. "Your man
has such wonderful strength in his hands that now I have got accustomed
to him, I really think that, apart from his curing my lumbago, he is
imparting some of his vigour to me."

"Quite so, Lady Deering," commented Hudson glibly, "and that is what
often happens. It is well recognised in medical circles that strength
can be imparted from one person to another." He laughed. "You know, if I
had made this world, I should have made health catching, instead of
disease."

Lady Deering lowered her voice so that James, who was handing round
cocktails should not hear. "But oh! I didn't like him at all at first
and being massaged, too, was not a bit like what I'd thought it would
be. He seemed terribly rough"--she looked puzzled--"and I never knew
they wore rubber gloves."

"Oh! but that's the latest thing in the medical world," replied Hudson
quickly, and choking back a grin. "The elasticity of the rubber is
supposed to set up vibrations and their effect is wonderful upon the
patient."

"Well, they have certainly been wonderful for me," agreed Lady Deering,
"and I've been trying to induce my daughter here to let Mr. Thompson
give her a course for her leg. She ricked her thigh about six months ago
and her leg is often stiff after a dance." She looked frowningly at Ann.
"But the foolish girl won't have it."

The American with great difficulty cut short a loud guffaw. He looked
with twinkling eyes at Ann Devenham.

"So you won't have any massage, young lady?" he smiled. "You don't like
the idea?"

"No, I don't," replied Ann laconically. She had quite got over the
feelings of cordiality she had momentarily experienced for the American
upon his first visit to the castle, and she now regarded him as a vulgar
specimen of the great country that had given him birth. As for the
masseur, Thompson, she always shuddered when she thought of the very
idea of him pawing over her white limbs with his coarse hands.

Silas Hudson turned now to Lord Thralldom.

"There's one very curious thing about that man of mine my lord," he
said. "He's a very good fellow and very intelligent, but he has no bump
of veneration, and absolutely no appreciation of the beautiful things in
life. The other day I pointed out to him the grave of one of the kings
of England in Westminster Abbey, and his only comment was that his
mother had got a good headstone too, over her grave in the cemetery at
Bethnal Green. Then I asked him, only yesterday, what he thought of your
'Man of Sorrows' and he replied, 'All right at a distance, but it
wouldn't bear close looking into and that's why they've got that rail up
to keep people away.'"

The expression on Lord Thralldom's face was a pained one. "What colossal
ignorance!" he ejaculated. "It's pitiable."

"He ought to have his nose rubbed against the glass," growled Captain
Bonnett, "and then he'd know different."

"But he won't believe," went on Hudson, "that the closer you examine a
great painting, the more impressed you become at the splendour and
minuteness of its detail." He shook his head. "But it annoys me that the
man is so obstinate in his opinion."

"Well, you can show him he is wrong, if you want to," said Lord
Thralldom with a smile. "If it will be any satisfaction to you, he can
come into the gallery after lunch and we'll see if he persists in his
obstinacy."

"Good!" exclaimed the American laughingly. "It will be amusing to watch
his face."

And so, when luncheon was over and coffee had been served to them all in
the gallery, with Lord Thralldom's permission, James was despatched with
a message to Hudson's servant in the servants' hall.

"Tell him," said the American "that I want to speak to him, and that he
is to bring up the rheumatism tablets from the pocket of my car; the
rheumatism tablets, not the indigestion ones. He'll know which are
which." And a few minutes later Kelly appeared in the gallery with the
usual sullen expression on his face.

"Thank you," said Hudson when the tablets were handed over to him. "We
shall be going home shortly and you might see if any water is wanted in
the radiator of the car. Oh! by-the-bye," he added, "you always say
you'd like to examine this painting here"--he indicated 'The Man of
Sorrows'--"and his lordship now very kindly gives his permission for you
to do so."

Kelly frowned as if he were annoyed for all eyes to be focused upon him,
and he stood hesitating, looking from his master to Lord Thralldom and
then back to his master again.

"Thank you, my lord," he said at length and in a very gruff tone. "I
always wanted to look closely at one of those pictures, but I've never
had the chance." And walking up to the Rubens, he bent his squat figure
and passed under the rail.

"Don't touch it!" exclaimed Hudson in horrified tones, for Kelly, not
content with gluing his face as close as possible to the glass, was
laying his big hands upon it, and, seemingly, pressing on it to see if
it were firm.

"He won't hurt it," smiled Lord Thralldom now appearing quite amused.
"Take a good look at it, Thompson, and see if the painter has put in
anything wrong."

They all watched the slow and clumsy movements of the masseur, as with
his eyes never an inch away from the glass, he moved his head slowly
from side to side along the whole breadth of the canvas and tapped upon
the glass several times.

"Oh! it fits well, Thompson," laughed the American, "and not one
particle of dust will get inside if it hangs there for a hundred years."

And then suddenly it came to Ann Devenham with a shock, that both Hudson
and his servant were playing a part. Yes, she was sure of it. Hudson was
like a showman who was exhibiting a performing animal and the servant
was acting as if it had all been arranged beforehand exactly what he
should do.

In a flash, her mind went back to the conversation in the lounge before
lunch and she saw how, step by step, her uncle had been led up to the
point of himself suggesting that the man should be brought into the
picture gallery and allowed to go under the rail to have a close up view
of the Rubens.

"And what does it all mean?" she asked herself and she caught her breath
in the possibility that might lie in the answer, for she had never
forgotten how sure she had been that it was only through the scheming of
Captain Bonnett that Silas Hudson had been introduced into the castle.

But the play, if indeed it were a play, was soon over, for the
American's servant, apparently satisfied that he had seen all he wanted
to, ducked back under the rail and bowed jerkily to Lord Thralldom.

"Thank you, my lord," he said quietly. "I don't know how he could have
done it." And Lord Thralldom thought it a really fine tribute to the
genius of Peter Paul Rubens from a very simple-minded man.

That evening, just before eight, more disturbed than ever in her mind,
Ann went into the telephone cabinet and muted the hammer of the bell as
she had done before. A call came through almost immediately and with a
mingling of delight and disappointment, she recognised it was John
Harden's voice again.

Larose had not returned to the inn, he told her, and there was no news
of him. His car was still in the garage. What should he, John, do? He
was telephoning from Minsmere Haven and was not two miles away. There
was an invitation in his voice.

Ann hesitated a moment and then, taking her courage in her hands, gave a
reply that thrilled and delighted the boy.

"Meet me in the garden, in exactly half an hour from now," she said. "Go
to the seat where we were the other day and wait for me, if I'm not
there when you arrive. Don't be seen by anybody if you can help it." And
she rang off with a frightened and very guilty feeling at her heart.

Just before the half hour had elapsed, like a conspirator, she went
round to make sure where everyone was. Lord Thralldom and Captain
Bonnett were smoking in the library, her stepmother was reading in the
music room, and all the servants were apparently in their quarters.

Ann unlocked the grille in the hall and pulled it to, without latching
it. She did the same to the front door. Then with her heart bumping
furiously, she ran quickly across the draw-bridge and down into the
garden in the further side.

She realised she must hurry, for it was beginning to get dark.

She arrived at the seat where she had told John Harden he was to meet
her and, for the moment, consternation seized her, for there was no one
there. But young Harden stepped from behind a tree and smilingly took
the hand that she thankfully extended to him.

"You told me not to be seen," he said softly, and the shadows hid the
colour in her cheeks as she realised suddenly that there was now a
secret between them. He would have held her hand longer, but she drew it
away.

"I'm very worried, John," she said with a little tremor and slipping
unconsciously into the use of his Christian name. "Oh! I beg your
pardon"--she went on correcting herself quickly--"Mr. Harden, of course,
I mean."

"No, John, from now, Ann," he said decisively and there was a firmness
in his voice that heartened her at once. "Now tell me what it is?" And
then with no hesitation she plunged into her story.

She told him how she had fallen asleep in the chapel; how she had
wakened to see a man going through a door in the wall; how terrified she
had been; how she had told her uncle; with what unbelief and then anger
he had received her news, and how he had made her promise to tell no one
in the castle. Finally, she mentioned her suspicions of the American and
his servant, but for pride's sake because Captain Bonnett was a
connection of her stepmother, she made no mention of the latter.

Young Harden listened without any comment, just standing and looking
down upon her, delighting his eyes to the full extent that the quickly
gathering darkness would allow him. Then with her recital finished, he
guided her gently to the big rustic seat upon which they had sat at
their last meeting in the garden.

"Sit down, Ann," he said quickly. "This certainly wants looking into,
and if we could have got in touch with Mr. Larose he would have been the
very man to have advised us." He thought for a moment. "Now, are you
quite certain it would be useless to speak to your uncle again?"

"Quite," she replied. "It would only make him angry again, and really I
have nothing but my suspicions against Mr. Hudson."

"Well what about me calling upon Lord Thralldom now, straight away,"
said Harden, "and then you taking me afterwards into the chapel, as you
did before, and I'll have a look to see if I can find that secret door.
I am a pretty good amateur carpenter and might see a join in the
panelling which both of you overlooked. I have a wonderful excuse," he
added smilingly, "for I have brought up a cheque with me that arrived by
post at the bank this afternoon, that your uncle has paid in to us and
not endorsed."

Ann looked very uncomfortable. "It wouldn't do," she said slowly. "My
uncle wouldn't like it, and they wouldn't let me take you into the
chapel afterwards." She laid her hand lightly upon his arm and went on
in a shamed sort of way. "John, after you had been the other evening,
they were angry and said you must not be asked again. Captain Bonnett
had told them you came from the bank and so"--her voice
trembled--"because you have not had so many wicked ancestors as I have
had, they don't like you"--she hesitated and picked her words very
carefully--"being my friend."

"Oh! that's it, is it?" said John grimly, and he spoke in quiet ordinary
matter-of-fact tones. "So they don't think I'm good enough to be your
friend." He smiled and nodded his head approvingly. "And they are quite
right and I don't disagree with them." He paused a moment. "No one is
really good enough." His voice was very gentle. "And what does Ann say?"

The girl laughed nervously. "Ann comes to you for help, John," she
replied, "and she's sure you'll give it her, too."

The boy looked her straight in the face and she, if very flushed and
hot, yet returned his look unflinchingly.

He waited just a moment and then, reaching out, pulled her gently to him
and kissed her once, very softly upon the lips. She seemed to draw
herself away, but then suddenly lifting up her face to his, she kissed
him back in exactly the same way.

And by both of them it had been done as if it were the most natural
thing in the world.

"Good!" said John Harden with a deep sigh. "Then that's that, and we can
now settle down to business." He gently imprisoned one of her hands.
"You must get me into the chapel, dear, and I'll keep watch there
to-night."

The girl gave a startled exclamation. "But, oh! John, you couldn't."

"Why not?" he asked briskly. "No one need know. I came on a bicycle and
I've got it hidden away in those bushes. I can go away early in the
morning. No one will miss me at my lodgings for I often go out fishing
all night. And I've got a good electric torch. Things couldn't be
better. Now, can you smuggle me in without anyone seeing me?"

Ann sat with her brain in a whirl. "I could get you in," she said
hesitatingly, "that is if you went in at once before the alarms are set,
because I've left the doors open, but how about getting you out in the
morning?"

Young Harden rose quickly to his feet. "Come on," he said. "The morning
can take care of itself." He laughed lightly. "And by then, perhaps, I
may have earned the undying gratitude of your uncle and he'll overlook
that little matter of no unbeheaded ancestors of mine." Literally
sweeping Ann off her feet and giving her no time to consider or draw
back, he commenced to hurry her towards the castle.

The big door was open as she had left it and so was the grille, and now,
closing both behind them, Ann led the way into the chapel. They met no
one upon their way and less than three minutes from leaving the seat in
the garden, were sitting behind the curtain in front of the organ and
breathlessly regarding each other with feelings of triumph, in which,
however, upon Ann's part, was soon mingling not a little consternation
at the realisation of what she had done so hurriedly.

"And so great decisions are made," whispered young Harden nodding his
head. "No, don't worry, Ann," he went on quickly, noting the troubled
look upon the girl's face. "Everything will be quite all right. We'll
rest a minute or two and then when it's dark, we'll have a look for that
door. We'll be more likely to find it with my torch then, than in the
half light now." He reached over and took her hand. "Now I want to talk
to you."

But for the next few minutes there was not much talking done, and indeed
it seemed for the time that they had both forgotten what had brought
them there. They exchanged many kisses, and there were long silences and
many sighs.

"Won't they be wondering where you are?" he whispered presently.

"No," she whispered back, "they'll only think I've gone to bed. They
never trouble about me." Then followed another silence and the
exaltation of the Cherubim and Seraphim in the stained glass windows
could surely have never surpassed that of John and Ann.

But presently John flashed his torch. "Come on, darling," he said, "and
show me where you saw the man go in. It's heavenly being with you like
this, but we must do some work."

And so for half an hour and more they examined the panelling where Ann
had seen the open door, but again, as with Ann and her uncle, all to no
purpose. Nothing moved and everything was as solid as a rock.

"But you believe me, John, don't you?" asked the girl at last.

"Of course I do," he replied. "I never had a doubt about it. That
panelling is just where a secret door would be; the lines in the carving
would mask the opening so well."

And then suddenly both their hearts came into their mouths and Ann
clutched at John's arm in consternation. They had heard footsteps, and
then the deep voice of Lord Thralldom boomed just outside the chapel
door. "And always see this door is locked, James," called out Lord
Thralldom angrily, "and hang up the key in its proper place in the hall.
What are locks for unless they are to be used. This door in particular
is always being forgotten." Then they heard the big key grate in the
lock and the sound of its being withdrawn, and the footsteps and the
voices died away.

"Oh! John," exclaimed Ann piteously and clinging to him, "what shall we
do? We're locked in."

But young Harden, if he were frightened, did not show it.

"Oh! we'll think of some way of getting out," he said reassuringly.
"I've got a big penknife with a screwdriver in it and I may be able to
pick the lock." He snapped off his torch and struck a match. "But we'd
better light that candle there and save my torch." He bent down and
kissed her. "Don't worry, dear, it'll be all right."

But a very few seconds' inspection of the big door convinced them,
without any shadow of doubt that there was no chance of picking the
lock. There were no screws on their side of the door and the oak was
much too thick and hard to hack away.

"Well, it's no good us losing our heads," said John calmly, "and we'll
just think things over. Come and sit by the organ again."

They sat together, side by side, and for a few moments neither spoke.
From the expression upon her face, Ann was now quite as calm and
collected as he was, but the quick rise and fall of her bosom betokened
the emotional distress she was in.

"I've got you into all this trouble, little one," John said gently. "I
ought never to have asked you to bring me up here. It's all my fault."
He reached for her hand and held it. "But it's no good regretting it
now."

"I don't regret it, John," she whispered softly, "whatever happens to
me." She answered the pressure of his hand. "It doesn't matter," she
went on with eyes shining tenderly in the candlelight. "Nothing matters,
now we know we are fond of each other, dear."

"That's all very well for me, darling," smiled John happily, and he drew
her again to him, "but a girl's reputation is more delicate than a
man's, remember. Now what are we going to do?"

Ann spoke quickly. "Well, it would be no good calling for help now. It
wouldn't make things even a little bit better." She laughed nervously.
"My reputation's gone in any case." She became most matter-of-fact all
at once. "Now, this is our only chance. Rosa, the under-housemaid will
come in here to dust, at seven to-morrow morning. She's a good girl and
I can trust her. I'll explain what's happened and she won't say a word
to anybody. Then about getting you out of the castle. Uncle switches off
the alarms from the control board in his bedroom directly the servants
are about, but you'll have to wait in here until just after nine when we
shall all be at breakfast. Then I'll make an excuse and leave the table
and let you out."

"And that means," said John slowly, "that amongst other things"--his
voice was husky--"you've got to pass about eight hours here in that thin
dress and"--he shook his head--"it's going to be very cold."

She averted her eyes from his. "Then we'll take down the organ
curtains," she said. "They'll be dusty but better than nothing." She
nodded her head. "You shall have that side of the chapel, John, and I'll
have this and we can talk across to one another until we go to sleep.

"No," said John firmly, "we'll keep together for a time yet. Remember,
whoever's using that secret door may be coming here any moment."

She laughed in amusement now. "Oh! I had quite forgotten about it.
Hadn't you?"

"Yes," he laughed back. "I never thought of it until this moment. We had
our own big trouble to worry about. Now, I think we'd better put out
that candle and watch. I see it's not going to be quite dark. There's a
little moon."

Then, hand in hand, they sat and whispered together with many moments of
silence, beyond all words, in between. They spoke of the wonder of the
life that would lie before them; how they would be married soon and then
how happy they would be.

"But I've no money, John," said Ann presently. "You'll be marrying quite
a penniless girl."

"Thank heaven for that," replied young Harden instantly. "You don't want
money with a face like yours."

"And uncle will never give his consent," went on Ann. "We shall have to
go off without telling anyone."

"All the better," said John, "and then there'll be no fuss."

Presently he looked at his watch. It had seemed to them as if a few
minutes only had passed, but it was nearly two o'clock.

"And now you'll go to sleep," said John masterfully. "I'll tuck you up
here and then go and lie down in one of those pews. I don't feel sleepy
and shall go on keeping watch. No, I'll not kiss you any more. You've
had quite enough, and besides"--he pushed her gently away from him--"I
never know when to stop."

He tucked her up in the big seat of the organ and then crossing the
aisle, stretched himself out in one of the pews and, with a hassock
under his head, prepared to make himself as comfortable as possible.

Ten minutes--twenty--perhaps half an hour passed, and then a small voice
came from the direction of the organ.

"Are you asleep, John?"

"No, of course not. Don't talk. Try and go to sleep yourself."

Five minutes--ten--perhaps a quarter of an hour passed and then came the
small voice again,

"I'm cold, John. I'm shivering. Come over to me, please."

John shivered too, but it was not from cold. "You're a bad little girl,"
he said, "and it's a nurse, not a husband, that I see you want." Then
switching on his torch, and carrying his share of the curtain he walked
towards where she was lying by the organ.

And then surely, under the dim moonlight there, the saints and angels in
the stained-glass windows of the old chapel were mute witnesses of the
strangest happening of all their eight hundred and more years.

Many a fair maid had they watched walk up the aisle, that after due
ceremony and in course of time she might bear babes of the Thralldom
blood to carry on the Thralldom line, and many of these babes had they
seen later baptised at the font.

But now, they were beholding a maiden of the Thralldom blood, unwedded
and unblest by sacrament of Mother Church, asleep in the arms of a man
to whom she was bound by no ties, and whose very lips, even, had not
touched hers until within a few short hours ago.

And she was sleeping so peacefully, too, with her head upon his
shoulder, just for all the world as if under his protection she was
assured there could be no danger and she need have no fear.

The man was wide awake and although he looked round, from time to time,
his eyes were never long away from the girl's face.

It was thus as they were, when just as dawn was breaking, Larose pulled
back the secret panel and stepped into the chapel. There had been no
appearance of Croupin in the dungeons and the detective, according to
the arrangement made with the chef, had come up in search of food.

The sliding back of the panel made a slight noise and young Harden,
hearing it, instantly jerked his head round and riveted his eyes in the
direction from which the sound had come.

He saw Larose before Larose saw him and, realising in a flash what was
happening, disentangled himself from the sleeping girl and springing up,
advanced to interrupt the detective, just as the latter had pulled the
panel back into its place.

Ann awoke with a start and sat up. Larose heard the noise behind him,
and the strike of a snake could not have been swifter than his movements
in turning to face young Harden.

He realised instantly that Harden's intentions were unfriendly, for the
boy's face was grim and set and he had all the appearance about him of
one who was about to grapple with an enemy.

But Larose recognised him in two seconds and called out quickly, though
not loudly.

"It's all right, Mr. Harden. Quite all right. I'm Larose, the detective
from Scotland Yard." And then, seeing the white-faced Ann behind the
organ rails, he exclaimed in amazed surprise--"Good Heavens! but what's
Miss Devenham doing here?"

Then it seemed that Ann herself was the first of them to recover from
the surprise, for springing up and smoothing down the crumples in her
dress, she advanced quickly to the detective.

"Oh! Mr. Larose," she exclaimed, "then it was you I saw going in there
the other night?"

The detective held up a warning hand. "Hush!" he said sharply. "Don't
speak so loudly. We mustn't be heard."

"But what is beyond that door?" asked Ann with widely opened eyes. "And
what are you doing there? Does my uncle know?"

"Three questions, young lady," replied the detective, "and I can't
answer them all at once. But what are you and Mr. Harden here for at
this time of the morning?"

"We are locked in," replied John Harden grimly, "and we can't get out.
That's why we are here."

"But who locked you in?" asked Larose. "And have you been here all
night?"

A hot wave of crimson surged over Ann's face and neck, but she moved
defiantly up to Harden's side and slipped her arm through his.

"Two questions, Mr. Larose," she replied with a bow, "and like you, we
shall find it easier to answer one question at a time."

"Good," said the detective and his face broke into a grim smile. "I see
we shall have to exchange confidences."

"Yes," said Harden looking very stern, "but before we go any farther,
I'd like to know if it's with Lord Thralldom's permission that you are
acting as you are."

"No," replied Larose instantly, "Lord Thralldom is not aware that I am
here and for the time being it is not in his best interests that he
should know." He looked every bit as stern as young Harden. "I am acting
on behalf of the Crown and in my capacity as an officer from Scotland
Yard." He turned sharply to Ann. "And now Miss Devenham, will you please
tell me when you saw anyone using this door before?"

And then Ann related quickly everything that had happened from the time
of her falling asleep at the organ, two nights previously, to the moment
when they had heard Lord Thralldom speaking outside the chapel door and
he had locked them in.

"We didn't call to anyone to let us out, Mr. Larose," she added, with
her head held very high, "because I knew I had broken the spirit of my
promise to my uncle by asking Mr. Harden to try and find you, and I was
sure he would have been furious with me for doing it."

Young Harden had listened to her recital with swiftly quickening
feelings of anger against himself for, with the appearance of Larose, he
was now realising for the first time the dreadful interpretation
outsiders might put upon his night in the chapel with Ann. Alone with
her, everything had seemed paltry and insignificant in the light of the
ecstasy of her companionship, but now----

Larose turned sharply to him and asked frowningly, "What time were you
locked in?"

"At about half past nine," he replied, now getting very red in his turn,
"and I saw at once that it was hopeless to pick the lock." He spoke
hoarsely. "Of course it was a tragic mistake upon my part, Mr. Larose,
that I asked Miss Devenham to bring me here, for I am not a welcome
visitor to the castle at any time. But it was all done on the spur of
the moment and then when we were locked in"--he looked challengingly at
the detective--"I judged it best from the certain censure that would
follow if we were discovered, to remain on here until we were released
in the morning." He was trying hard to keep his voice under control. "It
was the lesser of two evils."

"And you did quite right, John," said Ann decisively, "and I shall
always thank you for it." She turned to the detective. "My uncle would
never have forgiven me if he had found out that I had acted contrary to
his wishes, and it might have brought on all his illness again if he had
known." She nodded her head emphatically to the detective. "Yes,
whatever may be the consequences to me, Mr. Harden did the right thing."

Larose smiled kindly at her. "And there shall be no consequences, Miss
Devenham," he said briskly, "for we will arrange that it shall be a
secret between us three." He corrected himself quickly. "Between us
three and one other who will have to be taken into our confidence."

"But where does that door lead to?" asked Ann, her curiosity now
beginning to overcome her embarrassment.

"To the castle dungeons," replied the detective, "and I have been
watching among them now for two nights and a day."

"But what are you doing there?" went on the girl.

Larose hesitated a moment. "It would probably have been better for the
peace of mind of us all," he said gravely, "if you had not come upon me
in this way, for now I have no option but to take you into my confidence
and tell you things that are not pretty, at any rate for a young girl,
to hear." He frowned. "You are both of you almost strangers to me, but
now I have to entrust you with a secret, upon the keeping of which my
very life may depend."

"You need have no worry about that, Mr. Larose," said Harden quietly,
"for it would be unfortunate for us to have to explain under what
circumstances you were compelled to give us your confidence."

The detective laughed softly. "Quite a good answer, sir," he said, "and
I believe I shall be safe." He nodded his head. "Besides, if I am any
judge of character, I cannot imagine either of you are cowards. Now
listen to me." He spoke very slowly. "I am waiting down there for the
coming of a man who is using those dark chambers for a very dreadful
purpose. We are not certain who the man is, and we cannot determine as
yet whether he comes from inside the castle or is a stranger who has
effected an entrance through some passage that he has discovered,
leading in from outside. At any rate he is mad"--he paused a
moment--"and is a murderer."

"A murderer!" gasped Ann. "And he may live inside the castle! Oh! who
can you suspect here?"

"The footman, William," was the stem reply. "There are very strong
suspicions against him, for we know for certain that he has been rifling
the coffins in the vaults."

"My God!" came from the girl. "And William is near us all, night and
day." Her eyes dilated in horror. "But whom do you suspect him of
murdering?"

"Mr. Rawlings, for one," snapped Larose, "and perhaps others. Mind you,"
he went on, "we have no absolute proof yet that the bailiff is dead, but
we believe he is and that his body lies buried somewhere down below. As
I have said, the murderer we are waiting for is a madman, and if it
indeed be William, then having discovered a secret passage leading out
under the moat from the castle, he has been going on to the marshes,
night after night, and attacking anyone whom he has chanced to meet."

Then he proceeded to relate, in part, the discoveries that Antoine had
made about the footman; how the chef had passed them on to him, Larose,
and how they had gone together into the dungeons two nights previously.

"And is Monsieur Antoine then a detective too?" asked Ann incredulously.

"No," replied Larose, suppressing a smile, "but he is an old friend of
mine and after we had met by chance in the servants' hall the other day,
he came to me the same night and told everything he had found out." He
nodded. "You can trust him as you would Mr. Harden here."

"Well, what are we going to do now?" asked Ann, too stunned to suggest
anything herself.

"You're going to help us," said the detective, "and the very knowledge
that you are doing so will steady your nerves and lessen your sense of
fear." He smiled. "And for a reward, the first thing I am going to do is
to get you out of your trouble here. Presently, I will take Mr. Harden
back through that door and when the housemaid comes at seven, she will
find you here alone. Then, you will have to speak to Monsieur Antoine
and tell him exactly how things are and later bring some food and water
for me and leave it under one of the pews here. Now, pull yourself
together, young lady, and think how Mr. Harden can be got out of the
castle, without anyone seeing him."

They talked together for a long while, and it was only almost upon the
very stroke of seven that the detective and John Harden disappeared
behind the panelling. The detective went in first and, for quite a long
moment, stood with his back turned towards the lovers, pretending to
make sure there were no sounds coming up from the spiral staircase
below.

The panel closed behind them and alone at last, Ann sank back into one
of the pews, physically and mentally exhausted. Her dress was soiled and
rumpled, her face was all smudged over and her hair was all dishevelled.
She was just worn out with the varying emotions of the night and her
mind was torn and wounded with the memory of the horrors that the
detective had outlined.

But for all that she did not look unhappy. Her eyes were bright and
sparkling, her cheeks were flushed daintily and there was a curve, a
very tender curve, about the corners of her mouth.

She looked in the direction of the organ many times and smiled and
blushed and sighed.


Very little more than an hour later, Miss Ann Devenham, the grand-niece
of Lord Thralldom, walked into the big kitchen of the castle and asked
Antoine, the chef, for a lemon rind for her hands.

She looked spick and span and as fresh and sweet as a morning rose.

The chef was busy in his preparations for breakfast and there were two
maids with him.

Ann thanked him graciously for the lemon and then remarked with a pretty
smile, "And I suppose, Monsieur Antoine, one of the things you miss over
here is hearing your beautiful language spoken?"

"But yes, Mademoiselle," replied the chef smilingly, "Zere is much
beauty in zis country"--he bowed gallantly--"but ze words spoken are not
like zose of my beloved Paris."

And then Ann rapped out in French, very sharply, but still preserving
the pretty smile upon her face,

"Don't show any surprise. I'm going to drop my handkerchief. Follow me
out into the hall with it. I want to speak to you most urgently. It's
about your friend in the vaults."

The Frenchman's heart beat violently, but his face continued to be all
smiles. "I will follow at once, Mademoiselle," he replied quickly, and
speaking also in his own tongue, "but if you can help it, don't let that
footman with the long face see us talking together."

And then for two minutes in the hall Ann issued her instructions
rapidly. "I know everything," she said, "and am helping Mr. Larose. Be
in the garden by the artichokes just before ten. In the meantime,
exactly at a quarter past nine, manage somehow to keep all the maids in
the kitchen. I want to keep the hall clear, for a friend of mine to get
away from the castle. Mr. Larose is quite all right."

"Bien, Mademoiselle," exclaimed the bewildered chef. "It shall
be done as you order."

And so, at a quarter past nine exactly, young Harden passed like a
shadow out of the castle, unhindered, and unseen by everyone except Ann.
He seemed to be in a great hurry, but for all that he had time enough to
pause for one long and passionate moment to embrace the flushing Ann.

Later in the morning, it was reported to Lady Deering that there had
been a most regrettable accident in the kitchen for, just after
breakfast, the chef had had the misfortune to break one of the large,
old-fashioned, hundreds-of-years old soup tureens.

Her ladyship was most annoyed at the clumsiness of the chef.




CHAPTER XIV.--THE DREADFUL VIGIL


Two days and two nights had passed and Larose was still watching for the
coming of that assassin, who in some recess of those dark chambers had
secreted the bodies of the murdered dead. He was certain that he was
upon the right trail, and that down the side of that gruesome slab had
dripped the blood of more than one victim whose last remains he was now
seeking.

It was a dreadful vigil, for night and day were the same to him in the
darkness there, and it was by his watch only that he could determine
when day had dawned or night had fallen.

At first he had searched feverishly to find either an opening in the
walls that would disclose a passage down under the moat, or one that
would lead him to where the bodies had been buried, but he had soon come
to realise that only by a miracle, almost, would he be successful in
either quest.

He was hampered so greatly by the poor light at his service, for it was
only by candlelight that he could search. His torch would have soon run
down and he had to conserve that for an emergency. He dared not light
the lantern that he had seen in the vaults, because with the coming of
whomsoever had been using it, the smell of the burning oil might warn
him as he approached. Besides there was not more than two or three
hours' oil left in the lantern.

So, in the end, he had come to the conclusion that the only thing for
him to do, was to wait with what patience he could and let the assassin
himself be the guide who should lead him to the places he was searching
for.

But with two nights passing with no one appearing in the dungeons, a
feeling of great depression began to take possession of him. The
dungeons were so cold and chilling and from time to time he shivered
violently as if he were going to become downright ill.

He was weakening, too, for want of proper sleep. One fold of the blanket
was all there was between him and the hard flags and his only pillow was
his arm.

The rats which at first were only an annoyance, had speedily become a
positive torture, for their incessant squeaking was the least of their
activities.

In the darkness they never for one moment left him alone, and at last,
in desperation, he tried to sleep with the candle burning. But after a
while even that made no difference, for they took to running boldly over
him, and twice he was awakened by one of them actually biting him.

When he was eating his sandwiches, too, their beady eyes were always
upon him, and when he dropped a crumb, they dashed for it as if they
were expecting him to feed them.

He had seen nothing of Croupin, but upon both mornings just before five,
had crept up into the castle for his food, to learn then from a cryptic
message under the leg of the kitchen table, that the Frenchman was
certain he was still being watched and accordingly was going to take no
risks. Larose had left a message in return, that all was well.

So things were, when towards noon upon the fourth day of his vigil a
great catastrophe occurred. His watch stopped and he had no longer any
means of learning the time.

He did not awake to the calamity at first, but between fitful snatches
of sleep began to worry subconsciously, how slowly the hours were
passing, and he had flashed his torch three times to see what the time
was, before it came to him what had actually happened.

"Still not midday," he had murmured with his eyes half closed, "and I
can hardly have slept at all." Then the third time, the position of the
hands seemed strangely familiar to him, and with a cry of dismay, he sat
up with a jerk and held the watch up to his ear. There was no tick in it
and it had stopped at ten minutes to twelve. He shook it and opened it
and shook it again, but to no purpose. Some of the dust of the dungeons
had got in and it was as dead as a nail.

He was in dismay for now, he realised, there could be no pretence of
sleep at all. He must remain awake until he dropped from sheer
exhaustion and then that would be the end of all this fine adventure
upon which he had set such hopes.

"No, no, Gilbert," he said, bracing himself up, "this will never do.
You're made of better stuff than that. You're not beaten by a long way
yet. Where's your resource, my boy?" He smiled weakly. "You'll have to
take a greater risk, that's all."

So he left the dungeon where he had been lying, and with unsteady steps
negotiated the corridor and climbed up the spiral staircase to the panel
behind the chapel wall. He stood listening there for a long time, but
all was quiet, and he slid back the secret door. The chapel was empty
and he drew in big draughts of the purer air.

"Now, if I'd only thought of it," he frowned, "I could have made this a
place of rendezvous with the charming Ann, but it's too late now."

The light from the stained glass window, dim as it was, made his eyes
blink. "There's no sun," he whispered, "and it may be any time after two
o'clock."

Greatly daring, he crept to the chapel door and opened it a little way.
He heard the cheerful sounds of people moving about, the sounds of
distant voices and once someone laughed. Growing bolder, he crept into
the passage and tiptoeing along its entire length, craned his head round
the corner. He could hear the voices much plainer then and soon came the
chink of cups and saucers.

"Ah! afternoon tea in the lounge?" he exclaimed longingly. He sighed.
"That should make it about four o'clock." He blinked his eyes wearily.
"But oh! I'm so tired and I shall drop if I don't get some sleep."

But suddenly he straightened himself up with animation, for an idea had
come to him. "I'll have a nap in the chapel," he exclaimed. He smiled
with something of his old vivacity coming back. "I'll sleep where the
charming Ann slept, although I can hardly hope to have such happy
dreams."

So, in two minutes he was settling himself back luxuriously in the big
seat before the organ, where three nights previously Ann Devenham had
lain sleeping in her lover's arms.

"No, I'll not lie down," he whispered, "or goodness knows when I shall
wake up. Just a little doze," he went on drunkenly, "and at any rate,
there'll be some peace from those rats. It'll revive me a bit anyhow."

However, he did not by any means derive the benefit that he was
expecting, for the whole time his sleep was nothing but a series of
short dozes, with him waking up every few minutes and harassing his mind
with each awakening as to whether he had been asleep too long.

A dozen times and more he forced himself into complete wakefulness to
make certain the light was not waning through the stained-glass windows,
and as many times again, he crept out of the chapel door to determine by
any sounds that he might hear, as to how near the hour of darkness was
approaching.

At last, upon one of these excursions into the passage, he no longer
heard anyone talking, but now the faint aroma of the preparation of food
was wafted to him.

"Dinner!" he murmured brokenly. "A hot dinner with good things to drink!
Then later, a hot bath perhaps, and a divine sleep in some comfortable
bed!" He frowned angrily. "Oh! what a fool I am, when I might have the
life of a happy human being, instead of always going upon this infernal
crime stunt." But a smile quickly replaced the frown. "No, no, Gilbert,
you're not built that way. The gods made you a very foolish man."

He rubbed his eyes vigorously with his knuckles to dispel as much desire
for sleep as possible and proceeded down into the dungeons again.

"After to-night, my boy," he said sadly, "you'll have to alter all your
plans. You're coming to the end of your tether and with all the spirit
in the world, you can't go without sleep for ever. You never bargained
for this long watch."

Mentally, if not physically, refreshed by his incursion up into the
chapel, he returned to the dungeon that he was making his temporary
home. It was the one nearest to the steps leading down into the vaults
and he had chosen it in preference to any other because he was sure that
it was about there would lie the opening to the passage under the moat,
and reclining upon his blanket in the corner, he would have a clear
view, too, of the slab upon which he had found those sinister traces of
blood.

He pulled the door half to, as he always did, and then proceeded to take
down his blanket from where he had stuffed it, high up in a wide crevice
in the wall.

But he trod on something soft, and flashing his torch down, a cry of
fury escaped him. His blanket had been torn to shreds and there was not
a piece in sight larger than the palm of a child's hand.

He shivered violently. "Oh! well, it is my own fault," he exclaimed
woefully. "I ought to have taken it with me. Now, I shall have a
dreadful night."

And it required no great gift of prophecy to make him realise very
quickly that in this last surmise he was going to be quite correct.

He sat huddled in a corner on the bare stone in the darkness and he was
soon in what he considered must surely be the last state of misery.

He was depressed with the thought of the long hours of torture that lay
before him; he was chilled to the bone and shivering violently; also, he
was deadly tired and almost sick for want of sleep. But it was the rats
that were his greatest torment. He dared not light a candle, for it was
now approaching towards that hour when if anyone were coming down into
the vaults he would arrive soon, and, as before, they gave him no peace.
As long as he was upon his feet and flashing the light upon them, they
kept their distance, but directly he sat down and extinguished the
torch, they swarmed upon him from all directions.

Unhappily, he had no satisfactory weapon with which to beat them off,
but he struck continuously at them with a big lump of stone, and time
after time, exasperated almost to the point of frenzy, jumped to his
feet and scattered them.

All the time, however, it was with the greatest difficulty that he could
keep awake, even when he was in the very act of repulsing his
tormentors.

So, the hours dragged on until he reckoned it could not be far off
eleven o'clock.

Then suddenly it seemed as if the rats had at last had enough, for
immediately after one of his fierce dashes upon them, they all in a
moment turned and scampered off. He was too tired to feel in the least
degree surprised at their departure and sinking back exhausted, in a
minute at the longest was fast asleep.

But his sleep had only lasted a very little time when they were back all
round him again, and he was awakened by one of them running over his
face.

Then the battle commenced all anew but it was a very wearied man now who
was defending himself. Indeed, after a while his actions seemed to have
become almost mechanical, and he alternately kicked with his feet and
thrust out with the hand that held the blood-stained stone.

A long while passed, hours and hours the detective thought, and then as
suddenly as before, all the rats left him, and in a few seconds, in
spite of almost superhuman efforts, he was asleep again.

He had no idea as to how long the respite lasted and it was not the rats
who finally broke into his troubled dreams. It was something quite
different this time.

He had many times been stirring in his sleep as if some subconscious
warning were being given him, and at length half-awakened and drawing in
a deep breath preparatory to a long sigh, his nostrils were assailed
with an unaccustomed odour.

He shook his head vexatiously, not willing to be disturbed, but he had
not smoked now for four days and his sense of smell was in consequence
very keen, and soon, very soon, he found himself wide awake and sniffing
hard, with his eyes blinking bewilderedly into the darkness.

Then all at once, he sprang to his feet as if no such things as
exhaustion or weariness existed.

He had recognised the smell at last. It was that of burning oil!

Someone had just passed along the corridor with a lighted lantern!

He darted to the half opened door and with dilated pupils stared up and
down the corridor. All was black and empty and he could see no light or
hear no sound anywhere. Indeed so quiet was everything that the hush
filled him with foreboding for it was exactly as if some greater force
for evil than they had terrified the rats, and in the presence of some
danger that they knew, they had swept panic-stricken into their holes.

But if the sudden silence was inexplicable, the explanation of the smell
that had awakened him was very clear and definite, for the instant he
stepped out into the corridor the reek of burning oil was almost
nauseating in its strength. Not only had someone passed with a lantern
but he had been carrying it with the wick turned too high and it had
been smoking badly.

For a long minute the detective stood in the darkness, almost holding
his breath in his excitement, and straining eyes and ears for some sight
or sound.

But he saw nothing and he heard nothing and he bit hard upon his lips to
make certain everything were not a dream.

Then he flashed his torch round and instantly he gave a gasp of horror
and pressed his hand upon his heart for it had started to throb so
violently.

Upon the slab at the entrance to the vaults was outstretched the body of
a man and from its overhanging head, the ghastly pallor of its face, and
its sagging open mouth, it could only be that the man was dead.

The detective clenched his jaws together like a steel trap, and
invigorated as if he had imbibed a deep draught of wine, sprang over to
the slab and touched the body. It was still warm.

Switching off his torch for a second to make certain that his was the
only light in the corridor, he snapped it on again quickly and took a
searching look at the body.

It was that of a man unknown to him and he was neither young nor old.
His appearance was refined and he had long white hands, upon one finger
of which was a signet ring. At the back of the head was a dreadful
gaping wound.

But the detective snapped off his torch and darted to the entrance of
the dungeon again, for he had heard a faint sound in the distance, up
along the corridor.

He stood, hardly daring to breathe, with his head just round the dungeon
door.

One minute, two minutes went by, and then about seventy or eighty yards
away a glow of light appeared in the corridor. It came from the floor of
the corridor itself, and a few seconds later it gave a shadow to a
flag-stone, upraised, and at right angles to the walls. Then a long arm,
holding a lantern, came into view and lifted the lantern out into the
corridor, then the head and shoulders of a man appeared and finally, the
man himself stepped out, and picking up the lantern began to walk slowly
towards that end of the corridor where the detective was hiding behind
the opened dungeon door.

Larose darted back a few feet into the dungeon and with his body pressed
up closely to the wall, and almost suffocated in his excitement, awaited
the coming of the bearer of the lantern.

His heart was beating like a sledge-hammer.

"At last, at last," ran his exultant thoughts, "in a few seconds the
assassin will be unmasked. I will wait until he has passed the door and
then spring upon him and bring him down. I shall not need to use my
pistol."

The lantern swayed and swayed and the man came nearer and nearer. Larose
could hear his shuffling footsteps and his heavy breathing.

Then suddenly the totally unexpected happened, for in passing the
dungeon where Larose was hidden, either of deliberate purpose because
the detective had unwittingly left it jutting too far into the corridor,
or just by chance, the man lurched against the open door and banged it
to.

Two moments of agonising suspense ensued for Larose as the big iron bar
outside quivered ominously against the door. Then it crashed down
noisily into its heavy socket and the suspense was over--for the
detective knew he was a prisoner.

The man with the lantern passed on and shuffled down the steps into the
vaults.

A sweat of fury burst upon the forehead of Larose, but by no gesture or
exclamation did he betray his discomfiture. He was mortified beyond all
words, but it was his life's training to remain cool and unflurried in
great crises.

He threw himself down at full length upon the stones and glued his eyes
upon the narrow crack below the door.

A few moments passed and then came the unmistakable sounds of the man
returning.

But he shuffled along even more slowly this time and panting hard,
swayed the lantern more than ever. He soon passed out of hearing,
however, and the light faded away.

It was about five minutes before the detective heard any other sound,
and then it was a distant thump as if the upraised flag that he had seen
had been dropped into its place.

The light, however, did not return and once again silence reigned.

"He's not passed again, at any rate," whispered the detective hoarsely,
"and therefore, whoever he was, he must have come from inside the
castle,"--he hesitated--"unless he has not gone away yet." He nodded
emphatically. "But I was right in what I thought. The entrance to the
passage under the moat is somewhere by the vaults and he lays the bodies
each time upon that slab after he has brought them in." He shuddered.
"But who was that last poor wretch?"

A few minutes went by and then the rats began to squeal again. He rose
stiffly to his feet with a wan smile. "Yes, he's gone right enough and
they think they're safe now. They evidently know him and are more afraid
of him than they are of me. Anyhow, they won't trouble me now, for if I
cannot get out, they cannot get in and I shall have some peace at last."
He shook his head disgustedly. "But I ought to have thought about that
bar and jammed it, so that it couldn't fall."

He returned to his position in the comer and wearily fussed his hand
over his forehead. "Now, of course, I shall have to remain shut up here
all night, but to-morrow morning when Croupin sees I have not been up
for my food, he'll, he'll----" But he was so exhausted that he could not
think coherently and after a few seconds closed his eyes, and tried to
forget everything in sleep.

But cruelly enough, sleep would not come to him now. His brain was in a
whirl, and confused and rambling thoughts circled insistently through
his mind. He was so cold and stiff, too, and although so tired, could
not keep his limbs still.

Then suddenly he pulled himself together and his heart began to beat
tumultuously once more, for all in an instant the squealings of the rats
had become accentuated to an extraordinary degree, and he heard the pad
of quickly rushing footsteps as if someone were now chasing them and
striking at them with some heavy implement like a spade. A light, too,
flashed again under the door, but it was not the lantern this time, for
the flash as it passed was too steady to be anything but that of an
electric torch.

Then came low chuckling laughs in quick spasmodic jerks, as if the
laugher were laughing with his mouth shut.

"Mad! mad!" ejaculated the detective wearily, "and so, he's not yet
sated his lust for blood. No wonder the rats scuttled off when he came!
They knew what to expect."

The sounds soon died down in the corridor nearby, but they were repeated
at short intervals in more distant parts of the underground passages and
Larose could distinctly hear what he was now sure was the thud of a
spade.

Four times he heard the thuddings, with the squealings each time rising
to a crescendo and then everything stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
By then, however, a feeling of such utter prostration had come over him
that he had lost interest in all that was happening.

The next morning Croupin was very worried. He had seen that Larose had
not been up for his provisions and he did not dare to risk a lightning
visit to the dungeons, because he was positive that William was watching
his, Croupin's, every movement. He could not move anywhere out of the
kitchen without finding the footman, upon one excuse or another, always
at his heels.

But he considered it vital that he should know what was happening to
Larose, and, from the moment of finding that the provisions had not been
fetched, he taxed his fertile brain to think of some way of getting in
touch with the detective, and at last, while he was preparing the
breakfast for the family, he hit upon an idea.

He had not seen Ann to speak to since their meeting three days
previously in the kitchen garden by the bed of artichokes, but their
conversation then had impressed him with the strength of the girl's
character, and he now determined to appeal to her and induce her to go
down into the dungeon and see what had happened to Larose.

"But she will not like it, the pretty one," he sighed, "to go down into
the darkness among those rats, but she has the courage of those wicked
ancestors of hers and when I tell her how serious things are, she will
not refuse."

So he cut a lemon in two halves and also a small Jerusalem artichoke,
and placing the four pieces upon a plate among some dainty paper frills,
instructed one of the housemaids to take them up at once to Miss
Devenham's room.

"And you be quick, Rose," he said looking very distressed. "Zey were to
have gone up by eight o'clock and she will be very angry. Tell ze
beautiful miss I am so sorry but I forget and I hope she will forgive
me."

The girl looked at the plate. "But what's that artichoke for?" she
asked, "What is the use of that?"

The chef threw out his hands. "Why, for ze finger nails, of course." He
smiled pityingly. "Zey always use zem in France. Now you go up quick, or
I get ze sack, Oh! and mind and see if she is angry," he called out as
the girl was leaving the kitchen. "You will tell by ze look on her
face."

The girl was back again almost at once. "And she was not angry?" asked
the chef for all the world as if he depended for his very life upon the
answer he was going to receive.

"No," smiled the girl. "She just looked very hard at the artichoke to
see if you had given her a nice one and then said 'It's quite all right,
tell Monsieur Antoine.'"

The chef was delighted. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "she have a most sweet
disposition! I knew she had."

Soon after breakfast Croupin, having all the time kept a close watch
from the kitchen window, saw Ann walking in the garden, and he quickly
made his way there, too, carrying a small basket upon his arm.

"I will get my own vegetables zis day," he had announced to the girls.
"Zat gardener pick ze first one he sees and have no judgment."

He passed Ann with a deferential bow, without speaking, but then having
proceeded a few yards, he stopped suddenly and turned back as if she had
called him.

"You are wonderful, Miss Devenham," he said smiling, "and I knew you
would guess that I wanted to speak to you." His face became very grave.
"I have something serious to tell you and I want you to do something for
me."

Ann regarded him curiously and with a certain feeling of annoyance.
There was almost a note of authority in his tone, she thought, and
he--the castle chef!

"Quick! turn your back to the windows," Croupin went on. "They may be
watching and see your face. I was on the stage once and they will get
nothing from mine."

Ann complied frowningly and Croupin threw out his hands with his face
again all smiles, but when he spoke it was very sternly.

"Miss Devenham," he said quickly, "I have a favour to ask of you. No,"
he corrected himself, "because so much depends upon it it is almost an
order that I am going to give you."

"An order, Monsieur!" ejaculated Ann. "You give me an order--you?"

"And it will be no disrespect if I do, Mademoiselle," replied Croupin
sharply, "for my ancestors were such as yours. My grandfather was of the
French nobility and the noblest blood of France ran, too, in my mother's
veins."

The girl's anger all suddenly died down and regarding with slightly
heightened colour the good-looking face before her, she said simply,
"And I believe you, Monsieur."

Croupin bowed and now spoke rapidly. "I am very anxious about Monsieur
Larose," he said. "He is still watching in the dungeons but I have not
seen him for three days. This night he has not come up for his
provisions and this morning"--he hesitated as if he did not like to
utter the words--"this morning, there was blood upon the handle of
William's door."

"My God!" ejaculated the girl, as white as a sheet. "What do you think
has happened?"

"I do not know," replied Croupin, "and I cannot go down myself because
William is watching me. To my great grief, I slept last night, as I had
not intended to, and where William went, I do not know."

"Well, what do you want me to do?" panted Ann. "Go down there myself?"

"Yes," replied Croupin instantly, and taking it for granted that she
would do so, he proceeded to give her the most minute instructions.
"Now, I dropped my electric torch in the bed of mint as I came by," he
said. "Pick it up as you pass. Go into the chapel and upon the panelling
about where you saw us go through that night, you will find a dead fly.
Press sideways about the breadth of my hand to the left of the fly, and
the panel will slide open. Close it after you have gone in. Then you
will descend eighteen steps, and at the bottom you will come up against
a stone wall. Press upon a dark patch that you will see at about the
height of your shoulder and the stone will revolve. Pass through but
don't shut that door. Leave it open for you to come back. Then you will
find yourself in a long corridor. Turn to the left and walk about a
hundred yards. Monsieur Larose will be in the last chamber on the right
hand side of the corridor, and a few yards before you see some steps
that lead to the vaults. You understand?"

The girl nodded. She was too overcome to speak.

"Ah! and another thing," went on Croupin carelessly, and as if it were
of no importance, "you may see some rats. Don't take any notice of them.
They will run away." He eyed her intently. "You are not afraid?"

"I'm terribly afraid," replied Ann, half choking, "but I will go all the
same."

"Bien, Mademoiselle," said Croupin, and his stern face relaxed
into a warm, approving smile. "I was sure you would. You are not really
afraid but only think you are and it will be a great adventure." He
nodded his head. "And if you are not back in twenty minutes from now, I
will risk everything and come after you." He smiled back. "If everything
be all right, send Rosa for another lemon."

Ann had spoken truly when she said she was afraid but, for all that, she
held her head high and there was no wavering in her steps as she
approached the panel in the chapel. Contrary to her expectations, she
found the opening easily and according to the instructions of Croupin,
although not without a tremor, she closed it behind her. The stairs were
quickly negotiated and the revolving stone at the bottom did not worry
her, but it was when she stepped into the long, low corridor, and the
rays of her torch shone down its ghostly lengths that the real test of
her courage and determination began.

She choked down a sob of terror as her torch reflected the the light
from hundreds of beady eyes, and stood stock still with her feet as if
rooted to the ground. But remaining stationary was really the best thing
she could have done, for the rats scuttled past her and in a few seconds
she was alone.

With a great effort of will then, she forced herself to move forward and
her courage coming back, she started to run quickly and to call out for
the detective.

"Mr. Larose," she shouted, "it is Miss Devenham! Where are you? Are you
here?"

But she had run almost to the length of the corridor before any reply
came and then a muffled and hoarse voice answered "Here! here! Let me
out! Someone has shut me in!"

Her heart gave a great bound of thankfulness and all her fears
forgotten, she turned to the door from behind which the voice had come.

"What am I to do?" she asked breathlessly. "How can I open it?"

"Lift up the bar you see outside," replied Larose with surprising
cheerfulness for a man who but a short while before had thought he was
sinking into unconsciousness.

"But I can't," she replied after a moment. "It's too heavy. I must go
and get help from the castle."

"No, no," came sternly from the detective, "anything but that. Do as I
tell you and you'll get it up. Now listen. Take off one of your shoes,
place it upon your shoulder. Then lean hard against the door and put
your shoulder under the bar as near as you can to the socket and heave
up slowly. No jerking, and take a deep breath before you begin. Don't be
in a hurry."

She did as he told her and three times struggled to raise the bar,
without however receiving the faintest promise of success.

"I can't move it," she panted at last. "It's too heavy or it's jammed.
Oh! let me go for Monsieur Antoine."

"Not yet," called back Larose imperatively. "We'll try another way.
You'll see some steps a few yards further on. There are only four of
them. Go down and turn round to the right. Then in the corner there,
behind some stones, you'll find a crowbar. Bring it and swing it against
the bar. You'll loosen it from the socket then."

A couple of minutes elapsed and then he heard the girl return dragging
the big crowbar behind her.

"But it's too heavy for me to swing," she cried despairingly. "I can
hardly lift it off the ground."

"Take it with both hands, by the middle, and then you'll be able to.
Swing it a few times backwards and forwards first and then bang it hard
against the bar."

Laying her torch upon the ground, with a great effort Ann managed to at
last get the long length of iron properly balanced, and she started
resolutely to swing it against the door. But the bar was high and she
missed it every time. She soon tired, and with every swing her efforts
became weaker. At last, with one despairing effort she lunged forward,
and very wide of the bar again, the iron nevertheless just flicked
against the socket. It touched it very lightly but a sharp crack
followed and then both socket and bar crashed on to the ground.

The door swung open, missing the girl narrowly and the detective reeled
out into the corridor.

"What's happened?" he asked hoarsely, and Ann replied, "I don't know."

He stooped and picked up the broken socket. "Oh! oh!" he exclaimed
ruefully, "if I'd pushed against the door, ever so gently, it would have
given way. This socket's almost rusted through."

Then the reaction set in and he sank down upon the stones.

"Are you hurt?" asked Ann anxiously as she flashed the torch upon his
face. "Oh! how ill you look!"

She might well say that, for the detective was an appalling spectacle.
He looked the wreck of a man. He was shivering violently, his face was
drawn and ghastly pale, his eyes were swollen and bloodshot and he had
been unshaved for four days.

"I've had no sleep," he whispered, "and I'm almost dead from cold. I
couldn't sleep all last night. I was so frozen." He smiled weakly and a
little animation crept back into his face. "But how is it you came down
here?"

"Monsieur Antoine sent me," she replied. "William was watching him and
he dared not come himself." She put one of her arms under his and helped
him to his feet, thinking rapidly all the time. "Now don't worry any
more," she went on. "I'm going to take you up into the castle and you
shall have some proper food and sleep."

"No," said Larose firmly and freeing himself from her arm. "I must
remain down here. With something to eat and another blanket, I shall
soon be all right again. The rats took the blanket that I had or I
should not be like this now."

"You will come up," said Ann with great sternness, "and I insist upon
it. I didn't torture myself to come down here for nothing, and you'll
break down altogether if you don't get proper attention now. I was
training for a nurse once and know what I am talking about."

The detective shook his head. "But it won't be for long," he pleaded. He
passed his hand across his forehead and added weakly, "I think my work
is almost done here."

But Ann had not been given her good chin for nothing and she took his
arm in a firm grip again.

"You're coming with me," she said quietly, "and you're going to have a
hot bath, some champagne, and a good sleep."

It was the thought of a hot bath that made the detective waver and his
resolution was weakening palpably when he spoke again.

"But how can it be managed?" he asked shakily. "No one in the castle but
Monsieur Antoine must know."

"You'll see," replied Ann quickly. "I'll arrange it somehow. Now you
lean on me and take short steps! Come on, for those awful rats are here
again," and from that moment she had things all her own way.

She helped him, almost pushing him at times, up into the chapel and
there she left him, lying in one of the pews whilst she went to make her
arrangements.

"Keep still," she said, "and don't worry. It will be a miracle if anyone
comes in here, but if they do, pretend to be unconscious and don't
answer any questions. I'll be back very soon and you shall have that hot
bath I promised you."

She went up to her little suite of rooms which consisted of a small
boudoir, with a bedroom, and a bathroom attached. One of the housemaids
was making the bed.

"Be quick, please, Rosa," she said. "I've got a bad headache and am
going to have a sleep and don't want to be disturbed."

The maid left in a few minutes and Ann turned on the bath. "Now for the
critical moment," she thought, "and if anyone meets us, I'll just have
to say I found him wandering about." She caught her breath in
apprehension. "But oh! if uncle ever gets to know."

She had only one flight of stairs to go down and then she turned into
the long corridor leading to the chapel.

"Now quick, Mr. Larose," she said briskly, hiding all trace of her
nervousness. "We have only this corridor to go along and then up one
flight of stairs and we shall be all right." She fibbed boldly. "We are
certain to meet no one."

And they did meet no one, but Ann had two frights. She heard Lord
Thralldom's voice a very little way away, just round the corner in the
lounge, and William himself passed across the end of the corridor,
happily, however, without looking round.

The detective took no interest in anything. He was just content to be
led along, with his eyes half shut and breathing heavily.

They reached Ann's room at last and she took the detective at once into
the bathroom. "Here's the bath all ready," she said, "and it's as hot as
you can bear it." Then with no demur on his part she proceeded to help
him to begin to undress. "Don't be too long," she went on, "and when
you've dried, get quickly into bed. I've no pyjamas to offer you"--she
blushed ever so slightly--"mine would be much too small, but here's a
blanket you can wrap round you and it'll answer quite as well. Now, I'll
go for that champagne."

She found the chef alone in the kitchen and told him quickly everything
that had happened. Croupin gave her a low bow when she had finished.
"You are an angel, Mademoiselle," he said gently. "Just an angel, that
is all."

Larose had just thrown himself into the bed as she returned with some
sandwiches and the champagne, and after eating a little and taking a
long draught of the wine, he felt revived enough to be for the first
time interested in his surroundings.

"But where am I, Miss Devenham?" he asked, looking in a dazed way round
the chamber.

"In my bedroom,"--she blushed prettily--"and in my bed." She bowed and
smiled. "It is some small return for your consideration to me the other
morning when we met in the chapel."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose and with all his weakness he blushed too;
"then I am exposing you to a terrible censure. If your uncle learns----"
But his eyes closed in dreadful sleepiness and his voice trailed away.

"That's right," said the girl as she tucked the clothes round him. "You
just go to sleep. You will be quite all right and no one will disturb
you."

"But I must be up again to-night," said the detective drowsily. "I
must--I must----"

"We'll see," replied the girl. "Now don't talk any more," and in half a
minute he was as sound asleep as he had ever been in all his life.

Ann remained in her room all the morning, and at lunch-time, pleading
the headache again, had her lunch brought up to her. Larose slept
peacefully like a dead man and apparently, by his stillness, was
disturbed by no unpleasant dreams. Every now and then she tiptoed into
the bedroom and looked at him. The afternoon waned and evening began to
draw in. Then Ann summoned the maid again and announced her intention of
having dinner, too, in her room.

"Tell Lady Deering, please," she said, "that I am feeling much better,
but want to keep quiet and not talk until my headache is quite gone."

At nine o'clock, she was sitting reading in her boudoir when she heard a
knock upon the door and mechanically called out "Come in." The handle of
the door was turned slowly and then, to her consternation, her uncle
walked into the room. With a strong effort she repressed all traces of
emotion as she rose up and advanced to meet him, bestowing a covert
glance, however, at the door leading into her bedroom, which was ajar a
few inches.

"Oh! Uncle," she said, forcing her face into a smile. "It's very nice of
you, I am sure. But why did you come up? I'm feeling quite all right
now."

Lord Thralldom sank wearily into the arm-chair, which she had moved
forward for him.

"I wanted to speak to you," he replied fixing his great eyes upon her,
"for I am worried about you."

"Worried!" she exclaimed. "But I tell you I am quite all right."

"Oh! it wasn't about that," he replied carelessly. "Girls are always
imagining they've got headaches and other things." He looked at her very
sternly. "I am worried about that business in the chapel the other day."

The girl's heart beat unpleasantly, but her smile was a ready one.
"Well, forget about it," she replied brightly, "and don't let it worry
you any more. It doesn't worry me." She laughed with animation. "Now,
have you been worshipping as usual before the Rubens to-day?"

But her uncle was not to be put off. "I am always afraid of a woman with
a secret," he said frowningly, "for they are creatures of impulse and
never to be fully trusted." He spoke sharply. "Now have you said a word
to anyone about the idea you had of that secret door?"

She drew herself up proudly. "Did I not make a promise to you?" she
asked, speaking quite as sharply as he had done.

"Yes, you did," he said with his eyes intently holding hers.

She tossed her head defiantly. "Well, a Thralldom never lies," and she
bowed as if to dismiss the whole matter.

He regarded her very thoughtfully. "I'll take you down in the dungeons
one day," he went on, "and let you see what they are like"--he turned
his eyes away now and put up his hand to stifle a yawn--"perhaps
to-morrow or the day after." He looked back at her again. "But no
mentioning it to anybody, mind. I don't want a pack of sightseers at our
heels. Oh! and one thing more. I have upon several occasions mentioned
to you and your mother that I have willed all my possessions to the
National Gallery in the interests of Art." He nodded significantly.
"Well, my lawyer will be coming here on Thursday and I intend"--he
smiled a slow inscrutable smile--"to make a different decision then."

He bade her good-night and walked slowly from the room. Breathing a
great sigh of relief, she went into the bedroom and, finding her patient
was now wide awake, switched on the light. She thought he looked very
frightened.

"It's all right," she said soothingly, "he's gone. How are you feeling?"

"Much better," replied the detective. He leant upon his elbow. "But look
here. I heard what your uncle said and you must promise me"--he spoke
most deliberately--"that under no circumstances whatever will you go
down into those dungeons unless I am with you. You understand? Under no
circumstances; whoever asks you."

"Why not?" she asked, very surprised at his earnestness.

"Because," he replied, "you are forcing me to tell you, there are the
bodies of the murdered dead down there and, if you see them, they will
become the nightmare of all your life and you may be so horrified that
when you have children they may be born imbeciles."

The pallor on the girl's face was now even greater than his own and she
caught her breath in a nervous gasp, "But you frighten me!" she
exclaimed.

"I mean to," he said sharply, "for there are things there no young girl
should see." He repeated his request. "Now, you promise me."

"Yes," she replied faintly, "I promise you."

"You swear?" he went on.

"Yes, I swear," she said.

Larose dropped back upon the pillow and then spoke in quite a different
tone. "You've been an angel of compassion to me, Miss Devenham," he said
gently, "and I can never be grateful enough to you." He looked round and
then laughed with some embarrassment. "I wonder how you dared to bring
me up here."

The girl laughed back. "I had to, Mr. Larose," she replied. "It was
forced upon me. I couldn't leave you down there in the condition you
were in, and this is the only room I could be sure no one would come
into. Besides"--and she flushed hotly--"you were so nice to us that
morning in the chapel. You didn't smile and think we were horrid. You
just took everything as a matter of course, and as if it were nothing
out of the ordinary." She bowed. "You saved my reputation, sir, and you
drew all the sting out of the remorse Mr. Harden was feeling because he
had asked me to bring him into the chapel."

"Well, he'll have no remorse in years to come," smiled Larose, "for it
consecrated you to each other for all your lives." He sighed. "You are a
charming girl, Miss Devenham, and I envy Mr. Harden from the bottom of
my heart." He craned his head above the bedclothes and looked round for
his clothes. "Now, I'll be getting up."

But Ann was instantly the imperious nurse again. "No, Mr. Larose, you
won't," she said firmly. "As I told you this morning I've harrowed my
feelings a lot for you and run a lot of risks, too, so you're going to
obey me now. To-morrow morning before anyone's up, you shall get up and
go, but until then"--she smiled--"you are my patient."

"But I must," began the detective, "I have----"

"I won't give you your clothes," she interrupted, "so that's final. Now,
you'll have something more to eat and then go off to sleep again.
Remember, you have three nights' sleep to pick up."

Larose frowned. He realised the wisdom of doing as she suggested, but
was worried at the idea of not at once resuming his search. "But where
are you going to sleep?" he asked hesitantly.

"In the next room," she replied, "and I will be at hand any moment you
want me."

"Well," he said after a moment, "can you take a message for me to
Monsieur Antoine?" and when she nodded he went on with a smile, "Tell
him you are allowing me to get up to-morrow morning at five and I'll go
straight to the kitchen then."

She switched off the lights and, assuring him that no one would be
likely to disturb him in her absence, departed upon her mission, to
return, however, very shortly with the information that she had spoken
to the chef and that the latter would be waiting for him at five
o'clock.

Larose thanked her gratefully and then, turning on his side, was asleep
again almost at once.




CHAPTER XV.--THE RAID UPON THE CASTLE


Croupin was very thoughtful that evening when, in a few and hurried
words, Ann had told him that Larose would be remaining on in her room
until the morning, but was intending to go back into the vaults at five
o'clock on the morrow, refreshed with a good night's rest.

The chef had received with great relief her assurance that Larose was
recovering, but, after she had left him, with the realisation all at
once that no one would be keeping watch now in the vaults that night, he
began to be very troubled.

"And to-night William himself may go down into the vaults," he thought
ruefully, "and if he does, may easily chance upon some evidence that
another person has been there recently. Miss Ann says Larose was dazed
and most exhausted when she found him, and in that condition it is
hardly probable that he thought of bringing up his blanket with him. So,
if William sees it there, or any of the paper that I wrapped the
sandwiches in, or the empty bottles of wine or the little basket that
carried them"--he threw out his hands despairingly--"then everything
will be ruined, for he will take warning and perhaps never give us a
chance of catching him again."

He frowned. "And I don't like the look of that William now. There's some
change in him that I don't understand. He is brighter, and has been
smiling that strange smile of his as if, at last, he is relieved about
something and able to throw off some feeling of dread or suspicion that
has been haunting him. I don't understand either about that blood upon
the door-handle. He may have cut his hand, of course, but he is so
secretive about himself that I have never had a chance to see."

He thought for a long while and then snapped his fingers together with a
grin. "Well, I must dope him again; that's all. It will stir up all his
suspicions, but I can't help it. Anything rather than that he should go
into the vaults to-night."

He went on. "But how am I going to do it? He refuses coffee now and
draws his own water from the tap. He will only drink tea when he has
seen one of the girls make it, actually under his very eyes, and he
himself picks out every cake and biscuit that he eats. He watches me
carving too, as if he were a cat watching a mouse." He grinned again.
"No matter, old Croupin is a boy of great resource and he'll manage it
somehow."

Monsieur Antoine, then appeared to be in a merry mood that night as he
prepared the supper for the servants' hall, and as usual with him when
he was happy, talked a lot to everybody.

"Now, as you have all been good girls and boys to-day," he announced
with twinkling eyes, "I give you special treat. You shall have some of
zat famous soup zat no one but me can make. The secret was only known to
me and ze Pope of Rome, as he tell me the other day he have forgotten
it, zen only me can make it as it should be done. So get your mouths
ready to water when I put it on to ze table."

Then, in due time, after much mystery and with the juggling together of
many pots and pans, he produced a saucepan of steaming soup, giving off
most delicious and appetising aromas.

"No, no pushing," he remonstrated, as if he were addressing a crowd of
hungry school-children, "zere is enough for all. But you sit down,
everyone, and I will serve it myself so zat no one get too much. Also,
as it is my birthday and I am just twenty-one to-day--you need not laugh
Mees Rosa for it is ze wisdom in my face zat make me look so old--I will
put on a bottle of ze wine of France afterwards."

They took their seats as he had ordered, and he proceeded to serve them,
one by one, leaving William and himself until last.

Then he came over to the table with two servings, one, a good one which
he set down before William, and the other a much smaller one which he
was reserving for himself.

"Ah! but you will enjoy zis," he beamed round upon them all. "Ze Pope of
Rome once say--Why what is zat for?" he exclaimed, for William had
suddenly reached over across the table and exchanged his own serving for
that of the chef.

"Only that you are helping me to too much," replied the footman with a
quiet smile. "I'll have this little serving that you were taking
yourself," and giving the apparently disgusted chef no time to
remonstrate, he dipped his spoon in his plate and began to eat.

Outwardly, certainly Monsieur Antoine was the very picture of
astonishment, as if amazed beyond all measure that anyone could have too
much of his precious soup, but inwardly he was chuckling in his joy.

"I knew, I knew you'd do it," danced his exultant thoughts, "and now
you've given the veronal to yourself. You are clever, Meester William,
and prepared for everything, but there is one cleverer than you, and he
is the poor old Croupin here. Ha! ha! ha! Deep dreams, my son, for
there'll be only bed for you to-night."

"But, Monsieur Antoine," called out the pretty Rosa, "the fried onions
in this soup are very strong. It is delicious but we shall all smell."

"Zat is what ze Pope of Rome say," laughed the chef delightedly, "but he
have it all ze same." He shook his head. "Ah! zis is not ze soup for
lovers, Mees Rosa. Nevaire, nevaire eat onions before you go to make ze
love." He sighed heavily. "I forgot zat once and lose a lovely lady. She
was rich countess wiz millions of pounds. She turn her nose away and
love anuzzer at once. It was very sad."

"Law! but what company you must have kept, Monsieur Antoine," exclaimed
Rosa. "Fancy you knowing a countess to speak to!"

"Oh! I did much more zan speak to her," smiled the chef, "and when I
lose her, it was a great blow."

"But you've made up for it since, Froggy," laughed James coarsely; "I'll
bet you've had hundreds after her."

"No, no," denied the chef quickly, "I am a woman hater ever since."

They all laughed derisively, but Monsieur Antoine, as if to at once
prove the truth of his assertion, took the hand of Bertha who was
sitting next to him, and squeezed it tenderly in front of them all.

The chef was at his merriest after the meal, and it was with regret,
when ten o'clock arrived, that Isobel, the head parlourmaid, shepherded
the maids up to their respective rooms, with the men-servants proceeding
to lock up for the night.

In the meantime Hudson and Kelly down at the old house on the Haven had
passed a very worried day. They were furious, for they were in a way of
being hampered in all their plans because Fenner had taken himself off
without a word of explanation, and the only reason they could think of
for his going, was that he must have become frightened at the last
moment and determined to sever all association with them in their
contemplated raid that night upon Thralldom Castle.

The last they had seen of him was on the previous evening when, just as
it was beginning to get dark, he had announced his intention of going
out as usual to continue his search for the opening to the passage that
would lead them into the castle under the moat.

"And I'll be making a last search among the ruins of the Priory," he
said, "and there is still a chance we may be able to avoid all the
danger of having to break in." And Kelly had jeered at him, as he always
did, for being so obstinate.

They had not become aware that Fenner had left them until well on
towards midday when Hudson had gone into the bedroom, to find that it
was unoccupied and, moreover, that the bed had not been slept in.

"He's quit, right enough," snarled Kelly, "and I'm not a bit surprised.
There was always too much of the kid-glove about him, and he was full of
his blasted arguing instead of being willing to get to work."

Their anger was the greater because they had definitely fixed that
night, or rather, the very early morning, for their attempt to obtain
the Rubens, and they could not possibly postpone it. The captain's stay
at the castle was almost at an end, the moon would be just right, there
had been no rain for three days to allow of any incriminating footmarks
being left, and they had everything prepared.

Exactly at a quarter past two, Captain Bonnett was to signal to them by
the flashing of a torch in the window of the footman's little room off
the entrance hall. Then they would climb over the big gate on the
drawbridge by means of a rope ladder, long enough to reach down over
both sides at once; then Kelly would cut through the bars of the window
with an oxy-acetylene torch and afterwards cut out the entire window
pane with a diamond.

They believed they had provided for every possible contingency and
Fenner's part, a very subordinate although a very essential one, would
have been to have first helped with the carrying of the heavy cylinders
and the other things that they were taking, and then to have kept watch
outside the castle to warn them of any danger approaching from along the
marsh road.

They sat outside, about the house all day, gloomy and fidgeting and
saying very little to each other. It was not a day when Kelly was due up
at the castle, and Hudson would dearly have liked to have got into
communication with Captain Bonnett, if only to be assured that all was
quiet and everything still propitious for the adventure of the night,
but he had no adequate excuse to ring up and did not dare to do so,
being mindful of the enquiries that would be made later everywhere, if
their raid upon the paintings were successful.

"But, my word!" he exclaimed suddenly, breaking one of the long
silences, "won't there be a hell of a stir tomorrow. We shall have the
'tecs from all over this darned country down here and they'll want to
have a jaw with everyone," and he laughed nervously as if, with the
actual moment of the attempt approaching, he was not too easy in his
mind.

"And what does it matter if they do?" commented Kelly gruffly. "They
can't touch us unless they've got some proof, and who the blazes would
think of digging in these sandhills for stuff worth fifty thousand quid.
No," he went on emphatically, "we're quite safe and nothing can go wrong
if that fool Bonnett does exactly as we told him, and by this time
to-morrow we shall be sitting quiet and enjoying watching the rotten
police dancing all about the place."

The day dragged on and at last darkness fell with all the promise of it
going to be a fine night.

They had a light supper just before midnight, which, on the American's
part, at all events, consisted in the main of stiff brandies and sodas,
and then they began to gather up their apparatus.

"Curse that Fenner," growled Kelly deeply, "these cylinders are darned
heavy and at least he'd have been of some use, carrying one."

At twenty minutes to two they set off along the road leading over the
marshes. The stars were showing and the moon, towards the end of its
last quarter, gave them just sufficient light to pick their way.

A few minutes after two they were crouching by the castle drawbridge and
at a quarter past, to the very second, the light flashed in the little
room.

"A good beginning," whispered Hudson, moistening his dry lips, "now,
over with the ladder and I'll go first."

The gate was easily negotiated and leaving the rope-ladder with both its
ends trailing upon the ground, they crept up to the castle walls. They
saw Captain Bonnett inside the footman's room with his face pressed up
close against the window pane. He looked ghastly white, but he nodded
and his lips framed the words "All right."

The American's teeth were chattering, but the cool and business-like way
in which Kelly proceeded to set about his work soon calmed him and his
hand was quite steady as he helped to screw the connections on to the
cylinders.

"A wonderful little invention, the oxy-acetylene torch" whispered Kelly
enthusiastically, "and you'll be surprised at the little noise it
makes--no louder than the burning of a small Primus stove."

He slipped a roll of stout asbestos padding behind the bars so that the
heat of the torch should not crack the glass in the window and then,
with Hudson holding a large beach umbrella lined with thick black cloth
behind him so that no one across the meadows should see the light of the
flame he set a match to the oxygen and started operations.

"No one will see us a hundred yards away," he whispered exultingly, "and
no one will hear us, twenty. Keep the umbrella as close as you can."

The torch hissed sibilantly, and under its fierce heat the solid bars
were cut through, almost as if they were butter. Kelly might have been a
man of most unpleasant disposition, but he was certainly a most
efficient workman and knew what he was about.

"Now quick, grab hold of that bar," he ordered sharply. "It's just going
to fall and we mustn't have a sound." He laughed sneeringly. "I've
always wondered this old fool here doesn't keep a couple of savage dogs.
They'd have made things difficult, if you like."

In a few minutes the bars were all cut out and then Kelly, first tightly
wedging the window frame with some strips of lead that he had provided,
proceeded to cut all round the glass with a diamond. Captain Bonnett was
now standing close up to the window again and holding a blanket, folded,
in his hand.

Kelly nodded and the captain at once began to press lightly against the
glass with his blanket. Then Kelly, with his elbows held closely to his
sides and with the palms of his hands wide open, struck sharply against
the glass. Once, twice, three times he struck, and then with just a
gentle crack, the glass fell into the blanket that the captain was
holding, and Kelly and Hudson stepped into the room.

"Wonderful!" ejaculated Hudson wiping the perspiration from his
forehead, "I should never have thought it would be so simple."

"Simple!" growled Kelly contemptuously. "You just try it one day and
see."

"Everything's all right," whispered the captain breathlessly, "but put
the sucker on." He looked anxious. "You haven't forgotten that?"

Kelly smiled contemptuously, but then taking a large suction disc from
his pocket, spat vigorously upon it a few times and then attached it to
the middle of the pane of glass now lying down upon the ground. A line
of stout whipcord was then tied round the handle of the sucker.

"So, your pretty little soul is saved," he jeered, "and you needn't
worry." He handed over some small coils of wire to the captain. "Get
away, quick now, and screw these across the stairs. Half way down, too,
so that anyone will have a good tumble. They're all measured off and of
just the right length. I haven't been coming up here for nothing." He
flashed his torch upon the captain's face and spoke menacingly. "And
mind you watch, all right. No shouting if you hear anything suspicious
but just come and tell me. I've got a knuckle-duster and am good for a
footman or two," and he and Hudson then padded softly away in the
direction of the gallery.

"Everything's going splendidly," whispered Hudson as they arrived at the
big grille, "and if you cut these bars as easily as you did the others,
we shall never need to work for another day in our lives. Things
couldn't be better."

But he was very much mistaken, for Croupin had been an unseen and
intensely interested spectator of all that had been going on from the
moment when they had started the oxy-acetylene torch outside the window,
and behind a big settee in the hall, had nodded many times in
professional appreciation of the expeditious manner in which they had
effected an entrance.

He had tucked himself up in bed soon after ten, but for some reason he
had been very restless and the hours going by without his falling
asleep, the idea had suddenly come to him that he would go down into the
dungeons and bring up the things that he was sure the detective had left
behind, for after all he told himself, it was quite possible Larose
might not be well enough to resume his watching in the morning and he,
Croupin, could not go on doping the footman indefinitely.

So, partially dressing himself, he had crept down the stairs and had
been just upon the point of turning into the corridor leading to the
chapel, when a faint hissing sound had caught his ear.

He had stood as if rooted to the floor for a few seconds and then he had
caught his breath in a thrill of ecstasy.

"An acetylene torch!" he gasped. "Someone is trying to break in." He
drew himself up to his full height and grinned delightedly. "And I,
Croupin, am here to prevent it."

He crept like lightning into the hall and along its entire length and
then crouching down was a witness of all that was happening.

"Captain Bonnett!" he gasped again as his amazed eyes took in the figure
of the captain silhouetted against the flare of the acetylene torch.
"Then he is helping them! The wretch, and I owe him one, for James said
he agreed with the lord that my Tartare sauce was too thick. A guest
here, too! Oh! the bad lot!"

He saw the pane of glass removed and Kelly and Hudson step into the room
and he gasped again. "But I might have known it," he breathed. "I
guessed it all along."

He heard the sharp whispered instructions that Kelly gave to the captain
and with the disappearance of the latter, he followed the other two at a
respectful distance, up the stairs leading to the picture gallery.

"They'll cut through the grille in the same way, of course," he went on,
"but they'll have to be very clever if they get the Rubens out of its
frame without sounding the alarms." He nodded his head. "But I won't
give them the chance. I'll just let them get going well and then I'll
give the alarm myself." He grinned delightedly. "The honest Croupin
saving the priceless Rubens for the great lord!"

He watched them adjust the cylinders, and setting light to the torch,
start upon the bars of the big grille. Kelly was as quick and dexterous
as before and, one by one, the bars were cut through. Four, Croupin
counted them and then he thought it about time to interfere.

"But I'll lock the door of the little room first," he murmured, "and cut
off their retreat. I saw the key was in the lock outside."

He ran down the stairs and swiftly through the hall, but approaching the
little room was brought up dead by the flash of a torch through the
glassless window frame, and the sound of low voices.

"They went in here, Inspector," he heard someone say. "They've cut the
window pane right out."

"Well, we'll follow the same way," came a voice of authority, "in you
go, Barney and you, too, Valentine. You, Reney watch outside. Stand well
clear of the window so that you can see if they attempt to break away
from somewhere else."

Croupin did not wait to hear any more, but raced like a greyhound
towards the chapel. "It's the police," he gasped. "They are after them,
and will steal all my glory if I do not look out. But I'll get in first
and ring the great bell in the belfry," and he began to tear up a narrow
flight of steps not far from the chapel door.

Kelly had proceeded quickly with his work and seven bars were cut
through. "That'll do," he grunted, "we can get through now," and he
turned off the gas.

Then just as he was in the very act of squeezing through the opening he
had made, a loud resounding clang broke into the silence of the night.

"Dong, dong, dong," and the echoes of the great bell were reverberating
for miles over the countryside.

"Hell!" roared the American, "someone's heard us! Get for your life,"
and, followed by the deeply cursing Kelly, he flew down the stairs.

But the flight of both of them came to a very speedy conclusion. Hudson
bumped straight into the arms of Inspector Dollard, of Saxmundham, who
promptly tripped him up and held him down, while Kelly was floored by
the outstretched leg of Police Constable Valentine, who had flashed his
torch just in time to see him coming.

"Switch on the lights," shouted the Inspector, and at once the hall was
as light as day.

Hudson made no attempt at resistance, but Kelly showed fight and got in
some nasty blows at two of the policemen before he was finally knocked
down and handcuffed.

Then for a few minutes pandemonium raged. Shouts and cries came from all
parts of the castle; the alarms buzzed everywhere and there were loud
thumps as James and the butler were tripped upon the stairs.

"Look out, my lord," shrieked Croupin, who had now returned to the scene
of the conflict. "Zere may be a wire stretched across zose stairs," and
Lord Thralldom, with surprising agility, avoided the wire that had
almost caught him.

"But what's happened?" roared the master of the castle like an old lion
roused from his sleep. He threw up his hands. "My Rubens! my Rubens!
What's happened? Tell me quick."

"It's all right, my lord," replied Inspector Dollard smiling. "Quite all
right. They've not touched any of your pictures. We got here just in
time."

Then Lord Thralldom started back as if he had been struck with the lash
of a whip.

"Great God!" he cried, glaring at the two handcuffed prisoners. "Mr.
Hudson and the masseur!"

Hudson was ghastly white and breathing hard, but Kelly was smiling and
looking quite pleasant for him. "Yes, the masseur, my lord," he grinned.
"The masseur who massaged your niece."

"But it's incredible," he gasped again. "Incredible! incredible!"

"Oh! no, my lord, it isn't," laughed the Inspector. He jerked his head
round. "They got in through that little room there by oxy-acetylening
the bars and taking out the entire window pane."

"But were they alone?" asked Lord Thralldom wildly. "Someone inside here
must have helped them."

"I don't think so," said the Inspector, "for after they had broken the
glass, they lowered it to the floor with a large sucker on a piece of
cord. That looks as if they had no help inside."

"But how did you come to know they were here?" asked Lord Thralldom now
beginning to recover from his panic.

Inspector Dollard took out his watch. "Twenty-seven minutes ago, my
lord," he replied, "we got a telephone call from a party who declined to
give his name, that two suspicious-looking characters were approaching
the castle along the marsh road, heavily laden, and he was of opinion
that they were carrying gas cylinders. I immediately tried to get you on
the 'phone here to ascertain if all was right, but learning that your
wires were dead, I suspected something and came along at once." He
smiled happily and put back his watch. "And a good thing we lost no
time."

"But who ordered the great bell in the belfry to be rung?" asked Lord
Thralldom sharply. "Did you do it to summon more help?"

The Inspector, looking very puzzled, shook his head, and then Croupin
thought that he himself ought now to step into the picture.

He glanced round and his chest expanded, for he saw he would be having a
splendid audience. All the inmates of the castle appeared to be there.

The maids were huddled in a corner of the hall, with frightened eyes and
in varying conditions of undress; Ann Devenham looked charming in a pink
dressing gown, with her pretty hair all ruffled up, and the men servants
were gaping in amazement, although William could hardly keep his eyes
open.

Croupin stepped forward into the centre of the hall. "My lord," he said,
bowing, "it was I who rang ze big bell."

"You!" glowered Lord Thralldom. "How did you know anything was wrong?"

Croupin shot out his arm and pointed dramatically at the prisoners. "I
saw zose men zere melting ze bars of ze grille. It was like zis. I could
not sleep and leant out of my window because I have ze headache. Zen I
smell something and knew it was carbide. I ask myself 'Who is using
carbide in ze middle of ze night?' I open my door and ze smell is
stronger. I follow ze smell and it lead me to ze gallery. I guess at
once what was happening and I ring ze bell to wake all ze country so zat
ze great Rubens be not taken."

"And you tumbled them into our arms," laughed the Inspector. "You could
not have done better."

"These two wretches were alone, and there was no one else with them?"
asked Lord Thralldom sharply.

Croupin was silent for a moment and then his words were like the
exploding of a bomb.

"Only Captain Bonnett," he replied calmly, "and he watch so that no one
come near to interfere." He looked with accusing sternness at the
captain. "I see him, but he not see me. He knew zey were zere right
enough."

Captain Bonnett had gone as white as a ghost, but he shouted
energetically enough. "You liar! I was asleep in my bed when the bell
rang." He turned to Lord Thralldom. "The man is mad, sir."

"Oh! no you were not in your bedroom," insisted Croupin. "You stood by
zat door and you were listening first one way and zen ze other. I saw
you."

"You scoundrel!" began the captain, "I believe----"

But Kelly interrupted harshly. "Oh, chuck it, Bonnett," he sneered.
"You'll come along with us, too." His anger rose. "You great fool! If
you'd kept your eyes open and seen this damned cook here, we might have
throttled him and nothing would have gone wrong." He gritted his teeth.
"Now, it'll be seven years for us--hard labour." The captain was
speechless. He could not get his breath. Lord Thralldom spoke very
slowly. "It's not true, Thompson. You are lying and----"

"Lying, you old fool!" retorted Kelly coarsely. "Then who cut the
telephone wires in here if it wasn't your precious captain?" He laughed
mockingly and turned to the Inspector who was holding Hudson by the arm.

"Put your hand in that chap's breast pocket," he jeered, "and pull out
the paper there. It's a map of all the rooms here, with notes, in the
dandy captain's own handwriting and the rooms of the men are marked with
a cross."

The Inspector hesitated a moment and then, apparently with no objection
on the part of the American, did as he was requested. He drew out a
folded paper and after one quick glance over it, handed it to Lord
Thralldom.

Lord Thralldom's glance was a quick one, too, and then looking up, he
regarded the captain as if he could have killed him. "Handcuff him," he
shouted, "and if I could get him hanged for this, I would." His voice
boomed thunderously. "Take them all away quick, out of my sight or I
shall strike them. My Rubens is a sacred trust and I would spare no one,
not even my own flesh and blood, if they laid hands upon it." He was
sweeping out of the hall when he turned again to the Inspector and spoke
sharply. "I shall want police protection until the morning and every
night until I have taken further measures to protect my property." He
beckoned to the footmen. "Leave all the lights on now until the morning,
and you, James, go and keep watch in the gallery until it is light.
Don't close an eye. You understand?"

"Yes, my lord," bowed James, but surely no one had cursed deeper that
night than did James then, under his breath.

The prisoners were removed in the police car and in a few minutes all
the inmates of the castle had left the hall.

Lady Deering ascended the staircase leading to the bedrooms, leaning
heavily upon her stepdaughter's arm.

"But this is awful, Ann," she exclaimed tearfully, "for your uncle and I
were arranging that you should marry Marmaduke shortly." She shook with
fright. "Oh! I feel I shall never go to sleep again. At any rate I dare
not sleep by myself any more to-night. I will come into your bed with
you at once."

It was now Ann's turn to shake. "No, not in my bed, Mother,"'she said
quickly, "but I will come and sleep with you. The owls outside my window
are terrible to-night and we shall be thinking all the time, as uncle
says, that they are men signalling to one another."

In her confused state of mind that was quite enough for Lady Deering and
she consented to be led to her own room without any further
remonstrance. Then Ann returned to hers to switch off the lights and, as
she had told her stepmother, to fetch her hot-water bottle.

She found Larose was up and dressed and very anxious as to what had been
going on downstairs. She told him quickly and then asked, very troubled,
"And do you think William had anything to do with it too? I was watching
him just now and, all the time, he was pretending to be so sleepy that
he could hardly keep his eyes open."

The detective shook his head. "No, I don't think for one moment that he
was mixed up in this," he replied, "and it may be he was not pretending
either when he looked, as you say, as if he could hardly keep awake."
His tone was very grave. "As I have told you, we are endeavouring to
track down the perpetrators of those dreadful crimes that have been
committed here, and the matter is so serious that it is quite probable
Monsieur Antoine somehow gave William a sleeping draught so that, in my
absence, he should not go down into the vaults to-night."

The girl shivered. "But oh! this is a horrible place," she exclaimed,
"and with all its luxury, I wish I were away from it."

"I expect you soon will be," smiled Larose, "and then the happiness of
your new life will make up for all you lose here." He spoke very
earnestly. "If I were you, Miss Devenham, I wouldn't hesitate a moment,
but would let Mr. Harden have his way and take you off at once, as he
wants to. From all you both have told me, you will have to run away in
the end."

Ann was silent for a few moments and then she sighed deeply. "But no
girl in my position, Mr. Larose," she saw slowly, "likes to go to her
husband with just the clothes she stands up in, and a few shillings in
her purse, as I should have to if I ran away." She held her head up
proudly. "It wouldn't be fair to Mr. Harden."

"Nonsense," smiled the detective; "if I know anything of Mr. Harden,
he'll be thrilled to take you even if you haven't got a postage stamp."
His expression changed suddenly to one of great sternness. "Now, listen,
Miss Devenham. I may very shortly be advising you to do something, and I
want you to be prepared to do that something, without questioning and at
once. You understand?"

"No, I don't," she replied, "but I'll always consider what you say, for,
as you have seen, I trust you." She blushed prettily. "But now, please,
shut yourself up in the bathroom for two minutes. I want to get
undressed, and then I'm going to sleep for the rest of the night with
mother. She's very upset and wants company."

Larose did as she requested and then even before the two minutes had
elapsed, she knocked softly on the bathroom door. "You can come out,"
she said, "and you can have another hour's sleep. There's an alarm on
this clock and I've set it for twenty minutes to five. Also, I've
borrowed one of Monsieur Antoine's razors for you. You look awful as you
are." She gave him a charming smile. "Good-night, Mr. Larose, and
pleasant dreams to you."

The detective switched off the lights and lay down upon the bed. "Yes,"
he sighed sleepily, "I could very easily fall in love with that young
woman, myself."




CHAPTER XVI.--THE MAJESTY OF DEATH


A little more than an hour later, the moment the alarm went off, Larose
roused himself and rolled off the bed. He was still terribly sleepy and
felt rather weak.

"But I'll be better when I've had another hot bath," he told himself,
"and, at any rate, I can stick it out for one more night. I've an
exciting day before me, but when I can think clearly again I'll soon
gather up all the threads." He glanced at himself in the mirror, and
made a grimace, "Yes, I look pretty awful, as Ann said--like a man risen
from the dead."

He felt much better after his bath, but when he had well soaped over his
face preparatory to the much-needed shave, a most annoying surprise
awaited him, for there was no blade in the razor Ann had brought up.

"Whew!" he whistled disgustedly, "so I shall have to go on looking
pretty awful and in no respectable condition to meet that assassin. But
there's no help for it," and resigned to his continued unkempt
condition, he put the useless razor in his pocket.

He tidied his hair, however, with the monogrammed silver brushes that
were lying upon the dressing table.

"Ann's," he whispered, "and dainty, as she is." He sniffed delicately at
them. "Yes, they remind me of her." He sighed again. "Young Harden's a
lucky fellow."

Opening the door softly, everything seemed as silent as the grave, and
after pausing a moment to make sure no one was about, he tiptoed softly
down the stairs and proceeded into the kitchen. It was not yet fully
light, but a fire was burning there and it partially illuminated the
room.

He was well inside and almost up to the table before he perceived that a
man was seated before the fire, and to his consternation, he realised in
a lightning flash, that the man was not Croupin. He was a uniformed
policeman and was meditatively smoking a pipe.

It was too late for Larose to draw back, for the policeman looked up
sharply and then, as if suspicious of the detective's noiseless
approach, rose instantly to his feet and stood regarding him from out of
a pair of very shrewd blue eyes.

But Larose had been in many a tight corner before and if he were now
very much dismayed, the expression upon his face did not show any signs
of it.

"Good morning," he said most politely. He held up his hand. "Hush, don't
speak too loudly. Everybody's nerves are on edge after last night and if
they hear a strange voice they may take another fright."

He walked up to the fireplace. "What! where's the kettle?" he went on,
"Not on yet! Darn that French cook. He never sympathises with anyone who
wants a cup of tea, and he ought to have been up before now, getting me
my breakfast. I told him five o'clock," and picking up a kettle and
filling it at the tap, he placed it on the fire.

All this time the policeman had not spoken a word, but Larose noticed
with some uneasiness that he had knocked the ashes out of his pipe and
put the pipe in his pocket in a most business-like manner.

"Who are you," he asked sharply, at length breaking his silence, "and
what are you doing here?"

Larose smiled. "Ah! of course, I forgot!" he said. "I'm from the Yard.
I'm Larose, Gilbert Larose." He added carelessly, "I called on Inspector
Dollard last week, in reference to the disappearance of that Mr.
Holden."

The policeman stood hesitating. He had heard right enough about Larose
having called at the police station in Saxmundham, and if it were truly
the Australian now, was prepared to be duly respectful, but no one had
mentioned anything about Larose being in the castle and, with the
exciting experiences of the night still stirring in his mind, he was
inclined to be suspicious.

And certainly, he thought, he had reason to be. The night had barely
waned and tiptoeing into the kitchen, with all the actions of a man not
desirous of being heard, had come this unheralded stranger, looking
disreputable and unkempt and very unlike any officer associated with the
Yard.

Then, at that moment, he heard more soft footfalls, and Antoine, the
chef of the castle, in his turn came in softly.

"Monsieur Antoine!" exclaimed the detective angrily, before the chef had
had time to utter even an "oh," but addressing him in the same guarded
tone that he had used towards the policeman, "when will you understand
that we Australians cannot do without our tea? You are late and I am
pining for a cup now."

Croupin picked up his cue instantly. The detective evidently wished it
to be known who he was.

"I am very sorry, Meester Larose," he said, "but I oversleep myself. You
shall have ze tea at once."

"And why did you send me up a razor without any blade in it?" went on
Larose irritably, proceeding to produce Croupin's empty razor from his
pocket. "It was very careless of you. Look at my face. No, it's no good
now. I shall leave it until to-night."

The policeman was instantly relieved of all his doubts, for that the
chef of the castle should be now addressing this unshaved stranger as
Mr. Larose was quite sufficient. He had been present in the hall when
the Frenchman had so dramatically related the story of the ringing of
the bell and later, too, that amiable gentleman had stood him a stiff
whisky after the other policeman had gone. So it must be quite all
right.

He nodded most respectfully. "Pleased to meet you, sir," he said, "but I
didn't know you were working with us."

"And I'm not," said Larose quickly. "I'm here on quite a different
matter and his lordship, even, is not aware as yet that I am in the
castle." He dropped his voice to a whisper. "I am here upon that Holden
case and another matter, and you must please not bring up my name at any
time, to anyone." He spoke most emphatically. "You must understand I am
here on secret work."

"Quite all right, sir," said the policeman briskly. He smiled. "I'll
forget that I've seen you."

There was a moment's silence and then came another interruption, and yet
another person came into the kitchen and he tiptoed in, in exactly the
same furtive manner as Larose and the chef had done. It was William.

The footman was looking very ill; for he had passed a wretched night.
During the first half of it he had lain like a dead man, but awakened
roughly by James when the great bell had sounded, he had been almost
dragged from his bed, to take in with difficulty all that had happened
downstairs in the hall. Then, retiring to his bedroom again, he had been
violently sick. The sickness had in part cleared away his stupor, but it
had left a splitting headache behind, with all the feelings that he had
experienced twice before when he had been so certain that the chef had
drugged him. So, although he could not explain how it had been done, he
was equally as positive that he had been drugged again.

There had been no more sleep for him, and he had sat up, nursing an
unreasoning and murderous anger, until the dawn. Then, all at once he
had heard the chef leaving his room and, seized with a sudden
resolution, he had hastily pulled on some clothes and followed after
him, with the determination that at last he would avenge himself, but
with no clear purpose in his mind as to how exactly he was going to do
it.

His face was furious with anger as he glided into the kitchen and he
licked his lips in preparation for the curses he was going to hurl at
the luckless chef.

Then, all in an instant, he was brought to a standstill, his limbs
became as if turned to stone, his jaw dropped and the expression of rage
upon his face gave way to one of great dismay. He had expected only
Antoine, but to his amazement, he now saw a policeman and worse still,
the dreaded detective from Scotland Yard.

Instantly then, he began shifting his eyes rapidly from side to side; he
licked his lips anew and he breathed very hard. His whole attitude was
that of a guilty man, caught in the very act.

Croupin suppressed a grin in which amusement and consternation would
have been blended and the policeman stared stolidly, recognising William
as one of the footmen he had seen during the night.

Larose spoke up at once. "Good morning," he said genially; "it would
seem we are all going to be early risers this morning."

William had now in part recovered himself and, mumbling something about
not having been able to sleep, was about to shuffle away again, when
Croupin called out quickly, "Have a cup of tea, William. Yes, come on
now. Zere's plenty for you and you look as if you wanted somezing. You
look dam crook, old man."

The footman shook his head, but hesitated. He was cowed and shaky and
for the moment clay in anybody's hands.

"Come on, sit down," went on the chef. "You must have a cup," and the
footman, incapable of any resistance, sank limply into a chair.

Croupin passed over a cup of tea and then asked sharply, "Why, what's
zat on your hand?"

The dazed footman at once held one forward, palm upward. "No, on ze
uzzer one," said Croupin.

William complied again and Croupin laughed. "It is nuzzing. I imagine I
see a spider."

The footman was then left out of the conversation that ensued and
gulping down his tea as quickly as he could, he rose from his chair, and
unhindered this time, shuffled from the room. A minute or two afterwards
the policeman got up to go, too.

"I must be off to that gallery again," he announced with a smile, "for
if his lordship turns up and I'm not there, there'll be the very devil
to pay. I only came down to get a warm. It's hellish cold up there and
that other footman has been cursing all the time."

The sound of his heavy footsteps died away and then Larose asked
sharply--"Quick! tell me, did William go out of his room the night
before last?"

"I do not know," replied Croupin very shamefacedly, "for unfortunately I
slept all night." He spoke in an intense whisper. "But there was a mark
of blood upon his door handle in the morning and I was very worried
about you. The mark was sticky when I touched it, and it had not been
there long. Tell me what happened to you?"

Larose very briefly outlined everything that had taken place in the
dungeons and Croupin listened with his face as white as his own flour.

"Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed, "then it is certain William is the
one we want!"

The detective hesitated a moment. "It looks like it," he replied, and
then he asked quickly: "Have you ever heard him laugh?"

"No," said Croupin emphatically, "he never laughs." He looked round
apprehensively and put his lips close up to the detective's ear. "But
there's something going on in the man's mind now and he's getting
dangerous. He's taken to following me everywhere, and didn't you notice
his face when he came in just now? He was mad with fury, and I believe
he was going to attack me. He knows he was doped again last night."

"Well, you look out," nodded Larose. He spoke thoughtfully. "But I don't
think he'll do anything until he's worked himself up again. All the kick
went out of him when he saw the policeman and me here." He frowned.
"That was very awkward, for he may mention about it to Lord Thralldom."

"No, he won't," said Croupin at once. "He never speaks unless he's
spoken to, and the lord never asks any questions of the servants."

A few minutes later, provided with another blanket and a watch that he
had borrowed from Croupin, the detective once again passed through the
panel in the chapel wall and descended the spiral stairway leading into
the dungeons.

Now there are some days that, even in the most adventurous lives, stand
out in memory above all others and that day when Larose went down into
the vaults for the last time, was one, every happening of which he was
to remember all his life. It was a day starting in dreadful
disappointment, then proceeding to one of dreadful horror, and finally
culminating in a series of startling surprises that left him in a whirl
of bewildering doubt and wonder.

To begin with, it was hours and hours before he could locate the opening
in the corridor from where he had seen the unknown man come out with the
lantern.

And yet at first he had thought it would be so easy, for he told himself
he had only to stand by the door of the dungeon where he had been
imprisoned and measuring the distance with his eye, just walk forward
until he came to a flagstone that would certainly show signs of being
different to all the others.

So, he stood by the dungeon door and called up to his sight the whole
scene of the two previous nights before.

"Here, I was standing," he said, "and about there was the shadow of the
upraised flag. There, on the roof I saw the light and there by the wall
I saw the arm appear and place the lantern upon the floor."

It seemed to be so very simple, but when he came to put the idea to an
actual test, it yielded no result at all. All the flagstones were of
exactly the same size and no particular one of them seemed any different
to the others.

They were all solidly embedded and gave forth no hollow sounds. They
fitted pretty closely against one another and nowhere was there any sign
that they did not all form one continuous pavement.

The rats were again a great annoyance, for as before, as long as he was
upon his feet, they kept at a respectful distance, but the moment he
crouched down to flash his torch between the crevices or lie flat, as he
continually did to listen whilst he tapped upon the stones, they
immediately ran over him and one even bit him through his sock.

For two hours and more he scrutinised the floor of the corridor stone by
stone, and his hopes went soaring when he found that between some of
them he could just insert the thinnest blade of his pocket knife, but
they soon sank again when he invariably struck hard mortar upon which
the blade could make no impression after thrusting it down about half an
inch.

Then he thought of another idea, and proceeding into the vaults, went
behind the heap of stones and picked up the lantern that he had seen
there upon the first night when he had had Croupin with him. Lifting up
the glass to put a light to the wick, he was then instantly of opinion
that the lantern had been used since he had last handled it, for the
wick had been trimmed then and now it needed trimming again. He looked
hard at it for quite a long time to make sure, with his face puckered in
a frown.

"Then it must be William," he said slowly, and as if arguing with
himself, "for I can be sure from the lantern being in this place, that
whoever rifled the coffins was making use of it and we know it was
William who rifled the coffins because of those bracelets and the
crucifix that he's got."

He made a sharp exclamation as he threw the light of his torch upon a
spade that was lying near. "Ah! and there's blood on it! Of course, of
course, as I thought, he was hitting at the rats with it, that night."

He stood for a moment in deep thought and then with a shrug of his
shoulders proceeded to light the lantern. He carried it into the
corridor and placed it where he was of opinion he had seen the lantern
put down. Then he went back to the dungeon door and, concentrating all
his thoughts, endeavoured to determine if he had got the distance right.

But he was not satisfied, and not once but many times, shifted the
position of the lantern. At last it seemed that he was pleased.

"Well, at any rate I'm within a few feet of it," he said, "and if I have
to crowbar up every stone, I'll find the opening now."

Then he looked round in astonishment realising for the first time that
the rats had all left him and there was not a single one in sight.

"Great Scott!" he ejaculated. "Something's frightened them. Someone's
coming," and he was in the very act of hastily extinguishing the
lantern when he stopped suddenly and a smile took the place of his
anxious look. "Of course, that's it," he went on. "I understand
everything now. That gentleman of the lantern is not too kind in his
ways with them and directly it is lit, they expect trouble and rush
away. They know him and that's why they left me the other night. The
first time, when he came down empty handed and the second"--he nodded
very slowly--"when he returned with that dead man."

He dismissed the matter from his mind, and kneeling down, methodically,
stone by stone, examined the joins between each flag. But no success
rewarded him. The blade of his knife would penetrate down the
interstices a little way in many places and indeed all along the sides
and end of one big flag, but every one of them was quite immovable and
there was not the slightest indication that there had been any
interference with them for hundreds of years.

He gave it up at last and went and fetched the crowbar. "There's no help
for it," he said, "but it's a pity for now the next time he comes down
he will see at once that someone's been here, and may take alarm and get
out before I have time to lay hands upon him."

He looked down to see where to begin operations. One flag, he had
noticed many times, appeared to be cracked slightly at one corner and
the crack was uneven and roughly triangular in shape. He lifted the
crowbar and prepared to begin chipping away by the side of the crack.

Then with the first fall of the crowbar an amazing thing happened. The
whole cracked piece of the flag jumped out of its bed, leaving a hole
about an inch in depth, and to his thrilled excitement, exposed to view
a thick iron ring lying flush with the bottom of the hole.

"Gee!" he exclaimed delightedly, "I've got it at last," and dropping
upon his knees, he grabbed at the ring and bracing himself for a great
effort, prepared to heave with all his strength.

But he soon realised that very little strength would be required for,
after raising the flag a few inches, it suddenly swung up of its own
accord and looking down into the gaping opening that presented itself,
he perceived that the stone was balanced by a large pendulum-like weight
underneath. All along the edges of the stone had been cut a ledge fully
two inches in width.

"No wonder I couldn't get my knife down any deeper," he breathed
excitedly, "for I was trying to cut into the solid stone."

He carefully examined the big flag to make sure it would not fall again,
and then taking the crowbar with him, proceeded with an unpleasant
thumping of his heart, down the flight of narrow steps that he saw
before him.

A descent of ten steps brought him to the bottom and he raised his
lantern high above his head, to take in his surroundings. Before him and
on one side he could see the enclosing walls, but in the other direction
the light of the lantern was lost in shadows. The floor of the chamber
was of beaten earth, but it was not of a pavement-like hardness. The air
was dank and tainted with a horrible, indescribable smell, but it was
not so foul as he had expected, and swinging the lantern round, he saw
no sign of the earth having been disturbed anywhere. As far as he could
see, the whole place was empty.

He had soon examined the part of the chamber that ended near the bottom
of the steps and then he moved forward in the other direction and soon,
very soon, a sense other than sight, plainer and more plain with every
step that he advanced, told him that he was nearing his goal.

But he could still see no sign of any body anywhere, and proceeding
about fifty yards, and when the rays of his lantern were falling upon
the farthest enclosing wall, there was still nothing to indicate to his
eyes that anyone had been there before him for hundreds and hundreds of
years. Only a cold and chilling emptiness on every side with the earthen
floor unbroken and undisturbed in all directions.

But still that other sense had become more and more insistent that if he
were not in the presence of the living, he was certainly in that of the
dead.

He moved up quickly towards the extreme end of the chamber, the thought
now flashing through his mind that he might have to search for yet
another hidden door. Then, when almost up to the wall itself, turning
his head sideways, his eyes fell upon something that almost made his
heart stand still.

In one of the extreme corners of the chamber gaped the opening of a
large well!

He darted forward and held up the lantern. The top of the well was
widely margined round with stonework and its coping was just level with
the beaten earth. The well itself was about seven feet in diameter and,
as far as he could see, its sides were stone-lined, too.

He approached close up and swung the lantern round, but it did not throw
its light down far enough and so placing it upon the ground; he bent
over the well and flashed his torch.

Then the torch almost dropped from his hand, and forgetting he had been
holding in his breath, he opened his mouth wide and gasped in horror. He
had been quite prepared to expect what now lay before him, but in all
his life of the tracking down of crime, never had he met death in such a
dreadful setting before.

Not four feet below him rested the body of a man. It lay upon its back,
partly submerged in the clear water of the well. Its head was raised as
if upon a pillow and its calm white face was serene in the peace and
majesty of death. Its eyes were closed as if it were very tired, its
forehead was fretted over with a straggling wisp of hair and a long,
white hand, with a gold signet ring upon one finger, was stretched
against its side.

But it was its pillow that gave the horror to the scene, for it rested
upon the body of another man, and this body was ballooned to such a size
that there was no neck to its head, and its face was but the semblance
of a face. One of its arms was flung across the chest of the first man
and the hand of the other arm was just showing above the water, like a
claw. This second body seemed also to be buoyed up in some way.

Larose took in everything in a lightning glance and then completely
overcome for the moment and leaving his lantern where it was, he darted
back to the foot of the steps and drew in deep draughts of the less
tainted air there.

But it was only for a few seconds that he remained inactive and then he
was once again the cool, calculating detective inured to all the
gruesome happenings of his profession.

He picked up the long crowbar and returning to the well, lay flat down
upon the earth and stretched the crowbar down.

Very gently he levered against the side of the topmost body. It sank and
rose and quivered as if it were upon springs, but then suddenly it
slipped into the deep water and, all in an instant, had disappeared to
the accompaniment of thousands and thousands of little bubbles.

Immediately then it was as if some great monster had been disturbed in
the depths of the well, for the surface of the water was broken
violently and, one after another, strange, horrible-looking objects
heaved themselves up into view.

The back of a man arched like a bow and with arms and legs spread out at
dreadful angles; a black mass that had no shape at all and finally, a
foot shod with a woman's shoe. The ankle above this shoe was grotesque
and shapeless.

The detective, with his lips tightly compressed, pulled up the crowbar
and rising to his feet, sprang away from the side of the well. Then
happening to glance up, he saw far away a small, round patch of light.
There was a chimney over the well, and it tapered up to some opening
high upon the castle walls.

"And that is why the air down here is not so foul, away from this cursed
well," he murmured. "I couldn't understand it."

He picked up the lantern and with one last shuddering glance all round,
made his way quickly across the chamber and up the steps. He lowered the
big flag-stone again into its bed, and returning to the entrance to the
vaults sat down and leant against the wall.

He saw that there was still plenty of oil remaining in the lantern and
he left it burning.

For a long while then, he sat very still with his elbows upon his knees
and his chin upon his hands. There was no elation in the expression upon
his face, indeed he looked very worried.

"I am troubled, I am troubled," he whispered. "I am not ready and I am
not certain yet. I must be very careful or I shall ruin my whole career.
If I strike now I may be only striking the air." He thought for a long
while. "Yes, I am afraid and I do not know what to do next."

He went on. "This is a terrible business, the most terrible I ever
remember, and if William be the murderer, his actions are so motiveless
and ununderstandable. Just the blind slaughter and the sheer lust of
shedding blood! And how does it happen that, all in the course of a few
short weeks, he has become the possessor of all the three secrets of
these dungeons; the door leading down from the chapel, the secret of the
chamber with the well, and the secret of the passage leading under the
moat?" He shook his head. "No, no, it seems absolutely impossible."

He went on frowningly. "But it must be William, for everything points to
him. Croupin does not lie, and his evidence, if indirect, is
nevertheless almost overwhelming. The many disappearances of the man
from his bedroom during the night, the similarity of his walk to that of
the slayer of the bailiff, the possession of those gold bracelets, his
unusual behaviour all along, and finally, that blood upon the handle of
the door."

He nodded his head again. "That's all right, but what evidence have I
against him that I could produce in a court of law? Practically none.
Only the evidence of Croupin that he saw those bracelets in the man's
trunk, and that evidence, too, obtained in a most questionable way.
Besides, Croupin himself is a fugitive from his own country and I could
not expect him to go into the witness-box. Also, that footman has been
badly frightened lately, and it is quite on the cards that he has got
rid of those brackets, so that no evidence may really be forthcoming
against him. Then--finger-prints? No, I don't think so. I looked
particularly at his hands this morning and they were smooth and
well-kept and wholly unlike those of a man who has been doing this rough
work in the vaults, so he undoubtedly wears gloves."

His thoughts ran on. "Then the butcher, what about him? It might
possibly be he, after all, who is the assassin, for from his early and
long association with Thralldom, he is far more likely than William, to
have acquired the secrets of these passages." He shook his head. "I can
do nothing there, however, until I learn if he was away from home the
night before last."

He sat on for a long while. "And there are other things I do not
understand," he murmured, "for I have thoughts, yes, I have
thoughts----" But his voice trailed away into silence and he stared and
stared into the shadows cast by the lantern.

Presently he looked at the watch Croupin had lent him and at once yawned
sleepily, and leant back with what comfort he could, against the hard
wall.

"Really, I could drop off to sleep again," he whispered. "I am still
dreadfully tired." And drop off he did, for in a couple of minutes at
most, he was snoring deeply.

An hour passed--two--and he was still asleep. The lantern burned low,
waved and flickered and finally went out.

The detective's sleep was deep and long but at last he awoke with a
sharp cry, for a rat was biting at his hand. He sprang up with a savage
imprecation and finding he was in total darkness, flashed his torch in
bewilderment, not realising for the moment what had happened.

Then he ruefully regarded the lantern and touching it with his hands,
found it was quite cold. He shook it. It was empty.

"Now, that's awkward," he whistled, "for when the party who has been
using it comes down, the first thing he'll want to do will be to light
it. He'll find it empty and know at once that someone else has been
here."

Then suddenly he caught his breath and instantly switched off his torch.

He had heard muffled sounds somewhere between the walls.

For a few moments he could not locate them and then he realised that
they came from behind that part of the wall against which he had been
leaning when he had fallen asleep. They grew louder and were
unmistakably now the footsteps of someone who was approaching the wall.

He darted into the nearest dungeon and stood with his head leaning out
into the corridor. A long, thin streak of light appeared through the
cracks of the wall.

"At last! at last!" he whispered excitedly. "Blind chance is playing
into my hands!" and he snatched out his pistol and held it ready.

A short silence followed but the light was still there.

Then suddenly the wall opened and after a moment's hesitation a man
stepped cautiously into the corridor and swung a lantern high above his
head. In the other hand, he was holding a large revolver. The man was
tall and thin and his cap was pulled down over his forehead.

"Naughton Jones!" gasped the detective disgustedly. "He's beaten me
again!"

He stepped out into the corridor and Jones perceiving his approach,
instantly covered him with the revolver.

"Don't shoot, please, Mr. Jones," he exclaimed quickly. "This is the
only suit I have."

The great investigator regarded him intently for a moment and then
pocketed the revolver. There was no expression of surprise upon his
face.

"Oh! it's you again, is it?" he remarked coldly. "We are always meeting
one another, it seems." He nodded significantly. "I was aware no one had
heard of you for four days and I quite thought Rawlings had got you. I
am agreeably surprised."

"But how did you get here?" asked Larose excitedly.

"Very simple," was the reply. "I found a movable stone in one of the
chambers under the Priory. It opened into a passage, and I followed the
passage here."

"But how did you pick out the stone?" went on Larose.

"Very simple, again," said Jones. "I followed a trail of blood by the
plantation and it led me there. There was a mark of blood also upon the
stone. Without doubt Rawlings had been upon the war path again." He
looked rather annoyed. "I found the opening just after lunch to-day, but
had to return to Minsmere to borrow a lantern, otherwise"--he spoke
carelessly--"the whole business would not have taken me half an hour."
He looked intently at the detective. "But how do you come to be here?"

"I have been keeping watch in these dungeons," replied Larose, "from the
night following the day upon which I last saw you."

"Then Lord Thralldom himself has commissioned you," remarked Jones. "I
thought his lordship----"

"Lord Thralldom knows nothing about it," interrupted Larose quickly. He
hesitated a moment. "I am here with the connivance of someone in the
castle."

"Someone in the castle, and not Lord Thralldom!" exclaimed Jones. He
looked incredulous. "Whom?"

Larose hesitated again. "One of the servants," he replied in some
annoyance.

"Oh! that's it, is it?" commented Jones frowningly and as if he did not
quite approve. "Then you'd better be careful of the company you keep
for, unless I am very much mistaken, one of the footmen there--I gather
in the village that he goes under the name of William--is an escaped
convict, from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. I am sure I
recognise him."

The detective was too dumbfounded to speak. He felt, as Croupin has once
expressed it, as if a bomb were bursting in his brain.

"Yes," went on Jones angrily, "and I was grossly insulted this morning.
I called to speak to Lord Thralldom and sent in my card, but he refused
to see me and I was informed to that effect in an offensive message by
the mouth of the same footman." He tossed his head contemptuously. "I
was calling, too, to do Lord Thralldom a service for last night I came
upon a man killing his sheep and was intending to put his lordship in
the way of apprehending the thief."

"Killing his sheep!" ejaculated Larose. "Another madman!"

"No, I don't think so," replied Jones calmly. "Just an ordinary case of
larceny. The fellow was killing the animals and taking the carcases away
and, from the expeditious manner in which he cut their throats, I should
say he was a butcher by trade. He was driving a Ford touring car."

Surprise upon surprise was avalanching itself upon the bewildered
detective. "What was he like?" he said hoarsely.

"I really can't say," was the reply, "except that he was tall and gaunt.
I never saw his face. I did not interfere, because I was not desirous of
any publicity. However, I took the number of his car although that may
be of no help for the plates were obviously substitutes. Apparently they
had only just been screwed on, for the oil on the nuts was clean."

"Then you went up close to the car?" asked the detective very
astonished.

"Oh! yes," replied Jones carelessly, "and I watched all the proceedings
from start to finish. It happened in this way," he went on. "It was
getting on for eleven and I was lying upon the watch, behind some oak
trees there, when he drove up and parked his car. I should say, too, it
was not his first visit to the spot, firstly, because of the oil marks
upon the ground that I had noticed before he arrived, and secondly,
because there was no hesitation in the manner in which he backed his car
into the deepest shadows. I was interested, naturally, but I knew it was
not Rawlings, for he has never driven a car and moreover hates the
things." He regarded Larose intently. "You knew that, of course?"

"Yes," nodded Larose, "he was knocked down by one in the early days of
motoring and never forgave it."

"Well," continued Jones, "I soon saw what the fellow was up to. There
were some sheep camping near and he was in among them and had grabbed
two before any of them had had time to get up. Then he cut their
throats, jumped upon them, let them bleed for a little while, and had
bundled them in the back of the car and was driving off, all in less
than six or seven minutes. A very neat job, I can tell you."

"Well, what about the footman?" asked Larose anxiously.

Jones smiled. "Ah! I was digressing, I see," he said. "Well, about that
man, if I am right and I almost am positive about it, he is Carl
Heidelburg who escaped from Broadmoor about three years ago. He is a
homicidal lunatic, and he killed his employer, Sir Rainton Baynes, the
great architect, just because the latter had had occasion mildly to
reprimand him. He was condemned to death by Judge Bambury at the Leeds
Assizes, but he was held to be insane and confined in Broadmoor. He
escaped from there, however, about six months later and the relatives of
the architect were so incensed firstly because he had not been hanged,
and secondly because he had escaped, that they offered a reward of
2,000 for his capture. The reward, I understand, still holds good, but
I shall not be able to move in the matter until I get him identified by
a friend of mine, the chief warder of the asylum who at the present
moment is in the South of France. I have, however, communicated with the
gentleman, and he is now on his way home. I have said nothing to the
official police because the reward is worth having and I want to be sure
of it for myself." He looked hard at the detective. "But that is
digressing again. Now what are you watching here for?"

"For a homicidal lunatic," replied Larose dryly, "who has committed
several murders and who, I know for certain, is frequenting these
dungeons."

"Oh!" exclaimed Jones frowning, "and do you suspect anybody?"

"Yes, this same William for one person," replied Larose.

"Then whom has he murdered?" asked Jones quickly.

"Lord Thralldom's bailiff among others," was the calm reply.

The frown upon the face of the great investigator darkened. "Mr.
Larose," he said coldly, "you are a very obstinate man, and in spite of
the overwhelming evidence I have produced that Rawlings is still alive,
you yet refuse to credit anything I have said and when Rawlings is
before us in the flesh, it will be one of the most humiliating moments
of your life."

"Not at all," said Larose quietly. "He is before us now. He is down
here."

"What!" almost shouted Jones incredulously. "He is a prisoner here!"

The detective nodded. "Yes," he replied quietly, "but it is not I who am
his guardian." He stretched out his hand. "Here, give me that lantern,
and you come with me."

Jones handed over the lantern without a word and followed after the
detective. His expression was that of a man who was endeavouring to mask
a certain feeling of uneasiness under one of contemptuous disdain.

With a face of stone, he saw Larose put down the lantern and kneel in
the empty corridor. As cold as ice, he watched him lift up the big flag
and it was only when he bent over the gaping opening and a whiff of the
tainted air was wafted up to him from below, that he allowed his
features to give any indication of the real state of his mind.

"Good God!" he gasped. "Are you sure?"

Larose nodded and leading the way down the steps, guided him across the
earth floor chamber up to the side of the well. Then they both knelt
down and the detective flashed his torch.

"That, I think, is the bailiff," he whispered. "See, the pyjamas
showing, where the jacket has burst."

The great investigator was breathing hard. He frowned and scowled and
appeared to be most annoyed that he should have been proved to be in the
wrong.

In a few moments, however, his interest in what lay before him
overwhelmed all other feelings, and in perfect calmness and as
unconcerned as if he were only regarding objects under a glass case, he
then proceeded to enunciate his opinions.

"Yes, that is Rawlings," he agreed. "He always wore a double-breasted
jacket. And that's the inn-keeper's hand--his wife told me he had lost
the tip of one forefinger. But do you know who all the others are? Who's
the woman there?"

Then Larose had almost to drag him away. The detective was not inclined
for any prolonged conversation over the foul air of the well and it was
not until they were once more in the corridor and the flag had been let
down, that he answered the question.

"But there was a body there when I looked this morning," he added, "and
I do not know whose it can be. It was the last one thrown in and was in
a perfect state of preservation. It had a brown suit on; it had dark
hair and----"

"An oval face," supplemented Jones sharply, "an aquiline nose, a small
mouth, long, shapely hands and a gold signet ring."

"Yes," exclaimed the detective very astonished. "You know who he is?"

"Martin Fenner," replied Jones, "an associate of the gang that I was
instrumental in laying by the heels last night, and the individual that
I have mentioned to you I have encountered several times upon the
marshes." He snapped his fingers together. "I have been wondering all
along why he was not in their company." He laid his hand upon the
detective's arm. "Now let us sit down somewhere. You must have a lot to
tell me."

And certainly Larose had a lot to tell him, but he did not disclose
everything. He resolutely declined to name his associate in the castle,
and he made no mention of Ann Devenham or young Harden, also he said
nothing about the footman having been drugged.

Naughton Jones listened intently with his eyes never for one moment
straying from the detective's face. Towards the end of the recital, he
was frowning hard.

"Well," he said at last, "I must ask you to oblige me in one way. I have
been more open with you than you have been with me and I deserve some
consideration." He rapped out quickly as if he were giving an order. "I
want no interference with that footman for forty-eight hours. He is my
bird and I want to bring him down. I want to claim that reward."

"I'm not certain," began Larose, "whether----"

"Of course, I'm very sorry to steal any of your thunder," interrupted
Jones quickly, "but as you admitted that you had no direct evidence
against the man, it was practically only my disclosure to you of his
being a homicidal lunatic that warrants you making any arrest. You would
not have dared to do it if I had not furnished you with that
information."

Larose hesitated. "But he is dangerous," he said, "and to wait, may
endanger more lives."

"Not at all," said Jones quickly, "for we will block up that opening in
the Priory and he won't possibly be able to get out."

"All right," said the detective after a moment, "until the day after
to-morrow then, and you are to do nothing without advising me. I will
come up with you when he is apprehended." He spoke briskly. "Now let me
have some of the oil out of your lantern. I've emptied all mine and it
won't do for anyone to see that it has been interfered with."

They had just effected the exchange of the oil when suddenly, they both,
as in one movement, jerked up their heads and stared open-mouthed at
each other. They had heard a noise behind the wall. "Quick," exclaimed
Larose, "someone's coming. Put out the light and into this dungeon,
quick."

The lantern was instantly extinguished and they sprang back in the
darkness. The noises came nearer and then, as once before, the detective
saw a streak of light appear on the wall.

The door opened and, following upon some hoarse whisperings, three men
emerged into the corridor. Two of them were in ordinary clothes but the
third was in the uniform of an inspector of police and Larose recognised
Inspector Ferguson, of Halesworth.

Naughton Jones was quite calm and unflurried. "They're police," he said
quietly in the detective's ear. "Really, the locals here are more
efficient than I thought," and he proceeded at once to step into the
corridor, into the light of the lantern they were holding up.

"That's him," cried one of the plain-clothes men quickly, and he sprang
forward and seized Jones by the arm. "Who are you now, and what are you
after here?" he asked sharply.

"My name is Naughton Jones," began the great investigator haughtily.
"I----"

But the name apparently struck no chord of memory in the man's mind, for
he interrupted brusquely. "Well, whoever you are, we're suspicious about
you and we've been watching you for two days. We want to know----"

"It's all right, he's a colleague of mine," called out Larose, stepping
into the corridor, too. He laughed merrily. "Good afternoon, Inspector.
How do you do?"

The Inspector gave a cry of glad surprise. "Good heavens! What a
relief!" he exclaimed. "I've been very anxious about you and was sure
something bad had happened. I sent two men out and they got upon the
track of the gentleman and saw where he went in through the wall of the
Priory. One came and fetched me and"--he took off his cap and wiped his
forehead--"here I am."

The rather mortified Naughton Jones was introduced and partial
explanations followed. Then the Inspector took Larose aside.

"Ridge has been out for two nights, since you've been missing," he
whispered, "but he managed to dodge us both times"--his voice was hoarse
in its impressiveness--"and this morning one of my men paid a secret
visit to his garage and saw blood upon the floor of his tourer. Lots of
it."

"Yes, I know," whispered back Larose, "and I'll put you wise about him
later on when my friend here isn't present. Turnbull's only been
stealing sheep."

They chatted together for a few minutes and then, upon the Inspector
suggesting that, as he and his men were there and might never get
another chance, they should see something of the dungeons, Naughton
Jones, taking charge of the lantern, at once proceeded to act as guide
and conductor, and from his condescending manner it might almost have
been assumed that he himself was the lord of the castle.

Then they all filed away along the passage under the moat, and during
their uncomfortable journey there, for the passage was barely five feet
in height, Larose considered with many a pang for what dreadful
tragedies it had been so recently responsible.

Arriving at the other end among the ruined walls of the Priory, for a
good ten minutes they all worked hard, piling up great slabs of stone
where the door opened, thereby rendering it quite impossible for one
person, by himself, to clear the entrance. Then, promising the Inspector
that he would look him up the following morning, Larose and Naughton
Jones parted from him and his men and returned to the inn upon the
Haven.

"I am putting up there, myself, now," the great man announced, "for one
reason because it is imperative I should be in close proximity to the
telephone during the next forty-eight hours, and for another, because
the people where I lodge are becoming too inquisitive about me. They
don't understand my being out so late at night and I am sure they have
been talking to the local policeman about it. At any rate, I have
encountered the fellow upon more occasions than I can believe to be mere
coincidences, and also he eyes me in a manner that I consider
impertinent. Indeed, I am almost inclined to report him to
headquarters."

Upon arriving at the inn, Larose asked the landlady to ring up the
castle and have a message taken to Ann that a Mrs. Smith was wanting to
speak to her. The girl was at the other end very quickly, and then the
detective spoke to her himself.

In carefully guarded language, he asked her to inform Monsieur Antoine
that he had left the castle, but would the chef please meet him upon the
beach the following afternoon. Also, he reminded her of her promise to
on no account go down into the dungeons.

Then receiving her emphatic assurance that she would do as he bade her,
he rang off, and after a good meal, retired to bed. He resolutely
refused to allow his thoughts to wander, and making his mind a blank,
soon dropped off to sleep.




CHAPTER XVII.--THE MASTER MINDS


The following day it was almost as if the detective were a gentleman of
leisure. He rose late, he took plenty of time over his breakfast and
then, for an hour and more, he sat smoking upon the beach. He saw
nothing of Naughton Jones and was glad to learn from the landlord that
the latter had been out and about before seven, and was not likely to be
in for lunch. The landlord also informed him that Jones had been called
to the telephone before six.

Towards eleven o'clock the detective took out his car and drove over to
Halesworth to keep his appointment with the Inspector there, driving
very slowly, however, and stopping many times to admire the views.

He was back again at the inn in time for lunch and then, towards three
o'clock, took up his position under the cliffs about half a mile away,
at the spot he had appointed for a rendezvous with Raphael Croupin.

The lively Frenchman arrived on time and was prepared for a thousand
excited questionings, but Larose cut him short by asking to be first
informed as to all that had been happening at the castle since their
last meeting.

"Oh! it has been like a hive of bees ever since," exclaimed Croupin with
great animation, "and policemen and detectives have been arriving all
the time to talk with the lord and examine how those wretches got in. A
tremendous fuss is being made, and to-day the Chief Constable himself
arrived and stayed to lunch."

"And Lord Thralldom," asked Larose, "is he knocked up?"

"Knocked up!" echoed Croupin sarcastically, "why, it's taken ten years
off his age! He is full of energy and like a raging lion. Yesterday, he
was on the go all day long, and ordering the policemen about as if they
were his private servants. James says, too, that at lunch just now he
was insisting to the Chief Constable that the police force at
Saxmundham must be doubled and that any attempt upon his pictures
should be made a hanging matter. He's going to speak about it in the
House of Lords."

He grinned. "Poor old James and the butler are in for a bad time. They
are to sleep on mattresses now in the picture gallery, with loaded
shot-guns as well as pistols by their sides. James is terrified because
he is sure there is something wrong with the shot-gun the lord has given
him and that it will go off without anyone touching the trigger. Both
the footmen, and the butler, too, are to carry their pistols about with
them, night and day now."

"And William?" asked Larose.

Croupin nodded significantly. "He is stunned and cowed and has got all
the fight knocked out of him. He avoids the policemen as much as he can
and slinks out of our hall whenever any of them come in." He looked up
excitedly to Larose. "But tell me all that has happened to you?"

Then with widely dilated pupils and with many "Ohs" and "Ahs" Croupin
listened to the detective's tale. Larose kept nothing back but related
in detail everything that had happened.

"So, Meester Jones will take all the glory from you," exclaimed the
Frenchman disgustedly, when the recital was ended, "and this Carl
Heidelburg will be actually in the hands of the police before you can
tell what you know"--he looked very sorrowful--"and we have both run
such risks."

"Yes," nodded Larose, "we have both run such risks." Croupin went on in
great dejection. "This Jones is spoiling everything, for when they have
arrested William, I do not see even then, how you can bring your charge
against him. You are not ready, for you cannot prove yet that it is
William." He threw out his hands. "We know it, but there is no actual
proof. What can you do?"

Larose shook his head. "I am very troubled, Monsieur," he said, "very
troubled indeed."

They talked on for an hour and more and then Croupin rose up to return
to the castle.

"And it may be good-bye," he said sadly, "for any moment I may be going
now. When they learn who William is, the police may start making
enquiries about all of us servants and then"--he laughed
impudently--"they will find out that my testimonials were forged."

"Tut! tut!" frowned the detective, "and it was only yesterday that Mr.
Jones was warning me to beware of what company I kept." He smiled.
"Still I am most grateful to you, Monsieur Croupin, and I wish I could
repay you in some way."

"Tut! tut!" mimicked Croupin, "it has been a great adventure to me and
you have repaid me many times." He bowed. "You have repaid me by your
trust in me, in me Raphael Croupin, the wicked thief." He laughed
merrily. "How strange life is! Six weeks ago I came here to steal the
Rubens from the lord and to-day, he has given me 50 because I rang the
big bell to prevent others taking it."

"But seriously," said Larose, "I am anxious about you. Naughton Jones
may be spiteful because he knows you always make fun of him, and it is
quite likely he will have told the police that he met you here the other
day."

Croupin shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I'll risk it, anyhow, a little
longer, for I must see what happens to-morrow." He laughed slyly. "You
are very thoughtful to-day, Meester Larose, and you are a great man and
I should never be surprised if at the last moment you did not manage
somehow to trump this Jones's ace!" and waving his hand in good-bye, he
strolled away humming a lively time.

Larose sat on for a long while after Croupin had left him and never once
did it seem that he took his eyes off the sea. Indeed, from his
concentration it might almost have been thought that he was expecting to
see something rise up out of the waves. At last, however, he looked at
his watch and with a troubled sigh rose up and walked back to the inn.
He chatted to the landlord for a few minutes and then went into the
dining-room for the evening meal.

He sat down to the table by himself, but almost immediately Naughton
Jones arrived and took the chair opposite to him. The great man was
looking very pleased with himself.

"I have had a busy and interesting day," he said, "and have put in quite
a lot of good work. I had another look at that footman, too, and am
satisfied he is the man I want."

"What!" exclaimed Larose, aroused to interest at once. "You've been up
to the castle!"

"Certainly!" smiled Jones. "Why not? I induced the village grocer to
take me up with him in his van, when he was delivering stores there this
morning. I made out I had an overwhelming desire for a close up view of
the castle and I sat inside at the back, well away among the tea and
sugar and the pots of jam. I had a pair of field glasses with me and was
very entertained. I saw Lord Thralldom himself. He was busy outside the
castle door superintending the unpacking of a big dynamo that I
understand is going to be installed for the electrocution of anyone who
in future attempts to raid his paintings. He was strutting about like an
old turkey-cock and giving orders all round. He looked very active and
full of life."

"He's a remarkable old man," commented Larose thoughtfully.

"He certainly is," went on Jones, "but of course it was William who
interested me most, and I had him under my glasses for quite a long
time, not five yards away. Every line of his face showed up and he
looked careworn and tired, I thought. But he was different to-day to the
last time I saw him, for then he had all the appearance of a man who had
been taking drugs."

"Did he see you?" asked Larose, avoiding the searching eyes of the
investigator.

"Oh! dear me no," laughed Jones. "I was crouching among the treacle
tins, and indeed was being so careful to make certain that I should not
be seen that I trod upon a few of them." He passed his hand down one leg
of his trousers and looked annoyed. "I believe I have some of the syrup
adhering to me now."

The detective made no comment. He was in no mood for conversation, and
was wishing Jones would let him eat his meal in peace, but Jones was not
to be denied and ambled on.

"Hark! hear those church bells!" he exclaimed. "There must be a service
on to-night. Very pretty, but very sad," he went on musingly. "Yes,
there is always a sadness in church bells, for they remind us how
uncertain is our life here. They chill, somehow, those feelings of hope
and yearning that we all have for length of days and they strike some
chord of sentiment in us that is most unreasonable and peculiar. Why, I
have known men who could cut your throat for half a note, stand
listening to them with their eyes filled with tears."

The night was cold and with the remains of the meal cleared away, the
two remained on sitting before the fire. Naughton Jones was lively and
talkative, but the detective was very quiet and spoke as little as he
could. He wanted to think.

Presently Jones stopped to light his pipe, and the detective making no
attempt to carry on the conversation, contented himself with staring
into the fire.

Then Jones rubbed his hands together and smiled happily. "Well,
to-morrow," he said, "should be a great day in both our lives, for I am
going to earn 2,000 and you, if you take your courage in your
hands"--he spoke in an easy and conversational tone--"are going to
arrest Lord Thralldom."

A long silence followed and even, it seemed the fire ceased to crackle
and the embers ceased to burn. For a few moments it might almost have
been as if Larose had not heard, for he made no movement and did not
withdraw his eyes from the fire. Then he turned his head slowly and
regarded Jones with an intent stare.

"Yes," went on the latter and now himself looking in the fire, "you have
played a lone hand and deserve all the credit that will accrue." He
shook his head. "But your difficulties are not all over yet, for I doubt
if you will find it easy to induce anybody to sign the warrant for his
lordship's arrest."

Still Larose did not speak. His face was like a mask and he continued to
stare stonily at his companion. The great investigator looked back at
him again, and now smiled an amused smile.

"Yes, you are naturally surprised," he said, "but since our little talk
in the vaults yesterday, I have thought over everything and can come to
no other conclusion but that you are sure now it is Lord Thralldom
himself who is this unknown assassin."

He bent forward and went on very quietly. "You see, Mr. Larose, with no
intention at all to flatter you, our two brains were cast in very
similar moulds and in consequence I am able to follow the workings of
your mind almost as easily as I can follow the workings of my own."

He raised one long forefinger to emphasise what he was going to say.
"Now, your description of what took place that night when you were
imprisoned in the dungeons was so graphic that when I came to go over it
afterwards, it was almost as if I had been there myself, and I was soon
analysing everything in exactly the same manner that I was sure you had
done. Then your doubts as to the footman being the actual assassin
became my doubts, and I was soon hot upon the other trail. Of course,"
he added quickly, "it may be that you unconsciously stressed upon the
points that were troubling you, but I was soon, very soon, like you, of
the opinion that there had been two visitors to the dungeons that night;
first Lord Thralldom and then this Carl Heidelburg." He shrugged his
shoulders. "Like you, I fought against the idea, but in the end, as with
you again, it triumphed over me."

Larose spoke at last. "You are a great Master, Mr. Jones," he said
quietly, "and what I obtain with infinite labour, comes to you by
intuition alone."

Jones patted him smilingly upon the arm. "A very pretty compliment,
sir," he said warmly, "very pretty indeed." He laughed. "But here, at
all events, you yourself have helped me most materially to form my
ideas. You told me, and although you may not have realised it, you
repeated it twice, so that I could see what was in your mind, that when
you were shut in the dungeon that night, the light that first showed
under the door was slow and wavering, but the second time, it came and
went in quick jerks. That suggested to me two different persons at the
different times. One, tired and exhausted by the labour of carrying a
corpse for a long way, and the other vigorous and fresh for his warfare
upon the rats. I was the more imbued with this idea because one man had
been silent and the other had accompanied his activities with laughter
and shouts." He looked enquiringly at Larose. "Now, those were your
thoughts, too, were they not?"

The detective nodded. "And they passed along the corridor quite
differently," he said. "One shuffled and the other ran."

"Then the idea is preposterous," went on Jones frowning, "that any
comparative newcomer to the castle, such as this Heidelburg is, could
possibly have discovered those steps leading down under the corridor to
that well. No one would have lighted upon them by chance in a thousand
years, and the man who has been using them must either have been
actually shown where the particular flag is and how it lifts up, or
else--he must have seen the flag upraised, as you did."

He paused a moment and then nodded emphatically. "So when I had
dismissed the idea that this footman was the assassin, my mind at once
then turned to the owner of the castle for he, of all people, I told
myself, would most likely be in possession of its secrets." He raised
his voice stridently. "Lord Thralldom answers so well, too, to the
temperament and disposition of the very man we want. Not only is he
eccentric, to the point of insanity, but we have with him the clear
outstanding motive for these murders. He is obsessed with the idea that
all trespassers upon the Thralldom lands are after his paintings and it
is the common talk of the villages, that at night he abrogates to
himself the duty of protecting the castle." He looked as shocked as if
some dreadful sacrilege had been committed. "Why! I myself was fired
upon one night, as I have told you, and I am convinced now that the
bullet came from the direction of the castle." He nodded emphatically.
"Yes, there can be no doubt at all. Lord Thralldom is the man you want."

Larose sat up stiffly in his chair. "I agree to a very great extent with
what you say, Mr. Jones," he said slowly, "but still, with all my
suspicions about Lord Thralldom it is not yet clear to me that I can
definitely discard the idea that this footman is the murderer."

"Oh! oh!" scoffed Jones, "then you think he first found the secret door
in the chapel, then that leading down under the moat and then, by some
miraculous chance he came to know what was under the flag-stone in the
corridor and how it was lifted up!" He laughed mockingly. "Then,
stimulated by these discoveries and finding all these conveniences ready
to his hand, the idea came to him suddenly that he would embark upon a
course of murder. Do you really think that?"

Larose laughed back. "Hardly," he replied, "but what is troubling me is
this. We know now without any doubt that this footman is insane and
already a murderer, and unhappily for my peace of mind, under certain
not wholly improbable circumstances, everything can still suggest to us
that he and not Lord Thralldom may be the assassin we are looking for."

"No," said Jones sharply, "we can rub Heidelburg out once and for all,
firstly because there is no motive in his case for committing the
murders, and secondly because he could never have found those passages
and that well."

"But we need not necessarily expect to find a motive," argued Larose,
"for a man of insane mind surely does not have a motive for all he
does." He smiled. "Now what motive can you suggest that the footman had
to compel him to go battering at those rats with the spade?"

Jones made no answer, and the detective went on, "Then is it not
possible that the footman learnt all about those passages from some book
or plan of the castle that is in the possession of Lord Thralldom?
Remember, you have told me that the man is an architect by profession,
and I learnt from Lord Thralldom he had been for six months in the
service of Professor Dangerton, the well-known archaeologist. So all his
training would assist him in making good in any searching he was
undertaking."

"But if any such book or plan existed," scowled Jones, "his lordship
would see to it that no one could get hold of it."

"Still, the footman has had every opportunity," said Larose, "and
constantly in attendance upon Lord Thralldom when the latter has been
asleep or ill, he may easily have taken his keys and opened drawers and
desks everywhere." He spoke most impressively. "The man must have got a
hint from somewhere, to have been able to find that opening in the
chapel wall and remember, he is most cunning and capable or he would
never have escaped from Broadmoor in the way that you told me he did. I
don't forget you dwelt upon how his architectural knowledge had helped
him there?"

Jones looked very disgusted. "Then you have gone back on the first
opinion you held," he said, "that two men came down into the dungeons
that night. You think now that there was only one?"

Larose hesitated. "I don't know what to think," he replied. "I was dazed
and drunkenly sleepy then, and I've no idea how long a time elapsed
between the passing of the two lights before my door. The tired man may
have rested and become refreshed enough to go again after those rats."
He spoke most respectfully. "You see, Mr. Jones, I am putting everything
before you to get your advice. The matter is vital to me, for if I dare
to act upon my own, as I want to, and intimidate the people here into
issuing a warrant for the arrest of Lord Thralldom, and then it turns
out I have made a mistake"--he shook his head gloomily--"then I am
disgraced and ruined for ever."

"I think you have a clear case," said Jones firmly, "and I shall be
disappointed in you if you do not strike and strike quickly."

The detective sighed. "Certainly, so many things came into my mind," he
said, "directly my suspicions were turned upon Lord Thralldom. For one
thing, I went over all you had told me about those different people who
were positive they had seen the bailiff upon the Thralldom lands at
night, many days after I was certain he had been dead, and I know they
must have seen someone who was not unlike the dead man in appearance.
Then I thought of Lord Thralldom at once, for although much taller than
Rawlings, he stoops a lot and that would take off the height. Also I
argued, who would habitually take walks about Thralldom except one
connected in some way with the estate, and again, whoever the nightly
prowler was, he evidently did not want his identity disclosed or he
would have replied to the hails of those who accosted him."

"Exactly," commented Jones, "and that was one reason why I was so
certain it was Rawlings. The prowler did not want to be recognised."

"Then, there was another thing," went on Larose. "I had always wondered
why Lord Thralldom with all his desire to prevent the approach of
strangers to the castle, had never kept any dogs. That would surely, I
thought, have been the first thing to suggest itself to anyone, for
savage dogs would not only have given an unhealthy reputation to the
Thralldom lands, but would also have been invaluable in giving warning
at night. But no, there were no dogs attached to the castle and not only
that, but other folks on outlying farms could not keep them because of
the poison baits that had been strewn about." He nodded solemnly. "It
was just as if someone were not wanting his excursions anywhere upon the
Thralldom lands to be heralded by the barking of dogs."

"The poisoning began about two months ago," supplemented Jones, "towards
the end of July. Joe Gregorsen, a Westleton farmer, lost a fox terrier
on the night of Tuesday, August the first."

"And Rita Ethelton and Augustus Holden were killed on the 13th," said
Larose. "You must understand, Mr. Jones," he went on quickly, "one great
doubt I still have, is whether an infirm old man such as Lord Thralldom
appears to be, can possibly possess the necessary physical strength to
carry out these murders. I can never put away the certainty that the man
who attacked me that night was no weakling. On the contrary, he had
great strength."

"Pooh!" exclaimed Jones, "that's nothing, for in moments of great
excitement all his virility might have come back. The affection he now
suffers from is, I gather, purely of nervous origin, and there are cases
recorded in medical annals, where persons so afflicted have accomplished
feats of superhuman strength, almost upon their very death-beds."

"Well," said Larose, "I have certainly noticed in my interviews with
him, that the moment his anger is roused, he becomes a different man. He
sits up erectly or he strides about the room and there is no sign of
weakness about him then, except that he breathes very heavily." He
nodded. "And the man who attacked me was breathing exactly as I have
heard Lord Thralldom breathe, and exactly as the man was breathing that
night as he passed the dungeon door, labouring under the burden of the
dead man."

A short silence followed, and then Jones said briskly. "Well, I repeat,
in my opinion, you have a clear case and I think you are fully justified
in effecting his arrest."

"But it is not clear," persisted Larose, "for I have no direct evidence
to present to a court of law."

Naughton Jones looked very angry. "You have found the bodies of five
murdered people," he said sternly, "in a place that Lord Thralldom has
told you is only accessible to him. Therefore, an explanation is
demanded from him as to how they got there. Good gracious!" he went on,
"suppose you found a dead body in the cellar of a man's house, when that
man was known to have a grudge against the person dead, would you not
take him in charge at once, if only on suspicion? Well, treat Lord
Thralldom as you would an ordinary person and don't let the heads take
all the credit from you." He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.
"That's all the advice I shall give you."

The detective rose up from his chair. "Well, I'm off to bed, now," he
said, "and I shall think it over. At any rate I shall go up and see Lord
Thralldom to-morrow morning, and be guided by what I learn then. Good
night."




CHAPTER XVIII.--LAROSE PREPARES TO STRIKE


The following morning, as if exhausted with all the excitements of the
past forty eight hours, Lord Thralldom breakfasted in bed. During the
course of the meal, he received a message through the extension
telephone by his bedside that Larose would be much obliged if he would
kindly grant him an interview that morning, and frowning in some
annoyance, he had replied that the detective could come up at half-past
ten.

He finished his breakfast and then leisurely bathing and dressing, took
himself into a small room adjoining his bedroom, a sort of study and
business room, and proceeded to go through the morning newspapers.

But he was very thoughtful about something, and evidently not much
interested in the news, for he frowned many times, looked out of the
window very often, and muttered a lot to himself. Finally, he snapped
his fingers together as if he had at last come to some decision and
pressed the bell upon the desk. James at once appeared.

"Tell Miss Devenham that I wish to speak to her," he said, and when the
footman was leaving the room, he added--"I expect that man again from
Scotland Yard, at half-past ten. Show him up here at once when he
arrives and then, when he has been here five minutes, one of you come in
and say I am wanted by the electricians. You understand, I do not wish
him to take up my time."

"Very good, my lord," said the footman and he left the room.

Ann appeared very shortly. She looked bright and smiling and very happy.
She had had a letter from John Harden that morning, saying that he had
commenced his annual three weeks' holiday and would be ringing her up on
the morrow to know where they could meet. She had read the letter many
times and it was now tucked in the bosom of her dress.

Lord Thralldom regarded her with feelings of no particular interest. She
was no canvas with oil paint smeared across it, only just a creature of
flesh and blood, and a woman at that.

"Ann," he said quietly, and regarding her in a way which she thought
very strange, "since we had that little conversation in your room, you
have not spoken to anyone about that incident in the chapel?"

"No, uncle," she replied, rather uneasy at the intentness of his gaze.
"Why should I have spoken about it? It would not interest anyone."

"No, of course not," he replied, still staring very hard, "of course
not, why should it?" He spoke carelessly. "Well, I promised you the
other day that I would take you down into the dungeons sometime, and as
I shall be going there myself after luncheon"--he turned away his eyes
at last and looked out of the window--"you shall come with me then." His
eyes were back upon her in a sudden flash. "But not a word to anybody,"
he added sternly, "not a word to anybody, remember. It is just a secret
between ourselves."

The girl's heart beat unpleasantly. There was more of a command than a
request in his tones and, although she did not want to offend him, she
was remembering her solemn promise to Larose. She stood, hesitating, not
knowing how to frame her reply.

But Lord Thralldom appeared to take it for granted that an answer was
not required, and producing a bundle of keys from his pocket, he turned
round to his desk and opening a drawer, took out a bundle of bank notes.
He counted off ten of them and held them out to her.

"Here's a little present of 100," he said. "Your mother informs me that
you want some more clothes and so you and she can make a trip into
Norwich to-morrow and do some shopping. No, you needn't thank me," he
went on as she took the notes. He smiled peculiarly. "Now, run away and
come to me in the library at half past three." He raised his finger
warningly. "But remember, not a word to anyone where we are going."

The girl laughed embarrassedly. "Thank you very much for the present,
Uncle," she said. "I'm sure it's awfully kind of you." She stood
hesitating. "But about going down into the dungeons, I'd rather not, if
you don't mind. We've had so many horrors lately and really----"

"Not want to go down!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom sharply. "Why not?"

"Because I don't want to," she replied. "I haven't the slightest wish."

"But I want you to come with me," he insisted. He smiled peculiarly
again. "I want you for company, my dear."

"But I can't come, Uncle," she pleaded. "I really can't."

There was a gentle knock upon the door and it was opened by William.
Larose was standing behind him.

Lord Thralldom had not heard the knock, and with his back towards the
door, he was not aware that it was open.

"But you must come with me," he went on angrily. "I insist upon it
and----"

"Mr. Larose, my lord," announced the footman and Lord Thralldom, turning
quickly, composed his features instantly to a careless and indifferent
expression.

"All right," he said quietly. "Ann, you needn't wait. Good morning, Mr.
Larose."

The detective flashed a quick look at the girl as she was leaving the
room, and she returned it with a smile and a little bow. The door closed
behind her and Larose was alone with Lord Thralldom.

"But I thought you had left the neighbourhood long ago," said his
lordship with a frown. "I was very surprised to learn you were on the
telephone." He motioned to a chair against a small cupboard built in
flush against the wall. "Sit down."

"My enquiries are not yet finished, my lord," replied the detective,
"and I have still----"

"Not finished!" interrupted his lordship angrily, "and whilst you have
been wasting the authorities' time, that dastardly attempt was made upon
my possessions here. It is a scandal that a closer watch should not be
kept upon the criminal classes and that we taxpayers should have to pay
out for services that are not rendered. I understand now that that man
Kelly was a known bad character, with his history among the records of
the police." He looked curiously at Larose. "Well, what do you want
now?"

"To go through the underground parts of this castle," replied Larose
promptly. "I am not satisfied that there is no passage there leading out
on to the lands outside."

"Oh!" sneered Lord Thralldom, "you are not, are you?" He spoke with
intense sarcasm. "And you think you can find one, if there is?"

"Well," replied Larose hesitantly, "I should like a half hour's
inspection, anyhow."

"A half hour's inspection!" gasped Lord Thralldom incredulously. "You
think you can search my dungeons, my vaults and my underground
passages--in half an hour? Good Heavens!" He laughed scoffingly. "Well,
you shall have your chance."

He pinged hard upon the bell in high good humour and William appeared.

"The petrol lantern from the garage," ordered his lordship sharply, "and
be quick about it, please," and when the footman had left upon his
errand, he looked at his wrist watch and added to Larose--"Yes, I can
give you just half an hour, and then I have an appointment with my
bailiff, and then I am supervising some new electric installations." He
rubbed his hands together. "Upon the next occasion when any enterprising
gentleman attempts to enter the gallery without invitation, there will
be no need for any charge to be made against him, for he will be
electrocuted at once."

Larose made no comment, for he was thinking hard. He had suddenly become
very puzzled, for the memory of those awful days and nights that he had
spent in the dungeons had all at once recurred to him. He did not know
what had stirred the memory but its chords were now vibrating violently
and he was asking himself--"why?"

"Oh! by-the-bye," went on Lord Thralldom pleasantly, "my friend, Colonel
Wedgwood, the Chief Constable of Suffolk, was lunching here yesterday,
and your name cropping up, he spoke very highly of you. But I did not
know you were an Australian." He nodded. "I was in South Australia
myself once, upon a sheep station near Lake Frome and I remember I had a
very sporting time. I am pretty good with the rifle, as with all
fire-arms, and my chief occupation was keeping down the wild dogs. I
became quite an expert too, in trapping them and laying the poison
baits."

The eyes of the detective gleamed, but before he had time to make any
comment, William arrived with the petrol lantern.

"We are making a visit to below the castle," explained Lord Thralldom
sharply to the footman, "and you will come and carry the lantern."

Larose was watching the footman closely, but if the latter were dismayed
by the announcement, his face, nevertheless, did not show it. Perhaps
his eyes moved more restlessly, but that was all.

Lord Thralldom led the way down a long corridor parallel with the chapel
walls, until they came to a large, closely-fitting door at the end. He
unlocked it and they passed inside.

"Mind the steps," he said. "They are rather steep," and the detective
noted he was walking strongly and did not need any assistance. At the
bottom of the steps there was another door and as Lord Thralldom opened
it, Larose started, for he knew then why he had been so suddenly
reminded of his recent sufferings, when he had been sitting talking to
Lord Thralldom upstairs.

He had received just a faint whiff then of the same dank, suffocating
smell that he had endured for so long in the dungeons, and he realised
in a flash, that it must have come from the cupboard behind where he had
been sitting.

But he had no time to pursue this train of thought, for, with the second
door opened and closed behind them, he was once again in the long, low
corridor that he had come to know so well, and Lord Thralldom was
addressing him.

"Well, here you are, sir," he said sarcastically, "and where will you go
first? Hold the light up, William, and never mind the rats. They won't
spring at you, unless they're cornered. Come on, we'll go straight
forward." He turned again to the detective and spoke most politely. "I
am afraid I cannot help you much in your search, for my eyesight is very
poor in semi-darkness, so much so, that I am quite unable to distinguish
between one person and another when I encounter them."

They walked slowly down along the corridor with Lord Thralldom stopping
many times to point out to the detective the innumerable chambers with
their dark gaping entrances, and the passages that branched off on
either side.

"A good half-hour's work, Mr. Larose," he remarked pleasantly, "and
we've a lot more to see yet. What!" he exclaimed sharply and turning now
to the footman who had just kicked viciously at a big rat, "you're
afraid of them are you, William?"

Then perhaps for the first time his master saw William smile, as without
a word in reply, the footman plunged his arm deep down into a space
between the stones of the wall and with his naked hand tore out a
squealing, struggling rat. He held it up for inspection for a few
moments, and then transferring his grip to the tail, he whirled the
animal round and round and then finally dashed it to a pulp against the
wall.

"Good!" said his lordship grimly, "then I see you are not afraid." He
nodded his head. "I've fought in three wars, but I would not have cared
to do that."

They came in a few minutes to the flags under which lay the steps
leading to the chamber with the hidden well, and Larose stopped
abruptly.

"Hullo! what's here?" he exclaimed, sniffing hard. "I smell a nasty
smell."

Lord Thralldom and the footman stopped too. "I smell nothing," said his
lordship sharply. "Do you, William?"

"No, my lord," the footman replied, and his master at once signed to him
to move on.

They went about another twenty yards and then Larose stopped again.
"It's here too," he exclaimed. "A smell of putrefying flesh."

This time Lord Thralldom seemed more disposed to stop, and for a few
moments sniffed as hard as the detective was doing. Then he moved on
again. "Come on," he said testily. "You can't expect the perfume of a
lady's boudoir in these dungeons, and we are not here to differentiate
between the various smells."

They descended the steps leading down into the vaults and Lord Thralldom
remarked casually, "This is where my ancestors are buried, going back
for more than 800 years."

"And what's that for?" asked the detective pointing to the long stone
slab upon which, three nights previously, he had seen the dead body.

"For the bearers to rest the coffins upon," replied Lord Thralldom,
"while they prepared the ropes for lowering them into the graves." He
spoke proudly. "Many who have contributed to the glory of our great
country have passed their last moments above the earth there."

"Very interesting," commented Larose. He approached the slab and then,
with a quick movement, bent down and there was a note of startled
surprise in his voice when after a few moments he spoke again.

"But what's this?" he asked, pointing to the dark patch. "It looks like
blood."

Lord Thralldom turned his head sharply and opened his eyes very wide.
Then instantly his look of astonishment changed to a scowl and he strode
over to where the detective was standing.

"Hold up the light, William," he said, and then after a moment's
inspection, he exclaimed, "Nonsense! it's only some mark in the stone."

"No, it's blood," said the detective firmly. "I'm sure of it."

"And how could blood get down here?" sneered Lord Thralldom. "Really,
sir, you have a mind for horrors. First, you smell putrefying flesh and
then you say this mark is blood. Both impossibilities," and he turned
away, as if the matter were worthy of no more consideration.

The detective followed after him into the vaults. "And all your
ancestors, my lord, are buried under these stones?" he asked.

"Up to the last two generations," replied Lord Thralldom. "The last
interment here, was ninety-three years ago."

Larose appeared to be most interested and stared down at the big flags.
"Thomas, tenth lord of Thralldom," he read out, "in ye yeare of oure
lorde----" He broke off suddenly. "But this has been lifted recently!"

Lord Thralldom glanced down without much interest. "Another of your
extraordinary ideas," he began, "really----" But he stopped speaking and
stood frowningly regarding the flag.

Then suddenly the petrol lantern that the footman was carrying began to
give trouble. Its fight flickered and wavered and began to die away,
finally it almost went out.

But Larose sprang to the footman's side and snatched the lantern from
him.

"You duffer!" he laughed. "You were turning it off and not on," and in
an aside to himself he added, "I've no hankering to be here with two
madmen in the dark."

Lord Thralldom was still looking at the big flag stone. "Now that's
strange," he said, "for bar myself, no one has been down here for a
score and more of years."

But Larose had almost fallen up against him. "Oh! I feel faint," he
exclaimed. "Let's get out of this. I've had quite enough," and still
holding to the lantern, he tottered to the entrance to the vaults.

The others followed him and proceeding with all haste, for the detective
kept on averting that he was suffocating, they reached the first door
leading up into the castle.

Then a most disconcerting surprise awaited them, for Lord Thralldom
could not find his bunch of keys. He went through every pocket and
flashed the light everywhere upon the ground, but there was no sign of
them anywhere. They were lost.

"Oh! I remember hearing something drop," said the detective faintly,
"when we were in one of those dungeons at the far end, but I have no
recollection which."

"Well, we'll have to go back and search," said Lord Thralldom, looking
very annoyed. "We know where we've been and they must he about
somewhere."

"But I can't come with you," wailed Larose, "I don't feel equal to it.
I'll stay here and wait."

"Keep where you are, then," said Lord Thralldom sharply, "or you may
easily get lost."

They left the detective almost upon the verge of collapse, but the
instant they had moved away and he was beyond the rays of the lantern, a
most extraordinary change at once took place in his condition, for he
sprang briskly to his feet and producing the missing keys from his
pocket, began feverishly to insert them, one after another, in the lock.

"But I'm a most competent pickpocket," he chuckled gleefully, "and if
the worse comes to the worse, I can look up some reputable practitioner
and go into partnership with him. But Oh! these keys!" he went on
ruefully, "There must be quite twenty of them."

And it was not until he had tried fully half of the bunch that he found
the one he wanted and then to his great relief, he discovered that it
opened the second door as well.

"Now for it," he panted breathlessly as he raced along the passage, "and
I'll see what's in that cupboard. I can't have been mistaken in that
smell."

Coming out of the passage he at once slowed down to an ordinary walk and
it was well he did, for just as he had turned the corner he met James.
The latter smiled and stood aside for him to pass, for he was by now so
accustomed to the coming and going of detectives that he experienced no
surprise at seeing Larose there, alone.

The detective was soon in the little room and standing before the
cupboard door. He sniffed hard as he began trying out the keys. "Yes,
there's no mistake about it," he whispered. "This is the dungeon smell."

The fourth key that he inserted was the one that fitted the lock and in
a second the door was swung open. For the moment then, his heart almost
stopped beating in disappointment, for the cupboard seemed only to
contain innumerable ledgers and account books. Then just as he was
beginning to feel almost sick with disgust, his eyes fell upon a long,
plain wooden box below the bottom shelf, and in a trice he had lifted it
out upon the floor.

It was locked, and from the appearance of the lock, it did not seem as
if the key that belonged to it were upon the bunch that he had taken
from the pocket of Lord Thralldom.

But he was in no mood for any more delay and so picking up the poker
that was lying in the grate, with a few vigorous blows, he burst in the
lock.

Then, it took only ten seconds to satisfy him that he had found all he
wanted.

A pair of big rubber boots, well muddied over with black mud; a long
overall of black cloth, with ugly stains upon it; two pairs of gloves,
the fingers of one of which were caked stiff with what looked like dried
blood, and lastly, a short battle-axe whose unwiped blade had evidently
seen dreadful service at a very recent date!

And over everything hung the foul, dank, reek of the dungeons. The
detective's face was ghastly white, but he did not tremble and his hands
did not shake as he quickly replaced the box with its contents and
locked the cupboard door.

"My God!" he whispered, "but it's too horrible to believe and he a peer
of the realm, too!"

Then, looking round quickly, he tore a piece of blotting paper from the
pad upon the desk and lighting it at the fire, blew out the flame and
waved the smouldering paper round.

"That should make it all right," he whispered again, "and he'll not
notice that the cupboard has been opened." His voice hardened. "Now for
those two wretches below, and I'm half inclined to leave them where they
are. They both know the way out and yet neither of them will dare to use
that chapel door." He thought for a moment. "I'd like to, but no, this
dreadful drama must not be played out there."

So, in two minutes he was back again in the dungeon corridor and saw the
faint light of the lantern wavering to and fro in the distance. He
waited a minute or so to recover his breath and then called out shrilly.
"I've got them. They are here. I just felt them under my feet."

The light stopped wavering. He heard Lord Thralldom's deep voice and
then the latter, followed by the footman, came up to where he was lying.
The lord of the castle looked very tired.

"So, you found them here," he growled as Larose handed him the keys.
"Then you couldn't have heard them drop at all." He eyed the detective
angrily. "Well, I hope this is the last of you. You've been a great
annoyance to me and I'm weary of it."

Not another word was spoken as they ascended the stairs and then when
finally they had reached the hall, Lord Thralldom bade the detective a
curt good morning and and turned off in the direction of his room.

Larose slipped a half note into the footman's hand. "Whew!" he
exclaimed, "but that was an unpleasant experience and I shouldn't care
to go through it again." He looked round enquiringly. "But see, I've got
a message for Miss Devenham. Do you know where she is?"

The footman was nervously crushing the note in his hand, for, with all
his impassive appearance, he was inwardly in a state of great mental
stress and was exhausted with the varying emotions that, like storm upon
storm, had just been sweeping through his brain.

At one moment the foul air of the dungeons had been as a deep draught of
wine to him, and he had had difficulty in remembering that he was not
there alone. Then, he had shaken in terror when Lord Thralldom had been
so curiously regarding the lifted flags, but anger swiftly supervening,
murderous intentions had flared up and he had started to extinguish the
lantern. But the grip of the detective had recalled him to a less
courageous state of mind, and from then he had been expecting every
moment that something terrible was going to happen to him.

Now, however, the present of the ten shillings from Larose reassured him
in some degree, and he was able to answer calmly enough.

"I'll fetch her, sir, if you'll wait a few moments."

A minute or so passed and then Ann came quickly into the hall, with a
very anxious expression upon her face. She could not understand how the
detective had dared to send for her so openly.

Larose wasted no time. "You must leave here almost at once," he said
sharply, "for within a few hours this will be no place for you. This
afternoon your uncle will learn everything."

"Why, what's happened?" asked the girl with a very white face.

"Nothing as yet," was the stern reply, "but a lot's going to happen
before this evening. Now look here. At half past two Mr. Harden will be
waiting for you on the marsh road. Slip out and meet him. Take no
luggage with you, only a parcel that you can carry in your hand. Pack a
suit-case if you like and hide it under the bed in your room. I will
pick it up later in the day and take it to Mr. Harden's lodgings, where
it can be forwarded to any address you leave."

"But--but what am I going away for?" stammered the girl.

"To be married," and the detective's grim face relaxed to a kindly
smile. "Miss Devenham," he went on earnestly, "I swear to you solemnly
that in all my life I have never tried to render greater service to any
human being, than I am trying to render to you now. If you have any
affection for Mr. Harden, if you have any love for the man who wants to
marry you"--he was almost threatening her now--"do as I implore you and
leave this accursed place for ever. Good-bye. I can't wait a minute.
Remember at half past two standing on the marsh road," and he walked
quickly over to the grille where William was waiting to let him out.

Lord Thralldom had spoken truly when he had told the detective that he
had an appointment with his bailiff in half an hour, and five minutes
after he returned from the visit to the dungeons, he was interviewing
the man in the same room where he had spoken to Larose.

Their discussion had proceeded for some little time, when Lord Thralldom
had occasion to consult one of the big ledgers in the cupboard Larose
had opened. He had taken down the book he wanted when his eyes happened
to fall upon the box under the bottom shelf. Perceiving instantly its
battered condition, he stared incredulously for a few moments. Then he
lifted the broken lid and looked inside. But his glance was a very brief
one and closing the box, he replaced the book and locked the cupboard.

Then with the excuse that he was tired, he at once dismissed the bailiff
and alone again in the room, stood for quite a long while looking out of
the window.

There was no appearance of panic about him, on the contrary he was quite
calm and collected.

He pressed upon the bell and William glided noiselessly into the room.
He looked frowningly at him.

"How long was it," he asked, "that we were looking for those keys?"

"About ten minutes, I should say, my lord," was the reply.

"And did that detective say anything to you," was the next question,
"after I had left the hall?"

"Nothing particular, my lord. He just waited until he had spoken to Miss
Devenham and then I showed him straight out."

Lord Thralldom lifted his eyebrows. "Oh! he spoke to Miss Devenham did
he? How was that?"

"He said he had a message for her," replied the footman, "and asked me
to fetch her."

A short silence followed and then Lord Thralldom said, "Send James to
me," and when the second footman appeared he asked sharply,

"Did you throw any paper on the fire here, when I was below the castle
with William and that man from Scotland Yard?"

"No, my lord," replied James, "but I put some coal on just before that
Mr. Larose came up. He passed me in the passage."

"He came up here?"

"I think so, my lord. At any rate, he came up those stairs."

"Oh!" exclaimed his lordship. He turned away to the window. "Thank you.
Now, tell Miss Devenham that I want to speak to her."

"So, so," he murmured when the footman had gone, "then it is me he has
been interested in all along, and by some miraculous means he has
discovered things it is unfortunate for me that he should know. He did
not then ask those questions for nothing just now, and if I do not take
steps to close his mouth, the worst may happen." He paced up and down
the room. "It is a sacred duty that at all costs I should protect my
Rubens, and although I may regret that upon some occasions I have had to
take extreme measures, still it was right that I acted as I did. With
every hour, innumerable new lives are being given to the world, but a
'Man of Sorrows' such as mine, is painted once only, in the lifetime of
all mankind."

Ann came into the room and, although her face was quite composed, she
was feeling very frightened.

"You wanted me, Uncle?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied. "I wish to speak to you." He paused a moment and then
asked very sternly, "What did that detective want with you just now?"

The girl laughed nervously. "He had a message for me from Mr. Harden,"
she replied. "They are friends and Mr. Harden wants to know if I am
going to Lady Pouncett's dance next week. He will be there."

"Oh!" exclaimed Lord Thralldom eyeing her intently. "And that was all?"

"Yes," she nodded, "that was all." A little warmth came into her face.
"I don't think you and mother," she went on, "are at all nice about Mr.
Harden, Uncle. I like him and I don't see why I shouldn't meet him
again."

Lord Thralldom was frowning hard, but then all suddenly his face broke
into a pleasant smile. "Well, well," he said as if rather amused,
"perhaps we have been a little too hard on him." He nodded. "You can go
to that dance next week. Tell your mother I said so. Run away now, I'm
busy, but don't forget this afternoon," and he began turning over the
papers on his desk.

"She was probably lying," he said when she had left the room, "but still
it won't matter after this afternoon." He shook his head and his eyes
gleamed fiercely. "No, nothing will ever matter as long as I keep my
Rubens."

He strode quickly over to the cupboard and unlocked it. Then he drew out
the gloves and overall from the box and threw them on the fire. He
picked up the battle-axe and stood regarding it thoughtfully for a few
moments. Then with a grim smile he carried it into the bathroom and held
it under the tap there until the blade was quite clean. Then he dried it
carefully upon one of the towels and replaced it again in the box,
relocking the cupboard door.

"Now for that man from the Yard," he muttered, and he picked up the
receiver of the telephone upon his desk. "He said he was staying at
Minsmere and so he'll probably be at the inn."

He was put through to the inn, and learning that Larose was staying
there but had just gone out, left a message that he would like to see
the detective, upon an important matter, immediately upon his return.

Then he opened a drawer in the desk and took out a small automatic
pistol, making sure before he transferred it to his pocket that it was
fully loaded.

"Accidents so often happen with firearms," he remarked dryly, "and when
I am showing this little toy to the gentleman from Scotland Yard, if it
should happen to go off, well," he looked very disdainful--"who would
dare bring any accusation against Lord Thralldom?" He nodded his head
slowly. "Yes, the Chief Constable said the fellow always works alone,
and delights in springing dramatic surprises at the very end." He nodded
again.

"Well, I will be the one to spring the surprise this time."




CHAPTER XIX.--THE TOLLING OF THE BELL


When Larose returned to the inn on Minsmere Haven he found Naughton
Jones with the head warder of the Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum who had
arrived about an hour previously, impatiently awaiting him.

The warder was a very homely-looking man with all the appearance of an
unsophisticated farmer, but he at once proceeded to question the
detective in a sharp and businesslike manner about the suspected footman
at the castle.

"That's him," he said at once, "and we'll have to be darned careful how
we nab him. If we rush him and don't give him any time to think, he'll
be all shaken up and come like a lamb, but if we give him the chance to
get his wits together, he's likely to give a lot of trouble. He's
dangerous when he's roused. We'll take up a couple of Roberts with us
from Saxmundham."

Without waiting for any meal, they drove at once into Saxmundham, Larose
going in his own car and the warder taking Naughton Jones with him in
the car in which he had driven down from London.

"You go on to the police station," said Larose, "and I'll follow in ten
minutes. I have a call to make, first."

The detective pulled up at the house where he knew John Harden was
lodging and found the latter about to sit down to his midday meal.

"What's up?" he asked anxiously, the moment he set eyes upon Larose.
"Anything happened?"

"Not yet," replied Larose, "but something's going to, this afternoon."
He looked him straight in the face. "Now, Mr. Harden, have you any ready
money?"

Harden looked very surprised but answered quickly enough. "Yes, I can
lend you some. How much do you want?"

The detective smiled. "I don't want any, thank you, but now, have you
sufficient to get married straight-away upon, and go for a nice
honeymoon with?"

The young fellow got very red. "Plenty, if it comes to that," he
replied. He laughed nervously. "But what do you mean?"

"Well, have you got a motor-car?" went on the detective. Harden nodded.
"I can borrow one," he replied. "I've started my holidays to-day, and a
friend has offered to lend me his for as long as I like."

"Good," said Larose, "then go and borrow it at once. Don't wait for any
dinner. You can make up for that this evening in very pleasant company."
He spoke sharply. "At half past two, Miss Devenham will be waiting for
you upon the marsh road. Drive away with her at once and marry her
to-morrow by special licence in London."

"But, Mr. Larose," began Harden, "I----"

"You want to marry her, don't you?" snapped the detective.

"Want to marry her!" exclaimed the boy. "Good Heavens! Why, I'd
give----"

"Well, now's your chance," interrupted Larose. "She's waiting for you
and if you miss this opportunity, you will regret it all your days, and
even if you marry her later, she will never be the same woman if she's
been a spectator of what's going to take place at the castle this
afternoon." His voice was harsh in its insistence. "Take her away, John,
and give her the happiness that she deserves. Don't ask questions, but
we've found the murderer and a bomb is going to burst within a couple of
hours." He drew in a deep breath. "God only knows what's going to
happen."

He walked quickly to the door. "I can't wait." He nodded smilingly. "If
ever a man has had happiness thrust upon him, you are having it thrust
upon you now. Goodbye. Good luck to you. I'll be seeing you again some
day."

He drove up to the police station and found the head warder and Jones
waiting there. Much to the annoyance of them all, the Inspector was out
and they had to wait nearly an hour and a half before he returned.

The warder's business was quickly dealt with, and then Larose, with no
preliminaries, demanded a warrant for the arrest of Lord Thralldom upon
the charge of having murdered Augustus Holden, Rita Ethelton and three
other persons.

The Inspector was aghast and although Larose briefly outlined the
discoveries he had made, and was supported by Naughton Jones as to the
finding of the bodies in the well, at first resolutely refused to issue
the warrant.

"Lord Thralldom is the chief magistrate here," he argued, with a very
white face, "and I dare not move until I have consulted headquarters.
I'll ring up the Chief Constable in Ipswich. You can wait until----"

"We can't wait a moment," interrupted Larose sternly. "We have already
wasted an hour and a half here and every minute's delay is dangerous.
Lord Thralldom is a madman and to my certain knowledge has determined to
make away with yet another person this afternoon." He looked very
sternly at the Inspector. "If you fail in your duty now, it will mean
dismissal from the Force."

"I don't need to be told my duty by anyone," replied the Inspector
angrily. "I----"

"But you do need to be told it," interrupted Larose again. "I have given
you the clearest proofs, supported by the word of Mr. Naughton Jones,
whose reputation----"

"I know, I know," said the flurried Inspector wiping the perspiration
from his forehead, "but you see, you are putting me in a dreadful
position, Mr. Larose, and I----"

The detective saw that he was wavering. "Make out the warrant, sir," he
said quietly. "The responsibility is all mine."

The Inspector gave in, and five minutes later, seated next to Larose,
was being driven up to Thralldom Castle. In the car behind were Naughton
Jones, the warder from Broadmoor and two uniformed policemen.

During the short drive Larose gave yet more details to the Inspector and
by the time they were approaching the castle, that official was much
easier in his mind, and indeed was almost pleasantly excited.

"And the coincidence is, Mr. Larose," he remarked, "that I was actually
intending to come up to the castle this afternoon, for the description
of a man wanted by the French police corresponds pretty closely to that
of the chef they've got here. He's wanted for several burglaries across
the channel."

"Ah!" thought Larose, "then poor old Croupin'll have to flap his wings
at once."

According to arrangement, the warder was kept out of sight until they
had seen which footman answered their ring. It turned out to be James
and directly he had unlocked the grille, Larose seized him by one arm
and the Inspector by the other.

"Where's William?" asked Larose sharply.

"With his lordship in the gallery," gasped the footman, very frightened
when he saw the other four men come trooping in. "I'll go and tell his
lordship----"

"No, you won't," said Larose. "We'll just announce ourselves. I'll go
first," he went on to the Inspector, "and the others had better follow
pretty close. We'll take them by surprise and not give them that
moment's chance, for the footman will possibly be armed. It's
unfortunate they are in the gallery though, for the gallery's very long
and if they're at the other end, they may wake up to what's happening
before we're on them."

They crept softly up the stairs and round the corner to the opening of
the gallery. The gate of the mutilated grille was standing wide open and
they had a clear view of everything inside.

A big arm-chair had been drawn up close before 'The Man of Sorrows,' and
Lord Thralldom was lying back in a profound reverie, with his eyes half
closed in ecstatic contemplation of the canvas. His massive head was
sunk upon his chest, his arms were folded and he breathed in the quiet
and tranquil manner of one asleep.

The footman at the far end of the gallery was busy with a feather
duster, with his back towards the grille.

Larose tiptoed softly forward, with the Inspector and the others close
upon his heels.

Then suddenly, one of the policemen slipped upon the parquet flooring
and crashed heavily against the wall.

Lord Thralldom looked up sharply to see what had occasioned the noise,
and perceiving Larose with the little crowd behind him, after one
startled moment of surprise sprang like lightning to his feet and
snatching a pistol from his pocket, pointed it straight before him.

"Stop, stop," he shouted fiercely. "Stop, all of you, or I fire." His
voice rose to a shriek. "Stop, you, Larose, and keep your hands away
from your body. Quick, sharp! or I fire."

Larose gritted his teeth in fury, for he realised in a flash that there
was no help for it but to stop. Forty feet and more separated him from
Lord Thralldom and there was that deadly little blue barrel just level
with his eyes.

"Not a movement, any of you," roared Lord Thralldom. "I've seven bullets
here, and I'll not miss with one. I was the best shot in the British
Army once. William," he called out without turning his head, "you've got
your pistol, haven't you?"

"Yes, my lord," replied the footman tremulously, "I've got it."

"Then empty it among them if any of them move," shouted his master.
"Don't wait an instant."

A short silence followed, with the little huddled crowd by the grille
mortified beyond all expression. They were as if caught in a trap and it
looked instant death if any of them moved. They were not too certain
either, that death was not inevitable for some of them whatever they
did.

Lord Thralldom laughed mockingly. "Ah! but I was prepared for you," he
scoffed. "I expected something like this." The light of madness gleamed
in his eyes. "You are all conspirators and you have come to rob me of my
Rubens. You--you, Larose"--he could hardly get his breath--"you are the
ring-leader of them all, and a bullet will be too merciful for you." He
spat out his words. "You have been spying on my lands here, you have
been spying in this castle, and you have been rifling the graves of my
dead!" His voice rose to a shriek again. "Why! you even dared to point
out to me this morning the very stones that you have lifted up! You
boasted----"

But Larose had been thinking rapidly. He was sure that if this madman
before them were allowed to have all the fury on his own, then things
would speedily work up to a climax and they would end by his discharging
his pistol indiscriminately among them.

So the only chance, and it was a frail one, was to so protract the
duration of his fury, that his emotions would exhaust him and thereby
render him less capable of using his weapon effectively. Already, the
detective saw that the pistol hand was wavering.

He risked everything and interrupted loudly and with great violence.

"You lie, my lord," he shouted. "I have rifled no graves and it is not I
who have been violating your dead. It is that shaking wretch behind you
who has done it. He knows the secret of the chapel door, and night after
night he has been descending into the vaults, and desecrating the
resting places of those from whose loins your great house has sprung. He
has defiled this castle and brought shame upon you, who are the
custodian of your dead."

The detective stopped for want of breath and Lord Thralldom, stunned
into silence by his outburst, gaped at him as if he were a ghost.

"Yes," went on Larose in sharp ringing tones, "and he is a convict, that
man. He has escaped from Broadmoor and we have come to arrest him. He is
Carl Heidelburg and the head warder of the asylum is here to identify
him. He----"

But a snarl of fury came from the far end of the gallery, a cry as if
some wild beast cornered by its enemies, and the footman was seen to
spring forward and, with one hand shading his eyes against the sunlight
that was streaming through the windows, with the other to menace the
little group of police officers with his pistol.

He seemed to be trying to pick out someone among them.

He danced and chattered in his rage and his pistol was a danger to
everyone before him.

"It's me he's looking for," whispered the head warder through dry lips,
"and I'll be cold meat in two seconds, if he's any good with his gun."

Then suddenly two shots rang out in quick succession. One crashed
splinteringly through the glass protecting the Rubens, but for the
moment it was not known where the other had gone.

Then, with a strangled cry Lord Thralldom fell forward on to the floor.
Blood gushed from his mouth, he coughed horribly, and then gasping, "My
Rubens, my Rubens!" turned over and closed his eyes.

Roger, 27th Lord of Thralldom was dead.

A fierce rush followed, for regardless of all consequences, a wave of
men surged over towards the convict Heidelburg.

The man stood staring at the fallen body of his master and then looking
up and seeing that his enemies were almost upon him, he smiled a
dreadful smile and putting the muzzle of his pistol between his teeth,
blew his brains out.

Then, when everyone was standing speechless and appalled at the double
tragedy that had occurred, the great bell in the belfry began to toll.

"Dong--dong--dong--dong," as it had tolled all down the ages when a lord
of Thralldom had passed away.

Naughton Jones was the first to recover himself. He thought it time he
should assert his individuality among the official police, and he bent
down in a grave professional manner over the body of Lord Thralldom.

"The bullet severed the carotid artery," he announced, "and there was no
hope in the world for him then. I remember----" but to his great
annoyance, he found no one was listening.

"Gee!" exclaimed the Inspector, "but that was a close shave, and it was
Mr. Larose who saved us." He looked round to speak to the detective, but
the latter was nowhere to be seen.

Then excited voices were heard upon the stairs and Lady Deering,
followed by some of the maids, came running into the gallery.

"What's happened?" she asked in a terrified tone, and then seeing the
Inspector and the policeman there, she went on thankfully, "Oh! we
thought it was another raid and I sent James up into the belfry to ring
the big bell."

But she caught sight of the body of Lord Thralldom upon the floor, and
her voice rose instantly to a wail. "Oh! tell me what's happened!
Quick!"

The Inspector broke the dreadful news as gently as he could, and she
burst instantly into a flood of tears.

"But where's my daughter?" she sobbed. "Someone fetch her at once."

"Keep her out of it, my lady," said the Inspector sternly. "This is no
place for a young girl."

"But she's the heiress of Thralldom," she cried. "Her uncle's left
everything to her, and it's only right that she should be here."

In the meantime, Larose had made his way swiftly, at first, to his car,
and then back towards the servants' hall. He came upon Croupin craning
his head round the corridor.

"William's shot Lord Thralldom," panted Larose, "and he's dead."

"Mon Dieu!" gasped Croupin, "but has William escaped?"

"No, he's shot himself and he's dead too; but quick, you must get away.
They're after you, and Naughton Jones is here."

Croupin made a grimace of dismay and darting into the kitchen,
reappeared, struggling to get James's overcoat over his chef's clothes.

"Go to my car, quick," exclaimed Larose. "It's the red one just outside
the door. Hide under the rug upon the floor at the back. No one will go
and sit there, because I've spilt oil all over the cushions. Now, quick,
at once, for you've not a second to spare. Lie quiet, whatever happens,
and I'll get you out of this somehow."

"Bien, I'm quite sure you will," grinned the Frenchman turning
to run off. "With you and me, together, we cannot fail."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"You did splendidly, Mr. Larose," said the Chief Commissioner of Police
when, a few days later, he and the detective were talking things over at
Scotland Yard, "and although the arrest of Lord Thralldom would have
been a great feather in your cap, still it was best for everyone that
the matter should have ended as it did. After all, as a nation we are
proud of our aristocracy, and it would have been a terrible scandal if
Lord Thralldom had been charged."

"And it was best, too, for Miss Devenham, or rather Mrs. Harden I should
say," said Larose, "for it would have been a dreadful shadow on her life
if she had learnt everything. Now, she need never know what her uncle
was and what a narrow escape she herself had."

The Commissioner nodded. "But fancy the old wretch altering his will the
very day he was intending to kill her and making her his sole heiress so
that if her body had ever come to be found afterwards, it would have
looked incredible that he could have had a hand in her death! Ah! but he
was cunning!"

"Yes, he was much more cunning than I could have thought," commented
Larose, "but it was only by chance that he found out I had broken open
that box. If he had not gone to the cupboard for that ledger, he would
never have suspected anything. Then, of course, he remembered having
smelt the paper that I had smouldered and after that--well, James gave
everything away to him." He nodded. "Still, those four metal buttons in
the ashes were conclusive that he had destroyed the overall in the fire
and that towel in the bathroom showed where he had cleaned up the axe."

The Commissioner nodded in his turn. "But we were bound to act upon that
hint we received from high up," he said, "and you gained a lot in the
estimation of everyone who knows the real facts, by the tactful way in
which you gave your evidence at the inquest. You avoided most skilfully
a lot of awkward points and I don't wonder the coroner summed up dead
against Heidelburg, giving the jury practically no option but to return
a verdict of wilful murder against him." He frowned. "But it didn't
matter. We knew him to have been responsible for two deaths and he was a
most repellent character."

"Well, it was a good thing, in any case, that he shot himself,"
commented Larose. "It saved a lot of trouble."

"Yes, and there's another thing," laughed the Commissioner. "The Suffolk
police were perfectly dumbfounded at what you had found out, and they
have been feeling very cheap ever since. I saw their Chief Constable
yesterday and he said, 'Confound that Gilbert Larose of yours and please
keep him out of my county in future. I should probably have been in the
next honour's list but for him, and now I shall have to remain plain
Colonel Wedgewood for the rest of my life!'"

"He'll never be plain," laughed back Larose, "for he's a very handsome
man."

They chatted for a few moments and then Larose got up to take his leave.

"Oh! by-the-bye, one thing more," exclaimed the Commissioner, pretending
to look very stern. "About that French chef who was so very useful to
you up at the castle and is supposed to be the man the Paris people are
wanting so badly. It has come to me in a very roundabout way that
Naughton Jones is of the opinion you helped the fellow to escape. He
says that when your car was requisitioned to give a lift to those two
policemen, back to Saxmundham, you made them squeeze into the front seat
along with you, because some oil had been spilt on the back cushions."

"Well, what of that?" asked Larose innocently. "They wouldn't want to
soil their uniforms would they?"

"Perhaps not," agreed the Commissioner smiling, "but Jones remembered
afterwards there was a thick rug flung loosely over the floor at the
back of the car and later after having shaken hands with you in saying
good-bye, when he came to light his pipe, he smelt oil upon his
fingers."

Larose grinned. "A very remarkable man, sir, that Jones," he replied,
"but he's got too much imagination by far, when he's talking about his
friends," and bowing most respectfully, he proceeded to leave the room.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The following year, upon one gorgeous day in early June, Larose met John
Harden in Regent Street, just as the latter had alighted from a very
beautiful looking car. They shook hands warmly.

"You must come down and see us, Mr. Larose," said Harden after they had
exchanged a few remarks. "We've got a lovely place just outside
Haslemere and I'm going in extensively for Jersey cows. They are the
only things my wife brought from Thralldom. You heard, of course, that
she sold the castle?"

"Yes, an American bought it, didn't he?"

"Yes, a Judge Morrison, and he's a very good fellow." He laughed. "He's
immensely proud of those dungeons and especially of that dreadful one
with the well."

"But where's Mrs. Harden?" asked Larose. "Isn't she up with you to-day?"

"No," replied Harden quickly. "I came up alone for a couple of hours to
do some shopping for her." He pretended to look very annoyed. "You know,
Mr. Larose, my wife thinks the world of you, and if I hadn't happened to
meet her first, I'd have never had a look in." He shook his head. "She's
always trying to make me jealous by reminding me of that night when she
took care of you in her bedroom."

"She's a charming girl, Mr. Harden," said Larose solemnly, "and you had
the luck of the world when you married her."

"Yes, I did," nodded Harden, "and I shall always be grateful to you for
the way you ordered us about that dreadful day." He smiled. "But now
look here, do you happen to know that Monsieur Antoine's address?"

"No, I don't for the moment," replied Larose, "but he's back in France,
I think. What do you want to know for?"

"Because we had a beautiful wedding present from him last week," replied
Harden. "Three pairs of most lovely, old silver candlesticks. We've
never seen anything like them before, and they must have cost him a lot
of money. He's had my wife's initials 'A.H.' engraved on them, too, and
we're wondering where he can have picked the candlesticks up."

Larose made no comment, but he was now wondering too. He had very
recently been in Paris and he remembered hearing then of a burglary that
had just taken place at Count Hauteville's magnificent chateau in
Chantilly and the count's christian name was Armande. Ann Harden and
Armande Hauteville! both the same initials 'A.H.!'

It was a singular coincidence, certainly.

"Well, you'll be coming to see us one day, won't you?" said Harden after
having shaken hands, and turning to go back to his car.

"Certainly, I will," replied Larose. "How about next Sunday? Will that
suit you?"

The young husband looked very embarrassed. "Well, no," he replied
hesitatingly. "Wait a bit, if you don't mind. Come, say in a month's
time." He laughed slily. "We may have a little surprise for you then."

"But it will be no surprise at all," murmured Larose as the car moved
away.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The new owner of Thralldom Castle had been showing a party of guests
over the dungeons and was now providing them with cocktails in the
lounge.

"Yes," he said proudly, "everything in the dungeons is exactly as it was
upon the day when Lord Thralldom died. Except for the electric light
that I had installed there, those seats in the corridor and that half of
the well chamber that is railed off for my mushroom beds, nothing is
different." He smiled round impressively upon the company. "You have
seen it, ladies and gentlemen as it has been for over 800 years."

"It was thrilling, Judge," said a pretty girl enthusiastically, "and I
have never enjoyed anything so much in all my life." She made a little
grimace of disappointment. "But I think you ought to have left a few of
those rats. Then we should have known something of the horror that
detective, Larose, must have felt, when they were running all over his
legs."

"Oh! I really couldn't have done that," replied Judge Morrison. "They
had to be got rid of. There were millions of them down there." He turned
and addressed the resplendently attired footman who was serving the
cocktails "James, how many brace did those ratcatchers kill?"

"Twelve hundred and four, my lord--sir, I beg your pardon," replied the
footman deferentially. "That was the count when they left."

The judge turned back to his guests and joined merrily in the general
laugh. "Well, I knew it was a good number," he said, "and some were as
big as young cats."

"But that Lord Thralldom must have been half mad himself," commented a
tall, distinguished looking man, "to have allowed the rats to breed to
that extent, for so long."

The judge flashed a covert look at the last speaker, and putting his
finger to his lips, waited until the footman had moved out of hearing.

"Hush!" he said solemnly. "There are many tales about that lord." He
drew the little company together with his eyes and lowered his voice to
a mysterious whisper. "He was mad and there are rumours, too, that he
and that convict footman had been carrying out that dreadful work
together. They say the murders were done between them and the lord knew
all along what was going on." He nodded darkly. "But of course, it was
all hushed up."

"Oh, Judge, Judge," shuddered the pretty girl, "and you sleep in that
same bed of his, that you showed us just now!"

"And why not?" laughed the Judge. "It is mine and I've paid for it. I
bought everything in the castle, lock, stock and barrel, just as it
stands. I took over all the staff, too, and to-night you will be waited
upon by the same servants that waited upon the mad lord. Yes, I kept
everybody and----" He corrected himself quickly. "Ah! no, I did not keep
everybody, for there was one person who wouldn't come back and that
person"--he sighed and looked very sad--"I would have perhaps liked to
have kept, best of all."

"Oh! who was it?" asked a stout lady, very red in the face after her
third cocktail.

The judge put his finger to his lips again. "Hush! don't tell my wife."
He just breathed his next words. "It was the great lord's niece, Ann."
He clasped his hands together in ecstasy. "She is a real peach!"

"Yes, I've seen her and so she is," commented the distinguished looking
man when the laughter had subsided. He shook his finger reprovingly at
his host. "You are a bad man, sir--but a darned good judge."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

James and Bertha, the pretty sewing-maid were walking in the moonlight
among the plum-trees in the castle garden. He had his arm round her
waist and every now and then he stooped and took a loud kiss.

"Yes," he said meditatively, "it doesn't seem as if anyone could believe
it, but I've had nearly 50 this month already, in tips, and if it goes
on like this, in six months we'll be taking over that Westleton pub."

The girl nestled up closer to him. "And they grow such lovely
nasturtiums in the garden there at the back," she sighed. "I've always
longed to have flowers like that."

"They'll be yours, my dear," said the footman, squeezing her hand, "for
we're going to have plenty more visitors here yet. I heard the old woman
telling the judge last night that every room in the castle was booked up
for nearly four months and they mustn't invite any more. But about those
tips," he went on, "these swell people who are here now, are real
suckers about having chippings off that darned well, and I've only got
to mention about them taking a souvenir from where those bodies were
found and they go balmy at once. I could have chipped the whole well to
bits, twice over." He chuckled. "But of course they don't want the old
judge to know." He squeezed her again. "You do love me, don't you,
Bertha?"

"Of course I do, dear. I always have done."

"And you don't ever think about that old Froggy that used to be here?"

The shadows hid the tenderness in the girl's eyes. "No no, I never do,"
she replied quickly. She caught her breath. "But oh! dear, I had a
strange dream once and I can tell you, now we are engaged. I dreamt
before he left, that Monsieur Antoine came into my room in the middle of
the night and stood watching me in the moonlight. I was----"

"What! in your room in the middle of the night!" ejaculated the footman.
He clenched his fists. "It's a good thing I didn't know."

"But it was only a dream," said the girl quickly "for the door was
locked. I dreamed he was there and that he crept over to my work basket.
So, I pretended to snore and he went away.

"Dream or no dream," said James, "I'd have broken his neck, if I'd
known. Going over to your work basket, indeed! Ah! that reminds me, I
must borrow one of your baskets to-morrow." He grinned. "I've run out of
my chips again and must go down to the quarry and get some more. They're
hot stuff on the souvenirs, this lot here, especially the women." He
tilted up her chin. "Now, give give us another kiss."



THE END.


======================================



BY THE SAME AUTHOR


THE JUDGMENT OF LAROSE

A distinguished house-party was assembled at Southdown Court, the home
of Sir James Marley, when suddenly the peace of this country-house was
shattered by the discovery of a terrible crime. One of the guests was
found murdered!

Twenty-one persons with a murderer or murderess among them and no clues
to indicate in which direction the guilt lat!

Another thrilling adventure of the great international detective,
Gilbert Larose..............7s. 6d. net.


GENTLEMEN OF CRIME

A millionaire residing in an old castle in Norfolk was being forced to
pay enormous sums of money by a black-mailer. So he hired the most
celebrated detectives and crooks of the underworld to help him. A
magnificent story of plot and counterplot.............3s. 6d. net.


THE SHADOW OF LAROSE

Is murder, in exceptional cases, justifiable? It was with any thoughts
but those of murder that Charles Edis began his holiday, yet before many
hours had passed he had placed himself in the unenviable position of
murderer and common thief. A fast-moving thriller in which Gilbert
Larose again appears.

Times Literary Supplement: "Told with ingenuity, and moves quickly and
excitingly."...........3s. 6d. net.


THE HOUSE ON THE ISLAND

For six months the countryside of the Eastern Counties had been
terrorized by a bandit who robbed and killed with the slightest
provocation. Scotland Yard was baffled--then Larose suddenly appeared
upon the scene and undertook to solve the mystery........3s. 6d. net.


THE LONELY HOUSE

This story tells of a lonely house upon a lonely shore, and how a
master-criminal was in hiding there; how chance led a great tracker of
crime to the spot, and how his feet came first to be set upon the trail.

Times Literary Supplement: "Thrilling from beginning to end."......2s.
0d. net.


THE DARK HIGHWAY

The story of a double crime, perpetrated at midnight and amongst the
lonely sand-dunes of the Coorong--a crime which attracted the attention
of Gilbert Larose the cleverest of Australian detectives.

Nottingham Journal: "A thrilling story." 2s. 0d. net.


CLOUD THE SMITER

The story of a great criminal and his associates who for long defied the
police of Australia. But in the end one word, spoken on a lonely road at
night, proved the undoing of the whole band, and loosed an avalanche
that engulfed them all.

The Times: "The Smiter is a capital creation."....2s. 0d. net.


THE SECRET OF THE GARDEN

Archibald Cups, a bank clerk, is sentenced to prison for an embezzlement
which he did not commit. He escapes and hides in the house of the very
judge who sentenced him. A breathless story of impersonation.

Field: "Mr. Gask is a great hand at ingenious situations.".....2s. 0d.
net.


THE SECRET OF THE SANDHILLS

Two little boys and a dog came upon a good pair of shoes on the beach.
The dog sniffed so much at the sand close by, that the boys scraped away
and came across a man's leg. Murder! And John Stratton found that he was
in a very tight corner........ 2s. 0d. net.

=======================================

OUTSTANDING THRILLERS

7s. 6d. net.

THE SPIES OF PEACE

By WYNDHAM MARTYN

In this novel we again meet the smiling, fearless young man called
Christopher Bond. Those who have read of his adventures in an earlier
book will know that his thirst for excitement is insatiable. Wherever he
goes he seems to find trouble--he certainly finds plenty of it in this
tale, anyway.


THE HIDDEN DOOR

By ARTHUR GASK

There can be but few readers of detective fiction who have not, at some
time or another during their leisure hours, encountered the famous
Australian detective, Gilbert Larose. His many cases have been
brilliantly narrated by Arthur Gask, as, indeed, is his latest, The
Hidden Door.


AN OBSTINATE GIRL

By EDGAR JEPSON

Call her what you like--determined, pigheaded, obstinate--Ann certainly
had nerve. If she made up her mind to unmask a murderer, unmask him she
would--no matter what danger she herself might be called upon to face.
Dominic, the attractive young detective, learnt all about her obstinacy,
and a lot of other things about her, too.


THE KING'S MISSAL

By NOEL DE VIC BEAMISH

Without wishing to frighten off readers from taking up this book, we
feel we ought to point out that it is definitely not a bedside novel for
nervous people. When a young man falls into the clutches of a Spaniard
like Don Esteban or the mad Van Duysen unpleasant things are likely to
happen to him. They did.


=======================================


OUTSTANDING THRILLERS

7s. 6d. net.

RED DAGGER

By JAMES CORBETT

Murder is committed and the weapon is a red dagger. Another
murder--again the red dagger. What was the motive behind these identical
crimes? And who had struck the blows? A tale that will be appreciated by
those who enjoyed his earlier works.


GET WALLACE

By ALEXANDER WILSON

Wallace of the Secret Service was one of the best-selling thrillers of
the autumn of last year; it was a great success. Now Wallace has come
back in another yarn, a tale guaranteed to stir the pulses of the most
hardened reader of exciting fiction.


MURDER MARKET

By CHARLES RUSHTON

There were a good many things happening which were worrying Sergeant
Hawke. Since the death of Sir Thomas Cummynge a series of problems had
cropped up to mar Hawke's peace of mind, but when a certain young lady
began to be drawn into the net, he began to investigate in real earnest.


THEY STUCK AT NOTHING

By ROBERT LADLINE

When a man is alone, fighting with his back to the wall against a
powerful organization, he's got to be wide awake. Nigel O'Neill soon
discovered this when he found himself against as choice a bunch of
crooks as one could wish for. But Nigel knew a thing or two, as his
enemies soon found out.


TERROR BY NIGHT

By PETER LUCK

Murders had been committed, but whether by human agency or by some
fabulous monster it was impossible to say. With the experience he had
gained as a secret service agent, Richard Brandon-Bassingham pieced
together shreds of information until he discovered the cause of the
tragedies.

=======================================

BOOKS OF VARIED INTEREST

THE FAYOLLE FORMULA

By T. G. COURTENAY

This yarn introduces a new character to fiction who is likely to prove
very popular. He is Major "Bugs" Lecky, a gentleman with many interests,
no nerves and unlimited courage. Bugs is a great fellow, and when he
finds himself up against a sticky proposition he is at his happiest.


THE SHIP IN THE FANLIGHT

By W. TOWNEND

The action of this story takes place aboard a tramp steamer during a
voyage from San Francisco to England. As a sea-yarn it is first rate,
and must again draw attention to Mr. Townend's undeniable claims to
being accepted as the greatest living writer of tales of the sea.


THE HERO'S WIFE

By RICHARD STARR

One of the most versatile of modern day authors is Richard Starr. He
seems to be able to turn his hand to any form of writing and THE HERO'S
WIFE is but another example of his amazing versatility. It is a tale of
the steel-workers in a Midland town. Mr. Starr has made no attempt to
gloss over the inevitable sordidness of the existences of some of the
workers, although he never gives way to the soul-searing gloom that can
so easily rise from such a theme.

=======================================

DETECTIVE NOVELS

7s. 6d. net.


THE LIFE HE STOLE

By SEFTON KYLE

A strong, dramatic story of a man who, in peril of his own life, tried
to shoulder the burden of another man's sins. Mr. Kyle writes with the
polished skill of the accomplished artist.


CARNIVAL OF DEATH

By J. C. LENEHAN

At the height of the festivities the Queen of the Carnival and the Mayor
are found murdered. Over six hundred persons were present. Who shall
raise his hand and point to one of them and say: "You are a murderer"? A
most absorbing story, cleverly and logically worked out.


INSPECTOR WILKINS SEES RED

By MURRAY THOMAS

As a well-thought-out mystery, the solution of which is reached by
sound, inductive reasoning, "INSPECTOR WILKINS SEES RED" will rank high
among the leading detective stories of the season. It may be specially
recommended to the thoughtful reader.


HAUNTED HOLLOW

By BERYL SYMONS

Undoubtedly the most gripping story that Beryl Symons has yet given
us--a tale in which the authorities had not only to contend with the
natural fear aroused in a community by the presence of a killer, but
also with an unreasoning but inherent dread of the supernatural.

=======================================

TALES OF ADVENTURE

7s. 6d. net.


AN UNTOLD TALE

By LADY KITTY VINCENT

What was the meaning of the three lines of verse which were found on a
charred piece of paper in the lodging-house? That was the question that
kept coursing through the mind of Gyp Kiknadze and finally led him
through perilous paths to Scotland and on to Heligoland. A most
enthralling piece of writing.


THE VALLEY PATROL

By BINGHAM DIXON

The scene of this yarn is set in Africa, where the famous 'Tchabesi
Valley Patrol ride out each day. Fortune-hunting, cattle-rustling and
blackmail combine to make this a hard-fighting, fast-riding, red-blooded
romance of the veldt.


SHEER BLUFF

By JOHN COLLINS

Circumstances decreed that Donald Withers should disappear, and
disappear in such a manner that the world would believe he had either
committed suicide or been murdered. But to stage a suicide or murder a
corpse is essential.... An ingenious theme, ably described.


THE HOUSE OF THE DRAGON

By TREVOR MOLONEY

Mr. Moloney takes us to the mysterious East for the setting of his
novel, and so realistically is his yarn narrated that one can almost
feel the atmosphere of suspense and intrigue. His writing carries the
conviction of first-hand experience.

=======================================


NEW LOVE-STORIES


THE GLEN OF CARRA

By PATRICK MACGILL

This is an Irish story, an Irish study, told as only an Irishman of
writing temperament could tell it. It is a moving tale in which Mr.
MacGill's undoubted imaginative powers are blended with sharp flashes of
realism.


MEXICAN LOVE

By JUSTIN H. MOORE

Mexico--the land of romance--where the steel guitar is heard at
nightfall and the voice of the serenading lover fills the air--what more
pleasing background could one find for a love-story? Mr. Moore tells his
tale with sincerity and charm, at the same time portraying a convincing
picture of life and customs in Mexico.


WHO WINS?

By J. P. RUSSELL

This is the tragedy of a young woman's life, telling how she broke away
from the ties of her family to go to a married man, and how, with the
passing of time, she sees her true happiness rapidly slipping away from
her. It is a very human piece of writing, in which the characters have
been skilfully drawn and the episodes faithfully related.

=======================================



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia