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Title: The Vengeance of Larose
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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The Vengeance of Larose
by
Arthur Gask


Published in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. in serial form commencing Wednesday 27 September, 1939.


From The Advertiser, Monday, 25 September, 1939.

Larose Against The Dictators

Exciting Spy Story For New Serial

WHEN Arthur Gask was writing 'The Vengeance of Larose,' his new mystery story, England stood on the brink of war. The blow has fallen now, and it is singularly appropriate that Mr. Gask chose for his theme the attempt of a ruthless dictator to demoralise the English before the armies entered the field. He has delegated Gilbert Larose, the brilliant Australian detective, to avert the war of fiction. Larose's flair for tempering justice with expediency is well known, and when a grave peril threatens England he lets nothing stand between the means and the end. Mr. Gask knows well the secret of keeping his characters interesting and his readers interested, and you will find 'The Vengeance of Larose' a particularly suitable antidote for these days of stress. The first instalment will be published in 'The Advertiser' on Wednesday.


CHAPTER I.—THE MYSTERY OF MARLE HOUSE
CHAPTER II.—THE COMING OF LAROSE
CHAPTER III—IN THE NET
CHAPTER IV.—THE MYSTERIOUS FOREIGNER
CHAPTER V.—THE CARDSHARPER
CHAPTER VI.—DRAWING IN THE NET
CHAPTER VII.—SCOTLAND YARD STRIKES AT LAST
CHAPTER VIII.—"THE ASSASSIN"
CHAPTER IX.—"THE CHAMBER OF DEATH"
CHAPTER X.—"A DUEL OF WITS"
CHAPTER XI.—"JUDAS"
CHAPTER XII.—"THE MEN OF DEATH"
CHAPTER XIII.—"THE GRAVE"





CHAPTER I.—THE MYSTERY OF MARLE HOUSE

One evening, just as dark was falling, in a many-windowed room of a long, low building standing within the shelter of a cliff high up on a lonely mountainside, were seated three men. The building was the only structure in that profound solitude, and was so high and so far removed that from the habitations in the village below it required a good pair of binoculars to pick up with any accuracy the beginning of the winding road which led up to it.

The three men were talking earnestly and, although they must have been aware that by no possibility could they be overheard, their voices, as if from force of habit, were pitched in low tones.

"And with all their hypocritical diplomatic correctness," scowled one of them who, from his bearing, appeared to be in authority, "they are allowing their press to become more and more insulting to us every day. Were we not referred to last week as a gang of blackmailers with the morality of a pack of thieves?"

"That is so, Your Excellency," nodded the suave, good-looking man, seated opposite to him, "and it was said, too, that most of us ought to be behind asylum bars."

"But that's mild compared with a letter which appeared in the 'Daily Messenger'," boomed the third man, big and stout, with dark, piercing eyes under very bushy brows. "The writer said Your Excellency was an unbalanced mental degenerate and that you had degraded our race to the level of a band of thugs. He said you were teaching the people that wholesale murder and pillage should be their national ideals and he went on——"

The face of the one they had addressed as Your Excellency reddened in anger; and he interrupted sharply. "And there are two members of their Cabinet, particularly, who are responsible for allowing all this. Lord Michael and Sir Howard Wake. They have repeatedly defended this venomous, so-called freedom of the press." He turned frowningly to the good-looking man. "You have made representations about it many times, von Ravenheim?"

"I have, Your Excellency," was the reply, "but it has not done the slightest good. As for these two men, in every way they continue to be our greatest stumbling block. They are——"

"I know, I know," exclaimed His Excellency testily. "Their influence in that cursed country of theirs is continually thwarting our plans. More than anyone, it is they who are keeping Britain in her present state of preparedness."

The stout man spoke again. "Since Lord Michael has been at the War Office," he commented, "they never sleep, and Sir Howard is a man of untiring energy and of great vision, too." He nodded. "Yes, as Your Excellency says, at the present moment they are more to be feared than anyone."

His Excellency spoke scornfully. "Then is it in accord with our general policy to let these two men stand in our way any longer? We should have no scruples at all how we deal with them, for we are as much in a state of war with England now, as if we were nightly bombing her cities into dust." His eyes flashed. "The whole world knows our open hostility is only a question of our choosing our own time, when we can catch them unawares."

A short silence followed and then von Ravenheim said slowly. "For many months now we have been searching for some means of discrediting these two men, and have, accordingly, gone most minutely into their private lives. But we can find no scandal anywhere, and——"

"Find no scandal!" scoffed the other contemptuously. "That's not what you must do! Have them shot! Pay someone to put a bullet in them! That's the only way of settling things; for at all costs we must prevent Lord Michael from going to New York next month. We can't have those muddle-minded Americans stirred up again."

Von Ravenheim looked uncomfortable. "But the risks would be terrible, Your Excellency. Their deaths by violent means would shock the whole world, and if there is the slightest suspicion against us, we——"

"But there mustn't be the slightest suspicion," was the angry interruption, "and there is no reason there should be. Why, only last week I read that that precious member of Parliament of theirs, Sir Derek Sandy was processioning with thousands of other fools to protest against the moneys which were being spent upon defence and, in the speeches which followed, it was insisted that Lord Michael and Sir Howard, more than any other members of the Cabinet, were responsible. Well then, why shouldn't it be thought that some of this peace-loving horde had shot them to save greater bloodshed?"

"It will be most difficult to arrange, sir," said von Ravenheim reluctantly. "They are always so well-guarded, wherever they go."

The other looked amused. "Pooh, by two or three fat policemen in private clothes. I saw their kind twenty years ago when the then Prince of Wales was visiting Cannes. They looked like superannuated butlers, full of English beef and beer, amiable unsuspicious creatures with no imagination. No, go to that man in Great Tower street we are having dealings with. Pay him well—give him £10,000—and there should be no difficulty. Give him part of the money down. He seems reliable and has always delivered the goods up to now."

"Very well, Your Excellency," said von Ravenheim. "I'll approach him myself."

"Good!" said his superior. He turned to the third man. "Don't you think this the best way of dealing with the matter, General?"

"Certainly, sir," replied the stout man, "and if they do suspect we've had a hand in it, their Government will never dare to say so." He guffawed hoarsely "They may have stiffened their backs a bit lately but they still think they can buy us off by being polite. They bleat like the lamb in the presence of the wolf."

A short silence followed and then the man who had been so peremptorily issuing his orders leaned back in his chair and laughed softly. "And now I'm going to surprise you, gentlemen. I'm going to give you a great shock." He paused a moment to enjoy the puzzled expressions upon the faces of his audience, and then rapped out, "I'm going over to England myself! I'm going to see this wonderful London of theirs, incognito."

A deep hush filled the room von Ravenheim screwed up his eyes and turned his head sideways, as if he were rather deaf and had not caught the words aright, while the general's lips parted and he stared hard and incredulously.

"Yes," went on His Excellency quietly, "I have never seen this country which is now so occupying all our thought, and it has been long in my mind that I would like to go there." His voice rose passionately. "I want to visit their London before it is destroyed. I want to see their beautiful old buildings before they are in ruins, and I want to mix among their crowds and get their mentality first-hand before they are a conquered people." He pointed to a row of books upon a shelf. "So with that idea in my mind. I have been at work upon their dreadful language for more than six months, I have had three English tutors here, and can now talk quite quickly with this last one, and understand everything that he says." He laughed lightly. "Well, what do you think of it, my friends?"

Von Ravenheim shook his head emphatically. "It is impossible, sir."

"Impossible! But I intend to do it!"

"It would stagger the world!"

"But the world will know nothing about it. I shall go straight to London as a private individual, and no one but you two will be aware that I have left our country. As you know, I speak French fluently, so I shall pass as a Swiss. I shall be absent for only a few weeks, and it will be given out I am still on holiday here. You, von Ravenheim, will find me a quiet hotel in London, and I shall keep in touch with you all the time, in case anything should happen which I must deal with at once."

"But your face, sir!" protested von Ravenheim. "It is one of the best known in the world. You will be recognised at once."

His Excellency shook his head. "No, that is not likely, for I intend to shave off my moustache; and, in civilian clothes, I shall appear just like any ordinary citizen of our country. If anyone does happen to remark upon the resemblance between the sight-seeing Herr I shall then be, and the person I really am—they will only regard it as a joke. They will know it is impossible we can be one and the same person."

"But what about those tutors who have been teaching you English?" asked von Ravenheim uneasily. "Can you trust them?"

"I don't," laughed the other, very amused, "and have accordingly taken all the necessary precautions. Numbers 1 and 2 have gone upon a long journey, and No. 3 will soon join them." He spoke carelessly. "What do three lives count in times like these?"

General Meinz cleared his throat. "I don't approve your going, sir," he began, "and I——"

"Then I must do without your approval," was the smiling comment, "for I am determined to go." He rose to his feet to cut short the interview. "So both of you will return here on Sunday. Then I will make known my final arrangements;" and, with a wave of his arm, he dismissed the two men who clicked their heels, and after a solemn salute left the room.


Now there would seem to be no possible connection between the great autocrat of that lonely building upon the mountainside and an insignificant looking little convict in a prison in far off England. Yet, at that very moment Fate, like a malignant spider, was starting to weave a web whose threads were destined ultimately to entangle them both.

Gilbert Larose, the one-time international detective, and now the husband of the wealthy widow of Sir Charles Ardane was holding a brief conversation in the foyer of a big London restaurant with Brigadier-General Haines the governor of one of England's largest penal settlements.

"And you are the very man I wanted to meet, Mr. Larose," exclaimed the Brigadier genially, "for, as a former associate of the criminal classes, you can now, perhaps, do one of their order a good turn!"

"Oh," smiled Larose. "What's the idea? Do you want me to arrange the escape of some poor devil who's suffering under your tender mercies?"

"No, there's happily no need for that," laughed the Brigadier, "as the man comes out on ticket of leave next week. He's been my guest for just over six years and now has to face the world again, with not a friend or a relative to look after him I want you to get him a job."

"Who is he and what's he in for?" asked Larose. "The crowd at your place are generally a tough lot, and I draw the line at gentlemen who have been scotched for crimes of violence."

"Well, he's by name of Bracegirdle, and he got ten years for shooting a gamekeeper. He was caught red-handed in Lord Jevington's preserves, and put up a fight to escape arrest. In the struggle his gun went off and the gamekeeper was killed. Of course, Bracegirdle says it was accidental; and the jury were obviously inclined to believe him, as they added a strong recommendation to mercy. From what I've seen of him, I, too, believe he was speaking the truth, as he's not vicious by nature. He was just a man bursting with energy; and his poaching was only an adventure."

"What was his occupation before it happened?"

"He was a motor mechanic, and, at the trial, his employers came forward and gave him an excellent character."

"Hum!" remarked Larose. "I happen to know a relative of my wife is looking for a good man for his motor launch. Well, when could I see this chap?"

"Why not run down tomorrow? It would only take you a couple of hours, and if you show interest in the man it may be the salvation of him. He's just in that state of mind when he might easily drift into a life of crime, and I want to prevent that. He's very bitter against everyone, and says he did not have a fair trial. He is sure it was Lord Jevington's influence that got him convicted on the major charge. Yes, you come down to lunch tomorrow and I'll give you some Barsac that will be well worth the journey. Can you manage it?" and Larose, moving off to greet two ladies who had just entered the foyer, nodded an affirmative reply.

Between the mouths of the rivers Crouch and Blackwater lies the loneliest part of the Essex coast. Even in these days of the ubiquitous motor car, it is unsought after on account of its inaccessibility and because, when reached, there is nothing to interest the average person there. At low water the sea recedes many miles from its shore, which is flanked by many thousands of acres of low-lying land, much of it swamp and marsh, reclaimed from the sea by the narrow seawall which runs the greater part of its length.

It is at all times a scene of desolation, given over to the wastes of muddied sands and the screeching gulls; and when the winds are risen, the sea roars across the foreshore to the stolen marshes, like some wolf-mother calling to her cubs.

And yet, at some time in the mid-Victorian years, someone had built a house there—at its loneliest part—a good, substantial stone house of two stories, just behind the seawall and within a hundred yards of the margin of the waves at high tide.

At the back of the house stretched a wide expanse of the dreary Dengie marshes. No road led there, only a narrow, winding track across the marshes, always sodden and precarious in the winter rains.

Marle House it was called, but beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the scattered outlying little villages it had been known as Marle's Folly.

For many years it had been unoccupied; and the sea spray had crumbled the mortar between its stones and rotted away the woodwork, so that its doors and windows had fallen in. It had stood like a great grey ghost derelect and forgotten by the world.

But quite recently, much to the interest of everybody in the neighborhood, it had come into the possession of new owners, three friends, and they had restored it to some degree of comfort.

At first, everyone for miles around had been intensely curious about the newcomers, but, it becoming known that they were business men from London and connected with the Stock Exchange, undue curiosity and interest in them soon died down. It was understood they were making Marle House their home in order to obtain a little peace and quietness at weekends, in happy contrast to the feverish worries or their calling.

The three men at Marle House were always in residence on Saturdays and Sundays; but often during the week, late at night or in the early mornings, their big black car was seen speeding along the London road beyond Southminster or Burnham.

The car never passed through either of these little towns, either going to or coming from London, but picked up the main road from another track leading off the marshes, so that just where the tenants of Marle House were at any time was never actually certain.

They were assumed to be well off, for soon after they came to Marle House a piece of land, about two miles away, at the very mouth of the River Crouch, opposite to Foulness Island, was acquired; and there they built a big, roomy boat-house, soon to be occupied by quite a good-sized motor launch. In fine weather they often went fishing far out to sea, and it was said that at times they crossed right over to the Kentish coast.

Keeping as they did, entirely to themselves, it was never known if they entertained any visitors or or not.

The Southminster grocer, however, who called at Marle House every Wednesday, learned, besides their occupation, a lot of other things about them from the elderly housekeeper, who described them as 'perfect gentlemen.' She told him that their names were Pellew, Royne, and Rising, and that they were well connected, and had a luxurious flat in the West End, where they stayed when they did not come home during the week.

She spoke there in all sincerity, and to the best of her belief, but, for all that, she was furnishing most inaccurate information.

Their real names were nothing like those she had given and, had the truth been known, the world generally would hardly have agreed to her statement that they fell within the category of perfect gentlemen.

As a matter of fact, the so-called Pellew was a one-time member of the legal profession who had been struck off the rolls and received five years' imprisonment for appropriating trust money. Royne was an ex-paymaster of the Royal Navy, who had been dismissed for embezzlement, and had escaped prosecution only because of the influence of a distinguished relative high up in the service, while Rising was a properly qualified medical man who had, some years before, to flee the country because of his connection with a dope gang which had been uncovered by the police.

As for their real occupations, certainly the Stock Exchange did not know them. To those who had dealings with them in London, they were known to carry on the business known as the Malaga Wine and Spirit Company, specialising in the importing of Spanish wines.

The premises of the company were situated in an old warehouse in Curtain lane, a short, unfrequented street near the East End of the city, and comprised the ground floor and basement of a narrow building wedged in between two much higher ones.

The two upper floors were unoccupied, which circumstance was explained by the fact that the lease of the whole building was falling due in less than a year's time, when everything would come into the hands of the housebreakers.

The company was an old-established one, but for many years it had been anything but a paying concern. However, about eighteen months previously, it had been bought very cheaply by its present proprietors, and was now registered in the name of Anton Pellew.

The manner in which the company conducted its business would certainly have seemed peculiar to anyone who knew anything about the tenants of Marle House, for the three men, when up in the city and making their living by the activities of this decaying wine firm, were, apparently, upon a very different footing from that shared by the three friends when at home in their lonely residence upon the Essex coast.

In Curtain lane, Pellew posed as the sole proprietor of the business. Rising was the one solitary clerk, and Royne acted as porter, and had charge of the large cellar in the basement where the cases of wine were stored.

When the car brought the three up to the city in the morning it was left for the day in a garage in the main street in Aldgate, but from there the three men never proceeded in company to Curtain lane.

Royne invariably went first, and opened the warehouse, then, a few minutes later Rising followed and, finally, Pellew bustled in, as if business were very brisk and the day's work must be got on with as quickly as possible.

But business was never brisk with this company, for they had very few customers and, except that they were agents for a brand of cheap but quite passable sherry, they might have had almost no customers at all. Still, slackness of trade never seemed to worry them and they never appeared to be short of money.

When they were all together in the building Royne, as the porter, invariably brought in three good lunches from a nearby public house. These they ate in company in a back room behind the private office; and, as an appetiser, they often shared a quart bottle of champagne, of a much better vintage than was ever to be found in their own cellar.

But they were not always all together, for both Pellew and Rising were often away, Pellew particularly, but never both at the same time. Sometimes, one of these two would be away for days at a time, and then when he returned there would be a long and earnest conversation in the back room, with a switch on the front door slipped down, so that no one could enter the premises without sounding a bell which tinkled in the room where they were.

Occasionally, but less often than the others, Royne went away too, and then he would leave in an attire very different from that he customarily adopted. He looked like a seafaring man at those times, with his face darkened to an almost mahogany hue. Also, his hands were tarred and grimy; and he appeared to have had no acquaintance with soap and water for some days.

Then, again, their dealings with certain of their customers were strange, for, not once or twice, but several times when some prospective customer had been shown into the head office, upon a secret signal given by Pellew, Royne would make a quick change in his appearance and go out to the end of the lane and there wait for this customer to reappear. Then he would follow him and see where he went.

Once, too, he had rushed off immediately and, picking up a taxi, had been driven right away to the West End. There he had waited for hours, keeping discreet watch not far away from a big house occupied by the ambassador of a certain foreign Power.

Another time he was driven off in the same way, but it was to Whitehall he went upon this occasion, and night had fallen before he returned. Yet a third time, after showing a visitor in to Pellew, he had hurried off to New Scotland Yard, and not only that day but for the two days ensuing, had kept as close a watch as possible upon all who entered there.

Sometimes all three men slept in the back room behind the office in Curtain lane; but sometimes only two of them, or Pellew rented two rooms upon the fourth floor of a house in Wardour street. There, speaking three languages fluently, he passed as a Continental journalist corresponding with several foreign papers, and one whose work accounted for his spasmodic occupancy of the rooms. He occasionally had visitors who from their appearance were not always of the poorer classes.

Then, at other times enjoying life as a well-to-do man about town, he would stay at some first-class West End hotel, frequenting expensive night clubs and posing as one of the idle rich.

Altogether, the proprietor and the two employees of the Malaga Wine and Spirit Company were a very mysterious trio.

One day towards the end of May, about eleven o'clock in the morning, Pellew and Royne, in the private office, were frowningly conning the pages of an instruction book dealing with the Barling internal combustion engine.

"It's a hellish pity we don't know enough about engines to do the job ourselves," scowled Pellew. "Still, there's no help for it, and we'll have to get a mechanic in. The devil of it is one or other of us will have to be watching him the whole time. We can't let him get any opportunity of nosing about, or he may become suspicious about a lot of things."

"Yes," agreed Royne gloomily, "and there's always the chance he may become curious that the engine is so powerful, and start talking about it to outsiders."

Pellew looked thoughtful. "Now if I could pick up a chap who has good reasons for wanting to keep out of the limelight for a while, it would fit in well. We really always need a handy man about the place to do odd jobs, besides looking after the motor boat and the car. There's that ceiling wants attending to and those leaks in the roof. I think I'll——" but they suddenly heard voices outside and a few moments later the obsequious Rising knocked respectfully upon the door and entered.

"A gentleman to see you, sir," he announced in his ordinary tones, and then he mouthed the words, "Von Ravenheim!"

Pellew elevated his eyebrows and grinned. "Show him in, John," and Rising at once proceeded to usher in the visitor.

"Ah, good morning, Herr Menns," exclaimed Pellew with an affectation of great affability, as the door was being closed behind the visitor. "Now I hope you liked that last lot of sherry you had?"

"No, I didn't like it at all," replied von Ravenheim crossly. "It's only fit for pigs. It burns the skin off your tongue, it's so fiery." He lowered his voice sharply. "Doesn't that man of yours pretend to remember my name?"

"It is no pretence, mein Herr," said Pellew smilingly and in an equally low tone. "He never does remember names. He's very stupid; and that is why I keep him here." He laughed lightly. "I am the only clever person in this business; and that is how it should be."

Von Ravenheim frowned. "But you're not so clever as you think; and that's what's brought me here now." He eyed him sternly. "My Government paid you £2,000 for the plans of that R8 super-submarine; and they now inform me they are incomplete. All the particulars are not there regarding the inner ballast tanks amidships. The exact measurements are not given."

Pellew looked very serious. "Are they quite sure? I have always been able to rely upon the party who obtained them for me and, besides, as I showed you, the photos bore the secret marks of the Admiralty, as having been passed 'correct.' I pointed out to you the dot under the last M and above the last S in the specifications."

"Well, my people tell me the plans are incomplete," said von Ravenheim sharply, "and I want to know what you are going to do about it. You must get in touch again at once with your agent."

Pellew appeared to consider. "I may not be able to do it for a few days," he said slowly, "for I shall have to go about things very cautiously." He nodded. "But I'll get at the facts as quickly as I can and then you shall know immediately."

Von Ravenheim nodded back. "And we shan't fall out about another hundred or so if you are put to more expense. That's a small thing if we get what we want." A puzzled expression crossed over his face; and he looked round at the bare furnishings of the office. "But I say, does this wine business of yours really pay? I have been here four times and have never seen any customers about."

Pellew smiled. "Oh, yes, it pays me quite well. We certainly mayn't get many customers, but some days good orders come in, and we sell quite a lot of that sherry which doesn't suit your palate."

Von Ravenheim regarded him interestedly, and then, after a moment's hesitation, pulled his chair up close to the desk-table which separated them. "Well, now another thing." He lowered his voice to the merest whisper. "Have you by any chance some precious stones you want to sell, an emerald necklace or a diamond tiara, for example?"

Pellew started, as if he had received an electric shock, and his eyes seemed to be almost bulging from his head. His mouth opened and, with all his habitual self-possession, he knew that he was breathing heavily and that his face had paled. But he recovered himself quickly, except that now he had flushed to a dusky red.

"What do you mean?" he asked slowly. "What have I to do with any jewels?"

"That's what I want to know," laughed von Ravenheim softly. "That's what made me ask you the question." His voice hardened grimly. "But I am struck with some very peculiar coincidences. Six weeks ago, my friend, I saw you at the Rialto the night Lady Bowery's tiara was stolen from her room. That is so, is it not?"

"But what about it?" countered Pellew woodenly. "You were there as well."

Von Ravenheim ignored his question and went on. "Then, a hundred and more miles away, a fortnight ago last Tuesday, you bought some cigarettes in Clavering village about two hours before Clavering Court was burgled and Mrs. Hone's emerald necklace taken while the family were downstairs at dinner." He shook his head disapprovingly. "Oh, it was very foolish of you to have gone into the village at all. One of those stupid, petty mistakes which the most clever lawbreakers do sometimes make. No, no, it is no good your denying it, as I happened to see you myself." He tapped impressively with his fingers upon the table. "Now for a third coincidence. Last night at ten minutes past eleven you came out of number nine Beak street"—he paused significantly—"where a man by the name of Hans Schelling lives!"

"Never heard of him!" said Pellew boldly, although his face had now taken on an ugly expression. "There are a dozen and more people with rooms and offices in that building, and the partly I was calling on has certainly no name like that."

"Of course not," nodded von Ravenheim sarcastically. "I don't for a moment expect that he has. Still——" he spoke smoothly and most politely—"I would just mention to you that this Schelling is known personally to me as a gentleman with a shocking record in his own country, and"—he paused again—"as a skilful setter and un-setter of precious stones."

A long silence followed, while von Ravenheim took out and lighted a cigarette. Pellew had set his face to that of an impenetrable mask.

Von Ravenheim went on. "But we won't refer to those little matters any more, for, of course, they are nothing to do with me, and I'm not intending to interfere in any way." He smiled dryly. "I only mentioned them because if you know things about me it is, perhaps, just as well that you should realise I, also, know things about you." He laughed good-naturedly. "So we are quits! We are each of us quite aware the other is a bird of black feathers!"

Pellew looked more at ease now, and with a grin, which was, however, a rather sheepish one, took a cigarette from the case which von Ravenheim held out to him.

A short silence followed, and then von Ravenheim lowered his voice to a whisper again. "Now I have another commission for you, and I suggest it with no apologies, for I am sure you are a perfectly unscrupulous man. No, no, don't look offended, for it is a compliment I pay you. I have no scruples myself, and I judge your temperament to be not very unlike my own."

"Well, what is it?" asked Pellew, for von Ravenheim had stopped speaking.

"I want you—I want you," said von Ravenheim very slowly, "to get rid of two men."

"Get rid of two men!" ejaculated Pellew. "What do you mean—kidnap them for you?"

Von Ravenheim laughed. "No, nothing so clumsy or so difficult as that! Much simpler!" he spoke carelessly. "I want you to shoot them, stab them or strangle them, shooting them preferred, as that form of decease will arouse less resentment."

"Certainly," smiled Pellew, with equal carelessness. "Who are they and what is the fee?"

"The fee," said von Ravenheim, "will be £10,000, but who the parties are you will not be told until the last moment, it may not be for a few weeks or so." He eyed Pellew very intently. "All I want to know now is whether you are agreeable to accept the commission."

Pellew regarded him very doubtfully. "But I've never taken on anything like that before. Getting hold of official secrets risks punishment enough, but shooting a man means murder; and I should be hanged if I was caught."

"Who said you were necessarily to do it yourself?" asked von Ravenheim sharply. "You didn't steal that plan of the submarine! You bribed someone else to get it and made your profit above what you paid him. Well, bribe someone again! You must know the right party for the job! Remember, to get those fuses for us, a man had to be killed! That sentry was stabbed, either by you or the man you hired. Come, come now, you needn't pretend to be squeamish. It's only the risk which frightens you!"

"Yes! the risk frightens me," admitted Pellew readily. "It is a big one." He considered. "In what class of life are these men? Are they private characters, or public men?"

Von Ravenheim laughed scornfully. "Do you think I should be offering you £10,000 to get rid of a private individual? Why, a couple of hundred pounds or so would be all that it was worth! No, of course they're public men, and very important ones, too."

Pellew looked astonished. "And you want them shot publicly."

Von Ravenheim laughed again. "No, you big ninny, it would be done when they were quite alone. It'd be a country house job. They'd be caught both together one evening in a lonely part of the grounds, and if you took it on, personally, you could fire from behind some bushes. Two quick shots, which no one would hear, and you'd earn £10,000. Just think of it."

"But if they're public men," said Pellew, "they're certain to be guarded!"

"I don't think so." said von Ravenheim. "At any rate, it would only be by a plain-clothes man; and it'd be your business to dodge him. If you did it at night, too, he'd probably be in the kitchen having his supper."

"When's it to be done?" asked Pellew.

"I don't know myself, yet," replied von Ravenheim, "but one week-end when I find out they're together at this country house I have in my mind. At any rate, there are special reasons why it must be done before the middle of next month, somewhere about the twelfth."

A long silence followed, and then Pellew asked. "And what security have I that you would keep your promise about the money?"

"I will give you £3,000 down, directly I see you mean business," said von Ravenheim, "and the balance directly the men are dead. The £3,000 to remain yours whether you are successful or not."

Pellew laughed. "And you can trust me with that £3,000?" he asked.

Von Ravenheim considered for a few moments and then nodded his head. "I believe I can, for I don't think you would relish an anonymous communication being made about you to Scotland Yard. You certainly don't want interest awakened there."

He became confidential. "You see, Mr. Pellew, in dangerous work like mine, I have to be something of a judge of character, and it was because of a certain reputation in that direction that I was commissioned to deal with you when you first approached us, alleging that you were in a position to sell valuable information. I formed a certain opinion of you then, and that opinion has been strengthened since."

"Oh, you summed me up, did you?" asked Pellew trying to appear very amused.

"Yes," nodded von Ravenheim, "and I considered you at once to be as you say you are, quite clever. Indeed, I thought that at some time or other in your life, you had perhaps been too clever and had to suffer for it, because you struck me as a man with a past. No, no, you needn't laugh. I am a judge of such matters."

"You think you are," smiled Pellew.

"Well, I ought to be," smiled back von Ravenheim, "for I've passed a third of my life behind prison walls." He laughed merrily. "Ah, I thought that would make you stare! But you'll be disappointed when I explain that it was only because my father happened to be governor of one of our prisons." He held Pellews eyes with his own. "And my experiences there incline me to think that you've been in prison, too, because when you are talking quietly, as you have been, for instance, just now you have the trick of speaking without moving your lips, just as prisoners do when they are together, but forbidden to talk to one another."

"Anything else?" asked Pellew with a dry mouth and an amusement which was obviously forced.

"Well, one thing more," said von Ravenheim very quietly, "just to make you realise it will pay you best to go straight with me. When you handed me the receipt for that awful sherry last week, you had just poured me out a glass of port, and on the back of the receipt you left a very clear imprint of your thumb and finger. So both these prints could be included in that anonymous letter to Scotland Yard and perhaps——No, no, leave that drawer alone. I've got two friends waiting outside for me in a car, and if I don't go back to them almost at once now they'll be coming in to see what's happened. Besides, I've got a little toy myself in my pocket and it's pointing direct at you. Ah, that's better! Sit back and have another cigarette. Now we'll continue this little business talk of ours."

Some ten minutes later, when Pellew walked out of the warehouse door with his visitor, he looked up and down the lane for the car.

But there was no car of any description to be seen in the street, and noting the puzzled expression upon his face, von Ravenheim chuckled in amusement.

"They must have got tired of waiting," he smiled. He sobered down instantly. "No, my friend, I bring neither car nor companions when I come to see you, for the more unnoticed I am the better. I use the tube both ways." He waved his hand carelessly. "Good-bye. Mr."—he stressed the name slightly—"Pellew."

"Good-bye. Herr"—Pellew also stressed the word ever so little—"Menns," and they parted with mutual grins, as if each quite understood the other.


CHAPTER II.—THE COMING OF LAROSE

THE following day was a Saturday, and no member of the firm of the Malaga Wine & Spirit Company went up to the city. Instead, until late afternoon, they were busy trying to find out what was wrong with the engine of their motor launch.

There did not seem very much amiss, but still it was undoubtedly making unusual noises, which they feared might portend some major trouble later, perhaps when they were far out to sea. And trouble then they certainly did not want, for among their activities in anything that would earn easy money they smuggled in forbidden drugs.

A London-bound tramp steamer was due shortly and would drop a buoyed parcel of cocaine for them, well off the North Foreland, and they would have to be in the vicinity to pick it up with as little delay as possible.

As the day wore on, towards five o'clock, a fog began to creep from over seawards and accordingly they made all haste to return home. Fogs on the Denbigh marshes were never to be held lightly, as in many places, except in an exceedingly dry summer, the track to Marle House was always one to be negotiated with the greatest of care.

Their evening meal over, they were discussing once again the proposition put to Pellew by his visitor of the previous day, when they were all brought quickly to their feet by the sound of a loud explosion somewhere out to sea.

They ran outside on to the seawall and peered into the darkness; but the fog was now heavy and they could see nothing beyond twenty to thirty yards.

"That's funny!" exclaimed Royne, the ex-paymaster. "It was quite different from a signal of distress and nothing like, either, the boom of a gun."

They remained on the seawall for a few minutes and then, nothing more happening, returned into the house and resumed their interrupted conversation.

An hour and longer went by and then, a faint breeze stirring, the fog began to lift and stars to show through the haze. It was then approaching high water and the small waves were beginning to lap not far from the seawall.

Presently a black object could have been seen about a couple of hundred yards or so out to sea, gradually, however, drawing nearer and nearer to the shore. Then, anyone watching there, would have perceived the object to be a man. He was swimming on his back, very slowly and as if he were very tired.

Presently he turned over, and apparently finding he was no longer out of his depth, sank on to his feet and began to wade laboriously towards the shore.

He was quite a long time covering the last fifty yards; but, at length gaining the dry sand, he threw himself down as if in the extreme stages of exhaustion.

For some minutes he lay where he was, but then the waves now beginning to lap round him, he struggled to his feet again and with unsteady steps mounted upon the seawall. Marle House was then not 20 yards from him and, against the faint starlight, its walls stood out as a deeper shadow of the night. He gasped in amazement; and a great thankfulness surged through him as he perceived there were lights streaming from two windows.

Stumbling down the land side of the seawall, he made for the lighted window nearer to him, but his strength was not quite equal to the journey, and he sank down on to the ground when only a few yards away. He saw the window was open at the top and was about to call out for help, when what he heard made him stifle his cry.

A man was speaking inside the room and his words came clearly and distinctly. "But after we've spied out the place where we are to go, and it comes to the actual shooting, then we'll all use our guns together, so that it can't be proved which of us killed them. With six shots between us, we ought to be quite certain of getting them both."

Almost fainting with exhaustion as he was, the half-drowned man had yet strength enough to express his amazement. "Great Scot!" he murmured. "But who are these people here? Shooting and killing—what the devil does it mean?"

Then suddenly, as if nerved to greater strength, he rose to his feet and, passing beyond the window, proceeded to walk slowly along the side of the house. He turned a corner and came upon a door.

But a great weakness again seized him and he had just strength enough to kick twice upon the door before he collapsed in a dead faint on to the ground.

The next thing he remembered was finding himself lying upon a bed, in a dimly lighted and almost bare room. He was wrapped in a blanket and could feel there was a hot-water bag at his feet and another against his heart. An elderly woman with a kind face was giving him something hot and fiery to drink out of a cup. Three men were standing behind her and, subconsciously, he noticed they did not look so friendly as the woman, and that their expressions, indeed, were frowning ones.

"There, you'll be all right now," said the woman smilingly. "Do you feel quite warm?" and, too weak to speak, he nodded his thanks.

Then one of the men came nearer and bent over him. "Who are you?" asked the man, "and how did you come to get there?" but he made no answer and just stared at his interrogator as if he did not understand.

A second man moved up and laid his fingers upon his pulse. "He's not strong enough yet to talk," he said. "His pulse is still very thready and poor. We shan't get anything out of him to-night. He'll have to have some sleep first," and after a few moments the three men left the room.

"Now, you're quite comfortable," said the woman, "and can go off to sleep. I'll leave the light burning and will come in every now and then to see if you are all right. So don't you be worrying about anything."

The man upon the bed had been quite correct in his subconscious idea that the three men had not been too pleased to see him lying there, and he would have realised it most fully could he but have overheard what they were now saying among themselves.

"A confounded nuisance," scowled Pellew. "We ought to have let him croak."

"And he'd have croaked easily enough," nodded Rising, the one-time medical practitioner, "if we had only left him for half an hour where we found him. He had no pulse at all." He shook his head. "Still, with this damned woman about, we couldn't have let him die. Curse her and her first aid."

Royne shook his head. "But it wouldn't have done to have had the body of a dead man found anywhere near here. It would have meant an inquest and all that. Then if any of us had had to give evidence about finding the body, the devil only knows what might have happened. Our photographs might even have appeared in the newspapers."

"But do you imagine I meant we should have left the body at our very front door?" queried Pellew, sarcastically. "Couldn't we have carried it half a mile or so away?"

"But that would have been risky," commented Royne. "We might easily have been seen as the fog's practically all gone now."

"Another thing," supplemented Rising. "Wherever he'd been found, when they came to make the post mortem it would have been seen he had not been drowned, as there would have been no water in his lungs. Then that in itself would have aroused a lot of interest. Can you imagine the newspapers with headlines. 'Unfortunate man swims ashore, but escapes drowning only to die of exposure!' A-ah—" his arm shot out in his agitation—"perhaps that explosion we heard had something to do with his coming here! I never thought of that." He looked uneasy. "Damnation, we may have publicity forced upon us, in spite of all we can do."

The next morning Royne and Rising were still asleep when Pellew burst into their room.

"Here, you fellows," he burst out excitedly, but for all that speaking in low tones. "Look what I've just found on the sands. This jacket and, inside it, this paper." He made a grimace of some amusement. "Our friend, whom we saved last night, and who is now eating bacon and eggs, is a ticket-of-leave man. See, the paper is not very clear because of these oil marks, and the salt water, but it's a ticket-of-leave licence, sure enough, and his name is Bracegirdle, or something like that." He nodded grimly. "I'm going to have a talk with the gentleman straight away."

Gilbert Larose, the one-time international detective, for the nearly-drowned man was he, had passed quite a good night, and, except that he was feeling very stiff and that his eyes were inflamed and sore from the salt water, was very much his strong, vigorous self again.

Going over in his mind all that had happened the previous night, he was of opinion he was a very fortunate man for, until he had turned over from his back when within a hundred yards of the shore, he had not had the remotest idea whether he was close to land or half a dozen miles away from it. He had been quite aware, however, that he could not keep himself afloat much longer.

He had left Great Yarmouth the previous morning, in the motor boat Annette, belonging to his wife's cousin, in company with Kenneth Bracegirdle, the ex-convict.

All had gone well with them until they were close to the South-West Gunfleet buoy, in the King's Channel, and making for the River Crouch. Then a thick fog had suddenly descended upon them, blotting out all view of everything beyond a few yards, and he had thought it best to anchor, hoping that in a few minutes the fog would disappear as quickly as it had come.

He had sent the man down into the cabin to prepare a meal and was sitting on the bow of the boat with his legs dangling over the side, idly watching the sullen-looking water streaming by.

Then he did not know exactly what happened, but he found himself suddenly struggling in the sea, with his head spinning like a top and a feeling that his eardrums were going to burst. He had a confused recollection of having heard a most tremendous clap of thunder.

His thoughts, however, soon began to take definite shape and, perceiving that the surface of the sea was covered with oil, he realised there must have been an explosion on the boat. Then, seeing no pieces of floating wreckage anywhere about, he knew the boat must have sunk like a stone and taken his companion down with it.

He turned over on to his back and allowed himself to drift with the tide.

All that followed afterwards was like a dreadful dream. He felt so stunned and giddy that his brain would not function properly, but he thought he must have been drifting for hours and hours, with each minute the sea becoming colder and colder and his finding it more and more difficult to keep himself from going under.

Then he remembered at last reaching the shore and throwing himself down in exhaustion. He thought he must have fainted. Next, he remembered, and, strangely enough, his recollection was very clear there, sitting under a window and hearing someone say they must all shoot together, so that no one would know whose bullets had actually killed two men.

This remark stood out most clear-cut in his mind, and his professional instincts returning, he began to dwell upon the situation, turning it over and over in his mind, in his waking moments during the night.

The men in this house, he told himself, were planning cold-blooded murder. So, naturally, they had not been pleased that a stranger had been suddenly thrust among them, and he could quite understand why they had been regarding him with such unfriendly eyes as they had stood round the bed.

He had sensed instinctively then that it had been only the woman who had had any sympathy with him in his half-dead condition.

The next morning, with his strength coming back and his perceptions now perfectly clear, he slowly formed the resolve to find out what this talk about shooting signified. It would be just such an adventure as he would love; and the more risk he ran the greater the thrill he would get out of it.

In one sense, things could not be more fortunate. He was sure the motor boat had been dragged to the bottom by its heavy engine, and so, many days might elapse before it was reported missing. He was supposed to have gone for a fortnight's cruise round the west coast, and, therefore, no anxiety would be felt by his family if they did not hear from him at once. Besides, he would certainly find some means of soon communicating with his wife and letting her know that all was well with him.

Yes, by hook or by crook he must remain in this house to find out what he could!

So, as he ate the breakfast the woman had brought in to him, he was busy formulating plans and thinking what story he would tell the men when they came in to question him, as, of course, they would soon do.

He had just finished his meal and was sitting up in bed, still wrapped in a blanket, when Pellew entered the room, carrying a coat, which, however, he held behind him.

"Hullo!" said Pellew, "and do you feel all right now?"

Larose's heart gave a great bump, for he recognised the voice as being that of the man whose remark he had overheard when sitting under the window.

"Yes, thank you," he replied a little shakily, "and I'm very grateful to you."

Pellew eyed him with a frown. "Who are you and what happened?" he asked sharply.

"Explosion on a motor boat," replied Larose slowly. "She sank and I swam ashore. I was swimming for hours."

"Where abouts were you?" asked Pellew.

Larose seemed uncertain. "Somewhere near the Gunfleet buoy," he said. "We had anchored when the fog came down."

"What boat was it?" was the next question.

For a moment Larose hesitated, but then, not knowing if any wreckage had, after all, been washed ashore, he thought it best to speak the truth. "Motor-boat Annette," he replied. "She belonged to Mr. Harding, of King's Lynn."

"Was he on board?" asked Pellew.

"Yes, he was there. We were there together."

"What became of him?"

Larose shook his head. "He must have been drowned. He was in the cabin and the boat sank at once. The engine must have dragged her down. I called out when I was in the water, but he didn't answer and everything had disappeared."

"Were you the mechanic?"

"Yes, I worked for him."

"What's your name?"

Larose hesitated. Then he turned his eyes away and looked out of the window. "Henry," he said. "Henry Wood."

Instantly then Pellew thrust forward the coat he had all along been keeping out of sight, and asked with a note of sternness in his tone. "Is this yours?"

Larose looked hard at the coat and took a long time to answer, for in a lightning flash of thought he had somehow been put upon his guard. The question had been asked most deliberately, and his interrogator was now regarding him queerly out of half-closed eyes.

"Y-e-s," he replied, and then he added feebly. "No-o, I'm not quite sure!"

Always a quick-tempered man, and easily roused, Pellew burst out angrily, "Nonsense, of course, you know it's yours and you are lying to me about your name, too. You are—" he whipped the ticket-of-leave licence from one of the pockets of the coat and scrutinised it with puckered eyes—"you are something Bracegirdle, ah, I have it, Kenneth Bracegirdle. That's who you are!"

Larose would have liked to have chuckled. Here was he, determined to find out all he could about these men whom he believed to be crooks, and now this one was playing into his hands. As crooks themselves, they would be less likely to be suspicious of a man who had himself been in prison.

So, blinking hard in apparent confusion at being found out, but at the same time a little defiantly, he said with more strength than he had hitherto shown. "Yes, that's me. I've just done a stretch."

"What for?" snapped Pellew.

"Burglary!" said Larose laconically, "I got ten years."

"Ten years for burglary!" exclaimed Pellew. His eyes glinted. "Then if you got ten years for that it means that you were carrying a gun with you!"

Larose nodded. "Yes, I was." He spoke boldly. "But no one has anything against me now. I've done my time and it's all over and done with. I was released on ticket, as you've found out, and I intend to go straight"—as a cunning look came into his eyes—"if the damned police let me alone and don't interfere with me."

"You say you are a motor mechanic?" said Pellew thoughtfully. "Then are you any good at your work?"

Instantly Larose sensed the question was not an idle one, but he bridled up as if it annoyed him. "For sure, I am. It was my job to keep all the prison lorries going; and a lot of old crocks they were."

Pellew seemed pleased and proceeded to settle himself down comfortably in a chair. "Tell me about yourself," he said quietly. "I may be able to help you to another job." He spoke sympathetically. "I've read how the police hound you fellows down and don't give you a chance to make good. I've always thought it a damned shame. How did you come to get caught?"

Larose felt quite sure he had taken Pellew's measure correctly, and that the worse he made himself out to be, the better light he would stand in his eyes. So he spoke a little boastfully of his cleverness, and by what ill-fortune it was he had been caught. Then he gave so many circumstantial details about so many things connected with prison life that Pellew, as a one-time convict, was speedily convinced he was speaking the truth.

He mentioned the names of the detective who had arrested him and with muttered imprecations, that of the judge before whom he had been tried. Then he spoke bitterly of his years in prison, but how he had 'stuck it' and so earned good conduct marks. He said he had come out only three weeks previously, and did not know now what he should do. He had no relatives or friends, and thought he should try to get to one of the colonies.

Larose frowned. "I don't see why I should tell anyone about it," he said slowly. "I'd rather it was thought I was dead." He spoke angrily. "I tell you the police never leave the ticket men alone."

Pellew heard him through to the end, and then asked. "Well, and where are you going now to tell about the motor boat having gone down?"

And everything he had said appeared most satisfactory to Pellew, as it did also to Rising and Royne when the conversation was repeated to them later.

"And he may be just the fellow we want," said Pellew. "We'll get him to have a go at that engine, and we can be sure that for his own sake he won't talk. He seems a very intelligent man and a bit above the class of the ordinary mechanic."

So, a couple of hours later Larose, with his clothes dried and a pair of shoes lent to him, was escorted to the shed at the mouth of the River Crouch to give his opinion as to what was wrong with the engine of the launch.

Upon their way across the marsh, he pleased them all again by appearing to be wholly incurious about everything, and generally taciturn and short of speech. When they pointed to the little town of Burnham about three miles away, he did not seem to be in the least interested.

"I don't know these parts at all," he grunted. "I've lived all my life in the North," and he added as if it were quite an ordinary and every-day affair "I was sentenced in York."

Introduced to the roomy thirty-six feet motor launch, he made no comment, and after one careless look round concentrated his attention upon the engine.

"We can get fifteen miles an hour out of her sometimes." remarked Pellew, eyeing him intently, and curious to find out if he thought the size of the engine unusual.

Larose did not lift his eyes. "That's not good enough." he commented. "You should get much more than fifteen. Probably you are not using the right oil."

The engine being started, he at once announced what was wrong. "Bearings want taking up," he said, "and that noise means some of the gudgeon pins are loose."

"You can put them right?" queried Pellew.

"Yes," he nodded, "but I'll not start until tomorrow. I'm too stiff and shaky today."

So he was taken back to Marle House and installed in the regions belonging to the housekeeper. But all day long he hardly spoke a word to her, the conversation being very one-sided. In a chatty way, however, the woman told him the names of the three men and that they were 'on the Stock Exchange.' He formed the opinion at once that there was nothing wrong about Mrs. James. She was quite harmless and certainly not in the confidence of her employers if they were up to anything unlawful. Concerning the latter, he had to confess that his first impressions were very puzzling. If he were not quite certain of the remark he had heard through the window, he would have said they were ordinary, inoffensive men, all educated but with Pellew of rather a coarser and rougher type than the other two.

The following morning Pellew and Rising left for the city as usual, Royne remaining behind and, on the pretext of helping Larose, kept a good eye upon him.

But it soon seemed to Royne there was nothing in Larose's attitude to arouse the slightest suspicion. On the contrary, long before the morning was out, Royne was quite convinced they had nothing to fear from the curiosity of this ex-convict motor mechanic. The man was quick and capable in his work, but, apart from that, appeared to be dull and heavy-witted.

But if Royne was satisfied, Larose was not. There were undoubtedly several things about the motor launch which were mysterious. It was heavily engined and, instead of the 15 miles an hour Pellew had so pointedly spoken of, it was capable of doing anything between 30 and 40. Also, the cabin door was kept locked; and when Royne went inside for a couple of minutes he locked it again when he came out.

For the time being, however, it was not in the launch that Larose's interest lay. It was the contemplated shooting that was intriguing him; and he realised quite clearly that as long as he was working on the engine he was no nearer to finding out what he wanted to.

Then, when back at Marle House in the evening, and explaining everything to Pellew and Rising, he so confused them with technical details that they finally realised he must be taken up to the city to get the parts himself. But he saw plainly they were annoyed about it.

Annoyance, however, would hardly have described their feelings had they known exactly what Larose's thoughts were as he lay, wide-eyed and thinking hard, in bed that night.

He was puzzling over what their real occupations were, being quite sure that they none of them had anything to do with the Stock Exchange. He had asked for a pencil to draw one of the new parts for the oil-pump he had said he must have, and there had not been one in the house! Neither did any of them possess a fountain pen; and so resort had to be made to Mrs. James's scratchy nib, and a twopenny bottle of ink upon one of the shelves of the kitchen dresser.

Men on the Stock Exchange without either pencils or a fountain pen in their waistcoat pockets! It was preposterous.

Then were they employes of some stockbroker or working in an office? No, certainly not! Men in subordinate positions did not own a costly Bentley car and take days off to go fishing whenever they wanted to—Mrs. James had told him that—and yet, further, there was the possession of that expensive motor launch to be accounted for. Added to all this, they smoked good cigars and had shared two bottles of vintage Burgundy between them with their dinner that night.

Then what were their occupations?

He must find out, and then, surely, he would be nearer learning whom they were proposing to murder. He did not think the murders were a matter of the next few days, but depended upon some particular happening beforehand. The scene for the crime was to be 'spied out' first, and then what Pellew had referred to as 'the actual shooting' was to take place at some convenient moment when things were propitious.

Then he asked himself how his journey with them up to the city on the morrow was going to help him, and he frowned in perplexity. He did not know, but devoutly hoped he would be able to pick up some clue he could follow. He would be all eyes and ears, and it would be very bad luck if he did not see or hear something.

And his expectations were certainly justified there, although they undoubtedly would not have been if he had not had the eye of a hawk and let nothing escape him.

Just before eight o'clock they left Marle House in the big Bentley. Larose occupied a seat at the back, with Royne sitting next to him. The car was driven up to the city as far as the Mansion House. Then it was pulled up and he was told he was to make the remaining part of the journey with Royne as his only companion.

For a moment it seemed as if Royne were going to take an omnibus but, looking at his watch, he hailed a taxi and they both got inside.

They were driven to a motor accessory shop in Long Acre and there Larose selected the tools and parts he wanted. He purposely took as long as possible, for he saw Royne, for some reason he did not understand, was in a hurry. But twenty minutes was as long as he could make the business hang out, and then Royne whisked him quickly into the Tube en route for Liverpool street station, where, so he was informed, they were to catch the 10.30 train to Burnham.

"And well take something to eat with us," added Royne, "so that we can go straight on with the engine."

Larose was not surprised. He had felt certain they would not allow him to learn where their place of business was, but the fact that he was now being bundled back to the Essex coast, almost, indeed, seemed as if he were their prisoner, and made him doubly sure they had something very sinister to hide.

But he had not made his journey for nothing, for he knew now, when once he could get away from Marle House, where he would start upon their trail.

It had come about in this way.

Passing through the East End, Pellew had made the mistake of taking the road he apparently always did and, when proceeding through Aldgate, a man standing outside a big garage there had recognised him and put his hand to his forehead as the car had passed.

No one in the car had acknowledged the salutation, but Larose had noticed it, and experienced a great thrill of triumph accordingly.

"He knows them," he had breathed exultantly, "and quite likely it is there they garage the car every day when they come up. It is probably washed and cleaned there, too, for I saw no pails or leathers in the shed at Marle House, and this car is well kept and looked after. Yes, they are known to that man right enough."

For the ensuing three days Larose worked energetically upon the engine of the motor launch, with Royne always in close attendance upon him. He was intending now to get away as quickly as possible, and all the time going over in his mind how he could manage it without exciting any suspicion in them that he was not what he had made himself out to be.

Then suddenly, the unpleasant thought came to him that if they were planning the murder of two men, the murder of a third would not greatly trouble them. They could easily knock him on the head and bury him somewhere on the lonely marshes, or easier still, take him out in the motor launch and stun him and throw him overboard!

The idea of this last happening was strengthened when, upon the Thursday night, Pellew was told the engine would be all finished on the morrow.

"Good, then we'll try her out on Saturday," he said, "and see what sort of business you've made of it. Then, if you like, well keep you on for a couple of weeks or so to do some odd jobs about the house." He smiled most pleasantly. "Then you'll go away with enough money in your pocket to see you through until you get regular work somewhere."

But Larose was now determined to get away on the Friday night. He had not liked the look of Pellew's smile. Still, he was racking his brains how he could bolt without exciting their suspicions and yet leave behind a good reason for his having gone away.

Then the solution of the whole matter came to him on the Friday evening when he and the housekeeper had just finished their evening meal.

Pellew came into the kitchen and told the woman he wanted her to go into Southminster the next morning and pay some bills, and he gave her a number of notes which Larose saw her put into one of the drawers of the dresser. But he had also seen her count them first and add them up to seven pounds.

The very thing, he told himself in great relief. He would take the money and go off in the middle of the night. Then they would think he had just got tired of working for them and had lapsed back into his old criminal's ways.

He was quite sure they would make no hue and cry after him, but thought they would be glad he had gone off in that way. Having robbed them, they would be certain he would not dare to mention anything about them and would hold his tongue about ever having been in that part of Essex.

So that night, keeping himself awake with a great effort, about half an hour before he judged it would be getting light, he dressed himself and, having taken the money from the drawer and also a pair of good shoes belonging to Rising to add an artistic touch to his flight, crept out of the kitchen window and made his way boldly to Southminster.

There, he caught the early train to London, and was so confident that he had gauged the situation correctly that it was not until he was well away from Liverpool Street station and actually walking down Fenchurch street, that he gave a thought to the idea that perhaps the police had been notified and might have been waiting for him upon the arrival of the train.


Upon the following Monday morning, about the time when he judged the three men would be arriving in the city, altogether altered in appearance and at a discreet distance, he was watching the garage in Aldgate street.

And he had not five minutes of anxiety, for the Bentley appeared with them all inside it, and turned into the garage even earlier than he had expected. Then Royne came out first and walked briskly down Crutched Friars to be followed almost immediately by Rising and Pellew who however, went up Fenchurch street.

Shadowing these two, Larose saw them part very soon, with Pellew going on to Mincing lane. It was Pellew then, he followed, and he tracked him down to Great Tower street and ultimately saw him turn into Curtain lane and walk into the premises of what he found out a couple of minutes later were those of the Malaga Wine and Spirit Company. He was contemplating a long wait to make sure if they were Pellew's final destination for the day when, strolling idly by, to his amazement he caught sight of Royne now in his shirt-sleeves, and an apron, sweeping the steps of the entrance to the warehouse.

"Gosh," he exclaimed, "then this is probably where they all three go. This is their business 'on the Stock Exchange.' Then why the devil are they keeping it so dark? It must mean something fishy!"

All day long then, at one end or other of the lane, he kept watch. During the morning, a couple of apparent customers went into the warehouse, and later, he caught a glimpse of Rising showing one of them out. At half-past 12 he trailed Royne to a public-house and saw him come out with three covered luncheons and three pint pots upon a large tray. Later, he trailed him again when he took the lunches back.

Not a soul went near the warehouse during the afternoon, and at 4 o'clock Pellew came out and proceeded leisurely to the garage. Larose had followed him and saw Rising and Royne both turn up there within two minutes of each other and then with no delay the Bentley came out and was driven Essex-wards along Commercial road.

"Well, that's that," muttered Larose, "and now what the devil am I to do next?"

But he did not waste much time in considering, and a few minutes later was back once more in Curtain lane and now giving the outside of the warehouse a much closer inspection than he had hitherto thought it wise to do.

Then, for the first time, he saw there was a 'To Let' notice behind one of the windows on the first floor, and, from its dirty and faded appearance, it had evidently been up there for a long time. He perceived now, too, that there was another door to the building, evidently providing a separate entrance to the upper floors.

His eyes gleamed. "Splendid!" he exclaimed. "I'll get hold of the keys and see if I can do any good up there. The building's very old and probably in a bad state of repair. So there's just the chance that by taking up a board or two in one of the rooms above I may be able to hear something of what's being said below. At any rate, it's worth trying."


CHAPTER III—IN THE NET

The next morning a businesslike looking man, giving his name as Bedford, called at the offices of Messrs. Howard and Jones, estate agents, Gresham street, city, to make enquiries about some premises be had heard they had to let in Curtain lane.

He was at once informed that the premises could only be leased for a period of nine months, as at the expiration of that time the building was going to be pulled down.

The man intimated that he had heard that already and it was the main reason why he was applying to their firm. He wanted accommodation for only a few months, when other premises would be available for him. He represented a firm of Fleming leather merchants; and it was really a place for temporary storage of goods that he wanted. If the premises were suitable, he would take them for six months.

Then he asked for the loan of the key for twenty-four hours. He said he was expecting his partner to arrive during the day from the Midlands, but the latter might not be free to go over the building until late afternoon, or, indeed, it might be the early evening. He referred them to the manager of the Regent street branch of the Consolidated Bank, who would vouch for his respectability.

The estate agents thereupon rang up the bank; and the reference being found satisfactory, the key was handed over. Larose noted it was a Warren one and evidently belonged to a lock of quite modern make.

So that afternoon soon after four o'clock, when he had seen the three members of the Malaga Wine and Spirit firm start back upon their way home, he let himself into the building in Curtain lane and proceeded to walk up to the upper floors. He was carrying a small bag, containing some tools.

The agent had told him that he would find the rooms in a very bad state of repair, and, upon gaining the first floor, he found the warning fully justified. In many places the plaster from the ceilings had fallen down in big patches, the plaster upon the walls was also crumbling away, and the floor boards seemed in a very unsafe condition.

"Exactly," smiled Larose, as he looked round, "and there should be no difficulty at all in getting up some of these boards and obtaining a good view of the ventilators opening into the rooms of those beauties below. Then I'll not only be able to hear, but also, with any luck, to see a bit as well."

An hour later he was quite satisfied with what he had done. He had exposed eight ventilators, four on either side of the rooms below, and had obtained quite a good idea of the layout of the offices of the Malaga Wine and Spirit Company. Indeed, from one ventilator which was partly broken away, he could get a clear and uninterrupted view of the inner office where, judging by the big table desk, the ledgers upon a shelf and a small safe in the comer, he was sure any confidential business of the firm would be carried on.

Quickly replacing all the floorboards, but in such a manner that they could be very easily raised next time, he removed all signs of his work, and left the building.

His next visit was to a locksmith in Commercial road; and, producing the key of the front door of the warehouse, he asked that a duplicate he made at once.

"And I want it by ten o'clock tonight," he said, "and I'll pay you at double rates if you have it done to the minute."

The locksmith was a superior looking man, with an honest, open face, and he eyed Larose suspiciously. "But this belongs to a Warren lock," he said sharply, "and you can get a duplicate at once from the firm by its number. Why don't you go direct to their place in Hoxton? They don't shut until six." He spoke dryly. "It's only a tuppenny bus ride, and they'll be able to tell you then to whom the lock was first sold. They keep a strict register."

In a lightning flash Larose realised the very awkward position he was in. He had not given a thought to the possibility of the Warren lockmakers being so close at hand, and now—this man had only to give them a ring, and, in a few minutes, machinery would be put in motion which would speedily acquaint the estate agents with what was gong on.

He put a bold face on the matter. "Exactly, my friend," he said sternly; "but it happens I have no wish that anyone should know a duplicate is being made." He shook his head. "No, I'm not one of the criminal classes. Indeed, I used once to be an Inspector in Scotland Yard myself. My name is Larose, Gilbert Larose. You may have heard of me." He laughed lightly. "In my time, I've handcuffed quite a few gentlemen in this part of the East End."

The locksmith stared hard. "You say you are Gilbert Larose?" he asked. "Then it was you who got L'Anson, the Mile End road murderer!"

"Yes," nodded Larose, "L'Anson, the painter, who killed the old woman in the little paper shop. I ran him down when he was hiding in a barge off Limehouse Causeway. He was hanged ten weeks later."

"Who tried him?" asked the locksmith very slowly.

"Lord Harding," replied Larose promptly, "and the trial lasted five days. L'Anson's counsel put him in the box, and he nearly got off, as he'd left no fingermarks behind him. Happily, however, he'd taken some cough lozenges the old woman was known to have bought at a chemist's in Tile street, and I had found them on him. He lied clumsily, in trying to explain where he'd got them and that settled it. The jury didn't believe him."

The locksmith's face broke into a smile. "But I believe you, sir," he said. "You are Mr. Larose, all right, to be able to remember all those details." He nodded. "I was particularly interested in the trial, because the chemist who sold the cough drops to the old woman happened to be my brother." He looked at his watch. "Well, I'll make the key for you. Come back at ten."

So that night Larose posted back the original key to the estate agents, with a covering letter intimating that the premises were not suitable, and long before nine o'clock the next morning was on watch above the rooms occupied by the Malaga Wine and Spirit Company.

He had taken up floor-boards again to expose the ventilators below and, wearing rubber-soled shoes, was ready to dart from place to place as occasion might require.

Royne appeared at the warehouse first and then came Rising, but Pellew did not arrive until after ten.

"I've got them all right," announced the latter gaily. "Come into the office and we'll have a good look at them," and in a few seconds Larose was stretched prone upon the flooring above the inner room below. His face was thrust down close to the ventilators and the three men were well in view.

Then, to his amazement, he saw Pellew take a small cardboard box from his back pocket, and, upon a sheet of paper spread on the desk, empty quite a large number of good-sized diamonds and emeralds.

"But I had to pay that brute £50 for the job," scowled Pellew, "and besides I know he's sneaked two of the diamonds. He made out there were two less than we counted. I'll never go to him again. He's not to be trusted; and, if he dared, I'm sure he'd tip us off to the police."

Larose watched them pore gloatingly over the precious stones, appraising their value and considering what they would get for them when later Pellew took them abroad to sell.

But suddenly a bell tinkled, and Royne and Rising left the office, while Pellew replaced the precious stones in his pocket.

Royne came back almost at once. "A gentleman to see you, sir," he announced loudly, and then he whispered grinningly. "They've bitten. It's a little Jap."

A few moments later a spick-and-span, well-dressed gentleman, of whose nationality there could be not the slightest doubt, entered the room.

"Mr. Pellew?" he asked and, when Pellew had bowed in assent, and the door was closed, he went on very quietly. "You are the gentleman who sent a certain letter somewhere asking for an interview to discuss a very important matter?"

"I write a good many letters," admitted Pellew cautiously. "It might have been that I wrote that I had some very good sherry to sell."

"But it might not have been," said the other with a snap. He spoke testily. "See here, Mr. Pellew, I never believe in wasting time. There are no witnesses and we can speak quite freely. My name is Miski, and I come from the Japanese Embassy. You wrote us last week that you were in the position of being able to sell a photographic copy of the plans of the new R.8 submarine they are building on the Mersey." He frowned. "Now, what made you write to us?"

"Because I know you have been trying to get hold of these plans for some time," replied Pellew boldly. "Last month, an agent of yours approached one of the workers in the submarine sheds on the Mersey, a man by the name of Duke, and offered him £500 if he could obtain them for you."

The Japanese shook his head. "That is news to me."

Pellew went on imperturbably. "He agreed to do so but, being caught with a camera upon him, broke down and confessed. The authorities, however, let him go as a decoy, hoping to catch your agent through him. But you had been shadowing this man Duke, and were able to warn your agent in time. Incidentally, the name your agent passes under is McHenry, and he speaks English perfectly, with a Scotch accent. His real name, however, is Bohme, and he was born in Munich."

"Oh," exclaimed his visitor sarcastically, "you imagine you are well informed!"

"I know I am," laughed Pellew, "and, from what I have just told you, you must certainly realise it, too. A man in my pay in the submarine sheds has been an amused spectator of all that has been going on!"

The Japanese was silent for a few moments. Then he asked, "And you say you have a copy of these plans to sell?" His voice hardened grimly. "But please understand, straightaway, that you will not be able to deceive us. I may tell you that I am myself an expert in submarine construction, and so shall know instantly if the plans are bona fide ones." He nodded significantly. "Apart from that, I have means of determining at a glance if the plans are the final ones passed by the Admiralty, so, of course, I shall want to examine them before any money is passed over."

"Naturally, you will!" exclaimed Pellew heartily. "I quite understand that." He spoke emphatically. "Still, I am absolutely certain these plans are the ones being used. The man I got them from dare not deceive me."

"Then have you offered them to anyone else?" asked the Japanese, eyeing him very hard.

"Certainly not!" lied Pellew indignantly. His face broke into a cunning smile. "In these days of multiple alliances against Britain, it is quite reasonable to suppose that many secrets are being pooled, and I shouldn't want to get caught out trying to sell the plans in several quarters."

"Hum!" remarked the Japanese. "And how much are you asking for them?"

"Two thousand pounds," replied Pellew.

"Much too much!" exclaimed the Japanese instantly. "Our limit would be £500!"

Pellew made a contemptuous gesture. "Then you won't get them from me, that's certain!" He appeared incredulous. "Why, I have agreed to pay the man who got them for me a thousand." His eyes glared. "Do you think we are going to risk getting ten or fifteen years' penal servitude for £250 apiece?"

The Japanese considered and then, as if subconsciously, looked round the room. "Have you got the plans here?" he asked.

Pellew seemed amused. "Certainly not! I don't run risks like that, and nothing will ever be found on me or in any house I am living in." He spoke in business-like tones. "No, if you are willing to buy these plans, you will arrange to meet me here one morning, and I'll drive in my own car to where they are hidden. No one will be able to follow us without our being aware of it, for I shall take you into the country." He nodded. "So, we can both be quite sure that we shall be safe."

"Then do you think we are likely to give you away?" asked the Japanese scornfully.

"No, I don't, sir," replied Pellew emphatically, "but I am guarding against it being found out I have got hold of these plans. In a matter like this I can trust no one absolutely; and I have a very profound respect for the British Secret Service. The man who is working for me says they are very active just now."

The Japanese regarded him curiously. "But how does it happen that you, as a wine merchant, have come into possession of these plans?"

Pellew scowled melodramatically. "Partly chance and partly because I want my revenge." He spoke with an assumption of great candour. "I was in the Government service myself once, but was dismissed, most unjustly, for something I had not done. That is the revenge part. The other part is that once, when staying in Liverpool, I made the acquaintance of a man who works in a certain shipyard on the Mersey. One night we got drunk together and he spilled a lot of secret information which he should not have done. When we were sober again, I remembered what he had said, and he was very frightened when I referred to it. However, I thought I saw a way of earning some money, and soon talked him into agreeing with me." He smiled and bowed. "That is how I come to be talking now to a gentleman whom I am quite sure must be a distinguished son of his great and progressive country."

The Japanese made no comment, and a long silence followed. Then Pellew said. "Well, you think it over and let me know. I won't approach anyone else in the meantime."

"Two thousand pounds is a large sum," said the Japanese thoughtfully, "and we shall have to consider whether the plans are worth that amount to us. We shall have to wait, too, until a particular member of our staff comes back from a short journey." He nodded. "Yes. I'll let you know in about ten days, say Monday week."

"And please understand it will be for an appointment if you do," said Pellew. "I'll name a time for you to come here, and then I'll drive you to a certain place where you can be quite sure we shan't be seen. There you can examine the plans at your leisure. Oh, one thing more, please. The money must be all in notes not higher than £10, and they must be ones that have already been in circulation and in no sequence of numbers. You understand, don't you?"

The Japanese nodded, and Pellew proceeded to show him out of the building. Then, the moment he had gone, all three members of the wine firm went at once into the private office.

"I think I've clicked," announced Pellew, "but we shan't know for certain until he phones up. He's an unpleasant little beast, and very distrustful. He gave me a nasty, suspicious look when he asked me if I'd sold them to any Power, and it's quite likely he may ask that Baltic crowd if I've been to them."

"Damnation!" swore Royne. "If he finds out you have it's quite likely he may tip you off to those Secret Service devils out of spite."

"I thought of that instantly," said Pellew, "and told him I never kept the plans near me. I said if he bought them I'd give them to him somewhere right out in the country where we could not be followed." He frowned. "Now there is one thing which is damned annoying. This fellow is not like that conceited fop from the Baltic Embassy; and he says he is an expert in submarine construction. So he may notice at once that those measurements of the amid-ship balance tanks are missing, and, if he does, I'm certain he won't buy the plans. He'll want every ounce of his pound of flesh."

"But we may get the measurements before he comes here again," said Royne. "They should be sent off in a few days."

However, any further speculation on that point was cut short, for the telephone upon the desk rang sharply and Pellew picked up the receiver.

"Oh, that you, Mr. Menns?"

"Yes, it's Mr. Pellew himself speaking.. .. Certainly. I've considered the matter and am quite prepared to deliver the two lots of sherry at the price quoted! ... Oh, you want to see me about, it?... Yes, I'm free this evening.. .. Yes, yes!. .. Where?. .. Oh, I'm to look out for you!. .. All right, sir, I'll be there. Good-bye."

He put back the receiver and turned to the others. "He'll be at the Marble Arch tonight on the tick of seven, and I'm to follow him. He wants more assurances from me, but, as he doesn't know the exact date yet, only that it must be before the twelfth of next month. I don't suppose he'll be passing over any cash tonight." He smiled dryly. "Really, what with selling precious stones, our dealings with the Embassies, our dope smuggling, and now the job of bumping off, we shall have our hands quite full for the next three weeks. After that I think we ought to take a holiday."

"And so you shall, my friend," murmured Larose savagely, with his eyes glued to the ventilator, "you and the other two blackguards as well." He drew in a deep breath. "Gosh, what a nest of crime I've found! Thieves and spies already, and murderers within about three weeks!"

An hour and longer passed by and then, there being nothing more of particular interest going on in the rooms below, Larose rose stiffly from his recumbent position upon the floor and proceeded to regale himself with the sandwiches and fruit he had come provided with in his bag.

Royne had a sleep after the heavy lunch he had eaten. Rising read the newspapers, and Pellew practised hard at some sleight of hand tricks with a pack of cards. After one quick, furtive glance at the pack as he shuffled, the latter seemed to be trying to deal himself certain particular cards and he grunted with satisfaction whenever he was successful.

The afternoon passed without event, until it was getting on towards four o'clock and then Larose, who was still lying on the floor just above the ventilator, made a stealthy movement to change his position, because of the stiffness of his limbs.

Then, inadvertently, as he was levering himself on one of the rafters, his hand slipped on to the lathe and plaster of the ceiling underneath, and to his horror he felt it give way. A moment's dreadful apprehension, and he heard a lump of plaster fall on to the floor below and saw through the ventilator, the startled face of Pellew who had suddenly looked up.

"Hullo, you chaps," called out Pellew, when he had taken in what had happened; "just come and look at this! We shall be having the whole damned place about our ears soon."

Then, a minute later, he rang up the estate agents and, getting in touch with one of the heads of the firm, a short conversation ensued. "All right," he grumbled at last, "but if you're not here almost straightaway you must leave it until tomorrow, because the warehouse will be closed soon after four," and he put back the receiver.

He turned to the others. "It was Howard himself I was speaking to," he said, "and he's coming straightaway. He said he mightn't be five minutes." He grinned. "I frightened him that it looked as if the floor above was falling down."

Larose was aghast. When the agent arrived it was almost certain he would bring the other key with him and come upstairs. Then he, Larose, would be caught like a rat in a trap.

His movements were like lightning. He gave himself five minutes by his watch to clear up, and in that time, almost to the second, had softly put back every board he had taken up, repacked his tools in his bag and was tip-toeing down the stairs.

He had one dreadful moment as he let himself out of the street door, but to his intense relief there was no one about to see him leave, and a minute later he had left Curtain Lane well behind him.

"Whew, but that was a close shave," he whistled, "and things are not really safe yet! If they noticed the nails have been taken out of that particular board over where the plaster fell and it comes up with a flick of the finger, then that estate man may begin to think a bit and mention to them that someone borrowed the key last night." He whistled again. "Then the fat will be in the fire, right enough, for with any suspicions once aroused, they'll be able to pick up my traces all over the place where the other boards have been interfered with." He looked anxious. "Yes. I must go and see that bank manager at once and tell him what to say if anyone does ring up."

At one end of an upper floor of a large building in Whitehall is a corridor, shut off from the other parts of the building by a wicket gate stretching across the entrance to the corridor. A commissioner is always seated by the gate to make certain that no unauthorised people pass. The particular suite of rooms enclosed is known to the habitues of the building as the 'Chart Department,' but this designation, purposely, gives no indication of the nature of the work carried on there, for in reality it is the headquarters of the counter-espionage branch of the British Secret Service.

Five o'clock, upon the late afternoon of the day upon which Larose had been keeping his watch in Curtain Lane, was just striking when a rather roughly dressed man, carrying a bag and looking like a workman, presented himself at the wicket and announced to the commissionaire that he wanted to see Mr. Grant with no delay.

The commissionaire did not rise from his chair. "Have you got an appointment?" he asked.

"No, but my business is urgent," replied the man.

The commissionaire made no comment but touched an invisible bell push with his foot and almost immediately a big burly man appeared from a room just by the gate.

"Says he wants to see Mr. Grant," nodded the commissionaire, "but he's got no appointment."

The newcomer eyed the man frowningly. "What's your business?" he asked curtly.

"Private," replied the man, "private and urgent. Has Mr. Grant gone yet?"

The man made a motion with his head. "Come in here," he said. "I'll see," and the wicket being opened, he ushered the man into a small room where two clerks were seated, writing at desks, and went on, "Now, please. Open that bag. I want to see what's inside."

The man complied with a smile and, the investigation being apparently quite satisfactory, he was given a pencil and piece of paper and told to write his name upon it.

"And an envelope please," he demanded sharply when he had complied with the request. "My name's as private as my business."

The envelope being sealed, the other left the room with it, returning, however, in about two minutes. He now appeared pleasanter and less suspicious. "Follow me, please," he said. "Mr. Grant will see you almost at once."

Larose, for the man was he, was now ushered into a much better furnished room with a thick carpet and comfortable chairs, and was then left by himself. Very shortly, however, he heard voices getting louder and two men appeared through a door different from the one by which he had himself entered. Both men were elderly. One was slight and frail and very scholarly-looking, while the other was big and tall with a proud face. The latter carried himself importantly.

The man looking like a scholar at once came forward and shook hands with Larose. "Very pleased to see you Mr. Larose!" he exclaimed smilingly. "You're quite a stranger!" He turned to his companion. "My lord, this is Mr. Gilbert Larose! I expect you've heard of him, the one-time Inspector Larose of Scotland Yard and now the master of Carmel Abbey. Mr. Larose, this is Lord Hunkin, the First Lord of the Admiralty."

Lord Hunkin inclined his head gravely. He had stayed at Carmel Abbey in the lifetime of Sir Charles Ardane and knew that, upon the baronet's decease, Larose had married his very wealthy widow. So now he was very astonished to see Larose dressed so roughly, and with a decidedly dirty face.

Larose took in his thoughts and laughed lightly. "Pardon my general appearance, Mr. Grant," he said, "but I have been returning to my old calling for a few hours and have come to you in a great hurry." He turned briskly to Lord Hunkin. "Now, my meeting with you like this, my lord, could not possibly have been more opportune. I have something most important to disclose to you." He turned back to Mr. Grant. "May I have a few words with you both in your private room?"

"Certainly," agreed Mr. Grant, "at once," and he made a movement to the others to go in.

But Lord Hunkin looked at his watch and hesitated. "But, 'er, I have a very important appointment at half-past five, and I mustn't be late for it!"

"Good God!" exclaimed Larose sharply. "You'd be late for any appointment to hear what I've got to tell you!" He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I want to speak to you about those plans of the new R8 submarine! Copies of them are being hawked about for sale!"

The First Lord's eyebrows were lowered in an angry scowl. "What do you know about the R8 submarine at all?" he asked.

"Only," replied Larose, speaking quickly, "that the plans were passed as correct with no measurements of the inner tanks amidships being specified, that they bore the secret marking of the Admiralty, that the Baltic Embassy has already received photographic copies of them, and that in a few days an Eastern Embassy is likely to be receiving copies too."

The First Lord's eyes almost started from his head. Then, with a lightning movement, he stretched out and gripped Larose fiercely by the arm. "Are you sure you know this man, personally?" he asked hoarsely of Mr. Grant. "Are you sure he is that Larose?"

"Quite!" nodded Mr. Grant reassuringly. He spoke firmly. "And if he's come to tell us something, then we may be sure it's worth hearing."

Lord Hunkin let go of Larose's arm and they all went into Mr. Grant's double-doored private room. There, Larose quickly unfolded his tale, or as much as he intended to tell in the presence of the First Lord of the Admiralty.

He told how he had been shipwrecked and how he had suddenly become interested about the men in the lonely house upon the Essex shore, because he had overheard what one of them had said. Then he went on telling how he had made out he was a ticket-of-leave man, how he had worked upon the engine of their motor launch and why he had left them. Next, he related how he had tracked them down to the warehouse in Curtain lane, what he had heard when he was listening in the room above their office and, finally, the unfortunate happening of the broken ceiling, and how he fully expected their suspicions would have been aroused by what it was almost certain the estate agent would have told them.

All he kept back for Mr. Grant's ears alone was about Pellew's appointment that night near the Marble Arch.

They heard him out in silence and then Lord Hunkin exclaimed in great distress. "Dreadful, dreadful, for it means the traitor must be someone in whom we have implicit trust!" He pulled himself together and spoke briskly. "But now, we must raid both these places and arrest those men, wherever they are."

"No, no!" said Larose quickly. "If they've become suspicious and so are already warned we shall find out nothing. They'll just sit tight and say nothing, and we haven't a scrap of evidence against them. On the other hand, if their suspicions have not been aroused, we can just go easy and wait to get the traitor who is selling the plans. We know this Pellew is in communication with him about the missing measurements of those balance tanks."

"And another thing," said Mr. Grant. "Even if their suspicions have been aroused, they'll only be suspicious, for they can be certain of nothing. Then, in a day or two, if they find they are not being interfered with, they'll think they are quite safe and will carry on as before." He nodded assuringly to Lord Hunkin. "Yes, you leave them to me, my lord, and with the help of Scotland Yard they'll be able to do very little without our knowing."

Lord Hunkin turned to Larose. "Do you really think, Mr. Larose, that the plans are not in that warehouse in Curtain lane?"

Larose nodded. "Yes, I do, my lord. I've formed the opinion that this Pellew is a very capable and far-seeing man, and from the way he talked to that man from the Embassy, I'm quite sure he'll be taking no risks. I believe we should have drawn blank, even if we had been able to take them unawares and have raided both their places."

Lord Hunkin left a few minutes later and then Larose told Mr. Grant about Pellew's appointment that evening at the Marble Arch.

"But I'll follow that up," he said. He made a grimace. "That is if he goes there now. If he does, I'll see this Herr Menns he's going to meet and then trail the Herr and try to learn who he really is. That should help us considerably in finding out who are the two men to be murdered."

A few minutes before seven Larose was in the vicinity of the Marble Arch and soon caught sight of Pellew strolling slowly up. He stationed himself about a hundred yards behind him and awaited developments.

But he had not long to wait as his watch was just upon the tick of seven when he saw Pellew quicken his pace slightly and, passing into the Park, take one of the diagonal roads across in the direction of Kensington Gardens.

For a couple of hundred yards or so he was not able to determine whom Pellew was following, for a number of people were proceeding in the same direction, but presently a man in front detached himself from the others and moved off across the grass. Pellew then left the path too, and walking quicker than the other man, soon overtook him. Then the two walked side by side until they came upon an unoccupied seat under some trees, where they both sat down, obviously in earnest conversation together.

Larose dared not approach near, but worked his way round to behind them until he was in such a position that he could keep his eye upon them without their noticing him.

It was his intention that, when they parted, he would, if possible, come face to face with the man Pellew was talking to, so that he could take him all in and make certain exactly what manner of man he was before he followed him.

But, unhappily, this intention was foiled, for when Pellew's companion left him, after a few leisurely steps as if time were of no consequence, the latter suddenly started to walk so quickly in the direction back to the Marble Arch that Larose had not time to head him off, and so had to be content to follow behind. All that he could gather of his appearance then was that he was tall and of a good figure.

"He is no common man," thought Larose, "and from the way he walks I should certainly say he was of a forceful character, very purposeful and determined. He is smartly dressed, too."

Leaving the park by the Marble Arch, the man crossed the road and proceeded to walk quickly in the direction of Oxford Circus, with Larose following closer than ever behind; indeed, he was now only about a dozen yards away.

Suddenly the man slackened his pace, and for the moment Larose thought he was going to stop and speak to another man who was coming from the opposite direction. This second man was certainly intending to stop, for he almost halted and there was a smile of recognition upon his face. But the man Larose was following gave him a quick shake of the head and walked on without speaking. Larose saw the welcoming smile on the other's face change instantly into a rather annoyed frown.

"Hullo, hullo," murmured Larose as he passed the second man, "and what was the meaning of that? These fine gentlemen know each other, and No. 2 wanted to stop. But No. 1 wasn't having any, and No. 2 looked almost angry. Now I wonder——"

But no time was given him to speculate further, for, with a sudden wave of his arm, the man he was following hailed a taxi, and almost before he could realise what had happened, had stepped inside and slammed the door.

Larose glanced round like lightning, but there was no unoccupied taxi at hand, and to his intense mortification he saw the man driven away.

"XK29042," he muttered furiously, "and a lot of good that'll do me. He's on the crook, and it's a hundred to one he won't be driven right up to where he lives. What vile luck! I never even got the chance of having a good look at him! I shouldn't be able to recognise him again if he stood right in front of me!"

Then, suddenly, a flash of inspiration came to him. "A-ah, but what about that fellow who was stopping to speak to him! I may yet trail the wretch through him!"

He turned instantly and proceeded to walk quickly back in the direction of the Marble Arch, intently regarding all likely persons before he actually overtook them. But his period of anxiety was very short, for he soon spotted the man he was looking for. The latter was walking quite leisurely, as if he were only out for a stroll and had no particular object in view.

Larose passed him, went on for about fifty yards and then walked slowly back to meet him face to face.

The man was obviously a foreigner, and of Teutonic extraction. He was of medium height, by no means bad-looking, and had a strong and rather intelligent face. His eyes, however, were hard and frowning, and his expression was an arrogant one. He was smartly dressed, in well-cut clothes of the best quality.

Larose followed him up Oxford street and noted very soon what interest he seemed to be taking in everything. He scrutinised the passers-by intently, he looked into every shop window and then, at the Marble Arch, for a good quarter of an hour, stood watching the traffic.

Next he went into the park and at the same leisurely pace made his way to the bandstand. For a few minutes he stood listening rather superciliously, but then he took a seat and gave himself up to evident enjoyment of the music. He joined in the clapping every time at the conclusion of a piece.

"And isn't he like that Herr Bauer of theirs!" murmured Larose. "He might almost be his twin brother!" And then he added with all the assurance of a man who had never been in Germany. "Still those Germans are all very much alike."

The band performance over, the man proceeded to Hyde Park corner and mounted an eastward bound bus. He alighted at Piccadilly Circus; and, finally, Larose trailed him to a good-class private hotel in Bloomsbury, feeling quite confident that he had seen him settled for the night.

"And I must stick to him," Larose told himself, "for he's my only chance of getting on the trail of that other fellow!" He sighed. "But don't I wish I could make myself invisible and be in two places at once. I'd like to see what will be going on in Curtain lane tomorrow morning, and if they have really got any suspicions about anything."

As it happened, however, everything was quite peaceful and untroubled when the three arrived at the warehouse. The estate agent had not turned up, as he had promised the previous afternoon, and after waiting a quarter of an hour for him the warehouse had been closed. Pellew had stopped in town for the night.

But the next morning the three were all together again by nine o'clock, and Pellew was giving the other two his news. Von Ravenheim had not disclosed to him who were the two men to be got rid of, but had said he expected to be in a position to do so within a few days. He had also stated that he had really only wanted to meet Pellew again to be quite sure the latter had made up his mind to carry the matter through and to ask if he were going to do the shooting himself.

Pellew had told him that he had arranged for his brother, whom he could trust perfectly, to help him. He had also said that this brother was already wanted by the police.

But the conversation between the three of them was interrupted by the arrival of the estate agent, full of apologies that he had missed them the previous afternoon. He was shown the hole in the ceiling above the office, and then, accompanied by Pellew, proceeded up to the floor above.

They were gone some time and then the two came down again and went back into the office. Some conversation ensued and the telephone was used before the house agent finally left the building. Then Pellew, with a grim and frowning face beckoned Royne and Rising into the private office.

"Look here, you fellows," he said very solemnly, and there was a catch in his voice. "I believe that yesterday there was someone"—he pointed to the ceiling—"in that room above, listening through a broken ventilator to all that went on down here." He leant back in his chair, looking white and sickly. "Now, what do you say to that?"

"What do you mean?" asked Rising quickly. "What did you find up there?"

Pellew's eyes were hard and flinty. "Loosened boards all round the rooms, boards that had obviously been pulled up so that anyone lying down upon the floor could see and hear through every ventilator that opens down here. Listen. About half-past four the day before yesterday, a man called at Howard and Jones's and asked for the key of the floors above. He gave the name of Bedford, and he said he was a leather merchant and a prospective tenant, and he pitched some cock and bull story about a partner coming down from Birmingham late that afternoon and he wanted to go over these rooms with him directly he arrived. He said he was well-known to the manager of the Regent street branch of the Consolidated Bank, and, after Jones had phoned up to see if it was all right, the key was given to him. He returned the key through the post the same night with a single line of writing to say that the premises were unsuitable."

Pellew paused a moment to draw in a deep breath and then took out and lit a cigarette before resuming.

"Then when Jones and I went up just now and found these suspicious loosened boards and the dust upon the floor disturbed as if someone had been lying down, Jones suddenly comes out with the story of the man borrowing the key. So I made him ring up the bank manager just now"—his eyes glared—"and what do you think was the result?"

"But he couldn't have faked that telephone call?" gasped Rising.

"No," exclaimed Pellew angrily, "but the bank manager was most evasive and refused any information about this Bedford, where he lived or anything more about him. He said he had been requested to say nothing because his client was negotiating a big business deal and did not want to be forestalled. Now what do you think of it?"

"But who could he have been?" asked Rising breathlessly, "and how could he have got in yesterday if he had posted back the key the previous night?"

"Bah!" scoffed Pellew contemptuously, "he may have left the door unlocked, wedged to with a bit of paper, or he may have had another key made that night!" He threw out his hands. "As to who he was—who knows?"

Royne whistled. "Whew, and if anyone was up there all yesterday, he'd have seen you showing us those diamonds and have heard everything you said to that Jap!"

"Exactly!" nodded Pellew, white almost to the lips, "and if whoever was listening had anything to do with those cursed Secret Service people we may be raided any moment." He spoke despairingly. "They'll find the plans in that safe and the diamonds in my pocket."

"Then we must get rid of everything at once," cried Rising. "We'll bury those plans straightaway!"

"Wait a moment, wait a moment!" urged Royne, who was the calmest of the three. "Now don't let us lose our heads. You may be imagining everything, Pellew, for if we had been going to be raided, it would have been done before this. Why, man, it's after half-past ten, and the Secret Service people wouldn't have waited five minutes! They'd have been waiting here for us when we came in." He laughed scornfully. "Whoever loosened those boards may have done it years ago! Don't forget those floors have been vacant long before we came here."

"I know all that," snapped Pellew, "but what about that piece of plaster falling down yesterday? Someone had shaken the floor and that brought it down. Besides"—he paused impressively—"when I knelt down just now and placed my head below the flooring to look into the room through that broken ventilator there was a distinct smell of oranges. Whoever had been there had come provided with food to keep a long watch!"

But Royne was not impressed. "I don't believe it," he said sharply. "In a stuffy closed-up room there are lots of queer smells hanging about, and you may easily have been mistaken!" He shrugged his shoulders. "At any rate, the mischief's done now, and we can only wait and see. If nothing happens today everything is your imagination."

The morning was one of dreadful apprehension for Pellew, and, to a lesser extent, an uneasy one for the other two. But after a bottle of champagne and a good luncheon a much more rosy view of things possessed them, and by the time they were ready to leave in the afternoon, even Pellew had almost put away his fears. His hands trembled, however, as he took the set of plans out of the safe and transferred them to his pocket.

"But of one thing I'm determined," he said. "In future I'll never have these damned photographs anywhere near me again. We'll put them in a tin and hide them somewhere under the stones of the seawall this very night." He sighed. "Then I shall sleep in peace."

The journey home was quite uneventful, although all the way down Rising was looking through the back window of the car to see if they were being followed.

But by bedtime even Pellew was laughing at the fears, and all three of them were apparently as carefree as ever. Life was very pleasant for people who had brains, they told themselves, and it was only the mugs who never had any of its good things! Yes, they were certainly quite safe now, and if any danger had been threatening them it had passed over.

They did not dream that every minute of that day they had been under surveillance, that their car had been noted at every town they had passed through upon their way home, and that an invisible cordon had been thrown round the marsh.

Henceforth they were to be marked men until such time as the British Secret Service and Scotland Yard should consider it expedient to close the net and draw them in.


CHAPTER IV.—THE MYSTERIOUS FOREIGNER

Towards noon the following day Inspector McKinnon, of Scotland Yard, was ushered into Room 13, where Mr. Grant, Lord Hunkin, and two officials of the Counter Espionage Department were awaiting him.

The inspector was a big, stout man with a heavy face. He looked as if he were always very sure of himself.

"Well, gentlemen," he said, "we are watching from a room upon the first floor of a building almost directly opposite, and we had a good look at those men as they arrived at their office this morning, and they are none of them known to us. They seem a pretty shrewd lot and quite capable of taking good care of themselves." He shook his head. "But they undoubtedly had no idea yesterday evening that anything might be threatening them, for that estate agent didn't go to their place until this morning."

"Oh, then, if we had raided them last night we should have caught them unawares!" exclaimed Lord Hunkin aghast.

"Certainly!" nodded the inspector. He looked doubtful. "But after hearing what Mr. Larose had to say, I'm not sure it would have been altogether the best policy. We should certainly have got those precious stones and, possibly, the photographs of that second set of plans they are now trying to sell. But, unless they confessed, we might have been no nearer to finding out from whom they had obtained the plans." He smiled dryly. "As to any confession, from what Mr. Larose told me about them and from what I myself saw of them this morning, they don't appear to be of the confessing sort. They look a very hardened type of men to me. I think——"

"But, of course, the theft from someone of those precious stones," broke in Lord Hunkin testily, "is a matter of small moment compared with the larger issue of their being in the possession of those submarine plans."

"Exactly, my lord," agreed the inspector. "I quite understand that." He went on. "Well, that estate agent appeared almost directly after they arrived, and he and the one I take, from his description, to be Pellew at once went up to the floors above. They were up there twenty minutes, and then Pellew came down with a face as white as chalk. Then the agent went back into their office again and immediately rang up the bank manager. I've seen the bank manager since, and he says the estate agent was very annoyed because he declined to give him any information about the party for whom he had given a reference. The bank manager is sure, too, that he could hear someone behind the estate agent the whole time, prompting him to ask the various questions that were put." The big, stout man leant back in his chair. "And that's how the position is now."

"Then what do you advise we should do, inspector?" asked Mr. Grant.

"As far as Curtain Lane is concerned, sir," replied the inspector, "leave them absolutely alone for a few days. Almost certainly, they'll be up to all the tricks of our trade, and so would quickly know if they were being shadowed. They've had a bad fright and must be very puzzled now why they have not been raided. So, give them a little time to settle down and soon they'll be thinking they must have imagined everything."

"But about those two persons they've been commissioned to shoot?" asked Mr. Grant. "That's troubling me, too."

The inspector frowned. "We can't help it, sir"—his face brightened—"but for the time being I think they'll be too frightened to do anything. And you must remember this, if we arrest these three men, the party who wants the shooting done will almost certainly find another assassin." He shook his head. "No we've got to take certain risks here and that is one of them."

"Then you don't propose to do anything, Inspector?" asked Lord Hunkin, as if very surprised.

"Oh, but I do!" exclaimed the Inspector quickly. "We are very busy. We are keeping a strict eye on that house of theirs on the marsh, and paying particular attention as well to that motor launch they've got. With Mr. Larose, I believe they are engaged in the dope traffic and we're leaving nothing to chance there. As I've told you we are having Curtain Lane watched, too, and, if we don't trail any of the men themselves, we'll trail all who visit them, right enough. In addition to that, we shall be listening in to every telephone call they receive and opening every letter before it reaches them." He laughed. "Oh, yes, they won't get away now with much!"

In the meantime, very early that morning, Larose had booked in at the Arragon Hotel as George Payne, noting as he signed the book that a Herr Bernard Blitzen from Zurich, had arrived some days before and that the number of his room was 74.

"That's the gentleman," he told himself, "but it looks to me as if he comes from quite a different place from Zurich!"

Breakfast had started and he looked in the dining-room to see if the stranger were already there, but, finding he was not, sat down in the lounge to await his coming. It was not long, however, before he appeared and, following him in for the meal, Larose was given a seat at a table not very far distant from him.

The man seated himself at a table laid for three, and Larose was at once struck again by his frowning and haughty appearance. He heard him give his order to the waiter very curtly, in quite good English, but with a very harsh accent. Then he leant back in his chair, with his eyes wandering round in an unfriendly way upon the other breakfasters.

"Hum, this chap is a soldier, right enough, in his own country," commented Larose thoughtfully, "and he has the usual Tuetonic contempt for civilians! He looks exactly as if war would be his obsession, and so he despises everyone who is not in uniform."

"A German who thinks a lot of himself," whispered Larose smilingly to his own waiter. "I mean that gentleman there at the table by the window."

The waiter smiled back. "No, sir, a Swiss gentleman from Zurich. Yes, sir, he's very stand-offish and speaks to no one except two young ladies he knows."

"Oh, he's with some ladies, is he?" exclaimed Larose.

"Well, no, sir, not exactly," said the waiter. "But he's got friendly with them since he arrived. They all sit together now at the same table. It's his first visit to London and they show him where to go to see all the sights."

Larose was very interested and more so than ever when in a few minutes the two girls appeared, and he took them in in a lightning glance. They were undeniably very pretty, and particularly so the one who was obviously the elder. They were in the middle twenties, fair, with blue eyes, and had an aristocratic appearance, with an unmistakable air of breeding about them.

"Hum," thought Larose rather disgustedly, "fancy two refined girls like those palling up so quickly with a foreigner, even if he is a bit on the good-looking side! Yes, he's good-looking, but an arrogant type. A-ah, but I see he can look quite pleasantly at a pretty girl."

The Teutonic one had risen sharply to his feet as the girls had approached his table, with his stern face softening into a very pleasing smile. He bowed with great politeness. Then they all sat down and proceeded to talk animatedly together as they partook of their meal.

Finishing his breakfast quickly Larose went into the lounge and for a few minutes chatted to the clerk at the reception desk. Bringing the conversation round discreetly to Herr Blitzen and the two girls, he gathered that everyone was rather amused at the sudden partiality of the latter for the foreigner.

"But I seem to know his face," said Larose; "somehow it's quite familiar to me!"

"That's what a lot of us have remarked," smiled the clerk, "but, of course, it's only his likeness to the great Baltic dictator. He reminds me a lot of Herr Bauer."

Presently Herr Blitzen and the girls came into the lounge, and sat talking for about half an hour. Larose took an armchair not far from them, and was able to hear quite distinctly what they said. It was evident they were going on more sight-seeing and the girls were arranging where they should take their new friend. Westminster Abbey, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London being included in their plans.

"But this is no good to me," muttered Larose disconsolately. "Trapesing about all day behind them is not going to lead me anywhere, and will not help me to get nearer that man Pellew met last night. I shall just be wasting all my time!"

One thing, however, came to hearten him a little. He had noticed that Herr Blitzen kept on looking furtively at the big clock in the lounge, and then, upon the stroke of half-past nine turned his head round and kept his eyes glued towards the office, as if he was expecting something to happen. Then, almost at once, one of the call-boys appeared and began walking towards where the three were seated. The 'Swiss' immediately turned his head away, and appeared very surprised when the boy announced that someone wanted to speak to him on the telephone.

"Me!" he exclaimed, as if very puzzled. "All right," and he walked frowningly towards the telephone cabinet the boy had pointed out.

Then, to Larose's thinking, his actions were peculiar. He made very sure that the glass-panelled door of the cabinet was shut close behind him, and then, when he had picked up the receiver, turned right round and kept his eyes continually roving round as if to make certain no one was approaching near enough to overhear what he was going to say.

But the conversation was very short, and the man only said about a dozen words into the mouthpiece. Then he hung up the receiver with a jerk and returned to the two girls.

"Just a friend to ask how I was," he explained, and then they resumed the consideration of their programme for the day.

"Something rather peculiar there!" thought Larose. "He knew the call was coming, right enough, and yet for some reason pretended to be surprised. Perhaps it was that assassin friend of his making an appointment to meet him. Well, one thing I shan't miss anything as long as he's with those girls."

Presently he saw them all go up to their rooms to get ready for going out, and in a few minutes meet again in the lounge. Then they left their room-keys with the clerk at the reception counter and disappeared through the folding doors of the hotel.

Larose thought over things for some time, and then went out himself, leaving his key also at the reception counter. The key was a small Yale one, but attached to it was the customary big brass tag, as usual purposely cumbersome so that no visitor should forget to leave his keys behind when his stay at the hotel was finished.

He returned just before noon, when he judged the chambermaids would have finished tidying the bedrooms, and then, without asking for his key, sat down in the lounge and waited for the reception clerk to go away for his midday meal. At length, seeing the man leave the desk and another clerk take his place, he strolled leisurely up and asked for key No. 74, hoping that this second clerk would not be familiar with the numbers of the various visitors' rooms.

As he had expected, the key was handed to him without any hesitation, and within two minutes he was in Herr Blitzen's room.

He gave himself a quarter of an hour and his movements were like lightning.

That Herr Blitzen had come provided with plenty of clothes was evident to him directly he opened the wardrobe, for he found there three lounge suits, a morning one, a dinner jacket and full evening dress.

"And all perfectly new!" murmured Larose, "and with no marks of origin upon them; likewise these boots and shoes. Nothing to say where any of them come from either!"

He went through the contents of all the pockets of the suits, but found nothing of any interest in them. Then he turned to the three suit cases. Two of them were absolutely new, but the third, of a much smaller size, had evidently seen good service and was battered and travel-stained. There were no labels on any of them, but upon each one he could plainly see where one label had been pasted and afterwards scraped off.

His eyes glinted as he produced a little bunch of skeleton keys and started to open the suitcases, but to his amazement and disappointment they were all unlocked.

Opening the battered one first, he at once came upon four long, big, thick envelopes lying upon the top and addressed in very fine handwriting to "Herr Blitzen, Arragon Hotel."

"A-ah," he exclaimed gleefully. "Documents! Now we'll learn something about this elegant gentleman!"

But all each envelope contained was copies of four different German daily newspapers, all published in Berlin. There was no letter of any kind, neither were there any markings anywhere on the newspapers.

But Larose's eyes almost bulged from his head and his mouth opened wide when he saw that the date of the newspapers in one envelope was that of the previous day.

"Goodness gracious," he exclaimed. "Then he must have received them either late last night or very early this morning! That means they came by plane! They were delivered here to the hotel by hand, too! Great Jupiter! He gets Berlin newspapers flown to him every day!"

He was back in the lounge again and had returned the key to the clerk well within the quarter of an hour. Then he sat down in a quiet corner of the lounge and proceeded to think things out.

He dove-tailed everything together as well as he could.

Someone was commissioning Pellew to commit murder. This someone was acquainted with Herr Blitzen, but for some reason did not want to be seen speaking to him in the street. Therefore there was some bond between them which must be kept secret.

Herr Blitzen was making out that he came from Zurich and was upon holiday in London, but he was considering it so necessary to keep in touch with everything which was going on abroad that he was having no less than four different Berlin newspapers sent over by plane and delivered to him every day. They were not coming either by the ordinary way through the post, but were being delivered, specially by hand. They were enclosed in an envelope, too, so that, apparently, no one should learn they were newspapers.

At this stage of his ruminations he saw the reception clerk had returned from his dinner and he strolled over to the desk.

"I suppose there's nothing come for me, Mr. George Payne?" he asked. "I was expecting some rather important papers, and they were to come by a private messenger."

The clerk shook his head. "No, sir, nothing has come for you. If it had, it would have been put at once into the pigeon-hole of your number."

"But it would have been too big to go in my pigeon-hole," commented Larose. "It would have been a long and very broad envelope."

"Then it would have been put on my desk, sir," said the clerk. He turned round and spoke through the open door of the office behind him. "No packet in a big envelope has come for Mr. George Payne?" he asked.

"It would have come either late last night or very early this morning," called out Larose. "It was to have come by hand."

A young woman appeared out of the office. "A big envelope did come by special messenger about nine last night," she said to the reception clerk, "but it was for Herr Blitzen. It was one similar to those he has had every night and I gave it to him when he came in."

The clerk turned to Larose. "I'm sorry, sir, but there was nothing for you."

Larose returned to the armchair well satisfied with what he had learnt. Then the German would undoubtedly receive another big envelope tonight, and he, Larose, would shadow the man who brought it. That would establish a link with someone and it might turn out to be the very party Pellew had met in Hyde Park.

He picked up his former train of thought.

Now why was it all Herr Blitzen's things were so new, his suits, shirts, collars, socks and his shoes, and indeed all his underclothing except a few singlets? And why, too, had all the marks of origin been picked out so that it could not be determined where they had been bought?

And what was the meaning of that old travel-worn suitcase in the company of its two new and much larger companions? It rather seemed as if it were the one the stranger habitually used and had been sufficient for all his requirements until he had undertaken this trip to England. Then if it had, he had certainly never travelled with it by train, for it bore no labels and there was only the mark of one having been scraped off.

Still, from its appearance, it had undoubtedly seen much service, and, if it had not been carried on trains, it must have been in motor cars. But journeys in motor cars meant staying at hotels, and where were any marks of the private labels which Continental hotels were so prone to affix to all luggage brought in by their guests? It was one of their ways of advertising themselves to the public.

Then what was the occupation of this man with the new clothes, the much travelled suit case with no labels, and to whom copies of the principal Berlin newspapers came by air every day?

"I'll make a long shot," said Larose frowningly. "In his own country he never wears civilian clothes and, coming over here, he has had to supply himself with a complete outfit. He is a military man of some importance and authority, and he has come to England"—he hesitated quite a long while here—"on a mission, or as a spy!"

He smiled. "But what spying can he do, speaking English with the accent he does and looking so obviously a foreigner?" He nodded. "Well, he's worth watching, anyhow!"

Rather to his surprise the little party returned about half-past three and the two girls, having seen their companion comfortably settled in a corner of the lounge, walked over to the lift with the evident intention of being taken up to their rooms.

So, as Larose wanted to get some cigarettes from his suitcase, he thought he would take the opportunity of going up to his room, too. But, not anxious to bring himself more than he could help under the notice of the girls, he decided to use the stairs.

The lift must have been decidedly long in coming, for he had reached the third floor on which his own room was situated and was just turning into the corridor, when he heard the click of the lift gate being rolled back and saw the two girls come out into the corridor and proceed to walk leisurely away in front of him.

They did not know he was just behind them, the thick carpet deadening all sounds of footfalls.

Then he heard the elder of the two say quite distinctly, "Now, if only we don't over-reach ourselves, Hilda!—I hate deceiving her, but, oh, what would she think of us if she only knew? She's always been such a friend to us!"

Instantly Larose slowed up and let them turn the next corner without their becoming aware he had been close behind and must have heard what they said.

"Now what does this mean?" he asked himself. "Is Herr Blitzen, too, included in the 'us' and who are they going to deceive?"

All eyes and ears, he was back in the lounge again before they were, and a few minutes later was an interested spectator of what he was sure was in part a well-rehearsed little comedy.

An elderly, but very fashionably dressed woman, who had evidently been expected, arrived for afternoon tea; and Herr Blitzen was ceremoniously introduced to her. Larose did not catch the name, but he noted she had a title. She appeared to be on very friendly terms with the girls and, from the conversation, appeared also to have known them for a long time. She made herself agreeable to the gentleman from Zurich, who regarded her most intently. Then she invited the girls to come the next day and stay with her for the week-end. She was giving a house party at her place in Sussex, and the great pianist, Maroni, was going to be there.

The girls looked uncomfortable and said they would have liked to come very much, but they had arranged to go with Herr Blitzen, who was so passionately fond of music, to the opera on the Saturday night. Whereupon, Lady Willingdean—the rather amazed Larose had now caught her name—insisted that the visit to the opera must be put off and they must, instead, bring Herr Blitzen with them to Wickham Towers to hear the great pianist.

"But you must come, Herr Blitzen!" exclaimed Lady Willingdean hospitably. "My husband is General Sir Henry Willingdean. He's attached to the War Office and he will be so delighted to have a chat with you. Everyone connected with the army is, of course, so interested in Switzerland just now, because they expect the Germans will make their next push there."

Herr Blitzen demurred a little, but then accepted with much pleasure, explaining how he'd always been wanting to see what country house parties in England were like. A few minutes later the gracious lady took her leave.

Larose thought hard. That a conspiracy of some kind was going on he was quite sure, and he felt almost certain, too, that Lady Willingdean had been deliberately manoeuvred into asking Herr Blitzen to her house party. Then that was what the elder sister, Cecily, had meant when she had said in the corridor that they must be careful to not over-reach themselves.

But what could be their object in bringing Herr Blitzen in touch with Lady Willingdean's husband, Sir Henry? Herr Blitzen must undoubtedly be in the plot, and it meant something. Then, if it were not the General who was their target, it must be someone else who would be among the guests there.

Larose was quite aware that Lady Willingdean was one of the best-known society hostesses, and at her parties were to be met distinguished people in all walks of life—Cabinet Ministers, members of Parliament, diplomats, men high up in the three services, musicians, artists, and writers of repute. She was a very wealthy woman and most lavish in her entertainments.

Then a sudden inspiration came to him. Although unacquainted with Lady Willingdean it happened he had met Sir Henry in Cromer the previous autumn at the house of a mutual friend. The General was a cultured, scholarly man, and they had had long conversations together about criminology. Quite a friendship had sprung up between them.

Well then, he would go boldly to him and ask for an invitation to the house party to meet this great pianist. He would say he had particular private reasons, and he knew Sir Henry was not the kind of man to press for any explanation.

Then he would go to Wickham Towers under an assumed name, and would be able to watch Herr Blitzen and his pretty companions and try to make out exactly what their game really was. He would alter his appearance slightly and felt quite sure none of the three would recognise him.

So he taxied off at once to Whitehall and was fortunate in catching Sir Henry before he had left work. Upon hearing his request, the General lifted his eyebrows ever so slightly but acquiesced at once.

"Certainly, Mr. Larose," he smiled, "and it will amuse me to see you there. I don't want to know what object you have in view, but I am sure it is a good one." He nodded. "I'll drive you down myself, if you like, and we'll have another interesting chat about crime." He laughed. "If you are helping the Counter Espionage people, as I know you did last year in connection with that charming Herr Mitter, you should have plenty of material to work on. I know a sprinkling of the attaches from certain foreign Embassies will be there, and one never knows what some of those gentlemen may be up to."

That evening after dinner the girls and Herr Blitzen left for a theatre, while Larose, chafing at the enforced inactivity, for hour after hour, kept watch in a corner of the lounge for the coming of some messenger with a big envelope.

He was half dozing when, just after ten, he was galvanized into alertness by seeing a man enter the lounge from the street and hand in something across he reception counter. Rising quickly to his feet, he saw the clerk pick up a long envelope. The man who had brought it just nodded, and, without a word, left the hotel. Larose went after him.

There was no difficulty in following him. He walked quite leisurely up Oxford street until he came to Portland place. Then he turned and went past the Langham Hotel. Finally, a couple of minutes or so later, he went into the servants' entrance of a big house, and Larose smiled a grim smile.

"Exactly," he murmured, "the Baltic Embassy!" and he returned to the Arragon Hotel with his mind filled with confusing thoughts.

That he had stumbled upon something very out of the ordinary he was quite certain, but there everything ended, and all he could conclude was that Herr Blitzen must be considered of great importance in Baltic official circles to be having a special messenger dispatched to him every night from their Embassy.

The following afternoon Larose left the Arragon Hotel, and meeting Sir Henry at the War Office, was driven down to Wickham Towers, a beautiful estate not far from Lewes. He was now much darker in complexion and sported a small and very neat moustache, which he was quite sure no one would guess was not his own. He was to be introduced to Lady Willingdean as Mr. Herbert Wheatley.

Their progress was a speedy one, but not far off their destination they were passed by a long, low sports car, travelling about seventy miles an hour.

"My son, Captain Willingdean!" remarked Sir Henry with a sigh. "I cannot break him of the habit of thinking forty miles or thereabouts is a slow crawl!"

Larose quite understood the sigh. He knew there were more things to the discredit of Sir Henry's only son than excessive speed in cars. He was a great gambler and reputed to have lost huge sums at cards and upon the turf. It was known, too, that he was a frequenter of night clubs of very doubtful character.

Arriving at Wickham Towers, a very spacious looking residence of Elizabethan times, with scores of Tudor windows, they found a number of the guests gathered in the lounge. Larose was introduced to his hostess and, his eyes sweeping round, he quickly picked out Herr Blitzen and his two companions among a number of young people carrying on an animated conversation. For once Herr Blitzen was all smiles and it was not to be wondered at, considering the pretty girls who were surrounding him.

Larose was introduced to Captain Willingdean and then—his blood almost froze in his veins! Pellew was standing not six feet away from him, and was regarding him with undisguised amazement.

Larose could not help it, but he knew his jaw had dropped and that he was plainly showing his consternation. He had been too much taken by surprise to mask his dismay.

Then Captain Willingdean introduced him. "My friend, Mr. Howard Travers," he said. "Travers, this is a friend of my father's, Mr. Wheatley."

The mischief was done, but Larose pulled himself together sharply and smiled, not a smile of embarrassment he congratulated himself, but a smile as if he were very amused about something. Then taking the bull boldly by the horns, his smile became a broad grin.

"How do you do, sir!" he exclaimed heartily. "Your face seems familiar to me. I must have met you before."

It was now Pellew's turn to look embarrassed, but he passed it over quickly. "I don't recollect," he said politely, "but then I've always a shocking memory for faces."

"Perhaps it was at Lord Ridley's?" suggested Larose, puckering up his face and now beginning to rejoice in the danger of the game. "I was shooting with him over the Ridley coverts last November."

"I know him," said Pellew carelessly, "but I wasn't there then."

Then, everyone for the moment drifting away, the two were left standing quite alone in a corner of the lounge, and Pellew's face at once became black as thunder.

"What are you doing here?" he snarled. "What's your game?"

"The same as yours," replied Larose quite unperturbed, "after what I can get."

"Then I shall expose you," said Pellew.

"Not you!" smiled Larose. "You've too much to hide yourself!"

"You are Bracegirdle, a ticket-of-leave man!" went on Pellew angrily.

"Not I!" returned Larose lightly. "That was not my coat you picked up. I fooled you there."

"But you are a thief!" said Pellew. "You stole 7!"

"And a pair of boots," supplemented Larose. "Those and the money were my wages for the week, I had well earned them."

Pellew could hardly get his words out. "I shall expose you," he repeated furiously. "You are here to thieve again!"

Larose realised the situation was becoming dangerous. Pellew was a quick-tempered man and, before he had given himself time to realise the consequences, he might in his rage blurt out something which would spoil all chances of finding out about the mystery of Herr Blitzen. So, he played his trump card without a moment's hesitation.

"And you're a nice one to start exposing anyone, aren't you?" he jeered. "What about me tipping you off to the police about that fine motor launch you've got, the launch out of which you can get twelve miles an hour when anyone else would be getting nearly forty!" He spoke convincingly. "Why, man, I smelt opium every time I passed near that cabin door! You've often had opium hidden there and, of course you're in the dope business! It's a sure thing!" He smiled pleasantly at the now frightened-looking and pasty-faced Pellew. "But there, do you think it'd pay me to give you away? No, I'll go my way and you can go yours."

Pellew recovered himself quickly. "But why did you leave us in the way you did? I was going to pay you for your work."

"Yes, but in what way?" nodded Larose significantly. "What about my getting a crack on the head when you took me out in that launch? You might have been thinking I knew too much!"

"Who are you?" asked Pellew sharply.

"Never mind!" laughed Larose. "Perhaps I've as many different names as you have. At any rate I'm not Bracegirdle. You can be sure of that."

"You've been in prison!" snarled Pellew. "I know that for certain."

Larose nodded. "Forging and uttering! Nothing worse than that! I got three years."

"But how the devil did you manage to get invited here?" asked Pellew, a burning curiosity seizing him now that he had in part got over his fears.

"Oh, that was just a bit of luck!" said Larose quickly and preparing to make up a story on the spur of the moment. "Did you read of that motor accident last Tuesday on the Tilbury road? You didn't! Well, a taxi got turned over and both the driver and the passenger were killed. I happened to be near and got there before anyone was in sight. I pinched the passenger's wallet and his suitcase. I found he had just landed off the boat from Australia and had got some letters of introduction with him. One was to Sir Henry, and I"—he laughed—"just presented it and he invited me down here. Very simple, wasn't it?" His face sobered down. "But, by gosh, I'm skating on thin ice!"

"I should think you are!" nodded Pellew sternly. "They must have found out that the dead man had been robbed!"

"Oh, no, they didn't," remarked Larose. "The car caught fire just as I was getting away, and everything was burnt up. I don't think the body's been identified even yet."

"You devil!" exclaimed Pellew. "I believe you set the car alight!" but Larose only grinned and Captain Willingdean, at that moment coming up, Pellew was led away for a game of billiards.

Larose furtively wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "Great Scot, what an awkward meeting!" His eyes sparkled. "But now—have I two trails to follow here or only one? Pellew is being hired by someone to assassinate two men, and Blitzen knows that someone, as well! Then does Blitzen know Pellew, or is it just by chance that they are here together?" A thought suddenly struck him. "A-ah, then are the two men to be assassinated among the guests invited here?" and then he answered his own question. "No, not unless Royne and Rising appear upon the scene, for it is arranged that they are to take part in the killing!"

He drew a deep breath of relief. "No. I don't think it is murder this week-end, it is only"——he shrugged his shoulders——"it is only I don't know what!"

A few minutes later he was introduced to Herr Blitzen and the two Misses Castle. Herr Blitzen looked coldly disdainful but Larose thought instantly that Cicely looked very hard at him and he felt just a trifle uneasy when, as if interested in him, she deliberately let the others move away and started to engage him in conversation.

Then, learning he had not been to Wickham Towers before, she surprised him considerably by suggesting she should show him the rose garden, for which the estate was so famous.

So round to the flower garden she took him, chatting animatedly the whole time. He quickly realised she was not only a very pretty and attractive girl, but one of strong character as well, and it came to him rather unpleasantly that she was soon starting tactfully to cross-examine him about himself.

Didn't he prefer the country to town? Didn't the noise of the city ever get on his nerves, and were not long week-ends away from one's usual occupation the only way for keeping fit?

But he agreed readily with everything she said, and thinking over their conversation afterwards, was sure he could not have further quickened her curiosity.

But later when they had parted and the girl had gone up to dress for dinner, he would have been decidedly disconcerted if he had overheard a remark she made to her sister.

"Do you know, Hilda," she said, "for some reason I'm rather afraid of that Mr. Wheatley. He was much more interested in us than he should have been, for his eyes kept wandering round to us and Herr Blitzen all the time we were together in the lounge. Another thing, I half believe I've seen him before!"

But her sister shook her head. "Nonsense, Cecily," she said. She laughed. "He's only interested in us as most of the other men are, because we're nicely dressed and not bad-looking."

But Cecily looked very doubtful.


CHAPTER V.—THE CARDSHARPER

In the half hour preceding dinner, the guests of Wickham Towers began to re-assemble in the big lounge, and Larose was introduced to several more of them. As he had expected, there were many well-known people among them, and mindful of Sir Henry's official position, he was not at all surprised at the number of political and service men.

Many of them, from photographs he had seen in the newspaper, he already knew by sight, and the names of many others rang familiarly in his ears.

He thought with a smile how interested Herr Blitzen must be to find himself in this company, if that gentleman's holiday in England had anything of the nature of espionage about it.

But the whole time the Teuton's manner was most cold and distant, and, except when speaking to a woman, he never seemed to smile. When, however, he was introduced to anyone of military rank he never failed to eye him intently, for all the world, Larose thought, as if he were judging him by the standard of the officer classes of his own country.

"Yes, where he comes from," summed up Larose, "he's a man of some importance, right enough! One can be quite certain of that. But he's very vain, and I should say not too well balanced. He's like a little child in the way he lets his thoughts show in his face. Why, just by looking at his expression, I can tell whether he's speaking to a man or a woman, and if a man whether the chap is a civilian or of military rank. He despises the civilian and is jealous of the officer."

Then, as Larose was watching Herr Blitzen talking to a tall blonde girl of fine proportions, who had evidently caught his fancy, he suddenly saw Blitzen's whole expression alter, first to one of great surprise, and then to that which looked not unlike one of malevolent hate. Herr Blitzen was now looking right across the lounge.

Then Larose heard a deep voice say. "How do you do, Lady Willingdean. I was afraid I should be late. I was kept at that bothering office of mine!" And, turning quickly round to see who the speaker was, he recognised him at once as Lord Michael, the Secretary of State for War, and president of the Army Council.

There was no mistaking that tall, fine looking man, with the leonine head. He was over six feet tall, and carried himself like the aristocrat and great man he was.

With a quiet chuckle to himself, Larose turned quickly back to Herr Blitzen. The latter was now looking more composed; but his expression was still an unpleasant one.

"Exactly," smiled Larose, "so he recognised Lord Michael and he doesn't like him! No wonder! Who of his nationality does?"

Then a few minutes later he was greatly interested to see the German introduced to Lord Michael.

"This is Herr Blitzen, Lord Michael," said Lady Willingdean sweetly, "a Swiss gentleman from Zurich." The German drew himself up stiffly, with his face an impenetrable mask.

But Lord Michael was disposed to be quite friendly, and held out his hand, which Herr Blitzen, after a moment's hesitation, took very coldly.

"How d'ya do, sir," boomed Lord Michael, "I'm a great admirer of your country and its splendid little army." He spoke most genially. "I must have a talk with you about it after dinner," and he moved on to greet other guests he knew.

The dinner that night was a delightful meal, and Larose thought gratefully of the comforts money could bring. Every sense was appealed to.

There was the best of food and the rarest of wines. The crystal and the silver were a delight to the eye, and the flowers upon the table were a dream of beauty. The service was perfect, with Cramp, the butler, marshalling and directing the large number of servants under him, like a great general conducting a campaign.

Larose was very interested in Cramp, for the latter was quite as distinguished looking in his way as many of the guests. He was big and tall and imposing, with a large face and eagle eyes. He moved with great dignity, too, and it was evident he regarded a meal not just as a matter of eating and drinking, but as a most important ceremony to be carried through with all due regard to tradition, and most solemn ritual.

There were many beautiful jewels being worn, and Larose made a half wink at Pellew, who was seated opposite to him, as he saw the latter covertly taking notes of them. But Pellew glared at him scornfully, and then did not look in his direction again.

"But I know what you're thinking of, my fine fellow," murmured Larose. "All through the fish you were looking at the pearls round that stout woman's neck, and I'm sure you couldn't have tasted a morsel of the delicious salmon. I see I'll have to keep an eye on you. I don't forget those stolen diamonds and emeralds you produced from your back pocket that morning in Curtain lane."

So, after dinner, when he heard that while the young people were dancing, some of the men were intending to adjourn to the card room for a quiet game of poker and that Pellew was to be among them, he decided to join in, too. He saw Pellew scowl when he accepted Captain Willingdean's invitation, and his annoyance afforded him no little amusement.

The poker was quite interesting, but the Captain was evidently in a chastened mood, and, rather to everyone's surprise, bet lightly. So, indeed, did all the others except Pellew, and, again to everyone's surprise, the quiet and sedate Mr. Wheatley, who every now and then came out strongly. But the latter was at the same time very cautious, and it was soon noted he very often threw in his hand when Pellew was dealing.

Pellew seemed to have remarkable luck, and all along got good cards, but towards the end of the play, with all his good fortune, he came down very heavily.

It had been Mr. Wheatley's deal, and Pellew had been very confident with, as it turned out afterwards, a full hand comprising the tens of diamonds, hearts and spades, and a pair of queens.

Everyone had thrown in their cards except Mr. Wheatley, who stubbornly raised every bet Pellew made until at last there was more than £100 on the table.

A few moments' hesitation on the part of Pellew, and he announced curtly, "I'll see you," whereupon Mr. Wheatley spread out his cards upon the table and exposed four aces.

Pellew's face was a study and then it went as black as thunder. "You——" he began, but then he stopped and with a shrug of his shoulders, rose to his feet.

"My luck's evidently turning," he said, carelessly, "and if you all don't mind, I think I'll quit. I never believe in following up losses," and Mr. Wheatley looked as quiet and demure as ever as he gathered up his winnings.

The next day was taken up with tennis and golf and canoe racing upon the large lake in the extensive grounds of Wickham Towers. As far as possible, Larose endeavoured to keep his eye upon both Herr Blitzen and Pellew at the same time. But it was a difficult matter, for the two never seemed to be in the same place together, indeed, as far as he could make out they did not appear to have been introduced to each other.

Herr Blitzen had now lost a little of his frown, and it was not to be wondered at considering the attention he was receiving. Larose heard Lord Michael say he must be taken down to Salisbury Plain to see some of the new light tanks they had got, while a member of Parliament was promising to arrange a visit for him to Portsmouth to go over the dockyards there.

And all the time the pretty Cecily was hovering close at hand, never for long, so it seemed to Larose, leaving her protege unattended.

"Yes, there's something very funny going on," Larose told himself, "and if it's a prelude to any spying, then these girls are in it up to their necks. Perhaps this fellow's some great technical expert, and has been sent over here to make use of his particular knowledge, with the very sound idea that no one would dream for a moment of his being really a spy. This visit here has been framed up by those girls, and now they're pushing him for all they're worth."

But that night after dinner Larose became more puzzled than ever as to the exact relations between Blitzen and the very pretty Cecily Castle.

It had been arranged that after the great pianist had had time to digest the very substantial meal he had negotiated, he should give a selection from some of Chopin's masterpieces and, a few moments before the recital was going to take place, Larose saw Blitzen and Cecily take themselves off into the garden.

Dusk had just fallen, but he had no difficulty in following them unobserved. Strolling along, as if they had no particular object in view, they passed out of the garden into the park and disappeared among a big belt of trees.

Larose made a wide detour and crept up round the other side of the trees, hoping with any good fortune to get close enough to hear what they were talking about.

He soon picked them out by the girl's white dress, and then, to his amazement, saw that Blitzen had put his arm round her waist and was kissing her.

"Great Jupiter!" he exclaimed, "and if that's why they came out here, then there'll be no conversation about tanks and dockyards! Now I shall have to revise a lot of my ideas!"

The couple did not stay long, but returned to the house just in time to take their seats for the recital. Larose, from his position near the door, watched them furtively, always afraid, however, that Cecily would catch him. He thought the girl was looking rather sad. But as the music progressed, her companion's face speedily became one of rapt enjoyment. All the arrogance of his expression faded, the frowning lines were smoothed away, and he looked quite kindly.

"Romance and music," murmured Larose, "two of the greatest things in life worth having! He's forgotten the bloody inclinations of his race, and for the moment has found something better than bombs and carnage."

With a smile, he turned round to see what effect the music was having on Pellew. The stout woman had not worn her pearls that night at dinner, but now, with a necklace of diamonds, was seated just in front of Pellew, who was close by the curtains drawn before one of the big French windows.

Pellew appeared to be not much interested in the music but, instead, his eyes were roving round and round upon the company, almost, Larose thought, as if he were looking to see if they were all there.

Presently, Maroni came to the end of a delicious little nocturne, and a deep hush followed before his audience burst into loud and sustained applause.

Maroni bowed gravely in appreciation and then, with the enthusiasm of a great master, went on to explain the nature of the piece he was going to play next.

"And now," he said smilingly, in his broken English, "I weel give you a lofly leetle cradle song, and you weel almost want to go to slip. A moth-er is seenging to her child, and as we are ourselves all cheeldren of ze great moth-er Nature, eet weel appeal to us as if we were leetle cheeldren, too."

He commenced to play; and then suddenly Larose noticed that Pellew had disappeared.

"Now that's very rude, and shocking bad manners," he murmured. "If he were bored, he oughtn't to have shown it!" Then suddenly an idea came to him. "But then, of course, he meant all the time to go out; and that's why he took that seat by the window. Now what the deuce is he up to? Knowing what I do about him, anything he does is worth looking into! Yes, I'll go and have a peep round, directly the piece is ended."

Fortunately the cradle song was very short, and, in the applause which followed, Larose slipped out of the room, hoping he had not been noticed.

He made his way quickly into the grounds on the chance of catching Pellew spying about. There was no moon showing, but it was a star-lit night, and, his eyes soon accustomed to the darkness, he could pick out objects quite a fair distance away.

But there was not a soul in sight; and he was puzzled to know what to do. He moved back across the lawn and, hidden in the shadows, looked up at the great house silhouetted in sharp outline against the sky. The lights blazed from many windows on the ground floor, but all the upper windows were in darkness.

Then suddenly he heard a slight sound in the direction of some sheds and a moment later saw a figure come staggering along carrying a tall ladder.

"Pellew!" he gasped, "and he's going to get into one of the bedrooms! Most likely he's after that Mrs. Templer's pearl necklace! What a nerve he's got!"

Pellew passed within a few feet of him, puffing and grunting under his heavy burden. He reached the side of the house and started with much struggling to place the ladder in position. But the ladder was heavy and required a lot of manipulating and it was only inch by inch that he could raise it against the wall.

In the meantime, Larose had been thinking quickly. He did not intend that Pellew should succeed in any robbery and yet at the same time did not want Pellew to get caught. His freedom was essential if they were to find out the traitor who was selling the submarine plans and also the identities of the two men who were in grave danger of being assassinated.

A couple of minutes passed, with Pellew straining and straining with the ladder. He kept on looking round, but all appeared safe. Then just as he had got the ladder into position under the sill of one of the windows on the first floor and was preparing to mount—there came the loud crack of breaking glass, as half a brick went hurtling through the window of the servants' hall, where Cramp was at that moment presiding majestically over the staff supper.

A moment's tense silence and then came hoarse shouting, and the sounds of doors opening and of many trampling feet. Half a dozen excited footmen poured out into the grounds to see, however, no one in sight. But Cramp caught sight of the big ladder planted right under the window of what was soon shouted was Mrs. Templer's room.

"Quick, scout round the grounds!" he roared. "There are burglars here!" and the footmen scattered in all directions.

But no strangers were to be found anywhere and the searchers soon returned to receive more directions from the quick-witted Cramp.

"Surround all the house," he ordered, peremptorily. "The burglars may be inside, and you, Nixon, go and fetch Sir Henry out very quietly. Stop making any more noise, you fellows. The guests mustn't be frightened."

Sir Henry Willingdean was quickly upon the scene and then, every exit being closely guarded, the house was searched thoroughly from garret to cellar. But there was no sign of any burglar anywhere and it did not appear that any room had been disturbed.

It was very puzzling, and no one could understand why, if anyone had been in the act of burgling the house, warning of what was taking place had been given by breaking a window.

Then the guests were taken aside, one by one, and told quietly what had happened. They were asked to go over their belongings to see if anything was missing.

Mrs. Templer had almost had apoplexy at the very thought but, upon going over the many pieces of priceless jewellery she had brought with her, found, as everyone else had done, that nothing had been taken.

It was very puzzling; and again no one could understand who had disturbed the burglar in his work by throwing a brick through a window.

Then Mr. Wheatley furnished a possible explanation. He suggested that it might perhaps have been an unpleasant practical joke upon the part of some jealous-minded local person. Whereupon Cramp, with some diffidence, at once adduced certain facts likely to support that contention.

He said that one night, passing through Wickham village, he had happened to suddenly feel rather faint, and so had called in at the Rose and Crown for a thimbleful of brandy. There, in the public bar, he had been very pained to hear some of the villagers express decided revolutionary views. They had sneered at Mr. Neville Chamberlain and run down the Archbishop of Canterbury and the House of Lords. He felt sure these villagers were of the very type of men to plant ladders and throw bricks to vent their spite against the more favored classes.

Everyone at once seemed very relieved and upon the part of the ladies, at all events, smiling faces now took the place of frightened ones.

The next morning, however, Sir Henry looked very worried. It had been noticed that Cramp was absent from his duties, and the explanation given was that the previous night the butler had had a nasty fall on the staircase, and was now obliged to keep to his bed because of bruises and shock.

It appeared that he had just come out of Lord Michael's bedroom about half-past eleven, where he had been to see if his lordship was requiring anything more, and was at the very top of the grand staircase when he had slipped and fallen heavily. Happily, however, he had had one hand upon the bannisters when he had slipped, and so had managed to save himself from a major fall. It had undoubtedly been a narrow escape from serious injury, for the staircase was long and steep and the butler a heavy man.

That was the explanation Sir Henry gave out to the guests, generally, but privately to Larose, he told quite a different story. Cramp had been deliberately pushed down the stairs! Someone had come up behind him, just as he was stepping down off the landing, and given him a violent punch upon the back of his neck. Then, whoever it was, had thrown all his force against him with the intention of sending him crashing down into the hall below.

"And I believe it, Mr. Larose," said Sir Henry, earnestly. "Cramp is not an imaginative man, and he does not exaggerate. He says, that as he fell, he swung half-round and distinctly saw a crouching figure above him. Unhappily all the lights upon the landing were dimmed and he can give no description. Then the doctor, who examined him this morning, said he had undoubtedly been struck upon the neck with what looked very like a clenched fist."

Larose's thoughts instantly reverted to Pellew, and he wondered if the latter, coming unexpectedly upon the butler, had vented his spite upon him because of what had happened earlier in the evening. But a moment's reflection, and he dismissed the idea. Pellew was certainly a hasty-tempered man, but he would not have acted in that way when there was nothing to gain by it.

"Well, what do you think about it, Mr. Larose?" asked Sir Henry, noticing his preoccupation.

"I was wondering if someone had got a bit fresh last night, and did it without thinking," replied Larose, but Sir Henry shook his head and said there had been very little after-dinner drinking, and that everyone was perfectly sober.

Leaving Sir Henry, Larose went out on to one of the terraces and, happening to catch Herr Blitzen by himself upon one of the garden seats, sat down beside him. He had had no conversation with him up to this, and now thought it a good opportunity to plumb his mentality a little deeper.

The Herr received him with an unfriendly scowl, as if his intrusion were an impertinence and, to his remarks about the weather and the beauty of the countryside, replied only in curt monosyllables. Soon tiring of the one-sided nature of the conversation, Larose got up and walked away.

"He's no spy, whatever he may be!" he told himself scoffingly. "No one would send out an ill-mannered brute like that!" He nodded. "Yes, I'm wasting my time on him. I'll leave him for good."

The house-party began to disperse that afternoon, and seeing Pellew go off with the Captain, Larose thought it useless waiting any longer. He had heard Cecily say that they and Herr Blitzen would be continuing on at the Arragon Hotel for a little time, and so he was reckoning he could pick them up again if he wanted to.

The next morning he started to watch the Baltic Embassy, but realised at once he would have to be very wary, for there was apparently a policeman always on duty close near.

Good fortune was, however, favoring him, for he had not been in Portland Place half an hour before he saw a well-dressed man come down the steps and start off at a brisk pace towards Oxford Circus. He recognised the walk and figure instantly. They were that of the man he had seen the few nights previously in conversation with Pellew in Hyde Park.

He followed closely after him and saw him go into a flower shop, where he was greeted smilingly, and evidently as a frequent customer, by one of the girl assistants. He bought a button-hole and Larose had a good look at him as he came out. He was good-looking, with a very intelligent face and eyes of a hard, steely-blue. He carried himself proudly, as if he were someone of importance and were very sure of himself.

When he had passed up the street, Larose went into the shop and, approaching the same assistant, bought a button-hole, too. Then he remarked carelessly, "That was Sir Herbert Brendon who just went out, wasn't it?" And the girl replied, "No, sir, he was Herr von Ravenheim, the Baltic Ambassador."

Larose left the shop with his heart pumping painfully. "Von Ravenheim!" he exclaimed. "Then it is any odds the contemplated assassinations are political ones! Good God! To think that the honored representative of a great country is trying to bring about the cold blooded murder of two of our public men! It is impossible."

But then he remembered the so-called purge in a certain foreign city upon that dreadful night in May 193—.

"Bah, they butchered seventy-five men then," he went on, gritting his teeth. "So what are two more murders now? No, it is not impossible! That suave, pleasant-looking man who has just bought an orchid for his button-hole can be an apostle of murder when it is thought necessary. Nothing more, nothing less!"

He hailed a taxi and drove straight to Whitehall to acquaint Mr. Grant with all he had found out. But he found, to his great disappointment, that Mr. Grant was away ill and the date of his return was uncertain. He did not like the manner of the second in authority, and so, without making any disclosures, went on to Scotland Yard to interview Chief Inspector McKinnon.

Fortunately the Inspector was in the building and Larose was at once shown into his private room.

"Well, Inspector," he asked eagerly. "What's happened about those men?"

The inspector did not look too happy. "Nothing very startling! But they seem to have got over their fright and one of them, Pellew, was away for the whole week-end. He slipped us on Friday. He was with them when they started to come up to the city, but wasn't in the car when it reached the garage in Aldgate. Then nothing more was seen of him until he turned up at the warehouse about half an hour ago. He had a suitcase with him. I've just got a telephone message to that effect."

"Then what about the others?" asked Larose.

The inspector looked down at a sheet of paper on his desk. "On Saturday morning they took out the car and were away for about two hours. We don't know where they went, because we could not follow them in the lanes, but they didn't come up to town. They dropped the housekeeper at the railway station at Southminster. She had several bits of luggage with her and took a single ticket to London. So it looks as if she isn't coming back.

"Is that all?" asked Larose.

"No, they were out in that launch yesterday, all the morning. But there's nothing in that, for they were never more than a couple of miles out to sea, and they were fishing the whole time. Then Rising met the evening train at South-minster and took another elderly woman back to Marle House. She's undoubtedly the successor to the woman who went away the previous day!"

"Then you've really found out nothing!" said Larose.

"Oh, far from that!" exclaimed the inspector. "We know they're first class crooks, right enough, and that the wine and spirit business is only a blind. They can't be doing any proper trade for they didn't have a single customer either on Thursday or Friday and the phone was never used at all."

"Then there was no one in Marle House for those two hours on Saturday morning!" said Larose, frowningly.

The inspector bridled. "What do you think?" He laughed. "No, Mr. Larose, you didn't take all the wits with you when you left the Yard! Of course, we seized the opportunity, and one of our men, Davis, was in there for about half an hour. That was as long as he dared to stay. He got in through the kitchen window and had a good look round."

"I never got the chance," growled Larose. "They were always about when I was there."

"Well, Davis did his best," went on the inspector, "and paid particular attention to one room, because he found the door locked. He soon had it open, however, and came upon some very significant things." He bent over the desk. "In a cupboard under some newspapers he found these automatics, wrapped up in a cloth, and a box of ammunition. There was also a silencer for each automatic!"

"What we should have expected!" nodded Larose. "They're of the real gunmen type." He corrected himself quickly. "Or rather Pellew is! I hardly think the others are! Well, anything else?"

"Yes, and something rather funny too!" said the inspector. "Part of this locked room was fitted up for photographic purposes and there were two good-class cameras there, a large one and a small hand one. Now here's the funny business that we don't understand. Some prints had, apparently, been just taken off that very morning, all of the same picture, and as there were seven on the table our men ventured to bring one away, thinking that if its absence were noted it would be imagined it had been burnt by mistake. There was a dirty grate in the room with a lot of ashes in it."

He took the photograph from a drawer in his desk and handed it across to Larose. "Now, what is your idea about it? It's a picture of part of the racecourse on Galleywood Common, about two and a half miles from Chelmsford."

Larose regarded the photograph critically. It was about four inches square and depicted a wide stretch of common with a straight road running across it, and part of the white-railed track of a racecourse. There was a clump of small willow trees in the background. He screwed up his eyes in perplexity.

"And all the seven prints came off the same negative, you say?"

"No, no," said the inspector, quickly, "and that's what made our man so interested. All the photographs were of the same scene, but all varied a very little, only just sufficient, however, to be accounted for by the unintentional shifting of the cameras as the exposures were made. Our man's opinion is that seven pictures were taken to be sure of getting a good one."

"As if the matter were very important," suggested Larose. He nodded. "We'll have to think that over."

"Well, that was all he found out there," said the inspector, "and now about that launch of theirs. There is not the slightest doubt what they are using it for. We sent an expert searcher down from the customs on Friday, and he got into the shed and examined the launch, exactly as if he were looking for contraband. He soon found what might have been expected, a hiding place under a false bottom of the cupboard in the cabin, and he said it smelt strongly of opium."

A short silence followed, and then Larose said, frowningly, "Well, it's no good going on like this. We're really getting nowhere, and don't forgot those two murders are to be done by the middle of next month."

His face broke into a smile. "I'll have to get in touch again with these men myself."

Parting with the inspector, he walked up the Strand, and presently picked out a taxi with a strong and hefty looking driver, and was driven to Curtain lane.

There, alighting just outside the warehouse of the Malaga Wine and Spirit Company, he proceeded to give most explicit directions to the taximan.

"You are to wait for me here," he ordered, "and on on account to go away. You are to take no orders from anyone except me. If anyone comes out and tells you you are not wanted any more, you are to take no notice. Understand?"

"Yes, sir," grinned the man. "I was in the army once and can take orders."

"Another thing," went on Larose. "Stand out on the pavement and keep your eye upon the door." He closed one eye significantly. "I'm trying to collect the rent from these people, and they're a tough lot."

He opened the door of the warehouse and walked boldly in. "Good morning, Mr. Royne," he said. "How do you do, Mr. Rising? Nice morning, isn't it? I want to see Mr. Pellew. Is he in the office this morning?"

Royne and Rising looked thunderstruck. They were too astounded to speak, and just stood open-mouthed, as in the presence of an apparition from the dead.

Larose went on easily. "Yes, he'll be quite pleased to see me if you tell him I've come about some pearls he was interested in last week. He and I are great friends now, and, of course, you've heard all about the party at Wickham Towers. We had a most enjoyable little visit and——" but he saw the amazed Pellew peeping round the office door.

"Ah, there you are, Mr. Pellew! I've just come here in a taxi and it's waiting for me outside. The driver's an ex-army man and a champion boxer. He won't go away without me."

Pellew strode out of the office and advanced almost menacingly to Larose.

"What are you doing here?" he snarled. He scowled angrily. "You've got a nerve, haven't you, you thief!"

Larose looked hurt. "Come, that's not friendly, calling me a thief, Mr. Pellew." His face broke into a broad smile. "What about yourself with that ladder up against the wall on Saturday night?"

"How did you come here?" asked Pellew, sharply.

Larose laughed. "Oh, I waited for your car to pass down the Mile End road this morning, and followed Mr. Rising here from the place where you garage it."

"What do you want?"

"To have a talk with you! To put some business in your way. I've a job in view I can't handle by myself, but the four of us could bring off something good."

A long silence followed, with them all regarding him intently. He took out a cigarette and lighted it. Then he went on impressively——

"But you must realise my intentions are quite friendly. If they weren't, I should have tipped you off to the police, and Scotland Yard would have been here instead of me. They'd have been wanting to know about that fine motor boat of yours with its powerful engines, and what you are using it for."

Pellew inclined his head towards the back office. "We'll go in there," he said curtly. "I'll hear what you've got to say."

Larose followed him into the room and he and Pellew sat down. The other two stood leaning in the doorway.

Larose spoke warningly, "But mind you—I guess what sort of men you are and I'm not quite a fool. So I've left a certain letter with my wife, and, if I don't turn up tonight, she'll take it straight to the police." He laughed slyly. "Understand? My health's a matter of importance to you."

"All right. Don't worry," nodded Pellew, scornfully. "We won't hurt you." He looked the reverse of friendly. "Now what have you got to say?"

"First," said Larose sharply, "you did me an ill turn when you went barging in for that fat woman's pearl necklace in the way you did. It was a clumsy business and spoilt everything for me."

"What do you mean?" scowled Pellew. "I don't understand."

"Of course, I didn't actually see you with the ladder," went on Larose, "but I saw you leave the room while the music was on and I saw you slip back afterwards, looking pretty puffed, just after the rumpus began. Then, next morning, I found some shreds of a grey suede glove upon the ladder and, while you were at breakfast. I went through your suitcase and saw the gloves there. Oh, yes, I could have given you away if I had wanted to!"

Pellew made no comment, but his breath came a little more quickly. Larose looked amused. "So you gave everyone the jitters, and all I could get was this." He put his hand in his pocket and produced a diamond ring.

"I got it just as I was coming away. What'll you give me for it? I reckon it's worth £50," and he pushed the ring over the desk towards Pellew.

Pellew was scowling hard, but he picked up the ring, and, with a quick jerk of his head, brought Rising and Royne to his side. They each handled the ring, while Larose leant back easily in his chair and blew rings with the smoke from his cigarette.

"You stole this?" asked Pellew, after a full minute's silence.

"Well, it wasn't given to me for a present," laughed Larose. He became serious. "But that's not my usual game. Still, I pinched it out of one of the women's bags when she put it down for a moment in the hall, as she was getting on her gloves. I was always pretty quick with my fingers." A thought seemed to strike him. "Oh, you're not too good with your fingers, Mr. Pellew, although no doubt you think you are. You're all thumbs." He laughed again. "Why, at that poker game I could see every time when you were stuffing the cards! You're a rotten judge of character, too. You ought to have got suspicious of me and noticed that every time you had been hokey-pokeying with the pack, I threw in my hand. But you went on just the same until you had dropped that forty-odd pounds. You woke up too late!"

Pellew's face was crimson with annoyance. "You cheated in a gentleman's house," he began. "You——"

"Of course I did," agreed Larose readily, "exactly as you were doing. The only difference was, I did it better."

"But who are you, -er-er, Mr. Bracegirdle," broke in Rising, speaking most politely. "I think you should have begun any confidences by telling us that."

"Quite reasonable!" nodded Larose. "If we're going to do any business, you ought to know something about me." He hesitated. "Well, I'll tell you enough to inspire confidence at any rate." He smiled. "You can call me Brown. That's one of my names. I'm pretty well educated, and come from quite a good family. I've a brother a doctor and a cousin in the Admiralty. I used to be in a bank. I forged a cheque—as a matter of fact, I forged a good many—but I only got charged on one, and I got two years' imprisonment. That was some time ago, and since then I've been living as best I could. Anything I could turn my hand to."

"How did you come to be nearly drowned that night you came to us?" asked Pellew.

"I'd come off a boat. I'd jumped overboard," replied Larose. "I was a bathroom steward, but I'd been caught with a passenger's wallet and put in a cell. I got out and preferred the chance of getting ashore to more prison. I made a mistake. I thought I was much nearer land."

"Then you made it all up about the Annette being blown up?" asked Pellew.

"Yes," nodded Larose. He grinned. "I'm pretty good at yarns. I——"

"Wait a moment," broke in Pellew. "There is a motor launch called Annette. I looked it up in the register."

"Of course there is," said Larose, in no way put out. "I came upon a board with the name upon it as I was swimming ashore." He turned the conversation quickly. "But how much are you going to give me for that ring? I don't know the ropes about selling jewel stuff. That's not in my line, as I've told you."

"I'll give you £10," said Pellew, now quite sure he was dealing with a thorough crook. "That's all it's worth to me."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Larose in pretended anger. "Even I know better than that." He calmed down and spoke quite amiably. "Here, remembering our little game of poker, you shall have it for twenty quid. Not a sixpence less."

Pellew appeared to consider. The ring was well worth fifty, and at any rate it would be concrete evidence against the man if he played any tricks.

"All right," he said grudgingly. "I'll make it twenty." Then he asked suspiciously, "But here, if you were as you say, a clerk in a bank, how did you pick up your knowledge of motor engines?"

"Oh, I was nine months last year in a garage in Coventry," replied Larose promptly, "and I'm naturally mechanically minded and picked things up very quickly." He laughed slyly. "I had to leave there suddenly, because the boss told the bank the signature on a certain cheque wasn't his." He sighed. "I had bad luck. He happened to go through his pass book, which he very seldom did."

Pellew seemed satisfied. "Well, what's this proposition you want to put before me?" he asked.

"Oh, it's about that fat woman's pearl necklace," replied Larose eagerly. "She's a Mrs. Tremayne, and she's living at Dorking. She's a widow and she took a fancy to me. She's invited me to a house-party she is giving when she comes back from Scotland next month, and I thought if you worked from outside I could arrange to get you in the house. She keeps all her stuff in an old safe; and safe-opening's not in my line."

"That'll wait," nodded Pellew, "but I want you in another way, first." He frowned. "You didn't make as good a job of that engine as you thought. It doesn't go too well yet. They went out in it for a short trip yesterday and say it is very sluggish."

Larose frowned. "Well, it can only be a very small matter," he said. "Have a look at the sparking plugs. The points may be too close."

"You could come down and see to it!" suggested Pellew, eyeing him intently. "We shall want it importantly in a few days."

Larose did not look too pleased. "I don't know whether I can," he said doubtfully. "Those marshes of yours are darned lonely, and it'd be three against one." His face brightened. "Still, you daren't touch me while that letter's handy for the police." He looked intently at Pellew. "I shouldn't wonder if you've not been in the jug yourself. You know a lot about prison life. I could tell it at once by the questions you asked me the morning after the night I came to your house." He shook his head. "No, you can't afford to have the police nosing about you. That's certain."

"Come down to business," growled Pellew. "You're quite wrong about me, as it happens."

"Well, it'll pay you to play fair with me," said Larose, earnestly, "for if you're bringing in opium, I might be able to help you a lot. I was very friendly with Les Brose, who was put away for trafficking last February, and know several of his pals who ought to have been roped in, too, when he was. I didn't guess what they were all up to then, for they never breathed a word to me, but I know now and I could put you in touch with them. Then you'd be certain of getting good prices and not have to sell below market value. One of these chaps is a wholesale druggist. Yes, you give me a share in running the stuff and you'll find me very useful."

"I'll think it over," said Pellew, after a moment's silence. "I don't believe all you say."

"Perhaps not," said Larose, apparently not in the least offended. "But it happens for once to be the truth. I told you just now you were a bad judge of character." He laughed merrily. "I should like to give you a few lessons in cards, too. You're only a fumbler, compared with me. Why, if I could get into good class clubs, I could make a fortune that way and would never need to do anything else. I could teach you a lot."

"Well, come down and spend the night with us and show me a thing or two," said Pellew genially, and now smiling for the first time. "We'll try you out."

Larose appeared to think hard. "But what about that house-keeper?" he asked. "She'd know me again at once."

"But she left on Saturday to go for a month's holiday," replied Pellew, "and her sister's taking her place until she comes back. So you'll be quite all right."

"Then I'll come," said Larose, but still as if rather reluctantly. "When shall it be?"

"Tomorrow," replied Pellew. "We'll leave here at three o'clock, and then you can have a look at that engine first. We shall have plenty of time before dark. We've got a job on next week, and it must be tophole." He nodded. "Perhaps you shall come with us to get the stuff. Then we shall feel safer if anything goes wrong." He frowned heavily. "But one thing first. Who threw that brick on Friday night? Was it you?"

Larose looked indignant. "Of course it wasn't! I never left the room. It was found out after you had gone that it was the gardener's boy who had done it. Old Cramp had boxed his ears that morning for being cheeky to the cook."

Everyone was now quite amiable, and a bottle of wine was brought in, and they drank to each others healths. But when Larose had gone Rising asked frowningly, "What about it, Pellew? Do you think he's all right?"

"Oh, I think so," replied Pellew. He smiled dryly. "He wasn't the only one to do any looking into suitcases at Wickham Towers. I had a squint into his, and he'd got a gun parked there, right enough. Also a bunch of skeleton keys and some make-up. I think he pinched this ring from one of two girls who were pally with a foreigner there. I saw he had got his eyes on them the whole time."

"Didn't you find out anything about him from any of the other visitors there? asked Rising.

"Couldn't," replied Pellew. "No one had seen him before, not even Captain Willingdean. The Cap said his governor had brought him down, and not even his mother knew him." He nodded. "That bears out his story that he had got there with those references he had stolen." He nodded again. "But we'll keep a good eye on him and see he's up to no tricks." He frowned. "I think he's really written that letter he spoke about, for he wasn't a bit afraid of drinking that sherry although he must have seen I had got my back turned to him when I poured it out. No, he wasn't thinking I'd dope him. He knew he was quite safe."


CHAPTER VI.—DRAWING IN THE NET

The three men appeared most friendly when, as arranged, Larose met them at the garage at Aldgate at half-past three that afternoon. He was given a seat with Royne at the back of the car, and the latter chatted animatedly as they were driven along. Royne had nice manners, and made an interesting companion.

Passing a number of dark-skinned men upon the pavement in the Mile End road, Larose remarked casually what a lot of foreigners there seemed to be about, and Royne told him the particular ones he had been looking at were Lascars.

"They come from East India," he explained, "and our climate soon knocks the poor devils up. They always look unhealthy and never live to grow old. But still, in their own country they don't live to any age, either. They mature too quickly and are old men when they get to forty." Then he asked. "Ever been in India?"

"Only to Ceylon," replied Larose, remembering he had told them he had been a steward on a boat, "when I was in a P. & O. going to Sydney."

"Oh, then you've been to Australia!" exclaimed Royne. "I've always wanted to go there, but it's never been my luck," and he proceeded to ply Larose with questions about the great Commonwealth.

Larose smiled to himself. He was being pumped to find out if he really had been a steward on a boat and not only that, but from the questions he was asked, he was soon quite sure that Royne, contrary to what he had stated, had been to Australia himself. He noticed, however, that Royne only asked about the capital cities of Australia, all on the seaboard, as if he could only check Larose's replies to these questions.

Half an hour out upon the journey and when well in the country, Pellew called out over his shoulder, "Like a drink? I'm going to have one," and shortly afterwards the car was pulled up before a little inn.

"What village is this?" asked Larose, all eyes and ears for everything that was taking place.

"Wickford," replied Royne, who had got out first and was leading the way into the inn. "They keep good beer here."

Glancing over the door as they went in Larose saw the inn was kept by an Emelia Ann Hoggins, but it was a man who was behind the bar and, as the latter said good afternoon to Royne, Larose thought he made an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

This barman was a coarse, thick-set man with rather frowning eyes. He spoke with a pronounced north country burr, and although he joined in the general conversation which ensued, Larose noticed he seemed to address most of his remarks to Royne, as if he knew him best.

Presently Larose's eye fell upon the large photograph of a greyhound upon one of the shelves where the bottles were, and he remarked upon what a fine photograph it was.

"Yes, my brother took it," said the barman. "It's his dog, Ivory Fangs, who was runner-up in the Waterloo Cup last year." He sighed heavily. "If he'd only won we should have made a fortune. We got two hundred to one the night of the draw, and he only lost by a couple of points."

"A magnificent-looking dog!" commented Larose, impressed again by the artistic nature of the photograph.

"And coursing's the finest sport in the world," said the barman enthusiastically. "We're mad on it up in Lancashire, where I come from."

They finished their refreshment and returned to the car, but Larose noticed that Royne came out last and had a few low words with the barman.

They drove straight to the boat-shed at the mouth of the Crouch and the launch was taken out for a run. Royne took command, the others obeying his orders.

Larose soon saw there was justice in Pellew's complaints about the engine, for it ran very sluggishly.

"But I think its only the points of the plugs," he said. "When she's thoroughly warmed up, stop her, and I'll adjust them."

The sea was beautifully calm as they chugged out to sea, and Larose was most interested in the number of buoys they passed.

"It must be pretty difficult to navigate about here at night," he said to Royne, who was at the helm. "You want to have a good chart."

"Oh, it's all right if you know which side of the buoys to keep on," said Royne. "At night they are all lighted up. Still, you've got to keep your eyes skinned, even in day-time when the tide's low." He pointed with his arm. "Now if we were only a hundred yards to port, on the left there, we'd probably meet with nasty trouble. We'd be right on top of the Gunfleet sandbank, although on a calm day like this the sea looks the same depth everywhere."

The engine was stopped for a few minutes and Larose went thoroughly over the plugs. The launch was certainly much better afterwards, but he expressed himself as being still unsatisfied.

"As I say, I think the trouble was only in the plugs," he said, "but I can't be quite certain it was nothing else. I ought to see her when she's been running full out for a couple of hours or so. That's when, if trouble's coming, it will come," and his verdict tipped the scales in Pellew's mind and caused him to resolve definitely to take Larose with them upon their next long deepsea expedition.

They spent a very pleasant evening together, and gradually all doubts in their minds that Larose was not what he made himself out to be, died down.

For one thing, he went once again, as he had done before to Pellew, into so many intimate details of prison life that they were convinced he had served his time in some penal institution. Then he knew so much about the underworld of London that they were sure his knowledge must have been obtained at first hand.

Again, when they started playing cards, he showed them so many tricks employed by the card-sharper that they speedily came to regard him as a master cheat.

Then Pellew opened his mind fully and, entirely with the approval of the others, told him of the smuggling they were engaged upon.

"But it is not opium we are handling this time," he said. "We've got a parcel of cocaine coming and we think that should be more profitable."

"Oh, yes," agreed Larose at once, "if you can place it properly. I've heard that those who deal in it get about twenty times what it costs them." He smiled. "But you probably know much more about that than I do."

Finally, it was arranged that Larose should come in with them and receive a tenth share of any profit that was made. At first he demured a little at the smallness of his share, but in the end he agreed that it would do, at any rate to begin with.

"But we haven't heard yet the exact date when the boat will be passing up the channel," said Pellew, "and if you are not going to tell us where you live, how can we let you know when we want you?"

"Well, I can't very well give you my address, can I?" said Larose. "You might go round and frighten my wife out of that letter which is my only safeguard——"

He smiled pleasantly. "You see we are all a tough lot and, if we were in a tight place, I don't think there's much any of us would stick at." He nodded significantly at Pellew. "You didn't take a gun, with a silencer"—he stressed strongly upon the last three words—"down to Wickham Towers for nothing. Oh, yes, I saw that gun, as well as the suede gloves, in your suit case." His face brightened. "But I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll phone up every day to Curtain Lane and keep in touch with you that way. If I don't phone up you'll know I've got something better on, and am not going to chip in with you in this cocaine running. See!"

Pellew saw. Inwardly, he was furious, but he realised Larose knew too much to be made an enemy; and so he held his tongue and just nodded.

That night in bed, Larose, with his greater knowledge now of the characters of the three men, proceeded to sum them up and put them up in their exact places.

They were all rogues, but all in very differing ways. Of course, it was Pellew who set the pace and dominated the other two. But for him the latter would certainly never contemplate any crime of deliberate violence. Pellew, however, was by nature and disposition a man of violence.

Rising was a drinker, and all his moral sense had been sapped by drink, or, it might be, by an occasional recourse to drugs.

Royne would probably have been a very mild type of criminal if he had not fallen under Pellew's influence. It was inconceivable that on his own he would ever commit a deliberate and carefully-planned murder. In everything he would prefer to rely upon craft rather than violence to obtain his ends, and would then be very proud of his cleverness. He had a quick, alert brain, and was decidedly the most gentlemanly of the three.

Still, he was not to be trusted, for in a moment of crisis and with his back against the wall, he might nerve himself momentarily to be equally as deadly as Pellew.

They were all educated men, Pellew in a heavy sort of way. Rising was of a scientific turn of mind, and evidently knew a lot about drugs. It might almost be, Larose thought, that he had had a medical training, because when talking about forbidden drugs at dinner he had explained that of all forms of opium heroin was perhaps one of most pleasant to take. It could be used conveniently as a snuff, and those who indulged in it, too, did not show the same pallor and emaciation as morphia addicts did. Then he had laughingly warned the others against eating too much salt, as it would inevitably, he said, tend to harden their arteries in the course of time.

As for Royne, Larose was in a way less puzzled about his one-time calling than in the case of the other two. He had certainly travelled to many parts of the world, but never spoke of any cities that were not on the coastline of the countries he had visited. Therefore Larose felt sure he must have been employed in a ship at one time, and this idea was strengthened when he remembered that Royne had at once taken command of the motor launch when it had put to sea that afternoon.

The next morning they all left for the city soon after eight, and on the journey up a little happening started Larose thinking hard.

Just before reaching Wickford, the little village where they had stopped to have a drink the previous afternoon, Royne announced suddenly that he had run out of cigarettes and asked Pellew to pull up for a few moments at the inn.

He was not gone two minutes and then, upon his return to the car, remarked that the barman had told him he had just had a letter saying his new dog might turn up any day now, whereupon Larose noticed that Pellew frowned.

Reaching the garage in Aldgate, Larose bade them good-bye and then, making sure he was not followed, walked to Mark lane and took a westward-bound train.

An hour later, attired very differently now from the way he had been the previous day, he was motoring back with all speed to Wickford.

In his life's work in the tracking down of crime, he had learnt so well that when any person was under suspicion there were no words or acts too trivial to be neglected. So now he was curious as to what exactly were Royne's relations with the barman of the Wickford Inn.

That there was some secret understanding between them he was quite sure. He remembered that the previous afternoon the man had shaken his head at Royne directly he had seen him, and also, that there had been some whispering between the two as the party was leaving the inn. Then Royne had called in there again that morning and Pellew had frowned, it might have been in disappointment, when Royne had told them about the barman's dog.

One or other of the three men in Curtain lane had been able to obtain possession of the plans of the R8 submarine! The R8 was being built in Bolton's shipyard at Birkenhead! Birkenhead was in Lancashire, on the estuary of the Mersey, right opposite Liverpool! Only a few miles from Liverpool was Aintree, where the Waterloo Cup was run, the richest prize in the world for greyhounds! The brother of the barman was a greyhound enthusiast and he was an expert photographer!

He summed up all these facts, and then asked himself breathlessly as to whether it was wholly improbable that the barman's brother worked in the submarine sheds and had supplied the stolen plans. What a safe and unsuspected place it would be to send them to, a little village such as Wickford!

Arriving at Wickford, he made his way to the post office, which was also a little general shop, and kept, he saw by the name over the door, by one Angas McToon.

Walking inside, he asked for a quarter of a pound of boiled sweets, and noted with some amusement with what extreme care the tall, big-boned man who served them weighed them. Not one too many or one too few, just the exact weight, even to half a sweet.

He regarded the man critically. He was tight-lipped and taciturn-looking, with pale blue eyes under sandy brows. "Yes," he thought, "he's a man who can hold his tongue when he wants to. I'll be quite safe with him."

He paid for the sweets and then asked, "You are Mr. McToon?"

The man eyed him solemnly. "I am," he replied and his lips closed like a vice.

"Well, I want some information," said Larose smilingly, "and I'm prepared to pay for it. I'm making some enquiries about a party here and I don't want him to know. You look to me like a man who doesn't talk much."

"Nay, I don't talk unless I want to," admitted McToon, and he added significantly, "I mayn't now."

Larose took out a ten shilling note and pushed it over the counter, but the Scot contented himself with eyeing it cautiously and let it lie.

"I represent a motor firm in London," began Larose glibly, "and I want to know the financial standing of the barman here at the Rose and Crown. I want to——"

"Oh, I'll tell ye about him!" exclaimed McToon excitedly. "I'll not hold me tongue there," and with no hesitation now, he reached out and pocketed the Treasury note. "He's a droonken mon and a deesgrace to the village. A score of times he's insoolted me, and he's spread it aboot that I give bad weight. If it were not that this is the post office he should never come into my shop again."

"What's his name?" asked Larose.

The Scotsman raised his eyebrows. "Who knows? He calls himself Smith, Ted Smith, but it may be Brown or Green or anything." He nodded significantly. "I'm told one day a stranger in a car pulled up for a drink and was very surprised to see him there at the inn. Then he began calling him by another name. But this Smith looked scared and hush-hushed him! Ay, he's a mystery and it's like he's been in prison. He's only come to this village about three months."

"And he doesn't own the inn?" suggested Larose. "I see over the door——"

"Own the inn!" scowled McToon. "Not he! Mrs. Hoggins employs him because she's crippled with rheumatism, and he drinks as much as he sells."

"But, why is he a mystery?" asked Larose.

"Because she pays him thirty shillings a week," scoffed the Scotchman, "and he bets in pounds and pounds. He bets on dogs, horses and anything that runs. He gets money from somewhere."

"Then does he have any letters?" asked Larose.

McToon shook his head and looked cunning. "Ah, I mustn't tell you that," he said. "That's postal business." He lowered his voice. "Still, I might whisper to you that when he gets any they're mostly from bookmakers. They come from Chelmsford and Romford. I know their envelopes and handwriting. I sort all the letters, ye see."

"Did he get any this morning?" asked Larose laughingly.

"One," replied McToon, "but it wasn't a bookmaker this time. It was postmarked Birkenhead."

"A summons, perhaps?" suggested Larose, with his heart beating quickly.

"No, it was a wee bit of a letter. It seemed there was just a half-sheet of paper in it when I thumbed it."

"But does he get any letters in long, big envelopes," asked Larose, thinking the plans of a submarine would be bulky. "They would be summonses, then, of course!"

The Scotchman considered. "Well, I mind a big square one coming a bit while ago. There was saxpence postage on it and it was sealed with a smudge of brown sealing wax. I mind, too, it was a good linen envelope and blue."

"And where did it come from?" asked Larose, suppressing the excitement which he felt.

"I dinna remember," said McToon most regretfully, after a long pause. "I forget."

Larose was feeling very pleased with himself as he drove away. That he had scored a bulls-eye he felt almost sure. The barman's brother had been the one who had obtained the photographs of the plans. The difficulty, of course, would be the identification of the man. Still, he was inclined to be pretty hopeful about that.

He proceeded straight to Scotland Yard, but had to wait nearly two hours before he could get hold of Inspector McKinnon. Then he came straight to the point.

"Look here," he said sharply, "I have found out that there is some business, which is being kept very secret, going on between Royne and the barman of an inn in Wickford, a little village in Essex. This barman has a brother, who is an expert photographer, in Birkenhead, and communications have been passing between them. Some weeks ago the barman received a bulky letter from his brother and it is quite possible it contained a photograph of the plans of the R8," and very quickly he proceeded to outline the discoveries he had made.

The inspector listened in amazement. "My word, you've got a nerve!" he exclaimed with enthusiasm. "Fancy risking putting yourself in the clutches of those men again!"

"Oh, that was nothing!" said Larose. "I felt certain I could bluff them right enough." He looked at his watch. "Now I want you to come with me straight away to Birkenhead and I'll try and pick out the man. If I'm right, he's still working on the submarine and is only waiting his chance to find out about those ballast tanks. We may get him tomorrow morning."

"But you tell me you don't know who he is!" exclaimed the inspector in surprise. "You say the barman's name is an assumed one!"

"But for all that I may be able to spot the brother at once," said Larose. "The barman's got no lobes to his ears and I've noticed that often runs in the whole family. The lower part of his ear runs straight into his neck. Besides, he's a short, stocky man of a special type and his brother is probably something like him."

So the following morning the two men were being conducted round the shed where the submarine was being built. Their guide, an intelligent-looking fellow in the usual working overalls, did not know who they were. He had simply been told to take them over the shed and do exactly as they requested him.

The submarine was nearing completion and the shed was a hive of industry, with busy workers everywhere. Confronted with the number of men about, Larose felt his confidence ebbing just a little, and the inspector admitted afterwards that he had been quite sure they were upon a wild goose chase.

Neither of them asked any questions, but with stolid and impassive faces, tried to convey the impression that they were experts and understood everything that was going on.

They proceeded leisurely and nothing happened for quite a long while. Then Larose said very quietly to their guide.

"Now, I want to walk back again along that gangway. We will go first, and when you see me take my right hand out of my pocket, take careful notice of the man I am nearest to. I shall want to know who he is when we get outside. You understand, you are not to speak, but just follow us as if you had shown us all we wanted and we were going out."

"All right," nodded the guide. "You don't want the man to know anything. I understand."

The inspector felt a hot wave of expectancy surge through him. So Larose had marked down his man, he guessed, and he was all eyes for what was now going to happen.

They walked slowly up the gangway, and then Larose took his hand out of his pocket. The inspector's heart throbbed painfully, as he saw they were passing a short, thick-set man who was directing two others, placing some thick copper wire in position. His eyes swept covertly over the man's head and he saw he had unshapely, ill-defined ears.

Once out of the shed, Larose said sharply to the young fellow, "You spotted the man all right? Then we'll go straight back to the office, and you'll come with us, please."

So they all three proceeded into the private room of the head of the firm where the latter at once asked anxiously, "Well, did you see the man you wanted?"

Larose nodded and then the young fellow who had escorted them, in reply to Mr. Benton's question, stated that the man Larose had indicated was a William Bond, the foreman in charge of the electrical installations.

"And he's one of our most important and most trusted men!" exclaimed the submarine builder. "He's been with us for more than twenty years." He spoke sharply. "What have you against him?"

Without replying, Larose looked in the direction of the young man and Mr. Benton, following his thoughts, said quickly. "Oh, you can speak in front of him." He smiled. "He's my son."

So Larose proceeded to say at once they suspected this William Bond had been disposing of photographs of the plans of the submarine. Mr. Benton listened in pained and amazed silence.

"Now has it been possible for him at any time to have access to the plans, so that he could have photographed them?" asked Larose.

"He's certainly had access to a copy of the plans," admitted Mr. Benton slowly, "and it might have been possible," he hesitated, "yes, it might have been that they were not always in their case when he returned it to us." He spoke with an effort. "You see, we trusted him so. He might have taken them home for the night and then replaced them directly the case was given him again the next morning."

"Well, we'll get a search warrant," said the inspector briskly, "and go through his home at once. Then we'll arrest him when he comes home."

Accompanied by two local detectives they proceeded to the man's house, a small one in a garden suburb. His wife, an elderly woman, looked very scared when, upon opening the door to them, she learnt who they were and what their business was. Leaving one of the detectives to keep an eye upon her and see she did not leave the house, they proceeded to go through everything most thoroughly. The house was well furnished, and there were signs that there was no lack of money.

Photography was evidently the man's chief hobby, and there were photographs all over the place, mainly, however, of greyhounds and horses. Opening a small desk in the parlor, almost the first thing Larose's eyes fell upon was a large blue linen envelope, and he held it up triumphantly to the inspector.

"A sure thing!" he exclaimed delightedly. "It's exactly like the one the Wickford Postmaster told me that barman had received some time back. This Bond chap undoubtedly bought them both at the same time."

They looked into a Savings Bank book, and saw Bond had £108 to his credit but none of it had been paid in in a big sum. Then Larose picked up a sheet of paper with a two-penny duty stamp upon it, and his eyes opened very wide.

"Look, look, what's this!" he exclaimed excitedly. "A receipt for £78 15/-, paid on May the 8th last for 'Brindled dog, Sugar, by Good Judge out of Pretty Girl.' Great Jupiter, that's 75 guineas he paid for a greyhound six weeks ago! Now where the blazes did he get all that ready cash from? Depend upon it that's part of the money he received for the photographs of those plans!"

"Well, we'll try a bluff on him," said the inspector. "That's the only way. We'll bounce him that his barman brother has been caught for passing on the plans and has confessed everything." His face fell. "But what about his wife here? If she's free she may have some means of getting a message through to Wickford."

"Then arrest her, too," said Larose. "Take her as an accomplice. Didn't you notice her nitrate of silver stained fingers? Well then, of course, she helps him with the photography and it's any odds she knows all about the plans."

"Good man!" laughed the inspector. "Then we'll get in one of the women police and bundle her off before her husband comes home."

"But I'm sure we are missing something," said Larose. "Seventy-five guineas wasn't all he got for those plans. Much more likely it was nearer £500. So he's hidden the rest away somewhere."

But going over everything minutely as they did, they found no hidden store of notes, and Larose began to look rather glum.

"You know, we really haven't anything definite against this man," he said warningly, "and unless he confesses, you certainly won't be able to hold him long. It all amounts to this. Until we can actually lay hands upon that copy of the plans Pellew is going to sell to those Japs, we can't even prove that any photograph was taken. We've followed a beautiful trail and it's led us to exactly where we expected, but there's nothing for us now we've got there."

"Still, you see, I'll bluff him," nodded the inspector confidently. "He'll be so surprised at seeing us here that he's bound to think we know a great deal more than we do."

"But I'm not so sure about that," said Larose gloomily. "He doesn't look a party to be easily bluffed, nor his wife either. They both appear to me to be of the kind who will always think before they speak."

And, as it turned out, Larose was quite right.

When the man came into his kitchen through the back door he was obviously very startled to find strangers there. But his face quickly took on a stolid wooden look, and he closed his lips tightly. He made no comment at all when the inspector proceeded to tell him whom they were and what they had come for, but just stood staring hard.

The inspector advised him to make a clean breast of everything. He said they had found out he had been taking photographs of the submarine and passing them over to his brother in Wickford to sell. His brother had been caught at it and had now admitted everything. They had got, too, the incriminating letter which he, Bond, had mailed to his brother only two days ago.

Then the man spoke for the first time. "What was there incriminating in it?" he said, as if very surprised. "He wants me to buy him a greyhound and I wrote I would, when I could pick one up at the price he wanted to give." He spoke very quietly. "I don't believe a word you say. My brother could never have got hold of any submarine plans to sell." He shrugged his shoulders. "At any rate I know nothing about it."

Larose shot in a sharp question and the man turned instantly in his direction.

"Then how do you account for all this money we found in the house?" asked Larose, and for one fleeting second the man's eyes left Larose's face.

"I won it at betting," he said. "I backed Whitehaven at fifty to one."

That was all they could get out of him, as he refused to say another word. He looked quite unperturbed when the two local detectives took him away.

"A tough chap!" sighed the inspector, mopping his forehead with his handkerchief. "I hope to goodness his brother speaks at the other end." He looked very disconsolate. "If he doesn't we're in a hell of a hole."

"But I think you over-reached things a bit," commented Larose thoughtfully. "You said his brother had been caught selling the plans, and he must have known that wasn't true, as they were sold weeks and weeks ago and he got his share of the money safely." His face brightened suddenly. "A-ah. I've thought of something! I tricked him into admitting there was money in the house and didn't you notice how he looked round then?"

He sprang to his feet, and his own eyes went searching about the kitchen. Then he sank back into his chair again and chuckled delightedly.

"You're nearest, Inspector!" he laughed. "So just bring down that pile of newspapers on the shelf, will you? I saw you lifted them all up once, but I don't think you went through them."

The inspector hesitated a moment as if he were rather annoyed at the request and then, reaching up to a high shelf, brought down a score and more of neatly folded, pink-colored sporting papers, and bumped them upon the table. Larose, now throwing off his assumption of indifference, quickly moved up close and stood watching intently, as he unfolded them one by one.

About ten seconds passed and then the inspector jerked out a paper which had been in about the middle of the pile. He gave one sharp, significant look at Larose, and then holding up the paper, shook out a regular cascade of bank notes.

"Gosh," he exclaimed with intense fervor, "how simple!"

"All fivers!" said Larose, as he shuffled the notes apart to see what their values were. "All been in circulation, too, and no sequence of numbers." He nodded to the inspector. "These men have been very careful."

Two more newspapers also gave up a large number of notes, the total adding up to £405.

"Now that suggests guilt, if you like," said Larose cheerfully, "and you have something to go on at last. If this money were honestly acquired it isn't likely it would not have been put in a safe place. If he won it, too, as he says by betting, he'll have to produce the bookmaker who paid and that'll be a nasty snag to get over."

"Now, what about that barman?" asked the Inspector. "What are we to do there?"

"We can't touch him, yet," said Larose emphatically. "We must'nt put the wind up Pellew again. We've got to lay hands on the other set of plans which is going to be given to the Jap. Then, we can pull in the net, if you like."

"But what's troubling me there," frowned the inspector, "is how to learn where the plans are going to be passed over. Of course, we'll hear when the Jap phones up to make the appointment, but if Pellew is only going to produce them as he says when he's taken the Jap to some outlandish part of the country, how the deuce are we going to follow them to this place without being seen? It seems very doubtful to me that we can ever bring it off."

But returning to London that night by train, and when in a compartment by themselves, the inspector suddenly began to chuckle delightedly.

"See here, Mr. Larose!" he exclaimed. "You're not the only one who gets ideas, and a damned good one's just come to me. Now, I shouldn't be at all surprised that when Pellew told that Jap he'd got those plans hidden somewhere away in the country, he was bluffing, just bluffing. But I don't think he'd be bluffing if he said it to anyone now. He'd be speaking the exact truth."

"But they won't be actually out in the country," said Larose. "They'll be hidden somewhere close to Marle House, so that they'll be all ready for him to get hold of in a couple of minutes or so, when he wants to plant them wherever he's going to meet that Jap."

The inspector laughed. "I don't agree with you there, sir." He laid his hand upon Larose's arm and went on very impressively. "They're planted already; a good twenty miles away from that bit of Essex coast!"

"Oh, then you're clairvoyant, are you?" laughed Larose.

"Not at all!" exclaimed the inspector. "I'm just using my wits. What I believe happened is this. Pellew went off to that house party for the weekend and on Saturday morning, when Rising and Royne took out the car and slipped my men in those country lanes, they hid those plans"—he paused a moment to enjoy his triumph—"somewhere on Galleywood Common." He leant back confidently. "At any rate, that's what I think."

Larose nodded approvingly. "Good man! And they took those photos so that they could show Pellew when he got back where they had hidden them!" He shook his head. "But it's no good your attempting to search for what they've hidden!"

"Not a bit," agreed the inspector instantly. "But we'll be ready for them when they come, and give them a nice little surprise. Remember, the Jap is to ring up on Monday or Tuesday."

Early the next morning Larose called at Curtain lane and was received as a friend of the family.

"But why didn't you phone up yesterday, as you said you were going to?" asked Pellew.

"Well, to be quite honest with you," replied Larose, looking rather sheepish, "I half thought of chucking it. I had made out to several parties, whom I knew I could trust, that I had some cocaine to sell, but I found they were not at all anxious to buy, at any rate, for the present. They said it was so difficult to place now. But I saw that wholesale chemist chap and he said he would take a parcel at 4 an ounce in a couple of weeks or so." He laughed. "And so I have changed my mind."

"Well, it's tonight we're going to pick it up," said Pellew, "and you'd better come."

"Oh, yes, I'll come," exclaimed Larose eagerly, "and I'll bring some different sparkling plugs with me, in case those ones you've got now give any trouble."

"All right," said Pellew. Then he asked frowningly. "Have you got a gun?"

Larose nodded. "But I shan't bring it with me tonight and none of you ought to have one either. If we were held up, I suppose we could always dump the stuff but it would look darned suspicious if we were found to be armed."

"If we are held up," said Pellew with an ugly smile, "we shall think you've tipped us off and then"—he nodded significantly, "a gun would come in very handy."

"But that's not fair," said Larose protestingly. He grinned. "Still, I'll risk it, as I suppose you are taking every precaution that you won't be caught."

"Certainly, we are," agreed Pellew instantly. He spoke sternly but most politely. "So, if you don't mind you shall now remain with us here, until we leave this afternoon. Then we shall be quite certain it can't have leaked out what we are doing tonight. You shall go down into the cellar with Royne and help him bottle some sherry from the casks."

It was a very weird experience for Larose that night. The launch was, of course, ostensibly being taken out upon a fishing expedition, and rods and fishing tackle were much in evidence upon the deck.

They left the Crouch just before seven o'clock and dusk found them fishing a few miles out beyond the Kentish Flats off Herne Bay. It was a perfect summer night, with bright starlight but no moon showing.

The fishing was good and they had soon caught a good number. Directly darkness had well fallen, however, they pulled up the anchor and proceeded much farther out to sea, in a north-easterly direction. Their lights were now extinguished and they drifted with the tide.

To Larose they appeared to be out of the direct line of shipping and to have the sea almost to themselves.

Presently, however, the lights of a ship were sighted and, after a long scrutiny through some binoculars, Royne announced, "That ought to be her."

Half an hour later a small steamer passed them and they proceeded to follow in her wake. Presently, a light was flashed twice from the steamer's stern, and the speed of the launch was immediately slowed down.

Then the eyes of everyone upon the launch were concentrated upon the surface of the sea, and very soon Pellew called out, "There it is," and a couple of minutes later a small round buoy was drawn up with the boat-hook. A length of rope followed, and finally a small cylinder about two feet long and eighteen inches in circumference.

"Worth at least £600," announced Rising confidently. "That is, of course if we can place it."

The launch was turned round and they started back at a fair pace for the Crouch, with the lights now shining.

They had a few anxious moments when a destroyer, appearing out of nowhere, seemed to be coming after them. Larose was leaning across the hatchway and he would have sworn that Pellew, who was standing just behind him, had got an automatic in his hand and was pointing it straight into his back.

But the destroyer passed like an express train and Pellew moved back to the stern of the launch again.

Everything then went off all right and by ten o'clock they were having a late supper of fried fish at Marle House.

Larose did not ask what they had done with the cocaine, but he knew it had not been brought out of the shed.

The following morning at the usual time, they set out for the city, with Pellew driving at his usual rapid pace. Approaching Wickford, however the car was slowed down and Larose was quite sure they were going to stop again at the inn, but the car passed through the village without pulling up, and was then accelerated to top speed again.

Larose chuckled to himself. He had seen all heads turned towards the inn as they went by, and was quite sure they had been looking for some signal by which the barman was going to let Royne know he had heard from Birkenhead.

"But that letter will never come now, you beauties," he murmured, "and with any luck you'll all three soon be in the same kind of place as your pal is."

He parted from them at the garage with the assurance that within a day or two he would let them know as to the disposal of the cocaine to his friend, the wholesale chemist.


CHAPTER VII.—SCOTLAND YARD STRIKES AT LAST

On Saturday evening Royne came to the conclusion that the delay in forwarding the urgently wanted measurements of the ballast tanks was curious, and decided he had better go up to Birkenhead and see the foreman, Bond for himself.

So he decided to go north by the midday Sunday train. Unfortunately for all concerned at Marle House, however, they overslept themselves on the Sunday morning and so it was finally the night express which he caught.

The next morning he went round to Bond's house, expecting Bond to have gone to work, but knowing Mrs. Bond could give him all the information he wanted. Reaching the house about nine o'clock, he was surprised that his ring was unanswered. He rang several times, and then, thinking Mrs. Bond must have gone out with some errand but would soon be returning, went away and walked round the waterfront until half past ten.

Then returning again to the house, he still got no answer to his ring and noticed now, with some misgiving, that the flowers in the window boxes, from their wilted appearance, did not seem to have been watered for several days. Proceeding round through the little garden to the back of the house, he at once became more uneasy still. There were no signs of life anywhere! There was no dog in the kennel and Bond's prize game fowls, upon which he knew the man set such store, had gone. The chicken run was empty.

Now becoming thoroughly alarmed, but at the same time his caution being roused, he left the premises with all speed, feeling very thankful that no one suddenly appeared to stop him and ask what he was doing there.

At the corner of the street, he hesitated a moment and then went in a little general shop there. He bought some cigarettes and then asked the man who served him, very casually, if he knew whether Mr. and Mrs. Bond, at number twenty-two, were away on holiday.

The man eyed him very curiously. "Are you a friend of theirs?" he asked, and, upon Royne replying no and that he had only called in connection with a new wireless Mr. Bond had thought of buying, the man looked mysterious.

"We don't know what's happened," he said, shaking his head, "except that they suddenly went off last Thursday night." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "We think they were arrested."

Royne felt his blood run cold. "Good gracious!" he ejaculated. "What for?"

The man shrugged his shoulders. "No one knows."

"But if they had been arrested," said Royne, "someone would have seen policemen and they'd have been taken off in a car."

"No cars came into the street," said the man, "but they didn't go away alone. Bill Bond went off with two men and people who saw them said the men looked like 'tecs. His missis had gone off earlier with two women."

Royne left the shop with a dreadful feeling of sickness in his stomach and his heart beating uncomfortably. He had not the slightest doubt that the Bonds had been arrested, but what had been found out he had no idea.

Two things, however, began to comfort him. Neither Bond nor his wife were of the kind to give anyone away, and the very fact that they had been arrested nearly a week ago, with nothing happening at either Curtain lane or Wickford, could only mean that no one else was as yet under suspicion.

But he must put Pellew on his guard without an instant's delay, and then Pellew would warn Bond's brother at Wickford.

He went into the nearest post office, a small branch one, and put through a call to Curtain lane. The girl clerk told him it would not take five minutes to get through, as the lines were moderately slack at that time of day, and he leant against the counter and started a cigarette. But a full quarter of an hour went by without his being directed to the cabinet to take his call.

Then, happening to look round, he suddenly became aware that the girl was talking to another one and that they were both looking curiously at him. They turned their eyes away, too, directly they saw he had noticed their interest.

Instantly red lights began flashing before him. The warehouse in Curtain lane was now suspect, and they were purposely holding back his call until plainclothes men could be rushed to where he was! They would let him make his call and incriminate himself, and then arrest him!

He walked casually over to near the door and stood idly regarding the passing of the traffic in the street. Then, waiting until the girls were occupied in attending to customers, he slipped out and was speedily some hundreds of yards away.

He had gone in the direction of the city, and, that he had been quite right in his conjectures as to what was taking place, was soon very evident. A car with three men in it came tearing up the street. He saw it pulled up sharply just before reaching the post office and two men jump out and stroll leisurely in.

Then all that day the police searched for him, but it was no wonder they did not catch him. He had taxied right away from Birkenhead and then at Shoreton had picked up a branch line train. By nightfall he was safe, at any rate for the time being, in North Wales.

In the meantime, things had been happening at Curtain lane, and Pellew was destined to spend a very exciting day.

At ten o'clock the Japanese had rung up. He was all ready for the appointment, he said, but he preferred not to come to Curtain lane. He would be picked up outside Mark lane station on the Underground.

But Pellew demurred. "No, not Mark lane, if you don't mind," he said. "Fenchurch street, or Aldgate or Moorgate street, if you like," and so, after a moment's hesitation at the other end of the wire, Moorgate street station was agreed upon and the time fixed for twelve o'clock.

Pellew hung up the receiver with a jerk and turned to the others. "I wouldn't make it Mark lane," he frowned, "in case the little beast had some particular reason for getting me there. I'm suspicious about him and am going to make every move myself."

He took a postcard sized photograph out of his pocket and proceeded to study it frowningly, with Royne and Rising standing on either side.

"I really ought to have gone to the place myself," he said slowly, "but you say I can't make any mistake."

"I don't see how you can," said Royne. "The third and seventh trees behind that log when you are standing with your back to the grandstand. You can't miss them."

"All right, then," said Pellew as he returned the photograph to his pocket book. He grinned spitefully. "And when the deal is carried through and I've pouched the money, won't the little devil be sick to find he's got to pad the hoof to Margaretting station and catch the train from there?" He spoke emphatically. "I tell you, I'm not going to carry those plans a yard with me in the car."

"And if he finds the measurements are not there, and refuses to part?" asked Royne.

"Then I'll knock him down and tell him to go to hell," scowled Pellew. "I'll not have the notes on me ten minutes either, and one of you can fetch them from behind that milestone tomorrow." He considered for a moment. "We've thought of everything and there can't be any hitch."

At twelve o'clock to the minute Pellew drew up his car in front of Moorgate street Station and at once caught sight of the Japanese waiting on the pavement.

"Good man, we're both punctual," he exclaimed heartily. He leant over and opened the car door. "Here you are. Come in next to me."

But then suddenly a second Japanese came up from somewhere behind the car and ranged himself alongside the one Pellew knew as Miski. "This is a friend of mine," said the latter, "and he is coming with me," and while Miski made a movement to take the seat offered him the other man started to get into the car at the back.

"No, you don't," called out Pellew with a face as black as thunder, as he waved this second man threateningly away from the door. "Keep away from my car, please." He turned sharply to Miski. "You come alone, my friend, or you don't come at all."

"But I shall not come without my friend," said Miski very quietly. "I have decided upon that."

"All right," said Pellew carelessly, as if the whole matter were one of small concern, "then the deal's off," and he slammed the car door and his hand moved automatically to the gear lever.

Miski's face was quite impassive. "But wait a minute," he said. "You had better give it a little thought." He seemed desirous of discussing the matter. "If you intend to act fairly, what objection have you?"

"The objection that I brought up when I first saw you," replied Pellew brusquely. "I do not intend to have any witnesses."

"But I want my friend with me to see fair play," said Miski. "You must realise you are quite a stranger to me, and I know nothing about you."

"You know more about me than I do about you," retorted Pellew. "You, at least, know where my place of business is, while I am not certain about yours. You say you come from your Embassy, but how do I know that? Why, you may be one of the British Secret Service! You may have been put up to catch me with the plans."

"How would the British Secret Service know that you had written to us?" asked Miski, a little scornfully.

"They may be milking all the Embassy correspondence," said Pellew. "They do such things, don't they?"

Miski turned to his companion and they conferred whispering together. Then he turned again to Pellew. "All right then, I will come," he said. His face hardened grimly. "But I warn you I shall enter no house with you and we'll go to no lonely place."

They drove off in silence, and not a word was spoken until they had left the tram line behind them the other side of Ilford. Then the Japanese asked how far they were going.

"Less than thirty miles out of London," replied Pellew. "In a few minutes I shall be turning off into the lanes"—he spoke unpleasantly—"to make sure your friend is not following us in another car."

And certainly he made quite sure they were not being followed. He turned into narrow by-roads and zig-zagged repeatedly to right and left all the time, proceeding at such a pace that the heart of his companion beat most unpleasantly.

"I think if you don't mind," said the Japanese at length, "we might take these corners a little more slowly. I give you my word of honor that my friend is not following me."

Pellew grunted something which the other did not catch, but slowed down, and a few minutes later stopped altogether upon the rise of a small hill. He got out of the car then and had a good look round.

"All O.K.," he said cheerfully as he resumed his seat in the car, "and you can now take your hand off that gun in your pocket. We're nearly there."

They turned out of a side road on to a wide, open common and Pellew waved his arm around. "Here we are!" he said. "This is the Galleywood racecourse." He was now all smiles and good nature. "What do you think of this as a good place for a nice murder? Anyone may come by any minute."

He pulled up the car on the open road. "Now, well get out here and leave the car where it is. We've got about a hundred and fifty yards to go, just by that little clump of trees. See, that's the racecourse grandstand there."

"But there are some men on it," said the Japanese suspiciously. "I can see two men at the top."

Pellew frowned and immediately whipped a small pair of Zeiss glasses out of his pocket. "So there are," he commented after a few minutes' hard scrutiny, "but they're only workmen. They're painters. They won't interfere with us and they're too far away to be able to see distinctly what we're doing. They'll only think we've got out to stretch our legs."

He led the way to a big fallen log just in front of the trees, and seating himself, took out and lighted a cigarette.

A couple of minutes passed, and then he said, "Well, you've brought the money all right? Then show it to me."

"Show me the plans first," said the Japanese firmly. "I'm not sure yet whether you've got them."

Pellew made a mock sigh of resignation. "Then come with me behind these trees and I'll dig them up. They're buried in a tin not ten yards away."

But the Japanese made no movement to rise from the log upon which he, too, had seated himself. "No, I prefer to remain where I am," he said. "I'm coming behind no trees with you."

Pellew scowled, but then, rising briskly to his feet, moved off to behind the trees. But he was only gone about a minute and returned with a small, flattish parcel rolled up loosely in part of a sheet of newspaper all dirtied with earth. He tore off the newspaper, and, crumpling it into a ball, threw it away. Then he held it up for Miski's inspection—a neatly done up packet in brown paper tied with string.

"Now let's look at that money," he said. "Oh, you can keep your distance. I'm not going to snatch it. Now have you got the whole £2,000 there? Well, just take a note out of the middle of the wad, please. I want to make sure the notes are genuine ones."

The Japanese hesitated a moment, and then, drawing out a bank note as requested, handed it out at arm's length to Pellew.

"Great Jupiter, you needn't be so suspicious," laughed Pellew. "I couldn't make any attack on you with those men over there, so near." He crumpled the note between his fingers and then held it up to the light. "Yes, it seems quite O.K. Ah, here come two girls on bicycles, and there's a car, too, now. I'll wait until the car goes by."

The car was coming at quite a moderate pace across the common. It drew level with Pellew's own car, and then, before the two upon the log could realise what was happening, it had turned off the road on to the grass, and, accelerating instantly, was coming at a lightning speed straight towards them.

"You little devil," roared Pellew. "You've double-crossed me. I'll——"

But one look at the Japanese's face and he saw the latter was in just as much a state of consternation as he was. The man had gone a dreadful color and it seemed be was paralysed with fear.

The car drew up and four men jumped out. They all held automatics before them.

"Hands up!" shouted one of them, who was an inspector. "Hands up, just as you are! Don't move," and quicker than it takes to tell, both Pellew and Miski were being held forcibly, each with a strong hefty man on either side.

"We are police," said the inspector, "and I arrest you both on the charge of dealing with stolen Government documents. You are Anton Pellew, of Curtain lane, and you are Mr. Miski of the Japanese Embassy, and I warn you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you."

Pellew swallowed hard and looked furiously again at Miski. But the Japanese, although now holding himself calmly, had burst into a profuse perspiration, and there was no doubt he was every whit as amazed and concerned as Pellew himself.

"Search them," said the inspector laconically, "and then put the handcuffs on. We'll run no risks." He nodded towards Pellew. "That man is a desperate character."

The plainclothes men nodded significantly to each other as they found a loaded automatic and a thick wad of banknotes upon the Japanese. Upon Pellew, however, they found nothing that an ordinary man might not be expected to carry, except a coil of thick string about six feet long.

But the inspector picked up the small brown paper parcel which they had seen Pellew drop like a red-hot coal as they jumped out of the car and looked round smilingly at his subordinates.

"These are the goods, right enough," he said. "We've caught them in the very act."

Pellew suddenly found his tongue. His color had now all come back and his voice was strong and threatening.

"And what does all this mean?" he snarled. "My friend and I are not breaking any law in coming here. We've come to look for fossils. That's all."

The inspector tapped the little brown paper parcel. "This will get you ten or fifteen years, my friend. We know the little game you've been up to."

"Nonsense," exclaimed Pellew angrily. His eyes blazed. "You big booby policeman, there are only some fossils in that box which we got out of the chalk. Open it, you idiot, and see."

A spasm of uneasiness crossed over the inspector's face. For the first time since he had picked up the packet it came to him most unpleasantly how heavy it was. With a jerk of his strong fingers, he broke the string and quickly unrolling the brown paper disclosed a flat tin. He wrenched off the lid and with a gasp of amazement saw that it contained, as Pellew had said, only pieces of chalk.

"What did I tell you," shouted Pellew. His face was almost purple in his rage. "And here you have put handcuffs on us!" He could hardly speak in his fury. "By gad, you'll smart for this. It's actionable and we'll get heavy damages."

The inspector was breathing hard. "Search round everywhere," he ordered hoarsely. "There's another tin somewhere about. This one is only a blind. Depend on it, he had some good reason for bringing it out first, probably to make sure this other party had brought the money."

Then, with one man left to guard the two prisoners, the other four went behind the trees and started upon a feverish but most methodical search.

Pellew spoke rapidly in Italian to the Japanese, "You understand Italian? Ah, I thought you would." He eyed the detective standing over them with contemptuous amusement. "But it's a million chances to one this booby doesn't, so we can speak safely. Now, all you've got to do is to sit tight. They'll find nothing and they can bring no charge against us. They'll have to let us go."

"But what has happened to bring them here?" asked the Japanese, with his little eyes blinking suspiciously.

"Don't know," replied Pellew promptly. "They can't have followed us—I saw to that—and yet somehow they must have known the exact spot we were coming to!"

Then he muttered under his breath. "Damnation! It's unthinkable, but either Royne or Rising must have been double-crossing me!"

A quarter of an hour went by, and the inspector came out from behind the trees. He and his men and found nothing, but under a smiling face and jaunty air he was now intending to mask the dreadful disappointment which he felt. Then suddenly something happened and his smiling face and jaunty air were no longer any pretence.

For just a fleeting second, he stopped; and it seemed he was about to turn back again, but then he, apparently, thought better of it, and advancing to the prisoners upon the log, offered them a cigarette.

Pellew accepted, but the Japanese refused.

"You've made a great mistake, Mr. Inspector," said Pellew sternly, "you'll be sorry for this day's work. You've nothing against us!"

The inspector looked incredulous. "Nothing against you!" he exclaimed, "why, good heavens, man, if all the sentences you're going to get are made cumulative, you'll be doing time for thirty years!" He eyed Pellew intently to see how he would take it. "Burglaries, smuggling, prohibited drugs, and now this selling of stolen copies of submarine plans! Good gracious, what an extensive business you must do!"

Pellew's face had gone green and yellow; and his jaw sagged.

The inspector walked leisurely back until he was within the shelter of the trees. Then he darted forward as if he had received an electric shock.

"It's here, boys!" he exclaimed excitedly to the glum lookers and dispirited detectives who were now standing clustered together, as if they had given up the search. "It's somewhere here right enough, for when I came out from behind these trees just now and was going up to him"—he lowered his voice to a whisper—"he looked down at my hands, yes, his eyes betrayed his thoughts and he looked to see if I'd got it."

"But where'll we look, Inspector?" asked one of the men. "Every inch of the ground within reasonable distance of the trees has been gone over and there's no sign that any of it has been recently disturbed."

"I don't care," cried the inspector doggedly, "We must go over it all again. And you, Nixon, climb up every one of these trees."

The man he had addressed as Nixon looked doubtful, as well he might. He was a stout man in the late thirties, and the trees were all very light and did not seem as if they would bear his weight. They were willows, none of them much more than twelve feet in height, and with branches, barely as thick as a man's arm.

"Here, get up this one to begin with," encouraged the inspector. "I'll give you a leg." He frowned vexatiously. "It's just struck me what fools we may have been. These photographs may not be in a tin at all. They may be wrapped in a piece of oilskin and tied on to one of the branches! Up you go."

He gave the not too willing detective a lift until the latter could reach a branch about eight feet above the ground and was able to swing himself up. Then the totally unexpected thing happened. As the branch shook, something was disturbed from it, a long way from the base of the tree and where the trunk was rapidly beginning to thin down.

"Good God, look at that!" gasped the inspector. "We've got it! Here it is!" and the two other detectives rushed to his side.

Just above them was dangling a cylinder-shaped object about a foot long and the size of the ordinary electric torch. It had evidently been tied to the upper surface of the branch at both ends, and the vibration had shaken one end loose and caused it to drop.

"Shake the branch!" called out the inspector. "Shake it well!" and he stood beneath to catch the object when it fell. "Ah, I see now why he'd got that piece of string in his pocket," he went on excitedly. "He was going to throw it over the branch and bend it down so that he could reach the cylinder with his hand."

The object dropped at last. It was a tin case, which had once held wax tapers, enclosed in a piece of the inner tube of a bicycle to keep it from the rain.

The inspector quickly pulled off the top and shook out a neatly rolled number of large mounted photographs, but he replaced them after only a very cursory glance.

"We've clicked!" he announced and, all his excitement now well in hand, he turned and walked out of the trees.

Pellew saw him coming and what he was holding in his hand. Then, as the inspector approached closer, he leant forward and deliberately spat right in his face.

The inspector's eyes blazed and he clenched his fist as if to strike him. But, instead, he just took out his pocket handkerchief and wiped his face.

"That's the second mistake you've made in the last five minutes," he said calmly, "and now I shan't give you another cigarette." He thought his triumph over the beaten man quite justified. "The first mistake, my friend, was looking down at my hands when I came out from the trees a little while ago. I noticed it and guessed you looked to see if we had found what we were looking for. That made me certain it was there." He smiled. "But for that quick look of yours, we might have given up the search."

He turned to the other detectives. "We'll go back straight away, and you, Nixon, and Davis, if you don't mind, have this fine gentleman, Mr. Pellew, between you. If he spits again you can make him sorry for it." He laughed happily. "When you're an inspector, you know, those little privileges are denied you."

Rising was arrested at the warehouse that afternoon. He did not seem quite to take in what was happening, for he was fuddled with the quart of champagne he had imbibed and some generous sniffings of the cocaine which they had smuggled in the previous week.

The following day Royne, who had made his way to Shrewsbury, saw in a late evening newspaper that Pellew and the Japanese had been brought up before the Aldgate Police Court upon the vague charge of dealing in stolen Government property and had been remanded for ten days. There was no mention of Rising, which was not to be wondered at, as the only charge the police had so far brought against him was that of being in the possession of one drachm of a forbidden drug; and that offence was considered to be much too trifling to be recorded.

Royne entrained to London by way of Gloucester and went straight to the rooms in Wardour street. The next day, he lay low, thinking out his plans. He felt quite safe as long as he kept away from the neighborhoods of Curtain lane and Aldgate, but he was not certain about Marle House. He could not bring himself to believe that the whole fabric of their ways of living could have become known to the police, and was hoping he would still be able to find a refuge on the Essex coast.

The immediately pressing matter was that he had very little money upon him. His determination to go to Birkenhead had been made suddenly; and on the Saturday night, and the three of them had had only a few pounds upon them. So he had gone up North with less than 5 and soon found himself left with only just a little more than a pound in his pocket.

But if he could get to Marle House, he would speedily be in funds again, as the proceeds of their two jewel robberies were hidden there and the disposal of a diamond or two would not be a difficult matter. Also, there was that parcel of cocaine which could be got rid of, if even only at a very low price for a quick sale.

Still, he must find out somehow, something of what the police were doing and what they knew; and he thought at once of Hans Schelling, to whom Pellew had entrusted the unsetting of the precious stones from the tiara and the necklace. News travels quickly in the underworld; and its denizens have uncanny ways of learning what is going on. He was quite sure Hans would have heard something. He would not dare, either, to give him away to the police, as his own doings would not bear looking into.

So directly dusk had fallen, he went round to Beak street. Hans was ostensibly a watch and clock repairer and occupied three rooms on the fourth floor of a dingy-looking house mainly occupied by foreigners. He was still at work when Royne knocked on his door and opened the door himself.

"Good evening, Mr. Schelling," said Royne. "You remember me! I came with a friend about a fortnight ago when we gave you a little job to do."

"Ach, I remember you!" frowned the old man. "You give me a vatch to mend."

"Yes," smiled Royne, "a-well-jewelled one and you charged us £50 for the job." He spoke very softly. "Now, if I bring you a few of those stones will you buy them from me?"

Hans's frown deepened. "I do not know. It is not vell you come to me. The police are looking for you."

Royne nodded. "But it's not anything to do with those stones." He shrugged his shoulders. "Besides, they will not get me. The description is not good and I am hardly known by sight to anyone. No one will recognise me."

Hans considered. "Vell, have you got the stones with you?"

"No," replied Royne, "but I will bring them to you in a day or two." He hesitated a few minutes. "Have you heard anything about my friend?"

Hans nodded vigorously. "Zat zere is ozer charges against him vich has not come out yet." He made a grimace. "But you vas fools to get caught by zat Gilbeert Larose!"

"Gilbert Larose!" ejaculated Royne aghast. "The man who used to be at the Yard! What had he to do with us?"

"He had all to do vit it," replied Hans, seeming very surprised Royne did not know. "Ve hear he has help zat Inspector McCallum all vay through. He vas in court ven your friend vas brought there and they say your friend vould have vished to kill him, he vas so angry viz rage."

"But my friend does not know him," exclaimed Royne in dreadful perplexity. "I do not know him either."

"Not know him!" frowned Hans. "Vy, he vas on your boat ven you smuggle zat cocaine. He vas a friend of yours."

Then Royne realised everything. The ticket-of-leave man had been Gilbert Larose; and they had allowed themselves to be turned inside out by one of the cleverest men who had ever worked for the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard.

He made his way back furtively to Wardour street in a state of dreadful depression. His brain was too numb for the moment even to feel any resentment. All he realised was that the police must now know everything about their activities, not only at Curtain lane but also at Marle House, and therefore it was not safe for him to go near the latter place.

But he helped himself liberally to some brandy which he found in Pellew's rooms and after much tossing about gradually sank into a heavy sleep.

The next morning he was able to think more clearly, and, going over everything most carefully, had soon convinced himself that nothing could possibly have been discovered about the precious stones, hidden safely away in Marle House. Not only that, but by now the temporary housekeeper would almost certainly have been sent back to her sister and the house itself shut up. So if he made his way there, he would be able to get in through one of the windows without any difficulty. Then, with the jewels once in his possession, he would speedily be in funds again, and could escape from the country.

That afternoon he took train to Maldon, and a long tramp of nearly fifteen miles brought him within sight of Marle House. He had approached it from quite a different direction to that of Burnham or Southminster, avoiding all villages and, as much as possible, all habitation. Darkness had well fallen when he was only a couple of hundred yards or so from the house, and he was pleased to see there were no lights showing anywhere.

He made his way to one of the windows, where he knew the bolt was an ineffective one, and then, to his great disgust, found he had lost his electric torch. It must have fallen out of his pocket as he had been jumping some of the ditches. Then he found he had lost his matches as well.

It was a dark night and, with no light to help him, it was some time before he succeeded in pushing back the bolt of the window with the blade of his pocket knife. Then, once inside the house, everything was pitch black; and, grope everywhere as he did, he could not lay his hands upon a box of matches.

There was no help for it; he must wait until morning now. He threw himself down upon one of the beds and tried to get to sleep. But his long tramp over the marshes had tired him unnaturally and sleep was a very long time coming. Then he slept heavily, and dawn and broad daylight still found him snoring loudly.

It was past nine o'clock before he at last awoke and, looking at his watch, he cursed angrily that misfortune seemed to be dogging every footstep which he took. He had meant to be at Maldon again by nine and now he would have to wait until the afternoon train. And every minute he stayed in the neighborhood was a risk.

But misfortune upon misfortune was now avalanching upon him, for even as he jumped off the bed, he heard the sound of a motor car in the distance and darting to the window, saw a closed sedan rapidly approaching the house. It swept out of sight on the seaward side and then was brought sharply to a standstill.

For a few seconds he stood absolutely paralysed in fright and then, having no time to pick a good hiding-place he pulled the door of the room wide open and stood panic-stricken behind it.

He heard the front door unlocked and quick footsteps coming up the hall. A man passed the open doorway, glancing carelessly in as he went by. The man turned in the big living room a few yards higher up, and Royne, almost in a fainting condition, sank on to the ground.

He had seen that the man was Gilbert Larose.

Larose's unexpected appearance at Marle House had come about in this way.

After the arrest of Pellew and Rising, three days previously, Inspector McKinnon and two detectives had come down to make a thorough search of the premises, in the hope of unearthing yet more incriminating evidence against the three men. Larose had accompanied them.

They had spent the day fruitlessly and then, upon returning to town, Larose had discovered he had left a gold cigarette case behind. He attached a sentimental value to the case because it had been given him by a former Home Secretary for some special services he had rendered a few years back in the running down of Mitten, a notorious German spy.

So, leaving town very early that morning to pay a flying visit to his family in Norfolk, he had thought he would call in at Marle House on his way down and retrieve the cigarette case. He had borrowed the key of the house from the inspector. He found the case at once, where he remembered he had left it, and then, his imagination being stirred by his surroundings, he lighted a cigarette and throwing himself down in an armchair proceeded to give rein to his thoughts.

Then, suddenly, his meditations were interrupted and, with a cold shiver down his spine, he heard the unmistakable click of a trigger being pulled up. He turned sharply to see Royne standing in the open doorway, apparently in the very act of taking deliberate aim at him with a double-barrelled sporting gun.

A cry sprang automatically to his lips. "Don't shoot, you fool!" he shouted. "What are you doing? Don't murder me!"

Royne's lips were twitching and the barrel of the gun was wobbling dangerously. "T-h-e-n put up your hands!" he stammered. "Put em up!"

Larose instantly obeyed. "You idiot!" he cried angrily. "What'll you gain by it? Inspector McKinnon and two detectives are just outside! They're only looking at the seagulls! They'll be in any second, and you'll be hanged for murder!"

Royne lowered the barrel of the gun. His jaw dropped in disconcerted surprise.

Larose gave him no time to think. "Is it worth it?" he asked. He spoke quite pleasantly. "Of course, you'll get a few years now, but they won't be so bad as hanging." He made a grimace and rattled quickly on. "Hanging's a nasty business! In my time I've seen lots of fellows swing, and the whole business didn't look too good at all."

Then, as if not giving any thought to the consequences, he lowered his hands and sank back again into his chair. He went on. "Now, be a sensible chap and put down that gun."

Royne hesitated just a moment, and then, with a deep sigh, he lowered the gun and propped it up against the wall. It seemed that all his energy was spent.

"No, not like that!" exclaimed Larose sharply, but in quite matter-of-fact tones. "It may fall and go off! You've not even put down the trigger!" and rising from his chair, without the slightest appearance of haste, he walked over and picked up the gun. He uncocked it and put it on the table. "Have you got an automatic on you?" he asked, as if he were putting the most ordinary question.

Royne shook his head. "No, I'm not a gun-man," he replied. He smiled weakly. "That's not my specialty."

Larose took out a handkerchief and, under the pretence of blowing his nose, furtively wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

With a smile he pushed Royne into the armchair he had been occupying and took a seat opposite to him.

"Now, we'll have a little chat together," he said. He made a wry face. "But first, I'll just mention that there are no detectives outside. I am quite alone and I told you an untruth."

"It was a good thing you did," said Royne wearily. "I'm involved enough and I'm sick of the whole business."

"Then why don't you turn King's evidence?" said Larose. "Pellew is the one we want."

Royne looked scornful. "Not I," he said instantly. "I married Pellew's sister and she was a good wife to me. She's dead now." Then he added. "Besides, you appear to have found out all you want to."

"Not quite all," said Larose. He eyed him intently. "What did you come back here for?"

"To get some of my clothes," replied Royne readily. "Everything I've got is here."

Larose appeared to consider. "Now look here," he said, after a moment. "Do you know who I am?"

Royne nodded. "You were at Scotland Yard once. You are Gilbert Larose."

"Who told you?"

Royne shook his head. "Never mind. I heard it yesterday. You have been working with Inspector McKinnon." He showed no resentment. "That's how you took me in so easily just now when you said McKinnon was outside."

"Well," said Larose. "I have no official position and it was only by chance that I was drawn into this business." He hesitated a moment. "Now this is what I am inclined to do. You didn't shoot me just now when you might have done, and I'll put that down to your credit. I'm not ungrateful, as I've got a wife and children. So, if you'll answer me truthfully, I leave it to other people to catch you, and not interfere."

"Not interfere!" exclaimed Royne. "Not take me up or tell the police that I'm here!"

"Tell nothing," said Larose. "Just let it be, as if I had not seen you!"

"Go on then," said Royne in great relief. "I'll tell you anything I can."

"Then who are those two men," asked Larose very sternly, "von Ravenheim of the Baltic Embassy was going to pay you £10,000 to kill?"

Royne's face went crimson. "I don't say we were going to kill anyone," he said warmly. "We might have been asked to but that doesn't say we were going to do it."

"Don't prevaricate," said Larose angrily. "Von Ravenheim rang up to know if Pellew was willing, and, finding he was, they met that same evening in Hyde Park to complete the whole matter. The whole thing was cut and dried and——"

"Wait a minute, please, Mr. Larose," interrupted Royne. "The arrangement was that £3,000 was to be paid down and the balance only when the men were dead." He scoffed. "And both Rising and I had determined that never more than the £3,000 should be claimed and, when it came to the point, I am sure Pellew would have come round to our view."

"Well, come down to facts," said Larose testily. He spoke sarcastically. "Who were these two men you were not going to shoot?"

"I don't know," replied Royne. "Their names were not given to Pellew. Von Ravenheim was waiting until the last moment, until he knew that they would be staying together at some country house. Then everything was going to be done in a hurry, but it had to be done before the middle of this month."

"At some country house!" exclaimed Larose. "Then it would be when they were at some house party?"

"No! von Ravenheim said they are great friends and often stay for weekends at each others places. They were to be caught when quite alone, except for the one detective who always guards them."

"Then if they are guarded they must be important public men!" exclaimed Larose.

"Oh, yes, von Ravenheim made that quite understood! He said he wouldn't be offering anything like £10,000 for the killing of two private individuals."

"The blackguard!" snarled Larose. "Then what did Pellew tell him when they met that night in Hyde Park?"

"That he would take it on and that he had got a brother who was going to help him."

"But you have absolutely no idea who they are?"

"Not the slightest in the world!"

A moment's silence followed and then Larose asked another question. "And what did Pellew go down to Wickham Towers for?"

"To make some money at cards. He's got a lot out of Captain Willingdean."

"Who's this Herr Blitzen who was down there at the same time?"

Royne shook his head. "I've never heard of him."

And that was all Larose could get out of Royne, although he believed the latter was speaking the truth. "Well I'll be going now," he said at length. "My conscience pricks me that I am letting you go. Still"—he laughed. "I'm sure someone else will be catching you pretty soon. You are one of the mugs who will always get caught. Good-bye."

Royne watched his car receding in the distance. "Quite a decent chap!" he murmured. "I'm glad I didn't shoot him!" His eyes fell upon the gun on the table and then suddenly he darted over and picked it up. "The devil!" he exclaimed. "I'd forgotten to load it!"


CHAPTER VIII.—"THE ASSASSIN"

All his life Larose had been consumed with a most restless energy, and in all his activities when at Scotland Yard it had been his obsession that he could work best when he worked alone.

So now, with another project forming in his mind, he consulted no one and prepared to adopt a course of action of which he felt sure the authorities, if they came to learn of it, would heartily disapprove. He was intending, too, to take risks which he could ask no one to share.

At a dead-end a little more than a week ago, he had approached Pellew as a fellow member of the criminal classes, and had obtained most gratifying results. Now, at another dead-end, he was intending to approach von Ravenheim and offer his services as assassinator, in place of Pellew, regrettably unavailable.

But he realised to the full that von Ravenheim would be most difficult to approach. Under the shock of Pellew having been uncovered by the dreaded British Secret Service, his nerves might now be on edge and he would be a shy bird to get near. Not knowing what had happened and what, to lighten his punishment, Pellew would admit, he would undoubtedly be wondering if disclosures had been already made as to the complicity of members of the Baltic Embassy.

So he would be suspicious about everything and it would be impossible for any stranger to get a proper hearing with him, unless he could be straight away overwhelmingly convinced of that stranger's good faith. He would have to be almost bludgeoned into listening to what anyone had to say.

After having parted with Royne, Larose did not go down to Norfolk, as had been his intention, but instead returned straight to London.

Two mornings later he called on Lord Hunkin at Whitehall. The First Lord of the Admiralty received him warmly and with profuse thanks for his services leading up to the arrest of the electrician, Bond, working in the submarine sheds on the Mersey.

"And now, my lord," smiled Larose, "I want you to trust me and then, perhaps, I may land an even bigger fish in the net. I want some measurements for those inner balance-tanks, which were omitted from the stolen plans. Of course, I don't want the correct measurements. Make those you give me as misleading as you like. I only want some sort of little plan to use as a decoy."

Lord Hunkin nodded. "I understand. You want to convey to someone that you are in a position to supply certain very secret and confidential Admiralty information. You want to establish yourself in his confidence."

"Yes, that's it!" exclaimed Larose. "Have a little plan drawn up for me to show. Make it a rough one, too, as if it had had to be drawn up in a hurry."

"Very well," smiled Lord Hunkin. "Come back in an hour."

That afternoon Larose paid a second call, to a medical man in Harley street, Sir Humphrey Vereker, a well-known specialist in diseases of the skin.

Larose was asked if he had an appointment, but, admitting he had not, handed the butler a sealed envelope with the request that it should be given to Sir Humphrey.

He was shown into a waiting-room, where there were two patients waiting, but, to his satisfaction, in a very few minutes he was ushered in before them.

Sir Humphrey gave him a smiling hand-shake. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Larose," he said. "I met your wife once, when she was Lady Ardane. I am taking you out of your turn, because I see from your card that it is upon private business you want to speak to me."

"Yes, and it's very private business, too, Sir Humphrey," smiled back Larose. His face grew serious. "And it's very confidential, too, although I can't explain to you exactly why." He came straight to the point. "You are attending Herr von Ravenheim, aren't you? And he's coming tomorrow at his usual time, I expect, eleven o'clock? Well, I want to be alone with him for five minutes in your waiting room, exactly five minutes, no less and no more. Now would you very obligingly arrange it?"

Sir Humphrey looked frowningly amused. "A very extraordinary request, isn't it, Mr. Larose?"

"It is, sir," agreed Larose instantly, "and I would not dare approach you if I were not certain my confidence would be respected. But you have a son who is one of the youngest Commanders in the Navy and another who is in the Fifth Hussars. Also, you yourself served in the Great War. So I feel very sure of you!"

"Oh, I am all right," laughed Sir Humphrey. "I have as much love for dear old England as anyone; and I pay my taxes regularly." He made a grimace. "That is, as many as I can't manage to get out of."

"Well," went on Larose, "I'm helping in a little Secret Service enquiry and I want to be brought in contact with the Baltic Ambassador—casually. I want to make his acquaintance, as it were by chance, so that he'll not have the remotest idea I've arranged it."

Sir Humphrey at once nodded emphatically. "All right, Mr. Larose, I quite understand! And tomorrow you shall have five minutes by the clock with our good-looking friend, Herr von Ravenheim." He held up his hand warningly. "But you be here well before eleven, for the Herr is always punctual."

So the next morning Larose was seated in the great specialist's waiting room when von Ravenheim was ushered in. The Baltic ambassador was immaculately dressed, and of decidedly aristocratic appearance. He had good features, with an oval intellectual face and very alert blue eyes. His expression was a cold and haughty one. He gave one quick, very cursory glance at Larose, and then picked up a magazine off the table and sat down.

"He's handsome," thought Larose, "like a very good-looking devil. And he's callous as a butcher and could be as cruel as hell. He's beautifully calm and collected now, but I'm going to give him a shock."

He rose up from his chair and walked near to where von Ravenheim had seated himself. "Excuse me," he said very quietly, "but you're Herr von Ravenheim?"

"I am," said von Ravenheim looking up with an icy stare.

"And I am Nicolas Bent; but you won't know that name," went on Larose, speaking now very rapidly and in an intense whisper. "My brother is that Anton Pellew who's had dealings with you when you were Mr. Menns, and I've been helping him in everything. It was I who got those submarine plans for which you paid us £2,000. But my brother, as you must have read, has been chopped for passing on parts of an anti-aircraft gun to the Japanese. There was some double-crossing somewhere; and the messenger was stopped with the goods upon him. But my brother denies everything and they've got no real evidence against him. He'll never break down and confess, either. He's not that sort."

Larose stopped speaking, as if for want of breath, and a great wave of admiration surged through him for the iron nerve of the Baltic ambassador. Von Ravenheim must, of course, have received a great shock, but he had not turned a hair and his expression was as cool and unruffled as if he had not taken in a word Larose had said. He had regarded him just as disinterestedly as if he had been talking about the weather.

Larose plucked a small, torn piece of paper from his pocket and held it out. "But I've got those measurements of the balance tanks you wanted!" he went on eagerly. "I've torn the specifications in two, but you can study the part when you get home and then, if you pay me £250, I'll give you the other half."

Von Ravenheim's eyes dropped carelessly upon the paper, but then, after they had rested there a few moments, he looked up frowningly. He made no attempt to touch the paper.

"How do you come to be here?" he asked.

"I've been following you for three days," said Larose. "I've been trying to catch you when you were alone and would have to listen to me. I knew you'd be suspicious of everyone now. I saw you came here two days running at 11 o'clock, and chanced it you were having treatment and would come a third day. So I've made an excuse to see the doctor myself." He thrust out a bandaged wrist. "I burnt this with mustard and tipped the butler to let me in in the hope that Sir Humphrey would spare me a few minutes sometime during the day."

Von Ravenheim seemed convinced and took the torn piece Larose was still holding out. He now regarded it more critically. "Where do you live?" he asked after a long moment.

"My address is on the back of the paper," said Larose. "At least that is where a letter will find me. But it's only an accommodation address of course. I don't live there."

"I asked you where you lived," said von Ravenheim sternly.

Larose shook his head. "I can't tell you," he replied. "I dare not. I am in trouble now with the police, only fortunately they have no description of me. They know my real name, however, so if you write, please use the one I've put on the paper." Then he added eagerly, "I could come to the Embassy any time, but would prefer it to be at night." He nodded. "If you are willing to pay that £250 I should like it to be soon, for now, with my brother being taken, I happen to have been caught very short of money."

For a long moment Von Ravenheim eyed him with eyes which stabbed like daggers. Then he thrust the paper back.

"I don't trust you," he said curtly. "I believe you are lying. You come of a lying family!"

"Lying!" exclaimed Larose scowlingly. "I'm not lying now!" He whipped out a shabby wallet and exposed two half notes in one of the pockets. "Look, except for some loose silver and a few coppers, these are all I've got in the world. I want money like hell, and I tell you I'd do anything to get it." He lowered his voice until it was almost inaudible. "What about that job you were going to give my brother? That £10,000 job, I mean! I was going to help him; but now I'd do it on my own for half the money!" He nodded vigorously. "You could trust me! I can hit a sixpence every time at twenty paces! I'm splendid with a gun."

Von Ravenheim's face was inscrutable, but he was thinking hard. He did not doubt that this man was Pellew's brother, and he did not disbelieve, as he had made out, the tale he had been told. But he had hesitated at first, because he had no wish to have any dealings with a weakling and he had wanted to sum up the speaker, first.

Now, however, hearing a bell ring somewhere and then voices in the hall, he made up his mind instantly.

"Quick, give me back that paper," he said sharply, "and you can call in Portland place at eleven tonight. Go round to the servants' entrance and ask for Mr. Schmidt. If you are told he is not in, you will understand I have reconsidered the matter. That is all now, and don't speak to me any more."

That night a few minutes before Larose was due for his appointment at the Embassy, von Ravenheim and Herr Blitzen were closeted together in the latter's private study. Neither of them seemed in good humor. Blitzen was scowling angrily and von Ravenheim's usual placid face was flushed and frowning.

"But I still think it is not altogether wise for your Excellency to have come here," said the latter respectfully. "There is not a person here who does not know your features, your voice, and your very walk as well as his own; and you may easily have been recognised, although the discipline I keep in this house would prevent anyone showing it."

"Nonsense!" retorted Herr Blitzen rudely. "Of course, they will see the likeness but they will all think I am one of my many imagined understudies. But cease talking about it. I am here, and what I have done I have done. That is the end of it." He turned the conversation. "Now what does it mean that so many of our consuls have been told to leave England?"

"It means, Your Excellency," said von Ravenheim calmly, "that the British Secret Service has at last wakened up to what they have been doing. Macken, as our consul at Hull, has certainly been of great service to us during the past two years, but he has bungled badly now by having been seen in the company of two of our agents who have just been committed for trial in connection with the recent sabotage at the Lyle Munition Works."

"The fool!" exclaimed Herr Blitzen angrily. "He couldn't have taken even the most elementary precautions!"

"Four of our men were rounded up there," went on von Ravenheim gloomily, "and it is known he was friendly with all of them." He paused a moment. "Then there's Blaaberg our consul at Cardiff. Just the same stupidity! Two of our agents, when caught taking photographs of one of the new underground aerodromes, were found trying to escape in his car."

He looked troubled. "I must admit that the British Secret Service is doing a great deal more than I had ever dreamed of and the state of preparedness, in a way, is disconcerting."

"But I can't understand how you have been conducted round everywhere," said von Ravenheim frowningly. "There is something strange to me about the whole business."

"There is nothing strange about it," commented the other sharply. "It is just that everyone was angling for the smiles of two pretty girls! That pompous fool, Lord Michael, has been falling over himself to curry favor with them and he has only used"—he mimicked sneeringly—"'this gentleman from gallant little Swizerland' to curry favor with them."

Von Ravenheim averted his eyes. "Well, I need not warn Your Excellency that the smile of a pretty woman can be a two-edged sword and that the most wary of us need to take care."

"Bah! You can trust me to look after myself!" exclaimed Herr Blitzen, with such emphasis that it was almost as if he were covering a slight embarrassment. "I admit I am very charmed with them both, especially the elder one. Indeed"—he hesitated—"I am thinking what I am going to do with her." He spoke defiantly. "I might even take her back with me."

"An Englishwoman!" murmured von Ravenheim softly. "Our countrymen would welcome her, would they not?"

"They would welcome anybody of whom I approve," retorted Blitzen sharply. "What I have done for them has made them realise long ago that I am a law unto myself." He turned the conversation quickly. "Now what are you doing about that matter of Lord Michael and Sir Howard? Have you found a substitute for that fool who got caught with the Japanese?"

"Yes, and he has just come at the right moment," said von Ravenheim. He smiled. "He is the brother of the fool himself, but he seems a much wiser fool than the other and showed considerable enterprise in the way he got speech with me," and then he proceeded to relate the happenings of that morning and how Larose was to call at the Embassy that night.

"But I am taking nothing for granted," he went on, "and shall put him through his paces thoroughly when he arrives. He will be placed in the observation room, too, and four of our men who know every face in Scotland Yard are now on hand, to see if they recognise him."

"A pity we couldn't use some of our own people to carry the business through," commented Herr Blitzen.

"No! no!" came emphatically from von Ravenheim. "The matter is a very risky one and there is always the chance the shooter will get caught himself. I found out only yesterday that the guards on these two men have been doubled. So no one of our nationality must be known to have had a hand"—he smiled—"in any misfortune which should happen to these gentlemen."

A telephone bell burred softly on his desk and he picked up the receiver. "All right!" he exclaimed. "You know what to do! He will be there a full quarter of an hour!" and he hung up the receiver with a jerk.

He nodded to Herr Blitzen. "That's the man, Your Excellency. He has come. Would you like to go and view him through the observation holes?"

Herr Blitzen shook his head. "No that's your work, not mine. You should be a better judge of the mentality of these pigs over here than I am. I don't want to see him."

They talked on for some minutes, and then von Ravenheim left the room, Herr Blitzen having intimated that he would await his return.

In the meantime, Larose had been admitted through the servants' entrance of the Embassy by a closely-cropped bullet-headed attendant and led through many passages and up many flights of back stairs and shown into a small room with no windows.

"Sit zere," said the man pointing to a big armchair, "and vait," and he went out and snapped to the door behind him.

Larose looked round with interest. The room was almost bare of furniture, containing only an armchair, a small table in one corner and a desk in another. It was illuminated by a big arc-lamp, so generously shaded, however, that while the lower part of the room was as bright as daylight, the upper part was all in shadow.

"And what the devil is this place used for?" Larose asked himself curiously. "I'll bet it's got some special purpose!" He suppressed a start. "Great James, I'm being watched! Most probably someone is giving me a good look over through some peep-hole in the ceiling!" He suppressed a whistle. "Gee, if anyone recognises me, but thank goodness this Baltic crowd were not over here when I was at the Yard!"

He was kept waiting for quite a long time and then the door opened quickly and von Ravenheim himself appeared. "This way!" he said curtly, and Larose followed him along more passages to a large and very sumptuously appointed room.

"Sit down," said von Ravenheim, "and we'll continue our conversation of this morning. I am going to ask you a lot of questions and if you hesitate in your replies I shall know you are lying to me. You understand? All right." Then he snapped out, "You say you are that man's brother. Well, what was his original occupation?"

Now, being quite unaware as to how much von Ravenheim knew about Pellew, Larose was minded to tell as few untruths as possible. After Pellew's arrest, the wine-merchant's fingerprints had been taken and they had been traced back to those of the solicitor, Wakeford Bent, who ten years before had received a term of imprisonment. So Larose now answered truthfully enough. "He was a solicitor once."

"And he has been in prison?" said von Ravenheim.

"Yes, he appropriated trust money and got five years, ten years ago."

"And what is your occupation?"

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I've been everything." He grinned. "I'm another black sheep of the family. First I was in a bank, then I was shipped to Australia and knocked about there for eight years mostly on sheep stations. Then——"

"How far is Sydney from Brisbane?" interrupted von Ravenheim.

Larose opened his eyes very wide, as if surprised at the strangeness of the question, but he answered promptly. "Somewhere about five hundred miles, rather under than over, if I remember rightly."

"And what weight in wool do you get off a sheep in a year?" was the next question, rapped out equally as sharply.

Larose smiled now. "Say about ten to eleven pounds or a little more in an ordinary sheep but, of course, in a stud ewe——"

"That'll do," said von Ravenheim. "Go on with your history."

"Then two years ago I came back," said Larose, "and have picked up a living as best I can. I've been in a restaurant as assistant to a chef and——"

"What's Tartare Sauce made of?" asked von Ravenheim.

"Yolk of eggs, olive oil, Tarragon vinegar, mustard and pepper," rattled off Larose, grinning.

"Go on, what else have you been?"

"Bookmaker's clerk, racing tipster, waiter in a night club and"—Larose grinned again here—"helping my brother."

"Have you got any references?"

Larose seemed surprised again.

"Great James, no! I've generally had to clear out quick and lively! I don't remember ever having had a reference in my whole life."

"Well, how much of that £2,000 your brother received for those plans did he pay you?"

"£200. I acted as the go-between, so that he couldn't be caught in any case."

"Then where's that money?"

Larose sighed heavily. "Lost it at two meetings at Sandown Park. I went nap on Bully Boy and Son of Fox and they were both pulled. I didn't have a run for my money."

"Did you help your brother to get Lady Bowery's tiara at the Rialto or those emeralds from Clavering Court?"

Larose whistled in genuine surprise now. He had, of course, read of the robberies, but it was news to him that the precious stones he had seen Pellew handling were the proceeds of them. "Gosh!" he exclaimed, "what you know!" he nodded. "Yes, I was driving his car when he went down to Clavering and I was friendly with Lady Bowery's maid and kept her away from the bedroom while he got in."

"What money did you receive as your share?"

Larose shook his head. "I didn't get any. The jewels haven't been sold yet. My brother said they were too dangerous to sell straightaway, but where he's hidden them I don't know."

Von Ravenheim hesitated quite a long time before he put the next question. "Is your brother likely to make any admissions in the expectation of getting his punishment lightened?"

Larose scoffed. "Not he! He'd never show pity to anyone and he'll not cringe for pity now! He's tough as hell and takes everything as it comes."

The examination seemed over, and it was at once obvious that von Ravenheim was now inclined to be more pleasantly disposed. He took the torn half of the plan from a pigeon-hole in his desk.

"This seems what we want," he said, "but we can't be certain until it has been passed by our experts. Have you brought the other half with you?"

"Yes," said Larose, but he made no attempt to produce it.

"Well, I can't pay you for it until I know for certain if it's worth anything."

Larose's face fell. "But I want money at once. As I told you, I've got only a few shillings."

"I'll advance you £20," said von Ravenheim.

"Make it thirty," said Larose, and he at once produced the paper and handed it over.

Von Ravenheim saw the two pieces fitted together and then out of a drawer in his desk, took three £10 notes and gave them to Larose. "Now about that other matter?" he said. "You say, are willing to carry it through?"

"For £5,000," said Larose. "Fifty pounds down for expenses and the balance when the men are dead."

Von Ravenheim's cold imperious manner had all returned. "But how do I know you are capable?" he asked brusquely. "You may be just a boaster after the fifty pounds."

Larose laughed scornfully. "I'm no boaster," he retorted. "I've killed twice before. I shot an enemy in Australia, and a plain-clothes man over here, not six months ago. He was after me with a gun but I got him first." He laughed again. "As for being capable I told you this morning what I could do and I only spoke the truth. In gun work I'm equal to three men, every time."

Von Ravenheim eyed him very sternly. "Have you got a gun on you now?"

"Certainly not!" replied Larose instantly. He seemed amused. "I'm always looking out for the chance of picking up a wallet anywhere, and if I were caught with my hand in someone's pocket, and then they found a gun upon me—good heavens, what a stretch I'd get!"

"What pistol do you use?"

"I've got a Webley at home but I'm good with any make."

"All right," said von Ravenheim. He smiled grimly. "Then I'll try you at once! Follow me. It happens I have a little shooting gallery downstairs."

If he had expected to see any discomfiture in Larose's face he was disappointed. Instead, Larose looked very pleased and eager to show what he could do.

Von Ravenheim led the way out of the room and, proceeding along a short passage, they entered a small automatic lift and descended as far as it would go, passing six landings.

Their journey ended, the ambassador switched on some lights in a long corridor and then at the far end switched on yet more lights and ushered Larose into a narrow enclosed passage, fitted up as a shooting gallery. He closed the door behind them and then pressed a button on the wall.

"That informs my two personal attendants where I am," he said significantly.

"Oh," exclaimed Larose innocently, "and then you always have to tell them where you are!"

Von Ravenheim made no comment. "Now this range is twelve yards long," he went on, "and what size bullseye would you like."

"Well, as the pistol will be strange to me," said Larose. "I think it had better be an inch one," and so a cardboard target of the required size was inserted in the clip and the clip wound down upon two wires until it reached the end of the gallery.

"Quite an up-to-date little range!" remarked Larose approvingly.

"Yes, and we find it useful," commented the ambassador. "Every man in the building gets some tuition. Now about the pistols," he went on. "We use Bayards," and, opening a drawer, he took out two automatics and proceeded to load them. "No tricks, my friend," he added sternly, "I shall be standing with mine just behind you all the time."

Larose looked scornful. "Goodness gracious, if I'd wanted to get you I'd have done it when you were opening that drawer. I'm a master of ju-jitsu and could have put a jugular hold on you in three seconds. You wouldn't have had time to make a sound."

"You seem a very versatile gentleman," remarked von Ravenheim dryly, "with all your accomplishments. Now here's your gun and let's see what you can do."

Larose took the pistol from him and for a few seconds, held it on the palm of his open hand.

"Nicely balanced," he remarked, "and a pretty little weapon! But you're not using a good kind of oil." He sniffed hard. "Why, anyone could smell you were rodded directly you came into any room." He grinned. "That wouldn't do for indoor work, with a silencer!"

"Get on!" snapped von Ravenheim. "Don't talk."

"Two shots for sighters," remarked Larose and, almost without seeming to take any aim, he raised his arm sharply and the crash of the pistol followed instantly upon his words.

"I shot high, didn't I?" he asked over his shoulder, without turning round.

Von Ravenheim was scrutinising the target through a small pair of opera glasses. "Y-e-s," he replied slowly, with a curious inflexion in his tones, "but they're only just above the bull."

"Well, here's to better luck!" exclaimed Larose, and now raising his arm, he dropped his wrist four times in as many seconds.

For a moment von Ravenheim did not speak. Then he said quietly "Really, you shoot very well! I quite thought you had missed the bull altogether, but there is only one ragged hole. You scored every time."

Larose seemed very pleased with himself. "I told you I was some shot and honestly, I am. I spent most of my wages on ammunition when I was in Australia, and it was all wasted money." Then he seemed to remember and nodded violently. "But no, it won't turn out to have been wasted money if I get that £5,000." He laughed. "You think I could hit a man at twenty yards, don't you?"

"Certainly," nodded back von Ravenheim. "But let me see you shoot again."

So the target was wound back and a fresh one put in its place. Then, as before, Larose made every shot a bull, firing equally as quickly as he had done the first time.

Von Ravenheim was obviously impressed. A man who was able to take life as quickly as Larose undoubtedly could, was certainly a benefactor to his fellows and he respected him accordingly.

"Your shooting is wonderful," he said warmly, "and I should like a friend of mine to see it, too. He's upstairs and I'll go and fetch him. Oh, but I'll take your pistol from you, if you don't mind, and lock it up until I return." He smiled. "You see, I have certain rules and I always keep to them. My automatics are never out of my sight, unless, of course, put away as now."

Alone again, Larose did not smile. "And this is where the devils practised!" he muttered. "No wonder our Secret Service men are often reported missing, and their bodies never found!" He nodded scowlingly. "And as a follow-on to the instructions here, I shouldn't wonder if all the Baltic agents were not given an intensive course of digging graves in lonely places!" He made a gesture of disgust. "When their genius is debauched in lusts of blood and slaughter what a devilish race they become!"

He heard the door open behind him and turned with a ready smile to greet the two men who were entering the shooting gallery. But the smile froze on his lips, his heart almost stopped, and an icy shiver ran down his spine as he perceived that the man now with the ambassador was Herr Blitzen!

"This is the man, Mein Herr," began von Ravenheim, "and——" but he saw the surprised expression on the other's face and stopped speaking.

"But I know him!" came sharply from Blitzen, who was regarding Larose from under scowling brows, "I have seen him before! He was staying at the same hotel with me!"

Larose's heart was pumping fiercely but his smile was ready and there was a spice of humor in it as he interposed quickly. "No, sir, you saw me at Wickham Towers, the week-end before last! You were there with two young ladies! I had a little conversation with you on one of the terraces."

Herr Blitzen turned eyes which were heavy-laden with suspicion upon von Ravenheim. "Ah, yes, he was one of the guests there! I remember, he was a friend of that baronet. He was dressed as a gentleman!"

The ambassador's face went black as thunder and his hand darted instinctively to the bell-push upon the wall.

"Explain," he said sharply, "and quickly too! What does it mean?"

Larose was quite calm and collected. "The devil!" he exclaimed boldly. "What does what mean? Yes, I was there as one of the party! I was a guest like Herr Blitzen and enjoyed it, too! What about it?"

"You, making yourself out to be what you tell me—a guest of Sir Henry Willingdean?" queried von Ravenheim with angry scorn.

"Why not?" countered Larose stoutly, "I had got to know his son, Captain Willingdean, at a night club, and he had invited me down." He bridled up. "I look as good as anyone when I'm properly dressed."

"What were you down there for?" asked von Ravenheim, his suspicions not quite proof against the bold face Larose had put on.

"Nothing definite," replied Larose. "Just on the chance." He grinned. "I was there to help my brother if anything happened to turn up." He nodded. "My brother was there, too; another friend of the Captain's."

Von Ravenheim turned to Herr Blitzen. "Was there anyone among the guests who was called Pellew?" he asked.

"That wasn't his name there," interposed Larose. "He was called Travers! Herr Blitzen must have noticed him as he and the Captain were always together."

Herr Blitzen nodded to the ambassador. "A stoutish man with a close beard! Heavy face, coarse looking!"

"And I was called Wheatley," said Larose. "The Captain didn't know we were related."

"What did you steal?" asked von Ravenheim sneeringly.

"Nothing! My brother started to get up into one of the bedrooms with a ladder after a pearl necklace, but he was interrupted and there was a great fuss. After that everyone was on guard."

The ambassador turned interrogatively to Herr Blitzen for confirmation and the latter nodded. Then, fixing Larose intently with his eyes, he asked brusquely, "Did either of you two do any card-playing the first night? Ah, there were rumors going about that someone was supposed to have cheated!" He addressed himself to von Ravenheim. "This fellow is probably speaking the truth. Captain Willingdean would take anyone for a friend. He's known to be a scoundrel."

And Larose marvelled that men who were prepared to take murder in their stride, were yet contemptuous of others who stole, or cheated at cards.

All suspicions being apparently now cleared up, Larose gave another exhibition of his shooting, and Herr Blitzen warmed to him exactly as the ambassador had done. "Very good! Excellent!" he exclaimed. "I have never seen finer shooting."

Larose was dismissed soon with the arrangement made that he was to telephone every evening to learn when he would be wanted.

"And I am almost certain," von Ravenheim had said in parting, "that it will be the Friday or Saturday of next week. But you must be prepared to come any day. There will be only one chance of getting them both together," and Larose had gone off very pleased with his evening's work.

"I don't think we could have found a better man," remarked the ambassador after he had gone. "He is quick and capable, and showed his resource by the way he got in touch with me in the first instance."

"And I should be sorry for anyone within twenty yards of his pistol," nodded Herr Blitzen. "There will be no bungling, and if there are any detectives watching them"—he smiled grimly—"well, I shall be sorry for them, too."

Then Herr Blitzen, with a quick change of the conversation, threw a dreadful bomb into the ambassador's equanimity by announcing abruptly that he, von Ravenheim, must invite him and the young English woman to the embassy.

A long silence followed, and then von Ravenheim asked. "But why does your Excellency wish, so particularly, that I should meet them?"

Herr Blitzen spoke with some little irritation. "For one thing I want you yourself to see what kind of woman I am choosing, and, for another, I want her to realise it is not an ordinary man who is giving her his affections." He nodded. "She will sense something of my influence when you ask her here."

"Very well, your Excellency," said the ambassador calmly, "let us make it Sunday. As you are aware, I have engagements which it would be unwise to put off, for every evening up till then."

"It is my wish that you should meet them," Herr Blitzen said decisively, "and as it is not advisable that you should be seen with me in public, then it is here we must all come. You will invite them to dinner and to stay the night. I want you to show them our paintings and the silver plate. They know when things are good and will be impressed."

During the day that followed von Ravenheim was feeling very disturbed at his superiors infatuation for Cecily Castle, but that night he was destined to receive another unpleasant surprise, and a greater one in a way this time, because it was so galling to his pride. It was a blow in a most sensitive spot, and held him up to himself as a poor judge of men and character.

He was a guest at a dinner party at the Rumanian Embassy, and during the course of the meal the subject of shooting cropped up. Whereupon he mentioned that he had recently witnessed a case of extraordinary marksmanship, with the shooter emptying his automatic with extreme rapidity and yet scoring a bullseye every time.

"And he appeared to take no aim," he added. "Just a downward flick of his wrist and the bullet went bang into the very centre of the target."

"Very interesting," remarked his elderly vis-a-vis, every line of whose features and every curve of whose body suggested the military man. "I met a chap like that once. He never seemed to move his elbow. Yes, he beat us all at our own game, although he was only a detective."

"I know the chap you mean," commented a well-known Kings Counsel from across the table. "He was Gilbert Larose!" He laughed in some amusement. "Only a detective, indeed, but he was the best one Scotland Yard ever had; and when he married Lady Ardane and retired it was a great loss to the C.I.D." He turned to the Baltic ambassador. "A remarkable man, and excelled in so many ways. They say he could cook like a chef, he was a fine actor and a great master of ju-jitsu."

Some faint chord of memory stirred uneasily in von Ravenheim's mind. "An Englishman, of course?" he asked.

"No, he came from Australia, let me see, it can't be more than ten years ago. He can only be about thirty-four now."

"Yes, and although he's married into pots of money," chimed in someone else, "I've heard he still dabbles in his own trade and often gives a hand to the police from sheer love of his work."

As in some nightmare dream, von Ravenheim heard his own voice speaking very far away. "What's he like?" he asked. "I fancy I've met him."

"Oh, rather a nice-looking chap," replied the King's Counsel. "Medium height, rather slight build, good features, and blue eyes. Talks very quickly and has a nice smile. If you didn't know him well you might think he was a boaster, but no, he can do everything he says."

Von Ravenheim proceeded with his meal, but there was no longer any taste in the food and the rare old wines might have been water for all their effect upon him. His handsome face was as calm and unruffled as ever, and showed no sign of the rage which was consuming him.

He had never felt more shamed.

With all his senses upon the alert and prepared and ready to be suspicious about everyone, he had yet fallen to the cunning of a man who was really only a common policeman. By mere chance he had been saved from an open humiliation.

He gritted his strong white teeth together. But from what had he actually been saved? Certainly, from disclosing the names of the two men who were to be assassinated! But from what else? Had this one-time policeman discovered the identity of Herr Blitzen and been shadowing him first, at the Arragon Hotel and then at that house party? If so, then he was working for the British Secret Service, and what did they know? What was the extent of their knowledge? What—ah, but all conjectures were waste of thinking.

He smiled a cold, cruel smile. There was yet time and opportunity to make up for his gross carelessness. This spy should fall into his own trap and in his agony he should be made to tell his own tale! Yes, he should report no more to his masters and his disappearance should add yet another mystery to the many the British Counter-Espionage had been unable to solve.

The next morning he was called early to the telephone. It was Herr Blitzen who was speaking. "You had better," said the latter sharply, "look more closely into the credentials of that fellow of last night before you take him on. Something has come back to me. He was not only at the house party, but he was staying at this hotel before that. Do you get it? All right."

Von Ravenheim felt more venemously spiteful than ever. He had been exposed before his superior and his pride would not forgive that.

Having attended to his correspondence, he left the Embassy and picking up a taxi in Marylebone was driven to a moderately-sized house in Hampstead. Upon the door was a plate, "Dr. Jansen." His visit was evidently expected for, giving the name of Bonner, he was shown straight away into the consulting room.

"I shall want you to assist at another case of extracting information," he said curtly to the stout and rather gross-looking man who rose up to greet him, "and to give the usual death certificate afterwards."

The doctor just grunted. "When?"

"Tomorrow night at ten!" said von Ravenheim. He remembered the dinner party Herr Blitzen had commanded and corrected himself quickly. "No, at eleven. Be at the Embassy at a little before and bring a blank certificate with you."

"Where's he going to be buried?" asked the doctor frowningly.

Von Ravenheim shook his head. "That's nothing to do with you. Your work will be finished when you've signed the certificate."

The doctor looked uneasy. "My work may be finished, but I can always be traced by these certificates and I tell you I'm not too keen on giving them. Why don't you get rid of them now like you used to do?"

"It's not convenient in town!" snapped the ambassador. "I don't like carrying corpses for long journeys afterwards. In these days cars in the country are liable to be stopped upon any excuse. Now one thing I want you to tell me. He'll come in, I hope tonight, or at any rate tomorrow night. Then what dose shall I give him to start with? He's a strong healthy man, very fit and in good condition."

"One tenth of a grain straight away," replied the doctor. "That'll knock him out. It's a full dose. Then give him one twentieth the next morning and no more if you don't want him fuddled. Don't let him have any food, but leave plenty of water within reach."

Von Ravenheim nodded his thanks and took his leave.

"And that'll be the fifth time they wanted me this year," remarked the doctor when he had gone. He nodded. "So the end must be getting very near! Yes I'd better start looking for a little place in the country. To my thinking it soon won't be too healthy in London—before even this summer's out." He nodded again. "With von Ravenheim so busy, it means things are soon going to move!"


CHAPTER IX.—"THE CHAMBER OF DEATH"

WHEN Larose, as had been arranged, rang up the Embassy that night, he was told to come round as soon as he could, and he arrived half an hour later. Then, being admitted as before by the servants' entrance in the basement, he was passed on to another attendant who, without a word, led him along a long passage and down a flight of stairs into a dimly-lighted passage at the bottom.

Then, so suddenly that he had not the slightest warning, someone sprang upon him out of the darkness; he felt gripping hands all over him and he was thrown violently down and pressed tightly to the ground.

A light was switched on and he found himself in the grip of three burly men. A fourth produced a rope and he was quickly tied hand and foot.

Then he was lifted up and carried a short distance into a small room and deposited upon a bed there.

And all the time not a cry had been uttered and not a word spoken. It was like some dreadful dream. Then, after they all inspected the knots, one of his captors said something in a language he did not understand and the other two at once left the room, closing the door behind them. The one who had spoken seated himself down in a chair and lighting a cigarette, proceeded to regard him thoughtfully.

Larose was covered in a chilling perspiration and a feeling of horrid sickness was stealing over him. It was not only that he realised he was in dreadful danger, but his mortification at being found out was an absolute physical torture to him.

He saw the man was staring hard at him, but he would not give him the satisfaction of refusing to answer any questions and so he did not speak himself.

A long silence ensued, a deep heavy silence with not a sound penetrating in from the outside world. A chamber of death, thought Larose, and with an icy shiver his thoughts ran on to visualise possibilities even worse than death.

He was in the hands of men whose actions, the world over, had proved them to be of an inhuman cruelty, times without number. In the furthering of debased ideals there was no form of suffering they were not prepared to inflict upon those who stood in their way.

So what now might be going to happen to him? Either as punishment for the way he had deceived them, or if they thought he had secrets which it was desirable they should learn, then he might as soon expect mercy from a beast of the jungle as from them.

The door opened without a sound and von Ravenheim, followed by a man carrying a small box, stepped into the room. The ambassador came over to the bed and stood looking down upon Larose.

His face was calm and expressionless, but his eyes were hard as steel. "You are Gilbert Larose," he said quietly, "and you have told me untruths." He paused a moment. "I intend to find out why."

Larose did not speak. It would be no good, he told himself! He would not be able to bluff the man any more!

Von Ravenheim went on: "I do not suppose you will speak unless I compel you!" He paused again. "Then I shall have to make you."

He made a sign to the man behind him and the latter, placing the box upon the table, occupied himself with some preparations, the nature of which Larose could not see. Von Ravenheim moved over to the table and stood watching what was going on.

Now, in after years, Larose could never recollect anything of what his thoughts were in the long minute which followed. Indeed, he did not think he could have had any thoughts at all. The horror of everything was too great and his brain must have been numbed.

But he always remembered that he awoke to concrete thought the instant he saw the man approaching him with a hypodermic syringe in his hand. "What are you going to do to me?" he cried. "What are you going to do?"

No one gave him any answer, but he saw that von Ravenheim's face was no longer expressionless, and that he was now smiling a cruel and evil smile.

Larose started to struggle violently in an endeavor to throw himself off the bed, but the third man instantly darted forward and held him down. Von Ravenheim gave no assistance to the men, keeping his distance as if Larose were too loathsome a thing to touch.

"Slap his face hard if he doesn't keep still," said the ambassador, and a stinging blow from a heavy hand made Larose realise how useless it was to keep up the struggle. He relaxed and lay still.

Then the sleeve of his coat was pulled up and he felt a prick just above his wrist, and a few moments later the two men withdrew from the bed.

"It will take a little while to act," said von Ravenheim, speaking in Baltic to the two men, "but when you see he's unconscious you can take off the ropes. Then exactly twelve hours from now he's to be given another dose, but of only half the strength. You understand?"

At first Larose thought nothing was going to happen to him, but very soon a dreadful, heavy feeling began to creep over him. The room began to grow dark, gradually the darkness deepened and finally his last thoughts of his wife and little son were blotted out. He lay as one who was dead.

London was breakfasting the next morning when he had awakened, and was fully conscious again. Both physically and mentally he was in the lowest depth of misery. His head was aching terribly and he felt horribly giddy. His limbs were heavy as lead.

His prospects could not be darker. There was not a ray of hope anywhere. He had taken no one into his confidence and no one had known where he was going. So when he was dead—a shudder convulsed him as he thought of this—what had happened to him would never be known to anyone. He would have just been blotted out.

In a numb, half-registering way he took in the appointments of the room, dimly lighted by one small globe at the far end. It had no windows and was ventilated by a shaft. It contained very little furniture. At the far end there was an alcove enclosing a bath.

Too sick at heart to have any desire to think of anything, he was just about to close his eyes again when he heard the opening of the door and saw three men come into the room. Two of them were his captors of the previous night and the third was the man who had given him the hypodermic injection. The latter had his box with him again.

"God!" exclaimed Larose, so weak and miserable that he could easily have burst into tears. "Are you going to give me that awful stuff again?"

But no reply was made, and, as before, the man with the box made his preparations upon the table. Then the three men came over to the bed, and two of them held him roughly down. He made no resistance, however, and the injection was made quickly in perfect silence. Immediately after, they all left the room.

A quarter of an hour later he had lapsed into semi-unconsciousness again.

The Baltic ambassador was a bachelor; and it was an unmarried sister who acted as hostess at the Embassy. She was an aristocratic-looking woman in the middle forties and of a very reserved and cold disposition. It was rumored she had been the victim of an unhappy love affair in her youth and for a time had lost her reason. She hated all social functions, but endured them.

There was not much affection between brother and sister, and she took very little interest in his work. She never questioned him nor appeared curious about anything. She showed no enthusiasm even for her own country and read the newspapers as little as possible. Her one interest in life was painting; and, with no real gift that way, she yet devoted all her leisure to her art.

To her brother she was just the automatically competent housekeeper of the Embassy and that was all.

So it was she who received Cecily and Hilda Castle when they arrived that afternoon. Her brother had told her they were daughters of an influential friend of his and were to be her guests until the following day. She had made no comment, but had seen to it that everything was ready for them.

The Embassy was a large building of early Victorian days, but all the upper part of it had been modernised and the two girls were given a small, compact suite of four rooms upon the second floor consisting of a sitting-room, and two bedrooms, with a bathroom in between.

Fraulein von Ravenheim presided over tea and for a few minutes they were alone with her, with conversation flagging and difficult. But soon the ambassador, accompanied by Herr Blitzen came into the room and the former being introduced, the atmosphere became much less strained.

Certainly, Herr Blitzen appeared to be very thoughtful and spoke very little; but von Ravenheim was most animated and both the girls were at once charmed with him. He was so good-looking, his manners were so courtly and it was evident he was so desirous of being friendly to them.

He took them both in with appreciating eyes, and especially Cecily. He soon formed the opinion that if it were little short of a calamity that his superior should have become so infatuated with her, he could nevertheless quite understand. The girl was not only very pretty and most fascinating to look upon, but her intelligence was also of a high order.

So quite aware that Blitzen was watching him intently, he let him see plainly that as far as the girl herself was concerned, he was regarding her with feelings of admiration.

Presently he said smilingly, "Now, I understand that neither of you speaks our language. Well"—he bowed—"forgive me if I make a private remark to Herr Blitzen," and, taking their consent for granted, he turned to Herr Blitzen.

"She is a very beautiful young woman, your Excellency," he said impressively in Baltic, "and any man would fall in love with her. She is not only beautiful, but most intelligent as well." There was a note of warning in his tones. "So you be very cautious, sir, or she may find out far more than you want her to know."

Cecily had crimsoned, "But that wasn't polite, Herr von Ravenheim," she said reprovingly. "You may have been saying something very disparaging about us."

"Not at all," laughed the ambassador. "I'm sure I couldn't think of anything disparaging, however long I thought." He rose to his feet. "But come on now. I'll take you to see our paintings. They were all gifts to us and we are very proud of them."

He led them into a large and lofty room. "This is our banqueting-hall," he explained, "and many great men have had their knees under its table, emperors, kings, soldiers, statesmen, artists and people renowned in all walks of life," he waved his arm round the walls and added reverently, "and the men and women in those immortal paintings have looked down upon them."

"Immortal!" laughed Cecily. "But they can't last for ever!"

"But the stories of them will," smiled von Ravenheim, "and for all time the world will remember their creators." He pointed to a large painting. "Look, that was painted by Holbein in 1530. It is the portrait of a soldier," he laughed. "I am sorry to say that of an English soldier; but then Holbein was living here at the time. See how he has caught the man's expression, the confidence of the true fighting man, the courage and the contempt of danger and the determination to kill his enemy."

"But it's a rather cruel face!" said Cecily. "He doesn't look as if he'd ever have any pity!"

"And he shouldn't!" exclaimed von Ravenheim emphatically. "It is his mission to destroy." He spoke reverently. "He is a fighter for his country."

"Well, the painting is wonderful, of course," admitted Cecily, "but I should prefer a nicer looking subject."

The ambassador shook his head. "All of us, according to how we are made," he smiled. "Myself, I confess that soldier's face is often an inspiration to me." He pointed to another painting. "See, Holbein again, a young girl this time. Very beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yes, she's lovely!" exclaimed Cecily. "What a wonderful painter Holbein was!"

"Marvellous!" breathed von Ravenheim. He sighed, "And he lies buried in St. Paul's, you know, far from his home." He spoke banteringly. "One day, when we conquer this country of yours, we shall take back his dust to the land where he was born."

They looked at the other paintings, and then von Ravenheim took them into his study. They inspected some engravings there, all of war-like subjects, and then he said—"Now I'm going to give you another treat. I'll show you our silver plate and, like our paintings, much of it is very old." He took a bunch of keys out of a pigeon-hole in his desk and led them to a large cupboard let into the wall. "We have to take great care of this plate because it is all so portable, if burglars ever broke in."

The silver was certainly very beautiful, and the girls were unstinting in their admiration. "But really," said Cecily, "the treasures you have in this Embassy must be rather an anxiety to you. Aren't you afraid any of them may get stolen? Don't you ever worry about burglars?"

Von Ravenheim shook his head. "Not much; we have a watchman on the ground floor at night, and he is armed." He nodded. "All our men servants here can use a pistol, and they get practice at a little shooting range we have."

"A shooting range!" exclaimed Cecily. "Is there one in the Embassy?"

"Certainly!" smiled the ambassador. "It's below the basement. I'll take you there if you like and you shall fire a pistol."

"How thrilling," exclaimed Cecily. "Yes, I'd like to see it very much."

So down in the lift the four of them went. Herr Blitzen grateful for the intimacy which the cramped quarters of the lift conferred upon them.

The girls appeared most interested in the shooting gallery, and each of them fired a few shots. They applauded, too, when both of the men scored a bulls-eye.

Returning along the passage, they walked in front. Then, passing a closed door upon their way, they heard von Ravenheim say something in Baltic to Blitzen, and the latter made a short comment.

Going up in the lift again, Cecily said the fumes from the cartridges in the shooting-gallery had made her feel a little faint. She certainly did look a little pale, and so they went straight up to their room to rest until dinner.

Then the moment they were alone and the door closed behind them, Cecily said breathlessly to her sister. "Did you hear what they said as they passed that door, that someone called Larose was in the room there?"

Her sister nodded. Her face had paled too, as she added, "And that he was going to be questioned tonight. There would be some doctor present."

A long silence followed, with the girls staring at each other. Then Cecily said quietly, "We've not had all our wits about us, Hilda. I told you at Wickham Towers that I was suspicious about that Mr. Wheatley there, and thought I knew his face, and now I'm certain about it. He was that Gilbert Larose, who married Lady Ardane, and we had met him at Brighton, two Christmases ago!" Her eyes opened very wide and she made a startled "O—oh!" She could hardly speak in her excitement. "And he was at the Arragon Hotel, too, soon after we came there."

Another silence followed and then her sister said slowly, "Yes, he was, but he hadn't got a moustache then! He was that man who was always sitting in the lounge."

"Oh, Hilda," asked Cecily, "what does it mean?"

Hilda spoke very solemnly. "It means, dear, that he's been caught. We know he sometimes does work for the Secret Service and so, probably, he's been working for them now, and been found out."

"But could he possibly have discovered anything about us?" suggested Cecily. She went on quietly. "But we mustn't stop to think about that now. He's here, a prisoner in the Embassy."

"Of course, he's a prisoner," said Hilda sharply. "Only a prisoner would be shut up in those cellars! Yes, he's been decoyed here. That's what it is." She nodded meaningly. "And tonight he's going to be"—she stressed the last word—"questioned!"

The two girls looked hard at each other again, as if not liking to put their thoughts into words. Then Hilda went on. "Well, we must tell them outside. We must let somebody know."

Cecily heaved a big sigh and then shook her head. "Not if we can help it, and only as a last resource!" she said. "Let's think if we can't do something ourselves!"

It was a bright and lively dinner that night; and both the girls had several glasses of champagne. Fraulein von Ravenheim hardly spoke a word, but the conversation between the other four was most animated. They discussed art, literature and music, but politics were not mentioned.

Towards the end of the meal Cecily suddenly discovered she was without a handkerchief, and with a smiling little apology, rose up and left the room.

But the smile faded instantly from her face when she was in the corridor. She drew in one deep breath and then started to run swiftly towards the ambassador's study. The whole floor seemed to be deserted and she gained the room without encountering anyone.

She found his bunch of keys at once and hurried to the lift as quick as lightning. It was standing against that floor and, opening and closing the gate with only the very faintest of clicks, she pressed the button and was carried down as far as the lift would go. She stepped into the dimly-lighted passage and raced towards the shooting gallery. Then, to her horror, she was not certain which door von Ravenheim had indicated when they had overheard what he had said. All the doors were exactly alike.

But it was all or nothing now, and she started to rap sharply at them one by one.

"Anyone there?" she called out breathlessly. "Are you there, Mr. Larose?"

At the first two doors she heard nothing, but from behind the third came the sound of a weak voice. She could not catch what the speaker said, but, chancing it, she began feverishly trying the keys upon the bunch. There were not many of them, and the third one turned inside the lock and she pushed the door open.

She stepped into the room and saw a man sitting up on a narrow bed. His hair was dishevelled, his face was white and haggard, and he stared at her with frightened eyes.

For a moment she thought it was not the man she wanted. He looked so different from the trim and spruce figure she remembered at Wickham Towers, but he smiled weakly and then she recognised him at once.

"Good God!" he exclaimed incredulously. "It's you."

"Quick!" she exclaimed. "There's not a moment to lose. Come along."

Larose started to rise to his feet, but instantly he swayed and would have fallen if she had not darted forward and caught him.

"Can't you walk?" she asked despairingly.

The man clasped his arms over his chest. "Wait a moment," he replied breathing heavily. "I'm half drugged, but I'll manage it!" His eyes fell upon the bunch of keys in her hand. "Here," he exclaimed, his voice gathering force, "you open the door two doors further from this. It's a shooting gallery. The switch is on the left! You'll see some drawers right in front of you and there are pistols inside. Bring me one and some cartridges."

"But I daren't wait a second!" she cried. "They may miss me and come to look for me."

"Oh, do risk it!" he pleaded. "They're going to torture me. I'll be pulling myself together while you're away. Try one of the keys. I saw it was a big one."

She gave a flashing glance to the bunch of keys and saw that one was certainly bigger than the others. So she ran out of the room and Larose began drawing in deep breaths and stretching his arms, feeling new life course through him with every breath he drew.

He had risen to his feet and had managed to totter to the door in the short time she was away.

"Here you are!" she said breathlessly. "I could only find three loose cartridges."

"You're an angel of light!" breathed Larose fervently. "Oh, glorious, it's got a silencer on and it's already loaded. You shut the door after you, didn't you?"

"Yes, and switched off the light. Come along."

She had to support all his weight up the passage, but in less than a minute they had reached the lift.

"Where are you taking me?" he asked.

"Up to our rooms upon the third floor. We are staying the night here."

"No, no, stop on the ground floor," protested Larose. "I can fight my way out through the hall."

"Nonsense, you can't even stand!" she said sharply. "And, besides, there are always several people about there by the switchboard."

She arrived at the third floor, and then, her nervousness more apparent than at any time, she literally dragged him along the corridor to their rooms.

"Hide yourself where you can," she panted. "I can't do anything more for you now. We'll come up to bed as soon as we can and see what can be done then," and closing the door upon him, she darted back to the lift.

For a long while Larose remained prone upon the floor, exactly where she had left him, with his heart beating violently and feeling so giddy that he had to keep his eyes closed.

Then the palpitation beginning to calm down, he forced himself to open his eyes and take in his surroundings. The moonlight was coming in round the drawn blinds and everything was plainly discernible. He was in a bedroom and a communicating door led into a bathroom.

He forced himself into a sitting position, and a minute or so later crawled to the window, which was open at the bottom. The fresh air seemed to clear his head, and he rose to his knees, and pulling aside the blind, looked out very cautiously.

Some forty feet below lay the big courtyard of the Embassy. It was paved with big stones and in the middle was a large square of grass, with some garden seats under two big trees. It was surrounded by tremendously high walls, liberally studded with broken glass at their tops. Round the sides of the courtyard were a number of greenhouses and some sheds. Four long French windows and a door from the house opened on to the courtyard, but there was no exit from the yard leading off the Embassy premises.

Then his eyes fell upon a frail-looking iron staircase, zigzagging up the side of the house. "The fire escape, and I could get down by that!" He frowned. "But what'd be the good? They'll be searching every hole and corner before long, and then"—he rose shakily to his feet and began stretching his arms again—"but give me just a little longer and I'll think of something that'll not drag these poor girls in."

He walked slowly into the bathroom and sponged his face vigorously with cold water, feeling much less giddy at once. Then he explored the other two rooms, and coming upon a large box of chocolates, helped himself generously.

"Perhaps that Blitzen man gave them to her," he sighed. Then his eyes opened very wide. "But what the devil is the mystery there? Mixed up with this hellish crowd, yet dragging me from their clutches! What does it mean?"

But he gave up thinking about it and, revived by the chocolates, began walking backwards and forwards to recover the proper use of his legs.

In the meantime Cecily, back at the dinner table again, was playing a brave part. The length of her absence from the room was not remarked upon and she took up her share of the conversation with as much animation as before.

No one would have dreamed from her bright and smiling face that she had passed through minutes of such dreadful stress, and was now regarding her handsome host with feelings of unmitigated horror. Nor in the time which followed would anyone have dreamed either, that her nerves were strung up almost to breaking point, fearing as she was that the escape of Larose might be discovered any minute.

The meal over, they adjourned to the ambassador's study and played a hand of bridge. At five and twenty minutes to eleven, however, von Ravenheim looked at his wrist watch and compared it with the clock upon the mantelpiece. After that, every two or three minutes, he compared them again, and Cecily knew that the time for the arrival of the doctor he was expecting must be close at hand.

So, making a signal to her sister, she pleaded that she was very tired and thought it would be best if they both went to bed. Von Ravenheim's face brightened instantly, and with great gallantry, he escorted them to the lift and waited until it had passed up from his view.

"Oh, Hilda," exclaimed Cecily in a frightened whisper. "I got him out and took him up to our rooms."

"You're wonderful, darling," commented her sister warmly. She looked anxious. "But what's going to happen now?"

"I've thought it all out," replied Cecily, appearing all at once to throw off her fears, "and I don't see how it can go wrong. Come on, quick."

Larose came out from behind a wardrobe when they came into the room, and, to their great relief, he was smiling, and anything but the helpless creature Cecily, at all events, had been expecting to see.

He told him he was feeling very much stronger, and, now that they had come up, he must leave them at once and find some hiding place which would not compromise them if he were discovered.

"In a few minutes they are sure to be searching everywhere," he added, "but I may be able to dodge them. I've explored all round this landing and——"

"No," interrupted Cecily sharply; "I've got an idea."

At that moment von Ravenheim was introducing Herr Blitzen to Dr. Jansen, and the latter, although regarding him curiously, never for one moment suspected his real identity.

"Now you quite understand, doctor," said von Ravenheim sharply, "this man is likely to prove stubborn and may need two or three applications of the irons before he speaks. He looks perfectly all right to me, but you'd better examine him first to see what he can stand."

The doctor nodded. "But I shall want some methylated spirit," he said. "I forgot to put a bottle in my bag."

Von Ravenheim looked annoyed. "But that doesn't matter," he said, "I'll have a radiator taken in instead."

He touched a bell and one of the three men who had laid such rough hands upon Larose the previous night appeared.

"Are the others ready?" asked the ambassador. "Then get a radiator, Himmell, and all wait outside. You've got your key, of course."

A minute later six men were walking up the long passage towards the room where Larose had been confined. Himmell walked first and switched on the lights as he came to them.

"This man Larose should have quite a lot to tell us," remarked von Ravenheim cheerfully. "He's probably deep in with their Secret Service, for it was he who got our friend Mitter caught some years ago."

The door was reached and the man whom the ambassador had addressed as Himmell unlocked it and, followed by his two assistants, walked in first, prepared to grapple instantly with the prisoner.

He snapped down the switch for the big light in the middle of the room and then instantly uttered a hoarse cry. "He's not here!" he shouted. "He's gone."

They all crowded in and for a long moment an amazed hush filled the room. There was no possible place to hide, and they stared at the bed, as if by staring they would see what they had been expecting to see.

Herr Blitzen spoke first. "Is this the right room?" he asked.

Von Ravenheim turned with the dart of a snake. "The right room!" he thundered. Then he seemed to remember himself and went on quietly. "Yes, your——yes, Herr Blitzen;" he looked with burning eyes at Himmell, and one arm shot out menacingly, "and only that man and I possess a key."

Himmell's face had gone a pasty color, but he spoke up boldly, "and it has never left my chain, mein Herr!" He lifted up his tunic and showed the attachment of the chain to his belt. "It has never been out of my keeping for one instant since yesterday."

"You let him out!" said von Ravenheim sternly.

"I did not, Mein Herr!" pleaded the man. He shook his head incredulously. "I have never been by myself since we came in and saw he was safe, early this evening." He pointed to his two assistants. "Rudolph and Heinrich have been with me ever since in the kitchen, or playing cards in our room all the time."

"Then what time did you last come here?" snapped the ambassador when the two men had corroborated their companion's statement.

"At 6 o'clock," was the reply, "and he was lying on the bed. He was awake but looked very weak. He didn't speak and——"

"Then you most likely pulled the door to and did not notice it had not locked," broke in Herr Blitzen roughly. He shook his head angrily. "But we are wasting valuable time. The doctor here says the man cannot walk more than a few yards, so if he has got out of his room he must be hiding close by." He addressed himself to von Ravenheim. "He can't leave the embassy without being noticed, can he?"

Von Ravenheim looked very stern and grim. "Not unless I am surrounded by traitors," he snapped. He shook his head. "No, he cannot have got from this passage to the servants' entrance unless three doors had been unlocked for him. If he had taken the lift and tried to leave by the hall—well, it would have been impossible. There are always attendants there and no one opens the hall door for himself. Night or day it is never left unattended."

"You keep a watch for bombs, and so on," suggested the doctor. He nodded. "It is well! We have many enemies. It is best to be careful."

Von Ravenheim gave him a withering glare, but made no comment.

Then began a most intensive search all through the Embassy. All the servants were called up and told it was suspected a burglar was hiding somewhere. Then, room by room, every one was gone through.

The girls and Larose heard the doors opening and shutting on their floor, and the bath water was immediately turned on. Larose and Cecily shut themselves in the bathroom, while Hilda remained in her own bedroom. The light in the sitting room was switched off.

There was a rap upon Hilda's door, under which the light was showing, and they heard the voice of the ambassador, "Have you gone to bed?" he called out. "I want to speak to you."

"Just going," called back Hilda, "wait a moment," and she quickly opened the door and showed herself in her dressing gown. She saw von Ravenheim, Herr Blitzen and two men in the corridor.

"So sorry to trouble you," said the ambassador, looking very grim, "but a burglar broke in and we think he's still in the building. We had better go through these rooms."

Hilda was out in the passage in a flash. "Oh, how awful," she exclaimed. "Do look under our beds." She laid her hand upon his arm. "But don't frighten Cecily. She's having a bath. She's probably not heard anything because of the noise of the running water. Now, don't frighten her."

"Not for worlds," nodded Herr Blitzen. He smiled as if it were a good joke, "The burglar is not likely to be having a bath there, too."

The bedrooms and sitting room were looked through and then the searchers went off, with Blitzen bidding Hilda to be sure to lock their doors.

Ten minutes later all the lights in the suite were switched off, but Larose and the girls were kneeling before one of the windows and watching the courtyard below. Lights were flashing in the greenhouses and sheds and there must have been at least a dozen men taking part in the search.

But it was soon over and the courtyard left once again to the moonlight and its peace.

Then Larose started to thank them most gratefully for all they had done, but Cecily at once cut him short. "There's nothing to thank us for," she said. "We were only doing our duty." She seemed embarrassed and added quickly, "I mean it was only a matter of humanity." She spoke decisively, "Now don't you ask us any questions and we won't ask you any. You understand?"

"But just two questions," pleaded Larose. "When did you come here and how did you learn where I was?"

"We came here this afternoon and we are going away tomorrow," said Cecily. "As for knowing what was happening to you"—she hesitated—"we happened to overhear something in a language we are not supposed to understand, something about you and a Dr. Jansen who was coming tonight. That's all. So please don't ask anything more."

She looked very worried. "Now what are you going to do?"

"Well," said Larose, "the boldest course is nearly always the best and there's just a chance if I go down now I may be able to walk straight out of the front door. If I go down in the lift, no one may see me and I may find no one either in the hall."

"And you may find half a dozen," commented Cecily sharply. "Then where will you be?"

"But if you," began Larose, he spoke as if very uncomfortable in suggesting such a thing, "went down first you could see if the hall was empty."

"But what excuse could I make?" frowned Cecily.

"Oh, that you wanted some brandy," said Larose. "You could say that your sister was feeling faint after the fright." He spoke eagerly. "Yes, and you could ask for a biscuit or two as well. Except for those chocolates, I've had nothing to eat since yesterday; that and two horrible hypodermic injections they gave me have made me feel very weak." He pulled up his shirt sleeve and showed his wrist. "Look, that is what they did to me."

The girls looked shocked, but Cecily rose instantly to her feet and left the room very quietly.

"You're wonderful girls," whispered Larose to Hilda. He sighed heavily. "I only hope you won't burn your fingers."

In spite of her obvious anxiety, Hilda laughed. "The conceit of you, Mr. Larose. You think you are the only one who can play with fire."

A long wait followed, so long that both of them became really anxious. Then, to their great relief, the door opened, and Cecily reappeared, carrying a tray. "A big brandy and soda," she whispered exultantly, "and better than biscuits, ham sandwiches. I happened to meet one of the maids who was bringing up some supper for the men and she was most obliging." She looked scornfully at Larose. "As for no one being in the hall, there were three of them there and someone was working in the office as well."

They watched Larose enjoy his meal and then Cecily asked with a frown, "Wouldn't it be safer to let"—she seemed to stumble over the words—"your friends know what is happening?"

But Larose was now full of confidence. "No," he said quickly, "I've got myself into this mess and I want to get out of it by myself. If things come to their worst, I'll make for the roof and attract attention in the street by firing this pistol you got for me."

"But what do you want to do now?" asked Cecily.

"If you don't mind my being here until about half past two when the moon goes in, I'll get down the fire escape into the courtyard and, if I can't manage to get over the wall, I'll hide in one of those greenhouses or sheds and see what happens in the morning."

So, for two hours he rested upon Hilda's bed, keeping himself awake with a great effort, and then bidding the girls a whispered good-bye, stepped out into the corridor.

He found the door opening on to the fire escape and was soon down in the courtyard. But he looked everywhere in vain for a ladder, realising at once that it was quite hopeless to attempt to scale the high wall without one. So he made himself a bed under some sacks in one of the sheds and, worn out with the excitement of the night, dropped to sleep almost at once.

The sun was well up when he awoke, and judging by the rumble of the great city, the sounds of which everyone who has lived in London soon get to know, he reckoned it must be between six and seven o'clock. The shed was narrow, but of quite a good length. It contained a carpenter's bench and quite a lot of tools, and was evidently the place where the handy man of the embassy did the odd jobs. He noted, sadly, a long coil of thickish rope, the thought coming to him how easy it would be to get over the wall with it if there were only someone holding it taut for him on the other side. He looked out of the one small and dirty window. The courtyard was quite deserted, but he heard sounds of movements in the house and then saw a maid pull up the blinds and throw open all the long French windows.

He had minutely questioned the girls as to the general plan of the house, and knew into which rooms these windows led. Also, he had a pretty good idea as to what lay beyond before he could reach the hall.

"The devil of it," he told himself ruefully, "is the number of rooms that open into that hall and the people who may be occupying them, perhaps, with the doors very often left open! This embassy must be a darned busy place during the day, with all those offices von Ravenheim told the girls about. And I can't expect to fight my way out from a lot of innocent clerks and attendants! Depend upon it, there will be only a picked few who know anything about von Ravenheim's devilries and they won't have any labels on them to show who they are!" He nodded. "Still, sometime during the day I've got to take a big chance and I don't forget I shall only get one chance. If I bungle it, I shall be in the soup again, and then heaven only knows what'll happen."

Presently a man, who was evidently the gardener, appeared, but he went straight to one of the greenhouses and so Larose did not have to dart to his sacks again. The man came out in a few minutes, and, passing close to the shed, Larose saw he was now carrying some peaches upon a nest of leaves in a flat basket. He carried them slowly and reverently.

"For the ambassadorial breakfast," sighed Larose, "and most likely there'll be grilled kidneys and ham and eggs!"

The gardener reappeared quickly and now busied himself with trimming the lawn. Nothing happened for a long time, and then Larose's heart beat a little quicker as he saw the two girls appear through one of the French windows, followed by Herr Blitzen and the ambassador. The girls looked rather tired and their faces were pale. Their companions looked stern and unsmiling. They all stopped in one corner of the courtyard, and von Ravenheim pointed out to them something, apparently, at the top of the wall, and Larose trembled as the eagle eyes for a few moment roved round thoughtfully upon the greenhouses and sheds.

They walked round the courtyard a few times and then, greatly to Larose's relief, disappeared into the house again.

But it was not very long before the ambassador re-appeared, followed now by quite a little party. First came two workmen carrying a long ladder, then a third, laden with a basket of tools, and, finally, one of the footmen of the Embassy. Larose eyed the last angrily as he recognised in him the lackey who had slapped his face so vigorously two nights before.

Von Ravenheim led the way to the corner of the yard where he had been pointing out something a few minutes previously. The ladder was propped up, and first he, and then one of the workmen mounted. Then, after some conversation, von Ravenheim went into the house. More material was brought into the yard and a number of bottles were taken out of a sack.

"Gee," exclaimed Larose, breathlessly, "they're going to put more glass upon the wall!" His heart beat painfully. "Now's my chance if only the workmen are left to themselves, and that wretched footman goes away."

But the three workmen were not left to themselves and minute after minute went by, with the embassy attendant watching them as they worked.

One man chiselled the old cement off the wall, while the other two, squatting on the ground, started breaking up the bottles. They appeared to be taking great care to get the pieces of glass of exactly the required size.

Presently, the first man came down from the ladder, and, upon picking up a bucket, he was directed by the footman to where he could get water to mix the cement. There was a tap by one of the greenhouses over on the other side of the courtyard.

Larose felt desperate! If only the footman were not there, he would be up the ladder and over the wall before anyone had time to stop him!

In a positive agony of doubt he hesitated with the precious moments flying quickly by. At last he made up his mind. He literally sprang upon the coil of rope and threw it over his shoulder. Then things happened very quickly.

A muffled snap came from the shed and the loud crash of falling glass from near where the workman was drawing water. A bullet had struck the metal framework of the greenhouse, and the impact had shattered a number of panes.

"What the devil are you doing?" shouted the footman angrily, and he ran across the yard to see what had happened.

Larose sprang out of the shed like an arrow from a bow, and, so engrossed were all the men in staring at the damaged greenhouse, that he had gained the foot of the ladder before a head had been turned in his direction.

Then the face-slapping footman saw him, and, letting out a yell, started to race furiously towards him.

Larose ran up the ladder like lightning but, astride the wall and preparing to tie his rope to the top rung of the ladder so that he could take the twenty-five foot drop on the other side without injury, he saw he would not be able to do it before the footman had pulled the ladder away.

So out came the automatic again, and in the flash of a second the man had fallen with a bullet in his leg.

By this time the commotion had brought a number of persons out of the house, and, among them, Larose saw, were the ambassador, Herr Blitzen, and the two girls. All stared incredulously.

But having now completed his adjustment of the rope, with a mocking gesture of farewell, Larose slid out of sight over the wall.

He alighted safely on to the ground and found himself in the small back yard of a house in Great Portland street. But he had a pretty good idea where he was, having reconnoitered all round the Embassy when he had been upon the watch for von Ravenheim a couple of weeks previously.

He knocked on the only door he saw, and, without waiting for any answer, opened it and entered the house. He found himself in a kitchen, with a young girl ironing at the table. She looked up very surprised.

"Excuse me," he said, casually, "but I've had to go through all these back yards after a very valuable parrot which has flown over from the Baltic Embassy!" He smiled ingratiatingly. "But it's not here."

"No, we've not seen it!" said the girl.

"Well, let us know at once it you do," he said. "The ambassador says he will give anyone 5 who takes it back."

"Oh, then I'll look out for it," smiled the girl. "Five pounds are worth having."

Larose smiled back. "Well, I think I may as well go out into the street now." He pointed to the other kitchen door. "I suppose it's straight though."

The girl nodded. "Yes, you can go through the shop." So, through an ironmonger's shop Larose went. There were several assistants, and some customers being served, but no one took any notice of him, and he reached the street without being spoken to.


CHAPTER X.—"A DUEL OF WITS"

The two girls had been driven away from the embassy almost immediately after, to their unbounded relief, they had witnessed the escape of the supposed burglar over the wall.

Cecily had thought the good-bye of the ambassador curiously formal and restrained; but Herr Blitzen had escorted them down the embassy steps with the smiling intimation that he would be joining them again later in the day.

But he was not smiling when he followed von Ravenheim to the latter's study, and, making no attempt now to hide his feelings, his face was black with anger. The ambassador appeared to be as calm and unruffled as ever, but his unusual pallor and the hard glitter of his eyes masked a dreadful fury.

"A very grave calamity has been narrowly averted, your Excellency," he exclaimed the moment the door was closed behind them, "for, if that man had not escaped as he did, in half an hour at latest we should have the police thundering at the embassy door."

"I doubt it," scowled Herr Blitzen rudely. "The man may have had nothing to do with the police or the Secret Service, for it is my opinion that he is not that Gilbert Larose you say he is. You have no proof of it, and you have just let your suspicions run away with you."

Von Ravenheim kept his temper. "I'll explain everything to you in a moment, your Excellency," he replied quietly, "but first, I want you to realise that, whoever he is, there has been rank treachery here by someone we trusted." He spoke scornfully. "The man did not get out of that room without help, someone obtained that pistol for him from the shooting gallery, and someone hid him when we were searching last night." He drew in a deep breath. "And I only realised a few minutes ago who is responsible for it all!"

"He was not hidden in the house," snapped Blitzen. "We searched everywhere."

"We did not!" retorted von Ravenheim sharply. He paused a moment and then added very quietly. "We did not look in the bathroom where that charming young lady was having her bath!"

Herr Blitzen screwed up his eyes, with his face now a scarlet color. "What do you mean?" he almost gasped.

"That Miss Cecily had taken pity on him," replied the ambassador calmly, "that she was hiding him there." He went on. "Yes, he was in the bathroom all the time we were talking outside to her sister. Then, when the search had died down and they had seen from the windows that we had finished combing through the courtyard, he went down the fire escape and hid in the shed." He nodded. "They were quite right in thinking we should not look in there again."

Blitzen was too dumbfounded to speak, but his face was still suffused in anger.

"And another thing," went on von Ravenheim. "I learnt only a few minutes before these girls left that last night Miss Cecily came down from their rooms just before twelve and asked for a large brandy and soda and some biscuits. She said her sister was feeling faint." He scoffed. "Biscuits for a faint person who had finished an excellent dinner less than three hours before!" He shook his head. "No, the refreshment was for that Larose, who had had nothing to eat all day!"

He now averted his eyes from Blitzen's face, and looked down at his desk. He thought it wise not to be witnessing the other's discomfiture.

"You see, your Excellency," he continued, "when we come to consider, it all dovetails in accurately. Miss Cecily left the table during dinner, as she said, to go for her handkerchief. She was gone a long time, nearly ten minutes, and when she returned her face was flushed as if she had been running. Most probably she had or, at any rate, she had been exerting herself to get that man upstairs. Remember, the doctor said he would have been hardly able to walk. Then——"

"But how the devil would she have known that the fellow was down in that cellar?" thundered Herr Blitzen.

Von Ravenheim looked down his nose. "She doesn't speak Baltic, that young lady, and so, of course, she would understanding nothing when I said to you in the passage that Gilbert Larose was behind that door we were then passing and was going to be questioned at night!" His arm shot out. "Why, don't you recollect she said she was feeling faint, immediately afterwards? She did look as white as a ghost! She had understood everything!"

"But how the——how on earth," stuttered Blitzen, "could she have opened the door to get him out? She had no keys!"

Von Ravenheim inclined his head. "On the contrary, she had mine!" He motioned with his head. "The bunch was in the pigeonhole just here and she had seen me take it out before I opened that cupboard to show them our silver." He drove in his argument relentlessly. "Then see the state the girls were in this morning. Both pale and washed-out as if they were under some great nervous strain! I don't suppose they had slept all night, wondering what had become of the man."

"But why should they want to interfere?" demanded Herr Blitzen, looking very upset. "Even if they understood the language and caught your mad remark about the man, they wouldn't know what you had meant!"

"Wouldn't they!" commented von Ravenheim grimly. "They wouldn't if they were just ordinary butterfly society girls, but they would"—his words came with a snap—"if they were highly trained women employed by the British Secret Service!"

Blitzen's face had whitened and, although his words were bold, he spoke now with much less confidence. "Your suspicions again!" he exclaimed. "All your arguments are based on suspicions and no facts!"

Von Ravenheim shrugged his shoulders. "But just consider, your Excellency," he said persuasively, "your association with those girls and the way you first came to know them. It is all clear to me now; and I shall always blame myself that I didn't realise it soon enough to warn you."

A long silence followed; and then the ambassador, abruptly turning the conversation, said very quietly. "Early this morning I received a phone message from a woman who works for us, and whose information is always reliable. She says Sir Howard Wake will be stopping with Lord Michael for this coming week-end at Tollesbury Hall. That's Lord Michael's place, near Maldon, in Essex."

"How far from London?" asked Blitzen, his face still frowning.

"A little less than 40 miles," replied the ambassador. He nodded. "It's the ideal place for what we want, very lonely and right away from everywhere. It's on the estuary of the Blackwater River; and the grounds are almost surrounded by muddy creeks. I can't understand, for the life of me, how anybody came to build a house there."

A short silence followed, and then Blitzen asked sharply. "And it's got to be done this weekend?"

"Yes," nodded the ambassador, "and so we have five days to find a reliable party. We must——"

"I don't want any more of your reliable parties," snapped Blitzen savagely. "We'll do it ourselves. We are capable of it?" He spoke sneeringly. "You won't flinch, will you?"

The ambassador looked scornful. "Your Excellency knows I should never flinch at anything. It is not shooting them I mind; but I am bound to consider the terrible consequences which would fall upon our country if anything went wrong and we were caught."

"We'll risk it?" said Herr Blitzen curtly. "I'm tired of all this playing for safety." An unhappy expression came into his face. "I'll not go back to that hotel, either. I won't go there again. So you'll have my things sent for, and I'll stay here for the rest of the time I'm in England. I shall not be going out much, and I'll leave the cursed country for good next week."

The ambassador did not attempt to dissuade him about the shooting, knowing it would be quite useless. "As you wish, your Excellency," he said, "but I am going out now, and shall not be back until the afternoon. So you will be by yourself."

"All right," nodded Blitzen. "Give the key of that shooting gallery to me, and I'll do some practice. I haven't shot at a man since I killed that peasant at Doon for not taking off his cap to me."

In the meantime Larose had been driven to the little flat he rented in Sloane square. Then, refreshed by a hot bath, he rested for an hour before going out to lunch.

He felt very jubilant at the way in which he had escaped from the Baltic Embassy, but rather downcast that he had failed to find out who the men to be assassinated were, and very puzzled about the two girls.

That the latter were helping Herr Blitzen in some way there was not the slightest doubt, but that they were mixed up in the darker intrigues of von Ravenheim he could not bring himself to believe.

"And if it is found out by those brutes what they did for me," he sighed, "heaven help them! They'll be dealt with without mercy!"

As a welcome change to the shabby suit he had been wearing, he dressed himself carefully and now, clean-shaven and spruce, looked very different from the bedraggled creature who that very morning had climbed over the embassy wall.

He took a taxi to the fashionable Apollo restaurant and, deeming the occasion worthy of it, treated himself to a pint of the best champagne. The restaurant was being well patronised, and, with a spasm of unpleasant memory, he contrasted the bright and animated scene before him with the horrors of that underground chamber where, but a few hours previously, he had been awaiting torture and a dreadful death.

He had not long started upon his meal and had just finished his first glass of champagne, when he saw a well-dressed and distinguished-looking man enter the restaurant and start walking in his direction.

For a moment he just idly regarded the man as someone with whose face and figure he was faintly familiar. Then the blood surged into his head and he felt his heart beating like a sledge hammer as he recognised who the man was.

It was von Ravenheim, the Baltic Ambassador!

A few shuddering moments passed and then he saw von Ravenheim stop to exchange greetings with some members of a party at a large table. The greetings were animated and the ambassador was all smiles and courtly good nature.

Larose pulled himself together. He would give nothing away, and if von Ravenheim came nearer he would pretend not to know him. He turned his eyes away and, to distract his thoughts, took in the fresh and glowing beauty of a young girl at a near-by table.

Quite a minute passed, and, with his eyes upon his plate, he now proceeded calmly with his meal. Then a shadow fell upon his table; and, looking up, he saw von Ravenheim standing right before him.

The ambassador was smiling. "Is this seat engaged?" he asked.

Larose shook his head. "Not that I know of," he replied and his voice was perfectly steady. Then he smiled in his turn. "At any rate, I am not expecting anyone."

Von Ravenheim bowed and at once seated himself. Then a waiter appearing he thoughtfully considered the menu for a few moments before giving his order. Larose regarded him with a slight frown.

The waiter went off and von Ravenheim spoke at once. "And how are you feeling today, Mr. Larose?" he asked. "Quite all right?"

Larose looked as if he were mildly surprised at the question, but he replied most politely. "Yes, thank you, quite all right."

"And you don't mind speaking to me?" asked the ambassador genially.

"Certainly not!" replied Larose, as if rather puzzled. "Of course, I know who you are. You are Herr von Ravenheim, the Baltic Ambassador."

Von Ravenheim nodded as if it were a good joke, and then made a shrugging little gesture. "Of course, it was annoying to me," he said, "and I don't pretend it wasn't. But it's all in the game we both play, you on one side and I on the other, and I don't grudge you your success."

Larose looked very mystified. "What success do you refer to, sir?" he asked. "I don't understand."

The ambassador laughed. "I see! You mean it was only half a success. You didn't get what you wanted, but yet you still live to fight again. That's the way we look at it, isn't it? That's your idea?"

"I've no idea," smiled Larose. "Frankly, I don't understand you at all."

Von Ravenheim spoke a little sharply. "Well, I couldn't put it more plainly if I spoke in my mother tongue." He smiled mockingly. "But there, I don't suppose you understand Baltic, either!"

The waiter arrived with a grilled sole and placed it before him. He attacked the fish with evident relish, and a short silence followed. Then he spoke again.

"Both those young ladies are very charming!" he said. He regarded Larose in a most friendly way. "I expect you three have done a lot of team-work together!" He nodded. "You know I'm beginning to think we have been holding you people too lightly. Your accomplishments and those of the girls are of a very high order, and I admit that, up to a certain point, you took us in completely."

"Oh, we did, did we!", laughed Larose. "The two young ladies and I?"

"Most certainly!" said von Ravenheim. He spoke earnestly. "But I'm quite willing to exchange information. So if you tell me how you came to get hold of that fellow, Pellew, I'll put you wise as to how I came to find out who you were, and, unhappily, too late, to learn all about the young ladies."

Larose spoke sharply. "Look here, sir, I don't understand the meaning of anything you say. You're making a great mistake somehow. Certainly, my name is Larose, and I know who you are"—he puckered up his face into a frown—"but, surely, we have never spoken to each other before!"

Von Ravenheim nodded understandingly. "So that's the line you are going to take, is it?" He spoke as if very curious. "What do you hope to gain by it?"

"A little peace, perhaps," said Larose. He smiled. "I'm not tasting any of this chicken."

For quite a long moment the ambassador regarded him intently. Then he said thoughtfully, "You're a very clever fellow! Yes, it would have been a pity if your talents had been lost to the world."

Then both continued their meal in silence, with a ghost of a doubt now beginning to steal into von Ravenheim's mind. He saw Larose was pretending to take no notice of him, and yet, every now and then, was casting furtive glances in his direction, as if he were very puzzled about him. And that would be, the ambassador had to admit, an action quite natural to a man who had been taken for someone he was not by somebody who would not admit his mistake.

Von Ravenheim sighed. "Have you got a double, Mr. Larose?"

The face of Larose brightened, "Ah, I understand your mistake now! Yes, I used to have one, but I've not heard of him for years."

"Who was he?"

"I never could learn. All I know is that when I was in the C.I.D. I was several times supposed to have been seen in places I had never been near."

"Thank you, Mr. Larose," said von Ravenheim. "I see I was mistaken and I apologise." He smiled, Larose thought, very disarmingly. "Still, I am glad that my stupid blunder has enriched me by making your acquaintance. I'd like to see more of you, and so will you come to dinner with me one night?"

"Not at the Embassy," replied Larose laughingly. "It wouldn't do. It would be sure to get known. Then if I had ever done work for the Secret Service, as of course, your question and my answer certainly imply, they would think at headquarters that I had got my fingers in your fabled money-chest."

"But it wouldn't be fabled to a man like you, Mr. Larose," commented von Ravenheim significantly. Then seeing Larose frown, he added quickly, "But come, let's talk of different things. The orchestra's very good here, isn t it?"

Half an hour later, when Larose had parted with the ambassador and left the restaurant, he drew in a deep breath.

"Fancy the wretch trying to bribe me and inviting me to the Embassy for dinner. Why, I wouldn't go there alone again for a million pounds! The bluff came off all right, but I wouldn't have troubled to put it up if I hadn't thought it might keep suspicion away from those girls. But he evidently knows all about them now, even to their understanding Baltic. But I say, I must warn them instantly. These devils will stick at nothing, and Blitzen will lead them blindfold into some trap! I'll ring them up at once."

But when he phoned the Arragon Hotel he learned to his great dismay that the Misses Castle and Herr Blitzen had all gone away, leaving no addresses. The busy clerk at the other end of the phone did not think to add that they had not all gone off together.

In the meanwhile, von Ravenheim was being driven to the British Museum, all the time going over in his mind his just-finished conversation with Larose. When in the latter's presence he had been completely won over to the opinion that he had made a ghastly mistake, but now he was not feeling quite so certain.

One little thing in particular was disturbing him. As a connoisseur in eating and drinking, he had noted with approval Larose's choice of the dishes upon the menu; and, in that respect, he had summed him up as a man who would get the best out of everything in the proper way. But now he remembered that, just after he had sat down at Larose's table and begun to speak to him, Larose, although outwardly perfectly calm and collected, had started to sip his champagne.

And von Ravenheim now told himself that no man of Larose's undoubted experience would ever sip any sparkling wine unless he were nervous and not thinking of what he was doing.

Then suddenly he snapped his fingers together with a gesture of intense annoyance. "Damnation," he exclaimed. "I could have settled the matter in two seconds. I could have asked him to turn up his sleeve and show me only just above his wrist. I saw that fool prick the man there to save pulling off his coat when they were holding him down."

In the early afternoon the ambassador was back again in the Embassy. He went into his study to find Herr Blitzen reclining in a big arm chair.

Although he was loth to mention the girls again, he thought it best to dispel any lingering doubts Herr Blitzen might hold as to exactly what their activities had been.

"I have just come from the British Museum," he said. "I went into the library there and found out something more about the Miss Castles. I thought they were highly educated girls, and was of opinion that their conversation suggested a university training, and I have discovered I was right. When I looked up the Cambridge University Calendar I saw they had both been to Newnham College. Miss Cecily took first-class honors in modern languages; and ours was one included in the curriculum."

Herr Blitzen nodded. "I am not surprised," he said. "She is a wonderful girl!" He frowned. "Look here, Ravenheim, that she has been working against us makes no difference to my appreciation of her. It is only natural she should be on the side of her own people; and I don't blame her for it."

"No, that is quite understandable," admitted the Ambassador. He nodded in his turn. "Still, it is well Your Excellency has found it all out before you——" he hesitated—"had compromised yourself in any way."

"But I intend to compromise myself, as you call it," commented Herr Blitzen coldly, "just the same as if we had not found out anything." He spoke decisively. "When I return to our country I shall take her back with me."

Von Ravenheim felt a cold shiver run down his spine. This man who understood his countrymen so well that he could sway millions to his side, this man who in a few short years had raised his country from the depths up to the heights, never showing the slightest mercy to anyone who had stood in his way—was now becoming as weak as water in his infatuation for a woman of a hated race!

For the moment it flashed through the Ambassador's mind that the man who had purged so many must now be purged himself. He must be got rid of before he had laid in ruins the mighty edifice he had built! He must be made to disappear as an arch betrayer of the people who had raised him to his despotic power.

And it would be easy, so easy now that he was away from all protection. Only one person in his own country knew he was not in his mountain home. Ah! but was that so? The British Secret Service had learnt it somehow and—no, no, he must not be dealt with in that way! It would not be safe! And besides, he was still needed. Without him the might of the fatherland might crumble again! Yes, he was still needed, for he was the only one who could hold it together! So, he must be saved in some other way.

All this long train of thought had run its dreadful course through von Ravenheim's mind in the passing of a few seconds and, in the flight of another second, the solution of the whole matter came to him, too.

It was the girl who must be got rid of. She must be placed beyond his reach! She would soon be forgotten and then all would be well again!

He spoke most respectfully. "Your Excellency knows best, but how will you find Miss Cecily again?"

"That will be easy," replied the Herr Blitzen. "She had two letters while she was at the hotel, both in the same handwriting, a woman's. She read them at the breakfast table and happened to drop one as she was going out. I picked it up for her and saw the postmark was Haslemere. I've just looked the place up in your maps. It is not fifty miles from London, and I shall go to find her when we have done with those two men."

He spoke with enthusiasm. "Ah, I will make a Baltic woman of her and she will work for us just as she now works for England. I shall have complete trust in her." And von Ravenheim, who looked on all women as playthings, smiled pityingly to himself.

The Ambassador was never one who let the grass grow under his feet, and within an hour of his conversation with Herr Blitzen, he was setting in motion machinery, that useful as he was to the country, would instantly have earned for him the death penalty had his master only known.

He had summoned one of his most trusted agents, who arrived that night at the Embassy and was closeted with him for a long time.

In appearance, this agent was very different from what might have been expected of one who was to be commissioned forcibly to seize a young woman, drug her into unconsciousness if necessary, and carry her away to be held prisoner for an unspecified period of time. Indeed, it was even to be suggested to him that if she met with some accident it would not be a matter to grieve over.

Of Baltic nationality, the agent was quite a pleasant-looking man in the early forties. He was stout, with a large round face, and his big glasses gave him an air of kindly benevolence.

And he was pleasant and kind, too, in his ordinary life as a shrewd and prosperous business man, with a good house in Hampstead, a nice car and a seaside bungalow near Pevensey Bay.

But let anyone impugn the greatness of the country, let them say that she would never rule the world, and instantly an astounding transformation would take place. The lines of his face would harden, his eyes would glare balefully; and in his arguments he would be lost to all sense of right and wrong.

Secretly also, his emotions played upon by the leaders of his country, he would, if need arose, be quite prepared to back his words with deeds. Indeed, there was no danger he would not run and no suffering he would not put up with himself or inflict on others in his fervent patriotism. He would work without reward, too, and would obey like a well-trained dog.

Von Ravenheim explained what was wanted of him. There were two sisters, he said, whom it had just been found out were being employed by the British Secret Service. Mainly because of their good looks they had succeeded in obtaining the confidence of several Baltic agents, and now they were betraying them one by one.

The elder sister was the more to be feared; and she, at all events, must be dealt with at once. Their names were Cecily and Hilda Castle and their home was at Haslemere in Hampshire.

"Now Herr Sharlen," went on von Ravenheim impressively, "what I want you to do is this. Go down to Haslemere tomorrow, take care that no suspicions are aroused, but find out everything you can about the girls. The elder one must be got hold of somehow and taken to a place I will tell you later. But everything must be arranged so that no one knows what has happened to her. She must be seized when she is quite alone."

"Is their house in the town of Haslemere?" asked Herr Sharlen.

"I don't know," replied the Ambassador, "and that's what you've got to find out. You must get a grip of the whole situation; what are her habits and where it will be easiest to get hold of her."

"But what if she isn't at home?"

"Then you must do your best to find out where she's gone. In a little place like Haslemere most things are known. Now, the matter is urgent, and by the end of the week the whole thing must be done."

"All right," nodded Herr Sharlen, "and if I've anything to report I'll be here again tomorrow night. If I don't come, I'll ring you up from another town. You see, these enquiries may take a day or two."

But he was back again the next night and his news was most satisfactory. Both the girls were at home and their house was conveniently situated in its own grounds, about a mile from the town. It was lonely and back away from the main road. He had had Cecily Castle pointed out to him and had spoken to her. She went golfing every morning about eleven o'clock; and the golf course was half a mile away. To reach it, by a short cut, she went along some narrow, unfrequented lanes.

"Excellent, you are serving your country well, Herr Sharlen!" exclaimed the Ambassador with enthusiasm. He spoke impressively. "Now there are two places you can take her, either a short run to the house of one of our friends in the New Forest, or if you are not pressed and you do not think a hue and cry will be raised until night, to a better place on Dartmoor. But move your chair here and look at these maps."

Then poor Cecily would have shuddered if she could but have learnt the preparations which were being made for her.

In the meantime, if the forces of evil were working against her, she was yet not without a friend, for Larose, with characteristic energy, was working night and day to get in touch with her. He was sure she was in danger.

But he was badly handicapped in one respect.

Intensely grateful for what the girls had done for him, he was yet of opinion that they were helping Herr Blitzen in some way and, if it were found out, they would get into trouble.

So he did not want to make his enquiries too openly and bring down suspicion upon them. But for that idea in his mind he would have gone straight to Lady Willingdean and asked her all about them and found out where they lived. Still his life's training had made him resourceful; and he thought he could manage it in another way.

He cast his mind back to all he had noticed about the girls, when both at the Arragon Hotel and Wickham Towers. Certainly, there was not much to help him but he remembered one thing.

When at Wickham Towers, Sir Henry had with great pride been pointing out some valuable etchings upon the wall and had stated that one was by some American. Then Cecily had exclaimed. "Oh, I know that church well. I've often been in it. I lived in that neighbourhood in my early girlhood."

Larose had not looked at the etchings, as he had not been a bit interested, but he recalled the incident now and at once rang up Sir Henry.

"Forgive my bothering you," he said, "but you've got an etching at Wickham Towers by some American, and I thought I recognised the spot yesterday when motoring in Kent. Was it of Rainton village, near Rye?"

"Oh, no," replied Sir Henry, "it's of Long Roding Church in Norfolk, not far from Aylsham. It's by Whistler." He laughed. "I'm glad your criminal mind takes notice of churches. I should have thought it would only register prisons and penitentiaries!"

Ten minutes later Larose had started off for Norfolk in his car. He first made for Aylsham and then began enquiring if anyone of the name of Castle lived round there. He tried, with no success, however, the post office and some of the shops. But in no wise dismayed, he began a systematic tour all round the district, now somewhat changing the form of his question and asking everyone he approached if they remembered anyone called Castle who had lived about there from twelve to fifteen years ago.

At last he learned what he wanted from an elderly chemist in Cromer. The chemist remembered a Colonel Castle, who had lived at Little Easter about eight miles away, and had often made up prescriptions for him. Yes, there had been two girls in the family which had left the neighbourhood a number of years ago.

Then, at the village of Little Easter, Larose had no trouble in learning of a Colonel Castle. He was dead now, but his widow and daughters were living in Haslemere in Hampshire.

"Good for you, Gilbert," smiled Larose to himself, as he drove quickly away. "Evidently, there are no flies on you yet! But fancy picking up the trail in these few hours from just happening to overhear that chance remark the pretty Cecily made!" He nodded. "Still, not everyone would have thought of it."

The next morning by ten o'clock he was in Haslemere and had soon learnt where the Misses Castle lived. Then, not wishing to attract attention and wanting to get hold of Cecily when Herr Blitzen was not hovering about, he left his car in a hotel garage and proceeded to make his way to where they lived by a short cut the landlord had pointed out.

The house had been described to him as one with red gables and lying in a hollow and, coming over the rise of a hill, he soon saw it in the distance. Then he entered a winding lane to approach it.

All his senses now very much on the alert, he noticed car tracks in the soft ground and, as a life habit of never missing anything, he began speculating as to what kind of car had made them. The wheel marks were broad and heavy. Suddenly he saw they turned out of the lane into what looked like the entrance to a gravel pit, and, after a moment's hesitation, he followed them.

About a hundred yards further on, turning round a sharp bend, he came upon a big car. There was no one in it, and immediately he began taking it all in.

The tyres were nearly all new, there were two spares, both absolutely new and strapped on at the back, the petrol tank was nearly full, and there were four two-gallon tins of spirit strapped on to the running board.

"Prepared for a long run," he told himself, "and so there'll be no need for them to pull up anywhere on the way for juice. All provided, too, for any punctures." He looked at the number plates, T.A.48563, and shook his head. "All different figures," he went on, "and difficult to remember if one had only taken them in casually as the car passed."

He looked inside the car and then screwed up his eyes. "Now that's very funny! All this amount of petrol on board for a long journey, and no luggage! They've got two big rugs, though, and with the weather hot like this!"

He walked round to the front of the car and, stepping back, took in its beautiful proportions. "Seventy miles an hour, easily," he went on, "and——" but a thought struck him, and instantly he moved up close and bent down over the number plate. "Why, it's new! But mud has been deliberately rubbed on it to take off the freshness, and that corner's been missed." He looked at the back of the plate and saw the threads of the screws protruding through the bolts were quite bright, and that there was not a speck of mud or dust upon them. "Gosh, they've just been put on, since the car was hidden here!"

He cast a quick glance round and, seeing there was still no one about, opened the car door like lightning and pulled up the seat. The first thing he saw was another pair of number plates and, whisking out his pocket book, he jutted down Y.22041.

"That's a London registration!" he nodded. "Nearly all the London letters are Y's and L's." He put back the seat with no delay and reclosed the door. His breath was coming quickly. "This may be the Baltic crowd after those girls! Oh, if I'm too late!" His face brightened. "No, I'm not, but I'll see to it no one goes off in a hurry in this car!"

In a few seconds he had unscrewed all the valves and the wind was hissing out of every tyre.

Then he ran back into the lane, but in a few yards had pulled himself up, just in time. There were three men behind the hedge not a hundred yards farther down, and their attitude was one of waiting! Fortunately, they were not looking in his direction, but one of them, he was sure he recognised as being one of the men who had sprung upon him that night at the Baltic Embassy.

He thought quickly, and then, racing back, made a wide detour round the gravel pit to gain the house in the hollow from a different direction. He was blowing hard when he reached the gates of the short drive leading up to the house. He slowed down to get his breath, and then, when almost up to the front door, Cecily Castle stepped out right before him. She had a golf bag slung over her shoulder.

"Hullo," he exclaimed as heartily as his shortness of breath would allow him, "here we are again!"

Cecily went furiously red and looked rather frightened.

"Look here," went on Larose, pantingly. "I've only just got here in time!" He pointed with his arm. "There are three men waiting in that lane there with a car, and they were going to carry you off!"

Cecily's eyes opened very wide and her face lost all its crimson. "But how do you know?" she began, and then Hilda and a young fellow in the uniform of an officer stepped out of the front door behind her.

"What's this about carrying anybody off?" asked the officer sternly, "and who are you?"

"It's all right, Harold," interposed Cecily quickly. "I know this gentleman, and what he says will be quite true."

Larose took no notice of the question which had been addressed to him. Instead, he lowered his voice and asked, whispering, of Cecily, "Where's Herr Blitzen?"

Cecily made a little frowning shake of her head, as if warning him not to repeat the question. "We are all alone today, Mr. Larose." She spoke nervously. "But I must introduce you. This is Captain Best, and Harold—this is Mr. Gilbert Larose"—a half smile came into her face—"a good friend of ours."

Larose gave a curt nod in reply to the Captain's frowning one, and then asked sharply, "Are there any more men about the place? Because, if so, get them here at once!"

"But what's happening, Mr. Larose?" asked Hilda. "Tell us, first. We don't understand."

"What is happening, Miss Hilda," replied Larose, with a grim smile, "is that there are three ugly-looking men up that lane, and I'm absolutely positive they are waiting to seize one or both of you and rush you off in a car." He nodded. "At least one of them is a foreigner, and I've met him before in a certain house in Portland place." He turned to the young officer. "Excuse my abruptness, sir, but the matter is a very urgent one."

"I'll go and get Johnson," said Cecily, her face, with the excitement, now returning to its natural color. "He's our chauffeur and an old army man."

"But we'll all go into the house, first," said Larose. He smiled for the first time. "My word, but it's lucky they can't see this front door from the lane!"

They went into the house and closed the door behind them. "The devil of it," said Larose, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief. "I've got no pistol on me. I never dreamed I'd want one."

"But I've got a Bayard!" said Cecily, her eyes dancing; "a little beauty!"

"Good girl!" exclaimed Larose. "Get it at once; oh, and show me where the telephone is!"

She pointed behind him and he slipped up the receiver.

"Police station. Haslemere, quick; it's urgent!" he rapped out, and after a few seconds he asked, "Who's speaking? All right then, Constable! I'm speaking from Miss Castle's house. You know where it is? Good! Well, there are three men loitering in the lane at the side of the house—what's it called, Hilda—oh, Hanger's lane. They are up to no good. One is—and they may all be foreigners. They've got a motor car with two sets of number plates. One set has just been put on and the other is under the cushion of the front seat. Ask to see their driving licences. Oh, and the car is hidden just round in that gravel pit. You know the pit? Well, come down the lane that way. Now, are you the only constable in the station? What! The sergeant from Hindhead and another one has just come there! Splendid! Then you all come down from the top of the land and we'll meet you at the bottom, so that they'll be in a trap. No, no, they can't get away in a hurry. I've seen to that and let all the wind out of their tyres! Now, whatever you do, come with revolvers or something. They are sure to be well armed."

He hung up the receiver and turned to Cecily. "Now, have you got any guns here?" he asked.

"Yes, two double-barrelled ones," replied the girl, and very speedily the guns were produced and loaded.

"Now, you'd like to come out and see the fun, wouldn't you, Captain Best?" asked Larose.

"Rather!" exclaimed the young officer. He frowned. "Of course I don't understand what it all means"—he looked hard at Cecily, "although, perhaps, I might make a pretty good guess. Myself, I don't approve of girls meddling in——"

"Never mind that now, Harold," said Cecily, sweetly. "We'll explain a little bit to you when it's all over." She turned to Larose. "We're coming with you, too."

But Larose objected strongly and a short argument ensued. Finally, a compromise was effected when both Cecily and Hilda promised to keep a good way behind.

"Well, we've given the police time enough now to be pretty close," said Larose. "Come on."

So a formidable little party, reinforced by a big and business-like looking Irish terrier, turned into the lane, with Larose, Captain Best and the chauffeur walking well in front.

"That's where I saw them hiding," said Larose, softly, "behind the hedge not far from that oak tree. Fire one barrel of your gun somewhere, Captain, so that they'll know its loaded. We must be in good view by now."

The Captain stopped immediately and, as though he had seen a rabbit or something in the field on the other side of the hedge just by them, lifted his gun quickly and fired.

"Missed him!" he called out. "He went down the burrow. Oh, come back, Ginger! Come back, you brute," and the dog, who had started excitedly to push through the hedge, returned reluctantly to his master's heels.

"Send him on!" whispered Larose with a chuckle. "He'll rout them out!"

Obedient to a command, the dog ran forward and in a few seconds began to bark vociferously at a point in the hedge just beyond the oak tree Larose had pointed out.

Then through a gap in the hedge three men appeared and started to walk leisurely up the lane, with their backs turned towards the little party.

"It couldn't be better," whispered Larose, exultingly. "They'll run right into the arms of the police. Go slowly now, so that we don't overtake them."

An exciting couple of minutes passed and then, just where the lane began to turn the men stopped walking and appeared to be interested in a flight of crows passing overhead.

"They've seen them," said Larose. "We'll close up now," and not a minute later three policemen appeared round the bend.

One of the policemen, who had the sergeant's stripes upon his sleeve, jerked his thumb in the direction of the gravel pit and, addressing himself to the three men, "That car in there belong to any of you?" he asked.

"Yes," replied one of them, who was the Herr Sharpel, the friend of the Baltic Ambassador. He spoke gutturally, with a foreign accent. "It is mine."

"Oh, then, come and see what someone's done to your tyres," said the sergeant. "I don't suppose you left them like that," and the three men were conducted into the turning leading to the gravel pit.

"Come on," said Larose to Captain Best and the chauffeur. "We may be wanted, too." And they followed closely upon the heels of the others.

Then Larose whistled softly to himself. "Whew! I was right," he whispered. "That bull-necked chap with the square head is one of those brutes from the Embassy. I thought he was."

That the recognition was mutual was evident, too, for the bull-necked man, upon catching sight of Larose, averted his face quickly.

"Now then, show me your driving licence," said the sergeant sharply to Herr Sharpel.

The man made a movement with his hand towards his breast pocket, but then quickly dropped his arm to his side. "I'm very sorry," he said, "but I haven't got it with me. I've left it at home!"

"That won't do!" snapped the sergeant. "Take our your pocket book and look for it. You've got it in there, right enough!"

"I haven't," said Herr Sharpel. He spoke boldly. "I know the law. You will have to give me forty-eight hours to produce it."

"Your name and address?" asked the sergeant.

"Mr. Leonard Merk, 14 Rondel avenue, Victoria Park, Manchester. I am on tour with my friends."

Then while one of the constables was making a note, the sergeant, apparently for the first time, noticed the addition to the party, standing round the car, and he looked frowningly from one to the other of them, his gaze remaining at last upon Larose.

Larose spoke up at once. "It was I who rang the police station, sergeant," he said. "My name is Larose, Gilbert Larose."

The sergeant smiled. "I thought I recognised your face, sir." He became very grim again. "Do you know anything about these men?"

"I suspect a great deal more than I know," replied Larose, "but undoubtedly they were loitering with unlawful intent. As for being upon a tour, look at all the petrol they've got on board, and not a stitch of luggage!"

"We'll see into that, sir," said the sergeant. He turned to Herr Sharpel. "Now then, if you please," he asked very sternly, "what does it mean your carrying about two differing sets of number plates?" and he whipped up the front seat of the car and exposed the second set.

It looked as if Herr Sharpel had muttered an oath, but he replied plausibly and quickly. "Those belonged to the car before I bought it. I have only had it a little while."

"Well, you'll come straight away to the station with me," said the sergeant, "and I'll verify the name and address you have given. You'll wait until I've found out about both these numbers. We'll soon know. The telephone doesn't take long."

But Larose knew so well the psychology of the picked workers for the Baltic cause and how, with all their twisted ideas of right and wrong, they would yet stand loyally by one another in the interests of the fatherland. So he was fearing now that, if the owner of the car were the only one of the three to be detained, no opportunity of proving anything against the other two would ever be given to the police. The men would give false names and addresses and just disappear.

But he was determined there should be some grounds for laying an immediate charge against them.

So, remembering von Ravenheim had said in this shooting gallery that all in the Embassy were trained shots, he felt quite certain the bull-necked man would be carrying an automatic now. Accordingly, without a second's warning, he sprang upon him and pinioning his arms to his sides, called out sharply, "Quick, quick, help me hold him. He was going to pull a gun! Take it out of his back pocket!"

Instantly one of the policemen was by his side and a great sigh of thankfulness surged through him as the constable dragged out an automatic from the pocket he had indicated.

"Fully loaded, sergeant," said the constable.

"Hands up, you two!" roared the sergeant to Herr Sharpel and the third man, and two more automatics were found.

Larose heard a startled exclamation behind him and turned to find Cecily standing there. Her eyes were opened wide in surprise.

"I've met that man before," she said with a little catch in her breath, pointing to Herr Sharpel. She went on quickly. "He called at the house yesterday morning pretending that he had heard it was to let. He wanted to be very friendly. He saw my clubs in the hall and asked me the nearest way to the golf course. I told him up this lane and then very stupidly said I golfed nearly every morning." She bit her lip. "Perhaps they were waiting for me!"

"All right, miss," the sergeant assured her. "We'll see into it thoroughly." He turned to the three men who were now being guarded. "Get into the back of the car and no tricks," he ordered. But then, Larose having whispered something in his ear he added. "Wait a minute, though." He nodded to the two policemen. "Search them!"

But Herr Sharpel, who had been standing silent and swallowing hard, at once woke to speech, and shouted angrily, "I protest. I refuse to be searched. I know the law, and you can't do it."

"I can do anything," snapped the sergeant, "with men I've caught carrying loaded automatics." He glared round at the three of them. "Have any of you got a license to carry a pistol? No, I thought not!" He nodded again to the constables. "See what they've got in their pockets." He half smiled. "They may be carrying poison for self-destruction."

And the first thing they came upon in the wallet in Herr Sharpel's breast pocket was the driving licence made out in his proper name.

"Yes, you're Mr. Leonard Merk all right!" commented the sergeant grimly. "And you live in Manchester, too, don't you?" He looked unpleasant. "Well, we'll know all about you soon."

Then for a few minutes Larose, the sergeant and Cecily, with the local constable standing by, conversed whisperingly together.

But the Haslemere policeman presently interposed with a remark.

"But you see, Sergeant," he explained, "Miss Castle's work at the Foreign Office would always make her a bit of a mark for any foreigners. They would be thinking they would get out of her certain information and——"

"My work at the Foreign Office!" exclaimed Cecily with blazing eyes. "What do you know about me?"

"Well, Miss," said the constable, looking rather sheepish. "I know you're in the building there because a cousin of my wife is one of the commissionaires, and he pointed you out to me when he was down here one Sunday," and Larose chuckled at the girl's discomfiture.

The sergeant went off with his prisoners and Larose returned with the others to the red-gabled house in the hollow. He stayed to lunch and then, after the meal, Cecily took him out into the garden.

"I expect you're very puzzled about me, Mr. Larose," she said, "but I'm sorry I can't explain. My secret is not my own."

"Well, what about that Herr Blitzen?" frowned Larose. He looked her straight in the face and asked very sternly. "Have you and your sister got mixed up with that Baltic crowd?"

"Certainly not!" replied Cecily indignantly. "You heard that silly policeman let out I work at the Foreign Office, and it's quite true."

"That may be," said Larose dryly. "But what are your relations with Herr Blitzen?"

"I have no relations with Herr Blitzen," replied the girl. "I've finished with him and, although in some respects I cannot help admiring him. I don't want to ever meet him again."

"But that's not good enough for me," persisted Larose. "You'll have to put your cards down now. I don't forget what you've done for me, but perhaps"—he nodded significantly—"what I did for you this morning has made things even!" His face was grim and set. "Attractive as you are, it doesn't cut any ice with me in a grave matter like this. Now you know what I mean, so on which side are you, Miss Castle?"

For a long moment Cecily regarded him thoughtfully. Then she said very sweetly. "On the side of the angels, Mr. Larose, that is, if you're one"—her voice thrilled in its sincerity—"and for the trouble you took to trace me here I think you must be." She inclined her head ironically. "My dear sir, don't think you're the only one who works for our Secret Service, and if you have any further doubts about me or my sister, ask Lord Michael or perhaps better still, your great admirer, Mr. Grant."

"Quite satisfied," smiled Larose, "and very relieved as well." He reached out suddenly and lifting up her hand carried it to his lips. "There," he exclaimed fervently, "you're the last girl I've ever kissed."

She pretended to look round anxiously. "It's a good thing Captain Best didn't see you," she nodded, "as we are engaged to be married, and he might perhaps object."

"Not he," said Larose—he laughed slyly—"for no doubt it is his privilege to kiss you somewhere else!"

That night Larose, back in town, rang up the Baltic Embassy and, with some delay and after a lot of wanting to know his business, was put through to the Ambassador.

"Larose speaking, Gilbert Larose," he said sharply.

"Ah," came a mocking voice over the phone, "the real Gilbert Larose, or his double?"

"The real and only one," snapped Larose, "and if you meet him again you may perhaps wish you hadn't. Now look here, Herr von Ravenheim. You leave those two Castle girls alone in future. You won't get them, for after yesterday they'll be as well guarded as the Queen of England. Those three brutes you sent down to Haslemere all met trouble and if you want to learn what happened to them, ring up Scotland Yard or look in the newspapers tomorrow morning. Good-night, or rather—a damned unpleasant one for you!" and he rang off immediately.


CHAPTER XI.—"JUDAS"

After the truly staggering disclosures made to him by Larose, von Ravenheim put down the receiver very slowly and with a white face leant back into his chair and gave himself up to a deep reverie.

That the three men had been caught and were now being detained by the police was disconcerting to a degree, and he breathed heavily at the thought at all which might follow. But it was not that he was fearing any of the men would give him away, and that his name would be dragged in. He was thinking of what would be the effect upon the supposed Herr Blitzen when he learnt what had happened.

If it were broadcast in the newspapers that an attempt had been made to abduct Cecily Castle and that the would-be abductors were of Baltic nationality, then his superior would guess at once that he, von Ravenheim, was the instigator of the whole business and a very little thought would make him realise it had been done with the deliberate intention of putting the girl out of his reach. Then he, von Ravenheim again, would be faced—not only with the cold and merciless wrath of a dictator towards one who had been found out endeavoring to cross his autocratic will, but with the far worse, flaming fury of a lover who had learnt of intended violence and suffering for the woman he loved.

But might there not yet be a way of avoiding the undoubted impending catastrophe? Although he himself lacked the divine fire and inspiration of the born leader of men, he was yet many times deeper and more subtle than his master. Yes, there was just a chance that he might manage to throw dust in the eyes of the Herr, or, at any rate, that he could so prepare the ground that when the news became known he could deny everything with the reasonable hope that he would be believed.

He went at once into Herr Blitzen, who was reading in one of the rooms which had been allotted to him for his private use, and, after a few casual words about nothing in particular, brought round the conversation to the two girls.

"It must be very lonely for Your Excellency," he smiled, "to be now so much by yourself, when for so many days you have enjoyed the society of those young ladies."

"Yes, it is lonely," sighed the dictator. "Their companionship was a great break in my life." He sighed again. "It was a revelation to me." He laughed reminiscently. "How that little witch first came to make herself known to me in the lounge of our hotel was very clever. She was alone and sitting not far from me. Her wrist-watch fell off, and she pretended she couldn't see where it had fallen. She almost put her foot on it, and I rescued it just in time. She thanked me so prettily, and then started chatting to me as she tried to fasten the watch on her wrist again. She seemed clumsy about it, and out of devilry and quite certain she would refuse, I asked if I could do it for her. Ha! Ha!"

"And she let you?" asked the ambassador, hiding his scorn with a question.

"Of course she did," replied Blitzen. He nodded, with a far-away look in his eyes. "She held out her wrist to me, and it was blue veined and soft as a little child." He sighed for the third time. "I think my affection began for her at that very moment."

Von Ravenheim wondered unpleasantly what he would say when he learnt it had been contemplated to roughly seize that white and blueveined wrist and tie it with a cord. He shook his head, "But I don't altogether like the idea of dainty girls like her getting mixed up in our intrigues. It is dangerous and lays them open to the spite of those whose secrets they have found out."

"I bear no spite," said Blitzen sadly.

"No, but others may, and, looking back, I think it must be that girl who uncovered Muller's brother. The description sounds like her, and Muller has sworn to get revenge."

The Herr showed his teeth. "If Muller or anybody else laid a finger on that girl, I'd"—his eyes glared—"I'd see how long he could bear pain before he died."

Von Ravenheim nodded. "And so would I. A beautiful girl like Miss Cecily should turn the vengeance of the hardest-hearted man." He spoke warmly. "Certainly she is beautiful, and if you take her back with you"—he smiled—"our countrymen will forgive everything when they see her," and he congratulated himself upon his diplomacy when he noticed the approving look the Herr was now giving him.

They talked quite a lot about Cecily, and Herr Blitzen seemed almost boyishly happy in discussing her. He even shook the Ambassador's hand warmly when they parted for the night, a kind of handshake he had never given the latter before.

And it was well von Ravenheim was in his good books when the Herr saw the newspaper the next morning, for he came into him white to the very lips with fury.

"Have you seen the papers yet?" he asked shakily.

"Yes, I've just been reading them," replied von Ravenheim very gravely, "and was upon the point of coming in to speak to you." He nodded. "It is as I thought. Someone wanted to get revenge and set those men on to kidnap her. They've probably been ambushed for many days by the house, waiting for her to return home." He stretched out his hand. "Let me see your paper. I've only read 'The Times.'"

He took the newspaper Blitzen gave him and, with a frown, read out the head lines and some of the leading paragraphs in the article below them. 'Mysterious affair at Haslemere. Peaceful Hampshire town invaded by armed bandits.' Then it went on to tell of the intended kidnapping of 'two young ladies who work in a certain Government office.' It said that all the would-be kidnappers had been arrested and were said to be foreigners. The police were very reticent, and the Misses Castle refused to be interviewed by the paper's representative.

He looked up significantly. "So you see, the girls work for the Government. We were quite right there." He drew in a deep breath, as if one of relief. "Well, those men didn't get them, and we can be quite certain they'll be safe now. No one will try a second time."

"I wonder who the men were," scowled Blitzen.

"I'll find that out," nodded the Ambassador. His face was very stern. "Then, if that Muller had anything to do with it, we'll punish him severely. If we can't get hold of him, we'll make things hard for his family. I know he has an old mother in Dresden."

"I'd like to go to Haslemere," muttered the Herr, "and make sure they haven't been upset by the shock."

"Oh, I shouldn't go there yet," said von Ravenheim, quickly. "Wait until after the week-end, when we've finished with Lord Michael and the Foreign Secretary. Besides, if you are going to ask Miss Cecily to be your wife, it will be better to make her realise that you have not come to that decision in a hurry, but have thought it well over." Then, as Herr Blitzen made no comment, he went on—"That reminds me, I am going down to look round about the grounds of Lord Michael's place today. I have been there once as a guest, but I want to refresh my memory. I shall drive myself. You had better not come with me."

"Because I look what I am," grunted the Herr, "a true son of my country." He shook his head. "No, I don't want to come. When it is all over, it will be best that there is no chance of anyone remembering a foreigner was seen lately in the neighborhood. I'll stop in here today."

It was a good thing that Herr Blitzen was not aware of what exactly were the ambassador's thoughts as the latter drove away from the Embassy that bright summer morning.

Von Ravenheim was now resolutely steeling himself into the determination that, in the interests of his great fatherland, the man passing as Herr Blitzen must disappear. It was a calamity, but less dire than that the great dictator, whose strength and resolution were an inspiration to his countrymen, should return to them as a weakling.

Married to a woman of a hated race, or indeed married at all, he would be in danger of becoming a broken idol. It was his asceticism, his austere mode of living, and his freedom from the weaknesses of the ordinary man that had contributed so much to his power and infallibility in the eyes of his countrymen, lifting him almost to the heights of a demi-god.

Another thing, too. With the Dictator no longer imposing his imperious will, contrary to all persuasion, the projected assassination of Lord Michael and Sir Howard Wake would not take place. He, von Ravenheim, had never approved of them, realising far better than his master did the horror that would surge through the whole civilised world.

Certainly, it might be that the murderers would never be brought definitely home to anyone of Baltic nationality, but still every one knew the Baltic people were regarding the two statesmen as their deadliest enemies and would guess who had assassinated them.

So with these thoughts running in the ambassador's mind, it was with no intention of spying upon Lord Michael's residence that he was driving now towards the muddied flats bordering upon the estuary of the sullen river Blackwater.

He was intending to find some lonely, unfrequented place where he could safely pistol the dictator and bury him where he fell; no suspicion, because of the loneliness of the spot to which he was being brought, need be aroused in the latter's mind if he thought that it was there he was going to act the part of an executioner himself.

But for a very good reason the place would have to be somewhere in the vicinity of Lord Michael's residence in Essex, because Herr Blitzen had already been there upon one of his motor drives with the girls, and so knew where it was. Following upon his meeting with Lord Michael at Wickham Towers, he had been curious as to where the Secretary for War lived and, accordingly, they had made an excursion to the estuary of the river Blackwater.

Proceeding down the Mile End road, the ambassador stopped to buy a pickaxe and a spade.

He journeyed by way of Maldon and then, passing through the little hamlet of Goldhanger, about a quarter of a mile farther on, turned off the main road into a narrow bye-lane, leading to the wide stretches of grasslands abutting on the river. It was a dry summer and, with the ground firm and hard, he congratulated himself his car would leave no tracks for curious-minded people to speculate as to who had passed by.

Soon the lane ended and he came to a stretch of country as lonely as anyone could wish. There was no habitation anywhere in sight, except that he could see, about a quarter of a mile away, Tollesbury Hall, the grounds of which were surrounded by a low wall. The track he was now following had every appearance of being very seldom used, and, certainly, it could be used only in fine weather. He left the car where the track dipped down a little and walked at right angles in the direction of the riverside.

Then, very quickly, he came upon the place he was looking for.

It was close to one side of the river bank, a little hollow which he guessed must be partly under water when any heavy rains fell. It was carpeted with big tussocks of rank, coarse grass.

He fetched the pick and the spade from the car and after some hard work had dug a shallow hole about two feet in depth. He made it of an irregular shape, to look as unlike a grave as possible. Then he filled it in again, knowing that ten minutes' work would empty it when it was required. He hid the spade among the grass, close by.

Starting back for town at all speed, when he gained the main road he was greatly annoyed to find that one of his front tyres was becoming alarmingly deflated, making the steering hard and difficult. He hated the messy work of putting on the spare; and so, remembering that on his way out he had passed a small petrol station now only a little way ahead of him, he drove on to it, and had the tyre changed and the puncture attended to.

Then the garage man pointed out that the oil was leaking badly from the sump. That was also made right, and more oil was put into the engine. He was vexed at the additional delay because he had a lot to do when he got back to town.

Arriving at the Embassy much later than he had intended, he learnt that Herr Blitzen had gone out almost immediately after he had left, and had not as yet returned. This news made him feel very uneasy, as Herr Blitzen had stated so definitely he was not intending to go out at all.

"Damnation," swore von Ravenheim softly. "I do believe he's gone down to Haslemere. He looked very secretive when he said he should be remaining indoors all day."

He thought for a moment and then, summoning one of his very trusted attendants, gave him some whispered instructions. Then he turned his attention to another matter.

A man whom he had been expecting was waiting to see him. Before he had left for Essex that morning, he had rung up a journalist who often made enquiries for him when there was something he wanted to know and did not consider it wise he should move in the matter himself.

The journalist was smart but unscrupulous and, if well paid, always willing to act the part of private detective. So now he had come well-informed about the so-called kidnapping affair.

The three men, he said, had been promptly taken before a hastily summoned bench of local magistrates and remanded, but within an hour orders had been received for them to be brought to London immediately. Nothing was known definitely as to the identity of two of them, as they refused to give any names or addresses, but the third was a Herr Sharpel, of Mornington avenue, Hampstead, a hardware merchant, in Aldersgate street, city. Both his premises had been raided, but what, if anything, had been found out the journalist did not know.

A man who had once been a detective at Scotland Yard was very much mixed up in everything. His name was Gilbert Larose. He had plenty of money now, having married a very wealthy woman.

But for him the three men would never have been arrested. He first saw them near the girls' house; he telephoned the local policeman, he organised a party with double-barrelled sporting guns to cut them off; and it was he who provided the police with an excuse summarily to arrest them. He had made out one of the men was drawing a pistol, when he had not been attempting anything of the kind, and had sprung upon him. Then the police had found loaded automatics upon all three.

But the police were said to be now in a bit of a quandary, as they could not prove definitely that the men had been intending to kidnap the girls. It was thought that after this Herr Sharpel had been heavily fined for having false number plates upon his car—this Larose had been the one to first discover that, too—and the others fined for carrying pistols without a licence; they would all be deported, as they were undoubtedly all of Baltic nationality.

Larose had told the police that one of them was a servant at the Baltic Embassy. He had seen him there when he, Larose, had been visiting the Embassy only a few days ago.

Then the police had rung up the Embassy three times that morning; but all information had been refused and they had been told the ambassador would not be home until the afternoon, when no doubt any questions would be answered.

Oh yes, he knew all about this Larose. He had a swell place in Norfolk, Carmel Abbey, which, however, really belonged to his wife. He had a little flat, too, in London where he often stayed when he came up to town. It was upon the third floor in Carlyle Mansions, Sloane square. He, the journalist, happened to know that, because he had been sent once to interview a well-known violinist who had a flat in the same building and he had then seen the ex-detective letting himself into another suite of rooms. Later, he had been told it was Larose's own flat.

No, he did not think many of the tenants of the building kept servants. The flats were expensive and well appointed, but they were all on the small side, and, as far as he could gather, looked after by the building attendants, male and female.

The journalist's information was exhaustive, and von Ravenheim thanked him for his services and paid him £10. Then, when he had gone, he gnashed his teeth in his rage.

This Larose crossing his path again! This ex-policeman fellow, who had bluffed him twice, was now ruining all his plans and placing him in a most difficult and even dangerous position! Ah, the man was most dangerous himself, too, and his mouth must be shut! He must be dealt with at once!

The ambassador was just preparing to go out again when he was informed that an inspector from Scotland Yard was waiting to see him. He showed no signs of the annoyance he felt, and ordered the inspector to be brought in.

The grim-looking inspector at once asked very curtly if any of the employees of the Embassy were then absent. Von Ravenheim seemed very puzzled at the question, but replied at once in the negative.

"Not a man about thirty-five," asked the inspector very sternly, "five feet two, of heavy build, with a big square face and closely cropped reddish hair?"

"No-o," said von Ravenheim hesitatingly, "but that description applies exactly to an attendant by name of Carl Bollin, whom I had to dismiss for drunkenness three days ago."

"Then where does he live now?"

"I haven't the remotest idea."

"How long had he been with you?"

Von Ravenheim hesitated again. "I should say about three months, certainly not longer. He was really only a temporary employee, taken on when our carpenter fell ill, but he was very handy and we have retained him ever since!"

"Did you have any references with him?"

The ambassador smiled. "Of course." He shook his head. "But I don't remember now who gave them."

"Still, you can find out," grunted the inspector.

Von Ravenheim nodded. "I may be able to, but I can't attend to it just now. I am very very busy. I'll give you a ring later." He frowned. "But why do you want to know about him? What's he done?"

It was now the inspector's turn to hesitate. Then he said slowly. "He's been caught in very suspicious circumstances, carrying a loaded automatic."

The ambassador raised his eyebrows. "I don't expect he has a licence."

The inspector looked scornful. "No, no one supposed he had when we found it on him." He looked intently at von Ravenheim. "Now do you know a party called Sharpel, who lives in Mornington avenue, Hampstead, and has a hardware shop in the city? He comes from your country."

The ambassador laughed. "A great many people come from my country, Mr. Inspector, of whom I know nothing about. No, I don't know this gentleman Sharpel who keeps a hardware shop. What's he done?"

"Oh nothing," said the inspector. "Good morning," and he took his leave, feeling sure he had been lied to by this polite, good-looking man who represented the great Baltic nation at the court of St. James.

Von Ravenheim smiled to himself. "What a foolish, easy-going Scotland Yard! In our country, in such a matter our police would have wanted to cross-examine every employee here about their fellow servant." He nodded. "But no, this inspector takes my word as a Baltic gentleman." He shook his head. "A great mistake, for there is nothing gentlemanly about war or preparation for war."


He took a taxi and was driven down to Clerkenwell. Then, dismissing his conveyance, he walked a couple of hundred yards to a small shop in a mean street. Over the lintel of the door was painted "F. O. Shane, Electroplater." and in the shop window were displayed samples of the work which was done inside.

Fergus Shane was an Irishman and a fervent Red Patriot. He was a secret member of the Irish Republican Army, and had been responsible for not a few explosions in London, with attendant damage and loss of life. The authorities would have dearly loved to have hold of him, but all their efforts so far had failed to uncover him.

Von Ravenheim entered the shop and Shane came forward from a workroom at the back and greeted him with a smile. The ambassador was known to Shane as a generous contributor to the I.R.A. funds, and now in response to his request, he led him into the workroom.

"I've got a commission for you," said von Ravenheim with no preamble and in most business-like tones, "and if you carry it out successfully for me I'll give £500 to the cause."

"Good," exclaimed Shane. "We're short of money and £500 is a nice sum. What do you want me to do?"

"Explode a bomb in a flat in Sloane square," replied the ambassador. "It shouldn't be difficult, as there'll be only one person there."

"And you want that person upon the premises at the time, I suppose?" asked Shane. "Oh, well who is he?"

"He used to be a policeman, but he isn't that now. His name is Gilbert Larose."

Shane nodded. "I've heard of him. He's pretty smart." He considered. "But why do you want it done? Is it a personal matter?"

"Certainly not. He's working for the British Secret Service, and he's dangerous to all enemies of England."

"That's enough," said Shane. "But when's it got to be done?"

"Today, tomorrow, as soon as you possibly can. He's staying at his flat now, but he's not always there. So the quicker you set about it, the better."

"All right," said Shane. "Now give me all particulars of the place."

In the meantime, Herr Blitzen had been doing exactly what von Ravenheim had both guessed and feared. He had hired a private car from a garage and been driven down to Haslemere, intending to tell Cecily Castle quite frankly who he was and ask her to become his wife. Really, however, it was not in his mind that he would actually ask her; he would just say he was resolved to take her and, accustomed as he was to being obeyed in everything, he was not entertaining the idea that she would refuse.

Arriving in the little town and, impatient at every moment's delay in meeting her, he sent the chauffeur into a shop to find out where she lived. The direction was simple and, arriving at the entrance to the drive, he stopped the car and gave peremptory orders to the man that he was to wait there for him, no matter how long he might be gone.

Proceeding into the drive, he came upon a boy about fourteen weeding the gravel and, to make sure that he had come to the right house, asked him if the Misses Castle lived there.

"Yes, this is their house all right," replied the boy, most interested in the foreign appearance of the questioner, "but you won't find them at home. They've gone away and the house is shut up."

"Gone away!" exclaimed Herr Blitzen with a dreadful pang of disappointment. "When did they go?"

"Late yesterday afternoon," said the boy. He was pleased at the interest he had excited and added. "They couldn't stick all the men from the newspapers who were coming down. There were car-loads of them here by five o'clock."

"But where have they gone?" asked the Herr, still aghast.

"Don't know. They didn't tell anyone. They sent the servants away and then went off themselves."

Herr Blitzen stood staring blankly at the boy, and the latter, with the idea of a good tip in his mind, thought it might pay to be communicative. So he went on. "You see, that rumpus frightened them a bit, and they didn't know what might happen to them if they stopped."

"Rumpus?" queried the Herr, whose study of the English language had not included that word. "What do you mean?"

The boy was delighted to meet someone who did not, apparently, know of the happenings of the day before, and spread himself out. "Why, haven't you heard?" he asked. "There were three foreigners up that lane, waiting with pistols to carry them off. The pistols were all loaded and had got seven cartridges in them." He shook his head ominously. "Oh, they meant business, those men, and someone must have paid them well for the job! They had got false number plates on their car!"

"Who were they?" asked Herr Blitzen sharply. "Was it found out?"

"They got the name of one," said the boy. "It was Sharpel, and it was traced through the real number plates of his car which he'd hidden under one of the seats. They haven't got the names of the two others yet, but they know one of them lives in some ambassador's house in London, in Portland place."

Herr Blitzen drew in a sharp breath and for a few seconds his lips remained parted. Then he snapped his jaws together and ground his teeth so savagely that they gave him positive pain. The boy moved back a pace of two, feeling a little frightened.

"How do you know that one of them came from the ambassador's house in Portland place?" asked Herr Blitzen hoarsely. "You're making it up."

"I'm not," said the boy indignantly. "My dad told us about it at tea." He spoke proudly. "He's the police constable here. He said a gentleman who'd been in the ambassador's house had seen the man there. This gentleman had been a detective once, and it was him rang dad up and said the men were hiding in the lane. He's called Gilbert Larose."

The boy got no tip and, indeed, was lucky not to receive a savage kick from Blitzen in parting, the latter being so furious that he would have been only too glad to vent his rage upon anyone.

The journey back to town occupied fully two hours; and by that time the dictator had mastered his first fury. It was not lessened in any way, but he had got it well in hand and it had now taken shape in a cold and deadly determination to inflict upon the ambassador the utmost punishment.

He had not the slightest doubt that it was von Ravenheim himself who was responsible for the attempt to kidnap Cecily Castle. The fact that one of the embassy attendants had been there to help proved it. So, while outwardly he had been all sympathy and understanding with his superior's love affair, von Ravenheim had really been guilty of the basest treachery, undoubtedly intending to carry the girl off to some hiding place and put her beyond all reach.

Then the ambassador was no longer to be trusted! He had become a secret enemy of the chosen ruler of his countrymen and, therefore, he was now an enemy of his country, also!

So he must be dismissed from his high post immediately, he must be sent back home and imprisoned, he must be——, but Herr Blitzen had suddenly remembered something.

The ambassador was very necessary for the next few days. In fact, he was indispensable, for it was he who was going to be the prime mover in the assassination of those two men and without him there seemed no possible hope of carrying it out.

Herr Blitzen cursed under his breath. He himself, unlike the ambassador who could shoot splendidly, was a poor performer with the pistol and, apart from that, he would not be able to locate the victims. Was not von Ravenheim at that very moment spying round the grounds of Lord Michael's house, so that there should be no bungling the day after tomorrow when the two friends were to be caught together?

So von Ravenheim could not be unmasked yet, and he must not be allowed to suspect anything, either.

Then the proud autocrat cursed again. For two days, and perhaps longer, he would have to hide his feelings, and he was not accustomed to that. He would have to be in close association, too, with a man he now hated, and he would have to conceal from him everything which was in his mind.

Arriving back in town, Blitzen dismissed the car at Oxford Circus and proceeded the rest of the way on foot, not intending that anyone should see him drive up to the embassy in a private car. Now he had found out that the ambassador had been acting with such black treachery about Cecily, he was suspecting that a watch might even be set upon his, Herr Blitzen's, movements. So henceforth he would keep the ambassador as much in the dark as possible.

But, within half an hour of his arriving back to the embassy, where he had been was known to the ambassador. The attendant posted by von Ravenheim had seen him alight at the Circus and recognised the driver of the car as coming from a nearby car-hire station in Great Portland street, not a quarter of a mile distant from the embassy.

Then the rest had been very easy. The attendant had gone straight to the car station and, with a concocted story about a glove his recent passenger thought he had left in the car, had soon heard all the day's happenings.

That night at dinner, Herr Blitzen congratulated himself upon how well he was playing his part and not giving von Ravenheim any idea of what was in his mind.

But if von Ravenheim had not been feeling so terribly uneasy he would have been inclined to indulge in a hearty laugh, for his superior's efforts to hide his state of mind were almost elephantine in their clumsiness and would have deceived no one.

It is true he was not absolutely rude to the ambassador, but he sat with furrowed, scowling brows, making no conversation and replying only in monosyllables to the few questions he was asked.

Presently, the moment the butler had left the room, von Ravenheim, to retard the explosion he was expecting, leant towards Blitzen, and spoke earnestly and impressively.

"Well, we can finish with that little matter on Saturday night," he said, "and everything should be quite easy. You know I was very lucky today. I was slowing down through Maldon, about four miles from Tollesbury Hall, when Lord Michael himself happened to come out of a shop there and, recognising me, waved to me to stop."

"A pity you hadn't put a bullet in him straightaway," growled Herr Blitzen.

"But that would have hardly done, would it?" smiled the ambassador. He went on. "Then I made up some story to account for my being in the neighborhood and his lordship would insist upon my returning with him to the Hall to lunch. I didn't want to go, but I'm glad I did now, for things couldn't have happened better. He showed me a summer-house in one corner of the grounds, just by the low wall which runs all round, and told me he sat out there for a couple of hours after dinner every night at this time of year. He even mentioned that when his friend, Sir Howard Wake, was staying with him, it was their custom to play chess there, sometimes until long after midnight. Now what do you think of that?"

"You say the summer-house is close to the wall?" asked the Herr surlily.

"Barely ten yards, and it is a hundred and more from the house. So, all we shall have to do will be to get right up to the wall and fire over it. It's only four feet high. Yes, we can't miss them and, so far from the house, not a sound of our pistols will be heard. Indeed, it may not be until the next morning that their bodies will be found."

"What time shall we get there?" asked Herr Blitzen.

"Not until well after dark," replied von Ravenheim. "There should be some moonlight, the moon is only four days old, but in any case the lights of the house will guide us. Of course, we can't take the car near. We shall have to leave it about half a mile away."

"But what if it's seen?" growled the Herr.

"It won't be seen. I shall leave it in a little dip upon some lonely grassland where no one ever appears to come," and Herr Blitzen, without a word, took himself off to his own room.

Now if von Ravenheim had spent a worrying day, Larose had passed one equally troubled. He was no nearer than he had ever been to a solution of the mystery which had first involved him in all this tangle.

Two men were in danger of assassination at the hands of those to whom bloody deeds were as nothing when anyone stood in their path, but as to whom these two men were he could form no idea. All he knew was that they were public men, they were going to be assassinated when together at some country house and that, for some reason, it was imperative they should be slain by the middle of the month.

Ah, by the middle of the month, and there were only four days more to go!

A thought suddenly came to him; and he drove off at once to have a few words with the assistant editor of a daily paper who was a personal friend of his.

"Look here," he said in explanation of his visit, "I can't explain things fully to you; but I'm at my old trade of poking my nose in other people's business. Now can you name me two important public men in this country whose secret disappearance some time during the next four days would cause great consternation?"

"Certainly," replied the journalist promptly, "young Frank Deeming, the challenger, and Balderwick, the Birmingham bruiser, who at present is the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Tons of money have been betted on both of them for the fight on Saturday and if they went into smoke——"

"Great Scot," cried Larose, "nothing like that! I mean statesmen, financiers, or——" he shrugged his shoulders—"well, I don't know what."

The journalist frowned and then considered. "Is the particular period of time, the four days, so important?" he asked.

"It's everything," said Larose. "That is all I have to go upon."

The journalist considered again, a long time now, and then shook his head. "I can't help you," he said. "The four days completely blocks me. Of course, I know thousands of men whose secret disappearance—and by 'secret' I suppose you mean unlawful—would shock everybody, but I am aware of no one whose removal now would cause more consternation than at any time next week or the week after."

Larose saw he would have to explain more. "But I believe these men to be in danger of assassination by some Baltic agents," he said impressively. "Now, who among our public men do the Baltic hate most?"

The journalist smiled. "They hate everyone"—he smiled—"except the so-called appeasement party."

"But tell me who, in your opinion, they hate most?" asked Larose irritably. "Who are doing them most harm at the present moment?"

The journalist rattled off, "Sir Israel Montefiore, the Jewish banker, who has a paramount influence in the money matters of the world; old Arnold Harker, in my own calling, whose influence is far-reaching and whose pen is dipped in venom as he impeaches them day after day; the eminent Professor Valder, of their own nationality, who has just published that damning story of his about their recent murders of scores of their own people, and"—he smiled—"perhaps, our own very efficient Foreign Secretary, Sir Howard Wake, who is alive to all their tricks and checkmates them every time." He looked at the clock and picked up a blue pencil. "Now, that is all I can tell you, my dear fellow, so please just run away and play. I'm too busy to spare you any more time."

Larose brooded disconsolately all day. Then suddenly an inspiration came to him and, all in the passing of a few seconds, his mind was flooded with a great light.

It all happened in this way. That night he went to see the beautiful film star, Mary Dream, and the inimitable Tom Walls featured in 'The Jest of Life,' and in the news reel which preceded the film, he idly regarded the well-known notabilities flashed upon the screen.

First came a race meeting at Kempton Park and he started as his eyes fell upon two members of the Cabinet in the private grandstand. They were Lord Michael and Sir Howard Wake and, seated side by side, they were evidently upon the most intimate terms, for Sir Howard patted his lordship upon the shoulder, as if in mock reproof at some remark the latter was apparently making, as two pretty girls waved their hands to him from the lawn below.

Then the next picture but one after that showed the two statesmen again together, this time at a flower show in Chelsea. They were having tea by themselves at a small table; and some joke must have been passing between them, as they were both regarding each other with laughing faces. The Foreign Secretary was of slight build compared with the figure of his martial colleague; and the great difference struck Larose most forcibly in the short time the picture was before him.

Lord Michael was the typical John Bull, so familiarised all the world over in caricature. He embodied the strength of the great British Empire, with his solidity, his frank open countenance; and the courage and determination that stood out in his big blue eyes. No wonder Herr Blitzen had glared at him so balefully that afternoon in the lounge at Wickham Towers for it was such as he who stood between the Herr's country and all that it lusted after.

Then, thinking about Lord Michael's appearance, Larose's thoughts went back to Cramp, the butler at Wickham Towers. Cramp was another John Bull, too. How very much alike to Lord Michael he was, so much so, that in the distance, or in a bad light, he might easily be mistaken for the great lord himself.

Larose's thoughts ran on. Poor old Cramp. Who could have had such a spite against him as to push him down the stairs that night as he had been coming out of Lord Michael's room? Now if it had been Lord Michael who had been attacked, one could have understood it. Why, then Herr Blitzen himself might have been the culprit. He might have——

Good God! It was as if a bomb had burst in Larose's mind. He drew in a deep breath and thought after thought began avalanching through him. Oh, how dense he had been and might not chance, blind chance, be now thundering into him all he wanted to know?

With a great thrill of expectancy, he let his imagination run riot and lead him where it willed.

So, that night upon the stairs, Cramp, coming out of Lord Michael's room had been mistaken for his lordship. Someone who wished Lord Michael harm had struck at Cramp, in mistake for him.

Then who was it? Who, among all gathered there at Wickham Towers that night would have been wanting to injure the British Secretary of State for War? Who would have hated him, for all he stood for in the preservation of the British Empire?

Who else but the mysterious foreigner, Herr Blitzen?

Had not he, Larose, seen an almost theatrical loathing in Blitzen's eyes when the latter had been looking at Lord Michael?

But——was Herr Blitzen likely to be one who would make such a dastardly attempt to cripple and, perhaps, fatally injure him by hurling him down the stairs? Of course he was! The Herr came of a nation whose leaders were lost to all sense of right and wrong, and to whom the instincts of the jungle were the highest moral code.

Besides, had not Herr Blitzen been hand in glove with von Ravenheim that night at the Embassy when he, Larose, was going to be put under torture, and would a man who was countenancing that, hesitate at inflicting injury upon anyone whom he thought was standing in his way?

Larose felt himself coming out in a bath of perspiration, but his thoughts had not finished with him yet and he could hardly get his breath in his excitement.

Lord Michael and Sir Howard Wake had been caught together by the lens of the camera twice within the course of a few days. Then they must be friends, and both Cabinet Ministers and undoubtedly thrown repeatedly together in these dreadful times through which the country was now passing, they would probably be great friends.

Then had not Sir Howard been picked out for him that very day as a man most hated by the Baltic nation?

Well, and Larose's thoughts were very slow and deliberate. Now, if Sir Howard and Lord Michael were going to be at either of each other's houses within the next four days, might not they be the two men marked out for assassination?

Larose left the cinema instantly and within five minutes was phoning up his journalistic friend.

"Here, I say," he called out, "about that matter I came to you about this afternoon. Oh, I won't keep you a minute, but please tell me this, are either Sir Howard Wake or Lord Michael engaged in any particular matter within that time I mentioned to you?"

"Not that I know of," came sharply from the other end of the phone. "Oh, wait a minute. I think I can help you, but you ought to have been aware of it yourself from the newspapers. They were to have both sailed for New York next Monday; but, a week ago, their visit was put off for a month. Good-bye."

"So that's that," sighed Larose, "and if I hadn't been so busy with Pellew and Herr Blitzen and von Ravenheim, I might have picked up the trail long ago. But here goes now for Lord Michael."

But Lord Michael was difficult to locate, for upon ringing up his town house straight away, as Larose's name was not familiar to his butler, the latter refused to give any information whatsoever as to his lordship's whereabouts, except to say that he was not at home.

And it was the same next morning. He could learn nothing about Lord Michael at his private house. Baulked there, he went to the War Office and, after a lot of pressing and stating he must see him and that the matter was very urgent, he was at last informed that the great man would be found at his country seat, Tollesbury Hall, in Essex.

So Larose got out his car and drove with all speed to the lonely situated hall upon the Essex coast. There, declining again to state his business, except that it was very urgent, he was shown into the room of Lord Michael's private secretary, who was, fortunately, a man with all his wits about him and who, moreover, had heard something of the exploits of the one-time international detective.

So, within a few minutes of his arrival he was shaking hands with Lord Michael and reminding him that they had met only a couple of weeks previously at Wickham Towers.

"I remember your face," smiled Lord Michael, "but I don't think I could have caught your name." He bowed. "If I had I should have been only too delighted to have a little talk with a man of so distinguished a reputation."

Larose turned the conversation quickly. "But I have come to see you;" he said, "because, in some unofficial enquiries I have been making about quite another matter, I have heard rumors of an attempt being made upon your life, very shortly and when you are in residence here."

Lord Michael sighed. "My dear man," he said, "I am always hearing such rumors, and am always being told to look out. Not a week passes without some anonymous letter, either threatening me or giving me warning." He smiled. "So your news does not upset me in the least. I am quite used to that sort of thing."

"Well, is Sir Howard Wake coming to stay here with you for this weekend?"

Lord Michael at once looked much more serious. "He is," he frowned, "but how you came to learn it I don't know. No one here knows about it and they won't know until he actually arrives. With no fears in our minds, but as a matter of simple precaution as Ministers of the Crown, all our movements are kept secret." He looked intently at Larose. "Now, how did you find out?"

"I didn't find out," said Larose, "I only guessed it. I am only guessing it, too, about your being in danger. The rumor which reached me was that two prominent men, great friends, were to be attacked, and I put two and two together and thought of you and Sir Howard."

"And who are these men who are going to attack us?" asked Lord Michael, looking very puzzled.

"I don't know that either," said Larose. He nodded. "But they would be the agents of a certain Foreign Power."

"A-ah," exclaimed Lord Michael, opening his eyes very wide, "then that would be our Baltic friends, of course." He made a gesture of disgust. "They are the only nation who dirty their hands in that way." He spoke briskly. "But you have no definite evidence about anything, have you?"

Larose shook his head. "None that can be produced to bring anyone to punishment under the law. I do know that a threat is, or was, hanging over some two persons but, as I have told you, I am only guessing about who these two people are."

Lord Michael smiled. "Well, anyone trying to get at us here would have a very hard job. I have two men servants, two gardeners and a chauffeur and they are all ex-army men and all sleep in the house. Besides that, I have two big Alsatians and they always roam loose in the grounds at night."

"Still, take special precautions this week-end," said Larose, "and whenever you and Sir Howard Wake are together." A thought struck him, "I suppose no strangers have been seen hanging about lately?"

"I don't know," said his lordship. He touched a bell. "But I'll soon find out. As you must have noticed in driving up, this is a very lonely place and difficult to approach unseen." He beckoned Larose to the window and pointed out the wide and open vista before them. "See, so much of this country surrounding my house is marshland and," he laughed, "there is no cover for an attacking army. Just a few folds in the land where the ground is less marshy, but none anywhere near here."

There was a knock upon the door and the butler entered.

"Have any strangers been seen about lately, do you know, Simpson," asked his lordship.

"I don't think so, my lord, I haven't heard of any," replied the man.

"Well, go and ask everyone and then come and tell me."

Larose was helped to a whisky and soda and he and the Secretary for War chatted together for a few minutes until the butler returned. The latter had brought an awkward-looking, grubby boy of about fourteen with him.

"Tom here, my lord," he said, "says he saw a car out over the marshland yesterday morning, but no one else has seen anyone."

"You question him, Mr. Larose," laughed Lord Michael. "It's more in your line than mine." Then he whispered, "He's the gardener's boy and not very intelligent."

But after ten minutes, Larose had at least learnt something. It appeared that the previous morning, about eleven o'clock, the boy had been upon a pair of steps, nailing up some greenage trees by the east wall and, happening to look up once, had seen a car coming along the track across the grassland about half a mile or more away. He had only seen it for a few seconds, and then it had disappeared into a depression in the ground there. He thought at once that the driver must have made a mistake and taken the wrong turning, because he knew the track petered out and led nowhere. He had not seen the car turn back, but then he had only been on the steps a few minutes after that, and so might have missed it. He thought the car was of a black color.

"Now, I hope you are satisfied," laughed Lord Michael when the butler and the lad had left the room, "still, thank you very much, sir. I'm most grateful to you for coming down and will certainly keep a good look out."

Larose may have appeared satisfied, but he certainly was not and, slender though the clue was, he was intending to try and follow it up. He remembered that the gardener's boy had said he thought someone must have lost their way by taking the wrong turning and, directly he got on the main road himself, he asked at a cottage he saw by the roadside if anybody in a car had lost their way the previous day and been making enquiries about directions. He explained he was looking for a dark colored car which had been stolen from Chelmsford, and had been seen in the neighborhood.

At the first and second cottage he approached, he learnt nothing, but at the third cottage only about a quarter of a mile or so from the little village of Goldhanger he was greatly heartened by what he was told.

No enquiries had been made there, but a girl of about eleven years old had seen a black car turn in a little lane higher up, a lane into which cars very seldom went. Not only that, but a long time afterwards, she was quite sure it must have been a long time because she had been home and had her lunch in the meanwhile, she had seen the same car standing opposite the little garage in the village. The gentleman who had been driving the car was having a puncture mended for him by Mr. Thompson, who kept the garage. Yes she was quite sure the car was the same one. It had such very big tyres and she had particularly noticed them.

In great expectancy, Larose pulled up at the little garage and told the same story about a stolen car.

Then he got a really dreadful shock for the description the garage man gave of his customer of the previous day was exactly that of Herr von Ravenheim, the Baltic Ambassador.

There was no doubt about it. The man said the owner of the car was very well dressed, he was good looking, with an oval face, he had eyes which looked you through and through, and he hardly spoke a word. One thing, however, he had said. He had asked for and been giving a piece of sticking plaster to protect a blister he had on the palm of his hand.

"And besides mending the tyre for him, sir," said the garage man, "I had to screw up the nut at the bottom of the sump of the car. It had worked loose and the oil was leaking and he had lost quite a lot. I had to put more than a gallon into the engine. No, I don't remember the number, but it was a London registration. I am sure of that."

Larose thanked him and, filling up with petrol, gave him a good tip. Then he turned his car round as if he were going back to Tollesbury Hall.

He had no difficulty in picking out the lane the little girl had said the car turned into and soon was well away from the main road and had reached the track leading over the grassland.

His eyes were sparkling with delight for faintly, but most distinctly, he could see the drips of oil the ambassador's car had left. Proceeding very slowly, he came at length to the little depression in the grassland and there his eyes fell upon quite a big patch of oil. Undoubtedly, von Ravenheim's car had been stationary there for some time.

He got out of his car and proceeded most minutely to examine the ground. He could see where the car had been turned round, but that was all.

He sat down upon his running board and gave himself up to some hard thinking.

Von Ravenheim had left his car there for some considerable time, from what the little girl had said, for much longer even than an hour.

Then what had he been doing and where had he gone? If he were spying out the surroundings of Tollesbury Hall, he certainly would not have wanted to be seen, and therefore he would have kept as much as possible to the depression in the grasslands.

Good, then he, too, would keep to the depressions and this one would lead him towards the river.

He walked away very slowly, with his eyes roving round everywhere. But a couple of hundred yards or so brought him almost to the river side. The side was banked up to a height of about four feet to prevent the water flooding the grasslands when the river was running unduly high.

He set off, scouting along the land side of the bank and then, seeing he could get much nearer the hall that way without exposing to view more than his head and shoulders, he entered another fold in the land.

Then, suddenly, he stumbled upon something among the high grass tussocks and, to his amazement, saw it was a spade. There was a pick-axe, too, lying close near the spade and they were both bright and shiny, with the handles clean and new.

"Great Scot!" he exclaimed. "Now what the devil have they been left here for?" and, raising his eyes in wonder, they fell upon the patch of ground von Ravenheim had disturbed, and he stared hard and long.

He noted the patch was raised above the surrounding level, that there were stains, all about, of the dug earth before it had been flung back, and that the big grass tussocks were, even now, withering under the hot sun.

Then with a cry of horror he realised what it might all mean. He was standing before a newly-made grave! He was in the presence of the newly dead!

He cursed under his breath. Then von Ravenheim had buried a body here! He had murdered someone already!

Picking up the spade, almost reverently and with extreme care, he began re-turning the earth again, expecting every moment to uncover the remains of some poor murdered creature.

Then, suddenly, the whole expression of his face altered to one of great relief. There was nothing under the earth. The grave, if grave it was, was untenanted. The hole had been dug and then filled in again.

Again, for a long time, he gave himself up to his thoughts.

It could not be that von Ravenheim was thinking he could lure Lord Michael and Sir Howard there to be assassinated! Nor could it be that, having killed the two men somewhere near the hall, the ambassador was intending to drag the bodies all that way!

Yet the hole was undoubtedly von Ravenheim's work and that was how he had got the blister upon the palm of his band.

At last Larose gave up trying to solve the mystery. He was very pleased, however, with all he had found out. He resolved to keep a watch upon the place as long as Lord Michael and Sir Howard Wake were together at the Hall.


CHAPTER XII.—"THE MEN OF DEATH"

Returning back to town, after a late lunch, Larose went straight to his flat in Sloane square. He had some private business to attend to and some letters to write, and, besides, he wanted to think over his plans and consider whether he should approach Scotland Yard now and lay the whole matter before them.

Carlyle Mansions was not a very big building and contained less than a score of flats. The needs of those tenants who required help were looked after by a married couple and three maids, who all lived in the basement. The 'Mansions' was four stories high, and was served by an automatic lift.

Larose let himself into his suite of rooms, and throwing himself into an armchair, gave himself up to his thoughts. He always felt at rest and peaceful there, and very seldom entertained any visitors. Only a few of his most intimate friends were aware he had any flat at all in town, and, in consequence, he was seldom troubled by callers.

So he was a little bit surprised now, when he had been there about ten minutes, to hear a ring at the bell on his door.

Opening the door at once, he saw two respectable-looking men in workmen's overalls standing outside. Both of them were carrying tool-bags.

"Come to look at the bath taps, sir," said the taller of them, in a pleasant drawling voice with a faint Irish accent. "It'll be Mr. Harvey, isn't it?"

"No, you've made a mistake," began Larose, "this is not——"

But he got no farther, for the tall man with a lightning movement had reached out and struck him violently upon the chest. Thrown off his balance, he staggered back in an attempt to keep upright, but the man was upon him like a tiger and tripped him heavily to the ground. Then, half stunned by the violence of his fall, he could put up no effective resistance against the two of them and was speedily tied hand and foot and a broad length of cloth wound round the lower part of his face to muffle any cries.

"If you call out," warned the tall man sternly, and speaking in quite educated tones. "I'll have to stun you." He shook his head. "But I don't want to, for it's not to my liking to hit a helpless man."

But Larose had no breath to call out, and, lifted into an armchair, he just stared at his two captors. Even in his distress it appealed to him in unpleasant humor that twice within such a short space of time he had been caught when not upon his guard and ignominiously tied up.

The tall man went carefully over the knots and then nodded to his companion. "They're all right, Neil; and now we'd best tie him to the chair."

So another length of stout cord was produced from one of the bags and wound several times round Larose and the back of the chair.

Larose spoke at last. "But who are you?" he asked in hardly audible muffled tones behind the thick cloth.

The tall man smiled quite a pleasant smile. "We are your benefactors, my friend," he said, "as we are going to save you any further suffering your poor mortal flesh is heir to."

"But what have I done?" asked Larose, a cold horror seizing him at a realisation of what the words implied.

The man shrugged his shoulders, but then, immediately, smiled again. "Still, there is no reason why you shouldn't know. It can't do you any harm." He pursed his lips. "You have offended the Irish Republican Army, Brother, and so are now going to pay the penalty!"

"But I have never had anything to do with it," remonstrated Larose. "I have never interfered with it in my life."

"Perhaps not," agreed the other readily, "but you are Mr. Gilbert Larose, and you work for the police, and the Secret Service, and that is quite sufficient in our eyes." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, but you are a pawn in the game, and so have got to be taken off the board."

He turned back to his companion, and together they busied themselves with the contents of the second bag. A wooden box about eight inches square was produced, and from it, wrapped several times round, with thick corrugated paper, was lifted out a black object of the size and shape of a large navel orange. The tall man handled it very carefully.

"My God!" exclaimed the horrified Larose. "Is that a bomb? Are you going to blow me up?"

The tall man nodded. "Both guesses quite correct, Brother, and you go to the top of the form." He spoke almost with kindness. "Now, don't you worry, for you'll not feel a scrap of pain. You won't even hear it going off. You'll know nothing."

Larose was in a muck sweat all over, but he pulled himself together bravely.

"I'll buy you off," he said. "This can be only a question of money. I'll give you £500 to let me go. If you loose my hands, I'll write a cheque, and one of you can go and cash it, while the other waits here. You can give yourselves plenty of time to get clear."

"Sorry, but we've been paid once," said the man regretfully, "and we're quite straight in our way. Money's very necessary to us, but we don't work for it. We work for principle." He held up his hand protestingly. "No, no, it's no good arguing. You're wasting your emotions." There was quite a sad note in his tones. "So, give your last thoughts, my friend, to those you are leaving behind."

Larose felt sick with horror, but he realised it was no good pleading, and that the man would not be turned from his purpose. He was dealing with a fanatic, and, as with von Ravenheim, one who was lost to all sense of right and wrong.

A length of fuse was produced from the bag, and the second man started to fasten it to the bomb, while the tall one lit a cigarette and strolled idly round the room, looking at the pictures and the ornaments.

But his attention was soon drawn to a pair of large silver-plated candlesticks upon the mantelpiece, and, lifting one down, he proceeded to examine it most interestedly. There was evidently something about it that was appealing strongly to him and, after a few moments, he called out with some enthusiasm, "Here, Neil, come and look at this! It's a splendid bit of pre-Victorian work and the plating is as good as anything that can be done now. We have not learnt much in a hundred years."

The second man walked over to where he was and took the candlestick from his hand. "Copper," he remarked, feeling its weight, "and it looks like a bit of French work to me."

"No, it isn't," said the other emphatically. "It's English, right enough! Look at the curves of the socket and the fluted lines of the stem. It's a typical Queen Caroline and, if so, it's just over a hundred years old. That is its original plating, too, and hasn't it worn well? Only just gone a little on the stem. I'd like old Johnson to see it. It'd give him quite a thrill!"

He glanced over his shoulder to Larose. "No, it's all right, brother, we shan't take it. We're not thieves." He made a grimace. "Just executioners, that's all!"

Coming away from the mantelpiece and, the fuse now being adjusted, the bomb was placed close to the armchair, but beyond reach of Larose's feet.

Then, making sure that everything was ready, the two men took off their overalls and, folding them up neatly, placed them in one of the bags.

"Now you won't have to wait long, Mr. Larose," said the tall man, striking a match. "This fuse will burn for only ten minutes and then your troubles will be all over. Just shut your eyes and make your mind a blank. Good-bye, and thank you for being sensible and not making a fuss," and in a few seconds the men had disappeared from the room.

Larose looked up at the clock upon the mantelpiece. It was five and twenty minutes to four. Then at a quarter to four he would have ceased to live.

In a frenzy of mental agony, he struggled furiously to loosen his cords. But it was not the slightest use, as they had been tied too securely and soon, exhausted by his efforts, he let his muscles relax and lay quite still.

He could hear the murmur of the traffic outside, but a dreadful silence filled the room.

He could smell the burning fuse.

So, his life was nearly run now! He would see his wife and children no more! Never again would he hear their loved voices, never again——

He looked up at clock. Only six minutes to go now! He stared hard. Only five! God, how slowly they were passing!

But tears now dimmed his eyes and he could no longer mark the passing of the time.

He breathed deeply and heavily in the last stages of his mental agony.

Then a new sound struck upon his ears and he held his breath to listen.

He was sure he had heard footsteps, stealthy footsteps, as of someone treading softly and not wanting to be heard!

Then came the click of a key in a lock, and in a lightning instant his door was flung wide and the room seemed to be filled with men.

"Damnation," roared someone in a voice of thunder, "it's a bomb!"

Larose closed his eyes. Then he heard friendly voices, and, sweetest of all sounds, the sound of running water. Someone must have torn off the fuse and thrown it into the bath!

"You're all right, Mr. Larose," boomed a big stout man, with detective-in-plain-clothes written all over him. "We didn't know what was happening, but we came just in time. That fuse had only about another half inch to burn. That's right, boys! Rub his arms and legs well. Now, don't you talk for a minute or two, Mr. Larose. Just wait and get back your nerve. Have you got any brandy here? Just nod your head. Take it easy now."

But Larose began to recover very quickly, and when be had drunk the brandy and was handing back the empty glass, he looked at the clock again.

It was only ten minutes to four.

Then he turned his attention to those who were standing round him. The janitor of the building was there and four other men.

"You remember me, don't you, Mr. Larose?" asked the big, stout man, who was evidently the leader of the party. "I'm Inspector Hammer, and was at the Yard when you were there, although I wasn't an inspector then. These are Detectives Canny, Goodridge, and Rice."

Larose smiled weakly at them all, but then, his strength returning every moment, asked quickly, "But how on earth did it happen you came here?"

The inspector smiled. "From information received," he began, in the usual policeman stereotyped fashion, but then his face instantly sobered down. "No, this is no time for joking." He looked at his watch. "Exactly twenty-two minutes ago, as the half-hour was striking, an urgent phone message from a call office reached the Yard that you were being held up at your rooms by two desperate characters. The speaker wouldn't state his name, but he was so very agitated that we thought we'd risk it being a hoax. He gave your address, and so we jumped into a car and came off instantly. Then the janitor here let us in with his master key."

"Yes, sir," added the janitor to Larose, "and I saw the two men go out a little while ago. But I only saw their backs, and so can't describe them, except that one was taller than the other."

"That's not much good is it?" laughed the inspector. He turned to Larose. "Now, sir, do you feel strong enough yet to tell us about these men?"

Larose nodded. "I had never seen them before, inspector," he said, "and haven't the remotest idea who they are. I opened the door to their ring and they just pounced upon me and trussed me up. Then one of them told me quite frankly they were members of the Irish Republican Army, and had been paid to blow me up."

The inspector whistled. "The Irish Republican Army! Oh, if we could get hold of them! We're wanting a number of those gentry just now. They're very active and doing a lot of damage all over the country."

"Well, you will get the fingerprints of these two, all right," said Larose. He pointed to the mantelpiece. "For one thing, they handled those candlesticks, and besides, you ought to find them on the bomb."

"Good!" exclaimed the inspector. "Then I'll use your phone, if you don't mind, and ring up for our fingerprint man straightaway. Now if you give us a good description of them, we'll——"

"Not here!" interrupted Larose. "Take me back with you at once to the Yard. I want to get in touch with the inspector who's been handling all these explosion outrages, and with any luck"—his eyes gleamed—"we'll have them both in the cells before night."

"But you say you don't know anything about them," exclaimed the frowning inspector, "and have never seen them before! Then how are you going to get them taken before night?"

"You come along and see," smiled Larose. "I've got some good ideas. If they haven't taken fright, we ought to get them easily enough."

A quarter of an hour later, Larose was telling his story to Inspector Drew, a man of much smaller dimensions than the burly Inspector Hammer.

The inspector heard him out, hardly saying a word the whole time. Then Larose asked. "Now, from the descriptions I have given you, can you place these two men?"

The inspector shook his head. "Never heard of them before! There are no men wanted, or even suspected of having been responsible for any bomb outrages, who answer to those descriptions." He nodded. "I don't think I am boasting when I state that the appearance of all the known bomb-men and the suspected ones, as well, are familiar to me." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of a number of bomb-men, and, unhappily, some of the worst, we have no descriptions. There is one among them, the ring-leader, and probably the mastermind of them all, who eludes us at every turn. Yes, he and his particular little band move among us like shadows. They do their dreadful work and they are gone—like shadows, too!"

"Leaving no traces behind them?" asked Larose. "I mean you haven't got finger-prints of any of whom you have no description."

"Oh, but we have." said the Inspector instantly. "In several instances we have the fingerprints which they have left behind them. Now, in that explosion in the British Museum the week before last, when one of the Museum attendants was killed, we obtained the finger-marks of a bearded man who had been seen leaning against a window-sill in the gallery five minutes before the explosion occurred. We are sure that bearded man was the bomber, because no bearded man went out again through the turnstile and the beard was found later tucked away behind the hot water pipes." He sighed heavily. "But I'm having a dreadful time, because I can't pick up any trails. My department is in disgrace and any day now I may be told to stand down."

"Then if I give you these two men who were going to bomb me," smiled Larose, "even if they deny they were ever to my flat, their finger-prints may yet prove their guilt in other outrages?"

"Certainly!" nodded the inspector. He smiled. "If you give them to us."

"Well, here goes," said Larose, always enjoying a dramatic situation, "and I think you'll get them right enough." He paused a moment, and then went on, speaking very quickly. "To begin with, I am sure they are electroplaters by trade. Their overalls, in which they arrived, were clean and well patched, but there were some yellow-covered stains upon them, and I noticed also a number of small holes." He nodded. "All the work of the acid which electroplaters use, and their fingers were stained, too."

He went on. "Of course, I know acid is used in many trades, but these men were unduly interested in some old silver-plated candlesticks of mine upon the mantelpiece. One of them was evidently something of an expert, as he guessed most accurately how old the candlesticks were. But it was the silver-plating which appeared to interest him most and he remarked that, although it must have been done a hundred and odd years ago, it could not be done better even now."

"Well, granted that they are electroplaters, what next?" asked the inspector, because Larose had stopped speaking.

Larose then spoke very quietly. "Then this same man, as he was examining one of the candlesticks said, and these were his exact words, 'I'd like old Johnson to see it. It would give him quite a thrill!'" He snapped out quickly, as if as in old times he were an authority at the Yard. "Have a London Directory brought in and look for an electroplater called Johnson among the trades. If you find him, he'll tell us who these men are."

The inspector looked a little astonished and perhaps just a little awed. The deductions were so simple and Larose was so sure.

A London directory was produced and, the trade pages being turned up, sure enough there was a J. Johnson among the electroplaters. His place of business was in Clerkenwell road.

"Bring a telephone book," snapped Larose. "We'll make sure he's on and if so, take care there'll be no running into a back room to give these men warning, if he's in the racket, too."

"Yes, he's on the phone, all right," said the inspector after a few moments' search, "and he must be in a good way of business, as he's got two numbers."

He prepared quickly for action and it was arranged that two cars should go. In the first would be the inspector and Larose, and in the second four plain-clothes detectives. Both cars were to stop a hundred yards away from the Johnson shop in Clerkenwell road.

The number of the shop was 218 and, reaching number 200, the first car was pulled up and Larose and the inspector stepped out. Larose was wearing a pair of big dark glasses, he sported a small moustache and his hat was pulled down well over his eyes.

Mindful that J. Johnson had two telephones, they were not surprised, upon arriving at his premises, to find that his shop was quite a good-sized one and, upon entering, to see that it was well appointed.

"If this Johnson is in with them," whispered the inspector, "then, no doubt, he is a large contributor to the funds." His voice thrilled a little. "We may be lighting upon something good."

But, enquiring for Mr. Johnson personally and being shown into his private office, they both instantly formed the opinion that he would be no supporter of the Irish Republican Army. He was a well-dressed, smiling good-natured looking man, of middle age and massive proportions, and apparently not in the least likely to be associated with crime and political intrigue.

He looked very grave when the inspector told him he came from Scotland Yard. It was Larose, however, who opened the questioning and, with no beating about the bush, he came straight to the point.

"Do you know, sir," he asked, "a working electroplater, an Irishman, tall, fair, with curly hair and blue eyes, pleasing to look at and with some amount of education?" Mr. Johnson looked graver still.

"I do," he said. "What's he done?"

"If he's the man I mean," said Larose sharply, "he's a bomb-man, an active member of the Irish Republican Army and, most probably, has been involved in some of those explosions which have occurred lately. Who is he? You must not try to shield him."

"Oh, I won't shield him!" exclaimed Mr. Johnson warmly. "I'm a law-abiding citizen, I am, and although personally I like the man very much, I'd be one of the first to give him away, if he's been doing what you think. His name is Fergus O'Haran Shane, and he's got a little shop in Lord street, just round the back of here. He's a very clever craftsman, and when I've got any special work in a small way I give it to him to do." He clicked his tongue. "Dear me, dear me, a well read, nice fellow like him being a bomb-man!" He nodded. "But I do hope you're wrong."

"Does he employ any workmen himself?" asked the inspector.

"Only one young fellow, an Irishman, too, called Neil," replied Mr. Johnson, and Larose's heart gave a big bump.

"Is he on the telephone?" asked the inspector.

"Oh, yes, I'll give you his number. It's on my little memorandum here. Ah, I see what you mean! No, of course I wouldn't warn him. I tell you I'm a decent citizen, and I hate all violence. Look here, I'll come straight away with you and show you where his place is. I won't go in, but I'll come far enough to show you that I'd have no time to let him know you were coming."

So Mr. Johnson put on his hat and accompanied them round the corner, and with the four plainclothes men following not far behind.

"Now, that's his shop," he pointed out, "two doors beyond that public house." A thought struck him, and he stopped dead. "But I say, I say, do you think Shane is likely to make a struggle, if he knows you have come to arrest him? Will he put up a fight?"

"For sure he will," nodded the inspector. "So we two are going in to engage him in conversation, and then my men behind will rush him. That's the only way. He'll probably be armed to the teeth, and he'd pull a gun if he had the slightest warning."

Mr Johnson looked very troubled. "But as a detective from Scotland Yard, I'm afraid he may recognise you at once. I have just remembered one of the men told me a little while ago that Shane often wasted a lot of time as a spectator in the police courts. My man said he knew all the judges and magistrates by name. So, depend upon it, he'll know the police and detectives, too."

The inspector considered. "That's a bit awkward," he said frowningly. "It's part of our duty to face danger, but for all that, we don't want to risk valuable lives if we can help it."

"Here, I'll manage it," said Larose, and instantly he turned into a paper shop just by where they were then standing.

A minute later he came out with a score and more of newspapers under his arm. "I've bought up all his evening edition," he grinned, "and half a dozen weekly 'Comics' as well. They'll settle him. I'll throw them in his face and grab him." He gritted his teeth. "I'd like to do the job myself, I owe it to him. Rush in when I shout," and, giving the inspector no time to protest, he strode away.

With his hat pulled well down over his forehead, he pushed open the door and walked into Shane's shop. It was empty when he entered and he had to rap with his knuckles upon the counter to attract attention. Then, to his great satisfaction, it was Shane himself who appeared from the workroom at the back.

With his cigarette case in his hand, Larose at once walked a little way towards him, so that Shane should not go behind the counter, across which it would be difficult to grapple with him.

"What'll you charge to re-silver this for me?" he asked in a very hoarse tone of voice, holding the case only a few inches forward, so that Shane would be obliged to come close up to take it from him.

But the man did not seem to approach too readily, and Larose noted he was frowning. He had just glanced at the cigarette case and then fastened his eyes intently upon its owner. He seemed wary and suspicious in some way.

Indeed, he was suspicious, for had Larose only known it, he could not have done a worse thing than to approach the Irishman wearing dark glasses. Shane was always suspicious of dark glasses, holding them nearly always to be an attempt at disguise.

Larose thought like lightning. He had only just remembered, with a pang of anger for his carelessness, that he was wearing the same suit of clothes as when he had been tied up in his flat not two hours previously, and its color and pattern might any moment strike some chord of memory in Shane's mind. So he spoke up quickly.

"Mr. Johnson, round the corner," he said, "told me to come here," and at once the frown on Shane's face lifted.

"Let's look at it," he began, "and——"

But he got no further, for Larose flung up the newspapers into his face and then grabbed him and tripped him up. He had no need to shout for help for the inspector, getting anxious because of the delay, had peeped round the door, and seeing what had happened, was by his side in an instant, with the four plainclothes men crowding in after him without making a sound.

Shane had struggled furiously, but it was all to no good, and in less than a minute he was lying handcuffed and with his legs tied. From his hip pocket they had plucked a loaded automatic.

"Now, we must be very careful," said the inspector, preparing to lead the way into the workroom. "We've not made much noise, and the other man, Neil, may be about somewhere."

"No, I don't think so," commented Larose, "or this chap would have shouted to give him warning."

And Larose proved right, for the whole place was empty. It only consisted of four rooms, the shop, the workroom and a kitchen and bedroom behind.

Leaving the inspector and three of the plainclothes men to make a thorough search of the premises, Larose went back to Shane who was now sitting propped up in a chair. The Irishman was looking very white, and was breathing heavily, but there was an easy smile upon his face.

"Like a cigarette, Brother?" said Larose in quite a friendly tone, and instantly Shane frowned and his face became the very picture of amazement.

"How the devil do you come to be here?" he asked.

"Oh, your little cracker didn't go off," smiled Larose, "and I just called round to tell you about it."

"Anyone shop me?" asked Shane conversationally, and for all the world as if he were speaking casually to an acquaintance.

"You shopped yourself," laughed Larose. "You talked too much about that candlestick, and I guessed you were an electroplater. Then an Irishman who is an electroplater and in the telephone book is not hard to pick out. See!"

Shane looked very crestfallen. "A—ah, I ought to have remembered that, alive or dead, you were a man to be afraid of." He nodded. "Still, it will be a lesson to me."

"But one learned a bit too late, I'm thinking," said the inspector, who had just come back into the shop. "The only lesson you'll learn now will be at the end of a six-foot drop."

He turned to Larose. "It couldn't be better. This is a great find. There's enough explosive here to blow up the street." He clicked his tongue. "And bomb cases, automatics and even a submachine gun! The cellar's a regular arsenal!"

"But it's not the only one we've got," scoffed Shane derisively. "Why, man, there are dozens bigger than mine in London!" His eyes flashed. "You'll never crush us!"

The inspector beckoned Larose into the workroom and then whispered exultingly, "I think this chap will turn out to be the same devil who left that bomb in the British Museum. We've found some wigs, and another black beard, the very spit of the beard left behind in the Museum." He nodded. "Still, when we get his fingerprints, we'll know for certain. Oh, and another thing, there's going to be a party here tonight. He's got in quite a spread for it, half a dozen meat pies, about two bob's worth of fish and chips, and four bottles of stout and a bottle of whisky."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Larose. "You'll nab them as they come in."

"Yes, but we'll have to get this Shane away without causing any excitement in the street," said the inspector. "So we're going to lift him over the wall of the backyard. Well, I suppose you'll be going now." He shook him warmly by the hand. "Thank you very much for what you've done for us, Mr. Larose." His eyes twinkled. "If you'd come, I'd dearly like to have you back at the Yard as my assistant"—his face sobered down, and he spoke with undoubted sincerity—"or even as my superior." He bowed. "You're quite a genius in your way, sir."

Driving back to Sloane square in a taxi, with many a tremor of emotion, Larose went over the happenings of that afternoon, and now he had time to ponder over it, he wondered with intense curiosity who it could possibly have been who had rung up the police to tell them he was in danger.

"Surely I have no friends among this bombing crowd," he told himself, "and yet, it must have been someone among them who had pity on me! Whoever he was, he must be a bad egg himself, too, or he would have said who he was when he rang up." He nodded. "Probably I'll never know!" He nodded again. "And probably I'll never know either who set Shane on to me." He laughed. "But I guess it was my good friend von Ravenheim. He is a quick worker and never lets the grass grow under his feet!"

Having a good hot bath and changing his clothes, he went off to the Apollo for dinner, thinking it another occasion when he ought to do himself well.

He was late and the place was very crowded, but he was directed to a small table for two, already occupied by one diner. As he was giving his order to the waiter, he noted subconsciously that his vis-a-vis had got his head down, with his serviette tucked in the old-fashioned foreign way into his neck.

But directly the waiter had gone, the diner opposite to him looked up. "Good evening, Mr. Larose!" he said smilingly. "Surely you haven't forgotten me!" and to Larose's amazement, he saw it was Royne speaking.

"Great Jerusalem!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

Royne raised his eyebrows. "Just dining! Having a bit of dinner like you're going to have yourself!" He laughed. "I was hungry and thought this place would be good enough for me."

"And you look to be doing yourself well," commented Larose. "Vintage champagne at about thirty shillings a bottle! Good gracious!"

"Well, I needed something to brace me up," said Royne. He sighed. "I've had a lot of worry since I last saw you."

"But the police haven't got you yet!" said Larose.

"No, no, they've been very good to me that way. Indeed, I almost think they must have been turning a blind eye towards me all the time. One of them didn't even look in my direction when I took a bag of buns out of a car yesterday for my lunch. Of course, I may have been just lucky. I hadn't noticed he was standing there at all."

"You've been hard up, eh?" queried Larose. He frowned. "But you must be in funds now to be dining here!"

"Oh, don't jump at conclusions too quickly, please Mr. Larose," said Royne, shaking his head, "and please don't look at the cuffs of my shirt, either." He pointed with his finger. "This table napkin comes in very handy to hide a dirty collar." He sighed. "I've been sleeping in the parks the last two nights."

At that moment the waiter arrived with Larose's turbot and lobster sauce, and Royne ordered fillets de beeuf a la soubese.

A short silence followed and then Royne, noticing Larose was regarding him very intently, remarked gaily, "Oh yes, I had a shave! A woman gave me sixpence this afternoon. I asked her for it, in Belgrave Square. The square happened to be rather lonely at that moment and I don't think she liked to refuse. She gave it me all in coppers." He nodded. "Still, that happened to be lucky a little later on."

Larose frowned. "What's all this farce?" he asked. "If you've got no money, what does it mean you being here."

"It means, Mr. Larose," said Royne, "that I am having my last meal in public, a meal which I shall not be able to pay for when the bill is presented." He bowed. "Tomorrow, therefore, I shall dine with His Majesty, if not actually with him at Buckingham Palace, in one of his subordinate establishments."

"Then you have no money at all?" asked Larose.

"One penny," replied Royne. He produced it. "And that I shall give to the waiter." He bowed again. "I shall go down with flying colors."

A long silence followed, and then Royne summoned the waiter. "Two of your best liqueur brandies," he ordered. "Give one to my friend."

Larose chuckled. "Really, Mr. Royne, your poverty makes you quite an agreeable companion! It appears, too, to have brightened up your wit, quite a lot."

"I am always at my best in adversity," sighed Royne. "It brings out qualities that at other times I do not seem to be aware I possess."

"But why are you so short of money," asked Larose. "Why, you had £2,000 from the Baltic Embassy not two months ago!"

"But Pellew was our joint banker, Mr. Larose, and all the money was in his name. We had plenty in the bank, but, with him arrested, I can't get a penny of it."

"And about those jewels? Have they been sold yet?"

Royne looked the picture of dejection. "Those jewels were never sold, and now they're lost for good." He sighed heavily. "That day when you found me at Marle House, I had come to get them. I knew they were hidden somewhere under the floorboards in Pellew's bedroom, and, after you had gone, I started to look for them, but I dropped a lighted match among the rubbish under the boards and in a second it was all ablaze. Some wretched hooligans must have turned on the taps of the rainwater tanks when the house was unoccupied, and there wasn't a drop of water to put the fire out. Then the floor boards themselves caught alight and the whole room was soon burning. Knowing the smoke of the burning house would be seen for miles away, I had to run for my life to escape being caught."

"Then the house was burnt down?" said Larose.

"Yes, gutted out, I suppose!"

Larose nodded. "Well, you've been a traitor to your country and it serves you right!"

"I know that," said Royne dejectedly, "and what little conscience I have left often worries me about it." He nodded. "I was brought up a gentleman, Mr. Larose. I was in the Royal Navy once."

"Then the more shame to you," scowled Larose. "I'd never forgive you for that. You can't have a scrap of honor left."

Something in his tone of contempt seemed to stir Royne to anger. "But I'm not all bad," he scowled back, "and, for one thing, I know when to be grateful." He nodded. "You let me off at Marle House, and I believe I did you a good turn this afternoon, or at any rate I tried to."

"What do you mean?" asked Larose.

Royne spoke up boldly. "Well, I saw a man trail you into Carlyle Mansions, and then, when he went and fetched another man who had been watching at the other corner, and they both went into the same building, I rang up the police. I was suspicious because, as they passed me together, I distinctly heard one of them say, 'We'll get him easy enough.'"

"Good God!" exclaimed Larose. "Then it was you who telephoned the police."

"Yes," replied Royne emphatically. "I had only threepence on me, all I had in the world, and I spent tuppence of it on you." He drew himself up with dignity. "I wasn't intending to mention it, so that you shouldn't think I was wanting to get money out of you because I'd tried to do you a service."

"And you did do me a service," said Larose warmly, "and I'm extremely grateful to you." He nodded. "In fact you saved my life."

Then, very briefly, he related what had taken place and was soon repaid for his confidence by seeing something of self-respect creep back into Royne's face.

"And I should say," finished up Larose, "that if you are brought to trial for your part in selling those submarine plans, what you have done today will very likely earn you a free pardon."

"You really think so?" asked Royne eagerly.

"Well, we shall know for certain tonight," said Larose, "for, if the fingerprints of this Fergus Shane turn out to be those of the man who left the bomb in the British Museum, they have caught one of the most wanted men. There's a reward of £500 for his capture and you would be entitled to it."

"Good heavens," exclaimed Royne, "with £500 I could get to Australia and start a new life over there!"

"But tell me exactly how you came to notice anyone trailing me?"

Royne looked very shamefaced. "I was waiting in Sloane square to touch someone for a bit of silver. Squares are quieter than the open streets, and the police are less likely to catch you there. I'd been in the square half an hour before and noticed two workmen in overalls loitering about, one at each end. When I went back there the second time they were still there, and I was interested. Then I saw you come by and I've told you what happened."

"And you went and rang up at once?"

"No, not as quickly as I wanted to. I couldn't find a call-office at first and when I did, there was a woman in it and I had to wait several minutes. Then I ran back to the Mansions, but just in time to see the men going out. Although they had still got their toolbags, they were no longer wearing overalls, and it made me so curious that I followed them."

"Where did they go?" asked Larose quickly.

"After cutting across the park they finished up in Foubert's place, just off Regents street. They went in a newspaper shop there and, looking through the window, I saw them talking and laughing with the man behind the counter. They stopped there about five minutes and then caught a bus at Oxford Circus going towards the city. They had left their bags at the newspaper shop."

"Did you notice any name on the shop?"

"Yes, it was O'Donnell."

Larose snapped his fingers together delightedly. "Another bullseye, perhaps!" He went on quickly. "Now, my friend, your luck's in tonight! I'll pay for your dinner and then you'll come straight with me to Scotland Yard and repeat all you've just told me."

Royne's face fell. "But they'll take me at once!" he exclaimed. "They're bound to recognise me in a close-up."

"But they shan't touch you," said Larose emphatically. "I'll see to that. You'll be under my protection, and it'll be a truce of God!"

They taxied off at once, and arriving at the Yard, Larose learnt that Inspector Drew was still in the building. He had been expecting that as he knew the inspector would be having a busy evening.

Leaving Royne to wait in the corridor, he was ushered into the inspector's room. The latter's face was one broad smile of delight.

"Thanks to you, Mr. Larose," he said, fervently, "I shall be a made man after tonight. The chief, the press, and the public have all been railing at my department for doing nothing, and now they're going to feel very small." His eyes sparkled. "I've just finished with a room full of reporters, and tomorrow their papers will be red-hot with news." He calmed down. "We got the lot in Shane's place, the whole tea party, five of them, and they're all heads in the Irish Republican Army." He thumped upon the desk. "Their finger-prints are damning! That Shane is the bomber of the British Museum and there are two others whose finger-prints will get them fifteen years!" He drew in a deep breath. "Oh, this is a great night for me, and I've got you to thank for it all."

"And, perhaps now," laughed Larose, "I'm going to give you something more to thank me for." He raised his finger warningly. "I've got a man waiting outside and he's wanted by you chaps here. No, it's not a crime of violence, it's more one of passing on stolen goods. Still, in my judgment, knowing all the circumstances, if you don't take him no harm will be done. So, I've given him a safe conduct here. You understand? He's under my protection."

The inspector made a grimace. "Certainly, my lord!" he said. "Who's the man?"

"He's the one who rang up here this afternoon and started you on this grand trail," said Larose. "Incidentally he saved my life."

"O-oh," exclaimed the inspector, "then whatever he's wanted for, I'd be inclined to give him a handsome present and let him go free."

"If I'm not very much mistaken," went on Larose, "you'll find him worth listening to. At any rate, he'll give you an introduction to some more of Shane's friends."

So Royne was brought in and very nervously told his tale. The inspector listened attentively and opened his eyes very wide when Royne told him about the two men laughing and talking in the newsagent's shop and leaving their tool bags behind them there.

"And you don't want to give us your name," he said when Royne had finished. "I particularly ask that, because it seems to me you're clearly entitled to the £500 reward for the information leading to the capture of Shane."

"But he won't claim the reward," said Larose decisively. "He's leaving the country next week. His evidence won't be wanted."

"All right," nodded the inspector. He rose to his feet. "And in twenty minutes at latest we'll be raiding that O'Donnell's newspaper shop in Foubert's place." He smiled. "I like anything with an Irish name tonight."

"Well, I'm going home now," said Larose, "but I shan't be going to bed yet awhile, so ring me up if you have anything interesting to tell. You've got my phone number. You won't find it in the book. It's a silent one."

Larose took Royne back with him to Carlyle Mansions, intending to put him up for the night. The two were in deep conversation when about an hour later the telephone rang.

Inspector Drew was in a state of great jubilation. They had arrested three more men and found another arsenal, containing even more arms and explosives than had been found in that of Shane's. He, the inspector, quite thought he would at least be given the O.B.E. now.


And while all these events had been happening, the lovesick Herr Blitzen had been spending what should have been a peaceful day in the country.

With his mind full of Cecily Castle and made bold by his thoughts of her, he had set off early that morning for Wickham Towers, hoping to be able to learn from Lady Willingdean where the girl was.

He had not forgotten von Ravenheim had been positive her ladyship had been in the plot and fully aware of his real identity, but for all that he was going to interview her, feeling quite sure she would keep up the pretence of not knowing who he was and not refer to it in any way. Indeed, he felt rather pleased they should be realising he was no commonplace foreigner but the mighty dictator of the country which was causing them such apprehension and fear.

So, intending, as upon his previous journey down to Haslemere, to let von Ravenheim have no inkling as to where he had gone, he had made no mention even of his going out at all. But then he had spoken very few words at all to the ambassador since he had become aware of his treachery, reserving everything he was intending to say until he would explode in wrath, when the matter of Lord Michael and Sir Howard was finished with.

He reached the car-hire station in Great Portland street and engaging a private car for the day, asked for the driver who had driven him before.

The man was sent for, and then, when Blitzen had seated himself in the car, the former said most respectfully, "I hope you found your gloves, sir!"

"What gloves?" asked Herr Blitzen curtly.

"The ones you lost the other day, sir, when I drove you to Haslemere."

Herr Blitzen frowned. He did not like holding conversations with menials. "I lost no gloves," he snapped. "Who told you I did?"

"The man from the embassy, sir," replied the chauffeur rather timidly, not liking the look in the Herr's eyes.

"What!" ejaculated Herr Blitzen. "A man from the embassy told you I had lost some gloves?"

"Yes, sir, Himmell, from the Baltic Embassy," said the chauffeur, in all haste to explain. "He came here a few minutes after I had dropped you at the Circus. He said you had lost some, and thought you had left them in the car."

The Herr's face was black as thunder. "And he asked you where I'd been?"

The driver looked most uneasy. "Not exactly, sir," he faltered, "but it came out in the course of conversation. He hoped you had had a pleasant drive. You see, sir," he added, "I know Himmell well. We oil and grease Herr von Ravenheim's car here; and it is Himmell who generally brings it round. He saw us, too, that afternoon when you got out at the Circus. He seemed to be waiting there."

Herr Blitzen cursed deeply to himself. He had been many times a damned fool to come for a car so near to Portland place. He should have remembered that. Of course, von Ravenheim had been spying on him, and had set his man upon the watch.

"Start off," he snarled to the chauffeur. "The man was fooling you. I'd lost no gloves," and the chauffeur hopped into the driving seat, glad that the cross-examination was over.

All the way the Herr was in a black rage, and, instead of giving all his thoughts to the blue eyes of Cecily Castle, her beautiful profile and the entrancing curves of her lithe and supple young body, he was now thinking all the time of what dreadful punishment he would give von Ravenheim.

Yes, his punishment would be dreadful; and, influential as the man was in Baltic circles, he should suffer just as if he was the meanest peasant who had failed to acknowledge the greatness of his country's Dictator.

Then ugly thoughts began to germinate in Herr Blitzen's mind.

On the morrow he and von Ravenheim would be together on a lonely marshland on a lonely coast? There would be muddied creeks all round them! They would be in darkness and death would be in the air!

He must think, he must think it out well!

Arriving at Wickham Towers, the door was opened by the lordly-looking Cramp. The butler was so profoundly deferential in his demeanour that Herr Blitzen half wondered if, as an old and confidential servant of the family, conversation had been careless when he had been present and he knew who he, the Herr, really was. He regretted now, for the first time, that he had injured the man by pushing him down the stairs.

But he might have spared himself any regrets, as Cramp's politeness was only because 'that damned foreigner' had eaten his master's salt and was therefore sacred in his eyes.

Lady Willingdean received him warmly, taking his visit, however, only as a courtesy one because he had recently partaken of her hospitality. She was really feeling extremely sorry that he had made the long journey, as she thought, out of politeness.

Von Ravenheim had been quite wrong, in stating that, knowing who he was, she had purposely decoyed him down to Wickham Towers. As a matter of fact, she knew nothing whatever about him, except that he was a friend of her friends the two Castle girls.

Herr Blitzen asked at once if she could tell him where Cecily was, and his heart sank when she said she had no idea at all; indeed, had not heard from her since the week-end at the Towers.

"But I know what her work has been," frowned Blitzen, thinking by saying that, Lady Willingdean would understand he was harboring no resentment because of the way Cecily had been deceiving him.

But Lady Willingdean only thought he was referring to Cecily's work at the War Office, and commented smilingly. "Yes, we all think it very patriotic of her. Both girls are quite well off and have no need to do any work like that at all." Then she added, "But wasn't it dreadful those men trying to kidnap them?"

"Yes, it was," said Herr Blitzen with the utmost sternness, "and I intend the instigator of it all shall be most severely punished."

Lady Willingdean wondered what on earth he could have to do with it, and she was also wondering vaguely why Cecily had dropped him so suddenly and was not now letting him know where she was. But his next words made her, she thought, understand.

"I want to find her," he went on. He spoke slowly. "I intend to make her my wife," and if he had though he would surprise Lady Willingdean, he was certainly quite right in the supposition.

She literally gasped. She knew Cecily was engaged; but, all apart from that, she was certain the girl would never give her affections to a man of Herr Blitzen's type, and a foreigner at that. She would have to break it very gently to him about Captain Best.

"Yes," went on the Herr pompously and not a little gratified at the effect he had produced, "our differing positions in the world in no wise deters me from contracting the alliance. I am fully resolved upon it; and if anyone disparages my wife they will do so at their peril."

Lady Willingdean felt uneasy. Except that he thought he was going to marry Cecily Castle, she could not understand what he meant. She did not, however, like his manner now. It was truculent, and as if he imagined he could do what he liked. She was fearing that if he were crossed he might become almost abusive. No, it would be better not to tell him anything about Captain Best now. She would leave that to someone else.

So she just nodded as if she were in entire agreement with him. "But then, of course, no one would disparage Cecily," she said. "She is such a charming girl."

"And she will be the uncrowned queen of my great kingdom!" exclaimed Herr Blitzen fervently. "I shall be the envy of fifty million men and she will be the idol of a hundred million men and women."

Lady Willingdean felt really frightened. He must be out of his mind, she was sure. She had been intending to ask him to stay to lunch but now all she thought of was how quickly to get him out of the house. She looked furtively at the bell and wondered if Cramp would answer it quickly if she rang.

Then, to her great relief, Blitzen rose up from his chair and said he must be going.

"But how do you advise me to find out where Miss Castle is?" he asked.

"O-oh, that will be quite easy," she replied. "Go to the War Office, and they'll tell you at once." Then, determined to warn Cecily, she added quickly. "But don't go there until Monday. Saturday's always a holiday with them, and on Friday's they always leave very early."

Herr Blitzen took his leave feeling quite sure in his mind that Lady Willingdean had been most impressed at the idea of the great honor he was proposing to confer upon her young friend, and Cramp bowed so deeply when he was letting him out of the front door that, to the butler's unbounded surprise, he gave him a treasury half note.

All that Cramp's deep bow had, however, meant, was that he had been trying to suppress a hiccough. He had just had a sandwich of mixed pickles, and pickles always affected him that way.


CHAPTER XIII.—"THE GRAVE"

Darkness had just fallen over the wide stretch of the lonely grassland bordering upon the river Blackwater when Larose came wheeling a bicycle in and out among the tall tussocks. He was showing no light and he walked very quietly, peering round on every side with every step he took.

He had left his car in Chelmsford, twelve miles and more away, and had retrieved a bicycle, from where he had previously hidden it, behind a hedge in a lane leading off the Colchester road, and pedalled the rest of the way.

It was now nearly high tide and the mists were rising from the sullen river, and the little creeks which gurgled softly as the oily water flowed to its full between their muddy banks.

There was a fitful moon showing from a threatening sky, and it looked as if a big storm was coming. There was not a breath of air anywhere and the night was oppressive. It seemed as if there was thunder in the air.

"Whew," whispered Larose, "what a place to be caught in a storm! If any would-be murderers are coming tonight I hope to goodness that they come soon!"

He was not feeling any anxiety now as to the safety of Lord Michael, for, with the warning he had given him and the presence of the Alsatian dogs in the grounds of Tollesbury Hall, he was quite confident no one with evil intentions would be able to approach too near.

But he was continuing to wonder what von Ravenheim's journey, the previous day, to that lonely spot could mean and why that hole had been dug in the ground. Indeed, if it were not for that discovery, he thought he would not have come to keep any vigil at all that night.

Arriving to within a few yards of where he knew the hole was, he hid the bicycle in the long grass and lay down to keep watch.

But he had been there only a very few minutes when he heard the faint but unmistakeable purr of a car approaching very quietly. He strained his eyes in the direction of the sound but it was too misty for him to see anything.

A couple of minutes or so passed and then the sound stopped altogether. But it had stopped abruptly, and not died away, so he knew that the car had been pulled up somewhere.

A long time now went by, quite ten minutes, and he became uneasy that he had missed whoever had come in the car. He was just rising to his feet when, to his horror, he heard voices close behind him, and he flattened himself to the ground again.

Then came the voice he had come to know so well, that of the Baltic ambassador.

"Curse this mist!" he heard von Ravenheim exclaim. "We've come a long way round, Your Excellency, but I've got my bearings all right now. We are close to the path leading to the Hall and we shall soon see the lights there."

"Your Excellency!" gasped Larose. "Then who the deuce has he brought with him?" and, on the instant, he caught his breath again in amazement again, as he heard another voice—that of Herr Blitzen this time.

"And I hope we shall," growled the Herr. "It's much farther than you made out; and when we've shot them, if you're so uncertain about the way, we mayn't be able to get back to the car."

"But that'll be quite easy," said von Ravenheim. "I shan't make another mistake. Now, there's a little depression in the ground just here and it leads straight up to the Hall. This way, your Excellency!"

Larose's heart beat like a sledgehammer as he saw the two men appear out of the mist. They passed within half a dozen paces of him, with von Ravenheim leading the way.

But they had gone a very few yards before Herr Blitzen pulled himself up sharply. "Stop!" he called out peremptorily. "Listen, I hear the baying of a hound!"

A deep silence followed, with the two men standing perfectly still. The moon was showing now and they were so close to Larose that he could see the expressions on their faces. The Herr's, as usual, was a frowning one, but that of von Ravenheim seemed both nervous and very anxious. The ambassador was opening and shutting his mouth and swallowing hard. He was keeping one hand in his jacket pocket.

"I can hear nothing," whispered von Ravenheim hoarsely, when a full minute must have passed, "and I assure your Excellency there are no dogs at the Hall. I made particular enquiries."

"Then lead on," ordered the Herr, "and we'll——"

But the words died upon his lips, for von Ravenheim, whipping round like lightning, had fired twice and planted two bullets in his chest. The Herr made one fierce convulsive effort to remain erect, but it was to no purpose, and he crashed down heavily. He rolled over onto his back and coughed horribly.

All the sounds the pistol had made were like the muffled crackings of a whip. It had a silencer on.

Von Ravenheim sprang forward and stood over the fallen man. "Not dead yet," he snarled. "Then I must give you another one." He spoke in cold ferocity. "But I tell you first, you die because you were selling your country for a woman. You were betraying——"

But some movement rather than a sound a few feet away made him look up, and he saw the white and menacing face of Larose close to him.

Perhaps for ten seconds the two looked at each other, motionless as graven images, von Ravenheim with the hand holding his pistol dropped to his side, while Larose had got his right hand raised.

Then the wrist of Larose flicked and von Ravenheim passed into eternity with two bullets in the very centre of his forehead.

He fell lifeless, without a groan, a brave man and one loyal and steadfast to that dreaded country which had borne him. A worthy son of an unworthy mother, whose teachings to her children were those which the jungle tigress gives to her young!

Larose sprang forward and knelt by the wounded man. He saw instantly that his wounds were mortal. He wiped the bloody froth from his lips. The Dictator stared up at him.

"I've killed him," said Larose softly, and then, seeing the faint gleam of satisfaction in the fast-glazing eyes, he asked, "You are Herr Bauer, the Dictator of your country?"

The dying man tried to nod, but blood and froth were welling from his lips with each labored breath he drew, and he breathed with dreadful sounds.

"A—letter," he whispered weakly, "in—my—pocket. Give—it—to—her," and, even as Larose very gently drew a sealed envelope from his breast-pocket, his eyes closed. He tried to cough, he sighed one long deep sigh, and—he was dead!

And so died another man, great and conquering in his way, but great and conquering as the bacillus of some spreading pestilence or the virus of some cancer eating deep into the vitals of mankind!

Larose looked at the envelope he was holding in his hand. Upon it was written in bold characters, 'Miss Cecily Castle.'

"And so that is the woman you have died for!" he murmured. "Von Ravenheim was against your having her and he murdered you for your country's good!" He glanced round at von Ravenheim's body. "He judged you and now"—he nodded—"he is judged himself!" His eyes gleamed. "I judged him and his punishment was quick!"

Then for a long time Larose considered what he must do.

The terrible consequences which might now ensue appalled him.

The mighty Baltic Dictator was dead, murdered upon a foreign soil and, when the manner of his death became known, it would never be believed by his countrymen that he had not been assassinated by his country's enemies. The Baltic Ambassador was dead, too, dead by his master's side; and that made things even worse.

The fury of the Baltic people would be ungovernable and in their blind and insensate rage, all in a few short hours, a mighty conflagration might be started which would scorch through half the civilised world.

Millions of people would be killed, cities would be pulverised into dust and the whole fabric of civilisation would be in danger!

Who would believe his, Larose's, version of how these two men had died? Who, for one moment, would believe that von Ravenheim had killed his master?

Would even Larose's own people credit his story? Was it not common gossip that when attached to Scotland Yard he had been always too ready to take the law into his own hands and act as judge, jury and hangman himself? So what probability was there of people, generally, being upon his side now?

Even with his bare and unvarnished tale told, he would have to answer for von Ravenheim's death and justify that he had shot him only in self-defence!

But had he only done it in self-defence? Certainly not! Undoubtedly, in another few moments, von Ravenheim would have shot him down like a dog, but he, Larose, had had ample time to break his pistol arm and render him quite harmless. Instead, he had aimed straight at his forehead and killed him purposely and deliberately.

Larose moistened his dry lips with his tongue. Then he suddenly smiled whimsically. "In trouble again, Gilbert," he sighed, "and you'll have to use all your wits now to get you out of it." He nodded. "Yes, if only for your own sake, you'll have to bury these men here and say nothing about it." His face hardened. "But it'll be best for everyone in the end."

He looked up at the quickly darkening sky and realised that whatever he did it would have to be done quickly, otherwise, with any suspicions aroused he would leave tracks behind him which could be followed easily.

Searching round for the spade, and finding it at once, he proceeded to reopen the grave von Ravenheim had dug the previous day, realising now for whom it had been intended.

He dragged the body of the ambassador to the side and toppled it over, then much more gently laid the body of the Dictator beside him.

Ten minutes later, carrying the spade and pick-axe with him, he was wheeling his bicycle with all haste to where he was hoping von Ravenheim would have left the car. He found it where he had expected and, bundling the bicycle into the back, at once started the engine and drove off as quietly as he could. He had to go very slowly, for it was now almost pitch dark, but he reached the main road without mishap and set off towards Colchester, in the direction opposite to that of London.

He was only just in time, for he had barely travelled a couple of hundred yards or so upon the bitumen when the rain began to descend in torrents. But it could not be better, he told himself, for with the rain coming down so heavily the hollow where the bodies lay would soon be feet under water.

At first he had no clear idea as to where he would take the car. All he was thinking of was to get it as far away as possible from those grasslands by the Blackwater.

But gradually a plan began forming in his mind. He would abandon it not far from Harwich, from where the passenger steamers sailed daily for the Baltic ports. Then, when it was ultimately found and von Ravenheim himself was known to be missing, he hoped it might be supposed that, for private reasons of his own, the Baltic ambassador had left secretly for home.

He passed through Colchester on the Harwich road and, the torrential downpour still continuing, met very little traffic. Then, when well on his way to the seaport, a much bolder idea took possession of him. He would dump the car over the Parkeston quay into the deep water of the river Stour.

The quay was nearly two miles distant from the town of Harwich, and it was there the passengers alighted from the London trains to join the steamers proceeding overseas. Parkeston itself was not a residential area; and, with but a few scattered houses, the railway station was the only important building there. Except when boats were arriving or leaving, the quay was nearly always deserted, save for a few amateur fishermen who dangled their lines over the side.

Larose knew the locality well, having many times passed there when sailing up the river.

Leaving his bicycle hidden in a field about half a mile away, he drove boldly into the big and dimly-lighted yard of the railway station, trusting that in the darkness and with the hour so late and in the pouring rain to meet no one.

As he had expected, there was not anyone about, although he could hear trucks being shunted not very far away.

He made very slowly for the far end of the quay, thankful that the beautiful engine of his car was so silent. Then, when only a few yards from the quay-side, he jumped quickly out and left the car to proceed upon its own. It swerved a little but reached the side without stalling and toppled over into the water.

It fell with a mighty splash, but the noise was drowned by the violence of the rain and the sounds of the shunting trucks. In an instant it was lost to sight.

Apparently, no one had heard or seen anything.

Making away with all haste, he retrieved his bicycle and rode on until well past Manningtree. But the rain still continuing to fall as heavily as ever, he pulled up at a little village inn and stayed the night there.

The next morning it was still raining, but he set off very early and was soon not far from where he had left his car in Chelmsford. He discarded his bicycle for good in a dense wood and, calling for his car, arrived home at Carmel Abbey, in Norfolk, soon after noon, being of opinion that, after all his adventures of the past three weeks, he deserved a good rest.

Then for a week he never went beyond the grounds of Carmel Abbey. Indeed, he seldom even left the house, as the rain continued day after day. There were floods all over the country and he read that the Blackwater had overflowed its banks, inundating the low-lying lands on either side to the depths of many feet. So he knew it might be several months before the site of the grave would be uncovered again, even if the depression where it lay were not wholly filled in by the silting of the river mud.

Each morning when he opened the newspaper he half expected to read of the Baltic ambassador being missing, but there was never any mention of him.

The papers were in the main full of the arrests of so many of the Irish Republican Army and great praise was accorded to Scotland Yard. Inspector Drew being referred to as a very smart officer, and the work of his particular department extolled to the skies.

In accordance with his expressed wish, Larose's part in all which had taken place was not specifically mentioned. One newspaper, however, remarked enigmatically that had all the facts leading up to the arrests been known to the public they would realise how much they were beholden to an anonymous worker on their behalf.

A week of inaction having passed, Larose began to become restless again. He was intensely curious, too, as to what the Secret Service people must be thinking as to the sudden disappearance of the Baltic ambassador and the supposed Herr Blitzen, the news of which would certainly have filtered through to them by underground channels. He felt now pretty sure, too, that the Herr's real identity had been known to them all along.

So, upon the eighth day he went up to town to have a chat with the Head of the Counter Espionage Department. He chose Mr. Grant, of all others, because he had aways got on so well with him. Mr. Grant was not so bound down by red tape, and was a man of broad and sympathetic understanding. Apart from that, he knew quite well Mr. Grant would believe anything he, Larose, might tell him.

Mr. Grant received him warmly. "In the limelight again, Mr. Larose," he smiled. "Really, whenever you come out of your shell you have a perfect genius for attracting to you members of the criminal classes. They are like moths around the candle and they generally burn their wings"—he nodded significantly—"much to the satisfaction of the community." He looked up at the clock and made a gesture of annoyance. "I am always delighted to see you, as you must know, but it happens you have arrived now at a very awkward time. I am expecting the Prime Minister any moment, in fact, he may be even now be upon his way here."

"Well, I can wait if he comes," said Larose. "I am in no particular hurry." Then he rapped out, "It is about that Herr Blitzen I have come to speak to you."

"Herr Blitzen!" exclaimed Mr. Grant, looking very puzzled. "What do you know about Herr Blitzen?"

Larose drew in a deep breath. "That he is dead," he said solemnly. "The Baltic ambassador murdered him!"

But Mr. Grant did not appear to have taken in what he had heard. He just stared and stared, very hard.

"Yes, he is dead," went on Larose, with a sigh. "Von Ravenheim murdered him and I shot von Ravenheim. I buried them both in the one grave and no one knows anything about it. It happened a week ago last Saturday."

Still Mr. Grant said nothing, and Larose raised his voice and asked sharply, "Don't you understand what I say, sir? They are both dead, I tell you, one murdered and the other killed."

Mr. Grant's voice was shaking. "Mr. Larose, I have always believed implicitly whatever you have told me, and you now say that Herr Blitzen is dead?"

"Yes, murdered," nodded Larose, "murdered by von Ravenheim."

Mr. Grant's face was ashen grey. "Do you know who Herr Blitzen is, or was, if what you tell me is true?" he asked.

"Yes, Herr Bauer, the Baltic Dictator," said Larose. "I learnt it from him when he was dying."

"Then do you realise what it all means, now it has happened over here?" asked Mr. Grant in great distress. He raised his hands protestingly. "But I cannot believe it, I really cannot. It is so awful and"—but he broke off suddenly, with a startled expression upon his face. "Yes, yes, oh, I believe it now!" He nodded. "Von Ravenheim has been missing for several days! No one at the Embassy has breathed a word, but we have learnt secretly that he cannot be found and they are in a state, bordering upon panic. So, it corroborates what you say and——" but the telephone bell tinkled upon his desk and he held up on his hand.

A moment's silence followed and then he spoke into the mouth-piece. "Yes, bring him in at once," he said. "I'll see him immediately." He turned back to Larose. "It's the Prime Minister," he whispered, "and we'll hear your story together." He nodded. "I'm not sorry he's come. It would have been most distressing to me to tell him this dreadful news secondhand, as, of course, Herr Bauer's death in this way may have world consequences. It will be much better for him if you tell him everything yourself, as an eye-witness."

But if Mr. Grant were not sorry Mr. Newark was going to be present, Larose certainly was. He respected the Prime Minister, as did everyone, as a man of sterling honesty of character. But he was much too punctilious to suit Larose, too tied down by red tape and too bound by decorous British traditions. A gentleman himself, he treated everyone as gentlemen, too. He could be as credulous as a little child and, believing anybody's word, was most pained and surprised when he found out he had been fed upon lies. His was the velvet glove all right, but there was no iron hand inside it, and he was not the man, Larose thought, to handle unscrupulous opponents. He was not the man to fight a winning fight if the other man fought unfairly.

He came into the room and Larose was introduced to him. He had heard of the part Larose had so recently taken in bringing about the arrest of the Irish terrorists, and congratulated him warmly, in well-chosen words and with an old-world courtesy.

Then Mr. Grant unburdened himself quickly of the dreadful tidings Larose had brought, and, relying upon Mr. Grant's assurance that it was all true, the Prime Minister's distress and consternation were painful for the others to see.

"But what shame it will bring upon our country!" he almost wailed. "What a disgrace for us all that it has happened here!"

Then Larose was bidden to tell his tale in detail, and uncertain now of his own position, he told it warily and with many reservations. He kept back quite a lot.

He said he had had reason to suspect the Baltic ambassador of intending to take the life of a certain public man, and, consequently he, Larose, had been upon the watch in the vicinity of the threatened man's house upon the fatal night. Then he related more fully the happenings upon the lonely grasslands and how he had seen von Ravenheim arrive with the supposed Herr Blitzen, and had heard him address the Herr as 'Your Excellency!'

Then he told of the murder of Herr Blitzen and how he had shot von Ravenheim and buried them both in the grave the ambassador had already prepared. He slurred over what happened afterwards to the car, simply stating that he had hidden it where it would never be found.

The Prime Minister wrung his hands. "But how shall we stand in the eyes of the world now?" he asked despairingly. "Who will believe it happened as Mr. Larose says? What will Herr Bauer's own people say?"

"They should never learn anything about it," said Larose sternly. "What I have told you must never go farther than this room."

"They must never learn about it!" ejaculated Mr. Newark in horrified tones. He shook his head emphatically. "No, no, Mr. Larose, we Britishers don't do things like that! Their bodies must be disinterred at once and when they have been formally identified, the Baltic Embassy notified without a single minute's delay." He drew himself up proudly. "We must preserve the honor of our country in the eyes of the world."

"And what'll happen then?" asked Larose, with his face set hard as flint. "You may precipitate a world war!"

The Prime Minister drew in a deep breath. "It cannot be helped if we do. We must face all consequences bravely." He wrung his hands. "Oh, what a dreadful calamity this it! We've taken such care all along that no harm should come to this man, ever since he came over here." He seemed to now realise something for the first time and addressed Larose frowningly. "But you say this all happened a week ago! Then why haven't you made it known before? Think of the added suspicion which will be aroused by this delay! Why didn't you tell us at once?"

"It was not in my mind to tell anybody," said Larose slowly, "and I'm sorry I said anything now." He nodded. "Yes, it was very foolish of me to have come here to Mr. Grant, and it's doubly unfortunate you should have been happening to come here, too."

"Well, it's done now," said Mr. Newark sharply, "and we can't remain silent. There'll be the usual inquest of course, and the whole matter made public. You'll have to go into the witness-box, too, and justify yourself for having taken the ambassador's life, and not leaving him to be dealt with by the ordinary processes of the law." He spoke now in much firmer tones than he had hitherto used. "Where are they buried?"

Larose considered. "Oh, where they are doing no harm," he replied casually. "They couldn't be in a better place and the world is well rid of them. They were bad men."

The Prime Minister looked plaintively at Mr. Grant, and the latter, understanding what he meant, asked persuasively, "Now where did you bury them, Mr. Larose?"

Larose hesitated. "O-oh, I don't think I shall say." His voice hardened. "No. I shan't." He shook his head. "I won't be responsible for laying the world in ruins. I'll just hold my tongue."

"But, Mr. Larose, Mr. Larose, you can't act like that," protested the Prime Minister. "You've made a confession and——"

"A confession!" snapped Larose angrily. "Oh, there was nothing of a confession in what I told you! Don't run away with that idea. I have no regrets for anything I did that night and I'd do it again, every time. Yes, every time." But then, all suddenly, he quieted down. "There, gentlemen, just forget I said anything. That'll be the best plan. Let the matter drop." He rose smilingly to his feet. "I think it was all a dream." His face lit up in apparent great relief. "Yes, yes, of course, it was! I'm sure of it now!" and he moved towards the door. "Good morning to you both."

But the Prime Minister barred his way. "You can't go off like that," he said very sternly. "You'll have to admit the truth now."

Larose raised his eyebrows. "The truth, sir," he ejaculated, as if in great surprise. "What truth is there ever in dreams?" He nodded emphatically. "I tell you it was all a dream. I'm positive about it now!"

"But we'll find out where you were that Saturday," said Mr. Newark angrily. "We'll have your movements traced."

"A-ah, that's right," nodded Larose. "Put Scotland Yard on to me. It will be great sport for them there." He laughed. "But don't ask me to give any help," and with a wave of his hand, he let himself out of the room.

The Prime Minister and Mr. Grant looked at each other. "Do you think it really all happened, Grant?" asked the former, looking very worried.

Mr. Grant was delighted with the turn things had taken, but he hid his satisfaction under a very solemn air. "I'm quite sure it did, sir," he replied. "Mr. Larose would never swerve a hair's breadth from the truth in a matter like this." He frowned. "He is a singular man, this Larose, and has his own code of morals. But he has a fierce passion for justice"—he sighed—"although it may be of a wild kind."


Will the world ever learn the true story of what happened afterwards?

Who was the puppet, who, following those weeks of silence, sprang suddenly before the Baltic people as their still triumphing dictator, mouthing threats and curses in the old way, and gibbering, as one had so often before, that it was the destiny of their race to become the conqueror of all mankind?

Who was he who later loosed upon the world that hell of blood and agony, and then, when the Baltic might was broken, vanished from all human ken?

Are any alive now who can tell?

It is doubtful.

So many perished in that frenzied aftermath of war, secretly, silently, and in such countless unrecorded ways, that it is probable that among them were those who alone could have told the tale.

So there we must leave it.


Some months later the Prime Minister went down into Norfolk to open a new county hospital which had just been erected in Norwich and, somewhat to his surprise, met Larose there as one of the leading members of the reception committee.

He shook hands with him with something of a wry smile, but later in the afternoon drew him to one side and spoke most pleasantly.

"You know, Mr. Larose," he said, "I've been hearing quite a lot about you today, and how largely the building of this beautiful hospital is due to the generosity and exertions of you and your very charming wife."

"Fortunately, we were able to be of some small service," smiled Larose. "My wife has always been very keen about hospitals."

The Prime Minister frowned. "But I don't think you have been quite fair to your good lady, Mr. Larose. Now, have you?"

Larose looked puzzled. "In what way, sir?" he asked.

"Well, I understand," went on Mr. Newark, "that when you married her you took her title from her. She was Lady Ardane then, and now she is only plain Mrs. Larose."

"But she's not plain, sir," remonstrated Larose warmly.

"No, no, certainly not in looks!" exclaimed the Prime Minister instantly. "I didn't mean that for one moment. I meant in her name only, as she's just plain Mrs. Larose." He patted Larose upon the shoulder. "Well, we must remedy that."

Larose did not pretend to misunderstand what he meant and blushed scarlet.

Mr. Newark waved his arm round the beautifully appointed ward in which they were standing and added, "Yes, for this and"—he paused significantly and looked Larose straight in the eyes—"for certain other services rendered to our country, I shall bring up your name to His Majesty." He smiled with great good nature.


In the late days of the following December, Larose was spending a few days with his family in Cornwall and one afternoon, taking a walk by himself upon the cliffs at Newquay, he came suddenly upon Hilda Castle.

They shook hands warmly and then Larose asked, "And how is your sister,"—he smiled—"the Miss Cecily of those troubled days? I saw in the paper that she was married."

"Oh, she's quite well, thank you," replied Hilda. But then her face clouded and she corrected herself quickly. "No, she's not at all well," She nodded. "In fact, we're very worried about her."

"What's the trouble?" asked Sir Gilbert.

Hilda hesitated. "Oh, nothing much," she said, but then, seeing the sympathetic dismay in his face she added in a burst of confidence. "Still, I'll tell you, for I know I can trust you." She went on quickly. "It's like this. Cecily is very worried about Herr Blitzen."

"But how does he worry her?" asked Larose.

"He haunts her, for she is always afraid that one day he'll find out where she is and try to take her away from her husband. She knows he tried to kidnap her that morning in Haslemere and it's never out of her mind."

"I see," said Larose thoughtfully, after a moment's silence. He brightened up. "Well, you take me back home with you now and I'll have a little chat with her. I think I can make her mind easy."

He found Cecily just as pretty as ever, but a little thinner and with a drawn look about her eyes. Hilda left them together and, after a few minutes' casual conversation, Larose said rather mysteriously. "I'm so glad your sister brought me in to see you, as it gives me an opportunity to explain something I did not like to put in writing." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "It's about that letter from Herr Blitzen I forwarded on to you at the War Office."

"You forwarded me that letter!" exclaimed Cecily, with her eyes opened very wide.

"Yes, I put it in the covering envelope," said Larose, "and typed the address so that no curious person should note the handwriting and ask you about it." He nodded. "Of course, I knew then who Herr Blitzen really was."

"But who told you?" asked Cecily sharply.

"He did himself," said Larose, and he added very solemnly, "just before he died."

"Before he died!" exclaimed Cecily wildly. She could hardly breathe in her emotion. "You say he is dead?"

"Hush, hush!" warned Larose very sternly. "Yes, he is dead and I was with him when he died, but that is a secret you must always keep to yourself and never make me regret I have disclosed it to you."

"But when did he die?" asked Cecily, still breathing hard.

"The very day he wrote you that letter," replied Larose, "and it was in this country, but I must not tell you where." He nodded. "As he had come here in secret it was thought best that his death and everything about it should be kept secret, too."

"And what did he die from?" asked Cecily, very bewildered.

"From haemorrhage of the lungs," said Larose. "It was very sudden." He shook his head. "But there, I'll not say anything more about it. I really ought not to have told you now."

"Oh, but how you've relieved my mind!" said Cecily. "I shall be a different woman now. I have been all along so terrified that he would come to try to kidnap me again." She sighed. "Poor Herr Bauer, I do think he was fond of me in his violent, masterful way!"

They chatted for quite a long while and then she came to the garden gate to wave him a smiling good-bye.

"Chance, chance," murmured Larose, "it was only by chance that those two met!" He sighed deeply. "But what a mighty part chance plays in this muddled world of ours and upon what small happenings do great events depend! But for the color of that girl's eyes, her pretty mouth and the contours of her face—how different might have been the fate of that most baleful character in history! He might have passed away to the roaring of the guns and in that hell of carnage he had so long prepared for others, or he might, even now, be still in flight or exile. Instead, he lies in that shameful grave upon the lonely marshland, with that other murderer to keep him company until the resurrection morn."


THE END

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