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Title: The Yellow Face
Author: Fred M. White
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Language: English
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The Yellow Face

by

Fred M. White

Cover Image

Published by:
F.V. White & Co, London, 1906
R.F. Fenno & Co, New York, 1907
McLeod & Allen, Toronto, 1907
Street & Smith, New York, Vol. No. 576 in the "New Eagle" series, 1908
This version taken from The Post-Standard, Syracuse, NY, 27 Jan 1909 ff,
and the microform copy of the first Canadian edition at archive.org
(http://archive.org/stream/cihm_84542#page/n11/mode/2up)



TABLE OF CONTENTS

I - Nostalgo
II - The Chopin Nocturne
III - The Mystery Of The Strings
IV - The Speaking Likeness
V - A Vanished Clue
VI - Vanished!
VII - No. 4 Montrose Place
VIII - The Chopin Fantasie
IX - The Man With The Fair Moustache
X - What Did She Know?
XI - The Shadow On The Wall
XII - Locked In
XIII - The Parable
XIV - Nostalgo Again
XV - Lady Barmouth
XVI - The Bosom Of Her Family
XVII - Which Man Was It?
XVIII - The Empty Room
XIX - A Broken Melody
XX - The Mouse In The Trap
XXI - A Leader Of Society
XXII - The Portrait
XXIII - Face To Face
XXIV - In The Square
XXV - On The Track
XXVI - Serena Again
XXVII - In the Smoking Room
XXVIII - The Lamp Goes Out
XXIX - The Silver Lamp
XXX - Bedroom 14
XXXI - A Chance Encounter
XXXII - Lady Barmouth's Jewels
XXXIII - Gems Or Paste?
XXXIV - In the Vault
XXXV - The Cellini Plate
XXXVI - A Stroke Of Policy
XXXVII - A Pregnant Message
XXXVIII - The Cry in the Night
XXXIX - Preparing The Way
XL - The Magician Speaks
XLI - The Worm Turns
XLII - A Piece Of Music
XLIII - The Trap Is Baited
XLIV - The Substitute
XLV - Caught
XLVI - The Music Stops
XLVII - "A Woman Scorned"
XLVIII - The Proof Of The Camera
XLIX - Proof Positive
L - On The Brink
LI - Against The World
LII - The End Of It All


Cover Image

The Yellow Face, McLeod & Allen, Toronto, 1907



I. — NOSTALGO

THE flickering firelight fell upon the girl's pretty, thoughtful face; her violet eyes looked like deep lakes in it. She stood with one small foot tapping the polished brass rail of the fender. Claire Helmsley was accounted fortunate by her friends, for she was pretty and rich, and as popular as she was good looking.

The young man by her side, who stood looking moodily into the heart of the ship-log fire, was also popular and good looking, but Jack Masefield was anything but rich. He had all the brain and all the daring ambition that makes for success, but he was poor and struggling yet, and the briefs that he dreamed of at the bar had not come.

But he was not thinking of the bar now as he stood by Claire Helmsley's side. They were both in evening dress, and obviously waiting for dinner. Jack's arm was around Claire's slender waist, and her head rested on his shoulder, so that by looking up she could just see the shadow on his clean-cut face. Though the pressure of his arm was strong and tender, he seemed as if he had forgotten all about the presence of the girl.

"Why so silent?" the girl said. "What are you thinking about, Jack?"

"Well, I was thinking about you, dearest," Jack replied. "About you and myself. Also of your guardian, Anstruther. I was wondering why he asks me so often and leaves us so much together when he has not the slightest intention of letting me marry you."

The girl colored slightly. The expression in her violet eyes was one of pain.

"You have never asked my guardian," she said. "We have been engaged now for over six months, Jack, and at your request I have kept the thing a dead secret. Why should we keep the matter a secret? You are certain to get on in your profession, and you would do no worse if the world knew that you had a rich wife. My guardian is kindness itself. He has never thwarted me in a single wish. He would not be likely to try and cross my life's happiness."

Jack Masefield made no reply for a moment it was, perhaps, a singular prejudice on his part, but he did not like the brilliant and volatile Dr. Spencer Anstruther. who was Claire's guardian. He would have found it impossible to account for this feeling, but there it was.

"My guardian has plenty of money of his own." Claire said, as if reading his thoughts.

"There you are mistaken." Jack replied. "This is a fine old house. filled with beautiful old things. Anstruther goes everywhere; he is a favorite in the best society. Men of letters say he is one of the finest talkers in the world. But I happen to know that he has very little money, for a lawyer told me so. That being so, the £1,00O a year you pay him till you marry or come of age is decidedly a thing to take care of. On the whole, dearest, we had better go on as we are."

Claire had a smile for her lover's prejudices. Personally she saw nothing amiss with her guardian. She crossed over to the window, the blinds of which had not yet been drawn, and looked out. She looked across the old-fashioned garden in front of the house to the street beyond, where a few passengers straggled along. On the far side of the road stood an electric standard holding a flaring lamp aloft. The house opposite was being refaced, to that it was masked in a high scaffold.

As was the custom in London, the scaffolding had been let out to some enterprising bill-posting company. It was a mass of gaudy sheets and placards puffing a variety of different kinds of wares. In the center, boarded by a deep band of black, was one solitary yellow face with dark hair and staring eyes. At the base was the single word "Nostalgo."

An extraordinary vivid and striking piece of work for a poster. The face was strong and yet evil, the eyes were full of a devilish malignity, yet there was a kind of laugh in them. too. Artists spoke freely of the Nostalgo poster as a work of positive genius, yet nobody could name the author of it. Nobody knew what it meant, what it foreshadowed. For two months now the thing had been one of the sensations of London. The cheap press had built up legends round that diabolically clever poster; the head had been dragged into a story. The firm who posted Nostalgo professed to know nothing as to its inner meaning. It had become a catchword; actors on the variety stage made jokes about it. But still that devilish yellow face stared down at London with the malignant smile in the starting eyes.

"Jack, they have put up a fresh Nostalgo poster on the hoarding opposite," Claire said. "I wish they hadn't. That face frightens me. It reminds me of somebody."

"So it does me." Jack replied, with sudden boldness. "It reminds me of your guardian."

Claire smiled at the suggestion. The guardian was a large, florid man, well groomed and exquisitely clean. And yet as Jack spoke the yellow face opposite seemed to change, and in some way the illusion was complete. It was only for an instant, and then the starting eyes and the queer smile that London knew so well were back again.

"You make me shudder," Claire said in a half-frightened way. "I should never have thought of that, but as you spoke the face seemed to change. I could see my guardian dimly behind it. Jack, am I suddenly growing nervous or fanciful? The thing is absurd."

"Not a bit of it," Jack said stoutly. "The likeness is there. It may be a weird caricature, but I can see it quite plainly. Don't you recall how Anstruther breaks out into yellow patches when he is excited or angry? I tell you I hate that man. I may be prejudicial, but—"

Jack paced up and down the room as if lost in thought. The light was shining on the face on the hoarding? It seemed to look at him with Spencer Anstruther's eyes.

"There is something wrong in this house," he said. "I fell it. laugh at me, you may say that I am talking nonsense, but there it is. The strange people who come here?"

"Sent by the police mainly. Don't forget that my guardian is one of the greatest criminologists of our time. There isn't a man in London who can trace the motive of a crime quicker than Mr. Anstruther There was that marvelous case of the missing children, for instance—"

"Oh, I know." Jack said, with a suggestion of impatience in his voice, "And yet, if you don't mind, we will say nothing of our engagement at present."

Claire contested the point no longer. After all she was very happy as things stood. She had plenty of chances for seeing her lover, and Mr. Anstruther seemed to be altogether too wrapped up in his scientific studies to notice what went on under his very eyes. He came into the room at the same moment humming a fragment of some popular opera.

There was nothing whatever about the man to justify Jack Masefield's opinions. Spencer Anstruther was calculated to attract attention anywhere. The man was commanding face softened by a tolerant and benign expression. People looked after him as he walked down the street and wondered which popular statesman he was. In society Anstruther was decidedly welcome, amongst men of learning he was a familiar figure. His scientific knowledge was great, certain publications of his were regarded in the light of text books. Altogether he was a man to cultivate.

"I am afraid that I am late, young people," he said in a smooth, polished voice. "I hope you have been able to amuse yourselves together in my absence. You look moody. Jack. Don't those briefs come in as freely as you would like? Or have you been quarreling?"

"No, sir," Jack replied. "We never quarrel; we are too good friends for that. We have not the excuse in that way that lovers are supposed to possess."

"We have been studying that awful poster," Claire said. "I wish somebody would take it away. Jack is always seeing some likeness in it. He says that you—"

The girl paused in some confusion. Anstruther smiled as he put up his glasses.

"It is a complex face," he said. "Whose features does it remind you of just now, Jack?"

"Yours." Jack said boldly. He flashed the word out suddenly . Half to himself he wondered why he always felt a wild desire to quarrel with this man. "I hope you won't be offended, sir, but I can see a grotesque likeness to you in the famous repellent Nostalgo."

Claire looked up in some alarm. She was wondering how her guardian would take it. The log fire in the grate shot up suddenly and illuminated Anstruther's face. Perhaps it was the quick flare that played a trick on Claire's fancy, for it seemed to her that suddenly Anstruther's face was convulsed with rage. The benign pink expression had gone, the features were dark with passion, the fine speaking eyes grew black with malignant hatred. Claire could see the hands of the man clenched so hard that the knuckles stood out white as chalk. And there with it all was the likeness to Nostalgo that Jack had so boldly alluded to. The fire dropped and spurted again, and when it rose for the second time the face of Spencer Anstruther was smooth and smiling.

Claire passed her handkerchief across her eyes to concentrate the picture of fiendish passion that she had seen. Was it possible that imagination had played some trick on her? And yet the picture was as vivid as a landscape picked out and fixed upon the retina by a flash of lightning on a dark night. The girl turned away and h|d her white face.

"I should like to meet the artist who drew that face." Anstruther said, with a smile. "One thing I am quite certain of—it is not the work of an Englishman. Well, it has found London something to talk about, and the advertisement is a very clever one. I dare say before long we shall discover that it is exploited in the interest of somebody's soap."

"I am inclined to favor the view that Nostalgo is something novel in the way of a thought-reader or a spiritualist," Jack said. "It seems to me—"

The dining-room door was thrown open by a woman-servant, who announced that dinner was served. They passed across th e hall into a large dark-walled room, the solitary light of which was afforded by a pair of handsome candelabra on the table. There were not many flowers, but they were all blood red, with a background of shiny, metallic green. The woman who waited passed from one plate to another without making the slightest sign. As she came into the rays of the shaded candles from time to time Jack glanced at her curiously. She was dressed in somber, lusterless black, with no white showing at all. There was no cap on her head—nothing but a tangle of raven-black hair. Her brows were black and hairy, her skin as dark, so that her faded eyes were in striking contrast to her swarthy appearance. Her hands were very strong and capable, the mouth firm to the verge of cruelty. And yet there was something subdued, something beaten about the woman, as if she had been taken in a wild state and tamed. Anstruther seldom addressed an order to her in words—a motion of the hand, the raising of and eye-lid seemed to be sufficient for those pale, tired eyes, which somehow never for one instant relaxed their vigilance.

The woman was a mystery of the house: she seemed to be entirely dominated by her master's will. And yet there were strength and passion there. Jack felt certain. The fanatic only slumbered. A pansy fell from one of the flower vases, and Jack started out his hand to replace it.

"Did you ever see the evil face in the heart of a pansy blossom?" he asked, for there was a pause in the conversation.

"It is a demon face—and familiar too. Miss Helmsley, whose face does this saffron heart of the pansy remind you of?"

Claire took the pansy from Jack's hand and studied it with a frown on her pretty face.

"Why, of course," she cried. "I see what you mean. It is Nostalgo, the man with the yellow face."



II. — THE CHOPIN NOCTURNE

CLAIRE gave the desired assurance, and rose from the table. She would have Jack's coffee saved for him in the drawing-room, she said. Anstruther lit a cigarette, and began to talk of crime. Crime and criminals had a fine fascination for him. Scotland Yard offered valuable inspiration for his new book on the criminal instinct, and in return he had been in a position to give the officials yonder one or two useful hints. The case he had on hand just now was a most fascinating one, but, of course, his lips were sealed for the present. Jack forgot his dislike in the fascination of the present.

"8tay here and finish your cigar," Anstruther said as he rose and pitched his cigarette into the fire. I'll go into my study and work this thing out with the aid of my violin. I may be on hour or so, or I may be longer. If I have finished before 11 o'clock I'll come up with my fiddle, and we'll get Claire to play. If you require any more claret you can ring the bell."

Jack sat there for a time smoking and thinking matters over. Presently, from the study beyond came the sound of music. Really, Anstruther was a wonderful man—he seemed able to do anything. He was not perhaps a great performer on the violin—his playing was a little too mechanical and seemed to lack soul—but the execution was brilliant enough.

Jack opened his cigarette case only to find that it was empty. There was a fresh supply in the pocket of his overcoat. which was hanging in the hall. He would be just in time for one more, and then he would join Claire in the drawing-room. The hall light had been turned low, so that, as Jack stood in the vestibule fumbling in his coat pocket he was not visible, though he could see what was going on in the hall behind him.

There was a spot of light at the head of staircase. Somebody was standing looking down into the hall—somebody in a rough jacket buttoned at the throat and wearing a pair of rubber-soled shoes, for the intruder made not the slightest noise. Jack wondered in some impudent burglar was raiding the house at this hour. If so, he would get a warm reception presently. Jack stood there as the figure came down the stairs and turned along the corridor to the left of the drawing-room. But there was no challenge and no fight, for the simple reason that in the hall light, as the stranger passed, Jack recognised the face of Spencer Anstruther. There was no doubt about it; there was no possibility of a mistake here.

Inside the study the music once more began. Very gently Jack tried to turn the knob of the door, but it was locked. Under ordinary circumstances this would have excited no suspicion; perhaps there was another way into the room by way of the corridor. But, if so that did not explain why Anstruther was creeping about his own house in the semblance of a burglar, and wearing rubber-soled shoes.

There was something creepy about the whole business. Jack returned to the vestibule again, and from there he passed into the garden. The study was at the side of the house, and a belt of shrubs outside afforded a pretty good cover. There was the study window with the blinds down and a strong light inside. Jack noted that it was a French window, a window frequently used, because the stone step outside had been worn by the pressing of many feet.

The smooth melody of Chopin was playing on inside. Jack stooped down to where he could see the lace flowers on the blind, and looked into the room. There was a little slit in the blind where the sun had worn it, and by this slit the whole of the room could be seen. The music had softened down to a piano passage taken very slowly. But Jack was not thinking of the music now at all, though the strains were soothing and flowing enough.

He rubbed his eyes to make sure that they did not deceive him. No, the room was plain enough, so was the sound of the music. And with it all the room was absolutely empty!



III. — THE MYSTERY OF THE STRINGS

IT was the most extraordinary thing in the world. Beyond question the room was absolutely empty. Jack could see to the far side: he noted the pictures and the flowers and the vases on the mantlepiece. His view was naturally narrowed by a small spy-hole, but there was no portion of the room hidden from him, though he could not quite see the whole of it at one time.

The music was proceeding quite smoothly, though with pauses now and again. It was followed now and then by what sounded like subdued applause.

Jack stepped back from the window. He wanted to make certain that he had not mistaken the room. No, the sound of music came from the study right enough. At the risk of being discovered he crept back into the house again and tried the study door. It was locked, and what was more, the key was in the lock, as the application of an eye testified.

And the music was proceeding quite swiftly again. The mystery was absolutely maddening. Jack wondered if there was some cabinet in the study hidden from view where the player had taken up his stand. A t any rate somebody was playing Chopin's music—playing it very well. There was no magic about the thing.

The hall of the house was very quiet, nobody seemed to be about. Occasionally there came the sound of mirth from the servants' hall, but nothing more. Fully determined to get at the bottom of this mystery, Jack returned to the garden again. Once more his eye was glued to the slit in the blind. He could make nobody out in the room . There was little fear of his being detected, because a belt of shrubs hid the window from the road.

Without the slightest warning a figure, appeared in the room. It was impossible to see where she came from, but of necessity she must have entered by the door. Jack was a little uncertain on that head, for his glance was not directed towards the door for the moment.

He saw the figure of a woman, young and exceedingly well dressed. She was wearing an evening gown of white satin that showed up the creamy pallour of her skin, for her neck and shoulders were bare. The neck was rather thin, Jack noted, and the shoulders more inclined to muscle than beauty. For a young girl it struck Jack that the upper part of her body looked old. But the face was dark and wholesome, and against the deep eyes and swarthy complexion the girl's hair was dazzling. It was beautiful, rippling hair, changing color as the light flashed upon it.

"Well, this is a bit of an adventure," the watcher told himself. "But where's the person in the room who let the young lady in? Somebody must have let her in, because the door was locked and the key on the inside. I saw it there, so I can swear to that fact. But who is she?"

There were many answers to the problem, for Spencer Anstruther was a man who had countless strange visitors. His vast knowledge of crime and the ramifications of human depravity brought him in contact with large numbers of people. Men and women in distress often came to him, and they came in increasing numbers since Anstruther had got the better of a gang of scoundrels in a recent famous blackmailing case. Sometimes these people came on their own initiative, sometimes they were sent by the police. But Anstruther never said anything about them. He looked upon himself as a confidential agent. Claire could have told of many curious visitors at all hours, though Anstruther never so much as alluded to them afterwards.

But this girl did not look in the least like anybody in trouble. Her dark features were almost expressionless; there was no display of violent emotions there. Her gaze slowly wandered around the room as if looking for something; She had much the aspect of a pupil whose attention is called to a blackboard by a master. Jack watched; it seemed to him that he had seen this girl before. He could not recollect anybody in the least like her; that contrast of dark skin and fair hair was striking enough to impress itself upon the most careless mind, and yet Jack could not give the face a name. He could not permit himself mistake. He knew perfectly well that the expressionless features were quite familiar to him.

The girl stood for some little time, as if waiting for her lesson. Jack's eyes were glued so closely upon her that he did not notice the coming of another person—a man this time. He was a young man, with sleek, well- brushed brown hair, and dark, well-groomed moustached turned up after the fashion affected by the German Emperor. The man was perfectly well-appointed, his evening dress and white waistcoat were faultless. His face was strong, but it did not convey anything intellectual. There were scores of such men to be seen any day in the London season, all groomed the same and apparently finished in the same machine.

The man bowed and smiled at the girl, and she bowed and smiled in return. It was rather a graceful bow; it seemed to Jack that she looked at her companion to see if it were quite correct. Then the two proceeded to talk in dumb show, partly by signs and partly by fingers.

The mystery was getting deeper— one of these two was a deaf mute, perhaps both of them. Was this one of Anstruther's cases, or did it possess a far different significance?

The solution was beyond Jack Masefield. He might have been on the track of a mystery, and on the other hand he might merely be doing a little vulgar eavesdropping. If it was the latter, and Anstruther found him out, he need not hope to visit Claire at home any more. Anstruther was most particular in these things, as Jack knew; but he set his teeth together and decided to take the risk. He felt pretty sure that there was something here that touched the household deeply.

He turned just for the moment with an idea that somebody was behind him. But the strip of lawn was quite clear. Jack could see through the belt of trees to the street again beyond, with its light, flaring on the yellow face of mysterious Nostalgo and his half-laughing eyes. That weird face seemed to form a fitting background to the room mystery.

But Jack had his eyes to the slit in the blind again. Inside the pantomime show was still going on. The girl to be getting a lesson of some kind, and her tutor appeared to be pleased, for he smiled and clapped his hands from time to time. Then he took out his watch and consulted it with a frown. As he glanced up the girl crossed the room to the mantlepiece and opened the face of the clock. With a quick movement she put it back half-an-hour.

The man in the faultless evening dress nodded approval. There was a little pause before he approached the window and stood so that his shadow was picked out clean against the strong light of the room. Then he rapidly signaled with his arm. One arm went up, there was a noise of rings and a flutter of drapery, and then a heavy curtain was jerked over the window, and Jack could see no more. Try as he would, no ray of light could he make out. It was as if the lights had been switched off, leaving the room in utter darkness.

What on earth did it all mean? Without a doubt the young man in evening dress had signalled to somebody outside as he stood close against the window and raised his arm. Jack congratulated himself on the fact that the slit in the blind was low down, so that he had not to stand against the light. He slipped into the belt of shrubs and watched for movement, but no further sign came.

What were those people inside going to do? The solution flashed upon Jack instantly. They had not come there so perfectly dressed for the mere sake of seeing Spencer Anstruther. They had not been spending the evening anywhere, dining and that kind of thing beforehand, for they were too spruce and fresh for that. The woman's toilette in particular had evidently been just donned, as if fresh from the hands of her maid. And she had put the clock back half-an-hour.

"They are going somewhere in half-an-hour." Jack decided. "Hang me if I don't follow them. By the right time it was half-past ten. Anstruther said he should not come up if he failed to get his business finished before eleven, at which time he will expect me to go. I'll go to the drawing-room and talk to Claire for a little time just to avert suspicion."

He crept back into the house without being seen, he finished his claret and dropped the stump of his cigarette onto his dessert plate. As he made his way up the stairs the music began again. The music was not the least maddening part of the mystery.

"What a time you have been," Claire said as she tossed her book aside. All by yourself down there! Really, Jack, you modern young men are so cold-blooded that—"

"I'm not as far as you are concerned, dearest," Jack said a she kissed her. "I had something to do; I was working out a case that puzzled me."

"A case in some way connected with the law, I suppose?" Claire asked.

"Well, yes," Jack replied. He quite believed that the case was connected with the law. "I begin to see my way to its solution. I suppose there is not the slightest chance of your guardian coming up tonight?"

Claire replied that it did not look like it. Evidently the solution of the music problem was not an easy one, for the violin was going again as if it had just begun.

"It makes me feel creepy," Claire exclaimed. "Fancy the idea of tracking a criminal by means of divine melodies like that. Jack, don't you notice something strange about it?"

"I should say that I do," Jack replied. "Why, the whole thing—really. I beg your pardon, darling. I-I was thinking about something else. It was the case I referred to just now."

"My dear boy, you are very strange in your manner to-night." Claire said. She looked pal and distracted. Trust the eyes of love to see anything like that. "You haven't bad news for me, Jack?"

Masefield forced a smile to his lips. It was hard work to maintain his ordinary manner in the face of the strange scene that he had witnessed that night.

"I have certainly heard no news since dinner time." he said. "What did you expect me to say?"

"I thought that perhaps you had mentioned me to my guardian; that you had changed your mind, and told him that you and I were going to be married some time."

"No, your name was never mentioned, dearest. Anstruther was full of his case and gave me no opportunity. He went off directly he had finished his tobacco. As a matter of fact, Claire. I am more resolved than ever to say nothing about our engagement to Mr. Anstruther."

"It is very strange that you mistrust him like that, Jack."

"Perhaps it is, little woman. Call it instinct, if you like. I know that women are supposed to hold the monopoly of that illogical faculty. They dislike a man or a woman without being able to say why, and in the course of time that man or woman turns out to be a villain. There is no denying the fact that I feel the same way towards your guardian. I am convinced that as soon as he knows the truth you will be in danger. I said before that he is a poor man, and the enjoyment of your £2,000 during the time—"

"My dear Jack, you are perfectly horrid." Claire murmured. "If I were a nervous girl you would frighten me. As it is, I feel certain that you are utterly wrong. My guardian is one of the most delightful of men. If he were not, plenty of clever people would have found it out. And, besides. why do so many unfortunate people come to him to advise them. Which he does with great trouble to himself and no hope of reward!"

Jack admitted that perhaps he was wrong. And he had no desire either to frighten Claire. He had not the slightest intention of telling her what he had discovered that night.

"Let us be less personal," he said. "What was the strange thing that you noticed about your guardian's playing?"

"That it is so much better than usual," Claire said. "There seemed more passion and feeling in the music. My guardian is a brilliant violin player, but I have not hitherto noticed much feeling in his style. Now, listen to the thing that he is playing at present."

"Chopin's Fantasie in F." Jack muttered. "I know it very well indeed. It is a favorite of mine."

There was certainly plenty of expression and feeling in the music. Jack was bound to admit that. The fantasie came to an end with a crash of two chords, and Claire clapped her hands.

"Beautiful!" she cried. "I must really compliment my guardian on the improvement in his style. You are not going already, Jack? It's not quite eleven yet."

"I'm very sorry, dear, but I have that case to look into to-night." Jack said, with perfect truth. He saw that the hands of the big clock on the mantlepiece were creeping on to the hour. "Anstruther won't come up to-night; he said he should be here by eleven if he were. And he gave me a hint not to stay later. I shall see you at the Warings' to-morrow night Good night, darling."

Claire put up her red lips to be kissed. She would have seen Jack to the door, but he pointed out that the night was chilly and Claire's dress thin. Neither would he have the butler summoned. His coat and hat were in the ball, and he would get them himself. A moment or two later and he was standing in the garden behind the strip of shrubs. He was quite free to act now; he had nobody in the way. As he stood there a distant church clock boomed the hour of eleven.

"Now we shall see what we shall see," Jack muttered. "I'm going to find whether there is a mystery of the house or whether these people are merely Anstruther's clients. Oh!"

As he spoke the dark curtain over the study window was pulled back, and the figure of the young man in the evening dress was clean-cut against the light. Then a black arm pulled for the catch of the window, and the young man, pushing the blind aside, came out. He was wearing an overcoat now, and a tall hat. He seemed to be waiting for somebody.

Then the figure of the dark-faced, fair-haired girl came out. She was cloaked from head to foot in a blue wrap trimmed with feathers; her fair hair was not covered. No word was spoken, but Jack could see that they were conversing still by signs.

The watcher wondered if he had time to get inside the room. But that little Idea was dismissed at the outset, for the young man pushed the window to carefully and the latch clicked. It was quite evident that the long sash closed with a spring lock, which was a most unusual thing for French windows to do. As the strange pair went down the side path Jack stepped into the open. He wanted to assure himself as to the window being fastened. He pulled at it hard, but it did not yield. At the same moment from the window of the room came a strange, brilliant crash of music. Yet that room was absolutely empty, as Jack would have been prepared to swear in any court of England.

"I'll wake up either from a dream or in a lunatic asylum presently," he muttered. "And now for those other people. Good thing they had no idea of being followed."

Jack was in the road now, and made his way through the quiet nest of streets between Bloomsbury and Regent's Park. He could see his quarry a hundred yards or so before him: there was nobody else and there was not the slightest chance of those in front being lost. A horse clicked on the wood pavement as a well-appointed hansom passed the tracker. Then he saw the hansom pull up to the curb and the deaf mutes in front get in as if the whole thing had been arrange and drive off.

The thing was so sudden an unexpected that Jack was nonplussed for a moment. There was no chance of following these people, for there was probably not another hansom within half-a-mile of the spot. Jack stood hesitating in the silence of the road; he could hear the steady click-clack of the horse's hoofs as the rubber-tired hansom hurried on, and then suddenly the horse's hoofs stopped. They had not died out in the distance; they had merely stopped.

Jack hurried forward: he had not given up all hope yet. He might overtake the hansom and by good luck meet another one going toward the Strand. As he turned a corner he saw to his surprise the figure of the young man in evening dress come silently toward him on the other side of the road. Then the stranger crossed the road and turned down the far side of the square as if he were going to complete the circuit and return to the cab again. As the man vanished, Jack heard a thudding sound, followed by a sound like the tearing of stiff calico and the rattle of peas on a drum. There was a stifled cry, and then silence. On the impulse of the moment. Jack turned and followed.

At the angle stood a row of houses, some of them being repaired. Jack heard somebody speak to somebody else some way down the road. He looked across at the opposite houses to see that that they were in scaffolding and that they were plastered with bills. A little way above the ground in front of the center house being repaired was one of the repulsive, clever Nostalgo posters with the yellow face looking out.

But there was something else. For there at full length on the pavement lay the body of a man with his face up to the stars. With a little cry Jack crossed the road. Almost instantly a policeman stood by his side.

"Drunk," he said. "A gentleman who has just gone down the road told me a man was lying drunk on the pavement. May word, sir, but he's got the complaint pretty bad."

"He has," Jack said, with a catch in his voice. "The man isn't drunk. He's dead. He's been murdered. Shot through the head and breast. Show your lantern here, officer."

The officer flashed the strong, searching rays on the face of the dead man. As he did so he gave a cry, and pointed at the hoarding behind him with a finger that shook a little.

"Dead, sir, and murdered without a doubt," he said. "But that's not strangest part of it. Look at his face and the expression of his eyes; look at the yellow face and—"

"Good heaven!" Jack cried. "The yellow face, the face of the diabolical poster behind you. As I am a living man, we have found Nostalgo in the flesh!"

The dead man grinned up, the face grinned down. And the face of the man and the face in the print were exactly the same!



IV. — THE SPEAKING LIKENESS

MASEFIELD looked at the figure on the pavement in a dazed kind of way. Beyond all question there lay the embodiment of the famous Nostalgo poster. London had been discussing the mystery of the poster for weeks already. The amazing hideous cleverness of it had struck the popular, imagination, the artistic side of it had appealed to those of culture. Nobody had the least idea what it was intended to convey. Every dally paper promising a correct solution on a certain day would have added tremendously to its circulation.

Then there had been those who had declared that the poster was a portrait; they had held that no artist could imagine a face quite like that. And here was dread confirmation of the theory. Absolutely the poster and the dead man were identical. The same long, thin nose, the same startling eyes, the same suggestion of diabolical cunning in the smile.

In the poster Nostalgo wore a turn-down collar and a loosely-knotted red tie. It was the same with the dead man on the pavement. As to the rest, his dress was conventional enough—a frock coat and gray trousers, a tall silk hat which had rolled into the road.

"Don't you think that you had better search his pockets?" Jack suggested. The constable replied that it was not a bad idea. But a close examination produced no definite result. There were no papers on the body, nothing beyond a handful of money—gold and silver and, coppers all mixed-up together in the trousers pocket. There was not even a watch.

"This game's beyond me," the officer, muttered, as he blew his whistle. "We must get this poor chap conveyed to the police station. Foreigner, ain't he?"

But Jack could not say. The sweeping, coarse black hair pushed back from the bulging forehead, and the yellow, guinea-colored face suggested the Orient. But the lips were thin like the nose, and these might have belonged to some Spanish hidalgo. It was impossible to decide.

"You were close by," the policeman said. "Didn't you see anything, sir?"

"Nothing whatever." said Jack. "I was just passing along on the side of the square at right angles with this spot. I certainly saw a young man come along. but I didn't notice him much. I expect he was the young man who told you that a 'drunk' awaited you here."

"I expect he was, sir; young man with his moustache turned up like the German Emperor's."

Jack started, but said nothing. It was not for him to say anything of the strange sight that he had seen in Spencer Anstruther's study. The young man in question had left his hansom; probably he had come back for something forgotten: therefore, on the whole. Jack felt that he could not in any way connect him with this mystery.

And yet Spencer Anstruther's young friend must have been close by at the very moment the murder was committed. It seemed impossible to believe that he had not heard that choking cry. and that strange noise like the tearing of calico or the scatter of peas on a tray. But, on the other hand, the murdered man had been shot, and shooting implies noise. Certainly Jack, had heard nothing that in any way would be connected with the firing of a revolver.

And yet there was that tearing sound, and the strange fact that the Nostalgo of the poster had tears in him in exactly the same place as the real man who had been wounded. There was a plot calculated to puzzle Spencer Anstruther himself, and Jack said so aloud.

"I don't think as even he'd guess this," the policeman said. "Friend of yours by any chance, sir?"

"I had not left the house five minutes before I found that body." Jack raid. "If you like. I will go back and bring Mr. Spencer Anstruther here."

Here was a chance to get at the other business, the mystery of the strange music. It was a legitimate errand enough, but the policeman shook his head. He did not want to take anything so important upon his own shoulders, his inspector being "down on that kind of thing."

Two constables with the ambulance came at length. They asked no questions, but hoisted the body up and turned immediately in the direction of Shannon Street police station.

"I think you had better come along, sir," the first policeman suggested to Jack. "It's just possible that the inspector may want to ask you a few questions."

Masefield followed. He smiled just a little as he noted the speaker's tone. If not exactly in custody, he was at least expected to give a good account of himself. To his great relief he found the inspector not in the least disposed to assume the official manner; on the contrary, he seemed rather a timid man, though his eyes were steady enough.

"I have told you everything, sir," Jack said at length. "I only wish it might have been more. If there is any further way in which I can be of assistance to you?"

"You are very good, sir," the inspector said. "What we have to do now is to push the matter forward before the scent gets cold. It is very imperative that we discover who this man is. The first person to apply to is the firm of advertising contractors who posted those bills. Did anybody happen to notice the firm whose hoarding the deceased man was found against?"

"As a matter of fact I did," Jack said, as the officer shook his head. "Not that it is a sure find for you, Mr. Inspector. seeing that those bills appeared on the hoardings of all the bill-posting firms in London. Still they may have emanated in the first place from one firm, and perhaps that firm was Freshcombe & Co."

"That being the name on the top of the hoarding we are speaking of?" the inspector asked. "You have a keen eye for detail, sir; it was very smart of you to notice that."

"Not at all; it was almost an accident. The mere fact of finding the prototype of the famous Nostalgo poster was sufficiently startling to brace all one's faculties. In glancing at the hoarding I saw the name of Freshcombe & Co. on the top. The name was impressed upon my memory by the fact that quite recently I appeared for Freshcombe & Co. in an action they brought against a rival firm for damages. That is why I have the name so exact."

The inspector smiled with the air of a man who is well pleased with himself. In that case Mr. Masefield practically knew the head of the firm of Freshcombe & Co;, and where he lived. In that event the inspector proposed to go direct to the gentleman in question and ask for a few particulars.

"There I can help you again." Jack said "I had several interviews with Mr. Freshcombe through his solicitor, an one of them took place in Mr. Freshcombe's own house in Regent's Park Crescent."

The inspector waited to hear no more. One of his men would call a cab, and perhaps Mr. Masefield would be good enough to go as far as Regent's Park Crescent and smooth the way. It was getting late now, but Jack had no objection. He was keenly interested in this mystery, and he must get to the bottom of it if he could. He had a few questions to ask as the cab rolled away, but none of them struck the inspector as being to the point. But Jack knew better.

Fortunately Mr. Freshcombe had not gone to bed, though the house was in darkness. The stout little prosperous-looking man of business started as he caught sight of the inspector's uniform. Something in connection with burglary rose uppermost in his mind as he asked his visitors' business.

"I hope there's nothing wrong," he stammered. "Ah, how do you do, Mr. Masefield? Will you gentlemen be so good as to step inside. There is a fire in the dining-room. Anything in the way of a cigar, or—"

But the inspector came to business at once. It was plain that his story interested the listener, for he followed it with eyes of rounded astonishment. He punctuate the story with surprised grunts.

"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "Whoever would have thought it? I never expected that there was anything about that famous poster. I had two thousand of them through my hands in the way of business, and they struck me clever, very clever indeed. Personally, I regarded them as theatrical bills."

Then you can't tell us anything about them?" the inspector asked with an air of chagrin.

"Nothing whatever," Freshcombe replied "Nothing whatever." Freshcombe piled promptly. "As I said before, posters came to us in the ordinary way of business. There was an air of secrecy about the whole thing."

"Which did not attract your attention? Did not speak to your suspicions, I mean—"

"Not a bit of it. The advertiser wanted to create an air of mystery and sensation. How well that has been managed I leave you to guess. Being, moreover, exceedingly shrewd, the advertiser not mean his name to leak out. I received a note one day asking my terms for displaying a thousand of those posters on all the hoardings in London, and my people sent in a quotation."

"That letter came from another business house. I presume, sir?" the inspector asked.

"No. It didn't. It was from a certain Mr. John Smith, and was written from the Hotel Royale, and on the official paper of the hotel. Three days later the posters arrived per a firm of carriers, and the same afternoon a check drawn by John Smith on the City and Provincial Bank. We cashed the check and posted the bills. I may say that, in the usual course of business, I should not have known this; but I was a little struck by the posters and their mystery, so I made inquiries. I assure you that I have no time to go into those minor details a rule."

"I am rather disappointed," the inspector said. "I hardly expected this. The mystery of the posters—"

"Was part of the cleverness of the scheme," Freshcombe interrupted. "As rule, these things leak out and spoil the game. Why, half a dozen newspapermen have been asking questions in my office."

"Then you don't even know who printed the posters?" Jack asked. "Have you any more left?"

"I fancy the posters were French," Freshcombe said. "They had evidently been repacked before they came to us. No, we have none left; they were all posted last week. I haven't even one as a specimen."

Mr. Freshcombe would have pushed his hospitality, but the others declined. The inspector was not going to give up a chase like this. Could Mr. Freshcombe find a London Directory, or in any way help him to ascertain the name and address of the manager of the city branch of the City and Provincial Bank? Mr. Freshcombe could supply both details. The bank manager in question was a large shareholder in the firm and enjoyed an important position. As to his residence, it was in Piccadilly, over the bank's branch there. Mr. Carrington was a man of fashion, so that, if he were at home it was unlikely that he had gone to bed. A moment later and the cab was proceeding toward Piccadilly.

Mr. Carrington was not only at home but he was entertaining friends. There were lights in all the windows of a handsome suite of rooms over the bank, and a chatter of voices assailed the ears of the callers as soon as the mahogany door was opened. Mr. Carrington was giving an evening party, the footman explained, and he did not like to be disturbed. But the sight of the inspector's uniform was not without its effect, and the intruders were ushered into a large room at the top of the stairs. The door was not quite closed, so that the strangers could see down a handsome corridor into a fine drawing room beyond. Jack could recognise some of the guests, whereby he knew that Mr. Carrington kept very good company.

"I feel like an intruder," Jack said, as he stood looking out of the room. In his evening dress he might have passed for a guest himself. "If Mr. Carrington is in a position—"

Jack paused suddenly. He was face to face with the third great surprise that night. For there in the corridor, and coming towards him now, was the fair-haired, dark-skinned girl whom he had seen with the young-man in Spencer Anstruther's study. There was no mistake here, no illusion. The girl walked along with her head down, making a sign from time to time to the man by her side. He was a perfect stranger to Jack, who dismissed him from the situation altogether as a mere vacuous man about town. If the woman was here, the young man with the Imperial moustache was not far off, Jack thought.

"I think that you were going to say something, sir," the inspector ventured. But Jack had quite recovered himself by this time. He made some commonplace remark, and then Mr. Carrington came into the room. He was polite, but not at all anxious for his visitors to remain. Would they be so good as to come to the point.

The inspector told his story with considerable brevity. Mr. Carrington was pleased to be interested. It was a strange and startling romance as it stood, but the bank manager did not see his way to afford any solution of this mystery.

"I haven't quite finished, sir," the inspector said quietly. "That bill-posting was paid by a check drawn on your City branch, of which you are manager, by one John Smith. Now, this John Smith—"

"Which John Smith?" Mr. Carrington asked, with a smile. "My good sir, do you know that we have some two thousand five hundred accounts at our City branch? Probably the name of John Smith is the commonest in the world. Without making any definite statement, I should say that we have over two hundred accounts in the name of Smith and probably a third of them John Smith. I can quite understand your anxiety to get on the track of the right man without delay, but that could not possibly be done to-night. I could not even get at the ledgers without two of the cashiers being present But I will make it a point to be at the bank at ten o'clock to-morrow morning and meet you there. It is impossible to do any more to-night."

The inspector nodded his head somewhat sadly. He quite saw the force of what Mr. Carrington was saying. He could do no more than make an appointment for the following day. He wished Carrington good night and turned to go, followed by Masefield. In the corridor somebody called Jack by name. He turned to see a colleague of the Junior Bar standing before him.

"Hullo!" the latter said, "where did you turn up from? I had an idea that you were a friend of Carrington's. Get your coat off and join us in a game of bridge."

The situation was just a little embarrassing, but Mr. Carrington came to the rescue. Masefield was dressed for the part, so to speak, and would he not remain? There would be dancing presently and—

But Jack decided promptly. He whispered the inspector to precede him and wait for him in the cab. Carrington passed on as Jack stood just a moment chatting with his old friend and school-fellow.

"I came here to-night on rather important business," he said. "There is no occasion to go into that now. But I want you to do something for me, my dear fellow. In hunting up one mystery I feel pretty sure that I have come on the track of another. There is a deaf and dumb girl here—there she is, with that Johnny chap in the resplendent white waistcoat. I want you to find out who she is and where she comes from."

"That's all right," Richard Rigby responded. "Nice looking girl, fair hair and dark eyes. Sort of a theatrical get-up, don't you think?"

"Well, now you mention it, perhaps it is rather in that way. But that isn't all, Dick; unless I am greatly mistaken that girl came here with a fair chap whose moustache is turned up after the fashion of the German Emperor. Find out about him, too, and I'll look you up at your chambers the first thing in the morning. I must not keep my friend waiting. Good-night."

Jack passed along the corridor in the direction of the staircase. There were many palms and ferns there, with screens behind which people could sit an not be seen except by their partners. Jack paused with with his foot on the thick pile of the carpet, for just in front of him was the girl with the Southern face and fair-hair. Her head was still bent low, her fingers were working. What her companion was like Jack could not quite make out, for the his back was turned. The girl looked at him with a flash of anger in her eyes, her lips moved, and sound certainly came from them. Jack could just catch the words:

"Don't drive me too far," she said. "Take care and not drive too far because—"

The girl suddenly lapsed into silence again and her fingers began to work. The couple passed behind a screen of palms and ferns, and Jack could see them no more.

"Well, this has been a night and a half," he said. "Where is it going to end. I wonder if my friend the inspector will be disposed to accept my suggestion."

The inspector gave Jack's suggestion the most careful attention. He had not thought of it before.

"We'll go back to the scene of the murder," Jack said. "There is a strong electric light in front of the hoarding, and the Nostalgo poster is only a few feet from the ground. Moreover, it has only recently been put up, and it is quite clean and fair. Depend upon it, there is some trade mark upon the bill, even if it is only a cipher. Of course, you see the importance of finding out who posted the bill."

"Of course, sir. How do you propose to get at the facts?"

"By examining the bill with the aid of a strong magnifying glass. I have no doubt that, being a detective, you have such a thing in your pocket at the present moment? Good. Then all you have to do is to order the cab to drive to the corner of Panton street and stop there."

The cab arrived at length and the occu]pants dismounted. They did not take the cab quite as far as the scene of the murder for obvious reasons, walked on there alone. It was quite still now, and nobody was about save a passing policeman, who had orders give notice if anybody was coming. It was just as well that the curiosity of passers-by should not be aroused.

"Now for it." Jack said, breathing a little faster in his excitement. "Perhaps we had better have the assistance of your lantern as well. I thought that the poster was there. It was there. I'll swear that is the very spot, just where the picture of the pretty girl taking the pill is. Good heavens, man, the poster has gone! It has been covered up since we were here before before by that mustard advertisement. At the hour after midnight the thing has been done. But the right thing must be underneath. See! The poster is wet!"

Jack advanced to tear the poster down, but the inspector pulled him roughly aside.

"Don't touch it!" he said hoarsely. "Whatever you do, don't touch it! Wait!"



V. — A VANISHED CLUE

JACK MASEFIELD paused for Inspector Bates to say more. Possibly, the officer was possessed of some brilliant idea, after the first glance at his face it was easy to see that he was as nonplussed as Jack himself. It was only professional caution that spoke; there was no illumination at the back of the policeman's brain.

"I had hoped that perhaps you had discerned something," Masefield said.

"Not quite that, sir," Bates admitted. "So far I am as much in the dark as you are yourself, but my experience is that nothing is to be gained by haste. What I mean is that a thoughless movement often destroys a clue of the umost value. I should like to stand here for a moment and consider my position."

Jack drily remarked that there could be no objection to the course proposed by Inspector Bates. It was very late now; there was nothing to be seen, so that the train of thought of the inspector was not likely to be interrupted. He stood facing great boarded hoarding with its wealth of gaudy pictorial advertisements, but his face did not lighten, and the moody frown was still on his brow.

"Blessed if I can make anything of it," he said in vexed tones. "Here's a man found dead under the most amazing circumstances. There seems to be no motive for the crime; nothing has been removed from the body so far as we know; the man evidently died where he fell. That he was killed I dare say the medical examination will show."

"So far the crime is commonplace and vulgar enough," Jack Masefield suggested. "Scores of these things happen in London every year. Some are found out, but some remain mysteries until the end of time; but this particular crime seems to be peculiarly terrible. First of all, London for some time has been doubly attentive to the yellow posters. No greater advertising circular has ever appealed to the public. Nostalgo is a personality about as great as some of our leading actors. Still, nobody has really regarded Nostalgo as living force, and I find him dead on the pavement here right in front of one of his own posters. Is that coincidence, or an amazing happening?"

"Both, I should say," Bates replied. "An amazing happening in any case. But to find the man dead in front of one of his posters my be no more than a coincidence. You see, there are so many Nostalgo posters about."

But Jack was loth to give up his point.

"I admit that," he said; "but that particular poster we find up is a fresh one. It was more or less shot-marked, as I pointed out to you; it was marked much as the body of the dead man was marked. If you remember, I suggested examining the poster by means of a magnifying glass, in the hope of finding some kind of printer's trade-mark, and we come back here for that purpose. We find the poster pasted over with a commonplace advertisement for somebody's mustard. It is not the habit of the bill-poster to go about the work at midnight."

"Ah, there you are not altogether correct, sir," Bates exclaimed. "The working bill-poster is not tied to time. He has a certain amount of work to do, and he does it pretty well when he pleases. Sometimes they have to work very late. For instance, a stock piece put up at a theater may prove a draw, and the management desire to keep it going for a time. Then there is some work late ar night for some firm of the paste-pot."

"Quite so, inspector; but does that apply to the harmless, necessary mustard advertisement?"

"Not directly, perhaps. But suppose there had been a sudden rush of new and urgent work, the routing would have fallen behind. Please understand that the bill-poster does not career around in a casual way, sticking up a poster just where it suits his fancy. All these hoardings are rented, and big advertisers contract to have so many sheets displayed every week; in fact, it is a most desultory business. Depend upon it, the bill-poster who so lately posted up that alluring mustard tin had nothing to do with the business."

It was all so logical and conclusive that Jack was compelled to drop further argument. At the same time, it seemed rather foolish to stand there doing nothing.

"Look here," he said, struck by a sudden idea: "Why not pull that mustard poster down,and get at the real source of the truth. The paper is still wet, and I daresay wem ight find a ladder behind the hoarding. Let us pull it down,and take the whole thing to the police-station and examine it at our leisure."

There was no objection to this, as Bates was bound to admit. It was a very easy mattter to find a way behind the hoarding and secure the firmest of manyl adders. A short one was sufficient for the purpose, and very soon the great sheet that contained the mustard advertisement was pulled off the wooden hoarding and lay in a heap on the pavement. In the place of it, fresh and strong, was the yellow face of Nostalgo. Jack took the inspector's lamp and regarded the poster carefully by the magnifying glass. But there was no imprint to be seen, nothing to lead to the identity of the firm who printed the placard.

"I can make nothing whatever of it," Masefield was fain to admit at last. "There are the shot holes plainly marked as if somebody had used an air-gun or a pea-rifle. Beyond that I can see absolutely nothing of the slightest significance. The best thing for us to do is to see the contractor who has thejob in hand in the morning and get him to saw the poster out of the wooden hoarding for you. The strong light of day may make a difference; but I am not as yet absolutely satisfied that that mustard poster was placed exactly on the top ofthe yellow face quite by accident."

Bates did not contest the point. He was getting tired and sleepy, and it was very late. "Very well," he said, "we will return to the police station in Shannon Street and have another look at the dead man. It is just possible we may find something there. At the same time, it may be just as well to be on the safe side. I'll get one of my men to come here and keep an eye on the hoarding to-night. It is on the cards that he may see something suspicious. I'll send a plain clothes man here to watch."

As Bates blew softly on his whistle a constable turned up and saluted. He was to stay where he was until relief came, Bates explained. Then he and Jack Masefield went off in the direction of Shannon Street station. The place was perfectly quiet; nobody had been brought in lately; there was no sign of the tragedy here. In a rack near the back, lighted by a skylight some six feet from the ground, lay the murdered body of the man with the yellow face. The malignant look had gone from his face; he seemed calm and placid. As Jack bent over him it seemed to him that there was a movement of the heart. He pointed this out to the inspector, who shook his head.

"People not accustomed to these things often make the same mistake," he said. "I have heard witnesses swear that the body of this or that man was not bereft of life, and in this belief they have been quite certain. Then a doctor comes along and proves beyond a doubt that death has taken place perhaps five or six hours before. Muscular action is what probably deceives people. That poor fellow is dead enough."

Masefield did not argue the matter. It was a sickening business, and he felt that he would gladly see the end of it. Not so Bates, who was inured to this kind of thing. Very rapidly and skilfully he went over the bodyin search of anything that might be likely to lead to the identification ofthe deceased. But the pockets were doubtless empty; there was not watch or chain, or purse, no markings on the linen.

"Not even a laundry mark?" Jack suggested. "If my reasoning is correct, a laundry mark has often proved of the greatest assistance."

"No mark whatever," said Bates. "The shirt, for instance, is of ordinary make, the class of thing that one buys ready made at a shop, and which has usually its maker's mark on. There has been a mark of some kind on the neckband, but it looks as if it had been blocked out with chemicals. See how much whiter and thinner the neckband is. We are simply wasting our time here."

Jack said nothing: he could only shake his head sadly. The more the mystery came to be probed the more maddening did it become. A close investigation of the clothing presented as little result; there was nothing even about the boots to prove where they had been made. If the man was a criminal, and his general air suggested that, he had taken the most amazing precaution to prevent identification in case of accidents. Jack looked at the clear, dark features. This was no man to take anybody into his confidence. Success or failure, or crime, must all be undertaken alike alone and unaided. This face would never have led anybody to rejoice with him in good fortune, or sympathize with him in failure.

"Well, I think I had better be getting back to my rooms," Masefield said. "I have given you my name and address. I'll come round to-morrow and see if you have made anything out of the poster in the daylight. One thing is pretty certain—there should be no difficulty, if a determine d effort is made, to discover the people who printed the picture of the yellow face. There are not many firms in this country capable of such work."

"There is the Continent," Bates suggested. "I'm afraid that it will be very much like looking for a needle in a hayrick. Still—"

What deep philosophical remark Bates was going to make Masefield was not detained to hear, for at the same moment there was the sound of a sudden disturbance in the office beyond. The hoarse voice of a sergeant was heard demanding to know what this little game meant, there was a groan, and the collapse of a heavy body on the floor. Bates strode into the office.

"What is all this row about?" he demanded.

"It's Gregory, sir," the sergeant replied . "Went off half-an-hour ago on some special work for you, or so he said, and here's he back as drunk as a lord; regularly collapsed on the floor, he did. It's not the first time, either."

A sudden suspicion burst upon Masefield. He knelt by the side of the plain-clothes man and felt his heart There was a peculiar red mark round the man's neck as if something had been pulled very tightly round it.

"The man is no more drunk than I am," Jack said. "He has been attacked and his breath is wholly free from any suspicion of drink. Look at that mark round his neck."

Very slowly the prostrate man struggled to a sitting position. When the fact had once been ascertained that there was no suggestion of intoxication, brandy was administered to him. He had a strange story to tell. He was carrying out instructions when suddenly somebody came behind him and placed a rope round his neck. Before he could recover himself he was partially strangled; he lost consciousness and lay on the pavement. When he came to himself again he was quite alone. He had managed to struggle back to the station, and once there had collapsed on the floor. Robbery was not the motive, for he had lost nothing.

"It's all part of the same mystery," Jack decided. "Something was going on behind that hoarding, and the criminals did not want the policeman to see. I shall walk back to my rooms that way. No, you had better not come along. Inspector, in case you are spotted. I shall just walk very coolly by and keep my eye on that hoarding. Good-night."

There was nothing more to be done, so Masefield was allowed to depart. He had ample food for thought as he walked along the deserted streets. He came at length to the great hoarding where the poster had stood. He stopped just for a moment, almost too amazed to move; then he forced himself to go forward again.

For the striking Nostalgo poster was gone. It had been sawn neatly out of the boards of the hoarding, leaving a blank square eye in its place!



VI. — VANISHED!

IT was not to be supposed that this had happened without attracting the Argus eye of the press. The night birds of journalism had been hovering about, seeking their prey of sensational copy. They haunted the police station with a hope that something might turn up—the hope that every reporter has that sooner or later he may happen on a good thing that has in it the making of some columns of red-hot descriptive matter.

One of them, hungry and lynx-eyed, had seen the body of Nostalgo carried to Shannon Street station. There might have been a paragraph then; there might have been a column. At any rate, the chance was too good to be lost. The reporter was on the best of terms with the police for a square mile or so; indeed, his living more or less depended on the good fellowship of the local authorities. The sergeant had first of all set the ball rolling; the reporter had seen the body; he had no difficult in recognising the striking likeness between the dead man and the poster. Younger men wold have rushed off at once and made a long paragraph of this, manifolded it, and sent it broadcast along Fleet Street.

But not the old and cunning hand at the game; his instinct told him that there was more to come. There was more to come, probably in the shape of the shaken Gregory, who presently told the reporter his part of the story. This was a case when a cab was justified. Half-an-hour later the reporter was closeted with the chief sub-editor of The Daily Planet, a half-penny morning paper dealing largely in sensations. The sub-editor's eyes gleamed as he listened to the reporter's story. This was something after his own heart.

"Write two columns of it," he said, "You can use Daly's room. Serve it up as hot as you can with plenty of scare heads. We'll give it the first place on page five. You had better have a stenographer, as time is pressing."

Therefore it came about that half a million or so readers of The Planet had the shock at breakfast the following morning. With its tally of many dazzling illustrations. The Planet had never been more successful than in this. The thing was admirably done. The mystery was amazing to a degree. Before 10 o'clock on the following morning London was talking about little else. It was discussed in the train, on the top of the omnibus, in City offices. The name of Nostalgo was on every lip.

The editor-in-chief and the chief shareholder in The Planet Company came into the office very early in the morning—an action quite unusual with him, for his keen instinct scented a good thing for The Planet here. The thing was exclusively and he meant to work it to the last ounce. The little man with the bald head and the gold-rimmed spectacles had created a pretty scheme by the time he had reached his office. Without loss of time he sent for Mr. Richard Rigby. Rigby came in response to the summons. He found journalism more remunerative than the Bar.

"This is the best thing we have ever had," Mr. Van Jens said in his staccato way. "I'm just going to show the British public what an American journalist can do with the thing. It's pretty clear to me that the police have blundered, as they always do, and that they have got off the track of the truth. We're going to solve the mystery, Rigby, and you are the man I have picked out to do it. In the first place, you are a clever actor, and you have pluck. Go about it in your own way, and take your own time. Don't mind the expense; spend £1,000 if necessary. Only get to the bottom of this thing. If it's merely to prove, to the police that they can't do without the press. By the way, isn't Masefield a friend of yours?"

Rigby admitted that such was the case. He did not pretend to follow the working of his chief's brain; few men were competent to do that. Van Jens was leaning over The Planet in order to read the report of the Nostalgo affair.

"I saw Masefield last night," he said. He did not tell Van Jens that he had met him at Carrington's, that was a matter concerning Masefield alone. "Do you think he is likely to be of any assistance to me?"

"It is just possible. You see, it was Masefield who actually found the body of the man who we call Nostalgo. It is possible also that Masefield knows more than our reporter got to find out. You had better hint to Masefield that there is a chance of getting a commission from us to write a serial for one of our weekly journals—he is in the way of doing that kind of thing. Anyway, get him to regard it in a favorable light. If you handle the man properly, I feel sure that he will offer you valuable information."

Rigby nodded. He did not tell Van Jens that Jack Masefield was a good friend of his, for that point had nothing to do with Van Jens, who regarded Rigby as the typical smart unit of the newspaper, and none too scrupulous so far as other men were concerned. As a matter of fact Rigby had his code of honor, and possibly his chief would not have considered it. Come what might, Rigby was not likely to take any advantage of Masefield.

"All right." he said; "you may depend upon me to do all that I can. By the way, if I am to take this case in hand I must not be tied as to time. I mean that somebody else must be drafted to do my regular work and—and think nothing if I don't show up here regularly. I think that only fair."

"Only fair, it is," Van Jens replied. "I'll see to all that. And I'll leave instructions with the counting house that they are to draw on me to the extent of £1,000 if necessary. And now you had better go off to Masefield without delay."

It was not yet 11 o'clock, and Rigby felt pretty certain of finding Masefield at home. He was perfectly correct in his conclusions, for Jack was busy just putting the finishing touches to a short magazine story. The morning papers lay in a pile on the table, but as yet he had not had time to open them. Rigby helped himself to a cigarette.

"Hope I don't intrude." he said. "If I am in the way, kick me out at once."

"You are never in the way here, Dick," Masefield smiled. "As a matter of fact I have just passed the last page of this story for The Grasshopper. It's always a pleasure to sit down and write a story when you have a fair commission for it."

"You will soon have plenty of them, my boy." Rigby said cheerfully, "especially now that you've got your name in the papers. Seen The Planet to-day? You haven't! Well, you are pretty prominent on page five, let me tell you. One of our men got hold of that sensational Nostalgo business, and then made a picture of it. Just run your eye along the report and tell me what you think of it. Pretty hot, isn't it? Now can you tell me anything?".

"Anything fresh in regard to the affair you mean?"

"You've got it first time. As a matter of fact. Van Jens has placed the thing in my hands, and I'm to get to the bottom of it if it costs the paper £1,000. Van Jens suggested {hat I should come and see you and pump you. The bait to you is a commission for a big serial in one of our weeklies. But apart from all that, Jack, I'm quite sure that you will be ready to help me for old sake's sake."

"Of course I will." Masefield said heartily. "Really, there is very little to tell; your man seems to have got it down very fine. But I can tell you all about the shot marks and the missing poster, only you must not publish that."

"My dear fellow, you don't quite understand my position. I'm not sent as a mere scare writer in this business; I'm more of an amateur detective, with a pocket full of money. My task is to beat the police at their own game, and prove the superior intellectual force of the press. Than I shall write the whole story, and The Planet circulation will go up to a million."

"Then I'll tell you all that there is to know," Jack replied. "When I have finished my story I shall have a few questions to ask you. Get your note-book out."

Rigby had no cause for complaint on the score of Masefield's narrative. In the description of the shot marks and the subsequently missing poster he felt that he had conquered a fine point of the situation. He took another cigarette, and Jack did the same.

"Now I'm going to ask you a few questions," the latter said, "and I should not be surprised that in replying to my queries we throw some fresh light on the object of your search. You will recollect meeting me at Carrington's last night—"

"Of course I do. I look you for a fellow who's above that kind of thing—playing the amateur detective."

"Notably, as I was in evening dress. As a matter of fact I had been dining with Anstruther, and it was after leaving his house that I found the body of the man we had better call Nostalgo. Of course, I recognised him by the likeness to the poster. Subsequently Inspector Bates and myself discovered the name of the firm who posted the creation. We went off to see the head of the firm, and he could tell us very little, except that the placards came from some John Smith who had an account with the City and Provincial Bank. The latter fact accounts for my being at Carrington's last night

"Exactly. And you asked me to keep my eye on a pretty girl, who was deaf and who had for attendant cavalier a chap with a moustache like that of the German Emperor."

"I am coining to that," Masefield went on. "I told you that I had been dining with Anstruther. Now, these two people left Anstruther's house, for I followed them. I will tell you a more striking thing about them later on; but I want to have my side of the affair cleared up first. Tell me what happened after I left Carrington's with Inspector Bates."

"Well, I kept my eye on these people as you asked me. I tried to get some information about the fair one from Carrington himself, but he didn't seem to like the subject. He seemed depressed and a little bit uneasy, I thought; said it was a sad case, sort of relation of his, and that the man with the moustache was a foreign count or something of that sort. I wouldn't press the matter, as it would have been in bad taste, you see. But all the same, I did keep, an eye on these people, as you asked, me, and the end of it was that I followed them when they left the house... I don't know what made me do it."

"At any rate I'm glad you acted in that manner." Jack said. "Did they go back in the direction of Anstruther's house? Did they take a cab?"

"Not in the ordinary acceptance of the word," Rigby explained. "They walked as far as the top of Regent Circus, where a private growler was waiting. The cab was all black, the driver had a black livery. I could not see his face, as it was tied up with a silk handkerchief as if the fellow had tooth-ache or something of that kind. The four-wheeler was evidently waiting for them, for they got in at once."

"Anybody else inside the cab?" Jack asked.

"By Jove, I was nearly forgetting that!" Rigby exclaimed. "I was just flush with the cab as it passed a lamp. There was another figure in the cab—a man, and as the light shone on his face I was about staggered with his resemblance to the poster of Nostalgo. I only saw the face just for an instant, but it is impressed upon my mind as if the man were standing before me at this very minute. Singular, was it not?"

Jack nodded dumbly. This was another new departure in the strange mystery. For the man seen by Rigby in the black four-wheeler could not possibly have been the same Nostalgo that Jack had found, seeing that the latter had been lying in Shannon Street some hour or two before the time that Rigby was speaking about.

"You did not follow them further, I suppose?" Masefield asked.

"No, I didn't go as far as that. And at the moment I didn't think anything as to that Nostalgo business No. 1, so speak. If I had, you may bet your bottom dollar that I should not have lost the opportunity. The cab drifted away without any direction being given: so I went along, without giving it more consideration, to my club. Eh, what?"

Inspector Bates had hurried into the room without ceremony. His face was pale and agitated.

"Something strange come out at the inquest?" Jack asked.

"No sir," Bates gasped, "for the simple reason that there has been no inquest. You can't hold an inquest without body. What do I mean? Why, that that body vanished from the room, leaving not a hint of a clue behind!"



VII. — No. 4 MONTROSE PLACE

THE inspector stood there with his hand on his heart, as if he had run far and fast. So far as Jack could see, Bates was suffering from some strong emotions. He flopped down in a chair indicated for him, and took Jack's proffered cigarette with a shaking hand. Although his feelings were not exactly under the control one would have expected from one of the leading lights of Scotland Yard, there was at the same time a certain suggestion of grim humor playing about the corners of his mouth. Jack looked across at Rigby and smiled significantly.

"Evidently a new development of the case," Jack said, glancing once more at, his friend. "As a matter of fact, inspector I have just been telling Mr. Rigby all about last night's ghastly business By the way, you will recollect of course that Mr. Rigby is my friend whom we met at Mr. Carrington's last night. Not to make too long a story of it, there are sidelights of this business of which you are not at present aware-but all that is beside the point. What I want you to tell me is about this disappearance of the body of Nostalgo. Seriously, do you want my friend and me to believe that a dead man has disappeared from Shannon Street police station right under the eyes of the authorities?"

"Well, that is about the size of it," Bates admitted ruefully. "Naturally enough, we took forward to important developments at the official inquiry. I had a chat late last night with the doctor, who seemed to be of the opinion that the dead man had been shot with something quite new in the way of a weapon."

"What, do you mean, a new projectile, or a new sort of small arm?" Masefield asked.

"Well, not exactly that," the inspector replied; "but something quite new in the way of a missile. There were marks on the breast of our unfortunate friend which indicated the presence of a shot of some kind that did mortal damage without leaving traces of anything material behind."

"Oh, that is all very well, so far as it goes: but what I want to get at chiefly is the cause of the disappearance of the body." Rigby put in impatiently. "What is the good of trying to establish all sorts of new theories when you have not so much as a dead body of the deceased man before you? It seems incredible to me that this outrage could have been committed in a police station. Was no one about? Was the whole place deserted whereby some stranger could have coolly stepped in and walked off with the body of a powerful man?"

"Well, that is not so difficult as it might seem," Bates said eagerly. "As a matter of fact, our mortuary is merely an outside room which at one time had been used as a kitchen. Mr. Masefield will recollect last night noticing that the light of the room consisted entirely of a kind of skylight. The ceiling is exceedingly low, so that it would be quite possible for a tall man to lift the body through and carry it away without the least trouble, provided, of courge, that he had sufficient strength. At any rate, there it is, and we have to make the best of it."

"I hope that you have managed to keep this matter from the public so far," Masefield said. "I don't think anything will be gained by allowing this new sensation to get into the papers. The best thing we can do is to come around to Shannon Street with you and see if we can lay our hands upon anything in the way of a clue. My friend Mr. Rigby has had a lot of experience in amateur detective work; I dare say you recollect his success in the matter of the Mortlake coiners, on behalf of The Planet."

Bates expressed his willingness to fall in with this arrangement. Not that he had any particular confidence in amateur detectives generally; but he was so bewildered and disheartened at present that anything was preferable to his own painful thoughts. The police station was reached at length, and a thorough search of the shabby little apartment at the back of the office made. But no amount of investigation served to throw any light on this new phase of the mystery. It was even as Bates had said: with the darkness of the night, and expecting no developments of this kind, a bold and unscrupulous character might easily have entered the room and taken away anything, however bulky, without much chance of detection.

Nothing daunted by the want of success attending his efforts, Rigby climbed onto the roof and looked around him. He was particularly struck by the deserted area at the back of the police station. It was some distance from his coign of vantage to the nearest house. No doubt at one time the open space had consisted of fertile gardens, but the same space was now given over to arid grass and a few stunted trees—a scene of desolation indeed. On the opposite side, some 30 yards away, the backs of a terrace of large houses looked blankly on the scene. Rigby, with a new idea entirely in his mind, inquired the name of the terrace. Bates smiled with the superior air of the professional, and replied that it was Montrose Place.

"And what class of people live there?" Rigby asked.

"Well, rather mixed, I should say," Bates replied. "There was a time, not so many years ago, when Montrose Place was quite fashionable. Mind you, they're exceedingly good houses, quite good enough for any moneyed class: but I understand that the landlord is by no means a liberal man, and, as the houses have fallen out of repair, they have become void."

Any further information on this head was cut short by the sudden calling away of the inspector. It seemed to Masefield that Rigby was by no means disposed to mourn for the official's company. He stood with his brows bent frowning at the sombre row of houses in front of him, but from the quick working of his hands. Masefield could see that his versatile friend's brain was busy.

"I see you have made a discovery," Masefield said quickly. "Would you mind telling me what it is?"

Rigby pointed to the fourth house from the end of the terrace. Did Masefield notice anything about it peculiar? he asked. But Masefield did not see anything about the house at all ominous or suggestive, except that the windows were grimy and dirty, and that the erstwhile fashionable silk blinds were hanging in tatters like banners behind the murky glass.

"But surely you see something?" asked Rigby impatiently, "for instance, take the third window on the left over the ledge, which probably is that of the bathroom. Don't appear to be looking, and, at the same time, keep your eye casually on the window."

With a quickening of his pulses, Masefield glanced up in a vague kind of way in the direction of the window. He felt instinctively that in some way the deserted house was involved in the disappearance of Nostalgo. There was not much time for speculation on this point. Very slowly and cautiously the blind was raised, and a haggard face peeped out. It was like a picture from some old print, this strange weird yellow face behind the grimy glass. So thick was the murky dust upon the casement that t was impossible at so short a distance to decide whether the features were those of a man or a woman. Anyway, the face. If it were that of a man, was clean-shaven, the pale head half hidden behind a tangle of thick black hair. It was only for a moment that this weird face presented itself to the eager eyes of the spectator below; an instant later and the whole phantom had vanished.

"Now, what do you think of that?" Rigby asked eagerly. "Don't you agree with me that this strange apparition has something to do with the story? Now, supposing you or I had some powerful inducement for getting hold of the missing body, could we find a better place to work from than that deserted house?"

"Provided always that it is deserted." Masefield said guardedly. "Don't let's go quite so fast. Surely your own experience must have taught you what strange creatures one often sees as caretakers in good houses?"

"So much the better for me," Rigby replied. "If you are correct in your suggestion, it will make my task all the more easy; for, come what may, I am going to see the whole inside of that place before I sleep to-night."

Rigby walked back into the police station with the air of a man who has said his last word on the matter. It was no advantage to him, working as he was on behalf of his own newspaper, to mention his discovery to Bates. Possibly Masefield's common-sense view of the problem might have been the correct one after all, in which case Bates would have had the laugh of his unprofessional ally. But Bates had evidently been called out on other business, so that there was no occasion to say anything to him at all. Declining to return to Masefield's rooms and there discuss the matter further over tea, Rigby went thoughtfully back to the office of The Planet. He dined alone at his club, lingering until about 10 o'clock over the evening papers, and then proceeded on his way to Montrose Place by the somewhat circuitous route of Covent Garden.

But there was more method in Rigby's madness than met the eye. The sleek well-groomed barrister and journalist who entered the shop of Jonas the costumer shortly. after 11 o'clock emerged a little before 11 carefully and effectually disguised as a seller of newspapers. Then, with the fag-end of a cigarette of doubtful quality in his mouth, he slouched along towards his destination.

Montrose Place from a front view was considerably more prepossessing than the similar outlook that presented itself from the back. At least half the houses were tenanted by people of means, judging from the neatness of the blinds and the amount of light displayed in the various windows. Yet, at the same time, it was quite evident that Bates' estimate was fairly correct.

The first three houses in the terrace bore plates of highly-polished brass testifying to the fact that doctors were not lacking in this locality. No. 4, however, stood out in marked contrast to its neighbors. There was no chance of Rigby's presence there exciting undue suspicion, for there was not a soul to be seen in the terrace.

Emboldened by this fact, Rigby had no hesitation in lighting a vesta and making a comprehensive examination of the door-steps. They were dirty enough in all conscience; no housemaid had knelt there for many months or even years past; but Rigby's sharp eyes did not fall to note the fact that some one more than once recently had left footprints on the grimy flags. They were not clearly indented footprints; indeed, there was a misty hesitation about them which at first puzzled the amateur detective exceedingly.

He struck another match after looking cautiously up and down the terrace. Nobody was in sight: the precaution was quite unnecessary. The blue flame picked out the misty footprints grimed into the filthy steps, and then Rigby understood. Whoever made those marks had been wearing rubber-soled shoes.

"And new shoes at that," Rigby muttered to himself. "I can see the pattern in the center of the sole clearly indented now. And the prints go and come up and down the steps quite regularly. Now, the fact that somebody comes here and wears new rubber shoes makes it clear that the wearer has been here very recently. It is also evident that the wearer wears rubber-soled tennis shoes so as to make no noise. I feel pretty certain that I am going to learn something now."

But Rigby was a little too sanguine. In the first place, he had to gain admission to the house, the front door of which was locked. It was perhaps a significant fact that, though the lock of the door was green with rust, the edge of the rim of the hole where the latch-key indented was bright and clear at the edges.

"Evidently used regularly." Rigby went on. "Now, the ordinary caretaker does not usually sport a latch-key; he or she generally uses the area door. I should not wonder if the area window was open; I'll try it."

The area window was not open, but the loose catch had been carelessly pushed to. The blade of a stout penknife sufficed to prize the catch, and a moment later Rigby was in the housekeeper's room, safe from all outside observation.

There was no sign of life here; no vestige, of it on the stairs leading to the big rooms overhead. Rigby could not but notice what a fine house it was; the last tenant had evidently been lavish in the way of decorations. With a match in his hand, carefully shaded from the window, Rigby crept up the stairs. He could see in the dust lying there the constantly repeated footprint of the rubber shoe, indicating that the owner of that shoe was in the habit of spending a great deal of time there.

But now, so far as he could judge, the house was absolutely deserted. He tried door after door softly, and each yielded to his touch, revealing gloom and desolation and dirt by the faint light of the vesta. As each stump burned low Rigby carefully dropped the end of it in his pocket. He was conscious of a feeling of disappointment. Almost before he was fully cognisant of that feeling he paused in an attitude of rigid attention. Something like the sound of a smothered cough struck on his ear; it seemed to him that he could hear somebody approaching. The stair creaked, and Rigby drew back into a doorway.

He was not mistaken. Somebody was coming up the stairs.



VIII. — THE CHOPIN FANTASIE

IT was nearly two hours later before Rigby crept cautiously down the steps and emerged by the way in which he had entered the house. The street, as before, was absolutely deserted; so far as Rigby could see, he might have been in a city of the dead. Despite his disguise and the artistic make-up of his grimy face, an acute spectator would not have failed to notice the agitation of his features. He crept with trembling footsteps to the roadway, and clung to the railings with a swaying air of one who has seen things the tongue refuses to describe. Then his natural courage, fanned by the cool air of the evening and the sense of being no longer isolated, returned with virile force to him. Mechanically he fumbled in his rags and produced from a breast pocket a silver cigarette case, that might have got him into serious trouble if a lynx-eyed policeman had been near at hand.

"Well, I have seen some queer things in my time, but, as the poet says, 'never aught like this'," Rigby said, with teeth that chattered a little. "I really must have one of my own cigarettes."

Despite his excitement, Rigby was conscious that he ought to be just a little ashamed of himself. He had always prided himself upon the fact that his nerves were perfectly under control and that nothing ever put him out, otherwise he would not have occupied the position he did at The Planet office. He began to feel the effect of the cool night air, which braced him like a tonic. As he stood there waiting for something—though he would have found it difficult to say what—a policeman came slowly down the street. Rigby stooped and pretended to be busy with his stock of papers.

Some spirit of mischief moved him to chaff this representative of the law, and at the same time test to the utmost the disguise that he was wearing.

"Paper, sir?" he asked. "All the winners—the horrible murder in Grosvenor Square. Ain't you going to buy one?"

Apparently the officer was one of the good-tempered sort, for he only smiled, and in a more or less gruff voice ordered the news-vendor to move on.

"Just waiting for my pal, sir," Rigby explained. "I have never come down this street before, an' I'll take good care never to come down here again. Why. half these houses seem to be empty. Look at that show opposite. 'Ow long since anybody has lived there?"

"Before I came on the beat, anyway," the policeman explained. "Do you want to take one?"

With a laugh at his own pleasantry the policeman walked off down the street, leaving Rigby easier in his mind and quite satisfied that his disguise would stand any ordinary test.

He leaned against the area railings absolutely undecided as to what to do next With a certain new caution almost amounting to cowardice—a feeling of which he would be ashamed at any other time—Rigby turned his back upon the man who was advancing down the street. At the same time, so full was he of the horrors that he had lately witnessed, the amateur detective quite forget the fragrant cigarette so out of keeping with his character. The stranger pulled up and, crossing the pavement, tapped RIgby familiarly on the shoulder.

"You are not so clever as you think you are," the stranger remarked coolly. "You may be a very smart chap, Dick, and I may be a very dull one, but I have certainly sufficient brains to know that the average newspaper tout does not smoke Turkish cigarettes. Besides, after our conversation this morning, I felt pretty certain that you would make an attempt to get inside that house."

Rigby laughed in a way that suggested that his nerves were in a considerably frayed condition.

"So that's you. Jack," he said, with a sight of relief. "Yes, you are quite right; in fact, I told you I should not rest to-night until I had seen the inside of that house."

"And did the expedition come up to expectations?" Masefield asked eagerly.

"My dear fellow, I have had some weird experiences in my time, but I would not go through the last hour again for the wealth of the Indies. In fact, if I tell you what I've seen, you would set me down for a doddering lunatic."

The look of self-satisfaction on Jack's face faded away. He shivered with a strange presentiment of something dire about to happen. Again, why should he doubt the fact that something terribly out of the common had happened to Rigby after his own amazing experiences?

With his hand on the arm of his friend, he walked abstractedly the whole of the terrace. Here a great arc light threw a stream of pallid blue upon the motley coloring displayed upon a big hoarding. In the center of the hoarding, well displayed, was the terrible placard disclosing the grinning features of Nostalgo.

"By heaven!" Jack exclaimed, "there is no getting away from the features of that grinning devil I know as well as if I had seen it down in black and white that the awful experiences which have so changed you lately have to do with that yellow face."

"I am not going to deny it," Rigby replied; "and, what is more, I am not going to tell you what I have seen in the last two hours—at least not at present. And now tell me, to change the subject, what is your private opinion of Spencer Anstruther?"

To say that Jack was taken aback by the suddenness of the question would be a mistake. It will be remembered that on the occasion Masefield last dined with Anstruther he had pointed out to Claire the amazing likeness between Nostalgo and her guardian. Not that it was possible for anybody to notice this except when Anstruther was moved to emotion; but the fact remained. And to find that Rigby's mind was strangely moved in the same train of thought was, to say the least of it disturbing.

"What do you mean by asking that question?" Jack said guardedly.

"For goodness' sake do not let us have any of this unnecessary caution between friends like ourselves," Rigby said with great feeling. "Believe me, my friend, I am not asking this question out of idle curiosity. As man to man, is he a magnificent genius or the greatest criminal the world has ever seen—"

Thus put to it, Jack had no hesitation; indeed, he could have no hesitation in replying to such a direct question as this.

"I am going to speak quite candidly to you." he said. "As you are pretty well aware, knowing the man quite well as I do, he is, like most geniuses an exceedingly poor man. At the same time, unlike most geniuses, he is as unscrupulous as he is clever. I have more than an idea that he could tell us all about this affair, but I prefer to pose as a person who has come into it by accident, and who is only languidly interested. I have had some hesitation about mentioning my estimate of Anstruther's character to his ward, but I feel very uneasy as far as Claire is concerned. I know for a fact that Anstruther is painfully hard up: really, there are times when his financial straits are absolutely desperate. This being so, it has occurred to me more than once that Claire's money must be a strong inducement to prevent her marrying, for instance, myself."

"That is by no means a remote contingency." Rigby suggested dryly.

"My dear fellow, to be perfectly frank with you, Miss Helmsley and myself have been engaged for the past six months. Mind you, this is a dead secret. I have a presentiment, call it foolish if you like, that the announcement of this fact to Anstruther will be the first moment of real danger for Claire. But why do you so suddenly spring this question upon me?"

By way of reply Rigby drew his companion into the comparative shadow of a doorway. He had hardly done so before another figure came jauntily down the street—a tall, slim figure who seemed strangely familiar to Masefield.

"The whole place seems to reek of Anstruther to-night." Jack said, "or perhaps it is my disordered imagination. But if that is not Anstruther himself, my eyesight strangely deceives me."

"If you knew as much as I do, or you had learned what I have learned the last hour, you would not be surprised," Rigby said . "However, we will soon settle that. I'll just step across the road and try and sell him a paper."

Before Jack could lay a detaining hand on the arm of his friend, Rigby was half way across the street. In the appropriate raucous voice of the tribe, the amateur news vendor tendered Anstruther an Echo. He waved the offer aside, and made his way down the street with the air of one who has a definite object in view. With a whine artistically uttered, Rigby fell back upon the doorway in which Masefield was concealed.

"Anstruther beyond all shadow of doubt," Rigby said triumphantly. "Now, I am not a betting man, but I will give you any odds in reason that our interesting friend enters No. 4. Ah, what did I tell you?"

Surely enough, Anstruther paused in his stride before the dilapidated door of No. 4. With one swift glance up and down the street to make certain that he was not observed, he drew a latch-key from his pocket and disappeared within the dingy portals. On the still night air the click of the latch-key and the muffled banging of the door could be heard all down the road. Rigby drew a sigh of relief.

"Well, I think that'll do for to-night," he said. "I reckon I have had just about as much as my nerves will stand. No, I am not going to tell you anything, and I have no stomach for further adventures this evening. I am going straight to bed, to sleep if I can. Come around and see me tomorrow afternoon.

But curious as he was, and anxious also as he was. Jack was forced to decline the proffered invitation. Besides, he had promised to take Claire to a matinée concert at the Albert Hall to hear a new violinist who so far had only performed twice before in England. Signor Padini had come to the metropolis with a marvelous reputation, but so far he had hardly fulfilled expectations. Still, it was not the habit of music lovers like Claire and Masefield to accept a verdict of this kind at second-hand. Therefore they had determined to hear the new virtuoso for themselves.

Not that any thoughts of a harmonious and musical kind were running in Jack's mind as he walked home to-night Try as he would, he could not dismiss the idea that some grave peril was impending, and that Claire was likely to be the central figure of the tragedy. But it is the blessed privilege of youth to throw off the haunting cares and doubts that assail their elders, and Jack suffered little on the ground of sleeplessness that night. All the same, the haunting fears were with him again on waking in the morning.

But perhaps Claire noticed something of this, for she put the direct question to her lover when he called on her the next afternoon. Yet Jack had no intention of saying anything for the present. He began to speak somewhat hurriedly of the new violinist, Signor Padini, and so the conversation lasted till the Albert Hall was reached.

There was nothing particularly attractive in the concert generally, and both waited somewhat impatiently for the foreigner to appear. He came at length, tall, slim and clean-shaven, and Claire noticed with an amused smile that for once she was in the presence of a master who eschewed long hair. She turned and whispered something to this effect to Jack, who did not appear to be listening.

"Now, where have I seen that fellow before?" he muttered. "Call me foolish, if you like, say this man is an absolute stranger to England if you please; but I am absolutely prepared to swear that his face is quite familiar to me."

But perhaps it was merely a chance likeness, Claire suggested. She was far too interested in the musician to take much heed of what Jack said. Evidently this man knew his business to his finger tips; the way in which he handled his bow would have proved that to any critic. Claire glanced down the programme; and no sooner did the wild sweeping music come streaming from the strings than the whole audience thrilled responsive to the master's touch. He was not. after all, playing the piece standing against his name on the programme, but the peculiar weird and mournful rhapsodie of Chopin's that Jack had heard Anstruther interpreting two nights before. He leaned back; his eyes were half closed with a strange sensation that he was listening to Anstruther now. He turned to suggest something of this to Claire, and to his surprise he noticed that her face was paler than his own.

"Does anything strike you?" he whispered. "Have you a feeling, like myself, of having gone through all this before?"

"Dreadful!" Claire shuddered. "I know exactly what you mean. It is the same, precisely the same, as if my guardian had crept inside the body of Padini—There! Did you notice that particular slur, that strange half hesitation? I declare. I feel certain that this Padini was in my guardian's study the other night. Jack, you must get at the bottom of this; there is some mystery here which we must solve, and that without delay."

Jack rose from his seat and buttoned his coat firmly about him.

"Ay," he said, "a deeper mystery than you are aware of. Stay here while I go behind the stage. I am going to see Signor Padini, and get to the bottom of this business at any cost."



IX. — THE MAN WITH THE FAIR MOUSTACHE

CLAIRE sat there, her mind half on her music and half on the extraordinary conduct of her lover. Not that she did not trust him implicitly; but still, it seemed strange that he should have gone off without explaining he cause of his agitation. Some one next to her touched her on the elbow and asked a question as to an item the programme. The question was repeated twice before Claire realised that she would have to pull herself together. She replied quite at random; then she looked about her, and became cognizant of the fact that Padini was still on the stage, bowing his acknowledgements of the thunderous applause which had greeted his magnificent efforts.

Yet a closer glance did not serve to show Claire anything sinister in the artist's personality. He was pale and clean-shaven, palpably very nervous, and yet pleased with the warmth of his reception. Surely there could have been no mystery connected with a manlike this.

On the other hand, the marvelous likeness between his playing and the execution in the same piece displayed by Anstruther two nights ago could not possibly be overlooked by anyone professing to any musical knowledge at all. Claire hoped that the inevitable encore would produce a repetition of the same piece.

Surely enough. Padini came forward and struck the opening bars of the same rhapsodie. With eyes closed and mind eagerly concentrated on the music, Claire followed every passage with rapt attention. There was no longer any possibility of mistake. The Padini interpretation of the piece was exactly that of Anstruther. Was Anstruther, therefore, a consummate master of his art or a showy humbug or charlatan? Could it have been possible that this new artist had been concealed in the Panton Square library two nights before? But on the face of it, this was absolutely impossible. Padini had only been in England a little over eight and forty hours, and his first appearance in London had been at a musical "at home" on the same night that Anstruther had played the Nocturne in Panton Square. Claire was still debating this problem in her mind when Jack returned to his seat. He looked a little pale and shaky. but the grim smile on his face was determined enough.

"My dearest girl. I am going to ask you a little favor." Jack whispered. "I hope you won't think it the least rude of me, but I want you to excuse me going back with you. Can't you guess that there is something more than meets the eye here?"

"I should be very blind indeed If I did not." Claire replied. "Jack, what is the meaning of this strange mystery? Either Signor Padini was at our house the other night, or m y guardian learned to play that rhapsodie after having had lessons from the man on the platform before us."

"I may be wrong, of course," Jack said, "but I feel pretty sure that I have guessed the problem. That is why I want you to go off by yourself and lead me to play the detective so far as Padini is concerned. It is not altogether a pleasant job, but I am going to follow that fellow when he leaves the Hall."

So saying, Jack rose from his seat, and Claire obediently followed his example. Once outside, Jack called a cab, and gave the driver his instructions.

"I think that will be all right," he said. "You may expect me to come round after dinner, my darling girl. I hope you are not the lest annoyed with me, but there is danger ahead for you and me, and it is my duty to prevent it as all hazards. I declare if I had not almost forgotten one of the most important things. I had to say to you. On no account are you to breathe a word of this afternoon's visit to your guardian. He is not to know that you have been with me or anybody else to the Albert Hall to-day."

Claire glanced at the pale, anxious face of her lover and gave the desired assurance. She felt perfectly safe in his hands; he would tell her all there was to be told in due course; and now for the first time she congratulated herself on the fact that her engagement had been kept a secret from Anstruther.

Meanwhile Jack had returned to the back of the Hall. So far as he could recollect, Padini was down on the programme for no further item that afternoon, therefore it was only a matter of waiting till the violinist emerged, and following him to his destination. But Jack had succeeded in consuming three cigarettes without any sign of the artist rewarding his patience. Taking half a crown from his pocket, he crossed the road and proceeded to interview the stage door keeper.

"Oh, that foreign-looking chap, is it?" the stage door guardian said. "Signor Somebody or other who plays the fiddle. Why, he's been gone the last ten minutes."

"Gone!" Jack exclaimed, with palpable dismay. "Why, I have been watching most carefully for him the last half hour. Was he wrapped up or shawled in any way?"

Whilst Jack still stood arguing there a slim young man, with fair moustache turned upwards à la German Emperor, passed and repassed him hurriedly. The stranger passed into a smartly appointed hansom and vanished.

"Well, there's your man," the doorkeeper exclaimed. "He must have forgotten something and returned for it."

Jack muttered his thanks, parted with his half crown and went into the roadway thoroughly puzzled. He could not for a moment doubt the word of the doorkeeper, who was naturally an expert in the recognition of faces. As a matter of fact, the man with the turned-up moustache was the same individual who had been so mysteriously concealed in Panton Square, and who had afterwards accompanied the deaf-mute girl to Mr. Carrington's. On the stage Padini had appeared as a slight, slim man, whose face was absolutely devoid of hair.

Jack stood thoughtfully in the middle of the road, wondering what to do next. His first idea was to go at once and look up Rigby. He must have been standing there a great deal longer than he had imagined, for presently he saw the smart hansom return and take its place on the rank.

Here was a slice of luck indeed. Jack crossed over and hailed the hansom.

"Here. I want you to drive me to the office of The Planet," he said. "I suppose you know where that is. Do you want to earn an extra half sovereign?"

"That's the way I was educated," said the cabman, with a grin. "Oh, my last fare, is it? Well, I can easily answer that question. Gent with the cocked-up moustache. I have just driven him to Panton Square."

Jack stepped into the hansom, feeling that luck was entirely on his side. He knew now that he was on the track of something more than mere coincidence. For 5 Panton Square was no less a place than the residence of Spencer Anstruther, Claire's guardian. Here was proof positive that Padini. the violinist, a perfect stranger to London, was at any rate on terms Of friendship with Anstruther. There was nothing for it now but to seek out Rigby and tell him all that had happened without delay. Rigby was found in his room at The Planet office, mournfully drawing skeletons on a sheet of blotting paper. He nodded thoughtfully as Jack came in; then, catching sight of the latter's eager face, asked what was in the wind.

"I have been making discoveries galore," Jack responded, "You would hardly expect me to do that through the medium of an afternoon concert; but there it is. You have heard of this new violinist Signor Padini, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes." Rigby said indifferently. "Well, a typical class of foreign boomster. I suppose."

"That is not the point" Jack proceeded to explain. "You will recollect what I told you about the empty study in Anstruther's house from which the music proceeded in that strange, unaccountable manner. Naturally, I thought the player was Anstruther himself—Anstruther wonderfully improved or inspired beyond all recognition; but now I know that such was not the case. Dick, there is something devilish in this strange business—the empty room, the unearthly music, the strange appearance of that young man with his deaf-mute companion, followed so closely by the death of Nostalgo. What does it all mean?"

"I will give a thousand pounds to know." Rigby responded.

"Well, I think I can tell you," Jack went on. "You will recollect the night before last, during our chance meeting at Carrington's, that I asked you to keep an eye on a young man with moustache turned up à la German Emperor. Would you be surprised to hear that this young man was no less a person than Signor Padini?"

"Impossible!" Rigby exclaimed. "How could you prove such a statement?"

"Well. I am going to prove it, anyway. Together with Miss Helmsley I went to hear Padini this afternoon. By some strange freak of fate he had chosen Chopin's Rhapsodie in F as his item on the programme. Directly he began to play my mind went back to that strange, weird music in Anstruther's study. It was not I alone who noticed this subtle resemblance; in fact, Claire recognised it as soon as I did. Mind you, every musician of note has his little tricks and fancies which are absolutely peculiar to himself. When I shut my eyes, I could literally house.

"I sent Claire home in a cab, and proceeded to wait till Padini left the Albert Hall. I missed him, of course, for Padini was a clean-shaven man on the stage. As a matter of fact, he must be a very conceited creature, seeing that in private life he wears a fair moustache. I got that from the doorkeeper; but what is more to the point, the cabman who drove me here is the same man who half-an-hour ago dropped Padini at Anstruther's house. Now, I would like to know what you make of that."

Rigby listened thoughtfully to all that Jack had had to say. The significance of the revelations was not lost upon him.

"And yet, I dare say, Anstruther would deny any knowledge of Padini if you asked him," he said. "Still, we know a great deal, and, clever as Anstruther is, he cannot possibly conceive the fact that we are so closely acquainted with his movements. Let's go and call upon the beggar, shall we? Pretend that we want to consult him on some matter of business. Anything will do. Did you keep your cab?"

"Well, yes; it occurred to me that we might want him again, and ,besides, the driver can prove that he left Padini at 5 Panton Square."

Panton Square was reached at length; the cabman had been discreetly dropped at the corner of the street. Jack rang the bell, which was answered by Serena. In the full light of the afternoon sunshine her strange, inscrutable face looked more haggard an strange than usual. There was the same furtive droop of her eyelids, the same pitiable shake of her hands, that suggested the beaten hound that Jack had so often noticed before. He would have given much, as a writer of stories himself, to have known the secret history of this woman. Docile and tame as she appeared to be, she was still capable of possible emotion, or the dilatation of her black pupils spoke falsely. Though she was meek and friendly enough, there was ever a suggestion that she was on her guard.

"Your master in?" Rigby asked breezily. "But we know that he is. Don't you trouble about us; we will go to the study ourselves."

Serena stood there as if something gripped her throat and choked her utterance.

"But my master is not at home," she protested. "He has not been at home all day: neither do I know what time to expect him to-night I fancy he is out of town altogether."

"That's rather awkward," Rigby said. "We came here on business, expecting to meet a friend of ours. I suppose you have seen nothing of him—a tall, slim young man, with rather a fierce type of moustache?"

"There has been no visitor calling here to-day," Serena replied, with the air of one who repeats a well-learned lesson. "I am the only servant in the house at present, and should have known if anybody had called."

Jack did not dare to glance at his companion, feeling that those dark, interrogating eyes were fixed upon his face. A sudden Impulse moved Jack; he decided upon trying the effect of a swift surprise. He tapped the woman familiarly on the shoulder.

"Come, come," he said, with a jocular ring in his voice. "Do you mean to tell me that you have not had a visit to-day from Signor Padini?"

A stifled cry broke from the woman; she clenched her hands in an attitude of pain.



X. — WHAT DID SHE KNOW?

NOTHING was said for a full minute. Serena stood there, gazing from one to the other as a child might do who finds herself in the presence of two harsh taskmasters. There was something pitiable about her hopelessness; the fighting glint had left her eyes; she stood there downcast and shaking as a slave might do.

"I am afraid I do not understand what you mean," the woman said.

In a way Jack was feeling very sorry for Serena. Ever since he had known Anstruther and been a friend of the household the woman had held a certain subtle fascination for him. Though Jack had not made as yet much progress in the paths of literature, he had all the quick dramatic feeling which is essential to the making of a successful novelist.

It had often occurred to him that so mysterious a figure as Serena would have made a splendid character for a strong novel. He watched the woman carefully now; he saw how her breast was heaving, and what a great fight she was making to keep her emotions under control.

"I am afraid I must press you for an answer," Jack said. "Signor Padini can be nothing to you, and yet you start and cry out when his name is mentioned as if I had struck you a blow. Now, tell me, was the man I speak of a visitor to this house last night? What time did he come?"

"My master's business is my master's business," Serena said sullenly. "He tells me nothing—he tells nobody anything. And who am I, a humble servant like me, to ask questions of my master?"

Rigby shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. He began to see that there was nothing to gain here. He nodded to Jack, and half turned away. But Jack was not to be so easily suppressed.

"But, surely," he urged, ""you would be doing no harm in telling us if a foreign gentleman called here last night?"

"I will tell you nothing," Serena cried. "Why do you come and bully a poor woman like this?"

And yet, at the same time, though Jack knew bow faithful she was to her master, he could not but feel that she was not antagonistic to Claire and himself. With a sudden impulse he pushed his way into the hall, followed by Rigby.

"We all make mistakes sometimes," he said. "Now, are you quite sure you have made no mistake about your master? Mr. Anstruther is a law unto himself; he comes and goes as he likes, and it is just possible that he might have returned without you being aware of the fact. There is nothing to be frightened about; we are not here to murder him for the sake of his Apostle spoons."

As Jack ceased to speak he made a swift sign to Rigby behind the woman's back, and the tatter understood. He would go off to the library, and see for himself if Anstruther had returned. As the hall door closed behind him. Serena rushed impulsively forward and threw herself headlong at Jack's feet. Her attitude had entirely changed; she was no longer the half-dumb slave of circumstance, no, longer a mere machine answering to the call of her master, but a living, palpitatng woman. The change was so quick, so dramatic and unexpected, that Jack had no voice of protest left to him.

"For heaven's sake, do not do it," Serena whispered hoarsely; and it not that, for your own sake I implore you to stay your hand. Oh, I am not so blind end foolish as you think—I am not the dull, stupid creature that my master takes me to be. You can deceive him where love and honor are concerned, but you cannot blind my eyes, because I have loved, alas! too well myself. Do not think that I pry and watch, for such is not my nature. And yet I know as well as if you had told me in so many words that Miss Claire and yourself are something more than friends, I cannot speak more plainly because I dare not; but if you would save the girl you love from the terrible danger that hangs over her, you will be blind to all that goes on in this dreadful house."

The words which had begun so hoarsely and quickly came at the finish with the torrentlal force of a mountain stream. Surprised as he had been Jack's self-possession had not quite deserted him. Hitherto he had regarded the silent Serena, as an old woman, but now that her face was transformed and glowing with emotions he could see that she was still comparatively young. He could see also, and the fact gave him a vague sense of satisfaction, that the woman's sympathies were entirely with Claire and himself.

"Will you get up, please," he said, and his own voice was just a little shaky. "It is not right for a woman to kneel to a man like that Serena, you are not what you seem. You are not a servant in the ordinary acceptation of the word; you spoke just now like a refined and educated woman. You may say that is no business of mine, and, indeed, I do not wish to pry into your past, but you must see that this matter cannot possibly stop here. You denied just now that Signor Padini had been here at all. You denied the presence of your master, and yet I can hear his voice on the other aide of the study door at this moment. You will perhaps also deny that you heard of No. 4 Montrose Place."

It was merely a bow drawn at a venture, but the shaft seemed to strike home to the feather. Serena had risen painfully and slowly to her knees; she staggered back against the table and contemplated Jack with dilated eyes.

"Oh, you have gone further than I dreamed." she moaned. "You are a strong, masterful man, and I see now that nothing I can say will turn you from your purpose."

"Since you have made up your mind to that," Jack said grimly, "perhaps you had better be candid with me and tell me all you know. For some time past I have felt a strong conviction that Anstruther is no better than a consummate scoundrel. Discreet as he is, I have come to the conclusion that this is no house for Miss Helmsley. I am quite certain that you would find both of us more sincere friends than the man you call your master. Why not, therefore, leave him and throw in your lot with us?"

The woman wrung her hands piteously; Jack could see the tears rolling down her face.

"Oh, if I only could—if I only dared," she whispered: "and yet I cannot, even if it were only for your sakes. If you only knew what was hanging over you—but I must say no more. When that man comes to me, when I stand before him with his eyes looking into mine, I am compelled to give him up the secrets of my very soul. I wish from the bottom of my heart that—"

Serena clutched at her throat with a quivering hand, as if something choked her, and rushed impulsively from the room. She had said nothing, and yet she had said so much. Her very reticence, her hesitation to speak definitely against her master, had proved conclusively to Jack what a consummate scoundrel Anstruther was. He was still debating the matter in his mind when Rigby came back to him. The latter did not speak; instead of that he took Jack by the arm and piloted him quietly and firmly to the front door. They were in the street before Jack could ask the meaning of this cautious conduct.

"One can't be too cautious in a case like this," Rigby explained. "It was just as I had expected. Anstruther was at home; he, indeed, had not been out all day, which fact was proved by his still being in dressing-gown and slippers. Our usually self-contained friend had either been dissipating last night or he has had disturbing news; at any rate, he was very pale and shaky, and did not seem in the least pleased to see me. Not that I think that he was in the least suspicious of my visit."

"Did you happen to see anything of Padini?" Jack asked eagerly.

"Well, I did and I did not," Rigby explained. "At any rate, the Italian was not in the study, though he had been there. from the simple fact that a music case and a rather jaunty-looking Homburg hat rested on a side table. Did you happen to notice if Padini was wearing a Homburg hat this afternoon?"

Jack was able to reassure his friend on that point, whereupon Rigby proceeded to ask if anything had happened during the time he was left alone with Serena. Rigby listened with interest to all that Jack had to say.

"That's a woman we ought to get hold of," he said thoughtfully. "Unless I am greatly mistaken, she can tell us all we want to know. As a matter of fact, she has told us a great deal, though perhaps without knowing it At any rate, from what you say. she is quite aware of the fact that something uncanny is going on at 4 Montrose Place. I feel perfectly certain that the body of Nostalgo was smuggled away via that empty house; we know perfectly well that Anstruther is in the habit of going there, and we are equally sure that the very mention of the house filled Serena with terror. As we have plenty of time on our side, and there seems to be no immediate hurry, you and I are going to keep our eye on that place. You were very anxious last night to know what I had seen there. Well, you have plenty of pluck and courage of your own: you shall come with me presently and verify the thing for yourself."

"Do you mean to say we are going to keep a vigil there to-night?" Jack asked.

"That's about the size of it," Rigby answered coolly. "You had better come round to my rooms not a moment later than half-past ten. Mind you, we are not going there as ourselves, but you can leave a disguise quite safely to me. Don't bring a revolver or anything noisy of that kind: something in the way of a thick stick would be much safer. By the way, didn't you tell me that you were going to see Miss Helmsley to-night? Take my advice, call there and dine as if nothing had happened, and directly Anstruther makes an excuse to return to his study slip away from the house without the formality of leave-taking and come to my place at once."

* * * * *

It was not easy work for a straight-forward fellow like Jack to sit with Anstruther on the other side of the table discussing trivial topics as if there was nothing grim and terrible behind this picture of refined home life. Jack was conscious of carrying himself off fairly well, what time Anstruther rose from the table with an excuse that he had work to do.

"Please don't think I am avoiding your company," Anstruther said pleasantly, "and don't be annoyed if you hear the sound of my violin presently. As a matter of fact, my thoughts are always clearest when inspired by the sounds of music."

Jack muttered something suitable to the occasion and exchanged glances with Claire directly Anstruther left the room. Just as that genius had prophesied, the sweet strains of the violin stole from the study presently. Claire listened with an interest that was vivid and thrilling beyond words.

"Now listen to that," she cried. "Did you ever hear anything like it? Did you ever hear Mr. Anstruther play in that style and manner before. Note the little slurs, the half hesitation, which is at once so dramatic and artistic. If you close your eyes, you might swear that you are listening to Padini himself!"

"It really is amazing," Jack murmured, "Padini to the life; the Italian to a semi-tone. And yet we know perfectly well that it cannot be Padini, because at this very moment he is waiting to take his turn at The Queen's Hall concert. Claire, you must try to get to the bottom of this. I cannot possibly believe that this infernal juggling is conceived merely to satisfy the vanity of Anstruther, for, in the first place, we form so small an audience. There is something behind this much more serious than the soothing of a clever man's vanity. And now I must be off."

Claire pleaded with her lover to stay a little longer, but, mindful of Rigby's strict injunctions, he was fain to refuse. In the light of recent knowledge he had no occasion to feel sure that Anstruther was still on the premises, despite the fact of those exquisite strains emanating from the library. He had not forgotten the strange experience in that direction two nights before. Still, the sweet, melancholy melody could be distinctly heard by Jack as he crossed the road.

Rigby was impatiently awaiting his friend, and he had all the disguises set up to his bedroom. He listened eagerly to all Jack had to say whilst artistically making himself up as a news-vendor. A glance at him in the glass reassured Jack; he felt pretty sure in his mind that no one could possibly recognise him attired as he was now.

"What's the programme?" he asked, completing the illusion with a short clay pipe. "Are we going straight away to Montrose Place?"

Rigby replied that that was the intention. It was getting near to 11 o'clock before the friends reached Montrose Place; so far as they could see they had the terrace entirely to themselves. A policeman strode majestically down the road, flashing his lantern here and there, and finally disappeared from sight.

"Now's our time," Rigby said eagerly; "no chance of being interrupted for the next ten minutes. You stand at the top of the steps whilst I sneak down and open the window. We shall have to fumble our way upstairs, because it is by no means safe to use matches. Still, I have the photography of the house quite clear in my mind. Come along."

They were in the grim, dusty house at last. Jack was conscious only of the intense darkness and musty smell of the place. Carefully piloted by Rigby, he reached the second floor landing at length, and there Rigby grasped his arm significantly. There was no sound at first save the scratching of mice behind a panel or the flutter of some ragged blind swaying in the piercing draught. Then suddenly it seemed to Jack that a solemn footfall sounded in a room close by. A door opened with a pop like pistol crack, and a long slit of light, dazzling in its brilliancy fell like a lance upon the dusty floor. Somebody laughed somewhere, a laugh that sounded so near and yet so far away: then the door opened wider, and a partial view of the interior of the room could be seen.

Utterly taken by surprise, moved and horrified to the depths of his soul. Jack could have cried out, but for the hand clasped upon his mouth like a steel trap.

"Not a sound," Rigby whispered sternly. "For heaven's sake, restrain yourself. and look, look!"



XI. — THE SHADOW ON THE WALL

JACK needed no second bidding; he was only too anxious and eager to follow the direction of Rigby's outstretched finger, He was by no means lacking in the nerve and pluck which generally go to a young man of fine physique and clean habit. But there was something about the whole of this affair, a creeping suggestion of diabolical crime, such as one only encounters in the wildest realms of fiction. And yet it seemed to Jack that his reading of the daily press recalled things just as vile in every-day life. With teeth clenched firmly, with a stern resolution to do nothing very likely to precipitate what might have been a terrible catastrophe, Jack looked into the room before him. As the door was half open and the two friends were hidden in the blackish shadow. It was possible to watch without the slightest chance of being seen.

For an empty house, dusty and gloomy and deserted as it was, the room in front of our two adventurers presented a striking contrast to the rest of the place. There was no window, or at least, where the window ought to have been, something in the way of an iron shutter stood, and over this a great wealth of silken hangings was artistically arranged. As to the rest of the apartment, the furniture was directly in keeping with the abode of a millionaire. Jack did not fail to notice the rich Persian carpet, the luxurious chairs and settees of the First Empire period, the fine pictures on the walls. The walls, too, had been recently decorated, so that there was not a single jarring note to mar the harmonious whole. There were flowers, too, grouped in the corners of the room and piled cunningly around the electrolier standing on the center table.

"Now, that is a strange thing," Jack whispered. "So far as I could see, so far as I can see now, there is no sign whatever of the electric lighting in any other part of the house. Do you suppose that these people have taken this house in the ordinary way, or is it possible that—"

"Not a bit of it," Rigby replied. "They're not the sort of people to do anything as foolish as that. Nor would there be any occasion to go to the expense. Depend upon it, they know all about the character of the owner of this property, and that it is not in the least likely to let unless put thoroughly in order."

"Then, what about the electric light?" Jack suggested. "That would have to be put in by somebody. These people could not tap the main, or anything of that kind."

"There's a much simpler way than that, my dear fellow. Dr. Adamson lives next door, and I know perfectly well that he has electric light. It does not require much technical knowledge to wire a house, and anybody with a small amount of common sense could easily drill a small hole through a partition and attach a wire to one of the main lines next door. I think that explains the problem."

Jack had no further question to ask for the moment. His full attention now was concentrated on the occupants of the room. There were three of them altogether, two being dressed like superior mechanics, and were evidently there for some purpose connected with machines. The third man, superior in every way to his companions, had his back turned the door, so that it was impossible to get a glimpse of his features. He had in front of him an ingenious-looking arrangement, not unlike a magic lantern, a contrivance for throwing cinematograph pictures on a screen. At a signal from him, one of the workmen drew back the silken draperies covering what ought 33 to have been the window, and a white sheet stood confessed.

"Give me the third slide by your left hand," the operator commanded. "That will do. Now switch out the light."

There was a click and a jerk, and immediately the whole room was plunged in darkness, save for the fierce disc of blinding light that flashed upon the screen. Almost immediately a dazzling disc was transformed to the face of a man. Jack clutched at the arm of his companion.

"By heaven! do you see that?" he whispered. "It is nothing more nor less than the face of Nostalgo. Do you think this is merely the development of some novel form of advertising, or is it possible these fellows have hit upon some novel way of putting in posters?"

But Rigby had nothing to say. He was too deeply interested in the spectacle before him. It had occurred to him for the moment that there might have been something in what Jack suggested. It was just possible also that what he took to be a large sheet was no more than a wide stretch of paper.

At any rate there was no hurry. There would be plenty of time to ascertain whether the supposed sheet on the wall was paper or not. Rigby had made no reply to Jack's cogent question, but he seemed to be quite as interested as his friend.

"Hang me if I know what to think of it," he said at length. "It seems to me as if these fellows were trying to work out something quite new in the way of lantern slides. Mind you. It is just possible that we are mistaken altogether in our assumption that Anstruther is carrying out some cunning rascality. These men may, after all, be no more than honest workmen."

"I can't quite see that point," Jack replied. "Honest workmen do not, as a rule, come in this furtive way to an empty house. Besides, look at them."

"That is all very well," Rigby argued. "But suppose that you were engaged upon some secret process which you did not want anybody to know anything about. And, besides, Anstruther is quite a genius in his way, and there is no reason why he should not be engaged upon inventing some new process of lithography."

"In that case," Jack said, "is it not a strange coincidence that they should be manufacturing these Nostalgo posters? I grant you that Anstruther is absolutely a genius, but his talents always take on a sinister bent. In fact, I don't think that fellow could be honest if he tried. Still, we have plenty of time to find out."

"Do you really think that is paper?" Rigby asked. "It looks to me like it."

"It looks to me like it, too." Jack said; "but we shall have to possess our souls in patience."

"Hang me if I don't go and see." he said. "No, I don't see that there is any great danger unless they should happen to turn up the light again, and I do not suppose they will do that until the experiment is finished."

"For goodness sake, do nothing rash," Jack implored. "From what we have already seen, we have to do with a gang who would not hesitate to cut our throats if it served their purpose."

The thing, after all, was not so hazardous as Jack had imagined. Just for an instant, as if by accident, one of the shaded electrics on the wall flashed out in a pin-point of diamond light.

"You clumsy fool!" growled the man behind the lantern. "What did you do that for? You might have spoilt all my work by your blundering folly."

The erring workman grunted out something in the way, of an apology and a promise that he would be more careful in the future. Here, then, was Rigby's opportunity. He knew now that there was no likelihood of the light being turned on again for some time to come. All he had to do, therefore, was to creep cautiously, wriggling like a snake across the floor, until he could touch the huge screen and ascertain whether it were paper or cloth.

He took a penknife from his pocket and opened a small blade. So dense was the darkness of the room by contrast with the vivid lane of light thrown upon the screen that the journey was practically devoid of peril, so long no one touched the switch of the electrics. Therefore Rigby crept along, his nerves braced to the highest tension and an exhilarating sense of danger strong upon him. He could see now that the white sheet extended from floor to ceiling, the edges of seeming black and firm like an iron in contrast with the brilliant white center.

He was close to it now, so close indeed that, with a cautious movement of his arm, he could touch the sheet. A single prick with a sharp point of his knife gave him all the information that he needed. It was a sheet of paper surely enough. A moment later Rigby was standing by Jack's side once more.

"Paper," he whispered. "Really, this adventure is likely to prove prosaic after all. Don't you think we are rather making a mountain out of a molehill? We know that Anstruther is a great rascal, but at the same time he is an exceedingly clever man, and, as you know, inclined to be secretive. Now, isn't it just possible that our friend has hit upon some new process of photo-lithography, and that we are witnessing an experiment to demonstrate the value of the new idea."

"I don't think so." Jack replied. "Indeed, since you have been away, I have made something in the way of a discovery also. Mark well the picture thrown upon the screen yonder. You know what it represents, of course?"

"Well, naturally. I have seen the diabolical face of Nostalgo on too many posters not to be absolutely familiar with his ugly mug. Depend upon it, those fellows are printing the famous poster in some way known to themselves. Maybe we shall see that self-same sheet on some hoarding to-morrow."

"But that is not what I meant at all," Jack proceeded to explain. "If you are as familiar with the poster as you say you are, you will notice a considerable difference in this one. In the first place, the face is a little more in profile, and surely you must notice the difference in the hands."

"Right you are," Rigby replied. "In the present instance the hands are half-extended, as if in the act of clutching something. Strange that I had not noticed that before. What do you make it out to be?"

"Hush!" Jack whispered. "I think our ingenious friend behind the lantern will explain that for himself."

The leading operator in the room gave a short curt sign and the brilliant lights flashed up once more. The slide was also drawn from the lantern, but the sinister features of the dark, repulsive face upon the screen did not vanish as might have been expected. On the contrary, the grim face frowned down as if it had been brushwork from the pencil of some imaginative artist. One of the workmen approached the sheet and dragged it to the floor. Then the three men in the room bent over the poster and examined it critically.

"It seems to me that the hand is a little out of drawing." the leader of the trio remarked critically. "Give me the paints—the white paint, I mean."

The speaker took a brush heavily charged with some white pigment and proceeded to touch up the hand. He cut that portion from the sheet and placed it in the slide of the lantern. Then another large sheet of paper was erected in front of the window, and the lights turned out again. Almost immediately there appeared upon the disc the shadow of a huge, bony hand uplifting a dagger in a menacing attitude. A grunt of approval came from the man behind the lantern, and once more the lights were turned up.

"There, what did I tell you?" Jack asked eagerly. "I am sure the different attitudes of that man's hand are meant for signs."

"Indeed, it would seem so," Rigby was forced to admit. "We'd better stay here and await developments."

For the next hour or so the mysterious process of printing the posters continued. It was exactly as Jack's ingenious mind had forecast. In every instance, although the dark and sinister features remained the same, the attitude of the hand was different. It was a strange and most important discovery that the two of them had made; but, instead of making the task easier, the problem had become even more intricate. Was all this part of some cunning device for attracting public attention, something absolutely new in the way of advertisement, or did it signify a deeper and more sinister purpose?

Jack recollected now how frequently Anstruther had alluded in his hearing to the ramifications of secret societies. With his intimate knowledge of criminality, and having every assistance of the police always at his disposal, Anstruther's acquaintance with the seamy side of life was extensive and peculiar. But was he now helping the police as usual, or was he engaged himself in some ingenious conspiracy for the aggrandizement of himself and his satellites?

It was difficult to say. It was still more difficult to prove anything, seeing that the work of printing was still progressing in silence. If these men would only speak. If they would only utter some word which might give a clue to what they were doing , the spies would have been more satisfied. Their only hope was to watch and wait on the off-chance of a careless word.

They were listening so eagerly indeed that they almost failed to notice the sound of a footstep which now echoed on the stairs. They were so close to the door that anyone reaching their landing from below could hardly fail to make out the outline of their figures. Rigby had barely time to drag his companion back into the velvety darkness beyond before the newcomer was past them and had entered the room.

"How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?" the newcomer cried. "How are you getting on? Nobody interrupting you? Seen nothing of the police or anything of that kind?"

"No doubt as to who that is." Rigby whispered. "I should recognize Anstruther's voice anywhere. I told you he was at the bottom of this business."

Anstruther stood before them, tall and distinguished in his evening dress, and there was not sign about him that he was doing anything more than pursuing a quite normal occupation.

"Not a bad evening's work," he said. "Are we all here, or is Carrington late again? Confound that fellow! I begin to wish we hadn't taken him into the business at all. But I do not think he is likely to play me false: it will be a bad day's work for him if he does."

"Carrington, too," Jack muttered significantly. "That is your rich banker friend, Dick. The plot thickens apace. It seems impossible for any body to come in contact with Anstruther and retail his respectability."



XII. — LOCKED IN!

QUITE unconscious that his most dangerous enemies were so near, Anstruther carefully selected a cigarette and lighted it. He proceeded then to make a careful examination of the pile of posters at his feet, and smiled his approval.

"Very good, very good indeed; those hands stand out beautifully. Within a week's time from now the message will have been carried from London to St. Petersburg and from Paris to Constantinople. The men I am after cannot get away from me. Whatever great capital they are in, that poster confronts their eyes like an avenging conscience. Then they realize their helplessness and bow to the inevitable. You may doubt me if you like; but I tell you that this scheme is absolutely sure and safe."

"Provided that we have the money to carry it out," the man behind the lantern grunted. "Don't forget that, clever a s you are, you can't make money by merely holding up your little finger. You promised us a thousand pounds when we had finished our part of the bargain, and that was completed a month ago. Of course, you have got the cash in your pocket?"

A frown of annoyance crossed Anstruther's face. There was a clenching of his hands not unlike that depicted by the poster of the mysterious Nostalgo; he made a half step forward; then he seemed to get himself in hand again, and smiled carelessly.

"As a matter of fact. I have not the money in my pocket. Things are not going quite as welt lately as I could have wished, but it is only a matter of a day or two anyway; nay, it is only a matter of hours. Is the woman here?"

The man behind the lantern sulkily declared that he knew nothing about the woman, and cared less. He asked pointedly whether they were to expect Mr. Carrington that evening, and, if so, whether his visit was likely to be attended with substantial results.

"I tell you I don't know," Anstruther said angrily. "I told him to be here at eleven o'clock, but I suppose he has funked it. But the woman is a very different matter. Jacob, go into the back room and bring her in here."

"Not I." the man addressed as Jacob replied. "I don't forget the last time we met. She may be milk and honey to you. but she is prussic acid as far as I am concerned."

Anstruther stepped to the doorway and whistled softly. It might have been a call given to a well-broken dog, so careless and contemptuous was it. Indeed, Anstruther did not wait to see the result of his summons, but returned to the room with the easy assurance of a man who knows that his lightest call will be obeyed.

Almost immediately the two watchers standing on the landing were conscious of a shadowy form passing close to them. They had no time to shrink back, they had not even time for surprise, when a light hand was laid on the arm of each and an eager voice began to whisper in their ears.

"Rash to the verge of madness." the melancholy voice said sadly. "I warned you not to come—I implored you not to take a hand in this business. I could have settled it all for you had you left all to me; but youth ever will be served. Won't you go away even now and leave it all to me?"

There was something so pitifully imploring in the speech that the listeners thrilled in sympathy. From the first word they had no difficulty in guessing the identity of the speaker. It was none other than Serena who was addressing them in those despairing accents.

"I am afraid you are too late, Serena." Jack said. "Besides, we have some one else to consider in the business. It is possible that your efforts may be successful as far as we are concerned; but we have discovered to-night that Anstruther is plotting against the happiness of many people who are as innocent as ourselves. I tell you, we must see this thing through now. But why stay here, why linger, when your tardiness is likely to increase our trouble?"

At this point Anstruther advanced toward the-door and whistled again, this time more sharply. With a sigh of deep regret Serena walked forward and entered the room. In the bright light of the apartment her face looked paler and more dejected than usual. Though Jack had seen for himself the volcano of passion and emotion of which Serena was capable when not under the influence of her employer, he could not fail to notice how tame and frightened she appeared to be now. It was as if Anstruther possessed something like a power over her. Her dark eyes seemed mechanically to follow his every movement; he had only to raise his hand and her look followed it.

"So you have come at last." Anstruther said. "How long have you been in the house?"

"I came as soon as you told me, master." Serena murmured, like one who talks in her sleep. All will power seemed to have gone out of her for the moment.

"What would you have of me to-night?"

Anstruther replied harshly that Serena must know perfectly well what was required of her. Nevertheless he proceeded to detail his instructions, which were still unfinished when another footstep was heard upon the stairs and a newcomer entered. The two watchers outside were not in the least surprised at the pale, somewhat conceited features of the violinist Padini; indeed, they were past all surprises now. Padini had bowed with an air of exaggerated politeness to Serena.

"Ha, ha, my coy fascinator," he cried, "so I am not to be deprived of the pleasure of your company. I am not likely to soon forget the enchanting evening we spent together chez Carrington. I am sorry to be late, Anstruther, but the fact is your English audiences are not to cold as I had first imagined. Positively they would not let me off with less than four encores. Ma foi, you must have had the full value of your money in your chamber music to-night. A rare treat for Miss Helmsley; doubtless she has noticed the marvelous improvement made by her guardian in his playing of late."

The violinist chuckled as if in the enjoyment of an exquisite joke. Serena flashed him a glance of bitter hatred and contempt.

"I should like to know the meaning of this," Rigby whispered. "I suppose it refers in some way to the mysterious music which you told me about last night Do you think it possible that Serena could enlighten us on this point, as she appears to know all about it? If not why does she look at Padini in that scornful way?"

Any further signs of enjoyment on the part of Padini were cut short by an impatient oath from Anstruther.

"That is mere child's play," he exclaimed. "Very clever and all that kind of thing, but an intelligent schoolboy might have done as well."

Jack intimated in a whisper to Rigby that he himself stood in the position of the said intelligent schoolboy. He had a pretty shrewd Idea how the thing had been managed, and to what purpose; but there would be time enough to explain all that presently. What they had to do now was to stay as long as possible and gather all they could from a careful study of the proceedings taking place in the room. It was Anstruther who first broke the silence.

"Are we going to stand fooling here all night?" he exclaimed angrily. "Padini, get that exaggerated fur coat of yours off, and make yourself up to look like an English gentleman as far as possible. You will find everything necessary in the room at the back of the house. The same remark applies to you, Serena, my word! To think that a woman so pale and so haggard, as you are now can made up to look like eighteen and possess the beauty of Diana! What a pity it was you ever left the stage!"

The woman's face flushed angrily. There was a nervous tension about her to-night that Anstruther had never noticed before. Was she going to be defiant? he asked. Did she understand what she was doing when she proposed to measure her strength against his? But the flame still raged on Serena's hot cheeks, and her lips were still hard and mutinous.

"Take care you do not drive me too far," she whispered hoarsely. "A cat is a harmless creature enough, but I read once of a cat that turned upon a man and killed him. You dare to taunt me with my past When I think of what that past might have been but for you, I declare that I could find it in my heart to kill you. I am so weak and timid, you are so strong and brave; and yet even you must sleep at times, and a man asleep is as harmless as a babe. A speck of gray powder, a drop of liquid no larger than a pin's point placed between your teeth, and the career of Spencer Anstruther is finished."

The words were uttered with such dramatic force and intensity that even Anstruther refrained from smiling. It seemed to the listeners outside that here was a great genius lost to the stage.

"I should not care to encounter this woman's hostility," Rigby murmured "Look at the intense expression of her face. But, really, I hope she is not going to defy him to-night if she does we are likely to have trouble for our pains."

But Serena's outbreak of passionate anger was over as swiftly as an April shower. She looked up on the face of her master as a dog might do that had been convicted of theft. Anstruther smiled with the air of a man who merely tolerates a passing anger of a fellow-creature. It was as if he had caged this woman so that he could watch her passions and emotions as a naturalist studies the habits and ways of loathsome insects.

"I suppose you must give vent to you feelings sometimes," he said. "And now that you have had a little fling we had better get on with our business. You will go with Padini to-night to—"

"No, no!" Serena cried. "I Implore you to spare me that humiliation again. What have I done that I should have to endure all this—what can be possibly gained by it?"

For the first time Anstruther displayed real signs of anger.

"Now, listen to me," he said. "Once for all. I tell you not to speak to me like that again. Do you think I have studied you all these years for nothing? Do you suppose I do not know how disloyal you are in your heart towards me? There is one class of woman who has to be ruled by fear alone, and you are one of them. You will do to-night what I ask you, not merely to-night, but by months and years, in and out. It will be for me to order and for you to obey. And, whilst we are on the subject, you are to say nothing further than you have already said to Mr. Masefield. You understand what I mean. It was quite evident that Serena understood the full significance of Anstruther's speech. Pale as her face had been before it turned now to a still more deathly pallour. She essayed to speak, but her lips refused the office.

"I don't quite follow you," she managed to stammer out at length. "If you accuse me of disloyalty—"

Anstruther intimated that that was exactly what he did mean. It was rather an uncomfortable moment for Jack, listening there. He was beginning to fully realize the marvelous cunning of the man with whom he had to deal. He wondered how it was possible for Anstruther to discover the gist of his conversation with Serena that afternoon. He was saying something of this in a whisper to Rigby when Padini returned to the room. The violinist was dressed now exactly as he had been attired two nights before when Jack had seen him at Carrington's chambers. His jaunty air for the moment had vanished; he looked suspicious and uneasy. Anstruther's keen eye noticed this as it noticed everything.

"Now, what's the matter?" he asked. "Have you seen a ghost or something equally terrible?"

"No. I haven't." Padini replied sulkily. "But I am pretty sure there is somebody in the house. I am ready to swear that I saw the shadow of a man moving on the landing outside."

With a contemptuous smile Anstruther walked toward the door. There was perhaps no immediate danger for the listeners, seeing that Anstruther evidently attached no importance to Padini's statement: but it was just as well to be on the safe side. Rigby slipped quietly into a doorway leading to a bedroom and dragged Jack in after him. The he closed the door very gently and waited for further developments. He had not long to wait, for almost immediately there was a click of the latch, and Anstruther's receding footsteps melted into silence.

"Well, that sets your mind at ease," Anstruther was heard to my. "If there are any birds here, I have them safely caged."

With a feeling of apprehension, Rigby laid his hand on the door-knob. His worst fears were absolutely realised. He and Jack had been locked in the room.



XIII. — THE PARABLE

THERE was no help for it; they could only wait to see what circumstances had in store for them. It would have been just as well, however, to have known what was in Anstruther's mind when he locked the door. So far as the prisoners could judge, Anstruther had spoken with a kind of jocular contempt, and had apparently acted more to soothe Padini's nervous fears than as if he had moved on the spur of his own suspicions. Rigby had not failed to notice this, and Jack was inclined to agree with him as they discussed the matter in whispers. At any rate, a quarter of an hour passed without any signs without.

"Well, my friend," Rigby muttered, "you always were fond of adventures, even as a boy, and now you seem likely to get your fill of them."

"I don't call this an adventure at all," Jack replied; "not much chance of action here. The prospect of being locked up all night in this cell of a place is not at all alluring. Just try that door again."

But th e attempt proved abortive. It was pitch dark there, a darkness like that of Egypt, which could be felt. The mere fact of the sense of sight being suspended seemed to increase the hearing of the prisoners, for they did not fail to note every word that was passing in that room across the corridor. It was plainly evident that the business arrangements which had brought those people here to-night were practically finished, for presently Anstruther could be heard walking down the stairs, shouting his final instructions as he went. A moment later the fine slit of light which gleamed like a thread under the door of the vacant house died away swiftly, therefore proving to Jack and Rigby that the house had been plunged into darkness. It was a proof also that the conspirators had left the premises.

"I think this is where ire come in," Jack muttered; "we'll give them another five minutes or so, and then we will run the risk of striking a match. I suppose you have got some matches in you pocket."

Rigby had purchased an extra-sized box of vestas as he came along, so that there was no trouble on that score. The liberal fire minutes had expired before the scratch of a match, and a spurt of blue flame illuminated the room. It was by no means an inviting apartment, being absolutely devoid of furniture save for a tattered carpet on the floor. The carpet, had obviously been a good one in its day, in spite of the dust which lay so thickly upon it; the decorations of the walls had evidently been an expensive business. At the same time it was quite patent that the room had been used for the storage of valuables, seeing that the door fitted close and was lined on the inside with steel. The window, too, was barred heavily although it was far enough from the ground.

"Well, we are in a nice mess," Jack muttered. "So far as I can see, we shall have to wait here till morning and then summon assistance by means of the window. In the meantime we can devote our energies to making up some ingenious story with a view to deceiving the police. So long as it is daylight, I don't think we have much to fear from Anstruther and Co. Do you think the light shows through the window?"

There appeared to be no fear of that, seeing that the curtain was a comparatively thick one. Over the mantlepiece were the pipe and bracket of a solitary gas jet. In a fit of idle curiosity Rigby turned on the tap and applied a match to the burner. Much to his surprise, a blue fishtail flame spurted out bright and clear.

"Well, these people don't seem to have half done it," he exclaimed; "they've evidently tapped the gas much in the same way that they tap the electric light, but why they want both beats me."

"Doubtless for something like business purposes." Jack suggested. "It is pretty evident that these people have a lot of mechanical contrivances here, therefore something in the way of heaters would be necessary. My word, how close this room is!"

Rigby was emphatically of the same opinion. He turned off the roaring flame of gas and pulled back the curtain from the window. He successfully fumbled for the catch, and at length managed to raise the sash. The cool, sweet night-breeze was grateful to a degree after the stifling atmosphere of the room.

There were no lights to be seen, for the simple reason that they were at the back of the house, and looking down into a dreary sort of fore-court formed by the houses on either side and a big building beyond. As their eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, it was possible to note the fact that the fore-court had at one time been carefully cultivated, for a broken fountain could be made out, and what appeared to have been at one time a well-tended rose garden.

"There's somebody down there," Rigby whispered. "Unless I am greatly mistaken the said somebody is smoking a most excellent cigar. Can't you smell it?"

"Of course I can," Jack responded

"These seem to be rather an aristocrat type of rascal. If you look across to the far corner, beyond that fountain place you will see the tip of a cigar glowing like a star."

It was exactly as Jack had said. They could see the cigar glowing and fading as he smoker inhaled or exhaled the fragrant tobacco, and a moment later they saw something more. Out of the gloom there approached the figure of a woman, tall, slender and bareheaded, her dress hidden by a long black cloak that reached to the ground. She spoke quickly and hurriedly, so quickly indeed that the two men at the window found it impossible to follow what she said. They could see pretty plainly, however, and did not fail to notice the fact that the strange woman appeared to be pleading for some favor. She stretched out her long, bare arms to her companion in an attitude of supplication; her long cloak fell away from her shoulders, disclosing an evening dress of some pale, transparent material. There were diamonds, too, in her fair hair.

"What is the use of wasting my time like this?" the man with the cigar demanded. "You ought to have been at your destination long ago."

"But I couldn't go, I really couldn't, until I had seen you again. Besides, there is no place like this, and no better spot for an interview that one wants to keep a profound secret. For instance, it is hardly possible that any prying eyes are overlooking us. I can't imagine anybody being hidden in this old house. When Anstruther locked that bedroom door just now, do you really suppose he imagined there was anybody on the premises?"

The smoker responded with a contemptuous grunt. It was evident that he entertained no suspicions on that score.

"Perhaps I am unduly nervous and excited to-night," the woman went on. "But I could have almost imagined that there were spies following Anstruther to-night. If I were alone and had no more pressing thing to do, I would go back into the house and unlock that door. Imagine my feelings if I really did find two spies there."

"What confounded nonsense you are always talking!" the smoker burst out. "I suppose this comes of writing poetry. Who on earth do you suppose is in the house?"

"How could I possibly tell? The police, perhaps, or perhaps somebody who is interested in Anstruther's beautiful ward, Claire Helmsley. I am fond of Claire and would suffer much so that she would escape injury. Really, I could make a story out of this, Richard. I would find Mr. Jack Masefield in that room, together with his friend Dick Rigby. I would whisper to them that it would be safer for them to stay where they were at present, and that later I would come back and release them. Oh, what nonsense I am talking, to be sure!"

The smoker affirmed this in a manner non too complimentary.

"You are without exception the wildest sentimentalist I ever came across. You are trying my patience a bit too much. Why don't you go about your business and leave me to mine?"

The woman laughed softly to herself as if she was half amused by her own secret thoughts. She did not seem to notice, or perhaps she wanted to ignore the brutal outspokenness of her companion. For some reason or other it occurred to the listeners that she was trying to gain time. At any rate, there was no longer room for doubt that she was doing her best to warn the listeners.

"Can you make nothing of her features?" Jack asked eagerly. "My eyes are pretty keen, as a rule, but I can discern no more than the shimmering outline of her dress. If fortune is on our side, presently, we must follow her and ascertain where she lives."

"That wouldn't be at all a bad move," Rigby said. "She may be a sentimentalist, a poet into the bargain, but that does not prevent her from being an exceedingly clever woman. She is deceiving that bullying fellow in a way that is worthy of the best diplomatist."

"She is going to speak again," Jack whispered. "What did she say? I quite failed to get the last sentence."

Rigby replied that he had failed to catch it, too, for the words were spoken in low tones which did not carry to the window above. The man laughed in the same brutal fashion, and begged the woman begone, as she was only a hindrance there.

"I am going," she said. "Take care of yourself, Richard, and don't imagine that Anstruther is likely to be of much use to you when the time of danger comes. He has ever been the blighting curse that hangs over us, and something tells me that he will be your curse a well as ours."

The man laughed scornfully. He didn't seem to be afraid.

"Evidently that woman is a very great deal cleverer than my friend gives her credit for," said Rigby. "Don't you see that she was talking to us? Her speech was merely kind of parable. I don't know who she is or whence she derives an inspiration, but one thing I am absolutely certain about—she knows perfectly that the pair of us are locked in this room, and she is equally aware of the fact of our identity. All we have do to do now is to smoke a cigarette each and quietly wait till our fair friend comes and effects our release."

"Haven't you any idea who she is?" Jack asked. "At any rate, there is nothing common about her. She speaks like a lady, and is most assuredly dressed like one."

"I should think" you were more likely to know that than I," said Rigby. "Whoever that woman is, or whatever gang of scoundrels she is mixed up with, it is quite evident that she knows Miss Helmsley well, and that she is a great friend of hers, You must know surely pretty well the full extent of Claire Helmsley's acquaintances. Can't you recognize the voice? Does not the outline of her figure give you something to go on?"

"I am afraid you have me there," Jack said. "You see, Anstruther is an exceedingly popular man, he goes a great deal into society, and naturally Claire generally accompanies him. She could not have less than a hundred acquaintances she has made in this way."

"Then you can't help me out in this way?" Rigby asked.

Jack was emphatically of the opinion that he could not. He ran his mind over a score or two of Claire's most cherished acquaintances. But not one of them tallied in the least degree with the lady down below. Besides, the darkness rendered an actual recognition almost impossible.

All the friends had to do now was to possess their souls in patience and await the time when their mysterious friend could come to their assistance. That she would come they felt absolutely certain. She might have been the wild, sentimental creature which the man with the cigar had called her, but, at the same time, she had both coolness and courage, or she would not have hit upon the ingenious method of speaking indirectly to them as she had done.

"Unless I am greatly mistaken," Rigby said thoughtfully, "we are going to make a real useful friend here. What is that I see down below? Surely there is something like a carriage driven into the yard."

Surely enough, it was a vehicle of some kind, painted black, and with not too much glittering varnish about it. So far as could be seen in the gloom, the conveyance in question was a brougham of some kind. It came into the yard with a strange suggestion of ghostliness about it, for the tires were thickly coated with rubber; the horse itself appeared to be similarly shod.

"I fancy we have seen something like that before," Jack suggested dryly.

"Right you are." Rigby responded. "Of course, one can't be quite absolutely sure, but that looks very like the vehicle used by those people the other night. You know what I mean—the brougham I saw used by the deaf mute and her companions the night we ran against one another at Carrington's."

"Right beyond the shadow of a doubt," Jack said. "Who is this mystic conveyance for. I wonder—the man or the woman?"

Evidently it was for the woman, for she stood with her long wrap fastened closely about her whilst the man with the cigar opened the door. The horse was turned round, and vanished as it had come, without the slightest noise. Indeed, whole thing might have been a figment of the imagination.

"I hope that does not mean that our last chance has gone," Rigby suggested. "But we must have faith in our fair friend. One thing is pretty certain. If she means to come to our assistance she is not going very far away."



XIV. — NOSTALGO AGAIN

THERE was silence for some time between the friends. They had speculated as far as possible on the chances of the future, and now there was no more to be said. At the same time, the situation was not devoid of elements of interest, seeing that the man with the cigar had not as yet departed. Evidently he was waiting for somebody, for he lighted a fresh cigar from the stump of his old one, and sat down on the edge of the fountain with the air of a man who knows how to possess his soul in patience. He sat thus for some time; then he stood up at length with an air of strained attention and gave a grunt of relief. Out of the shadows there emerged another man, muffled to the eyes and wearing a big slouch hat upon his head.

"So you have come at last," the man with the cigar muttered. "I thought you were going to keep me here all night."

"It is all very well for you," the newcomer said. "You can walk about the world with your head held up; you have no occasion to hide yourself from the light of day. If only this business was done and over, you would never find me in one of Anstruther's schemes again."

There was something exceedingly striking in the voice of the speaker; it was by no means an unmusical voice; the enunciation was clear and defined. But there was a peculiar rasping ring in it, a jarring, metallic discord as if some one had struck two plates of steel together. It was a commanding voice, too, and the man with the cigar seemed to feel it.

"I suppose you know your own business best," he muttered in a tone which was plainly intended to be that of an apology. "Funny thing, isn't it, that you and I should be conspiring here, within a pistol shot of Shannon Street Police Station? Those chaps yonder are still scratching heir heads over the disappearance of the man they call Nostalgo."

The other man laughed; his voice rang as an echo rings in a cave. He laughed again a little more gently.

"Yes," he said, "we could throw a very blinding light on that mystery. Have they offered any reward for the discovery of the body?"

"Oh, dear, yes," the other man chuckled. "Two hundred pounds and a free pardon to any accomplice not actually connected with the outrage. Wouldn't it be a fine thing to earn that reward?"

"I'll think it over and see if we can't manage it," said the newcomer. "Fancy hoodwinking the police in that way! All the same, I don't quite like this reward business; it's just the thing to appeal to that scoundrel Redgrave. Anstruther never made a greater mistake when he took Redgrave into his confidence. That fellow would do anything for a few hundred pounds."

"Well, you will have an opportunity of sounding him presently. He is coming to see you about those West African bonds. As for myself, I have business of greatest importance in the East End. I only stayed here till you came because Anstruther said it was absolutely imperative for you to have these papers to-night."

So saying, the speaker took a small packet from his pocket and handed it over to his companion. He turned away, and a moment later had vanished into the night. The sole remaining man appeared to be restless and ill at ease. As he paced up and down the ragged and deserted fore-court the two friends, cautiously peeping through the up-stairs window, could see that he was lame and that one shoulder was higher than the other. He was muttering to himself, too, in some foreign language that conveyed nothing to the listeners.

He came to a pause presently, and, fumbling in his long coat, produced a cigarette case and a box of matches.

"I wonder if I really dare," he muttered, this time speaking in English slightly flavored with a foreign accent. "Surely no one can see me; surely I shall be safe in this well of a place. If only I could manage without matches."

Bat there has been no way yet invented of lighting tobacco without matches. As the match flared out the stranger's face was picked out clean and clear against the velvet background of the night. As if in full enjoyment of his tobacco, the man threw his head back and filled his lungs with the fragrant smoke. He had not yet dropped the match, so that its rays caught full the upturned face. So clearly did the face stand out that the whole action might have been conceived with the idea of giving the watchers a perfect view of it.

"What do you make of that?" Jack whispered excitedly. "Don't ask me to say, because I know the man as well I I know my own father. The point is, do you know him?"

"I should say that everybody in London does," Rigby responded, "seeing that the face has been glaring down on London for the past two months. Yonder man is Nostalgo and none other."

"No mistake about that," Jack said. "In that strange, weird light, what an awful face it is. And yet there is something about it, too, same half-pathetic suggestion that almost removes one's feelings of repulsion."

"I have noticed that too," Rigby said. "But why did you not tell me that our mysterious friend was practically a hunchback?"

"But he wasn't," Jack protested. "I am absolutely certain that the man I found apparently dead close to Panton Square three nights ago was as straight and well set up as you or I. Why, I helped to put him in the ambulance; I saw his body laid out in the mortuary at Shannon Street police station. I am prepared to swear that the man was without a physical blemish, and I am quite sure that Inspector Bates will bear me out in this. And yet that man down there smoking his cigarette is as misshapen as Richard III."

As to this point there was no question. The man below was pacing quietly up and down the fore-court in the full enjoyment of his cigarette, and little heeding the curious watchers overhead. It was easy to see that, so far as physical development was concerned, he had been but ill-favored by fortune. One leg was considerably longer than the other, causing the fellow to shuffle along with a sideways motion not unlike that of a crab.

"Unless that fellow is a bold contortionist, we have evidently two Nostalgos to deal with," Rigby said thoughtfully "And yet it seems impossible there can be two faces like that in the world. One thing is pretty certain—the supposed dead body you conveyed to Shannon Street police station the other night must have been very much alive. If we could only get away from here to follow him."

"Not much occasion to trouble about that, I am thinking," Jack said. "This man is evidently a tool or accomplice 3 of Anstruther's. I am certain we shall see him in Panton Square sooner or later. As to the man Redgrave they were speaking about just now, I happen to know all about him. He used to be in Anstruther's employ as a kind of secretary—a clever, well-educated fellow whose weakness was drink. Ha, here comes another one."

Surely enough, another figure crept into the fore-court. Nostalgo, if he it was, paid no heed to the stranger for a moment or two. In a half-timid fashion the man who had just entered the fore-court bowed to his misshapen companion and intimated that he awaited his pleasure. Nostalgo turned upon him with a snarl.

"So they have sent you, after all," he said. His clear, ringing voice vibrated with contempt. "Is this the best thing Anstruther can do at a critical moment like this? I want a man, not a miserable coward like you. Besides, I do not trust you. I never shall trust you again." And, unless I am greatly mistaken, you have been drinking."

"We are in luck again," Jack whispered. "That is the very man I spoke about— Redgrave in the flesh. Are we going to learn anything, I wonder?"

The newcomer protested whiningly that not one drop of ardent liquor had passed his lips that day.

"You miserable, prevaricating hound!" Nostalgo cried. "Go back to Anstruther and say that I will have none of you. Tell your master that my time is short and that an hour from now will make all the difference. He knows that I dare not stay: he knows what hideous disaster even the slightest delay may produce; and yet he sends you of all men to help me in this crisis."

"But Anstruther cannot possibly do anything else." Redgrave whined. "It is absolutely imperative that he should be at Carrington's by midnight. Carrington is not to be trusted: he wants watching as carefully as a cat watches a mouse. You will have to put up with me, sir."

Nostalgo paced up and down the dreary fore-court with the air of a man who is deep in thought. His limp and straggling gait was by no means lost upon the watchers overhead. He came to a halt at length and sat down on the edge of the broken fountain, his head upon his hands, He might have been a graven statue, so rigid and still was his figure.

The effect of this upon the cowering, watching Redgrave was peculiar. There was something of the cat in his own movements as he came inch by inch nearer Nostalgo. It was as if a child was timidly to a dog of uncertain temper. Nearer and nearer Redgrave came, till he was standing directly over the bent figure of hid companion. He might have been miles away for all the heed that Nostalgo gave him.

Then quick as thought, and with a snarling, savage cry that echoed strangely between the four walls of the fore-court, Redgrave fell furiously and with headlong impetuosity upon the doubled-up figure of his prey.

"I have got you now, you misshapen devil!" he screamed. "You are going to be worth at least £200 to me to-night."

Utterly taken by surprise, Nostalgo collapsed under the sudden and furious assault. Something gleamed and flashed in the uncertain light, and the horrified onlookers from the window above saw that Redgrave had a knife in his hand.

"You poisonous scoundrel!" Rigby yelled . "Drop it, I say—drop it, or it will be worse for you."

But Rigby might have be have been speaking to the wind. He yelled again and again, but the two men below, locked in a deadly embrace, did not appear to heed; indeed, it was more than probable that they could hear nothing at all.

More by great good fortune than anything else. Nostalgo had managed to grip the hand that held the knife and was holding it in a tenacious clutch. Over and over the pair rolled, like two hungry dogs fighting for a bone, their clothes torn and mud-stained, their features grimed almost beyond recognition. It was a grim and gruesome sight to the two eager watchers. A sense of helplessness, a wild desire to do something was upon them; but they might just a well have been fettered prisoners for all the use they were.

"If only we could open this door," Rigby sighed passionately. "If only that mysterious lady could come to our assistance."

It was like a prayer that was answered. There was a click, a sudden wide swinging open of the door, and the lady in evening dress came headlong into the room.

"Quickly, quickly!" she panted. "Oh, it does not matter who I am or where I came from! If you would not have the destruction of a man's soul on your conscience, come with me at once."



XV. — LADY BARMOUTH

QUICK as the whole thing had been, the action on the part of the fair stranger had not taken Rigby by surprise. He had half expected some development of this kind; he was ready for the dramatic moment, and took full advantage of it. Almost before the lady was in the room he had applied a match to the gas burner and turned it full on. There was a sudden flashing vision of some one magnificently attired, for the white diaphanous dress and the gleaming diamonds showed where her wrap had parted at the neck. Perhaps she dimly comprehended the significance of Rigby's maneuver, for she turned somewhat scornfully from the hissing gad jet.

"Oh, there is no time for that!" she cried. "It can matter little or nothing who I am. at any rate for the present. Did you follow me just now? I hope you understood that I was speaking to you."

"We gathered that, madam," Rigby said politely; "but really we are wasting time in in idle compliments."

The stranger's face fairly beamed in gratitude. She turned and pointed in the direction of the door. There was no need whatever for further words; the friends knew exactly what she wanted.

The gesture was eloquent enough. The lady who had so strangely and unexpectedly come to the assistance of the pair intimated to them as plainly as words could speak that there was no time to be lost, and that the sooner they were off the premises the better. Jack did not wish to delay: he had no desire to caught like a rat in a trap, nor for a moment did he forget the fact that the woman who spoke in parables had risked much to come to their assistance. On the other hand Rig by, being calmer and more collected than his friend and, like a journalist, more prone to go into details, was disposed to linger for explanations. His hesitation was by no means lost on the fair stranger. Once more she pointed to the door, this time with an imperious gesture.

"Oh, why do you hesitate?" she murmured. "Why do you stand like a schoolboy staring into a shop window? I know you are here for some desperate purpose; I can more than guess the reason for your visit. You are men of intellect and understanding, therefore you must clearly see the danger of even an instant's delay."

The lady turned away as if she had finished. Jack might have found it in his heart to be a little ashamed of Rigby, but, after all, the temptation to give way to curiosity was absolutely overwhelming. Jack pulled himself together at length, and dragged angrily at Rigby's arm. He felt just a little inclined to flush under the contemptuous gaze of their beautiful rescuer.

"Oh, do come along," he said. "My dear Dick, you are positively guilty of bad taste in this matter."

"Really, I beg your pardon." Rigby said humbly. "But you can quite understand my feelings. Good-night, madam."

Despite the wild hurry-scurry and the excitement of the moment, Jack had not failed to notice the exquisite beauty of the strange woman's face. She was quite young, about 25 or thereabouts, and yet her fair face, without a hint of a wrinkle in it, had a suggestion of the Madonna, as of one who had suffered much. She flew down the stairs, heedless of the darkness, and into the fore-court beyond.

"Pray to heaven we are not too late," she said. "It seemed to me just now that I was barely in time, but surely—"

The woman stopped, and passed a hand across her face just as one does who wakes from an evil dream. And forsooth she had cause enough for her astonishment. Where two bodies had been locked in a death struggle a minute before, only one remained now. The other had vanished utterly. And it needed only a cursory glance to see that the form lying there was not the misshapen outline of Nostalgo.

"This is amazing," the fair stranger said, as she bent over the body of the unconscious man. She did not appear to be the least afraid now; all her coolness had come back to her: she suggested a trained nurse on the battlefield.

"Surely my eyes did not deceive me? Surely I saw two men in a death struggle there as I came into the courtyard?"

"There is not the slightest doubt about that," Jack murmured. "Why, we were actually watching the fight at the very moment you opened the door. Do you know who this fellow is?"

The lady shook her head, but Jack noticed that she did not repudiate all knowledge of the stricken man.

"I can tell you if you want to know," she said, "but we can discuss that point later on. What we want to know now is how far this man has suffered from his injuries."

Heedless of the dust and dirt, heedless of her resplendent attire, the lady had thrown herself on her knees beside the prostrate body. She laid her hand upon his heart and bent her head down, listening intently.

"At all events he is not dead," she said, "neither can I see any sign of a wound. He has evidently been stunned by some tremendous blow. Ah! see, he stirs."

The injured man opened his eyes in a feeble, spasmodic kind of way and gazed languidly about him. Rigby, fully alert to the possibilities of the situation, grasped Jack by the arm.

"My dear fellow," he exclaimed, "You say you know that man, and naturally he knows you. Do you think it wise to remain in sight, and thus give him chance to recognize you?"

Redgrave lay as if lost to all consciousness once more. Despite her dreamy. Madonna-like face, the strange lady was not blind to the danger of the situation.

"I think you are quite right." she whispered hurriedly. "It would never do for this man to recognize you. I feel sure that heaven has sent you both to be my friends in the hour of my deepest despair. Who and what I am can be explained presently. Rut that man is coming to very fast, and it were far better if he did not see you."

Rigby nodded his emphatic approval. Together with Jack he withdrew behind the shelter of a clump of bushes where it was possible to hear everything without being seen. Meanwhile Redgrave had raised himself to a sitting position, and, with his back to the fountain, was stupidly contemplating the fair figure before him.

"I suppose you can understand what I have said to you?" the lady asked. "For instance, you can tell me what brings you here to-night?"

"I dare say I could if I liked," Redgrave groaned, "but I am not going to do anything of the kind. This comes of having women mixed up in a business like ours."

"Woman or not, that has nothing to do with your murderous assault on a harmless stranger just now. It is absurd for you to deny any knowledge of it. You have heard of Lady Barmouth before."

Behind the shelter of the bushes Jack gripped Rigby's arm significantly. He had learned something now.

"Did you hear that?" he whispered. "Of course you have heard of Lady Barmouth often enough. I have never met her myself, but I have often heard Claire speak about her. A beautiful South American girl, I believe, married to a sulky brute who never goes outside his house from one year's end to another. I don't know whether he drinks or what it is. hut I fear that Lady Barmouth has a very bad time of it."

Jack would have probably volunteered more information on this point, only the cross-examination of Redgrave had begun again, and he did not wish to miss a word that he said.

"It is idle to prevaricate with me," Lady Barmouth was saying. "I will ask you nothing as to your late encounter because it is evident that you had greatly the worst of it, and that your would-be victim has escaped. But what is more to the point, I want to know what has become of my brother?"

"Your brother," Redgrave stammered as if utterly taken aback by the suddenness of the question. "I—I don't know in the least what you mean."

"Oh, what is the use of wasting your time and mine like this?" Lady Barmouth cried. "My brother came here by special appointment to meet Mr. Spencer Anstruther, and I came on my own self-initiative to see what my brother was doing."

Here was fresh information for Jack and his companion. It mattered little for the present who Lady Barmouth's brother was, but evidently she had greatly mistrusted him; hence her appearance in the courtyard to-night. It was, therefore, by no means difficult for the friends to guess that the aforesaid brother had been the man who had so lately accused Lady Barmouth of being a sentimental fool. The night's work was being by no means wasted.

"I know nothing whatever about your brother," Redgrave said sulkily, "and I know nothing about Anstruther either. The man who was here just now—the man who made that murderous attack on me, I mean—was a perfect stranger. But this is no place for a lady like you; you had better go home, and keep out of this sort of a scrape for the future."

So saying, Redgrave scrambled painfully to his feet and lurched off in the direction of the doorway leading to the lane beyond. It was only when they were satisfied that he had absolutely departed, that RIgby and Masefield emerged from their hiding place and joined Lady Barmouth. There was a sad, wistful expression on her face.

"You heard all that." she said! "Mind you, I am assuming that you are no parties to the vile conspiracy of which Anstruther is the head. I should like to have your assurance on that point before I proceed any further."

"If there's one man in the world whom we desire to expose and render harmless for the future, it is Spencer Anstruther. Jack said vehemently. "But how did you know we were here at all?"

"Because I happened to be in the house when you came." Lady Barmouth explained. "I caught sight of your face as you moved in front of the light proceeding from that room upstairs, and I divined by a sort of instinct that you did not belong to Anstruther's gang. Then it came to me that I had seen one of you gentlemen before in the company of Miss Helmsley. I think, sir, I may be pardoned if I assume that Miss Helmsley is something more than a friend of yours."

"To be perfectly candid with you, we are engaged to be married, only it is a profound secret at present," Jack explained. "After telling you so much, I think you might be equally candid with us."

"Indeed I will," Lady Barmouth exclaimed. "Any one to whom Claire Helmsley has given her heart must be a good and true man. As I told you just now I saw you on the stairs; I also heard what that strange man said about there being spies in the house. I saw you creep into the room, and I saw Anstruther lock the door upon you. The rest your know for yourselves—"

"But that does not explain why you are here," Rigby ventured to suggest.

"Why I am here to-night, I cannot even tell you," Lady Barmouth said in low, nervous tones. "The secret is not mine; it concerns one I love more than anybody else in the world. One thing I can tell you: Claire Helmsley is in great danger so long as she remains where she is living now. You must get her away, Mr. Masefield; you must get her away at any cost!"

Jack nodded gravely; he had not been blind to this danger for some time. What he wanted to know now was if Lady Barmouth had any idea of the identity of the man who had successfully got the better of Redgrave. But on that head Lady Barmouth could say nothing; she had returned for the express purpose of relieving Masefield and Rigby from their awkward situation, and in so doing she had come quite unexpectedly upon the combatants. Even in the dim light she had seen that a murderous struggle was taking place, and this being so, had hastened headlong upstairs with a view of securing assistance. More than this she could not possibly say.

"What we want to do," Rigby suggested, "is to go away quietly somewhere and discuss this matter thoroughly. I need not point out to your ladyship the manifest danger of staying here. Anstruther or any of his tribe may be back at any time, and then we shall be caught like rats in a trap."

"That matter is easily settled," Lady Barmouth replied. "Could you come home with me? It is by no means late yet, and you would not be long in getting rid of those disguises of yours. They are excellent disguises, but they did not prevent me recognizing you, Mr. Masefield."

"There is no deceiving a clever woman," Jack smiled. "I should like nothing better than a chance to discuss this matter at length—but Lord Barmouth? Would he not think it somewhat singular that two strangers like ourselves—"

"Nothing of the sort," Lady Barmouth cried eagerly. "My husband never goes outside the house; he is suffering from a trouble so terrible that I try not to think of it if I can. I may, however tell you that his trouble is intimately connected with the black business that brings us here to-night. It may seem to you that I am a mere frivolous society butterfly. Ah! If you only knew—"

The trio had worked their way into the street by this time. A private hansom stood a little way down the road. Lady Barmouth smiled a little as she contemplated her two companions.

"I am afraid we should be a suspicious-looking party in the eyes of a passing policeman," she said. "No, I think it would be just as well if I walked to my hansom alone. Then you can go back to your rooms and attire yourselves as English gentlemen should be attired at this time of the evening. Then you can come to my house. I will tell the servants I am expecting two friends to supper. You know the address?"

Jack intimated that he knew the address perfectly well. The suggestion was by no means a bad one; there could be no possible suspicion aroused by the fact that Lady Barmouth was having two friends to share her late meal. The clocks were striking twelve as Jack and his companion walked up the steps of the big house in Belgrave Square.



XVI. — THE BOSOM OF HER FAMILY

A RESPLENDENT footman took the names of the callers, and preceded them to the drawing room. It was no uncommon thing for Lady Barmouth to invite a score or so of friends to supper after a reception or theater. The footman intimated that his mistress was alone now, and that she was at present in the hands of her maid; therefore the callers had ample time to study the surroundings of so mysterious a person as Lord Barmouth.

That remarkable man, as everybody knew, had only been married a little over two years. Two years ago he himself had been a more or less popular figure in society. In the first place he was exceedingly rich, by no means ill-looking; in fact he was a remarkably fine, type of an all-round athlete. He was a triple blue at Oxford, a wonderfully keen shot, and a dashing polo player. At his house in the Shires his hunters were noted, as likewise were his coverts. Two years, ago any man would have esteemed it a privilege to call himself Lord Barmouth's friend, and be free of his guns and his horses. But now all this was changed. Barmouth had gone away to South America with a view of something new in the way of sport. Naturally his movements were followed carefully by the society papers. They chronicled all his doings faithfully, and presently Belgravia was officially formed of the fact that Barmouth was in Mexico, where he had become engaged to be married to the daughter of a settler there—an Englishman of good family who had taken unto himself a Mexican wife. Three months later the announcement of Barmouth's marriage was in The Times. It was understood that he was not coming home quite yet; indeed, something like two years elapsed before the big house in Belgrave Square was set in order for the owner and his bride.

The strange whisperings and muttered scandal began at once. But on one point society was in perfect accord—whatever trouble hung over the household, it could not possibly be a fault of Lady Barmouth's. The woman was a lady to her finger-tips; she took her part naturally and easily in society; she fell into her place like one to the manner born. As everybody expected, there was nothing lacking in the lavish hospitality which had always been a tradition of the Barmouths. Men went down to their country houses in the winter to shoot and hunt, men and women came to Belgrave Square to lunch and dance and dinner—there was no more popular figure in society than Lady Barmouth.

And there it seemed to end. From the day of his arrival in England until the present moment not a soul had looked upon Lord Barmouth with the exception of his wife and his faithful valet. What was the source of the trouble nobody knew, and nobody guessed. It was in vain to try to bribe any of the servants, for they were just as much in the dark as anybody else. It was perhaps a mistake to say that nobody had ever seen Lord Barmouth, for occasionally he entered the dining or drawing-rooms when some very old friends were there, but previous to his entry the lights were always turned out. Whether this was due to some strange form of disease, or perhaps some phase of madness, was a point never explained. Lady Barmouth, beyond a cold statement that her husband was suffering from a peculiar malady, said nothing, and, indeed, it would have been in very bad taste to have asked. It had only been a nine days' wonder after all, and it mattered little to society in general so long as the hospitality of the house of Barmouth did not suffer.

It was under the roof of a man like this that Rigby and Jack found themselves as a fitting end to a night of amazing adventure. There was nothing to denote a discordant spirit in the house. Here was a magnificent suite of drawing-rooms brilliantly lighted and luxurious to a degree, on the walls of which were pictures of price. There was about the house the decorous, smooth, velvety silence which seems to be a tradition in all well-ordered establishments. It seemed almost impossible to believe that the sinister wing of tragedy should hang over a home like this. A few moments later Lady Barmouth came into the room.

"I am sorry to have kept you waiting," she said, "but I have been having a little chat with my husband. As I have already intimated to you, his misfortunes are not altogether unconnected with this Anstruther business. My dear husband has suffered cruelly at the hands of certain people; indeed, so cruelly has be suffered that he seems to have lost all life and hope altogether. Ah, if you had only seen him as I saw him for the first time two years ago! There is one thing, however, I will ask you to do—pray do not say a word to him as to the circumstances in which we met to-night."

"Then we are to have the pleasure of seeing Lord Barmouth," Jack exclaimed. "I quite understood that he—"

"This is an exceptional case altogether. In the strict sense of the word you will not see my husband, but he desires the privilege of a few words with you. Now, let us go into the dining-room and talk this matter over. There will be no servants present—it is the one meal of the day which I prefer to partake of without the presence of one's domestics."

The dining-room was not the usual apartment devoted to state feasts, but a small room on the first floor, cosily and comfortably furnished, and more with an eye to confidences than anything else. The servants were absent, as Lady Barmouth had intimated, so that it was possible to discuss the events of the evening without the chance of being overheard.

"Now tell me candidly," Lady Barmouth said at length, "have you any ideas to offer as to that mysterious disappearance from Shannon Street police station? I am asking you this, Mr. Masefield, because it was you who actually found the body of the man who most people speak of as Nostalgo. Really now, was that unfortunate man so very like the wonderful poster of which London has had so much to say of late?"

"The likeness was amazing," Jack explained. "It quite frightened me. Talking about the poster in question, there is another likeness that I have not failed to note. Of course, if you put the man I mean and the poster side by side, nobody could possibly see the resemblance. But in moments of anger, there is a strong likeness between the poster, and Spencer Anstruther. Don't laugh at me, Lady Barmouth; I assure you it is absolutely true."

But Lady Barmouth was by no means in the way of laughing at Masefield. Her pale face took on a still more creamy pallour, the pupils of her dark eyes were strangely dilated.

"That is a most strange and wonderful thing," she said, as if speaking to herself. "Mr. Masefield, it is most fortunate that we met to-night. You have just told me something which will prove of the utmost value later on. We will not discuss that now, there is no time. But there is one thing that I am going to ask you to do for me; I want you to influence Claire Helmsley in my favor. I have taken a great fancy to her; indeed, I like her far more than any girl in London. This is all the stranger because I believe I am in a position to do her a great service. I know that I am in a position to do her one. But one stipulation I make, and that is—she must be told everything."

Jack hesitated. It would be indeed a dangerous thing to acquaint Claire with all that had happened so long as she was under the same roof as Spencer Anstruther. She was not accustomed to restrain her feelings and emotions, and with his swift, subtle instincts, Anstruther would find out that there was something wrong immediately. Jack pointed this out to Lady Barmouth at some length.

"I don't think so," she said thoughtfully. "Claire is a clever girl, she is in splendid health, and not the least likely to fear Anstruther or anybody else. It is, of course, not nice to have to play a part, but think of the information that Claire could glean for us so long as Anstruther regards her as little more than a child and behaves to her accordingly."

"Believe me, I am only too anxious to get at the bottom of this dreadful business," Jack said earnestly, "and there is nobody more anxious than I am to get Claire outside the sphere of Anstruther's influence altogether. Still, I am quite willing to try. I will see Claire to-morrow, and tell her everything."

Lady Barmouth's face beamed with a delight that was almost childish. She looked and acted like one who had had a great weight taken off her mind. That Jack had come to a wise decision she felt certain. She was saying so, speaking very briskly and freely, when the lights of the room were extinguished by some invisible agency and the apartment left in utter darkness save for the wood-fire which smouldered on the hearth.

"I do hope you have all finished," Lady Barmouth cried . "It is quite evident that my husband thinks so, or the lights would not have been extinguished by turning off the switch outside the door."

Both Jack and Rigby muttered something to the effect that they had finished. Lady Barmouth produced a tiny silver spirit lamp from the sideboard, the blue flame of which was little larger than a pin's point, sufficient to light a cigarette, but insufficient to illuminate a scrap of paper a foot away. In silence the cigarettes were handed around, and the well-trained voice of a servant was heard announcing Lord Barmouth. A closely muffled figure crept into the room, and proceeded to bury itself in a big arm-chair by the side of the wood-fire.

"These are my friends, Mr. Rigby and Mr. Masefield," Lady Barmouth said cheerfully . "I have told them that you would like to have a few words with them, George. You will find these gentlemen willing to speak quite freely.

"That is indeed good of you." The deep, clear ringing voice came from the fire-place. "I have been praying for something like this for the last twelve months. Still, it is more with Mr. Masefield than Mr. Rigby that I wish to speak. You have made a great discovery to-night, I understand. You have found out the source of those Nostalgo posters."

"I think I have done more than that," Jack explained. "I have not only discovered their source, but I know where they are printed, and the process of their manufacture. If you like to put yourself in my hands and accompany me to-morrow night, you shall see the whole scheme for yourself."

Lord Barmouth was of the opinion that it was not wise in the circumstances to take any such step. He cross-examined Jack at considerable length, his questions being pointed with marked intelligence.

At the same time he said little or nothing about himself. Lady Barmouth sat there smiling behind the cover of the darkness, infinitely glad to see her husband taking an interest in the affairs of life once more.

"Don't you think it is rather late to-night?" she suggested; "besides, we are going too fast. With your intimate knowledge of the situation, and with the help of these gentlemen, surely we can devise some scheme for getting the better of that fiend Anstruther."

"Ay, you are right." Barmouth said, his deep voice ringing through the room. "I see a way now, a way as clear as daylight."

In his passionate emotion he dashed his foot forward so that the point of his the logs in the grate. A blue flame spurted up and died as suddenly as it had come. Jack and Rigby rose to leave. No sooner were they outside than Jack clutched his companion's arm eagerly.

"Did you see nothing?" Jack whispered. "By heaven, Lord Barmouth and the Nostalgo we saw in the fore-court to-night are one and the same person!"



XVII. — WHICH MAN WAS IT?

RIGBY'S astonishment was frank and undisguised. It was quite evident that he had noticed nothing suspicious about the look or attitude of Lord Barmouth; indeed, he had been on the far side of the table when the master of the house had entered the room. But he was not altogether prepared to accept Jack's statement unless he could verify it with something more than a mere expression of opinion.

"Are you quite sure of that?" he asked. "Mind you, this is an exceedingly important matter, and if what you say is true, we have opened up a quite fresh development of the mystery."

"I am absolutely certain of it," Jack declared. "I had not the least idea of anything of the kind till we were both on our feet ready to go. It was at this point, you will remember, that Lord Barmouth displayed some feeling and accidentally touched the logs of wood on the fire with his foot. In the spurt of flame which followed I had a perfect view of his face."

"Would you mind describing what you saw?" Rigby asked.

"You have only to look at the nearest poster displaying the features of Nostalgo, and your question is answered. It was only a flash, but the face was impressed upon my mind in the most vivid fashion. There was the same sinister expression of face, the same repulsive twist of the mouth, the same inexpressible gleam of the eyes as we see it on half the hoardings in London. Of course, it is the face of a leering Mephistopheles. And yet I don't know; it occurred to me that there was something very pathetic and at the same time kind about Barmouth's aspect. You know what I mean: imagine a kind-hearted, good-natured actor made up as repulsively as possible, and with the suggestion of his natural disposition behind him."

"Yes, I fancy I understand what you mean," Rigby replied thoughtfully. "But you don't suggest that the man really was made up, do you?"

Jack replied that he did and he did not. There was something unreal about Barmouth's mouth, and yet it was impossible to believe that that sinister face was anything except just as nature made it. The friends walked along side by side in silence before another idea occurred to Rigby.

"It seems to me," he said, "that we must believe in the existence of two Nostalgos. The one you found in Panton Square was dead; indeed, the police sergeant testified to the fact. However, by what mysterious means that man's body was so mysteriously spirited away we are not very likely to find out. At any rate, it is quite fair to assume that his friends had some desperate reason for spiriting his body away. Therefore, we may logically infer that Lord Barmouth cannot possibly be the same man you saw in Panton Square."

"That is a very fair assumption," Jack admitted. "But to carry your argument a bit further, we are bound to assume that there are no less than three Nostalgos. The suggestion is almost farcical, but there it is."

"What do you mean by three," Rigby asked.

"Well don't forget the man we saw in the fore-court of the house in Montrose Place. No mistake about his being a Nostalgo."

"Quite so," Rigby admitted. "I am with you there. But how do we know for certain that Nostalgo No. 2, so to speak, and Lord Barmouth are not the same man? Did you notice anything strange about the appearance of Barmouth as he came into the room to-night—that he was humpbacked or misshapen in any way?"

Jack was bound to admit that he had not noticed anything of the kind.

"I don't think we shall ever do much good unless we go direct to the fountainhead," Jack said thoughtfully.

"Mexico." Rigby cried. "I see exactly what you mean."

"Mexico it is. We know perfectly well that when Barmouth went off to Mexico two years ago on a sporting expedition he was a normal man like you and me. If be had been so terribly disfigured by birth or accident as he appeared to-night, we should have known it. A man in his position with an infirmity like that cannot hide it from the light of day. If we carry the thing to a logical conclusion, if Barmouth had been like that when he went away, why should he be so dreadfully troubled about it now?"

Rigby applauded this sound reasoning. He could see that Jack had something on his mind, and urged him to proceed.

"I don't quite know what to make of it." Jack said. "As I observed just now, we seem to he face to face with the fact that there are two or three Nostalgos, and for all we know to the contrary, there may be a score more knocking about London. It has occurred to me more than once that these men must belong to some secret society."

Rigby was inclined to laugh at the idea. On being asked by Jack to explain what he saw that was fatal to the theory, he replied logically enough that such a thing was out of the question.

"My dear fellow, just think what you are saying." he exclaimed. "So far as my reading teaches me, the great object of a secret society is to be secret. Besides, you don't suggest for a moment that these men belong to any particular tribe, especially as we know perfectly well that Lord Barmouth, who is an Englishman, belongs to them. Nor would you want me to believe that these men are in the habit of having their faces operated upon by some ingenious doctor, so that they are in the position to recognize one another when they meet."

Jack was bound to admit that Rigby had the facts entirely upon his side. It seemed absolutely childish to believe that sane men would do this kind of thing, especially when it was very evident that these various Nostalgos were only too anxious to hide themselves from the light of day. Rigby did not pursue his advantage; he was quite content to judge that his argument had prevailed from the expression of Jack's face.

"But we need not carry that argument any further," he said. "I judge from your expression that you have another theory."

"I was just coming to that." Jack said. We will assume for the sake of argument that when Barmouth went to Mexico he was without blemish of mind or body. That being so, he must have met with some terrible adventure which has resulted in this terrible disfigurement. Mind you, it is a disfigurement; it certainly is not natural; for instance, no three men could possibly have faces like that as the result of a freak of nature. What I am trying to think is this: Barmouth got mixed up in some in some hideous secret society, and that he either carries on his face the badge of the tribe, or he has been purposely disfigured out of revenge for some dereliction of duty. However, this is only speculation after all, and we can do nothing till we have some fresh facts before us."

"I am inclined to think very highly of your theory all the same," Rigby said. "There is no questioning the fact that we have to look toward Mexico for an elucidation of the mystery. By Jove, I have nearly forgotten something. Wouldn't it be a good thing to find out if Anstruther had ever been to Mexico?"

"Of course it would," Jack exclaimed. "I'll see to that. I will go to Anstruther's to-morrow night and learn there. It will be hard indeed if I am unable to answer your question next time we meet."

It was fairly late the following afternoon before Jack found himself in Panton Square again. He had practically promised Lady Barmouth to tell Claire everything, but a natural reflection had shown him that this was not quite prudent. Not that he objected to take Claire into his confidence, but what he greatly feared was the girl's inability to control her feelings in the presence of Anstruther after she had learned everything. But, as Jack looked into the face of his betrothed, his doubts gradually vanished. It was a courageous as well as a beautiful face, and it occurred to Jack that Lady Barmouth had not done badly when she had selected Claire to be her confidante in this painful matter. Claire's dark eyes were turned interrogatively upon her lover. Perhaps he was looking a little more seriously than usual—at any rate his grave face told her that he had come with news of importance.

"My dear boy, what is the matter?" Claire asked. She twined her hands about his arm and laid her head caressingly on his shoulder. It was impossible to resist that pleading upward glance "I am sure you have something important to say to me."

"Against my better judgment," Jack laughed. "Yes, I am going to tell you something about your guardian."

Claire listened with the deepest attention as Jack proceeded to speak freely of the adventures of the last two days, He watched the change of her face, the flush and the pallour, and the dawning resolution which gave her mouth strength and firmness.

"I do not think you need be afraid for me." Claire said. "I will be brave and resolute: I will do my best to hide my my feelings from Mr. Anstruther. This is a dreadful business altogether, but dreadful as it is, we cannot draw back now. You have told me some strange things, but some of your facts are not facts at all.

"In what way have I been mistaken?" Jack asked.

"Well, as to Mr. Anstruther, for instance. You say that you saw him at Montrose Place last night for the best part of an hour."

"Well, so I did," Jack declared. "If you want anybody to prove that, ask Rigby. Anstruther was there somewhere about half-past ten, and when he left he had not the slightest intention of going home."

"Most extraordinary," Claire murmured. "Listen to what I have to say, what I should have to swear to if this thing ever went into a court of justice. Shortly after dinner last night Spencer Anstruther went directly to his study; he had not been there very long before he was playing his violin, and this he continued to do till one o'clock this morning. Now what do you make of that?"

"It seems almost incredible," Jack said. "Was there a break at all in the performance?"

Claire replied that there was a break of perhaps twenty-five minutes to half an hour, so far as she could judge, somewhere about eleven o'clock. Jack smlled with the air of a man who makes a discovery. This was the period when Padini had turned up in Montrose Place. There was no time to go into theories now, but Jack felt that h e would have a surprise for his friends later on.

"Tell me, tell me," he said, "do you think you can recollect the names of all the pieces that Anstruther played last night? I want you to try and repeat them to me exactly in the order that they occurred. This is more important than you would Imagine."

It was a somewhat difficult task, but Claire managed it successfully at length. For a long time the girl bent thoughtfully over her writing table, and presently produced a neat list on which were inscribed the names of some ten or fifteen classical compositions.

"I think you will find that practically correct." she said. "I may not have recollected the exact order, but I think that it is good enough for your purpose."

Masefield was quite sure of the fact. He folded the list, and carefully placed it in his pocket.

"Now there is one more thing I should like," he said. "Now, as you are perfectly well aware. Padini was giving a recital last night at the small Queen's Hall. You will remember this, more especially as your music agent sent you a programme, a thing he always does when there is anything of importance going on. Now, do you think you could find that programme for me? Not that it very much matters, because I can step 'round to Smithson's and get one for myself; still, if you happen to have it in the house—"

But Claire was quite certain that she had the programme somewhere. She produced it presently from a mass of papers on the piano.

"Now we shall get at it," Jack said. "I see by this programme that Padini is down for no less than six items. He had a most enthusiastic audience, as I happen to know, which really means that he played about twelve pieces altogether. Now I will read to you the first four of these compositions. They are respectively Étude 25, Chopin; Wiegenlied, Brahms; Moszkowski's Five Waltzes; Liszt's Die Lorelei. Now, unless I am greatly mistaken, you will find that those pieces were played in the same order by Anstruther in his study last night. Is not that so?"

"Amazing!" Claire cried. "Absolutely; it is exactly as you say. What does it mean?"

"We will take the list right through till the end if you like." Jack replied. "The same thing will apply to both lists. Now, is it not an extraordinary thing that those two men should have gone through exactly the same programme, item by item, without the slightest variation? And all the time they were some two miles apart?"

"It seems absolutely incapable of explanation," Claire cried .

"Oh! the explanation will be simple enough when the time comes." Jack laughed; "but you will see for yourself that the thing is not quite finished. It is obvious enough that Padini's recital finished at about eleven, whereas you say that Anstruther went on till about one o'clock in the morning. The next business is to find out where Padini was playing so late—possibly at a smoking concert or something of that kind. At any rate I am going to find out, and then I shall discover that the supplementary programme will be exactly the same as your list."

"Is it some new science?" Claire asked, "some wonderful new discovery that Mr. Anstruther is perfecting before he submits it to the world?"

"Not a bit of it," Jack said practically. "There is nothing occult here. And now I must go. I will see you at dinner."



XVIII. — THE EMPTY ROOM

JACK went off, bent upon putting his discovery to the test There was not the slightest trouble in ascertaining where Padini had passed the hours between 11 and 1 of the previous evening. As Masefield had anticipated, the artist had been persuaded to lend his services to the Bohemia Clef Club, where he had been the lion of the evening. The fact Jack ascertained at the club itself, a musical member affording him all the information he desired. The previous night's talent had been of a very middle class nature, so that Padini had found himself in great request He had been exceedingly obliging, so Jack's informant said, and had practically played straight away for a couple of hours. Jack jotted down the names of the various items executed by Padini, and on comparing them with the list given him by Claire, found that they tallied exactly,

"The plot thickens," he murmured as he walked rapidly away in the direction of The Planet office, there to lay his most recent discoveries before Rigby. "What an ingenious rascal we have to deal with, to be sure!"

Rigby was emphatically of the same opinion. He did not see how it was possible to better Jack's suggestion that he should dine at Anstruther's that night and ascertain all he could as to Anstruther's past, and especially as to whether the latter had ever been in Mexico.

"There is one little thing we have quite overlooked," Jack suggested as he rose to depart "We have got to get inside that study. Anstruther's game is to lock himself in and pretend that his violin soothes his mind and induces a proper train of thought. That's his story, of course. I have ascertained that Padini is doing nothing to-night, but that will not prevent the music going on all the same. Now if you could hit upon some scheme whereby—"

"I know exactly what you mean," Rigby said; "you want to see the inside of the study just at the critical moment. I think our game is to make a diversion outside. I'll just turn over the matter in my mind, and if I can see a really artistic way of doing it I will send you a telegram just before you go to dinner. The diversion, of course, will come from the outside of the house."

Jack felt sure that the matter was quite safe in the capable hands of Dick Rigby. He was surer still when a little before 5 o'clock his landlady handed him a telegram containing just three words from Rigby. Before he slept that night Jack felt pretty sure that the secret of Anstruther's violin practice would be a secret from him no longer.

It was hard work to keep his feelings under control, to sit in the drawing room before dinner was announced and exchange commonplaces with his brilliant host. Anstruther had rarely been in better form; he had the air and mien of a man with whom the world goes very well. Indeed, success seemed to stand out in big letters upon him. Usually Anstruther was a man of moods: to-night he was merely a society creature with apparently no heed of the morrow.

If Jack had any misgivings on the subject of Claire's behavior towards her guardian, his uneasiness was speedily set at rest. The moat critical observer could not have detected the slightest jarring note. It was all the same through dinner—Anstruther monopolized most of the conversation, and Claire followed every word with flattering attention. Dessert was on the table at length before Jack carefully led up the conversation to foreign travel. He had seen much of the world himself, so that there were several places of mutual interest to be discussed with Anstruther.

"There is one part of the world, however." Jack said, as he carelessly peeled a peach, "that I have always been curious to see. I allude to the land of the Aztecs, those wonderful ruined cities of Mexico, of which we know so little and profess to know so much. Now, don't you think that those people must have been of an exceedingly high state of civilization?"

The question was so innocently asked, and Jack's artistic deference was so subtly conveyed, that Anstruther fell headlong into the trap.

"I should say there is not the slightest doubt about it," the host responded. "I have been there; indeed. I spent a goodish part of my time in and about Montezuma."

"And about when would that be?" Jack asked.

Anstruther explained, without giving definite dates, that it was about two years before. Jack proceeded to discuss the matter in a casual kind of way. He was anxious to know whether any of the old customs of the Aztecs still prevailed, that he had heard to a great extent the religion of these people had been built up on free-masonry. Did, for instance, Anstruther believe in the legends of terrible revenges which these people used to inflict on their enemies? But Anstruther declined to put his head further into the lion's mouth; he seemed to become suddenly a little uneasy and suspicious and changed the conversation to safer grounds. Still, Jack had learned quite as much as he had expected to learn, and Anstruther's very reticence confirmed Jack in the feeling that his host knew everything there was to know about the terrible misfortunes of the man or men called Nostalgo.

It was getting fairly late now, and Jack was beginning to wonder whether the hour had not yet arrived for Rigby's promised diversion. If it came now it would be merely wasted, seeing that nothing could be gained by Rigby's ingenious device until Anstruther was safe in his study. He showed no signs, however of any disposition to move; his face had grown placid again, and he was talking with all his old charm of manner on various topics of interest.

Jack did not fail to notice the figure of Serena as she flitted noiselessly about the room. It had not escaped his notice either, that the woman had appeared more than usually anxious and eager when Mexico had been mentioned. Serena disappeared from the room a moment in her soft, flitting manner, coming back a moment later with a telegram, which she laid silently by her master's side, Anstruther opened the envelope carelessly, and glanced at the contents.

Just for an instant his face grew dark as a thunder cloud, and something like an oath escaped his lips. It was all like a lightning flash, but the swift change had not been lost on Jack. Anstruther twisted up the telegram carefully, and thrust it in one of the shaded candles before him, as if he needed a light for his cigar. Jack felt that he would have given much for a sight of that telegram; already it was a little pile of gray ashes upon Anstruther's dessert plate.

"A great nuisance," the latter said airily; "that is the worst of being a man of science. But I am not going out to-night for anybody. I have got some music I want to try over presently."

Jack murmured something appropriate to the occasion. Claire had already left the table, with the suggestion that perhaps the men would like coffee in the drawing room.

"You stay here and smoke." said Anstruther; "you won't mind my leaving you, of course, especially as I am so anxious to get back to my music."

So saying, Anstruther pitched, his cigar end on the ash tray, and moved off in the direction of his study. He had a gay, debonair manner now; he hummed a fragment of an operatic air as he walked along. There was the jangle of a telephone bell presently; almost immediately afterwards the study door was heard to shut and lock, and the music began.

"It seems almost impossible to believe that that can be Anstruther." Jack said to himself. "No man could improve like that in so short a time. I wonder what Rigby is doing. I hope he won't spoil the pretty scheme by over-haste. Probably in the course of half an hour he will deem it time to begin."

Evidently Rigby had been of the same opinion, for a full half hour elapsed before a sound came from outside the house, Anstruther was well into his second theme before there was a sudden knocking and hammering on the front door and a stentorian voice burst into cries of "Fire! fire!"

So spontaneous and natural was the whole thing, that Jack was taken absolutely aback for a moment. It occurred to him, of course, that a fire had broken out inside the house, and that soma passer-by had discovered it. Again came the hammering on the door and the strident shouts of those outside. Jack made a leap for the hall, and raced upstairs to the drawing room three steps at a time. Claire had thrown her book aside, and stood, pale and startled, demanding to know what was the matter.

"Somebody outside is calling 'flre'." Jack explained hurriedly; "not that I fancy there is much the matter—the kitchen chimney or something of that kind. There they go again!"

Once more the hammering and yelling were upraised; a frightened servant crept across the hall to the front door and opened it. And yet, despite all this turmoil, the beautiful soft strains of music below were continuing. Not for a second did they cease; the player was evidently too wrapped in his music to be conscious of outside disturbances. Not that the clamor lacked force and volume, for now that the front door was open the din was absolutely deafening. Through the break in the disturbance the sweet liquid strains of music went on. Fond of his instrument as Anstruther might have been, he could be wide awake and alert enough on ordinary occasions, as Jack knew only too well. Why, then, was he so callous on this occasion?

"Had not you better go down and arouse my guardian?" Claire suggested; "surely he is the the proper man to look to a thing like this."

Jack tumbled eagerly down the stairs and thundered with both fists on the study door. As he had more than half expected, no response came to his summons. The music had become still more melodious and dreamy; the player might have been far away. As Jack turned, he saw that some half-dozen men were standing in the hall, one of whom gave him a palpable wink. It was Rigby's wink, and Jack detected it instantly.

"There don't seem to be very much the matter, sir," Rigby said. "No more than the kitchen fire. Only we thought we'd drop in and let you know. You chaps go to the kitchen and see what you can do."

"How on earth did you manage that?" Jack asked.

"Only a matter of burning a little magnesium light by the back door," Rigby explained, with a grin; "but it seems to me only part of your duty to acquaint the master of the house with the fact that something is wrong. Is that him playing now. Jack?"

"Nobody else," Jack replied. Isn't it wonderful. Anybody would think he was a great artist absolutely lost to all sense of his surroundings. Still, as you say, it is our duty to let him know what is going on, even if we have to break in the door."

Rigby grinned responsively. Secure in his disguise, he was not afraid of being taken for anything else but a street loafer eager to earn a more or less honest shilling. He tried the door and found it locked; he ran back a pace or two and hurled himself with full force against the oak door. Crack went the door on its hinges, the woodwork gave inwardly, and the room was disclosed to view.

The music had not stopped or faltered for an instant, the whole apartment was flooded with a delicate melody. Jack stood there puzzled and bewildered, and with a feeling that would wake presently and find that it was all a dream.

"Absolutely stupendous:" he cried: "music fit food for the gods, and not a sign of the player!"

For the room was absolutely empty!



XIX. — A BROKEN MELODY

THERE they stood in the empty room, neither speaking, and gazing about them as if they expected some solution of the strange mystery to fall upon them. The wildest part of the whole thing was that though the music continued in the same sweet, harmonious way, there was not the slightest suggestion or indication of where it came from. It could not possibly have been a phonograph or a gramophone or anything of that kind, as the instrument in that case would have been in sight. And yet the whole room was flooded with that beautiful melody as if an invisible choir had been there making the music of the gods.

"I declare it makes me feel quite queer," Rigby said; "but of course there must be some practical explanation of it. Can you suggest any common-sense solution?"

"No, but I am quite sure that Anstruther could," Jack replied. "This has nothing to do with the other world. What's that?"

Though Jack spoke cooly enough, he was feeling just a little nervous himself. From the hall beyond came a quick, buzzing noise, like a muffled circular saw, which resolved itself presently into the wild whirling of the handle of the telephone, as if some one were trying to get a call in a desperate hurry. Rigby jumped at once to the explanation, and Jack proceeded immediately to make a close examination of the room.

He was still in the act of doing so when a startled cry from Rigby brought him up all standing. An instant later and Anstruther was there, demanding to know the meaning of this unwarrantable intrusion. Rigby congratulated himself upon his disguise; he had no fancy at that moment to be recognised by Anstruther.

"Who is that loafer yonder?" Anstruther demanded passionately. "What is the blackguard doing in my study? And, if it comes to that, what are you doing here too?"

Jack proceeded to explain exactly what had happened. In spite of the confusion of the moment, he had not failed to notice the fact that the music had ceased directly Anstruther had entered the room. It was quite evident that Anstruther had not the slightest idea of Rigby's identity. He was clearly taken in by the story of the fire, and pitched Rigby a half-crown, which the latter acknowledged hoarsely, after the manner of the class he was made up to represent.

"Well, I suppose it is all right now," Anstruther muttered. Usually cool and collected enough, he looked white and very much agitated. Something had evidently gone terribly wrong with that man of blood and iron. "Get these fellows out of the house, please, Masefield. I have had a great deal to worry me to-night, and I want to be quiet."

There being nothing further to wait for, and Rigby. having practically gained his point, departed with an intimation to Jack that he would wait outside for him.

Masefield could see that Anstruther was regarding him with an eye of deep suspicion. But it was no cue of Jack's to notice this; he wanted to make matters as smooth as possible.

"I suppose you were not very far away?" he said. "I heard your violin a few minutes before the fire broke out. I wonder you did not see it for yourself."

Anstruther's face cleared slightly. though Jack noticed that his hand trembled, and that his pallid lips were twitching. With a commonplace expression or two, Jack turned and left the house as if nothing out of the usual run had happened. He found Rigby patiently waiting for him at the corner.

"Well, what do you think of that?" Rigby asked. "I am exceedingly glad that Anstruther did not recognise me. A most unlucky thing that he should have come back like that. Given half an hour alone in that room, it would have been an odd thing if we had not solved the mystery of the invisible musician. But it is hardly safe to stop and discuss the question here. Walk on to The Planet office, and wait for me there."

* * * * *

"Is there any more to be done to-night?" Jack asked, when he and his friend were alone once more, seated in the latter's office. "Shall we stop here, or do you want to proceed further before you go to bed?"

"Well, you can do as you please." Rigby said. "I don't know that I particularly desire your services at present My notion is to go back to Panton Square and hang about on the off-chance of seeing something."

"And spend half the night in dodging the police." Jack laughed. "That's a very primitive idea of yours; I flatter myself I have a much better idea than that. Anstruther will never betray himself; we haven't the slightest chance of trapping him. Now, unless I am altogether out of it, Padini is the man we want to get hold of. He is exceedingly vain: like most artists, there is nothing secretive about him, and I am told that he is particularly fond of a glass of champagne. Depend upon it, that fellow will talk fast enough when the time comes. If he doesn't, we can make him."

"But we must have something to go upon." Rigby observed thoughtfully. "I think we are justified in assuming that the fellow is a wrong 'un; anyway, our hands will be greatly strengthened if we can find something to his discredit."

"That's exactly what I mean to do." Jack said. "Now Bates is quite as much interested in this matter as we are, and though you have backed yourself against the police in this case, there is no reason why you shouldn't make use of them. Besides, we are not bound to tell Bates too much. If there is anything to be found out to the discredit of Padini, Bates is the very man for our purpose."

But, as it transpired subsequently, Bates was not available. He had just gone off, so the sergeant said, having been called in to investigate a burglary quite recently discovered in Belgrave Gardens. It was something exceedingly neat in the way of a burglary, the sergeant explained, with the air of a connoisseur in such matters; in fact, the place had been routed during the progress of a big reception. No ladders had been used, no wedges or commonplace implements of that kind: indeed, it was more than suspected that the burglary was the work of two of the guests. An unfortunate footman, being where he ought not to have been, had had his suspicions aroused by the movements of two distinguished-looking men in evening dress. He had come quite unexpectedly upon them in one of the corridors, and had so far forgotten himself as to want to know what they were doing there. Immediately one of them had felled him with some blunt, heavy instrument, and he had only just time to yell a note of warning before he fainted. The cry was taken up at once, and immediately the corridor was filled with men guests. In the confusion, and owing to the fact that the thieves themselves were in evening dress, it was impossible to lay hands on the culprits. All this the sergeant told the visitors with an air of great enjoyment.

"If you give us the number we will walk round there," Rigby said. "Thank you very much."

The big house in Belgrave Gardens had lost most of its air of simmering excitement by the time the two friends reached there. They mere informed that Bates had nearly finished his investigations, and, indeed, the inspector came into the hall at that moment, accompanied by Lord Longworth. He held in his hand a beautiful embroidered silk muffler—one of those choice affairs which are large enough cover a dinner table, and yet small enough to go into a waistcoat pocket.

"Very strange indeed, your lordship Bates was saying; "I can't understand it at all. Here is your injured footman prepared to swear that one of his assailants was wearing that muffler when he came into the house; that is, on his arrival. And here we have Mrs. Montague ready to swear that the muffler belongs to her. Whether she likes it or not, I really must insist on my right to take this wrap away with me. If it proves to belong to Mrs. Montague, why, of course—"

And the detective shrugged his shoulders. A moment later, and he was in the street with Masefield and Rigby. He listened carefully enough to the dramatic version of the story they had to tell him and professed himself ready to do anything required of him.

"Of course, I know nothing whatever about this violin mystery," he said. "I have quite enough to do to look after the native element in the way of rascality. But there are ways and means of getting the better of the gentle foreigner."

"But I always understood that Scotland Yard employed detectives of all nationalities," Rigby observed. "Haven't you got anybody on your staff with a knowledge of international crime?"

Bates responded that such was the case. If the friends liked, he would go with them at once to the residence of Superintendent Zimburg, and there see what could be done. "As far as I am personally concerned, my own hands are very full to-night."

"Your sergeant told us that this was a very interesting case." Jack suggested "Is it possible that this burglary was the work of some guests invited to this house?"

"Honestly, I believe it to be the case." Bates proceeded to explain. "After all is said and done, modern society is a pretty queer mixture. Given a good presence and a good address, plus the appearance of the possession of money, it is quits possible for a man to get anywhere. Take a big reception like the one that Lord Longworth gave to-night Now it would be quite fair to assume that his lordship and his wife were not personally acquainted with at least a third of the guests present. Somebody takes a friend, and that friend takes somebody else, and there you are. Of course, you are aware of the fact that at all big weddings nowadays it is absolutely necessary to employ detectives. To-night's business was exceedingly neat and novel, and might have been wonderfully successful but for the footman. All the same I am quite certain that the thing was executed by somebody who is actually a guest of his lordship."

"And not so much as a clue left behind," Jack laughed.

"Well, there is, and there isn't," Bates admitted. "I had a good look round when everybody was gone, and the only thing I could lay my hands on was this wonderful silk muffler. Nobody owned it; the injured footman declares that he saw a gentleman arriving earlier in the evening who had this muffler about his neck. Here was a fine clue, I thought to myself. And then Mrs. Montague comes back in her brougham and claims this thing as her own. Distinctly annoying, don't you think?"

"Annoying enough." Rigby agreed; "but is the muffler in question so very much out of the common?"

Bates was emphatically of the opinion that such was the case. He produced the thing from his pocket and the three men proceeded to examine it in the light of a street lamp. Jack appeared as if about to say something, then suddenly changed his mind, and began to whistle instead. They came at length once more to Shannon Street police station, where Bates telephoned to Superintendent Zimburg, asking the latter if he would come around immediately. He arrived a few momenta later—a slim, dark little man, with a vivacious manner and a beard with an interrogative cock to it. He smiled in a greasy sort of way at the suggestion that there might be some prominent foreign scoundrel in London with whom he was not acquainted.

"I know the whole gang," he said. "That is exactly my business. Have I seen anything, or do I know anything of this Padini? Probably I do, but not under that name. Oh yes, it is quite a usual thing for some of the pick of cosmopolitan rascals to be talented. For instance, I know at least three who might have made great names as artists, only they prefer the seamy aide of life. There is another who might have been a poet. Therefore I see no reason why this Padini, or whatever his proper name may be, should not be a really great violinist. If you have such a thing as a portrait—"

But Bates has nothing of the kind, and the whole thing looked like coming to a deadlock, when Rigby suddenly recollected that a portrait of Padini was to be obtained in The Planet office. The violinist's portrait had been reproduced in The Planet two days before, and the original was still lying about the office.

I'll take a cab and be back in ten minutes," Rigby said.

He was back in the prescribed time, and produced a cabinet portrait of Padini, which he handed over to the superintendent.

"Now, what do you make of that?" he asked.



XX. — THE MOUSE IN THE TRAP

ZIMBURG pulled the lamp across the table, and through his glasses carefully scrutinized the features of the violinist.

"Very strange he muttered; "it is not often that I am puzzled. Offhand I should have said that I had never seen this face before, but the more I look at it, the more certain I am that the features are quite familiar to me. At the same time there is some subtle change which baffles me—it may be the eyes, or the nose and the mouth—that it is impossible to say. Anyway, I should be prepared to arrest the man on suspicion, and take the risk of finding out all about him afterwards."

"I suppose any slight alteration makes a difference in the photograph?" Jack asked. "After all said and done, photography is a very weak reed to lie upon. Can't you tell us exactly what is puzzling your?"

Zimburg threw up his hands with a suggestion of despair. A sudden light flashed across Jack's mind. He recollected that Padini, so far as the stage was concerned, appeared with a clean face, but in private life it had been his whim to adopt a moustache strictly on the lines of that worn by the German Emperor. It was apparently an insane thing to do, and savored more of conceit than anything else, but no doubt the thing had its advantages.

"Do you happen to have such a thing as a paint box and a brush on the premises?" Jack asked, "if so, I think I shall be in a position to jog Mr. Zimburg's memory."

As it happened, the necessary implements were there to hand. There were occasions, Bates explained, when such things were necessary. Now and then some sprig of the nobility who had dined not wisely but too well found himself in the cells in a more of less dilapidated condition, and here it was that the paint-box came in. Black eyes and discolored faces and that kind of thing, Bates explained. "I assure you that a dash or two of paint makes all the difference in the world."

Jack smiled as he bent over the photograph, and with a few subtle touches decorated the face with a fierce blond moustache. He handed the card over without comment to Zimburg. The little man's face fairly beamed with delight.

"Ah! but you are a clever gentleman," he cried. "Now, I know our friend. Yes, yes, but he is a very clever man. And older than he looks, mind you; that fellow has eluded the Continental police for years. It would be absurd to try and give his real name, for probably he has forgotten it himself. Yes, I have heard of his playing before; not that I regarded him as quite good enough for a public platform. Wherever that man goes, roguery follows as a matter of course. Depend upon it, his appearance here means mischief. I will have him carefully watched, and before long I will have the pleasure of laying him by the heels."

"Don't do that, at least until you are absolutely obliged to," Jack said eagerly. "We are interested, deeply interested, in the movements of Signor Padini. It is more or less of a private matter, but if you could provide us with some means of getting a hold on that fellow we should be exceedingly obliged to you."

Zimburg promised to do his best, and departed. For some little time Rigby and Bates stood discussing the moat recent developments of the case, whilst Jack sat in a thoughtful attitude, evidently puzzling something out.

"Do you call Zimburg a realty clever detective?" he asked at length. "It seems to me that he has a poor memory for faces. For instance, he had not the slightest idea who the man Padini was till that moustache was added to the face of the photograph."

Bates, eager in the defense of his colleagues remarked that a little thing like that often made a vast difference.

"That is one of the great advantages of the Bertillon system." he explained. "I don't care how clever a man may be—and when I speak of a clever man I mean a policeman in this instance—he is often utterly deceived by some slight physical change. Take the case of the late Charles Peace if you like. I understand that he could alter the expression or even the shape of his face entirely. Make your mind quite easy, for Zimburg will work it all out like some ingenious puzzle. I suppose you are aware of the fact that the London and Paris police have thousands of careful records made of the measurements of well-Known criminals."

"But Zimburg can't very well measure Padini," Rigby argued. "He can't make him drunk, or anything of that kind."

"No, but he can have him arrested on some faked-up charge." Bates laughed. "That little game has been played more than once when we wanted the measurements of some clever criminal who had never passed through our hands.

"That is very ingenious," Rigby said, "and I shan't forget it. If facts like those were more widely known, I fancy you would get more assistance from the Press."

Bates emphatically repudiated the suggestion.

"I have often heard you say, in fact it is a rather fruitful source of complaint to the police, that the newspapers do them more harm that good." Jack said reflectively; "but I think I can see a way whereby the Press could give you a good leg-up in the case of this Belgrave Gardens mystery. Dick; is it too late to get a paragraph inserted in to-morrow's Planet?"

"Oh. dear, no," Rigby explained. "Probably no paper in London goes to bed later than we do. We make it a point of keeping open until the last possible minute, and we have a good hour before us yet. But what are you driving at?"

"Well, it is this way. It is pretty clear that one of the thieves was wearing that embroidered scarf which was also claimed by Mrs. Montague. Probably there were two such mufflers, but that does not affect my argument. Of course, a description of this affair will appear in to-morrow's Planet, but I should like to embroider on it a bit. Suppose we add to the report a paragraph to the effect that the thief left a marvelous wrap behind him. We could say that it was absolutely unique, and all that sort of thing, just the sort of silly gossip that your readers are so fond of. We could hint that the scarf still remains at Belgrave Gardens for identification. Now it is a thousand to one this paragraph reaches the eye of the thief, or is brought to his notice. This being so. he will lose no opportunity of getting the wrap back again. All you have to do is to keep the houser carefully under observation, and your man falls into your hands like, a ripe blackberry. What does the inspector think of our little scheme?"

Bates pondered the matter a moment or two, and then cautiously remarked that at any rate there could be no harm in it. Whereupon the two friends went away together, and half an hour later a spicy paragraph had been constructed for the delectation of The Planet's readers to-morrow. Rigby threw the paragraph aside, and whistled upstairs to the composing room.

"You look as if you had something at the back of your mind," he said, passing the cigarettes across to his companion. "Jack, you have found something out?"

"Upon my word. I believe I have," Jack replied. "It is rather soothing to one's vanity to get on the inside track so far as a detective is concerned. But it would not have been at all fair on my part to have said anything to Bates, seeing that you are investigating this Nostalgo business on your own account. Not that I am absolutely certain of my facts now. but I shall be after I have seen Miss Helmsley in the morning. Now, is there anything else we can do to-night? I suppose even an indefatigable journalist like yourself goes to bed sometimes."

* * * * *

Anstruther, was fortunately out when Jack called at Panton Square the next morning. He smiled to himself as he noticed a copy of The Planet on the hall table. It had evidently been carefully read; and on page 5, where the account of the Belgrave Gardens burglary appeared, somebody had ticked the paragraph with a pencil. Miss Helmsley was in the drawing-room, the housemaid said, and would see Mr. Masefield if he would go upstairs! Claire was looking a little pale and distracted, Jack thought; her eyes bore evidence of the fact that she had passed a restless night. But her face lighted up, and the old charm of feature reasserted itself as Jack entered.

"Come, come, this won't do," he said half tenderly, half playfully. "Positively I shall have to kiss the color back to those pallid lips of yours. What is worrying you so much, dearest?"

"Nothing worries me to long as I am with you," the girl said, as she stood with Jack's arm about her. "And yet I almost wish that you had never told me what you did yesterday."

"You cannot wish it more than I do, sweetheart," Jack murmured; "but don't you see that it was almost necessary. There is some desperate rascality going on here, and your happiness could not have been an assured thing till we get to the bottom of it."

"But that is just what frightens me," Claire protested. "I cannot get out of my mind the recollection of what happened last night. I shall never listen to that music again without the feeling that some unknown danger is hovering over me. I am frightened. Jack, frightened to my very sou!. And yet the whole thing can be explained; I am sure you can explain it yourself if you like."

Jack replied that he hoped to do so in a few days. He assured Claire that there was nothing supernatural about the music. For both their sakes he exhorted her to be brave. The red mouth grew hard and firm; there was a look of resolve in the girl's blue eyes.

"It shall be even as you say," she said. "But tell me, has anything fresh happened since last night?"

"Nothing that is worth speaking of," Jack said, feeling a little ashamed of his evasion. "Did Anstruther go out again last night? By the way. he seldom wears an overcoat; at least, so I understand him to. When he came in last evening, after the fire broke out, I noticed that he was wearing an overcoat then. Where does he get these wonderful embroidered scarfs from?"

"He has only one, so far as I know," Claire explained. "Originally there three, but two were either lost or given away. Wonderful work. Is it not?"

"Wonderful work, indeed," Jack attested, "but he did not tell me where they came from."

"So far as I can understand they came from Mexico. The silk is really Chinese of a quality which is made only for the Imperial palace of Pekin. To steal such a material is an offense punishable by death, but it is sometimes smuggled out of that town, and clever natives of Southern Mexico do the embroidery. But why you so curious about, this scarf?"

"Oh, I merely thought I should like to get one like it," Jack said carelessly. He had no intention of frightening Claire any more than was absolutely necessary.

"Couldn't you let me see it for a moment or two? I suppose you know where it is kept?"

Claire knew perfectly well where to lay her hands upon the scarf. Anstruther was a methodical man, and hated to leave his things lying about. He only used the scarf at such times as he was in evening dress. Claire went off, and Jack was by no means surprised that he had to wait a quarter of an hour. When Claire returned, her hands were empty: there was a puzzled frown between her usually smooth white brow.

"A most extraordinary thing," she said. "I cannot find the scarf anywhere. I am quite certain, that Mr. Anstruther is not wearing it; I thought perhaps he had thrown it carelessly down last night in the excitement of the moment, and therefore I asked Serena if she had seen anything of it. But she declared that she knew nothing, and yet at the same time she seemed to be extraordinarily troubled and agitated by my simple question. She is not an emotional woman, as you know, therefore her conduct is all the more amazing. But the fact remains that the scarf cannot be found, and so I cannot oblige you. I will ask Mr. Anstruther, if you like—"

But Jack emphatically wanted nothing of the kind. He was in a hurry now, he said, and would call again later in the day. He made his way directly to The Planet office, where he found that Rigby had just arrived.

"No, there are no fresh developments," he explained. "Did you take my advice last night and have the house in Belgrave Gardens watched by a private detective in addition to the policeman engaged by Bates?"

"Of course I did." Rigby replied. "As a matter of fact I have two men at watch there; one to relieve the other, and report progress from time to time. In fact, one of them has only just come in. He has very little to say, but that little was an eye-opener. I have ascertained that Anstruther is not even acquainted with Lord Longworth, and yet one of the first me to call in Belgrave Gardens this morning was Spencer Anstruther! Now, do you think he had anything to do with last night's business; otherwise, what do you suppose he called for?"

"That is exactly what I am here to tell you," Jack said. "The scarf which formed so important a clue belonged to Anstruther. It is missing from his house. In fact, I called there this morning on purpose to examine the thing. We have hit the right nail on the head this time—the lost property in the hands of Inspector Bates is beyond a doubt the cherished possession of Spencer Anstruther."



XXI. — A LEADER OF SOCIETY

IT was a most important discovery that Jack had made, and Rigby did not fail to see what developments it was likely to lead to.

If what Masefield had said was true—and Rigby saw no reason to doubt it—here they had Anstruther directly connected with the crime.

"Do you really think that our friend actually engineered the business at Lord Longworth's?" Rigby asked.

"I cone to no other conclusion," Jack replied. "You must understand that Anstruther is a kind of specialist in crime; he had frequently been consulted by the police, and I believe has brought off some wonderful results. He has even written a book on the subject. Now, we know Anstruther to be an unscrupulous rascal. The police looked upon him as a brilliant aid to themselves. If a man like this chooses to play the part of a ciminal Duuin, see what marvelous opportunities he has. He knows everything about the movements of the police; he can anticipate all theirs chemes. It is as if Bates himself had turned burglar. Whatever Mrs. Montague might say, it is pretty certain that the embroidered scarf belongs to Anstruther. Quite inadvertently he left it at Lord Longworth's last night, where he was passing in the crowd as an invited guest."

"I know that sort of thing is done," Rigby said. "A very impudent example came under my notice the other day. The thing is much easier done than one would imagine."

"Do you mean to say," asked Jack, "that it is possible for a gentlemanly scoundrel to walk into the house of some great society lady giving a reception and not be spotted immediately for what he is? It seems absurd!" "Not a bit of it!" Rigby replied. "To the audacious everything is possible. Supposing a duchess is giving a reception. She has asked perhaps a thousand guests. Half-way through the evening she is so tired and worn out that she does not know or care to whom she may be speaking. Here is the chance for the gentlemanly swindler we are talking about. Of course, he is perfectly dressed; he has the most exquisite manners. He lounges up to his hostess, and, after the usual greetings, makes some confidential remark about some friend of the family, which immediately stamps him as one of a certain set. All he has got to do now is to saunter along as if the whole place belonged to him, and help himself to such costly trifles as his mind inclines to."

"Did you ever know of a case in point?" Jack asked.

"My dear chap, I not only knew of a case, but I was more or less party to it. It was done for a bet, and I was one of the losers. It was so easily managed that I should not in the least mind trying it myself."

"Well, it seems very odd to me," Jack murmured. "still, if you know it has been done, there is an end of it."

"Well, it has been shown pretty conclusively," said Rigby, "that Anstruther must have been there last night."

"Quite so," Jack went on. "At any rate the scarf was left behind. I recognised it as soon as ever I saw it in Bates' hand; therefore I was absolutely sure that Anstruther had been at the reception. That is why I suggested that paragraph in The Planet. It is just the sort of silly gossip that papers publish after a sensational crime, and is calculated to hamper the police more than help them. I felt quite sure that somebody or other would bring that paragraph to Anstruther's notice, and that he would loss no time in trying to recover the scarf. I dare say there are other scarfs like it in existence, but they are not so common that Anstruther could afford to take any risk. That he realized the gravity of the situation is proved by the fact that he has lost no time in calling at Lord Longworth's to recover the missing property. I think I have made my case very clear."

"Nothing could be clearer," Rigby replied. "Anstruther is at the bottom of this business. I should say he is the cleverest rascal in London at the present moment. And mark the cunning of the beast. Don't you see how easy he can prove an alibi? If he were met face to face now, and taxed with the fact that he was at Lord Longworth's last night be would politely deny, it and, if pressed, have not the slightest difficulty in demonstrating that he was elsewhere."

"But I don't quite see," Jack interrupted, "exactly how that—"

"Clear as mud," Rigby said. "Why, he has only got to call his servants and Miss Helmsley to prove that he was in the study all the evening playing his violin."

"How stupid of me," Jack muttered. "The full beauty of that little scheme had been lost on me. There is a good deal we have to learn yet. But I can't stay talking to you any longer this morning, as I promised Claire that I would go and see Lady Barmouth. I have told Claire nearly everything there is to learn, and she is quite willing to be a friend of Lady Barmouth's and share her troubles. I will see you later in the day."

Jack went off in the direction of Lord Barmouth's house. He had some little hesitation in calling so early in the day, but then the matter was imperative, and he knew that Lady Barmouth would be glad to hear Claire's decision. The lady in question was sitting in her boudoir, accompanied by two secretaries, who appeared to be tremendously busy with a long visiting-list and some exquisitely-designed cards of invitation to a masked ball. But Lady Barmouth, heedless of Jack's apologies, declared that she had always time to spare for him.

"It is not I who am so busy." she said; "in fact, this is merely mechanical work, I am giving my great party of the season, and now that I have made out the list of intended guests, the rest is merely mechanical." So saying, Lady Barmouth led the way into an inner drawing-room, the door of which she carefully closed.

"You have some news for me," she cried eagerly. "I am quite sure you have come straight to me from Miss Helmsley."

"That is the fact," Jack said gravely. "Rather against my better judgment, I have told Claire everything. She knows now the class of man her guardian is; she knows that she will have to be terribly careful lest he should suspect. But Claire has a courage and determination which came quite as a surprise to me. I think the secret will be safe in her hands."

"Yes! yes!" Lady Barmouth cried; "but what about me?"

"I was coming to that. It seems to be a case of mutual sympathy between you. As a matter of fact it seems to me that Claire likes you as well as you like her. Anyway, she is willing to see you this afternoon, when you can talk matters over without reserve. But tell me, does Lord Barmouth take any kind of interest in these festivities of yours?"

"He is goodness and kindness itself," Lady Barmouth said warmly. "He has always insisted that his misfortune should not interfere with my personal enjoyment. At a dinner, or a reception, or an ordinary dance, my husband never shows himself. Despite his terrible misfortunes he thoroughly enjoys his amusements; he likes to mingle with people, seeing everything;, and not being seen himself. That is why I give so many of these masked balls. This is going to be an extra-smart affair, and I am asking my lady friends to wear as many jewels as possible."

"Claire told me something about it," Jack said. "I gathered that she is to be one of the invited guests."

"I am asking both Miss Helmsley and Mr. Anstruther." Lady Barmouth explained. "There is some danger in asking the latter, but one has to take these risks."

Jack murmured something that sounded sympathetic. Had Lady Barmouth only known it, the risk was far greater than she imagined. If Jack's suspicion were correct that Anstruther was mixed up with a gang of expert thieves, here then was a golden opportunity. The mere fact of it being a masked ball simply added to its opportunities. So deeply did Jack ponder over this, that it was some little time before he grasped the fact that Lady Barmouth was still giving him details of the forthcoming function.

"I am asking a lot of most prominent actresses," she said, "together with a number of leading musicians, and they are setting up a kind of morris dance. Of course, the music will be supplied by a small band of famous artists, and I am getting the new man Padini to be present."

Here was more news with a vengeance. But there was nothing to be gained by telling Lady Barmouth what had been elicited with regard to Padini.

"I presume I shall be honored with an invitation," Jack suggested. "I see from the expression of your face that I am to be a guest. Might I beg the favor of a card for a friend of mine?"

"More mysteries!" Lady Barmouth laughed. "Oh, you need not tell me unless it is absolutely necessary. You shall take the card away it you like, and deliver it to your friend personally."

Jack was seeing his way pretty clearly by this time. He was anticipating more than one important discovery during the progress of the masked dance. The card he had begged was, of course, for Rigby, and it would go hard if between them they did not discover something of importance.

"Now, I am going to speak to you on a more or less painful topic," Jack said gravely. "And I am going to ask you to be exceedingly candid with me. I want you to tell me what is the exact connection between Lord Barmouth and the Nostalgo posters which are so prominent in London at present."

The jeweled pen with which Lady Barmouth had been scribbling on the two invitation cards fell from her fingers on to the blotting-pad. There were trouble and unhappiness in her eyes, her face turned deadly pale; it was some little time before she spoke.

"Must I really tell you that?" she almost pleaded. "You are striking directly at the root of the unhappiness which poisons this house. It is not as if you really knew anything?"

"But indeed I know more than you give me credit for," Jack urged. "It was of no seeking of mine; it was not the remit of any vulgar curiosity; but last night when your husband was here I caught one glimpse of his face in the light of the log fire. And there I saw at once that I was face to face with Nostalgo. Believe me, it is with the greatest possible regret that I have to speak like this, but I am near to the heart of the mystery, and if you are plain and frank with me I am sanguine enough to believe that I can remove your unhappiness altogether."

"But the secret is not my own," Lady Barmouth faltered.

"Then let us assume that I have wrested it from you," Jack murmured. "It is no fault of yours that I know so much. It is no fault of yours that you are in some way under an obligation to somebody—an obligation which compelled you to be in Montrose Place last night. Luckily for us you kept your appointment. But there was somebody else also keeping an appointment in the courtyard. Whether he came there dragged by the force of circumstances, or whether he came to watch, matters little. But as be paused to light a cigarette and the pallid blue of the flame shone on his face I recognised—Lord Barmouth."

The listener said nothing; she merely bowed her head over the blotting-pad before her.

"Ah! I feel the circumstances are too strong for me," she said. "It is as if you were pushing me over the edge of a precipice. I cannot decide this matter on my own initiative."

"That is, exactly the line I hoped you would take," Jack cried eagerly. "After his interview with us last night, Lord Barmouth must be perfectly sure of the fact that Rigby and myself are actuated by the kindest motives towards him. Go and see him now, tell him all that I have said to you, and ask him if he would be good enough to grant me a ten minutes' private conversation. I am sure he will do this; indeed. If he refuses, there are others interested in the matter who may cause him to say in public what he declines to admit in private."

"I will do as you suggest." Lady Barmouth replied, "though I fear you will be met with a refusal as firm as it is courteous. If you will excuse me for a moment—"

Lady Barmouth said no more, but turned hurriedly and left the room. That the was very deeply moved Jack could see for himself. She came back presently, with a wan, white ghost of a smile on her lips, with a remark to the effect that Lord Barmouth was not prepared to accede to Jack's request off-hand, but that he would give it his earnest consideration, and tend his decision in the course of a quarter of an hour.

"It is exceedingly awkward for me," Jack said; "you can see how delicate the ground is I stand upon. But, believe me, I am only being cruel to be kind. I am sure that when I have finished my interview with Lord Barmouth he will be exceedingly glad that he has consented to see me."

"Oh, I quite understand your feelings," Lady Barmouth exclaimed, "It must be dreadful for a gentleman to appear obtruding like this. But are you quite that that the figure you saw in the courtyard at Montrose Place last night was my husband? You seem to have forgotten the other Nostalgo who was supposed to have have been found dead by yourself in Panton Square the other night."

Jack admitted readily enough that there were many sides to the mystery as yet unsolved. He was still discussing the point, when the footman entered, and gravely announced that Lord Barmouth was waiting to see Mr. Masefield. Lady Barmouth rose to her feet at once, and escorted Jack to a small room at the end or the corridor. The apartment was in complete darkness; it was just possible to discern the outlines or a figure in an armchair.

"I am pleased to see you, Mr. Masefield. I think you will find an armchair on the other side of the fireplace. My dear, I shall be pleased if you will leave Mr. Masefield and myself alone together."



XXII. — THE PORTRAIT

JACK sat there silently enough, waiting for Lord Barmouth to speak. The difficulty and delicacy of the situation were by no means lost upon him. He shuffled about uneasily n his chair, trying to make something definite out of the still figure opposite him.

"I quite appreciate your feelings." Lord Barmouth said, in the deep, thrilling tones that Jack remembered so well. "It is no nice thing for a gentleman to thrust himself into the private sorrows of an unfortunate man like myself. But my wife has told me all that you have been recently saying to her. You appear to be under the impression that you saw me in Montrose Place last night; in fact, that you recognised my face, which I imprudently disclosed whilst I was lighting a cigarette. Mr. Masefield, I am not disposed to deny the accusation."

"I hope you will be perfectly candid with me," Jack said, speaking with some hesitation; "believe me, I am actuated by the highest motives; believe me, I would do anything to rid you of the shadow that darkens your life. Of course, I have my theory on the subject of the strange business; a business which has been literally thrust upon me by stress of circumstances. Up to a short time ago, like moat people, I looked upon the Nostalgo poster as a high ingenuity in the way of advertising art. It was a wonderful effort, and most cleverly executed. But I should not have been in the least surprised to find that Nostalgo was an acrobat or a juggler, or even some new and clever way of introducing a fresh kind of soap to the credulous British public."

"Yes," Barmouth said thoughtfully. "I suppose one would have been satisfied in that way."

"But I speak with the discovery that I was mistaken," Jack went on. "The first thing that aroused my suspicions was more a girlish fancy than anything else. Of course you know Mr. Spencer Anstruther very well by name?"

"Ay, I know him by something more than name." Barmouth said, in deep, thrilling tones "If that scoundrel had never been born I should—but I am interrupting you. Pray proceed."

"Well, to revert to what I was saying," Jack went on, "that Nostalgo poster was hardly fully impressed upon my mind's eye, before I began to notice some grotesque resemblance between it and Spencer Anstruther. Without hurting your feelings, the poster is devilishly hideous; Anstruther, on the other hand, is a singularly handsome man. But despite all this, despite my common sense, I could not rid myself of the idea that the likeness was somewhere.

"A chance remark of mine served to confirm my impressions. It threw Anstruther into a sudden fit of passion. His face was literally convulsed with fury, but only for an instant. But that instant sufficed. There was Nostalgo in the flesh before me—the same drawn-up lips, the same hideous squint of the oblique eyes , the same dreadful, hawkish look about the nose. A second later the likeness was gone. I cannot forget, I never shall forget my feelings at that moment. If I fall to interest you—"

"You are interesting me more than words can tell," Barmouth said hoarsely. "Pray proceed."

"There is not much more to tell," Jack said. "Perhaps you have heard of the Nostalgo devil whom I found dead the other night in Panton Square? It was the man whose body so mysteriously vanished from the Shannon Street station?"

"Yes, I heard of that," Barmouth admitted; "but you will not be in the least astonished to learn that this whole affair was no surprise to me. All the same, I think you will find later on that the supposed victim is not dead at all. And now I am going to speak, and you are going to listen."

Jack intimated that he desired nothing better. He could make out the outline of the figure opposite him, wriggling and twisting in his chair.

"As you are quite aware, a little more than two years ago I went to Mexico. There was no thought of evil in my mind. I went out merely with an eye to sport. I have been fond of adventure all my life, and Mexico seemed to afford a fine field for such amusements as I was looking for. But the shooting was a great disappointment, and I had to turn elsewhere for recreation. A little later on I found myself in Southern Mexico, living with a half-savage tribe who showed signs that at some long-forgotten period the same tribe had enjoyed a high state of civilization. As a matter of fact, there were two of these tribes living only a few leagues apart, and both exceedingly antagonistic to each other.

"Of course I had to throw my lot in with one section, and take care that I didn't fall into the hands of the other.

The reason of this bitterness, I discovered arose from the fact that both claimed possession of a belt of land which was supposed to contain gold. Now, I am an exceedingly rich man, as you know. But I got the gold fever as badly as if I had been the neediest adventurer who ever wielded pick and shovel.

"I had been told by my friends that the leader of the other section was an Englishman like myself. He was supposed to have married one of the women of the tribe, and adopted their manners and customs. Of course, I needed no one to tell me that only such a powerful incentive as gold could have persuaded an educated Englishman to remain permanently with a tribe. This other section was far the more powerful of the two, and they gave us fair warning that any of us that were caught in the gold belt would be likely to suffer for it. This was quite good enough for me. Picking up a score of the most daring adventurers, we made up our minds to put in some exploring without delay. I may mention the fact that some of these adventurers were Europeans also. Anyway, we set out one evening, and morning found us lighting our campfire in the heart of the gold belt.

"On the other hand I had been left behind to look after the cooking whilst the others pushed on to a likely spot where indications of the precious metal might be found. My companions had hardly disappeared from sight before a man came riding up to me and demanded my business. It was quite easy to see that he was an Englishman, despite the fact that he was arrayed in the full war paint of the tribe. He was a fine powerful man, and his face denoted great intellectual gifts. Come Mr. Masefield, you are a clever man yourself, and therefore will have no difficulty in guessing who the stranger was."

"Anstruther for a hundred!" Masefield cried.

"You have guessed it exactly, as I thought you would," Lord Barmouth went on gravely. "It was Anstruther, and no other. He wasted no time in demanding to know what I was doing there. He warned me of the dreadful pains and penalties likely to occur if I remained where I was, but I laughed him to scorn. By way of reply he gave a shrill whistle, and there emerged from the scrubby brush a small misshapen man with the most hideous face that it has ever been my lot to look upon. Need I describe that face, Mr. Masefield?"

"No," said Jack in an awed voice. "It was another Nostalgo."

"Once more you have guessed it, Barmouth went on in the same way. "Anstruther pointed to the shrinking figure by his side, and told me that I must either go back at once, or that I must suffer the same fate as the man by his side. My blood was hot then: I care for no man. I do not exactly know how it commenced, but presently we were exchanging revolver shots, each determined to do for the other. I suppose somebody crept up behind me, for I was just conscious of a terrible blow on the back of the head, and then I remembered no more.

"When I came to myself I was lying in a deserted hut, absolutely alone, and with a feeling upon me that I had just recovered from a long and painful illness. There was food beside me, a little native spirit in a bottle; my clothes were neatly laid at the foot of my bed. When I reached the open I recognised the fact that I wad in a spot some fifty miles on the far side of the gold belt. From the length of my beard I calculated that I must have been lying there for some three weeks. My horse I found outside, and, feeling strong enough to proceed on my journey, I rode off in the direction of the tribe to which I was attached. I was feeling fairly well, and conscious only of a strange tightening sensation in the muscles of the face."

It was some time before Lord Barmouth spoke again. It was not for Jack to interrupt the tenor of his painful thoughts. But the silence was so long that he felt bound to speak at length.

"But how does this give Anstruther such a hold on you?" he asked.

"That is another matter entirely," Barmouth explained, "though, of course, it touches on the main issue. You see, that though Anstruther knows me as the James Smith I used to be called in Mexico, he has not the remotest idea that I am Lord Barmouth. In fact that man blackmails me."

"I don't quite follow," Jack said.

"I admit it sounds a little complicated," Barmouth went on. "As my real self Anstruther does not know me. Why should he interest himself in an apparently broken-down hypochondriac? The man he cares about is 'James Smith,' the Nostalgo whom he regards as a relative of my wife, and who lives here in some secluded part of the house. Heaven only knows if he is really aware of the truth, for he is so clever a scoundrel that he is quite capable of deceiving me on that point till the time is ripe to expose me and degrade me despite the sums of money I have paid him. I do not know. I dare not ask. Call me a coward if you like, but if you had gone through what I have?"

Barmouth paused, and wiped the moisture from his forehead.

"If I were not Lord Barmouth," he continued, "I would care little or nothing for what he says; but for the sake of my wife I have to submit to his persecutions. Therefore it is that at certain seasons of the year I meet Anstruther in Montrose Place and hand him over a thousand pounds. But there is one drawback to Anstruther's mastery of the situation. There are other men who were as vilely treated as myself, and some day Anstruther will fall by the hand of one of them.

"If you ask me why those hideous posters have been lately dotted dotted about London, I can't tell you; I feel quite sure that they are some ingenious design of Anstruther's. I feel quite sure that that Nostalgo you picked up the other night was here after Anstruther's blood, and that he died at Anstruther's instigation. My only consolation is the fact that my wife absolutely refused to break off her engagement on the strength of my terrible disfigurement. It was a long time before I yielded, but yield I did at length. And now that you know so much, perhaps you will be so good as to draw up the blinds, and let us talk face to face; that is, if you do not object to—"

Jack hastily disclaimed any objection. He drew the blinds aside, and a flood of light poured into the room. It was a little difficult to repress a shudder at first, but he found himself presently talking to Barmouth as if his face had been like those of other men.

"You will find some cigarettes; this is my own room." Barmouth explained. I furnished it more with an eye to comfort than anything else."

But Jack was not listening. He took up a cigarette mechanically, and was gazing intently at a photograph in a large silver frame standing on the mantlepiece. It was the face of a woman: a dark melancholy face with mournful eyes.

"Would you mind telling me who that is?" Jack asked

"A sister of my wife's," Barmouth explained. "It is rather a sad story."

Jack said nothing. But the face looking into his own was the face of Anstruther's servant, Serena.



XXIII. — FACE TO FACE

IT was perhaps fortunate for Jack that Lord Barmouth appeared to be engrossed in his own painful thoughts. At any rate he did not seem to notice that his youthful visitor's gaze was fixed so intently upon the photograph. So far as Jack could see, the picture had been taken some years before, and had not that wild, defiant, yet half-sad expression which marked Serena to-day. There was not much time to think, but Jack rapidly made up his mind. He would say nothing to Barmouth of his discovery, but would open up the matter, as delicately as possible with Lady Barmouth. It was not a nice thing for a comparative btranger to intrude upon sacred grief, like this, but the discovery was so likely to lead to important results that it would have been folly to hesitate. It was some considerable time later before Jack left Lord Barmouth, who shook him warmly by the hand and implored him to come again.

"You can imagine what a lonely life mine is," Barmouth murmured. "My wife is devotion itself, but one longs for the company of a man sometimes."

Jack promised sincerely enough that he would come again and often. He had taken a great liking to the lonely man who bore his cruel misfortunes to well. He had not intended at present to worry Lady Barmouth with the recent discovery, but she happened to be crossing the hall, and looked upon Jack eagerly and curiously.

Jack was about to say something to Lady Barmouth when someone called her, and she turned away. Evidently she had no intention to allow Masefield to leave the house without satisfying herself as to the result of his interview with Lord Barmouth. With this feeling upon him, Jack lingered in the hall. He suddenly recollected that he had left his gloves behind him, and returned for them. He found Barmouth standing before the fireplace, apparently lost in thought. Jack had to speak twice before his host realized the fact that he was no longer alone.

"I came back for my gloves." Jack explained. "I left them on the little table behind there. I am sorry to intrude upon you again, but since you have been to kind to me—"

"On the contrary, it is you who have been so kind to me." Barmouth said. "I am not sorry you came back, because I have been thinking over the interview which we have just concluded. I might have told you a great deal more than I did. Indeed, I was perhaps unwise to be so reticent. If you will come and see me again—"

"I will come and see you as often as I can get an opportunity." Jack said warmly. "Apart from the gratification of my vulgar curiosity. I have been wonderfully entertained by your experiences. I saw Lady Barmouth in the hall just now, and I know that she is anxious to learn how we got on together."

Jack went out again, with a feeling that he was more and more drawn toward his unfortunate host. He lingered in the hall for a moment, gazing at the fine pictures and the artistic arranging of the flowers, hoping that Lady Barmouth would return. He had not long to wait, for presently she came floating down the stairs again. There was a pleased smile on her face.

"Oh, I am so glad you stayed so long," she said. My poor George must have enjoyed your society or he would not have detained you."

"We got on very well together, indeed," Jack explained. "I now have a pretty shrewd idea of this Nostalgo business. During my interview with your husband I made an still more stupendous discovery."

"Something that affects my husband's case?" Lady Barmouth asked eagerly.

"I think it touches very deeply, indeed," Jack said gravely. "May I intrude on you for another five minutes? Mind you, I have said nothing about this to Lord Barmouth, because it seems to me to concern you alone."

Lady Barmouth led the way back to the small drawing-room again. Her eyes were fairly dancing with curiosity.

"It is about your sister," Jack said, "the sister whose photograph stands on the mantlepiece in your husband's room."

"Oh, must we really go into that?" Lady Barmouth asked, with a shade cf coldness in her voice. "There are matters so sacred that even the most sincere friend—"

"Believe me, I am speaking under the strongest sense of duty." Jack urged. "Nothing else would induce me to speak. Lord Barmouth told me it was a very painful subject, but we must go into it."

"It is a painful subject." Lady Barmouth murmured. "She was my youngest sister, and very dear to us all. I do not say she had no faults: indeed, she had far too many. But she was very lovable in spite of her headstrong ways and her quick fits of passion. She never got on particularly well with my father, who all the same cared for her very much indeed. She was sent at the age of seventeen from Southern Mexico, where we lived at that time, to finish her education in London. I don't know why, but it seemed to be assumed that she was the daughter of very rich parents, and that in the course of time she would inherit a great deal of money. Be that as it may, she contrived to fall head over heels in love with her music-master, and they ran away together and got married. We never quite knew the name of the man; however, it was something quite foreign, and, judging from what happened afterwards, probably was no more than an alias. My sister's letter to her father announcing her marriage was returned to her unread, and she was given to understand that she could no longer consider herself one of the family. That sorry scoundrel who brought so much unhappiness on the poor girl's head basely deserted her, and from that day to this I have seen nothing of the poor child."

"She did not write to you, she did not communicate with you in any way?" Jack asked.

"I have just told you that I have never heard of or seen the poor girl since. She was a proud as she was high-spirited, and after what had happened, would have died rather than appealed to any of us for assistance. But why do you ask?"

"Because I recognized in the portrait in question the features of one who I see practically every day of my life. There can be no question about the matter at all, Lady Barmouth—your sister has been for a long time Spencer Anstruther's housekeeper."

"You astonish me; you move me more than words can tell. My sister in the house of that man? Do you mean to suggest for a moment—"

"I am not suggesting anything whatever that is wrong," Jack said earnestly. "For some time I have been trying to make a study of the poor woman who calls herself Serena—"

"That is my sister's second name," Lady Barmouth interposed.

"Yes! But I have not made much progress. It is quite evident to me that your sister has had a terribly stormy past. Not that her spirits are broken, for there comes ever and again in her face the look of one who is prepared to fight to the bitter end. All the same, she is absolutely under the domination of Spencer Anstruther; she watches his every movement: indeed, it is almost as if he had hypnotized her. But that there is anything wrong—oh, no. Anstruther simply regards your sister as one of his creatures."

"I am quite unnerved by all you have to tell me," Lady Barmouth cried. "It has always been my prayer that may poor sister and myself should meet again, because I, for one, have never blamed her for that which, after all, is more her misfortune than her fault. She was very young at the time that she gave her heart into the keeping of that scoundrel, very young and very romantic. And goodness knows, she paid enough for her folly. I must see her at once.I will go with you—"

"Not to Anstruther's house," Jack protested. "Think of the danger of it."

"But Mr. Anstruther merely knows me as Lady Barmouth. He knows nothing of Lord Barmouth as Lord Barmouth. We can easily assume that I came to ask the character of a servant. Oh, do not let us wait! If you only knew how anxious I am to see Serena again!"

Jack shrugged his shoulders and allowed the point to pass. At any rate he suggested that Lady Barmouth should possess her soul in patience a little longer. Usually the hours between five and seven were spent by Anstruther at his club, where he often indulged in a rubber of whist; indeed, he was very regular in this respect. Jack expounded all this to Lady Barmouth, who listened to him with more or less patience.

"Let it be as you please." she said. "I am afraid you do not quite understand my feelings; still, you have been to good and kind and patient all through this miserable business that I am loth to do anything to mar your chances of success. Come and have a cup of tea with me, and then it will be time to start."

It was a little after six before Jack and Lady Barmouth set out in the direction of Panton Square. They came to the house at length, and Jack rang the bell. Some little time elapsed before there was any response, and Jack rang again. He was getting slightly uneasy by this time: so many things had happened lately that therefore it was possible that something equally strange might have recently been enacted in Panton Square. He pulled the bell again, this time furiously.

"It looks as if everybody was out." Lady Barmouth suggested.

"And yet I fancy I can hear somebody," Jack said, with his eye on the keyhole. "I am sure that I saw somebody flit across the hall. Let us try again."

Another furious peal at the bell brought a halting footstep, as if dragged unwillingly in the direction of the door, and then a voice inside faintly demanded to know who was there.

"Who are you?" Jack asked—his fears had rendered him a little impatient, "and what have you to be afraid of? Please open the door, I tell you that—"

"Is that really you, Jack?" the voice inside said in tones of deep relief. It was easy to detect that Claire was the speaker now. "I will open the door for you at once."

There was a fumbling at the bolts and latch, and then the heavy portal swung back. Claire's face was very pale, her hands were trembling, and there was something like terror in her eyes.

"I hope nothing wrong has happened?" Jack said anxiously.

"Well, no," Claire explained, "nothing what you might call really wrong." All the same, she was holding her hand to heart like one who has run fast and far.

"It was not on my account that I feared; it was for Serena's sake."

"Are you and Serena alone in the house?" Jack asked.

"Absolutely. The other two maids have gone out for the day, and, as my uncle is dining at his club, I did not bother about a set dinner, and was going to have a small dish sent up for myself. A few minutes ago Serena came to me in a state of terrible agitation, saying that somebody had called to see my guardian. Though he was assured that Mr. Anstruther was out, and was not likely to return before it was time to dress for dinner, the man persisted in refusing to believe the statement. He pushed his way into the hall, and locked the door behind him, saying that it was his intention to search the house. He was so rude and overhearing that Serena was naturally frightened, and came to me. I hope you won't blame me unduly, but I was as frightened as Serena herself. I summoned up courage at length to face this man, but when I reached the hall I found that he had unlocked the door again, and had vanished. But not before he had been all over the house."

"Was he rude, or did he use anything like violence?" Jack asked heatedly. "Oh, this sort of thing is abominable. Ask Serena to come here, and give me a description of the fellow. Then I will go off at once, and place the matter in the hands of the police."

So agitated and upset was Claire that she had entirely overlooked the presence of Lady Barmouth, who stood in the dim shadow of the hall listening to this amazing story. She went off now in the direction of the kitchen, where she seemed to be engaged in persuading the terrified Serena to come forward. The latter came presently, with a trembling, halting footstep, and Lady Barmouth shrank closer against the wall. The electric light had not been switched on yet, so that it was almost too dark to recognise the features of Anstruther's housekeeper. Jack rather wondered to see Serena so terribly upset. Broken as she was by misfortune, and dominated as she was by Anstruther's strong personality, she did not lack pluck and spirit, as Jack had seen on more than one occasion.

"You seem to have been subjected to a rather unpleasant experience." he said. "What class of man was the fellow who insisted on pushing his way into the house like this? A half-intoxicated workman, or some loafing rascal—"

"Oh, nothing of the kind," Serena replied. She was getting her voice well under control now. "The man was dressed as well as yourself. Mr. Masefield. It was not his appearance that frightened me in the least, at least not his outward appearance. Nor was he in the least abusive or violent."

"But tell us what he looked like," Jack said impatiently. "I want a description for the benefit of the police."

Serena seemed to hesitate for a moment and a curious expression passed like a shadow over her worn, sad face.

"Oh, you will not laugh at me, you will not make fun of what I am going to say? It was not quite dark; in fact, there was plenty of light when I opened the door for the man. His hat was turned down, and his coat collar was turned up. As the door was thrown open, he lifted his hat to me with a natural courtesy that belongs to very well-bred man. And then I saw his face. It was exactly the same face as that."

Serena broke off suddenly, as if her emotions were too strong for her. The front door had not yet been closed; the strong flare of a great arc light lit up the hoarding on the far side of the street. With a trembling hand Serena, pointed to the central poster on the hoarding. Jack started as he followed the direction of her shaking finger.

"What!" he cried; "Nostalgo! Another Nostalgo! Do you mean to say that he has been here to-night?"

"Yes," Serena said simply, "it is just as I have told you."



XXIV. — IN THE SQUARE

JACK said no more for the present. He closed the front door quietly, not forgetting, however, to glance at the great clock, and stopping to calculate that a good half-hour must elapse before Anstruther returned. It would have been a great misfortune indeed if the latter had come home at that moment. In a mechanical kind of way Serena turned into the dining-room, where she proceeded to pull down the blinds and switch on the lights . At a sign from Jack, Lady Barmouth remained where she was for the moment, and Masefield, together with Claire, entered the dining-room.

"I am bound to ask you a few questions," he said, turning to Serena. "For instance, I have yet to learn why the walking image of that poster should have frightened you so terribly."

"It was Adolpho returned from the grave," Serena murmured. Apparently she was talking to herself. "Beyond all question poor Adolpho—" She paused in some confusion, and looked guiltily from Claire to Jack. The latter was not slow to take up the point "So you have actually seen the man before?" he demanded. "Well, we will not discuss that at present. A little later on perhaps I shall ask you to speak more freely. Meanwhile, I may as well tell you that I came here to-night with a lady desirous of seeing you."

Serena was alert and eager in a moment. Jack could see that the fighting look had returned to her face; her eyes dilated strangely. She seemed to guess by some subtle instinct exactly what was going to happen. "My sister," she whispered. Her voice was very strained and low. "Something tells me that my sister is here. I pray you, go away and get rid of her at once. Tell her any lie, invent any falsehood. If you have the slightest feeling for the most miserable woman in the world you will do this for me." "But it is too late," Jack protested. "Lady Barmouth is with me; she is waiting in the hall at the present moment, and she has already seen your face." "But I do not understand, " Serena cried, stretching out her hands hopelessly. "I have but one sister whom I believe to be living, and her name is Grace. Lady Barmouth cannot possibly be anything to me." "Lady Barmouth is your sister all the same," Jack explained. "She married Lord Barmouth after you left home; she told me your sad story, and you must believe that she has been looking for you everywhere. Surely you would not punish yourself for that which was after all merely an act of girlish folly?" Serena covered her face with her hands and burst into tears. Her head fell forward on the table. Presently an arm stole about her neck. When she looked up again it was to meet the tender and softened gaze of Lady Barmouth. "And so we meet again like this after all these years, " Lady Barmouth said gently. "Oh, my dear Serena, how could you go off like that; how could you leave us all without a word or sign? Our father was a harsh man; his pride was his besetting sin, but he would have forgiven you and taken you to his heart again, if only you had returned to the old home. Didn't you suppose that I cared? And after all said and done, what is your crime? You trusted a man who was not worthy of your affection, and he deserted you because you lacked the money for which he married you. If that is a crime, then there are many thousands of poor women in the world in the same sad plight."

Meanwhile Jack and Claire had crept quietly from the room. It would have have been indelicate to remain there in he circumstances. Jack, looking at Claire, noted that the tears were also in her eyes.

"What a strangely pathetic thing," Claire murmured. "How did it come about. Jack?" Jack explained the story of the photograph, but Claire was hardly listening. It seemed such a strange, sad story to her, this pathetic meeting between the two sisters.

"But you don't suppose that Mr. Anstruther knows?" Claire asked. "You do not imagine for a moment that he is aware of the fact that Serena is Lady Barmouth's sister?"

"I hope to goodness no," Jack exclaimed. "But I don't see how the thing could be possible. To begin with, the sisters are not in the least alike, and in addition to this Serena had not the least idea that Lady Barmouth had married. What I am most afraid of now is that Anstruther should come back and discover those two women together." Claire nodded gravely, with one eye on the clock. It was only a matter of minutes now when Anstruther would return. He was dining at his club to-night, Claire explained, with Mr. Carrington at 8 o'clock, and as it was now quarter past seven there was not much time for him to dress and get back to to James Street again.

"In that case I must intrude myself upon those two ladies," Jack said firmly. "I will put Lady Barmouth in a cab and send her home. It will be quite easy for the sisters to arrange a meeting at Lady Barmouth's house. Keep Anstruther out of the dining-room if he comes in. "

Jack strode resolutely across the hall, and placed the matter tersely and vigorously before the sisters. "It would never do," he explained, "for Anstruther to find you here at this moment."

Serena's eyes were swollen with weeping. There were the deep marks of tears upon her cheeks. Lady Barmouth's worldly training had stood her in better stead , but she also carried traces of emotion which could not be wiped out in a moment.

"I am going to put you in a cab at once, Jack said. "Anstruther may be here any minute, and you can imagine how necessary it is to keep him in the dark. Besides, you can easily arrange a meeting n a safer atmosphere than this." With a brief remark to the effect that she would communicate with Serena again Lady Barmouth left the room, permitted Jack to escort her to a cab. The latter breathed more freely as the clatter of the horses' hoofs died away. He ran back quickly to the house again; to give a few last words of instruction to Claire.

"You look all right now." he said, "but Serena's case is entirely different. Take my advice, and send her up to her room. If you are not going to dine in the proper sense of the word, there is no reason why Serena should appear again till Anstruther had gone to his club. And I will go too; I don't want our worthy host to know that I have been here this evening." Jack went off thoughtfully in the direction of the square. It was a particularly good-class neighborhood, and generally very quiet at this time of the evening. The half-hour past 7 had just struck from a neighboring clock. In most of the dining-rooms on the north side of the square brilliant lights demonstrated the fact that folk were at dinner. With the exception of a solitary policeman nobody was in sight. As is usual with the majority of London squares, the place was none too well lighted, and there were just sufficient lamps to throw the shadows of the garden in deeper relief. It had often occurred to Jack how easy crime and violence would be in circumstances like these.

Jack's imagination was working freely now; indeed, it would have been odd if his brain had not been screwed to a high pitch by the events of the day. Coming toward him now, swinging along at a good pace, was a tall, slim figure, which seemed familiar to Masefield. As the figure paused under a lamp to look at his watch. Jack could see the figure was that of Anstruther. He congratulated himself upon the fact that he had got away from Panton Square before Anstruther returned. He crossed the road in a casual sort of way, and passed along under the shadow of the houses so that Anstruther had no idea how he was being watched.

The latter paused again just by the entrance to the square gardens, the gates of which had not yet been locked, though it was considerably past the hour when the gardens were closed to the public. Anstruther stood there as if debating something in his mind, then suddenly another figure came like a lightning flash from inside the garden gates, and fell upon Anstruther with terrible swiftness. So sudden and unexpected was it that Jack could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes. Anstruther gave one gurgling cry, his hands went up as if implore assistance, then he settled down to a fray which could only end in one fashion. It was impossible where Jack stood for him to make out anything more than the mere outline of the man the grimness of his intention: there was sinister design in every movement of his body. This was no common square thief, intent upon a paltry meed of plunder, but a man who had deliberately picked out his prey with the intention of mauling it to the death.

All this passed as it were in the twinkling of an eye. Jack knew now that he would have to pull himself together and advance to the rescue. As he flew across the road be heard in a mechanical sort of fashion the heavy footstep of a policeman clanging on the quiet pavement some little way off. Here, at any rate, was aid fairly close at hand. But Jack was not the kind of man to wait in an emergency like this. Before he could cross the road he saw that Anstruther was prostrate on the pavement, with his assailant kneeling cat-like upon his chest. The man was evidently fumbling or something, probably a weapon of the noiseless kind, for Jack could see his right hand working in a hip pocket. With a headlong leap Jack fell upon the would-be assassin, and clutched him by he throat. At the same time a police whistle shrilled.

Rut the man kneeling on Anstruther's chest was not taken aback for an instant. With a quick upward motion of his body he pitched Jack clean over his head, and, rolling off Anstruther's chest, darted like a snake into the gardens. By this time three policemen were upon the scene.

"No, I don't think he is hurt much," Jack explained, as Anstruther scrambled to his feet and gazed wildly around him. "No damage done, eh?"

Anstruther explained that he was none the worse for his adventure. He seemed to be under the impression that he had been the victim of some loafer's cupidity. He could give no description of his assailant: indeed, he said that he had no idea now but to get away and keep an important appointment. He tossed his card over to the police, and went coolly down the road.

"We can get that fellow all the same," Jack said. "He is in the gardens somewhere. Suppose you three men stand round the square while I go inside and drive him out. One of you lend me a lantern."

The quest was by no means a long one. At the fourth cast of the lantern Jack descried his man crouching down under a belt of laurels. He reached forward and dragged the fellow up by the neck.

"I am a bigger man than you are," Jack said. "Do you come quietly, or are you going to take it fighting?"

By way of reply the man raised his hat; his face was exposed.

"I am not going to take it at all," he said. "You will be good enough to put the police off my scent and have a cab handy so that I can get away unseen. We have met before, sir."

It was a fitting crown to a day of surprises. For the man who stood before Jack was the same Nostalgo he had conveyed in the guise of a dead body to Shannon Street police station.



XXV. — ON THE TRACK

THE man standing there showed not the slightest trace of alarm. There was just the suggestion of a smile on his face, as if he felt confident of his position. Jack could even see that he was fingering a cigarette case, as if he were thinking more about tobacco than anything else. He advanced a little nearer to his pursuer, and the suggestion of a smile broadened to a look of absolute amusement.

"It seems to me that we have met before," he said, with an accent that left no doubt as to his nationality. "But I have just reminded you of the fact. The question is, what are you going to do?"

"Well, you are a very cool hand," Jack replied. "My obvious duty is to hand you over to the police for the attempted murder of Mr. Spencer Anstruther."

"Instead of which you are going to do nothing of the kind," the stranger replied. "Besides, you are quite wrong. I am prepared to admit the assault on Mr. Anstruther, but as to murdering him? nothing of the kind. Besides, you know perfectly well you are consumed with curiosity to know all about my mysterious self."

Jack smiled to himself despite the gravity of the situation. The stranger had hit off his thoughts exactly.

"You are naturally anxious to know," he said, "what happened to me after you were good enough to escort my unconscious body to Shannon Street police station. I see you are a little dubious as to whether I am the right man or not; but if you looked at me carefully, you would see there is no mistake whatever."

Jack advanced a few paces nearer the speaker, and surveyed him closely in the blinding light of the lantern. There was no doubt whatever that this was one and the same Nostalgo. There was a certain mark in the shape of a crescent scar on his chin, the same scantiness of eyebrow, and the same peculiar droop of the lids.

"I am quite satisfied that you are the same man," Jack said.

"That's all right," the stranger cried, eagerly. "Of course. I know quite well that you are deeply interested in this Nostalgo mystery, and good fortune has placed you in the position to find out all about it. Get rid of those fellows, and call me a hansom. As a guarantee of good faith, here is my card. The address leaves a great deal to be desired, but I assure you my quarters are a great deal more comfortable than the locality would convey. If you have not yet dined, perhaps you would not mind partaking of my bread and salt."

Jack did not hesitate a moment longer. It was, perhaps, playing it rather low down on the police, but it seemed almost a criminal folly to waste so golden an opportunity as this. If the man had been given in custody for the murderous assault upon Spencer Anstruther, there would be long and tedious investigations, which would not only delay the solution of the trouble, but perhaps scare away others who were more or less party to the mystery. After all said and done. Anstruther was not a penny the worse for his adventure, and no harm could be done in defeating the so-called ends of justice.

"You stay where you are," Jack said, "and I will see what I can do for you. The police are on three aides of the square, leaving this side open to me. It is only a matter of a little, patience, and the thing is accomplished."

Jack emerged cautiously into the road and looked about him. So far as he could see the street was deserted, though he could hear the constables making signs to one another on the other three sides of the square. Whilst he was still debating in his mind what to do, an empty hansom crawled toward him. Jack ran back and signed to the driver not to stop. "You can earn a sovereign if you like," he said. "Don't ask any questions, but do exactly what I tell you. Turn back, go just to the corner of the square, and then return slowly; when you are opposite the gates, pull up as if there was something the matter with your horse. Then a man will come out and jump into your cab. You are to drive him to the address which I am going to give you without any questions. Here is your sovereign, and now listen carefully to the address. That is all."

Jack returned hurriedly to the gardens, at the same time whistling loudly as if he had need of assistance. It was not long before the three constables, guided to the right spot by the flash of Jack's lantern.

"Now's your time." he whispered hurriedly. "There is hansom waiting for you by the gate, and the driver knows exactly what to do and where to take you. He is already paid his fare."

The man Nostalgo smiled and vanished. It was an easy matter to satisfy the police that their quarry had eluded Masefield. and that he was still hiding somewhere in the gardens. Jack left them to their search presently under the plea that he had no further time to waste. He walked as far as Albany street, and there took a cab to Mare Street, Hackney.

It was not a particularly desirable neighborhood, as the man Nostalgo had pointed out. The destination was a side street of great dingy houses, which a generation or two back had been inhabited by wealthy tradesmen and the like. Now the large houses had been cut up into small flats and tenements, and for the most part were occupied by artisans and the like. The gutter swarmed with children, disheveled-looking women stood gossiping on the doorsteps; round a flaming gin palace a group of loafers had gathered. It seemed to Jack high time to dismiss his hansom, for evidently vehicles of that kind were not frequent visitors to the street. More than one of the loafers lounging heavily against the greasy walls looked pointedly at Jack, but he was not the class of man to be tackled single-handed, and therefore he was allowed to proceed unmolested to No. 11, where he asked for Mr. James Smith.

A surly-looking porter, evidently considerably the worse for drink, replied that Smith lived on the fifth floor.

"Not that I have ever seen him," he growled, propitiated by Jack's half-crown; "sort of secretive chap, only goes out after dark and all that sort of thing. Shouldn't wonder if the police came and walked off with him any day; but that's no business of mine, so long as he pays his rent regularly and don't give no trouble. Keeps a couple of servants, he does; but they ain't English, and we don't have no truck with them."

Unenlightened by this fragment of a biography. Jack made his way up the greasy staircase. There must have been scores of families living in the self-same house, for Jack could hear the cries of children, and an occasional oath from some angry man. He came at length to the fifth floor, the outer door of which was closed, and on this he knocked. He knocked a third time before the door was cautiously opened, and the sallow, almond eyed face of a Chinaman peered out. Apparently the Celestial was satisfied as to his visitor, for he merely bowed and stood aside so that Jack might enter. Then the door was closed again and locked. There was another door at the end of a dingy passage, the walls of which had not been papered for years; but a passage through this revealed a different state of affairs entirely.

It was idle to inquire by what magic this thing had been brought about, but here, in this house of wretchedness and desolation, was a luxurious and comfortable home. In what appeared to be the hall was a remarkably fine specimen of Persian carpet. There were Moorish hangings, luxurious lounges and divans—the whole illuminated by a shaded lamp which depended from the ceiling. Jack could see other rooms beyond, quite as luxuriously furnished. In one of them a table had been laid out with a fair white cloth, and on the snowy damask appeared to be what was a perfectly appointed meal.

Jack could see the shaded lights falling on the flowers and silver, upon gold-necked bottles, and ruby wines in cut-glass decanters. A negro dressed like an English butler came silently from the room, carrying a sliver coffee service in his hand. It was a fairy kind of dream, coming as it did upon the edge of stern reality. Jack would have been surprised had he not been long past that emotion. As it was, he allowed the Chinese servant to relieve him of his hat and coat, after which he was escorted to a small room at the back, where his queer host was smoking something quite exceptional in the way of a cigar.

"I thought you would come," he said. It was only when he stood up under the full light of the lamps that Jack could see what a fine figure of a man he was.

"Sit down and try one of these cigars—dinner will not be ready for quite a quarter of an hour. You are rather surprised to find anything of this kind here, eh?"

"Well, rather," Jack said drily; "you hardly expect Eastern palaces in the slums. I won't be vulgarly curious and ask why a man of your apparent means prefers to take up his quarters here, but what I want to know is this—how on earth did you manage to get all this luxury and refinement here without arousing the suspicions of your neighbors? There are men—ay and women, too—under the same roof who would murder you cheerfully, if only to get hold of your silver coffee service."

"Oh, that's explained easily enough," Nostalgo cried. "My two servants are very faithful to me; they practically know no English, and when they go out they are dressed very, very differently to what you see them now. As to the rest, we smuggled the things here a few at a time, and we did the papering and upholstering between us. As to why I choose to live here—ah, that is quite other matter."

The stranger finished with a stern abruptness that told Jack pretty plainly he was not expected to ask any further questions on that head.

"You must know more about me presently," he said. "Meanwhile, I dare say you are curious to know what brought me lying apparently dead near Panton Square, and how my body disappeared from the police station. Of course, you suspect Anstruther of being at the bottom of the whole business; in fact I presume Lord Barmouth told you all about it."

Here was another surprise, but Jack did not express it in words. He merely nodded, as if he took the whole thing for granted.

"We will let that pass," h e said. "But why did Anstruther desire to have you put out of the way like that?"

"Well, it was either Anstruther or myself," the stranger said coolly. To give you some idea of the feelings I entertain toward Anstruther. I will ask you to kindly look at that monotint over the mantlepiece. You may not believe it, but that picture represents me before I came under the baneful influence of the man we are discussing. Will you please look at it carefully?"

It was barely possible to recognize in those handsome features the almost repulsive ugliness of Nostalgo. Perhaps he read something of this passing through Jack's mind, for he smiled with exceed bitterness.

"Yes, I don't think I need much justification. You know all about that business in Mexico, but Lord Barmouth was not the only victim. I also was left penniless and mutilated, and I swore that, if ever fortune favored me, I would be even with Anstruther before I died. Fortune has favored me, and I am here with one set purpose before me."

"To kill Spencer Anstruther?" Jack cried.

"Oh dear, no," Nostalgo said; "do you suppose that I can think of no more terrible revenge than that? When you saw me holding that scoundrel to-night I had quite another purpose in my mind. If everything had gone well with me, London would have been startled to-morrow to hear of the strange disappearance of Spencer Anstruther. But you were good enough to prevent me, and I cannot blame you for that. But I am talking about myself, though you would like to hear more of other matters. I promised to tell you how I got away from Shannon Street police station. I expect my case puzzled the doctor, did it not?"

"You puzzled him exceedingly," Jack said. "How did you manage it?"

"I was shot in a peculiar manner, and with a peculiar weapon." Nostalgo explained. "The whole device was an invention of Anstruther's, in fact. I saw it in operation in Mexico. It is a kind of air-gun arrangement that propels a sort of poisoned bullet encased in celluloid. The bullet penetrates a part not necessarily vital, and dissolves there. There is practically no wound, the virulent poison in the bullet spreads all over the system and speedily does its work. But in my instance the shots fired were not fatal, for the simple reason that I am wearing a thin coat of highly-tempered chain mail."

"But the doctor did not notice that," Jack exclaimed.

Nostalgo made no reply for a moment; he seemed to be thinking about something else. His varying moods had not been lost upon Jack. He was stern and silent, then again happy and cheerful, and once more grim and sardonic. If he did not care to speak now, Jack had no desire to press him. He felt quite sure that the stranger had taken a liking to him, or he would not be enjoying his present novel situation. Nostalgo broke the silence at length as if he had suddenly realized that he was not alone.

"You have not traveled much, I presume?" he asked.

"No," Jack replied. "Only the usual continental trips and all that kind of thing. Mine has been a very prosaic life up to now, and I have never found myself in the heart of a great adventure before. Now it seems to me as if I were going to have enough mystery to last me forever."

"Ah, as Shakespeare says, 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' Had you lived my life, and knew the world as I know it, you would not be astonished at anything. Probably, if you had read what I have told you in a novel of the sensational kind, you would have pitched the book aside with a laugh of contempt. And now, confess it, have you ever heard before of a decadent modern man walking about in a mail shirt and being plugged by mysterious bullets, and all this in the streets of London?"

"Well, I confess that it does seem a little strange and outlandish," Jack admitted. "But when I come to think of it, and when I look at you, I can no longer hesitate. Some men are born for picturesqueness and adventure, and you are one of them. But all the same the doctor was utterly deceived."



XXVI. — SERENA AGAIN

NOSTALGO smiled and shook his head. The doctor had not made an examination of him at all: and he explained he had simply given him a cursory glance and pronounced that the whole thing had been fatal. No doubt a thorough examination would have taken place later on, only that the victim had returned to his senses,and, having his own reasons for secrecy, had escaped by means of the overhead light in the mortuary.

"There you have the whole thing in a nutshell," he concluded. "It was fortunate for me that I knew exactly how to get away, for the simple reason that I had been keeping a close eye upon Anstruther's movements, and knew all about that hiding place in Montrose Place. To a certain extent, I made my escape through Montrose Place. There is only one thing I find that is difficult of explanation. Now I know for a fact that Anstruther was otherwise engaged on the night of that murderous attack upon me. Who, then, was it who fired the bullet?"

"I think it is just possible I can enlighten you there," Jack said. "Did you ever chance to hear of a man called Padini?"

The name conveyed nothing apparently to Nostalgo, who rose at the same moment and suggested that dinner was possibly ready. It was a well-served meal, cold for the most part, Nostalgo explaining that anything in the way of elaborate cookery had for obvious reasons to be done off the premises. It was possible to talk freely before the servants, who seemed to be entirely in their master's confidence.

"Tell me about this Padini whose name you mentioned just now," the host said. "So far as I know, I have never heard the name before."

"That is exceedingly likely, considering that Padini is only one of the many aliases. The man I mentioned is an exceedingly fine violinist—clean-shaven and artistic-looking, and perhaps just a little effeminate. On the stage he looks rather boyish, but i private life it is his whim to assume a moustache closely resembling that of the German Emperor. I know this as a fact, because I have met him wearing his moustache at the house of a man called Carrington—a rich bachelor banker who has a very elaborate establishment in Piccadilly."

A heavy scowl crossed the face of Nostalgo.

"So you know that sorry blackguard, do your?" he asked. "Upon my word, Mr. Masefield, you seem to have mixed up with a rare lot of scoundrels."

Jack was politely incredulous; he had never heard anything to the detriment of Mr. Carrington; who was partner in a well-known city bank. Still, he remembered now that he had heard Carrington's name mentioned by Anstruther that time he was hiding in Montrose Place with Rigby.

"Oh, I am perfectly certain of my facts," Nostalgo cried. "It may be news to you, but Carrington's bank is on the verge of collapse. I know that, because they have £30,000 of mine in their hands. I was acquainted with Carrington before I went to Mexico, and as good fortune favored me, I sent a great deal of my earnings to Carrington for investment. When I came home I called upon him one night and explained my altered appearance. He appeared to be fairly satisfied till I asked for my securities. Then the rascal showed himself in his true colors. He pretended to believe that I was an impudent imposter; he laughed my strange story to scorn, and refused to part with anything until I could prove my identity beyond question. He knew perfectly well that at the time I could do nothing of the sort, and there the matter stands for the present. I suppose that Carrington is a friend of Anstruther's?"

Jack explained that Anstruther and Carrington were dining together at the former's club at that self-same moment. Nostalgo nodded, as if the information was not displeasing to him.

"Very good," he cried. "Everything is going our way now. I will get you to accompany me on a little expedition presently. And as to this man you call Padini, I think I have a pretty good notion of his real identity. And now take some more of that wine, and let us discuss matters generally, apart from this wretched business. Let me try and make you forget what a physical wreck I am."

A more entertaining companion Jack could not have wished for. His host seemed to have been everywhere and seen everything; he was a thorough citizen of the world, and a charming companion to boot. Jack was astonished to look up presently and see that it was already past eleven o'clock. Nostalgo followed his glance and smiled. He rang the bell and ordered coffee to be served at once.

"Just one more cigar and a liquor," he suggested, "and then we must be off. Meanwhile, there are one or two things I must do in regard to my personal appearance. Like the modern plain young woman, I am compelled occasionally to resort to the beauty doctor. It is a case of where Nature fails Art steps in."

So saying, Nostalgo passed the cigar box across the table and sauntered from the room. It was some half-hour before he returned, and when he did so he was changed almost beyond recognition. At the same time, the almost hideous ugliness had only given way to another form of repulsive feature. Nostalgo smiled sadly as he seemed to follow Jack's thoughts.

"It is only a change after all," be said; "for change is something necessary. If you have quite finished, we are going to walk down as far as St. James's Street, where I will get you to go into Anstruther's club, the Salisbury, and ascertain if he and Carrington are still there. You can easily make an excuse to do that."

"As it happens, there is no occasion to do anything of the kind," Jack said. "I am a member of the Salisbury Club. I will go into the dining-room and see if those men are still there; and if they have already gone, I will try and ascertain where. Come along."

The Salisbury Club was reached at length, and Jack entered, followed by his companion. There was no reason why the latter should not come into the club, Jack urged. With his hat pulled down over his eyes nobody would recognize him or note anything peculiar in his appearance.

The club was fairly crowded by this time, for the theaters had begun to empty, and members were trooping in the direction of the smoking and card rooms. The dining-room was still comparatively full, for though dinner was practically a thing of the past, a great many suppers had already been served. As Jack glanced carelessly about the room, he noticed Anstruther and Carrington seated at a table at the top. There was a third man with them, who had apparently just come in, for his opera cape was still about his shoulders. Jack touched his companion on the arm.

"There our men are," he whispered, "and judging from the amount of wine upon the table, I should think there they are likely to stay. We are fortunate, too, in another direction. Please take note of that man in the opera cape—that is the man Padini. Perhaps, you can tell me if you have ever seen him before."

Nostalgo gave a queer and dry chuckle, and Jack could see that his eyes were burning under the edge of his hat.

"You are quite right about our being in luck," he said hoarsely. "So you want to know if I am acquainted with the little man in the opera cape. I know the scoundrel perfectly. It seems to me that all the scores I have to pay are going to be wiped off in London. Now I think we will get on our way."

Nostalgo strode away as if he had quite made up his mind what to do. Once outside he turned off in the direction of Piccadilly, walking so rapidly that Jack had some considerable difficulty in keeping up with him. The man had evidently something on his mind, for he was muttering to himself as if he had entirety forgotten his companion. He came out of his brown study presently, and laughed a laugh of grim amusement.

"I am a little mad at times," he said in explanation of his queer conduct; "but you must not mind that. You have behaved exceedingly well to me, and I am taking you entirely into my confidence. You asked me just now if I knew Padini. I explained to you that I knew him very well indeed, but not under that name. He used to be with Anstruther all the time that the latter was in Mexico. Not that he is the class of man to care much for the rough life we led out there, because he is physically a great coward, though his cunning and craft are equal to those of his master. We knew him cut there for a very skilled performer on the violin, but I never expected that he would blossom out into a leading platform artist. I should have thought that the fellow was too lazy and too casual to tie himself down to a settled programme. But I dare say it is all part of some scheme of Anstruther's."

"That I am absolutely certain about," Jack said. "Seeing that you have been so candid with me, I will be equally candid with you, and tell you something very strange. It has to do with Padini and his violin."

Jack proceeded to explain at length the apparently strange coincidence of the items on Padini's concert programme and their simultaneous playing in Anstruther's study. It was a somewhat complicated story, and Nostalgo did not quite take it in at first. When he thoroughly grasped the situation, he was grimly pleased to pay a high compliment to Anstruther's ingenuity.

"I think I can grasp the meaning of it," he said. "If Anstruther ever found himself in a tight corner—and he is very likely to before long—he has a magnificent alibi. But here we are: just wait till I get my key out."

To Jack's great surprise Nostalgo paused before the front door of Carrington's chambers, and proceeded to fit the key in the latch as if he were the master of the premises. Very coolly he pushed the door back and bade Jack enter.

"But this is something like burglary." the latter protested.

"Burglary or not, we are going in all. the same," Nostalgo growled. "You will see presently something that will surprise you. But stop—surely there is some one coming down the hall."

The hall light was a very dim one, so that it was impossible for the moment to determine the identity of the woman who came down the stairway toward them. She carried in her hand a candle, which had the effect of keeping her face half in shadow. It was evident that the woman had heard the key in the door, and had come down to see if her master required anything.

Satisfied that she was mistaken, she set the candle down on the table. Her features were quite plain now—the sad yet defiant face of Serena. A grasp like a vice was laid on Jack's arm, and his companion's voice whispered- hoarse in his ear.

"Great heaven!" Nostalgo said. "And she is here. Oh, the villainy of it, the villainy of it!"



XXVII. — IN THE SMOKING ROOM

THE woman looked about her as if half expecting to see somebody there who had come with evil intent, Jack could not fail to notice the extreme nervousness and agitation of her face. She was no longer quiet and subdued, as be had been accustomed to see her in Panton Square; she seemed as if some force had drafted her there against her will. She advanced towards the table, and, taking up a hat and coat lying there, proceeded to put them on as if she had finished her task, whatever it was. If anything had frightened her it wag not, at any rate, the suggestion of burglars, for there was nothing of physical fear to be detected about her.

So far as Jack could discern, his companion appeared to be equally disconcerted. But there would be plenty of time presently to learn what Nostalgo knew about Serena. Events were moving rapidly now, and Jack felt that he would have plenty to tell Rigby later on. They stood aside till Serena had left the house, making sure that the latch was down, and that no one could enter the premises without a key. Jack turned to Nostalgo with an interrogative glance.

"The more we go into this thing," he said, "the more do we find one mystery piled upon another. Do you know that unfortunate lady?"

"If you do not mind. I would much rather you did not press that question," Nostalgo said, coldly. "I am going to help you all I can; I am going to do everything in my power both for your sake and mine; but there are some things which will not bear discussion, and this is one of them."

Jack turned away, feeling just a little hurt and disappointed. He would have found it difficult to say why, but he had taken a strange liking to the man by his side, perhaps because the man was suffering more from terrible misfortune than from his own imprudence.

"We will let it stand over for the present," he said, "but to be more candid with you. I am greatly interested in that poor woman. I have known her for a long time now, and, as a novelist, I am bound to say that she greatly fascinates me. She always strikes me as a woman who has been tamed—she is to like a performing lion or tiger. If you will permit the simile."

"I think I know what you mean." Nostalgo said. "The class of animal you speak of paces restlessly about its cage, a picture of moody discontent and more or less physical fear. And then the time comes when all the old savage instincts burst forth, and years of cruel treatment are avenged in the course of a moment."

"And so it would be with Serena," Jack said. "I have seen her cower and tremble before her master; I have seen her hand him a knife in the humblest possible fashion. And I have seen her clench on the handle, and a gleam come into her eyes—on more than one occasion I have half expected to see her lean over so as cut her master's throat from ear to ear. After this, perhaps, you may be disposed to say more on the subject" "We have never met, we have never been introduced," Nostalgo explained; "but I know who she is and all about her just the same. Do not press me more at present; tHe secret is not entirely my own. I can only tell you this: it was a great shock to me to meet that unfortunate lady to-night. But perhaps you know who she is?"

"I know perfectly well who she is," Jack said, "though the knowledge has come to me quite recently. Up to a day or two ago I regarded her in the prosaic light of Anstruther's housekeeper. She has always interested me, because she has always seemed to be a kind of wild animal who had been cleverly tamed. I have seen her like a tiger ready to spring; I have seen the lurking demon of passion in her eyes, as if she could destroy Anstruther and rejoice in the deed. And then a word from him or a glance, and she has cowered as timidly as the wife of the veriest bully in the world."

"But that isn't telling me who she is," Nostalgo said, impatiently.

"Well, she is Lady Barmouth's sister, to begin with," Jack said. "Now, perhaps, you may be inclined to be more communicative."

Nostalgo shook his head in a sorrowful manner, and proceeded to lead the way upstairs. It was not lost upon Jack that his companion seemed to know his way about the house just as one who had lived there for some time. He even seemed to know where to lay his hand upon each electric switch; in fact, his familiarity with the surroundings was apparent to the meanest understanding.

"One more word before we leave the subject," Jack said. "I showed you to-night the man who calls himself Padini. You recognised him as a man whom you had known in Mexico, and you left me to understand that he was as great a scoundrel as Anstruther, only that he lacked the necessary courage to carry his schemes into effect. Would it surprise you to know that Padini is the husband of the poor woman who bas just gone out?"

Nostalgo shook his head with the air of a man who is not hearing anything for the first time. As he had intimated before, the secret was not his own, and he showed no inclination to go into the matter now. He led the way to the first landing, from which the living-rooms branched off. Here was the fine, spacious hall where Jack had found himself on the night he had met Rigby there; the big ferns and palms were still scattered about; the evidences of luxury were plain. Only a rich man could have occupied so fine a suite of apartments. Nostalgo smiled as all these objects of art and luxury met his eye.

"All is not gold that glitters." he said; "In fact, nothing that glitters is gold. All this kind of thing would be calculated to impress any client who came along, but the British public is getting to understand the value of outside show. Let me see— this used to be the drawing-room in the old days, when—"

Nostalgo flicked up the lights, and there, bathed brilliantly by the flashing rays, was a room that would not have disgraced a palace. Carrington was a man of taste and feeling; his pictures were good, and his china would have fetched much money at Christie's. The lights were down again, and Nostalgo walked away in the direction of the dining-room. He might have been some contemptuous servant displaying his master's treasures to the admiring eye of a colleague. Everywhere the foot sank deeply into velvety carpets. Many fine sets of armor graced the corridor. There were one or two pictures of price here, also; a Corot, a dainty little Meissonier, a sketch or two from the brush of some other modern painters. Deeply interested as he was in the adventure, Jack did not fail to note and do justice to Carrington's taste.

"A whited sepulchre," Nostalgo murmured. "It is a poor jewel, after all, that lives in this perfect setting. Now, here is the dining-room. What do you think of it—old oak and old blue china with Flemish pictures of the best schools? Elegant, is it not? You need not wonder why the women run after Carrington. But we will give them something to talk about presently."

With the assured step of one who knows every inch of the way, Nostalgo moved on to a small apartment behind the dining-room. This was fitted in the form of a smoking room, with deep and cosy armchairs, and comfortable divans against the Moorish walls. The whole thing was Moorish, from the decorations on the walls and the wonderful brass lamps depending from the painted ceiling. At the far end of the room were two double stained-glass doors leading into a conservatory. The warmth here was grateful, and seemed to touch the senses drowsily. As to the rest, the conservatory was filled with masses of graceful feathery palms and ferns, beyond which was tier upon tier of red geraniums. The whole effect was wonderfully pleasing and artistic, and Jack did not hesitate to say so.

Nostalgo was not so enthusiastic.

"I wasn't thinking so much about that," he said drily. "I was regarding this little garden more in the light of a hiding place. You and I are going to play the eavesdropper, my friend. It is not a congenial occupation I know but there is precious little of anything congenial about this business. Carrington will be here presently, and probably Anstruther will accompany him."

"You are a bit of a detective in your way," Jack smiled.

"The conclusion is only what any one would call obvious." Nostalgo replied. "In the first place, all the servants have gone to bed, or that poor woman whom we saw downstairs would not have been so careful to see that the door could not be opened without a latch-key. On the table behind you is a big silver salver with two glasses, a couple of syphons of soda water and a spirit stand. What conclusion do you come to than that Carrington is returning presently, and is bringing a friend with him?"

"I quite follow you." Jack said, "but there is one thing I don't understand. How is it that you can find your way about this house in so familiar a manner?"

"Ah, that is not so obvious." Nostalgo replied. "And yet the explanation is perfectly simple. Before I went to Mexico I was a friend of Carrington's. In those days his father was still alive, and he had not succeeded to so large a share of the business. As a matter of fact, Carrington and myself lived here together. He frequently discussed with me the improvements he would make here when once he was in a position to do so. The place where we are standing now used to be my dressing-room."

It seemed to Jack that Carrington must have been a cool hand indeed, and he suggested something of this to Nostalgo."

"Cool with the courage of despair," the other said. "The night I came home and called on Carrington here I thought he would have had a fit of apoplexy. Disfigured as I am, I am certain that he recognized me, but he was not slow to take advantage of my misfortunes. Directly he had recovered himself he became painfully polite, though he refused to acknowledge me as his quondam friend. You can quite see the point of that—so long as I could not prove my identity, he was able to keep me out of my property. But we have already discussed that point. And now you know why I am so familiar with the house, and how it comes about that I have a latch-key to fit the front door."

Nostalgo was apparently prepared to say more, only his quick hearing detected a suspicious sound below. He strode swiftly across the room and switched out the light that had illuminated the room and the conservatory. It was an easy matter to find the hiding place amidst that tangle of ferns and flowers, and the two had hardly done so before the smoking-room door opened and Carrington came in, closely followed by Anstruther and Padini. The latter seemed to be terribly put out about something, for he flung his hat and coat upon the floor and dropped into a chair with an attitude of defiance.

"It is all very well for you," he exclaimed heatedly. "We do all the work and take all the risks, and you walk off with the profit I tell you it is absolutely dangerous to work a scheme like ours from the Great Metropolitan Hotel."

There was a sneer on Anstruther's face as he helped himself to a cigarette and poured out a carefully moderated dose of whiskey and soda.

"You little rascal," he said. He had the air of a man who, having tamed lions, was now contemptuously engaged in subduing less noble animals. "If you talk to me like this I will let you down altogether. You cannot injure me, but I can ruin you, body and soul. Go to your kennel, you hound."

Padini cowered before the flashing anger in Anstruther's eyes, and he muttered something to himself that might have been an apology; but the listeners were a little too far away to hear.

"It is all very well for you," Padini whimpered. "You can call me a coward if you like—I am. It is not like you to run any risks at all. So long as I am at the Great Metropolitan Hotel, so sure is there danger."

"Send him off about his business," Carrington growled. "Why did you allow him to follow us here at all? He ought to have been in his own room by this time carrying on his share of the programme."

"Well, give me a programme," Padini said, with some show of spirit "How am I to know what Anstruther wants unless he tells me beforehand? Is it to be nothing but Chopin to-night?"

In the same way that one humors a spoiled child, Anstruther took a notebook from his pocket and jotted a few names upon it.

"I think that will about do," he said. "Start with the 'Grand Polonaise,' and take the 'Fantasie in F' afterwards; then stick steadily to the programme I have marked on that sheet of paper."

Padini rose obediently enough now and donned his hat and coat He would have helped himself to a small modicum of refreshment, only Anstruther put him sternly aside.

"None of that " he said, "and not one spot of anything till you have finished your night's work. Now go at once."



XXVIII. — THE LAMP GOES OUT

MEANWHILE Carrington had been pacing up and down the room, obviously troubled and ill at ease. Anstruther watched him with a gleam of malicious amusement in his dark eyes. This strong man liked to feel that he had everybody in his power; it was good to him to know that he could move others as the man behind the curtain moves the puppets in a marionette show. It was not particularly that Anstruther cared for crime for its own sake, but he loved to be subtle and mysterious; it was a joy to him to get the better of his fellow creatures. Had Carrington but known it, the major part of the trouble which was racking his mind now had been brought about by the very man to whom he turned most readily in the hour of his misfortunes. He poured himself out a liberal dose of whiskey and gulped it down without the formality of adding anything to it. He flung himself angrily into a chair.

"Now that that little ape is gone we can discuss my affairs," he said. "My dear Anstruther, I am the most desperate man in England to-night."

"I think I have heard that remark somewhere before," Anstruther said cynically. "Most people talk like that when they owe twopenny-ha'penny they can't manage to pay. But tell me, are your affairs in such a state as that?"

"They could not possibly be worse," Carrington said, moodily. "Since my father died practically all the financial side of the business has been left to me. Like the fool that I am, I was not content with the handsome profit that the concern was bringing in. I started speculating for myself, and I was unlucky from the start. I lost my head and plunged desperately, but that is not the worst of it. Not only is all the property at the bank mortgaged to its full value, but I have taken and disposed of securities belonging to clients. Every morning I go down to the bank I do so with my heart in my mouth. It only needs the smallest spark to fire the whole mine. I should not be surprised to find myself in jail to-morrow night. Now, you are a clever man, quite the cleverest man I have ever met—can you show me any way out of the difficulty?"

"My dear fellow," Anstruther said presently, "clever men can do most things, but there is one thing in which they generally fail. They can't command money just when they want it. As you are perfectly well aware, I am as desperately hard up as you are yourself. If you could give me two or three days—"

"But something must be done within the next eight and forty hours!" Carrington exclaimed. "For instance, there is that confounded affair at Lady Barmouth's."

"But how does that concern you?" Anstruther asked.

"I was just coming to that. You see, we have a great many clients—ladies— who keep their jewels with us. Take the case of the Duchess of Plymouth, for instance, and Admiral Scott's widow. But those are only a few1 of many. Now I know perfectly well that all these ladies will be round the day after, to-morrow to obtain their jewels, for the purpose of wearing them at Lady Barmouth's masked ball. Not to put too fine a point upon it, they won't get their jewel because they are not there."

"Mortgaged or sold?" Anstruther asked, curtly.

"Mortgaged to the utmost penny. You can imagine my feelings every time the door of my private office is opened and I am told that a client wishes to see me. I cannot for the life of me see any way out of it. Nothing less than a quarter of a million of money would set me on my feet again."

Anstruther smoked thoughtfully, his brows knitted into a frown. It was some time before he spoke, Carrington watching him with sickening anxiety. There was something pathetic in his belief in Anstruther's ability to get him out of this terrible position.

"There are more ways of doing it than one," Anstruther said presently. "In this instance we can take a hint from the daily papers. Supposing that the bank was mysteriously robbed—the safes forced open and all that kind of thing?"

"Yes, and the whole thing exposed in twenty minutes." Carrington said bitterly. "The robbing and gagging of cashiers has been slightly overdone lately. I can't call a single case to mind in which the scheme has not fallen to the ground. Take the case of those stolen bank-notes, for instance. And even supposing that nothing could be proved against one, there is always a large section of the public ready to regard the trouble as nothing more than a mere swindle. An affair like that would be the finishing touch; It would ruin the bank's business utterly."

"And incidentally save your skin," said Anstruther, significantly. "Oh, no; this is going to be a much more artistic affair than that. If you could get me a plan of the bank premises, including the safes and the cellars and all that kind of thing, I believe I could hit upon a scheme ingenious enough to deceive the police and gain you the sympathy of the British public."

Carrington shook his head wearily. He had expected something much more brilliant and original from Anstruther than this.

"The plan you want would take days to prepare." he said, "to say nothing of the fact—"

Carrington Jumped to his feet joyfully. His moody face cleared, and something like a smile shone on his features. "What a fool I am!" he cried. "Why, I have the very thing on the premises; in fact, I have two copies. It was only a few months ago that the bank premises were thoroughly restored and a fresh set of strong-rooms added. I feel positively certain that in my safe, here I have two sets of tracings of the architect's plans. I'll get them for you. Only I hope you won't make the same blunder over this business as you did at the affair of the man whom we will call Nostalgo Seymour."

Anstruther laughed unpleasantly. Jack's companion, listening intently from his hiding place amongst the ferns, gripped his companion by the arm.

"That's me," he whispered, with almost a suppressed chuckle. "I am th man they speak, of as Nostalgo Seymour."

Jack pressed the arm of his fellow conspirator by way of acknowledgment. He was far too interested in what was going on inside the brilliantly-lighted room to care to talk; indeed, he had forgotten the presence of his comrade altogether. He could see that Anstruther had risen to his feet and was pacing the room, evidently nettled by Carrington's remark.

"If you want to be friends, don't mention that matter to me again." he said. "It is the one failure of my life. To get Seymour out of the way is imperative. I trusted the matter to Padini, and be failed me."

"I would have trusted nothing to Padini." Carrington said.

"Oh, yes, you would," Anstruther growled. "Especially if he had done so many artistic jobs in the same line for you. But I did not know, unfortunately, till too late, that the little rascal has been drinking more lately than was good for him. The fact is, he has lost his nerve. And yet he might have felt himself justified in believing that his mission had been attended with complete success—but go and get your plans. I will have a good look at them now, and I will call to see you to-morrow at the bank as if I came on business, and you shall show me all over the premises. It will be surprising, indeed, if I cannot show you some safe way out of the present difficulty."

As Carrington went off jingling a bunch of keys in his hand, Jack could feel the man whom we will now call Seymour fairly trembling with excitement. It seemed more then once as if he was bent on darting from his hiding place and confronting the two scoundrels in the inner room. But evidently he was placing great restraint upon himself, for he turned to Jack and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. At the same instant Carrington returned with a large roll of tracing paper in his hand. There was an agitation about him scarcely warranted by the circumstances of the case. It was as if he had seen something dreadful daring his brief absence. Anstruther looked at him with some scorn.

"What a face!" he growled. "If you go down to the bank looking like that you will have a run on the concern in half an hour. No ghosts about here, I suppose?"

"It isn't that," Carrington said hoarsely: "but it is something I have found in the corridor. It was lying on the floor close by the dining room door. Tell me, have you ever seen it before?"

With a shaking hand Carrington laid a small silver-mounted moleskin tobacco pouch on the table. At the same moment Jack noticed that his companion had given a great start. There was no need for Jack to be told that the tobacco pouch in question was Seymour's property, and had bean dropped by him accidentally a little time before.

"Why, you don't mean to say that belongs to Seymour?" Anstruther cried, and there was a real anxiety in his voice. "Yes, you are quite correct; I distinctly remember Seymour buying this peculiar pattern of filigree silver. Now you see why I wanted to get that fellow out of the way. I have tried to believe that he was dead and gone, but not only is it quite evident that he is very much alive, but also it is equally plain that he has been here to-night."

Carrington fairly shook as he hoarsely muttered his opinion that Anstruther was right. He glanced timidly about him, as if expecting to meet the face of Seymour; he stepped toward the conservatory, as if suspicious that the crimson flowers were hiding his enemy there. Then he gave a shaky half-laugh at his own fears.

"My nerves are all rags to-night" he said. "Positively I imagined that I could fee that dreadful scarred face of Seymour glaring at me from behind the bank of geraniums. Call me a coward if you like, but I must really ask you to turn up the light in the conservatory. I dare not do it myself."

Something like a curse broke from the rigid figure by Jack's side. From overhead there dangled an electric light swinging on a long, pliable flex. An instant later, and there would come a brilliant blaze of light if Anstruther could have reached the switch toward which he was contemptuously strolling. An instant later, and the eavesdroppers would have been discovered; but Seymour rose grandly to the situation. With one bound he was across the floor of the conservatory, and literally tore the switch from its place. Instantly the fuses connected with the two rooms short-circuited and the brilliant light of the inner room was swallowed up in the throat of a great velvety darkness. The thing was so swift, so clever and so unexpected that Jack could only gasp. He was conscious of the fact that Seymour had left his side, but only for a moment.

"Confound the light!" Carrington cried. "Give me a match, and I'll light the lamps. This is the second time lately the same thing has happened."

The feeble spurt of a vesta made a tiny blue flame, but it was sufficient to show Carrington the position of two silver lamps. He lighted one of these and then the other, and placed them on the table. As he did so his face grew white again, his tongue began to stammer.

"The plans," he gasped. "Surely I put two on the table? Where is the other?"

"The other," Jack's companion whispered, with a hoarse chuckle of triumph, "is quite safe in my breast pocket."



XXIX. — THE SILVER LAMP

THE wonderful coolness and audacity of his companion filled Jack with admiration. He had forgotten for the moment that there was any danger at all. It seemed to him to be a good thing to have so adroit and cunning a colleague to work with. The whole thing had been so wonderfully swift; hardly moment seemed to elapsed between the extinguishing of the light and the return of Seymour with the duplicate of the plan safely in his pocket.

What he proposed to do next, Jack could not guess for the moment, neither did he much care. At the same time, he felt quite convinced of the fact that Seymour had some deep scheme in his mind. Jack's spirits rose in quite an unaccountable way. He warmly congratulated himself on the fact that he had found Seymour and brought him into the campaign against Anstruther. The danger was by no means over yet, as Seymour must have recognised: but that did not seem to trouble him too much, for he was shaking now with suppressed mirth, and was evidently enjoying the situation as one does a screaming farce from a comfortable place in the stalls.

Jack was about to whisper something of this to his companion, when the latter checked him with a touch on the arm. Inside the room, in the comparatively moderated light of the lamps, Jack could see Carrington fussing about uneasily.

"I tell you that there were two plans," he muttered. "I am absolutely certain there was a duplicate. If you have played any kind of trick upon me I hope you will confess it at once."

"Trick be hanged," Anstruther cried contemptuously. "Do you suppose that I indulge in practical joking? I say you have made a mistake; the duplicate plan is somewhere else."

"And I am equally certain that it was with those papers," Carrington blustered. "They were lying side by side a minute ago. And now one of them is gone, and you want me to believe that it has been spirited away by unseen hands—"

"I don't want you to believe anything of the sort," Anstruther replied. "Not a minute had elapsed between the time that the light went out and the moment that I lighted the match. What a nervous, frightened fool you are. You will be saying next that Seymour is concealed somewhere in the room, and snatched this brilliant opportunity for purloining these papers. Really, we are getting on. Hadn't you better look round the house. You will have to go to bed presently, and I should advise you to lock your door."

All this brutal sarcasm was utterly lost upon Carrington. He was as frightened and nervous as a lonely woman in a lonely house who has discovered some strange man there. He darted from the room followed by Anstruther's contemptuous laughter, and returned presently, saying that he had made a thorough search of the flat.

"Most assuredly nobody is on the premises," he said. He was by no means convinced yet that Anstruther was not playing some cunning trick upon him.

"It is most extraordinary. You may say what you like, and prove what you like; but I am ready to swear that I brought both those plans into the room with me five minutes ago."

"Oh, look up the chimney," Anstruther growled. "Take all of those plans out of your conservatory, and see if the thief hasn't vanished up the water pipe. I am sick of all these nervous fears and hysterical suspicions. It has always been the curse of my existence that I can never lay hands on an accomplice who is anything but a knave or a fool."

Without heeding the savage outburst Carrington took one of the little silver lamps from the table, and, holding it up by its crystal receiver, advanced cautiously in the direction of the conservatory. Jack held his breath, and prepared for the worst. He felt pretty sure now that he and Seymour would be discovered. Not that he much minded, except that he was extremely anxious not to be recognised by Anstruther; but that risk had to be run. It was a pity, too, seeing what a marvelous amount of information had been gleaned during the last half-hour; but that was all part of the game.

"Is it possible he has vanished through the skylight?" Anstruther sneered.

Carrington muttered that there was a drop of some thirty feet outside the conservatory. He still advanced with the lamp in his hand, and peered about him with an anxious face. The moment was a critical one indeed, and Jack wondered if Seymour's wonderful fertility of resource would be equal to the occasion. In the dim light of the lamp he saw Seymour's right arm steal out and his sinewy fingers close upon a piece of hose pipe attached to a tap in the wall. Evidently this had been used for watering the flowers. The gardener responsible for the well-doing of the rooms doubtless understood his work, and watered each pot separately, instead of spraying the whole place indiscriminately; for attached to the hose-pipe was the small nozzle meant to convey a fine jet for some distance.

Jack began dimly to understand what Seymour meant to do. It was going to be a dangerous experiment but danger was quite absolutely necessary if the eavesdroppers were to were to escape unrecognized. If Seymour's plan was absolutely successful then there was the chance of them getting away without their presence there being indicated at all.

Jack saw the lean, brown hand stretch forth and turn on the tap in the wall. Then the tap at the end of the hose slid round, and a tiny spray of water, fine as a needle and strong as the arrow from a bow, struck the chimney of the lamp, now nearly red hot, and a tremendous smash of cracking glass followed.

Carrington staggered back, and a kind of hysterical scream broke from his lips. With his nerves strung at high tension, the shock of the bursting explosion rendered him nearly mad with terror. Seymour turned off the tap again, feeling sure his business was well done.

"By Jove, that was wonderfully smart, and quickly done," Jack whispered to his companion. "I rather pride myself upon the ingenuity of my stories, especially as regards the plots of them, but I never could have thought of anything quite like that."

"Not bad." said the other one quite coolly. "It was all a matter of accuracy of aim and steadiness of hand. But to a man like myself, who has had vast experience of big game shooting, a little affair like that is a mere nothing."

"But you might have missed," Jack said. "The deviation of that spurt of water by even so much as a hair's breadth would have carried it full into Carrington's face. and then our presence must have inevitably been discovered. That is where the dramatic side of it appeals to me."

"It appealed to me also," Seymour whispered coolly. "But I had only to imagine that the lamp was the face of a famous old man-eating tiger who nearly did for me four years ago in Upper Burma. If we had been discovered, we should have had to have fought our way out; but I think you will agree with me that I have managed the affair in a much more artistic way than that."

Jack agreed cordially. He was watching now with breathless eagerness to see what was the full measure of Seymour's success. Carrington had staggered back with a startled cry, though even as yet he did not know the danger that was to follow.

"By heaven, you have done it well!" Jack muttered.

"I think I have," Seymour whispered complacently. "It occurs to me that I have not left much to be desired."

It was done even better than be had anticipated, for a few drops of the cold water had trickled down the receiver of the lamp and mingled with the oil there. From, all parts of the brass-work around the flame a blue, fiery vapor rushed out. With a cry of dismay Carrington almost threw the lamp upon the table; it tottered and fell sideways, and an instant later a stream of burning oil was flowing over the table-cloth, and dripping in long tongue's of flame upon the carpet.

"For heaven's take, be careful, you clumsy coward!" Anstruther cried. "You'll have the whole place on fire; those lamps are very pretty to look at, but dangerous to use."

But Carrington was not listening at all. He seemed to have lost his head entirely. But, frightened as he was. he did not fail to notice that the liquid flame was licking the other set of plans which were lying on the table. Just for an instant his mind was clear enough to see the necessity of saving the papers. He leaned forward and made a clutch at them. Something hot and stinging seemed to be gripping him by the fingers; he snatched his hand back again and dragged the table-cloth, more than half of which was in flames, to the floor. Crash fell the second lamp. Its crystal receiver smashed by the fall, and in the twinkling of an eye the whole room was in flames.

So sudden, so swift and unexpected was the whole thing, that Jack could only gasp. He was so lost in admiration of Seymour's quickness and coolness, that he quite failed to realize the danger in which he and his companion stood. Less than a minute had elapsed since Seymour put his scheme into execution, and yet already the smoking-room was one mass of lambent flame.

"Well, you have done it this time." Anstruther yelled. "Clear out at once or there will be no occasion for me to trouble about either of us any further. Give an alarm; go out in the street, and yell for the fire engine."

Carrington needed no second bidding. Together with Anstruther he raced down the stone staircase and into the street. Jack could hear his companion chuckling with triumph and delight.

"Rather a close thing that," he said coolly. "And how we had best look to ourselves. No chance of making a dash through those flames without being badly burned; besides, I have no doubt there is some other way out of it. Push those windows to, Mr. Masefield; there is no reason why we should be suffocated here."

By closing the windows leading to the smoking-room, which was now a roaring mass of flame, it was possible to cut off the heat and smoke for a moment, and perhaps gain sufficient time to discover another means of retreat.

But this was easier said than done. With the aid of a match or two, Seymour found the window at the back of the conservatory, which opened outwards. So far as he could see there was a drop of something like thirty feet into a kind of alley at the back of the flats.

"We shall have, to wait our chance," Seymour said. "There are several more flats in the building, and no doubt there will be plenty to do for the firemen later on. In all probability, Anstruther and Carrington are mixed up in the crowd which you may be quite sure has collected by this time. Shall we wait on events, or shall we open the window and yell for assistance? We can pretend that we were cut off by the fire."

On the whole, Jack thought it would be better to wait. They were quite safe for the next quarter of an hour, at any rate, and in that time much might happen.

"It is worth risking." he said. "What a great thing it would be if we could get away from here without those men knowing that anybody had been on the premises. Suppose we try our hands as amateur firemen. There is plenty of water here."

But Seymour did not think it would be worth while. A hose and pipe as small as that which they had at their disposal would not be likely to be of much use in dealing with the roaring tornado of flame behind the closed glass, doors. The conservatory, too, was getting intolerably hot, but that discomfort was avoided by opening the window. There was just the outline of a leaded balcony to be seen above the arch of the conservatory; then, greatly to Jack's delight, he saw the movements of some figures below, and then a ladder was slowly raised until it rested against the leads of the balcony.

"That is for the benefit of the people upstairs," Seymour suggested. "Possibly they cannot make the inhabitants of the upper flats hear what's going on. So the ladder is quite clear by this time. I expect those firemen have got in through a window somewhere. Push this window back, and see if you can reach the ladder."

It was a comparatively easy matter to reach the ladder, as Jack found to his great delight They slid rapidly down and found themselves at length in the alley without anybody being a penny the wiser.

"Well, of all the lucky chances," Jack exclaimed. "We are well out of that. Let us go round to the front and see what is going on there."

A great crowd had assembled in front of the burning flat The red outlines of a couple of engines could be seen; beyond the crowd there was a sound and regular rush of pumping water; and presently the crowd seemed to understand that the danger was over. Jack touched his companion's arm, and called his attention to the fact that Carrington and Anstruther were standing within earshot of them.

"And what are you going to do now," asked the latter.

"Oh, I shall go off and stay at the Great Metropolitan. No, you need not come along—I have had about enough of your company for to-night."

Carrington called a hansom, and was whirled away. Seymour smiled in a significant manner.

"Wouldn't it be as well," he suggest "that you also found it convenient pass the night at the Great Metropolitan. Padini is there, too, and it is possible that you may—"

"Right you are," Jack said eagerly. "Then I can call upon you in the morning and report progress. Good-night"



XXX. — BEDROOM 14

JACK had not waited to ask any more questions; he had felt quite sure from Seymour's manner that the latter had some great scheme in hand. It was was pleasant and exhilarating to feel that a man of Seymour's wonderful fertility and courage should be enlisted on his side. Masefield was not without hope that the discoveries of the night were not yet complete. He strolled away in the direction of the Great Metropolitan, turning these things over in his mind.

It seemed to him that the clerk in the office of the mammoth hotel regarded him somewhat suspiciously, seeing that he had arrived without luggage of any kind, but a deposit of a sovereign soon set the matter right. It occurred to Jack as good idea to secure a bedroom as near s possible next to that of Carrington. The hotel was not particularly busy, he discovered, for nobody had come in inquiring for bedroom accommodation during the last hour. This was a discovery in itself, for it testified the fact that Carrington had not yet arrived.

It was nearly an hour before he came, and then he appeared in a desperate hurry. Discreetly Jack remained in the background, but he was close enough to hear Carrington arguing and protesting that he must have a certain room. The matter seemed to be settled amicably at length, and Carrington took the key and departed. Jack strolled across to the office again. He had decided on a bold policy. "I am going to ask you to give me another room." he said. "I want to be as near as possible to the gentleman who has just gone up-stairs. I think if you do as I ask you it may save the hotel trouble. What was the number of the room?"

The clerk was friendly enough, and inclined to talk. Was it a police matter? he asked. Jack responded gravely that he was not in a position to say too much, but his mysterious manner had the desired effect, and the exchange was made.

"I haven't put you exactly next to the gentleman," the clerk explained. "You see our bedrooms are on a sort of cubical system—corridors down both sides and the bedrooms back to back, if I may so express it—with a ventilating grating between them for the sake of air. The gentleman's bedroom is 28, therefore your room, exactly behind it, is No. 14. I hope I have made myself plain."

Jack replied that the thing was perfectly clear. Indeed, the system was in considerable vogue on the Continent.

He lingered a little longer in the big lounge hall, where he smoked a cigarette or two, so as to give Carrington time to get to bed. It occurred to Jack, in an idle kind of way that perhaps Carrington was deceiving Anstruther or why had he not come straight to the hotel. Instead of that, he had evidently gone off somewhere in a desperate hurry, and had returned at length to the hotel looking very exhausted and agitated. Jack pondered this matter in his mind as he went up to his own room.

It was a comfortable enough bedroom, for the Great Metropolitan was noted for the luxury of its appointments; indeed, the room was fit for anybody. The lighting was exceedingly efficient; even over the bed was a pendant, evidently intended for those who cared to read after they retired to rest. Jack smiled as he noted the elaborate dressing-table and wash- hand-stand, to say nothing of a huge winged wardrobe, which was almost as big as a bedroom itself. Behind this wardrobe, fairly close to the ceiling, was the open grating which formed a ventilating shaft between one room and the other one behind it.

Jack carefully closed the door, and with the aid of a chair managed to climb to the top of the wardrobe. He found that the grating was constructed on the swivel principle, very like a big cheval glass, to that by tilting it slightly it was just possible to see into the next room.

In the room aforesaid the lights had not yet been turned down, so that evidently Carrington had not gone to bed. The watcher could hear him impatiently pacing the room and muttering to himself from time to time. The muttering was exceedingly incoherent, but from the gist of it Jack seemed to make out that Carrington was expecting somebody. On the far side of the room was a wardrobe very much like the one upon which Jack was perched, except that it had large plate-glass doors which reflected practically everything that was taking place inside the room.

Jack could see Carrington now, lounging in a comfortable armchair and impatiently turning over a great mass of papers which lay on a table before him. On the table also was a box of cigars, flanked by two glasses and the necessary ingredients for the manufacture of whiskey and soda. There could be no longer any doubt about it, Carrington was expecting a friend. So far as the watcher could see, there was no hurry. He was quite prepared to sit up all night if necessary, and had no feelings of delicacy in listening to what the two scoundrels were going to say—provided always that the expected visitor was a scoundrel, of which Jack had very little doubt.

As he stood there, his whole mind strained to attention. It seemed to him hat he could hear the sound of music somewhere. To his trained ear there was something familiar in the method of the player. Jack wondered where he had heard that finished execution before. Then it suddenly flashed upon him.

"How stupid," he muttered to himself. "I had quite forgotten that Padini was here. That is Padini, without a shadow of a doubt, carrying out the programme that Anstruther made out for him."

The music was not far off; it seemed to Jack that he could almost hear the scraping of the bow. It was not lost upon him. however, that the whole of the pieces were Chopin's compositions. The music ceased presently with a sudden twang, much as if the E-string had violently parted. A moment later, by the aid of the friendly mirror, Jack saw Carrington's door open, and the figure of Padini come in. Carrington glared at the intruder.

"What do you mean by keeping me waiting all this time?" he growled. "Didn't you get my telephone message?"

"And hadn't I got my work to do?" Padini retorted. "I dare say you consider yourself to be an exceedingly clever fellow, but once you elect to match your wits with Anstruther, you will find yourself a lost man. It is no use you being in a hurry; as a matter of fact, I should have kept you a full hour longer, only I have broken my E-string, and I don't happen to have another one on the premises."

With an angry gesture Padini threw his violin on the table. In a mechanical sort of way Carrington looked at the severed string. He was always a suspicious man, for it was an axiom of his never to trust anybody, and he was wondering now if this were not part of some dodge being worked out by his visitor. His face grew a little anxious as he held one end of the broken string between his thumb and finger.

"I suppose you call this a simple fracture," he said. "String worn out, and all that kind of thing. If you will look at it carefully you will see that it has been half cut: you can actually see how far the knife has gone."

Padini examined the string carefully. His face also had grown a little gray and anxious.

"It is exactly as you say, my friend," he exclaimed. "But I wonder how that was done, and why. It is not as if I left my violin about—one is not so careless with a genuine Amati like mine. I brought the fiddle back with me from my afternoon recital, and I am prepared to swear that there was nothing the matter with it then. I locked it up in my box, and there it stayed till a couple of hours ago. Now what does this mean? Does anybody suspect us? Has Anstruther's clever scheme come to the knowledge of anybody? The police, perhaps, might have discovered—"

"The police have nothing whatever to do with that," Carrington said angrily. "What have any of us done to bring ourselves within the reach of the law—at present? The man that we have most to fear is Seymour. How you came to let him slip through your fingers the other night is an absolute mystery to me."

Padini shrugged his shoulders, and something like an oath escaped him. By aid of the friendly mirror Jack obtained a perfect view of his face. It was white and sinister; the dark eyes gleamed like living coals.

"But Seymour must be dead," the violinist said hoarsely. "We know he is dead; did we not read it in the papers? It may be that some friends stole his body for purposes of their own, but dead he is. If I thought he was still alive, I should have to leave London; I dare not stay here with a horror like that hanging over me."

"You are absolutely wrong," Carrington cried. "Seymour is still alive; he is still in London, thirsting for vengeance. He is rich, he has the courage of a lion, and the mind of a Machiavelli. You smile, my friend, but it is the smile of a thoroughly frightened man. Seymour is after you; he is after me. Look at this. Don't say you fail to recognize it—"

"It is his tobacco pouch," Padini faltered.

"Yes; I thought you would recognise it. And where do you suppose I found that to-night? In my own room, lying on the floor. Do you want any greater proof than that, that Seymour was working in my own rooms to-night?"

Padini nodded moodily. Jack noticed how his hand trembled as he helped himself to the whiskey and soda.

"I am sick of this," he muttered. "I mean to get out of it—I am as anxious as you are to get outside Anstruther's influence. That is why I am here to-night. I am going to tell you my plan—call it murderous and treacherous if you like—which is the only way of settling Anstruther's claims upon us. If you have any pluck at all—if there is anything of the man about you—"

"No. no," Carrington faltered. "I tell you I dare not."

As the speaker broke off. Jack was conscious of something like an altercation outside his door. The night porter was protesting that something or other was not his fault; the other man's voice was equally sure that it was. It did not require much intelligence to discover that the newcomer wanted that particular room. With a thrill Jack recognized the voice of Anstruther. In and instant he had made up his mind what to do. Like a flash he came down from the top of the wardrobe, switched on the light over the bed, and proceeded softly to unlock the door. There was a knock on the panel at the same moment. Jack glanced hastily round, and bundled one or two of his belongings into the wing of the wardrobe. He had barely time to conceal himself there, before the handle of the door turned and Anstruther entered.

"You can see it is exactly as I said," the latter remarked. "I engaged this room an hour ago. It is quite evident that no other guest has taken this apartment. If he were here, surely there would be a portmanteau, or a dressing-case, or something of that kind. Take this half-sovereign, and say no more about it. If there is any fuss I will take the blame."

The man departed; the door was locked behind him, and a moment later Jack could feel the heavy form of Anstruther climbing to the top of the wardrobe.



XXXI. — A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

IT was impossible, boxed up as he was in the stuffy atmosphere of the wardrobe, for Jack to hear anything of what was going on in the next room. But it was pretty easy to guess what was the meaning of Anstruther's strange intrusion. There was only one thing for it. and that was to possess his soul in patience and hope that Anstruther had no intention of spending the night there. It was perfectly obvious that he had come only with the intention of bearing what was taking place in the next room. It was impossible for anybody possessed of ordinary intellect not to admire Anstruther, whose brilliant qualities could not be ignored. Even now, excited as he was, Masefield could not repress his admiration for the man he both feared and disliked.

It really was a marvelous thing that Anstruther should be so soon upon the track of the man with whom he had parted on friendly terms not an hour ago. Was this the result of some perfect system of spying, or was it that Anstruther's wonderful instinct led him to believe that Carrington was ready to plot against him whilst professing to act upon his advice? Masefield had plenty of time to ponder this question, for the figure on the wardrobe above gave no signs as yet of having had enough of it. Nor was Jack's situation rendered more pleasant by the knowledge that he might have to pass the night in a perpendicular position and half stifled by the stuffy atmosphere of the wardrobe.

But there was always comfort in the knowledge that Anstruther's main object was to hear the conversation in the next room. It might possibly last not much longer; at any rate, Carrington would have to go to bed some time, and the sooner the better.

An hour passed. An hour which seemed the whole of a long night came to an end at length, and then there was some sound, as if of a body cautiously moving overhead. Jack drew a long breath of relief, or at least as long a breath as was possible, considering his stifling surroundings. The critical moment had arrived. Had the conference next door finished, or was it merely an interlude? Jack wondered. He had been bound to push the door of the wardrobe open a little, and now he saw a long slit of light. which told him that Anstruther had turned up the lamps again. He could hear the latter pacing the room in a restless kind of fashion, and muttering to himself as if he were not entirely satisfied with what he had heard.

Jack, greatly daring, ventured to push the wardrobe door open slightly further. He caught the side view of his enemy as the latter sat moodily on the bed, with apparently no intention of removing his clothing. It was quite within the bounds of possibility now that Anstruther, having satisfied himself, would leave the hotel altogether. A moment later and Jack saw his conclusion was the right one. Anstruther turned toward the door.

"No reason to stay here any longer," he muttered. "I'm as tired as a dog. I suppose my nerves are not what they used to be, or perhaps I am growing old; at any rate, this sort of thing tells upon me more than it used to. Certainly that half-sovereign of mine was well laid out. Oh, you contemptible pair of rascals—so you think you are going to get the best of Spencer Anstruther. We shall see. And as to Padini—"

The speaker shook his fist in the direction of the next room, and walked quietly in the direction of the door. Jack could hear the key turn in the lock. He felt a suggestion of draught as if the room were now open to the corridor. The next instant the lights vanished, and Anstruther had left the room. Jack crept out into the comparatively pure atmosphere, and wiped the moisture from his forehead. He preferred to remain in the darkness till he made up his mind what to do. Looking up in the direction of the ventilator, he could see that the lights were now extinguished in Carrington's bedroom. This was plain evidence of the fact that the conference was concluded, and that there was no occasion to stay any longer.

"I'll get out of it too." Jack muttered to himself. "It is only a matter of forfeiting my sovereign, but what I have learned is cheap at the price; but I shall have to be cautious."

It was perhaps fortunate for Jack that a somewhat large rush of late guests came into the hotel at the same moment. Most of them were racing men returning from a big meeting up north. Anyway, the servants appeared to be particularly busy, so that Jack felt that he could slip away without any suspicions as to his movements. He waited just a moment till the corridor was practically empty, then sauntered towards the head of the stairs with the air of a man who has just come in.

He had practically reached the big square landing, when a bedroom door opened cautiously, and a man's face peeped out. It occurred to Jack that possibly this man was looking for something, or that he was going to deposit his boots outside, or something of that kind. But the stranger, who was about half-dressed, did nothing of the kind. On the contrary, he raised his finger in a mysterious manner, and then beckoned deliberately to Jack. He did not appear in the least agitated; on the contrary, his expression was one of caution and mistrust. Jack, thinking that it might have been a little play of fancy on his part, would have moved on, only the stranger stepped briskly outside and touched him on the arm.

"Is there anything I can do for you? Jack asked politely. "I suppose your bell's gone wrong, or something of that sort; I am quite at your service."

"Will you be good enough to step inside my room?" the stranger said. "The request will probably strike you as being somewhat out of the common, but I really have something important to say to you."

As was quite natural in the circumstances. Jack hesitated for a moment. Like most people, he had heard and read a great deal about strange hotel outrages, and it occurred to him now that he might have been chosen for the victim of one of these. Possibly the stranger was mad, or possibly he was suffering from alcoholic excesses. But Jack felt more assured as he carefully examined the features of the stranger. Ha was a tall, slim chap, who palpably was recovering from some dangerous illness. It was either that, or he was far gone in consumption. Jack could see that the mere act of standing there was a weariness of the flesh; he noted also the attenuated arms, which at one time or another must have been exceedingly powerful, for the sinews and muscles seemed to hang upon the bones just like rags.

But it was the face of the man that attracted Jack's attention most. It was long and lean and pallid: there were thin strips of plaster skilfully bandaged about the eyes and mouth, and down the sides of the long hawk-like nose. Still, behind it all, there was even the suggestion that this man was a sportsman and an athlete. Jack seemed to know by instinct that his new acquaintance was a man who had passed much time in warm climates. He began to wonder if the stranger had laid violent hands upon himself. It was very strange to see all that mass of plaster, as if the face had been carved in some grotesque fashion with a knife.

"Do please come inside for a moment," the stranger pleaded. "I assure you I mean no harm, and our conversation may result in a wonderful deal of good. You evidently regard me as a kind of lunatic. Well, in some respects, perhaps, you are right; but there is a good deal of method in my madness."

Jack still hesitated. The stranger sighed bitterly.

"I see I must be candid with you," he said. "I am taking a great risk, but I am trusting you because I never make a mistake about a face. You have been closeted for some time in the same room with Spencer Anstruther, but that you are an accomplice of his I feel sure is impossible. Now will you come inside my room?"

Jack hesitated no longer. He strode into the room and his new acquaintance closed the door behind him. The apartment was furnished half as a sitting- half as a bed-room. A fire burned in the grate, an invalid armchair was pulled up to one side of it. There was plenty of proof, also, of the fact that the occupant of the room was an invalid. Herr were bottles with chemists' labels; here were some cotton wool and a case of surgical instruments. In one corner of the room was a small iron bedstead, which was obviously placed there for the use of a male nurse.

"You are quite right," the stranger said, as if reading Jack's thoughts. "As a matter of fact, there is no reason why you should have accepted my invitation at all—one hears of so many strange things happening in these big modern hotels. As you imagine, I am just recovering from a dangerous illness, the result of a very delicate operation. But we need not go into that. What you are dying to find. out is how I know all about Spencer Anstruther."

"I confess I am a little curious on the point," Jack said dryly. "You are taking a great risk when you mention his name and assume that I am no friend of his."

"You couldn't be with a face like yours," the stranger replied. "A dupe, perhaps, or a man he was making use of, but never one of his infamous gang. And yet you were in that room with him a long time to-night."

Jack hesitated a moment before he spoke again.

"Look here," he said. "You have been fairly candid with me, and in return I will be as candid with you. Anstruther is a great scoundrel, and it is to my interest and to the interests of those I love that the man should be exposed and rendered harmless for the future. Now, how did you know that we were in the same bedroom together?"

"That is easily explained," said the other. "My male nurse was suddenly called away this evening on important business. I have been feeling so much better the last day or two that I decided to do without a substitute. Mind you, I knew perfectly well that Anstruther was frequently in the habit of spending an occasional night here. And I had my own reasons for keeping out of his way. But something happened to my bell to-night, and I had to go to the top of the corridor and use the bell there. It was quite by accident that I saw you enter bedroom No. 14, and it was quite by accident, also, that I heard Anstruther demand to know why he could not have the same room. I listened with curiosity, because the thing struck me as very strange. It struck me as stranger still when I heard Anstruther say that the room was empty, and saw him close the door behind him.

"A kind of vanishing trick," Jack smiled.

"Well, yes. if you like to put it that way," the other said. "It was either one of two things—you were there as an accomplice, which I refuse for one moment to believe, or you had hidden yourself in the room for the purpose of watching Anstruther. In fact, seeing that circumstances were going for you. you laid a neat little trap for Anstruther. Have I not guessed it correctly?"

"Your deductions are perfectly sound." Jack said. "I deliberately chose that bedroom with the full intention of overhearing what was going on in the room behind. When I heard Anstruther come in, I hid myself in the wardrobe and stayed there till he left the room. Now I have told you all that has happened so far as I am concerned. It is your turn to be communicative."

"I am exceedingly sorry to appear discourteous," the stranger said; "but I am afraid I cannot tell you very much. The mere mention of Anstruther's name always throws me into a kind of terror. I may be able to help you later on, but for the present I am bound to silence. But tell me now, do you see any likeness between Anstruther and myself?"

The question was asked with an eagerness that struck Jack as being far beyond the necessity of so simple a query. The speaker seemed to fairly tremble for Jack's reply.

"There does not begin to be any resemblance," he said. "The question strikes me as being a strange one. And now let me ask you a question. From what you say, you appear to know Anstruther exceedingly well. Now, did you ever notice his likeness to anybody? You have seen him when he has been greatly moved to passion, I suppose?"

The stranger shuddered, and turned away his head.

"That is sufficient answer for me," Jack said. "I dare say you have noticed those strange Nostalgo posters. Did it ever occur to you that Anstruther is not unlike those pictures?"

The effect of the question was extraordinary. The stranger looked at Jack with eyes filled with terror.

"Strange, very strange," he muttered hoarsely. "You have hit it exactly. May I ask, have you ever been in Mexico?"

"No," Jack replied; "but I know a man who has. Did you ever meet an individual out there called Seymour?"



XXXII. — LADY BARMOUTH'S JEWELS

JACK had merely drawn a bow at a venture, but the shaft went home to the feather. By instinct he seemed to divine the fact that the stranger who knew so much of Anstruther's inner life might also know as much as the man called Nostalgo, otherwise Seymour. This instinct did not play Jack false, for he saw his companion stagger back as if he had been shot. He fell into a chair, and plucked feebly at the arms of it with his fingers.

"You are on dangerous ground indeed," he said hoarsely. "Have you a wife depending on you, or one you love? If so turn your back upon me at once, and never see my face again."

It was a warning deep, thrilling and impressive. But Jack merely shook hit head and smiled. H e had no intention of turning back now.

"I know too much or too little," he said. "Mr. Seymour is by way of being a friend of mine—in fact, I was the means of doing him a great service the other night. But I see from the expression of your face that you know all about that "

"Have you seen Seymour in the daylight, just as he is?" the stranger asked eagerly. "You know what I mean."

"I know what you mean perfectly well." Jack replied. "I have seen Seymour just as he is. To make another shot, I have also seen Lord Barmouth just as he is."

The stranger sat bolt upright in his chair, and regarded Jack with grim satisfaction; "This is good news indeed," he said. "I am pleased to find out that I am betraying no secrets in my conversation with you. What I want you to do is this—I want you to arrange a meeting between Seymour and myself. It will be dangerous for me to leave the hotel at present, so that you must arrange it in a way that Seymour can come here."

"If you will be good enough "to tell me your name," Jack suggested. "It is just possible—"

The stranger shook his head, and hoped that Jack would not deem him guilty of being discourteous if he withheld his name for the present He took from a desk a small, curiously-designed ring, and passed it across to Jack.

"I think you will find that all that is necessary," he explained. "If you will take that ring and say that if came from the owner, I am quite sure that Seymour will be willing to fall in with my wishes. And now, I will bid you good-night, sir. It is good to know that we have a man of your courage and intelligence on our side."

So saying, the stranger rose to his feet and extended his long, slim hand to Jack. He intimated that Jack might come and see him from time to time, but that caution would be absolutely necessary.

"Ask for Jabez Smith," he said. "That is the name under which I am known here. If you only knew how fortunate a thing it is that we have met to-night! But Lord Barmouth and Seymour will be able to prove that to you presently. Once more, good-night."

The door closed behind Jack; be heard the click of the lock, and found himself alone in the corridor. He could see that there were still many people smoking and chatting in the big lounge below. The great hall door was not yet closed, so that it was possible for Jack to slip into the street absolutely unnoticed. He felt restless and excited, and absolutely devoid of any desire to rest. Sleep in the circumstances would be out of the question. It was no use going home, there to toss and fret all night. It was just possible, too, that Rigby had not yet left The Planet office, as it was barely 1 o'clock. Anyway, a walk in the cool night air was bound to prove invigorating. It did not much matter, however, whether Masefield saw Rigby or not. He could tell him all this exciting history in the morning.

But Rigby was still in his office, waiting for a proof, after which he declared he meant to go to the Press Club for supper. It was an entertaining supper, for Jack's narrative was piquant enough, as he had so much to tell.

"Well, you have had a night of it." Rigby said enviously. "Who are you that you should have all the luck like this? Here have I been all the evening, doing nothing to earn the approval of my proprietor, whilst you have been getting a t the heart of the mystery. I shall have to divide my fee with you, Jack."

For a long time they discussed the matter in all its bearings. What seemed to interest Rigby more than anything else was the scheme proposed by Anstruther to get Carrington out of his serious position. He saw great possibilities now that the plan of the bank premises had come into the possession of the man Seymour, especially as the conspirators were unaware of this.

"We ought to be able to make a good thing out of this." he said thoughtfully. "Of course, it will all have to be worked out very carefully; but I should like to catch those fellows in the trap they have laid for others. After all, it makes no difference to you how Anstruther is got out of the way, so long as he receives a good dose of penal servitude. That once being done, we shall be able to work quite openly, and it is evident that your new friend Seymour can expound the whole of the Nostalgo business. I shall get my special article for The Planet, after all; but it will be more thanks to you than to my own efforts."

"Well, you needn't tell Van Jens that," Jack laughed. "Give me the outline of your scheme."

"I want to force Carrington's hand. I want him to understand how desperate his situation is, so that he and Anstruther must take action at once. Now, for instance, you tell me you heard "Carrington say to-night that his bank has a great amount of jewelry in its keeping. Is that so?"

"They had it in their keeping." Jack said drily.

"Well that is exactly what I mean," Rigby responded. "And Carrington is in mortal terror lest some great lady should come along at any moment and demand her gems. You will remember telling me that Carrington was especially apprehensive over the great masked ball which is coming off at Lady Barmouth's in two days' time. Do you happen to know any of the titled women who are asked? If you could get one of them to go round to Carrington's to-morrow and ask for her gems, why—"

"I see exactly what you mean," Jack cried eagerly. "We should force the hands of those two scoundrels, and compel them to do something without delay. By so doing, also, we should upset the delicate schemes of Anstruther?"

"You have get it exactly." Rigby murmured. "Can you bring this about? It should be easily done."

"I don't see very well how I can do it myself," Jack responded. "But Claire knows a great many of these people, and I should think she would not have the slightest difficulty in doing what we need. Anyway. I'll so round and see her to-morrow morning, and tell her exactly what has taken place. Is it all that time? Really. I must go to bed and try and get some sleep. Good-night."

After all, youth will be served, even in the way of sleep: and Jack was surprised to find on waking next morning, that it was nearly ten o'clock. It was nearly twelve before he knocked at the door of the house in Panton Square and asked to see Claire. It was Serena who answered the summons—Serena, gray and silent and subdued in the morning light. All the same, she gave Jack one swift, furtive glance before her eyes sought the floor again.

"I will go up to the drawing-room myself." Jack said. "So you are none the worse for your last night's adventure, Serena? Come, you need not look at me like that, and pretend not to understand. What were you doing in Mr. Carrington's late last night?"

A sound like a sob broke from Serena, but she answered nothing.

"If you only knew how profoundly sorry I am for you," Jack said softly. "When the time comes, you will have to speak; and when the time comes we shall deal with you as kindly as possible. Although you refuse to speak now, you must not believe otherwise than that. We know everything. We know, for instance, where you were last night, and we have nothing to learn as to the deaf mute and he young man who has a fancy to wear his moustache in the same form as the style affected by the German Emperor."

Serena listened, with her eyes fixed mutely on Jack's face. It seemed to him that she was bursting with anxiety to speak, but that some strange force held her tongue and checked her utterance.

"Do not go too far," she said presently. in a strained, hard whisper. "Not that I mean to threaten you. Believe me, I am all on your side; but I dare not speak. You may call me coward if you like: you may say that I have no nerve or courage; but if you had gone through the hell that my life has been the last few years, you would wonder, that I had the strength of mind to look even the feeblest fellow creature in the face."

Just at the moment when it seemed to Jack that 8erena was likely to take him into her confidence, she turned abruptly away, and disappeared in the direction of he kitchen. Jack went slowly and thoughtfully up-stairs to the drawing-room, where he found Claire with her hat on ready to go out. It was clear that she had not expected him, but her welcome was none the less warm for that.

"I am afraid I shall have to detain you a little time, dearest," Jack said. "A great deal has happened since I saw you yesterday, and I think you ought to know most of it. Sit down a moment, please."

Claire sat by her lover's side, and listened intently to the strange story that he had to tell. It was clear from the expression of her blue eyes that she was a little fearful for her lover. She clutched his arm impulsively, and he responded to the touch. It was not difficult for him to realise what was passing in her mind.

"You need not have any anxiety as far as I am concerned." he said. "Very fortunately for us, those scoundrels have not the least idea that we know so much of their movements. But what I came here especially for this morning was to ask you if you knew anybody going to Lady Barmouth's dance whose jewels are in the keeping of Carrington's bank? I think I explained Rigby's point to you. Do you know anybody who could help us?"

"I know one who could help you who is not very far off, dear old boy." Claire smiled. "You seem to have forgotten that I am rather an important person in my small way. Did I never tell you of the jewels that my grandmother left me?"

"I declare I had quite forgotten them," Jack said. "I never care to associate you with money, especially as I have so little of my own. Diamonds, weren't they?"

"Diamonds and sapphires," Claire explained. "They are really almost unique in their way. I generally keep them, on the advice of my guardian, with Mr. Carrington. Let us go round there now and ask for the gems."

It is not exactly what Jack had meant, because it occurred to him that Carrington might easily vamp some excuse so far as Claire was concerned, and then get Anstruther to invent some reason why the jewels were not forthcoming. Still it might do, and there was no reason why they should not try it.

"I was going really to see Lady Barmouth," Claire explained. "But I can can call in there as we return from the city. Let us have a hansom at once."

Provincial Bank were reached at length. There was nothing inside or outside the place to denote that the concern was trembling to the verge of bankruptcy. Mr. Carrington was not busy, a polite cashier informed them, and he would be pleased to see Miss Helmsley at once. Jack followed in behind Claire, and he could not but be impressed by the ease and assurance of Carrington's manner. The latter did not show the slightest signs of agitation when Claire explained her presence there.

"Certainly," he said. "You have come, of course, provided with your guardian's signature. No? I am afraid we cannot dispense with that formality. Send it on by messenger, and one of our own clerks shall bring the jewels round. What a delightful morning it is! Good-by."

Jack accepted his checkmate cheerfully enough. It was exceedingly adroit and clever on Carrington's part and some other method of forcing his hand would have to be adopted. Jack was bowing himself out, when some one else came sailing into the room; and, to his great delight, Jack recognized Lady Barmouth. He divined at once what she had come for and what her errand was .

"Good-morning, all of you." she cried, gaily. "Mr. Carrington, you will not thank me for disturbing you this time of the day, but as I happen to be passing this way I thought I would save trouble. Will you be so good as to hand me over my jewels?"

Carrington made no answer. His face was pale as ashes.



XXXIII. — GEMS OR PASTE?

IT was a dramatic moment, especially for Claire and Jack, who fully appreciated the peril in which Carrington stood. The fact was not hidden to them that Carrington's excuse to Claire was but an ingenious way out of a terrible difficulty. On more than one occasion Claire had herself fetched her jewels from the bank, but no objections had been raised. Still, Carrington was clearly within his legal right, and Jack could not but admire the swiftness with which he had got himself out of the tangle. His own face was a model of absolute indifference; he just glanced at Claire to see if she expressed any suspicion. But Claire smiled in a way so natural and artless that Jack had no fears of her for the future.

With Lady Barmouth, however, it was quite a different matter. As yet, she knew nothing of the terrible straits in which Carrington found himself involved. She had come down for her jewels in the ordinary way, as she had done many times before, and expected to take them away with her. Carrington affected to be talking to somebody down the speaking tube, but in reality he was fighting to gain time and work out some ingenious excuse. Jack enjoyed his dismay with a feeling of grim satisfaction.

But Carrington was not quite done with yet; evidently he had not sat at the feet of Anstruther for nothing. He looked up presently, and smiled with the air of a man who is only too willing to do anything for his client.

"Will you take a seat for a moment Lady Barmouth?" he said politely. "I see that you know Miss Helmsley and Mr. Masefield. I must go and speak to our cashier for a moment—"

"You cannot get the jewels yourself?" Lady Barmouth asked.

"No," Carrington explained. "Of course, we are bound to take precautions. I have no more power to open one of the safes by myself than one of my junior clerks."

"That would be awkward if you wanted anything out of bank hours." Jack suggested. "How do you manage then?"

"Well, we simply don't manage," Carrington said. He was quite himself again by this time. "I can no more get into the strong room than you could. I should have to get the manager and chief cashier before a safe could be opened."

All this sounded plausible enough, as Jack was bound to admit. Carrington went off with a jaunty step, as if he had all the millions of the Bank of England behind him. Jack wondered bow he would get out of the mess. But the solution of the puzzle was quite easy. Carrington came back with a look of annoyance on his face.

"I am exceedingly sorry, Lady Barmouth," he apologised. "The fact is, Mr. Perkins has been called away on important business to our West End branch. He cannot possibly get back in less than an hour. Do you want your jewels in such a hurry?"

Lady Barmouth was fain to confess that she didn't. She would not require them till the following evening; only some time must necessarily be spent in the cleaning of them.

"Plenty of time for that," Carrington smiled. "I will send a special messenger in a cab to bring the cases to your house by lunch time. I hope that will be convenient to you."

Lady Barmouth, innocent of the part which she was playing in the comedy, replied that that arrangement would suit her exceedingly well; indeed, she was sorry to give so much trouble. She swept out of the bank parlor, followed by Jack and Claire. A well-appointed brougham stood outside, and she smilingly offered her companions a lift.

"I am going to take Claire back to lunch with me." she said. "Can I set you down anywhere, Mr. Masefield?"

"You can set me down, if you please, on your own doorstep," Jack smiled. "As a matter of fact, I was just going to see Lord Barmouth, and now I have something serious to say to you. Were you satisfied just now? About the jewels. I mean—"

Lady Barmouth looked puzzled as Jack followed her into the brougham. She saw nothing, so she said, to arouse any suspicions, except that she thought a needless fuss had been made over her gems. She was still discussing the matter, when the brougham reached Belgrave Square and the three alighted. Once they were in the drawing-room, Lady Barmouth turned to Jack and asked him what he meant. He shook his head doubtfully.

"I am afraid I am going to upset you very much." he said. "But unless I am greatly mistaken, you are never likely to see your diamonds again."

Lady Barmouth stared open-mouthed at the speaker. She explained that her diamonds were of great value; indeed, some of the stones were historic. Those diamonds had often been mentioned in personal paragraphs, which are such a feature in the modern newspaper, and Jack recollected a description of them perfectly well. He proceeded to explain. at considerable length, the history of his last night's adventure. Lady Barmouth's face grew still more grave when at length the recital was finished.

"This is a very serious matter." she said. "Do you know this is likely to cost Lord Barmouth something like fifty thousand pounds? The City and Provincial Bank does a good deal of business with people well-known in society, and I am afraid many of us will be involved. What do you suppose has become of those diamonds, Mr. Masefield?"

"They have been pawned, of course," Jack said. "Carrington has taken that dreadful risk in the desperate hope of retrieving his position. But the whole scandal is bound to become public property before eight and forty hours have passed."

There was nothing for it now but to wait and see what time would bring forth. Lord Barmouth was not yet down; indeed, his man said that he would not appear till after luncheon. But there was no lack of animated conversation in the drawing-room, and the discussion was continued till the gong rang for lunch.

"I tell you what I think the best thing to do," Lady Barmouth said as Jack held the drawing-room door open for her. "You are a barrister, and accustomed to deal with legal matters. If those stones fail to arrive by half-past two, I will give you my written authority, and you shall take it to the bank and insist upon something definite; being done."

Luncheon was a thing of the past, and it was getting on towards 1 o'clock, when a cab drove up to the door, and a footman announced the fact that a gentleman from the City and Provincial Bank desired to see Lady Barmouth. She returned presently, beaming with smiles, and announced that Jack had been mistaken; for the gems had not only been delivered, but had also been handed over to the speaker's maid.

Slightly taken aback, Jack expressed a natural curious desire to see the stones in question. Lady Barmouth rang the bell, and presently a smart French maid appeared, bearing four shabby-looking cases in her hand. They were laid on the table, and Jack suggested that Lady Barmouth open one of them.

"I see you are still suspicious." she smiled. "Evidently things were not so desperate with Mr. Carrington as you appear to imagine. What do you think of those?"

With pardonable pride. Lady Barmouth lifted the cover of one of the cases and displayed the flashing contents to Claire's admiring eyes. A livid stream of name dazzled and blinked in the sunshine. Claire's cry of delight was echoed by an exclamation of astonishment from Lady Barmouth.

"There is some extraordinary mistake here," she said. "I admit that these stones are exceedingly beautiful, but, unfortunately, they are not mine at all. They look to me much more like the property of the Duchess of Birmingham. I have no pearls or emeralds—my jewels are all diamonds and sapphires. The cases must have been changed; a mistake easily accounted for, as they are both green wraps."

But Jack was not in the least convinced. This was some desperate expedient to lull Lady Barmouth's suspicions to sleep for the time. And doubtless Carrington had gone off hot-foot to Anstruther, and implored him to find some way out of the terrible difficulty. Another idea occurred to Jack, but this he did not dare to mention for the present—it was too suggestive of a situation from some melodrama.

"I think I can explain the whole thing," he said. "But, first of all, I should like to take Lord Barmouth's opinion on the matter. Probable he has finished his own lunch by this time. Will you see if he is ready to receive me?"

Lord Barmouth was glad enough to see Jack, and welcomed him quite cordially. Then Jack laid the jewel cases upon the table, and proceeded to relate once more the story of last night's happenings. He concluded with a description of his visit to Carrington, and epitomised the incident of the changed jewels.

"Certainly a most extraordinary thing," Barmouth said. "I rather gather from the expression of your face that you have some solution to offer."

"Indeed I have," Jack said eagerly. "This is merely a trick to gain time, and an exceedingly clever trick, too. Carrington had naturally assumed that we know nothing of his desperate position. If we were in the dark on that point the mistake would look exceedingly natural. But, knowing what we do, the situation is entirely changed. I don't believe those are the Duchess of Birmingham's diamonds—I don't believe they are diamonds at all—"

"By Jove! You have hit it exactly." Barmouth cried. "What a really magnificent idea! Carrington has no diamonds; therefore he lays out, say, a couple of hundred pounds of some showy-looking paste, and sends them round here as my wife's gems. She, absolutely innocent of any deception, sends them back and asks to have the mistake rectified. Back from the bank comes a polite note of regret apologising for the mistake, and promising the proper stones for to-morrow, the cashier having left for the day."

"Exactly my idea." Jack cried. "But we can soon settle that, Lord Barmouth. You have only to telephone to your family jeweler, and ask him to step round here for a moment"

Barmouth fell in with the suggestion at once, and a telephone message was dispatched to the famous firm of Flint & Co., in Bond street. Mr. Flint himself arrived a few minutes later, and the dubious gems were laid before him. He had not the slightest hesitation in giving his verdict.

"Paste, my lord." he said briefly, "and pretty poor stuff at that. I can see that, even in this dim light. See how dull those stones are: Real gems, even in semi-gloom, shimmer and sparkle, but these don't show up at all. The whole lot did not cost more than two hundred pounds; in fact, these things are little better than stage jewels."

"Can you tell us where they come from?" Jack asked.

"Certainly I can, sir," Mr. Flint replied, promptly. "There are occasions when clients of ours are compelled to exchange the real for the false. In cases like that we go to Osmond & Co., of Clerkenwell, where these came from. I hope there is nothing wrong."

Barmouth said politely that the matter could be discussed on a future occasion. He would not detain Mr. Flint any more for the present, and the latter bowed himself out of the room.

"What do you propose to do now?" Barmouth asked.

"Well, with your permission, I propose to strike while the iron is hot," Jack said. "It is quite evident that this rubbish has been purchased very recently from Osmond's. If you will allow me to do so, I will go at once with the cases to Clerkenwell and ascertain the purchaser. If we can bring Carrington to book promptly, we may recover Lady Barmouth's jewels yet."

Barmouth had nothing to say except in praise of this suggestion. Accordingly. Jack set off in a cab for Clerkenwell, where he had no difficulty in finding the fine business premises of Osmond & Co. He lost no time in diplomacy, but proceeded to lay the whole matter before the head of the firm.

"You will see there is something very wrong here." he said. "This manufacture of yours has been deliberately substituted for some valuable gems belonging to a lady whose name I am not at liberty to divulge for the present. Mr. Flint of Bond street says that the paste has been purchased from you. We have absolute proof of the fact that the stuff was bought during the past two hours. I shall be glad if you will tell me the name of the purchaser. I don't suppose the stuff was booked."

Mr. Osmond explained that theirs was practically a cash business, A few inquiries elicited the fact that the paste had been bought about two hours before by a tall, slim gentleman, who had driven up in a hansom cab. There was another gentleman in the cab, but he had not entered the shop.

"Were the jewels paid for in cash?" Jack asked.

They had not been paid for in hard cash, the cashier explained. The bill had come to two hundred pounds altogether, and had been made out to a Mr. Morrison. He had paid for them with twenty ten-pound notes in a most business-like way, and gone away again—the whole thing not having taken more than five minutes. Jack suggested that be would like to see the notes. They were fresh and clean, but across the face of all of them was a circular blue mark bearing the words "City and Provincial Bank!"



XXXIV. — IN THE VAULT

HERE was proof positive enough to convict Carrington of the crime which had been alleged against him. Nor did Jack doubt for a moment that Anstruther was at the bottom of this daring and original scheme. The mere fact that there was another man in the cab with Carrington was sufficient to prove this point, for nobody else was likely to accompany the bank manager on so delicate and private an errand. Where the fatal mistake came in was in Carrington taking the Bank of England notes from his own safe and ignoring,the fact that the official blue stamp was upon them.

As Jack stepped into the street he had pretty well made up his mind what to do. Not for a moment did he believe that Carrington had an accomplice amongst his own staff. Jack reached the premises of the City and Provincial at length and asked to see Mr. Carrington. He was told that that gentleman had suddenly been called out on important business, and was not expected back to-day. But Masefield was not in the least disappointed to hear his. There was nothing for it now but to return to Belgrave Square and tell the Barmouths what had happened. He found Lord Barmouth in the drawing-room, where the blinds had been pulled down. Lady Barmouth had gone to an important function which she could not very well ignore, and had taken Claire along with her. Lord Barmouth listened gravely to all that Jack had to say.

"I am very much afraid that my wife will have to put up with the loss of her gems," he said. "No doubt they and many others are pledged with some great firm of pawnbrokers. The only consolation one has is the possibility of getting the stuff back by paying half its price over again. But matters cannot be allowed to rest here. Carrington knows that he is at the end of his tether; consequently, that clever bogus burglary you heard discussed last night must take place this evening. What do you propose to do? In my present unfortunate condition I can't interfere. The only thing I can do is to leave it entirely in your hands."

Jack went off presently to seek Rigby, whom he found at his rooms. The latter looked up eagerly, for he could see from his friend's face that Jack had a great deal to tell.

"There is one little thing that seems to stand in the way of our ultimate success," Jack said, thoughtfully, "and that is as to Lady Barmouth's brother. I am afraid that he is in some way mixed up with this business—to his detriment, I mean. I should not care to do anything likely to cause additional pain to that estimable lady after all her great kindness."

Rigby looked up in some bewilderment Apparently he did not quite understand the drift of Jack's argument.

"I may be very dense." he said, "but I don't follow you. What can Lady Barmouth's brother have to do with it?"

"Well, you must cast your memory back to the night of the great adventure, when Lady Barmouth played so courageous a part, and got us out of a serious difficulty. Do you follow?"

"I think I do now," Rigby said slowly. "Oh. yes; it is all coming back to me. Lady Barmouth asked Redgrave where her brother was, and Redgrave replied that he knew nothing about the individual in question. But, my dear fellow, you have not proved to me yet that Lady Barmouth has a brother."

"Now you are puzzling me," Jack murmured.

"Not at all. On the night I speak of Lady Barmouth had to act on the spur of the moment. It was necessary to gag a bit to play for an opening. You are taking too much for granted. If Lady Barmouth has a brother, you will probably find that he has nothing to do with this matter. In any case, why worry about him to-night? We seem to have a big adventure before us so far as I can gather from what you have just told me. And if you are still in doubt, it will be quite an easy matter to see Lady Barmouth in the morning, and ascertain from her whether or not our proposed line of action is likely to do any harm. I don't suppose that Lady Barmouth knows or cares anything for Redgrave, who appears to be a kind of sottish tool of Anstruther's."

"Quite right" Jack agreed. "And now, come along and let us set the ball rolling again. I think that I have told you everything. And now we will go off without delay, and see Seymour—the man I told you about who was with me last night."

Rigby assented to the suggestion eagerly enough, and together they set out in the direction of Seymour's rooms. There was not much chance of the latter being out, seeing that he had his own cogent reasons for not facing the daylight, and surely enough it turned out as Masefield had expected.

Seymour was dawdling over his tea with a cigarette and a French novel, a bored expression on his face. That face, however, became eager and animated as Jack came in and introduced Rigby to his host.

"Things are beginning to move rapidly then," Seymour exclaimed. "Your face speaks of action, Mr. Masefield. Is it about Carrington? You have discovered something fresh."

"I think I have discovered pretty well everything," Jack replied. "I have managed to force that fellow's hand. Just as Rigby suggested I should. He has consulted Anstruther, as we knew he would; and a pretty scheme for gaining time they evolved between them. But perhaps I had better tell you everything."

Seymour pitched his French novel aside, and his intelligent face beamed with animation. The story was told at length, and Seymour warmly congratulated the speaker upon his astuteness and intelligence. "If Carrington's good name is to be saved at all, that bogus burglary must take place to-night."

"By the way:" Jack exclaimed. "There is one thing I quite forgot to tell you? that is the little adventure I had last night at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. I found an invalid gentleman there—or, at least, he found me—who seems to know all about Anstruther and his movements. He knows you, too; indeed, he seemed to be overjoyed that you are in England. He had some hesitation in mentioning his own name, but he said that if I gave you a certain ring which is now in my possession, you would understand everything."

Jack laid the ring upon the table, and Seymour pounced upon it like a hawk would pounce upon a mouse. A grim smile played about the corners of his mouth; but, self-controlled as he was, he could not altogether hide his feelings.

"Tell me all that happened with my friend last night," he asked. "It has an important bearing on this case."

Jack proceeded to explain, Seymour listening in an attitude of rigid attention.

"This is the best news I have heard for some time," he said. "You can make your mind quite easy on one thing— Anstruther has nearly shot his bolt. After to-morrow I will get you to arrange a meeting between myself and my old friend at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. Meanwhile, there is much to be done. It is quite certain that great things are going to happen at the City and Provincial Bank to-night. I think we shall have a pleasant little surprise for Anstruther & Co."

Seymour rose, and took a roll of tissue paper from a small safe in the corner of the room.

"These are the plans of the City and Provincial Bank." he explained—"the plans that came so luckily into our hands last night. I have studied them very carefully. As a matter of fact, I did not come straight home last night, but passed the hours till nearly daylight prowling about the bank. Without the plans, my scheme would be quite futile; but I think now that, I have the whole thing very prettily mapped out. Just come and look at them with me. It is really very simple."

As Seymour had said, the plan was simplicity itself. It not only gave a very intelligent idea of the situation of the vaults and strong rooms, but also the back premises and the lanes behind were clearly marked.

"Now I want you to follow this very carefully," Seymour.went on. "We can ignore the front of the building altogether, because that faces on Gresham Street. Here the police pass the same premises every three minutes, so that nobody could force an entrance that way, not even the would-be burglars with their keys. But if you look at the rear of the place, you will see that there is a small alley leading out of Farringdon Lane, and this alley ends by a kind of back entry into the bank which is used by the caretaker. I have ascertained that there are two night watchmen, so that there is not much danger of trouble. By the side of this door is a small window, the latch of which I have ascertained to be defective.

"I suppose no one has ever troubled to see to this, for the simple reason that, admission to the bank premises by no means implies getting to that part of the building which is devoted to business purposes. Not that we particularly want to penetrate very far, because it is our scheme to watch what is going on, so that we may be able to confront the scoundrels when the proper time comes. A careful examination of these plans shows me that shall be able to get as far as the bank proper, which means the counting house,and from thence down the steps to the vaults where the strong rooms are situated."

"Have you got keys of all these?" Jack asked.

"There will be no necessity for us to provide keys," Seymour chuckled. "You see, Anstruther & Co. will be bound to enter the bank from the back premises. By learning this plan off by heart, we come to know exactly which way they will get to the vaults. Of course, they will come provided with keys—Carrington will see to that. All we have to do is to hide under a counter or something of that sort, and wait till our friends come along. Naturally, they will not dream that anyone is on the premises besides themselves. As to the rest, you must leave that to me and fortune. You had better stay here and dine, and we can set out for the city about eleven o'clock."

It seemed to both Rigby and Masefield that it would be impossible to improve upon this plan. They dined comfortably and discreetly, and it was somewhere about half-past eleven when they turned their faces in the direction of the city. No one appeared to notice them, for they walked rapidly along, with the air of men who had business before them, and the police appeared to be few and far between. They came at length to the little alley at the rear of the bank and here it behoved them to be cautious. They waited till the beat of the policeman's feet died away down the lane, and then they darted down the dark entry. Seymour produced a tiny electric torch from his pocket

"There is the window," he whispered. "I am going to get on your shoulders, Mr. Rigby. Once I am through, I can pull you others up. There is no sort of danger."

"Oh, but there is," Jack protested. "You have utterly forgotten one thing—did you not tell me there were two night watchmen on the premises?"

Seymour chuckled, and was understood to say that they would find Anstruther had removed that difficulty for them. Seymour seemed so sure of his ground that Jack waived his protest. A minute later Seymour was through the window, and the others followed swiftly. Rather recklessly, or so it seemed to Jack. Seymour waved his electric torch to as to form a line of light in front. He smiled grimly as he pointed to two unconscious figures reclining back as if hopelessly drunk in a pair of deep armchairs. They came so suddenly upon the unfortunate victims that Jack fairly started. But so far as Seymour was concerned, he had appeared to have expected something of the kind. He again chuckled hoarsely.

"What did I tell you?" he asked. "Did I not say that Anstruther and Co. would very kindly get the caretakers out of the way for us. You see, the caretakers would have been just as much of a nuisance to them as they are to us. They have been carefully hocussed, and not until an alarm is given in the morning will they be in a position to say anything."

The last danger being apparently removed, the trio proceeded to make their way to the bank premises proper, and there made themselves as comfortable as possible under one of the counters in the counting house. It was very quiet there, so quiet that they could hear the tramping footsteps of the police outside and the singing of some belated reveler. They lay there till they heard the great clock of St. Pauls strike the hour of one. There was a sound then of heavy footsteps tramping along the corridor, and presently a great blaze of light filled the counting house. It was perfectly safe, for the heavy iron shutters excluded every ray from the outside. Seymour rose, cautiously, then ducked his head again.

"Just look," he whispered. "Make sure who it is."

Rigby raised his head cautiously, too. The light fell full upon the face of the intruder—the white, stern face of Anstruther.

"Now tor it," Seymour whispered. The play is about to begin."



XXXV. — THE CELLINI PLATE

SO far as Anstruther was concerned, he might have been going about his usual business. He evidently had no fear on the score of interruption, and, indeed, there was little cause, seeing that the bank was so substantially built, and that from top to bottom the windows were protected with iron shatters.

"There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of," he said. "Good gracious, man, have you no pluck at all? I declare, when I look at you that I could kick you as one does a cowardly cur."

But Carrington was impervious to insult. His face was ghastly, and the strong glare of the electric lights showed the beads of moisture upon his forehead.

"It is all very well for you," he growled. "The greater the danger the better you seem to like it."

"There isn't any danger," Anstruther protested. "Didn't you tell me that the police had no special orders as far as the bank was concerned? And everybody knows you have two night watchmen. Besides—oh. I have no patience with you!"

Anstruther turned away from the other, and began to fumble with the lock of a small black bag which he carried in his hand. He signified to Carrington that the latter should I lead the way to the vaults below. Carrington produced a bunch of keys from his pocket. Anstruther sneered, openly.

"Oh, that's it," he said. "Going to make it all smooth for us, are you? Of all the fools I ever came across. Why not go outside and tell everybody what we are going to do? Those are all patent shove locks, which the most expert thief could never pick, and you are going to tell the police later on that they have been opened with an ordinary key? Don't forget that you have got to face the police later on, and endure a cross- examination that will test your nerve to the uttermost. We are going to blow those locks up, and these are dynamite cartridges to do it."

Carrington's face was almost comic in its dismay. His ghastly, sweat-bedabbled face fairly quivered. But he made no further protest; he bent before the sway of Anstruther's master mind.

"I don't wish to interfere with you," he stammered. "But the infernal noise which is likely to—"

Anstruther kicked his companion aside.

"We either do it or we don't do it," he said. "It doesn't matter a rap one way or the other to me. Now which is it to be?"

Carrington hesitated no longer. He simply submitted himself entirely to the hands of his companion. In a dazed, fascinated kind of way he watched Anstruther insinuate a dynamite cartridge of minute proportions into the lock of the door. Then Anstruther drew Carrington back as far as possible, and the tiny fuse began to work. There was just a tiny spurt of blue flame, followed by a muffled shock, and the door fell slowly back.

"There!" Anstruther cried triumphantly. "What do you think of that? Do you suppose that noise was heard outside? Now come on; let us serve them all alike."

The sound of their footsteps came to the ears of those watching in the counting house, and at frequent intervals the sullen explosions could be heard. Seymour rose to his feet, and whispered to his companions to follow. They crept cautiously along the flagged stairway until they reached the vault in which the two strong rooms were situated. A couple of electric lights gave sufficient illumination for the purpose of the amateur burglars, who were now busily engaged on the locks of the strong room.

This was altogether a different business to blowing in the lock of an ordinary door, for the entrance to the strong room was secured with six bolts, all of which would have to be destroyed.

It was possible to find a secure hiding-place in the thick darkness outside the radius of the two electric lights. It was an interesting moment, and even Seymour was conscious of a sensation of excitement.

"Stand back," Anstruther said. "Everything is ready. You had better lie down on your face, as I am using six charges now instead of one. If they all go off together the thing will be accomplished to our mutual satisfaction."

The hint was not lost upon the listener. There was a moment of intense excitement and then came a dull, heavy roar, that seemed to shake the building almost to its foundations. Almost before the reverberations had died away, the huge door of the room swayed with a zig-zag motion, and came smashing on the floor. "There!" Anstruther cried triumphantly. "What do you think of that, my friend? I flatter myself that that is a real workmanlike job. All you have to do now is to keep a stiff upper lip, and give the police all the information they require. Anything of value inside?"

"Not very much, I am afraid," Carrington responded. "A fair amount of old family plate, and perhaps twenty or thirty thousand pounds' worth of securities. I suppose we had better leave all that there; look better, don't you think?"

"Leave your head there," Anstruther sneered. "Now I put it to you, as a man supposed to be possessed of sense—would any thief leave a single item of value behind?"

Anstruther asked the question with a contemptuous curl of his lip. He was wiping his hands now on a piece of greasy cotton waste in which the dynamite cartridges had been wrapped to prevent contact.

"This is going to be a unique sort of burglary." he continued. "Trot out what you've got in the way of plate, and I'll take my pick of it as a kind of fee in reward for my night's service. If there is one soft place in my heart it is for antique silver. Take your time—we are not in the least likely to be interrupted."

With his coat off and his shirt sleeves turned up. Carrington set to work in earnest. Once he had plunged headlong into the business, he seemed to have lost all his nervousness and hesitation. One after the other the great wooden cases were turned out and examined by Anstruther as eagerly as a schoolboy pores over something new in the way of a bird's nest. Presently he held aloft a magnificent specimen of a silver dish. It was perfectly plain; fine old hammered silver, bearing a quaint design around. the edge.

"Benvenuto Cellini for a million," he cried. "Dish and ewer, together with a set of the finest posset cups I've ever seen. How much over ten thousand pounds would this fetch at Christie's? Well, I'm very sorry for the late owner, hut exceedingly pleased so far as I am concerned. I'll take this for my fee, Carrington."

The two dived into the strong room again, where they appeared to be overhauling other boxes of treasure. The gleams of the electric light fell upon the service of plate which Anstruther had so greatly admired. By its side, in strange contrast, laid a piece of cotton waste with which Anstruther had wiped his hands a minute or two before. Without a word of warning to his companions. Seymour darted across the floor of the vault; and, seizing the cotton waste, proceeded to rub it vigorously over the surface of the service of plate which Anstruther had marked down for his own.

His conduct was so unexpected and so peculiar, that jack and Rigby could only look at one another in astonishment. They did not know in the least what to make of this extraordinary maneuver on the part of their colleague. But there was evidently method in his madness; he was not in the least likely to run the risk of detection to gratify an apparently meaningless whim. He was back again an instant later, and Jack could hear him chuckling to himself as if he had accomplished something quite out of the common. He seemed to feel that some explanation was necessary.

"I dare say you thought that peculiar," he said; "but you will understand all in good time. I didn't go out of my way to spoil everything for the mere sake of playing amateur housemaid."

Apparently the task which Anstruther and Carrington had set themselves was finished by this time, for they came out of the strong room empty-handed. All the same, their figures appeared to be pretty bulky, and doubtless their pockets were well filled with illicit gain.

"But you don't mean to carry that stuff home," Carrington protested. "Well-Known as you are, it would be an act of criminal folly to carry that plate through the streets at this time of the morning. As to myself—"

"But have you no private safe of your own?" Anstruther asked. The same remark you made to me just now applies to you. Is there anything more to wait for?"

Carrington disappeared within the strong room again for a last look around, followed by Anstruther. They had no sooner disappeared than Seymour was on his feet again, making hurriedly for the stairway leading to the counting house. He had not been gone many seconds before there came stumbling noisily down the stairs the form of one of the night watchmen, rubbing his eyes drowsily, and asking what was going on. It was quite evident to Rigby and Jack that Seymour had deliberately aroused the sleeping man for some subtle purpose of his own. The man cried out again to know what all this meant, and Carrington and Anstruther came darting from the strong room.

"By heaven! He has come to his senses," Anstruther muttered. "I thought that dose was quite strong enough. I am very sorry, but seeing that he has learned so much?"

There was murder in Anstruther's eyes, and Carrington saw it. Still dazed and stupid from the result of the drug, the watchman was gazing about him like a man just emerging from a heavy bout of intoxication. It was evident that he did not recognise his employer, though senses and reason were fast coming back to him. As he staggered towards the strong room door a murderous look crept into Anstruther's eyes again, and something bright gleamed in his hand. Carrington hastened forward.

"No, no," he cried hoarsely. "I will have none of that I have gone too far already. I could bear with imprisonment, but the mere thought of a noose round my neck—"

He almost staggered up to the dazed watchman, and shook, him violently. The latter seemed to comprehend at length.

"Wake up. Gregory," Carrington stammered. "There has been a burglary here. I had occasion to come down to the bank for something, and found that the premises had been broken into. Go for the police."

Anstruther studied the watchman's features with broody, malignant eyes. His quick brain was working rapidly. It was quite evident that the watchman had not yet fully grasped the situation. It would be some time before he could find a policeman and give him a fairly coherent account of what had happened.

"Not a moment to be lost," he cried. "Let us go upstairs at once to your room and lock all this stuff up in your private safe. No one will think of looking for it there. Now don't say you haven't got the key with you."

Carrington nodded breathlessly, and immediately Anstruther began to pack up the Cellini service of plate which had so greatly fascinated him.

"Come on at once," he said. "Let us get this stuff in hiding, and then we can face the police."

They had only to don their coats again and make their way as soon as possible to Carrington's private room. As they passed up the stairs Seymour signed to his companions to follow.

They were only just in time, for as they emerged into the alley the watchman was returning with the constable. They squeezed close against the wall, securing the friendly cover of the darkness, and a moment later they were in Gresham Street.

"What is to be done next?" Rigby said.

"I think that is pretty obvious," Seymour chuckled. "So far as I can see this is a nice little job for inspector Bates."



XXXVI. — A STROKE OF POLICY

JACK nodded significantly to his companion. as much as to signify that Seymour must be allowed to have his own way. The latter had taken the thing into his own hands from the first. It was quite evident that he was working out some deep and subtle scheme, and the others were disposed to give him a free hand.

"Would you like to see Bates now?" Jack asked.

"Most emphatically not," Seymour laughed. "It is no cue of mine to come in contact with the police until I have seen my way quite clear. Besides, you are by no means certain yet that Bates will be put on to this case, and be given the opportunity of investigating the startling burglary at the City and Provincial Bank. Again, it may be too much or Bates' nerves if I burst upon him suddenly, and he recognizes me as the dead Nostalgo who was so mysteriously spirited from Shannon street police station. No; on the whole, I should prefer that you should go and see Bates alone. Tell him exactly what happened and what you saw to-night, leaving me out of the question. Then come and see me some time to-morrow afternoon, and I will tell you what to do next."

"One moment," Rigby exclaimed, as Seymour was turning away. "What was that idea of yours about the cotton waste?"

Seymour winked significantly, and remarked that it was time be was in bed. With a cheery nod to his companions, he turned his face in an easterly direction and strolled off down the street.

"Now there's a clever man for you." Rigby cried. "Quite as clever a man as Anstruther, and I should say a great deal more subtle. But let us go as far as Shannon Street police station, and tell Bates our story."

Bates had been detained rather late. He had only just come in, and was preparing to go home when the two friends entered. He had no need to ask if they had anything of importance to communicate to him—he could glean that from the expression of the friends' faces. He led the way to his private room, and passed the cigarettes across the table.

"It's about Carrington," Rigby explained. "But perhaps I had better go back a bit, and tell you one or two little things you don't know."

It was a fairly long story, and it thoroughly aroused Bates to a sense of action. His questions were clear and intelligent: he followed the narrative, punctuating it here and there with shrewd suggestions.

"Mind you," he said. "I have been expecting something like this for a long time. All the same, I can see that you gentlemen have only told me half the story. 8till, I can't complain, especially as I see my way to make a good thing out of this. When I tell the people at Scotland Yard all I know they are pretty sure to put me on the case—indeed, I will make a special favor of it. You say you saw Anstruther blowing up all those locks, and you are pretty sure that the great bulk of the plunder is in Carrington's private safe. You don't suggest that Anstruther carried that service of plate home with him?"

"Anstruther wouldn't be such a fool," Rigby said curtly. "He is much too cool a hand for that. He will feel quite sure that the stuff is perfectly safe where it is, and fetch it away from the city a bit at a time. Of course, he won't do all this till the affair has blown over and he is quite safe in so doing."

Bates was inclined to share the speaker's opinion. There was no more to be said for the present, and he intimated his intention to go up to Scotland Yard and ask the authorities to put him on the case. Jack and Rigby went their respective ways, a clock somewhere striking two when they parted at length.

Precisely as Bates had prophesied, the mysterious burglary at the City and Provincial Bank caused the greatest sensation the following morning. The later editions of the evening papers were full of it. Carrington had been interviewed by more than one bright reporter; indeed, he had been dragged out of bed for the purpose, and he had been understood to say that the bank's loss could not fall far short of a million dollars unless the thieves could be promptly arrested. The story was vividly told, Carrington's distress and agitation being expressly accentuated.

But this was not the worst part of the distracted bank manager's story. There had been in the possession of the bank a tremendous lot of valuable personal property belonging to various esteemed clients. All this had disappeared, and more than one great lady in London was mourning the loss of her family jewels. The greatest sympathy was felt with the bank: it was only one or two carping critics who were asking questions.

They were pertinent questions, too; a desire, for instance, to know what Carrington could possibly be doing on the bank premises at so late an hour. But these were merely pin pricks, and the great bulk of the population felt nothing but sympathy for Carrington. The only people who had a fairly good grip of the real state of the case besides Rigby and his companions were the Barmouths and Claire Helmsley. Jack saw Claire in Lady Barmouth's drawing-room late the following morning, and explained to her and Lady Barmouth what had happened the night previous.

"It is most mysterious." Claire said, "and almost impossible to believe that my guardian had anything to do with the matter. I dined very quietly at home last night, and sat up till long past one finishing a novel in which I was deeply interested. I can assure you of this— that from half-past nine till the time I went to bed Mr. Anstruther's violin practically did not cease. If I were brought into the case as a witness, I should be bound to swear that my guardian was in his study during the whole time that the burglary was taking place."

"That is another phase of the mystery that we have to solve." Jack said. "It is all very clever and very ingenious and very useful, but seeing is believing. After all, Anstruther was there last night, as three of us are prepared to testify."

"Then in that case I shall never see my jewels again," Lady Barmouth said. "But what are the police going to do about it; Mr. Masefield? The thing cannot be possibly allowed to remain here. If they were to arrest Mr. Carrington at once and search his safe—"

"But the police don't work quite in that way." Jack interrupted. "Besides, Carrington is not the only one. The chief villain in the play is Spencer Anstruther; and at the present moment he is in a position to prove a perfect alibi. It is not the slightest use laying Carrington by the heels till we are in a position to prove Anstruther's alibi to be nothing but an ingenious mechanical fraud. Don't you recollect the case of the Phoenix Park murders? In that case the police could have laid their hands upon half the culprits within a few days. They preferred to wait months, until every one of the gang were swept up in the meshes of the law. I will go and see Bates presently, and ascertain if he has anything fresh to tell us."

It was quite late in the afternoon before Jack managed to get a few words with the inspector. He seemed to be very cheerful and sanguine, and dropped a hint to the effect that this morning had not been altogether wasted.

"Oh, we are going on, right enough," he exclaimed in answer to Jack's question. "In the circumstances, they can do nothing else. Most of my morning has been spent in calling on the various unfortunate people whose valuables were deposited at Carrington's bank, and getting a full description of the same. After that I made the rounds of the principal pawnbrokers and such people a s advance money on real property."

"Did you find anything of the missing stuff?" Jack asked eagerly. "I mean, did you see any of it?"

Bates explained that up to now he had been successful in three instances. He knew where to lay his hands upon the tiara of diamonds that had only been deposited with Carrington four days ago.

"It belongs to one of our fashionable society leaders," he explained, "and really is a most magnificent piece of work. Mind you, Carrington must have been a great fool, or he must have been desperately pressed for money, to pledge these things in London. He could have sent them to Amsterdam or Paris, where they could have been broken up and disposed of in such a manner that it would have been impossible to trace them. This might have entailed a financial sacrifice, but see how safe it would have been. I feel pretty sure that within the next two days I shall trace every atom of the lost property."

"But is it usual to pledge such valuable jewels in this casual way?" Jack asked.

"Certainly it is. The thing has been done over and over again. In a great many instances the lady does not go through the ordeal herself, but sends a maid or some confidential servant with a note addressed to the pawnbroker, and asks for £10,000, or whatever it may be. That is how this business has been worked."

"But the pawnbrokers?" Jack protested. "When they come to see a list of the missing jewels a full story must be told."

Bates admitted the ingenuity of the suggestion. It was just possible that there was danger in that direction. Still, as be pointed out, no one could blame the pawnbrokers for not recognizing from a bald printed description certain gems pledged at their establishments.

"But I think you can leave that safely to me," he said. "There is nothing to prevent me from applying for a warrant for the arrest of Carrington, and producing all that damning evidence from his private safe: but by doing this we are practically allowing a greater ruffian to escape."

Jack cordially agreed with this view of the case. He proceeded to speak at some length as to what he had seen and heard the night before last in Carrington's smoking room.

"You must not forget," he said, "that the man who was with me on that occasion is in possession of the duplicate plans of the bank cellars."

"Oh, no," Bates cried, "I have not overlooked those plans: in fact, I particularly wish to have a glance at them. And, by the way. sir, you appear to be very reticent over the name of the companion who was with you on that important occasion."

"We will merely call him Seymour," Jack said, cautiously.

Bates smiled in a queer, significant kind of way.

"I will be more candid with you than you are with me," he said, "though you have told me more than you intended. Now, tell me if my suspicions are correct—is not this 'Seymour' and our missing Nostalgo one and the same person? It is a mere deduction on my part, but—"

"I suppose I had better admit it at once," Jack said. "Besides, you are bound to know sooner or later. Why not come with me and see Mr. Seymour now?"

Bates replied that he would be only too delighted. They set off together without delay, and presently found themselves at Seymour's residence. The latter was doing something mysterious with a file and pair of handcuffs, both of which he threw aside as his visitors entered. He extended his hand cordially to Bates.

"I am not in the least surprised to see you, inspector." he said. "In fact. I rather wanted to do so. Now. frankly speaking, are you not a little puzzled to know how to lay Anstruther by the heels?"

"We will come to that presently, sir," Bates said quietly. "I shall be glad in the first place to know what hold Anstruther has on you gentlemen who have so suffered at his hands. Anstruther is a blackmailer, I know . But you are a man of pluck and courage—why can't you fight him in the open? I can quite understand that there are others broken in health and spirit who dare not have their story told and dragged before the diabolical curiosity of the cheap press. But in your case, why, it seems, to me—"

"Yes, yes." Seymour interrupted. "But suppose you have a dear friend in whom you are interested? And that friend had done somebody a great wrong? And supposing that Anstruther knew all this? My friend is poor, but I am not. Let us go farther and grant my friend a daughter— a beautiful girl who is just coming to the front in the world of art. She is passionately attached to her father; any disgrace to him would break her heart. And it is in my power to save this dear child by letting Anstruther believe that both myself and others who have suffered are afraid of him. Surely you have heard of many such cases, Mr. Bates?"

Bates nodded. The field was clearing wonderfully.

"You will pardon me," he said. "It was stupid of me not to think of that before. The blackmailer generally strikes through the innocent. But another question. Why did Anstruther publish those Nostalgo posters at all?"

"There, to a certain extent, you have me," Seymour confessed. "You see, it is only recently that we Nostalgos have drifted together in London. We must give Anstruther credit for having discovered them. Mind you, there may be many others who have,suffered, and are now hiding in silence. They would be nerveless wrecks for the most part. Anstruther probably wanted to let them know that the terror was not dead. You see, it is like the sign of some secret society, reminding members of the long arm. But who can say what was uppermost in the mind of Anstruther? Suppose that the whole dramatic thing had failed in its purpose? What then? Why, Anstruther would have probably turned the posters to some business purpose—a new soap, a novel kind of pill—why, many business houses would gladly buy the reversion of the Nostalgo posters, and make a good thing out of them. I may be wrong, but that is my view. Besides, how are we to know how many other Nostalgos have not dropped into Anstruther's net through those diabolical posters?"

"It is possible you are right," Bates admitted. "Nothing seems to be impossible in the way of crime. But as to Anstruther?"

"I have a heavy debt to pay him," Seymour said, with a ring in his voice. "And I am in a position to show you how you can lay him by the heels. I presume my friend Masefield has told you everything. That being so, all you have to do is to open Carrington's private safe, and carefully remove a service of Cellini plate which you will find there. When I say carefully, I mean carefully— the thing is not to be fingered. Take it away to the police station, and place it in your glass case. Then, if you follow my advice, within eight and forty hours I pledge you that you shall have evidence against Anstruther as clear and convincing as if it had come from Heaven itself."

A silence followed, so impressive was Seymour's speech. Then Bates, who appeared to be utterly puzzled, promised that the thing should be done. At the same moment there was a sound of an altercation on the outer landing, and a hoarse voice was heard asking some imperative question. The voice struck familiarly on Jack's ears. He glanced significantly at Bates.

"The very man himself!" he cried.

"Yes, Anstruther," Seymour said, in his deep, ringing voice. "Friend Anstruther. Shall we ask him in?"



XXXVII. — A PREGNANT MESSAGE

THERE was no mistaking the fact that it was Anstruther who was standing outside and speaking in tones which denoted that he was not altogether pleased with himself. It might have been a coincidence, or, at the same time, it might have been intentional; though the latter suggestion did not appear probable.

"Surely he can't have found us out yet," Jack cried. "If he had done so it would hardly be policy to make so much noise about It. What do you think. Mr. Bates?"

Bates responded cautiously that he did not know what to think. The real solution came from Seymour.

"There is no coincidence about it at all." he said. "We know perfectly well that Anstruther is a clever criminal, but even clever criminals cannot bring off important campaigns without the aid of subordinates. I have not taken up my quarters here entirely by accident, though, of course, it was necessary for me to be as far off the beaten track as possible. I have seen Anstruther here on more than one occasion, and I think that you will find he has come to consult one of his satellites."

"There must be a good few shady people here." Bates observed, "though I don't know much about the locality."

Seymour explained that there were plenty of doubtful characters living in the tenement. He suspected at least three burglars who had rooms on the same floor. Probably Anstruther was looking for one of these, and for some reason or other the fellow had denied himself. The loud tones had ceased now, and it was evident that Anstruther had either left the house or found the man of whom he was in search. The discovery, however, was too important to be allowed to rest like that, and Bates had a proposition to make. He suggested the advisability of putting one of his own spies on to watch Anstruther and keep an eye upon him for the rest of the day. There would not be the slightest uncertainty about this, seeing that Anstruther was so well known to the police generally.

Bates crept carefully away, and returned presently with the information that Anstruther was still on the premises.

"I met one of my men in the street," he explained. "He was just back from a job this way, and spotted Anstruther coming in here. Our friend is not likely to shake off the fellow that I have put upon his track. Meanwhile, we are wasting time here."

Seymour was decidedly of the same opinion. A minute or two later the trio made their way into the street, leaving Seymour alone. He had been informed by Bates that he would be kept posted of Anstruther's movements by means of special messenger, and that his services would be called upon if necessary. Thus assured, Seymour went back to his mysterious business with the handcuffs and file, quite content to wait till his time came.

It was quite dark before the first message arrived. Anstruther had stayed where he was till seven o'clock, after which he had gone out and called at a neighboring shop, which was kept by a man engaged in the occupation of making brass plates. This, so the message said, was merely a blind for the manufacture of the finest specimens of burglars' tools. Anstruther had entered the shop with nothing in his hand, but had emerged presently carrying a small square parcel which might have been a picture frame. Thus encumbered, he had returned to the tenement, and was now closeted in the set of rooms below Seymour's with a man called Gillmore, otherwise "Simple Charlie," a cracksman who stood quite at the head of his profession.

Seymour's eyes gleamed as he glanced over the letter. He felt that he must be up and doing something. It occurred to him as a good idea to make an attempt to be present at the interview between Anstruther and his confederate. It was absolutely dark now, so that Seymour had no hesitation in raising his sitting-room window, which faced the back of the house, and seeking to find some means of entering the set of rooms below. So far as he could see at first, the thing appeared to be impossible. His quick eye noted the fact that a powerful light burned in the room below, for the shadow cf it was thrown strongly upon the blank wall opposite. To the left of Seymour's window was a large drain pipe used for conveying the rain water from the roof to the sewer below. It was an easy matter for Seymour to lash a rope firmly to the floor with the aid of a handspike, and to gently lower himself to the floor below by means of the pipe. The business was no easy one when it came to like Seymour could have possibly done it. He dangled thus perilously in mid-air, working his way down inch by inch, till at length his feet rested on the sill of the window below.

As he had half expected, the window was without a catch, which was quite in accordance with most of the fittings in the tenement. Leaving his rope to dangle harmlessly within reach until it would be required again, Seymour passed coolly into the room. He rubbed a match cautiously, and by the aid of it saw that he was in a small bedroom evidently devoted to the uses bachelor, for the bed had been made in a most perfunctory way, and the floor was liberally strewn with tobacco ash. Lying on the table was a plan of some large mansion, with footnotes here and there plainly denoting the fact that the house had been marked down for some ingenious burglary. Seymour smiled to himself.

He had evidently found his way into the quarters of which he was in search. Listening intently, with his ear closely glued against the wall, he could detect the sound of voices on the other side. He was not personally acquainted with the voice of "Simple Charlie," but the round, full tones of Anstruther were quite familiar to him.

Seymour was, however, not content merely to listen to what was going on. Very softly he made his way from the bedroom into the passage beyond. The door of the next room was not closed; Indeed, there was no reason for the precaution, seeing that the door at the end of the passage was locked. There was a pungent smell of tobacco, mingled with the odor of a good cigar, and presently the loud pop of a cork and the fizzing gurgle of what Seymour rightly guessed to be champagne. By creeping, close and twisting a little sideways, Seymour got a fairly good view of the room.

He could See Anstruther lounging in a comfortable arm-chair, a cigar in his mouth, apparently quite at home in his humble surroundings. The other man was sucking moodily at a short pipe, and glanced uneasily at his companion. He was not much like the commonly-accepted type of burglar, being slight and dark, and somewhat timid-looking in appearance. But every now and again the glance he turned upon Anstruther was positively murderous in its hateful intensity.

"Now, what on earth are you driving at, guv'nor?" he growled. "No getting at the bottom of you. I never feel like a fool except when I am working for you."

"That, my good Charles," Anstruther said smoothly, "is where education comes in. If you had had my advantages you might have stood very high indeed. As it is, you are an exceedingly good workman, and I, though I say it that should not, am a very good master. I suppose you know perfectly well that I am in a position to give you away at any moment. I could hand you over to the police, who would take very good care of you for the next fourteen years, and you could not give me a simple scratch in return. For instance, we will suppose it is my whim to identify you with that bank burglary last night. Of course, you were not there, but I could prove that you were, all the same. And no cleverness of yours could save you from a conviction."

Gillmore wriggled uneasily on his chair. His eyes followed Anstruther's every movement like those of a dog severely punished; there was a suggestion of the hound that would have bitten his master if he dared.

"I know ail about that," he grunted. "And you know I've got to do everything you ask me. It only seems the other day that poor Brown defied you to do your worst and lost his life over it. That was a lesson to me. Not but what I wouldn't be ready and willing to knife you if I thought it was safe. I am pretty bad, and so are some of the others; but outside of hell itself there is no black-hearted scoundrel as bad as you."

The man's voice fairly vibrated with passion; but Anstruther lounged back in his chair with the air of a man who has just received a high compliment. He was a man who loved power. He liked to feel that he could pull the strings and move the actions of other men even when they fought desperately against his iron determination.

"All this is so much waste of time," he said. "I came here to-night to get you to do something for me, and you will have to do it, whether you want to or not. You know what disobedience means—three hours' freedom, and fourteen years in jail. No more of your confounded nonsense; listen to what I have to say."

"Oh, I'll do it right enough." Gillmore growled. "Mind you, it's a pretty big risk. The police have got an idea that I was engaged in that Maidenhead business. I know they've been watching me so close that I can't get rid of a bit of stuff, and I have come down to my last half-sov."

"I'll see to that," Anstruther replied. "What you have to do now is to make your way into the Great Metropolitan Hotel. You shall come with me presently, and I will show you the room I want you to enter. To a man of your ability the thing is ridiculously simple—quiet side entrance. Iron fire-escape ladder and all the rest of it. All you want is a few tools."

"But I haven't got any," Gillmore protested. "I was, glad enough to get away from that Maidenhead business with a whole skin."

Anstruther pointed significantly to the flat brown paper parcel which he had brought in with him.

"You will find everything you want there," he said. "All you have to remember is this. You are to go up the ladder and make your way to the door at the head of the second corridor. A row of bedrooms runs along the corridor, and the room you have to enter is No. 16. That is a sitting-room attached to one of the bedrooms. I don't want you to do anything neat in the way of a burglary; you have simply to take a letter which I will give you and leave it on the table in the sitting-room. I want the whole thing to be absolutely mysterious, and here is a five-pound note for your trouble. And now I am going out. and you are to follow me. I will lead you directly to the quiet spot at the rear of the hotel, and the rest you must do for yourself. I don't think there is anything more for me to say."

Gillmore nodded in a surly sort of fashion. He was terribly afraid of Anstruther, who used all his creatures like puppets, and never afforded them the lightest information. His power was all the greater for this; he knew that he was hated as much as he was feared. He put on his hat and coat now, and Gillmore rose also. Seymour darted away back through the bedroom and on to the window-ledge again. It struck him as just possible that Gillmore might want to use his bedroom, in which case his chances of being discovered were great. But Seymour made his way back again to his own sitting-room. Once there he lighted cigarette and sat down to think over the situation.

It was not long before he had made up his mind what to do.

Evidently there was no great hurry over the little scheme which Anstruther had planned in connection with the Great Metropolitan Hotel, and doubtless an hour or two would elapse before Gillmore found his way into the corridor. It would not be prudent to carry out the plan until the hotel was getting fairly quiet, so that Seymour had plenty of scope for a counter stroke.

He spent the next hour or so in his bedroom intent upon some sort of disguise. Something in the way of a mask, accompanied with side whiskers and a pair of spectacles, changed him beyond recognition. A little while later, and he found himself engaging a room at the Great Metropolitan. He appeared to be rather particular about his choice, and finally decided that No. 18 would suit his requirements. As he had expected, No. 18 was exactly opposite the room chosen by Anstruther for Gillmore's little plot. Once this was settled, it seemed to Seymour that there was no occasion for hurry. It was 11 o'clock before he made his way up to his bedroom. He did not close the door, nor did he turn the light on. He sat down grimly and patiently in the darkness to await developments.

The corridor was perfectly silent now, and either the occupants of the hotel had retired to rest, or had not yet returned from the theater. This was the time, Seymour felt pretty certain, that Gillmore would set to work. With his room door ajar, Seymour had a perfect view of the room on the other side of the corridor. It seemed to him that he could hear somebody now coming stealthily down the passage. Then another sound grated on his ear—it was an unmistakable cry of pain and fear from the room opposite.

Seymour crossed the corridor and coolly entered the room opposite.



XXXVIII. — THE CRY IN THE NIGHT

THERE was a man in the room surely enough. He was but half dressed; he had fallen forward over a table, apparently in a state of collapse. He seemed to be seeking something; and then Seymour saw that he was clutching at a bottle of brandy, of which he appeared to be in evident need. There was no suggestion of intoxication about him, so that Seymour had no hesitation in forcing a few drops of the potent fluid between the man's pallid lips.

Strange as the situation was, Seymour did not fail to notice the extraordinary way in which his companion's face was cut and scarred and bound with sticking plaster. Then he suddenly realized to whose, assistance he had come. This was surely the man Jack Masefield had told him about—the man who had sent him the ring, and who knew the whole history of the Nostalgo business. The invalid opened his eyes presently, and gazed in a dull kind of way at Seymour.

"I have been ill," he said. "Since my operation I have been accustomed to these kind of fainting fits. It was very good of you to come to my assistance."

"Not at all," Seymour said. "I was in my room on the other side of the corridor, and I heard you cry out. Is there anything more I can do for you?"

"Yes," the stranger said. There was a strange thrill in his voice. "Take off that mask of yours, and let me see my old friend Seymour once more. I should have recognized your tones anywhere."

"I am glad that my old chum Ferris should recognize me," Seymour said, in a voice that trembled a little. "But I dare say that you will wonder why I am here. I can assure you it is no coincidence. But what have you been doing to your face? The last time I saw you you were what I am now."

With a bitter laugh Seymour swept his disguise away, and the hideous likeness to Nostalgo stood confessed.

"There is a picture for you," Seymour laughed; "and upon my word you are not much better. Are you attempting to get rid of those damning marks that you and I are meant to carry to the grave—those marks of a scoundrel's vengeance?"

"But I shall not carry them to the grave." Ferris said. "My dear friend, if I had the pluck and courage you yourself possess, I should not have cared so much. But that scoundrel Anstruther haunts me like my own shadow. I managed to elude his search: I hid myself in London. He knew I was here somewhere, and he hit upon that devilish scheme for preying on my imagination; I am alluding to those Nostalgo posters. Most people regard them as no better than an ingenious advertisement but the scalding truth is known to me. They meet my eye whenever I take my secret walks abroad; they deface the hoardings to remind me that I am still Anstruther's slave."

The speaker wiped his heated face. He made a more or less successful attempt to hide his deep feelings.

"I had almost lost hope," he continued. "I had made up my mind to be blackmailed to my last farthing by Anstruther, when fortune brought me in contact with a clever French doctor who had heard something of the vengeance of the Nostalgos. He assured me that he had treated one of us with absolute success. I found out that my young friend was a brilliantly clever surgeon, and after a little natural hesitation I decided to place myself in his hands. He operated upon the muscles of my face with a view to removing the hideous mask which disfigures what was once a passably good-looking face. The shock to my system was great, and I am but slowly recovering. But when I do recover, I feel quite certain that I shall be as I was before I fell into the hands of Anstruther's creatures in Mexico. I am a pretty sight now, I admit; but if you look at me you will see that the repulsive hideousness has gone."

Seymour gazed long and thoughtfully into the white face of his companion. There was a sudden uplifting of his heart, and the tears rushed to his eyes. It was no ordinary weakness that moved him like this.

"I see, I see," he murmured. "Once you are yourself again, you can defy Anstruther; indeed, he would not know you at all. I have had to fight him at a terrible disadvantage. If only I could remove this terrible scourge from my face—then I could stand up to him, and his reign would not be for long. But events are pressing so fast that I could not possibly spare the time at present to follow out the treatment to which you have been subjected. But afterwards I shall be only too glad to place myself in the same hands that you have been through. The mere thought that some day or other I shall be able to walk the streets like any other man that God has made fills me with such a joy that I could sit down and cry like a child.

"But why be so fearfully afraid of Anstruther?" Seymour asked.

"Because I am in his power," Ferris whispered. "I have done a great wrong in my time, and Anstruther knows it. That fiend seems to discover everything. Fortune has enabled me to redress the wrong, but Anstruther holds the proofs of my guilt. I really ought to have gone to my relatives and confessed everything, and defied him. But with a face like mine—"

"I understand," Seymour said grimly. "But, unless I am greatly mistaken—"

Seymour broke off suddenly, and snapped out the electric light. He took the astonished Ferris by the arm, and fairly bundled him into his bedroom. There was no time to explain. A fresh idea had suddenly come to Seymour, and he decided to put it through. His quick ear had told him that somebody was fumbling at the door of the sitting-room, and that somebody could be none other than Gillmore. The burglar had evidently not yet arrived, or Seymour would have beard something of the mysterious note. His idea now was to gain possession of the note and Gillmore at the same time.

"What on earth is the matter?" Ferris whispered.

Seymour clicked his lips for silence. He could hear Gillmore in the sitting-room by now. He slipped from the bedroom into the corridor, and approached his foe by the other door. But apparently Gillmore's ears were as quick as those of his antagonist. He pitched the letter on the table, and, seeing that escape by way of the door had been cut off, coolly flung up the window and fell headlong out. Seymour repress a shuddering cry. Gillmore evidently cruelly miscalculated the distance to the ground, for as Seymour looked out of the window, he could hear a series of heavy groans below. It was obviously his duty to give the alarm and send for a doctor without delay, but this he hesitated to do.

He called Ferris in, and explained rapidly to him what had happened. The distance from the window to the ground was some twenty feet.

"I am going to fetch him up," Seymour explained. "I suppose you have got one of our old lassos amongst your baggage? You have? Good! Let me have it at once, and I will drag our friend up in here, and then we can send for that doctor of yours. This unfortunate rascal is a mere tool of Anstruther's, and I want to make use of him."

The lasso was procured at length, and one end twisted round the leg of Ferris' bed. It was not an easy job that Seymour had set for himself, but he managed it at length, and, quite overcome with his exertions, laid the body of Gillmore on the couch. The latter was quite conscious, and apparently not nearly so much damaged as might have been expected. Seymour went over him with the practiced hand of one who has dealt with many accidents by flood and field. He smiled more cheerfully.

"Not so bad as I expected," he said. "A broken collar bone and a dislocated ankle. You have had a very narrow escape, Mr. Gillmore. It will be just as well, perhaps, if you moisten your lips with a drop of this excellent brandy."

Gillmore started at the mention of his name, but he did not refuse the proffered stimulant. He saw that he had been caught like a rat in a trap, and, like most of his tribe, was prepared to make the best terms he could for himself, regardless of his confederates.

"You might just a s well make a clean breast of it, Seymour said. "You came here at the instigation of Mr. Anstruther. Your task was an easy one for a man of your abilities, but you see I happened to know that you were coming, and that made all the difference. Is that the letter on the table?"

Gillmore growled out something to the effect that it was. Ferris took up the letter, and read it carefully.

"Just as I expected," he murmured to Seymour. "A mysterious communication from Anstruther, only Anstruther's name does not appear upon it. I am threatened with all kinds of pains and penalties if I do not immediately part with the sum of five thousand pounds. And you might tell me what you propose to do with this man."

"Leave him here for the present," Seymour explained. "We can take your doctor into our confidence, and nobody will be any the wiser. It is a very odd thing to me if we don't get some valuable information out of this Gillmore. You may he certain of one thing—he could tell us a great deal about Anstruther if he chose to speak. If you will give the address of your doctor, I will go off and fetch him at once. Of course, I shall bring him here as if he came to see you. I think you are quite safe with the fellow."

Seymour went off presently, having donned his disguise again, feeling that he had done a good night's work. His first act was to telephone to Bates at Shannon Street police station, and ask if the latter was still keeping an eye on Anstruther. Bates replied in person to the effect that everything possible had been done in that direction. Anstruther returned home about ten o'clock, and at present was amusing himself with his violin in his own study. Bates, moreover, had ascertained that Anstruther had no intention of leaving the house again that night: in fact, he had told one of his servants that he had caught a chill, from all of which it might be gathered that Bates' spy had been very successful in his shadowing of Anstruther.

So far, everything was quite satisfactory. It only remained now to call at Masefield's rooms, and acquaint him with what had happened. But Jack was not in, his landlady informed Seymour; as a matter of fact, she had no idea when he was coming back; indeed, he had gone off somewhere to a fancy dress ball. It was then that Seymour recollected that this was the night of Lady Barmouth's great dance. A little at a loss to know what to do next, Seymour went slowly off in the direction of Panton Square. He hung about Anstruther's house for some little time, still feeling dubious in his mind as to whether the latter was going out or not. He waited long enough to see a carriage drive up to the door, and in the brilliantly lighted hall be could see a graceful figure in fancy dress being carefully wrapped up by Anstruther himself, who came, down the steps, and saw Claire into the carriage. He appeared to be carefully muffled, and spoke with a strained voice of one who suffers from a bad cold.

"I hope you will enjoy yourself, my dear," be said. "Pray convey to Lady Barmouth my sincere regrets and apologies. In the circumstances I am sure she will excuse me."

The carriage drove off, but still Seymour lingered there, feeling quite sure that this was part of some scheme of Anstruther's. He decided to wait, at any rate, for the present, and for the best part of an hour be paced up and down, till at length his search was rewarded. The light in the study suddenly went out, though Seymour could hear the music still going on, and then another figure emerged from a porch. It was the figure of a man assuredly decked out in some fancy dress; but Seymour was not in the least deceived, and knew perfectly well that he was following Anstruther.

The latter walked right away until he came at length to Belgrave Square, where he stood for an instant before a house in front of which a scarlet cloth crossed the pavement. Into this hall of dazzling light the form of Anstruther vanished. Just as Seymour had expected, his quarry was going to the masked dance after all. He made up his mind instantly what to do. He accosted one of the footmen standing inside the hall, and pressing a coin in his hand, said he must see Mr. Masefield at once. Would the footman go up-stairs and announce that Mr. Masefield was wanted, in a loud voice. The coin had the desired effect, and a moment later Jack was in the ball. He strolled up to Seymour in a casual way, and demanded haughtily the reason for this intrusion.

"You did that very well," Seymour whispered. "I came to tell you that Anstruther is here after all: in fact, he has just come in. Now I have a little scheme of my own. Go and tell Lord Barmouth that I am here, but that I should like to appear as a guest. I don't think that he would mind at any rate—"

"Not he," Jack whispered, excitedly. "Really, there is no reason for me to do anything of the sort, I can easily tell Barmouth afterwards, and if you have any scheme of getting the best of Anstruther, you will be a welcome guest in this house."

"Good," Seymour replied. "I will go off to a costumer's at once, get fitted with a dress and be back here in half an hour. Then I shall pretend that I have my card behind, and ask for Mr. Rigby. just as well not to ask for you again."

Jack nodded his emphatic approval. Seymour moved towards the door with a deferential air of one who apologises for an unwarrantable intrusion. Once in the road he hailed a passing cab, and gave him the costumer's address.

"Wellington Street." he said curtly; "and drive as quick as you can."



XXXIX. — PREPARING THE WAY

SEYMOUR was not away longer than he anticipated. Only thirty-five minutes had elapsed before a cab drove up to the house in Belgrave Square, from which descended a tall man disguised as a magician. It was not a particularly original dress, but it thoroughly served the purpose which Seymour had in hand. He wore a long red cloak, coming down to his heels, the hem of which was embroidered with queer signs and symbols. On his head was a black velvet skull cap, and a long white beard and moustache completed the illusion.

Seymour stood still for a moment, and fumbled about as if to find his card. Then Rigby, effectively disguised as an executioner, came forward and proffered his services.

"It's all right," he whispered. "I have been talking it over with Masefield, and he did not think it would be prudent to meet you here a second time. Besides, we have to be very careful: we are not aware how much Anstruther knows. He might have got to the back of our plot for all we know to the contrary."

"I did not quite catch how he was dressed." Seymour said. "Would you mind telling me what he is wearing?"

Rigby proceeded to explain that Anstruther was rigged out in a costume of some Indian tribe. He could be especially noticed by the exceedingly high plume of eagle's feathers which he was wearing in his headdress. Seymour chuckled aloud.

"I thought it all out as I came along," he said. "When I saw Masefield a little time ago I only wanted to come here more or less out of idle curiosity; but a little idea occurred to me as I called my cab. I am going to thoroughly enjoy myself this evening; in fact, this is the first time I have had an opportunity of mingling with my fellow creatures for three years. But that is not the point if you keep fairly close to me you will have the chance of seeing how I shall get on Anstruther's nerves presently."

"Do you mean to say you are going to begin at once?" Rigby asked, "or would you not like to see Barmouth first?"

Seymour intimated that there was no hurry, and that the little drama he had in his mind would be best played out at supper time. That meal was intended to be a rather fast and furious affair, where all the guests were supposed to always act up to the characters which they personified.

"Therefore I should very much like to see Barmouth," Seymour said. "If you can arrange a meeting for us in some quiet spot I shall be exceedingly obliged to you."

Rigby went off with an intimation that he would not be long. He came back presently, and signified that Seymour should follow him. The two proceeded as far as the head of the staircase, and there, in a small room at the end of the corridor, Barmouth stood awaiting Seymour's entrance. No sooner was the latter inside, than his host closed end locked the door. He turned upon the light and snatched his mask from his face. On the impulse of the moment Seymour did the same.

Save for the difference of their coloring, the two men were almost identically alike. Perhaps in the whole world it would have been impossible to find two refined and educated men so hideously and atrociously ugly. One man's eyes were blue, the other one's dark brown; but this made no difference. All amiability of expression, all frankness and sincerity, seemed to have been literally cut out of their features. Most men would have turned from them with loathing and disgust. They stood there looking at one another, the very image of the Nostalgo posters that London was still discussing so eagerly. As Seymour dropped Barmouth's proffered hand, the later burst into a bitter laugh.

"No reason to try and flatter ourselves," he said. "When I look at you or you look at me, we both know that we are forever outside the pale of civilized society. We can make the most of an occasion like this, but these happy hours are few and far between."

"Well, do you know, I am not so sure of that," Seymour said. "Let me have a cigarette, and we will discuss the matter together. Do you happen to remember Ferris?"

Barmouth indicated that he remembered Ferris perfectly well.

"In fact, we were all victims of the same ceremony," he said. "What a ghastly business it was! And that fiend of an Anstruther looking on without a drop of pity in his heart for his fellow countrymen, whose sole crime was that they were in the hunt for gold like himself. But I want to try and forget all that. Do you mean to say you have met Ferris?"

"Ferris is at the Great Metropolitan Hotel at the present moment," Seymour explained. "More or less accidentally he ran against Masefield. Jack Masefield happened to mention that he knew me, and there you are. However, I dare say you can get Masefield to tell you the story another time. The point is, that Ferris has discovered a brilliant French surgeon who has operated upon him—he says, quite successfully. He is a mass of plaster and knife marks now, but he says that in the course of a few weeks he will have resumed his normal expression."

A great cry broke from Barmouth. His agitation was something dreadful to witness.

"Cured," he whispered. "Absolute cured and like other men again. Oh, it seems like a dream; like something too good to be true. To think that you and I, old friend, are going to stand out once more in the broad light of day with no mask needed to conceal our hideousness! You will undergo the operation?"

"Ay, as soon as ever I have done with the Anstruther business," Seymour said in his deep voice. "Once let me see that rascal beyond the power of further mischief, and I place myself in that man's hands at once, if it cost me half my fortune. There is a girl waiting for me, Barmouth—a girl who mourns me as dead. You can see how impossible it was for me to let her know the truth."

"And yet my wife knows the truth," Barmouth said thoughtfully. "Hideous as I am he refused to give me back my freedom."

"She is a woman of a million," Seymour said, not without emotion; "but then Lady Barmouth discovered the truth. I don't think you ever would have told her on your own initiative.

This was so true that Barmouth had nothing to say in reply. He appeared to be deeply immersed in thought. The settled melancholy of his face had given way to an eager, restless expression. He was like a man in the desert who, past all hope, had found aid at the last moment. He paused la his stride and sat down. "I dare not dwell upon the possibilities that you have opened up before me," he said, "I had long abandoned all kinds of hope. Still, there are plenty of useful years before me. This is the first moment that I have felt what happiness means since we fell into the hands of that gang of Anstruther's. You will recollect, of course, the wild stories that our tribesmen used to bring in to us about what happened to anybody who dared to cross the gold belt—"

"The legend was very common out there," Seymour said. "If you will recollect, it was popularly supposed that some heathen god presided over the gold mines, and that it was a sacrilege for any stranger to make an attempt on the treasure. The natives there firmly believed that the outraged god imposed upon the adventurers a disease that rendered them so hideous that no man could bear to look upon their faces again."

"They were not far wrong there," Barmouth said grimly, "Or where did those medicine men derive their knowledge of surgery? I recollect very little of what happened after I found myself gagged and bound in that wonderful old temple, but I do know that one of those priests operated upon me with a lancet. When I came to myself, I was as you see me now. But you, too, went through it in your turn."

Seymour shuddered with the horror of the recollection of it.

"I don't think we need to go into that," he said. "The extreme punishment would never have been inflicted upon us had it not been for Anstruther. With his wonderful ascendancy over the tribe— and goodness know how he got it—he seemed to be able to persuade them to do anything. The terror of it all, the hideous mystery, only served to keep others away."

"And yet Anstruther most have lost his ascendancy," Barmouth said, "or he would never have returned home without bringing a huge fortune with him. We have absolute proof of the fact that he is a poor man. But the truth of that will ever be known."

"I am not so sure about that," Seymour said. "I hope before long to be able to hold the whip over his shoulder and force him to speak. I have my little scheme arranged, and I fancy you will derive some little amusement if you will watch the working of it. Of course, you know how Anstruther is dressed?"

Barmouth was perfectly cognizant of Anstruther's disguise.

"The dress of the old tribe," he said; "with the painted feathers, and all the rest of it. When he was pointed out to me just now by Masefield I could hardly restrain my feelings. Mind you, he is not here with a mere view to social enjoyment. He declined my wife's invitation. He told Miss Helmsley that he did not feel well enough to turn up, and yet he is here like any other invited guest. Now, what is he up to?"

"It would be hard to say what Anstruther is up to," Seymour replied. "Doubtless he has some deep scheme afoot; but he is not the only one, and we shall see who gets the best of it in the long run."

Barmouth was quite content to await developments. Knowing Seymour so well, be felt quite sure that the latter was not without a scheme likely to defeat Anstruther's intentions. He did not care to come out as yet and mingle with the other guests, he said; at the same time he had no desire to stand in the way of Seymour's amusement.

"Oh, I am going to amuse myself all right," Seymour said. "Don't forget that it is nearly three years since I last sat by the side of a woman, and listened to the sound of her voice. For three years I have lacked the refining influence of woman's society, and I always preferred the other sex to my own. I can move about here and pick my partner as I choose. I care nothing for the face for the simple reason that I cannot see it; which is very fortunate for me indeed. I am going to pick out all those with lovely voices. I dare say you laugh at me."

"Not a bit of it," Barmouth exclaimed, "My dear fellow, I know the feeling exactly. But when is this little comedy of yours coming off— I must be present at that."

"Just after supper," Seymour explained. "When your excellent champagne will set all the tongues wagging. And now, if you don't mind, I'll just have a walk round and see that my confederates are carrying out their instructions."

It was a brilliant scene indeed that Seymour viewed through his mask on reaching the great ballroom. A dance was in progress. There were very few people sitting out, and the dazzling waves of color waved in and out like the spray of the sea against a huge rock in the sunshine. A limelight had been arranged high up in the gallery, and from time to time threw quick flashes of different colored views upon the dancers. The effect was most brilliant, just a little dazzling to the eyes. But it was full of a sheer delight for 8eymour, who had so long been denied the pleasures of life.

"Very effective, is it not?" said Jack. as be came up. "Quite a novel idea in a private ballroom. Come and have a glass of champagne with Rigby and myself. He is waiting for us in the buffet. I hope you had an enjoyable chat with Barmouth."

"I was exceedingly glad to see him again," Seymour said. "All the same, I am glad that there was no one else present. An Englishman does not care to display his feelings to an outsider."

Rigby was waiting as Jack had explained, and for some little time the three sipped their champagne whilst they talked over the situation.

"I want you two to be as near as possible to me at supper time," Seymour went on to explain. "And I want you to take your cue from me when I give it you. Mind, you must not look for any sensational developments—this is merely a comedy for our private amusement I am going to give Anstruther a bit of a fright, and at the same time force his hand, so that when he is prepared to move; he will play right up to us. As to he rest, keep your eye on the magician!"

"I wish you would be a little more explicit," Jack said.

"My dear fellow, there is nothing to be explicit about. Perhaps Anstruther will smell a rat and decline to be drawn into the thing at all. Still, I'm not much afraid of that."

A clock somewhere struck the hour of midnight and a moment later the strains of the band died away. The old family butler threw open the double doors leading to the dining hall, and announced supper in a loud voice.

"Come along." Seymour said. "The play has commenced."



XL. — THE MAGICIAN SPEAKS

THE dining-room presented an appearance quite as striking and imposing as the ballroom. It was magnificently paneled with Elizabethan oak; the grand old buffets and furniture dated from the same period, The supper was laid out on a series of small tables forming a horseshoe, so that it was possible to move from one to the other without interruption. Each table had its separate electric light stand, round which were trailed sprays of red roses. With its shaded lights, its dim, carved walls, with its glitter of crystal and glass, the room presented a picture that was not easily forgotten. But there were other things quite as important to think of as the artistic side of the scene. A few moments later, and Anstruther came in with a tall woman, whom Rigby instantly recognized as a great society leader, on his arm. It was evident enough that, while Anstruther knew his partner perfectly well, she was utterly puzzled as to his identity.

"So much the better for us," Seymour said, as Jack pointed this out to him. "But I must get back to my partner. I want you to try and keep me a place at the same table that Anstruther sits at. I hope that you will manage to secure Lady Barmouth for me. You will recollect that was to have been part of the programme."

The matter was arranged easily enough, and presently Seymour and Lady Barmouth were seated opposite Anstruther and his companion. They had all at once plunged gaily into an animated conversation. By this time the guests had found their level, and had thoroughly settled themselves down to enjoyment. It was just possible that a great many people recognized numbers of their friends there, but for the most part the recognition was ignored and the illusion maintained.

"Really, this is a most charming picture," Seymour said, addressing Anstruther in the friendliest fashion, although he had taken great care to modulate his voice. "With all my skill in the art of magic I could not have evolved a fairer scene than this. And my experience goes back a thousand years."

"Quite the most respectable type of family magician," Anstruther laughed, as he helped himself liberally to champagne. "We are all so dreadfully modern nowadays. I suppose you have nothing to do with up-to-date methods. No palmistry, I presume?"

Seymour was delighted to find Anstruther ready to take up the spirit of the game."Nothing comes amiss to me," he said. "To conjure up a scene like this would perhaps tax my efforts pretty severely, but I should get there all the same.""Delightful!" Anstruther's partner cried.

"I was just wondering how I was going to settle my racing debts, and now you come forward in the kindest way, and relieve me of all further anxiety. It is really more than kind of you."

"As for me," Anstruther said, "I am concerned more with the future than the past. I have a little scheme on hand that is troubling me a good deal. Without going into details, shall I be successful? Now, can you tell me that?"

Seymour gravely consulted a crystal ball, which he had taken from the pocket of his flowing robe. Others were listening by this time, for the conversation at Seymour's table was both amazing and interesting. He looked up from the ball in the same grave fashion.

"You are giving me a hard task," he said. "I do not know you, I have not seen your face. And yet your soul is reflected in my faithful crystal, and your heart's desire lays bare before me."

"But you have not told me if I shall be successful," Anstruther said. "That is the point, after all."

"You will not be successful," Seymour said in a loud voice, which had the desired effect of drawing much attention to the speaker. There is something dark that stands between you and the thing you so much desire. The crystal is not as clear as usual, but I can see in it a face. It is a strange face — dark and repulsive, and yet absolutely familiar. Yes, it is the face of the poster, the features of which have puzzled London for the last three months. It is this face which comes between you and your heart's desire. Do I interest you?"

Quite a score of guests were listening by now. They were thrilled and puzzled, and not a little interested. Seymour was playing his part splendidly: even Jack and Rigby, who were in the plot, had to admit that. Nothing could be seen as to the way in which Anstruther took this shot, for his features were hidden behind his mask; but Rigby noticed that his hands were clutched upon the edge of the table-cloth, as if they were about the throat of some hateful foe, Anstruther sat quite quietly, almost rigidly, for a few moments, then burst into a hoarse, strident laugh.

"This is ridiculous." he said. "Surely you must be aware of the fact that those Nostalgo posters are nothing more or less than a clever advertisement."

"Nevertheless, they have more to do with you than you imagine." Seymour went on in the same grave way. "They stand between you like a sheet and the execution of your plans. Let me look into my crystal again. Ah, the scene grows clearer. I see a ruined temple; I see some weird religious ceremony, and the unconscious form of a man laid out for a sacrifice. He rises at length; he is no longer good to look upon, his face has become the face of Nostalgo. Call it foolish if you like—" With a cry of something like anger. Anstruther rose to his feet. He seemed to suppress himself almost immediately, then sat down again.

"Capital!" he exclaimed. "I dare say it is exceedingly clever, but, at the same time, so much Greek to me. What I want is information about the future." "I should say you are a traveled man," Seymour said calmly. "You have spent a great deal of your time in adventure abroad. Now, let me hazard a guess. You have been in Mexico?"

Anstruther curtly admitted that such was the fact. In spite of the gravity of the whole thing, and Seymour's admirable acting, he was getting nervous and excited. He would have given much to have removed the mask of his tormentor and studied the face behind.

"It is the little trifles of life that interest you, then." Seymour said. "I am afraid you are very material, sir. Well, we will be prosaic if you like. For instance, my crystal tells me that you are fond of works of art; in fact, you are a collector of such things. What would you say if I were to prophesy that you are going to add largely to your treasures in the course of the next few days? To be precise, one of your hobbles is old sliver. Like most collectors, you will do pretty well everything to gain your end."

"I am afraid that is about true." Anstruther admitted.

"8poken like a man of the world," Seymour went on. "For a long time you have coveted a fine specimen of Cellini silver work. A whole set of it will pass into your possession, if it has not already done so, and the unique service will not cost you a farthing."

Seymour delivered this shot calmly enough, pretending to be gazing at the crystal all the time. But the way in which Anstruther writhed about in his chair was not lost upon Jack and Rigby, who were watching the drama with breathless interest. Anstruther had half risen from his seat again, and then had forced himself down once more, as if struggling with his hidden emotions.

"I should like to see that precious crystal of yours," he sneered. "It seems nothing but a piece of glass to me."

By way of reply, Seymour gravely polished the crystal on his serviette, and passed it across to Anstruther with instructions to hold it firmly in his palms long enough for the imprint of his fingers to fix themselves. Anstruther laughed as he complied with these instructions. Then the crystal was laid upon the table very carefully, and was rolled into a small cardboard box, and there swathed in cotton wool. With the same grave demeanor, Seymour called for wax and something unique in the way of a seal. A servant came presently with a piece of violet sealing wax and one of the guests proffered his intaglio ring as a seal.

"I am going to ask a favor," Seymour said. "I should like the gentleman to seal the box. and hand it over to another guest, who will take care of the whole thing for the next three days. You will see what I mean—I want to prevent the possibility of the box being tampered with. Will the gentleman kindly seal the packet, and will another gentleman kindly offer to take care of the box?"

The box was scaled at length with the intaglio ring, then another guest came forward and volunteered to keep it in his charge.

"This is exceedingly good of you," Seymour went on; "only you will quite see that we cannot carry this through properly unless the gentleman who has taken charge of the box volunteers his name."

"No trouble about that," the second guest cried. I am Sir Frederick Ormond, Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs. I hope that my name will be sufficient guarantee."

Seymour nodded, and the statesman dropped the packet into the pocket of his cloak. Anstruther laughed unpleasantly.

"And what is the upshot of all this to be?" he asked.

"It is on the knees of the Gods," Seymour said gravely. "Your individuality will become impressed upon the crystal through the grips of your hands, and at the end of the period suggested you will be able to see your whole future there. I dare say Sir Frederick will produce the crystal when the proper time comes."

Anstruther turned away with a little laugh of contempt, and, as if nothing of the common had happened, Seymour turned and began to discuss ordinary topics with his hostess. Supper was practically over by this time, and most of the guests were streaming back once more in the (direction of the ballroom. Amongst the few who still remained were Jack and Claire, the later, of course, being Jack's supper partner.

"That was very cleverly done," Claire said. "I suppose there is some hidden meaning behind it?"

"Of course," Jack said. "Only I have not the remotest idea what it was. Don't let us go back to the ballroom yet. I have discovered one of the jolliest little places leading off the hall, where we can sit and have a cozy chat without the least fear of interruption."

It was precisely as Jack had said—a little alcove, dimly lighted and filled with ferns, from which they could see much that was going on without being seen in their turn. It was very quiet down there, and Jack made the most of his opportunities. A silence fell upon the pair presently, one of those long, delicious silences, only possibly where there is a perfect understanding. Jack came out of his reverie presently, conscious that Claire was gripping him tightly by the arm. With the point of her fan she indicated the figure of Anstruther, who had come down evidently in search of the telephone.

The instrument was almost immediately opposite the alcove, and Anstruther, little dreaming that he was being watched, plied the handle vigorously. He gave a number presently which was his own in Panton Square.

"Are you there?" he whispered; "are you there? Confound the girl! Why doesn't she speak? Oh, so you are there at last. What? Oh, yes, yes. I am speaking to you. You know who I am. Yes, there is danger—danger that is urgent and immediate. I have no time to explain now; you are to come here masked at once. Do not come to the front door, but to the lane behind. You will find a small green gate there, with Number Five upon it in white letters. I will see that the gate is unlocked. Then make your way straight up the garden, and into the summer-house which is at the top of the marble steps by the fountain. You are not to be more than half an hour."

Anstruther rang off, and replaced the receiver on the hook. He strolled away without the slightest idea that every word he said was audible to the pair of lovers in the alcove. Jack turned to Claire with eager eyes.

"This must be seen to immediately." he said. "Go back to the ballroom as if nothing had happened and wait for me there. As for myself, I am going to smoke a cigar in the garden, and wait to see who the mysterious individual is who has been so peremptorily summoned here. You see how important it is."

Claire saw that there was much in what Jack said. Obediently enough she went off to the ballroom, and waited eagerly for the return of her lover. He seemed a long time coming, and nearly an hour had passed before he came back and strolled up to Claire in as casual a way as possible. But she could see that his eyes were gleaming behind his mask. He was breathing fast, too.

"Have you discovered who it was?" Claire asked eagerly.

"Yes," Jack replied. "They are both together. As I more than half expected, the fresh arrival is Serena."



XLI — THE WORM TURNS

MEANWHILE, it is necessary to go back for a few moments to the garden and summer-house where Jack had been waiting to see who was going to keep the assignation with Anstruther. On the whole, it was not unpleasant work, seeing that the night was very fine and warm, and at the same time dark and velvety. There were not many gardens in London as finely proportioned as those behind Barmouth's residence. It was wonderful in the midst of that atmosphere, that flowers and shrubs could flourish so kindly. There were not many paths, most of the ground being given over to turf, so that Jack's feet made no noise as he strolled along in the direction of the green gate which gave upon the lane beyond.

The gate turned out to be a door in the wall hidden from view inside by a deep belt of shrubs. It was here that Jack hid himself and stood smoking his cigar with a determination to stay there all night if necessary. The best part of an hour had elapsed before there was a noise outside, and a hand turned the latch. Jack dropped his cigar and ground it into the soft earth with the heel of his slipper. By this time his eyes had got accustomed to the darkness, so that it not a difficult matter to make out the outlines of the approaching figure. The figure was that of a woman, evidently dressed for the evening, and wearing a mask.

Jack was not to be deceived; he knew the form perfectly well, even if he had not recognised the dress, which the wearer had used the night of his visit to Carrington's.

"Serena," he whispered to himself. "Well, I might have expected that. Now to see what will happen next."

Jack made his way hurriedly across the lawn, and took up a position behind a belt of pampas grass, where he could not only see into the summer house, but hear what was going on there. He was only just in time, for almost immediately the towering headdress of Anstruther appeared, and its owner made his way directly to the summer house. Jack could see Serena as she hurried along. On the still night air every word could be distinctly heard. There came to Jack's ears a whispered apology from Serena that she was sorry for the delay.

"You might have ruined everything." Anstruther said savagely. "I told you to be here within half an hour at the most."

Serena replied humbly that she could not get there before. She had to dress and she had to get the other servants out of the way. Anstruther muttered impatiently.

"I suppose it is impossible for a woman to keep to time," he said. "And now listen to me. There is something going on here which even I cannot fathom. I feel as if I were being laughed at, as if an unseen net was about my shoulders, and that a hidden hand was ready to close it at any time." Jack listened eagerly to what followed. It was quite evident from what Anstruther said that Seymour's performance had made a deep impression upon him. For once in a way Anstruther was puzzled and frightened. He told Serena at considerable length all that had taken place during supper.

"There is more than meets the eye here," he said, "and that fellow said either too little or too much. One thing is quite certain—he is pretty intimately acquainted with my inner life in Mexico. Now who is he, and how does he know all this?"

"If you don't know, I can't tell you." Serena replied.

"No; but you are going to find out," Anstruther responded. "You are going to mingle with the other guests as if you were a friend of Lady Barmouth's, and I will sign to you presently what I want you to do. You have plenty of nerve and resource, and you must find some way of removing the mask from the face of my friend the magician. But that is not all. I have a very shrewd suspicion that this mysterious Lord Barmouth is no other than the man James Smith, who has been so useful to me from a pecuniary point of view."

"You think Lord Barmouth and James Smith are the same person?" Serena cried. "Oh, that is quite impossible."

"That remains to be seen," said Anstruther. "You know all about Lord Barmouth's reputation as a recluse as well as I do. Therefore, it will be part of your duty to get a sight of Lord Barmouth also. Mind you, I may be mistaken, but I have a strong Impression that when you come to look at Barmouth you will see the features of James Smith. What the certainty of this means to me you can pretty well guess. Hitherto I have treated Smith as a comparatively poor man, never guessing for a moment that he was the enormously wealthy Barmouth, but in future—"

Anstruther paused significantly. The listener thrilled as he realized the danger in which Barmouth stood. But his whole attention now was concentrated upon Serena. He could see that she had drawn herself up to her full height; from the motion of her hands, she was evidently moved by some strong feeling. It flashed upon Jack all at once that Anstruther was asking Serena to plot against the happiness of her own sister—Lady Barmouth. That that was the chord that Anstruther had touched, Serena's first words proved.

"You are asking too much." she said. "I will not do it. There are times when I feel that this life of mine can endure no longer. I have worked hard for you: I have been the slave of all your schemes; I have forgotten that I possess a conscience,"

"Yes, and you forget what you owe to me," Anstruther responded. "But for me you would long since have stood in a felon's dock. If you will think of the time when you and your boy—"

"No, no!" Serena cried. "I will not have it. What do I care if I alarm the people inside. For the sake of that black past I have consented to be your tool and slave. And yet I feel sometimes that you are playing with me: that the whole thing is nothing more or less than a cruel and deliberate lie on your part, and that my boy still lives. If I thought so; if I only thought so—"

Serena plunged forward, and Jack could see that something glittered in her hand. There was the confused suggestion of a struggle, the sound of an oath from Anstruther's lips, and the tinkle of metal upon the floor of the summer-house.

"So you have got one of your mad moods on to-night." Anstruther panted. "Do not push me to extremes, because you know what that means. Will you obey me or not?"

Jack could see Serena pass her hands across her eyes; he could hear the quick sobbing of her breath.

"I was wrong." she said presently. It was marvelous how quickly she had recovered herself. "I will do your bidding. Let us go inside, and you can show me the man whose face you desire to see."

The two moved off together, and entered the house, where they were quickly lost in the throng of guests. It was at this point that Jack joined Claire again, and told her rapidly what had happened.

"I will go to her at once." Claire said. "It is quite evident, from what you say, that this poor woman acts entirely under the sinister influence of Anstruther. It would be a good thing, I fancy, to appeal to her better nature."

Possibly it had been better for him to go off and warn Seymour, but the strong curiosity of the moment prevailed. He was just a little anxious about Claire, too. And Seymour was so full of cleverness and resource if anything untoward happened.

The scheme commended itself to Jack. He would leave everything to Claire for the present. Then, when she was ready, she could come to him again. Apparently Anstruther had given Serena all her instructions, for Claire found her seated by herself in a corner of the ballroom watching the dazzling scene. Claire crept quietly to her side, and touched her on the shoulder.

"Serena," she said gently. "Serena, I want you."

There was a violent agitation that shook the listener's frame; but she rose very gently, and passed along the corridor by Claire's side without the slightest protest. They came to a little alcove at length, and Claire bade her companion sit down.

"I know why you are here to-night, she explained. "I even know what your appointed task is. But, what is still more Important, I am acquainted with the hold that Anstruther has upon you. Believe me, you have no firmer friend in the world than myself. Tell me your sad story, and let me see if I can help you."

The gently spoken words were not without their effect. Heedless of consequences, Serena removed her mask, and proceeded to wipe the streaming tears, from her eyes.

"I will tell you everything." she murmured. "You know already that Lady Barmouth is my sister, and you are acquainted with the fact that Padini is my husand; but nobody knows besides Anstruther that I was once the mother of a little boy. I was always willful and headstrong. I was always ready to throw away my happiness for the whim of the moment. That is why I married Padini, who basely deserted me when he found that I had no money. A month after our marriage I was alone in the world, almost starving. I was too proud to send to my friends; I had meant to wait till my money was exhausted, and then throw myself into the river. But I dared not do that, because of the fresh young life which I knew was coming to me. I managed to make a little money, and when my child was born I was comparatively happy. When the hoy was about 18 months old Anstruther found me out, and professed a desire to become my friend. It was about that time that Padini turned up again and began to blackmail me. I cannot tell you exactly what happened; they say I tried to kill him because he would have taken my child from me. At any rate, I have always always been informed that I might have suffered a long term of imprisonment if Anstruther had not stood my friend."

"But this does not give him so great a power over you," Claire wild. "A mere act of charity like that—"

"But I have not told you everything," Serena whispered. "For a short time I was a mad woman. And when I came to myself again, they told me that I had killed my boy. Oh. I have no wish to dwell upon that dreadful time—I hardly dare to think of it without a wild desire to lay hands upon myself. And yet there are times when I believe the whole thing to have been a wicked lie, a pure invention on the part of Anstruther. At those times I believe that my boy is still safe and sound, and that some day we shall meet again. This is the whole secret of the reason why I have clung to Anstruther, and why I have been the slave of his base designs. But this story must be told to no one, not even to Lady Barmouth."

8erena might have said more, only the sound of approaching footsteps warned Claire of the necessity for caution. She whispered to Serena to replace her mask—a precaution that was none too soon, for Anstruther was impatiently coming down the corridor side by side with another man, whom Claire recognized as Lord Barmouth.

"I have been looking for you everywhere," Anstruther said. "What do you mean by hiding yourself here?"

It was quite clear that Anstruther had lost his head for the moment. Lord Barmouth paused, and looked at the other sternly and coldly. Yet hesitated, as if half afraid to speak. He had the advantage over Anstruther in knowing who the latter was while still preserving the secret of his own identity.

"I presume this lady is your wife," he said. "You would hardly speak even to your sister in that tone of voice."

"You are candid, sir," Anstruther said bitterly. "If you knew who I am, I have not the slightest doubt—"

"I know perfectly well who you are," Barmouth said quietly. He had quite made up his mind what to do now. "Will you be good enough to step this way for a moment?"

Anstruther followed, until Barmouth reached his own private room. Then he locked the door, and put up the light. "Now that we are face to face and free from interruption," he said, "I and going to speak still more candidly to you. But first let me ask you a question. Why did you decline the invitation of Lady Barmouth on the plea of a severe chill, and then come here afterwards, as if you wanted your presence in the house kept secret—"<7P>

"Really," Anstruther stammered— "really, I cannot recognize your right to cross-examine me like this. In the very unlikely event of your being my host—"

"We will discuss that presently," Barmouth replied. "Permit me to remind you that you have not answered my question, Mr, Anstruther. You will not deny your identity?" Anstruther laughed awkwardly, and, seeing that the game was up, removed his mask and pitched it on the table.

"What I have done is not exactly a crime," he said. "I changed my mind, and came, at the last moment."

"At the last moment," Barmouth echoed significantly. "You have been here for the past two hours."

Anstruther moved towards the door. He declared, with some heat, that he would have no more of this, unless the other could prove his right to ask these questions. Barmouth turned away for a moment, and when he faced round again his face was bare of the mask.

"Now you recognize my right," he said. "You black-hearted scoundrel, I am Lord Barmouth."



XLII — A PIECE OF MUSIC

IN other circumstances, Anstruther would have been pleased with the turn of events. He knew now that Smith, whom for so long he had been persecuting, was the rich Lord Barmouth. This, too, saved a deal of trouble; for instance, Serena need not have been brought here at all. Now Anstruther would be able to blackmail Barmouth for thousands, whereas he had been content with hundreds from the more humble Smith. Barmouth smiled, as he followed Anstruther's train of thought. He was reading the other's mind like an open book.

"I know exactly what you are thinking about," he said. "You are not sighing for lost opportunities; you are going to make it all up in the future. Still, I have puzzled you and, perhaps, frightened you a little. You are perfectly well aware why I have concealed my identity for so long. And you would give a great deal to know why I have so suddenly come out and met you in the open. On that point I have no intention of gratifying your curiosity. You may put your mask on again, and I will resume mine; but of one thing you may be certain. Either as Lord Barmouth or as James Smith, not one farthing more will you ever receive from me."

Barmouth turned contemptuously away, and unlocked the door.

"Now you can go your way, and I will go mine," he said. "I shall say nothing of this to Lady Barmouth; at least, not for the present. Make the best of your evening's pleasure. It will be the last time you will ever be under my roof."

With an irritated feeling of defeat Anstruther stalked from the room, followed by Lord Barmouth, who lost no chance of hunting up Jack and Rigby. He told his interested listeners what had happened.

"I think you have acted wisely, Lord Barmouth," Rigby said. "We are so hot upon the track of Anstruther now that a day or two makes little difference. At the same time, I cannot quite see why Anstruther should have come here in this mysterious way, when he might have accompanied Claire quite openly."

Jack was inspired with a sudden idea. "It's all a question of alibi," he said. "We know perfectly well what an ingenious scheme Anstruther has put up so that he may be what an Irishman would call in two places at the same time. Here's a magnificent opportunity of getting to the bottom of that mysterious music business."

"Right you are," Rigby cried. "It would be like flying in the face of Providence to throw away such a chance. Anstruther is here, and likely to remain, and so is Serena. You may depend upon it that the other maid has gone to bed, so that we should have the house in Panton Square all to ourselves. You know the ropes better than I do, Jack. Can you tell us a good way of getting into the house without playing the burglar?"

Jack thought a moment, then an inspiration came to him again; the thing was quite simple.

"We can walk into the place as if it belonged to us," he said. "When Claire came away, Anstruther told her that he should retire early. Claire, did not wish to keep the servants up unduly, so she took a latch-key with her." "Absolutely made for us," Rigby exclaimed. "You go off to Miss Helmsley and borrow her latch-key, and we will get to the bottom of the whole mystery whilst Anstruther is enjoying himself here."

Jack came back presently with the latch-key in his possession. It was an easy matter to get out of the house without being observed; then a cab was called and the two proceeded to Jack's chambers, where they stripped off their fancy dresses hastily and assumed more civilized attire.

"I vote we take Bates into this business," Rigby suggested. "I've got a little idea of my own, which I will tell you about after we have been to Panton Square."

Unfortunately the services of Inspector Bates were not available, for he had been called out on some business of importance, and was not expected back till the following morning.

"We shall have to go through it ourselves," Jack said. "You will have a fine lot of copy for The Planet a bit later on. I declare I am getting quite fascinated by my present occupation. Shall we take a cab, or would it not be more safe for us to walk?"

Panton Square was reached at length, and No.5 appeared to be in total darkness. As the friends had anticipated, Serena's fellow servant had gone to bed, for neither at the front or back of the house was there so much as a glimmer of light to be seen

An application of the latch-key to the door proved quite successful, and a minute later the two friends were inside. They had not the slightest hesitation in putting up the lights, so that the passing police might infer that the occupants of the place had returned. Not that he wanted to trouble much about anything but the study, seeing that it was there that the mysterious music always emanated.

It was an ord1nary-looking room enough, the walls being entirely lined with books. There were books everywhere, not an inch of space being available for more. The ceiling was quite plain, and the closest search failed to disclose anything in the way of an apparatus by which the sounds of music could be conveyed from a distance into the study. Jack looked round with a puzzled frown.

"All the same. It must come that way," he said. "I know perfectly well that one of Padini's recitals came into this room as if it had been carried by some electrical means."

"A sort of telephone, I suppose," Rigby said. "Of course, we have all heard of the theatrephone*, but we know it could not not work out in this case. With the dodge in question you have to plug both ears with a kind of receiver, and even then the music is only audible to those using the little receivers. In the present instance I understand that the whole room is flooded with melody, just as if the player were actually here."


* A telephonic distribution system that allowed subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances over the telephone lines. First demonstrated in 1881, in Paris. Subsequently, in 1890, the invention was commercialized by Compagnie du Théâtrophone, which continued to operate till 1932. Wikpedia

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"You've got it exactly." Jack explained. "I have heard it myself, and so has Claire: and both at us spotted the music as being precisely the style of Padini. Hang me if I can see the slightest sign of how the thing is worked."

Rigby said nothing; indeed, he was hardly listening. He was pacing round the room pulling armfuls of books out here and there, as if expecting, to find some cunning device hidden behind the volumes. He stooped to pick up Anstruther's violin case, which lay upon the floor. The case had been recently dropped, or some weight had fallen upon it, for the lid was cracked all across, and the hinges were broken. Rigby gave a little cry us he threw back the lid.

"Here's, a discovery for you," he exclaimed. "Anstruther's violin with the neck broken off. If you will look at it closely, you will see that it is covered with dust, and evidently has not been used for days. Of course, it is just possible that Anstruther possesses two violins—"

"I know as a matter of fact that he doesn't." Jack said. "This is his Cremona right enough. I have had it in my hands a hundred times."

"We are getting on," Rigby laughed. "This room has been flooded with melody night after night, and yet we know for a fact that Anstruther's violin has been absolutely useless."

"That does not help us to a solution of the problem," Jack said. "But I have an idea. We shall never get to the truth about Anstruther, but Padini may help us. Now it id very Improbable that Anstruther will be back under an hour. I'll stay here whilst you go off to the Great Metropolitan Hotel and see Padini. If you flatter him a bit, he will probably play to you. He will certainly do this in his own room, because professionals of mark never practice in public. What I am driving at is this: I feel quite certain that whatever Padini plays to you, I shall hear in this room."

"Excellent," Rigby cried: "I will go at once."

Late as it was, Padini had not gone to bed. Indeed, one of the corridor servants informed Rigby that the violinist had been practicing on his violin for the past hour. Without the slightest hesitation. Rigby made his way into Padini's room. The latter looked up with a puzzled air of surprise evidently he had been taking a little more champagne than was good for him.

"I seem to know your face," he said.

"Of course you do," Rigby said smoothly. "Don't you remember me interviewing you for The Planet? I happened to be in the hotel, and I thought I would look you up. I suppose it would be too much to ask you to play something for me? I am passionately fond of music, to say nothing of being a great admirer of yours. Besides, I have a particular desire to hear you to-night."

Padini looked up with just a shade of suspicion in his eyes. Rigby felt that perhaps he was going a bit too far. He proceeded to flatter the artist to such an extent that Padini's suspicions were quickly lulled to rest. There was a half-empty bottle of champagne on the table, but Rigby refused the proffered hospitality.

"No, thank you," he said. "I came to hear you play. I know that it was a great liberty on my part and, if you like, you can turn me out at once—but I wish you would play something."

Padini rose rather unsteadily, and reached for his violin. Once his fingers grasped the neck of his instrument he seemed to be himself again. Rascal as the fellow was there was no doubt of his great artistic qualities. He handled his bow with the air and grip of a master. He started some slow movement from one of Beethoven's sonatas, and Rigby lay back in his chair, giving himself up entirely to the delight of the moment.

It seemed, if Padini once started, he would not know when to stop, for he played one piece after another, entirely forgetting that he had an audience. Across Rigby's brain there came floating the germ of a great idea. Padini finished a brilliant passage, and the bow fell from his hands.

"There, my friend," he said breathlessly. "Never have I played better than I have done to-night."

"You are indeed a master," Rigby said, and he meant every word that he uttered. "An artist so great as yourself should be a composer also. Have you published anything at all?"

The flattered artist replied that he had not published anything so far, but there were one or two little things which he had written in his spare time, and these he intended offering to some publisher who was prepared to pay a price for them.

"Would you mind playing me one?" Rigby asked. "I should prefer a piece that nobody has ever heard."

Padini swept his bow across the strings, and proceeded to play a perfect little gem in a minor key. To a certain extent it reminded Rigby of Gounod's "Ave Maria," though its originality and breadth deprived it of any suggestion of plagiarism.

"Perfect in its way," Rigby said. "Would you mind giving me the score? If you will, I will get a good price for it from The Planet people. We are going to publish music at reasonable rates; and there is no reason why you should not have fifty guineas for yours."

Padini declared that he quite shared Rigby's opinion. He took a sheet of of manuscript music from a drawer and threw it carelessly across to his companion.

"There you are," he said. "make the best bargain you can for me. Why, you are not going already?"

Rigby said something to the effect that he had not yet finished his work at the office, and that he must tear himself away, much as he would have liked to have stayed to hear more of that beautiful music. A few minutes later Rigby left the room. As he glanced back he saw that Padini had fallen into his armchair again, and was already half asleep. Rigby smiled to himself, wondering what Padini would say if he knew the purpose to which the sheet of manuscript music would he devoted. He called a cab and hastened away in the direction of Panton Square, where he expected that Jack would be still awaiting him. The lights were up at No.5, just as they were when Rigby had started for the Great Metropolitan Hotel; but all the same, he took the precaution of whistling softly, in case anything had gone wrong. The front door opened cautiously, and Jack's head peeped out. A moment later and Rigby was inside.

"Well?" he demanded impatiently, "Anything happened?"

"A great deal," Jack replied. "For half an hour everything was quiet, then that wonderful music started again. Mind you, I haven't the remotest idea where it came from; I am just as much in the fog as ever. But it filled the,room as if some great artist was invisible to me. I could recognise Padini's touch. Of course, I am assuming that you found him at home, and persuaded him to play to you. Can I take that for granted?"

"It is exactly as you say," Rigby explained. "Please go on."

"Then I will tell you what Padini played. He started with the first part of 'The Moonlight Sonata.'"

Rigby nodded and smiled. His, smile broadened as Jack proceeded to tick off the pieces of music just as they were played.

"There was one. however, that I could not follow." he said. "It was that lovely, little thing at the end. I am absolutely certain that it was an original piece of music."

Rigby laughed as he produced the scrap of manuscript from his pocket. There was an expression of triumph on his face.

"Original, and in my possession," he cried. "This scrap of paper contains the key of the whole situation."



XLIII — THE TRAP IS BAITED

JACK looked inquiringly at his friend. He had not yet fully grasped the significance of Rigby's remark. He asked for an explanation. Rigby went on to speak rapidly.

"It's like this, you see," he remarked, "When I saw that fellow just now and got him to play to me, a rather good idea came into my mind. So long as Anstruther can manage to delude us into believing that he spends most of his evenings in playing classical music, we can't get much further. Classical music is open to everybody: and if we allege that on a certain evening Anstruther performed one of Beethoven's sonatas—or, rather, that Padini performed it—we should have great difficulty in proving our point."

"I think I can catch your idea," Jack said.

"I thought you would. My idea was to get something original; something, if possible, that Anstruther has never even heard. He couldn't very well play a piece he had never heard, now would he? I asked Padini if he had anything of the kind in hand, and he played the piece which you so much liked. As I said just now, I have the thing in my pocket; and by means of that simple sheet of paper we are going to trap Anstruther."

"I don't quite see it," Jack said.

"What I mean is that we are going to manage it between us. Unless I am greatly mistaken, events will move very rapidly to-morrow night. Anstruther must of necessity be out most of the time after dinner, but the music in the study will go on all the same. You must manage to dine in Panton Square to-morrow night, and I will work the thing from the Great Metropolitan Hotel with Padini. In the course of the evening Padini will play the melody which we are now talking about, and you will hear it. Now, I know Miss Helmsley is a very capable pianist, and I want her to follow the air carefully, so that she will be able to play it by ear. Then we shall be in a position to ask Anstruther the name of the piece that attracted her so much. Miss Helmsley can pick it out on the piano for him, and ask him to play it again. You can imagine his difficulty, but you can hardly imagine a way out of it. This is only a side issue, I know; but it will all tell when we bring Anstruther to book and expose the whole conspiracy."

Jack appreciated the point and promised to do his best to bring the comedy to a successful issue. There was nothing for it now but to reassume their fancy dresses and return to Belgrave Square. By this time a considerable number of the guests were moving on elsewhere, though the majority of those present meant to see the thing through. As the cab bearing Jack and Rigby drove up they saw the tall figure of Anstruther coming down the steps. He stood there as if hesitating, for a moment, then called a passing cab and gave some directions to Piccadilly.

"Any money I know where he is going," Rigby said. "My dear fellow, you go inside and see Miss Helmsley, whilst I take this cab back to our rooms and change again into civilized attire."

"What are you going to do now?" Jack asked. "I am going to follow Anstruther," Rigby explained. "I feel so restless to-night that I can't settle down anything. So I am just going to follow that fellow, who is most assuredly going to see Carrington."

It was half an hour later before Rigby found himself, minus his fancy, dress in Piccadilly opposite the rooms occupied by Carrington. It was very late now, and Piccadilly was absolutely deserted, save for a passing policeman and a stray night cab whose driver appeared to be asleep upon his box. Rigby hesitated for a moment, a little uncertain as to what to do. There was no difficulty in ascertaining as to whether Carrington had or had not gone to bed; for the lights were up in his sitting room, and presently a shadow appeared upon the blind. Doubtless, this was Carrington, and all speculation was set at rest an instant later by a second shadow on one of the blinds. The gigantic headdress of Anstruther loomed large against the light.

There was nothing for it now but to wait patiently upon the course of events. Rigby pulled at the leg of the slumbering cabman and brought him to a sense of his responsibilities.

"I don't want to take your cab anywhere," he explained. "All I want is to hire it for an hour or so and sit inside. You can go to sleep again if you like, and I'll wake you when I am ready to go. It will be an easy way of earning half a sovereign."

The cabman grinned and nodded as Rigby disappeared into the recesses of the cab. It was, perhaps, an hour later before the door leading to Carrington's flat opened and Anstruther came out. Evidently he had left his fancy dress behind him, for he was attired in a rough coat and deerstalker hat. Carrington appeared to be dissuading his friend from something, and Rigby could, hear the latter laugh in reply.

"I tell you it must be done," Anstruther said, "and it will have to be done to-morrow night. I shall see friend Charlie without delay. If he is not in, I shall leave a settled note for him."

Anstruther strode off down the street and presently hailed another cab which was crawling down the road. Rigby sat up and aroused his own driver.

"Here's another five shillings for you," he said. "Keep that cab in front of you in sight, and follow it till it stops. Then you shall have fifteen shillings. Unless I am greatly mistaken, you will not have very far to go."

As a matter of fact, Rigby had summed up the situation quite correctly. The mention of the name of Charlie had given him the clue he required, this same Charlie being none other than the professional cracksman who had been engaged by Anstruther to deliver the letter at the Great Metropolitan Hotel to Ferris. This deduction proved to be absolutely correct, for a little time later the first cab pulled up in front of the tenement house where Seymour had taken up his temporary quarters.

Rigby dismissed the cab, and followed cautiously. He was in time to see Anstruther take a key from his pocket and let himself quietly into the rooms occupied by the individual who was known to his friends and admirers as "Simple Charlie." Then Rigby turned and knocked for admission at the outer door of Seymour's apartments. The latter did not appear in the least surprised to see Rigby.

"I came here quite by chance," the latter explained. "I quite expected to be told that you had not returned home yet. Lady Barmouth's dance might have kept on till daylight."

"I had to come away," Seymour explained. "In fact, I lost sight of Anstruther, and it rather put me out. Can you tell me anything about him? But of course you can, or you would not be here."

Rigby explained at length what had taken place during the last hour. Seymour chuckled as he listened.

"Rather a good joke," he said. "Here is Anstruther looking for his friend 'Simple Charlie,' whilst all the time we have that desirable individual tight by the leg at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. I suppose you can pretty well guess what's going to happen? Anstruther was desperately frightened to-night by my allusion to that set of Cellini plate. He will know no peace of mind until that stuff is removed from Carrington's private safe. There will be another burglary, of a sort, and 'Simple Charlie' has been selected to open the safe. You see, as the safe is not in the vaults, but in Carrington's private office, it would never do to use dynamite there."

"That is all very well." Rigby objected. "But bow is Anstruther going to make use of 'Simple Charlie' so long as the latter is in our hands? That seems to be rather an objection."

"Oh, I have thought all that out," Seymour laughed. "From what you told me just now, it is evident that Anstruther means to leave a note for his pal if the latter is away. In the event of 'Simple Charlie' being professionally engaged elsewhere to-morrow night, he will be asked to find a substitute. As we are perfectly well aware of the fact that there is no chance of Anstruther finding his friend at home, it is only logical to assume that he will leave the note behind. In a few moments that note will be in our possession and we shall be in a position to read it at leisure. Then I shall take it first thing in the morning round to the Great Metropolitan Hotel, and force 'Simple Charlie' to write a suitable reply. Do you follow me?"

"Oh, quite." Rigby said. "You are going to choose your own substitute. Have you fixed upon him yet?"

Seymour chuckled in reply, but declined to afford any information for the present. He suggested that Rigby should go outside and see if Anstruther had gone yet. Rigby came back presently with information to the effect that the burglar's outer door was locked, thus fairly assuming that Anstruther had executed his task and had gone. Seymour produced the simple apparatus by means of which be had entered the burglar's rooms on the last occasion.

"I am going to get that letter," be explained simply. "You need not have any fear about me. Open the window, please."

In less than five minutes Seymour was back again with the letter in his hands. He laid it on the table, and then proceeded to steam the envelope open with the aid of a kettle of hot water which he procured from the kitchen.

There was very little in the letter but that little was to the point. The writer curtly commanded the recipient to meet him to-morrow night at a quarter to twelve outside the Mansion House Station of the Underground Railway. The recipient was enjoined to come prepared for business, and the last three words had been underlined. In the event of that being impossible "Simple Charlie" was asked to procure a substitute and let the writer of the letter know this no later than 10 o'clock the next morning in the old way and at the old address. It was all perfectly plain.

"You see exactly what this means," Seymour said. "I take it that 'the old address' means Panton Square. But 'Simple Charlie' will have to tell me all about that in the morning. He shall write to Anstruther and put everything in order first. I have, prepared a very pretty little surprise for Anstruther."

Seymour chuckled again, but refused to gratify Rigby's curiosity. He was taking no risks, he said; he even went so far as to seal down the letter again and return it to the burglar's rooms.

"We cannot afford to make a single mistake." he said. "Any little slip might ruin the whole delicate business."

There was nothing further to do, at least, so far as the night was concerned. It was getting very late now, and Rigby declined Seymour's offer of a whisky-and-soda and cigar. He turned as though to go, and held out his hand to Seymour. Then he paused as a sudden thought struck him.

"There is one thing we have forgotten," he said. "Don't you think it would be as well to take Bates into our confidence. We had arranged to do so really, but when we called an hour or two ago at Shannon Street police station he was not in. I don't know whether you agree with me or not, but I think he would be extremely useful to us just now."

Seymour nodded and chuckled. He seemed to be in the enjoyment of some good joke which he desired to keep to himself.

"Oh, we must have Bates in this, by all means. Perhaps you would not mind leaving a message as you go along, and ask him to be good enough to call here not later than nine to-morrow morning. I think I can promise Inspector Bates that his time with me will not be wasted. And now, if you must go—"

Rigby took the hint and departed. He left the message for Bates, who, he was informed, might not be at the office the whole of the next day. This being so, Rigby rose early, and made his way to Shannon Street police station directly after breakfast. He was fortunate enough to catch Bates, who appeared to be in a tremendous hurry. He had five minutes to spare, he exclaimed, but a quarter of an hour had elapsed before Bates rose and rang his bell.

"The other business must wait." he said. "Important as it is, I will go and call on Seymour at once."



XLIV — THE SUBSTITUTE

IT was nearly 11 o'clock before Bates reached Seymour's rooms. He listened patiently to all that the latter had to say, and he chuckled grimly when Seymour's plot was laid before him.

"Upon my word, sir, you ought to have been in the force yourself," he exclaimed. "I never heard a neater scheme. I have been puzzling my brains the last day or two for some way of getting hold of Anstruther. I can nobble Carrington at any moment; in fact, I have a warrant for his arrest in my pocket now. You see, I can easily prove that he has been disposing of his clients' securities, but that hardly affects Anstruther. I suppose you want me to go round to the Great Metropolitan Hotel, and compel 'Simple Charlie' to act as Bonnot* for us. I have not the slightest doubt that he will be able to find a good substitute if he likes. But there is one little difficulty in the way which you have not thought of."

* Presumably a reference to the French criminal anarchist Jules Bonnot (1876-1912). See Wikpipedia.

"Oh, yes, I have." Seymour replied. "I know perfectly well what you mean. You mean that even a burglar has some code of honor, and that he would hesitate to betray a pal into such a trap as this. But if the substitute that I have in my mind is acceptable to you, there is no reason or further anxiety."

Seymour scribbled a name on a sheet of paper, and handed it across to Bates. The latter laughed as he read it. "Oh, most assuredly you ought to have been in the force," he said. "The thing is so clever, and yet so delightfully simple."

Meanwhile, Masefield was carrying out his side of the programme.

He saw Rigby once or twice during the day, and the latter informed him that everything was going splendidly.

"I was at the Great Metropolitan Hotel this morning," he explained: "in fact, I was present at the interview between Bates and a man known as 'Simple Charlie.' We had not the slightest difficulty in getting that rascal to do everything that we wish. He seemed ready to do anything to save his own skin. As I told you just now, the old address mentioned in Anstruther's letter was Panton Square. By 10 o'clock this morning Anstruther had received a letter, in 'Simple Charlie's' handwriting, saying that it was quite impossible for him to come himself, but that he would send an efficient substitute, who would meet Anstruther at the Mansion House Station at the appointed time. All you have to do now is to invite yourself to dinner at Panton Square, and in the course of the evening you will be pretty sure to hear the music going on in the study as usual. Of course, Anstruther will not be there but that will make no difference to the harmonic programme. And mind you, listen carefully for the original piece of music you heard last night."

"How are you going to manage that?" Jack asked. "Well, you see, we have divided ourselves up into three companies," Rigby explained. "You are going to look after Panton Square, Bates and Seymour will engineer the campaign as far as the City and Provincial Bank is concerned, and I am going to have supper with Padini. He elected that the supper should take place in his own room at the hotel. You can guess why."

Jack began to see matters more clearly now. The task allotted to himself was plain and simple He would have preferred something more in the way of adventure; but, after all, somebody must do the ordinary work. He managed to see Anstruther in the afternoon, and intimated to him that he was dining in Panton Square that night. Anstruther replied that he was glad to hear it; possibly, Jack thought, because there would be an ear-witness to prove the music in the study.

It was nearly eight o'clock when Jack strolled into the drawing room of Panton Square, and found Claire alone there. He deemed it prudent not to tell her too much of what had taken place the last few hours; indeed, he was more concerned to hear the latest information about Serena.

"I have not seen much of her to-day," Claire said. "I do not know what to make of her at all. Last night, late, she came into my bedroom, and we had a long talk about her boy. It is a very strange thing, Jack, that only this morning a man arrived to see my guardian—a man who seemed to be annoyed at Mr. Anstruther's refusal to pay him a sum of money. I happened to overhear a few words as they parted. The stranger declared that if he did not have something definite by Saturday, 'he would send the kid back.' I should have thought nothing of this unless I had heard Serena story last night, but, taken in conjunction with what she said, I shouldn't wonder if the man in question had not the custody of the poor woman's child."

"This is interesting," Jack said. "Did you take any particular note of the man's appearance?"

Claire replied that she had not failed to do so. But she had not followed him, though her suspicions were aroused.

Jack debated the thing in his mind for a moment before he spoke again.

"We know perfectly well," he said, "that Anstruther is terribly pressed for ready money. He is certain not to send that cheque, and it is equally certain that the man will call again for the money on Saturday morning. It will be an easy matter to get Bates to lend me a plain clothes man and follow the fellow wherever he goes. But you must understand—"

What more Jack would have said was prevented by the entrance of Anstruther, closely followed by the announcement of dinner. It was not a gay meal, for the host was moody and depressed. He talked brilliantly at times, then lapsed into a reverie, and appeared not to hear when spoken to. Claire rose presently with a sigh of relief, glad to get away from the gloom of the dining room and its depressing atmosphere. Anstruther smoked half a cigarette, and then threw the end down impatiently.

"I must really get you to excuse me," he said. "But my head is so bad that I can hardly hold it up. I am afraid that even my music will fall to soothe me to-night."

Jack murmured something in the way of polite sympathy. He was glad of the opportunity to be able to escape to the drawing room, where he sat for a long time discussing the situation with Claire. It was pleasant and soothing to sit there with his arm about her and her head lovingly upon his shoulder; but, happy as they were, they could not altogether shake off the feeling of impending evil. All this time the music of the violin floated mournfully from the study.

Eleven o'clock struck, and still the melody went on. Claire roused herself a little presently, and a look of pleased interest crossed her pretty face.

"What a delightful little composition," she said. "I have never heard that before. I am quite sure that is original."

"Listen very carefully," Jack said, "I want you to impress that piece of music on your mind."

The piece was finished at length, and then repeated once more. As the last strains died away, Claire rose from her comfortable seat and crossed over to the piano. Very quietly, yet quite correctly, she went through the whole composition.

"I am glad it has so impressed you," Jack said. "You will, perhaps, be surprised to hear that Anstruther has never heard that piece Of music in his life, and that it was composed by Padini, who has never played it to anybody till last night, when he performed it for Rigby's benefit. Not only this, but he gave Dick Rigby the original manuscript to get published for him. I know this is only a small matter, but these small matters will make a mountain of evidence against Anstruther when the time comes."

"It is very extraordinary," Claire murmured, "to think that that music should sound so charming and natural, and we know that all the time the player is a mile or two away. You are sure that my guardian is not in his study, Jack?"

Jack was sure enough on that point. It was a few moments later that Serena came quietly into the room with a request that Mr. Masefield would go to the telephone, as some one desired to speak to him on pressing business. Jack rose with alacrity.

"I shall soon be able to prove to you that Anstruther is a long way off, or I am very much mistaken," he said. "Very well, Serena, I will come down at once."

The voice at the other end of the telephone inquired cautiously if that were Mr. Masefield. Jack replied that it was, but even then the questioner did not appear to be satisfied.

"I think I recognize your voice," he said, "but one has to be very careful in sending messages to Panton Square. How goes the music? Anything original to-night?"

"One piece," Jack smiled. "I know what you mean, and I don't mind making you a small bet that you are Inspector Bates."

The voice at the other end of the telephone chuckled.

"You have got it quite right, Mr. Masefield," he said. "I am Bates sure enough. And you needn't worry about going downstairs to see whether or not Anstruther is playing at Paganini, because he isn't on the premises at all."

"Where are you speaking from?" Jack asked. Bates replied that he was speaking from a public call office in the neighborhood of Mansion House Station. All he wanted to do was to make sure that Jack was still in Panton Square, and now that his mind was easy on this score he could devote himself to the serious business of the evening. Anstruther had just been shadowed outside the Mansion House Station, where he was apparently waiting for the substitute so kindly provided for him by "Simple Charlie."

The message ceased here, and the connection was cut off. Jack would have been just a little surprised if he had seen the transmogrified Bates who had been speaking to him over the line. The inspector crossed the road and disappeared into the shadow. Anstruther stood there, glancing impatiently up and down the road as if waiting for somebody that was late.

A figure slouched up to him and a hoarse voice whispered in his ear: "Party of the name of Maggs," he said in his gin-and-fog voice. "Pal of 'Simple Charlie.' Old Charlie couldn't get away to-night, so he sent me instead. Don't you be disappointed, guv'nor; you will find me just as clever with them bits of steel as Charles himself. Bit of burglary, ain't it?"

Anstruther nodded curtly. "We had better walk along." he said. "I suppose your friend explained to you that this little job will put twenty pounds in your pocket? It is a mere matter of opening a safe. The getting into the premises is perfectly simple, because I have come provided with the keys. You know the City and Provincial Bank?"

The other man grinned, and remarked that banks generally were a bit above his form. Anstruther smiled as he reflected that he had the keys of the bank premises proper in his pocket, so that there would be no great difficulty in getting into the counting house, and from there to Carrington's private office. As to the night watchmen—that was another matter altogether. In the face of recent happenings, they would be more alert than they had been in the past; but, at the same time, their attention would be bestowed more upon the cellars than the office.

The road was entirely deserted now, as Anstruther crossed the street and gently turned the key in the outer door. A moment later and the pair were in Carrington's private office. They could afford to turn the lights up, for the iron shutters outside made a perfect screen. In one corner of the room stood the safe upon which the man who called himself Maggs was intended to operate. Anstruther pointed at it impatiently.

"Get to work at once," he said. "There is something inside that I must take away to-night."

"A fine set of Cellini plate, I presume?" Maggs said, in an entirely different voice. "No, you don't, Mr. Anstruther. If you put your hand in your hip pocket. I'll blow your brains out. I have the advantage of you here, and I am going to keep it."

"Who the deuce are you?" Anstruther stammered. His hands had fallen to his side, and his face was pale and ghastly. "Who are you?"

The so-called burglar snatched away his wig and ragged beard, and with a handkerchief changed the aspect of his face. "I am Inspector Bates." he said. "Very much at your service."



XLV — CAUGHT!

BATES had laid his plans very carefully and very well Indeed. In many respects Rigby had got the best of the detective, but this was as much due to circumstances as anything else. Still, when it came to the technical side of the case, Rigby was no match for the Inspector. It was nearly 9 o'clock before Bates called at Carrington's rooms and asked to see the latter. There was no occasion yet for Bates to assume the very effective disguise with which he was to trick Anstruther. There would be plenty of time for that. Carrington was just finishing his dinner—so his man said; he was not very well, and did not care to see anybody. But Bates put the man aside in his own. easy way, and walked into the dining-room without the trouble of announcing himself.

That Carrington was suffering from some mental and physical excitement was perfectly plain. His face was ghastly pale, his eyes were bloodshot, and there was a twitching of his lips which told a plain tale to an experienced officer like Bates. Carrington scowled, and demanded the meaning of this unwarrantable intrusion.

"I don't think you will find it unwarrantable when you have heard me to the finish." Bates said. "Nor will it pay you to take this tone with me. I am an inspector from Scotland Yard, and unless you answer my questions freely, I shall have to put them in a more disagreeable form."

Carrington changed his note altogether. His face become still more pallid. He motioned Bates to a chair. He would have found it hard to have spoken just then. Bates waited a moment to give the other time to recover. Carrington at length found words to ask Bates what his business was with him.

"It is with regard to your affair at the bank," the Inspector explained. "You may not be aware of the fact, but the case has been placed in my hands by my superiors."

"Oh, you are alluding to the burglary," Carrington said.

"We will call it a burglary for the present," Bates replied, with a significance that there was no mistaking. "I have gone into the matter carefully, and I have come to the conclusion that there Was no burglary at all."

Carrington jumped to his feet with a well-simulated air of indignation. He advanced toward Bates threateningly.

"You insolent scoundrel!" he cried. "What do you mean? Do you know you are dealing with a gentleman and man of honor?"

"Softly, softly." Bates replied. "I think we had better understand one another. I have in my possession at the present moment a warrant for your arrest for fraud and embezzlement relating to certain jewels and other valuables deposited in your keeping by various clients. It is in my power to execute that warrant at once. The case is much too serious a one for ball, and it is for you to say whether you will remain for the present in your comfortable quarters, or pass, at any rate, the next two months in jail."

Carrington made no further show of fight. He collapsed into his chair and wiped his wet forehead distractedly.

"You don't mean that," he groaned. "There must be some terrible mistake here. Why, all the evidence pointed to an ingenious and daring burglary. The night watchmen were drugged, as you know, and the thieves employed dynamite to blow up the safes. No one regrets the loss of all those valuables more than I do, but even banks are not secure against the modern burglar. Those safes were crammed full of valuables, as I could easily prove."

"They were." Bates corrected. "But I am in a position to prove a few things, too. You wouldn't give a great deal, I suppose, to know where those valuables are?"

Carrington replied to the effect that he would give half his fortune for the desired information. Bates smiled.

"You need not worry about it." he said. "I have a list in my pocket of the big pawnbrokers in London where most of the goods were pledged. In three cases the pawnbrokers in question are in a position to swear to the identity of the man who handled the jewels. You would not, of course, mind meeting these people?"

But Carrington had no reply. He looked so helplessly at Bates that the latter could not but feel sorry for him.

"I am afraid the game is up, sir," he said. "My investigations of this case prove most conclusively that you are at the bottom of the whole thing. We know perfectly well that recent speculations of yours have brought about a financial crisis in your hank. In your desperate need, you realised the securities which certain clients had left in your hands. It was only when Lady Barmouth called for her gems that the situation became acute. But that will form the basis of another charge."

"But that was all a mistake," Carrington gurgled eagerly. "I sent Lady Barmouth her gems, but they proved to be those belonging to somebody else. I assure you that was quite an error."

Bates shrugged his shoulders impatiently. He was getting annoyed with this man, who refused to follow his lead.

"We know all about that ingenious fraud," he said. "We are quite aware of that clever business of the paste gems, for which you gave £200 at Clarkenwell. You paid for that rubbish with Bank of England notes marked with the stamp of your establishment. It was a very happy idea of yours and Anstruther's."

Carrington groaned feebly; he began to fear the very worst.

"You seem to know everything," he said. "Perhaps you can tell me the story of the burglary?"

"I am coming to that presently," Bates said coolly. "Now you were at your wits' ends to know what to do. You knew perfectly well that many of your clients would require their jewels for Lady Barmouth's dance. They were not forthcoming, for the simple reason that they had been pledged elsewhere. You had not the necessary cunning to devise some scheme to shift the blame from your shoulders, so you called in your friend Anstruther. It was he who hit upon the idea of the burglary. It was you who placed temptation in the way of the night watchmen through the medium of a couple of bottles of drugged port wine. After that the rest was easy. You had only to enter the bank with your own keys—"

"Stop a moment," Carrington cried eagerly. "You seem to forget that even I cannot enter the vaults of the bank without duplicate keys in the possession of various cashiers."

"Now, listen to me," Bates said impressively. "This discussion is absolutely irregular. It is my plain duty to arrest you at once and convey you to Bow street. But if you help me, I may be in the position later on to do you a service. We know precisely how Anstruther used the dynamite; we know precisely what happened in the vaults, and how most of the few valuables that remained were conveyed to your own private safe. More than that, we are perfectly well aware what fee Anstruther demanded for his trouble. Need I go into the matter of that service of Cellini plate?"

Carrington threw up his hands with a gesture of despair. He was crushed and beaten to the ground by the tremendous weight of evidence with which Bates was overwhelming him.

"It is no use fighting any longer." he said. "I confess to everything. I shall plead guilty, and afford you every information in my power. Do you want me to come along with you now?"

On the whole, Bates rather thought not. He had effected his purpose, and sooner or later Carrington would have to become his prisoner. He knew that the latter would speak freely enough, like the craven coward that he was; but there was Anstruther to be thought of. Bates rose to leave.

"You can remain where you are for the present," he said. "But if you will take my advice, you will make no attempt to escape—you are too carefully watched for that. And now, good-night."

Bates went off in the direction of the city feeling that the last hour had not been pasted. On the strength of recent information, he would have felt justified in arresting Anstruther also. But he had a wholesome admiration for that individual, and the more evidence secured against him the better. Therefore it was that Bates was about to carry out the latter part of the programme, in which he was to play the part of substitute for "Simple Charlie." The programme has been easily arranged. There had been no difficulty in persuading the burglar to write the desired letter to Anstruther, and Bates had made up his mind from the first that the mythical Maggs should be none other than himself. From first to last the thing worked admirably. Anstruther was utterly deceived by the detective's admirable disguise, which he had assumed after leaving Carrington, and had fallen headlong into the trap.

Therefore it was that the two men stood facing one another in Carrington's office. Anstruther white and furious, Bates coolly contemptuous, with a revolver in his hand.

"What have you to say for yourself?" Bates asked. "Have you any reason to show why I should not take you straight to Bow street on the charge of burglary?"

Anstruther was fighting hard to regain possession of himself. Bates could not but admire the marvelous courage of the man. Anstruther's laugh had something quite genuine about it.

"We are making a great fuss over a little thing," he said. "I came here because Mr. Carrington was not well enough to accompany me. There are certain things of mine in my friend's private safe here, and unfortunately he has lost the key. It was imperative that I should have my property to-night, and that will, perhaps, explain my presence here. Does that satisfy you?"

"I should be easily satisfied if it did," Bates said coolly. "I should like to know, for instance, why you require the assistance of a professional burglar. I know perfectly well that you called in the assistance of 'Simple Charlie,' but I was in a position to force that individual's hand—hence my appearance in his place."

"Really, Mr. Bates," Anstruther smiled. "I had expected better things from you. You are perfectly well aware of the fact that I am acquainted with half the thieves in London. It was no use asking any safe-maker in London to try to pick that lock, because it happens to be a French make. In such awkward circumstances as this it is no new thing to call in a cracksman when things are wanted in a hurry."

"I am afraid that won't do," Bates said. "You had plenty of time to call in legitimate assistance, whereas so recently as last night you visited 'Simple Charlie' and left a note for him."

Anstruther smiled politely. He was perfectly cool and collected now—a match for any detective in the force.

"We can settle the matter in two minutes," he said. "All you have to do is to call in one of your men from outside and send a note to Carrington, who will reply to the effect that I am here with his full knowledge and consent."

"Can't do it." Bates said curtly. "I have no man to send. As a matter of fact, I am alone in this business."

Anstruther bent down his head to conceal a smile. There was something devilish in the cunning ferocity of his eyes. He had discovered an important fact, and Bates did not seem to understand for the moment what he had given away. He felt quite sure that he had matters in his own hands now. He strolled slowly round the table, and proceeded to examine carefully the lock of the safe.

"Do you really think you I could open this?" he asked. "If you could I should have no difficulty in proving to you—" Anstruther broke off suddenly; his left foot shot out dexterously, and Bates came half stumbling on his knees. Like lightning Anstruther grabbed for the revolver. He had Bates' wrist in a grip of steel, forcing his hand back till the fingers were bound to relax their grip on the weapon. A moment later the revolver was kicked away, and the two men were struggling desperately on the floor.

There was no mistaking the look on Anstruther's face. He was going to murder Bates if he could. It would never do for any living soul to know that he was here to-night. Once Bates' mouth was silenced forever, he could hurry back to Panton Square, and there prove such an alibi as would hold good in any legal court in the world. All these things passed through that wily brain as his hands clutched closer at Bates' throat.

It was touch and go with the latter. The only thing he could do was to fight for his breath, and husband his strength for a final effort later on. He looked straight into the gleaming eyeballs of his assailant now, but he could not see the faintest suggestion of pity there. The world began to dance before his eyes; a thousand stars seemed to be bursting from the dark sky, then came along the corridor the echo of fast-approaching footsteps.

"Curse it." Anstruther muttered. "Another moment, and I should have been safe. Take that, you hound."

With one final blow he jumped to his feet, and, sprinting across the office floor, darted into the shadow of the night.



XLVI. — THE MUSIC STOPS

BATES was sitting up in bed nursing an aching head, and plotting out schemes whereby he could best retrieve the disaster of the previous night. It was fortunate for the inspector that one of Carrington's night watchmen should have heard something of the disturbance on the previous night, and come hotfoot to his assistance. There was no great damage done beyond a bruised face and a general shock to the system. Bates felt all the better for a good night's rest, and was quite ready now to carry on the campaign against his powerful foe.

It was some time in the afternoon before Jack Masefield put in an appearance at Bate's lodgings, having been summoned there by a special messenger. Jack smiled as he noticed Bate's somewhat dilapidated condition.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "You do not seem to have been as successful as you might—I mean over last night's business. Was the thing a failure, or were you satisfied?"

Bates explained that up to now the battle was a drawn one. He had a feeling that Jack would be able to help him, and that was why he asked him to call this afternoon.

"I am not in the least dissatisfied with my last night's work," he explained. "In the first place, we have Carrington absolutely at our mercy. I let him know what we have discovered, and he will do anything for us that we desire. After that. I played the part of the mythical Maggs, and in due course disclosed myself to Mr. Anstruther. Perhaps I was a little too confident; anyway, I gave him a chance to murder me, and he responded to the opportunity with absolute enthusiasm. But for the opportune arrival of the night watchman, Scotland Yard would have lost one of Its most distinguished ornaments. It was a very near thing, I assure you."

"But what could he possibly gain by that?" Jack asked.

"Well, you see. I had let him know that I was quite alone in the business," said Bates. "At the same time, he was not aware that my information was so complete. If he could murder me and get safe home without being detected, he was in a position to prove an absolute alibi. Of course, I did not dream that I was running any risk of my life—but that is not the point. You will remember my suggesting to you yesterday the advisability of you dining in Panton Square last night. I suppose that was all right?"

Jack replied that he had followed Bates' instructions out implicitly. He had done all he could in that way.

"Very well, then. You see what I am driving at. I take it for granted that Anstruther's mysterious musical friend was much in evidence last night. I have no doubt that Miss Helmsley and yourself listened with rapt attention to the music in the study."

"We had every opportunity of doing so," Jack said.

"That is precisely what I expected. Anstruther must have left the house a little after ten o'clock, and I don't see how it was possible for him to return much before half-past twelve. I suppose you didn't happen to see him when he came in?"

"Indeed I did," Jack said. "It was quite half-past twelve when I was leaving the house. The music was still in progress, but when I slipped out of the front door, Anstruther was rapidly approaching the house running across the lawn. He seemed very much annoyed and put out when he saw me, and muttered something to the effect that he had heard somebody trying the front door. I understood him to say that he had not been out all the evening, but that was all nonsense. I could see by his boots that he had been walking some considerable distance. Of course, you see what the dodge is; he does not leave the house by the door, but by the French window leading from the study to the garden. This window he leaves unfastened, so that he can get back at any time without a soul being any the wiser. Of course, there was always a chance of somebody finding the window unlatched, but that is a small matter."

"Is the window always left open?" Bates asked thoughtfully.

Jack replied that he thought so. Bates smiled with the air of a man who is perfectly well satisfied.

"I am going to got up presently," he said. "After I have had a bath and some tea, I shall be quite fit for duty again. I want you to find some pretext for calling at Anstruther's just after dinner, because I may need your assistance."

"What are you going to do?" Jack asked eagerly.

"Well, in the first place I am going to arrest Mr. Anstruther." Bates replied. "In the second instance, I have another little scheme, which we need not discuss now. I want you to go as far as Mr. Rigby's chambers and get him to keep an eye on Padini, and see that last night's programme is repeated, if possible. This is rather an important thing. I think I can trust Mr. Rigby to manage it."

Jack went off obediently enough, and subsequently ran Rigby to earth at the offices of The Planet. The latter seemed delighted at the turn which affairs were taking. He began to see now that he would be able to carry out for his paper the series of sensational articles required by the proprietor.

"We shall have a splendid scoop," he said. "Indeed, one might almost make a three-volume novel out of it. I am only too sorry that I can't be at Anstruther's to-night and witness the arrest. I shall leave you to supply all the graphic details. I can easily manage the Padini business this evening by writing to the fellow that I have a check to pay over and shall call at his rooms late tonight. I am sure to find him there. He is very hard up, and the money is certain to fetch him."

"There are other things connected with this business." Jack said, "which puzzle me. For instance, there is that affair of the mysterious Mr. Ferris, whose acquaintance I made at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. I am quite sure also that Seymour has some deep design on hand. You may be absolutely certain that that business of the crystal ball played off on Anstruther at Lady Barmouth's dance the other night was not mere flummery."

Rigby was of the same opinion. He was anxious to know if anything had been yet done in the matter of Carrington's private safe and the service of Cellini plate which Anstruther had coolly appropriated for himself. But on this point Jack had no information to offer. He did not doubt that the whole thing would be explained in a few hours now. He killed the day as best he could, and after dinner turned his steps in the direction of Panton Square. Mr. Anstruther and Miss Helmsley had practically finished. Serena explained, but they had not yet left the dining room.

Anstruther raised his brows significantly as Jack entered the dining room, but his manner was polite and cordial enough as he invited the visitor to a seat and a glass of claret. He did not look in the least perturbed or put out; on the contrary, Jack had seldom seen him so easy and self-possessed. His neuralgia was quite gone. He had charmed it away as usual, he said, with the soothing aid of music.

"How is it you never bring your violin into the drawing room?" Claire asked. "We hardly ever have any duets together."

"After next week," Anstruther promised. "Really, I am a great deal more busy, than I appear to be, and I feel it quite easy to play and think at the same time."

Jack glanced across the table significantly at Claire, and she seemed to divine what he was thinking about.

"I thought I knew most of your music," she said, "but there was one little item last night that took my fancy immensely. I feel quite sure that you composed it yourself."

Anstruther disclaimed any such gift. Fond as he was of his violin. It had never occurred to him to try his hand at original composition.

"All the same, I really must get it," Claire persisted. "I am sorry that you do not recall the piece at all. If you will come into the drawing-room with me, and can spare a few minutes, I will strum the piece over to you. It so fascinated me that I committed it to memory. Do come along for a moment."

Anstruther laughed, as Jack thought, rather uneasily. He tried skilfully enough to divert the conversation into another channel, but Claire's enthusiasm refused to be baffled. Anstruther's face darkened for a moment, and there was a look in his eyes that boded ill to somebody. He arose and walked across towards the door, and up the stairs in the direction of the drawing-room.

"Very well, if you must," he said. "I can give you ten minutes. I dare say it is some silly trifle that I have heard somewhere without recognizing its source."

Claire seated herself at the piano, and played the little piece off with both brilliancy and feeling. As a matter of fact, she had been practicing it several times during the afternoon until she had it absolutely correct. The slow, mournful chords died away at length, and then Claire turned to her guardian with a smile.

"That is it." she said. "That is the little piece that so fascinated me last night. Surely you can tell me the name of it and where it came from?"

The question was apparently simple enough, but Anstruther appeared to be absolutely incapable of answering it.

"Do you mean to say you forget a thing like that?" Claire protested. "It seems to me impossible."

"Perhaps it made less impression on me than it did you." Anstruther muttered. "I haven't the slightest recollection of playing it myself. In fact—"

Anstruther broke off in absolute confusion. The incident, trivial as it seemed, had upset him altogether. He was about to betray himself by saying that he had never heard the piece before, and that it had no place amongst his music; but he pulled himself up just in time. He bitterly blamed Padini's carelessness. It was no part of the programme for his double to give him anything but pieces of music with which he was absolutely familiar. What he might have said and done was frustrated by the appearance of Serena, who announced that a gentleman down-stairs desired to see Mr. Anstruther.

Jack felt his pulses beating a little faster, for he had had no reason to inquire who the stranger was. Serena's eyes were demure and downcast as usual as she replied to Anstruther's question that the gentleman downstairs was none other than Inspector Bates of Scotland Yard. Only just for an instant did Anstruther falter and turn pale, then he was absolutely himself again. He almost wished now that he had not waited so long. He had his ingenious alibi, it was true, but even that might fall. There were so many meshes in the nets of Scotland Yard. In a calm, even voice he ordered Serena to show the stranger upstairs. Bates came at length, a little pallid and bruised, but otherwise little worse for his last night's adventure.

"And what might be your business with me, Inspector?" Anstruther asked. "It is some time since I had the pleasure of meeting you. Will you take a seat?"

"I do not see the necessity," Bates responded. "As my business is private, perhaps you will be good enough to follow me to your study. I will speak it you like, but—"

"You may say anything you please," Anstruther said defiantly.

"Then I arrest you on a warrant, charging you with attempted burglary last night," Bates said pithily. "You were on the premises belonging to the City and Provincial Bank with a felonious intent of breaking into a safe between the hours of eleven and half-past twelve. Need I say any more?"

"Amazing." Anstruther laughed. "Fortunately I have my witnesses at hand to prove that I was not off these premises during the hours you mentioned. As a matter of fact. I was in my study playing my violin all the time."

"Sounds ingenious," Bates muttered, "but in these days of clever mechanical contrivances—by the way, is not some one playing the violin downstairs now?"

Despite his command of himself a furious curse broke from Anstruther's lips. For even as Bates spoke, there came sounds of liquid melody from the study. Not only was this so, but furthermore, the piece in question was precisely the same as the one that Claire had just been playing over to her guardian. The girl rose to her feet and looked across at Jack significantly. Bates smiled in the manner of one who has solved a great problem.

"Really, a most remarkable coincidence," he said. "I am afraid this rather spoils the simple beauty of your alibi, Mr. Anstruther; unless, perhaps, you have some friend who entertains your household at such times as business calls you elsewhere. But let us go downstairs and see for ourselves."

"No, no," Anstruther cried furiously. "You shall not do it. You shall not interfere. I'll kill you first!"

"Come along," Bates responded. "Come with me and witness the solving of the mysterious problem.



XLXII — "A WOMAN SCORNED"

IT was plainly evident that Bates believed in his ability to solve the problem. Anstruther had quite thrown the mask off by this time, and stood glaring vindictively at the inspector. It was absolutely maddening to a man of his ability to be caught in a sorry trap like this. One of the strongest points in Anstruther's schemes was the fact that hitherto he had always been on the side of the police He had been regarded as one of them, so to speak, so that many of his ingenious plots had been guided solely by the action of the authorities. It had never occurred to him that he might have been an object of suspicion at Scotland Yard.

"You might just as well take it quietly." Bates said. "We know the whole thing from start to finish. It will go a great deal easier with you if you give us all the information that lies in your power and save us trouble."

"That is the usual course, I believe," Anstruther sneered. "But you have a different man to deal with in me. I am quite at a loss to understand what you are doing here at all."

Bates shrugged his shoulders and walked in the direction of the door. He had no difficulty in seeing that Anstruther had made up his mind to see. this thing through to the bitter end. Therefore, it was quite useless to try and get him to see matters in a reasonable light. Anstruther stood there, white, silent and furious, while all the time the amazing music was going on in the study.

Mysterious as the whole thing appeared to be, there was almost an element of farce in it. Here was the very man who relied upon his devotion to his violin to save him in the hour of danger, actually listening, so to speak, to his own performance. He had little doubt what Bates meant to do, for the latter was already half-way down the stairs on his way to the study. With a sudden impulse Anstruther followed. He passed Bates with a rapid stride, and, standing with his back to the study door, defied the Inspector to enter.

"You do not seem to understand," Bates said. "The warrant I have for your arrest gives me the right of searching the whole house. If you persist in this absurd conduct I shall have to call my men in and remove you by force."

The two men faced one another, both angry and excited, and ready to fly at one another's throats. And yet the whole time their ears were filled,with the beautiful melody of the music, as it floated from the room behind.

"What are we going to do?" Claire asked. She was standing with Jack at the top of the staircase. "Is it not time that we declared ourselves?"

Jack whispered to Claire to remain where she was a moment, and slipped out of the house into the garden unperceived. It had suddenly occurred to him that perhaps the window leading from the study to the garden was unfastened. He recollected that this was the means by which Anstruther left and returned to the house. It would have been imprudent on the latter's part to use the front door, and there was not much risk in leaving the study window unlatched.

It was just as Jack had expected. The long French window gave to his touch, and a moment later he was in the room. As it happened on the previous occasion, he could see not the faintest trace of any mechanism by means of which the melody was conveyed from the Great Metropolitan Hotel to Panton Square. And yet the whole room was flooded with it; rising and falling in triumphant strains, as if mocking the intellect of a man who had brought this wonderful result about. But there was no time, to speculate on that, no time for close Investigation. On the other side of the door the voices of Anstruther and Bates were rising to a still more angry pitch, and Claire's tones of expostulation came to Jack's ears. As he crossed the room he could see that the key was in the door. He flung it open, and Anstruther came staggering backward into the room, closely followed by the detective.

"You can see that the game is up," the latter said coolly. "Why not make a clean breast of it? I shall find out how this is done if I have to pull down the house to do it."

Anstruther smiled in a scornful kind of way, and flung himself doggedly into a seat. He bade Bates do his worst, and prophesied that the police would suffer for this Indignity. But Bates was not listening. He was pacing rapidly round the room with his ear to the wall, as if scenting out some clue to the mystery. A moment later and there came into the room the form of Serena.

One glance at her sufficed to show that she was not the Serena whom Jack had known so long. The demure, downcast eyes were no longer seeking the floor as of old: there was no shrinking and timidity on the part of the woman now. She was changed almost beyond recognition. She walked with a firm, elastic tread, her shoulders were thrown back and her head uplifted fearlessly. From under his heavy brows Anstruther glanced at her suspiciously.

"Go away," he commanded hoarsely. "How dare you force yourself in here like this. Go, woman!"

But the tones of command had evidently lost their power. There was no shrinking on Serena's part. She advanced into the middle of the room as if the place be longed to her.

"No, no," she cried in tones as clear and ringing as Anstruther's own. "Your power has gone forever. For three long, patient years I have waited for this moment. God only knows what my life has been, and what a hell your cruelty has created for me. But the cord is broken now. Only to-night I have learned the truth. I have been your good and faithful servant; have stooped to do your hateful work; have been the ally of criminals—of your creature Redgrave, amongst others; and all because I thought you held my life in the hollow of your hand."

"Tell them the story of your boy," Anstruther sneered.

"I will tell them the truth," Serena cried. "You said you could hang me if you liked. You pretended that in my delirium I had taken the life of my darling child. You were shielding a murderess, as I thought. But it was a black and cruel lie. Give me back my wasted years, you coward; give me back my sleepless nights and dreary days. But, thank God, that time has passed. My boy is alive—alive! He is safe in the house at present!"

Anstruther started as if some loathsome insect had stung him, then dropped sullenly back in his scat again. Bates turned to Serena and called her attention to the music.

"You seem to be in a communicative mood to-night," he said. "You need not fear any one for the future—Redgrave or anybody else. I understand this last scoundrel is safe in the hands of the New York police, who were wanting him badly. Perhaps you can tell us the meaning of this extraordinary concert we are listening to, if you will be so good—"

Serena mode no reply in words, but crossed to the side of the room opposite the door, and tugged at a volume which was the center of a set of some classical dictionary. The volume came away quite easily in her hand, bringing other dummy books with it; and then the interested spectators saw that the books in question were no more than painted gauze. In the orifice disclosed by the stripping away of the sham, there appeared to be something that resembled a mouth of a great silver trumpet. This was partly plugged with a set of sensitive metal plates, which were evidently intended to act as a diaphragm for the record of musical expression.

"There you have the whole thing in a nutshell," Serena said, speaking quite naturally and quietly. "It is very ingenious, and yet, at the same time, it is not entirely original. It is an adaptation of the theaterphone, in connection with a somewhat modified form of telephone. The recording instrument is situated in my husband's rooms in the Great Metropolitan Hotel, and he has only to start his performance there, and the music sounds here quite as distinctly as if he were actually playing in this apartment. It seems exceedingly simple, now that you know how it is done."

It did seem simple. Indeed, after listening to Serena's explanation. Bates turned to Anstruther and asked him if he had anything to say; but the latter shook his head doggedly. He felt quite sure that the game was up, though he had no intention whatever of giving himself away. And yet, despite his danger, he was still the connoisseur enjoying the beautiful music made by Padini's violin. But to Claire, who had crept into the room unobserved, the whole thing was horrible and unnatural. Such lovely music as Padini was playing now was but a sorry accompaniment to all this vulgar crime and intrigue. The girl shuddered, and placed her hands over her ears as if to shut out the liquid melody.

"Oh, I wish it would stop," she said. "I do wish it would stop."

As if in answer to this prayer, the long, wailing notes died away, and the music fainted into nothingness. At the same time, Bates approached the mouth of the trumpet and blew shrilly on his police whistle. There was a pause just for an instant, and then, to Jack's surprise, came the voice of Rigby clear and distinct.

"Is that you, Inspector Bates?" he asked. "We have just finished at this end. I am afraid there will be no more music to-night, as two of your detectives have most inhospitably insisted upon breaking up our concert and escorting Signor Padini to Shannon Street police station. Shall I come round there, or will you come round here? Do you get my voice quite clearly?"

Bates replied grimly that he did. There was no occasion whatever to trouble Rigby any further to-night. Then the Inspector turned to Anstruther and tapped him on the shoulder.

"I think there is no reason to carry this farce any farther," he said. "You will be good enough to consider yourself my prisoner. Would you like to walk to Bow Street or shall I call a cab?"

Anstruther intimated that it was all the same to him. He knew perfectly well now that the whole thing was exploded. There was something bitter in the reflection that he had been found out at last and laid by the heels over so paltry a business as the bogus burglary at the City and Provincial Bank,

"I think I'll walk." he said. "No, you need not call any of your men, and you need have no fear of personal violence."

"All right," Bates said. "Though I am still suffering from that shaking up you gave me last night. Come along."

"I must apologize for all this trouble," Anstruther said, turning to Claire, and speaking in quite his natural manner. "I must leave you to manage as best you can for the present. I dare say you will be able to manage with Serena."

He turned curtly on his heel and walked to the door. Of Jack he took no notice whatever. A moment later the front door closed suddenly, and Anstruther was gone.

"The house smells all the sweeter for his absence," Jack said. "My dearest girl, you can see now what a narrow escape you have had. I only hope, for your sake, that the fellow has not been tampering with your fortune. You must not stay, here after to-morrow. The place will be simply besieged by newspaper reporters and interviewers. I must find some house for, you—"

"You need not trouble about that, Mr. Masefield," Serena said. "There is one house where both of us will be welcomed with open arms. Need I say that I am alluding to Lady Barmouth?"

Jack gave a sigh of relief; for the moment he had quite forgotten Lady Barmouth. At any rate, for to-night Claire and Serena could stay where they were, and they could go to Lady Barmouth's in the morning. Then Jack remembered all that Serena had gone through, and warmly congratulated her upon the recovery of her boy

"It means all the world to me," Serena cried. "It fell out exactly as Miss Helmsley said it would. When that man called to see Mr. Anstruther again, I told him who I was, and he took me to my child at once. The stranger had been very kind to the lad. He knew nothing of the rascality and villainy behind it all, and he was only too glad to see mother and son united.

"And Padini?" Jack suggested. "You must not forget—"

"I want to forget everything about him," Serena cried. "I shall be glad, really glad, to know that that man is outside the power of doing mischief for the next three years. Do not ask me anything else—do not ask me, for instance why why I was playing the deaf-mute that night at Carrington's rooms. I don't know. I was a mere slave and tool in Anstruther's hands, and had to do exactly as he told me. It was only by the merest accident that I discovered how the trick of the music was done, and that I should have had to have kept to myself if my dear boy had not been so marvelously restored to me. Perhaps at some future time I may be disposed to tell you more. For the present, all I want to do is to sleep. I am longing for that one night's sweet repose which has, been so cruelly denied me the last few years."

Jack said no more. He left the house presently with the intention of seeing Rigby at once, and then of calling on Lady Barmouth the first thing in morning, and making such arrangement as would conduce to the comfort Claire and Serena.



XLVIII — THE PROOF OF THE CAMERA

SOCIETY generally had plenty to talk about in the way of scandal next morning, when it became known that Spencer Anstruther and been arrested in connection with the burglary of the City and Provincial Bank. The only paper giving anything like the account of the arrest, naturally, was The Planet, which paper vaguely hinted at further disclosures in the early future. Jack read the account over the breakfast table, and smiled as he recognized the hand of Rigby in all this. He would see Rigby presently, and ascertain exactly what had taken place last night at the Great Metropolitan Hotel. First of all, he had to see Lady Barmouth, who had already heard something of the news. She listened with vivid interest to all that Jack had to say, then announced her intention of going to Panton Square once.

"I shall bring my sister and Claire here," she said. "They shall stay as long as they please. As to my sister and her boy, I shall be delighted to have them. I presume there will be some sort of proceedings against Anstruther this morning."

To the great disappointment of the public, when Anstruther came to be charged at Bow Street the evidence was purely formal. The prisoner had elected not to be represented by a lawyer, and, with a view of expediting the proceedings, had formally pleaded guilty to the charge, and asked to be committed to the Central Criminal Court, which took place a week from now.

"Clever chap that," Bates said, as he and Rigby, together with Jack, turned into Covent Garden. "Pretty cool, too. He wants to save time, of course, and get the thing over before we can complete our chain of evidence! But I fancy that by the end of n week we shall be able to produce all the witnesses we want."

"I expect so," Rigby said. "By the way, don't forget about that service of plate. Seymour says it ought to be conveyed to Scotland Yard and the photographs taken at once. I have a letter from Seymour in my pocket in which he asks me to go round and see Sir Frederick Ormond, induce that gentleman to take the sealed crystal ball to your headquarters, and to see that the seal is not broken except in the presence of one of your leading officials. Then you can get both sets of photographs done at once."

Bates had his hands full for the next few hours. Then, towards four o'clock. he made his way to Carrington's flat.

Under plea of indisposition, the latter had not been out for a day or so; but, as a matter of fact, Bates had given him a pretty broad hint to keep clear of the bank premises, and to consider himself more or less as a prisoner on parole. Carrington's knees knocked together, and his face turned deadly pale as Bates came into the room.

"So you have come again," he stammered. "I hope, perhaps, that—don't say I'm your prisoner."

"I am afraid that's what it comes to," Bates said. "We can't let you off altogether, you know. But you help us, and give us all the information in your power, and I'll do my best to get you off as lightly as possible. It makes all the difference between two years' imprisonment and seven years' penal servitude."

"Am I to come with you now?" Carrington managed to stammer out. "Is there no such thing as bail?"

Bates shook his head. Carrington would have to spend the night, and doubtless a good many succeeding nights, on the police cells; but, first of all, they were going as far as the bank. Bates explained that there was no reason, for the present, why Carrington should stand confessed as a prisoner. The bank officials need know nothing whatever about it. What Carrington had to do now was to hand over the service of Cellini plate at present locked up in his private safe. The detective gave his promise that the plate in question should be restored to its proper owner in due course, though he refused to gratify Carrington's curiosity as to why he had specially selected this particular art treasure.

An hour later the Cellini plate was safe in Bow Street, together with the crystal globe; and before the week was out both articles had undergone some mysterious process of photography, not altogether unconnected with sheets of glass. Meanwhile, Anstruther was preparing his defense as best he could, and Carrington had been twice remanded on a charge of fraudulently dealing with the property of his clients. The two cases excited the greatest interest, and on the following Monday morning the Central Criminal Court was packed with society people eager to hear the charges against Spencer Anstruther.

Anstruther stood there, quite calm and collected, with just the touch of a cynical smile on his lips. He looked round the court as if in search of acquaintances, but no one responded. Many people whom he knew quite well affected to look over his head. But cool and deliberate as he was, Anstruther had all his work cut out to keep his feelings in control when the barrister who represented the Crown proceeded to call witnesses. The name of Seymour resounded down the corridor, and a tall man with his face muffled up and a slouch hat on his head stepped into the box. He bowed gravely to the judge, and apologised for wearing his hat. A moment later his hat and coat slipped away, and he turned his face half defiantly to the light. There was an instant's breathless pause, then a veritable shout of astonishment, as the Nostalgo of the posters stood face to face with those whose curiosity had been so deeply touched during the past four months.

"My name is Seymour," he said quietly, as if quite unconscious of the tremendous sensation his appearance had excited. "I have known the prisoner for some years. Before I unfortunately made his acquaintance, I was not the human wreck you see now, but a man like my fellows. But I need not go into that. What I propose to do now is to tell the story of the burglary at the City and Provincial Bank.

"Previous to my visit to Mexico, I occupied with Mr. Carrington the rooms which are now his; I have in my pocket a latch-key which opens the front door. It matters little now why I wanted to make a search of Mr. Carrington's rooms, but I did make that search, and I was hidden in the conservatory behind the smoking-room with Mr. John Masefield on the night that the prisoner and Carrington planned the sham burglary at the bank. The whole scheme was revealed to us, and I shall be prepared to tell the jury presently what steps I took to see the so-called burglary carried out. It is sufficient for the present to say that it was carried out, and that I witnessed the whole proceedings in the company of Mr. Masefield and a journalist on the staff of The Planet, Mr. Rigby by name.

"I should like, at this point, to call the attention of the jury to what we saw when the bank strong room was forced. So far as valuables are concerned, the safe was practically empty, save for a service of Cellini silver plate. Other witnesses beside myself will tell you that the prisoner claimed that plate as a reward for the ingenious way in which he had plotted to preserve Carrington's reputation. When I heard this, a sudden inspiration came to me. With a piece of greasy rag I hastily smeared the surface of the set of plate. I will come to my reason for doing that presently. When the whole affair had been finished, the prisoner was half minded to take the service of plate back with him at once to his house in Panton Square. But Carrington dissuaded him from this on the grounds of prudence. Therefore the prisoner carried the plate upstairs and deposited it in Carrington's private safe. There it remained for a day or two, pending some way of conveying it to Panton Square.

"But in the meanwhile something happened which aroused the prisoner's suspicion. He made up his mind that he would himself remove the plate from Carrington's safe by means of another burglary. Carrington refused to have anything to do with this, but the prisoner got his own way by the simple expedient of stealing Carrington's keys. The prisoner is more or less intimately acquainted with some of the cleverest thieves and housebreakers in London. There was no time to call in an honest expert to open Carrington's safe, but the prisoner was equal to the occasion. He called upon a well-known housebreaker who passes by the name of 'Simple Charlie.' I know this, because for some time I have been watching the man in the dock. I have my own reasons for keeping quiet and living in an out-of-the-way place, and I have a set of rooms fitted up in what is, more or less a common lodging house.

"By good fortune the man known as 'Simple Charlie' had rooms in the same block of buildings. When the prisoner called upon him the housebreaker was out, so that a note was left for him. This note I managed to get hold of and read. Together with a friend of mine named Ferris, we laid a little plot for 'Simple Charlie.' We compelled him to find a substitute who would operate upon the safe, and that substitute was no other than Inspector Bates, as doubtless he will tell you later on."

It must be clearly understood that Seymour did not stand in the box and reel off his evidence in the glib way of one who is making a speech for the prosecution. On the contrary, the fascinating evidence he gave was in reply to questions asked by representatives of the Crown, occasionally supplemented by a question of two from the judge.

All this time Anstruther stood in the dock, his face knitted in an ugly frown. Despite his easy air, his confidence was fast deserting him. Any other man would have been crushed and broken by the deadly weight of a testimony like that of Seymour's. In his heart of hearts Anstruther was sick and frightened. Never for a moment had he dreamed of anything like this. Seymour stood before him without a trace of expression on his scarred, repulsive face. And yet every word he uttered was as another month on the long sentence he was already anticipating.

Anstruther came out of a dream presently, and realised with a start that Seymour's deadly revelations were still going on. A moment later, and the Crown Counsel suggested that Seymour should stand down for a moment, and that Bates should take hid place. The detective came into the box alert and smiling. He told how he had impersonated the mythical Maggs, and how he had accompanied Anstruther to the City and Provincial Bank.

"At this point I should like to ask you a few questions," said counsel for the Crown. "I understand that you have become become possessed of the service of silver plate to which the last witness has already alluded. He spoke just now of some device of his whereby the service of plate was smeared with grease as it lay on the floor of the vault, and before it was conveyed to Carrington's safe. Now, has this any important bearing on the case?"

"I think you will find that it has an exceedingly important bearing on the case," Bates said. "You will remember, sir, that Mr. Seymour made a special request that the plate should be carefully photographed. You will remember, also, that the prisoner himself carried the plate to the safe and deposited it inside. We have had the plate carefully photographed, with a view to identification by means of finger marks. That is what we call a part of the Bertillon system. But, perhaps, I had better explain."

Bates's explanation was carefully followed by an almost breathless audience. Batea held up a sheet of glass in his hand.

"I have here," he said, "a photograph taken from a silver cigar case. It is the considerably enlarged impression of finger prints left on the cigar case by a burglar who was scared away before he could secure his booty. By comparison of this impression from the cigar case side by side with one of the other permanent prints at Scotland Yard we were enabled to identify and convict the thief."

"Quite so," the barrister said. "The Jury follows you. Is it your intention to prove that on the Cellini plate marks have been found corresponding with the lines on the prisoner's hand?"

"This is preposterous," Anstruther cried. "It is nothing less than a vile conspiracy. I defy the police to be able to prove that the marks of my fingers are on the plate. And even if there was mere resemblance discovered it would be out of the question for the police to compare them with any impression of my own."

"You are doing no good to your case," the judge interposed "You will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions later on."

"With the permission of the Jury I shall prove that," Bates said. "Before I proceed any further, may I ask your lordship if you will have Sir Frederick Ormond called? Sir Frederick will recollect the night of Lady Barmouth's dance, when one of the guests, disguised as a magician, gave him a sealed packet to take care of. When the packet came to unsealed and photographed by our experts, we had no difficulty in discovering—"

A deep groan broke from Anstruther's lips. "My Heaven!" he cried. "I had forgotten the crystal!"



XLIX. — PROOF POSITIVE

ANSTRUTHER'S denunciation of himself rang out loud and clear, so that it was heard to the uttermost parts of the court. Nothing could have condemned him more than that speaking cry; there was wanted no witness more damning than his white face and staring eyes. In sooth, he had quite forgotten the crystal globe. It all came back to him now, and he saw vividly and clearly the semi-comedy which had been enacted at Lady Barmouth's dance by himself and the so-called magician. To a man of Anstruther's capabilities, the idea that he had walked headlong into a trap laid for him was maddening. He had devised so many cunning schemes for the luring of others into confessions of crime, that it was all the more galling to find himself hoisted with his own petard.

It was in vain that he strove to recover the ground he had lost. He could see a grim smile on the face of the judge, and even the suggestion of amusement in the Jury box. He seemed as if about to burst into passionate protest, then placed his hands upon his lips, and maintained instead a stolid silence.

"Perhaps I had better make a little explanation here," counsel for the prosecution said. "A great deal turns on the matter of this crystal ball. The witness Seymour has already explained to the Court the story of the Cellini plate up to a certain point. That story we shall substantiate presently by calling the witnesses Masefield and Rigby. Your lordship will understand that Lady Barmouth's now historic dance took place subsequent to the robbery at the City and Provincial Bank. The witness Seymour has already told you that he overheard the whole conspiracy between the prisoner and Carrington, by means of which the public would have been deluded into believing that a great robbery had taken place. The witness Seymour has also informed you that he had meant to be present when this bogus burglary took place—an event that subsequently happened. It was only when the Cellini plate lay outside the bank strong room that the most ingenious idea occurred to Seymour.

"He has told us how, by means of a greasy rag, he smeared over the service of plate, which was subsequently placed by Anstruther's own hand in Carrington's safe. Beyond all question, the imprints of Anstruther's fingers must have remained on the plate; indeed, we shall prove this beyond question before long. By way of making the thing absolutely certain, it was necessary to get a proper impression of Anstruther's hands. Hence the comedy of the magician—a little comedy which shall be explained later—which character was quite easily carried out at a fancy dance like Lady Barmouth's. I am aware, my lord, that my proceeding is a little irregular, but I want to clear the thing up as I go along. If the prisoner has any objection, I will, of course, conduct my case—"

"The prisoner has no objection whatever," Anstruther growled. "I say the whole thing is a conspiracy, and a rascally one at that."

"The proceedings are somewhat irregular," the judge interposed, "but seeing that the prisoner declines to be legally represented—"

Anstruther shrugged his shoulders, and the prosecuting counsel went on. He had little more to say on the present head. He now proposed to call Sir Frederick Ormond.

The popular young statesman stepped into the witness box with a jaunty air and a smile which suggested amusement; in fact, he seemed to regard the whole thing in the light of a very good joke.

"I want you, Sir Frederick," the Crown lawyer went on, "to tell us exactly what happened in regard to this magician business at Lady Barmouth's house the other night."

"Really, there is very, little to tell you," Ormond smiled. "I regarded it as all part of the fun. I was sitting close to the table occupied by the prisoner and the mysterious magician; in fact, I regarded the whole thing as a pure piece of comedy got up between these gentlemen to amuse the guests."

"You had no notion of the magician's name, then?" the lawyer asked. "You were not taken into the secret?"

"Oh dear, no. It seemed to me to be a very clever piece of acting. I must confess I was just a little impressed when the crystal was placed in the box, after being firmly held by the prisoner for a few moments. The magician asked for the box to be sealed, which was done, and the thing subsequently passed into my possession."

"8top one moment," Anstruther cried. "That box was sealed up and taken away by you. Nobody else touched it?"

The witness explained that nobody handled the box besides himself until Inspector Bates fetched it away under an authority from Scotland Yard. Sir Frederick went on to explain that he had been present when the seal of the box was broken.

"Nobody could tamper with it during the time you had it, I suppose?" Anstruther asked. "You kept it under lock and key?"

"The whole time," the witness cried. "You must understand that I am quite used to keeping valuable documents and that kind of thing. I took that box straight home, and locked it securely away in a drawer in my safe, where it remained until the police fetched it."

Asked if he had any further questions to put, Anstruther sullenly declined. He still harped upon the string that this was a criminal conspiracy got up against him by the police, and insinuated that, the mysterious magician was nothing else than a detective smuggled into Lady Barmouth's house for the purpose of trapping him.

"I think it would be as well, my lord, to sweep away this impression at once," the Crown Counsel exclaimed. "I propose to put the magician in the box without delay."

Anstruther stared open-mouthed as Seymour once more came forward. The prisoner's quick intellect saw the whole scheme quite clearly now. Pressed as he was, and in danger as he was, he had just a touch of a grim smile of approval; it was a trap entirely after his own heart. Yet his eyes held a menace when they met those of Seymour. The latter returned the gaze. There was a merciless gleam in his own eyes as he faced the Jury box.

"Here we have the mysterious magician," the Crown Counsel explained. "Perhaps you will tell us how you came to think of this thing. A mere outline will do."

"It came to me when I was watching those men in the vaults of the bank," Seymour explained in his deep, ringing voice. "I am very much interested in crime and criminals, and more than interested in that prisoner at the bar. I cannot forgot—I shall never forget—the fact that, but for him, I should be as other men. To be revenged on him, and to expose one of the greatest scoundrels the world has over seen, I came back to England. I found the prisoner a popular figure in society I discovered that my task would be no easy one. I had, moreover, to be careful—my face is one that is not easy to disguise. From the very first good fortune was on my side. I made one discovery after another—all tending to the discredit of the prisoner at the bar. I have already explained to the court how I became in a position to overhear the conspiracy that led to the robbery of the bank. Other witnesses will tell you in greater detail what happened that night at the bank. It was only when I heard the prisoner coolly arranging to appropriate that magnificent service of plate that my idea occurred to me. I was going to prove that the plate had been through Anstruther's hands. Of course, I am quite familiar with the Bertillon system, and here was a chance of putting it into practice. I hastily smeared the silver with grease, in order that the marks should be all the more distinct."

"What does all this acting lead to?" Anstruther cried.

"I am just coming to that," Seymour said quietly. "I knew that when the plates came to be photographed by the police, the finger prints would show quite clearly on the glass slide. It is necessary to have a corresponding set of prints, hence my idea of the magician and the crystal ball. As a matter of fact, Lord. Barmouth is a great friend of mine; indeed, we have suffered a lot at the hands of the prisoner. It was, therefore, not difficult for me to secure an invitation to Lady Barmouth's dance, which I attended in the dress of a magician. I was the magician. I arranged the plan myself, and I obtained the impression of those finger tips, which will show presently, when they are compared with those taken from the set of Cellini plate. I have nothing more to say for the present."

Anstruther intimated that he had no questions to ask the witness, he had come into court prepared to take advantage of anything in his favor, trusting to his intelligence and audacity to pull him through. But not for a moment had he guessed how strong a case the police had piled up against him. Not that he gave the police any credit for the business at all. He could see quite clearly that they would have done nothing without the aid of Seymour. Had the latter not taken in hand the matter, the police would never have discovered his connection with the bogus burglary; and, however much Carrington might subsequently have suffered, the main rogue in the play would have gone off scot free.

It was a dramatic story that Seymour had told the court, and every word that he had said was followed with the most rapt attention. The sensation of seeing Nostalgo in the flesh would have been enough for most people, but when one of the most mysterious personages that had ever excited the attention of London stood up like this, the central figure of a great crime, the excitement was- multiplied a hundredfold.

There was a pause here, and the lawyer of the Crown looked significantly at Bates. The latter arose, and produced a cardboard box and something that looked like an exaggerated camera. There was a breathless pause, for everybody was on the tip-toe of expectation. Even the judge leaned forward eagerly, wondering what was going to happen next.

"We are going to prove the identification of the finger marks," the lawyer explained. "For this purpose we shall have to darken the court, to throw the photographs on a large sheet which has been pinned to the wall at the back of the building. I trust your Lordship will have no objection to this course."

The judge was understood to say that he objected to nothing calculated to further the ends of justice. The fashionable audience thrilled. Society settled down to the knowledge that it was going to have a new sensation. Ladies ceased the rustling of their fans, and the whispering and giggling stopped, for here was a drama far more realistic and terrible than anything ever seen upon the stage. A man's future literally hung upon the fair white cloth suspended from the wall at the end of the court.

The lights went out one by one until there was nothing left but the pallid flame of the lantern lamp, which faintly picked out the eager eyes and parted lips of the excited spectators. Then the lamp vanished, and almost immediately a brilliant disc of light was thrown on the white sheet. In the long lane of flame the little motes of dust and fluff flickered. Here and there, as a hand or an arm went up from those at the back of the lantern, ghostly accusing shadows seemed to flit. Out of the darkness the voice of the Crown Counsel came with a startling suddenness.

"In the first instance," he said, "we propose to throw on the screen the magnified photograph of certain finger impressions taken from the Cellini plate. These photographs were made at Scotland Yard and developed by the expert who is now assisting us in this matter. Here, my Lord and gentlemen of the jury, is the first of the magnified photographs."

The great white shining disc disappeared as if by magic for a moment, and then upon it there stood out a wonderful reproduction of the right and left palms and finger tips of a human hand. Magnified so largely, every line and scar and little filament could be seen. It was as if some painstaking engraver had worked up the whole thing under a powerful microscope.

"There we have the impression of the prisoner's hands as taken from the Cellini plate," the lawyer went on. "If we are wrong it is for the prisoner to prove it. But to make matters absolutely certain, the next plate will show the same finger prints as taken from the crystal ball. We know from the highest authority that the crystal ball was last in the hands of the prisoner."

The photograph vanished, the great white disc shone out again, and once more it was obscured by an almost precisely similar photograph. It would have been on expert, indeed, who could have found out any dissimilarity between the two pictures.

"And now, to make matters doubly sure," the lawyer said, "we propose to reproduce the two photographs superimposed one on the top of the other."

Another exciting moment followed, a pause of almost painful interest; and then he two slides were placed in the lantern at once. They stood out on the sheet, just a shade misty and indistinct, like a badly printed picture, but the veriest novice there could see at once for himself that, they were the same hands. As suddenly as it had vanished the lights flashed up again, and every eye was turned upon Anstruther's white and rigid face.

"My Lord," he said in a hoarse, strained voice, "with your permission, I should like it adjourned until to-morrow.



L — ON THE BRINK

IT was quite evident that the strong man was breaking down under the strain of these damning proofs. He would, apparently, have said more if he could, but his lips were dry, and the back of his throat appeared to have turned to ashes. With a shaking hand he lifted the glass of water which had been placed on a little ledge before him, and drank it down eagerly.

"What object do you expect to gain by this course?" the judge asked. "If you have any witnesses to call—"

Anstruther intimated that he had. The eager audience appeared to be disappointed. It was as if they had just witnessed the first act of a powerful drama which had ended abruptly owing to some unforeseen circumstance. Still, the prisoner was likely to have his own way over this, seeing that he was undefended by counsel; indeed, it was only fair that no obstacle should he put in his way.

"Very well, then," the judge said briefly. "The case is adjourned till 10 o'clock to-morrow morning."

Five minutes later the court was deserted, and another judge was listening to some prosaic case of no importance whatever. 8eymour had made his way rapidly out of court, followed by a curious crowd. He was quite calm and collected, though he had taken the precaution to hide his features as much as possible. Jack and Rigby caught him just at the moment that he was entering his cab.

"Where are you going to?" the latter said. "I have got a thousand questions to ask you. Don't run away like this."

"I wasn't going anywhere in particular," Seymour explained. "I have nothing to do but to kill time. It seems to me that I have very little more to do in the way of ridding the world of Spencer Anstruther. Call it unchristian if you like, but there is a feeling deep in my heart that I shall be able to rest in future without the wild desire of always being at that fellow's throat. I don't think they will want me to-morrow morning."

"What do you suppose Anstruther is up to?" Jack asked.

"Suicide," said Seymour curtly. "I know that man far better than either of you. And if this verdict goes against him to-morrow—as assuredly it will—he will find some way of putting an end to his life."

Jack looked significantly at Rigby, who nodded.

"Come round to my rooms," he suggested, "and let us talk this matter over. And now that you have once appeared in public, and now that you have once told part of your story in the witness box, you might, at least, disclose the rest of it to two sympathetic friends like ourselves."

Just for a moment Seymour seemed to hesitate.

"Very well," he said. "If you don't get it from me you will from Lord Barmouth. If it had not been for Ferris and your discovery of him at the Great Metropolitan Hotel, nothing would have induced me to say a word. But I have more than a hope now that before long I shall stand before the world a changed man and be able to take my place amongst my fellow creatures without being the subject of vulgar and idle curiosity. I will tell you everything when we get as far as your rooms."

It was over a whisky and soda and a cigar that Seymour proceeded to tell his story. Both Jack and Rigby had heard the best part of it before. They knew all about the Mexican tribe and the dangers of the gold belt, but the cream of the mystery to them was the way in which a man of ordinary appearance could be transformed into so repulsive an object.

"The whole thing," said Seymour as he approached the most fascinating part of his narrative," was the way in which those people revenged themselves upon outsiders who had the temerity to invade the region of the gold belt. Mind you, they were a powerful tribe, and in some remote age or other had evidently been highly civilised. At the time Ferris and Barmouth and myself had the misfortune to find ourselves prisoners in their hands, they were absolutely eaten up with priest-craft. As I think I told you before, the most powerful man in the tribe was not a native at all, but an Englishman. You will not be surprised to hear that the Englishman's name was Anstruther. I did not know then as I know now what that man had gone through to learn the secret of where the great masses of gold were hidden. Interrupting my narrative for a moment—have either of you ever noticed a faint resemblance between Anstruther and any other Nostalgo like myself?"

"I have," Jack cried. "Especially in moments of passion."

"That I can quite easily understand," Seymour went on. "When Anstruther first fell into the hands of of those people he was served in exactly the same way as I was served myself; in other words, one of those diabolically clever surgeons in the tribe turned him into a Nostalgo. Don't ask me how it is done; don't ask me to explain how the muscles are cut and knotted and twisted so as to give one the hideous deformity of face which is my curse at present. But Anstruther carried the same intolerable burden in his day. Why he was retained amongst the tribe: why he was not sent out into the world as an example to others, is not for me to say. Perhaps he made himself useful, for he is a clever man. Perhaps they had need of his services. At any rate, the devilish surgeon who could make a man look like a hideous demon fully understood the art of restoring a face to its normal aspect."

"But Ferris has discovered a surgeon who can do that," Jack explained. "He has already told us so."

"It is on Ferris' little Frenchman that I mainly rely," Seymour said. "Otherwise, I should fade out of this business, and you would see me no more."

"There is one thing I cannot understand," Rigby put in. "Why did Anstruther cause all those posters to be placed on the principal hoardings in London?"

"Because Ferris had escaped him," Seymour explained. "You see, he wanted Ferris, very badly. He could blackmail him, and he hoped to go on doing so with impunity. But Ferris gave his tormentor the slip, and placed himself in the hands of that clever French surgeon. Once the cure was complete, Ferris could have passed Anstruther in the street without the least fear of being recognized. He had only to change his name, and the thing was done."

"But I don't quite understand yet," Jack said.

"Well, you see, Ferris is a very sensitive man, and cursed with a lively imagination. That was where Anstruther's wonderful intellect came in. He had lost his man, and was determined to find him once more. Hence those accusing posters that were destined to meet Ferris' eye at every turn, and so play upon his nerves that he would be glad to give himself up. and make the best terms he could. It was just the sort of scheme to appeal to Anstruther, and I am quite sure that if Ferris had not met his friend the surgeon, the plan would have been brilliantly successful. And now, if you don't mind, I should like to go as far as the Great Metropolitan Hotel and talk this matter over with Ferris. I am not in the least likely to be called to-morrow; indeed, it seems to me that I have finished my task so far as Anstruther is concerned. This being so, the sooner I place myself in the hands of the French surgeon the better. My word! If you men could only understand the life I have led the past three years!"

Seymour turned away and hid his face for a moment. The other two could respect and understand his feelings, for a long pause followed. When Seymour paused again, he was more calm and collected. He pitched his cigar into the fireplace, and suggested calling a cab and going off to the Great Metropolitan Hotel at once.

Ferris appeared only too glad to see them; indeed, he was much better and more cheerful than he had been a night or two ago, when Fate had so strangely brought Jack and himself together. Most of the plaster had been removed from his face by this time, and, so far as his visitors could see, there were only the faintest traces that the knife had been used to remove the terrible brand of the Nostalgo scourge.

"I expect to be out in two or three days" Ferris explained. "I shall walk the streets with all the more pleasure now that I know there is no chance of meeting Anstruther. I have just been reading an account of the trial in one of the evening papers."

Seymour grasped his old comrade's hand and drew him eagerly to the light. It was brilliant sunshine outside, so that the face of Ferris was picked out clearly. Despite his assumed calmness, there was trembling anxiety in Seymour's eyes. Long and earnestly did he gaze at the pale features of his friend.

"Yes," he muttered. "Yes, I can hope at last. What a wonderful operator your surgeon must be. So far as I can see, you have no marks whatever, except here and there some star-shaped scars, which will vanish in the course of a few days."

"They will be gone altogether at the end of a week," Ferris said. "At least, so my doctor says."

"Amazing!" Seymour cried. "Why, I myself have tried specialists in nearly every capital in Europe. Every one of them was utterly ignorant of how the thing had been brought about, and not a single operator of the lot could give me the faintest hope of my ever being any better; and yet here you find a comparatively unknown man who places his finger on the right spot at once! How did he manage it?"

"That is quite easily explained," Ferris said. You will not be surprised to hear that this Dr. Benin has led a life of adventure. He was traveling in Mexico four years ago and accidentally came in contact with the same tribe that has cost us both so dear."

"Ah," exclaimed Seymour. "Now I begin to understand. Like the rest of us Dr. Benin was after the gold. I presume he came under the ban of the tribe, who made a Nostalgo out of him. and turned him out as hideous as the rest of us."

"You have guessed it exactly," Ferris said gravely. "For over a year Benin was experimenting on the muscles of the face. He discovered, at length, that certain of these muscles had been drawn up by some ingenious process, and partially paralyzed. This it was that gave the face of every Nostalgo his peculiar hideous appearance. Benin discovered, at length, a means by which the temporary paralysis of the muscles could be removed, and a man's normal expression restored to him. You know what I was at one time—look at me now! I tell you that in a month front now you can be absolutely restored to the world, without people shuddering and turning away as they pass in the street. The same remark applies to Lord Barmouth. Once Anstruther is out of the way, we shall come back to our own again, and know the meaning, of happiness once more."

"I think that Barmouth ought to know this," Jack said. "I have already told him about Mr. Ferris, and he is anxious for a meeting to be arranged. But I must go off now, and inform him how successful the operation has been."

Jack found Barmouth pacing up and down the study in no enviable frame of mind. On inquiry, it turned out that Anstruther had sent Barmouth a summons to appear at the trial the following morning and give evidence on his behalf.

"Of course, this la a mere act of simple spite," he said. "He merely wants to expose me to the gaze of the world, and thus spoil the rest of my miserable life for me; but I shall go. I have quite made up my mind to that. At the same time, Anstruther will not realise his purpose. I shall take the precaution to practically hide my face with strips of sticking plaster, and let it be understood that I am suffering from the result of an accident."

Jack proceeded to turn the conversation in the direction of Dr. Benin. He could not complain that he lacked an interested listener. Barmouth would see Benin without delay; indeed, he would call upon him after he had given evidence at the trial to-morrow. There would be no difficulty about this. Jack said, for Benin was pretty sure to attend the hearing in person.

Jack's prophecy was borne out next morning by the appearance of Benin in the well of the court. The first witness called was Barmouth, who, true to his promise, had disguised himself almost beyond recognition. As he stepped into the witness box. Anstruther turned upon him savagely from the dock, and then the face of the latter, with the light upon it. was plainly visible to the little French doctor. Heedless of his surroundings, heedless of the solemnity of the occasion, the Frenchman jumped to his feet, and pointed a shaking finger in Anstruther's direction.

"Murder! Murder!" he cried. "Dog, is it you?"

Anstruther paused, and threw up his hands like a man who is shot. He fell back, a collapsed heap, on the floor of the dock. A warder rushed forward and raised the prostrate figure.

"I think he is dead, my lord, he said simply."



LI. — AGAINST THE WORLD

ANSTRUTHER lay there to all appearances quite dead. So swift and dramatic had the whole thing been, that nobody moved for a moment; indeed, a greater portion of the excited audience did not seem to grasp what had happened. Rigby turned and looked at Benin, who was frowning in the direction of the dock, and breathing hard as if he had run fast and far. Then one of the warders in the court moved to the assistance of his colleague, and between them they raised the prisoner so that his haggard face appeared over the edge of the rail. With an assumption of indifference the Frenchman dropped back into his seat again.

"Surely he is not afraid of you," Jack whispered. "And yet I feel quite certain that your appearance frightened him terribly."

"He has good need to be afraid of me," Benin growled. "I could hang that man— I could prove him guilty of murder. For, look, the man and myself have met in Paris. You have little notion of the extent of his crime. But he is not dead—men of that type do not die so easily. See, he is opening his eyes again."

Anstruther had struggled into an upright position, and was feebly gasping for water. He gave one half-frightened glance in the direction of the Frenchman, who shrugged his shoulders, as if to say the whole affair was no business of his.

"I shall not betray him," he whispered to Rigby. "It is a painful case which will be no better for being dragged into the light of day. Besides, the man will be punished enough; a long term of imprisonment will be worse to him than hanging. He understands, now, that I am not going to betray him."

Anstruther was himself again at last. He stood rigid and erect; there was the faint suggestion of a smile upon his face.

"Merely a passing weakness," he murmured. "I have to apologize to the court for the trouble I am giving. May I be allowed to make a statement?"

"It would have been far better if the statement had come through your counsel," the judge said. "I warned you from the first that you were imperiling your position by refusing to accept legal aid. If the Jury find you guilty—"

"The Jury may find me guilty or not," Anstruther said. "I am sufficiently strong a man to know when I am beaten. Therefore I do not propose to waste the time of the court by carrying my defense any further. I have assisted the police on many occasions; indeed, I have been a great help in bringing a number of notorious criminals to justice. But I pay the prosecution this compliment—never once in the whole course of my career have I worked out anything neater than the scheme which has placed me in my present position. I desire to plead guilty to the whole thing. I did conspire with Mr. Carrington over that bank business, and with my own hands I removed the Cellini plate to the custody of Carrington's private safe. I am not in the least penitent. I am not in the least sorry for myself. In the circumstances, I would act precisely the same again. You may do what you like with me, and pass any sentence you think fit. I don't think there is any need for me to say more."

The speaker bowed gravely to the judge and resumed his seat, which he had asked for as a favor. Failing any reply on the part of the Crown Attorney, the judge began to sum up the case. He made no comment, but curtly and drily sentenced the prisoner to fourteen years' penal servitude. The latter rose, to his feet and intimated that he was ready. With a firm step and the faint shadow of a cynical smile on his lips he walked down the steps and thus disappeared forever from the society of his fellow men. The whole thing was over now, and the dramatic trial was finished. It was, perhaps, a fitting ending to a sensational case, which had been full of surprises from beginning to end. In spite of it all, Jack looked grave and somewhat anxious. Now that the affair was over, he could find it in his heart to have a little pity for Anstruther.

"Why so grave and silent?" Rigby asked.

"I think you understand," Jack said quietly. "It always seems to me a sad thing to see a man of such brilliant talents in so degraded a situation. Anstruther might have done anything. With an intellect like his he might have climbed to the highest places. And yet he prefers deliberately to remain a criminal."

"The criminal instinct must have been always there," Benin said. "There are some men who cannot go straight, and your brilliant Anstruther is one of them."

The audience was pouring out of the court now, talking eagerly and excitedly of the events of the morning. Only a few people remained now, and, glancing indifferently over them, Jack noted the pale, anxious features of Carrington. The man lingered behind, as if afraid to face the open air. He shrank back shaking and despairing as Bates walked over in his direction.

"Very sorry, Mr. Carrington," said the latter, "but my duty is quite clear before me. We had our own reasons for not placing you in the dock along with your friend, because we might have had to call you as a witness. As I promised you, I will do all I can to let you down as easily as possible, but I hold a warrant for your arrest on the grounds of theft and conspiracy, and I am bound to execute it. You will be good enough to. come this way, please."

The wretched man whined and whimpered. But there was nothing for it now but to follow the detective, and, so far as Carrington was concerned, the story is finished. By this time Jack and his companions were in the street. They lingered there chatting together, uncertain as to what to do next, when Benin proceeded to solve the problem. He suggested the advisability of his having an interview with Lord Barmouth without delay.

"You tell me his lordship has already heard of me," he said. "After my own experiences, I can Imagine what his feelings have been the last few years. I want to see him at once, and convince him that within a month he will be free to stand before his fellow men, as Ferris will be within the next few days."

Barmouth had lost no time in leaving the court directly he discovered that there would be no occasion for him to enter the witness-box.

When Jack and the others reached Belgrave Square, Barmouth had already removed the strips of plaster from his face, and was walking up and down his study with the restless air of one whose mind is ill at ease. All the same, he seemed to divine the cause of Benin's presence, for he held out his hand and smiled gratefully.

"I know you come to me in the guise of a friend, Dr. Benin," he said. "Is it too much to hope that you can cure me as you cured my friend Ferris?"

"There is no doubt about it whatever," the Frenchman said. "It is all a matter of an operation on the muscles of the face. You will be yourself again; even that horrible yellow tinge will disappear from your skin. I should like, if possible, to operate upon Seymour and yourself at the same time. I dare say you have some quiet country place that we could go to."

There was more than one such retreat, as Barmouth proceeded to explain. They talked over the matter eagerly and earnestly for some time, until a message arrived that Mr. Anstruther earnestly desired an interview with Lord Barmouth.

The latter started and shook his head. He had no disposition whatever to see Anstruther again. But as he thought the matter over, kindlier thoughts prevailed. After all, the man was past all power of mischief, and despite the way in which he had carried himself off, must have felt his position most keenly. On the whole, Barmouth decided to go.

He found Anstruther pacing up and down his roomy cell. The man looked haggard and drawn. Well as he had himself in hand, Anstruther's twitching lips betrayed his emotion.

"I dare say you wonder why I sent for you," he said. "You need not be afraid of me; they have rendered me quite harmless. They have even taken away my watch and chain and money. Why they left me this little pearl-headed scarf pin I don't know—probably they overlooked it. It is these little careless things which prevent the Force from being quite as efficient as it might be."

Anstruther smiled in a peculiar way as he spoke. But Barmouth did not appear to notice. Anstruther walked up and down the cell, talking freely as he went.

"It was exceedingly good of you to come," he said, "especially as I have done you so grievous a wrong. You will be perhaps pleased to hear that all the sufferings I underwent in Mexico were wasted. I never so much as laid my hand upon an ounce of the gold for which I risked my life; indeed, at the end I just contrived to save my mere existence. When I sent for you to-day it sincerely to ask you to pardon me for all the harm that I have done to you and others. I was going to tell you in any case the means by which you could be restored to your normal appearance. If the case went against me to-day I had determined to write to you and give you the address of Dr. Benin. But when I saw him in court to-day I knew perfectly well that you and he had already met, and, therefore, there was no reason for me to say anything. You and I have always been antagonistic; I do not bear you any ill will for that."

"An I can assure you that there is no ill-will on my side," Barmouth replied. "Mind you, I cannot forget all the sufferings that I have undergone at at your hands. It is strange what men will do when the greed for gold is upon them, and how little good does it tend to when the gold comes. Only a few hours ago I was longing to meet you face to face under such conditions as would render your death a secret. I would have killed you like a dog. I always meant to kill you. While I was paying blackmail to you under a name other than my own, I was ever plotting the opportunity which would have betrayed you into my hands.I should have deemed it no crime to have rid the world of a scoundrel like yourself. And yet, as God is my witness, when I see you here like this, an outcast and a felon, when I think of the terrible way in which your great talents have been wasted, I have nothing but pity for your lamentable condition."

Anstruther took a step forward, the veins on his forehead knotted, his hands clenched in a paroxysm of passion.

"Don't talk like that," he said hoarsely. "Don't begin to pity me, or I shall fly out and strangle you. If there was no chance of you ever being anything but what you are—I mean so far as your personal appearance la concerned? I would willingly change places with you at this moment. And I was a Nostalgo myself, and know what the punishment means. But I did not bring you here to talk entirely about myself. I have felt for a long time that Jack Masefield has viewed me with suspicion, perhaps, he thinks I am unaware of his engagement to Claire. Why, I knew every movement of his. He will be surprised to hear that I knew he was in the cupboard near Padini's room the time I was spying about there. What was I after? Well, Padini had certain papers of mine, and it was not policy to accuse him of the theft then. Just as if open-minded people like those could deceive me. I can quite forgive Masefield for his caution, but you can tell him that Claire's fortune has suffered nothing at my hands. Not that I wish to take any credit for that; it is merely that the other trustee, being a shrewd lawyer, was too clever for me. However, Claire has her two thousand a year intact, and she is free to marry Masefield when she likes.

"There is another matter of which I wish to speak to you—that is, as regards Serena. I understand that she is Lady Barmouth's sister. Well, I am glad of that, because the poor woman and her boy will have a happy home in future. I behaved abominably to Serena; I lied to her, I tricked and tormented her, so that I might get her in my power, and make use of her wonderful talents as an actress. She believed that I held her life in the hollow of my hand, and therefore she was the veriest slave to my will. But nothing wrong, Barmouth: Serena is as good and pure as your own wife. I understand that Padini has been arrested owing to his having taken a hand in that musical Jugglery of mine.

"For Serena's sake he must be got rid of. All you have to do is to drop a line to the Director of Public Prosecutions in Paris, and say that Monsieur Lemarque in masquerading in London as Padini, the violinist. After that I don't think Serena will be troubled with her precious husband any more. And now I will not detain you any longer. If you will accept this pin as a souvenir I shall be glad. You see it is a small pearl on a gold wire. There is one peculiarity about it. The pearl is hollow, and it often occurred to me how useful it would be to conceal a drop or two of some virulent poison inside in case one fell into the hands of the authorities."

Filled with a sudden suspicion, Barmouth darted forward. The faint mocking smile of Anstruther's face told him as plainly as words could tell exactly what was going to happen. He reached forward and clutched Anstruther. It was too late.

"For Heaven's sake, Anstruther," Barmouth cried. "Think: pause before you do anything so rash, so blasphemous."

"It is very good of you," Anstruther said quite coolly. "I know you mean well, but this is the way I prefer myself."

He placed the pearl within his lips, and crushed it with his teeth.



LII. — THE END OF IT ALL

BARMOUTH could see a little speck of foam like a white feather on the lips of his companion. He saw Anstruther throw up his head and the apple of his throat moved as if in the act of swallowing. The whole thing had been so swift and unexpected, that Barmouth could not blame himself for what had happened. There was no occasion to tell him that the pearl had contained some deadly poison, for already the effect of it was apparent on Anstruther's features. He gasped painfully as if some terrible pain had gripped him by the heart, his features twitched horribly, yet he smiled with the air of a man who is by no means displeased with himself.

"Yes," he said naturally, "I think it will be just as well if you call in the warder who is watching us through that grating in the door, and tell him everything that has happened."

"Barmouth lost no time in doing so. There was a greet tramping and commotion in the corridor outside, and presently Bates and the prison doctor rushed in. By this time Anstruther was seated on the only chair in the cell; there was a heavy bead of moisture on his face. He smiled faintly at Bates.

"It is exactly as Lord Barmouth has said," he explained. "When your people deprived me of everything that I possessed they forgot to remove a tiny pearl-headed pin from my scarf. It was only a very small pearl—You could have bought the thing in any West-End shop, for a sovereign; but the gem was not so innocent as it appeared to be. Inside I had caused to be placed one spot of deadly poison no larger than a pin's head. I have had it there for years in case of emergency. I have always had a presentiment that sooner or later the end would be thus; and I am much too active-minded a man to dare to pass years in jail. I should have gone mad under treatment like that. Therefore, you see I was quite ready for you. I had only to take that pin from my tie, and make the tiniest puncture in the tip of my tongue, then all I had to do was to crush the pearl within my teeth, and the thing was done. There need be no inquest; the poison in question was one spot from the fang of a cobra. See, the end is very near."

Anstruther staggered to his feet, threw his hands above his head. and collapsed in a heap on the floor. There was one fearful shuddering contortion of the muscles, and after that a rigid stillness. The prison doctor bent down, and examined the silent form carefully. He shook his head gravely.

"My services here are absolutely useless," he said. "The man is dead. I only wonder that he lived so long. It was a sad ending to what might have been a brilliant career."

"It was a brilliant career." Bates. muttered. "We never had a detective in the force as clever as Mr. Anstruther. Shall I call a cab for you, my lord? There is nothing for you to gain by waiting any longer."

Barmouth nodded in an abstracted kind of way; he hardly appeared to hear what Bates was saying. In the same dreamy fashion he was driven homewards. On reaching Belgrave Square he found that Benin had gone off on some business, leaving Jack and Rigby behind him. In a few words he told the others what had happened. There was nothing more to be said on the matter, and no great feeling was expressed, seeing that Anstruther had never been anything else but an enemy to all of them.

"He seemed desirous of making amends at the last," Barmouth said. "For instance, he has shown us a way whereby my wife's unfortunate sister can be forever free of Padini. Also he informed me that Miss Claire Helmsley's fortune is absolutely intact. He was cynical to the last, and suggested that Jack here should marry the lady of his choice without delay."

"That is very good of him," Jack said dryly. "But as far as I am concerned, I shall not be in the least sorry to hear that Claire has nothing. I do not want the suggestion made that I am in any way a fortune hunter. It is not a pleasant idea."

"What is the good of talking that nonsense," Rigby exclaimed. "My dear fellow, you are getting, on splendidly with your literary work, and in a year or so from now your income will be quite equal to Miss Helmsley's. Besides, nobody who knew you would think of accusing you of fortune-hunting. And so long as Miss Helmsley shares the opinions of your friends, I don't see that it in the least matters to anybody else."

Lady Barmouth came into the room at the same moment with an intimation that Claire was up in the drawing room, and would like to see Jack as soon as he was at liberty. Jack went off with alacrity. There was a soothing feeling now that no obstacle any longer stood in his path. He had no fear of the future, so far as Claire was concerned, Anstruther being once out of the way. It was only at this moment, with the knowledge of a placid future before him, that Jack realized how great the mental strain had been.

He found Claire waiting for him in the drawing room. She advanced with a smile upon her face, and he took her in his arms and kissed her, feeling at last that she was his own and that there was no shadow of further crime between them. He was just a little grave and silent, and love's quick eyes were there to detect the somber shade on his face.

Very quietly Jack told Claire all that had happened. It was some little time before either spoke.

"I am glad to find that your fortune is intact, my dearest girl," Jack said. "I shall have to work hard now, so that when the good time comes I shall be able to marry you, feeling that my position is equal to your own. It must not be said—"

"It is not going to be said," Claire replied, looking up into her lover's face with a winning smile. "Jack, dear, I know exactly what is running in that silly head of yours. I can see I shall have to be very severe with you. Now answer me a question, sir."

"A dozen if you like," Jack replied. "What is it?"

"Well, about the time we first met, and you were so foolish as to fall in love With me. Confess it now; did not you regard me as a poor dependent of Mr. Anstruther's, without so much as a penny of my own? I knew that you loved me long before you told me so—I felt it here at my heart. And yet when you asked me to be your wife, not so many weeks ago, and suggested we should keep the matter a secret as we were too poor to marry, you did not know then that I was an heiress in a small way."

"I am prepared to admit it," Jack said. "But you see, my darling, it is pretty certain that some people—"

With a pretty little imperious gesture Claire laid her hand on her lover's lips. Her eyes looked sweetly into his.

"I am not going to hear another word," she cried. "Oh, what does it matter to anybody as long as we are satisfied. My dearest boy, do you want me go go down on my knees and implore you to marry me? I will do it if you like."

Jack's reply was evidently suitable and to the point, for the fond look came over Claire's face again, and for some time they were silent. It was Claire who broke the silence at length.

"You need me." she whispered. "We shall be none the less happy because that dark cloud of poverty is not likely to dim our future. I have pictured to myself a dear little house in the country where we could have roses and trim lawns and old-world gardens, and where you could work in a beautiful study lined with old oak and filled with blue china. I don't mind telling you, Jack, that I have picked out the house, and my other guardian is now settling the purchase of it for me. Think how nice it would be to be able to sit down every morning with a contented mind, and not care whether you did one page or twenty, so long as you feel sure that you were doing nothing but your best work. I always think every author ought to have a fortune of his own, and thus be without the necessity of turning out his work by the yard, so to speak."

Claire might have said more, only she noted the dancing imp of mischief in Jack's eyes. He kissed her tenderly again.

"I had no Idea I was going to have so practical a wife," Jack said. "But do not let us be altogether selfish; let us give a thought or two to other people. There is not the slightest reason why the full significance of this Nostalgo business should ever be made public. And no more posters will appear; the public will marvel for a time and ask questions, then the thing will be forgotten when the next great sensation comes along. I will tell Rigby that he is to mention no names when he tells his wonderful story in The Planet—at least he is not to mention the names of any of our friends. Now let us go down to the dining room and see what they have arranged. I am very anxious to know."

Meanwhile all the arrangements had been completed by those most concerned. As Lord Barmouth explained, he had a very quiet country place in the neighborhood of Hindhead, and there the operation upon himself and Seymour was to take place.

"I want Claire to come with me." Lady Barmouth said. "Of course, Serena and her boy will be with us, and I understand that arrangements are being made to rid us finally of the attentions of Signor Padini. The place is near enough to London for Mr. Masefield to run down as often as he finds it possible. My dear Claire, you are looking so radiantly happy that I need not ask you if you have settled matters with Jack."

"It was not an easy task," Claire laughed and blushed; "I almost had to go down on my knees to him. He said he would be accused of fortune-hunting or something equally absurd."

"I am exceedingly glad to hear of it," Lady Barmouth said heartily. "I have set my heart upon a little programme, and I hope you will allow me to carry it out. I want the marriage to take place from our house at Hindhead. Lord Barmouth will give you away, and we'll make quite a society affair of it."

"But not till Lord Barmouth is quite right," Claire said. "Dear Lady Barmouth, you are too kind to me. Let me confess that I had hoped for something like this, but I did not intend to marry Jack till I could have all my good friends there. In perhaps three months' time it may be possible that all this—"

"Two months," Lord Barmouth laughed. "Both my good friend Seymour here and myself will be perfectly well by that time. I have thought it all out, and there need not be any gossip at all. It will be merely announced in the society papers that I have recovered from the painful malady which has so long afflicted me, and there will be an end of the matter. We are all going down to Hindhead to-morrow, and the operation takes place on Saturday. According to what Dr. Benin said. It is a mere matter of a fortnight in bed, and at the end of a month we shall be quite like other people. Now let us have dinner in the study without the servants. It will be quite pleasant to wait upon ourselves."

* * * * *

Very quietly and unostentatiously the little party set out for Hindhead the following day. Not even the servants knew what was in the wind; they merely gathered that Lord Barmouth was never really well, and that he was taking an invalid friend with him. Dr. Benin's arrival caused no sensation, the household staff being informed that a clever surgeon had come from Paris, who hoped to restore their master to a normal state of health.

It was a fortnight later that Barmouth and Seymour came downstairs looking a little drawn and white, but otherwise exactly like two ordinary men who had just recovered from some commonplace illness. Serena was there with her boy, but not the Serena of old. Years seemed to have fallen from her shoulders, there was a color in her face, and a sparkle in her eyes which fairly astonished Jack when he saw her. He pressed her hand silently, saying no word, and 8erena understood him more thoroughly than if he had been gifted with the finest eloquence in the world.

It was all ended and done with at last; the organ had pealed out its triumphal march, the cherry-cheeked children had cast their last handful of flowers at the feet of the happy bride, the wedding was over, and now the carriage stood at the door. Claire recollected it all clearly afterward, but at the moment she felt like one who dreams pleasant things. It was only when the prosaic banging of the railway carriage door struck upon her ears that she came entirely to herself again. The train was speeding through the peaceful landscape. Claire leaned her head tenderly on Jack's shoulder, and a sigh of happiness escaped her.

"What is that sigh for?" Jack asked tenderly.

"Peace and happiness," Claire cried. There was just a suggestion of tears in her eyes. "It seems so strange to be with you like this, and yet only the other day—but I will not think of that. We will say no more about the dark days, but dwell entirely with the happy hours to come."

Jack bent and kissed the quivering red lips. Then a great content came into their hearts, and they were silent.


THE END

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