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Title: Ask Miss Mott
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202191.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

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

Title: Ask Miss Mott
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim

*

A Series of Stories

*

Hodder and Stoughton Limited
London
1936

*

The characters in his book are entirely imaginary,
and have no relation to any living person.

*

CONTENTS

    I. BURGLARS MUST DINE
   II. THE MAGIC POPGUN
  III. NOAH'S ARK
   IV. BUTTERCUPS AND DAISIES
    V. THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER
   VI. LOST MISS GREENE
  VII. MEREDITH WALKS OUT
 VIII. MARCONI SAVES MISS MOTT
   IX. THE TERRIFIED WIFE
    X. INFORMERS STILL PAY

*



1--BURGLARS MUST DINE


MISS MOTT'S first client in the secondary profession which she had so
recently adopted made his appearance in sufficiently unusual and
alarming fashion. There was a crash of glass behind her chair, the
swinging up of a sash, and a stooping figure sprang lightly into the
room. Not only was this unceremonious entrance in itself terrifying--all
the more so as Miss Mott's little office was situated on the sixth floor
of a block of flats--but the intruder entered wearing the insignia of an
unlawful profession--a narrow, black mask. Miss Mott swung round in her
chair and gasped in amazement. It was, however, an astonishing but
undeniable fact. A burglar, who would appear to have descended from the
clouds, had pushed open her window, entered her office and was now
crossing the room towards her with swift and terrifying haste. Her hand
shot out for the telephone.

"Don't touch that, please," the newcomer begged.

Miss Mott, new to such adventures, made the fatal mistake of hesitating
to parley.

"Why not?" she demanded. "How dare you--what do you want?"

She realised then that she was losing--had already lost--valuable time.
She turned once more towards the instrument, but she was too late. There
was a grip upon her arm, not exactly painful but exceedingly firm. She
was conscious at that moment of only two things. The first was the
compelling power of those flashing eyes through the slits of the mask,
the second a fragrant perfume of violets.

"Allow me a moment, if you please," the newcomer implored. "I owe you an
explanation. You shall have it. Please leave that wretched instrument
alone. You will only cause trouble if you use it."

Miss Mott remained silent, a condition of mental inactivity for which
the ease and confidence of the burglar's tone were alike responsible.

"There is nothing to be alarmed at, I can assure you," he went on. "I am
in the same profession as you, only at the other end. Honour amongst
thieves, you know. What a horrid draught! Will you promise me not to use
the telephone if I go back and close the window?"

"What do you mean by saying that I am in the same profession as you?"
she demanded.

"You're Miss Mott, aren't you?" he continued. "Niece of my old friend
Superintendent Wragge of Scotland Yard. You have conducted for some
years a correspondence column in a ladies' paper entitled _Home Talks,_
and you have been so successful that you have started a little
Information Bureau of your own. You see I know all about you! May I
close the window?"

"I shall catch my death of cold if you don't," Miss Mott admitted.

"Will you promise not to use the telephone?"

"I suppose so," she assented grudgingly.

He recrossed the room, looked regretfully at the broken pane and drew
the curtain over it. When he returned he was binding a handkerchief
around his finger. With her faculty for observing trifles she took note
of the fineness of the linen.

"You must please explain exactly what you are doing here," she insisted.
"Honest people don't wear things like you have over your face or break
through windows, and perhaps you will tell me while you are about it
where on earth you have come from?"

"May I sit down?" he begged.

She indicated the clients' chair drawn up to the side of her desk. He
took it at once, moving it, she noticed, a little nearer to the table so
that he was within reach of the telephone instrument. He removed his
black Homburg hat with a word of apology and placed it on the floor by
his side.

"Well," he confided, "I came up by the fire escape, if you want to
know."

"By the fire escape," she repeated wonderingly.

"And if you want to know more still I have not come far. I have come
from the floor below."

"The bridge club?"

He nodded.

"Yes, the Hyacinth Bridge Club."

"Have you been stealing things from there?" she asked severely.

He drew out a parcel which was protruding from his pocket, an oblong
parcel securely wrapped up in brown paper.

"Quite right," he admitted. "I committed a theft. It was not such an
easy affair as I had hoped either."

She shrunk a little away from the parcel. Somehow or other it had a
sinister appearance.

"What is it?" she asked. "I don't like the look of it."

He patted it with his hand and sighed.

"You are quite right," he confessed. "It is an evil affair, more vicious
than any bomb that was ever made. Harmless enough to look at, but a very
incriminating weapon to use or to have found in one's possession."

"Then why did you steal it?"

He smiled.

"Well, that's another matter. The thing is--I want to get rid of it for
a few hours. May I leave it in your charge?"

"Certainly not," she replied coldly. "I am not a receiver of stolen
property."

"But this," he pleaded, "is an unusual affair. I can assure you, Miss
Mott, that notwithstanding my burglarious appearance and actions I am
not a whole-sized criminal. I dabble in irregularities but I also have
leanings towards philanthropy. On the present occasion I have stolen
this compromising and, I have to admit, dangerous package to save the
honour, perhaps the life, of a very charming and popular lady whose
disappearance from Society would be regretted by all of her friends."

Miss Mott looked at him severely. The curious part of the whole affair
was that she felt herself terribly inclined to believe him.

"I am still, however," he went on slowly, "only half-way through the
job. I need your help to conclude the affair. I do not know whether you
have as yet formulated your tariff of charges, but if your scale is not
prohibitive I should like, for a suitable fee, to engage your good
offices for the rest of the evening."

"What would be the nature of the services you require from me?" she
asked gently.

"I should like to ask your permission to leave your office and descend
to the lift as though I had been an ordinary caller," he confided.
"Furthermore, I should like you to relieve me of this package for the
time, place it in that attache case," he added, pointing across the
room, "take it home with you while you change your clothes, and bring it
back to a rendezvous, which we have yet to fix upon, where you will dine
with me to-night."

Curiosity grew in Miss Mott and amazement shone out of her eyes.

"I suppose you are real?" she demanded. "This is not some sort of
dream--I mean a nightmare?" she added hastily.

"I am an actual human being," he assured her, stretching out his hand.
"Would you like to feel my fingers to be sure of it?"

"Certainly not," she objected. "I have felt them round my arm and I
expect I shall have a bruise there to-morrow. You climb through my
window wearing a mask, you smash a perfectly good pane of glass to get
at the fastening, you confess to having committed a burglary, and you
have the colossal impertinence to ask me to take care of the proceeds
and dine with you, a perfect stranger, to-night. By the by, what is your
name?"

"Ah," he reflected, "that is rather a problem."

"Well, you must have one, you know," she pointed out. "You seem to be
taking it for granted that I am as eccentric a person as you are, but
you can't expect a young woman to dine with a man whose name she doesn't
even know."

"My name is Joseph."

"Joseph who?" she enquired.

"Joseph of Arimathea, if you like," he answered carelessly.

"So when I arrive at the restaurant where you propose to entertain me
to-night," she observed, "I am to ask for Mr. Arimathea!"

"You won't need to ask for anyone," he assured her. "I shall be sitting
there waiting for you."

"Wearing that atrocious thing?" she asked, pointing to the mask.

"Not likely," he scoffed. "You will see me as I present myself
sometimes. In later life, when we are better acquainted, you may
discover that my appearance varies often according to my health--and the
circumstances."

She sat upright in her chair.

"Listen, Mr. Joseph," she said firmly, "we are wasting time. Supposing
you tell me what is in that package."

"Something with which you would not like to be found," he evaded.

"The usual stuff, I suppose? Letters?"

"Nothing of the sort. I cannot at the present moment divulge to anyone
the contents of this package. On the other hand, I only want you to keep
it for me until this evening. If I could find any perfect way of
destroying it here I would do so. There isn't any means, however. I have
to rely on you."

"Why not take it away yourself?"

"Because," he explained, "if I have been rightly informed, the lift does
not mount so high as this, and on my way out, therefore, I shall have to
pass the door of the Hyacinth Club. If my escapade of this evening has
been discovered they might be waiting for me."

"The police?"

"Possibly the police," he admitted, "although sometimes these affairs
are not fought out with the police."

"Where exactly did you steal the package from?" she demanded.

"Have you ever been inside the Hyacinth Club?" he enquired.

"Never."

"Well, it possesses what I think is an American innovation. There is a
small room, very much like what we call in golf clubs a locker room,
with steel cupboards where members can keep their parcels or some of
them even a change of clothes. It is rather a convenience for members
living a little way out of town. Through influential friends in a
different branch of the profession I obtained a master key and stole
this packet from one of those lockers."

"How interesting!" Miss Mott exclaimed. "And afterwards?"

"Afterwards I crawled out of the window, risked a short spring on to a
small balcony and from there by the fire escape up to your flat."

"And why was I chosen for this honour?"

"To tell you the truth," the burglar explained, "I had managed to enter
the club without being seen by taking the tradesmen's lift, but I knew
that my luck would not hold. Besides, the hall porter is on duty now."

"And did you wear that mask all the time that you were in the club?"

"I put it on when I began to climb the fire escape," he confided. "I
should be ashamed of it if I were really working professionally. It is
old-fashioned. The new cut has long flaps!"

"You seem to me to be very talkative," she observed.

"So far," he rejoined, "I seem to have made use of a great deal of
breath without having made much progress. What I want you to promise, if
you will be so kind, is that in your capacity of a helper of men and
women you will slip into an evening gown at eight o'clock--black would
suit you very well, I think, with your perfect hair and your perfect
complexion--and with the package which I propose to leave with you in an
attache case or something of that sort, meet me at some not too
well-known restaurant, say Mario's, at half-past eight."

"Thank you," she answered. "I never dine out."

"My dear Miss Mott," he protested, "is it or is it not true that you
have embarked upon a career of adventure, that you have offered to
become the helper of anyone in difficulties?"

"I suppose it is more or less true," she admitted.

"You are Miss Mott, the one Miss Mott, who advises her clients in all
cases of difficulty and who teaches people how to live their lives! It
is your ambition to penetrate into every nook and cranny of the world of
human beings. I have heard all about you, you see!" How can you lead the
life adventurous if you refuse to dine with a humble and, believe me,
not a vicious criminal? There is much that you still have to learn
concerning my profession. I will be your instructor. I will show you how
to circumvent the efforts of the more dangerous members of my craft.
Besides, I shall probably, by dinner-time, be in a position to satisfy
your curiosity as regards the contents of the package."

"You are really going to leave it with me--to trust me with it?" she
asked.

"I should trust you with most things in life," he assured her.

"I think," she pronounced deliberately, "that you are mad!"

"And I," he rejoined, "think that you are terribly attractive. That
little dash of colour--anger, I am afraid--becomes you, and I wish I
could believe that I were the first to tell you that your eyes are
marvellous. At half-past eight, then, I shall be waiting for you in the
hall of Mario's. Don't be surprised if at first you fail to recognise
me. I have many personalities. I promise you one thing, however; I will
not present myself in the guise of a bespectacled clergyman from
somewhere in the northern counties! Nothing so amateurish as that. At
half-past eight!"

He rose to his feet, picked up his hat and moved towards the door.

"I shall not be there," she declared positively.

"I shall hope for the best," he replied, as, with his back towards her,
he removed his mask and disappeared.


About an hour after the departure of her strange visitor, Miss Mott,
carrying a small attache case in which she had cautiously placed the
fateful package, descended the two flights of stairs which separated her
offices from civilisation and arrived at the lift terminus. Her heart
gave a little jump as she glanced towards the entrance to the Hyacinth
Club. A sergeant and a constable were standing on either side of the
door and from inside came the sound of a babel of voices. The policeman,
as soon as he saw her descend the stairs carrying an attache case,
stepped forward. The sergeant, however, touched him on the arm,
whispered a word in his ear and saluted Miss Mott. She paused at the
entrance to the lift.

"Is there anything wrong here, sergeant?" she asked.

"A little trouble, Miss Mott," he answered. "We shall know the exact
nature of it later on."

He was obviously disinclined to say more. The lift boy took her case and
Miss Mott was transported to the ground floor. She stepped into a
taxicab and was driven home. The thrill of her afternoon adventure had
passed, leaving behind it a dull sort of depression. More than once she
was inclined to return to the flats, mount to the fifth floor and hand
over her attache case to the sergeant with a full explanation of how she
obtained possession of its contents. She had lost confidence in that
debonair malefactor, and her cheeks burned when she reflected how easy a
victim she had been to his wiles. Nevertheless, she told herself with a
certain grim satisfaction, the end was not yet.


Miss Mott's burglarious visitor kept his word to the letter. Even before
the swing doors of the restaurant could be opened to receive her he was
moving across the little reception lounge with the welcoming smile of a
host upon his lips. She accepted his hand doubtfully.

"I only came," she told him severely, "because I was curious."

"And you will remain," he replied, as they descended the stairs towards
the bar, "because you are going to have a delightful dinner."

"What have you been doing to yourself?" she asked, as they took their
places at a small table in the bar.

"Just gone through the usual routine," he answered. "Bath, had a light
evening shave and put on decent clothes."

"Don't be stupid," she begged. "You look about fifteen years older than
I expected to find you, and although you have been frightfully clever
about it I don't believe that those lines in your face are natural.
Those grey streaks in your hair too make me suspicious."

He laughed softly. Whatever her ideas about her companion might have
been Miss Mott was at least obliged to confess that he was a very
attractive and distinguished-looking personage.

"We semi-criminals," he confided, "get into the way of this sort of
thing. We are quite accustomed to being _blonds_ one evening and _bruns_
the next. You may yet see me as Father Christmas! How thankful you
should be," he went on, as she accepted his proffered cocktail, "that
you are entirely on the right side of the fence. You will never need to
disguise yourself...On the whole I am glad that you did not wear black,
although I am afraid it was a matter of obstinacy. Grey with your
complexion is a perfect colour. You are very distracting, Miss Mott."

"I did not come here to listen to nonsense," she said severely.

"Of course not," he acknowledged. "We will talk sensibly before long.
This has been a strenuous day. We are going to have another cocktail
each, then I will take you to the little corner table upstairs which I
have engaged. You shall read the menu of the dinner I have ordered and,
after that, when I am quite sure that nothing would induce you to get up
and leave me until after it has been served, I shall tell you just as
much as I can of what you are dying to hear."

She looked at him reflectively. After all, he did not exaggerate. Hers
were very beautiful blue eyes and very beautifully set.

"I could almost believe," she said, "that you are inclined to be
masterful."

"I am also disagreeable," he confessed, "when I do not get my own
way!..."

They mounted the stairs a few minutes afterwards and were ushered to
their table in the restaurant by bowing waiters, the wine steward, a
maître d'hôtel, and the manager. Miss Mott accepted a cushion for her
back, read the menu and gave a sigh of content. She had a weakness for
exquisite food.

"You were quite right," she told him. "Nothing would induce me to leave
until after the strawberries, and as to what you have to tell me about
the Hyacinth, Club I have perhaps later information even than you."

He looked at her swiftly.

"Yes?"

The monosyllable was crisp, interrogative. She continued after a
moment's pause:

"The whole place was upset when I came downstairs. There were policemen
there. Either there had been a robbery which had been discovered or some
other tragedy had happened."

"What time did you leave?" he asked.

"Seven o'clock."

"How do you know that there were police there? You didn't go inside the
club?"

"There was a sergeant and a constable outside. They nearly stopped me
when they saw I was carrying an attache case, but fortunately the
sergeant happened to know who I was so he let me go."

Her companion gave vent to a little exclamation. "Phew! That was a
narrow shave."

"I suppose I am to take it for granted," she said stiffly, "that you
left me in the position of being liable to arrest as a receiver of
stolen goods?"

"It was one of those situations," he pleaded, "in which someone had to
take a risk."

"But why should I be forced to take it?" she demanded indignantly. "Why
should I be forced to run the gauntlet of a police inspection for your
sake? You--a perfect stranger."

"Bad luck," he sympathised. "Things turn out that way sometimes. By the
by, you brought my property back with you, I suppose?"

"I did not," she answered firmly. "Now perhaps you're going to take my
dinner away from me! I'm not going to run any further risks by carting
about the results of a robbery. I left it at home in my room until you
can explain the situation. In case I do not get another course," she
concluded, "may I have a piece more toast to finish my caviare with?"

The waiter sprang attentively to the table. Miss Mott was promptly
served. Her companion leaned forward and spoke to the maitre d'hôtel.

"Send out for the latest edition of the _Evening News_ for me, will you?"
he directed.

The man hurried off with an acquiescent bow.

"What do you want an evening paper for?" Miss Mott enquired.

"I thought I should like to see the nature of the trouble at the
Hyacinth Club," he admitted. "It would interest me to know what exactly
they believe is stolen and if they have any description of the so-called
thief."

"I shall be able to describe him all right," Miss Mott declared.

Her companion sighed.

"So you would give me away, would you?"

"If the law demands it," she answered cheerfully.

A chasseur appeared with the evening paper. Miss Mott's companion turned
enquiringly towards her.

"Will you excuse me if I glance at the Stop Press news?" he begged.

"Certainly," she replied. "I am rather interested in it myself."

He shook the paper open and glanced at the back page. For a moment or
two he remained rigid. Looking at him curiously, Miss Mott found herself
unable to decide whether that steady gaze of his indicated indifference
or whether he had really found disturbing news. With calm fingers he
folded up the paper.

"Well," she enquired, "did you find what you wanted?"

"Rather more than I wanted," he acknowledged. "Take my advice--eat that
delicious sole otero--they do it so well here--and don't worry about
what happened at the Hyacinth Club."

"I may be allowed a certain amount of curiosity, I suppose?"

He sampled the champagne, nodded approval, raised the foaming glass to
his lips and set it down empty.

"The news," he warned her, "might spoil your dinner."

"It certainly will not," she assured him. "I am not your partner in
crime or misfortune. The worst that could happen to me would be the
trouble of having to hand over that packet to the police and explain how
I came by it."

"You would not try to shield me, then?"

"I do not know the exact measure of your crime," she replied. "Has
anything happened at the Hyacinth Club besides the robbery?"

"There seems to have been some sort of an accident," he recounted
gloomily.

"For which you were responsible?"

"It was one of the issues which I was trying to prevent."

"Tell me about it at once," she insisted.

He pushed the paper towards her, his little finger pointing to the few
hastily printed lines under the heading of Stop Press news.


_Colonel Warsley, honorary secretary of the Hyacinth Bridge Club in
Booker's Buildings, was found shot in his private office this evening._


An exclamation of horror broke from her lips. She looked searchingly
into his face as she pushed back the paper.

"You knew this all the time?"

"Upon my word, I did not."

There was a brief silence. The pleasant half-jesting atmosphere seemed
to have been dispelled. Their next course was served. Miss Mott began to
eat with mechanical appetite. She felt her heart beating quickly. It was
possible that she was dining with a murderer!"

"Don't let this unfortunate incident spoil your dinner, Miss Mott," he
begged. "I am not sure that it is not the best thing that could have
happened."

"Brute!" she exclaimed. "You say that when the poor man is dead."

He shrugged his shoulder S.

"Did you know Warsley?" he asked.

"We've exchanged good mornings on the stairs."

"Well, that should have been enough. You are a person of observation.
Were you inclined to like him?"

"That has nothing to do with it," she answered.

"On the contrary, it has a great deal to do with it," he insisted.
"Everyone who knew Warsley--except his wife--knew that he was a wrong
'un. Unofficially you represent the law. You know that wrong 'uns ought
to be punished."

"Let's talk about something else," she suggested.

"It is rather grim, isn't it?" he admitted. "I'll tell you what--let's
dance."

She shook her head.

"I couldn't--with you," she declared bluntly. "You don't seem as though
you found anything in life serious."

"I can assure you I do," he replied. "I find this change of your
attitude towards me very serious indeed. You probably think that I made
away with the poor fellow."

"Well, it would not be such a ridiculous suspicion, would it?" she
retorted, turning upon him with flashing eyes. "You seem to treat the
matter lightly enough, but I should think that when my evidence is given
you might find yourself in quite a serious position."

"So you are going to give evidence against me?" he sighed.

"I shall tell the truth," she enjoined.

"Very well," he agreed, "I will take what's coming to me. At the present
moment, though, what is coming to us both is that wonderful dish of
asparagus and after that strawberries! Do you think I could dwell on
such trifles if I had just qualified for the gallows?"

Despite herself she smiled.

"I don't know what to think about you," she acknowledged. "You puzzle me
completely."

"Embrace my motto then for the rest of the meal," he suggested. "' Let
us eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow we shall die.' The soundest
piece of philosophy in the world--especially as I believe that the
strawberries are really ripe."

To a certain extent there ensued a faint revival of their former
light-heartedness. They even danced twice, and for those few minutes,
during which Miss Mott discovered that her companion was the best
partner she had ever had, she forgot everything. It was nearly half-past
twelve when, with the gradual emptying of the room, the little party
came to an end.

"You will allow me to drive you back to your apartment?" he begged, as
she came out from the cloakroom.

She shook her head.

"I shall take a taxi, thanks. Whatever may happen, I have had a
wonderful evening and I thank you very much for it."

"I am afraid that there is one question which I must ask you," he said,
looking down at her. "What do you propose doing with my property?"

She looked around. There was no one in their immediate vicinity.

"I am going to take it to Scotland Yard tomorrow morning," she confided,
"and tell them how I came by it. I am very sorry, but I have no
alternative."

"You're going to tell them the whole story?"

"Everything."

The enigma of his faint smile, which she was to understand later on,
temporarily defeated her. It seemed half quizzical, half plaintive.

"Anyway, I get the night in peace," he murmured.

"If your conscience will permit it," she rejoined, as he handed her
across the pavement.

Miss Mott found herself in a curiously hysterical mood during that drive
home. She was half inclined to laugh and half to cry and at the bottom
of her heart she regretted her solitude. When she had mounted to her
rooms and taken off her cloak she dragged out the attache case from
under the bed where she had left it, placed it upon a chair and opened
it...Then for a moment all the disturbances of the evening seemed as
nothing. She felt the colour drawn from her cheeks, felt an actual pain
at the back of her eyes from their dilated stare. The case was empty!


Superintendent Wragge was an official highly thought of at Scotland
Yard. He was careful, shrewd, and he had the reputation of seldom, if
ever, making a mistake. A trifle over-cautious, he was esteemed by the
younger school. He listened to his niece's story on the following
afternoon with the deepest interest. When she had finished he asked her
a few questions.

"This young man who broke into your office and with whom you dined
afterwards--did he never tell you his name?"

"Joseph," she answered. "That was as much as I could get out of him."

Superintendent Wragge's lips were pursed. He whistled softly.

"Violet Joe!"

"Is there anyone with that nickname?" she asked eagerly. "My burglar
used a perfume of violets, I'm sure. He wore violets last night in his
buttonhole and," she added with a faint blush, "he had the impertinence
to send me an enormous bunch this morning from a florist's in Bond
Street."

Her uncle chuckled.

"You seem to have made an impression upon him," he remarked.

"It makes me furious even now," she confided, "when I remember how he
talked and behaved. Tell me, is there a criminal or have you anyone on
the books who has the nickname of Violet Joe?"

Superintendent Wragge became more serious.

"There is a gang," he told her, "of which we know scarcely anything,
doing very serious work in London at the present moment. They are
supposed to be directed by one or two men of very important social
position. The nickname of one of them is Violet Joe."

Miss Mott asked her next question with a certain amount of hesitation.

"Is there anything definite--anything very serious against him?"

Her uncle shook his head.

"Nothing at present," he admitted. "All the same we should like to
establish his identity. By the by, do you know where I was all the
morning when you called and found me out?"

"They wouldn't tell me," she complained.

"I was at the inquest on Colonel Warsley, the late secretary of the
Hyacinth Club."

Her face was alight with interest.

"Tell me about it," she begged. "What was the verdict?"

"Suicide when temporarily insane. The usual thing."

She drew a long breath of relief.

"Well, I'm glad about that at any rate," she confided. "Was there
anything in the evidence about valuable property being missed from the
locker room of the club?"

Superintendent Wragge stroked his chin thoughtfully.

"Not exactly," he declared. "Vet in a way you have solved the mystery. I
think I can explain now the whole episode of last night."

She leaned forward eagerly.

"For heaven's sake go on," she urged.

"It seems," her uncle began, "that this Colonel Warsley and his wife
were accustomed to play challenge bridge matches with any two players
who fancied themselves, and there is no doubt but that they were
extraordinarily successful. Warsley himself, it appears, was always
looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion, but he was tolerated on
account of his wife, who is exceedingly well connected, very popular,
and apparently a delightful personality. Notwithstanding this, however,
there were rumours in the club that on the occasion of these challenge
matches Colonel Warsley and Lady Emily Warsley, his wife, played with
marked cards. There was a secret committee meeting, and it was arranged
yesterday that at six o'clock, when everyone was busy in the card-rooms,
the secretary's safe and all the private lockers were to be opened and
searched. This scheme was duly carried out."

"Did they find anything?" she asked breathlessly.

"Not a thing," the superintendent replied. "Colonel Warsley's locker,
which was known to have contained several unopened packs of cards the
day before, was empty."

There was a brief silence. The superintendent was looking at his niece.
With a little flush upon her cheeks she was working out the significance
of her uncle's narration.

"I see," she murmured. "My burglar knew somehow or other what was going
to happen, raided the lockers first, found the marked cards and escaped
with them. Naturally he did not wish to be seen leaving the club. He
confessed to me that he had entered secretly. I suppose he had arranged
it too so that when I left my club last night without any parcel or bag
my rooms were searched and they were taken away. Otherwise, he knew that
I would keep my word and bring them to Scotland Yard this morning. Tell
me, was the matter of the scandal mentioned at all at the inquest?"

"Only in a very vague and sympathetic manner," Superintendent Wragge
replied. "When the question of motive was raised one of the jury asked
if it was true that there had been any scandal in the club which might
have affected the secretary. The solicitor who was watching the case on
behalf of Lady Emily Warsley got up at once and admitted that, as was
common in many card clubs where play was high, there had been certain
rumours concerning the existence of marked cards. He thought it should
be publicly known that the club premises had been thoroughly searched,
including the private rooms of Colonel Warsley, and nothing in the least
incriminating had been discovered. He branded the accusation as a libel
and the chairman of the committee of the club who was present got up and
said that he was convinced that the rumours which had been referred to
were entirely false. The Coroner, in his few words, declared that no
suspicion of any sort attached itself to the dead man, who was known to
have been in poor health and of a very unhappy disposition."

"I think," Miss Mott said, with a severity which she was very far from
feeling, "that he might have trusted me."

Her uncle shook his head.

"If your burglar friend, my dear," he remarked dryly, "was really acting
for Lady Emily Warsley, as seems likely, he would remember that he had
the living to think of as well as the dead. You know, it is perfectly
possible at such a game as bridge for marked cards to be used and for
only one person to know about them. On the other hand, if the truth came
out it would be very hard indeed not to implicate both partners. I think
your friend's discretion under the circumstances was perfectly
justified."

Miss Mott sighed a little petulantly.

"I cannot help feeling," she complained, "that I was rather made use
of."

Her uncle smiled.

"You must remember, my dear," he pointed out, "that your friend took
risks. If ever the time should come when you are able definitely to
identify Violet Joe it might be a serious matter for him."

Miss Mott took her leave with a faint and rather vague smile upon her
lips. Somehow or other she fancied that that time would never come.



2. THE MAGIC POPGUN


MISS MOTT, engaged in her usual Wednesday afternoon task of answering
the inevitable crop of letters demanding her advice in next week's _Home
Talks,_ paused in perplexity before one of the last she opened. She read
it slowly, and, as she read, the delicate pink colour mounted almost to
her temples. Her eyes shone--deep-set, dark blue eyes, Miss Mott
possessed, with silky lashes, the eyes of a beauty, notwithstanding her
demure appearance. Her fingers distinctly shook. Yet the letter in
itself seemed harmless enough. It was written on what appeared to be
club stationery of expensive quality, but the address at the top had
been carefully cut out:


_"Dear Miss Mott "--it began--

"Give me your advice, please, in the next issue of your paper. I have
recently met and been immensely attracted by a young lady whose
friendship and affection I should much like to gain. Unfortunately I
have not, up to now, led what is termed a respectable life, and I am
afraid if she became aware of the nature of my profession she would not
grant me the privilege of her acquaintance. Should I be justified, under
the circumstances, bearing in mind the fact that my intentions are what
are termed 'strictly honourable,' in seeking her friendship under an
assumed name, and endeavouring to secure her interest in me before I
divulge my profession?

"Please reply to

"V.J."


Miss Mott placed a paper-weight upon this epistle, and answered all the
others first. Then she turned back to the waiting letter, lifted it for
one moment to her dainty nostrils, and half closed her eyes. Afterwards,
with no further display of sentiment, she thrust a sheet of paper into
her typewriter, and dealt with it:


"_V. J. I am surprised that you should ask me such an unintelligent
question. Under no circumstances would you be justified in approaching
the young lady until you have entirely changed the manner of your life,
and are prepared to live according to accepted standards."_


Miss Mott, whose touch upon her typewriter was usually both light and
delicate, thumped out these few lines with unaccustomed force and
energy. Afterwards she rang the bell for the tall, bespectacled young
girl who acted as her secretary.

"Ring up Scotland Yard for me, Amy," she instructed, "and enquire
whether Superintendent-Detective Wragge is in. If so, put me through to
him on the telephone."

"Superintendent-Detective Wragge. Yes, Miss Mott."

"My uncle," the latter continued. "And afterwards, Amy, take this
package of manuscript round to the _Home Talks_ office."

The girl accepted a bulky envelope, and retreated to her own den.
Presently the telephone bell rang. Miss Mott exchanged a few words with
her uncle, and arranged to lunch with him at 1.15 that day at the Milan
Grill Room.


Superintendent-Detective Wragge was a big, loosely-built man, whose
success in his profession could not have depended in any way upon his
ability to disguise himself from his prospective victims, for he was a
person of unusual appearance. He was over six feet tall, and his face
was large, creased and lined. His eyes were shrewd and penetrating, his
mouth sensitive and humorous. He might more easily have been taken for a
Cabinet Minister, or a barrister, than a detective. He was known at the
Yard, and to a certain section of the criminal world, as "Rags," and he
enjoyed a thoroughly well-earned popularity with both. His successes had
mostly been achieved from the arm-chair behind his desk, and were owing
in large measure to his amazing memory of and insight into the ways and
habits of the criminal world. He was commonly reported to be able to
tell you off-hand the favourite haunts and habits of any well-known
evil-doer, together with his chosen brand of cigarettes, and any other
personal details. He seldom stirred from his room in Scotland Yard, but,
on the few occasions when he sallied out professionally, either
eastwards or westwards, things usually happened. He was very fond of his
only niece, and it was, to a certain extent, under his auspices that she
had combined her present venture with her newspaper activities.

"Is it true, uncle," Miss Mott asked him, during the course of their
lunch, "that you know the names and nicknames of every one of the
principal criminals in London?"

"Perfectly true, my dear," he assented. "Nothing much in that. There
aren't more than twenty or thirty of what we call 'big spots.' The
remainder work under them in gangs. The man known as Violet Joe and his
chief--Boss Meredith--are about the only two of the big five I couldn't
lay my hands on at any time if there was any object in it. Violet Joe's
too clever for the ordinary police brain. All we can hope is that some
day he makes just one slip. Then, by God, we'll have a look into his
past."

"That doesn't sound very pleasant." Miss Mott shivered.

"Crime isn't pleasant," was her uncle's dry response. "It's all right to
read and write about, but it's a nasty business to live amongst. Don't
let's talk about it. Have an ice before your coffee?"

"I will have a chocolate and vanilla ice mixed," Miss Mott announced--"
and, in the meanwhile, why shouldn't we talk of it? In my new
department, I might be mixed up with criminals at any moment. Crime
fascinates me. I'm tired of giving advice about these courtship and
domestic matters. I should like to be drawn into a really serious
affair."

"Then you're a little fool, and I'm sorry I ever encouraged you to start
your intelligence agency," Superintendent Wragge growled. "Crime--real
crime--is an ugly and beastly thing. I don't suppose you'll ever come in
touch with it, and I sincerely hope you won't."

Their conversation was broken into in somewhat abrupt fashion. A
good-looking, exceedingly well-turned-out young man, who was passing
their table, paused, and, with a courteous bow, held out his hand to the
superintendent. He was moderately tall, with clean-cut features, a
pleasant mouth, shrewd eyes, and brown hair which had a distinct wave in
it where it was brushed back behind his ears. He wore a blue serge suit,
with a tie of elusive purple, and a bunch of violets in his buttonhole.

"Superintendent Wragge, isn't it?" he remarked with an ingratiating
smile. "I am afraid you don't remember me."

"Not entirely," the superintendent admitted, as he shook hands. "To say
that your face is familiar wouldn't be exactly a compliment, as you seem
to know my profession."

"About two months ago," the newcomer reminded him, "you came to Amberley
Square--wedding reception, you know--Lady Hoskinson's. You had a man
there already, watching over the wedding presents, but you thought you
might spot a pet thief you were after."

"I remember the circumstance, but not you," the superintendent
meditated.

The young man sighed.

"Lady Hoskinson is my aunt," he confided. "Victor Jones is my name. I
asked you to have a drink, and you wouldn't."

The superintendent shook his head.

"It doesn't sound like me," he objected. "All the same, there was a--What
did you say your name was?"

"Victor Jones," the young man repeated. "Might I have the pleasure--"

He glanced towards Miss Mott. Her uncle accepted the hint.

"Mr. Victor Jones--my niece, Miss Mott."

The young man took Miss Mott's somewhat timidly proffered hand in his.
She looked into his eyes, and fear came.

"I am delighted," he murmured.

There was a moment's somewhat curious silence. For some reason or other,
Miss Mott, not usually a shy young woman, seemed incapable of speech.

"You hadn't the best of luck that night, had you, Superintendent
Wragge?" Mr. Victor Jones continued easily. "Your man was there. You
knew that. You couldn't spot him, and the diamond pendant was stolen.
Never been recovered to this day, my aunt tells me."

"You seem to have the events of that evening at your finger-ends,"
Superintendent Wragge remarked, "but, curiously enough, even now I don't
seem to remember you."

He frowned, as though in a further effort of memory, gazing intently at
the young man. Suddenly his eyes narrowed. Mr. Victor Jones was bending
over Miss Mott, and she was trying hard to take no note of the appeal in
his eyes, to be reckless of the scent of violets creeping once more into
her nostrils. Her heart was beating fast. Furthermore, she was somehow
conscious of the sense of drama closing in upon her.

"You, too, they tell me, are, in a small way, a follower in your uncle's
profession," he remarked.

"A very small way indeed," she assented deprecatingly.

She raised her eyes and looked at him, and what he saw in those blue
depths was quite sufficient warning to him. He smiled back a message of
reassurance, and he left her swiftly. She herself had heard nothing, but
she had seen her uncle's urgent summons to the maître d'hôtel, the
whispered replies, the man's hurried departure and egress through the
door. Then she heard a disappointed exclamation. Mr. Victor Jones had
swung away from the door, crossed the grill room, and plunged into the
restaurant, disappearing almost at once amongst the incoming crowd.
Superintendent Wragge, with an agility little short of marvellous,
followed him, and Miss Mott was left alone with her thoughts...

It was at least a quarter of an hour before Superintendent Wragge
reappeared. He resumed his seat very much as though nothing had
happened, but he pushed on one side the glass of very mild white wine, a
bottle of which he was sharing with his niece, and ordered a double
whisky and soda.

"Sorry to leave you, my dear," he apologised. "I had an idea--merely an
idea--but one can't afford in my profession to neglect even the
semblance of one. That young man now! What the mischief made him come to
this table and tell me a deliberate falsehood?"

"Did he?" Miss Mott asked simply.

"You heard him tell me that his name was Victor Jones, and that he had
met me at his aunt's the afternoon the old lady persuaded me to go in
there and superintend the arrangements for guarding her daughter's
wedding presents. That was a distinct untruth. I never met him there, or
anyone like him. The only young man who approached me was a fair,
insignificant little chap, with an eyeglass, who was a brother of the
bride, and even he didn't ask me to have a drink. What this fellow's
object was in telling me that rigmarole, I cannot imagine."

"Perhaps," Miss Mott suggested modestly, "he wanted an introduction to
me. I am afraid--he had been looking at me a good deal, and everyone
knows who you are, so I dare say he tried a bluff."

Superintendent-Detective Wragge stroked his chin and regarded his niece
thoughtfully.

"That never occurred to me," he acknowledged. "You are, I suppose,
personable. It may have been that, after all."

"Tell me about your idea," she begged. "What made you send for the
maître d'hôtel, and afterwards follow the young man?"

Her uncle leaned forward in his place. He satisfied himself that there
was no one else within hearing distance.

"I will tell you," he confided. "We have information that Violet Joe is
in town, and that there is something doing almost at once. That young
man had to pass my table. He is notorious for doing impudent things. It
would have been just like him to try to establish a false identity with
me. Then look at his name. Probably invented on the spur of the
moment--Victor Jones--Violet Joe. Look at the clever way he disappeared
too. There was a touch of the habitual criminal there."

"He could have passed our table without your seeing him," she pointed
out. "He needn't have come to such a public place, either, at all,
unless he had chosen."

"Quite so," her uncle agreed, "but we know that Violet Joe will take big
risks to frequent the best places, and he always prefers offence to
defence. If I had looked up as he passed, he might have been forced into
the defensive. As it was he chose the offensive, and, provided there is
anything in my idea, he got away with it."

Miss Mott looked at her _vis-à-vis_ very earnestly.

"Do you really believe that that was Violet Joe who stopped at this
table, and to whom I was introduced?" she asked him point-blank.

"It might have been," was as far as her uncle would commit himself.


Two dreary weeks! February weeks, too, of snow and slush, frost and
swift thaw! Outside the weather was filthy. Inside her little office,
Miss Mott was depressed. Her volume of correspondence had been as large
as ever. She had written two articles for her paper, which had been most
favourably received. She had installed a service of electric bells in
her office--one under her foot, which would bring her prompt help in
case of unwanted callers--and she had purchased the smallest revolver
made, which would go into her handbag, and which she had learned to use
with some skill. Not a caller, however, legitimate or otherwise, had
disturbed the serenity of her days. No perplexed husband or anxious wife
had called to solicit her aid. Her connection with the criminal world
seemed to have ended as suddenly as it had begun. Then, about five
o'clock on an impossible afternoon, the crash came. Miss Mott began to
be very busy indeed.

The telephone started the riot. She was told that her uncle wished to
speak to her from his room at Scotland Yard. When they were connected,
however, he seemed to have curiously little to say. He asked a few
family questions, added his own to a million other daily curses upon the
weather, talked vaguely on various matters, and only once broke into
adventurous ground.

"Seen or heard anything more about that young man who disturbed our
luncheon-party?" he enquired.

"The young man who might have been Violet Joe? I was just going to ask
you that. Not a thing. Have you?" Miss Mott rejoined innocently.

"Indirectly. I believe he is about, though. We must have another
luncheon one day next week."

"I should love to. I have no engagements."

He still held on. Whilst she was wondering what on earth he had rung her
up about, he coughed uneasily.

"By the by, Lucie," he said, "whilst I think of it, if ever anything
should happen to me suddenly--foul weather this for elderly people, and
I've got a bit of a cough--my will is at Wyman's, the solicitor, 18,
Holborn Row. Got that?"

"Why, of course, uncle, but what's the matter?" she enquired, suddenly
alarmed. "You're not ill, are you?"

"Not I," he assured her, his voice suddenly more natural now that he had
got rid of what he had really rung up to say. "Just occurred to me,
that's all. I am perfectly well, but--there's no reason why you
shouldn't know--"

"Shouldn't know what?"

"I'm going out to-night after Violet Joe's crowd."


There was nothing Miss Mott could do. No good ringing up hysterically,
and begging him to go safely home, and get to bed before the snow came
on again. Her uncle was Superintendent-Detective Wragge, and if it was
his duty to go out after a famous gang of criminals, he had to go. She
was woman enough to know that, and not to dream of interfering. All the
same, she was sorry that that one particular person was concerned in the
affair...She told herself that her little romance was a thing thinner
than air, that it was already melting away before the hot fire of
blazing reality. Yet it hurt her very badly to know that before
to-morrow Violet Joe might be arrayed in the manacles of shame, or her
uncle--she was fond of him, too--for his sake she might have to make
that little journey to Holborn Row.


Footsteps upon the stairs--just as she was putting on her hat, too! Soft,
swift footsteps, mounting through the darkness of the two upper flights
of stairs. She felt the quickening of her pulses. She had plenty of time
to get to her newly installed electric bell beneath her chair. She had
plenty of time to get to the telephone. She did neither. She let her
coat slip back from her shoulders, leaving her slim and straight,
flower-like in her one-piece frock. Then she waited. To others it might
have seemed long--Miss Mott had lost count of time--the footsteps at the
door, the masked face peering through the aperture, the cautious,
furtive entrance, the figure of her former visitor, lithe, alert, the
flashing eyes, pinpricks of fire darting round the room.

"You are alone?" he snapped out.

"Absolutely," she assured him. "Look under my desk, if you like."

He seated himself coolly in her clients' chair as she glided into her
own place. Her alarm bell was under her foot, the telephone instrument
at her elbow. In the drawer at her right hand was her miniature
revolver, and something else she would have hated him to have found--a
torn, purple silk mask, with a few spots of blood upon it, and a
withered bunch of violets.

"Miss Mott," he began, "I don't want to seem sentimental, but I do want
to save your uncle's life. Tell me where he is, or how to get in touch
with him."

She tried her best to steady her voice, and, on the whole, she was
fairly successful.

"My uncle has gone after you, if you are Violet Joe," she replied.

"But where?" he demanded. "Where am I supposed to be?"

"I have not the slightest idea."

"Don't be a fool," he enjoined sharply. "Didn't you hear what I said? I
want to save your uncle's life, if I can. If you won't tell me how to
get at him--he's finished."

"Why should you want to save his life?" she persisted. "You are Violet
Joe, aren't you?"

"I suppose so. I am not the only criminal in the world, though. There
are others more anxious to get rid of your uncle than I am, and with
more cause. I think he's a very nice old gentleman, and perfectly
harmless if left alone. All the same I can't save his life without your
help."

"What can I do?" she faltered.

"Do you know anyone at Scotland Yard?" he asked. "What I mean is, do you
know anyone who knows that you're Wragge's niece?"

"Several people."

"Get in touch with them as quick as you can then," he begged. "My car is
waiting downstairs--a small black coupe. Tell the man to drive you to
Scotland Yard. Mr. Grant's orders, say. Not my name. Code word. Go to
one of your friends. Tell him of your business here. You have a client
whose confidence you must respect. You can't mention names, but you've
been given a word of warning about your uncle. You want to know where he
is. I'm the nameless client, mind Don't mention me, unless you want to
give me away. The telephone's no use. They might answer you, but they
wouldn't tell you the truth unless they saw you."

"All right," she promised. "I'll go. What about you?"

"I'll wait here till you come back."

He helped her on with her coat. He had drawn off his gloves, and she
caught a glimpse of a fine, strong hand--a man's hand, although the
nails were carefully manicured. She caught also more strongly than ever
a wave of the perfume of violets, and shrank from their fragrance. He
threw open the door. His eyes flashed down upon her through the slits in
his mask, and again there was a gleam in them of something personal and
appealing.

"God, how pretty you are!" he muttered..."Hurry, hurry!"

Miss Mott fled down the stairs to the lift, tingling from head to foot.
Perhaps she was angry; perhaps she was sorry; perhaps she was glad. Many
a time afterwards she asked herself that question, but at the moment she
certainly did not know.


It was exactly thirty-two minutes later when the man who had been
left behind in Miss Mott's room heard her footsteps upon the stairs,
and threw open the door. She was looking distinctly relieved.

"False alarm!" she announced cheerfully. "They didn't hesitate about
telling me for a moment. There are no flying squad orders for to-night,
and uncle had to have his evening clothes sent down to the office. He is
dining with Mr. Anthony Durban, who has something to do with the Stock
Exchange, at 11B, Manchester Square. Uncle's rather fond of the Stock
Exchange, you know, and he knows heaps of brokers."

Her visitor groaned. Already he was buttoning up his coat. He glanced at
the platinum and gold watch upon his wrist.

"Look here," he said, "this is all you can do now. Ring up Scotland
Yard, and ask if they can find any Mr. Anthony Durban living in
Manchester Square, or anywhere else for that matter. When they've
discovered that there isn't such a person they'd better order out the
flying squad in case they get a summons."

"Do you mean that uncle is in danger--that he didn't go to Manchester
Square?" she gasped.

Her visitor looked back from the door. His fingers were already toying
with the fastenings of his mask.

"Little Miss Mott," he explained, "when a man who has been selling
secrets is asked by another whom he may suspect of being a gangster to
take an automobile ride with him in Chicago, he orders a drink, and
knows it's the last he's going to have on earth. It's pretty well the
same thing here."

"What do you mean?" she shrieked.

"I mean that when anyone in the criminal world is asked to dine with Mr.
Anthony Durban in Manchester Square, he knows very well that it's his
finish."

She wrung her hands.

"But we must do something."

He reflected for a moment, but he only shook his head.

"Ring up Scotland Yard. It's all you can do."

"But where shall I tell them to go to?" she asked breathlessly.

He hesitated for a suspiciously long time.

"I can't tell you that," he sighed. "You see, after all, although I'm
only in with them on certain occasions, I'm nevertheless one of the
gang. I'll do what I can, but I'm afraid it won't be worth a snap of the
fingers. It's heaven or hell, according to his past life, for your
lamented uncle."

The door swung to and closed. The footsteps of Miss Mott's departing
visitor, swift and muffled, were still audible upon the stairs. Miss
Mott was not listening. She was studying intently the oblong purple
card, fallen apparently from his clothing as he had left the room.


Superintendent-Detective Wragge, a little earlier in the evening,
descended from his taxicab in front of a handsome mansion in Belgrave
Square, and presented his hat and coat to a pompous-looking butler.
Any slight misgiving he might have felt at the somewhat unusual
conditions of his visit should certainly have been allayed by a
brief study of his surroundings. The family portraits upon the
walls were without a doubt valuable and authentic. The butler
might have served in ducal households from the moment of his first
escape from the pantry. The furniture was heavy and ponderously
Victorian, the carpets soft to the feet. Everywhere was an atmosphere of
complete and unassailable respectability.

"Has Mr. Thornton arrived?" Superintendent Wragge asked. "He was taking
me to Manchester Square to dine with Mr. Durban, but telephoned me at
the last moment to come here instead."

"That is quite all right, sir," the butler replied. "Mr. Thornton will
be here in a few minutes, and Mr. Durban is expecting you. Mr. Durban
being a bachelor, sir," he confided, "the drawing-room is seldom used.
We receive in the lounge."

He threw open the door of a spacious library in which five men were
seated in various attitudes of ease.

"Mr. Wragge, sir," he announced.

A tall, thin man of apparently early middle age slipped from the edge of
a heavy mahogany table, dropped his eyeglass and threw down the evening
paper which he had been reading.

"Good evening, Mr. Wragge," he said, holding out his hand. "Glad you
were able to join us. Not sure whether you know everybody.
Hartigan--Dick Hartigan--you must have met, I think. Ponsford, Bill
Cheyne, and Bolton. There they are! Terrible lot of fellows, but they'll
tell you all you want to know about the Stock Exchange, and they are
just as anxious to meet you as I am. Meredith my name is, by the by, not
Durban."

"Mr. Thornton, I presume," the superintendent remarked, after a brief
but hectic silence, "will not be coming."

"Mr. Thornton is not dining to-night," Meredith acknowledged. "As a
matter of fact, he never dines with us, and we're only slightly
acquainted. He told one of us of your weakness for the Stock Exchange,
and we paid him five thousand pounds to bring you here. You see how
highly we value you--or your absence--whichever way you care to put it."

Superintendent Wragge shook hands with everybody, and, although he knew
now that he was face to face with death, he addressed a pleasantly
indifferent word to each one of the men whom he had been hunting so
assiduously. Syd Bolton! How they had combed the East End, and even
parts of the West End, for the famous international jewel robber. They
had never thought of looking for him, though, in Belgrave Square! One
little link, one slip in his statement, and the Haxelly murderer was
found. Meredith, his gracious host, smiling so imperturbably, would
surely take that one-minute walk at eight o'clock if only the handcuffs
could be fastened upon his wrists...

A footman handed cocktails around.

"Success to crime!" Meredith remarked, raising his glass.

"Rather a discourteous toast under present conditions," Cheyne drawled.

"Make it crime and all connected with crime," Meredith amended.

"The idea merits a second cocktail," Bolton declared, helping himself.

"And a response from me," Superintendent-Detective Wragge added boldly.
"I represent the law. You are under arrest, Meredith. You are all under
arrest."

There was a roar of laughter, yet Wragge had his moment. He sprang
backwards towards the door, and out came his two automatics, one in each
hand. It was in this fashion that he had captured Bob Perrigon, and the
Perrigon gang, and earned his first stripe. But to-night he had cleverer
people to deal with. The men in front of him cowered back, or seemed to
cower, and threw up their hands readily enough. Then from behind came a
terrible exhibition of force--just that pompous-looking butler, who had
once been within an ace of winning the middle-weight championship, and
one footman--footsteps, as though on wool, a grip of steel, and back
went those automatics. Away they went clattering on to the carpet, and
Superintendent Wragge was unarmed. The tension was over. There was a
fresh outburst of laughter. Everyone took another cocktail, and this
time with Wragge.

"Success to the prevention of crime," they toasted, knowing that they
had escaped death by inches.

"I am with you, gentlemen," Wragge declared, accepting his second glass.
"An excellent toast! To the prevention of crime!" I think that if I had
been of a more bloodthirsty temperament in the few seconds at my
disposal, I would have done something towards it just now."

"Etiquette, my dear fellow!" Meredith murmured. "One must follow the
rules."

They all drank. They were inclined to like Wragge, but they closed in
upon him, and he knew that death was not far off. Then there came an
unexpected, an almost ludicrous interruption. The butler threw wide open
the connecting doors, showing beyond the wonderful vista of a round
dinner table, flower-adorned, with servants standing behind the chairs.

"Dinner is served, sir," he announced.

There was a queer hesitation whilst they all glanced towards their
guest. He set down his empty cocktail glass.

"Excellent!" he acclaimed. "I am hungry, and Thornton assured me that
you had a first-rate chef."

There was admiration in their eyes as they looked at him--cold eyes,
avaricious eyes, lascivious eyes, murderous eyes. All the world, though,
loves a brave man.

"Lead on, Meredith," Bolton called out. "We are a quarter of an hour
late already."

"And it's up to us," Cheyne put in, "to see that our guest dines well."


Superintendent-Detective Wragge did dine exceedingly well. He ate
caviare, and, looking over his shoulder to be sure that it was being
offered, waited for the vodka. He was even a little peevish at the late
arrival of the lemon. His turtle soup he tasted first before he
permitted the wineglassful of Amontillado. Of the turbot he thoroughly
approved, but asked twice for sauce--he had missed the lobster at first.
Conversation swung round to the doings of the Stock Exchange, with which
institution it seemed they were all in some way connected, and Wragge
himself contributed one or two pertinent observations. Once, even, he
ventured to ask for advice upon a certain matter of taking up a new
issue--a gesture which brought a smile to the lips of every one of them.
They all appreciated his sang-froid, for they themselves were brave men,
but they had looked forward to this occasion for a long time and planned
it most carefully, and they never for one moment intended him to study
the quotations in the next morning's papers. With dessert, came port in
heavy cut-glass decanters, and a single bottle of Château Yquem. It was
then that silence fell upon the little company, and Meredith leaned
forward.

"Wragge," he said, "I suppose you realise the position?"

"I imagine," the superintendent replied, "that as you have allowed me to
see you all face to face you mean to kill me."

Meredith nodded.

"As a man of common sense," he pointed out, "you must see that we have
no other alternative. For years, you have been the only man in Scotland
Yard whom we have feared, and latterly you have shown signs of vision
which, to be frank, have alarmed us. We are engaged in a species of
warfare, but we can't take prisoners. We have come unmasked to meet you
to-night. To our guest that means death."

"I understand the position perfectly," Wragge admitted. "If I lived,
there isn't one of you I shouldn't be after in the morning, working
backwards from this, I must confess, unsuspected rendezvous."

"Precisely," Meredith murmured. "Now, to prove that we are in earnest
let me run through a few names. Inspector Lowden. Now, you recollect
Lowden?"

"Died from a stroke in Hyde Park Square," Wragge reflected.

"He dined with us," Meredith confided. "Detective Simpson."

"He was found dead in the Metropolitan Hotel--no evidence," Wragge
observed.

"Precisely. He dined with us. Inspector Holmes."

"Found dead in Kensington Gardens--no signs of violence," Wragge
remembered.

"Exactly. He, too, dined with us. There have been others. There will be
you."

"You are not helping me towards the enjoyment of my dinner,"
Superintendent Wragge grumbled.

"The time for that sort of pleasantry has passed," Meredith pronounced,
with a note of almost tragical irritability in his tone. "My butler is
now serving the port. With it, he offers a bottle of Chateau Yquem
1870--a really priceless wine. No one else, Mr. Wragge, will take the
Château Yquem. It will save time and trouble if you do."

The superintendent made a grimace.

"Why not study my tastes?" he complained. "I hate sweet wine, and I love
port. From the colour, I am sure that is vintage wine. Jubilee, perhaps,
or even better--'90."

They looked at him steadfastly--that little vicious circle, each one
prepared with a readier means of death. Then, into the silence, there
broke a strange voice--the voice of the one other man who had the
_entrée._ They all stared at him in amazement. He passed through the
folding doors, which were immediately closed behind him. Meredith stood
up. The two faced one another--the newcomer in the purple mask,
and--Meredith.

"Sorry I'm late," the former observed. "Don't bother about dinner. I've
already dined. Why are you having a meeting to which I haven't been
invited?"

Meredith regarded him with cold disapproval.

"This isn't your show," he declared. "You're not with us when it comes
to this sort of thing, and we don't want you around."

"What kind of a show is it, then?" the other insisted. "And what does it
mean?"

"Take the truth, if you will have it, and be done with it," Meredith
replied. "We've got Wragge here, and we're going to kill him. Damned
well time, too! He'd have had us by next week."

"You're going to kill him, are you?" the man in the purple mask repeated
blandly. "Well, I'm here to see that you don't."

"What the hell have you to do with it?" Meredith expostulated. "You're
not in the inner circle. You've no right here. Since you are here,
though, look around. Can't you see--it's an unmasked dinner? What's to
happen to us if Wragge lives?"

"A problem, I admit," the latest arrival acknowledged, subsiding on to
the arm of an easy-chair.

"Let us devote a few minutes to thinking it out. Have you any
suggestions to make, superintendent?"

"Can't think of any, except that I damned well won't drink that sweet
wine," Wragge rejoined. "I'd sooner die some other way. I came here to
take Meredith. I never expected to run into the whole gang, or I should
have had the G.F.S. round the corner. I might have suspected Thornton,
though," he concluded, after a moment's pause. "I knew that he was in a
devilish tight corner for money."

"One has to take a risk sometimes, in your profession as well as in
ours," Meredith remarked soothingly. "This time you happen to have lost.
It might have been worse. I do wish you'd drink a glass of that wine,
Wragge. It would save us so much trouble, and I hate an absolutely
fruitless discussion."

"Don't touch the stuff, Wragge," the man in the purple mask advised.
"You'd be dead in two minutes, and carted off to Kensington Gardens or
somewhere in five."

Meredith scowled--a lean, melancholy-looking man he was, with a scar on
one side of his cheek, and deep lines in his face. He addressed the man
in the purple mask.

"Look here," he said, "we don't want to quarrel with you. You don't
belong here any longer, and you've no right to interfere in anything we
choose to do. If Wragge doesn't drink a glass of that wine, in thirty
seconds he's going out another way."

"Better hear my proposition first," the other suggested. "You came here,
superintendent, after Meredith. You didn't expect to meet these other
gentlemen."

"I certainly did not," Wragge admitted. "I have a fair amount of
self-confidence, but I should scarcely have ventured to tackle five such
illustrious gunmen single-handed."

"Very well, then," his questioner continued, "what about Violet Joe?"

"I want him too."

"Well, here's a sporting offer for you. These men mean business, and you
cannot possibly handle the crowd. I am Violet Joe. Will you blot this
little party out of your mind, and forget everyone else you have seen in
this room, if I give myself up?"

There was a moment's stupefied silence; then, from around the table, a
chorus of disapproval. Meredith shook his head.

"You're mad, Joe," he admonished. "How the devil could he make such a
promise, or, if he made it, keep it?...Tie him up," he ordered curtly.
"That's right," he added, as Cheyne and Bolton flung themselves upon the
superintendent from behind. "He's going out. Fill a glass of the wine,
Hartigan. If he won't drink, I'll shoot him my----What the hell's this?"

"This," was Miss Mott, very savage and very determined, after all she
had overheard through the chink between the folding doors. She stood in
the open space between the two doors which she had just thrown back and
she proceeded forthwith to action. She seldom read detective stories,
and was completely ignorant of the etiquette of a hold-up.

She issued no invitation, nor gave any warning to her prospective
victims. She simply stood where she was, and plugged the small bullets
from her miniature revolver into everyone. Cheyne, who was engaged in
tying up Wragge's wrists, dropped the cord with a yell of pain. Bolton
rolled over, with a bullet in his shoulder-blade. Hartigan, on the
farther side of the table, collapsed momentarily, with a shriek of pain.
Meredith she missed, and, as she saw him leap towards her, she kept her
last two bullets to save her own life. She felt a grip upon her
shoulder. Someone--the man in the purple mask, who had announced himself
as Violet Joe--swung her behind the sheltering door, just as a bullet
whistled between them. Then--a new pandemonium seemed to break out. From
down below came the beating of a gong; electric bells were ringing
throughout the house. Everyone who could stand on his feet seemed to be
rushing towards a distant corner of the dining-room, whilst, to complete
the confusion, all the lights in the place went out. There was the roar
of an automatic fired at close quarters, a shout of anger, and the
slamming of a trap-door. Miss Mott, left to herself, was very much
afraid, until from the middle of that pool of darkness she heard her
uncle's voice.

"Are you all right, Lucie?"

"Quite," she answered. "Are you?"

"That devil Meredith missed me from half a dozen yards," he grunted.
"Try to find a switch. I've got one of the fellows you shot to look
after. The G.F.S. are breaking in."

Miss Mott found the switch, and when the police made a sudden and
violent appearance, streaming in from every door, they discovered
Cheyne, who was badly wounded, handcuffed upon the floor, Miss Mott
staunching with a white napkin the blood from a gash upon her uncle's
forehead, a bolted trap-door underneath the dining-table and not another
soul.

"Do you know which way they have gone?" Superintendent Wragge snapped.

"I think so, sir," the inspector, who had brought in the men, replied.
"There's a passage comes out of the area next door. We've got it
surrounded, anyway. I'll take another gun and be off," he added,
snatching one up from the table.

Superintendent Wragge rose unsteadily to his feet and poured himself out
a glass of champagne. To the inspector's amazement his superior was
shaking with suppressed laughter.

"What's the joke, sir?" he asked in astonishment. Her uncle held out
Miss Mott's weapon. In his huge hand it looked like a child's first
popgun.

"She's broken up the toughest gang in London with this," he guffawed.

The inspector grinned as he hurried out...Superintendent Wragge,
although he stood on guard with a real gun in his hand, was still
shaking with uncontrollable laughter. Miss Mott's terrified eyes were
searching everywhere for Violet Joe.

But Violet Joe, by that time, was a long way away.



3. NOAH'S ARK


MISS MOTT of _Home Talks_ and "Mott's Enquiry Agency" finished going
through her letters with a little sigh of relief, and rang the bell to
indicate that she was ready to receive a waiting visitor. A few minutes
later there was ushered in a young woman who seemed entirely typical of
the class whose domestic and love affairs Miss Mott so often supervised.

"This is Miss Moore?" Miss Mott asked, glancing at the card on the table
by her side.

"That is my name," the visitor admitted. "Miss Helen Moore."

Miss Mott looked her over calmly. The young woman was pretty in her way,
neatly dressed, with a pullover hat, underneath the brim of which one
caught a glimpse of dark, very expressive eyes. She was obviously
nervous.

"Tell me all about it," Miss Mott begged, "in as few words as you can.
And tell me, too, why you didn't consult me by letter--which I very much
prefer."

"I expect I was silly," the girl replied. "I am always nervous where
Henry's concerned, thinking I might get him into trouble. Henry's my
young man, you see. We are sort of engaged to be married."

"What do you mean by 'sort of'?"

"I mean that we were properly engaged," the young woman explained,
"until I found out things about the way he earned his living. Then I
called it off. Now he's getting troublesome again, though, and I don't
know what to do."

"Are you fond of him?" Miss Mott asked. The girl considered the matter.

"I'm fonder of him than I am of any of the others around," she
acknowledged. "A girl must have a chap to go about with. I'd like to get
married, too."

"What is there wrong about the way he earns his living?"

"He's a hairdresser by trade," the girl confided. "Well, what is there
wrong with that?" Miss Mott queried.

"Nothing, of course," the girl replied, "but I found out not long ago
that he's got what he calls a side-line. He was always clever at making
people up for the stage--wigs and such-like--and he's a perfect marvel
at disguising people. It's that what's got him into trouble."

"Go on," Miss Mott invited. "Tell me all about it."

"He's been working lately for a gang of criminals," the girl confessed.
"He can change any man's appearance in a quarter of an hour so that
you'd never know him. He's making good money at it, but they take him
out with them sometimes, and I'm afraid."

Miss Mott looked properly shocked.

"I should think so, indeed," she declared. "You mustn't have another
thing to do with him." The girl's lips quivered.

"But I'm fond of him. He swears that if I'll marry him he'll give it up
and get a regular job out in the country somewhere, so as to be away
from them all."

"Do you believe him?"

"I do--honest," the girl said earnestly. "What I wondered is, whether
you'd have just five minutes' talk with him one day--let him come and
see you. You'd be able to make up your mind, then, what you think of him
and I'll do what you say."

"Very well," Miss Mott sighed. "When does he leave work?"

"Six o'clock," the young woman replied. "He's in a hairdressing
establishment in Hammersmith just now."

"He can come at half-past six to-morrow night," Miss Mott assented.
"I'll tell you what I think and give you my advice in next week's paper.
I prefer that to having you visit me here. Tell me your name again."

"Helen Moore."

"There will be a reply to you in my column. I will make use of your
initials--H. M."

The young woman rose to her feet.

"I'm very much obliged to you, miss, I'm sure," she said. "You won't
mind having Henry here a bit. I can promise you that. He's quite the
gentleman always, and when he's dressed up for the evening, you wouldn't
know him from any of these West End swells."

"It won't matter to me how he looks," Miss Mott assured her, a little
impatiently. "I shall make up my mind about him from the way he answers
my questions."


Henry Leneveu was certainly a young man of a most displeasing type, Miss
Mott decided, as he was shown into her room on the following evening.
She disliked the shape of his head, the smallness of his eyes, his
smoothly brushed hair and his generally sleek appearance. He had good
looks of a certain sort, and he was neatly enough dressed. Miss Mott,
however, distrusted him at first sight, and Miss Mott was becoming quite
a physiognomist. She motioned him to a chair and went point-blank to the
matter.

"You want to marry Helen Moore, I understand," she said.

"That's what I mean to do," he acknowledged, a shade of truculence in
his tone. "She's got it into her head that because I've been off the
track once or twice, I shan't make her a good husband. That's all
old-fashioned stuff, of course, and not worth thinking about
nowadays. To please her, though, I've promised to run straight in the
future. I've saved a little money. I'm ready to settle down, and what I
say is--the sooner we're married the better."

"From your point of view, I dare say," Miss Mott agreed coldly. "The
question is, are you absolutely serious when you say that you've made up
your mind to run straight?"

"I've said so, haven't I?" was the impudent rejoinder. "I have an
outside line which pays far better than any ordinary work, but it's a
bit risky, perhaps. And, anyway, I've promised to give it up.

"Have you ever been in trouble?" Miss Mott asked.

"I was in prison for three weeks the month before last," he admitted,
with obvious reluctance.

"On a serious charge?"

"A charge of 'loitering with felonious intent,'" Henry Leneveu confided
bitterly. "I was only strolling about as any fellow might. They framed
that on me whilst they tried to get evidence of something else. They
couldn't do it. That's the only time I've been in prison."

She looked him straight in the eyes.

"They had something else against you, I suppose?"

"In a way they had," he confessed. "In the course of my profession I've
waited on a good many of the criminal classes, and there was a great
deal of information they would have been glad to have from me. They
didn't get it--and that's the end of the matter."

"And you've honestly and truthfully made up your mind to go straight if
the girl marries you?"

"Of course I have," was the irritable reply.

"Has the young woman any money?" Miss Mott enquired, after a moment's
reflection.

"Yes, she's got a bit," Leneveu acknowledged grudgingly. "And a small
house left her by her aunt."

"I see," Miss Mott murmured. "Well, I don't think I need keep you any
longer, Mr. Leneveu. I shall think it over and you can tell Miss Moore
that she will receive my advice in next week's issue of the paper."

"What's that advice going to be?" he asked, picking up his hat.

Miss Mott glanced at him out of those eyes which could be so beautiful,
but which, at that moment, were cold and almost steely.

"That is my affair," she replied coolly.

The young man took ungracious leave, and Miss Mott, after a brief
conversation upon the telephone, proceeded to Scotland Yard, and
received some terse but significant information from an inspector to
whom her uncle introduced her...

In next week's _Home Talks,_ amongst the answers to correspondents, was
one which was very much to the point:

_"To H.M._

_"Have nothing whatever to do with the young man on any account."_


That brief sentence made for Miss Mott a very cunning and unscrupulous
enemy.


Boss Meredith suddenly paused in his task and laid upon the table the
gun which he had been cleaning. From some unseen place in the large
stone-flagged kitchen of the old-fashioned Essex farmhouse, an electric
bell was tinkling He leaned towards the window listening, a glint of
feverish anxiety in his sunken eyes. His appearance had entirely changed
during the last few weeks. He had grown a short, straggling beard, and,
in his thick shooting boots and gaiters, flannel shirt and leather coat,
he represented well enough the typical keen sportsman back from an
hour's tramp after flighting duck. There was nothing whatever left of
the dandy in his unkempt appearance, and it is doubtful whether even
Superintendent-Detective Wragge, if he had seen him at that moment,
would have recognised him as the debonair host of that murderous
dinner-party in Belgrave Square.

The electric bell continued to ring. There were footsteps from all parts
of the house; Bolton and Hartigan--similarly attired in the garments of
sport--came stealthily in. They were equally unrecognisable, and as they
grouped themselves round the long oak table, they all three exchanged
glances of silent apprehension. Hartigan had already pulled out his
automatic, Bolton followed suit. Meredith, in greater danger than either
of them, had already laid his on the table in front of him. Gordon, the
pompous butler, reduced by some miracle to half his former size, made
swift and noiseless entrance.

"There's a motor-cyclist coming down the dyke path," he announced. "The
lights are all out. Shall I put the bar on the door?"

Meredith reflected.

"He must have seen that we were lit up from the lane," he muttered.
"Better find out what he wants, Gordon. No nonsense, mind. We can't have
inquisitive people round here at any price. If you have the slightest
suspicion--"

Gordon grinned.

"That's all right, sir," he interrupted. "There are several patches in
the near marsh would suck in the whole of Scotland Yard."

There was a ring at the bell--a hoarse, clattering summons of the
old-fashioned type. Meredith stooped down, picked up a couple of
mallards which he had brought in a few minutes before and threw them
upon the deal table, concealing under the feathers of the nearest one a
very deadly-looking automatic. Then he recommenced his task of cleaning
his gun...

Gordon was gone longer than they expected. There was nothing of alarm in
his face, however, when he returned.

"It's Henry Lenevue, our hairdresser," he announced. "The only man who
could make up your scar properly," he added, addressing Meredith. "He
was copped in the Hazel Street show, but they could only get him for
felonious loitering. We haven't seen anything of him since, but he kept
his mouth shut all right."

Meredith frowned.

"Does he know we're here?" he asked.

"He appears to," the man replied. "He wants to see you."

"Bring him in," Meredith enjoined briefly.

Henry Leneveu, in the somewhat forbidding costume of a serious
motor-cyclist, made due appearance. He was carrying his goggles in his
hand, but his face was still half masked. He was spattered from head to
foot with mud, for there was no more desolate corner in Essex than this,
and the lanes to Ilsom Grange, as the place was called, were nothing but
frequently flooded cart-tracks. Meredith eyed him coldly.

"What do you want here, Leneveu?" he asked. "You ought to know that
we're not inviting visitors."

The young man smiled deprecatingly.

"I know that, sir," he admitted. "I shouldn't have come if I'd dared
write, but I wasn't sure whether the 'busies' hadn't tampered with the
post office here. Thought I'd better run down. I've a couple of boxes of
cartridges tied on behind there, and if I had met anyone I should have
said that I was from the gunmakers'--that you had telephoned for some
extra special number fours."

Meredith nodded. At least his visitor showed intelligence.

"All right," he said. "You're here. Now, what about it?"

"Could you give me a drop of something?" the young man begged. "It's
been a cruel ride."

Gordon, who had remained in the room, at a gesture from his master,
produced whisky and soda. Leneveu drank thirstily.

"It's that young woman, sir," he confided, "the one who plugged the
baby-shot into Cheyne and Mr. Hartigan here."

"What about her?" Meredith asked swiftly.

"I saw her last week with Wragge," the young man went on. "You may say
it's not my business now as you're not working, but I'm hoping the time
will come when you're back again and you find us lads useful. I've
learnt a few new tricks with the pencil, mind, and remember we're always
ready for a scrap or a job of any sort--especially now."

Meredith nodded.

"We'll see," he promised. "Go on."

"She's a vicious young dame, that," Leneveu continued, with an ugly
twist of the lips. "And it's my belief that bureau of hers is nothing
but a fake. She's there to pass on what she can pick up to the Yard.
She was working with Wragge all right that night. Anyway, I sent a
question to her column in the paper, and got permission to call and
see her. We talked a lot of tommy rot about a young woman I was
supposed to be engaged to, but I noticed a few things."

"Well?"

"She was studying an ABC when I got there. She laid it face downwards
upon the desk when I came in, but I saw the page. I bought an A B C when
I left her. Page fifty-seven it was. On page fifty-seven there are the
trains to Driseworth. That's the station for here, ain't it?"

Meredith frowned. A curse broke from Hartigan's lips.

"Yes, that's the station for here," the former admitted thoughtfully.
"No one in their senses would think of corning by train, though. The
roads are almost impossible now, but between here and the station there
are four miles under water when the tide's up."

"Well, anyway," Leneveu reiterated, "she was looking up Driseworth in
the ABC, and I wondered why."

"How did you know where we were?" Meredith asked curiously.

"I'm captain of number two gang," was the somewhat bumptious reply. "We
arranged the transport down here."

"That's right," Hartigan put in. "Number two are a good lot of boys.
They've done their work well up till now."

"Go on, then, Leneveu," Meredith enjoined.

"There isn't much else," the young man admitted, "but, whilst I was
there the telephone rang, and she spoke. I'm pretty well sure it was to
her uncle at Scotland Yard. She wanted to see him to-day, but he had to
go to Southampton. They made a rendezvous for to-morrow night. I was
wondering whether, if the young lady was interested in Driseworth,
something hadn't better be done to stop that meeting."

Meredith looked gloomily out of the casement window. Filled though his
brain was with sinister thoughts, the memory of that piquant little face
was also there mocking him.

"When will the _Lavinia_ be down the river, Bolton?" he enquired.

"Not until Saturday at four o'clock," was the regretful reply. "Johnson
couldn't get her there before, however hard he tried. He's got to change
her colour, or the whole wharf will be talking."

Meredith nodded.

"You've still got something on your mind, Leneveu?" he asked, turning to
his visitor.

"The young woman's office," the latter confided slowly, "is in a damned
silly place for anyone who meddles with things she ought to leave alone.
She's only got a young girl and an errand boy working for her there, and
they always leave before her. The hall porter's O.K., and there's only
the lift boy besides."

"Well?"

Henry Leneveu swung his goggles backwards and forwards.

"There's only one safe way," he remarked, "but I'm not out for that sort
of thing."

"Chickens you lads are becoming nowadays," Meredith sneered.

The young man shook his head.

"I'll back my lot in a scrap against anyone," he boasted. "We don't care
what we take on. I'm not pretending we're squeamish either, but there's
not one of us is going to risk that three minutes with the chaplain and
the eight o'clock bell. I wouldn't mind taking my chance of going out to
the sting of a bullet, but I wouldn't face the other thing--"

"So far as the young lady in question is concerned," Meredith observed,"
I'd see that you didn't. She is much too attractive to be hurried out of
the world like that. You have still something you want to say, haven't
you? Let's hear it."

Henry Leneveu had evidently thought the of air out.

"She is to meet her uncle to-morrow night at the Trocadero at eight
o'clock," he confided. "She's staying on at the office, and going direct
from there. It's no good half doing the job, because she'd squeal from
hospital. What I'll undertake to do--it will cost me money, mind, but
I'll do it--is to deliver the young woman here to-morrow night between
ten and eleven. You can make your own plans afterwards." Meredith
reflected for a moment.

"What do you fellows say?" he asked, addressing his companions.

"How the devil," Hartigan demanded, "did she get to know anything about
Driseworth?"

"Speculations of that sort won't help us," Meredith reminded him.

"Is there anyone else in your gang who is not quite so squeamish as
you?" Bolton asked their visitor.

Leneveu shook his head.

"No one I'd trust. They're young yet, and even if they did the job, I
wouldn't trust them afterwards."

"There could be no better place in the world, if we're driven to
extremes, than this," Meredith meditated. "Even the farm labourers
disappear."

"It's a murderous piece of country." Bolton shivered. "There's scarcely
a farmer round here hasn't had someone sucked down into the earth."

"What will it cost you, this little enterprise?" Meredith enquired.

"It should be worth five hundred quid," Leneveu replied promptly. "For
that I'll undertake to deliver the young woman here to-morrow night."

Meredith nodded.

"You'd better have another drink, and get back again then," he enjoined.


At half-past seven on the following evening, Miss Mott tidied her desk,
locked up her valuables, made some slight changes to her toilette, and
descended to the lift. It came rattling up in answer to her summons, and
a strange young man, though wearing the uniform of the hall porter,
threw open the gate for her to enter.

"Where's Dick?" she enquired, as he slammed the door to.

"Dick's gone out on an errand," he announced. "The hall porter's got the
evening off, and I'm taking his place."

There seemed something vaguely and unpleasantly familiar about the young
man, but Miss Mott thought no more about it until the lift came to an
unexpected standstill between the fourth and fifth floors. The last
thing of which she was conscious was a grip upon her shoulder, and a
handkerchief placed over her mouth.

"That'll teach you to come between a young man and his girl," she heard
a savage voice mutter. "No good struggling, my dear. You're for it this
time."

Miss Mott certainly was for it. The next thing she remembered was
opening her eyes, and finding herself being driven in a somewhat shabby
automobile along a very rough country lane. They were passing an inn
with a swinging sign, but there was no other habitation in sight.

"Where am I?" she gasped.

"You go back where you belong, young woman," was the unfriendly reply,
and up went the handkerchief again...

Miss Mott's second awakening was perhaps equally alarming, but not so
unpleasant. She was lying upon a huge mahogany four-poster bed, with
chintz hangings and curtains. There was a fire burning in the grate,
several comfortable articles of furniture in the room, and an elderly
woman seated in an easy chair by the fire reading a newspaper. Miss Mott
blinked once or twice rapidly, then she opened her mouth cautiously and
closed it again. No gag! She stretched out her arms very gingerly at
first, and swung them from the elbows--free! She moved her legs and
discovered that they were unbound. Then she slid gently off the bed. The
old woman turned her head unconcernedly and went on with her knitting.

"Where am I?" Miss Mott demanded.

"Look out of the window and see," was the curt reply.

Miss Mott crossed the floor in her stockinged feet, for her shoes, she
found, had been removed. She opened the casement window, looked out--and
gasped. So far as she could see, on each side and in front of her, was
water, softly swaying, waveless water. It was lapping against the lower
windows and what appeared to be the front door of the house. It seemed
illimitable. A steely, menacing plain, beneath which gardens, and
fields, and even villages might lie buried. The tops of trees and barns
studded the wilderness. Carcasses of animals were floating about. A
confusion of birds twittered and called between the misty clouds and the
grey water. In the far distance Miss Mott could trace the masts of
moving ships. Nearer was one tiny speck, which might have been a boat.
Otherwise, here was desolation--supreme--complete.

"What a flood!" she gasped.

"Us as lives in these parts are used to such," the hard-faced woman with
the steel-rimmed spectacles said. "I've known worse. I've seen people
clinging on to the roof of this house: maybe we'll be there ourselves
before nightfall, when the tide flows."

Miss Mott watched the speck that she had first noticed, approaching. It
might well be a boat.

"To whom does this house belong and why have I been brought here?" she
demanded.

The woman glanced at her without change of expression.

"What a fool you must be to think that I am here to answer questions,"
she rejoined contemptuously.

Miss Mott moved towards the door and opened it. She peered down into the
silent hall.

"Go round the house if you want to," the woman invited. "You'll see that
it isn't man that's made a prisoner of you. It's the Lord God--if there
is such a person. And don't you open a door unless you're looking for
sudden death. If the water once gets in we'll drown like rats."

She resumed her knitting, and Miss Mott, taking advantage of her
liberty, descended the stairs gingerly, taking full note of her very
gruesome surroundings. The house seemed to be a sort of small manor,
with panelled oak walls in poor condition, raftered ceilings, old
transepts and stone floors. The door of a large lounge sitting-room was
wide open. She peered nervously in. The whole of one side was occupied
by a long gun-rack in which were ranged weapons of every description.
There were piles of cartridge boxes upon the floor, a quantity of
ancient and mouldering furniture, bookshelves, the calf-bound volumes of
which were reeking with damp. First and foremost, however, in her mind,
deadening all her other apprehensions, was the amazing fact that
water--already more than a foot deep--covered the floor of the hall, and
of the room into which she looked, lapped over the bottom stairs and was
even oozing in bulbous drops through the thick walls. She stood and
shivered. There was something absolutely terrifying in the slow but
inevitable absorption of everything by the one overwhelming element. A
panic seized her and she called out:

"Is anyone here?"

To her surprise a civilised voice at once answered her.

"Coming, madam."

There was the sound of paddling footsteps flopping through the water. A
green baize-covered door leading to the back regions was pushed open and
a strange figure presented himself, a figure of a large man attired in
the correct morning costume of a butler to his hips, but with his lower
limbs encased in an enormous pair of waders. His little bow seemed to
Miss Mott ludicrous.

"Will you have breakfast, madam, or will you wait for the master?" he
enquired.

"Wait for whom?" Miss Mott demanded.

"The master."

"Who is your master?"

The man coughed apologetically.

"We don't care about mentioning names to any great extent, madam," he
replied. "Shall I say your husband? The gentleman to whom you were
married last evening on your way down here."

Miss Mott's beautiful eyes grew larger and rounder with amazement.

"What are you talking about?" she exclaimed. "I have never been married
to anyone."

The faint gleam of a wintry smile disturbed the placidity of the man's
expression. Almost in that instant Miss Mott recognised him and clutched
at the banisters with a little moan.

"The master's instructions were that he was bringing his wife home last
night. Soon after your arrival he was obliged to leave with the other
gentlemen on urgent business, but we expect him back at any moment now."

Miss Mott wasted no breath. The situation, horrible though it was, was
becoming clear to her.

"I should like some coffee upstairs," she told the man, and, turning
around, retraced her steps...

Viewed from her bedroom window the speck was no longer a speck. It was
clearly in sight now--a punt, with a grey-headed seaman handling the
pole and an unrecognisable person in oilskins and sou'wester smoking in
the stern. She leaned forward eagerly--she hoped--she feared--she was
terrified--she was tremulously excited. She saw the punt ride over what
must have been the flower garden. She watched a man who climbed a rope
ladder which had been thrown down from one of the windows, Then she
fainted.


It was late in the afternoon before she was fully recovered, to find
herself stretched in an easy chair before a blazing fire in an
unfamiliar room. She looked wildly around. The curtains were drawn and
the lamps lit. There was a trickle of water under the door, a few blobs
of moisture on the outside wall, but the carpet itself was dry. There
was tea and toast by her side. She found herself ravenous and began to
eat. Then she caught sight of a long, lean figure lounging in the chair
opposite, and her heart almost stopped beating. Nevertheless, she
preserved her self-control.

"Why have I been brought here?" she asked.

The man was obviously a good actor. The slight elevation of his eyebrows
was inimitable.

"My dear young lady," he remonstrated, "there was never any question of
our going anywhere else after the ceremony. Of course, I'm sorry about
the conditions--"

"What conditions?" she interrupted bluntly.

He waved the question away. She leaned farther forward towards him.

"What ceremony?" she repeated uncompromisingly.

"Our marriage," he explained, with reproachful emphasis. "One realises,
of course, that you were in a hysterical state, but such an important
event should not have escaped your memory altogether."

"Our marriage!" she scoffed. "And pray, when and where did this take
place?"

"Westminster Registry Office, after hours, by special licence," he
replied. "Cost me a great deal of money, but I do not grudge it," he
added, with a gleam in his eyes and a little bow. Ever since one night
in Belgrave Square, no other woman has meant anything to me. Superb you
looked, potting away at us all with that little pistol. By the by, I
hope you haven't got it with you now?"

"If I had," Miss Mott rejoined, "I should certainly use it."

The man rose to his feet. Fully revealed in the circle of lamplight, his
long, narrow face seemed more sinister than ever.

"I have to present you my apologies," he said, with an undernote of
mockery in his tone, "for my regrettable absence last night. I was
compelled to see some friends off on a long voyage. Nothing but stern
necessity would have kept me from your side. To-night, however--"

He came a step nearer. Miss Mott held out her hand. An awful sense of
helplessness swept over her. That waste of waters outside--a gruesome,
impassable barrier! The old woman knitting upstairs! The butler with
his fat, wicked face! The life adventurous was failing, at that moment,
to appeal to Miss Mott.

"Please don't talk nonsense any longer," she begged. "It--frightens me."

His eyebrows went up.

"Nonsense?" he queried. "Do you doubt that we are man and wife?"

"Of course I do," she scoffed. "It isn't possible. No one can be married
without knowing anything about it."

He produced from his pocket an oblong strip of paper and held
it out to her. It was the usual printed form, carefully filled
in and purporting to be a record of a marriage between Malcolm
St. John Meredith--bachelor--forty-four years old, and Lucie
Mott of Branksome Mansions, aged twenty-two. She pushed it away.

"You know that it is a forgery," she cried.

He shook his head.

"It's genuine enough," he assured her smoothly. "There was a little
trouble with the Registrar owing to your condition, but he happened,
fortunately, to be a friend of mine. So were the witnesses...Poor place
for a honeymoon, I'm afraid," he added, looking around deprecatingly. "A
short one, too, alas!" I can only spare four days. Can you learn to love
me in four days, do you think, Lucie?"

"You beast!" she sobbed.

"My dear!" he expostulated, the menace in his eyes reflected in his
tone. "How unreasonable you are! You break up a famous gang of
law-breakers, you take away our very prosperous occupation and send us
flying to all parts of the world, you separate two loving hearts--my
Figaro and the girl to whom he was engaged--and see how I treat you! I
could have had your company here for four days, my sweet little
spitfire, without going through this tiresome ceremony. I respected your
possible scruples. I gave you my name--in the first place that you might
not be able to give evidence against me, and, secondly, that you might
give me in return--"

Miss Mott struck out at him fiercely, but he only laughed. He held both
her wrists with one hand, whilst the other encircled her waist. He drew
her to him, regardless of her desperate struggles, his face was bent
over hers, and the scar on his cheek was like a line of fire. His lips
touched her eyes, then moved downwards, notwithstanding her frantic
screams...He raised his head for a moment to listen to the gurgling
splosh of waders in the back hall. The butler made his appearance at the
door. Miss Mott, from her imprisonment, turned eagerly towards him.

"Let me go!" she cried. "Take me away from this place. You shall have
everything I possess in the world."

The man changed not a muscle of his face. Meredith patted her head
soothingly.

"A little overwrought," he murmured.

"Just so, sir," the man acquiesced. "I came to enquire about dinner."

"In here at eight o'clock," Meredith directed. "The 1911 champagne. Two
bottles."

The butler departed, closing the door firmly behind him. Miss Mott, who
was saving her strength, lay almost passively in her captor's arms. He
was not deceived, however.

"So you will need taming, my little love-bird?" he mocked. "That will
amuse me. Too good sport to hurry over. I'll get out of these clothes.
After dinner I'll read a little to you from the prayer-book."

He laughed and laid her lightly in an easy chair. As he straightened
himself he suddenly stiffened. He turned his head towards the window and
remained transfixed in an attitude of listening. Very cautiously, too,
Miss Mott also raised herself in her chair. A faint streak of colour
stole into her cheeks, a shiver stirred her heart as she, too, listened.
Sound of any sort was hope, and against the dull background of that
monotonous swell and gurgle of water came the thud of the beating of an
engine from some distant place--its dull roar echoing through the great
void...

"A lost soul," Meredith jeered, "or perhaps one of those new motor
steamers trying to get up the river before nightfall."

He rang the bell.

"Gordon," he told the butler, "put out every light in the house at
once."

There was a swift, questioning glance. Meredith nodded reassurance.

"It might be a plane overhead," he confided. "It isn't likely they're
looking for the Grange, but, anyhow, we can't entertain any more
guests..."

Miss Mott had drawn aside the curtain and was gazing out into the
gathering twilight, when Meredith returned from a whispered conference
with Gordon. He hurried to her side and together they watched the dimly
visible plane riding through the mists. Meredith studied it long and
silently. Then he went to a gun-rack built into a recess by the
fireplace, selected an automatic, charged it and slipped it into his
pocket. He was not taking quite so much notice of Miss Mott.

"The plane is coming down," he muttered. "Some madman who has lost his
way, I should imagine."

He threw open the window and leaned out. Without a doubt the plane was
circling round and was already much lower.

"Can it land here?" she asked eagerly.

He nodded.

"Can't you see that it's a seaplane?" he pointed out. "It might get down
safely if the light holds--but," he added, turning towards her with a
smile of derision, "do not be deceived, my fair visitor. Whoever this
may be--it is for us his visit is intended and not for you. Your clever
uncle would never dream of so romantic a way of seeking for you."

"I don't care who it is," she declared, "so long as it's someone who's
going to stay--so long as I'm not here alone with you."

He passed his arm around her waist and drew her shrinking form towards
him.

"You'll soon get used to that," he assured her.

She wrenched herself away as he turned once more to the window. The
plane was skimming the surface of the water now, slackening speed with
every yard, and the figure of a man was clearly visible--one hand upon
the stick, the other holding a small anchor.

"She's down," Meredith muttered. "A damned clever piece of work,
anyhow."

The plane was riding at last upon the strange heap of waters. It
narrowly escaped the top of a sunken tree, swerved and shivered as it
was nearly enmeshed by the unseen branches, then the anchor caught and
she came to rest.

"Damn' fine landing," Meredith repeated approvingly. "I was right, I
see. Our visitor is a friend of the house."

"I don't care who he is," Miss Mott reiterated, with a strange throbbing
of the heart. "If he's a man at all, he couldn't be brute enough to
leave me here alone with you."

A look flashed across Meredith's face which brought back all the fear
into her shivering consciousness. He was a dour and menacing figure in
this cold and gloomy half-light. Withal, he spoke and had the air of a
man in supreme control of the situation, utterly confident in himself
and his powers. He watched the slow approach of the man, who had
launched a small rubber punt, with mingled curiosity and indifference.
As the latter drew nearer, he tapped a cigarette upon the window-sill and
lit it.

"I shouldn't wonder if that was Violet Joe," he speculated. "Looks like
his crouch."

She tried hard to conceal her sense of passionate relief. If only it
were! Presently she began to believe it. There was something familiar
in the movements of the tense figure. They watched him, with the aid of
his long, slim pole, make his way skilfully towards them. He was dressed
in a leather flying suit, and wore a great visor over his head, but Miss
Mott recognised him and her heart beat with joy. Yet all the time there
was terror mingled with her relief. She thought of the automatic in
Meredith's pocket and she remembered that Violet Joe went unarmed.

The punt struck at last the edge of the bank in front of the Manor.
Meredith, who had stepped from the window, held out his hand, and the
visitor scrambled up, dragging the punt after him.

"Any trouble?" Meredith asked quickly.

"None at all," Violet Joe declared, shaking himself. "It was you fellows
I was wanting news of. No telephone--no telegraph--no trains. Did you
get to the river?"

Meredith nodded gloomily.

"Bolton and Hartigan are both of them safe on the _Lavinia_ and well in
the Channel by now," he reported. "I lost the draw, of course. I offered
the purser another thousand to slip me on board, but he wouldn't. You'll
find I've discovered a compensation for another seven days in this
infernal hole, though," he added, with a glance back into the
sitting-room.

The two men stepped through the open window, Meredith leading the way,
his hand firmly in his jacket pocket. His companion, following, suddenly
recognised Miss Mott standing in the middle of the room, her eyes like
stars, torn between passionate hope and deadly fear. In the twilight she
saw nothing of Violet Joe's face. She heard only his words, and they
sounded cruelly cold and indifferent.

"Why, it's little Miss Mott!" he exclaimed. "What on earth is she doing
here?"

"Mrs. Meredith, if you please," Meredith corrected. "Congratulate me,
Joe, and wish the young lady every happiness."

"Rubbish!" the newcomer exclaimed tonelessly.

"Special licence yesterday evening," Meredith announced. "Returning good
for evil, eh? Miss Mott has done more than Scotland Yard ever could. She
has broken up my noble army of gangsters and yet I've married
her...She's attractive enough to have married for her own sake," he went
on reflectively, "but, of course, I couldn't help remembering that she's
the only person who could swear to my identity, and a wife can't give
evidence against her husband."

Violet Joe laughed.

"Clever fellow! Well, it's not my business, anyway. Give me a drink,
Walter. Had a hell of a ride for nothing, it seems."

Meredith smiled and remained warily in his place. He pointed to the
sideboard. Miss Mott found her voice.

"It is not true that I am married," she cried passionately. "I was
chloroformed and brought here by force. If ever I was in a Registry
Office, I was unconscious."

Meredith chuckled.

"What does it matter, dear, so long as you are here? Joe, if you really
came thinking that Bolton, Hartigan and I were stranded, it was sporting
of you, and I am much obliged. If you came for any other reason, you can
see that you are not wanted--not wanted, Joe."

Her heart sank as she looked in vain at the man whom she had hoped might
be her deliverer. Violet Joe was apparently resigned to his dismissal.
He avoided her eyes. Was it possible that he believed Meredith's story?
He mixed himself deliberately a whisky and soda at the sideboard. A
tumult of words was quivering on Miss Mott's lips, but some instinct
kept her silent--an instinct which seemed to come straight from heaven
into her brain. Violet Joe was weaponless. He was fencing for time. Even
she knew the meaning of Meredith's right hand, toying with something in
his jacket pocket. She pointed out of the window and gave a little cry.

"What's that? Listen."

Violet Joe leaped towards the window, by the side of which stood the
gun-rack, just out of sight of the spot where Meredith lounged. He
seized a twelve bore and a handful of number four cartridges.

"A flight of teal, Meredith," he shouted. "Look sharp."

"I've shot teal till I'm sick of them," Meredith growled, as he
sauntered round the corner to look into two long and deadly barrels.

"Perhaps you're right," Violet. Joe replied. "I've number fours in here,
Walter, and they make a hell of a mess of a man. Up with them, and bring
your right hand out of that pocket empty! Quicker!"

Meredith obeyed without hesitation, but his expression was satanic.

"You came for the girl," he snarled.

"Of course I did," was the cool retort.

"You're one of my men," Meredith reminded him. "You know what you'll get
if you interfere with my concerns."

"I'm one of your gangsters," Violet Joe acknowledged, "but when you
forget our creed, I forget that you're my superior officer. Take off
your coat and throw it into that corner. I've a steady finger on the
trigger, remember, and if your hand goes near your pocket--you'll die in
agony. You may get me, but I'll get you first."

Meredith obeyed with a curse. He knew his man better than to attempt to
snatch at his gun.

"Get your coat, Miss Mott," Violet Joe enjoined. "If it isn't a thick
one, bring a blanket. Come straight out to the punt as soon as you can.
First of all, though, take the automatic out of that pocket and throw it
into the flood."

"I'm afraid of that man--the butler," she confessed, as she hastened to
do his bidding.

"Keep the automatic, then, and shoot anyone who attempts to interfere
with you," Violet Joe snapped out. "You needn't be afraid of Gordon. I
saw him sneaking off in the dinghy as I landed..."

Ten minutes later Miss Mott, wrapped in an enormous blanket, with the
stars and pale moon shining down on her through a lacy mist, with the
wilderness of water below and a north-west wind whistling around her,
was flying happily to London.



4--BUTTERCUPS AND DAISIES


SUPERINTENDENT-DETECTIVE WRAGGE bowed formally to Miss Mott upon his
entrance into her private office, laid his hat upon the floor and seated
himself in the clients' chair.

"Don't be silly, uncle," the young lady laughed, holding out both her
hands. "Come and give me your avuncular salute at once."

He shook his head deliberately.

"This," he warned her, "is a professional visit. I have not come here to
consult Miss Mott about any courtship troubles, nor have I an
interesting case to lay before her, but it is nevertheless a strictly
professional visit."

Miss Mott raised her eyebrows.

"Have I done anything wrong?" she asked anxiously.

Her uncle smiled in his own somewhat peculiar fashion. The smile broke
away over the lines of his creased face and seemed to leave him
afterwards looking sterner than ever.

"Not consciously, my dear," he assured her; "not consciously, of course.
I can't think why the devil these people won't leave you alone."

A light flashed into her very beautiful eyes. Miss Mott was quite
interested in these people.

"Do explain," she begged.

Superintendent Wragge, with an apologetic glance at his niece, produced
a packet of Gold Flake and lit a cigarette. He drew his chair a little
nearer to the table.

"I think I remember telling you the last time we dined together," he
began, "of a very interesting secret pamphlet circulating in the Yard,
dealing with the manner in which watched and suspected criminals, when
they are hard pressed, communicate with one another. The Agony Column of
_The Times_ for many years was freely used."

"I have often wondered," Miss Mott murmured, "whether those amazing
messages one reads ever mean anything."

"They probably mean something," her uncle observed dryly, "but the sense
lies underneath the words. Our code experts have often intercepted
messages of great importance concealed in the most harmless sentences.
No one suspects the owners of the newspapers of complicity. You
understand that, of course? It would be absolutely impossible for any
editor to discriminate between the real thing and the faked."

"Naturally," she agreed.

Superintendent Wragge dived into his pocket, produced two copies of
_Home Talks_ and spread one of them out in front of him. A little cry of
delight escaped his niece's lips.

"Don't tell me that they've been making use of my paper!" she exclaimed.

"That's just what they have been doing. Here is apparently a perfectly
harmless _nom de plume_ and your reply to the question, whatever it was.
Let me read it to you:


"'JENKS IN LONDON. _I think the young lady of whom you write must be
very unreasonable. I should tell her plainly that you do not think it
fair of her to keep you in such suspense and would insist upon a definite
decision.'"_


"Whatever can there be in that?" Miss Mott asked curiously. "They can't
build up a code on my reply because they don't see it until it appears."

"The whole of the message," her uncle confided, "is contained in the
pseudonym--'Jenks in London.' It means--never mind what it means. That
is a different story. We shall come to the reply presently. Now, tell
me, do you keep the letters of your correspondents?"

"For one month," she told him.

"Then you have 'Jenks in London's' letter?"

"Of course."

"Can I see it?"

Miss Mott became very professional.

"These letters are all supposed to be entirely confidential," she warned
her uncle.

For the first time in his life Superintendent Wragge was almost angry
with his niece. There were no visible signs of it, but she knew.

"Must I remind you," he asked dryly, "that it is not your uncle, but
Superintendent-Detective Wragge, of Scotland Yard who asks this
favour?"

Miss Mott rang the bell under her foot without further protest. At her
request, the lanky, bespectacled young secretary brought in a file from
which her employer drew out a letter. She handed it across to her uncle.
He studied it with some care .and laid it down by his side.

"The usual sort of piffle," he remarked. "But the handwriting must go to
our expert. Now, if you will turn to this second number of your
magazine, which I have here, you will notice in the first column .of
'Answers to Correspondents' a pseudonym, 'Buttercups and Daisies.'"

Miss Mott did not trouble to look at the magazine.

"I remember it perfectly," she declared. "I remember thinking what an
odd choice."

"You may be interested to know," her uncle confided, "that 'Buttercups
and Daisies' is the reply to 'Jenks in London,' and a very interesting
reply, too. I see you advised the young lady to forgive her erring
lover. Very nice and human of you, my dear. Now I shall have to trouble
you for the letter from 'Buttercups and Daisies.'"

The file was reopened. Miss Mott found the letter and passed it silently
across. After a brief examination her uncle placed it with the other in
his pocket.

"A very clever stunt this," he meditated. "Much better than any Agony
Column. The young man in our Code Department who tumbled to it deserves
a medal."

"May I know what 'Jenks in London' said and 'Buttercups and Daisies'
replied?" she begged.

Superintendent Wragge stroked his chin thoughtfully.

"I can't say that the message is as clear as daylight to us even now,"
he admitted, "but it contains an address we were very interested to get
hold of. And furthermore," he added, with a covert glance across the
table, "we are practically certain that the communication is between one
branch of a certain company of gangsters and another."

Miss Mott's was almost a painful silence. A flood of reminiscences
brought the colour streaming into her cheeks. Superintendent Wragge
looked tactfully away. He tapped another cigarette on the arm of his
chair and lit it.

"You've heard nothing more, I suppose, of our friends who were flooded
out?" he enquired.

"Nothing."

"No more mysterious visits from Violet Joe?"

She shook her head.

"That long devil with the scar hasn't tried to get at you again?"

"I haven't seen or heard a word from any of them," she declared.

"Meredith--that's the arch-blackguard's name, I'm sure of that,"
Superintendent Wragge continued thoughtfully. "Two of the gang got away
by the river, but I have an idea that Meredith's still in London."

"You haven't anything against 'Violet Joe,' have you?" she asked
timidly.

"If I had I should forget it," her uncle assured her. "Meredith's the
man I want. He's dangerous. So long as he's at large you should be extra
careful, Lucie. Watch your step all the time. Don't accept any
invitations unless you know the people well."

She shook her head.

"I never go out anywhere," she confided. "I keep William here till I
leave myself at night and he sees me into a taxi."

Her uncle nodded approvingly.

"Good girl. What about a little dinner with me to-night, then? I'll
fetch you and take you home. Are you doing anything?"

"Nothing at all. Except"--she went on, holding up an envelope--"these
came along this morning. I haven't made up my mind what to do about it."

Superintendent Wragge drew out the cardboard slips and studied them. He
turned over the envelope and noticed the address in clerkly handwriting.

"Two stalls for _The Humming Bird?"_ he remarked. "Someone's being kind
to you. I saw in the paper yesterday that every seat was booked for
months."

Miss Mott nodded.

"I believe it's awfully good," she confided. "How would you like to go
there first with me and have a little supper afterwards instead of
dining?"

"By all means," Superintendent Wragge accepted enthusiastically. "An
excellent idea. I haven't been to a theatre for months."

He glanced at the tickets again before he passed them back.

"You say you don't know who sent them to you?"

She shook her head.

"I haven't an idea," she admitted. "The box-office, I suppose."

Superintendent Wragge picked up his hat and smoothed it. Those keen,
narrow eyes of his had almost disappeared under their heavy lids and
amongst the puckered-up creases of his fleshy face--a sign that he was
thinking deeply.

"What's troubling you, uncle?" Miss Mott enquired.

"It seems to me a little queer," he meditated, "for the theatre to be
sending away complimentary seats when it's so heavily booked up, and
especially for Friday night. They aren't marked 'Complimentary,'
either. You're quite sure you can't think of anyone who might have sent
them?"

"I can't think of a soul," she admitted. "My editor gets complimentary
seats now and then, but if he offers them to me he always wants to come
with me. Still, as long as they're here there's no reason why we
shouldn't use them, is there?"

Superintendent Wragge selected one of the tickets and returned the other
to his niece.

"Not the slightest reason in the world," he agreed. "If you don't mind,"
he added, "I think it would be better if you went on first and I'll join
you later. We're sometimes rather busy at the Yard Friday nights and I
should hate to have you miss any of the show. I'll come as soon as I can
get away."

"Just as you like," Miss Mott assented. "I shall be there when the
curtain goes up on the first act, I can promise you that! Don't miss
more of it than you can help."

Superintendent-Detective Wragge, looking slightly distrait, took
affectionate leave of his niece and departed for Scotland Yard. His
conscience was troubling him badly as it had done once or twice before.
Nothing in the world could have prevented his occupying one of those
stalls at the Universal Theatre that night. He knew very well, however,
that if he did his duty as a blood relation, he ought to take particular
care to see that the adjoining one was vacant.


Miss Mott found her seats excellently placed and thoroughly enjoyed the
first act of _The Humming-Bird._ She was just looking round the crowded,
house at the fall of the curtain when a girl, seated, immediately in
front, turned round and smiled at her.

"Do you mind if I speak to you for a moment, Miss Mott?" she asked.

"Why, of course not," was the courteous reply..

"Do I--ought I to know you?"

"We are complete strangers," the young woman, admitted. "But I feel that
I know you very well because I read all your articles in _Home Talks._ I
hope you won't think it a great liberty, but I sent you the tickets for
to-night. It was the only way I could imagine of getting to know you."

Miss Mott laughed pleasantly.

"A very delightful way for me. I've been longing to see this show.
You're not, by any chance, one of my correspondents, are you?"

In the subdued light the girl seemed to flush.

"I'm afraid I have been guilty of bothering you with my poor little
affairs," she confessed. "You answered me in this week's number. I
called myself 'Buttercups and Daisies.'"

Miss Mott was well trained for her profession and she heard the
announcement with only the faintest flicker of polite interest in her
face. For once, then, her uncle must have made a mistake.

"I remember thinking your pseudonym a trifle unusual," she remarked. "I
hope what I said was of service to you."

"I should think so," was the enthusiastic reply. "You have so much
common sense and yet you look scarcely any older than I," the girl
added, with a sigh.

Miss Mott smiled tolerantly.

"Everybody looks the same age in this light. Some of you girls--"

"May I introduce my fiancé?" the girl begged. "Major Lingard--Miss
Mott."

A dark, clean-shaven young man, turned out with punctilious care and
wearing a rimless eyeglass, rose in his place and bowed.

"Glad to meet so distinguished a young lady," he said pleasantly. "I
know what Miss Carruthers wants me to ask you before the curtain goes
up. We should be so glad if you would come on to a new supper club with
us after the show--you and your escort, if you have one coming," he
added, looking at the vacant place. "Otherwise, we will look after you."

"Do please come," the girl urged. "My real name is Betty Carruthers. I
should like to talk to you so much and I am sure you would meet some
interesting people."

Miss Mott hesitated. The invitation sounded attractive enough to her,
but someone had suddenly turned on the lights in an adjacent box and
Miss Betty Carruthers's appearance seemed no longer that of the somewhat
silly young _ingénue._ There were one or two lines in her face and
little ones--almost crow's feet--about her eyes. Her hair, too, was
obviously tinted and her eyes themselves were strange, not at all the
eyes of a young girl. Miss Mott's instincts of caution were awakened.

"You are very kind," she said doubtfully. "I am expecting my uncle every
moment."

"But you must bring him along," the girl insisted. "It's the quaintest
place, only been opened for a week or two. It's run by one of
Dick's--that's Major Lingard's--ex-brother officers, and there are
always lots of nice young men there."

"I'm sure it would be very delightful," Miss Mott conceded. "May I just
see what my uncle says when he arrives?"

"Why, of course," the girl assented. "We shall be going anyway. We dance
there every night. It would be so nice to have a good long talk with
you..."

The curtain rose and Miss Mott gave herself up to the enjoyment of the
show. Immediately on its descent, Superintendent Wragge made his
appearance and edged his way to the vacant seat.

"Oh, I'm so sorry you've missed two acts of this," his niece lamented.
"It's been perfectly wonderful. The best show I've seen for ages. I want
to tell you something," she went on in a slightly lower tone.

The girl in front, with her escort, had strolled over to one of the
boxes to talk with some friends. Miss Mott directed her uncle's
attention to them.

"Are they friends of yours?" she asked.

"Never seen either of them before in my life to my knowledge," he
replied.

"Well," she confided, "the girl's name--she isn't nearly so young as she
looks--is Miss Betty Carruthers, and I'm afraid your Code Department
were wrong for once, for it was she who wrote to me under the pseudonym
of 'Buttercups and Daisies.'"

There was a moment's silence. Superintendent Wragge had made no remark,
but Miss Mott knew that he was interested from the swift intake of his
breath and from the way he leaned forward, with his hands upon his
knees, looking at the girl and her escort.

"She has just introduced herself to me," Miss Mott continued. "It was
she who sent us the tickets. She thought it would be a good way to get
to know me. That is her fiancé she is with--a Major Lingard. They want
us both to go on to a little dance club to-night, which has just been
started by some friends of theirs. They asked me to bring my escort,
whoever he was."

"Did they know my name and who I was?" Superintendent Wragge asked
quickly.

There was an expression of gentle deprecation in Miss Mott's upraised
eyebrows.

"Do I run an Intelligence Office for nothing? I simply said that you
were my uncle. The girl smiled at me in a most peculiar way. She may be
everything that she ought to be, but I don't fancy that in her world
girls go about with their real uncles. Here they are coming back."

Superintendent Wragge picked up his programme. It was hard to see that
his lips were moving.

"Harness is my name," he whispered. "Mr. Charles Harness--solicitor."

The two glanced expectantly at Miss Mott as they took their places. She
introduced her uncle, who beamed upon them with unusual affability.

"I hear you have been kind enough to ask my niece and me to a new supper
club to-night," he said. "We shall be delighted to come, of course."

"Capital!" Major Lingard exclaimed. "I hope you'll like the place. Miss
Carruthers and I are rather keen on it: run by an old friend of mine The
food and drink's all right, anyway, and the music isn't bad."

"If you'll give me the exact address," Superintendent Wragge suggested,
"we'll follow you on directly the show is over."

"Oh, please let us take you," the girl intervened. "Father's lent us the
family coach--as I call our old limousine--for the evening, and there's
room for everybody."

Superintendent Wragge accepted without hesitation.

"At my time of life," he confessed, "I hate struggling about looking for
taxis. Besides, it's a wet night."

"We'll all get out together as soon as the curtain's down," Miss
Carruthers declared. "Dick's ordered a table, but it's always just as
well to be on time. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to a
talk with your clever niece."

The curtain rose and Mr. Wragge gave himself up to a whole-hearted
enjoyment of the performance. At the end of the act tears of laughter
stood in his eyes.

"Best thing I've seen this season," he announced with enthusiasm. "No,
I'm not going out to get a whisky and soda. I've been working hard at
the office to-night and I had to scamp my dinner, so I'm determined not
to spoil my supper. I'll talk to Harry Philpott for a moment."

Superintendent Wragge, the laughter still lingering at the corners of
his lips, moved a few places down the row and talked to an elderly
gentleman who had also been a late arrival. Miss Carruthers and her
fiancé whispered softly together for a few moments. Then the former
turned round in her place.

"I can't help feeling that I've met your uncle before," she remarked.
"What did you say his name was?"

"Harness," Miss Mott repeated. "Mr. Charles Harness. He is a solicitor
in Bucklersbury."

"Very striking face," Major Lingard observed. "He might be a statesman
or a great physician or something of that sort. Does he dance at all?"

"Loves it," Miss Mott assured him.

Superintendent Wragge made his way back to his seat as the curtain went
up and apparently enjoyed the last act as much as the preceding one.
Afterwards, in high good-humour, they all four made their way out
together, and stood under the rain-dripping portico while their car was
being called.

"I hope this little place will amuse you," Major Lingard said, as they
took their places in the limousine after the briefest of delays. "There
are not a great many people go there yet, but that's only because it
isn't sufficiently known, and Captain Allen--that's the
proprietor--doesn't want to spoil it by letting everyone in."

"It really is the quaintest place," Miss Carruthers declared...

It certainly was quaint. The approach up the narrow mews was quaint. The
blue lamp hanging over the entrance was quaint. The two front doors,
both of unusual thickness, were surprising, and the descent of four or
five narrow steps after the first of these was unexpected. A young man
in resplendent livery relieved them of their coats and hats. A
tired-looking young clerk held open a book whilst Major Lingard wrote
down their names. Then, with a flourish, the second door was opened.

"Come this way," the latter invited, taking Miss Mott by the arm.

They stepped forward and passed into what seemed to be nothing more or
less than a civilised and over-decorated cellar. The colour-washed walls
were hung with sepia drawings of mad design and flaming colours. The
furniture was of almost Saxon simplicity and seemed as if it had been
knocked together by some village carpenter. On the other hand, the few
tables that were laid were glittering with plate and glass and almost
overladen with flowers. The floor was of glass, illuminated from below,
and a small coloured orchestra at the farther end of the room was making
strange sounds of musical import. There were several waiters standing
about of a more robust type than is usual in a night restaurant, and the
only other guests were a party of four, two young men of the gigolo
variety, with flamboyantly attired companions. Major Lingard led the way
to a round table set in a corner of the room. It was profusely adorned
with masses of yellow roses and two jugs of amber-looking liquid stood
in ice pails by its side.

"Would you mind sitting down and looking through the menu for a minute
whilst we go off and speak with our friend who runs the place," he
begged. "You'll find that champagne cup excellent, or you may like to
dance. We shan't be five minutes."

Superintendent Wragge checked his niece, who was on the point of sitting
down in the chair which his host had indicated.

"Major Lingard," he said, "I am going to ask you two favours, which I
hope you will not take amiss: one is to let me be the giver of the party
to-night--I am the eldest present and I think it is my privilege; the
other is to allow us to have a table at the other side of the room: that
is a stupid fad of mine, I know, but I will explain the origin of it
later on."

There was a vague look of anxiety on the young man's face. He seemed ill
at ease and his forehead was wrinkled in deprecating fashion.

"But, my dear sir," he protested, "Miss Carruthers is so anxious to
entertain Miss Mott. You see we have ordered special flowers in the hope
of your coming, and specially prepared champagne cup, and the table is
surely the best in the room."

"I am an ill-mannered pig," the other acknowledged, "but I am an elderly
man and I have my whims. There is nothing in wine or food possible here
which it will not be my pleasure to offer you."

Major Lingard gave brief directions to a waiter, but he found it
difficult to conceal his annoyance. His manner, too, had become nervous,
almost uneasy. He was obviously reluctant to leave his guests. The girl,
however, remained unmoved. She turned towards Miss Mott.

"Would you like to come with us to meet Captain Allen?" she asked.
"Perhaps you could persuade him to join us and dance." He is wonderful
when he starts, but he's not keen unless be finds someone really
attractive."

"I'll stay with my uncle, if you don't mind," Miss Mott decided, wholly
unconscious of the magnitude of her resolution. "He is rather an
important person in my young life."

The girl did not press her invitation but the smile lingered a little
sourly upon her lips. As soon as she and her companion had left the
room, which they did by a door at the farther end, they exchanged a
swift glance of apprehension. Miss Betty Carruthers was no longer in the
least like an _ingénue_ and there was a very unpleasant expression on
the young man's smooth face.

"What do you make of it," she asked anxiously.

"It looks rotten," he admitted.

"And yet," the girl pointed out, "how could they guess anything? They've
never seen either of us before, and they couldn't have known of this
place because we never even said where we were going. You weren't at
Amberley Square, were you?"

"Not I," he assured her. "I was doing business in Amsterdam."

"Then how could they have even the slightest suspicion about us?" she
demanded. "There isn't a loose end anywhere."

"I can't see one," Major Lingard admitted. "But will you tell me why the
mischief he shied at the table? There aren't half a dozen people in the
world who know the secret of that. And why on earth did he want to be
host if it wasn't to get out of drinking the champagne cup?"

"All the same, just remember this," the girl reflected. "The old man
couldn't possibly have known that we were going to be at the theatre or
that we were going to ask him here. He hasn't been out of our sight ever
since he took his place in the theatre, so he couldn't have communicated
with anyone. It can't be anything but his manner."

They passed down the little passage and entered a small room,
luxuriously furnished, something between an office and a masculine
sitting-room. A tall, lean man, with a thin scar on one side of his
face, was lounging in an easy chair with his hands in his pockets. He
looked swiftly across at them as they entered.

"Well?" he demanded.

"They're here," Lingard announced.

"I know they're here," was the irritated reply. "What did you leave them
for?"

"Dick's all fussed up," the girl declared. "Old man Wragge's calling
himself Mr. Charles Harness, by the by. Wouldn't sit at the guests'
table and he won't have anything to do with the champagne cup."

"Did you make a clean get-away from the theatre?"

"Absolutely. Tom was there wearing uniform exactly like the
commissionaire's. We didn't see one of the real men on duty, and the
plates of the car have been altered again."

The man in the chair meditated for a moment.

"Your invitation for supper was given inside the theatre?"

"Yes, and we didn't even mention where the place was we were taking them
to."

"Did either of them get away by themselves afterwards?"

"Not for a single second," the girl declared.

"Then go back again to your job and don't be silly," the tall man
enjoined brusquely. "The others'll be coming in directly. I don't want
the show-down before one o'clock."


Meanwhile, Miss Mott and her uncle danced away gaily to some really
excellent music. The place, except for its two heavy front doors, seemed
to differ very little from other night clubs of its order. One or two
guests had come in and taken their places at different tables. No one,
however, seemed to want to sit at the corner table with the yellow
roses...

The ventilation was none of the best and in due course Superintendent
Wragge felt the need of a rest and some refreshment. They sat down, and
he ordered a bottle of whisky to be opened at the table, and some
champagne. The latter arrived in an ice pail and the cork of the whisky
was drawn by the maître d'hôtel. The superintendent was having his first
drink when Major Lingard and his fiancée returned, with profuse
apologies for their brief absence. Any passing cloud which may have been
on their faces had vanished. The champagne was opened and poured out for
everyone, without reference to the cup. Some caviare and other choice
sandwiches were ordered. Major Lingard danced with Miss Mott and
Superintendent Wragge danced with and paid many compliments to Miss
Carruthers. The somewhat forbidding atmosphere of the room was
forgotten. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and the band played
at their bidding. Half an hour passed--an hour. At last Miss Mott, at a
glance from her uncle who was paying the bill, rose to her feet.

"It's been so delightful," she murmured. "We've enjoyed it ever so much.
Haven't we, uncle?"

Producing a fine cambric handkerchief, Superintendent Wragge wiped the
perspiration from his forehead with one hand, whilst he handed out
liberal tips with the other.

"Delightful," he echoed. "I like your orchestra, too, major. My niece
and I will join with pleasure, if you care to put us up."

Major Lingard was watching the second of the front doors which led into
the room as it slowly swung to, and they heard the little click of the
spring. The change in their host and hostess which ensued seemed to
Superintendent Wragge and Miss Mott amazing. The woman who had posed in
the uncertain lights as a good-tempered, good-humoured _ingénue,_
suddenly revealed herself as a vicious and evil-looking woman. Major
Lingard, with a twist of the mouth, the departure of his eyeglass and a
relaxation of all the muscles of his face, was no longer in the least
like an English officer. They threw disguise to the winds. Lingard
leaned back in his chair, with his hands in his pockets. Through the
door near the orchestra, the tall, thin man with the scar on his cheek
had issued and was making leisurely progress down the room.

"We don't as a rule welcome gentlemen of your profession as members,
Superintendent Wragge," Lingard said, with a sneer in his tone, "but we
are going to make you a life member and keep you here for the rest of
your life too. That may not be a very long time, though," he added
meaningly. "It will be only a few seconds if you can't keep that right
hand of yours still."

"You needn't be afraid," Superintendent Wragge assured him calmly. "I
don't carry firearms when I am out for a pleasant evening."

The tall man with the scar on his face had come to a standstill before
their table. He bowed low to Miss Mott, who looked at him in horror. The
illuminations of the place had become faulty and his gaunt face was more
saturnine than ever. He turned to Superintendent Wragge.

"I know that it is your custom to go unarmed, superintendent," he
remarked, "but I thought that, perhaps, the memory of a certain night in
Amberley Square might have changed your ideas on that subject. Has Miss
Mott brought her popgun?"

Miss Mott was incapable of any reply. She was looking despairingly at
the little circle of male guests who had left their lady companions and
were closing in around the table. She had always had the most unbounded
confidence in her uncle, but she reflected with sinking heart that he
had come out without the slightest idea of this invitation, and that
since receiving it he had not left her side for a moment. It was
impossible for him to have communicated with anybody. They were cut off
from the world completely and utterly. In that windowless cellar even
the roar of the distant traffic was inaudible. Yet the smile upon
Superintendent Wragge's lips seemed natural enough, and even at that
moment he lit a cigarette.

"You're Meredith, aren't you?" he asked the tall man abruptly.

"That is my name," the other acknowledged.

"I thought I couldn't have forgotten you," Superintendent Wragge
meditated. "Quite an honour, I'm sure, this. Are you shooting any better
these days? You missed me from a dozen paces last time we met."

Meredith grinned. The detective's attitude appealed to his dramatic
instincts.

"You must remember, superintendent," he apologised, "that I was in a
hurry. I have you now here all to myself, with plenty of friends around
and the club all nicely closed up for the night. I shall make better
practice this time."

"I don't seem to remember my host of the evening," Superintendent Wragge
went on. "A junior member of the gang promoted, I presume, owing to
recent misfortune. He makes up quite well. I almost mistook him for the
real thing."

"Don't, uncle!" Miss Mott interrupted, with a sudden touch of hysteria.

He patted her hand. Meredith laughed outright.

"I like to hear your uncle talk," he said. "And for once we have plenty
of time. Major Lingard is one of my chief lieutenants at the present
moment. He has taken the place of that impossible young man whom we have
had to discard altogether. Yes," Meredith went on, scrutinising the end
of the cigarette which he had just lit. "We had to get rid of Violet
Joe. It was painful, but he was too sentimental."

Miss Mott swayed in her chair. Her uncle passed his arm around her.

"Don't you worry, dear," he begged. "From the little I've seen of Violet
Joe I'd back him against our friend here any day. My niece is feeling
the strain, Meredith, so let's get down to business. What are you going
to do with me? I'm after the remainder of your gang, you know, and I
shall get you all some day."

Meredith stared at the speaker incredulously.

"Aren't you inclined to be something of an optimist?" he asked. "For
instance, may I enquire how you expect to get out of here alive?"

"Well, I may not," Superintendent Wragge admitted, drawing the whisky
bottle closer to him. "I've paid the bill, but I'm going to cadge some
more whisky if I may," he added, helping himself. "I may not get out of
here alive, as you suggest, Meredith, but there's one thing very certain--"

"I like to hear about certainties," the latter interrupted with an ugly
smile.

"One thing very certain," Superintendent Wragge repeated impressively,
"and that is, that if you kill me, before six weeks have passed you'll
be taking that fifty-yard walk at a few minutes before eight in the
morning, with a chaplain reading the prayers, a warder to hold you up, a
bell tolling in your ears, and that bare, ugly room yawning before you.
Murderers don't escape nowadays, you know, Meredith, and there are
special reasons why you won't."

There was something terrifying in his prisoner's deliberate speech and
absolute composure, and Meredith shivered for a moment, half in fear,
half in anger. He looked around at the others who were waiting for his
orders and he waved his hand towards the corner table. Four of them
stole round to the back of Superintendent Wragge. Meredith turned
towards him.

"Wragge," he said, "you're a rotten detective, but with the help of this
very intelligent young lady, your niece, you've come pretty close to us
once or twice. After to-night you aren't going to trouble me any more.
As for your niece, you needn't worry about her: she and I have a little
bargain to carry out, and this time there isn't going to be any mistake
about it!"

He leaned towards Miss Mott with that queer, satanic smile at the
corners of his lips, and Miss Mott, although she held herself bravely,
felt her eyes dilate with horror. Her uncle held his head a little on
one side--listening--and as he listened, he smiled.

"The trouble with you, Meredith," he deplored, "is that you always
refuse to give your enemies credit for even the rudiments of common
sense. You bait your trap cleverly enough, but you expect us to walk
into it a trifle too ingenuously. For instance, you imagined that a
harmless paper like _Home Talks_ would escape the notice of the Scotland
Yard Code Department. Not at all! 'Jenks in London' told us its
message. 'Buttercups and Daisies' confirmed our suspicions."

Both Meredith and Lingard were speechless. They appeared to be
stiffening in preparation for some form of action, but they still
listened breathlessly.

"And another detail," Superintendent Wragge went on, "--details are
so important, you know, Meredith. When you send theatre tickets
from a popular theatre for the use of a young lady, and you would
like her to believe that they had come from the box-office, go to
the expense of having a rubber stamp made. 'Complimentary'--in
purple ink across the face of the slip of white paper--would be
so much more convincing...That's one o'clock striking, I think.
You'd better scuttle off to your hole, wherever it is. Do you hear--"

The superintendent broke off abruptly in his speech. Everyone for a
moment seemed to be holding his breath. There was a violent banging at
the outside door, a confusion of voices, some raised to the pitch of
shouting.

"Open the door there!"

"You can't close a night club before one o'clock!"

"We're members!"

"Open the door and look sharp about it!"

"The Prince of Wales is here and Lord God Beelzebub!"

Doggerel followed, everyone singing, or rather yelling, in a different
key:


_"We won't go home till morning,
We won't go home till morning,
We won't go home till morning,
Till daylight doth appear!"_


"Hip, hip, hip, hurrah! Open the door, you fellows!"

Then silence. The sudden wave of apprehension which had drained the
colour from Lingard's cheeks and brought a flash of dismay into even
Meredith's eyes passed. The latter even smiled.

"Drunken roysterers!" he muttered. "Sit tight everyone. They'll be off
directly."

"I wonder," Superintendent Wragge speculated.

There was a storm of blows upon the door. Then silence again. A couple
of the pseudo-guests stood over Wragge, watching in case he should open
his mouth. A waiter crossed the floor on tiptoe. A woman who wanted a
drink held up an empty bottle. The place became a study in still life.

"They'll be gone directly," Meredith repeated in a whisper.

A further brief period of silence. Then, with appalling suddenness a
cataclysmic roar which set the whole place shaking, and beneath the
thunder of which were lost all such trivial sounds as the shrieks of
terrified women, the tumult of flying feet, the falling of crumbling
masonry. The stout entrance door and part of the wall fell crashing into
the room and there followed, for a brief and indeterminate span of time,
a flying panorama utterly grotesque and unreal. A single file of
black-uniformed police streamed through the room, like gnomes in some
fantastic, futurist drama. They were running at the double, their
strangely-shaped peaked caps bent towards the ground, flashing by the
amazed group of satyr-faced men and terrified women. Unearthly puppets
they seemed against the strange background of the weirdly emblazoned
walls, hastening towards that farther entrance through which Lingard and
Meredith had already disappeared. The three members of the coloured
orchestra filled the air with a hideous clamour, yelling like human
beasts gone crazy. There was a single shot fired by one of the
pseudo-guests at a distant table, a shot which buried itself harmlessly
in the wall and brought a stream of crumbling plaster on to the table
before which Superintendent Wragge was seated. The rearmost of those
black, stooping forms, without faltering in his stride, threw out his
arm--there was a stab of flame--and a man sank in a huddled heap upon
the floor. Superintendent Wragge passed his arm round Miss Mott's waist
and led her towards the open space where the door had been, and through
which the night wind was now sweeping.

"They won't have me in the fighting squadron," he remarked. "We'll leave
them to it. I ordered the car for one o'clock."



5--THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER


MISS MOTT sat before her desk, worshipping a large bunch of violets.
They were very beautiful and they filled her small office with
fragrance. Her eyes shone as she looked at them. She buried her small,
dainty nose and her flushed cheeks in their cool sweetness. But when she
sat back in her swivelled chair and tried to look and feel as a young
woman of business should, she came to the firm determination that
something must be done about them. She felt that their daily arrival and
constant presence upon her table were creating a false impression. Her
juvenile secretary sighed sentimentally as she looked at them. Her
errand boy grinned. Her male protector--Sergeant Harrop--a lusty
commissionaire whose chest was covered with medals--an appendage
insisted upon and paid for by her uncle, regarded them evidently as a
sign of weakness, and her uncle himself, when for the third visit in
succession he had found a similar bowl of loosened violets perfuming the
musty air, suddenly realized their significance and indulged in more or
less mild badinage. Miss Mott decided then that it was time something
was done about it, and accordingly, next time an offering was due--they
came with singular regularity every third day--she arrived at the office
half an hour earlier and detained the messenger boy. With the
information which she secured from him, she presented herself later on
in the day at one of the two famous flower shops of Bond Street. She
interviewed the manager with confidence and retreated in humiliation.
She discovered that silence was the etiquette of his vocation; the words
of his dismissal were final.

"If our clients wish their names divulged, madam," he said, "they send a
card. When they do not, we assume that they wish their offerings to be
anonymous and we respect their wishes..."

Outside in the street, Miss Mott, who was very angry, met her uncle,
Superintendent Wragge of Scotland Yard. He shook his head at her
sorrowfully.

"Sending flowers to yourself," he accused her. "I thought only actresses
did that."

She indulged in a little grimace.

"I went to find out where my violets came from," she confided, "and the
man wouldn't tell me."

"Quite right, too," was the only sympathy she received. "A most improper
curiosity on your part, I call it. If your mysterious admirer had meant
you to know who he was, he'd have sent a card. I can guess why he
didn't, though," the superintendent concluded with a chuckle.

Miss Mott felt her cheeks burn.

"I'm sorry I met you," she said spitefully.

"You won't be when I tell you the news," he replied. "The Liverpool
Express was held up in Derbyshire yesterday and five chests of bullion
for a Liverpool bank were stolen--sixty thousand pounds at least."

Miss Mott's eyes were round with excitement. She glanced at the passing
crowd.

"Do you believe--"

"The same lot, beyond a doubt. Not that your friend's in it: the belief
of the Yard is that he's broken with them. It's that long Mephistopheles
who's escaped us twice who's worked this."

"Are you on the business now?" she asked eagerly.

"I might be," he admitted.

She passed her arm through his and looked up at him appealingly. The
male portion of the passers-by sighed. When Miss Mott looked like that
she was very pretty indeed.

"I've nothing to do just at present," she murmured.

"Then go back to your office and write an article for _Home Talks_,"
Superintendent Wragge advised her sternly. "We've had this out before.
I've been through hell for the close shaves you've had with me, and I'm
leaving you out in future, my dear."

"You don't mean it," she pleaded.

"Never again," he assured her, "am I going to pander to your love of
excitement or be wheedled into letting you go where you don't belong.
Bring me any information you get in your office and you shall be paid
for it, but hunting criminals is no girl's job. You'll excuse me, my
dear."

There had been a quick flash in Superintendent Wragge's eyes and his
niece knew that he had good reasons for his departure. She made no
attempt to detain him, but she stood and watched him cross the road and
enter the establishment of a famous gentlemen's outfitter where she was
perfectly certain he never bought his own atrocious neckties. She waited
a few minutes without any further sign of him. Then, very reluctantly,
she made her way back to her office. All day long she was occupied in
writing little sympathetic messages to her various correspondents. She
wound up with one on her own account and her fingers trembled on the
typewriter as she struck it out:


_"To Violet J.
"Thank you so much, but PLEASE, no more."_


Miss Mott, somewhat to her surprise, found herself, in obedience to a
message from Scotland Yard, taking a cocktail with her uncle that
evening at a very cosmopolitan café in the neighbourhood of Regent
Street. She had had rather a dull day and she found the atmosphere
refreshing.

"Why do you never come near me now?" she asked.

"Because we are better apart," he replied. "I've arrived at the
conclusion that that long devil we're after is about the most dangerous
fellow who ever declared war against us, and from several small things
which have come to my notice," he went on, looking intently into his
cocktail, "I think that, although that marriage certificate business was
all bunkum, of course, he would run almost any risk to get hold of you
again."

Miss Mott shivered. Nevertheless it sounded very exciting.

"Half the criminals we have run to earth in this world," he went on,
"we've caught because they've taken a risk about a woman. I believe this
fellow's in the same frame of mind. I'm telling you this, Lucie, in
order that you may be warned. In my opinion, as I have said, there isn't
anything he wouldn't do or almost any risk he wouldn't run to get hold
of you, and if he did I think he'd finish--he'd get right away, if he
could. We've evidence that he's planning something of the sort."

She laid her fingers upon his large, hairy hand.

"Why don't you make use of me, then?" she begged. "I'm not afraid. We've
been foolish before, but we needn't be again. Supposing I went about in
the evening with a harmless person--like my editor--and you put two or
three of your best men on--"

"No more of that, Lucie," her uncle interrupted more sharply, perhaps,
than he had ever spoken before to his niece. "I've had my lesson and
I've finished. Why I sent for you this evening to have this little chat
was just to warn you once more, and more than warn you. No theatre
tickets, mind, no free automobile trials, no acceptance of invitations
even from well-known people and no strange taxis. Walk to your flat, or
take a bus, or, if you don't want to do that, have my car. I can get one
from the Yard at any time."

She laughed.

"I'll take care," she promised, "and I wouldn't think of having your
car. Don't imagine, though, that I don't notice. You've got a man from
the Yard in as commissionaire at the flats besides my friend Harrop. I'm
not sure about the lift boy. And there's a second man about the place
who doesn't seem to have much to do."

"I've taken some precautions," Superintendent Wragge admitted, "for our
sake as well as yours. Meredith's hiding-places have, so far, beaten us.
Where he got to after the club raid the other night, for instance, is a
mystery, but I am convinced of this--if anything'll bring him up to the
surface, it will be you."

Miss Mott laughed softly. Youth has the gift of forgetfulness, and some
hours of horror that lay not so far back in the past troubled her now
very little.

"I suppose I should be flattered," she murmured. "I don't know whether I
am or not: I can never think of the man without a shiver...Now, I want
to ask you something, uncle. Do you see a man opposite, rather
thick-set, not very tall, wearing glasses and reading a French
newspaper? He was angry with the waiter because he didn't give him
enough absinthe."

"Yes, I see him," Superintendent Wragge admitted.

"Is he my watch-dog?" she enquired.

Her uncle was a little annoyed.

"Yes," he acknowledged, "but you just let him alone, Lucie. You're not
to speak to him, look at him or address him at any time. You understand
that?"

"Perfectly."

Wragge paid for the cocktails and rose. He drove his niece back to the
building in which her residential club was situated, and wished her an
affectionate good night.

"You're making life rather dull for me," she complained.

"It isn't easy for any of us just at present," he assured her. "We made
four important captures the last raid and this particular company of
gangsters aren't what they used to be. All the same, the Chief resents
Meredith. He's like a great many other semi-civilians--he doesn't
realise that, given an equal show-down, the odds are on the criminal
every time. We've wiped the Bill Sikeses off the face of the earth, but
there's more poison in one Meredith than in all the criminals of twenty
years ago put together."

Miss Mott laughed to herself as she passed across the cheerful hall of
her club and rang for the lift. The man who had been in the café was
making some inconsequent enquiry of the concierge. It was, after all,
rather exciting to be guarded by detectives. Here, too, she was so safe.
A benign and virtuous committee had excluded, by their rules, the
presence of men except in the dining- and smoking-rooms. Miss Mott dined
at her favourite table, with a book propped up in front of her, smoked a
cigarette afterwards in the lounge, played a fifty up at billiards with
Mrs. Hart-Williams--the lady manageress of the club--and at the latter's
insistence, indulged in the unusual luxury of a lemon squash. At ten
o'clock she ascended to her small but comfortable bedroom on the second
floor back, especially chosen by her--when her uncle had insisted upon
her leaving her flat--because there were trees waving in the wind
outside, a strip of waste land which might have passed as a garden, and
no disturbing traffic. She undressed slowly, folding, or hanging up with
great care, her tastefully-chosen and somewhat expensive clothes, said
her prayers a little vaguely--for Miss Mott was religious by instinct
although agnostic by mentality--and in full peace and security went to
bed and to sleep. When she awoke, she found herself in a perfectly
strange room and by the side of her bed a gaunt, familiar figure with a
thin scar running down one side of his face.


Superintendent Wragge, mounting the stairs to his office the following
morning, a cigar between his teeth, and his hat, as usual, a little on
the back of his head, was met with tragic news. In less than a quarter
of an hour he was seated by the side of one of the cots in the casualty
ward at St. George's Hospital, listening to the choked words of a dying
man. The drawn, white face was scarcely recognisable, but to
Superintendent Wragge it was familiar enough, and he only cursed himself
that he had not given the job of looking after Miss Mott to a younger
man. The doctor who had been Superintendent Wragge's escort, whispered
in his ear.

"Better get his story. He can't live an hour."

The detective shivered, for he was a man of kindly temperament.
Nevertheless he steeled himself to listen.

"Tell me anything you can remember, Burrows," he enjoined.

The dying man plucked feverishly at the bedclothes.

"I was supposed to have finished for the day when Miss Mott reached the
hostel," he began. "Those were your own instructions. I didn't like the
look of the back of the place at all, though. It seemed made for a
ramp--a few sheltering trees, a bit of rough land and then the huge
hotel they're building--room for a hundred people to hide there on a
dark night--and a half-made road leading up to within a dozen yards of
the back of the hostel. I sent my card in to the manageress--Scotland
Yard on it, remember--and asked to have Miss Mott's room pointed out to
me. She refused. I'd get a--a line on her, sir. She'd got a diamond ring
on, I'd swear was new, that must have cost a small fortune. I tried the
concierge. He'd been spoken to by the manageress and he wouldn't say a
word. Something odd about this, I thought. Oh, God!"

The man's face was convulsed with pain. A nurse came and stood on the
other side of the bed. She smoothed his forehead and held a glass to his
lips. In a moment or two he went on--but his voice was perceptibly
weaker.

"I didn't bother them--any more--I thought you'd deal with them--in the
morning, sir. Refusing information to the police!" I made up my mind for
a night out. No good before one, I thought, so I had a bit of a rest,
and then I came on duty again. I brought a shooting-stick and sat in a
dark corner behind some mortar tubs. I didn't know for certain that Miss
Mott's was a back room, but I decided to act as though it was. It must
have been about four when something happened. It wasn't light, but there
was a greyish streak where the clouds hung over the houses. At first I
thought I was dreaming. Then, through those two weedy trees, I saw a
man, carrying what seemed to be a bundle, and dragging a ladder after
him. He threw the ladder down on the grass and came on towards me, and
just then I heard a motor not far behind--kind of sobbing--high-powered
engine running slow. I pulled my gun and came out when he was twenty
paces away. 'What have you got there?' I cried, all ready to shoot. Then
with my finger on the trigger I had to stop, for I could see that what
he was carrying was a woman, seemingly drugged or unconscious, and I was
afraid of hitting her. I tried to run him instead, but he got me.
Scarcely a sound, just a spit of fire and a stab in my chest--one of
these new-fashioned ones...I wasn't done, though. I fell, but I got up
again and I staggered after him. The car had come into sight and he
pushed the woman in. Then he looked back and I let go at him. Just as I
pulled the trigger, I got my second one a little lower down. I don't
know whether I hit him or not, but he'd have been in the next world all
right if he'd been a second later."

"You can't remember what he looked like--or anything about the car?"
Superintendent Wragge asked with almost pathetic wistfulness.

"I couldn't see his face," the sinking man groaned. "He had a black hat
pulled over his eyes, and he was dressed so that he seemed a part of the
darkness, but the chauffeur--oh, my God!--"

Twice the lips opened and closed without speech. The sweat was standing
on the man's forehead. His agony was manifest. The doctor glanced
significantly at Superintendent Wragge and shook his head, but Wragge
in those moments was a man without a heart.

"There is something you can tell me," he murmured, bending lower still.
"The chauffeur? It may save a girl's life."

"The chauffeur--Miss Mott--motor cycle--flood," the man gasped--and
died.


In the billiard-room of a large public-house, somewhere between Aldgate
and Shoreditch, a young man of Jewish appearance, flashily dressed, his
coat removed for the purposes of the game, was busily chalking his cue.
He felt a light touch upon his shoulder. The cue fell with a clatter to
the ground, the chalk rolled away under the table. The young man cowered
back.

"Where were you last night, Henry Leneveu?" a stern voice asked.

The youth was incapable of speech. Neither Sergeant Betts nor his
companion were in uniform, but there wasn't a man in the room who didn't
recognise them as detectives.

"Quick! Out with it!" Sergeant Betts insisted. "We know, but I want to
hear it from your own lips. Where were you? And where were you driving
that car to?"

Henry Leneveu picked up his cue. It was the old trick, he thought, with
a little spasm of resentment, trying to rush you before you knew where
you were. He made a weak effort to pull himself together, and faced his
questioner.

"In 'ere playing billiards, s'elp me God, sergeant," he avowed. "You ask
any on 'em. They'll tell ye. In 'ere I was from seven o'clock till
closing time," he went on, raising his voice and looking appealingly
around.

There was a confirmatory murmur of voices. Sergeant Betts regarded them
all scornfully.

"An alibi from this place wouldn't be much help to you, young fellow,"
he declared. "However, that's neither here nor there. Put on your coat
and come along with me."

"What for?" was the sullen demand. "You've nothing against me."

"Nothing whatever," the sergeant assured him. "Yours may be the purest
life of any young man of your profession in the city of London. All the
same, Superintendent Wragge wants a few words with you at the Yard. Come
on, we've a car outside."

"You're not pinching me or anything of that sort?"

"Not we! Just a friendly little chat with the superintendent, that's
all."

Mr. Leneveu handed his cue to the marker.

"Anything to oblige Mr. Wragge," he said with a slight swagger. "I'll
finish the game when I get back, Charlie."

"Righto, Hennie," was the amiable response from his late opponent.

Sergeant Betts, having failed in his first frontal attack, neither asked
nor answered any questions on the way to the Embankment, a journey which
was completed in almost unbroken silence. Arrived at the Yard,
Superintendent Wragge, who had been awaiting his visitor eagerly,
pointed to a chair close to his desk. No one else was present in the
room but an anaemic-looking young man bending over a note-book. The
superintendent seemed to have forgotten his haste. He filled his pipe
slowly and lit it. Most of the time he was looking at his victim.

"Henry Leneveu," he said at last, "you're for it!"

"You've got nothing against me," the young man blustered.

"Don't be a fool," was the contemptuous reply. "What do you suppose
we're here for? We've got enough against you, if we cared to use it, to
put you away for five years. You're more useful to us out, because
you're easy to watch. Now, no nonsense about it! Where did you drive
that car to last night from the back of Dorset Street?"

The young man's expression was one of almost exaggerated surprise.

"I, driving a car last night, superintendent!" he exclaimed. "You've got
hold of the wrong end of the stick, I'm afraid. I was playing billiards
till closing time."

"Well, we'll call it this morning, if you like," the superintendent
suggested. "Throw in your hand, Leneveu. You're finished. We've known
all about you for months. We know the date you were appointed to lead
the number two gang. We know the first time you were chosen to work for
the number one lot. You were working for them last night."

"Take my solemn oath--" the young man began.

"Chuck it," Superintendent Wragge interrupted wearily. "Look here, I'll
tell you what I didn't mean to. We have the dying depositions of the man
whom one of you shot last night. He identified you. He saw you on the
driving-seat of the car which had been hidden in that new hotel they're
building at the back of Dorset Street."

"S'elp me God--"

"Shut up!" Superintendent Wragge admonished sharply. "Now, if you'll be
reasonable, I'm going to talk to you like a man. We don't want you--just
yet--but, if you're obstinate, down you go to the cells at the nearest
police station, and we can keep you locked up for a bit without
committing perjury, either. We want the girl. Where did you drive her
to?"

Henry Leneveu looked helplessly into his questioner's face. He was a
terrible man, this superintendent. No one could ever tell how much he
knew. He was a man of his word, too. Blast that cop who had recognised
him! He got his all right, but depositions counted.

"Supposing--" he faltered.

"Mum's the word, so far as we're concerned," the superintendent assured
him. "We don't want your evidence. We're just as anxious to keep our
sources of information secret as you are."

Henry Leneveu picked up a piece of paper from the desk and made a little
plan upon it. He pushed it across to Superintendent Wragge, who glanced
at it and nodded. He rang the bell.

"You can go back and finish your game of billiards, Henry," he said
pleasantly.


"Let us," Meredith begged, as he looked into Miss Mott's wild face,
"abjure melodrama as far as possible. These continual abductions must be
getting on your nerves. This time I propose that we settle down
peacefully."

Miss Mott looked round the room, which was pleasant enough but
unfamiliar.

"Where am I?" she demanded.

"The one question you were bound, of course, to ask," he replied
patiently, "and the one question, too, which you knew could not be
answered. After all, what does it matter whether you are in Essex,
Sussex or Northumberland? Especially as you're not likely to leave this
room for several days."

"I demand to know where you have brought me and why?" Miss Mott
insisted.

"I will answer your last question," Meredith conceded. "I brought you
here because you are the woman I want for a companion; because I
consider you are my wife; because, if you prefer a more legal ceremony,
it could doubtless be arranged from here. I am willing to run risks, you
see, to satisfy your scruples. I'm not a woman's man, which is perhaps
why I am so successful a gangster. But you are going to be my woman for
the rest of your life and mine, married or not, just as you please--"

Miss Mott sat up in bed. Somehow or other his coolness was becoming
communicated to her.

"Do I join the gang?" she asked.

"You do not," he answered. "I have finished with crime. I have made the
most elaborate plans for getting away from this country. You will
accompany me."

"I can't see myself doing anything of the sort," she remarked coolly.

She looked around her. The room was nicely, even luxuriously, furnished,
and there was a fire in the grate. She bit her lip when she saw the
clothes which she had taken off the night before put out for her, and
realised that she was wearing a _crépe de Chine_ nightgown of Bond Street
possibilities.

"There is really no reason why you shouldn't know where you are,"
Meredith observed, lounging against the chimney-piece. "You are in a
very large and old-fashioned house in Greenwich. This side are the
gardens--rather neglected, I fear. On the other side just across the
road--is the river."

"You seem to be fond of water," she remarked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"The flood was not my fault," he pointed out. "Here, I admit, the river
is useful. It provides means of escape in a dozen different directions
and I--or rather we--own the swiftest motor launch in this country. You
will perhaps discover an element of humour in the fact," he went on with
a queer little smile, "that I competed in the recent speed trials and
won two prizes."

"You are a wonderful man," she said thoughtfully. "How did you contrive
to drug me this time?"

"The manageress of your hostel," he explained. "The Cartier's ring was a
little more than she could resist. No headache, I hope?"

"Nothing to speak of, thanks," Miss Mott replied.

"I will send your maid," he said, moving towards the door.

With his hand upon the knob he paused. He turned around, and for a
moment he was the old Meredith--dark, saturnine, villainous.

"I have tried to introduce different elements into our conversation," he
continued, "but, remember, this remains a truth--I shall kill you before
I allow anyone to take you away. I do not think that it is within the
bounds of possibility that you should be discovered here, but if you are
I shall kill you and myself. For the rest--you know. If it can be
managed I shall risk a special licence to satisfy your scruples. If it
cannot--you'll be mine within three days just the same. Make up your
mind to it, please. I am richer than you ever dreamed of and I am going
to take you to a country where we shall never be found. Some day you
will agree with me that one man who loves you is very like another."

He opened and closed the door. Miss Mott listened to his retreating
footsteps and fear came into her heart. Before, she had always been
conscious of a surrounding atmosphere of melodrama, which had invested
even the most terrifying moments through which she had passed with a
sense of unreality. To-day Meredith had spoken in a tone of deadly but
commonplace earnestness. He was so sure of himself and his success that
he had not even made any mystery as to her whereabouts. The three days
he had spoken of were actually and indeed the measure of her respite.
Somehow or other the optimism which had kept up her courage during those
terrible hours at Ilsom Grange seemed to be slipping away from her. She
had a sense this time of being utterly and completely trapped.

The sound of running water attracted her. She sprang out of bed and
turned the handle of a door at the farther end of the room. A woman,
with her back turned towards her, was manipulating the taps of a large
bath. Miss Mott recognised at once her duenna from Ilsom Grange. The
latter turned and looked at her.

"So you're back again," she remarked tonelessly.

"Is that bath for me?" Miss Mott asked.

The woman rose to her feet.

"The water's there and the towels," she pointed out. "Bath salts and
perfumes I don't understand. There's a great box there from some place
in Bond Street. Help yourself."

She passed out by a door at the other end of the room which closed after
her with a spring lock. Miss Mott determined to make the best of present
joys, used twice as much of the choice bath salts as she had ever
ventured upon before in her life, and, perfumed and refreshed, completed
her toilet in the other room. Just as she was finishing, a key turned in
the lock outside and a breakfast tray was brought in. There were
newspapers, flowers, fragrant coffee, two silver dishes and a note
addressed to her in bold handwriting. She tore it open.


_"My dear little visitor,

"I fear that you will see little of me during our three days'
engagement, for as I am leaving this country for ever at the end of that
time, I find a great deal to do. Your maid will bring you a box of books
when she comes for your breakfast tray, but I must ask you to be content
with your room until to-morrow evening, when I hope to be able to ask
you to dine with me.

"My homage and devotion,

"Walter Meredith."_


Miss Mott tore the letter into small pieces. She ate her breakfast,
however, with a good appetite and read the papers with a curious sense
of detachment from the world of actual events. Afterwards she made a
careful inspection of the room and decided that any form of escape was
impossible. The windows opened one foot only from top or bottom, and the
garden below, although nearly a wilderness, was walled in and deserted.
Miss Mott, with her usual common sense, decided to wait upon events.


On the following evening her dinner tray failed to arrive at the usual
time. There came instead a deep voice outside her door, a word of
warning and the turning of a key. Meredith presented himself. In his
rather severe dinner clothes, with black tie and black studs, his
appearance seemed even more forbidding than usual.

"You haven't forgotten our plan for this evening, I trust," he said.

"Your plan," Miss Mott corrected him. "I shall be very pleased to see
some other room than this."

He drew her hand gently through his arm and led her towards the stairs.
His gesture seemed to be one of courtesy, but she felt the imprisoning
touch. She felt, too, that his muscles were like iron. They passed down
a spacious stairway into a dining-room of immense proportions. There was
faded tapestry on the walls and the remains of some fine furniture.
Dinner was served, however, at a small round table drawn within
reasonable distance of a huge fire.

"What a strange house," Miss Mott remarked.

"It is the house," he confided, as he fetched her a cocktail from the
sideboard, "for which the police have been searching for seven years.
During the whole of that time it has been the headquarters of--what is
it they call us?--the number one gangsters."

"Aren't you being a little over-confidential?" she asked, setting down
her empty glass.

"Not in the least," he replied. "You and I are one, or shall be in a few
hours. You have a right to share all my secrets, and besides, as I
reminded you before, a wife cannot give evidence against her husband."

"I shall never be your wife," Miss Mott said firmly, "nor shall I be the
other thing--whatever you like to call it. You are a much less
intelligent person than you seem if you have not already discovered that
there is no such thing as force between men and women."

"There is persuasion," he ventured.

"There is persuasion," she admitted, "but if that fails there is
nothing."

"You're not afraid, then?" he asked curiously.

"Not very much," she answered. "The only fear I have is that I might
have to die. I don't really want to: I'm much too interested in life."

Gordon, the perfect butler, began the service of dinner. She watched him
with wondering eyes. His manner was entirely respectful; he might never
have set eyes upon her before.

"Don't you sometimes feel," she asked her host, "that yours is a life of
unrealities? You are so near the edge of the precipice at every moment.
I think it is perfectly wonderful how you manage to ignore it. Look at
Gordon there, for instance; he might be serving a little dinner for two
in Grosvenor Square or anywhere. He looks as though the idea of a
policeman would shock him and that he'd never heard the whistle of a
bullet in his life."

Meredith smiled.

"We all get to be like that," he said. "It seems to be courage. It is
really a sort of inbred fatalism. No one who does not possess it would
drift into this desperate life."

"What made you do it?" she enquired with genuine interest.

"The war," he answered without hesitation. "It was the same with all of
us, I think. The war left us with newly aroused impulses--the lust of
killing, the craving for excitement. Those of us who had the instinct
became freebooters quite naturally. An interesting war somewhere else
would have been the only thing that could have saved us. The country, or
rather the Government of the country, treated its heroes foully; they
treated its rank and file worse. We represent the spirit of revolt.
That's all I can tell you about it."

"What were you before the war?" she asked.

"Since," she added, with the strangest smile that had ever flickered at
the corners of her lips, "you expect me to become your wife, I have a
right to ask, haven't I?"

"I was the youngest son of a peer and a very decent fellow, though
poor," he confided. "So was the man whom you seem to have weaned away
from us and whom I shall kill at any time if he comes near you--Violet
Joe."

"Where is Violet Joe?" she enquired.

Meredith shook his head.

"I don't know," he admitted. "He has made a more or less honourable
retreat. Nevertheless, there are a few bullets waiting for him when he
comes into view. No good your looking cloudwards this time, my dear Miss
Mott. Neither Violet Joe nor any other man on earth is coming to rescue
you."

She shivered a little and watched the champagne bubbling in her glass.

"I don't see why you should be so confident," she said. "This seems to
me to be a very conspicuous house."

"It is," he acknowledged. "That is why no one would believe the truth
about it."

"What would happen if they did?"

"Since you ask me I will tell you. We should fight until the last and we
possess here every known device for fighting. When, finally, we were
overpowered, as of course we should be, there are three separate buttons
in different parts of the building enclosed in glass bulbs. One of us
would smash the glass bulbs, press the button and there would be the
most wonderful exemplification of that old Biblical remark about one
stone not remaining on another!"

"Then you yourselves would be all killed," she commented.

He smiled.

"You get the idea," he confessed. "As a matter of fact, no one is
allowed to cross the portals here, to attend the meetings or to become a
resident, unless their lives are already forfeit. You may take it that
there is not a soul in this building, excepting yourself, who has not
been guilty of either murder or manslaughter in the first degree."

Miss Mott had borne herself bravely, but the colour was leaving her
cheeks. She finished her champagne and pushed back her chair. The
tablecloth had been removed and the shaded electric light thrown
downwards upon a bowl of hothouse fruit and two decanters of wine.

"A peach," Meredith begged; "muscatel grapes--a glass of port or
madeira?"

Miss Mott braced herself. There was something terribly fascinating about
her host's confidences. She broke off some muscatel grapes from their
stalk and accepted half a glass of madeira.

"You know I expect to be rescued," she said. "What will you do then?"

"The worst thing that could happen to you," he declared. "You'd have to
share our fate without having the joy of the fight--"

"That doesn't sound very gallant," she complained. "If there's a fire
anywhere they always let the birds and the animals free."

He bowed a trifle satirically.

"The birds and animals in natural life are dumb," he reminded her. "They
don't even possess a cockatoo uncle in Scotland Yard!"

She finished her wine deliberately. Then she looked across the table at
her host. For the first time she realised that in a strange sort of way
he was handsome.

"I would not marry you even if it were possible; I will not become
anything else to you, and if you try to make me you will be guilty of
murder because I shall kill myself. Will you let me go if I promise to
keep the secret of this house and of everything else you have told me?"

His voice was incredibly gentle. His eyes disturbingly soft.

"I will not," he replied. "I will not, Miss Mott," he repeated, "because
I love you and because I hope to make you change your mind."

"It is impossible," she cried.

"So has been my escape from justice on more than one occasion," he
reminded her. "But I am here."


With every hour that passed there grew stronger in Miss Mott's
mind the conviction that this time Fate had proved too much for
her. People came and went all day, but so far as she was
concerned the house at Greenwich was a complete and absolute fortress.
The woman who waited upon her and to whom in a weak moment she appealed,
looked at her with scorn.

"A thousand pounds wouldn't be no use to me, nor ten thousand," she
said. "No one ever got away from the master whom he wanted to keep, and
no one ever will. If I let you out into the street you'd be back by
nightfall and I should be lying at the bottom of the river. If he wants
you, better make up your mind to it. There's many'd like to be in your
place..."

Gordon brought up the cocktails the next morning, announcing that his
master was out to lunch. His contempt got the better of his perfect
manners.

"I like money, madam," he said, "but I value my life. Money is no use
unless you've a year or two to spend it in. Did you read the papers this
morning?"

"No," she confessed listlessly.

"There was a young Jew chap," he confided, "found dead on the Embankment
with a hole in the middle of his forehead. He'd been taken to Scotland
Yard the day before and he was on his way to bring them down here. That
young fellow was your chauffeur! The master doesn't run any risks.
They're still waiting there to know where he drove you. They'll wait:
he'll never be their guide."

Miss Mott drank her cocktail and said no more...

Meredith was back for dinner and, for him, in gay humour. He even
ventured on a little badinage as to her pale cheeks and the rims under
her eyes.

"All that will soon go, dear," he assured her, "when we get southwards.
I'm beginning to hate these grey skies myself. Do you know that the time
is drawing very near?"

"Is it?" she asked, with well-simulated indifference.

He laughed across the table.

"One part of my scheme," he confided, "has miscarried. We run too many
risks in attempting that little ceremony here."

"It would have made no difference," she told him. "If you had brought
your special licence and the clergyman I should still refuse to marry
you."

"You prefer _la vie libre?"_ he questioned lightly. "Perhaps you are
right. The only trouble is that when in the natural course of things
death will have washed my sins away, there may be children, and my son
might very well become the heir to a title of some importance. My being
a more or less notorious criminal, you see, doesn't affect that
situation at all."

Miss Mott failed to afford him the satisfaction of a single sign of
emotion, whatever she might have been feeling. Her eyes met his steadily
across the table and there was a note almost of contempt in her tone.

"The occasion for disquietude on that account will never occur," she
assured him...

He held the door open for her with his usual courtesy. Contrary to his
custom, however, he mounted the stairs with her. She made no comment,
but as she entered her room she gave a little cry. It was swept bare and
her hat and coat alone remained upon the bed.

"What does this mean?" she asked, with sinking heart.

"The time is up," he told her gravely. "We leave in five minutes. We
cross the river by motor boat to the yacht. She is anchored on the other
side."

Then terror indeed came to Miss Mott and she shivered where she stood.
Even the kindness in his tone when he spoke to her was like a subtle
threat. He had seen the approach of her dour handmaiden and he frowned.

"As I dare say you know by experience, Miss Mott," he continued, "it is
perfectly easy to keep you semi-conscious or wholly unconscious until
you are safely on the boat. I would rather treat you like a sensible
human being. Will you give me your word not to open your lips to anyone,
not to cry out or try to attract anyone's attention if I leave you as
you are?"

Miss Mott, also, had noticed the approach of the woman whom she had
grown to hate, with a towel in one hand and a small medicine glass in
the other, and she shivered.

"Yes, I will promise that," she agreed reluctantly.

Miss Mott wrapped herself in her cloak, drew on her hat and descended
the stairs with Meredith. She passed into the front part of the house
which as yet she had not visited. She was dimly conscious of people
about, like shadows, all men, all with that serious look in their faces
which betokened a certain amount of anxiety. At the front door Gordon
was stationed, no longer in his livery but dressed for a voyage. They
stepped out and crossed the road, empty of pedestrians. Alongside the
wharf, a beautiful motor boat was waiting, her engines throbbing softly.
Miss Mott took her place upon the cushioned seat, feeling her way there,
for they were travelling without lights. Meredith went into the bows
and, leaning forward, watched. One of the two men took the wheel and
they shot away across stream...

Miss Mott looked up at the stars and prayed--this time very earnestly
indeed--and when she glanced on each side into the black waters of the
river through which they were tearing, she seemed very near to death.
For a single moment she weakened. She had lost much of her fear of
Meredith. Life in its material aspects--and how else, after all, did
life appeal to one nowadays?--might still offer her something very near
happiness. Then the subconscious revolt of her implacable virginity
swept aside all such falterings. Unseen in the gloom she slipped off her
coat, kicked off her shoes and stood for a moment poised on the edge of
the boat. Meredith saw her, and a great agonised shout burst from his
lips. He leapt forward. Too late! There was a splash, and nothing to be
seen on the other side of the wall of darkness...

Miss Mott swam steadily on into the white rays of the searchlight of an
anchored liner waiting for her pilot. Gordon was on his knees in the
launch with his long automatic waiting for her to come into sight. His
finger was upon the trigger when he felt the gun snatched from his hand
and his master's fist crashing into his face.

"She'll peach," he cried.

"Let her," Meredith answered savagely, as he threw the automatic into
the river.

Up that long streak of white light Miss Mott swam boldly on. Hoarse
voices were shouting from the liner. The sound of oars drew nearer at
every moment. She was smiling happily when they dragged her into the
boat.



6--LOST MISS GREENE


MISS MOTT, a little weary of the criminal world, welcomed with some
curiosity the caller who presented himself towards the middle of a
somewhat uneventful morning about a week after her return to the office.
His visiting-card piqued her too. Its original inscription was clearly--

THE REVEREND GEORGE PADMORE

but a thick-edged pencil had removed with meticulous care the prefix.

"Unfrocked," Miss Mott murmured to herself. "I wonder?"

George Padmore, duly ushered in, proved to be a rather shy, engaging
young man, awkward in his movements and carriage, with large hands and
feet, dressed in a shabby pepper-and-salt grey suit of semi-clerical
cut, lanky, with very little healthy colour in his cheeks, but with a
pair of large, earnest eyes. Miss Mott did her best from the first to
set him at ease, but it was clear that he was desperately nervous.

"Mr. Padmore, isn't it?" she asked pleasantly, as she motioned him to a
chair. "What can I do for you? It isn't often that I have a gentleman
client. I don't know much about your sort of troubles, you know."

"I doubt whether you or anyone else in the world can do anything for me,
Miss Mott," he replied.

"But it's about a missing young lady."

"Well, that seems to be in my line of business," she remarked, with an
encouraging smile. "Tell me about it."

"She's disappeared," the young man declared tragically, leaning back in
his chair.

"What's her name, when, how and where?" Miss Mott demanded.

"Her name's Florence Greene," the ex-divine confided. "She disappeared
from her home in Farringford about a week ago and no one's heard a word
of her since."

"Why do you come to me instead of the police?" was the next question.

He drew a copy of _Home Talks_ from his pocket and turned to the
"Answers to Correspondents."

"Because she must have written to you for advice," he explained. "Here's
your reply to her:


_"'To Florence G. My dear, surely you have some personal friend to whom
you can confide your troubles. If, as you say, you are twenty-one, your
aunts have no right to detain you and force you to do work which you
dislike. With regard to the young man, if he is as fond of you as you
think, I am sure he would disregard the fear of offending your aunts and
help you if you asked him. You say that you believe your father left you
a little money, but you have never been told about it. Why not consult
the local solicitor?'"_


Miss Mott nodded.

"Yes, I remember now," she acknowledged. "The young lady seemed in great
distress."

"I want you to show me her letter."

Miss Mott shook her head.

"Impossible," she regretted. "My clients' letters to me are privileged."

"But, don't you see," he pleaded, "that something in her letter might
give me a hint as to what has happened? It might enable me to trace
her."

"I can't help that," Miss Mott persisted.

"There were reasons," he went on earnestly, "why, at the time she wrote
that letter to you, it was very important that I should be on friendly
terms with her aunts. They have disappeared now. The whole situation is
different. I must find her and tell her so."

Miss Mott rang the bell and went through the file which her clerk
presently brought her. She drew out a letter and read it thoughtfully.

"There is nothing in this to indicate any intention of leaving home,"
she announced, looking up.

"I'm sure she didn't mean to go," the young man affirmed eagerly.
"She--well--we're engaged. I'd been called away for a month, and only
two days before I returned I had a letter from her saying how she was
looking forward to my getting back. Then I got back and found her
disappeared. Her aunts declare that she just walked out of the shop with
a string bag to make some purchases, about a week ago, and they've never
seen her since."

"I think," Miss Mott decided, "that it is a case for the police."

"If she's just gone away to hide for a few days, she'll never forgive me
if I go to them."

Miss Mott looked across at him sweetly.

"You have something at the back of your mind which you have not told
me," she suggested. "Is there any special reason why she should want to
go away and hide?"

He flushed up to the temples, and Miss Mott liked him for it. Suddenly,
he rose from his place. He walked to the window and back with long,
awkward strides. Then he stood in front of her desk. Watching him
closely she could picture him as a revivalist preacher.

"We've been married nearly a year," he confided, "and there might be a
reason. That's why I'm so terrified. She was under a promise to me not
to tell her aunts. I wasn't independent then--and they supported the
chapel."

Miss Mott nodded, and there was more sympathy than she had intended in
her gesture.

"I will motor down to Farringford this afternoon," she promised.


At five o'clock that afternoon Miss Mott--having recently invested in a
Bentley--found herself seated upon an exceedingly slippery horse-hair
sofa, waiting for the coming of Miss Rebecca Greene, who was at that
moment occupied with customers in the adjoining shop. It was a small and
stuffy parlour which apparently did duty also as a dining-room, for the
odour of many meals still hung about it. The window abutted on the
market-place and was protected from the curiosity of passers-by by a
wire blind of ancient design. There was no single article in the prim,
ugly room upon which the eye could rest with pleasure. Miss Mott, who
was sensitive to surroundings, had already begun to sympathise with her
unknown correspondent--Miss Florence Greene.

The door was opened and the proprietress of the shop presented herself.
She was a thin woman of medium height, with a plain, anaemic face, a
poor complexion and hair brushed severely back from her forehead. She
wore a black stuff dress, the front of which was decorated with many
pins. Hers could not by any chance be called a pleasing personality. She
was a spinster growing old unwillingly and ungracefully. Miss Mott felt
that her task might possibly become more difficult than she imagined.

"What do you want with me, please?" the shopkeeper asked sharply.

"I am a private enquiry agent," her visitor announced. "I want you to
tell me what you can of your niece's disappearance."

"A private enquiry agent indeed!" Miss Greene repeated resentfully.
"What has happened to Florence is nobody's business but our own."

At that moment the door was again opened. A very short, fat old lady,
wearing steel-rimmed spectacles, entered and seated herself somewhat
precariously upon the edge of one of the slippery chairs.

"This is my manageress--Miss Toller," the other woman announced. "She
has been with us for forty years. She was the last person to see my
niece. Martha, this young lady says she is an enquiry agent. Someone's
engaged her to find out what's become of Florence."

"It seems a strange thing," the little old lady declared in an
unexpectedly shrill voice, "that anyone should think it necessary to
meddle in our business to that extent. Farringford's a small place and
folks can't slip off the edge of the earth as it were."

"Maybe not," Miss Mott agreed, "yet according to your own story, Miss
Greene, it is ten days since your niece walked out of this parlour and
went through the shop swinging her string bag without anyone having set
eyes on her since. Do you mind telling me exactly what her destination
was?"

"Weggs, the greengrocer, on the top side of the market-place," Miss
Greene replied.

"Had she other errands?"

"Not that I know of."

"Had she any money with her?"

"She had her purse. Neither she nor I go about penniless. She might
have had a matter of six or seven shillings--no more."

"Did she seem in good spirits?"

"She was whistling when she passed through the shop--a habit I never
approved of myself for young girls."

"Do you know whether she was in any sort of trouble?"

"Not that any of us were aware of," was the stiff reply.

"What was her age?"

"Twenty-one."

"Have you a photograph of her?"

Miss Greene rose to her feet, fetched an album, bound in limp morocco
and fastened with a gilt clasp, from its resting-place upon the top of
the family Bible, took out a loose photograph and passed it to Miss
Mott. To her surprise, although it was badly taken, it was the
photograph of a very pretty girl.

"She left here at eleven o'clock last Wednesday week," Miss Mott
recapitulated, replacing the photograph, "you saw her start out across
the market-place and you have not seen her since. Did she order the
vegetables?"

"Never went near the shop."

"Did any of the tradespeople see her?"

"Not one."

Miss Mott glanced thoughtfully across the market-square. It was a very
small town with the principal shops set in a circle round the
market-place. It seemed incredible that anyone could cross it without
being seen by some loiterer.

"Was anyone else in the shop when you saw her leave?" Miss Mott asked.

"There was the young lady assistant, Miss Brown, and the young
gentleman, Mr. Murdin, about at the time, but they neither of them
happened to be looking," Miss Toller explained. "Miss Brown was packing
up a parcel and Mr. Murdin was examining some calico we'd had some
complaints about--yellow spots there were on every other roll. She came
out of the parlour--opened the door of the shop, lifted the flap of the
counter, just gave me a sort of nod and out she went whistling."

Miss Mott reflected for a moment.

"She had nothing on her mind? No special anxiety that you know of?"

"None whatever," the missing young lady's aunt replied tartly. "She
disliked the shop very much and never took her place behind the counter
if she could help it."

"Life here," Miss Mott mused, "must be very quiet for an attractive
young lady. Had she any special admirers?"

"Not that I am aware of," Miss Greene rejoined. "We do not encourage
anything of the sort."

Miss Mott looked thoughtfully at the woman opposite to her,
flat-chested, anaemic, with all the evidences of indifferent health in
her sallow skin and colourless lips, yet with that curious
half-suppressed rebellion against spinsterhood in her uneasy eyes.

"You yourself have no theory," she enquired, "as to what has become of
her?"

"None at all."

"When she failed to return at the end of the day," Miss Toller pointed
out, "we mentioned the matter at the police station. We could do no
more."

"Can I have a look at the young lady's room?" Miss Mott asked.

Her aunt seemed somewhat surprised. After a moment's hesitation,
however, she rose reluctantly to her feet.

"If you wish," she assented stiffly. "She shares it with our young lady
in the shop--Miss Brown."

Miss Greene led the way up two flights of narrow stairs to a sleeping
apartment which was scarcely better than an attic. Even here there was
very little light or air. The whole place seemed built in--musty with
the dead odours of generations of inadequate ventilation. The wall of
the adjoining house butted out across one window; the other was in the
nature of a skylight, grimy and inaccessible. There was a worn fragment
of oilcloth upon the floor, a text upon the wall, two iron bedsteads and
a few articles of deal furniture.

"The chest of drawers belongs to my niece," Miss Greene explained. "Our
young lady assistant keeps her things in the wardrobe."

Miss Mott pulled open several of the drawers and glanced through their
contents.

"You will find nothing there but ordinary wearing apparel," the missing
young woman's aunt assured her, frowning.

"Quite so," Miss Mott concurred. "On the other hand your niece did not
disappear without some reason or other and the very slightest thing
might furnish us with the clue we want. Is there no place where she
would be likely to keep letters?"

"She very seldom received any. That desk is hers."

Miss Mott tried it and found it locked.

"You haven't the key?" she enquired.

"I have not," was the curt response. "I am sure that you are wasting
your time here, Miss Mott. Your enquiries had better be prosecuted
outside."

Miss Mott raised her eyebrows deprecatingly.

"I'm obliged to work in my own way," she regretted. "You will have to
apologise to your niece when she returns."

She inserted the thin blade of a knife and the desk opened easily. It
contained, after all, little of interest. There were some letters of
ancient date, most of them from girl friends or relatives, several
prospectuses from shorthand schools, and a faded photograph, at which
Miss Mott looked for several moments doubtfully until she suddenly
remembered the young divine at whose bidding she was here. She was in
the act of replacing it when to her amazement it was snatched from her
hand. The woman by her side was staring at it with the venomous gleam of
a tigress in her eyes.

"Where did you find that?" she demanded. "It wasn't in the desk."

"It was," Miss Mott replied.

The woman by her side was breathing so fast that speech for a moment
seemed almost impossible. Before Miss Mott could interfere, she threw
the photograph upon the floor and stamped on it.

"Deceitful little slut," the woman almost shrieked. "He never gave her
that. She stole it!"

Miss Mott became aware of an unexpected interest in her wearisome task.

"Is that the photograph of anyone you know?" she enquired.

"It is the photograph of our pastor, the Reverend George Padmore," she
declared. "He is a wonderful man, but Florence--why, he's never taken
the least notice of her!" He may have said a few kind words because he's
kind to everybody. She must have lost her head. She stole that!"

"Well, it doesn't seem of much consequence," Miss Mott observed,
stooping to pick it up. "There was another thing I wanted to ask you
about."

She reopened one of the drawers over which she had lingered previously,
and pulled out a dress. It was a poor, crumpled little affair of thin
brown serge, very creased and torn in several places.

"When did your niece last wear this dress?" she asked.

For several moments there was no reply, and, glancing round, Miss Mott
realised why. The woman's thin, disagreeable face, still distorted by
its recent fit of passion, had developed a new repulsion. The weak eyes
were half closed. She was blinking as though she wished to avoid the
sight of something repellent.

"I don't know," she replied at last. "Why do you ask such a question?
What have her clothes to do with the matter?"

"Nothing, I dare say," Miss Mott acknowledged. "Most probably nothing.
And yet the condition of this frock is rather surprising when compared
with the neatness of the rest of your niece's things It looks as though
it had been bundled up and thrown in hurriedly."

"Florence is only tidy by fits and starts," her aunt explained. "Let me
fold up the dress and put it back."

Miss Mott, however, retained it.

"I'll keep the dress for a short time, if you don't mind," she decided.
"I should like to have a look at the shop now, if I might."

"What do you want to see in there for?" Miss Greene demanded
suspiciously, as she followed her visitor downstairs.

"Well, just a fancy," the latter answered. "We have to work on ideas,
you know, in a case of this sort."

The other made no further protest. Arrived in the passage, Miss Mott
opened the door leading into the shop, and found herself behind the
counter of a dingy, unprepossessing-looking emporium. A young woman had
just finished wrapping up two reels of cotton for a child. Miss Mott
turned towards her with the dress upon her arm.

"I believe," she ventured, "that you share the room upstairs with Miss
Florence Greene, don't you? I wonder whether you could help us by
remembering when she last wore this frock?"

Miss Toller was crossing the floor from the opposite counter. She looked
fatter and more grotesque than ever. Her face was very red, her eyes
beady.

"I can't have you in here interfering with my assistant," she exclaimed
in a shrill, angry voice.

The girl appeared for a moment frightened, but Miss Mott smiled at her
reassuringly.

"Miss Toller doesn't quite understand," she confided. "You must please
answer my question. It is important."

The girl examined the dress, glanced nervously at the flushed, furious
face of the manageress and back at her questioner.

"I thought that was the dress Florrie had on the morning she
disappeared," she confided.

There was a moment's silence. Miss Mott seemed puzzled.

"Well, I'm afraid that's impossible on the face of it, isn't it?" she
observed.

"I suppose so," was the doubtful response. "I thought Florrie put it on
when she got up: of course she might have changed later."

Miss Mott turned towards the grotesque little figure by her side. Miss
Toller was breathing stertorously as she leaned against the counter.

"By the by, you saw Miss Florence leave the shop," she remarked. "Did
you notice what dress she was wearing?"

"Why should I?" she rejoined sullenly. "She had too many dresses for an
idle young woman, in my opinion. She couldn't have been wearing that one
or you wouldn't have found it in the drawers."

"She was wearing grey," Miss Greene declared, creeping a little nearer
to them from the other end of the shop. "Grey tweed--at least it looked
like tweed. It was made from a sample length we bought from one of the
travellers."

Miss Mott nodded and laid the dress, which she had been carrying, on the
counter, pushing it on one side as though dismissing the matter from her
thoughts.

"After all, it isn't very important, is it?" she observed, "unless we
issue bills later on with the description. The great thing is to find
out what has become of the young lady. What do you think of it, Miss
Brown? Where do you think your bedroom companion's disappeared to?"

Miss Brown was a tall, awkward-looking girl with high cheek-bones and
she spoke the dialect of the county. She seemed half pleased and half
disturbed at being invited to give her opinion.

"Can't say, I'm sure," she declared. "Doesn't seem to me she'd any call
to upset us all like this--going away without a word to anybody."

"Just so," Miss Mott agreed. "Very inconsiderate. Well, Miss Greene, I
am very much obliged to you for your information and I shall now go and
think things over. If I have any more questions to ask perhaps I'll look
in later on."

"I don't see why you should have," was the acid reply. "I don't quite
see why you're poking your nose into the business at all, and in any
case there's nothing to be learnt here. It's outside you ought to be
making your enquiries. When you know already that the young woman walked
out of the shop and didn't come back, what's the use of hanging around
here?"

"I expect you're right," Miss Mott acquiesced humbly. "I'll stroll
across and have a talk with the police."

Miss Toller threw down a bale of cloth, which seemed far too heavy for
her to lift, upon the counter. Somehow or other one felt that she was
expressing her opinion of the police.


Miss Mott found her presence in the lounge smoke-room of the George
Hotel during the early hours of that evening a matter which excited
little comment amongst the tradespeople who had dropped in for their
drink and chat. There were Roman remains in the neighbourhood, a curious
hill which had puzzled many an archaeologist, and tourists of both sexes
were by no means a rarity. Neither had she to go out of her way to learn
what popular gossip said about the disappearance of Miss Florence
Greene. The conversation drifted naturally into this one subject of
absorbing interest without any encouragement on her part. It was the
local stationer, a grey-haired, pompous little man, with gold-rimmed
glasses and a somewhat protuberant stomach, who opened the subject. He
was vicar's churchwarden, chairman of the Farringford Literary Society,
and a member of the County Council. His name was John Standish.

"No news of the young lady, I suppose?" he asked the company generally.

"Fatty Grimston thought he saw her come out of one o' them tea-shops in
Didcot," someone observed.

"Fatty's always got a tale to tell," Mr. Adams, the butcher, scoffed.
"What would she want to go to Didcot for? Besides, it isn't humanly
likely that she could have got away without being noticed. There's old
Sam, the stationmaster! I bet you there's not a morning he couldn't
tell you the names of every passenger on his train."

Fellowes, the ironmonger, stretched out his hand for his glass of
whisky.

"I spoke to the sergeant this morning and he seemed at his wits' end.
The Chief Constable is wanting to send to Scotland Yard about it, but
her aunt and Miss Toller they're dead against it."

There was silence for a moment. One gathered that the two ladies
mentioned ware scarcely popular.

"It seems to me it would be better to have the girl back again and risk
a bit of scandal," Mr. Adams declared.

There was a little murmur of assent. Then Miss Mott decided on a
somewhat unusual course--a course inspired by the fact that the case
itself was unusual in its simplicity and yet in its vagueness. She
leaned forward and joined in the conversation.

"May I tell you all something?" she begged. "I own a small enquiry
office in London, and I have been engaged by someone to come down and
look into the matter of Miss Florence Green's disappearance."

The announcement was received courteously but with some surprise.
Observations of a tentatively welcome nature were made. Mr. Standish,
the stationer, expressed the general feeling.

"Glad to meet you, Miss----" he began.

"Miss Mott my name is," she confided.

"--Miss Mott," he went on. "Seems a queer thing for a young lady like
you to be a kind of private detective and to be so ready to own up to
it. The sort you reads about generally hides in corners and pretends to
be someone else."

"Turns up with a case of samples, like a commercial traveller," Mr.
Adams suggested.

"Or pretends to be an American professor come to view the tumuli," a
dapper little man, who appeared to have some connection with horses,
interposed.

There was a guffaw of laughter. It was a tradition of the George lounge
that a laugh must always be raised when Billy Dent, who was the town's
humorist, opened his mouth.

"It is unusual to be quite so candid about oneself, I admit," Miss Mott
agreed. "This is one of those cases, however, where secrecy doesn't seem
particularly necessary, and I may get just the hint I want at any moment
from any one of you. I take it you are all interested in discovering
what has become of the young lady? She seems not to have an enemy in
the world or the slightest complication in life, therefore why should I
make any mystery about the fact that I have come down to see if I can
find out what's become of her?"

"Common sense," Mr. Standish acknowledged portentously, "sound common
sense."

"Of course, I am a complete stranger here," Miss Mott went on. "I didn't
know a soul until I arrived this afternoon. Miss Greene now, the young
lady's aunt, and Miss Toller, the two ladies I have been to see--they're
old residents, aren't they?"

Mr. Standish removed his pipe from his mouth. It was evident that he was
usually regarded as being spokesman.

"They're as old as any we've got in the town," he confided. "The
business belonged to Caroline Greene's father. I remember him well. He
died thirty years ago, when Caroline was something like twenty-two or
twenty-three years old. Miss Toller was manageress then--a slim young
body she was, too, and she and Miss Caroline have carried on the shop
ever since. Don't know as it's much of a catch nowadays," the stationer
continued thoughtfully, "but they must have made a decent bit of money
out of it. They haven't been spenders either, except that they've always
been ready to put their hands into their pockets for the chapel."

"Charitable, are they?" Miss Mott ventured. Mr. Standish knocked the
ashes from his pipe and paused for a moment.

"There's charitable and charitable," he propounded. "They don't take
much stock in the poor. It's their own chapel--the Independent Chapel
here--that all their money goes to. Last year they gave one of those new
American organs and this year they paid for a stove between them. Three
times a day to worship--that's them on a Sunday--and there's never a
Tuesday or a Friday but young Parson Padmore doesn't take tea or supper
with them. They're religious folk, without a doubt, but it's in a way of
their own."

"And Miss Florence?"

"Well, she used to go to chapel too pretty regular at one time," Mr.
Standish confided. "Since last Easter, however, she's taken to coming to
church."

"I suppose," Miss Mott observed thoughtfully, "no one can suggest a
reason as to why she should have been anxious to get away from home?"

The dapper little man with the horsey appearance chuckled.

"I could, and a darn' good one, too," he declared. "To get away from
those two--her aunt and t'other. You've seen them, miss?"

"Yes, I've seen them," Miss Mott admitted, with the flicker of a smile
upon her lips.

"Well, the Lord forgot the looks when he was fixing them up. I ain't a
particular man so as you'd notice it, but it would give me the shivers
to sit at the same table with them year in and year out. Good and holy
folk they may be as the Bible itself, but when you've said that you've
done with them. I always thought that some day or other Miss Florence
would launch out--get up to London or something of the sort."

"Typing it was she was considering," Mr. Standish intervened in an
important manner. "She came to me for advice upon the matter."

"A typist is very likely what she's gone to be," Mr. Adams assented,
"but she have done it in the most mysterious way."

"Extra mysterious," the stationer agreed. "Listen here, Miss Mott,
market day might have been a different matter, but Tuesday ain't a busy
morning with us and we're curious folk, as people grow to be, living in
a quiet place like this. That she could walk out o' that shop at eleven
o'clock in the morning, as her aunt and Miss Toller declare she did, and
go anywheres in this town without a single pair of eyes following her,
seems to me amazing. I'm generally on my shop door-step myself, taking a
breath of air, and there's plenty of the others always looking out to
see what's going on. Amazing I do call it surely."

"No young man, I suppose?" Miss Mott enquired. "She wasn't engaged to be
married or anything of that sort?"

"Not as ever I heard tell on," Mr. Standish replied, with a sigh, as he
thought of his own unmarried daughters. "Young men in these parts are
scarce."

"Snapped up quick, we young 'uns are," Billy Dent, who was well over
sixty, chuckled.

There was a brief and somewhat strained silence. Miss Mott was trying to
find her way behind it.

"I fancy," the stationer continued presently, "that Miss Florence,
although she seemed cheerful enough, was none too well pleased with
life. You might find plenty of motives, Miss Mott, for her going away,
but the puzzle to us is--how did she do it with the whole town's eyes
upon her?"

"If she'd wanted to sneak away," Mr. Adams pointed out, "being a young
woman of ordinary common sense, she wouldn't have come out with a string
bag at eleven o'clock in the morning and started off across the
market-place. What I should have done now," he went on, accepting a
tumbler from a tray which the landlady, at Miss Mott's request, was
carrying round, "if my little business was going bust, say, and I had to
make a mysterious disappearance from my creditors--"

"What about that bob you owes me, William?" Billy Dent interrupted.

"I should have left at night when everyone had gone to sleep," the
butcher continued, unmoved. "And to sleep they do go early in these
parts. I should have walked to the Junction, which is only two miles and
a half away, and caught one of them night trains somewhere."

"Apparently," Miss Mott observed with a smile, "the young lady was more
clever. She managed to disappear quite as effectually in broad daylight,
and from the middle of the town."

There was a renewal of that strained silence, and the thoughts
engendered by it were practically all that Miss Mott gained by her
unconventional effort. Then the clock struck half-past seven, and, as
though with one accord, everyone in the room rose to his feet and
straggled towards the door.

"See you later, miss," Mr. Standish remarked, with a little bow towards
Miss Mott.

"I expect so," she answered pleasantly, "unless I've finished my job and
found the young lady before you come back!"

There was a guffaw of laughter as the room cleared. When the last man
had departed Miss Mott finished her glass of sherry and, approaching the
bar where Mrs. Holmes, the landlady, was seated making up her accounts,
produced a photograph.

"I wonder, Mrs. Holmes," she asked, "if you could tell me if this is a
photograph of anyone living in the neighbourhood?"

Mrs. Holmes adjusted her spectacles and looked at it curiously.

"Why surely!" she exclaimed. "That's a picture of the Reverend George
Padmore, the Independent minister here--him that Mr. Standish was
talking about."

"Married?" Miss Mott enquired, although she was beginning to have faith
in her client's story. Mrs. Holmes shook her head.

"Better for him if he were," she confided, "though seventy pounds a year
is no decent wage for any married man. The way these old women, who ought
to know better, runs after him must make life cruel and uncomfortable
sometimes. There's them two opposite," she went on, dropping her voice
a little although the lounge was empty, "who surely did ought to know
better--Miss Caroline Greene and Miss Toller--it's something
cruel the way they persecute the poor man. And what for a body'd
like to know? They're both of them--well, you've seen them,
Miss Mott! I ask you, what sort of sense there is in females like
that pestering a young man of thirty-five, pauper though he may be, and
man of God. There's others in the congregation, but them two are the
worst. It's my belief Miss Florence left the chapel and took up church
religion sooner than watch her aunt and the other old lady making fools
of themselves all the time."

Miss Mott replaced the photograph in her pocket.

"Very interesting," she murmured.

"You found the photograph over in Miss Greene's sitting-room, no doubt?"
the landlady asked curiously.

"It was somewhere lying about," was the evasive reply. "I'm going to
have a wash now and see about dinner."

"You'll be in and have a talk with the other gentlemen later, perhaps?"
Mrs. Holmes invited. "They'll be all here again round nine o'clock and
Mr. Goodlip as well, the bank manager. A very nice company they are and
as sociable as can be."

Miss Mott took her leave with a non-committal reply. She felt that she
had already learnt all that the local gossips had to tell her. The
lounge was fuller than usual that night in anticipation of her coming,
but whilst they waited, the very trim little lady with beautiful eyes,
who had seemed to them so untrue to type, was justifying the more
conventional traditions of her profession. With a pair of light
rubber-soled shoes upon her feet, a torch in her pocket and a
burglarious instrument in her hand, she had crossed the market-square of
the drowsy town, picked a lock and undertaken a brief investigation of
the rear of the premises from which Miss Florence Greene had
disappeared. Her task proved to be a very brief one. In less than a
quarter of an hour she was knocking at the front door of the six-roomed
cottage next to his chapel in which Mr. George Padmore lived.


Caroline Greene, when the shop was finally closed for the day, and
supper disposed of, rose to her feet and drew the curtain a little more
closely over the wire blind in order to shut out the observation of even
the least curious of passers-by. Secrecy ensured, she crossed the room
to the cupboard, produced a decanter and two glasses, set one before
Miss Toller and retained the other. Solemnly she half filled both,
poured in an equal quantity of water and resumed her seat on the hard
horse-hair sofa. Miss Toller, seated sideways at the table for the
reason that her legs were too fat to go underneath it, looked up from
the heavy calf-bound volume she had been studying, and drank slowly from
the tumbler, her weak eyes rolling all the time. Miss Greene followed
her example.

"Have you found any new ones?" the latter asked.

"There's one here," Miss Toller announced, fixing a stubby forefinger
upon the open page. "'The harlot hath no place amongst the children of
men nor in the heaven to come. She shall be thrown into everlasting
darkness.'"

Miss Greene sighed.

"I sometimes wish," she murmured, "that we had taken George into our
confidence; if she could hear him read these lines, then, indeed, she
might be afraid."

"It is hard," Miss Toller said, taking another gulp from her tumbler,
"to put fear into the heart of the sinner. As for George Padmore--he's a
holy man, but it is better that he knows nothing of our disgrace. We
must persevere, Caroline. Last night she weakened; to-night we must
pray."

"Yes, we will pray," Caroline assented.

They sat for some moments in silence. As though by mutual consent, they
finished the contents of their tumblers as the church clock across the
way struck ten. Then they rose and left the room, Miss Toller leading
the way with a book under her arm, making swaying progress down the
smelly passage, through the stuffy kitchen in which was no window
opening to the light, out into a paved way covered with a whitewashed
glass roof. They passed several doors and paused at length before one
secured on the outside with a padlock. Miss Greene opened it with a key
which she drew from her pocket, and the two women entered. There was a
slight moan from somewhere in the darkness as they closed the door
behind them. Miss Toller, breathing stertorously, struck a match, and
lit a malodorous tallow candle. In the roughest of iron bedsteads, set
in a corner of the room, a girl was lying. The bedstead was shaped like
a baby's crib, with high rails at the sides, and to these the girl's
wrists were bound with strong packing cord. There was no window nor any
ventilation in the place. A spider hung down from the ceiling, dust lay
thick upon the floor. A pile of newspapers, the accumulation of years,
had been thrown into a corner. Two empty packing-cases and a few bales
of calico stood against the grimy, whitewashed wall...The girl's eyes
were open. There was fear lurking in them as she looked at the two
women, but it was fear which had lost its panic, a sort of numb,
hopeless fear. She said nothing. She only moaned slightly. Miss Toller
brought a short stool up to the side of the bed and seated herself. Miss
Greene held the candle high, whilst she found her place in the book. The
girl shook her head piteously.

"No more," she faltered. "I think that I am dying."

Miss Greene leaned over her niece. In the candlelight her teeth seemed
yellower and more prominent than ever. Her voice was thin and acrid.
There was hate in her expression as even in these mortal straits she
seemed to realise the soft, pathetic beauty of the trembling mouth and
pleading eyes.

"If you are dying, Florence, you will die in sin. You will pass from
here into hell unless you confess. Read to her, Eliza."

Miss Toller read the passage which she had quoted in the sitting-room,
and she read it with relish. The girl kept her eyes closed.

"Read some more," Caroline Greene enjoined, "then I will pray."

The girl's eyes were closed now, although her eyelids fluttered. Her
face was wasted. There was a delicate but unhealthy flush in her cheeks.
She was breathing quickly.

"Stop," she begged. "Don't read me any more out of that terrible book.
If you won't give me any food, give me some water."

"'And he stretched his hands out of hell,'" Miss Toller droned on,
dropping the spectacles over her pudgy nose and reading with fervour.
"'He cried out to the passers-by for drink and they gave him vinegar.'"

The girl began to sob. There was something appallingly inhuman about the
indifference of the two women. Miss Greene produced a bottle from the
bag she was carrying, poured out a wineglassful of water and offered it
to their victim, who drank it feverishly. Then she fell on her knees and
broke into a rambling prayer, which ended in an exhortation:

"Into this house where you have lived, Florence," she declared solemnly,
"sin has never before entered. We have found grace here and we have kept
it. Our days have been days of holiness. We have been blessed with the
spiritual aid of one of the Lord's good men. Think how terrible a shock,
then, to find that one of our household whom we have trusted has dipped
her hands into the waters of abomination."

"I am dying," the girl moaned. "Why can't you leave me alone?"

"You will not die," her aunt assured her harshly. "You will have no
peace in earth or in hell until you have told us the name of the man."

There was a moment of complete silence. Then the girl raised herself as
much as the cord which bound her permitted.

"I will tell it to one person in the world," she announced, with
unexpected strength; "not to you, Aunt Caroline, nor to you," she
added, turning away with loathing from the other figure by her bed. "I
will tell it to George Padmore."

There was anger now, furious and venomous, in the expressions of her
torturers. Miss Greene buried her face in her hands.

"Our friend in God!" she cried. "You would pollute his ears with your
horrible story!"

"One of the Lord's chosen," Miss Toller added unctuously. "You would
besmirch our good name, you would mark with a black cross this godly
household."

They leaned over her, scowling. Then, from outside, came the sudden rush
of heavy footsteps. The two women stood dumbfounded. The door was
crashed open by some unseen force and the ex-Reverend George Padmore
stumbled in. He was wearing black, semi-clerical clothes, bicycle clips
still confined the bottoms of his dusty trouser legs, perspiration
streamed down his face. He looked past the two women with horror towards
the form upon the bed. In the background stood Miss Mott.

"What does this mean?" he gasped. "What are you doing to Florence?"

He pushed roughly forward, knife in hand, and cut the cords which bound
her wrists. They fell down like dead things Caroline Greene stood
erect--a thin, ugly figure of denunciation.

"Florence has committed what you yourself have called the great sin. She
is here until she tells us the name--the name of the man."

He knelt by the side of the bed. His rough hands caressed the face upon
the lips of which a slow smile was breaking.

"Do you mean that you have kept her a prisoner here all the time I've
been away--all the time the police have been searching for her?" he
demanded.

"That is what we have done," Miss Toller pronounced sonorously. "She
will remain here until she loses the strength of which she has been so
proud, until she feels the threshold of the other world beneath her
feet, and tells the truth. We have kept her alive, but to-night she is
weaker. She is nearer confession. I have read the word of truth to her
for hours," the woman ogress went on, her breathing becoming more
difficult. "She takes no notice, she is in the clutches of sin, her
heart is hardened."

"And I, too, have prayed, dear brother George," Miss Greene cried
fervently. "She is far gone in evil, the obstinacy of sin is hers. It is
for you, George, to make her speak. Lift your hands as you do in our
blessed chapel, speak so that the ceilings are opened and her heart is
moved. We have heard sinners sob out the truth to you before, brother
George! Make this poor Magdalen confess."

The man rose to his feet and swung suddenly around. His eyes were on
fire. He looked at the two women by the bedside and they shrank from him
aghast.

"In Christ's name what has she to confess?" he demanded. "_Mine_ is the
name her lips have never uttered, for me her foolish sacrifice. I am the
father of her child and her husband. My wife--it is my wife whom you are
doing to death here--you two she-devils...Florence, dear, you should
have broken your promise. Everything is all right now. Can you forgive?"

The most tremulous but happiest of smiles quivered upon her lips. One of
her hands twitched with reawakening life, and he took it into his. Miss
Mott was holding water to her lips and gently massaging her other hand.
Miss Toiler's mouth was grotesquely opened--an unwholesome colour was
flooding her face. Caroline Greene stood like a figure of stone.

"Curse you, I had to live!" he shouted to them. "Thirty pounds a year
was all I got from the ministry--you made up the rest. I worked for it,
I prayed for you, I put up with your hypocrisy--the small hypocrisies of
all the men and women--even the best of them, who kneel every Sunday in
my pews. You kept the church going, I know that. What for? What sort of
charity was in your hearts--you two who could torture a human being like
this? And she--we were married a year ago, but she daren't tell you,
for my sake. She knew the truth. She knew the jealousy that was in your
hearts," he added, scowling at Miss Greene. "You'd have left the chapel
to go to ruin and me to starve if you'd known the truth. And I wasn't
man enough to tell you...Well, you know now. I've finished. I may have
done some good here--there are a few honest people whom I've helped and
comforted--they've taught me to feel sometimes how ignorant I am.
Whether God deserts me or not--blast you both! No more of your chapel
for me--I can take care of Florence without it."

He stooped down, drew off some of the bedclothes and, with Miss Mott's
help, wrapped "a blanket round the trembling figure and lifted her
gently up. Her hands went round his neck, the fingers of one of them
seeking for Miss Mott's kindly clasp. He arranged the covering tenderly
around her. Still neither of the two women spoke.

"Well?" he challenged them.

There was still silence. He turned towards the door.

"I am taking my wife home," he said. "You can come and fetch your
furniture to-morrow, you can stop your money, you can fetch your organ
away, if I haven't smashed it up first, and you can close the chapel. If
people like you are coming to pray there it's better closed. We shan't
starve. But," he added, glowering back at them, "if you've done her real
harm, if she suffers from this, I'll send you where you belong. You
shall taste a prison on earth before your kingdom in heaven..."

He strode out. The girl in his arms was sobbing softly, but he felt the
warmer blood in her veins as she clung to him with one hand and to Miss
Mott with the other. At the outer gate, with his fingers upon the latch,
they all three looked back upon a curious sight. Holding the fluttering
candle in her hand, Miss Greene led the way towards the house, gaunt and
uncertain of step, Miss Toller following, swaying from side to side,
more like a great unwholesome insect of fabulous age. George Padmore
opened the gate and slammed it, and the girl in his arms gave a little
sob of pleasure as the fresh, sweet air blew into their faces.

"Life!" she murmured. "After all, life..."

In the airless sitting-room, with its hard horse-hair chairs and grim
ugliness, the two women for hours later slept, Miss Greene half upon the
couch, Miss Toller doubled sideways, with her head upon the table,
making terrible noises. The empty decanter was between them, the
grandfather clock in the corner ticked away the minutes towards
daylight. Across the dreaming market-place, Miss Mott, having given
orders for an early morning start, was slumbering peacefully in her
four-poster.


At nine o'clock the next morning, Miss Mott, seeing the chapel door
open, peered in. George Padmore, with a sheepish grin upon his face and
a hatchet in his hand, came down the aisle. Behind him lay the mangled
remains of an American organ. Neither Miss Mott nor he made any allusion
to the circumstance.

"How is your wife, Mr. Padmore?" she enquired.

"Fine," he answered.
"She's sleeping still."

"Can I do anything for her?"

"Thank you, Miss Mott. I've a woman in to look after things. If you
wouldn't mind telling me," he went on awkwardly, "what I owe you for
finding her--you needn't mind taking a bit of money. My uncle left me
his business and a thousand pounds. That's why I've been away so
long--fixing things up!"

Miss Mott went out into the sunny morning laughing happily.

"You can tell me the nearest cut into the Great West Road."



7--MEREDITH WALKS OUT


MISS MOTT studied her visitor with more than ordinary interest. She, the
visitor, was almost flauntingly Italian--in complexion, colouring, and
the grace with which she wore her somewhat shabby clothes. Her black
fringe descended low over her forehead, her brown eyes flashed with
every word she spoke, her mouth was sullen and a little hard.

"Did you say that you had been one of my correspondents?" Miss Mott
asked.

"Yes," the girl replied. "You answered me in last week's paper. Fenetta,
I called myself. I wrote to you about my husband."

"I remember."

"I wanted to follow him when he stayed out at night," the young woman
went on. "You advised me to do nothing of the sort. You told me to ask
him frankly what was keeping him out so much and so often late at night.
Well!" I followed your advice--I asked him. He replied with one
word--business. He would say no more. Business indeed!"

"What does your husband do for a living?" The girl threw out her hands.

"That is what I ask myself. When I married him he was a maître d'hôtel.
Now he sells on commission--the wine of Italy--the oil--what he can."

"I see," Miss Mott remarked briskly. "Well, I gave you the best advice I
could. I think he ought to tell you more. I'm afraid there's no other
way I can help you."

"But you have here an enquiry agency, haven't you?" the girl asked.

"Quite true, but to use it costs money," Miss Mott explained. "It has
nothing to do with my work upon the paper. It is an independent
enterprise of my own."

"I have money," the girl announced. "Out of my savings I will be able to
pay."

"What do you want me to do?" Miss Mott enquired.

The girl smoothed out a strip of paper and laid it upon the desk. There
were a few words only--and the paper was scented:


_"Café de la Pomme d'Or--8 o'clock."_


"That I find in his pocket," the girl exclaimed, with a little
dramatic gesture. "It is in a woman's writing. There is a woman, I
always knew there was one."

Miss Mott was bored. She had come to the conclusion long ago that to
meddle, even to the extent of giving advice, in the love entanglements
of Italians of this class was a dangerous thing.

"It is for you, this affair," the girl decided, with a new vivacity in
her tone. "I pay. Do not be afraid. You send or go to the Café de la
Pomme d'Or to-night and you tell me with whom my man is."

"Thank you," Miss Mott refused. "I'd rather not."

The girl burst into a stream of rapid speech. Miss Mott checked her
firmly.

"I do not take divorce business," she explained. "I do not care to
interfere between husband and wife. Besides, I have plenty of work to do
at present."

"What I ask is not much," the girl insisted. "I give you a photograph of
my husband--here it is. You go to the Pomme d'Or a little before eight,
you eat your dinner there, you watch--my husband come in--you see with
whom--you find out the girl's name and where they go. I pay."

"It would cost you ten guineas," Miss Mott warned her.

The girl opened an almost worn-out black bag, with tarnished silver
clasps. She counted out the money.

"I come to-morrow to know," she said, rising to her feet. "You are
satisfied, yes?"

Miss Mott sighed resignedly and pushed half the money back again.

"This will be quite enough," she said. "I didn't really want to take
your commission at all. However, I'll do what I can."

"I come back to-morrow morning," the girl repeated, as she left the
room.


Miss Mott rang up her uncle at Scotland Yard. Superintendent-Detective
Wragge was in and very pleased to talk to his niece.

"The Pomme d'Or restaurant," he repeated. "Wait a minute, I'll send for
the records."

There was a brief pause, devoted to desultory conversation. Then another
pause. Finally Superintendent Wragge's announcement.

"Absolutely clean sheet," he reported. "Kept by an Italian, name of
Entonelli. Never been in trouble--looked upon as one of the best type of
small restaurateurs. Why the enquiry?"

Miss Mott disclosed the nature of her commission. Her uncle grunted.

"I thought you didn't go in for that sort of business," he said.

"I don't usually," she admitted. "The girl got round me."

"Well, it doesn't look as if you'd come to much harm, anyway," he
declared, and rang off...

Miss Mott went out that afternoon to a tea-party at the house of a girl
friend. When she returned at six o'clock there was an official-looking
envelope on her desk with the always impressive words: "_On His
Majesty's Service."_ It was also marked: _"Immediate and Important."_ Miss
Mott opened it quickly. There was only one sentence in her uncle's
handwriting:

_"On no account go near the Pomme d'Or. Wait for me at your office."_

The bespectacled young girl who attended to Miss Mott's correspondence
came hurrying in.

"You've got your note, Miss Mott?" she asked.

Her chief nodded.

"Yes. When did it come?"

"About an hour ago," the girl confided. "The man had two others. One
addressed to you at your club and one at your flat."

Miss Mott felt a little thrill of excitement.

"Tell them in the office they needn't wait," she said, as she took off
her hat. "My uncle is coming in to see me. I'll lock up afterwards."

"There's a young woman to see you, in the other office," the girl
announced. "The young woman who was here this morning."

Miss Mott was interested.

"Show her in at once," she directed. "And if my uncle comes before she
is gone, ask him to wait."

The girl hurried out. For the second time during the day Signora
Ferruchi was ushered into Miss Mott's sanctum. This time it was
apparently a young woman of a different temperament who presented
herself. There was a furtive light in her beautiful eyes, distinct
traces of nervousness in her manner.

"What brings you back again?" Miss Mott asked curiously.

"Everything's all right now between Guido and myself," the girl
announced. "No more dispute: everything has been explained. You can keep
the fee, miss, because I take up your time, but the watching
to-night--it is not necessary. Guido has explained."

"Sit down for a moment," Miss Mott invited. The young woman complied
unwillingly. Miss Mott unlocked a drawer.

"Of course I shall give you back your five guineas," she said. "I should
not think of taking it for doing nothing. I am very glad everything is
all right between you and your husband. I don't like watching people. I
always think it rather mean, don't you?"

"I know now that there is nothing to watch Guido for," the girl
explained anxiously. "If you wish I will take the five guineas, but I
must go."

Miss Mott slowly counted out five treasury notes and five shillings.
Just as she was finishing, there was the sound of a heavy footstep upon
the stairs, a familiar voice outside, a knock at the door, and her uncle
walked in. He nodded to his niece and his strangely set eyes flashed in
a quick glance of enquiry towards the girl.

"This is my uncle--Signora Ferruchi," Miss Mott introduced, with a
little wave of the hand.

The superintendent's interest in the young woman seemed to cease at
once. He drew a chair up to his niece's desk.

"I'm not intruding, I hope?" he asked.

"Not in the least," she assured him. "My client was just going."

The young woman grabbed at the notes which Miss Mott was offering her
and, with a hurried word of farewell, left the room. Superintendent
Wragge's right arm shot out towards the telephone.

"Give me the commissionaire," he demanded. "A Government call, please,
miss...That you, Johnson? Good. There's a young woman on her way down
from Miss Mott's office--Italian--dressed in black. You'll find my car
outside with Preston on the box. You know the car?...Good. Tell Preston
to follow the young woman. It's important, mind He's not to lose sight
of her. He's to report at my room in the Yard. I'm going back there from
here...Just coming out of the lift, is she? That's right. Look sharp."

The superintendent replaced the telephone and, producing a crumpled
package of cigarettes from his pocket, lit one.

"What's it all about, please?" his niece asked patiently. "First of all
you tell me that there isn't a thing against the Pomme d'Or restaurant,
then you stop my going there, and just when I'm getting over my
disappointment, the girl comes back in a state of terror and withdraws
her commission. Not only that, but she seems paralysed with fear lest I
should go there. I am becoming a little intrigued."

"What were you to do?"

"Really, I might just as well be a branch of your Scotland Yard," Miss
Mott declared, with mock sarcasm. "I'm all the time having to give my
clients away. There's nothing wrong with Signora Ferruchi, is there,
except that she seems to be one of these fatally jealous Italians?"

Mr. Wragge stroked his chin thoughtfully.

"Ferruchi she calls herself, does she?" he mused. "A very nice name,
too. No, there's nothing wrong with her, except that she's not married
and that her name is something very different. She and her man are
trying to earn five thousand pounds. You can't blame her, can you? Five
thousand pounds is a very nice sum of money."

"How could they earn a sum like that?" Miss Mott demanded incredulously.

"They might have earned it," was the grim rejoinder, "if you had been
induced to climb the back stairs of the Pomme d'Or on a suitable
occasion. To-night, it appears, was an unfortunate choice."

"Somebody either hates me or loves me, apparently," Miss Mott exclaimed
incredulously.

"You've had proof of that before," was her uncle's dry reminder.

Miss Mott sprang suddenly to her feet. The colour faded from her cheeks.
The ghosts of forgotten fears reassembled in her heart.

"You told me--that he had left the country--that he had been traced in
Brazil!"

Superintendent Wragge nodded.

"It looked like it," he admitted. "At present we are a little bewildered
with too much information. He's either in Brazil, or, if you take a pair
of compasses with a radius of one hundred yards and make a circle round
the Pomme d'Or--he's inside that."

"My God!" Miss Mott murmured softly. "So that's why you've made me come
and stay with you and why you've got a couple of men sleeping in the
house? I could understand Holmes, although he's not the cleverest
butler in the world, but why you brought Mair in I couldn't imagine."

Superintendent Wragge lit another cigarette.

"Men who are supreme at their jobs, who are what is called diabolically
clever," he remarked, "have nearly always one weakness. Meredith--I say
this deliberately--is the cleverest criminal we've ever had on our books
at Scotland Yard. He's walked through brick walls and regiments of
police. He ought to have been dead or in prison a dozen times and he's
free, and his one imbecility, my dear Lucite--I don't want to turn your
head--is you."

"Don't I know it," she agreed. "But where's the connection between all
this, my visit to the Pomme d'Or and my jealous little Italian lady?
First of all she was crazy for me to go there and now she is crazy to
keep me away."

"I forgot," her uncle remarked, "you don't read the afternoon papers.
There was one of the worst burglaries we've had in London this season in
Soho this afternoon. The premises of a firm of Italian merchants--eleven
thousand pounds in cash stolen and two men killed. It was such an
amazingly conceived affair," the superintendent went on impressively,
"and obviously a gangsters' affair, too, that we've only been able to
think of one man."

"You haven't anything against--against--"

Superintendent Wragge glanced at the inevitable bunch of violets on the
table.

"No, we've nothing against Violet Joe," he admitted. "In fact, if you
ask me, I think he's quit the gang for good. By eight o'clock this
evening, though, we shall have a hundred men on the outskirts of Soho
working inwards. The centre of the circle will be the one place without
a black mark to its name--the Pomme d'Or. That's why, although I don't
think they'd have time to bother about you to-night, I want you to keep
away. That is also the reason why Madame Ferruchi has been told to
withdraw her commission. That is also the reason why I am here to see
that you don't set foot inside the place."

"I understand," Miss Mott murmured.


Nevertheless, at eight o'clock that evening, Miss Mott pushed open
the swing door of the Restaurant de la Pomme d'Or, and with her
much derided little gun in her black bag and her heart in her
mouth, took her place at the corner table to which she was ushered. The
appearance of the place surprised her. It was neat and clean and almost
elegant. There were flowers and a shaded lamp on every table. The linen
of the maître d'hôtel who had shown her to her seat was spotless, his
manner pleasant without being too effusive. The only trouble seemed to
be lack of custom. There was a whole row of empty tables and barely half
a dozen diners. Miss Mott ordered her simple meal and then ventured to
glance around her. The general effect of her survey was one of
reassurance. The clientele, though small, appeared perfectly harmless.
She ordered a half-bottle of claret and addressed a question to the wine
waiter.

"I thought this was a popular place," she remarked. "Why are there so
few people here?"

The man leaned downwards almost to within whispering distance. He was
Italian and his white teeth flashed as he spoke.

"There has been great trouble near here this afternoon," he confided. "A
burglary. Men shot dead. The police are still on the look-out. People
are afraid and they stay indoors. Even in here," he added, dropping his
voice and glancing in scared fashion towards the door, "it has been
terrible. One hears heavy footsteps all the time. Always they pass on.
Nevertheless one is afraid."

Miss Mott felt that curious little shiver of excitement that came to her
at rare intervals.

"But this place has a very high reputation, hasn't it?" she asked.

The man was silent. In a sense there was nothing significant about his
silence. He had not the air of reflecting or deliberating about his
reply, only he said nothing. He looked out of the windows--a healthy
complexioned, brisk Italian of the most respectable class, with smoothly
brushed hair and manicured finger-nails.

"The Maison de la Pomme d'Or has an old reputation," he agreed. "In
these days, though, one has to fight to keep anything Mademoiselle will
accept my recommendation? She will eat the dinner that I will serve?"

"Willingly," she assented. "I hate ordering..."

Miss Mott had no reason to regret her choice. In its initial stages, at
any rate, she had never dined better. She took note once more of the
people in the room, and found them still harmless. There were no signs
here of the man-hunt outside. Once in the distance she fancied she heard
a police whistle, and then--

There are several unmistakable sounds in the world. One is the sound of
flying footsteps inspired with the urge of fear. Miss Mott sat suddenly
up in her place and listened. The footsteps were on the opposite
pavement, coming rapidly down the street. There was a hoarse cry as
though someone had been hurt. Now it seemed that they were crossing the
road. The door shook and opened with a wide sweep. A man, breathless and
pale, pushed his way through, a man whom Miss Mott recognised in a
moment as the original of the picture she had seen that morning. He may
have been young in years, but at that moment he was old in terror and
anxiety. The skin was drawn like white parchment over his high
cheek-bones, his lips were parted like a dog's waiting to bite, the
upper lip close to his teeth and showing his gums. With the door closed
behind him he paused to listen, a matter of seconds only, his head
turned backward, every pulse of his long, lean body stiff with the
effort. Miss Mott instinctively listened too, but she could hear
nothing.

Then the man, without removing his black slouch hat, walked stiffly
between the tables across the restaurant, and, lifting a curtain about
half-way down the room, disappeared. There was a pause. Miss Mott
listened again. She heard no following footsteps; outside was an almost
unnatural silence. Suddenly the door seemed to be pushed open by an
unseen hand. Another man made deliberate entrance--a stalwart, keen-eyed
man with small moustache, neatly dressed, wearing no overcoat
notwithstanding the inclement weather, but carrying a heavy
walking-stick. He hung up his hat and seated himself deliberately
exactly opposite Miss Mott at a table within a few feet of the entrance.
As he turned away Miss Mott saw the shape of something in his pocket.
She took note of his firm, square shoulders, and she knew that the stage
was being set for grave happenings. She had paid too many visits to
Scotland Yard not to recognise the type...

A waiter came up and accepted an order from the newcomer. A flask of
Chianti was placed upon the table and he drank a half-tumblerful almost
at a gulp. Notwithstanding his leisurely, almost stealthy, entrance,
Miss Mott saw that the damp of perspiration clung to his forehead. He
looked across at her once or twice keenly, and then buried himself in an
evening paper. She had all the average human being's sympathy with the
hunted object, and yet, owing to her long association with her uncle,
her keen sympathy was also with the hunter, taking his life into his
hands. All the time she wanted to cross the room, and whisper in his
ear: "Through that curtain, you fool! You're giving him time to hide or
get away. What about the back entrance?" She did nothing of the sort, of
course. She sat in her place, and presently, after a lengthened
disappearance, the waiter who had been attending to her, reappeared. He
brought her a wonderful ice and spoke of the café of the house, an
Italian liqueur, too, Campari, which everyone tried. "Mademoiselle would
excuse that he had been away for a long time? There were guests that
night in a private room."

"Where are your private rooms?" Miss Mott asked him.

The man pointed discreetly towards the curtain. There was no meaning
smile upon his lips, nothing but the most perfect respect and good
humour.

"One has clients," he murmured, "who prefer solitude."

Then--looking over his shoulder Miss Mott saw what neither he nor the
man opposite saw--the slow drawing back of that curtain--a white face
peering into the room the face of the man who had entered only a few
minutes ago. Even at that distance Miss Mott saw the pinpoint of fire in
the eyes, the terror in the face as he saw the man by the door. Then the
curtain was dropped.


On the other side of that curtain, up a narrow flight of stairs, in the
first of the little row of dining-rooms, the man for whose apprehension
were various rewards amounting to over ten thousand pounds, was enjoying
a leisurely and sybaritic repast. The dining-room was small, but
pleasantly furnished, the usual easy chair and couch were against the
wall, an ornate but not unpleasing French mirror hung over the
mantelpiece, and a blazing fire burned in the grate. The table was laid
for two, but the other place was unoccupied. The chief of the number one
gangsters dined alone. With his back to the window stood the man who had
just returned from his furtive contemplation of the restaurant.

"They're on to us to-night, chief, if they never were before," he said
earnestly. "They're closing in all the time. The streets between here
and Shaftesbury Avenue are swarming with them. Lynn and Peterson are
both taken. Down below there's Hurlbut sitting next the door--Jim
Hurlbut, who shot Parry and took in both the Regans single-handed. Got
his stripes for that. I can see the shape of his gun under the newspaper
on the table. He wouldn't be sitting there so quiet if they hadn't got
all the back entrances stopped. You and me are the only two left, sir.
How are we going to get away?"

Meredith poured himself out another glass of wine and sipped it in
leisurely fashion. He pushed the bottle in its cradle towards his
companion.

"I shall leave when I've paid my bill and I'm ready, by the front door,"
he declared. "Here, take a glass of that wine and don't stand there
shaking like a leaf. It isn't the first time you've had the police on
your heels, is it?"

The man poured himself out a glass of the wine; some of it was slopped
over on to the tablecloth. His companion watched him with a sneer.

"I can't imagine," he said calmly, "how some of you fellows had the
pluck to come into this game. You stood up and did your share all right
this afternoon. You picked that fellow with the glasses off as neatly as
anyone could wish."

There was a little sob from the man who was trying to drink.

"Don't!" he begged. "It wasn't I who killed him. It was someone from
behind me. I swear it was someone behind me! It was Tom Baum--that's
what I told--"

The man broke off in his sentence as though he were shot. He staggered
and caught at the table. His eyes fell before Meredith's steely glare.
He mopped at his forehead on which the unhealthy sweat was breaking out.

"That was what you told whom?" Meredith asked, with deadly precision.

"Told Jansen, told all of 'em. I told the wife so, too. The little
lady's downstairs. We were to have got something for that--the wife and
I."

Meredith listened with unchanging expression. The words seemed to fade
away on the other's lips.

"You were going to say something else, Ferruchi," Meredith suggested.
"You stopped just in time."

"I swear I wasn't," the man declared eagerly. "I'm scared, I'll admit
I'm scared. We've never been so close boxed up as this before. We've got
the police on every side of us."

"Is it the police you're frightened of?" was Meredith's cold query. "Not
altogether, Ferruchi. You've killed a man and you've lost your nerve.
Tell the truth, you dog!" he added in a suddenly changed tone. "You've
been to the Yard. You've sold us. You're trying to save your miserable
skin."

"I swear--"

Ferruchi suddenly lost the power of speech, his eyes rolled, faced with
the hideous revelation. Meredith's hand came up from underneath the
tablecloth. There was a little stab of flame across the few feet
of intervening space. Ferruchi rolled over, twitched once and
never moved again. Meredith glanced at him contemptuously.
Leaning across the table, he watched for the signs he knew so
well, ejected the shell from his automatic and slipped in another.
Then he finished his wine, holding his glass with perfectly
steady fingers, glanced at the bill which lay on a plate by his side,
counted out some treasury notes from his pocket-book and added a
sovereign tip. On the sofa his black silk-lined coat was lying and a
black Homburg hat. He removed both carefully and carried them to a
resting-place behind the large screen which almost covered one side of
the room. He reappeared almost at once and, for the first time, there
was a certain hesitation, a look almost of disgust, upon his face as he
crossed the floor and looked down on the body of the dead man. What he
was about to do was obviously costing him an effort. Nevertheless he
proceeded with his task...In ten minutes' time he opened the door,
locked it on the outside and threw the key down the corridor. With
leisurely, unhesitating footsteps he descended the stairs.


Miss Mott, from her distant table diagonally opposite, was perhaps the
first to see that slight shiver of the curtain. Almost immediately
afterwards it was drawn aside and a tall, gaunt figure came hesitatingly
into the room, walking down the almost deserted restaurant with his
black slouch hat low on his forehead and his hands in his overcoat
pockets. Half-past nine was striking from the church clock near at hand
as he paused for a moment to light a cigarette. His back was towards the
other solitary diner. He faced Miss Mott. His twitching face, his
nervous movements, his attire, all belonged to Ferruchi, but the eyes
which flashed for a moment across to hers, whilst his lips parted in the
slightest of smiles, seemed like an insane reminder of some other
person. She clutched at the tablecloth and looked eagerly round for the
little maître d'hôtel. She had disobeyed orders in coming, but she was
safe, she told herself, she must be safe. Hurlbut was opposite--one of
the most dreaded of her uncle's myrmidons. Her heart beat madly. For
whom was it that he was watching? Not for Ferruchi, for he could have
taken him an hour ago. She stared across at him--he was sitting
sphinx-like and motionless, his eyes turned indifferently towards the now
approaching man. The latter, his cigarette hanging from his lips, his
hat drawn even farther over his eyes, was apparently bent upon leaving
the restaurant in the same furtive manner as he had entered it, with the
least possible delay. He looked now neither to the right nor to the
left, his slouch as he neared Hurlbut a little more pronounced.

Miss Mott gripped the sides of her chair. Now surely the great happening
would occur. She looked to see Hurlbut rise, see him hold out his arm,
tap the departing man upon the shoulder, whisper a word in his ear.
Would there be a fight, she wondered? Miss Mott's hand stole into her
handbag and her fingers closed upon the butt of her own minute but
deadly weapon. She need have had no fear. No one asked for her help.
Hurlbut was leaning lazily back now watching the man who had reached the
swing door, with only a faint gleam of contempt in his eyes--the
contempt of the detective for an informer. The door opened and swung to.
Miss Mott was suddenly conscious that the maître d'hôtel was standing by
her table and had twice addressed her. She took the note which he passed
surreptitiously into her fingers. As she read it the colour mounted into
her cheeks.

"Alas, it was all so well arranged for this place, but our friend
Ferruchi played the fool and chose the one impossible night. Wait for
me, Miss Mott. The next time the luck will be with us."

Miss Mott tore the note into pieces and rose to her feet. From outside
came the soft beating of a high-powered automobile in the act of
starting. She rose in her place and called across to Hurlbut.

"For whom are you waiting there?" she demanded.

There was a very official frown upon his face as he rose to his feet. He
came across the few intervening yards of space.

"You are Miss Mott?" he enquired.

"Of course I am," she answered. "What I am asking you is: why do you sit
there and let the man for whom you were waiting walk out?"

"How do you know for whom I am waiting?" he asked.

"I am not a fool," she replied passionately. "It seems to me that you
are--brave man though you may be. You should be waiting for Meredith,
the head of the number one gang."

"You appear to be well informed," he admitted caustically. "I am."

"Then why did you let him pass you?" she demanded.

"That," he told her patiently, "was a man called Ferruchi. He came in an
hour ago. We can take him any time we want him, which it seems to me
won't be very long. At present he is more useful to us free."

"You idiot!" she cried. "That was Meredith who went out in Ferruchi's
clothes."

Hurlbut was only half a fool and he knew the truth when he heard it. He
snatched at his hat. Miss Mott mocked at him. She was really very angry.

"You will find Ferruchi probably with a bullet through his heart
upstairs," she gibed. "The gang don't like informers. Why not run after
the car instead? It can't have got any farther than Leicester Square."

Hurlbut, with a profane exclamation, tore up the stairs, wasted at least
five minutes before the key of the sitting-room could be found, and
discovered then the melancholy truth. In a corner of the disordered
apartment he found the body of Ferruchi stripped of his outer clothes--a
stark and revolting sight. He hurried downstairs again, and, within a
few seconds, word was being flashed round the cordon to detain and
search every high-powered car occupied by a single passenger. When he
emerged from the telephone box Miss Mott was still seated in her
corner, drinking a second cup of coffee.

"How did you come to recognise Meredith?" he demanded.

"Well, it obviously wasn't the man who came in--Ferruchi," she pointed
out. "He was very cleverly made up about the head, but Ferruchi's boots
were splashed with mud, and the man who went out wore very well-cut
patent shoes. Besides, Ferruchi was only in danger from his friends, not
the police, so he wouldn't have had a gun ready, but this man was ready
to shoot from his pocket all the way down the room."

Hurlbut glowered across at her. What an exceedingly unpleasant young
woman this niece of his superintendent's was!"

"You ought to join the force," he remarked, with a distinct note of
bitterness in his tone.

"I do very nicely on my own, thanks," Miss Mott assured him sweetly.



8--MARCONI SAVES MISS MOTT


SUPERINTENDENT WRAGGE had finished his breakfast, folded his _Times_
for more careful perusal during the day, lit his pipe and accepted his
overcoat from his very soldierly-looking butler. Still he seemed in no
hurry to leave the house. His car was waiting outside and it was already
five minutes past his usual hour of departure. Miss Mott looked at him
speculatively.

"You have the air, uncle," she confided, "of wishing to say something to
me, or someone, before you leave."

"Amazing intuition," he grunted. "You are the victim."

She laughed across at him from her place at the breakfast table.

"I knew it!" she exclaimed. "Well?"

"I'm still a little uneasy in my mind about you," the superintendent
admitted.

She looked at him with raised eyebrows and a smile of protest upon her
lips.

"My dear man," she expostulated, "what can you do more, short of locking
me up in a cell? I've come here to live with you and find myself in a
fortress. That has to be for your sake as well as mine, I suppose. The
commissionaire is an ex-Scotland Yard man, so is the lift man, so
is the butler. They are also expert gunmen, they are never off the
floor without being relieved and I drive the little way to my office
escorted always by one of them. What do you mean--you are not
comfortable about me?"

"You're all right here," her uncle conceded. "What I'm always afraid of
is that you'll tumble into some faked business through applicants at the
office."

She laughed scornfully.

"I've had my warnings, haven't I?" she asked. "And I'm not quite an
idiot--besides, you've practically smashed up the dangerous gang--two of
them hanged, one of them penal servitude for life and two others seven
years each. I should think the number one gangsters would keep quiet
after that."

"The number one gangsters as a body are finished," her uncle
acknowledged, "but you mustn't forget that their chief, who is probably
the most dangerous criminal living in any country, is still free.
Remember this, too, he is a desperate man--he'll stick at nothing. He
must know that he's near the end of his time--that's when you have to
really fear a man."

Miss Mott made a little grimace.

"Well, I haven't come to much grief up till now, have I?"

Superintendent Wragge looked down at her. His mouth was hard set. He
could be stern when he liked as well as kindly, and he was stern now.

"Let me tell you this, young lady, if you don't know it," he said. "When
we want a man badly at Scotland Yard and we think it's going to do any
good, we offer a reward for him. Meredith has taken a leaf out of our
books. There's a reward at the present moment of five thousand pounds
offered for you, delivered--God knows where. It's gone through the
underworld like a flash of lightning. They've brains, you know, our
enemies--criminals. There aren't many of 'em who wouldn't risk the
maximum penalty for abducting a young woman to get hold of that five
thousand pounds. The man's mad, of course. Most criminals go mad in
their last moments, but that doesn't make your danger any the less."

"Shall I enter a convent?" Miss Mott suggested. "What do you want me to
do?"

"I should like you to drop your agency," her uncle replied, "and just go
on with your newspaper work."

"I can't do that," she answered firmly. "I've made nearly two thousand
pounds by my agency already this year and I won't be frightened out of
it.

"Then I shouldn't like you," he went on, "to submit to me every case
you are offered and not to proceed with it until I give you the O.K."

"I'll do that," she promised, after a moment's reflection. "You're a
dear old thing to worry so much about me," she added, standing on tiptoe
and kissing him. "I won't take on the simplest case in the world without
telephoning to you."

He nodded, and relit his pipe.

"You've taken a load off my mind," he confessed, as he hurried out.


Miss Mott was only half-way through her pile of correspondence that
morning when Mr. Wells, her editor-in-chief, was announced. She welcomed
him with some surprise.

"Why didn't you send for me?" she asked. "I feel that there is something
all wrong in an editor coming to see a contributor."

He coughed a little nervously and leaned back in the clients' chair.

"Still plenty of mail," he remarked.

Miss Mott nodded.

"I shall have to be asking for another column soon," she warned him.
"Even now I'm scrapping a few letters I feel I ought to deal with."

"We might manage that," he declared. "Certainly we might manage that.
How is the agency business going?"

"I've had some interesting cases," Miss Mott acknowledged.

"And got into a little trouble now and then, haven't you?" he asked
frankly.

"You're quite right, I have," she assented.

Mr. Wells coughed once more, patted his shaggy hair for a moment and
broached the subject of his visit.

"Miss Mott," he began. "I wonder whether we could induce you to give up
this agency business?"

She looked at him ruefully.

"What, give it up altogether?"

"That's what we'd like," he admitted. "Has it been a success
financially?"

"I've made nearly two thousand by it this year," she confided.

"Of course, we couldn't compete with that," he confessed, "but I have an
offer to make to you, Miss Mott. The directors--Mr. Warren and the
others--talked it over, and we have decided to offer you the post of
sub-editor of the paper with an increase in salary of five hundred
pounds a year, if you cared to accept it."

"That is very nice of you all," Miss Mott declared. "I think it is an
extraordinarily pleasant offer."

"We should want you," Mr. Wells continued, "to give up the agency
business and to take up your position in the offices. You would have a
suite to yourself, a secretary, a typist, and a seat on the Board. In
short, we would try to make it as comfortable as possible."

"But you would want me to give up my agency?" she queried.

"We certainly should," Mr. Wells agreed. "We think that it brings you
into touch with a good many undesirable people. If you had more time on
your hands--although with your new duties I'm not sure that you would
have--we should always welcome independent articles from you."

Miss Mott remained silent for several moments. Mr. Wells whistled softly
to himself--the sign of a very perturbed state of mind.

"Leaving the business side of the matter alone altogether for the
moment, Miss Mott," he went on, "I personally have been occasionally
very much worried by the adventures into which you have been led. My own
feelings as regards you are quite unchanged."

Miss Mott sighed.

"You are very kind to me, Mr. Wells," she admitted. "I don't think I was
made for marriage and that sort of thing."

Mr. Wells sighed.

"If only you had a little more sentiment," he lamented.

Miss Mott leaned ever so slightly towards the huge bunch of violets
which decorated her table and drew in a waft of their perfume. Away
danced her heart into the misty places of life. A voice, a never clearly
seen face, a queer tangle of throbbing memories. No sentiment, indeed!"
She smiled faintly and very wistfully. Mr. Wells, who was a sensitive
and apprehensive man, saw the smile and sighed once more.

"I suppose I'm very stupid," she declared with a new briskness. "I've
too many other people's love affairs to think of to develop one of my
own. I consider yours is a very wonderful offer, Mr. Wells. I can't just
make up my mind for a moment about giving up this agency business. I
know my uncle would love me to, and, of course, one has to take one's
risks."

"Think it over for a week," Mr. Wells suggested. "I need a sub-editor
badly, and I'd rather have you than anyone."

She nodded.

"In one week you shall have my reply," she promised.

Mr. Wells thereupon took his leave, and Miss Mott, with half her letters
unopened, indulged in the very reprehensible practice of daydreaming.
She broke off one of the violets and held it for a moment to her lips.
He was a very unseeing person who imagined Miss Mott to be devoid of
sentiment...


Miss Mott was still feeling a little dazed as she greeted the two
callers who were ushered in a few minutes later. Mother and daughter,
she decided at once, strictly middle-class, the girl affected,
over-addicted to the use of cosmetics, but pretty, and the mother
of the same type, but _passée_. Miss Mott glanced at the card--

MRS. EWAN BROWNE

and underneath in somewhat smaller type--

MISS DOROTHY EWAN BROWNE.

All very stylish and what it should be!"

"What can I do for you?" Miss Mott asked brightly, but with an
involuntary glance at her still unopened letters.

Mrs. Ewan Browne spoke as one who had a grievance.

"I thought it best to come and see you, Miss Mott," she said, "with
regard to the advice you gave my daughter in your paper last week."

"Really," was the somewhat chilly reply. "I don't as a rule see my
correspondents personally. I'm afraid I should never get through my
day's work if I did. You won't mind telling me what it is you want as
quickly as possible, will you?"

"You can have it in a few words," Mrs. Ewan Browne declared. "I want to
know how you dared advise my daughter to throw away her money on those
silly dancing lessons?"

Miss Mott was a little bewildered. The girl was helpful.

"I signed myself Dorothy," she reminded her. "I wrote and told you that
I was twenty-one years old and had just come in for a thousand pounds
left me by my uncle. I told you that I'd decided to spend a small part
of it in taking stage dancing lessons and that my mother disapproved.
You replied last week saying that if I was satisfied I had some ability
and that the dancing school was a first-class one, you thought I was
justified in going on with the lessons. So I did and I mean to
continue."

Her mother drew herself up.

"That's the spirit one's daughters grow up with nowadays," she remarked
bitterly. "I'm surprised to find anyone connected with a magazine so
widely read as yours, madam, advising a girl to go against her own
mother."

"Having given my advice," Miss Mott said, glancing at the clock, "I have
no further interest in the matter. Do you mind my pointing out that I am
very busy?"

"But I haven't begun yet!" Mrs. Ewan Browne protested.

"Begun what?" Miss Mott asked impatiently.

"To explain what I came for. You yourself, in your reply to Dorothy,
mentioned the standing of the dancing school--I don't approve of it."

"Why not?"

"There's a footman to answer the door," Mrs. Ewan Browne confided, "the
house is much too large and expensive, they only charge two guineas a
lesson and strange gentlemen are there watching."

The girl looked across at Miss Mott appealingly.

"Mother is such a fool," she complained. "The men who go there to watch
are the agents for theatrical managers and they often give engagements.
Then Madam Hansen only charges two guineas a lesson, but you have to pay
her a commission if you get an engagement. I don't know what we came
here for, anyway," she added peevishly. "I'm going on with the lessons.
We're taking up Miss Mott's time, mother."

"Sensible girl," Miss Mott declared. "I'm afraid I can't be of any
assistance to you, Mrs. Browne."

Miss Mott's finger was upon the bell and it seemed as though the matter
would have ended then and there but for the tears which suddenly
appeared in the elder woman's eyes. Miss Mott's finger hesitated.

"What did you want me to do?" she enquired.

"They told me you ran an enquiry office as well as just answering these
questions in the paper," Mrs. Ewan Browne said a little brokenly. "I
wanted you to go and see if this place is all right. I'll pay you your
fee--after all, you did advise Dorothy to go on with the lessons."

"Name and address of the place, please," Miss Mott asked briskly. "I'll
let you have a report on it by to-morrow."

"The name is Madam Hansen, 7A, Kensington Square," the girl said. "Why
wouldn't you come with me, Miss Mott, when I go for my lesson at five
o'clock this afternoon? You could set mother's mind at rest then about
the place."

Miss Mott reflected. She had two or three unanswered enquiries for an
establishment of that sort which was absolutely above suspicion.

"Call here at a quarter to five," she enjoined. "Don't be late, and
please let me send you away now."

Mrs. Ewan Browne wiped her eyes, and, with a mincing gesture opened her
bag. Miss Mott waved her away.

"If there's any charge," she said, "I'll let you know how much it is
later."

The girl smiled her farewell behind her mother's shoulder, and these
strange visitors took their leave...

Later in the day Miss Mott received the following reply to the enquiry
which she had put through to Scotland Yard:


_"Dancing School, or Academy as it is styled, conducted by Madam
Hansen,_ 7A, _Kensington Square, is believed to be a quite responsible
institution. There have never been any complaints and it seems to be
frequented by_ a _very respectable class of people."_


Miss Mott thrust the note into her bag and made an entry on her block
for the engagement that afternoon.

It was no footman, but a butler of very staid appearance who opened the
door of No. 7A, Kensington Square, in response to Miss Ewan Browne's
summons. He led the way into a large Victorian-looking drawing-room
which had been almost denuded of furniture and the floor of which was
highly polished. There was no doubt about the bona fide nature of the
Dancing Academy, at any rate. Four young ladies in tunics and knickers
were performing gyrations at one end of the apartment under the
instruction of a dapper little man and to the music of a piano and one
string instrument. A thin, rather austere-looking woman, plainly dressed
in black, was taking careful note of the performance. She came across
the room to meet the new arrivals.

"Better get into your costume at once, Miss Browne," she suggested. "Mr.
Fitch is able to spare us another quarter of an hour to-day."

Miss Browne introduced her companion, who was graciously received.

"Another possible pupil?" Madam asked with a smile.

Miss Mott shook her head.

"I am rather past the age when one takes up a new profession," she said.
"Miss Browne asked me just to come and have a look at you."

Miss Browne had already disappeared. Madam nodded indifferently.

"You wish to judge whether she has talent, I suppose," she remarked.
"Nothing extraordinary, I'm afraid. The course of instruction she is
getting here will improve her style of ordinary dancing, but I don't
think it will ever get her on the stage."

Two gentlemen were shown in and took seats at the far end of the room.
Madam waved her hand to them.

"That's Mr. Paxton--one of the best agents," she pointed out. "He only
engages girls for provincial shows, though."

Miss Mott sat in an easy chair and watched a very quaint, but, in its
way, business-like performance. Presently Miss Browne returned, having
changed her clothes. Madam took her on one side and whispered with her
for a few minutes. Miss Mott, who had the gift of seeing without
looking, fancied that they were speaking of her. She turned her head and
for a moment caught Madam's quickly averted but somewhat supercilious
gaze. The young woman came across the room.

"I shall be dancing in ten minutes," she confided. "One of the girls has
to do a show dance. Afterwards we are going to practise some ballet
steps. They say the taller of those two men in the corner engages more
girls than any man in London."

Miss Mott glanced at her wrist-watch.

"I hope you won't be too long," she said. "After all, I don't know that
I need to stop. I can make a fairly good report to your mother as it
is."

"Stay and see me dance for five minutes," the girl pleaded. "If you tell
her that you think it's worth while it will make such a lot of
difference."

Some folding doors were half opened and a girl appeared from an
adjoining room and danced, so far as Miss Mott could judge, with some
skill. Afterwards cocktails were handed round. Miss Mott's refusal
passed without comment. But, when a little later she rose to go, Madam
crossed the room towards her.

"You mustn't hurry," she begged. "You haven't seen your young friend
dance yet."

"I can't stay much longer," Miss Mott demurred.

"I never like my visitors to hurry away," Madam observed, with a
regretful intonation. "It seems as though they weren't interested. Sorry
you wouldn't have a cocktail. Would you care for some tea or something?"

"Nothing at all," Miss Mott assured her. "Thank you very much."

The music was changed again and the little troupe, with the addition of
Miss Browne, indulged in some fancy dancing. Miss Browne seemed to be
neither better nor worse than the average young woman who imagines that
she has a vocation for the stage, and as soon as the performance was
over, Miss Mott rose to go. At a sign from Madam the dancers passed into
the back room, followed by the musicians. The folding doors were closed
and it seemed to Miss Mott rather a strange thing that Miss Ewan Browne
departed without even a wave of the hand. Madam, the agent and his
friend, and Miss Mott were alone in the apartment. Miss Mott made her
little speech of farewell.

"So good of you to let me come, Madam Hansen," she said. "I agree with
you about Miss Browne--she seems to have just an average talent--but I
certainly cannot discover any reason for her not persevering in her
lessons. I shall tell her mother so."

"Very kind of you, I'm sure," Madam acknowledged, with mock
graciousness. "You mustn't think of leaving us yet, though, Miss Mott.
We are expecting some friends of yours presently."

Then, for the first time, a cold shiver of apprehension stole into Miss
Mott's heart. She had done the unforgivable thing: she had broken her
word to her uncle, she had embarked upon an enterprise without
consulting him. Madam was looking at her with a cryptic smile upon her
lips. In the room behind the closed doors she could hear the tinkling of
strange music and the shuffling of feet. She found herself following the
rhythm of it, and she shook her head impatiently.

"Friends of mine?" she repeated. "I do not think that there are any
friends of mine likely to be coming here, madam, and even if there were
I haven't time to stay and see them."

Madam shrugged her shoulders, but she made no effort to ring the bell,
and Miss Mott, even though she made her way to the door and turned the
handle, felt that her gesture was useless. In a few seconds she was
convinced of it. The door was fastened. She turned round with flashing
eyes.

"What is the meaning of that?" she demanded, pointing to the door.

Madam laughed, not at all pleasantly.

"Your friends," she confided, "have come to the conclusion that a course
of dancing lessons would be good for you."


Superintendent-Detective Wragge was clearing up his desk and filling his
pipe, preparatory to leaving his office for the day, when a
commissionaire opened the door, saluted, and handed over a folded
minute.

"From Mr. Harrison of No. 8 Department, sir," he announced.

The superintendent glanced at the minute and frowned. He read it over
half aloud, slowly and thoughtfully:


_"With reference to your enquiry of this morning's date, as to the
character of Dancing Academy carried on at No. 7A, Kensington Square, by
Madam Hansen, an addendum has now been made to our information on the
matter._

_"Whilst there is still no information to hand reflecting upon the
general character or conduct of the establishment, it is reported that
two members of well-known London gangs have been seen to enter and leave
same. It is believed that one is employed there in some capacity or
other. The premises have been placed under observation."_


Superintendent Wragge folded up the memorandum, and reached out for the
telephone. Miss Mott's young secretary answered the enquiry he made as
soon as he obtained her number.

"Sorry, Mr. Wragge," she said. "Miss Mott left early this evening. She
has been gone quite an hour."

"Do you know whether she was making a call on her way back?" Mr. Wragge
asked.

"I believe so," the girl replied. "She had two clients here this
morning--a mother and daughter--about a dancing class, and I think the
mother paid a fee to have Miss Mott go and look at it."

Mr. Wragge rang off without comment. He turned to the commissionaire.

"Tell the sergeant to put two plain-clothes men in my car at once," he
ordered.

The man saluted and withdrew. In five minutes, Superintendent Wragge was
being rapidly driven westward. The car came to a standstill before the
somewhat imposing entrance to the house in Kensington Square. The door
was opened by the same rather pompous-looking butler, who admitted the
three men without hesitation.

"I should like just a word with Madam Hansen," Superintendent Wragge
announced shortly. "Never mind my name."

The three men were left in the hall. From inside the room into which the
butler had disappeared came the haunting little air of some popular
dance tune and the shuffling of feet. Superintendent Wragge was half
inclined to believe that he had made an idiot of himself and wondered
for a moment how he could dispose of his two attendants. Without delay,
however, the door was opened and the butler signed to him to enter.

"Madam will speak to you in the dancing-room, sir," he explained. "She
is occupied with her pupils."

The same girls were there and the same musicians. This time, however, it
was Madam who was instructing. She held a little baton in her hand and
she looked at Superintendent Wragge with chilly curiosity.

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

Superintendent Wragge was very polite.

"You have, I believe, a pupil called Miss Ewan Browne here?"

Madam nodded.

"What about it? Do you wish to speak to her?"

"For a minute, if you please," Mr. Wragge begged.

"Take a seat there, then," Madam invited, pointing to a chair. "I can't
have my lesson interfered with in the middle. We must finish this
movement. Now then, music, please."

The music struck up again. The girls revolved and danced, retreated and
danced, and, with a terse volley of instructions from Madam, performed
even more complicated gyrations. When at last the figure came to an end
Madam took Miss Ewan Browne by the arm and led her ungraciously towards
Superintendent Wragge.

"This sort of thing is altogether against the rules," she complained.
"You must not have your friends call upon you again, Miss Ewan Browne."

The young lady--an anticipatory lipstick in her hand--gazed at
Superintendent Wragge in surprise.

"This is no friend of mine," she told Madam Hansen. "I never saw him
before."

Superintendent Wragge rose to his feet, large and ponderous.

"My name is Superintendent-Detective Wragge of Scotland Yard," he
announced. "I am in search of a Miss Mott who came here with you this
afternoon."

"No one came here with me this afternoon," the girl answered. "I came
alone. Didn't I, madam?"

"I don't know who you brought with you to the front door," Madam Hansen
replied. "Certainly no one entered with you."

"You called for Miss Mott this afternoon," her uncle persisted.

"Yes, I called for her all right. Mother and I were there this
morning--and she promised to come and see this show and my dancing. At
the last moment she wouldn't come. She left me at the door and got into
a taxi."

Superintendent Wragge looked at the young woman with eyes which had won
the truth from many a criminal. The girl returned his gaze with
light-hearted impudence. A lie was nothing to her.

"You will permit me, madam, to use your telephone?" Superintendent
Wragge begged.

"You'll find the instrument in the hall," was the brusque reply. "I hope
that will be the end of your interference here. I don't care whether you
come from Scotland Yard or not--my Academy is above suspicion and I
dislike having policemen about the place."

"You shall not be troubled with us any longer than is necessary, madam,"
Wragge promised, as he left the room...

In five minutes the superintendent was back in the dancing-room. Madam
watched his reappearance with a little exclamation of annoyance. The
music was just starting a gavotte.

"Do tell me what else it is you want, please," she demanded irritably.

"I'm taking that young lady I spoke with to the police station,"
Superintendent Wragge bluffed. "Miss Mott was seen to enter this house
with her."

The girl was plainly terrified.

"Who saw her?" she cried. "It's a lie. She left me on the step--ask the
butler."

"I shall have a few more questions to ask the butler presently,"
Superintendent Wragge said sternly. "In the meantime, madam, I shall
require to search the house."

Madam, at any rate, had nerve.

"You can search it until you are black in the face," she agreed, "so
long as you leave me and my pupils in peace."

Superintendent Wragge turned towards the door.

"If I let the young lady remain here for a few minutes," he asked,
looking back, "will you see that she does not leave the premises?"

"I don't make prisoners of my pupils," Madam answered. "However, we
shan't have finished for three quarters of an hour."

Nevertheless, when Superintendent-Detective Wragge returned to the
room in considerably less than three quarters of an hour, Miss Ewan
Browne was missing.

"Where's the young woman?" he demanded of Madam.

"You've frightened her to death," was the brusque reply. "She's run off
home."

"And where's that?" Wragge enquired.

"I'm afraid we haven't her address." Superintendent-Detective Wragge
squared his shoulders. He held out his hand firmly.

"You'll leave that telephone alone, madam," he ordered, "and be so good
as to put your hat and coat on immediately. One of my men will escort
you to your room if you need to go there."

"What do you mean?" she demanded furiously.

"I mean that you're coming to the nearest police station with me," was
the stern explanation. "You are under arrest--on suspicion of being
concerned in the abduction of Miss Mott."


The butler of the very dignified-looking house in Berkeley Square, who
had completed his task of drawing the curtains in an apartment spacious
and handsome enough to have been the library of a palace, threw a log
upon the fire, and loomed through the shadows which surrounded the
writing-table.

"Can I bring you anything, my lord?" he enquired. "It is after six
o'clock."

The man, whose pen had been scratching wearily across the paper for the
last two hours, looked up. He pushed one of the books of reference by
which he was surrounded a little farther on one side. A powerful
electric lamp threw a strong light upon the paper below, but the man
himself was almost invisible. He sat head and shoulders above the green
shade, and the whole of the rest of the room was in darkness, save for
such faint and uncertain illumination as came from the dancing flames
upon the hearth.

"You can bring whisky and soda," a quiet voice answered.

"The young lady is asking to see you, my lord," the man ventured.

"She must wait. These sheets must be at the typist's to-night."

The man started for the door, and long before he reached it had faded
into obscurity. His master bent once more over his task. In due course
whisky and soda and ice were placed on a table by his side.

"There have been callers, Grover?" he asked.

"Quite a good many, my lord," the man replied. "I told them all that
your lordship was finishing some work and that you were not to be
disturbed. There are a good many telephone messages, too, when your
lordship has time to look through them."

The man at the table nodded impatiently. A perfectly-shaped hand,
wearing a wonderful signet ring, flashed from underneath the little
circle of light in a gesture of dismissal. Almost immediately he was
alone again and his pen was continuing its rapid progress across the pad
of foolscap...

He left off presently to mix himself a drink. With the tumbler half-way
to his lips, he paused. A draught from the nearest window was stealing
into the room. He listened. Yes--there was some sort of a sound behind
him. He turned round in his chair. The curtains of the window
immediately behind him had been drawn aside, and were still shivering.
The dimly seen figure of a man was standing within a few feet of him.
The firelight flashed upon the dull metal of an outstretched revolver.

"Don't move, please, Walter--I know where you keep your gun and where I
should be if you could get at it, but you can't. It's just out of your
reach. Move your chair a little farther from the table. That's good."

The man laid down his pen and obeyed. Then he swung round to face the
intruder and laughed--mirthlessly.

"Since when have you gone in for this sort of thing, Joe?" he
remonstrated. "I can scarcely ever remember seeing you hold a gun. Be
careful it doesn't go off. I'd sooner face a Chicago killer than an
ignoramus fiddling about with firearms."

The newcomer came on towards the table, cautiously watching for a sudden
spring. He found a chair and dragged it out.

"Why this unexpected visit?" the other asked. "Since your withdrawal I
thought it was understood that we only received and exchanged visits in
a social way. If you have anything to say, why didn't you say it at
Glenster's dinner last night?"

"I didn't know then what I know now," Violet Joe replied. "I've come
after Miss Mott."

The man at the table chuckled.

"How do you suppose you're going to get her?" he enquired. "Certainly
not by this stunt of brandishing firearms at me."

"There are several methods I might make use of," Violet Joe said calmly.
"One of them will have to succeed."

"Be as brief as possible, there's a good fellow," the other enjoined.
"The F.O. are waiting for this report of mine. Ridley wants to go
through it before the Cabinet Council to-morrow."

"I should hate to interfere with your political activities, Walter," the
visitor remarked, "and I don't think there's a man in the world knows
more about Abyssinia than you do, but at present--I want Miss Mott."

"So do I," was the curt rejoinder. "I happen to have the advantage, too,
of being the man in possession."

"What do you mean by that?" Violet Joe demanded, with sudden fierceness.

"Not what you seem to fear," was the calm reply. "You forget that I am
an artist."

"I should have thought you would have gathered by now," Violet Joe
observed, "that the young lady was never likely to stay with you
voluntarily."

Meredith sighed.

"The young lady has been difficult," he admitted. "I think that this
time, however, my reward is coming."

Violet Joe laughed scornfully.

"You flatter yourself!" he scoffed.

Meredith pushed his writing-pad away from him and leaned back in his
chair.

"Supposing we have the cards on the table," he suggested. "What are you
butting in like this for?"

"I don't mind explaining," was the quiet reply. "Get up and walk two
yards towards the fire, will you?"

Meredith obeyed without hesitation. He stood upon the hearthrug with his
hands behind him, the firelight playing upon his thin, ascetic face,
upon which the scar no longer showed--a sinister and yet a not
unprepossessing figure of a man. He watched his visitor indifferently
whilst the latter removed an automatic pistol from one of the drawers of
the desk, extracted the cartridges and threw it on to the top of the
bureau.

"I hate this melodramatic nonsense," Violet Joe observed, replacing his
own revolver in his pocket. "Now we can get to business. You're asking
for trouble, Meredith, and bad trouble."

"Think so?" Meredith rejoined. I never looked upon you as the brains
of our enterprises, you know."

"Like all conceited men," Violet Joe remarked, "you underrated the
brains of your opponents. I broke away on this woman question, and I'm
hanged if I don't believe I've had better information than you since I
left. You think because you had your double arrive in Aden by aeroplane
and travel home under an assumed name that your alibi for the last eight
months is complete, but you're wrong. There's just one person who has
got you in the hollow of her hand--and that's Miss Mott."

Meredith laughed scornfully.

"Well, as my wife," he remarked, "she won't be able to give evidence
against me."

"Going as far as that, are you?" Violet Joe murmured.

"You'll find a special licence in that drawer, if you care to look,"
Meredith confided. "Notwithstanding that lack of intelligence with which
you reproach me, I realised some time ago that Miss Mott was my chief
danger. That was one reason why I made up my mind to marry her."

"Interesting! Has she, by the by, made up her mind to marry you?"

Meredith smiled--a gesture of supreme contempt at the imbecility of the
question.

"Why not? The family estates are rehabilitated, and it isn't every Miss
Mott in the world who can become a countess."

"Snob!" Violet Joe sneered. "Look here, Walter," he went on seriously,
"I'll grant I'm the half-wit you seem to think I am, and I'll admit that
you've planned some great and successful enterprises, but listen to
me--you don't know Miss Mott. Would you mind having her down and letting
me ask her one or two questions?"

"With pleasure," Meredith acquiesced, "so long as you will remember that
we are back in the humdrum world and will promise not to make any silly
attempts at carrying the young woman off."

"I promise that," Violet Joe agreed.

Meredith touched a bell, gave an order to a servant and in a very few
minutes Miss Mott appeared. Notwithstanding his bold front, Violet Joe
gave a little start as he saw her calmly crossing the room. She was, as
usual, plainly but exceedingly well dressed, and she showed not the
slightest signs of any nervous discomposure. Only when she saw Violet
Joe rise to his feet was there any change in her expression. At first
her face brightened as though with pleasure; then she became graver, and
the smile faded.

"I thought that you had stopped this sort of thing," she said.

"So I have," he assured her. "At the same time one remains human. This
man was my associate and chief for years, and I have come to save him
from making a bad mistake, if I can."

Miss Mott indulged in a little grimace and sank into an easy chair. Her
arms dangled down on each side.

"And I hoped that you had come to rescue me," she sighed.

"I'm not at all sure that you need rescuing," Violet Joe replied.

"Why should she?" Meredith asked coolly. "We have an interesting
document here to which we propose to give effect within the next few
days."

The intruder rose to his feet and stood between the two. He looked older
than the last time Miss Mott had seen him clearly in the Milan grill
room, but his expression remained the same.

"Miss Mott," he begged, "please answer me these questions. Our friend
here had made elaborate plans for having you carried off from that
dancing academy in Kensington Square. You rendered them all useless by
offering to come with him voluntarily. Will you tell us both why?"

She hesitated.

"Would it be wise of me, do you think?" she meditated.

"No harm shall come to you now, at any rate," Violet Joe promised.
"Please answer my question."

"I came," she confided, "because I knew that he"--pointing to
Meredith--"had offered a reward of five thousand pounds to anyone who
would trap me into coming to him. I came voluntarily, first because it
was not my desire that anyone should earn that five thousand pounds at
my expense, and secondly because there was a ten thousand pounds' reward
for the man known as Walter Meredith, head of the number one gangsters."

There was a dead silence for several moments. Then Meredith spoke. His
voice was not quite natural. The old restlessness was back in his eyes.

"You came here to earn that?" he
demanded.

"Yes."

"How?"

"By delivering you over to justice."

"Your prospective husband?" he mocked.

"I've never had the slightest intention of marrying you," she assured
him firmly.

"Then why did you come here quietly?"

"In order to betray you."

He took a cigarette-case from his pocket, selected one deliberately,
knocked it against the mantelpiece and lit it.

"Are you breaking your parole?" he asked.

"I'm not," she answered. "I have not spoken to one of your servants,
except as regards their service. I have not used the telephone or
attempted to leave the house. Yet you will be in the hands of the
police, I should say, within the course of the next five minutes."

The old ugly smile distorted his lips, it took him away from his
dignified surroundings, it thrust him back amidst the squalid places.

"You must have cheated, then!" he exclaimed.

She opened the bag she was carrying and drew out a strange-looking metal
case in the shape of a box. She laid it upon the table, opened the lid,
touched a spring and the four walls fell away. Within were a tangled
mass of discs and springs and tiny plaques of oxidised metal. The whole
thing seemed to be dead, but, from a case fastened on to the side, Miss
Mott produced a pair of receivers, the ends of which she inserted in to
two plugs, and the listening portions of which she placed in her ears.
She then touched a spring and a confused jangle of sounds crept out into
the room. The two men stared at it in amazement. Miss Mott smiled
somewhat cryptically.

"An ingenious little toy, isn't it?" she remarked. "My uncle and I have
the only two in Europe. They came from Detroit and cost a small fortune.
However, just now they're worth the money. If I have the wave-length
right...Yes, yes," she went on, "Miss Mott speaking...Is he? Oh, that's
right, he'll be here directly, then. No. 42A, Berkeley Square. Thank
you."

She removed the receivers from her ears, pulled out the plugs, and
pushed back the spring.

"The reason why I came quietly," she explained, "was because I had this
in my bag. I have been talking to Scotland Yard from upstairs. It's
Marconi's latest invention. At present we can only manage a wave-length
of ten miles; as soon as he can make it twenty the secret will be out
and there will be thousands on the market."

Meredith lost his marvellous composure. He hurried to the window. As yet
there was only one car at the door--his own. He crossed the floor in
half a dozen strides. From the threshold he looked back.

"I wish you'd wring that little devil's neck for me, Joe," he called
out. "I'll do it myself some day."

He disappeared. They heard the car drive off. Violet Joe rose to his
feet with a gesture of politeness, but Miss Mott had already rung the
bell.

"Will you get me a taxi at once?" she asked the butler who made prompt
appearance.

"Very good, madam," was the undisturbed reply. "There will be one here
immediately. There's a stand just opposite."

Violet Joe walked by her side down the hall and handed her into the cab.
She gave her uncle's address.

"What about me?" he enquired.

"Oh, you're all right," she assured him. "You're off the black list
altogether. Besides, I told them not to come unless I didn't report in
half an hour."

"How long have you had that infernal instrument?" he asked.

"About a week," she confided. "It's a marvellous idea, isn't it? The
only trouble about it is that so far we haven't got it to work! _Au
revoir,_ and no more violets for a week, please."

The taxicab drove off and Violet Joe faded away into the shadows on the
other side of the square. Miss Mott leaned back amongst the cushions of
her taxicab, lit a cigarette and began to smoke meditatively. She was
speculating as to how Superintendent Wragge might behave if he were
really angry.



9--THE TERRIFIED WIFE


MISS MOTT was caught again. She sighed as she waved her visitor to a
seat--a middle-aged, over-dressed woman, with a hard but not
disagreeable face.

"Tell me your name once more, please," she begged, "and in which number
of the magazine my answer to your enquiry appeared."

The woman sank into the clients' chair, deposited her stubby little
umbrella and bag upon the floor and began the story of her woes.

"My name is Mrs. Belton," she confided; "Bessie Belton. I used the
pseudonym of Bonnie Bess, and your answer to my enquiry appeared in last
Saturday's _Home Talks."_

Miss Mott rang the bell and presently had a copy of the magazine and a
letter in front of her. She glanced through the latter, a slight frown
upon her face.

"I don't like anything to do with divorce business," she said, "and to
my mind it is a terrible thing to have a husband watched. You say in
your letter that he wrote you apparently from Leicester saying that he
had been working there all day, whereas you know that he was in London
on that day and was seen late at night in Pimlico. Why not ask him about
it, and make him tell you the truth? There may be a mistake in the
date--that is what I suggested, I see, in my answer. I advised you to
have it out with him."

"That is very good advice in an ordinary way and amongst ordinary
people," Mrs. Belton agreed. "My Sam, though, isn't an ordinary sort of
man. He goes to church on a Sunday and reads very serious books; he
never looks at a woman, that I can see, very seldom enters a
public-house and saves money all the time. He's saved far too much to my
way of thinking," she concluded mysteriously.

"That is quite an unusual complaint," Miss Mott remarked. "I don't want
to take up your time, Mrs. Belton, and I must warn you that I am letting
my agency business run down. I have an uncle who strongly objects to it,
and I am taking very few fresh cases. If you want me to have your
husband watched, I must tell you frankly that I cannot do it. I only
took a case of that description once and it got me into trouble. Cases
of disappearance or blackmail I am still interested in, but very few
others."

The woman listened but showed no signs of being willing to take her
departure.

"I thought you might be inclined to help me, Miss Mott," she persisted.
"Your answers to people who consult you are always so kind and
sympathetic. There's none of them who write about their silly little
love affairs who have trouble so near to their hearts as I."

"I don't think you ought to have," Miss Mott argued. "Your husband,
according to your own showing, is a sober, religious and saving man. His
only fault seems to have been that he did not tell you the truth on one
occasion about his whereabouts. For heaven's sake have it out with him
instead of brooding."

"I didn't say it was on only one occasion," Mrs. Belton sighed. "It's
happened already eight times." Miss Mott was startled.

"Do you mean that eight times he has been away, or not been away, and
deceived you as to his whereabouts?" she asked.

"I do mean that," Mrs. Belton asserted, "and each time he has not only
written me from a place where he wasn't but each time he has had the
letter registered."

"Registered?" Miss Mott meditated.

"Looking, to my mind, as though he meant to have it to use as an alibi,
if necessary."

"You don't imagine that your husband is a criminal, do you?" Miss Mott
asked.

"God knows," the woman replied. "He's a strange, silent sort of person,
and in some ways he's as far aloof from me now as he was when I married
him--thirteen years ago. Perhaps it's because we've had no children.
Anyway, there's always seemed to be something between us."

"What excuse did your husband make for registering his letters?" Miss
Mott asked.

"He always said that he'd taken a good order, and he enclosed me a pound
or thirty shillings to buy something with."

"And how do you know that _all_ these letters were posted from places
where he hadn't been?"

"Because when I got the one saying he was in Leicester, when I knew, for
a positive fact, that he was in London, I made enquiries about the
others."

"You have employed someone to watch him, then?" Miss Mott said
quickly.

"No, I haven't," the woman answered. "I'm acquainted with a young man
who works for the same firm, and I got to know from him that Sam wasn't
at any rate supposed to be in one of those places on the dates the
letters were posted."

"I'm afraid I can't help you," was Miss Mott's decision. "Your husband
evidently has something in his life which he desires to keep secret from
you. A stranger can't do any good. Have it out with him yourself. That's
my advice."

"You don't know Sam," Mrs. Belton said gloomily. "It isn't as though it
were only once, either. It's the best part of a dozen times he's
deceived me."

"Do you suspect him of infidelity?" Miss Mott asked.

"Sometimes I almost wish I did," was the passionate avowal. "I
don't--and that's the worst of it. He never casts an eye at another
woman. I've some good-looking friends--girls that used to work in the
dressmaking establishment where I was--and they often come to see me. He
never takes any notice of them, never jollies up with them like any
other man would. He's always either reading some deep book that no
ordinary person could understand, or else studying stocks and shares."

"You haven't told me yet what his business is," Miss Mott reminded her
visitor.

"He's traveller for a firm of leather merchants in Bermondsey. They give
him a lot of liberty, it seems. He can go anywhere he likes in reason
where he thinks he can make a sale."

Miss Mott deliberated for a moment. There were some curious points
about the case.

"Look here," she said, "I don't think I can help you, but tell me this.
If you don't suspect your husband of infidelity what do you suspect him
of?"

Mrs. Belton suddenly began to shake in her chair. The hardness seemed to
fade from her face. She was a care-worn, anxious woman.

"I don't know," she groaned. "I wanted to find out privately."

"By privately," Miss Mott suggested, "I suppose you mean not through the
police?"

The woman was shaking now in every limb. There was real terror in her
face.

"The police!" she muttered. "They couldn't have anything to do with Sam,
but I don't know--I'm miserable till I find out."

"Have you anything more on your mind?" Miss Mott asked her, after a
moment's pause.

"Nothing," the woman almost shouted. "Why should you think that?"

"Perhaps there is something you would rather not tell me?" Miss Mott
persisted.

The woman picked up her stubby little umbrella and bag and rose to her
feet. She made an attempt at a dignified exit.

"Since you don't want to help me," she complained, "what's the use of
asking all these silly questions?"

Miss Mott rang the bell.

"If ever," she concluded, "you feel inclined to confide in me what your
real trouble is, and everything that is on your mind, I will reconsider
the matter. I might then, perhaps, be disposed to help you."

The woman made no reply. She looked for a moment at the open door as
though uncertain, then she took her leave without saying good-bye...

Miss Mott had an article to write that morning and very soon forgot all
about her disappointed client. Just as she was finishing it, however,
her young secretary brought her in a card.

"A gentleman to see you, madam," she announced. Miss Mott gazed at the
card--a neatly engraved, impressive affair--and frowned slightly in
perplexity. It bore the name of "Mr. Charles Belton," and in small
type in the corner, crossed through in pencil--"H. Castle & Sons,
Leather Merchants."

"The gentleman said he would only detain you a few minutes, Miss Mott,"
her secretary added.

"Show him in," was the brief injunction.

Mr. Belton, carrying a small bag in his hand, made due appearance. He
was well and quietly dressed, a man apparently about forty-five years
old, with a brownish-grey moustache, pale complexion and thoughtful
eyes.

Miss Mott waved him to a chair.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Belton?" she enquired.

"I picked up a copy of your magazine a few days ago," he explained, "and
read the column entitled 'Ask Miss Mott.' There was one reply there
addressed to someone under the pseudonym of Bonnie Bess. That is a
pseudonym which my wife has adopted on many occasions, and before she
was married, it was her nickname. I found out your address from the
office of the paper and I came to ask you, Miss Mott, whether the reply
to Bonnie Bess was in answer to an enquiry you had received from Mrs.
Bessie Belton?"

"Possibly without meaning it," Miss Mott pointed out, "you have come to ask
me a most improper question. I do not disclose the identities of my
correspondents."

"Not even to their husbands?" Mr. Belton asked softly.

"Not even to their husbands," was the firm reply. "In that case--" Mr.
Belton said, stretching out his hand for his bag.

"Quite so," Miss Mott interrupted briskly. "Good morning."

There was a little glint in the man's eyes as he lingered before taking
his leave. Miss Mott's manner had been perhaps unnecessarily abrupt, but
she had taken a dislike to the man.

"I should have preferred your showing me the letter which my wife had
addressed to you," he said, "and letting the matter remain there. As it
is I have no alternative but to seek an explanation from my wife
herself. It may perhaps lead to some trouble between us."

"Why should that affect me?" Miss Mott rejoined. "Good day."


There were no more troublesome callers and Miss Mott had recovered her
spirits when she met her uncle at the close of the day at a famous grill
room near the Strand. As they were ushered to their allotted table she
realised with a little catch of the breath that it was the exact scene
of her first meeting with Violet Joe. She glanced at the table which he
had occupied, as though expectantly. There was no sign of him there or
anywhere else. A wave of her former listlessness came back as she took
her place.

"Busy day?" her uncle asked.

"Not very," she admitted.

"You look tired," he remarked. "Case for a cocktail, I think. Waiter--two
dry Martinis."

"What a heavenly idea!" Miss Mott murmured. "Anything fresh to-day?"

Superintendent-Detective Wragge shook his head.

"Nothing in my department," he replied. "Wonderful article in _The
Times_ this morning by Lord Westerleys. He seems to have spent the last
eighteen months absolutely hidden in the southern provinces of
Abyssinia. Fellow must be a second Lawrence."

"He's back in London now, then, is he?" Miss Mott enquired.

Her uncle nodded.

"He owns one of those fine houses in Berkeley Square," he confided. "One
of the most interesting men of modern days, I should think. The
Westerleys have always been a brilliant family, but they say that this
man, if he could have settled down, could have been anything There is no
man in the world," he concluded, with a meditative gleam in his eyes,
"with whom I would sooner have a half-hour's conversation."

"Why don't you go and call on him?" Miss Mott suggested. "I expect he'd
be very glad to see you."

"He might," her uncle mused..."So you had a quiet morning?"

"Only two stupid callers--a man and his wife. The husband had
recognised his wife's pseudonym in one of my replies to correspondents,
and came to ask me what his wife had written me about. Damn' fools!"

Her uncle smiled and Miss Mott, too, relaxed. The cocktail had been
excellent, so was the omelette which had subsequently been served.

"I think you're right," she went on. "I shall have to give up this
agency business. The fact that every now and then it pays wonderfully
well doesn't atone for all the time it wastes and the silly people one
has to talk to."

"The day you finish with it finally," her uncle promised, "I will make
you a present of a thousand pounds. I hate the idea personally."

"It might have been quite all right," Miss Mott sighed, "if only I'd
found the right sort of clients."

"The right sort of clients come to the police if they're in trouble,"
Superintendent Wragge told his niece. "The only ones who don't are the
wrongdoers, and you don't want to help them, I suppose."

"There is something rather attractive about a wrongdoer," Miss Mott
reflected wistfully.

Her uncle looked at her across the table with a queer expression in his
strangely set eyes.

"The sooner you get that idea out of your head the better," he
admonished her. "Slushy sentiment, I call it. Worse than that--it does
real harm. Perhaps you'd sympathise with the Western Street murderer?"

"Never heard about him," Miss Mott confided.

"It was only last week," her uncle recounted. "A harmless old man who
made a fortune out of his shop, and committed the usual mistake of
keeping too much of it in cash and bearer bonds--got bragging a little
about it, I suppose, in the local pub, and when closing time came,
invited a stranger to go home with him and have a drink. The stranger
strangled him in his sitting-room, emptied his safe, tidied up the place
and was making his way from the house when he came face to face with a
policeman who challenged him. He shot him through the chest and
disappeared. He died this morning--the policeman. I've just come from
the hospital. You'd sympathise with a brute like that, I suppose?"

"Of course I shouldn't! No one could. A cold-blooded criminal is too
terrible. You've got him, I hope?"

Superintendent Wragge glanced gloomily at his plate and, for the moment,
his very excellent cutlets seemed to have lost their flavour.

"We haven't," he admitted. "The policeman--fine fellow he was, too, and
a married man--never recovered consciousness, and the descriptions we
got of the murderer from the public-house aren't worth a snap of the
fingers. He'll get away, unless he trips up on a fluke."

"Was it a gangster affair, do you think?" Miss Mott asked, a little
timidly.

Her uncle shook his head.

"No, it was a single-handed affair," he confided. "They are always the
most difficult. The gangsters are keeping pretty quiet."

"Ten thousand pounds you offered for their chief, didn't you?" Miss Mott
reflected. "It's a lot of money. I wonder whether anyone will ever earn
it."

Her uncle looked at her again, with that queer expression in his eyes.
There were times when he wondered about this brilliant little relative
of his.

"It would be money very well earned," he said. "Our reports just now,"
he continued, "are that the man we wanted, and whom I should think you
would have felt glad to know was safely in prison, has got away. If no
one takes his place, we rather expect the gang will break up."

Miss Mott gazed greedily at the asparagus which was being served.

"Let us," she suggested, "abjure crime for a while. We waste too much
time talking shop. I've been offered the sub-editorship of the magazine.
What do you think of that?"

"I'd rather you found a husband," her uncle replied bluntly.

Whereupon the conversation became frivolous, and ended without further
reference to the criminal activities by which they were surrounded.


On her arrival at the office on the following morning Miss Mott
discovered confusion. The commissionaire was absent from his box, the
lift man told a confused story of burglary, of which Miss Mott could
make neither head nor tail, and her office, when she arrived at it, she
found invaded by her youthful secretary, her typist, the commissionaire
and a policeman. The safe door, which she had carefully locked before
leaving, was open; her desk, which was always a miracle of neatness, was
in complete disorder; and, most curious thing of all, the wastepaper
basket had been emptied upon the carpet and its contents scattered far
and wide.

"What on earth has happened?" she asked.

The commissionaire, who was an ex-Scotland Yard man and a protégé of her
uncle's, explained in a few sentences.

"Someone broke in here last night, Miss Mott. Easy enough, of course.
Got in through the windows of the furnace room, picked the lock of one
door and just walked up the stairs. He found your keys in your outside
office and seems to have searched the place thoroughly. How much had you
in the safe?"

"About ten pounds," Miss Mott replied. "I never keep any money here
except for petty cash."

"Any papers?"

"Nothing that would be of any use to anybody."

"Perhaps the young lady would look round," the policeman suggested, "and
report upon what is missing."

Miss Mott made careful search for a quarter of an hour. The trifling
amount of money had gone from the safe, but every paper she could
remember owning was in its place. The drawers of her desk were
practically undisturbed. Her cigarette-case, gold lighter and one or two
other trifles remained intact. The most curious feature of the whole
affair was, without a doubt, the attention that had been paid to the
wastepaper basket--the contents of which had been strewn far and wide.

"There's about ten pounds gone from the safe," Miss Mott reported at
last. "Not another thing."

"And nothing at all from our office," the young secretary declared.

The constable was disappointed.

"I've sent for a man, madam, to take fingerprints of the safe," he said,
"although, under the circumstances, it scarcely seems worth while. There
isn't anything you've removed from here," he went on, "that might have
been more valuable?"

"Nothing at all."

"Because," the policeman continued, "the affair, although it doesn't
amount to anything, was evidently carried out by an expert. The cutting
of the window and the picking of the locks prove that. An expert would
scarcely be likely to risk trouble for the sake of ten pounds."

"I've never kept more than that here," Miss Mott assured him, "and I've
never had anything here of the slightest intrinsic value. I'll ring up
my uncle at Scotland Yard. He'll probably like to hear about it."

The constable closed his book.

"There isn't any more to be done, then, so far as I am concerned," he
decided.


A myrmidon from Scotland Yard arrived within a short time, but a further
and more scientific search of Miss Mott's two offices failed to discover
any possible clue to the apparently purposeless burglary. Everything, as
the visitor pointed out, was done in the best possible fashion. The safe
had been opened without leaving a scratch, the pane of glass had been
removed in the lower premises with perfect neatness, footmarks in the
dust had been brushed away, gloves had evidently been worn, for there
was no sign anywhere of a fingerprint.

"The only thing one can conclude, Miss Mott," the detective decided, as
he prepared to take his leave, "is that there were false rumours of your
having been in possession of some valuable property. It was lucky you
were all out of the way. A man as clever as this one seems to have been
wouldn't have stood any nonsense."

"You can't suggest any possible cause for the burglary, then?" Miss Mott
enquired.

"The suggestion--if any--would have to come from you, miss," the man
replied. "Sit down and think whether you have had any letters in your
possession lately, which might have been of value or incriminating to
anyone. Take particular note of the care with which the wastepaper
basket was searched."

The detective took his leave, and Miss Mott, somewhat intrigued, sat
down to think. Very slowly she began to reconstruct. In the midst of her
somewhat vague reflections, there was a knock at the door and a visitor
was announced.

"It's the woman who was here yesterday," her secretary confided. "I
didn't let her in because you made no notes about the case, so I thought
there was nothing doing."

Miss Mott nodded.

"Quite right, Esther," she said. "I'll see her for a moment, though."

Mrs. Belton was ushered into the room. It was obvious that this morning
she had again committed the sin of indulging too freely in her weakness
for cosmetics. Rouge and powder had been applied with a wanton hand.
Nothing, however, had been able altogether to conceal the dark lines
under her eyes. She had the look of a haunted woman.

"Well, what can I do for you this morning, Mrs. Belton?" Miss Mott
enquired pleasantly. "I thought you were rather fed up with me
yesterday."

"For one thing, I left without paying my fee," the woman explained,
drawing two treasury notes from her pocket. "Would this be all right?"

"I don't want a fee, thank you," Miss Mott assured her. "I wasn't able
to do anything for you."

The woman pushed the two notes across the table.

"Anyway, you did your best," she acknowledged. "You needn't mind taking
it. Sam, with all his faults, ain't a mean man, and I can afford it."

Miss Mott did not argue the matter. She was studying her visitor's
expression.

"More trouble?" she asked kindly.

The woman shook her head.

"Rather the other way," she confided. "I know all about it now. Sam's
owned up."

Miss Mott nodded in sympathy, and waited. Her visitor dabbed at her eyes
with an unprepossessing handkerchief and continued.

"I never thought it of him. He seemed so different, what with his
church-going and that. He's owned up, though. He's been carrying on with
a little bit o' stuff out Chiswick way, and that's where he was those
nights when he pretended to be somewhere else. We've had it all
out--nearly killed me, it has--"

She began to sob and showed signs of hysterics. Miss Mott waited
patiently.

"You're going to forgive him, I hope," she suggested.

Mrs. Belton sighed.

"What is there for a woman to do in this life," she pointed out. "I'm
like the rest of the poor mutts--I'll have to forgive and make the best
of it. If I were young and had my looks back again I'd take a man of my
own and that'd teach him. It's too late for that, though. Sam's saved
enough money--he's given up his post and we're going abroad!"

"Well, perhaps it's all for the best," Miss Mott said vaguely. "I'll
take your two pounds if you insist, Mrs. Belton, and wish you a pleasant
journey."

The woman dabbed once more at her eyes.

"Can I have the letter I wrote you?" she asked.

Miss Mott looked at her in some surprise. The woman's tone had suddenly
changed. There seemed to be an attempt at indifference, but underneath
was a note of almost crafty anxiety. She was drawing her handkerchief
restlessly through her fingers.

"Oh, I suppose so," Miss Mott acquiesced. "Wait a moment and I'll see if
I can find it."

She made her way into the outer office, closing the door behind her,
gave a few rapid instructions to her young secretary, lingered several
moments and reappeared.

"My clerk is going through the files," she announced. "It hasn't been
destroyed, so you can have it with pleasure. Where are you going to
settle down?"

"My husband wants to go to the Argentine. He's got a cousin or two out
there and doing well, and he likes company. Not that he needs to work,
either. He had money left him, Sam did, three years ago, and he's
scarcely touched it yet...Your clerk don't seem to be able to find that
letter," she broke off uneasily.

"She'll come across it all right," Miss Mott declared. "With our filing
system nothing is ever lost, but occasionally it takes some time to get
at. Here we are," she added, as the young person from the outer office
entered the room.

The woman almost snatched the letter away. She stowed it into the bottom
of her bag, but, apparently changing her mind, drew it out again, tore
it savagely into small pieces and, making her way to the fireplace,
dropped them carefully into the flames. When she stood up she seemed a
younger woman.

"So that's the end of that," she concluded with a little sigh of relief.
"I was a foolish woman. You were quite right, Miss Mott! Never work
against your husband secretly. It don't do any good."

As she walked across the room, her footsteps were lighter and the ghost
of some terror seemed to have left her. She picked up her bag and the
same stubby little umbrella and took her leave. For nearly half an hour
Miss Mott sat at her desk with her hands behind her head, thinking hard.
Then she rose quickly to her feet, drew on her small hat, wriggled into
her coat, picked up her gloves and hurried out.

"Back in five minutes," she called into the office. "You took a copy of
the letter?"

The girl held it up.

"And James witnessed it?"

"I did that, madam," the man replied.

Miss Mott descended to the street, walked about a couple of hundred
yards, and entered the shop of a small dyeing and cleaning
establishment. She greeted the woman, whom she knew quite well, with a
pleasant smile.

"I only had your gloves yesterday, Miss Mott," the latter remarked
reproachfully.

"I didn't expect them," Miss Mott assured her. "What I came about was
something quite different and--much more important. I came to know
whether, by any fortunate chance, you had kept the long envelope in
which I sent them."

The woman was puzzled.

"The long envelope," she repeated thoughtfully.

Miss Mott nodded.

"Yes," she said. "I was in a hurry to send them in to you. I hadn't an
envelope large enough in my office and I picked up a crumpled one from
the floor. I didn't even address it. It wasn't necessary because I sent
my commissionaire in with them."

The woman opened a drawer.

"Well, you'll have to excuse me, Miss Mott," she begged, "but the fact
is we're very busy just now, and it's no good sending things into the
room which can't be touched. Your little packet's just as we received it
and here it is."

She placed it upon the counter--a couple of pairs of gloves, the ends
protruding from a long, legal envelope on which an address had been half
scratched out. Miss Mott stared at the address and her eyes grew larger
and rounder. Her first impulse was one of triumph, then she felt a
little shiver pass through her frame. She could almost see the enactment
of those last few minutes of the greatest tragedy left to us in the
world.

"There's nothing wrong with you, Miss Mott, is there?" the woman asked
anxiously.

"Nothing at all," Miss Mott declared, in a voice she scarcely recognised
as her own. "I'm not leaving the gloves, if you don't mind. Give me a
piece of tissue-paper, will you?"

The woman obeyed, still brimful of curiosity. Miss Mott wrapped up her
packet and took her leave.


Superintendent Wragge was not altogether too pleased by his niece's
message. It was rather a busy morning, his chief was in a bad temper,
and Miss Mott, after all, had not the appearance of a serious visitor.

"Wouldn't this evening do, Lucie?" he asked her.

"Nothing would do but ten minutes from this instant," Miss Mott replied.
"And you ought to be able to trust me."

"I'm clearing the office already," he assured her. "Come right along."

Miss Mott, in her uncle's car, with James on the box and her own little
unneeded popgun in her bag by her side, drove in guarded state to
Scotland Yard. Her uncle received her without delay but with just that
slight note of impatience in his manner which warned her to get started.

"Is any reward offered for the Galliope murder in the Western Road?" she
asked.

"Five hundred pounds. The bills are up this morning," he replied. "What
have you got to do with the Galliope murder? Your little company of
friends are not in that."

"What was the date of it?" she enquired. "Eighth of March," he answered.

She nodded.

"Now would you be so kind as to tell me," she went on, "whether any
burglary, robbery with violence or other misdemeanours took place on
January twenty-seventh, February eighteenth, March first?"

"March first was the Hatton Garden robbery," he replied quickly.
"February eighteenth was the date of the murder of Francis Green, the
shopkeeper, and the raiding of his premises. The other date--wait a
moment--" He consulted a ledger and closed it with a snap. "On the other
date," he announced, "Barclays were robbed of fifteen thousand pounds at
their Fenchurch Street Bank."

Miss Mott felt her heart beating fast.

"A few days ago," she began, "a woman who was obviously jealous of her
husband wrote me this silly letter asking for advice."

She passed a copy of Mrs. Belton's letter across the table. There was a
gleam in Superintendent Wragge's eyes as he noticed the date.

"Well?"

"I made the usual sort of reply," Miss Mott went on, "and she called on
me. On each date on which he had written her she had found out that he
was somewhere else. She wanted me to have him watched. I refused the
business. Then he called. He wanted the letter back. I can guess why
now--I couldn't at the time. Of course I refused. When he was leaving he
drew a muffler from his pocket and I noticed that an old envelope fell
out. I made no remark, however, for it was empty and didn't seem to be
valuable. Last night, as you know, my premises were burgled, a few
pounds were taken from my safe, but nothing else, although your man whom
you sent down--Detective Russell--reported that it was a very cleverly
done affair."

"The letter wasn't stolen then?" Superintendent Wragge asked.

"Would he have been such a fool?" she rejoined. "The letter which
contained the three dates of the various robberies and the date
of the murder!--no, it wasn't that he was after. Madam came
for that the next morning--said she had made it up with her husband and
had discovered that there had been another woman, but had forgiven him
and was going abroad at once. I let her have the letter," Miss Mott went
on, "so that they should not become suspicious, but I kept an attested
copy of it."

Mr. Wragge pushed his watch rudely out of the way. He had forgotten that
there was such a thing as time.

"Clever girl," he murmured. "Now tell me, what was the object of the
burglary, though?"

"This," Miss Mott replied, producing a crumpled long legal envelope.
"It's the envelope which fell from the man's pocket when he drew out his
muffler. You see--it's got the name of a firm of stockbrokers on the
back and what's far more important--it's addressed to John Galliope,
Western Street, Shepherd's Market."

Superintendent Wragge turned it over and over.

"You can swear that this is the envelope?" he asked.

"I can swear to it," she answered. "I picked it up after he had left
without looking at it, put a couple of pairs of gloves that needed
cleaning in it and sent them round to a shop near the corner. I
retrieved it this afternoon exactly as I sent it there."

Superintendent Wragge went through the papers once more rapidly, then he
leaned back in his chair and looked at his niece.

"A good day's work, Lucie," he declared. "Four crimes cleared up. Belton
will certainly hang. Five hundred pounds' reward for you, and the Chief
Commissioner will probably ask me to dinner. What licks me, though," he
went on meditatively, "is the luck of this whole criminal business. The
best brains in the Yard have been focused upon the Galliope murder and
these preceding crimes for months, and then a jealous woman walks into
your little show and gives the whole thing away."

"All luck!" Miss Mott sighed complacently.


"A very comfortable start," Mr. Samuel Belton remarked, as he pushed
back his empty teacup and with deliberate fingers commenced to fill his
pipe. "I see our taxi's coming round the corner. You're sure the luggage
is all right?"

"Twenty-two pieces," Mrs. Belton announced, "all properly addressed to
Southampton. I shan't be sorry when we're on the steamer."

Mr. Belton smiled in superior fashion. He struggled into his overcoat
and picked up his well-brushed hat.

"There is nothing to be alarmed at, my dear," he said. "With the
exception of your somewhat foolish letter to that flighty young woman,
which is now happily destroyed, the slate is clean."

She clutched at his arm. There was a terrified light in her haunted
eyes.

"Sam," she begged, "when we're right away--when we start life
afresh--you won't begin again--promise that!"

"I promise," he said indulgently. "We have quite enough money for the
rest of our lives, and that's the great thing. The Galliope money,
indeed, was far more than I'd expected. Come along, my dear--"

They moved into the dark little hall. The front door bell pealed. They
looked at one another through the gloom, and even Mr. Belton's
equanimity was shaken.

"What the hell did the taximan need to ring for?" he demanded.

"It may be one of the tradespeople we've forgotten," she faltered. "I
tried to think of everyone."

"Open the door and see," he ordered curtly.

She drew back the latch and peered out. Scotland Yard men are polite
enough as a rule, but Belton's record was scarcely in his favour. They
were in the hall--the three of them--before she could cry out, and if
Belton's swiftly moving right hand had really a destination, it started
too late. The handcuffs were on his wrists before a word was spoken.
Then the sergeant was ready enough of speech.

"I'm arresting you, Samuel Belton," he announced, "for the murder of
John Galliope, of Shepherd's Market, on the night of March the eighth. I
should advise you to make no reply to the charge but to come along with
me to the station."

The woman's shrieks filled the deserted house. Belton crumpled up in a
senseless heap, but the law took its course--then and five weeks later
in the dreaded chamber of Wandsworth Gaol.



10--INFORMERS STILL PAY


THERE had been an investiture at Buckingham Palace, and the grey streets
were bright in patches with visions of waving plumes and brilliant
uniforms. A dandified youth, issuing from Jermyn Street, caught sight of
a slim, aristocratic figure leaning back in the corner of his car, as
though to escape as far as possible from observation--a figure in
brilliant uniform with rows of medals and a hat with waving plumes. The
young man stood still, entirely heedless of the fact that a passer-by
almost elbowed him into the gutter. He stared at the impressive figure
in the car until it had passed him. A fortunate block enabled him to
copy down the number. Half an hour later, as Lord Westerleys' valet was
carrying down a lounge coat to his master, and a butler was serving him
with whisky and soda, a visitor was announced.

"There's a young man outside, my lord," the footman explained, "who
claims that he has found something of yours this afternoon. He won't
tell me what it is and he won't hand it over to anyone but your
lordship."

Walter Paul Meredith, Earl of Westerleys, took another gulp of his
whisky and soda and set down the glass empty.

"You can show him in," he directed. "I don't remember having lost
anything One's always liable to shed a medal on a day like this."

In the hall, Reuben Kochs handed his smart little Derby and cheap cane
to a second man, and was ushered into the library.

"The young person, my lord," the footman announced.

Westerleys glanced at his visitor, but no sign escaped him. He looked
him over coldly as he might have done a stranger.

"What is it that you have found, young man?" he enquired.

"If you'll give me a moment alone I'll show it you--my lord," was the
awkwardly spoken reply.

Westerleys waved the servants from the room, after which he seated
himself in an easy chair and stretched out his legs with an air of
relief.

"Well, Reuben Kochs," he asked coolly, "what do you want?"

The young man's admiration was uncontrollable.

"Governor," he declared, "you've got me speechless. We always knew you
were a toff, of course, but God strike me dumb if ever I thought of
anything like this!"

Westerleys yawned.

"It would have been more in accordance with etiquette," he remarked, "if
you had failed to recognise me. However, since you have done, and since
you have followed me to my home--what is it you want from me?"

The young man, unbidden, seated himself on the edge of a chair. His host
looked at him distastefully.

"I don't want to waste your time," the latter continued. "The gang is
broken up, as you know. I have retired and resumed my own station in
life. You are in a position to do the same if you wish. You must forgive
my adding that now that our association has ceased there is no need for
us to exchange visits."

"So that's it," Reuben Kochs muttered.

"That is it," the other assented smoothly. "I found it unnecessary to
draw my portion of the spoils when things were wound up, so you ought to
have done quite well. If my memory serves me rightly you drew over
twenty thousand pounds."

"Twenty-one thousand nine hundred and seventy-two pounds, eighteen
shillings," the young man confided.

"An adequate return for your labours, I should imagine," Westerleys
commented. "I wish you well, but--relieve me of your presence now, if
you please. I'm giving a lecture to-night and I desire to rest for an
hour."

Reuben Kochs clasped his forehead tightly.

"It's a blooming picture show," he declared. "Wotcher been wearing all
that circus stuff for?"

"That circus stuff, as you call it," Westerleys replied, "is part of the
costume in which it is my duty to array myself before I make my bow to
my sovereign. You observe," he added, stretching out his hand, "that I
am ringing a bell. That is for a servant to show you out."

Mr. Reuben Kochs rose to his feet.

"I'm ready," he acquiesced. "I couldn't talk to you now if I tried.
Strike me lucky, if this ain't a game. I expect I'll find Violet Joe in
Piccadilly, wearing a coronet instead of a billycock!"

"You may find yourself in a police cell with something on your wrists if
you become impertinent," was the cool rejoinder. "Grover, you can show
this young man out, if you please."

Mr. Reuben Kochs accepted his hat and stick from a footman in the hall
and meekly departed. On the pavement outside he paused and gazed at the
house. He counted the windows carefully each way, he examined the area
with a practised eye, then once more he took in the _tout ensemble._

"Strike me lucky!" he muttered, as he turned away and sought the
seclusion of a pub at the corner of Clarges Street.


Miss Mott was hard at work upon an article urgently required by her
editor when Mr. Reuben Kochs was announced and shown in. She looked at
him coldly. Unabashed, he grinned back at her in ingratiating fashion.

"If I had known who my visitor was," she told him, "I certainly should
not have seen you. Please say what you have to say and go away."

"Come, come, young lady!" he protested. "This time I'm here to do you a
bit of good. How would you feel about a cool thousand pounds, eh? And
nothing to do for it."

"I should imagine," she said coldly, "that any money that came from you
would have to be earned dishonestly."

"That's where you are wrong, and you're not only wrong, but I can tell
you this--you can not only earn the money legally and lawfully but you
can get a bit of your own back at the same time."

"Indeed?" Miss Mott rejoined.

"You haven't forgotten Meredith yet--the man with the scar--who tried to
carry you off more than once? Well, the gang's bust. There's five
thousand pounds' reward offered for him, and I know where he is."

"Why don't you earn the money, then?" Miss Mott asked, speaking more
calmly than she felt.

"I'll be straight with you," Reuben Kochs replied. "If one of the gang
splits, their light's put out in twenty-four hours. Even though we're
bust, that goes on. You never were one of the gang--in fact, you were on
the other side--you can split and earn the money and nothing'll happen
to you."

"I see," Miss Mott murmured, "and I'm to have one thousand and you four
thousand pounds."

The young man was temporarily discomposed. His recovery, however, was
almost magical.

"I'd never be one to drive a hard bargain with a dame," he said. "Make
it fifteen hundred yellow goblins. What about that? And remember, miss,
you ain't got half the information nor a quarter of it. I'm the only one
can put my hand on Paul Meredith."

"Are you?" Miss Mott queried.

"Aye, and when I give you the address your eyes'll pretty well fall
out," the young man declared. "Does it go?"

"I'll consider the matter," Miss Mott promised.

Reuben Kochs argued for some time longer, but he could gain no more than
a dubious reply from Miss Mott. He took his leave at last, therefore,
with an appointment for three days hence.


Miss Mott felt a little lost in the immensity of the apartment, even in
the confines of the capacious leather chair in which she was seated.
Softly-toned lights flamed from unexpected places and the long,
apparently endless rows of calf bound books in their ancient shelves
gave a sort of monastic atmosphere to a room which indeed possessed few
embellishments in the shape of pictures or flowers. Meredith himself was
dressed in morning clothes of rather severe cut and hue, and from behind
the green lamp his face seemed paler than ever. He waved away his
secretary with a few parting instructions--sharply spoken, incisive
words. When he turned towards Miss Mott his voice seemed marvellously
changed.

"So the mouse has wandered alone once more into the trap?" he murmured.
"What temerity!"

"The mouse believed it was safe," Miss Mott replied, "because it came on
an errand of mercy."

She felt his keen instincts almost anticipating the words that lay
behind her brain.

"I came," she said, "because you're in danger. I don't know why I should
care, but, in a way I do."

"For me, Miss Mott?" he asked softly.

She shook her head.

"Not for you. You have been very cruel to me and sometimes you have
frightened me out of my wits."

"I wanted you for my mate, Miss Mott," he acknowledged. "I still do. The
special licence remains in that drawer--"

"I can never care for you like that," she assured him. "Sometimes you
play the great gentleman wonderfully, but I think that at heart you are
cruel."

He gave no immediate reply. His eyes were fixed upon a distant wall, and
it seemed to her that all the weariness of a man's misspent life was
graven in his face.

"Yet you refuse to betray me? You came to warn me," he muttered
presently.

"Because you are at least a man," she said. "If you are a criminal you
are not a criminal of the type of Reuben Kochs."

"A coward's courage, this of his, at the last moment," Meredith
reflected. "I never thought he would dare. I thought that so far as he
was concerned I was safe."

"But don't you see how clever he is?" she pointed out. "He isn't going
to give you away at all. I am to do that. I am to go to my uncle and
just whisper that one little word which is to be your undoing."

"Yes, I suppose it could be done," he admitted. "Yet mine is the most
wonderful alibi for the last few years that a man ever wove. It cost me
months of thought. I could fill the court with people who would swear
that they had seen me in distant parts of Asia and Abyssinia. No one in
the world has lain so deeply hidden as I have in this city.
However--Reuben Kochs was always the weak point. He fashioned all our
disguises, painted our scars, turned men into women, turned youth into
age with a few simple implements and a touch of genius. So Reuben Kochs
wants to be an informer, eh? He'd better have lived to have spent his
twenty thousand pounds and left me to become a Cabinet Minister."

She studied him speculatively. Amazing though it was, she was forced to
admit that there was nothing in his face, his bearing, or his expression
which reminded her in the least of the terrible Meredith. He had stepped
back into his own identity with a facility which was perfectly
marvellous. His lined, ascetic face, his cold but brilliant eyes, the
firm cynical mouth--they were all the hall-marks of the aristocratic
politician, the great gentleman absorbed in the cares of his country.
She felt a surge of bitter, indignant contempt against a creature like
Reuben Kochs.

"Can't you find some means of securing that young man's silence?" she
asked, almost afraid of the sound of her words, certainly afraid of the
slowly formed thought in her heart.

He smiled at her.

"Bravo, Miss Mott," he murmured. "Yes, I shall deal with Kochs, but the
poison of a reptile like that is an indestructible thing. Not even I
could wash the world free from it."

He touched a bell and Miss Mott knew that she was dismissed. He rose to
his feet, however, as the servant entered the room, and his farewell
smile seemed to chase from his face all those things that had terrified
her, and left her with a new memory of the man.

"My congratulations to lucky Joe, Miss Mott," he sighed, as she was
crossing the threshold.


It was towards the close of the third day when Reuben Kochs made his
promised reappearance at Miss Mott's office. She looked at him, as he
slunk into the room, in blank astonishment. He seemed less than the
shadow of his former self. During those first few seconds his eyes
wandered restlessly and anxiously around the little room, searching out
its distant corners with fear in their uneasy depths. He had the air of
a hunted man--a man moving in mortal fear--terrified and torn with
imaginings. Even his clothes betrayed signs of the state of panic into
which he had fallen. He had lost his natty and spruce appearance, he was
unshaven and his linen was not above reproach--one might have imagined
that he had stolen away from the casualty ward of some asylum or prison
and that recapture meant death.

"What has happened to you?" Miss Mott asked wonderingly.

"It's these blasted three days waiting," he confided, as he sank into a
chair. "I ought to have made you decide straight away. It's no good
going about with a thing like this in your brain. You want to do it or
forget it."

"Well, if you take my advice--you'll forget it," Miss Mott told him.

"You're not coming in, then?"

"I certainly am not," she assured him. "Fifteen hundred pounds is a
pleasant sum of money, but I don't care to go about with a curse upon my
head for the rest of my life."

"What do you mean--a curse upon your head?" he sneered. "The gang's all
broken up nowadays. If Meredith's once in prison he'll never get out
again and there's no one left but Violet Joe to turn awkward."

"What about Violet Joe?" she rejoined. "Why wouldn't he be dangerous?"

"Never touched firearms," Reuben Kochs explained triumphantly. "Never
parked a gun even against the cops. No need to fear Violet Joe."

"It is a question of my own feelings more than any sentiment of fear,"
Miss Mott confided. "I do not wish you to tell me where Meredith is or
what name he is living under. Even if you do I shall not give evidence
against him."

Reuben Kochs sat for a few minutes in sullen silence. Miss Mott looked
across at him with a scornful smile. He certainly presented an almost
pitiable appearance.

"You're trying to pay me for doing what you're afraid to do yourself,"
she continued curtly. "If you are so sure that there will be no
retribution, why do you look already as though you were terrified of
your own shadow? I shouldn't have thought five thousand was worth it."

The young man rose to his feet.

"You mind your own business," he snapped. "All I came to know was
whether you were in this with me or whether you weren't."

"I am not," she told him firmly, "and if you take my advice, young man,"
she went on, "you'll give up the idea too. They aren't fond of informers
at Scotland Yard, you know. You may find they'll have something to set
off against that five thousand pounds."

"I can take care of myself, thanks, young woman," Reuben Kochs declared
with a touch of his former swagger as he rose to his feet.

"You'll need to," she remarked, as she turned back to her work.

"What do you mean?" he snarled from the door.

"I mean," she replied, "that anyone who turns informer against a man
like Meredith must be a brave man."

Reuben Kochs took his leave, slamming the door noisily behind him...

Miss Mott rang up a number on the telephone and soon found herself
speaking to Meredith.

"Reuben Kochs has just been here," she reported. "He is terrified but,
I'm afraid, determined I believe that he is on his way now to Scotland
Yard."

Meredith's voice as he answered her was cold and pitiless.

"He will never reach there," he said.

"But I thought the band was all broken up," she suggested hesitatingly.

"Yes, the band is broken up," he agreed, "but informers still pay."

"You yourself--" she began.

"I have made my plans," he interrupted. "Goodbye, little Miss Mott."

The telephone went dead. Miss Mott sat for a moment with the vision of
ugly things before her eyes. She was not sure, after all, whether crime
appealed to her so much.


On that same afternoon, Superintendent Wragge gazed long and earnestly
at a visiting-card which had been brought in to him. Upon it was
engraved the name of "The Hon. Joseph Chilcott," and in small
characters in the left hand corner: "Bachelors' Club."

"You can show the gentleman up, Parkins," he told the commissionaire

A tall young man, personable, and of a pleasant expression, in spite of
a few tell-tale lines on his face, was presently ushered in. He smiled
good-humouredly at the superintendent and took the indicated seat.
Superintendent Wragge's strange eyes seemed almost to disappear in those
creases of flesh. There was a momentary silence during which the door
was closed.

"Violet Joe," Superintendent Wragge murmured softly.

"They would call me that," the young man admitted. "A trifle familiar of
them, I thought."

"Why have you walked into the lions' den?" Superintendent Wragge asked.

"I came to find out if it was a lions' den," was the prompt reply. "In
other words, superintendent, I have come to ask you if you have anything
against me?"

"A curious question," the latter meditated. "For six years you appear to
have been a member of one of the most dangerous bands of gangsters in
London, and although I am not prepared to say that we have evidence
involving you in any of their exploits, I have no doubt but that it
could be collected."

"Why rake up the past?" Violet Joe asked deprecatingly. "I haven't come
to plead my cause, but, remember this, I was compelled to step out of
the gang because of my stipulations--no women and no firearms. I've
never carried a gun against the police in my life. I have more than
once, as a matter of fact, been on the side of the law."

The superintendent held out a warning hand.

"I know all I wish to know about you, Mr. Chilcott," he said. "I will
answer your question if you like. We have nothing against you."

The young man laughed pleasantly.

"Just the reply I'd hoped for," he confessed. "Well, now comes the next
thing. Have you any objections to my marrying your niece?"

Superintendent Wragge winced.

"Several," he admitted. "But I shan't press them. Have you any money?"

"Eight thousand a year and a fine property in Norfolk. I don't think
that will make any difference to Miss Mott, though."

"I don't think it will," her uncle admitted. "If you've made up your
mind about it I have nothing to say."

Violet Joe coughed.

"You understood my reasons for paying you this little visit first?"

"Perfectly," Superintendent Wragge acknowledged dryly. "You can look
through your dossier if you like. I've marked it 'O.K.' myself."

"Then you won't mind shaking hands?" Violet Joe suggested with a broad
smile.

The Superintendent extended his large and hairy fingers to the other's
grip, after which Violet Joe brought his unusual visit to an end, and
went on his way.


A light rain was falling as Violet Joe proceeded towards the Embankment,
and he glanced enquiringly first at one and then at the other of two
taxicabs drawn up by the side of the kerb. Neither responded to his
summons, and, moving a step farther, he saw that their flags were down.
He saw something else too which brought back the lines of anxiety to his
face. He glanced quickly around him in every direction. A moment later
he grasped the shoulder of a young man who, with a mackintosh turned up
to his throat and a bowler hat pulled down over his eyes, had just
crossed the road.

"Stand close to me, Reuben Kochs," he ordered. "Don't move!"

"Who the hell are you?" the young man blustered, shivering.

"You know who I am well enough," Violet Joe replied. "Look at those two
taxicabs. Do they seem familiar to you?"

"So help me God!" Reuben Kochs muttered, as he gazed through the
twilight from one to the other of the two waiting vehicles, "they're the
fly-by-nights."

"Another few yards," Violet Joe said to him sternly, "and you'd have felt
a bullet rattling in your chest."

The young man was shaking like an aspen leaf. He looked towards the City
and he looked towards Westminster--in each direction two great staring
eyes glittered at him.

"What shall I do, guv'nor?" he asked anxiously.

Violet Joe looked down at him, and his usually kindly eyes were like
points of fire.

"You dirty little skunk," he said. "You were going in there to give
Meredith away."

Reuben Kochs had just sense enough to know when lying was useless.

"They'll nab him before long," he declared earnestly. "He can't bring a
bluff like this off. House of Lords and circus togs at Buckingham
Palace!" They'll get him sure. Why shouldn't I have the five thousand?"

"You were a good deal nearer a ten-foot plot in the police cemetery a
few seconds ago," Violet Joe reminded him. "Do you want to go on with
it? Step away if you do. I don't see any reason why I should interfere
to save your life."

"Don't you leave me, guv'nor," Reuben Kochs begged nervously. "I'm not
going in there--I'll swear to it."

"Walk along by my side, then," Violet Joe ordered. "We'll find a taxi at
the corner and I'll take you to some place where you can hear a few
words of plain truth."

Reuben Kochs, however, had obviously no desire to hear those few words
of plain truth. He slunk along the pavement, keeping as near as possible
to his protector, but glancing furtively around in every direction.
Suddenly he saw what seemed to him his chance. They had passed the broad
entrance and were within a few feet of the narrower gate. They were no
longer alone on the pavement either, for a little crowd of men and women
had hurried over from one of the islands in the middle of the
broad road. Reuben Kochs ducked low and broke into a coward's run, as he
had done many times before in his life. Unfortunately for him, the crowd
thinned for a moment, just as he moved. There was a startled shriek from
one or two dumbfounded passers-by, but the singing bullet sped safely to
its home. People even a dozen yards away had no idea of what had
happened. There was a sharp report like the cracking of a whip, a pencil
of flame and a groan. Reuben Kochs, rapidly surrounded by a little crowd
of people, none of whom realised the cause of the tragedy, lay huddled
up on the pavement--one hand clutching at the railings, the other at his
side. Violet Joe was one of those apparently who felt no interest in
street accidents, for he walked calmly away into the sheltering
twilight. The two taxicabs were lost in the stream of traffic.


Miss Mott recognised the step upon the stair and she felt her knees
grow weak, although there was nothing at all like fear in her
heart. She had been day-dreaming a moment before, but she
surrounded herself swiftly with papers and affected to be deeply
immersed in their perusal when the expected knock at the door came.

"It's the gentleman who's been here before," her secretary announced.
"Mr. Joseph Chilcott, I think he said his name was."

"You can show him in," Miss Mott directed calmly.

Mr. Joseph Chilcott seemed to be little changed under the shelter of his
new name. He shook hands with Miss Mott across her desk and she felt
suddenly and ridiculously embarrassed.

"I've come to consult you on a personal matter, Miss Mott," he said, as
the door closed.

"You haven't come for any rubbish of the sort. I won't be made fun of,"
she laughed.

He took her other hand, and then, changing his mind, relinquished both
and came round to her side of the desk. Her knees trembled more than
ever. So this was what it was like to be in the power of a criminal!"

"No one has ever dared--" she faltered.

"No one else has ever had the right," he told her, as he took her into
his arms...

Superintendent-Detective Wragge ought to have knocked at the door, but
he was so used to visiting his niece at unexpected moments that this
time he forgot. He made indifferent amends by turning round to hang
up his hat.

"So you've taken a partner into the business, Lucie," he remarked.

Miss Mott smoothed her hair. Her heart was singing and there was the
light in her eyes which shines only once in the eyes of young women of
her type.

"You won't mind, uncle?" she ventured.

"A reformed criminal is the safest kind of nephew-in-law," Mr. Joe
Chilcott added.

Superintendent Wragge shook hands with them both, then he sank into the
one vacant chair.

"Look here," he said, "come back for a moment to serious subjects. It's
no question of informers any longer. We linked up early this morning on
Lord Westerleys."

There was a twitching at the corners of Miss Mott's lips--a look of pain
in Violet Joe's eyes.

"I needn't tell you both," the superintendent went on gravely, "that as
between you and Lord Westerleys there is, from the official point of
view, an enormous difference. What I was able easily to do for you,
Chilcott, no person on earth--not even the Chief Commissioner
himself--could do for Westerleys."

"He isn't arrested yet?" Chilcott asked.

The superintendent shook his head.

"My niece's office being the repository of many confidences," he
continued, with a sad little smile. "I may tell you that I've delayed
the arrest upon the pretext of verifying an unimportant piece of
evidence. If either of you young people should think it worth while--"

"Thank you, superintendent," Violet Joe interrupted. "You needn't say
any more."

Superintendent Wragge picked up his hat and stick.

"We shall perhaps have the pleasure of seeing you at dinner to-night,
young man," he suggested. "I'm sorry to say I shall have to leave you
early myself as there is a meeting of the Police Orphanage Fund, but--"

"Please don't apologise," Violet Joe begged earnestly. "About eight, I
suppose?"


There was a sober-looking but very handsome limousine car drawn up
outside the house in Berkeley Square when Chilcott's taxicab set him
down. He fancied as he rang the front door bell that the place presented
a gloomy, almost a barricaded appearance. The door was promptly opened,
but not until he had recognised the visitor did the butler withdraw his
portly form from the entrance. There were several other menservants
lurking in the background.

"I will send your name in to his lordship," the man promised. "He is
engaged for a few minutes with his physician--Sir Godfrey Foss--but he
may be able to see you afterwards. Step this way, sir."

Chilcott had barely established himself in the morning-room before the
butler re-entered.

"His lordship would like you to meet Sir Godfrey," he announced. "Will
you step this way."

Chilcott acquiesced without delay. He was ushered into the great library
where Meredith, assisted by his valet, was resuming his clothes. The
physician was standing with his hands behind his back, examining a
celebrated Romney upon the wall. Meredith nodded to the newcomer and
waved the servant away.

"I'll finish myself, Charles," he told the valet. "I'll ring for you
when Sir Godfrey's ready, Morton," he went on. "Glad you came, Joe. I
should like someone else to hear what Sir Godfrey has just told me. My
friend Joseph Chilcott, doctor--Sir Godfrey Foss."

They shook hands. The three men were now alone. The physician turned to
his patient.

"Yes, tell him, please," the latter begged, "exactly what you told me."

The physician cleared his throat.

"Lord Westerleys," he confided, turning to Chilcott, "has asked me here
to make an examination of his heart. He described to me certain symptoms
which I confess I found somewhat ominous--so much so, in fact," the
physician continued, "that I was not altogether unprepared for what I
discovered. I am afraid there is no doubt that Lord Westerleys is
suffering from a rather uncommon and dangerous type of heart disease,
which one sometimes finds in men of his age and adventurous
disposition."

Meredith straightened his tie and drew on his waistcoat, then he touched
the bell and held out his hand to the doctor.

"I am much obliged to you, Sir Godfrey," he acknowledged. "It's a relief
to me to know the worst, at any rate."

"But can't something be done?" Chilcott intervened anxiously. "A period
of--"

Like a flash the recollection of the truth flashed into his mind He
broke off in his speech.

"I have given Lord Westerleys my advice," Sir Godfrey said, "although I
am afraid he won't find it much to his liking I have told him that his
days of travel and active life are over. It is a very sad decision but I
was able to arrive at no other."

Westerleys handed over the cheque which he had just signed and the
famous physician took his leave. The two men were alone.

"I say, Meredith, I'm awfully sorry about this," Chilcott sympathised a
little awkwardly.

Meredith leaned back in his chair and for a moment the old laugh
disfigured his face. Then he broke off. There was a sudden change. A
different expression had triumphed.

"Joe," he said, "I think I was born with a sardonic sense of humour. It
stays with me to the last, you see. Thanks to my travelling in those
out-of-the-way places I know as much about drugs as any physician. I
took some tabloids before the doctor came which did exactly what I meant
them to do. They fooled him I My heart's leaping about now so that I can
scarcely keep my breath. By to-morrow it would have been all right
again, but you probably know as well as I do that there will be no
to-morrow."

"You've heard?"

"Yes, I've heard. I'm surprised they haven't had their hands on me by
now. I'm running no more risks. I want you out of this room in less than
sixty seconds, Joe. The physician will give his evidence--you will give
yours. The life of an invalid wouldn't exactly suit me. Shake hands,
Joe. Don't be a fool, man," he went on, in an altered but a kindlier
tone; "you went your way and I went mine. There wasn't excitement
enough in your way for me. I'm sorry for some of the things, of course.
For what I stole from life I pay. Not another second. My time's up.
Morton," he added, turning to the butler who had opened the door, "show
Mr. Chilcott out and admit no one else for half an hour. I have some
important letters to write."

From the door Chilcott looked back. Meredith was seated at his table,
his pen in his hand, his head bent. Chilcott strangled the last word of
farewell upon his lips in deference to Morton's stately presence and
followed the butler down the hall with a queer little singing in his
ears.


For weeks after Westerleys' funeral the few words of his unfinished
letter were quoted everywhere as containing the very elements of
dramatic pathos. No one knew for certain to whom it was written:


"My dear Friend,

"The physician has this afternoon told me that I am suffering from a
mortal disease, that I must forego my life of adventure, my travels, any
thought of a political career. It is a sentence of death which I claim
the right to deal with in my own fashion..."_


There would have been more of the letter without a doubt, but the butler
in his evidence admitted that against his late master's orders he had
knocked at the door to deliver a note from the Prime Minister. What was
written served its purpose, however.



THE END



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