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Title: The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202201.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

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

Title: The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim

*

Serialised in the The Advertiser (Adelaide, South Australia)
from Tuesday 9 October 1934.

*



CHAPTER I


Neither the day upon which Roger Ferrison, a tall sturdy young man of
sufficiently pleasing appearance, presented himself at Mrs. Dewar's
Palace Crescent Boarding House, situated within a stone's throw of the
Hammersmith Road, nor the manner of his initiation presented any unusual
incident. He stepped off a bus at the corner of the shabby but
pretentious looking thoroughfare and, carrying a large kit bag in his
hand, walked slowly along, scrutinising the numbers until he had found
the one of which he was in search. He rang the bell of Number Fourteen,
was peered at from the area below and, after a not unreasonable delay,
was admitted by an elderly manservant of somewhat impressive appearance.
He was thin but tall, and of athletic build. His striped jacket and
carefully brushed black trousers conformed to type. He threw open the
door hospitably and regarded the visitor's bag with interest.

"You were wishing to see Mrs. Dewar, sir?" he enquired.

"I am the new boarder," Roger Ferrison announced. "I called to see Mrs.
Dewar the other day when, I understand, you were out. I should like to
have a word with her before I go to my room, if she is disengaged."

"Certainly, sir."

The man carried the bag a few yards into the somewhat sombre and barely
furnished hall, deposited it against the wall and led the way past the
curtained-off apartment which seemed to be a sort of lounge, past a
somewhat extensive hat-and-cloak room and through a green baize door a
few yards along a much narrower passage on the left. He paused at a door
on whose panel was painted the single word office, knocked in
punctilious fashion and simultaneously ushered in the newcomer.

"Mr. Ferrison, Madam," he announced. "Says he's a new boarder. I have
left his kit bag in the hall for the moment."

The room was an epitome of uncouth untidiness and discomfort. Two hard
cane chairs were set against the wall and a horsehair couch with a
gaping wound in its side stood by the fireplace. Behind a cheap American
roll-topped desk sat a woman who, though she lacked every form of
feminine allure, seemed still in odd contrast to her unattractive
surroundings. She was almost painfully thin--a defect which she
accentuated by the plain black dress drawn tightly over her flat bosom.
Her dark hair in which, curiously enough, there was not a streak of
grey, was brushed severely back from her forehead. Her features were
hard but regular, her grey eyes were almost stony in their calm. The
sole adornment of her person was a singularly ugly cameo brooch. She
looked at her visitor without any gleam of welcome in her face. It
seemed impossible to believe, in fact, that her lips had ever been
trained to smile. Nevertheless, her voice, when she spoke, startled the
young man. He had seen something of several grades of life and he
recognised it as what is mysteriously known as the voice of a lady.

"You are Mr. Ferrison, are you not?" she said. "You called last week and
I showed you Number Sixteen which I think you agreed to take."

"That's right," he assented. "It was arranged, you remember, that I
should try it for a month at thirty-five shillings a week."

"Including breakfast and dinner," Mrs. Dewar amplified, "without coffee
or any form of drink except water, and the first month to be paid in
advance."

"Quite so," he agreed. "Here I am and here is the money."

He produced a somewhat shabby pocketbook, came nearer to the desk and
counted out seven limp-looking pound notes. The lady at the desk
gathered them in, locked them in a small black cashbox and wrote out a
receipt in a firm unhesitating hand. He watched her fingers as they
gripped the pen. It seemed to him that they were like the talons of some
bird of prey.

"I hope you will be comfortable, Mr. Ferrison," she said. "We dine at
half-past seven. My boarders generally assemble in the lounge, on the
right as you came in, for a few minutes first. Aperitifs are supplied
there, if you need one, at a low price. Are you in the habit of dressing
for dinner?"

"I am afraid not," Ferrison replied.

"That is of no consequence," she continued, her tone remaining
singularly monotonous. "My boarders do as they please. A place shall be
allotted to you in the dining room."

"If such a thing is possible," he suggested, "I should like a table to
myself. I drink nothing and am generally too tired at the end of the day
to want to talk."

Mrs. Dewar considered the matter.

"There is a small table just inside the door you might have," she told
him. "I will speak to Joseph about it. Joseph is our only manservant. He
is not a wonderful waiter, but he is willing. You will just have time to
wash your hands and look at your room once more before the gong goes. If
your bag is heavy, I am afraid I must ask you to carry it up yourself."

"I shan't need any service of that sort," Roger Ferrison assured her.
"I have been in the colonies and I am quite used to doing things for
myself."

He left the room with a queer feeling that some one had been dropping
cold water down his spine. Outside, Joseph was waiting. He had the air
of one who has been listening.

"You will be staying here, sir?" he asked.

"I shall," the new arrival answered. "You need not worry about my bag. I
shall carry it up myself. You won't find I shall be much trouble to you.
I shave in cold water and I shall use the bathroom any time it is vacant
after six o'clock."

Joseph looked at him critically from underneath his bushy dark
eyebrows--the most distinguishing feature of his face.

"Seems to me you are planning to be amongst the star boarders, sir," he
remarked.

"I don't believe in giving trouble if I can help it," Ferrison smiled.

"There's one thing I've got to show you, sir," the man confided, as they
reached the bottom of the stairs. "It's the only thing the old lady is
really cranky about. You see this cloakroom, sir?"

He opened a door by the side of the lounge and displayed a long, narrow
cupboard-like apartment. Upon one side of it was a row of hooks, a
number painted above each and a slit below for a card. From most of the
hooks were suspended keys.

"If you happen to have a card in your pocket, sir," Joseph suggested, "I
would be glad of it."

"I have only a business card," Roger Ferrison said, producing one.

"I'll trim it up, sir, and make it fit," the man replied. "The Missus
will want to see that it's in its place before she goes to bed to-night.
The rule of the house is if you go out after dinner you take your key
with you and come in silent. You come right in here and hang your key
up. You are not supposed to take it up to your room or anything of that
sort. Then, if Madam wants to see whether any of her boarders are out
what she considers too late, she can come in here with a candle or a
torch and see for herself."

"Seems an odd idea," the new boarder commented. "However, I won't
forget. I don't suppose I shall use my key very often."

"Them cinemas now," Joseph observed, "they run away with a lot of
money."

"Quite right," the young man agreed. "I very seldom go to them, myself.
A book from the library and a quiet evening is more my form. I am on my
feet most of the daytime."

The butler glanced curiously at the kit bag.

"Any more luggage, sir?"

"I have a few odds and ends down at my office," Roger told him. "If I
decide to stay here I may bring them up."

"Well, you may like it and you may not, sir," Joseph remarked
cryptically. "I've got to go and brush up now and bring the vermouth
before dinner."

He took his leave. Roger watched him for a moment with a certain degree
of interest. There was something curiously inhuman about his appearance,
with his thin neck, his heavy eyebrows and exceptionally smooth face,
which looked as though he were relieved even from the necessity of using
a razor. Roger Ferrison, as he marched up the stairs carrying his bag,
decided that the pair of them--his landlady and the butler, the only two
he had met of his new associates--were both human beings of an unusual
type.



CHAPTER II


At a few minutes past seven o'clock that evening Roger Ferrison, having
carefully brushed his brown business suit and indulged in the luxury of
a clean collar, descended to the lounge. He entered without curiosity,
without even that interest which a healthily minded young man of
twenty-five might naturally be expected to feel in the little company of
people who were to be his occasional associates for, at any rate, the
next two weeks. Life had almost a stranglehold upon him in those days
and he was living chiefly upon his courage. Nevertheless, a certain
kindliness of disposition and a leaven of good manners kept him more or
less in touch with the acquaintances of the moment. Mrs. Dewar came
forward to greet him.

"I shall not introduce you to every one," she announced. "You will soon
find out who people are for yourself but you should perhaps know Mr.
Luke, my oldest supporter here."

A man of youthful middle age, pale, with light-coloured eyes, greying
hair, but with a certain amount of strength in his face, detached
himself from a little group of men and held out his hand to Roger.

"Hope you will like it here, Mr. Ferrison," he said. "We are not a very
sociable crowd, I am afraid, but that too has advantages."

Roger Ferrison shook hands and made some indeterminate speech. He was
introduced to three or four others, commercial men apparently of his own
standing but possibly more prosperous. Several ladies' names were
mentioned but in such a manner that a bow was sufficient. Then Mrs.
Dewar led him a little further into the room. A girl, who on first
appearance seemed to Roger to be startlingly beautiful, was seated in an
easy-chair with three or four young men gathered around her. She was
very thin and very pale, but her copper-coloured hair was beautifully
coiffured, parted in the middle and brushed smoothly back. She had hazel
eyes and artistically treated lips. She would have been noticeable
anywhere but in the crowd which was gathered in Mrs. Dewar's lounge she
possessed a very rare and palpable distinction. She held out her hand
with a smile to Roger.

"I hope you will like it here and stay with us a long time, Mr.
Ferrison," she said. "We need a few younger people. That is where Mrs.
Dewar and I sometimes do not agree. She likes all these elderly, staid,
successful professional and business people. Some of us would like a
little more frivolity."

"I'm afraid I shan't be much of a help in that direction," Roger
Ferrison acknowledged, smiling. "I have to work very hard indeed, and
where I live and what I do after business hours just now seems to make
no difference to me. You like to dance and that sort of thing, I
expect?"

There was a queer silence around the chair. A young man kicked him
lightly on the foot. Suddenly Roger became aware of two large
rubber-shod ebony sticks leaning against the chair. The colour mounted
almost to his forehead. The young woman hastened to relieve his
embarrassment.

"Of course, I should love to, Mr. Ferrison," she said. "Just now, you
see, I cannot. I have had an accident, but I like people to realise that
I want to, all the same. Still, there are other things--theatres,
cinemas, all manner of amusements, for which I think we young people
ought to have more appetite than some of our elders."

"I'm so sorry," Roger apologised. "I had no idea."

"Of course you hadn't," she interrupted. "And believe me, I'm not at all
sensitive. Some day, I am convinced, something will happen--some great
doctor will lay hands upon me and I shall throw away my sticks and you
shall teach me all the new dances."

"I hope you will find a better teacher," he observed. "And indeed, Miss
Quayne, it is so kind of you to make light of my blunder."

She laughed happily at him.

"How on earth were you to know?" she questioned. "Come and talk to me
after dinner, won't you?"

He passed on. A slim pretty girl in a simple frock, a little shy and
just a little shabby, reminded him somehow of himself, as he made his
way across the hall. She was evidently of no great importance, however,
for he did not remember that Mrs. Dewar had mentioned her name...

Roger found that his wish had been granted. He was seated at a very
small, very uncomfortable table between the service entrance and the
sideboard, but he shared it with no one. There was a carafe of water on
his table in place of the usual bottle or half bottle of wine or whisky
with their clip labels. The linen, he noticed, although coarse in
quality, was clean and the table utensils bright and well polished. From
his point of vantage he took stock of the assembled company. His first
impressions were drab enough. The only person who stood out at all
seemed to be the lame Miss Quayne. She was also the only one who shared
her table with no other guest, but unlike his own, hers was in the best
position, facing the door, on the other side of the room in a pleasant
corner. She sat with a book in front of her in which she was apparently
absorbed. She was served different food from the others on a different
sort of china, and he admired the colour of the wine--a faint
amber--which sparkled in her glass. Once she looked up and their eyes
met. She smiled across the room at him, a smile that left him for a
moment puzzled. She was trying to say something but his wits were not
sufficiently acute to receive the message. He bit his lip in some
discomfiture. He was rather a stupid person, he feared, amidst a crowd.
He would have been better in a solitary room, even if he had been unable
to afford regular meals. The shy little girl whom he had thought so
pretty coming in seemed to him to have been watching his discomfiture.
There was a touch of sympathy in her dark shaded eyes which he resented.
Perhaps that was the reason why, when he entered the lounge after
dinner, he ignored the fact that she was seated upon a divan by herself
and joined the handful of young men who were hanging around Flora
Quayne's chair.

"How nice of you to come and talk to me, Mr. Ferrison," she said. "Bring
a chair up, won't you? I am sure you are tired. You look as though you
had had a long day's work. Or sit here, won't you?"

Roger, who had been on his feet since eight o'clock in the morning,
glanced around but, finding no chair, accepted her gestured invitation
and sat on the arm of her fauteuil.

"You must know these other kind friends of mine, Mr. Ferrison," she went
on. "This is Mr. Reginald Barstowe, our Beau Brummel, who is in a bank
somewhere and sends me beautiful flowers. He has a great many friends
and is a terrible gadabout, but I always feel we shall know all about
him some day!"

Mr. Barstowe, a dark, olive-skinned young man, who was one of the few
beside Mr. Luke who wore a dinner jacket, nodded to Roger and looked at
the speaker speculatively.

"What do you expect to find out about me, Miss Quayne?" he enquired. "I
am a very simple person and my life is an open book."

"Oh, you are in finance and that is always mysterious," Miss Quayne
observed, "and you go rushing off to the continent and come back looking
as though you had just saved the country from sudden terrible disaster.
You talk gold. Mr. Bernascon too. What do we others know about gold?"

"What do I know, or Bernascon either, for that matter, about Walter
Pater?" the young man demanded, turning over the book that lay in her
lap. "We each have our way to travel in life. I dare say even from a
very ordinary boarding house like this the roads branch out in many
different ways."

"I should like to compare notes with you all some day," Flora Quayne
remarked. "I think there is something very interesting about the
day-by-day life of even the simplest human being. Look at Mr. Luke over
there, reading a detective story all by himself in that corner. Does any
one know what he does in life--what he is interested in? He talks a
great deal and he talks about very interesting things, and we know that
he belongs to the best clubs and is a very good golfer, but I have never
heard him say a single self-revealing word as to what his tastes really
are."

Bernascon, a shrewd, powerful-looking man, carelessly dressed yet with
something of an air, joined in the conversation.

"You never know what an Englishman's business is," he said "When I was
living down at Forest Hill, I travelled up to London off and on in the
same carriage with a neighbour for two years before I found out that
during all that time he ought to have been a customer of mine. We lose a
lot by our taciturnity."

"Kind of self-consciousness, I suppose," a young man named Lashwood
observed, whom every one knew to be a manufacturer of leather trifles in
the East End. "I do my own travelling and meet so many people I know in
my job that I could not keep it quiet if I wanted to. On the other hand,
present company excluded, I have been here two or three years and there
have been at least a score of fellow boarders I have sat down and talked
to and taken a drink with, exchanged cards and all that sort of thing. I
have seen them walk down the street, hop on and off buses, run against
them sometimes in the City, and yet I haven't the faintest idea what
line they are in."

"Wonderful place, the City," Mr. Bernascon reflected. "Millions of us
crawling about like flies and not one of us has the slightest conception
of what the man he jostles in the crowd is thinking about, or who he is
or what he is making out of life."

Flora Quayne smiled.

"I think," she said, "that there is a certain dignity about reticence. I
like to think that all my friends, at any rate, have a secret side to
their lives, one which they don't talk about. What do you think, Mr.
Ferrison?"

Ferrison, whose thoughts for a moment had flashed into a dingy, barely
furnished office, half of which had been converted into a sort of
carpenter's shop, and who had spent more than an hour that day with his
partner, plotting how to avert the bankruptcy which seemed to be waiting
around the corner, was prompt in his acquiescence.

"Other people's affairs do not really interest anybody," he agreed. "We
pretend to be interested sometimes but it is mostly politeness. If
you've got hold of a good thing and are making a lot of money, they are
generally jealous and hate you if you mention it; and if you are
desperately hard up and are fool enough to acknowledge it they think you
want to borrow, and sheer off. I am all for every man minding his own
business."

"You look like that," Flora Quayne declared approvingly. "I rather
admire independence."

"It is more difficult," Mr. Bernascon meditated, "to keep quiet about
your good luck than your bad. I once knew about the same time a friend
who had won three thousand pounds in one of those sweeps and another who
had made a bad debt in his business of about the same amount. I had
always looked upon them as being men of the same temperament but you
don't suppose the fellow who had made that big loss went around talking
about it. He kept his mouth closed as tight as wax. But, my God, we used
to run when we saw the other chap coming!"

"Talking of good fortune," Flora Quayne remarked, "Some kind friend has
sent me a box for the Carlton Cinema to-morrow night. Every one says it
is such a good film. Who would like to be my escort?"

"All of us," they promptly declared.

"Then you will all be disappointed," she continued, smiling. "I am going
to ask our latest comer--Mr. Ferrison. Mr. Ferrison, will you be my
escort, please? It doesn't commence until half-past nine. Morning
clothes will be quite all right," she added hastily.

Ferrison shook his head.

"It is very kind of you, Miss Quayne," he said. "I couldn't possibly
go."

Her eyebrows slowly went up. Her fingers were twitching. The others, who
knew her better, recognised the signs. Ferrison, on the other hand,
never for a moment imagined that hers was a deliberate choice or that
she would be disappointed in any way at his refusal.

"To tell you the truth," he explained, "I am being a little worried just
now. My work has been terribly hard. I should find no pleasure in
attempting to amuse myself."

Mr. Reginald Barstowe straightened his tie.

"I'm longing to see that film," he said hopefully.

"I shan't go myself," Flora Quayne declared pettishly. "I shall send
the tickets back. I am sorry to have put you to the discourtesy of
refusing my invitation, Mr. Ferrison," she added. "Mr. Barstowe, will
you help me, please? I am going to that divan on the other side of the
room. There is a draught here."

The young man stepped eagerly forward. The girl shook out her skirts and
rose. She looked very elegant and beautiful in the shaded lamplight. The
light waft of perfume from the handkerchief which she had pressed to her
lips reminded Roger of lilac and spring crocuses. He looked after her
blankly. Mr. Luke turned towards him. One of his imperturbable smiles
flickered at the corners of his lips.

"You will get used to Miss Quayne's moods in time, if you stay here, Mr.
Ferrison," he remarked. "We all spoil her because of her affliction. And
if," he went on, "you will pardon my saying so, it is diplomatic to keep
friends with her. She is what in our world we call a star boarder. She
pays Mrs. Dewar twice as much as any one else, has the best room,
specially cooked food and is altogether quite a power in the place."

"Thanks very much for your advice," the young man said ruefully. "I
never dreamed that she would care whether I went or not. I have not
known her more than an hour or so. Seems to me," he went on, "she is
rather an unusual sort of young woman to meet at a cheap boarding
house."

Mr. Luke, who was standing with his hands behind his back, looked out
into vacancy.

"Boarding houses," he pronounced, "are strange places. I read a
successful novel lately about an hotel. The idea was the lifting of the
roofs in the various rooms, seeing something of people when they were
really themselves and not as they wished other people to see them--in
character, as well as behaviour. Most interesting book. I sometimes
think even in a fourth-rate struggling establishment like this one might
get a few shocks if anything of the same sort happened. We seem a very
ordinary lot of people but I expect we too have our eccentricities. I
think," he added, as he moved away, "I shall have an hour with the Times
before I turn in. The financial situation abroad makes one feel very
nervous these days."

Roger Ferrison had a queer fancy as he watched the unhurried departure
of the slim grey man with the colourless complexion and eyes. It came
and went like a flash. The crisis in his own affairs was too acute for
outside fancies. Nevertheless, he went up to his room with the
conviction that if he had time or inclination to be interested in them,
he should find his fellow boarders in Palace Crescent a queer lot.

Some hours later he stood downstairs in the cloakroom, an electric torch
in his hand, staring at the long row of pegs opposite in blank
amazement. A restless night and a loose bulb had forced him downstairs
into the lounge for matches. On his way back a sudden impulse came to
him to glance at that row of keys. He had heard the good nights, he had
heard the footsteps upon the stairs, yet from five out of sixteen of
those pegs the keys were absent! Five of the boarders from Palace
Crescent, at two o'clock in the morning, had either broken the rule of
the establishment and taken their keys up into their rooms or were
spending the early hours of the morning threading the secret byways of
the sleepless City.



CHAPTER III


"There's a note for you in the rack," Mr. Ferrison Joseph informed him
on his arrival at Palace Crescent soon after six the following evening.
"Don't forget to hang your key up before you go upstairs."

Roger Ferrison looked at him sharply.

"Why is it so important for me to hang my key up?" he demanded.

Joseph seemed a little taken aback.

"No offence, sir," he apologised. "Only it is the rule of the house and
the only one, it seems to me, that Madam sets much store by. The moment
you come in, you hang your key up. Any one telephones or asks if Mr.
Ferrison is in, just a glance at the board and we know if you are here.
It is convenient in many ways."

Ferrison drew his key from his pocket and hung it on the hook marked
Number Sixteen.

"There you are then," he pointed out. "Now, tell me--does every one obey
Mrs. Dewar's request?"

"I should say that the gentlemen are perfectly wonderful at it, sir.
They have got into it now as a matter of habit. As soon as they enter
the house up goes the key."

"Really? And suppose they go out again in the evenings?"

"Simple matter to pull it down again, sir."

"And when they come in at night--supposing they are a little tired or
thinking about other things?"

"Makes no difference, sir. I must say they are most respectful in doing
what they are asked. If by any chance any one is out late at a theatre,
or a bit of supper afterwards, or anything of that sort, the key's
hanging up there before they go to bed."

Roger remembered last night and felt that he was being watched. For some
undefined reason he held his peace. He had been on the point of
referring to those five empty hooks. Something in the man's stealthy
regard made him change his mind.

"Let's hope I will fall into line with the rest," he observed, "if ever
I am out late. Must be a mistake about that note, Joseph. There's not a
soul knows my address except my partner and I have just left him."

"The note is from Madam, sir."

Roger felt a sudden sinking of the heart. If for any reason he had
displeased any one? If he was to be turned out? If even a portion of the
seven pounds was to be impounded? He strode to the letter rack, took
down the note and read it rapidly. After all, it seemed harmless enough.


Dear Mr. Ferrison, (he read)

Would you be so kind as to step in and see me for a moment if you are
home from business before six-thirty this evening.

Faithfully yours,

Hannah Dewar.


"Is Mrs. Dewar in her room?" Ferrison asked.

"She is there and she will be there for another half an hour, sir," the
man confided. "At seven o'clock punctual she goes to dress. There never
was such a lady for punctuality as Mrs. Dewar."

Roger pushed open the baize door, walked down the passage, knocked at
the door of the office and was immediately bidden to enter. Mrs. Dewar,
sphinx-like as ever was seated at her desk, adding up some figures in a
small ledger before her. She set down the pen at his entrance.

"Won't you sit down for a moment, Mr. Ferrison?" she invited.

"You won't want me for long, will you, Mrs. Dewar?" he replied, seating
himself gingerly, however, on the edge of one of the cane chairs. "Hope
I have not been doing; anything wrong--breaking any of the rules of the
house or anything of that sort?"

"Certainly not, Mr. Ferrison. I am sure your behaviour has been
everything that could be expected. What I am going to ask you is more in
the light of a favour."

Mrs. Dewar had not in the least the appearance of a woman to whom the
asking of favours was a usual thing. If there was any change in her at
all, it was a certain hesitancy which seemed to denote a distaste for
the situation.

"You made the acquaintance last night," she began, "of a young
lady--Miss Quayne."

"Yes," Roger admitted briefly.

"Miss Quayne," his landlady continued, "is a very valued client of this
establishment. She is very much liked and respected by all my boarders.
They have, perhaps, got into the habit of spoiling her. Miss Quayne's
affliction makes her very sensitive."

"Well?"

"She invited you, Mr. Ferrison, to accompany her to the cinema, to-night
I think it was, or to-morrow. This was meant as a compliment to you
because you are the newest arrival here. You found yourself unable to
accept her invitation."

"I thought it was remarkably kind of her," Roger acknowledged, "but I am
not in a position to accept that sort of invitation at present."

"Might one enquire why not?"

Roger's eyebrows were slightly upraised.

"Isn't that rather an unusual request?" he queried. "Need I do more than
say that it does not suit me to accept any invitations for the present?"

The chill immovability of the woman was disturbed. One might almost
have said that there was a certain amount of pleading in her cold eyes
as she turned towards him.

"Mr. Ferrison," she explained, "the welfare of this house is largely
dependent upon the caprices of Miss Quayne. I think that my other
clients understand this. They do their best to humour her. She was very
much upset at your refusal to go to the cinema."

"But, my dear Mrs. Dewar," he protested, "it is perfectly natural,
surely, that I might find myself unable to go?"

"Why?"

He half rose to his feet, then he sat down again with a little laugh.

"Well, I'm not sure that it will not be better for me to answer that
question," he said, "although it seems to me rather an unusual one. Fact
number one, then. I not only have not evening clothes fit to be seen in
with a young lady at night, but I haven't another suit of clothes to my
name,--even my stock of linen is practically exhausted. You have seven
pounds of mine, which is very nearly all I had left and, if I don't
succeed in what I am trying to do by the time my month is up, I shall be
completely and utterly broke. I couldn't pay for a programme for Miss
Quayne. I couldn't pay for a taxi. I couldn't offer her supper
afterwards, or any of the amenities which she would have a right to
expect. How can I accept an invitation from a young lady under those
conditions?"

"Is that all?" Mrs. Dewar asked, and he fancied that there was a note of
relief in her tone.

"Of course it is all. Isn't it enough?"

"It is a matter of pride, then," she said. "I sympathise with you
because I have been proud myself in the days when I had sufficient
courage. Could I not appeal to you, Mr. Ferrison, to put your pride in
your pocket for the sake of doing a good action? Miss Quayne is not
quite like other young ladies."

He deliberated for a moment, then he laughed again.

"The thing is not worth talking about," he decided. "If, under all the
circumstances, Miss Quayne desires my escort, I will go with
pleasure--this once. I don't mind what I do once but nothing would
induce me to make a habit of it. Not that she is likely to ask me again,
anyway."

It appeared to him that the relief in his landlady's face was
immeasurable. He failed to understand it. It was another of the small
mysteries which seemed to multiply in this place.

"Would you be so kind, Mr. Ferrison," she begged, "as to step down to
her room and tell her that you will be pleased to go? It is the next but
one to this, on the same side. She has had rather a bad day. She suffers
a good deal of pain sometimes. It wouldn't take you a minute."

He rose brusquely to his feet. He was looking forward with distaste to
the whole enterprise.

"Very good," he conceded. "I'll do as you ask."

He left the room, knocked at the second door on the left and was at once
bidden to enter. His eyebrows were raised in surprise as he crossed the
threshold. Here was an apartment utterly different to anything the mind
could have conceived in connection with Palace Crescent. His feet sank
into a beautiful Turkey rug of one of those faint Eastern shades
something between mauve and blue. The silk curtains were of the same
colour. There was Louis Quinze furniture in the room--genuine--two great
bowls of flowers upon the table, a pile of books, a wood fire burning in
the grate, although it was already May. Flora Quayne, who had been lying
upon a couch, sat up and held out her hands.

"How sweet of you to come and see me, Mr. Ferrison!" she exclaimed. "It
means you have changed your mind about the cinema, doesn't it? Or the
opera--or the theatre--anything you like. I have so many kind
friends--they send me boxes for everything. Do sit down there. It is a
real man's chair. Unless you like to go on holding my hands--I don't
mind."

He backed away a little awkwardly--all the more so because he fancied
her eyes were inviting him to remain where he was. He sank into the
depths of a very comfortable easy-chair.

"If it really gives you any pleasure, Miss Quayne," he said, "I would
love to go to the cinema with you. Frankly, I refused because this is
the only suit of clothes I possess in the world and I shall have to
treat you to my last collar. I cannot send you flowers. I can do no more
than pay your taxi and buy your programme. As for supper afterwards,
that's out of the question. I should have accepted your invitation with
pleasure if I had been able to treat you properly in these ways."

She laughed softly.

"What an idiot you are," she crooned. "As though they mattered, anyhow!
I am not poor, but it is not to my credit. The money I have has been
left or given to me. Don't think of that again, please."

"All right," he muttered, none too graciously. "On those conditions I
shall be delighted."

"I cannot offer to buy you a suit of clothes," she went on, "but those
you have look very nice. I shall be ready half an hour after dinner this
evening and please, Mr. Ferrison, there will be no expenses at all. As I
dare say you don't know, I own a car, so no taxicab will be necessary.
My maid always sees me into the theatre or wherever I go, so I never
have to look about for silver. I am terribly sorry, of course," she
concluded, "to hear that you are going through a bad time, but it
doesn't make the faintest particle of difference."

He looked at her, glanced round the room and looked back at her again.
There was luxury everywhere--in the drooping roses, a great bunch of
orchids in the background, the books and magazines, the little jewelled
knick-knacks on her table. He felt a sudden admiration for her restraint.
He was perfectly certain that it was owing to her sense of the fitness
of things that she came in to dinner so simply dressed and without
jewellery.

"Well," she remarked, with an amused little smile, "you seem to be
rather taking stock of me."

"Perhaps in a way I was," he admitted. "I was sorry, by the way, to hear
from Mrs. Dewar that you were not well."

"I am never well," she told him, "when I don't get my own way. Look at
those lines under my eyes. They are there just because I was angry. When
I come into dinner, you will see nothing of them. Don't you feel a
magician?"

The words of common sense were upon his lips but he suddenly remembered
her infirmity. She must be young, too, he decided.

"I am only too glad," he said, "that Mrs. Dewar explained matters to me.
If it gives you any pleasure to have me take you out to-night, I shall
be delighted."

"You would not care to come and sit at my table for dinner, I suppose?"
she invited.

"Do you mind if I don't?" he begged. "I have my own way of doing things
here and I don't want to interfere with them. In a few months' time
things may be different and then I'll take you to the Ritz and give you
the best dinner I can order and take you to any show you like
afterwards."

"I should love that," she told him, "but I should be just as glad to be
hostess. I won't press you about dinner tonight. We will meet in the
lounge afterwards."

At nine o'clock she escaped from the little circle of men, who seemed
always to surround her after dinner, and came across to him. He felt
himself for the moment touched by the obvious efforts at simplicity
which her toilette betrayed. She was wearing a very plain black dress of
some material which looked to him like velvet, and a small hat to match.
The only ornament was a diamond clasp with which it was fastened. She
handed him opera glasses and her bag.

"Now for our expedition," she exclaimed gaily. "Of course, you know you
have all sorts of things to do for me. I hope you won't mind. I have to
be carried down these steps. That's the reason Mr. Luke will never take
me out."

"If I were a young Goliath like Mr. Ferrison," Mr. Luke said, "there is
nothing I should glory in so much as showing you my strength."

They made their way into the hall. The maid, who was fussing round, gave
him a hint or two and he carried her like a child through the door, down
the steps and into the waiting limousine. She sank into her corner with
a sigh of pleasure.

"You held me as though I were a bag of feathers," she laughed.

"You can't pretend that you are much of a weight, can you?"

She pouted a little.

"I have known men quite as strong as you who have been out of breath
when they set me down. Marie," she went on, speaking to her maid, "you
will ride with George in front to the Carlton Picture House and show Mr.
Ferrison how to help me. Then you can go and see your sister, if you
like, but be back at twelve o'clock."

"Very good, Madam."

She held his hand all the way to the theatre. Her fingers felt to him
hot and feverish.

"You must not think," she said, "that because I need so many attentions
I am a helpless invalid. I am really nothing of the kind. My leg is not
withered or anything of that sort. This lameness of mine is simply the
result of an accident. Once or twice I have almost been able to walk
alone. A doctor in Vienna is sending me a masseuse next month and she
and my London man are hoping to make a tremendous difference."

"I am very glad," he assured her. "I wish that you could be cured
altogether. I hope that you will be some day."

"I think I shall be," she confided. "I am not ambitious for great
things. I just want to live my life as other women live theirs. They all
say there is no reason why I shouldn't."

"I don't know much about it," he admitted, "but I can't imagine why you
shouldn't."

"If I marry the sort of man that I should like to marry," she said, "I
hope that we shall live in Italy. I do need more warmth and a drier
climate; then I should be quite all right."

"Would it be awfully impertinent of me if I asked you why on earth you
stay at Palace Crescent?"

She was silent for a moment.

"I have known Mrs. Dewar all my life," she confided. "She has had great
misfortunes. I fancy that my being there helps a little. She does a
great deal for me too--it is not all one-sided--and my rooms are very
nice. You must come and look at them again when you are not in such a
hurry. Do you mind carrying my small bag when we get to the theatre? You
will find any quantity of small silver in there which you must use as it
is necessary. Tell me, Mr. Ferrison," she went on, changing the
conversation suddenly, "are you engaged--perhaps even married or
anything of that sort? Have you any very serious ties?"

He shook his head.

"I haven't had much time to think of that sort of thing," he said. "My
family history is not worth knowing. My father was a furniture
manufacturer in the Midlands, but the war and the aftermath of the war
ruined his business and we all had to do what we could for ourselves.
Fortunately I have no one dependent upon me. I went out to Canada. Stuck
it for two years, but I couldn't make a living. Then I came back and
I've settled down to see if I can do anything in London. It doesn't seem
easy, though. My only brother is in the Civil Service in India and doing
moderately well. My only sister married a rich man, thank heavens. I see
her sometimes but she is absorbed in her home and her children. One gets
like that, you know."

"So you are really quite alone?"

"Absolutely and entirely, and likely to be. Sometimes I think I'll have
to chuck it all and go back to Canada. It is a man's life there, at any
rate."

Her fingers gripped his tightly.

"You must not do anything of the sort," she insisted. "You must just
stay here where you are. Perhaps not for long. I never make promises. I
tire of people so easily. I don't think I should tire of you, though. I
am like all partially disabled and weakly people. I adore strength. The
way you lifted me! Well, I'd better not talk about it," she broke off,
with a little laugh. "I might make you shy. You are shy, I believe,
aren't you?"

"I am not used to young people or women or social stunts of any sort, if
that's what you mean," he confessed. "You see Canada takes that out of
you pretty well."

"What made you come to Palace Crescent?" she asked abruptly.

"An advertisement in the Weekly Despatch" he answered. "In a way, I
would rather have had a room than a boarding house, because I am not
used to people but, to be quite frank," he admitted, a gleam of humour
in his eyes, "I could not get enough to eat anywhere except at a
boarding house. Food is awfully dear when you have to buy only enough
for one, and a decent room takes up quite a lot of money."

"I wonder why you chose Palace Crescent," she meditated. "Anyhow, I'm
glad you did. I'll tell Mrs. Dewar that you are to be fed up."

"For heaven's sake, don't do anything of the sort," he begged. "Besides,
for what they charge, I think it's wonderful. I have not been so well
looked after for a long time."

"You are nice looking, you know," she said suddenly.

"Don't be absurd," he protested. "My hands are hard and rough. My skin
is baked dry with the sun."

"Your hands are a man's hands, anyhow," she interrupted, "and I like
that lean, hard face of yours. You won't let me fall in love with you,
will you, Mr. Roger Ferrison?"

"You couldn't if you tried," he assured her.

"I don't know," she sighed. "I am very susceptible...Isn't it absurd
that we are there already?"

This time there was no carrying. With Roger on one side and the maid on
the other, she limped gracefully across the pavement, down the corridor
and into the box. With a little sigh of content she established herself
in an easy-chair and made Roger draw his seat up to her side.

"There is only rubbish going on now," she explained, "The real thing
starts in ten minutes. Sit close to me and tell me some nice things.
Tell me how you are going to stop my falling in love with you if I want
to."

"By not falling in love with you," he answered.

Her silence chilled him. He suddenly felt that he was a boor. He ought
to have remembered that she was ultra-sensitive. He laughed awkwardly.

"Make allowances for me, please," he begged. "I am a rough man of the
woods. I have scarcely a penny in the world and I may have to go out and
earn my labourer's wage at any moment. Being with you here in
surroundings like this makes me feel--well, like a bull in a china shop.
You will have to forgive me for everything I say that is wrong and
remember only that I am terribly grateful to you for being so sweet to
me and," he went on, with a sudden influx of courage, "in that gown and
hat I think you look simply adorable."

She leaned towards him and slipped her fingers in his.

"You have said exactly the right thing," she whispered.

There was very nearly another outburst about his steady refusal to go
anywhere, even to a grill-room, for supper, but on the whole the evening
passed without any of the threatened storms. The chauffeur took the key
and opened the door of the boarding house and Roger carried her up. He
would have taken her into the lounge but she tugged at his neck.

"Don't go there," she insisted. "There are people sitting up. You must
carry me to my room."

He obeyed. The lights were turned on there and a wood fire had been made
up. From the adjoining room, the door of which was open, there came the
pleasant sound of the bath being filled and the odour of bath salts. In
front of the fire, also, on a small table, was set a silver plate of
sandwiches, a small bottle of champagne in a bucket, whisky and a
syphon. She threw off her hat and made him draw up her couch to the
table.

"You are lucky to-night," she told him. "If it had been Marie's night
out, you would have had to help me with my frock. As it is, she will be
back in a quarter of an hour or so. Do help yourself to sandwiches
and--which do you prefer--wine or whisky? I thought so," she went on, as
he chose the latter without hesitation. "Please open the champagne for
me then and help yourself."

None too skilfully, he did as he was bidden. Her ease and graciousness,
however, did much towards putting him at his ease. She was seated
upright on the sofa at the other side of the small table and there was
amusement, as well as something which seemed to be affection, in her
beautiful eyes as she watched him.

"I believe," she laughed, "that this is the first time you have ever had
supper alone with a girl in her own room."

"I am quite sure it is," he answered emphatically. "In Canada we had a
man's mess--never saw the women except an odd waitress now and then."

"Were they very attractive, the waitresses?" she asked.

"One never looked at them," he replied. "The work and the outdoor life
seemed to reduce one to a sort of coma. All one thought of was going to
sleep at the end of the day."

"Well, I'm glad I have no rivals across the sea, then," she smiled.
"Would you be very sweet, please, and go and turn my bath off? Marie
will be here in a few minutes but that may be too late."

He rose to his feet impetuously, nearly upsetting the small table, made
his way across the room with its various treasures, into a bathroom such
as he had never seen before in his life. The bath itself, which was
within a few inches of running over, was sunken and fashioned of marble
which matched the colour of the hangings. Indefinable and nebulous
garments were laid out a short distance away. He turned off the tap and
hurried back. She looked at him with an amused smile.

"Did you like my bathroom?" she asked.

"Looks like something out of a fairy tale," he answered.

"You didn't look about you too much, I hope?"

"I saw--a few things," he confessed, "and I dipped my fingers in the
water--the perfume was so wonderful."

"Silly! Give me some more wine, please."

He obeyed. She took one of his hands and stroked the long brown fingers.

"Yes, your hands are hard," she meditated, "and your nails are shocking.
Never mind. I'll manicure them one day."

"It wouldn't be worth while," he assured her. "I do several hours'
carpentering every day and I should only break my nails."

"I like your fingers, anyway," she went on. "They are so strong. I am
like all people who have been invalids--I don't consider myself an
invalid any longer because my leg is so much better--I adore strength. I
suppose we are all the same--it is something to cling to...There, if you
have finished your sandwiches, take a cigarette and give me one. Light
it for me if you will."

He performed his task with some trepidation. She leaned back upon the
couch.

"Do you know," she confided, "that you are the first of Mrs. Dewar's
boarders--except Mr. Luke, and he only once--who has seen my rooms? What
do you think of them?"

"They seem to me just like rooms out of a palace," he told her. "One
cannot imagine finding anything of the sort in a place like this."

"They were prepared specially for me, of course," she told him. "Do you
like Palace Crescent, Mr. Roger?

"I don't know yet. I haven't been here long enough. The place seems to
me more like a puzzlebox than anything. All those funny people and--then
you."

"Do you find the people funny?"

"Oh, no funnier, I dare say, than they find me. Mrs. Dewar is certainly
unusual, though, isn't she?"

The girl knocked the ash from her cigarette.

"Yes, she is unusual," she admitted. "Will you come with me to the
cinema next time I ask you, Mr. Ferrison?"

If she expected a prompt acquiescence she was disappointed. There was a
frown upon his face.

"I'm not sure," he answered. "I don't think so. What I am hoping is that
very soon I may be able to ask you to come with me and to take you out
wherever you like to go afterwards. If I can do that, then I will accept
your next invitation afterwards."

"How stupid you are," she complained. "I am rich. These things mean
nothing to me. Why am I not allowed to find pleasure by entertaining a
friend--even if he hap pens to be a man?"

"You cannot call me a friend yet. We have known one another less than
twenty-four hours."

She patted his hand.

"Don't be so crude," she scolded. "However, perhaps I like it better
than if you made speeches about having known me all your life, and all
through the lives before, and all that sort of thing. I am a
sentimentalist, Mr. Ferrison, and you are the most matter-of-fact young
man I ever knew in my life. Perhaps that's why I like you, why I think
that some day I may like you very much indeed. Is that Marie moving
about in the bathroom?"

He caught a glimpse of her cap.

"It is," he assented. "I must go."

"Carry me there first, please," she insisted.

He looked at her sticks.

"Aren't you rather a fraud?" he smiled. "You could get there quite well
with one stick and my arm."

She made a grimace.

"Don't be boorish! I like to be carried and I am always spoilt. I have
never found any one so strong as you and I love it. If you say another
word, I shall make you carry me round the room half-a-dozen times."

He picked her up. She nestled closely to him, her arms wound around his
neck.

"How far are you going to take me?"

"Straight to the bathroom."

"Do you really find me heavy?"

"No. Why?"

"Your arm seems to be shaking."

"That's because I'm not used to this sort of thing," he answered
gruffly.

He paused on the threshold of the bathroom.

"Shall I put you down here?"

"In a moment," she sighed. "Good night."

She lifted her lips in the most natural way possible. He kissed her
awkwardly, set her down and handed her sticks to the maid. Then he swung
round. She called out to him mockingly.

"Are you running from temptation?"

He made no attempt at a reply. The atmosphere of the bathroom, he
decided, must have been overheated for, as he passed along the passage,
he found his forehead and his hands were wet.



CHAPTER IV


Audrey Packe's startled eyes shone as though the king himself had spoken
to her. Perhaps, as a matter of fact, the simile was not so far
exaggerated for, although they had not as yet exchanged a single
sentence, Roger Ferrison, during the last week, had certainly been the
ruler of her little region of troubled thoughts.

"I suppose we are waiting for the usual Number Thirty-three?"

She recovered herself before he had ceased to wonder at the sudden
change which that illuminating smile had made in her pleasant but
somehow negative appearance.

"The usual Number Thirty-three," she assented shyly. "You go by it too?"

"It depends on my morning's work," he explained, his eyes searching
amongst the tangled mass of vehicles. "Sometimes, if I am going direct
to the City, where my office is, I take the Underground."

There was a brief silence. She racked her brain for something to say.
She was terrified lest he might pass on and forget her.

"How do you like it at Palace Crescent, Mr. Ferrison?" she enquired.

He shifted his rather large bag from one hand to the other and appeared
to reflect. There were shrewd and capable lines to be traced in his face
but he also possessed the stolid air of one who never replies to any
question in a hurry.

"Well, I have scarcely made up my mind yet," he confided. "Don't know
that I either like it or dislike it, so far. I suppose it is the same as
most boarding houses. One must live somewhere if one has not a home, and
it is cheaper anyway than digs."

"If one has not a home," she repeated, with an almost unnoticeable sigh.

The bus drew up at the corner. Ferrison was evidently a young man of
good manners, for he stood on one side and helped her in. There happened
to be plenty of room and, after he had disposed of his bag, he seated
himself beside her.

"Where do you work?" he enquired.

"At Mallory's Stores."

He showed some interest.

"That's queer," he reflected. "I'm going there this morning."

"You don't work there?"

He shook his head.

"Wish I did, if the job was good enough. I want to try and see one of
the buyers. Don't suppose I shall have any luck, though. I haven't had
any up till now."

He was gazing rather moodily at his carefully arranged shoelace. She
immediately felt a passionate but quite illogical wish to help him. She
was an observant young woman and she had noticed that although he was
neatly dressed, his trousers shone in places at the seams, his shoes had
been several times mended, his linen, though clean, was of cheap quality
and the cuffs of his shirt were frayed. There were things, too,
connected with his deportment at Palace Crescent which indicated
poverty. The small uncomfortable table at which he sat was the worst in
the room. His carafe of water was significant. He had not, up till the
present, at any rate, indulged in the coffee served after meals at a
small extra cost. She had noticed, too, that when he had been invited to
the cinema by Flora Quayne, he had made no change in his toilet, and
there had been a rumour in the lounge that he had at first refused the
invitation. Somehow, Audrey had it in her mind that he must be
desperately poor.

"What do you sell?" she asked.

"A new form of carpet and general cleaner," he told her. "The best in
the world, if only one could get hold of the right man who would give
one time to explain it. The trouble is that there are too many sweepers
on the market and too many people trying to sell them. The majority of
them are nearly as good as mine, but not quite."

Like most young people talking about themselves and their own affairs,
he was becoming somewhat engrossed. She stole a careful glance at him.
Yes, he was pleasant-looking enough--tall and strong too--but his eyes
were tired and his lips had an anxious turn.

"You see," he went on, "we are manufacturing in such a small way. My
friend and I own the patent for our machine. We invented it ourselves
and we have sunk all our capital, buying a few oddments of machinery and
manufacturing as many as we dared. It is very hard to quote a price
against these fellows who are turning them out by the thousand. It is
very hard too," he concluded, with a sigh, "to get any one to give our
machine even a trial. I have been to your place five times already
without having been able to see the buyer of the department."

"You are not the only one," she assured him. "Mr. Simpkins is a very
difficult man--very busy too."

"What do you know about him?" he asked, with a questioning glance.

"I am in the household goods department," she confided "I started in the
office but my typing was not very good--I had to teach myself--and they
paid me scarcely anything. I found that their saleswomen earned much
more than I did, so I got them to move me as soon as there was a
vacancy."

"Know anything about house-cleaning machines?"

"Just a little," she acknowledged. "But it is not really my department.
I just pass customers on to the young men who look after it. I'm sure
yours is wonderful, though," she added, after a moment's hesitation.
"Perhaps you will show it to me one day."

"You would be the first person who has let me show it to them for nearly
a week," he declared bitterly. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll come up
and clean your room at Palace Crescent as it has never been cleaned
before."

She laughed.

"I can fancy Mrs. Dewar's face, if you suggested such a thing!"

"I shouldn't do it when you were there, of course. I didn't catch your
name the other evening. May I know it, please? Mine is Roger Ferrison."

"Mine is Audrey Packe," she told him.

He nodded without any great show of interest.

"I remember," he said. "Mrs. Dewar was very punctilious about
introductions when I first came but I'm afraid that I didn't listen very
carefully. There were so many people. I had no idea. I thought it was
quite a small place. It seemed cheap and that was what attracted me."

"I suppose that's what attracts most of us," she observed dolefully.
"There are one or two, though, who seem to have plenty of money. Flora
Quayne, the lame girl, for instance. She dresses beautifully, as I dare
say you have noticed, goes to the theatre or cinema whenever she likes,
and has a private car of her own. Don't you think she is terribly
attractive?"

"She is very beautiful," he admitted. "She is so far out^ side any world
I have known anything about," he went on, after a moment's hesitation,
"that I find her a little difficult to understand. I wonder how her
lameness came about?"

"They say that either her nurse or her mother didn't look after her
properly when she was young and she had an accident. No one knows the
truth about it or the real story of why she lives at Palace Crescent,
for that matter. Then, so far as regards money, there are Mr. Luke and
Mr. Bernascon, and Mr. and Mrs. Padgham. I can't think what they stay
there for. There's no allowance made for meals if you are not in and I
see them going out once or twice every week."

"Practical young person, aren't you?" he remarked, with a smile. "Luke
is that fellow who sits at Mrs. Dewar's table, isn't he? Kind of star
boarder, I should think. What does he do, I wonder?"

She shook her head.

"Nobody knows. That's one of the queer things about lis all at Palace
Crescent. I have stayed at one or two boarding houses before and perhaps
that's why I notice it. Here no one ever mentions their business,
whatever it is. Freda Medlincott, the girl who is looking for a place on
the stage, is the only exception. Every one else we have more or less
had to guess at. Sometimes it seems to me quite mysterious."

"Could there be anything mysterious about Palace Crescent?" he asked,
with a queer little smile. "We all of us, except Miss Quayne, perhaps,
seem such ordinary people."

The girl by his side looked out of the bus and wondered. Mr. Luke, their
fellow boarder, of whom they had been talking, brought by the exigencies
of the traffic to a stand'

Still in his high-powered car within a few feet of the omnibus, glanced
carelessly through the window and recognised the young man and the girl.
He smiled slightly and raised his hat. Perhaps he too wondered.

Mr. David Gedge, one of the most esteemed floor managers in the great
firm of Mallory, watched with an approving smile the completion of an
interesting sale in his own department by one of his favourite
assistants, and stopped to address a word of congratulation to her.

"You are looking very cheerful this morning, Miss Packe," he remarked.

"We have been busy," the girl replied, "and I like work."

"I wish there were more like you," the manager grumbled.

He paused with his hands behind his back to survey the crowded room. A
young man carrying a heavy bag came round the corner and, catching
Audrey's eye, ventured upon a smile of recognition. She nodded to him
brightly.

"Any better luck to-day, Mr. Ferrison?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"Same as usual," he answered. "No openings."

The floor manager suddenly ceased his inspection of the room and glanced
at the young man, who had paused before the counter. Audrey Packe took
her courage into her hands. After all, David Gedge had been one of her
father's friends and it was he, in fact, who was responsible for her
presence there.

"Mr. Gedge," she said timidly, "this is Mr. Ferrison, a friend of mine.
He has the most wonderful house-cleaning machine in the world. He
invented it himself, but he can never get to see Mr. Simpkins. It seems
a pity," she added, "because we often get complaints of some of those we
stock."

Mr. Gedge frowned slightly but not seriously. This sort of thing was
against the rules but he was in a gracious humour. He nodded to the
young man.

"I am afraid Mr. Simpkins is a very busy person," he observed.

"It seems so, sir," was the doleful reply. "I come regularly on his days
and I am generally the first arrival, but I have never been able to see
him yet."

"What is the name of your firm?"

Ferrison produced a card.

"We have not been very long established," he admitted frankly. "Just
another fellow and I and a few workmen. If you would allow me, sir, I
shan't be in any one's way here."

The young man certainly knew how to make the most of an opportunity. The
avenue in front of the counter, behind which Audrey Packe was standing,
happened for the moment to be almost deserted and along the middle of
it, in very little more time than it took to open the bag, a curious
affair which looked like a deformed steam roller, throwing out long arms
in every direction, was hard at work with a musical but businesslike
purr. Every moment a circular protuberance at the back of the handle,
which the young man held, was increasing in size.

'"God bless my soul!" Mr. Gedge exclaimed, watching with fascinated
eyes.

"Your floors look clean enough, but they needed that," the manipulator
of this strange apparatus remarked.

"But where do the dust and debris go to?" Mr. Gedge enquired, adjusting
his pince-nez.

"Into this contrivance at the back," the young man pointed out. "That's
the patent--the chief part of it, anyway."

He touched a spring and the whole affair seemed to collapse in his hand.
He thrust it back into the bag. Mr. Gedge examined the floor which had
been traversed and removed his glasses.

"Come with me, young man," he invited, taking him by the arm. "I will
take you round to either Mr. Simpkins or one of the managers."

Audrey Packe watched the two disappearing figures. She was scarcely
disappointed that the young man, talking so eagerly to his companion,
seemed to have forgotten to throw even a glance in her direction. She
was basking in one of the rare but poignant pleasures of life. She had
drawn heavily upon her small stock of courage, she had said the right
word at the right time, and she had helped the person who, at that
particular moment, meant more to her than any one else in the world.



CHAPTER V


It was the avowed ambition of Mrs. Dewar's professional life, though
secretly she took not the slightest interest in the social inclinations
of her clientele, to make the dinners at the boarding house over which
she presided what she called sociable affairs. For that purpose,
although she sat at the head of a long table to which the ordinary
newcomer was invited upon his or her arrival, she encouraged the
majority of her boarders to make up parties amongst themselves and
occupy small tables which were distributed around the room. Most of her
visitors, after the first few days, were glad enough to do so, but
amongst those who remained faithful to the company of their hostess were
Mr. Luke, Miss Freda Medlincott--the fair-haired, voluble young lady who
was hoping for a position upon the stage and Mr. Reginald Barstowe, the
dark-haired, taciturn young man who spent a good deal of time hanging
around Flora Quayne's chair and who was supposed to have something to do
with banking. These, with a Colonel Dennett, a retired Indian Army man
who seldom spoke a word to any one and drank a great deal of water with
his meals, were, just at the moment of Roger Ferrison's arrival, the
only occupants of what might have been termed the head table.

"So Mr. Ferrison has found a companion already," Freda Medlincott
remarked, motioning with her head towards the small table at which the
inventor of the automatic cleaner was seated amicably with Audrey Packe
as his vis-a-vis. "I wonder when those two found time to make friends? I
have never seen him speak a word to any one since he has been here,
except Miss Quayne."

Mrs. Dewar glanced coldly at her neighbour.

"Mr. Ferrison has done what I wish every one who comes here to do," she
confided. "He has found an agreeable companion and devoted himself to
her entertainment. I am always flattered when any of you choose to
remain with me, but I never wish any one to feel the slightest
compunction about the matter. As regards Miss Quayne, she has always
made it a condition that she have a table to herself and I don't think
that she would be inclined to leave it or to share it."

"No one has ever invited me to desert," Miss Medlincott observed, with a
self-pitying sigh and a glance across at her vis-a-vis. "I sometimes
think that those tables against the wall for two look very cosy."

If it was a challenge, Mr. Luke ignored it. He had a singular habit of
appearing, when he chose, absolutely detached from any conversation.

"I accept your continued presence here, my dear Miss Medlincott, as a
great compliment," Mrs. Dewar pronounced. "As to your not having been
asked to desert, I am afraid that I cannot accept that. It was only the
other evening I heard Mr. and Mrs. Padgham begging you to join them."

Freda Medlincott looked across the room to where a middle-aged man--the
only one in the room except Colonel Dennett, Mr. Luke and Reginald
Barstowe to wear a dinner coat--was seated opposite his good-looking
wife.

"Mr. Padgham always terrifies me," she confessed. "I am perfectly
certain that he has a terrible past. The person whom I would really like
to see here would be an opulent and susceptible theatrical manager or
writer of plays."

"How do you know that I don't write plays?" Mr. Luke asked from across
the table.

The girl regarded him speculatively. Her dark eyes, in contrast to her
golden hair, were rather effective. The longer she looked, the more
bright with interest they became.

"To tell you the truth," she observed, "it never entered my head. Flora
Quayne always declares that there is an element of mystery about you.
You may be a great writer. Two of the best plays in the West End lately
have been written anonymously."

He looked at her with cold grey eyes. His tone remained expressionless.

"You see what risks you have run," he pointed out, "in taking so little
notice of me."

"If you are as clever as I believe you are," she rejoined languishingly,
"you will realise why I have refused at least half-a-dozen invitations
to leave this table."

"You get served sooner here," Reginald Barstowe, the young man connected
with money, ventured, entering into the conversation for the first time.

"That is a very unkind remark," Freda Medlincott declared. "No one
has ever suggested before that I was greedy."

"Besides," Mrs. Dewar put in equably, "it is not true. It is part of my
system to maintain a perfect equality in such matters. Every table in
the room is served first in rotation."

"So that if I were really greedy," the girl pointed out, "I would change
my table every night. What nonsense we do talk," she went on more
seriously. "A change of place would not appeal to me in the least. The
only thing that I do sometimes wish--"

"Is it anything we can alter, Miss Medlincott?" her hostess enquired.

Freda Medlincott, who had been glancing at the ceiling with a rapt
expression, shook her head slowly.

"It was a stupid thing to say," she confessed, "but then, I am an
imaginative person."

"And that wish?" Mr. Luke ventured.

"I would like to feel that Palace Crescent was a less obvious sort of
place--that we were not all of us exactly what we seem to be."

"I don't think we are," Colonel Dennett mumbled. "Humbugs and
hypocrites, most of the world that I come across. I expect we are about
the same as the others."

"But I mean something romantic," the girl explained. "That Mr. Luke here
was perhaps, as he has suggested, a well-known author living here
incognito. That Reginald Barstowe, who has just been so rude to me, was
a famous criminal, perhaps even a murderer. That Colonel Dennett was in
the Army Secret Service, living here in disguise. That Mr. Padgham was
as wicked as he sometimes looks. That Flora Quayne, with her sensitive
quivering mouth and those beautiful eyes, was a sort of Louise de la
Valliere in disguise. That all of you were utterly different. That
Palace Crescent was the sort of place where all sorts of tragedies were
being hatched and developed."

"Uncomfortable," Mr. Luke criticised tonelessly.

"Might be true about some of us," Reginald Barstowe commented. "Miss
Quayne, if it were not for her strange way of looking at you sometimes
and her stand-offish manners, could be quite as fascinating as the
heroine of any historical romance I ever read."

Mrs. Dewar's eyes were fixed upon the closed curtains at the other end
of the room. They were a little vaguer than usual. Otherwise her face
had not in any way relaxed.

"So you think," she observed, "that we are all commonplace people and
that our lives are as humdrum as they seem."

"How are we going to get away from it?" Freda Medlincott demanded. "We
know all about the Colonel from the army books of reference. We know
that Mr. Padgham, instead of being concerned in a life of crime, is a
solicitor down at Finsbury, has made plenty of money and only practises
occasionally. We should only have to telephone the manager of the bank
where Mr. Barstowe pretends to work and there is no doubt that we should
get an excellent reference about him. We know that Miss Packe is
employed at Mallory's and we know, since just before dinner was served,
that Mr. Ferrison is engaged in trying to sell some sort of a machine of
his own invention. We know that Mr. Ollivant, the moody-looking
gentleman who sits by himself and talks out loud whenever he reads the
menu, was once a great financier and lost most of his money in the war.
We know that Mr. Lashwood is a manufacturer of some sort in the far East
End, and that the two Misses Clewes have come to die here, because they
spent the first forty years of their lives in a country village. We do
not know exactly what you do, Mr. Luke, except play golf and shoot with
a syndicate. The fact is, that we know too much about one another. Books
of reference, 'Who's Who' and telephone directories have all brought us
too close together."

Mr. Luke sipped his wine thoughtfully.

"It seems a pity," he remarked. "By-the-by, you have not mentioned Miss
Quayne."

"Poor Miss Quayne," Freda Medlincott murmured. "It's quite true that we
none of us know anything definite about her, but I suppose I left her
out because of her infirmity. She wouldn't have much chance of getting
into mischief, would she?"

"I don't see why not," Mrs. Dewar said calmly. "I think you are very
wise to leave her out of your speculations but she is surely as much a
possible heroine of romance as any one you have mentioned."

"One of the greatest villains in sensational fiction," Mr. Luke reminded
them, "was a man with a club foot. Nowadays, with the kingdom of science
to help, crime can be spun as it were from the easy-chair. Then, so far
as romance is concerned, if the historian is to be trusted, Louise de la
Valliere was almost as lame as Miss Quayne when she embarked upon the
greatest romance of history."

Colonel Dennett drank half a glass of water at a gulp and leaned
forward.

"Let's see what sort of a physiognomist you are, young lady," he said.
"Supposing you knew that one person in this room was a dangerous
criminal, whom would you select as the most probable?"

Mrs. Dewar rose to her feet. She performed the action as she did most
others--soundlessly--without any visible effort.

"I think," she intervened, "that the conversation has gone far enough.
We had better withdraw."

On the way out of the room Freda Medlincott whispered in Colonel
Dennett's ear. He seemed a little startled.

"You may be right," he acquiesced, after a moment's reflection.

On their way into the lounge they came across Roger Ferrison, whistling
softly to himself as he brushed his hat by the light of a standard lamp.
Mrs. Dewar paused and drew him on one side.

"I have a message for you, Mr. Ferrison," she said.

"A message?" he repeated.

"Miss Quayne was not well enough to come in to dinner to-night. She
wondered whether you would stop in and have a word with her."

Roger Ferrison left off brushing his hat. There was nothing he desired
so fervently in life as to refuse this very simple invitation.

"Do you mean now?" he asked.

"It would not take you long. Miss Quayne seems to be suffering a good
deal."

Ferrison sighed and hung up his hat.

"Of course, I will. Would you mind," he added hesitatingly, "if Miss
Packe comes out before I return, telling her where I am? Say I shall
only be a minute or two."

"I will do so," Mrs. Dewar replied. "Pardon me," she went on, "I do not
wish to seem impertinent, but do I gather that you are going out with
Miss Packe?"

He looked at her in frank astonishment.

"We are going to a cheap cinema," he confided. "We shan't be late and I
shall remember about the keys."

"It's not that," Mrs. Dewar said. "I really ought not to say what I am
going to say to you, but you see we all have the deepest sympathy for
Miss Quayne. You are the one person she has singled out to spend an
evening with. She enjoyed it so much and--she needs some one to be kind
to her. I think she will feel hurt if you are only able to stay for a
moment because you are going out with Miss Packe."

"That sounds very queer to me," Roger Ferrison, confessed, honestly but
bluntly.

"I am afraid," Mrs. Dewar admitted, "it may sound also rather
impertinent. If so, you must forgive me. I was thinking of you as well
as of my boarder. Miss Quayne has the command of a great deal of money
and many advantages. She is able to offer so much to those who will
spare a little time for her distraction. I was thinking only that if you
knew how sensitive she was, perhaps it might make a difference."

It was a very lame speech for the precise Mrs. Dewar. Roger Ferrison
made no direct reply. He stubbed out his cigarette in a small receptacle
provided for that purpose on the hall table and turned away.

"At any rate, I will go and speak to Miss Quayne," he promised.



CHAPTER VI


Roger Ferrison knocked timidly on the second door up the passage. Almost
immediately he was bidden to enter. He advanced with some hesitation
towards the couch where Flora Quayne was lying. She turned her head and
welcomed him with a smile. There was no doubt whatever about her fatigue
being genuine. There were dark lines under her eyes. The veins in the
hand which drooped over the side of the couch almost to the carpet were
painfully apparent.

"So you have come," she murmured. "I had no message. I have not heard
from you all day."

He came up to the side of the couch and stood looking down at her.

"But, my dear Miss Quayne," he protested, "I had no idea that you were
not well. I was looking forward to seeing you at dinner this evening. I
was astonished when I heard that you were ill."

She tossed out her long slim leg pettishly. It was revealed to his
unwilling perceptions that she was wearing the thinnest of fur-edged
negligees over her night clothes.

"You should have known," she complained. "You should at any rate have
enquired. You know that if I am not exactly delicate I am nervous."

"I am afraid I don't know nearly so much about you as you seem to
think," he told her good-humouredly. "I left the house at half-past
eight to earn my living. I returned at seven o'clock--barely time to
have a good wash, put on my last clean collar and present myself for
dinner. I looked across the room at once towards your table. I was sorry
to find that you were not there."

She looked down at her leg pensively. Perhaps she was admiring, as he
ought to have been, the beautiful silk-clad outline.

"Well, you're here now," she said, with a sigh of content. "Will you sit
quite close to me, please, and hold my hands, and will you let me feel
your arms wrapped around me again? I seem to need strength to-night. And
will you please presently read to me? I will show you what--some quite
simple poetry."

"But to-night," he told her clumsily, although he moved his chair
slightly nearer to the couch, "I cannot do any of these things. You will
laugh at me after what I said the other night, but it is a fact, all the
same. I am taking a young woman to the cinema."

She seemed for a moment to become absolutely rigid. Her lips opened and
closed again. Only her eyes held this.

"It is not in the least like last time," he continued. "We shall take a
bus as far as we can for a penny, we are going in the one-and-sixpenny
places at the cinema, and we shall walk home. No programmes, no luxuries
of any sort. The total agreed sum of expenditure is three shillings and
twopence !"

"Who is the--person?" she asked.

"Some one who did me a good turn to-day," he explained. "I have
something I am anxious to sell. She is employed at Mallory's and she
helped me to get an audience with the buyer. He gave me an order--almost
the first, certainly the best I have ever had."

Her finger nails seemed to be digging into the side of the couch.

"That is how I always suffer," she said. "I lie here and other people
steal things from me. Who is she?"

"Her name is Audrey Packe," he continued. "And believe me, she wouldn't
steal anything. She is perfectly honest."

"I know her," Flora Quayne reflected. "She is what Mrs. Dewar calls
third class. She has one of the smallest rooms, no extras, and has to
pay her account to the day or out she must go. So you have made friends
while I have been lying here!"

"A very useful friend."

"And you are taking her to the cinema?"

"If I could afford it," he said stoutly, "I'd take her out to dinner.
She deserves it."

She raised her head. There was a note of anger in her tone.

"Then what are you doing here?" she demanded. "You have no right to come
and talk to me if you are going--to take--"

The words seemed to die away on her lips. For a moment he was afraid she
was going to be ill. He rose and moved towards the bell. Her white hand
called him feverishly back.

"Wait," she faltered.

He yielded to the appeal of her imploring gesture and resumed his seat.
She lay perfectly still for several moments. When she spoke again her
tone sounded perfectly natural.

"I am being foolish," she confessed. "It is one of my bad days. How much
time have you?"

"Five minutes," he declared ruthlessly.

She raised herself on the couch.

"Put your arm around my back," she begged. "Your other hand under my
knees--you know how. Now, carry me round the room. Don't say a word.
Just carry me round and bring me back again."

He obeyed. The task was no more than carrying his empty kit bag, yet he
found himself with his teeth clenched as he set her down again.

"I like that," she said simply. "You are the strongest man who has ever
carried me. Pour me out some more coffee, please."

He did as she asked. He noticed that there was a second cup.

"Help yourself, if you have time," she invited. "I ordered coffee in
here. I thought you might be able to stay."

"I'd like some," he told her.

"Please help yourself."

She watched him anxiously. Her hand sought his and he held it almost
tenderly.

"There's something in your eyes that frightens me tonight," she said.
"You are pitying me. I will not be pitied. Do you hear? I say--I will
not be pitied."

"I was doing nothing of the sort," he denied half-heartedly.

"You think I am a poor, crippled, disabled creature," she said, her
bosom rising and falling quickly. "I am not. Give me your hand."

He yielded it at once.

"Lean over," she insisted, guiding his hand to her arm. "You feel
that--it is a woman's arm?"

"Of course it is," he assented. "I never doubted it."

She laid his hand upon her leg.

"That is, at any rate, a girl's leg," she pointed out. "There are no
protruding bones--or anything of that sort. It is softer than anything
you have ever touched before? Now the other one. No, I insist."

The colour mounted to his forehead. He felt his hand shaking.

"My dear--"

"Be quiet! Do as I tell you. Leave your hand in mine. You feel my knee?
It is like other people's knees, isn't it? My legs. Is there any
difference?"

"Of course there's not."

"Come here! My ribs. There's flesh on them, isn't there? My
bosoms--they're the bosoms of a child, perhaps. That's fashionable
nowadays! They're there all right, though. Then what is the matter with
me?" she cried, suddenly flinging his hand away and stretching out her
own arms. "What is the matter with me, Roger Ferrison? Why do you pity
me? Because I limp? It was not my fault. It was the cruelty of others."

The breathing seemed to die away within her. Feelings such as he had
never dreamed of had swept over him. He felt the moisture in his own
eyes as he looked into hers.

"My dear," he assured her, "you are all wrong. I am a poor clumsy fellow
who's lived in the backwoods. I don't know how to express myself but I
think you are beautiful. If you belonged to me--if you were my sister--"

"Or wife," she interrupted.

"My wife--anything," he went on, "I should be proud of you. I should not
pity you at all. I cannot say more than that."

"Then why don't you feel more for me?" she demanded.

"My God!" he cried. "I've not known you a week!"

"You have not known that little cat you are taking out to the
eighteen-penny cinema for twenty-four hours!"

"You are not to be compared," he said soothingly. "She did me a good
turn. Heavens, it isn't much I am doing for her in recompense, is it?"

"But you want to take her," she urged. "I should like you to be thinking
of nothing but me--me--me--all the time. I should like you to have asked
to have had your dinner outside my room and listened, in case there was
anything I wanted. I should like you to have asked to sleep there on my
mat!...Poor darling, are you so frightened of me? You need not be."

She seemed to crumple up again--gracefully and humanly this time, so
that he had no fears. He sat by her side in silence, leaving his hand in
hers. Anything was better than another outburst. The minutes ticked
away. There came a knock at the door. To Roger the sound was like music.

"Come in!" he invited.

It was Mrs. Dewar who entered. She closed the door immediately behind
her.

"I must apologise for hurrying you, Mr. Ferrison," she said, "but your
partner wishes to speak to you on the telephone and Miss Packe is
waiting for you."

He rose to his feet, ignoring the feverish grip of those hot fingers.

"I'm sorry," he said mendaciously. "I think that Miss Quayne has fallen
asleep. I didn't like to disturb her. She seems to be very tired.
Perhaps you will know what is best to be done."

He crossed the room, tiptoeing his way clumsily across the thick carpet.
There came no sound from the figure on the couch. He slipped past Mrs.
Dewar and closed the door into the passage and heard the green baize
door swing to behind him with a sense of immeasurable relief. In the
hall Audrey Packe was waiting, after he had finished telephoning.

"Forgive me," he cried eagerly. "No, I have my key. Let's go off at
once. I very seldom wear a hat--mine isn't fit to look at, anyway."

He strode down the hall. She looked up at him in amazement.

"You've not been committing a murder or anything, have you?" she asked.

"I have been doing and saying everything that was stupid and clumsy, I
think," he confessed, as he gulped down a long breath of the fresh air.
"Anyway, we're off now. I say, I'm awfully sorry to have kept you
waiting."

"You are fined a penny," she told him gaily. "I don't want to miss the
start of the film and I'm not going to arrive breathless. The buses are
empty this hour of the evening and we should be up there in no time."

Roger Ferrison grinned. A sense of humour which had lain dormant in the
backwoods of Canada was beginning to struggle up into the light.

"The girl I took out last week," he complained, "stood me a good deal
more than a penny bun."

Behind them, as they scrambled laughing on to their omnibus, events in
the lounge of the Palace Crescent Boarding House shaped themselves very
much as usual. After a certain amount of desultory conversation, the
guests who were going out made their way to their rooms and descended
presently, waving casual good nights as they passed towards the front
door. Before taking their departure, however, each one paid a visit to
the dark alcove adjoining the cloakroom at the corner of the lounge and
helped themselves to their latchkeys. First of all came Reginald
Barstowe, neatly attired for the evening, as usual, and following him
Maurice Bernascon, less trim but more imposing, in his heavy overcoat
and slouch hat; Mr. Padgham, a dashing middle-aged man with something of
the Victorian dandy in his black moustaches and sideways tilt of the
hat, followed a few minutes later. After that there was a lull. Miss
Susannah and Miss Amelia Clewes, with Mrs. Padgham and a fourth, settled
down to bridge, and Freda Medlincott, having rung up two or three
acquaintances and being offered no agreeable diversion, yawned and took
her book up to bed. Mr. Luke, about ten minutes later, with the air of
one who had suddenly made up his mind, rose to his feet, fetched his
coat and hat from the cloakroom, secured his latchkey and left the
house. An hour or so later, the bridge party having broken up and such
of the other guests as had lingered in the lounge having made their way
upstairs, Joseph, according to custom, made his appearance, dragged the
hall table into the lounge, placed upon it a jug of water, half a dozen
tumblers, two syphons of soda water and three bottles of whisky with
labels attached on which were written the names of the fortunate owners.
After that the lights were turned out and Palace Crescent indulged in
its first spell of sleep.



CHAPTER VII


At a few minutes after midnight the deep repose brooding over the
interior of Palace Crescent Boarding House was broken by the sound of
the first returning latchkey, followed by footsteps in the hall. The
curtains leading into the lounge were pushed back and Roger Ferrison,
leaning forward, turned on one of the electric lights. By his side was
Audrey Packe. Mindful of his duty, he stepped into the alcove and hung
up his key. In the act of turning away, he paused and whistled softly.

"Why, I thought this was such an early place!" he exclaimed. "Past
twelve o'clock and five keys still out."

Audrey peered over his shoulder.

"That seems queer," she remarked.

"I say," he whispered, with the air of a happy conspirator, "let's sit
in the recess over there and talk for a few minutes. They won't see us
when they do come in. We were all squashed up in that cinema and I've
not really had you to myself yet."

She indulged in a reckless little laugh.

"Mrs. Dewar is a terrible stickler for the proprieties and I'm sure she
wouldn't like it, but let's stay for a time, all the same," she
assented.

He turned out the light and they made their way to the recess which he
had pointed out. Their whispered conversation, animated enough at first,
soon became subject to long pauses. One of these was interrupted some
time later by another latchkey turned in the lock and the swift opening
and closing of the front door. Whoever this newcomer was, he had
evidently made up his mind to disturb nobody, for his footsteps were
almost inaudible, even to the unseen listeners in the lounge. They were
conscious of the curtains being noiselessly drawn apart, but the
indistinguishable figure would have nothing to do with the switch. He
moved to the alcove in which the latchkeys were hung and paused there
for a moment or two. Suddenly a ray of brilliant light, evidently from
an electric torch, flashed down the line of hooks, as though taking note
of the absent keys. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it was
extinguished. They heard the faint sound of receding footsteps, after
which the person who had entered the house and inspected the alcove
opened and closed the door with meticulous care and took his leave. The
tension in the lounge was at an end. Audrey drew a sharp little breath
of relief. Her companion whistled softly.

"Now I wonder who the mischief that was," he whispered. "Why should he
come in like a ghost, use his electric torch to see who was in and who
was not, and then, instead of going to his room, leave the house again?"

"I can't imagine who it was or why he went out again," Audrey answered,
"but I think, don't you, that we ought to go upstairs now?"

But the spirit of adventure was in Roger Ferrison's veins.

"Let's stop a few more minutes," he pleaded. "As a matter of fact I
think we ought to. There was something distinctly queer about that
visitation, whoever the person might have been."

"I'm much too contented to argue," she murmured, leaning back once more
in her place.

One o'clock struck--half-past--before there was the sound of another
latchkey. Seated breathlessly in their corner, neither Audrey nor her
companion--although their eyes by now were accustomed to the
darkness--were able to recognise the indefinable shape of the owner of
the rather heavy footsteps who crossed the few yards of the lounge,
disappeared for a moment into the alcove and then stepped back into the
hall. They sat with bated breath until the late comer had made his way
up the stairs.

"I think that was Mr. Bernascon," Audrey whispered.

"Might have been."

"I can't make out," she went on, "why neither the first man who had the
electric torch nor Mr. Bernascon, if it was he, didn't turn on the light
just for a moment to see their way to the alcove."

"Seems queer," Roger assented. "I hadn't an idea, either, that any one
stayed out so late. They all talk as though they went to bed about
half-past ten."

Audrey rose reluctantly to her feet but a firm hand kept her in her
place. Again there was the sound of a latchkey, again an entrance and
again the late comer ignored the electric switch. This time, however,
the footsteps were unhurried and deliberate. There seemed to be no
attempt at secrecy. The faint rattle of a key being returned to its hook
indicated that the duty of the house had been done. Nothing else.

"I should be inclined to swear," Ferrison whispered, "that this last
fellow, whoever he may have been, was wearing rubber shoes. We shall
have to see this out now, Audrey."

"I don't mind," she consented softly.

Five minutes--perhaps ten. The two young people were far too engrossed
to have any but a dazed idea of the passage of time. On this occasion it
was obvious that the latchkey was turned with deliberate care to avoid
sound so far as possible. The door was closed in the same fashion and
along the passage came the creaking sound of a man walking on tiptoe in
patent shoes. Some instinct must have led Roger to draw his companion
right back into the hidden portion of their recess for, this time, the
returned wanderer did not follow the example of his predecessors. He
paused at the open entrance to the lounge and they heard him breathing
fast, as though he had been running. Then, suddenly, the lounge itself
was illuminated. The newcomer stood on the threshold with his finger on
the switch, listening.

"Mr. Padgham," Audrey whispered under her breath.

Roger dared do no more than nod. There was something about Mr. Padgham's
appearance which made him think it would be just as well to remain in
their place of concealment. The latter stood quite still as though with
the object of recovering his breath. Then he moved towards the tray,
gripped the bottle bearing his name, poured out a generous portion of
its contents and, ignoring the soda water, drank it off, setting down
the glass with cautious fingers. Once more he listened and this time,
although he had drunk copiously and set down the nearly empty glass with
a gulp of satisfaction, it was more than ever obvious that for some
reason or other he was seriously disturbed. He was always of pallid
complexion but now he was as pale as death. Back in their hollow depths
his eyes glittered with the uneasy light of fear. He stood motionless
for a few more seconds, although, to the relief of Roger and his
companion, his attention seemed entirely concentrated upon the back part
of the house and the stairs. Finally, with careful fingers, he too hung
up his key and disappeared. They listened to the creak of his patent
shoes upon the carpeted way, they heard the door of his bedroom on the
first floor softly opened and closed. Mr. Padgham had come and passed
on...

"Roger," Audrey whispered.

"What is it, dear?"

"I'm terrified. I have never seen or heard all these people behave like
this before."

"Perhaps you have not been up so late."

"That's quite true," she admitted. "It doesn't make it any less strange,
though, to think that it may have been going on all the time. We must
say good night now. If we stay much longer, I shall be afraid to go to
bed."

He rose reluctantly to his feet, then suddenly gripped her shoulder once
more. For the moment she heard nothing. She looked at him enquiringly.
There was no softly turning latchkey to attract their attention, no
footsteps in the hall. Yet there was something--something which seemed
to be coming from beyond the alcove, beyond the back of the staircase,
along the tortuous passage led to the back quarters. It was like the
soft shuffle of a slippered foot, lighter than the foot of any human
being. Roger was completely puzzled. It was the girl who first guessed
the truth.

"Mrs. Dewar," she whispered. "That's just the pace she walks."

"Where is she?" he asked, bewildered.

"Coming along the passage from her room. She sleeps just behind the
bureau."

He listened. Two o'clock!

"What on earth can she be doing down here?"

They heard the soft swinging of the green baize door. The sound of the
footsteps became more apparent. They ceased. Dimly they could see the
shape of some one standing in the alcove. There was the flash of a
torch, which sent them swiftly back into the corner of the recess. It
was never once turned their way, however. It swept the line of hooks
from which the keys were hanging, slowly and deliberately. Almost at
once it was extinguished.

"I cannot bear this," the girl faltered. "I'm going to own up to Mrs.
Dewar about having been here and ask what it's all about."

He laid his fingers softly upon her lips.

"I shouldn't," he begged. "If she thinks we are spying, we might get
turned out. Listen. She's going."

They caught an impression of her dim shape moving away. The sound of her
footsteps grew fainter. Once more the door swung. Then Roger, with a
warning gesture to Audrey, turned on the light. They both leaned towards
the alcove. There were still two keys missing from their places, still
two empty hooks.

They mounted the stairs slowly, arm in arm.

"If there's one profession," Roger Ferrison confided in a low tone,
"which appeals to me more at the present moment than the job of selling
household cleaners, it is that of a detective. What on earth can it
mean--all these men coming in on tiptoe at this hour of the
morning--nearly all of them groping about the place as though they were
afraid of turning on the light and only Mr. Padgham going near the
whisky bottle?"

"And he seemed scared to death," Audrey reflected. "I have never seen
him without his swagger before."

"Every one of them coming in separately too," he went on. "There didn't
seem to be any connection between them and there doesn't seem to be if
you see them in the daytime. And yet these respectable stodgy boarders
in a respectable stodgy boarding house are out until nearly two o'clock
in the morning, each one comes in separately, and only one of them has
the courage to turn on the light and gulp down a drink. You have been
here much longer than I have, Audrey. Have you ever noticed anything
queer about the place before?"

"Not a thing," she assured him. "I have stayed in several other boarding
houses and I thought that this was the dullest and quietest I had ever
known."

They paused at her door for a last good night. When they parted, their
minds had become a blank. They were caught up in the vortex of a
personal passion. They were intrigued no longer by the strange boarders
of Palace Crescent.



CHAPTER VIII


The end of that amazing day, however, had not arrived for Roger
Ferrison. In the very act of crossing the threshold of his room and
before he could have closed the door, which would effectually have
blocked his hearing, his footsteps were arrested by one of those
ordinary but quaintly disturbing sounds, of no account whatever in the
busy daytime but curiously impressive in the dead silence of the night.
The telephone bell in the hall near the front door rang.

Roger Ferrison stepped back, leaned over the banisters and listened.
Save for the persistent clatter of the bell from the somewhat ancient
instrument below, the whole house was wrapped in darkness and silence.
The summons ceased. There was still no sound, no light anywhere in the
house, no open door. Roger's first impulse was to decide that this was
no affair of his and to go back to his room. Then he remembered the
unreturned latchkeys and remembered, too, the somewhat isolated position
of the instrument. It was just possible that with every one's door
closed, the summons might remain unanswered. He himself, in a state of
curious exaltation that night, was disposed to help the whole world,
much more to do a trifling service to his landlady. He kicked off his
shoes, descended the stairs, took off the receiver and spoke.

"Hello! Who's there?"

A gruff, but in a queer sort of way, vaguely familiar, voice answered
him.

"Is that West Kensington thirteen-thirteen?"

"Yes."

"The boarding house of Mrs. Dewar?"

"Yes."

"Kindly ask Mrs. Dewar to come to the telephone."

"Who is speaking?" Roger asked.

"That doesn't matter. Fetch Mrs. Dewar at once, if you please."

"Look here," Ferrison explained. "I'm just a lodger in the house, who
happened to be going to bed late. I scarcely know which Mrs. Dewar's
room is. Why on earth do you want to disturb her at this time of night?
Is it anything serious?"

"It is very serious indeed," was the curt reply. "Kindly fetch the lady
at once."

"I'm not going to disturb her unless I know who it is," Roger retorted
with sudden doggedness.

"It is the sergeant of Bartels Street Police Station," the voice
confided, "and if you don't do as I ask, you will get into trouble."

"All right. Hold on," Roger acquiesced.

He turned on the light in the hall and made his way to the office on the
ground floor at the back of the house, where Audrey had told him Mrs.
Dewar's sleeping apartment was also situated. Arrived there, and with
his hand already outstretched to venture upon a gentle summons, he
suddenly stiffened. It was an old house and the fittings and woodwork
alike were warped and shrunken. From underneath the door itself and
through the keyhole he could distinctly see the glimmer of a
light...Furthermore, although he knew that Mrs. Dewar was a widow of
unimpaired respectability, he was suddenly conscious of low, muffled
voices inside. More than ever he disliked his self-imposed task but,
having gone so far, he had no alternative but action. He knocked softly
but firmly upon the door. The voices inside ceased at once. He could
almost sense in the abrupt silence the shock which his summons must have
been. Furthermore, in a few seconds, the light also was extinguished.
There was absolute stillness in the room. The time for hesitation was
past, however. He struck the panel of the door sharply once more and
this time not without effect.

"Who is that?" was the swift demand from the inside.

He recognised Mrs. Dewar's voice--cold, level and curiously unmoved,
even under these strange conditions.

"It is I--Roger Ferrison--your new boarder. The telephone is ringing in
the hall. I heard it as I was going to bed and I thought you ought to
know."

There was a fluttering murmur which might have been due to an indrawn
breath but Mrs. Dewar's voice continued a few seconds later calmly
enough.

"The telephone? At this hour of the night? You must be mistaken."

"I am not mistaken," Rogers insisted. "As a matter of fact, I have
already answered the call."

"You answered it! Who is speaking, then?"

"The sergeant at Bartels Street Police Station. He insisted upon
speaking to you at once."

In an incredibly short space of time the door was opened. Mrs. Dewar
stood upon the threshold in a dingy, dark red dressing gown. She might
have been undressed but she gave Ferrison the impression that she was
not. She held the door only slightly open.

"This is absurd," she said calmly. "I am much obliged to you, Mr.
Ferrison, all the same."

She stepped into the passage and closed the door behind her.

"I will not trouble you further," she continued. "I will speak to the
sergeant myself. I suppose some one has left a window open or has
forgotten to close a door at the back. I find the police in this
neighbourhood very officious."

Her level tone had its effect upon him. The whole affair seemed suddenly
to lose its sense of drama. Ferrison smiled to himself at the state of
excitement into which he had been thrown. He held open the green baize
door.

"I expect that's it," he assented. "I noticed, however--I came in late
myself--that there were a couple of latchkeys short. That made me think
that it might have been an accident to one of your boarders."

"I expect some one has taken his upstairs with him and will return it in
the morning," Mrs. Dewar explained. "It is against the rules but one
cannot expect everything from gentlemen who come in so late. Don't wait
up any longer, please, Mr. Ferrison. I will deal with this troublesome
sergeant."

"You would not like me to stay, in case I can be of help?" he asked, as
they reached the hall.

"It really would not be worth while," she assured him. "I am quite
certain that it is only an ordinary message. With your work to see to in
the morning, it is time that you were in bed."

Mrs. Dewar showed no signs of haste about answering the telephone. As
Ferrison mounted the stairs, he looked behind and found that she was
watching him. She had practically reached the instrument but she was
waiting until he had turned the corner before she held the receiver to
her ear. He shrugged his shoulders. The atmosphere of the place was
growing more and more mysterious, but he was no busybody and he had many
thoughts to occupy him. He went on to the second landing. Then he
paused. He had made up his mind not to look round again but the
indefinable impulse, far stronger than any ordinary curiosity, glued his
feet to the floor, impelled the slow turning of his head. He looked
downwards into the well of shadows and with difficulty repressed an
almost irresistible desire to call out. Mrs. Dewar was still standing
before the telephone; her left hand was grasping the receiver, the palm
of her right hand was pressed against the wall as though for support.
She was standing or leaning side face to him, but no view of her
features was necessary to indicate her state of suppressed but mortal
terror. He almost expected at any moment to see her crumple up and
collapse. Instead, she spoke a single inaudible monosyllable into the
transmitter, then dropped the receiver from her fingers so that it hung
downwards by its quivering cord. Roger knew that she was struggling for
composure--and winning...She picked up the receiver again and spoke. The
words were inaudible but he felt that her tone was steadier. Mrs. Dewar
was becoming once more normal. She hung up the receiver and rang off.
Then she turned slowly away. In her movement towards the passage leading
to her room, she paused before the switch to the light which still lit
the hall. She hesitated here for a moment and then, to Roger's surprise,
she passed on, leaving it burning. He heard her footsteps upon the
oil-cloth, the swinging of the green baize door, her entrance into her
own apartment. With a shiver of relief, he stood up and stretched
himself. The little drama, whatever its meaning might have been, was
played out. But was it? The light was still burning in the hall. Not
only that, but Mrs. Dewar, the most parsimonious of all boarding-house
keepers on the subject of lights, had purposely left it burning...

Roger moved up a stair and waited. The same dogged obstinacy which had
kept him showing his unwanted machine to at least a hundred unwilling
buyers was with him now. He was rewarded. In a very few
minutes--although it seemed longer--he heard again the swinging of the
baize door and footsteps once more along the passage. Mrs. Dewar,
holding in her right hand some invisible object, passed underneath and
turned into the alcove. She was there no more than a few seconds but
when she returned her hand was empty. This time she made leisurely
progress down the hall and extinguished the light. There was an air of
finality about her movements. When he heard the swing door close again,
he felt sure that he had seen the last of Mrs. Dewar. He waited ten
minutes, then he slipped downstairs again in his stockinged feet. He
turned at once into the alcove, lit his briquet and glanced eagerly at
the long line of keys. This time there was only a single one, under the
printed name of Colonel Dennett, missing. The other vacant space had
been filled up and the name upon the card above was the name of Mr.
Luke.



CHAPTER IX


Three o'clock struck from the Hammersmith clock as Roger Ferrison, with
a sigh of relief, closed his eyes. In five minutes he was asleep. At
four o'clock precisely the same clock was striking the hour. He sat up
in bed with a half-strangled exclamation. He had been sleeping so
heavily that for the moment he scarcely remembered where he was or what
had awakened him. Then he heard it again--a police whistle, shrill,
piercing, ominous.

Still only half awake but thrilled by that tragic sound, he sprang out
of bed and hastened to his wide-open window. The sound, he was
convinced, had come from somewhere quite near. There were nowhere any
signs of life and the darkness was unbroken. He seemed to be looking
downwards into a vault of emptiness. Paying the minimum rate, his room
was naturally at the back of the house. It was, in fact, little better
than an attic. He had never even troubled to look out. He listened
intently. It was the quietest hour of the night, or rather early
morning. Traffic was almost suspended upon the nearby main road. It was
the period between the coming home of the belated and the sailing out of
the early. For a moment he was strongly tempted to get back to bed and
pull down his windows. He had had enough excitement, he told himself,
for one day. All the time, however, he found himself hurrying on his
clothes. A police whistle was a thing which could not be disregarded. He
crept down the three flights of stairs noiselessly, feeling his way. On
the ground floor he ventured to kindle his briquet. A stroke of luck
befell him. On the corner of the alcove was the electric torch which
Mrs. Dewar had been carrying earlier in the evening. He picked it up,
turned it on and, shading it with his hand, passed down the passage,
taking care to push back the baize door noiselessly. He passed Flora
Quayne's room, descended some more steps, passed through what was
evidently the kitchen and reached the scullery. Here he came to a sudden
halt. Lying in an uneasy posture close to the back door, on a rough
mattress with a cushion for a pillow, was the long, spiderlike form of
Joseph in his vest and trousers. He was apparently fast asleep and
snoring. Roger's first idea was, naturally enough, to wake him. He
stooped down with that intention. Suddenly he paused. By the side of the
sleeping man's hand, almost within reach of the grip of his fingers, was
an apparently new and obviously expensive revolver. Roger picked it up
and examined it curiously. It was a small but a villainously effective
weapon and it was fitted with a modern silencer. Whilst he was in the
act of examining it, there was a sudden growl from the floor, almost
like the growl of a wild beast. Joseph was sitting up. He seized Roger's
hand and wrenched away the weapon. He was no longer the well-trained
servant. His white face was convulsed with fury.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded, blinking viciously.

"I heard a police whistle just outside here," Roger replied, moving
towards the door. "Why it didn't wake you, I can't imagine."

"Police whistle, me eye!" the man grunted. "You don't know what a police
whistle is. It was one of them lads that go off on bicycles from the
mews there at all hours of the night."

"I've lived in rougher countries than this," Roger told him, unlocking
the door, "and I know a police whistle when I hear one. Where does this
lead to?"

"No business of yours where it leads to," was the surly reply. "You get
back to bed and don't meddle in things that don't concern you."

Roger turned on his torch again. In front of him was a small, sooty
patch of what might once have been called a garden, with a path leading
to a door in the wall. Roger strode across it, turned another key and
found himself in a narrow passage leading down to some mews. Scarcely a
dozen yards away a policeman was stooping down, examining some dark
object upon the ground. He flashed on his lantern at the sound of
footsteps.

"What's wrong?" Roger asked. "Didn't I hear your whistle?"

"You might have done," the policeman answered cautiously. "I've blown it
two or three times. My mate's just been along. He's gone to fetch the
sergeant."

"What's wrong?"

"Some poor chap got his, all right."

Roger came to a standstill by the man's side. He looked downwards and,
strong though he was of nerve and used to some of the rougher phases of
life, an exclamation of horror broke from his lips. He had seen dead men
before in places where dead men were likely to be found, but there was
something awful about the unexpectedness, the apparent futility of this.
The man was lying almost peacefully on his back, with one leg drawn up,
the fingers of his hand clenched together, his eyes still wide open. A
black felt hat lay a few feet away. The overcoat which he apparently had
been carrying was lying in the gutter. His spectacles, broken with the
fall, were lying shattered by his side. His black bow was just as neatly
arranged as it had been at dinner time. Nothing about him was in
disorder except for that one terrible hole in his shirt front, exactly
over the heart.

"Happen to know him, sir?" the constable asked.

"I have spoken to him once," Roger admitted. "I cannot say I know him
but I can tell you who he is. He is a retired soldier--Colonel Dennett,
his name is--and he is staying at the Palace Crescent Boarding House."

The policeman stroked his chin.

"That's the biggish place--takes in two or three numbers--Fourteen,
Sixteen and Eighteen," he remarked. "He must have been going to try the
back entrance."

"When did you find him?" Roger asked.

The policeman shook his head.

"No good answering questions twice over," he replied cautiously. "Here's
the sergeant. Now that you're here, you had better stay and hear what he
has to say."

A motor car had drawn up in the mews at the bottom of the passage. The
sergeant came striding up. He was a slim, alert-looking man, crisp and
direct in manner and of speech.

"What's this, Simmonds?" he asked. "Know anything about him?"

"Not much, sir, except that he's dead. My beat takes in the mews, but I
thought I saw something dark lying on the ground last time up, so I came
along. I found him lying just like that and blew my whistle. Harding
came up and I sent him for you."

"See any one about?"

"Not another soul, sir, except this gentleman and he's only just
arrived."

"Hear any shot?"

"I did not, sir. Seems rather strange, for it's a still night and I have
never been far away."

The sergeant glanced at his watch and made a few notes.

"Know anything about this, sir?" he asked Roger.

"Nothing whatever," was the prompt reply. "I am living in the Palace
Crescent Boarding House. I keep both my windows wide open all the year
round. I expect that's why I heard the police whistle and the others
didn't. When I arrived, I found the policeman bending over the body. I
can tell you who the gentleman is."

"That's something--identification," the sergeant muttered. "Always saves
time."

"His name is Colonel Dennett," Roger went on. "He is a boarder at the
Palace Crescent Boarding House--been there rather a long time, I
believe. I have only just come and I was introduced to him a few nights
ago."

"Well, the poor fellow got it quick, that's one thing," the sergeant
observed. "Pockets been turned inside out and tucked in again, I see. I
don't want to touch him for the moment. Harding's bringing the doctor.
Matter of form, of course. He's as dead as mutton. Was he a gentleman
likely to be carrying much about with him in the way of valuables, do
you know, sir?"

"I shouldn't have said so," Roger replied. "I know the impression at the
boarding house is that he was very poor. He had one of the smaller
rooms. You will have to talk to Mrs. Dewar, the landlady. She can tell
you."

"I shall have to go and see her as soon as the doctor's been," the
sergeant announced. "What might your name be, sir?"

"My name is Roger Ferrison."

"You are living at Mrs. Dewar's boarding house?"

"A new arrival."

"Any business address?"

"Number Seventeen, Canonbury Street. Another fellow and I are
manufacturers in a very small way of a patent cleaning machine."

"What was your address before you came here?"

"The Canonbury Hotel. I've just got back from Canada."

"You knew nothing of this poor fellow, then, until you came down this
way?"

"I never saw him in my life till I met him in the lounge of the boarding
house on the night of my arrival."

There was a brief silence. The sergeant was examining the passage.

"No signs of the weapon," he muttered to himself. "Here comes the
doctor. Good."

Another car drove up. The doctor arrived--curt, to all appearance
shockingly inhuman and not in the least disposed to waste time.

"A very horrible case of murder," he said, after a brief examination.
"Shot fired at pretty close range too, from a very powerful weapon. Must
have died like a blink. Clothes seem pretty ancient. You will have the
body moved down to the mortuary, I suppose, sergeant?"

"To the station first, if you don't mind, sir. We will have the
finger-print man down from Scotland Yard. Remember, Harding, I want him
handled very carefully. The linings of his pockets have been pulled out.
They might help. Got a card, sir?" he added, turning to Roger.

Roger presented him with one.

"Perhaps you would not mind letting Mrs. Dewar know up at the boarding
house that I shall be round in about half an hour," he said. "Just as
well to prepare her for what's coming."

Roger gave one last look at the quiet pinched face of the dead man and
turned away with a shiver. He made his way back to the scullery. There
was no sign there of Joseph but he met him in the passage a few yards
from the entrance to the kitchen. He had thrown on a coat but he was
still rather a wild-looking object.

"Where have you been to?" Roger asked.

"I had to go and tell the Missus you were poking about outside," the man
answered sulkily. "Those are her orders--always have been. She likes to
know where her boarders are. That's why she keeps them keys. When one of
'em prances out like you at four o'clock in the morning, she's got to
know about it."

"I see," Roger observed. "You will find out presently that I had very
good reason for prancing out, as you call it. By-the-by, where is that
revolver?"

"What revolver?"

"You know perfectly well," Roger answered sharply. "It was lying by your
side when I came down. I even picked it up and was looking at it when
you snatched it away."

"Well, if I have it, it's my property and nothing to do with you,"
Joseph declared. "And if you want to live here peaceably, young sir, I
can give you a word of advice. Don't you go poking your nose too much
into things that don't concern you. Them as makes a habit of doing that
generally find trouble."

The man with his long, loping walk went off towards the kitchen. Roger
stood watching him. A sudden uneasy thought had come to him. When he had
examined the revolver, there was one thing which had struck him as being
queer. It was loaded in five chambers only. One barrel must have been
discharged at some time or other. He called after the disappearing
figure.

"Come here a moment, Joseph."

The man came unwillingly back.

"I want to get another hour's sleep," he muttered.

"And before you get it I want to ask you a question," Roger persisted.
"You may find that the police will be asking it of you before long. When
did you fire off the first barrel of that revolver?"

The man's appearance was for the moment the appearance of a madman. He
restrained himself with an effort.

"I was just forgetting that you are one of the gents I am supposed to
wait on," he said, "and I was going to ask you what the hell business
that is of yours?"

"It isn't my business, I admit," Roger answered, "but it's a sure thing
that the police will very soon make it theirs."

"The police! What police?"

"Look here, Joseph," Roger said not unkindly. "I don't think you had
anything to do with it but you may as well know the truth. Colonel
Dennett was shot--murdered--within a few yards of our side gate some
time during the night. They have just taken him away. A revolver shot,
it was--through the heart."

The man staggered to a chair. He covered his face with his hands. He
uttered no sound, made no movement.

Mrs. Dewar's weary, precise voice was heard calling from the other side
of the kitchen.

"Mr. Ferrison, will you please come this way?"

Roger promptly obeyed. Joseph remained rocking himself in his chair,
apparently in a sort of stupor.



CHAPTER X


Mrs. Dewar led the way to her office. The bedroom, Roger now observed,
was a small apartment little larger than a cupboard, which opened out
from it.

"You seem to be a very restless young man," she said, without asking him
to sit down. "I begin to think that you would be too restless for us
here. We are quiet people, as a rule. We find our own business quite
sufficient to look after."

"Quiet people, are you?" Roger answered, with some irritation. "Well, I
shouldn't have thought it. I haven't been wandering about to amuse
myself, I can assure you."

"What do you mean?"

"I happen to sleep with my windows pretty wide open," Roger explained.
"I heard a police whistle and you know what any man's duty is if he
hears that. I went to see what it was about."

"A police whistle? Where?"

"In the mews at the back. I'm sorry, Mrs. Dewar," Roger went on,
forgetting his momentary annoyance. "I have some rather bad news for
you."

"Bad news," she repeated bitterly. "Well, what is it?"

"Colonel Dennett has met with an accident near here. It looks as though
he had been intending to enter the house by the back door. At any rate,
he was found in the path leading from the mews."

"Found?" Mrs. Dewar repeated, and a still horror seemed to have crept
into her deep-set eyes.

"I am terribly sorry to have to tell you, Mrs. Dewar, but it is best to
hear the worst and get it over," Roger said. "Here, sit down, do."

He pushed a chair towards her. She took no notice of it.

"What has happened to Colonel Dennett?" she demanded.

"He has been murdered," Roger told her. "Shot through the heart most
brutally."

The woman's lips moved but no sound came. Roger watched her carefully.
He was ready to spring to her assistance if necessary. He had an idea
that she might at any moment collapse. Afterwards it seemed to him
strange that she asked none of the usual questions. She didn't ask him
why. She didn't ask him by whom. She didn't ask him if the murderer was
already in custody. Just accepted what she was told. Incurious. Of what
she might have been feeling inside, of what thoughts were teeming at the
back of her brain, he could form no idea. She gave him simply the
impression of suspended sensation.

"I would like to fetch you some brandy or something, if I knew where to
find it," he suggested.

She seemed not to hear him. Her eyes were travelling through the room
now. She was seeing something of which he had no knowledge.

"What time was this?" she asked.

"They cannot tell yet. The policeman found him about half an hour ago.
That's about the time I heard the whistle and went down. No one,
however, seems to have heard any report, so unless they get some further
evidence, it will be difficult to say exactly when it took place. The
doctor will probably be able to say how long he has been dead."

"You heard nothing except the police whistle?"

"Nothing. It woke me up. I went down, of course. I am not a busybody, I
can assure you, Mrs. Dewar, but it is a man's duty, wherever he may be,
to answer a summons like that."

"You came downstairs from your room, you found your way outside through
the scullery door?" she said, speaking very slowly, almost as though she
were visualising his progress. "Did you meet any one on the way?"

"I saw no one," he told her, "except your man Joseph, who appeared to be
asleep in the back kitchen. He had not heard the whistle, so naturally
he was not very pleased at being waked up."

"He came to tell me that you had left the house," she confided. "Of
course, he didn't know then how serious this all was."

"I am afraid, Mrs. Dewar," Roger went on, "that the police will be
wanting to interview you very soon. If I can be of any help, please send
for me. I shall go upstairs and see if I can get an hour's sleep now."

"Yes, do," she replied. "I will try to see that they don't disturb you."

She moved back towards her room, the landlady who had just been told of
the murder of one of her boarders, an amazing type of self-control--or
inhumanity. Once more Roger mounted his three flights of stairs, took
off his things and lay down on the bed. Sleep, he told himself, would be
an utter impossibility. He had seen men who had been killed in a fight,
he had been in some rough places at one time, but he had never felt
anything like the horror that the sight of that frail plead body had
caused him. Violent deeds did not seem to march with civilisation and
Dennett was, after all, a simple type of man--what could he have done to
deserve such brutality? Sleep! How could one sleep after such an
experience?...The next thing he remembered was the sun flooding into the
room.

Death, the greatest tragedy the world knows, does very little, or
nothing, towards arresting or slackening the turning wheel of life. At
eleven o'clock that morning, according to appointment, Roger and Jimmie
Sark. his partner, were seated in the private office of Mr. Simpkins,
buyer of household goods for the firm of Mallory.

They received a cordial enough welcome but no indication was given at
first as to the turn affairs were likely to take.

"In the first place," Mr. Simpkins began, "we received your delivery of
thirty-two Safresson cleaners yesterday. The cashier has sent up a
cheque for them, less the usual discount, which I presume is in order."

"Quite in order," Roger Ferrison declared, producing a fountain pen and
signing the receipt. "We are rather hoping," he added, summoning up his
courage, "that you will be able to give us a larger order."

"H'm," Mr. Simpkins ejaculated, with the air of one considering the
idea. "What sized order could you deal with?"

The two partners exchanged glances.

"Mr. Sark," Roger explained, "is the head of the factory department."

Mr. Simpkins smiled. He had sent a messenger down to investigate the
factory.

"I should think we might manage a hundred a month," Mr. Sark ventured
hesitatingly.

Mr. Simpkins sat back in his chair and pressed together his finger tips.

"I can see that we shall have to talk about this business in a different
fashion, my young friends," he said. "You are not aware, perhaps--didn't
I understand, Mr. Ferrison, that you have just arrived from
Canada?--that the firm of Mallory is one of the largest distributing
firms for household equipment in the world. We have factories in most of
the colonies and branches in most large cities. A hundred of those
little machines of yours with our selling weight behind should go every
morning."

Roger tried to speak but found his throat ridiculously dry.

"We had better," Mr. Simpkins continued, "talk business on an entirely
different basis. I have examined your patent and found, although the
idea seems so simple, that it is sound. Are you disposed to sell it?"

The two young men exchanged glances.

"No," was their simultaneous answer.

"I don't blame you," Mr. Simpkins proceeded. "I should probably offer
you what would seem a fantastic price for it, but you would live to
regret the day. Besides, it would leave you without any employment or an
interest in life. That's not the way we like to do business. What I
should propose--what our lawyer to whom I have put the situation
proposes--is, roughly speaking, this. We form a small company with a
capital, say, of fifty thousand pounds--an offshoot of Mallory's.
Twenty-five thousand pounds' worth of the shares you two will divide.
Twenty-five thousand pounds' worth we shall hold. Mr. Ferrison could be
chairman and we should wish to appoint a vice-chairman from our own
staff. With the capital provided, we should equip a factory with modern
machinery, we should buy for cash the various materials necessary for
manufacturing the article. We reckon that this would reduce the cost
some thirty-five per cent., and, going into the figures as closely as I
can, I have come to the conclusion that upon a capital of fifty
thousand, thirty-five per cent, would be about the profit we should
make. We should be willing for you two to draw a salary of a thousand
pounds a year each to commence with. The financial side of matters, such
as the declaration of dividends, bonuses, et cetera, would be in the
hands of our accountant but you would, of course, have a lawyer who
would superintend the drawing up of the charter. I do not think, Mr.
Ferrison or Mr. Sark, you would have any reason to find fault with the
proposition."

"If I understood it properly, I think it is an amazing one," Ferrison
declared.

"We accept it, of course," the other young man faltered.

"We do not want to waste any time," Mr. Simpkins went on. "The one part
of our household equipment with which we have been dissatisfied has been
our cleaners. Here we have found what we want and we are anxious to put
them on the market at once here and abroad. Bring your lawyer to us this
evening. We have already several factories on our list which might be
suitable. I should like to get one equipped and at work within a month.
There would be no difficulty," he went on, with a glance at the seams of
Roger's suit, "about a capital advance. You two, of course, would have
plenty to do looking after the machinery our expert proposes and other
matters, so your salaries would commence from to-morrow. Communicate
with your lawyer, Mr. Ferrison, and bring him here at four o'clock. You
will find our own man fully instructed but, in case you are ever in
doubt as to the broad proposals of our deal, it is this: The profits
made by Mafresson Limited (as we shall call the company) will be divided
exactly between us who find the capital and place the article and you
who lease the patent to the company. The agreement and charter will be
upon those lines. Is it satisfactory?"

"It sounds perfectly overwhelming," Ferrison confessed.

"If you only knew what Roger and I have been through," the other young
man said, with a little choke in his voice, "you would understand what
this means to us. It is just what we prayed for--that we should get one
of the big firms in the world to take us up. We couldn't do any good in
a small way--people would not listen to us. My father was a Primitive
Methodist parson," Sark continued, "and I am not ashamed to say that
this sounds like an answer to prayer."

"Well, run away out and have a drink on it," Mr. Simpkins suggested,
with a smile. "Not that I approve of drinking in business hours," he
added, as he opened the door, "but there are occasions--there must
always be occasions."

The two young men felt entirely dazed as they reached the street. It is
certain that they would at once have taken Mr. Simpkins' advice, but in
the heart of Knightsbridge they had no idea how to set about it. Roger
touched his face and found it wet with perspiration.

"Let's go into the park and sit down for a moment," he proposed.

His companion agreed eagerly. They selected an empty bench and silently
shook hands. Sark, who was the more matter of fact of the two, seemed
nevertheless the more affected.

"Sounds too good to be true," he kept on muttering.

"Good God!" Roger exclaimed suddenly.

"What is it?" his friend demanded. "Don't startle me like that, Roger.
What's wrong?"

Roger smiled reassurance.

"It's nothing really wrong. I quite forgot--we owe all this to a little
girl behind one of the counters there. She got a friend of hers to take
me up to Mr. Simpkins, and there we just marched out of that place with
our heads in the air and never even thanked her."

"Gee, how you startled me!" the other young man said, with a sigh of
relief. "I thought you had gone and sold half the profits or something
to pay for the patent."

"Did you have any breakfast, by the way?" Roger asked curiously.

"As a matter of fact, I didn't," Sark admitted. "It took exactly all
there was in the safe, all there was in the petty cash and the odd
change I had in my pocket to pay the drayman to deliver those cleaners."

Roger Ferrison smiled.

"Come on, old chap," he invited, rising to his feet. "I have an amazing,
a wonderful, a perfectly good pound note in the inner pocket of my
waistcoat. I can feel it now. It is practically all I had left, after I
had paid my landlady. We'll take a tuppenny bus down into the City and
we'll go to the Canonbury Hotel. We'll get something to eat and look at
the directory. Perhaps we need not even do that. There's a man at the
boarding house I'm at--Padgham his name is--who's either a lawyer or in
a lawyer's office. We'll go to him."

They walked briskly down towards the main road and boarded a bus.

"What came over you a few moments ago, when you mentioned your boarding
house?" Roger's partner enquired curiously.

Roger pointed down to the placards hung on the railings at the entrance
to Hyde Park.

"It went out of my head with all this excitement," he said. "But look at
that."

They read the placard.


TRAGIC DEATH OF A RETIRED COLONEL


"Colonel Dennett, his name is. He was murdered this morning close to our
boarding house. I saw the body. He was one of our boarders. Queer
thing," Roger went on, as they rolled away citywards. "A few hours ago,
I thought I should never forget seeing him lying there and the horror of
it all. Now it doesn't seem anything. Selfish brutes, aren't we?"

"As nature made us," Sark assented drily. "Who caret about a dead
Colonel anyway, when there's a live fortune to be made?"

The horrors of the night had passed. There was a certain callousness in
his friend's speech which grated, but subconsciously Roger Ferrison knew
that he was in entire agreement. By the time they reached the City,
excitement had banished appetite. They drank a tankard of beer each,
instead, and for all they knew, it might have been water. Then they
studied a directory.

"What did you say your pal's name was?" Sark enquired.

"He's not a pal," Roger explained. "He's just a fellow boarder at Palace
Crescent. I was told that he was a lawyer. If he can't take the job on
himself, he'll tell us where to go."

"Here he is," Sark pointed out. "Padgham, Number Seven, Angel Court,
Finsbury."

"Not ten minutes away. Let's hurry up, in case he goes out to lunch
early."

Angel Court was found with some difficulty. It was not an attractive
locality. They passed through the open door of a shabby but still
severe-looking, grey-stone building and glanced up at the board of
names. Half of them seemed to have been crossed out but there in letters
that were once white, but were now very nearly obscure, was the name of
which they were in search.


T. PADGHAM. 2ND FLOOR


Roger looked about him. There was no porter. A glance at the lift
inspired one with a sense of insecurity. The place seemed deserted,
except for a messenger boy who was descending the steps as they entered
and who went off swinging his bag.

"I don't like the appearance of this place," Roger admitted frankly. "I
think we should do better to go and ask the landlord of the Canonbury
Hotel to tell us the name of a lawyer."

"Well, we're here," Sark pointed out reasonably enough. "No harm in
going upstairs and asking a civil question."

"All right," Roger assented. "Come on."

"Our lives now," his partner observed, "may be of some value. I am for
walking gently up the stairs and leaving the lift alone."

They mounted to the second floor almost in silence, passing only one
man upon the stairs. The atmosphere of the place was still depressing.
Arrived at their destination, however, they discovered a door on the
second floor, on which was plainly inscribed the name "T. Padgham."

"Oughtn't it to have 'solicitor' or something after it?" Roger asked
doubtfully.

"Well, if he's not a solicitor, that's the end of it," his friend
declared. "Now we're here, we're going to ask."

It was he who knocked at the door and opened it in response to a
somewhat hesitating invitation. The interior was not attractive but it
seemed to bring the room within the bounds of possibility. There was an
empty desk close by and another larger one in the middle of the room at
which Mr. Padgham was seated. There were tin boxes against the wall but
they seemed purposely stacked so that the name of the occupier's clients
remained unseen. There were two or three bookshelves half full of
decrepit-looking volumes, a couple of easy-chairs and a strong smell of
cigar smoke. Mr. Padgham held a pen in his hand but there was no
evidence that he had been writing. He looked at the newcomers in frank
amazement.

"What do you want?" he asked, and there was something in his voice which
puzzled the two young men.

"Sorry if we have intruded, sir," Roger said. "I ought not to have come,
perhaps."

He hesitated. It was obvious that Mr. Padgham's hand was shaking. Roger
remembered that he had not seen him at breakfast time and, looking at
him as he sat there, his hair unkempt, his linen no longer even
passable, a strained look about his face and eyes, Mr. Padgham might
have been the perfect presentment of a City man who had spent the night
out and was rather sorry about it.

"You are the new boarder at Palace Crescent, aren't you?" Mr. Padgham
interrupted. "What on earth do you want here? What do you want with me?"

For some reason or other, Mr. Padgham seemed afraid. Roger smiled
cheerily.

"I'm terribly sorry we have intruded, sir," he apologised. "The fact of
it is, my partner here and I urgently need the services of a lawyer. We
don't know a soul in London and I suddenly remembered when I was
introduced to a few of you the night of my arrival that some one said
they thought you were a solicitor. I looked your name up in the
directory and here we are. If we have made a mistake, I'm sorry."

Mr. Padgham laid down the pen. He gripped the fingers which had been
holding it with his other hand, as though he found them numb. His
half-ironical, half-Victorian flamboyant geniality seemed to have fled
away. His moustache had no life in it. He was either a sick man or he
was very much afraid.

"Seems an odd story, that," he mumbled doubtfully. "A very odd story.
Sit down, Mr. Ferrison. What is it you want? Are you in trouble?"

Roger laughed cheerily.

"Not likely," he answered. "We have just had a stroke of real good
fortune, my friend and I. We've got a wonderful offer from Mallory's,
the great wholesale firm, to take up a machine of ours. They want us to
bring along a lawyer and meet them at four o'clock."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Mr. Padgham demanded hoarsely,
his bloodshot eyes turning from one to the other. "Mallory's at four
o'clock? A machine?"

"Well, I'll explain it more fully, if you like," Roger said. "You see,
it's like this--"

"Do you mean to say," Mr. Padgham interrupted, "that you have not come
here about this affair at Palace Crescent--about what happened last
night--I mean, early this morning?"

"Good Lord, no," Roger declared. "For the moment I had forgotten all
about it."

"But you are the young man who heard the police whistle--who went out
and saw the body--aren't you?" Mr. Padgham persisted.

"That's quite true," Roger agreed. "It knocked me over completely at the
time, but my friend and I were just saying how selfish we are in life.
This stroke of good fortune seems to have driven it all out of my head.
In any case, I should not have come here to see you about that!"

Mr. Padgham swallowed hard. He had the air of a man who was trying to
pull himself together but who was in too grievous a state. Suspicion
still lurked in his eyes.

"Sorry; I'm not at all myself," he confessed. "Poor old Dennett--we were
not exactly friends, but I saw a lot of him. Such a horrible death! They
told me quite suddenly too. I've not been myself since."

"When did you see him last?" Roger asked, in perfect innocence.

Such spirit as there was left in the man blazed up.

"What the hell do you mean by asking me questions?" he demanded, his
hands trembling. "I have lost an old acquaintance--murdered--murdered
within a few yards of the house where we were living. What do you mean
by coming here and asking me when I saw him last? Are you a policeman in
disguise?"

Roger rose to his feet.

"I think we had better leave you, Mr. Padgham," he said. "I can see you
are too much upset to talk business to-day. As to being a
policeman--that's all rubbish. I have no interest in the poor man's
murder, except that murder is always a horrible thing. I'd scarcely ever
spoken to Dennett and the only time he might have said a civil word to
me he didn't. Not that I minded, but there's not a person in the world
in whom I had less interest."

Mr. Padgham seemed soothed but still in an extraordinary state of
nervous suspicion. He sat looking at the wall opposite to him and
muttering to himself. Roger turned to his friend.

"We won't bother Mr. Padgham any more, Jimmie," he said. "I had no idea
I was going to let you in for this. We have struck an unfortunate
morning."

Mr. Padgham turned his head.

"Come back, you two," he called out. "What is it you wanted--a
solicitor? Well, I don't practise nowadays. I'm tired of it. I have
other affairs to see to. Company law--you want somebody who knows
something about company law, I suppose. First class. Here you are."

He drew a piece of paper towards him and scribbled down the name of a
firm in Lincoln's Inn.

"You needn't say I sent you," he went on. "They might not think it much
of a recommendation. They are a first-class firm, all right."

Roger took the paper and thrust it into his waistcoat pocket.

"I'm very much obliged, Mr. Padgham," he said. "This will help us
immensely. I'll say a friend recommended me. I hope you will be feeling
better when we meet again."

The man at the desk waved them away.

"The kindest thing you can do," he concluded, "is to forget this visit.
I've sent my clerk out. I couldn't bear any one in the room with me. I
keep on seeing poor old Dennett. Damn him!"

Roger and his friend took their leave. On the way down the stairs, Sark
shivered.

"I should never call myself a detective, old chap," he remarked, "but if
I were, and if I wanted to find out who had had a hand in the killing of
your Colonel Dennett, I think I should want to know where that poor
devil we have just left spent the early hours of the morning."



CHAPTER XI


Roger Ferrison returned home to Palace Crescent that evening, wearing
new shoes and with a brown paper parcel under his arm. It was an hour
before the usual dinner time. Joseph and a maid were engaged in laying
the dining tables and a faint smell of cooking pervaded the premises.
There was nothing to indicate the recent tragedy and Roger, having
deposited his key upon its hook, was turning to mount the stairs when
the green baize door was softly opened and a face, which in that dim
light seemed to him almost the face of a Madonna, looked out upon him.
Then the human smile parted her lips and the door was pushed farther
open. Flora Quayne, using one stick only and supporting herself against
the wall with the other hand, appeared.

"Mr. Ferrison," she called out softly, "do put your parcels down and
come to my room for a moment. I want to speak to you."

Roger, who was far too happy to have refused anybody anything, promptly
obeyed. He brought his parcels with him, however, and laid them down in
a corner just inside her sitting room. She looked at them with a
whimsical smile.

"Why do you carry those things yourself?" she asked. "I thought men
hated parcels. And what is in them? I'm curious."

"Perhaps," he promised, "you'll see before long."

"I shall see what? Please explain."

"You and every one else here," he assured her. "In one parcel there are
two new suits, bought from the shelf, ready-made. It seems that I am a
large man's stock size. In the other there are shirts, ties and
underclothes. As you may notice, I have on a new pair of shoes."

She laughed quietly.

"You strange man!" she exclaimed. "Is that how you do your shopping?"

"This time yesterday," he told her, "I had not the faintest idea when I
should ever be able to do any shopping again. My partner and I have had
some wonderful luck. We have each received a sum of money down on
account of a sale and we have each been spending it."

"Were you really so poor?" she asked gently. "You were so proud last
night; and I wanted to ask you if I could lend you some money. Money is
of so little use to me unless there is some one to share it with."

"That's very nice and human of you, anyhow," he said

Her beautiful long arm reached up to his neck and rested on his
shoulder. It was not exactly a caress but it was a very sweet little
gesture of intimacy.

"Ring that hand-bell," she begged.

He obeyed. A small bronze affair it was, curiously shaped. From the
inner room, a moment later, came Marie the maid. She carried a tray on
which was a silver shaker.

"You don't hate aperitifs, I hope?" Flora enquired. "I had just made
these cocktails before I came out to look for you. They are not shaken
yet."

"Hate them !" he repeated. "Try me! I don't know much about them,
though."

"You will like this one," she assured him, as the maid, after handling
the shaker vigorously, poured its contents into the two glasses, "for I
made it myself and I thought of you whilst I was making it. I hoped I
should have the good fortune to find you in the lounge or I should have
sent Marie up to your room. I want to ask you a favour, dear friend, but
first I will drink your health."

They pledged each other solemnly. Roger thought that he had never tasted
anything so delicious in his life. She laughed with all the gaiety of a
child when she saw his appreciation.

"I can mix you a dozen different sorts," she confided, with a charming
air of conceit. "A different one for every day of the week."

"I can't believe that you could improve on this."

She pushed the cigarettes over to him and led him gently towards the
easy-chair. She sat on the arm by his side.

"I have a favour to ask," she repeated.

"Couldn't say no after this, could I?" he replied. "Especially," he went
on, with sudden realisation of the shadow hanging over the house, "as
this has been a lucky day for me, notwithstanding its bad start."

"Do you mind trying to forget that bad start?" she pleaded. "That's what
I wanted to beg of you. Mrs. Dewar is too proud to ask favours of her
boarders. I am asking one for her. Don't leave because of this dreadful
affair and don't talk about it more than you can help--especially
to-night at dinner time."

"I'll promise not to talk about it, willingly," he assented, "and I've
no idea of leaving for the present. If things turn out as seems
possible, I might ask Mrs. Dewar for a better room, but I certainly
would not think of leaving. I rather thought she was going to give me
notice this morning. She seemed to think that I had no business to leave
the house to answer that police whistle."

"She was not herself," Flora Quayne explained earnestly. "That's why I
made up my mind to speak to you. She was afraid you were annoyed. If you
went, that horrid girl who sits watching you with those googly eyes
would probably go too, and when one begins, there is no telling where it
would end. Besides, I don't wish you to go."

"If you spoil me like this," he laughed, "I will stay on forever.
There's something about the atmosphere of your room, Miss Quayne, that
excites me. I don't know what it is," he went on meditatively. "Directly
I cross the threshold, it seems to me that I'm in a changed world. You
are rather a romantic person, aren't you, with your beautiful dresses
and those sweet, fragrant perfumes. I always hated scent before. Your
room, too, with its beautiful furniture. Such a nest of luxury in such
a--well, very commonplace environment, isn't it?"

The joy of her face was almost childish in its ingenuousness.

"Tell me just how you feel when you come in here," she begged. "Happy?
Excited? Glad to be with me?"

"Why, of course," he assured her. "Haven't I told you so?"

"Do you think," she persisted, "that Miss Packe would seem at home in a
room like this and wearing my sort of clothes and saying the wicked
things I say to you?"

He shook his head.

"Miss Packe is one of the best in the world," he declared. "I admire her
terribly and I like her more than I can tell you. She went out of her
way, too, to do me a good turn. All the same, I couldn't fancy her in
your environment."

"Her legs are quite straight, I suppose?" the girl sighed.

"I don't think," he said bluntly, "that there's very much the matter
with yours."

The light of joyous gratitude shone in her eyes.

"That's sweet of you," she murmured, her arm stealing around his neck.
"You know more about them than any one else in the world, except Marie,
and I always imagine that people think they must be much worse. Every
one pities me so and I hate it! I thought I saw the same look in your
face. That's what rather sent me crazy the other night--why I determined
that one man, at any rate, should know I am not horribly deformed. You
know it, don't you, Roger? You are the man I want to know it."

He suddenly felt a breath of danger. It was very faint and it seemed to
bring with it a sense of vague excitement. Some feeling he failed to
analyse stirred him for a moment. He only knew that it was like yielding
to some new and unexplored pleasure.

"Roger," she whispered, "can I ask you another favour?"

"Yes."

"To-night is going to be rather awful. Every one will be gloomy and yet
they will try not to be. I want to go in for Mrs. Dewar's sake. Will you
come and sit at my table?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't."

"Why not?"

He set his teeth. He was a fool, perhaps, to have taken that second
cocktail. The warmth of the room, the perfume from a bowl of roses close
at hand, the faint exotic effect of her near presence, disturbed his
senses. It was so hard to say the commonplace things and the things
which he had to say.

"Because," he told her, "I have asked Miss Packe to share my table. I
told you about this stroke of good fortune which came to me to-day. It
was through her. I should be very ungrateful if I left her alone on this
particular evening."

"But Miss Packe is not going to be here! Haven't you had your note?"

"I've had nothing. She doesn't arrive from work generally until later
than this."

"She sent word in to Mrs. Dewar to say that she would not be dining
to-night, as she had to go to her aunt's in Putney. I know that she sent
a note for you at the same time."

"I didn't look in the rack," he admitted.

Flora leaned backwards.

"Marie!" she called out. "Marie! Go and look in the rack and if there is
a note or letter for Mr. Ferrison, bring it here."

"Certainly, Madam."

"You see, I happen to know," the girl went on, "because I have been in
to see Mrs. Dewar several times today. It was whilst she was hoping that
every one would dine downstairs that Miss Packe's note came. Of course,
she could not complain about that, but she is terribly sensitive about
people staying away because of what has happened."

Marie returned, bearing a note upon a salver. Roger tore open the
envelope and read.


Dear Mr. Ferrison,

My aunt, with whom I generally spend my holidays, is not well and she
has asked me to go straight from work to see her down at Putney. She
adds that she wants to arrange the date for my going to Cornwall. I feel
that I must go Do you mind very much?

Sincerely yours,

A.P.

P.S. Of course if you really felt angelic you would telephone me
at eight o'clock at 18-12 Putney and let me know about the interview.
Mr. Gedge told me that he was quite sure it was all right but I want to
hear from you. And if you feel more angelic still, later in the evening,
why don't you come down and fetch me at ten o'clock? The address is
Seventeen Ranelagh Terrace, and it's just about halfway up the hill on
the left.


Roger thrust the note into his pocket.

"Quite as you say," he remarked. "Miss Packe has to go to see her aunt.
I am to fetch her later on."

"You will dine with me?" Flora asked eagerly.

"If I may, I would love to," he promised. "But if we drink wine, you
drink it with me. Prospectively," he went on, stretching himself out in
the chair, "I am a wealthy man. I feel it coming on. One of the first
things I shall do is to buy one of those shaker things, the necessary
bottles, and get you to tell me how to mix something like this."

She laughed happily.

"We will have rival cocktail parties," she exclaimed. "I don't go up the
stairs easily, so you shall give yours in a corner of the lounge and I
shall give mine here. You will be able to ask Miss Packe and I shall ask
whom I please. It will be amusing. Shall you wear your new suit
to-night, Roger?"

"Well, I thought I'd better have my dinner clothes made to measure," he
explained, "so I shan't get them for a week. I have a very nice dark
blue suit, the seams of which don't shine at all. Shall I wear that?"

"I love blue serge," she told him. "As for me, I am all distraught.
Marie and I will spend the next half hour going through my frocks. I
have never dined with you alone, you see."

"You've only known me a week," Roger reminded her, with a sudden return
of his practical self.

"Oh, don't be foolish," she remonstrated. "As though that mattered! We
shall sit opposite each other. I must remember that. And oh," she
groaned, "I quite forgot. After all, my choice is limited. This is a
night of sorrow. It must be grey or black--or smoke colour, perhaps."

He finished his cocktail, rose to his feet and picked up his parcels.
Leaning against the wall in a remote corner of the room was a brand-new
golf bag filled with a formidable looking array of clubs. He pointed it
out to her.

"When may I give you a lesson?" he asked, smiling.

"Some day," she promised him cheerfully. "I warn you I have made up my
mind to get completely well and play all manner of games. That bag,
though, was my birthday present to Mr. Luke. Not the clubs, of course,
just the bag. He brought it in this afternoon because he wants a slight
alteration made."

"Has he been playing to-day?" Roger asked.

She nodded.

"He was afraid people might think it rather callous of him," she said,
"but he was playing with the captain of Sunningdale, a very old
engagement. I think he really left his clubs here because he didn't want
to be seen carrying them upstairs."

Roger turned towards the door. With the intriguing idea before her of
choosing her gown for the evening, she allowed him to take his leave
almost without protest.

"We will meet in the lounge," she proposed. "I will conduct you myself
to the table, and don't dare to drink one of those horrid aperitifs
after my Side Car! They are made of nothing but vermouth and water, and
I believe Joseph sees to it that they are half water."

"How is Joseph, by the way?" he asked. "Still very upset?"

"Every one is upset," she replied. "Be down quite early, please. I shall
want to go in at the first stroke of the gong, and remember--although I
know you must go some time--I shan't expect you to hurry away to fetch
my rival. How I hate her!"

"I'll take a taxi," he promised, "so as to spend every possible moment
with you."

The door to Mrs. Dewar's room was open as he passed and she called him
in.

"One moment, Mr. Ferrison," she begged. "Please close the door."

He obeyed and stood just inside the room, patiently holding his parcels.

"Do you know that you are summoned as a witness at the inquest on
Colonel Dennett?"

"I thought I should be," he answered.

"It is to be held to-morrow," she confided, "at three o'clock."

"I'm so sorry for the shock this must have been to you," he said. "Is
there any further news about the affair?"

"News? No. I have not heard of any. I am more worried about poor Joseph
just now than any one. He is a very nervous man and he is terribly
upset. For months he has been saving up all the tips he gets and he had
just bought himself a revolver. The police found it in his cupboard
today. Did you see it last night? I do hope that you didn't."

"Mrs. Dewar," Roger told her gravely, "if I go to the inquest, as it
appears that I must, I shall be sworn and I shall have to tell the
truth."

"But perhaps you didn't see it?"

"I did. It was lying by his side, only an inch or two from his fingers.
He appeared to be asleep, but a portion of the rug which covered him had
been dragged over as though to conceal it."

Her hand clasped her forehead for a moment. Even the gesture was a
surprise to Roger. It was as though a new spring of movement had been
found in a perfect automaton.

"Did you notice anything particular about it?"

"Of course I did," he admitted. "The first barrel had been fired."

"Lately?"

"I couldn't tell."

"Was there any smell of gunpowder in the room?"

"I noticed none."

"Then Joseph's story might be true," she went on, her eyes searching his
face anxiously. "He says that he fired off the first barrel at the high
wall to test the throw and forgot to reload it."

"So far as I am concerned, that might be the truth," Roger admitted.

She opened the door for him and stood at one side.

"Thank you, Mr. Ferrison," she said. "We shall see you at dinner, I
hope?"

"Why, certainly I shall be there," he promised.



CHAPTER XII


The sole occupant of the lounge when Roger descended a short while
before the dinner hour was Mr. Padgham, who was standing on the
hearthrug reading an evening paper. He threw it to one side at the young
man's entrance.

"I was hoping I might see you, Mr. Ferrison," he said. "I am afraid you
and your friend must have thought I was in a pretty poor way this
morning."

"Well, I'm glad to see you looking yourself again, anyhow," Roger
replied.

Mr. Padgham had certainly made a swift recovery. The colour had come
back to his cheeks, he had evidently paid a visit to the barber's, and
his long moustache, with its curiously assertive droop, was back in form
again. He remained standing with his hands clasped behind him.

"The thing was a shock," he went on. "A murder like that on the
premises, as you might say. A man you had been in the habit of meeting
every day for a year or so, too. It takes the wind out of your sails,
what? Not that he and I had ever had much to say to each other. These
ex-army officers are always a trifle difficult."

"I had scarcely seen anything of him," Roger remarked.

"A secretive sort of chap," the other observed. "Perhaps something may
come out at the inquest which will throw a light upon the affair. Might
have been suicide, you know."

"The doctor didn't seem to think that was possible, and then, no weapon
was found on the spot," Roger pointed out. "By-the-by, we went to see
the firm of lawyers you were kind enough to recommend and they have our
affairs in hand."

"Capital," Mr. Padgham declared cheerfully. "Good firm--first-class
people. Don't think, Mr. Ferrison, that I don't appreciate your offer of
business, but to tell you the truth I practise very little nowadays. I
have two permanent appointments and I don't look about for outside
business. Very kind of you to think of me, all the same. What about a
glass of sherry?"

"I should like it very much," Roger assented.

They rang the bell for Joseph, who came in promptly and filled the order
without delay. He, too, seemed to have recovered from his early morning
breakdown. His manner was subdued but composed. There was still a scared
look in his eyes, however, as though the memory of the shock lingered.

"Every one dining as usual, Joseph?" Mr. Padgham asked.

"I think so, sir," the man replied. "No one has warned off that I knows
of, except Miss Packe. They'll talk me into the grave just because they
know I was somewhere near the spot where that poor old gentleman was
done in," Joseph went on bitterly. "They've been at it in the kitchen
all day. Why they can't leave it alone, I don't know. Talk about
cheerful things, I say."

"You're quite right, Joseph," Mr. Padgham said, as he lifted his glass
to his lips and exchanged nods with Roger. "All the brooding in the
world won't bring the poor fellow back again."

"All the same, a mystery like that does appeal to people nowadays,"
Roger remarked. "Look at all the murder and mystery stories that are
written."

"I don't see that it's much of a mystery," Mr. Padgham objected.
"Whoever did it was a fool. Fancy doing away with a poor old man like
that for the sake of what he might have had on him! His pockets were
rifled--turned inside out, they say. I suppose any old gentleman going
home between three and four o'clock in the morning--in dinner clothes
too--runs a bit of a risk," Padgham reflected. "Still, it's a wicked
job. I don't suppose Dennett ever had more than a five-pound note on him
any night of his life."

Roger remembered the promise he had made to Flora and changed the
subject.

"Well, here they all come," he announced, glancing towards the open
curtains. "Here's Barstowe and Bernascon, and those two dear old
ladies, the Misses Clewes, and Mr. Luke too."

"Luke's a good fellow," Mr. Padgham observed. "If ever the house needs a
bit of support, he's always on hand."

Mr. Luke's demeanour seemed to be perfectly well chosen for the
occasion. He was somewhat graver than usual; a trifle more colourless,
he might have seemed, but he showed no signs of undue depression. He
entered carrying an evening paper in his hand, turned down at the money
market.

"Sorry to see the Stock Exchange has had rather a bad day," he remarked
to Padgham and the others.

"What about Home Rails?" Mr. Bernascon enquired.

"Down," was Mr. Luke's succinct reply.

"Argentines?" Mr. Barstowe ventured.

"Flopped," was the disconsolate report. "Nothing seems to have held up
except a few home industrials."

Roger, not being interested, hung about on the outskirts of the group.
Suddenly he felt a touch on the arm. He looked around. The younger of
the Misses Clewes, the septuagenarian spinsters, was looking up at him
with a bright light in her eager eyes.

"Mr. Ferrison," she asked, in a tone which was little more than a
whisper. "What do you think of this shocking affair?"

"I am trying not to think about it," Roger answered.

The little old lady scarcely seemed to have heard him. She was earning
her knitting in her hand and all the time she talked the long steel
needles were busy.

"My sister and I," she went on, "are greatly disturbed. We have had many
friends in the service. In fact, we may be said to be a soldier family.
Our uncle, Colonel Clewes. commanded the Royal Surreys."

Roger made no reply but he inclined his head sympathetically.

"We are greatly disturbed, my sister and I," Miss Susannah repeated. "Do
you think, Mr. Ferrison, it was any one in the house who committed the
crime?"

"Heavens! I shouldn't think so," Roger answered emphatically. "The poor
old man could not have had any real enemies. It was just some desperate
fellow who thought he looked worth robbing, I should think."

Miss Susannah Clewes gripped Roger by the arm and led him a little
further away from the group of men. Her long, claw-like fingers, he
noticed, were covered with rings set in an old-fashioned style. She sank
into a chair.

"My sister and I do not think so," she confided. "To tell you the truth,
Mr. Ferrison, we do not trust the people in this boarding house."

"But, why not?"

"We have reasons," Miss Susannah went on mysteriously. "Very grave
reasons. We came to the conclusion some time ago that we ought to leave.
My sister, though, is more adventurous than I am. She wants to stay. She
said to me only a few weeks ago--'Some time, Susannah, something will
happen in this place. We must stay and watch.' And something has
happened!"

Roger looked down at his strange companion with very mingled feelings.
Against his will, her words had stirred up a sort of disquietude in him.
They, too, had sensed the atmosphere! There was something in those hard
keen eyes, half-frightened, half-jubilant, utterly mysterious, which
puzzled him.

"My sister and I know very few people here," she continued. "Perhaps we
might have spoken to some one else if we did. My sister thinks you look
honest, though, Mr. Ferrison."

"I hope I am."

"We are very worried indeed. To tell you the truth, Mr. Ferrison, my
sister and I know something, or rather I do and I have told Amelia. We
cannot make up our minds whether we ought not to attend the inquest.
What does one do, Mr. Ferrison, when one knows something and the police
have asked one no questions?"

"Well, I don't know much about it," Roger replied, "but I should have
thought that you could attend the inquest and then get up and ask to be
allowed to give evidence. The coroner would certainly hear what you had
to say."

"But it would be in the public court?" Miss Clewes asked anxiously.

"Of course," Roger assented.

"My sister would not like that," Miss Clewes declared. "I do not see
that that would matter, though. It is I who know something--not my
sister. You see, what we know casts a ghastly reflection upon some one.
It would scarcely be possible for us to stay here afterwards. We should
like to convey our information secretly."

"There is no secrecy in such matters," Roger told her.

"Would what we say appear in print?"

"Without a doubt.''

"Would our names be published?"

"Certainly."

The old lady shook her head. She wore very long earrings which jingled
with the gesture.

"We should not like the notoriety," Miss Susannah said firmly. "Perhaps
I had better try and forget what I know."

The gong sounded. The elder Miss Clewes, who was seated on a divan close
at hand, called to her sister.

"We must go in, Susannah," she insisted in a queer, birdlike little
treble. "Come and assist me to rise. Last night the soup was cold.
To-night we said we would be amongst the first."

Roger hastened to assist Miss Amelia to her feet. Susannah rolled up her
knitting reluctantly.

"Do not mention what I have told you to any one, Mr. Ferrison," she
whispered. "We should not wish it known that we were thinking of giving
evidence."

"I won't tell a soul, Miss Clewes," he promised. "I think you can put it
out of your heads, too, that any one inside the boarding house was
concerned in the affair."

The little old lady shook her head at him.

"But, Mr. Ferrison," she reminded him, "you don't know what we know."

Flora Quayne's entry into the lounge provoked a murmur of mingled
comment--admiration from the men, something very different from the few
women. She was wearing the black velvet dress which Roger had admired
but, even to his inexpert eyes, it was obvious that she was wearing very
little else. Her face was as pale as a famous powder much affected by
Spanish ladies could make it. Her eyes seemed deeper set than usual, her
lips more restless. Roger hastened to meet her. She handed him one of
her sticks and took his arm.

"I feel wicked," she whispered. "I know I ought to be wearing that
expression of gloom like all the others, but I can't. I am happy because
I am dining with you. Colonel Dennett was a stupid old man. I have only
spoken to him a few times in my life. Why should I pretend to be
miserable because he is dead?"

Roger looked at her curiously.

"You sound very heartless," he said.

"I have too much heart," she rejoined, "for my own happiness, and too
little hypocrisy. Mrs. Dewar sent a message praying me to come in to
dinner to-night. I do not think that I should have come if I had not
been dining with you."

"Considering that you must be her best boarder," he remarked, "I
scarcely ever see you go out of your way to speak to Mrs. Dewar."

"I avoid her as much as possible," Flora agreed. "To me, she seems a
very miserable person. I don't like miserable people. I like people who
are gay and who help me to forget my own sorrows. Look around at all
this crowd now. Do you believe that there is one of them who really
cares be-cause Colonel Dennett has been killed? They are all pretending
to be shocked, but they talk eagerly about the affair, they are all the
time interested, they are really half enjoying the excitement of it."

The gong rang. It was certainly true that every one hurried briskly to
their places and displayed the usual interest in the menu. There were a
good many curious glances directed towards Flora Quayne's table when
they saw Roger take his place opposite to her. There was whispering also
about the bottle of wine which stood in an ice pail between them. Flora
herself looked at it enquiringly.

"I want, if I may, to do something to return your hospitality," Roger
explained awkwardly.

She looked at him with a frown.

"But I thought you were so poor just now?"

He shook his head.

"To-day has changed everything."

She raised her eyebrows listlessly. He had an idea that his good fortune
was, for some reason, distasteful to her.

"I like better to be the one that gives," she admitted. "Still, I shall
drink to your better fortune, of course. Meanwhile, look around. Do you
see one single person here whom you could honestly say had the
appearance of being genuinely distressed?"

"Mrs. Dewar looks grave," he remarked, "but then, she always looks as
though she were living in a world of ghosts. I think Mr. Padgham appears
as though he had had some sort of a nervous shock. Joseph goes loping
along, looking more like a melancholy kangaroo than ever, and the two
old ladies, the Misses Clewes, for the first time seem to have forgotten
their knitting. Otherwise, I'm afraid you are right."

"Mr. Padgham drinks too much," she said. "I don't like him near me.
People who drink too much are generally sloppy. That's what, I expect,
is the matter with him. But the Clewes women--I don't see why they
should look so upset. You were talking to one of them when I came in,
Mr. Ferrison."

He nodded.

"To tell you the truth," he confided, "Miss Susannah, the one nearest to
us, gave me rather a shock. She told me that she knew something about
last night's affair and asked my advice about going to the inquest."

"What on earth could she know?" Flora Quayne asked incredulously. "She
had a dream, perhaps, or saw a face in a looking glass !"

"She told me nothing definite," Roger acknowledged. "She only assured me
in a very mysterious manner that she knew something about the murder. I
don't suppose it's anything of any consequence, really, but it sounded
rather intriguing."

"Will she go to the court, do you think?"

"I shouldn't think so," Roger replied. "She emphasised the fact that she
and her sister are very anxious to avoid what she called notoriety."

Flora was looking thoughtfully across the room. For some reason or
other, she seemed to have developed a new interest in the Misses Clewes.

"What could she know?" she repeated. "They certainly were not friendly
with Colonel Dennett. I heard him speak of them once in a very
uncomplimentary way. They're rather a trouble to Mrs. Dewar, I should
think. I wonder she keeps them."

"I suppose it pays her," Roger suggested. "I don't think she would keep
them if it didn't. She doesn't look like a woman with very much heart,
does she?"

"A London boarding-house keeper could scarcely afford such a luxury,"
Flora replied.

"It must be a cruel way of earning a living," Roger reflected. "I don't
notice people much as a rule, but Mrs. Dewar, in a way, fascinates me.
She looks like the spectre of a woman, like the wraith of some one who
was once alive."

"What a horrible idea," she observed, with a shiver.

"It's badly expressed, I know, but I have never heard her say a natural
word, I have never seen her look as though she meant a thing she said, I
have never seen her give way to any feeling whatever for more than a few
seconds. She is like a human automaton. I should think some time or
other she has had a great trouble in her life."

"Dear me," Flora Quayne sighed, "here comes Joseph with the sweets.
Dinner has slipped and slipped away, and I have not said one of the
things I wanted to. What time did you say you had to fetch my detested
rival?"

"Ten o'clock. Somewhere up in Putney. Twenty-five minutes from here, at
least."

"I have ordered coffee in my room," she told him. "I insist upon that.
You are really a most privileged young man, although you will not
acknowledge it. Fancy if I asked Mr. Barstowe or Mr. Bernascon to come
and have coffee with me! Couldn't you see Mr. Padgham curling his
moustache? I believe it is the puzzle of his life why I don't yield to
his fascinations. Why do I like you so much, I wonder?"

"Are you sure that you do?" he smiled. "You see, there are only one or
two of us here of anything like your age, anyway."

"It is not a matter of age, and besides, you don't know how old I am. I
think you exercise a sort of unholy fascination over me because I adore
strength. Weaklings are generally like that. Will you carry me round my
room before you go off to Putney, Mr. Ferrison?"

"Certainly not," he answered. "You can walk around your room perfectly
well yourself. In fact," he went on, "I think you are rather a fraud
with those sticks!"

"That's the worst of having been confidential about my person," she
said, smiling into his eyes. "If you have quite finished, do you mind if
we go?"

He helped her to rise. She gave him one of her sticks and leaned heavily
upon his arm.

"This is so much more picturesque," she whispered. "How beautifully
unselfconscious you are! You don't seem to realise that there is not
one of these twenty or thirty people who is not making some remark about
us at the present moment."

"Who cares?" he answered lightly.

"I do. I am always morbidly anxious to know what people are saying about
me. I think the general impression here is that I am a very wicked
person. That is because I have a car of my own and smoke cigarettes when
I go out on the street and carry a Peke and wear clothes that they
consider improper. I do so wonder what they are all saying! I think I
know, though. The women are all telling the men that I have not a scrap
of underclothes on, and the men are agreeing that it is disgraceful!"

Roger held his peace.

Mrs. Padgham, with a frown upon her handsome face, turned towards her
husband.

"Tom," she complained, "you have scarcely taken your eyes off that girl
all through dinner time. When you have not been staring at her, you look
like a man who has had the fright of his life. Are you losing your
nerve? If so, the sooner we get back to New York, the better."

"Let me alone," he muttered savagely. "It's bad enough to have to sit
here and never be sure."

"You might as well take to drink as give way to your nerves like this,"
she warned him. "You'll hear the news as soon as there is any."

Miss Susannah Clewes leaned towards her sister.

"Flora Quayne is a brazen young woman," she whispered. "I do not believe
that she is lame at all. She uses those sticks to excite sympathy. And
she has no clothes on. A forward person, Amelia. Hussy!"

Her sister answered in a quavery voice.

"Who is the young man? I don't remember him."

"You don't remember anything," Susannah declared. "He has been here for
several days. That girl from Mallory's Stores had her eye on him but she
will have no chance against Flora Quayne."

"What were you saying to the young man before dinner?"

"I told him that I thought I should go to the inquest."

Miss Amelia nearly choked. When she spoke, it was with only the thread
of a voice.

"You didn't tell him what you saw?"

Miss Susannah shook her head. A smile that was almost cunning parted her
thin lips.

"Not yet. I have ordered a taxicab, Amelia. We shall go to the inquest.
If I deem it advisable, we will take a lawyer with us. He will tell us
what to do."

Mr. Luke glanced across the table to be sure that Freda Medlincott was
not listening.

"Has the inspector been here again to-day?" he asked.

"He was here for over an hour," Mrs. Dewar replied, without looking up
from her plate. "He was up in Colonel Dennett's room. He sent for Joseph
too."

"Nothing of interest transpired?"

"Nothing."

"I trust," Mr. Luke continued, "that my absence at Sunningdale all day
was not unduly commented upon?"

"I do not think that any one knew you were there," Mrs. Dewar replied.
"The inspector did not ask for you. He seemed to understand at once when
I told him that all my male boarders were away during the daytime."

Mr. Luke nodded.

"It may have seemed a little callous," he remarked, "but I felt I had to
go."

His eyes, void of all expression, were following Flora and Roger as they
left the room.

"It seems rather a pity," he remarked, "that that very
pleasant-mannered, somewhat stupid young man could not have slept more
soundly last night."

Mrs. Dewar helped herself to some water from a carafe in front of her.
She drank it very slowly.

"He has made a fortunate business deal, I understand," she said. "It may
be difficult to keep him here."

Mr. Luke watched Roger's broad shoulders disappearing. He poured himself
out a glass of his special port and raised it to his lips. He caught the
upward flash of Flora's eyes as the young people passed through into the
lounge and his lips parted very slightly. He seemed about to make a
remark but changed his mind. He sipped his port instead.



CHAPTER XIII


As a young man, Roger Ferrison conformed to type. Throughout that very
pleasant dinner hour he had suffered occasionally from qualms of
conscience, as he had realised the charm of his companion's soft voice,
her unusual personality, the flame which shone sometimes in her eyes. He
had felt a sense almost of guilt as she had led him gently across the
lounge, down the passage to her room. Guilt, perhaps because of the
curious sense of excitement, the unusual stirring of the blood in his
veins. Then, when they had arrived at her apartments and she had settled
herself with a slightly weary air upon the sofa, and had merely pointed
to his easy-chair, calling to Marie to bring the coffee, he was aware,
not of a sense of relief, which should have been the natural corollary
to his qualms of conscience, but a sense of faint but definite
disappointment. Flora seemed suddenly tired. Her eyes were half closed,
her arms hung listlessly over the sides of the couch.

"Serve Monsieur with his coffee, Marie," she directed in French. "Give
him some of the old Armagnac. I will take some myself. I'm tired."

Roger accepted both coffee and brandy. It was a very different matter,
however, to be served by Flora's maid, trim and capable though she was,
to having Flora herself sit on the arm of his chair and wait upon him.
Even when Marie retreated into the bedroom and bathroom beyond, her
mistress apparently forgot her usual injunction to close the door.

"You are tired," he remarked, with utterly illogical irritation. "I'll
drink my coffee and go quickly. I shall have to leave at half-past nine,
anyhow."

"It is because you have to leave at half-past nine that I am tired," she
sighed.

"You knew beforehand, didn't you?" he reminded her.

"Quite well," she assented. "I'm used to more impulsive people, you see.
I am used to people who change their minds--not rocks of virtue like
you."

"I have never before," he reflected, "been called a rock of virtue."

"Give me a cigarette, please," she begged. "I am afraid to move about
much--I might get one of my bad headaches. To-night I feel lonely. I
want to be soothed and petted until I am put to bed and there is no
one."

He lit her cigarette and she accepted it languidly. Acting upon a sudden
impulse, he sat down on the edge of the couch.

"What about me?" he asked. "I am here for a solid hour, if you like. I
know very little about soothing and nothing at all about petting, but I
could be taught."

She opened her eyes. Her tone was subtly softer.

"Would you be a willing pupil, I wonder?"

"Of yours, yes," he answered, feeling that he was slipping from grace.

"But if you had an alarm watch," she said, "you would push the hand
round to half-past nine first, in case you became engrossed."

"Well, I don't happen to possess one," he assured her, "and I'll take my
risk."

"If I were well, it would give me pleasure to try and make you forget."

"Perhaps the effort might make you well."

"But if I made the effort and failed," she meditated, "I should
certainly collapse. To-night I could not bear disappointment. Put that
mighty arm of yours round my neck just for a moment, Roger."

He obeyed--awkwardly enough. Her head, with its wealth of disarranged
and beautiful hair, reposed there securely. Scarcely noting what he did,
he smoothed her hair back into its place. Even he realised its soft
silkiness.

"You will be able to be my champion now," she murmured, "when these old
cats whisper about dyed hair. Look at the roots of mine. Feel it."

"No one but an old cat could hint at such a stupid thing. It is the most
beautiful hair in the world."

"While your fingers are there," she confided, "it feels alive. I think I
must be full of electricity. If you go on doing that, perhaps I shall
awake, after all. A few minutes ago I felt that the evening was over for
me. I had no courage. I felt that I must let you go--to your common
little shop-girl."

He withdrew his fingers at once. He would have withdrawn his arm but she
held it tightly. There had been something very sad as well as bitter in
her tone.

"A wrong note," she sighed. "I ought to have been genteel like a
well-brought-up young woman and lied about my thoughts of her, I
suppose. I cannot help it. To me she is a common little shop-girl and I
am afraid you are interested in her. What I think I never fear to say.
Bad taste, I suppose. That also I cannot help. These things do not
matter. You may see her one way and I another, and yet on all the great
things in life we might agree. If you want to kiss me, you must call out
to Marie to close the door. If you want to go on kissing me, you must
promise to stay just as long as I keep you--just as late as I wish. You
will obey me in everything."

He rose to his feet. The room for a moment seemed to be going round. The
rising and falling of her delicately out lined bosoms seemed somehow
associated with that waft of perfume, the perfume of spring flowers,
which he found so intoxicating. When he called to Marie, he scarcely
knew his own voice.

"Marie," he directed, "your mistress wishes the door closed."

The maid appeared almost immediately upon the threshold. She stood
there, mute and disapproving. She had a peignoir upon her arm.

"I was bringing Madame her dressing gown," she announced, turning
appealingly to Flora. "Madame remembers that she nearly fainted when I
dressed her. She is not well enough to sit up to-night."

Flora raised herself upon her couch. Her face was pale, her eyes
curiously brilliant. Roger, in those few seconds, forgot many things. He
remembered only her frailty, that she clung to him as to a stronger
being. He stopped the angry words upon her lips by bending over her and
closing them with his own. Suddenly the full consciousness of what he
was doing hit him. He drew away.

"Flora, I think that your maid is right," he said. "I'm going to carry
you to your room."

"You will come back when I send for you?" she begged.

"Of course I will," he promised.

Her arms went round his neck. She clung to him as he lifted her into his
embrace.

"Walk slowly," she whispered.

Now again there was a change. There was the ghost of a mischievous smile
at the corners of her lips.

"Walk very slowly--slower still. Perhaps then I shall forgive you. I'm
tired to-day," she went on. "It is this horrible thing which has
happened, and I feel that if one opened one's eyes, one would see other
horrible things. Don't let anything hurt me, Roger."

He carried her through the bathroom into her bedroom, another tiny
palace of luxury. The maid pulled aside the silk coverlet and he laid
her on the cool sheets. She settled down with a sigh of content, her
arms still around him.

"You must stay," she pleaded.

The maid touched him on the shoulder.

"When Madame is like this," she interposed, "she must be left. She
exhausts herself too much with conversation. Monsieur will understand."

So Roger Ferrison, not quite himself, took his leave and boarded a bus
for Putney.

Everything was nearly, if not quite, all right with the rest of the
evening. Roger found Mrs. Packe, Audrey's aunt, a very pleasant old
lady--rather garrulous and arch--of a type which a few weeks ago he
would have passed as being quite reasonable. She made sly jokes about
hanging on to her cottage in Cornwall until she could lend it to her
niece for her honeymoon, and she indulged in a metaphorical wink when
she left the two alone whilst she answered the telephone.

"It was all right, then?" Audrey asked eagerly.

"Absolutely," he assured her. "I shall never feel grateful enough to you
for that word of yours to Mr. Gedge. Everything has turned out quite
wonderfully. Mallory's are satisfied with the patent. They would buy it
if we'd sell. Instead of that, they are starting a company to make the
cleaners. They insisted on our bringing our own lawyer. We found a
first-class one whom Mr. Padgham recommended. Jimmie Sark and I get a
royalty on every machine made and a good salary for supervising the
factory."

"It sounds like a serial," Audrey Packe exclaimed, laughing nervously.
"'From Pauperdom to Park Lane' or something of that sort."

"It's not running to Park Lane just yet," he replied, "but it will
certainly run to anything reasonable, as soon as we have things fixed
up. How long are you going to stay, dear? I have your key as well as
mine and I don't think any one who is out late to-night will be
popular."

"I am as tired as I can be," she confessed. "Directly Aunt comes in,
we'll go. Do light a cigarette, Roger. Aunt loves the smell of smoke."

Roger obeyed eagerly. Audrey had come straight from work without
changing her clothes and was looking tired--perhaps a little nervous.
They seemed so near a crisis, and yet she had an idea--she told herself
that it was ridiculous--that for some reason or other there was a change
in Roger. His new clothes seemed to have carried him away from her. She
found herself suddenly longing for those shiny seams and a cuff edge
which she could clip with scissors.

"Like winning an Irish Sweepstake or something, isn't it?" she remarked.
"Tell me, Roger, are you going to stay on at Palace Crescent? Of course
you won't."

There were several ways he could have answered that question. The one he
chose depressed her.

"For the present, I have decided to stay on," he said. "Mrs. Dewar is
afraid that this terrible business may result in her losing some of her
boarders but some of the older ones have been talking to me, and I think
every one has agreed to stay. I shall probably ask for a better room.
Suits me as well as anywhere and, of course," he added, after a
momentary hesitation, "you're there, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am there," she assented listlessly. "I suppose I shall hang on."

He had his opening but for some reason he shirked it. It was through no
definite feeling of infidelity but rather a conviction that any fresh
demands upon his seldom released emotions would be in the nature of an
anticlimax. Audrey Packe was peaceful, without a doubt. Already his
nerves felt soothed. Mrs. Packe came bustling in and appeared
disappointed.

"Well," she announced, "that's that. I have told Tom he cannot have the
cottage until late in the autumn. Now, if you take my advice, young man,
you will bustle Audrey off home. Long hours they keep them in these big
establishments, and she's been too jumpy all the time since she arrived
here to have a rest. Scarcely a mouthful of supper, either."

"Never mind, Aunt," Audrey said with a smile. "My fortnight at the
cottage will soon put me right. One does get tired of London in the
spring, if you have to work all the time."

"You will find a bus at the corner in ten minutes," her aunt told them.

"I'm going to take Audrey home in a taxi," Roger volunteered. "I'm
feeling extravagant to-night, Mrs. Packe."

She beamed amiably upon him.

"Well, you don't look like a spendthrift to me," she said. "Once in a
while there's no harm in being a bit extravagant. Come up again, Mr.
Ferrison. Any friend of Audrey's is always welcome. Come and have a bit
of supper any night next week."

"I'll fix it up with Audrey if I may," he promised.

"Come, and welcome, whenever you like."

They found a taxi almost at the door. Audrey sank back amongst the not
too luxurious cushions with a sigh of relief.

"What a lot poor people miss in the world," she exclaimed. "I should
never have dreamed of a taxi home and yet it does seem such a luxury. I
suppose very soon, Roger, taxis will be an everyday thing in your
life--or perhaps you'll have a car."

"I hope I shall," he agreed. "And please don't forget, Audrey," he went
on, taking her willingly yielded hand, "that I shall always remember how
much of this I owe to you. I know it cost you something to make up your
mind to speak to Mr. Gedge."

She laughed more happily.

"I ought not to have minded," she said. "He was an old friend of my
father's and I did so want to be useful to you."

They sped through the still crowded streets. Roger felt curiously
tongue-tied. He knew quite well what was in his mind to say to Audrey,
what he had made up his mind to say when his partner and he had sunk on
to that bench in the park, after their interview with Mr. Simpkins. Now
he was dumb. It was there all right, he was sure, the same identical
feeling, but he just felt that to-morrow or the next day would do. When
the taxi stopped at Palace Crescent, only a few drowsy words had been
spoken. Roger, as he hung up his key, pointed to the long, shining row.

"Not yet eleven o'clock and every one at home."

"Good night, Roger. Thanks for fetching me."

Even then he knew that he wanted to walk up the stairs with her, but he
didn't. He lingered, instead, listening to shuffling footsteps coming
from the back of the house.

"Some one coming," he remarked. "Perhaps I had better just wait and see
who it is before I turn out the light. I'll follow you in a moment."

Audrey slowly mounted the stairs. Roger waited with his fingers upon the
switch. The green baize door was pushed slowly open. A white face stared
out into the semi-obscurity. Roger called to him quietly.

"Is that you, Joseph? What do you want?"

Joseph pushed his way through the door. Roger, no close observer of his
fellows, realised then that the man must have made a tremendous effort
during the service of dinner. He was no longer suave, eager and full of
energy. His lean cheeks seemed to have fallen farther in. His eyes were
listless. His lips were drawn over his teeth. His linen was no longer
spotless. He wore a shabby poplin coat in place of his tails. His hair
was unbrushed. He came drearily forward.

"Mr. Ferrison," he said, "will you talk with me for five minutes
secretly and in private?"



CHAPTER XIV


Roger led the man into a remote corner of the lounge and forced him into
a chair.

"You seem upset, Joseph," he remarked. "Anything fresh happened?"

"Something fresh is happening all the time, sir," the man faltered.
"Something fresh will happen all the time, as long as one stays here.
Please pardon the liberty I am taking, sir. I had to speak to some one
or get drunk, or go crazy. I dared not get drunk. There's that
inquest tomorrow."

"I know," Roger muttered. "I'm summoned myself."

"It means nothing to you, though, sir. You only arrived on the scene
after the whistle had been blown, after the policeman had found the
body. They can do nothing to you. They cannot lie and perjure and worry
you on to the scaffold. They might do that to me."

"Don't talk nonsense, Joseph," Roger enjoined. "You didn't kill Colonel
Dennett, did you?"

"Not I, sir," the man declared fervently. "But there you are--I was the
nearest person they know of who might have got at him, and I had never
replaced the cartridge I fired off for a test. They've tumbled to that,
all right. Me with a revolver close at hand with one barrel discharged!
I can't think of anything else. I've had my clothes off once. I couldn't
go to sleep."

"But, after all, it was a perfectly reasonable thing for you to test a
new weapon," Roger remarked. "Perhaps, if you went to the place where
you fired off the cartridge, you might find the bullet."

"They'll think I planted it there now. They're so damn cunning, these
police. They won't lock me up. They won't lock anybody up. They'll wait
like a lot of hawks till the inquest's over. Then down they'll come on
you like a ton of bricks! You know what will happen to-morrow, sir?"
Joseph went on, his face working fiercely. "I'll tell you. The police
will ask for an adjournment of the inquest. They will only take formal
evidence. The coroner will grant it. He will give the police their week
or fortnight, and they will fix it on some one during that time."

"But, Joseph, how can I help you?" Roger asked impatiently.

"We're all in the mess, sir. Every one of the boarders here," the man
pointed out piteously. "A quiet-living old gentleman like the
Colonel--he had had no past. He'd got no enemies. They'll fix it on one
of us, sure. Then there's that blasted old doll--Miss Susannah Clewes."

"What about her?" Roger asked. "She was trying to talk to me before
dinner."

"She saw something, or thinks she did, sir, and there's no one can get a
word out of her. All I know is that she's ordered a carriage to go to
the inquest. She says that you are the only person she could trust but
that you were not sympathetic. She declares every one of the boarders is
in a conspiracy. She's dangerous, sir. That's what she is. She's as old
as the hills and she's got a quiet ladylike manner about her. She'd go
and talk a man's neck away and come back believing she'd done the right
thing."

"I'll see if I can get her to talk to me in the morning," Roger
promised.

Joseph mopped his forehead with a handkerchief which strongly resembled
a dishcloth.

"As quiet and nice a home this was until a few months ago, sir," he
moaned. "What's come over everybody is more than I can say, but I don't
mind telling you the one person I'm afraid of is Miss Susannah Clewes.
She has visions, that woman has, sir."

Roger yawned. He was very tired indeed, after his long and exciting day.

"Well, look here, Joseph," he said. "I can't see that we are doing any
good talking like this. Some one has murdered Colonel Dennett. It wasn't
you and it wasn't I. Whatever other people may say or do or whatever
evidence may be given, it's not likely to do either of us any harm. If
it was some one in the house, it's a very terrible thing, but we cannot
come any nearer the truth by talking about it. Every one is in, I see.
I'm going to bed."

"Very good, Mr. Ferrison," Joseph replied dejectedly. "I'm sorry if I am
all fussed up, sir, but there's a queer atmosphere about the place. The
cook, she's been sitting rolling her eyes at me all the time in the
kitchen, and the maid, she's reading a murder story in one of those
serials. And the gentlemen, when they rang for soda water, they had been
talking about me when I came in. I could tell by the way they stopped
suddenly. Am I the first butler in the world, I wonder, who had a fancy
to own a revolver when he was left to guard the house?"

"Of course you're not," Roger soothed him. "Come along, I'll leave you
to see to the lights. Don't turn this one out until I get on the first
landing. I've forgotten my matches."

"Very good, sir."

On his way up, Roger paused on the second landing outside Audrey's door.
He listened for a moment. The light was out. There was no sound of any
one moving. He climbed the last flight of stairs and entered his own
room. With a sigh of relief, he closed the door and sank into his
solitary chair. Twelve o'clock struck. The noise of the traffic in the
Hammersmith Road came to him as a subdued roar, punctuated by the honk
of the taxicabs and the more siren-like horns of the better-class cars.
It seemed to him that these precious moments, as he slowly undressed,
were the first that he had had during the whole day in which to breathe
freely and to realise his great good fortune. This labyrinth of drama
into which he had stepped did not, after all, concern him. He determined
to put it out of his mind. The days of his bitter struggles were over.
He was absolutely assured of a dignified and successful future. Work? Of
course he would work, but outside that lay a whole world of pleasure at
which he had as yet scarcely glanced. He slipped off his underclothes
and tried on his new suit of pyjamas. The shopman had been right. They
were an excellent fit. He stretched himself out in bed--the luxury of
sleepiness already upon him. He could relax now. No fears about his
ghastly bills. No fear of getting into debt. Life was going to be
smoother in every way. He wished Audrey had sat up long enough for just
one tender word of good night. He had been rather a dumb person in the
taxi. That other strange spell was still upon him. It was Audrey, of
course, whom he must take from her sordid life behind the counter and
make happy. That room down the passage--that didn't belong to real life.
It was one of those enchanted chambers that grow out of fancies and
disappear. She was wonderful, Flora, in her way, with her sweet clinging
arms, the melting of her tremulous lips, her pleading--yes, it was
almost pleading--for something in life she feared to miss. He was
getting sleepier and sleepier. He wondered how her accident happened. He
was figuring her now being dropped from a mountain top and he was there
at the bottom to catch her. There was one thing, if he had to say
good-bye to her, he must find out the secret of that perfume. It took
him back to the country, to the sweet scented gardens, to the thrill of
spring. Yes, Flora...Back from a world of sweet odours, of a thrilling
caressing voice, of an unimaginable invitation, through a fog of dazed
apprehensions to a bitter ugly present. Some one was trying the handle
of his door! The echoes of a woman's scream, low but horrible, seemed to
be ringing in his ears. He sat upright, gripping the bed on either side,
listening for a moment to be sure that he was in his senses. Then he
sprang to the door, turned the key and threw it open. He was just in
time to catch in his arms and save from falling the scantily attired,
apparently unconscious figure of Annabel Padgham.



CHAPTER XV


"For the love of heaven!" Roger exclaimed. "Mrs. Padgham!"

She gripped him by the shoulders--not, as he realised, in any sort of
embrace, but from sheer terror--and in those few seconds of almost
suspended animation, his senses were sufficiently alert to realise an
abrupt cessation of footsteps at the bottom of the last flight of
stairs.

"Who's that?" he called out, leaning forward.

There was no answer. Roger, scarcely knowing what he was doing, shook
the half-fainting figure of the woman.

"What do you want up here?" he demanded. "Who is it following you?"

"Tom," she gasped. "I was terrified. I ran away."

"But what do you want with me?" he asked bluntly.

"I don't want you," she faltered. "I wanted any one. I was frightened. I
was looking for Miss Clewes."

"Hers is the next room," Roger pointed out. "But what on earth do you
want with poor old Miss Clewes at this hour of the night? Is every one
mad? What's the matter with your husband?"

"I shall faint," she murmured, "if I don't sit down."

He fetched a chair from his room and set it out on the landing, leaving
his own door open so that she might get the air from the window. Then he
poured out a glass of water and brought it to her.

"All I have," he said laconically.

He leaned over the banisters. The sound of footsteps had ceased but down
below he heard a door being opened and closed very softly. Through his
open window floated the chimes of Hammersmith Church Clock--three
o'clock.

"I wish--" he broke off in his somewhat angry speech.

Annabel Padgham was obviously fighting hard for consciousness. Every
vestige of colour had left her cheeks. Her eyes, deep blue eyes they
were, were filled with something which he could only sense as fear. He
took her hands and chafed them.

"There's no one likely to hurt you up here," he assured her. "Besides, I
think I could take care of you. But you might tell me what has happened.
This place seems to be getting like a madhouse."

"I wish we had never seen it," she moaned. "I wish we had stayed down in
Finsbury. It was all Tom's rich friends. He would come up West and now
God knows what sort of a net we're in!"

"You're feeling better?" he asked.

"A little."

"Well enough to go back to your room, if you lean on me?"

She shook her head.

"Not just now. Presently--yes. Tom is mad. When I go, you must take me
down. Give me a few minutes longer."

"Very well then," he agreed. "But on one condition. Tell me what brought
you flying up the stairs to my room, with your husband following you?"

"Fear."

"What of?"

"Tom--Tom chiefly. I was afraid he was going to have D.T. He's been
talking and shouting to himself until I couldn't bear it any longer.
Then I'm frightened of the house. Some one in it murdered Colonel
Dennett. I'm sure of that. There seem to be ears listening everywhere.
If anybody heard that, I expect I should be murdered!"

"Well, no one could hear it."

She drew a little sigh.

"I suppose not."

"Now, tell me why you were looking for Miss Clewes."

"It was not Miss Clewes in particular I wanted," she replied. "It was
any woman--and Mrs. Dewar is too far away. It has been a hideous evening
since you went off with the witch."

"With whom? The witch? Who's that?" he asked.

"I forgot you didn't know. We all call Flora Quayne the witch. It's
those strange eyes of hers and her lovely hair and her voice."

"Well, never mind about Flora Quayne. What do you mean by a strange
evening?" he demanded.

"Every one except Mr. Luke was nervous," she went on. "Mr. Luke sat in
an easy-chair reading the Nineteenth Century and he never spoke to any
one. Tom had four drinks after dinner--a thing I have never known him do
before. Mr. Barstowe went out, and most of the others followed him, one
by one. They didn't seem to want to go. They seemed to go because they
couldn't stand it any longer. Miss Amelia Clewes sat knitting very fast
and never spoke to any one. Susannah kept on walking about restlessly
and asking where you were. I went to bed early. My nerves were getting
worse and worse. I put on a dressing gown and sat reading. Then Tom
began calling out from the bed. I thought I was going mad and I was
terrified!"

She raised the tumbler, still half full of water, which she had been
holding tightly, and drank its contents. Then she gave him back the
glass.

"I was forgetting," she said, in an entirely changed tone; "I cannot
tell you any more. There is something wrong in the house, something I
don't understand. If Tom won't leave, I shall run away to-morrow. Don't
you stay, Mr. Ferrison," she advised, looking up at him earnestly. "Take
that nice girl, Miss Packe, and go off somewhere else. These people seem
all right, but they're not. They've got Tom. I swear they've got Tom.
They won't get me. I'm going."

She leaned forward to the turn of the banisters, steadied herself and
rose to her feet.

"I can't ask for your confidence, of course," Roger said awkwardly,
"especially if you don't want to give it me, but I do think, after
waking me at this hour of the night, you ought to tell me what it's all
about."

"I wish I could," she groaned. "You have been very nice, Mr. Ferrison.
Just as I should have expected. I cannot tell you what's happening or
what I am afraid of, because it is all so vague--and there's Tom, you
see. Take my advice--leave this house after the inquest tomorrow."

"I'll take you to your room now, anyway," he insisted. "Here--lean on
me. Put your arm on my shoulder like that and your other hand on the
banisters. Fine. Now, come along."

They descended the stairs, one at a time. She made her way to the end
room on the first floor.

"If you're frightened," he said, "don't mind waking me up again, or
shall I come in and speak to your husband?"

The closed door in front of them was thrown suddenly open. Padgham stood
there. He showed no surprise. He scarcely even glanced at his wife. His
bloodshot eyes were fixed upon Roger. All his bounce and assumed
gentility seemed to have departed.

"Your wife has had a fright," the latter explained. "She ran upstairs to
find Miss Clewes and knocked at my door by mistake. She very nearly
fainted. I've brought her back."

"Never mind about my wife," Mr. Padgham interrupted. "I have been
wanting to speak to you ever since dinner time, Ferrison. I have a
straight question to ask you. Will you give me a straight answer?"

"If I answer your question at all," Roger replied, "you may rely upon it
that I shall tell you the truth."

"What brought you down to my office in Finsbury yesterday?"

"Well, I told you in the lounge before dinner, but I'll repeat it if you
like. My partner and I are practically strangers in London. We needed a
lawyer. Mrs. Dewar said that you were one. I looked you up in the
telephone directory and came down to find you."

"Yes, I know that's what you told me, but is it the truth?" Padgham
persisted.

"It is the truth," Roger replied, "and if you want to confirm it, ask
the solicitors whose name you wrote out for me. We went to see them.
They have taken on my business and are working for me."

Some sense of strain passed from the man's face. His fingers even played
nervously with his neglected moustache.

"I have done you an injustice, young man," he confessed. "I thought you
were prying into my affairs. I have some business on just now--private
business. I want to keep it to myself. If strangers come around, I get
suspicious."

"Well, you need not be suspicious about me," Roger assured him. "My own
business takes up all my time. I'll say good night to you both now."

"Tom, don't you think--" his wife began.

He turned fiercely upon her.

"Shut up!" he ordered. "Good night, Ferrison."

He closed the door. Roger marched up the stairs. He was determined to
keep both his ears and his eyes closed. He would not answer any calls of
distress, succour any more fainting ladies or be diverted for one
instant from his firm intention of reaching his bed and lying down once
more behind a locked door. There were unfortunately difficulties in his
way. When he reached the last flight of stairs, upon the topmost one,
with an old mackintosh wrapped around her shoulders, looking very cold
and miserable, but knitting with amazing rapidity, sat Miss Amelia
Clewes! Roger was past being surprised at anything and he was, as a
matter of fact, feeling rather angry.

"What in God's name are you sitting out there for, Miss Clewes?" he
demanded. "Do you know that it is past three o'clock in the morning?"

Miss Amelia's fingers ceased their restless task. She wound up the wool
and rose to her feet.

"I have lost my sister, Mr. Ferrison," she confided.

"But you don't expect to find her by sitting here on the top of the
stairs knitting, do you?" he retorted. "Lost her? What do you mean?"

"We occupy the same room," Miss Amelia continued with dignity. "It is
adjacent to your own. She has been very disturbed all the evening. For
some reason or other, she was very anxious to see you. We came to bed at
ten o'clock and I slept rather more heavily than usual. I woke up some
short time ago and found her bed unoccupied."

"Well, what do you suppose has happened to her?" Roger asked. "Why come
to me? I don't even know her habits."

"She wanted to see you so much," Miss Amelia explained, "that I thought
perhaps she might have sought you out. I ventured to look into your
room--I found it empty at three o'clock in the morning."

"My God!" Roger exclaimed in exasperation. "That's only because I have
had to take another lunatic downstairs. I have not seen your sister all
the evening. She began to talk to me in the lounge. She said she had
something important to say. She spoke about the inquest. Then Miss Flora
Quayne, with whom I was dining, came along, so I had to go. Since then I
have not seen your sister, and if you will forgive me saying so, Miss
Clewes, I don't want to see her. All that I want to do is to get back to
my bed and go to sleep."

Miss Clewes drew her mackintosh around her with some dignity.

"Don't let me keep you, Mr. Ferrison," she begged. "I am sorry. I had an
idea from what my sister said that you were a young man of kindlier
disposition."

Roger swallowed hard. Life was not treating him well!

"If I could do anything to help you find your sister," he told her, "I
should be delighted. Now, will you have another look in my room and
assure yourself that she is not there?"

"That is very good of you, Mr. Ferrison."

She followed Roger through the doorway which he flung open. He turned on
the light. He opened the one wardrobe. The whole room was disclosed in
its somewhat pitiful bareness.

"Now you are satisfied," he concluded, "that your sister is not here,
suppose you have one more look in your own apartment."

She acquiesced at once. Roger remained politely outside her door. She
came back again almost immediately.

"My sister is not here, Mr. Ferrison," she announced.

"It is as I told you--she has disappeared. I am very much concerned and
anxious."

"Very well," Roger said, "is there any other place where one might look
for her?"

Miss Amelia considered.

"I should like to consult with Joseph," she acknowledged wistfully.
"Joseph is a very civil person and he would at least be able to tell me
if my sister has left the house."

"Is your sister in the habit of leaving the house at three o'clock in
the morning?" Roger groaned.

"I have never seen my sister before in such a condition," was the quiet
reply.

They descended the three flights of stairs in silence.

"I don't know," Roger confided, as they reached the hall, "where to find
a bell to summon Joseph, but I can show you where he sleeps."

"If you will be so kind."

They passed through the green baize door, through the kitchen into the
scullery. Joseph was lying in the same place but this time there was no
revolver by his side. Roger turned on the light and the man sat up with
a start.

"Don't be scared, Joseph," Roger said. "We only want to ask you a
question."

Joseph's hands went instinctively to his hair. He smoothed that,
buttoned the top button of his vest and rose in ungainly fashion to his
feet.

"Our trouble is," Roger explained, "that Miss Clewes' sister has
disappeared."

"Disappeared?" Joseph repeated vaguely.

"She went up to her room at the usual time with Miss Amelia here," Roger
continued. "Miss Amelia has just waked up and her sister is not in her
room."

"What can I do in the matter, Mr. Ferrison?"

"We can't ask you to search every room in the house," Roger said. "That
would be ridiculous. I will ask you to have a look in the dining room as
we pass and to knock at Mrs. Dewar's door and ask whether she has seen
anything of Miss Clewes. After that, so far as I am concerned, I can
suggest nothing more, and I think we had better go to bed and wait till
morning."

They carried out the programme. Joseph found his way into Mrs. Dewar's
room and, returning after a very brief delay, explained that his
mistress had neither seen nor heard anything of Miss Susannah since she
and her sister had retired to their room. The dining room was, as they
had expected, empty. At the bottom of the stairs Roger addressed his
companion firmly.

"Now, Miss Amelia," he said, "I am very sorry for your natural anxiety,
but I really do not think that you need worry. Your sister's key was
hanging up, so she has probably not left the house. In fact, it seems
impossible that she should have done so without dressing."

"My sister would not dream of venturing into the streets without being
properly attired," Miss Amelia declared.

"Well, that's that, you see. It ends the matter, so far as I can see.
You must wait till the morning. She might be with Miss Packe, or with
Miss Medlincott, or any one. We cannot go knocking up every one to
enquire."

"If I hear anything, Miss," Joseph said respectfully, "I will at once
let you know."

He bade them good night. Roger and Miss Amelia mounted the stairs
together.

"There's nothing more I can do for you, Miss Clewes?" Roger asked, as
they reached the top landing.

"Nothing," that lady acknowledged. "You are a very kind and courteous
young gentleman, Mr. Ferrison. I am much obliged for what you have done
already. I shall go back to my room and knit."

"You should go to bed," he advised.

"I cannot go to bed," was the placid reply. "Something has happened to
my sister. I must wait and know what it is. I rest my mind more
knitting. Good night, Mr. Ferrison."

Roger once more sought repose. This time it was the sun that woke him.



CHAPTER XVI


"There is no doubt about it," Mr. Luke remarked the next morning at
breakfast time, "that we boarders at Palace Crescent are a quaint lot of
people."

Reginald Barstowe, who had just skilfully dissected and disposed of a
kippered herring, pushed his plate away, helped himself to marmalade and
moved his chair a little farther up the table. It was very seldom that
Mr. Luke offered general remarks.

"In what respect, sir?" he asked eagerly.

"I was referring at the moment," the other expounded, "to the
disappearance of Miss Susannah Clewes. Last night, I understand, half
the house was disturbed by Miss Amelia, who volunteered the
extraordinary statement that her sister had--er--vanished into thin air.
Searches were made in all manner of places without result. I believe I
am right, Mrs. Dewar, in saying that Miss Susannah's disappearance is as
yet unexplained?"

"Quite right," Mrs. Dewar admitted. "The whole thing is most
mysterious."

"Miss Clewes was seen last night before dinner," Mr. Luke went on, "when
her deportment and behaviour were exactly as usual. She announced her
intention of attending the inquest to-day to offer evidence concerning
this terrible tragedy which is depressing us all so much. What evidence
she may have had to offer no one knows. She believed she had information
of importance, but that is neither here nor there. What is so amazing is
that notwithstanding the closest of searches and many enquiries, Miss
Clewes has definitely disappeared from these premises."

"Surely her sister knows where she is?" Reginald Barstowe exclaimed.

"On the contrary," Mr. Luke proceeded, "Miss Amelia declares herself
absolutely ignorant of her sister's whereabouts. Notwithstanding which
fact, mark you, she seems to have enjoyed her usual breakfast, to which
she sat down the moment the gong went, and is now pursuing her habitual
avocation--knitting--at the table."

Reginald Barstowe toyed with his closely clipped moustache. He glanced
over his shoulder at the table where Miss Amelia was engaged in her
favourite pursuit, directing her attention every now and then towards
the newspaper which was propped up in front of her.

"She seems to be taking it very calmly," he observed. "I always thought
that she and her sister were devoted to each other."

"Except for Mr. Luke here," Mrs. Dewar confided, "they are my oldest
patrons. They have lived here for ten years and I have scarcely ever
seen them apart."

"Forty years in the same house in the country before that, I
understand," Mr. Luke proceeded. "Their lives have been, as it were,
unrolled before us day by day. They always do the same things. There is
no variation in their manner of living. They never miss a meal, they
rise at the same time, they go to bed at the same time. Suddenly, one of
them discovers that she can give valuable information concerning this
ghastly crime, which has upset us all so, and during that same evening
she disappears from the face of the earth! This morning her sister is
down to breakfast at the stroke of the gong, has eaten her usual boiled
egg, has drunk her cup of coffee, and has now commenced to knit. I take
off my hat to people like that," Mr. Luke concluded, "but I don't
understand them."

Mrs. Dewar shook her head.

"Who could?"

"I shall address Miss Clewes upon the subject," Mr. Luke declared.

He rose from his place, strolled down the room and paused before Miss
Amelia's table. She welcomed him with old-fashioned courtesy.

"Any news of your sister, Miss Amelia?" he enquired.

"No news at present," was the quiet reply. "Mr. Ferrison thinks that I
should communicate with the police. May I ask, Mr. Luke, whether that
would also be your advice?"

"I should not hesitate for a single moment in doing so," he declared.
"Of course, Miss Amelia, your sister may have wandered out of the house
during a temporary lapse of memory, or this statement of hers about
having evidence to offer in the case of Colonel Dennett's murder may
have been the beginning of some weakening of the brain. In either case,
though, official enquiry should be made at once."

Miss Amelia sighed.

"It would be very distasteful to both my sister and myself if our names
should appear in the newspapers," she said.

"It would be still more distasteful to you, I imagine," Mr. Luke
rejoined, "if you find that your sister has wandered into the river."

Miss Amelia continued to knit.

"I do not believe that such a thing is likely to happen to Susannah,"
she said. "I think she has conceived the idea that she is in some sort
of danger from unprincipled people who might be connected with Colonel
Dennett's death. She is probably hiding somewhere."

Mr. Luke tried to conceal his look of incredulity.

"Might one ask you, Miss Amelia, whether your sister confided to you the
nature of the information she proposed to offer to the authorities?"

"I cannot answer that question. If she did, I would conceive it my duty
to remain silent. It is my sister's affair."

"But do you know?" her questioner asked, with a sudden thrust.

Miss Amelia knitted in silence.

"You will excuse my answering that, Mr. Luke," she said.

Mr. Luke with a slight, a very slight, bow turned and resumed his place.

"That old lady is a marvel," he announced. "Instead of being upset by
her sister's disappearance, she seems to be rather enjoying the
excitement of it. Never let me flatter myself that I know anything about
human nature again."

"What could the old lady who has disappeared know, anyway?" Reginald
Barstowe demanded. "The murder took place in a narrow passage with high
walls on either side."

Miss Medlincott, who had only just come in, also moved her place farther
up the table.

"Those two are just a couple of fussy old maids," she declared.
"Probably when Miss Susannah turns up, her wonderful information will be
that she thought she saw the shadow of a man against the wall or heard
footsteps running up the path!"

Joseph deposited a rack of hot toast in front of Miss Medlincott, who
was one of his favourites. She looked up at him with a smile.

"Are you one of the victims of the inquisition this afternoon, Joseph?"
she enquired.

"I have received a subpoena to attend the inquest, Miss," he replied.

"What do you suppose has become of Miss Clewes?" she asked, dropping her
voice.

He shook his head ponderously and glanced over to where Miss Amelia was
seated.

"Lost her memory, I should think, Miss," he suggested, as he moved away.

Mr. and Mrs. Padgham entered together--Mrs. Padgham with the morning
paper under her arm and an air of great affability--Padgham with his
hands in his pockets, his hair and long moustache carefully tended, his
bearing almost jaunty.

"Good morning, Mrs. Dewar," he greeted her, pausing for a moment at the
long table. "Good morning, Luke. Any of you going to the inquest this
afternoon?"

"I am naturally subpoenaed," Mrs. Dewar confided.

"I don't think I can get off," Barstowe regretted.

"I shall most certainly be there," Mr. Luke declared.

"No one to take me," Miss Medlincott sighed. "I couldn't push my way
into a coroner's court alone."

"An inquest such as this," Mr. Luke said gravely, "is scarcely the place
for a young lady, or I would offer my escort. I shall simply be there in
a way to watch over the interests of Palace Crescent."

"I don't think I am popular here," Miss Medlincott complained. "There's
our latest young man, Mr. Ferrison; he dines with Miss Packe one night
and Flora Quayne the next, and scarcely even says good morning to me!"

"Your turn to-morrow night, perhaps," Mr. Luke told her. "Where is
Ferrison, by the way?"

"Mr. Ferrison," Mrs. Dewar explained, "had his breakfast and left the
house before eight. Naturally he has to attend the inquest, and he told
me he has a very busy day before him. Good morning, Mr. Ollivant."

Mr. Ollivant had come bustling in with the Financial Times in his hand.
He looked at Roger's empty table with an air of disappointment.

"Don't tell me that Mr. Ferrison's gone already?" he exclaimed.

"He was out of the house by eight o'clock," Mrs. Dewar told him.

Mr. Ollivant frowned.

"Very annoying. Very annoying. I understand that he is connected with a
small company that is being formed. That is entirely my line of
business, you know. I should think I have floated as many companies as
any man in the City. Does any one know Ferrison's telephone number?"

They all looked blank. Joseph was able to impart the information that it
was not in the telephone book. Mr. Ollivant sat down to his breakfast in
a very bad temper.

"They are buying tin again," he remarked abruptly to his neighbour, Mr.
Lashwood, looking up from his paper.

"Who cares?" Lashwood retorted. "All I wish is that they would buy
shoes. Ladies' shoes I'm interested in, and the stock market can take
care of itself, so far as I am concerned."

"Metals are always interesting," Mr. Ollivant persisted. "You should
have a go at Nickels some day. A man I know made a fortune in Nickels
last week."

"Probably lose it next week," Mr. Lashwood observed. "One business is
enough for any man, I say."

"Any shrewd man," Mr. Ollivant pronounced impressively, "with the
command of a very small capital, should he able to double his income by
taking an intelligent interest in finance."

"Rather have a go at the gees myself," was the depressing reply.
"Joseph, hot tea and my Daily Mail."

Mr. Ollivant sighed and subsided into his paper. Suddenly he looked up.

"What was all that moving about the house last night?" he enquired.
"Doors opening and shutting, people going up and downstairs."

"Never heard a sound," Mr. Lashwood grunted.

No one else took any notice. Mr. Ollivant turned round in his chair.

"Didn't you hear anything, Mrs. Dewar?"

"Nothing at all."

Mr. Ollivant grunted.

"Where's your sister this morning, Miss Clewes?" he asked the latter,
leaning forward.

"She is not here for the moment," Miss Amelia replied.

"Not what you would call a sociable lot, we Palace Crescents," the
financier grumbled, as he turned over the page of his newspaper.

Mr. Luke rose finally from his place, drew his serviette through its
ring and strolled down the room to the table where Mr. and Mrs. Padgham
were seated. He bowed his salutations to the lady and laid his hand on
Padgham's shoulder.

"Playing golf to-day, Padgham?"

"Not to-day. I have some trustee business to see to."

"Glad to hear you do a stroke of work now and then," Mr. Luke observed.

He looked around the room. As it happened, no one was seated in their
vicinity. He leaned over towards Padgham.

"Thinking of getting out of London this cold spell?"

"Hadn't any idea of it."

Mr. Luke stroked his upper lip for a moment.

"Thought you might have an idea of taking Mrs. Padgham to find a little
sunshine," he observed. "Spain or the South of France, you know. Easy to
get at, those places, nowadays."

Mr. Padgham frowned.

"What are you driving at?" he demanded. "You know perfectly well that
I'm not going away."

"Saw you come out of one of those shipping offices in Pall Mall
yesterday," Mr. Luke observed quietly. "Just entered into my head,
that's all, that you might be thinking of a trip. I wouldn't go just
now. Put it off for a bit, Padgham. The weather isn't settled enough.
Are you looking in at the inquest this afternoon?"

"No."

"Quite right. I hate those sort of places myself. If anything
interesting should crop up," Mr. Luke enjoined, "well--you'll be in your
office about four. Wait there until I come."

"Wait there until you come," Mr. Padgham repeated in parrotlike fashion.

Mr. Luke strolled benignly away. Mrs. Padgham held one hand up to her
head whilst she poured out some coffee. Her husband once again had the
look of a man from whom the stiffening had gone.

"Blast that fellow!" he muttered under his breath.

Mr. Luke appeared to be in a sociable frame of mind. He caught sight of
Bernascon on his way to the door and approached him.

"Good morning," he said. "I didn't know you were down yet."

"I'm late," Bernascon admitted. "Only just arrived. Bacon and eggs and
fresh tea, Joseph. What's the news this morning?"

"The outside world or the news of our own making?" Mr. Luke asked with a
faint but cryptic smile.

Bernascon looked down at his plate and polished his glasses carefully.

"Our own news isn't quite so good," he observed. "Any board meetings
going?"

"Padgham has one," Mr. Luke replied carelessly. "Four o'clock this
afternoon at Finsbury--if it is necessary."

"I shall be rather glad when that confounded inquest is over," Bernascon
said, helping himself to a piece of toast and buttering it slowly.

"You are probably thinking of our lady friend," Mr. Luke remarked. "I
don't think you need worry. Mrs. Dewar and I had a look at the room as
soon as Miss Amelia had descended. Whatever sort of a vision she thought
she saw, there's nothing to be seen from there."

"I suppose those two are just what they seem to be?" Bernascon ventured.

"I'd stake my word upon it."

"And the other people about the place," Bernascon went on thoughtfully.
"Somehow or other, I seem to have noticed a different atmosphere here
the last few days."

"Fancy."

"I'm restless, anyway," Bernascon continued, "especially with this other
affair so imminent. I think I shall look in at the court this
afternoon."

"Lunch with me at the Savoy Grill," Mr. Luke invited. "We'll go
together."

"I'll be there," Bernascon promised, pulling himself together. "One
o'clock, I suppose. Wish I'd known before. I shouldn't have ordered
bacon and eggs. Heavy dish for the morning--bacon and eggs--but I felt I
needed sustenance. The prospect of a lunch at the Savoy Grill would have
done just as well."

"You fellows always overeat at this hour of the day," Mr. Luke said, as
he nodded and prepared to stroll away. "The continental breakfast for me
and a little orange juice to wind up with."

"You can't live as you like in a boarding house," Bernascon complained.

Luke smiled.

"You can if you want to--in this one," he observed.



CHAPTER XVII


A coroner's inquest, in nineteen cases out of twenty, may be a dull
enough affair but a coroner's inquest in which the subject was obviously
the victim of a cold-blooded murder, and in connection with which no
arrest has yet been made, may contain every element of drama and the
excitement that waits upon it. That, at any rate, seemed to have been
the opinion of the crowd who had streamed into the small room attached
to the hall in which the function was being held. They came from Fleet
Street, from the Law Courts, from the solicitors' offices, and every
square inch of room there was to spare had been taken possession of by
the sensation-loving public. Practically every one of the boarders at
Palace Crescent was present--Roger, Joseph and Mrs. Dewar in the small
space reserved for witnesses. Mr. Luke and Bernascon had found two
chairs in a retired corner. Mr. Lash-wood was squeezed in amongst the
standing crowd. Reginald Barstowe, with Freda Medlincott and Ollivant,
had found places on one of the hard benches against the walls.

It seemed at first, however, as though the sensation mongers were doomed
to disappointment. After the formal part of the proceedings had been got
rid of, the policeman and inspector had testified that no weapon had
been found near the body, the doctor had gone into the box and testified
that the wound could not possibly have been self-inflicted, Inspector
Rudlett rose in his place and addressed the coroner.

"On behalf of the police, sir," he announced, "I have to beg for an
adjournment of the case."

"You have no further witnesses you wish to call?" the coroner asked.

"Not at this stage of the proceedings, sir," the Inspector replied. "The
matter has been carefully gone into at headquarters and I am instructed
to make the application for an adjournment."

The coroner stroked his chin.

"At the moment," he confessed, "I scarcely see the reason for not
dealing with the case as it stands. The obvious verdict which the jury
will probably return could not in any way interfere with the course of
justice."

"I shall only repeat, sir," the Inspector continued, "that the head of
the Criminal Department would much prefer an adjournment. The Solicitor
for the Crown is in court, if you care to call upon him, sir."

"I will hear what Mr. Huskins has to say," the coroner decided, leaning
forward.

The Solicitor for the Crown rose to his feet.

"Mr. Coroner," he explained, "I find myself in a somewhat difficult
position for, on the face of it, I am inclined to sympathise with your
own desire to ask the jury who are already empanelled to deliver a
verdict on the basis of the evidence given. They would be able to do so,
without a doubt, and any further proceedings would then take place in
another court. For reasons, however, which I cannot go into in public,
the authorities would prefer the inquest adjourned, even if it is only
for a week. I think I may offer a promise, sir, that if you accede to
this course, ho further adjournment will be asked for."

"The application is perhaps slightly unusual under the circumstances,
the evidence as to the nature of death being so clear," the coroner
pronounced. "Nevertheless, I shall grant your request, Mr. Huskins. I am
quite sure the authorities must have sound reasons for their action and
I can even conceive certain circumstances under which their further
investigations might be aided by the fact that no definite verdict had
been returned by this court."

After all, however, neither this heterogeneous collection of sensation
seekers, nor the assembled boarders of Palace Crescent, were to be
altogether disappointed. From some hidden place in the well of the court
an elderly lady had risen deliberately to her feet, with the obvious
intention of addressing the coroner. She was slight, plainly dressed,
with white hair and steely blue eyes. There was a spot of colour in her
blanched cheeks, otherwise she seemed perfectly composed. In her left
hand she held a small knitting bag. The fingers of her right hand rested
upon the back of the seat in front of her. To the bulk of the spectators
the incident was unusual and provocative of a mild interest. To the
boarders of Palace Crescent it was a very different affair. The sound of
that high-pitched, somewhat quavery, but very distinct, voice carried
with it a grim portent of approaching tragedy.

"Mr. Coroner," the woman said, "I wish, if you please, to make a
statement. My name is Susannah Clewes. I am a boarder at Palace
Crescent, the house in which Colonel Dennett lived and the nearest house
to the place where he was murdered."

The coroner frowned severely.

"Madam," he said, "you are entirely out of order in addressing the
court. You can only do so from the witness box and under oath, and I am
on the point of acceding to the request of the police to adjourn this
enquiry."

"But I have information to give," Susannah Clewes continued, "which is
of the utmost importance."

"The police," the coroner assured her, "will be very glad to hear
privately anything you have to say. Inspector Rudlett here has charge of
the case. He will interview you in the anteroom as soon as these
proceedings have closed."

"But I wish to give my information before these proceedings have
closed," Miss Clewes persisted. "You don't understand, sir, the
importance of what I have to disclose. I saw the murder committed, Mr.
Coroner, by a person who is at this moment in the court."

If Miss Clewes had been aiming at a great effect, she had certainly
succeeded. There was a long and breathless silence unbroken by the
faintest of whispers. Then there was a low murmur, something that was
almost like a smothered sob. The coroner leaned towards the Crown
solicitor.

"Mr. Huskins," he said, "you have heard what this lady has said. Do you
wish to put her in the box or do you still persist in your request for
an adjournment?"

The solicitor turned to Inspector Rudlett, who was seated only a few
places away. The latter rose to his feet and whispered for a moment in
his questioner's ear. Mr. Huskins nodded.

"Mr. Coroner," he announced, "the authorities would prefer to question
the lady before they put her into the witness box. The lady, I might
add, was reported missing late last night from her home, the Palace
Crescent Boarding House, where she lives with her sister. Up till midday
to-day nothing had been heard from her."

"I was keeping out of the way," Miss Clewes explained, "because I was
afraid that something might happen to me. I was hiding. I hid until half
an hour ago, when I came here. I should like to give my testimony. I
shall not feel safe if the arrest of the guilty person is not made
before I leave this court."

The coroner, who had come to the same conclusion as a great many other
people, namely, that this strange old lady was mad, smiled at her
benevolently.

"Madam," he said, "I am adjourning this inquest for a week and you will
then have an opportunity of giving your evidence. In the meantime, I beg
of you to say no more, as your position is entirely irregular. Inspector
Rudlett will escort you to the anteroom and if, as you say, you are in
any fear of intimidation or violence, you will be taken under police
protection. On the application of the police," he went on, in a louder
voice and addressing the jury, "I declare the inquest adjourned for
seven days."

There was a certain amount of hubbub. People seemed unwilling to leave
their places. They were all leaning forward to look at Miss Clewes.
Inspector Rudlett had taken a place by her side.

"If agreeable to you, Madam," he suggested, "we will wait for a few
minutes until the people have cleared off. I shall be glad to hear what
you have to say then."

"I am not acquainted with the procedure at inquests or in courts of
justice," Miss Clewes confided, "but I think it is a very foolish thing
that when I am in a position to point out the guilty person to you you
should open the doors of this court and let them go free."

"Madam," the Inspector assured her with a smile, "it is very difficult
indeed for any guilty person to escape the clutches of the law. I think
you need have no fear. More harm is done in the way of letting criminals
escape by too hasty an arrest than in any other way. Besides, the
coroner was quite right. You must not get up and make speeches without
going into the witness box."

"So many strange rules," Miss Clewes sighed, opening her bag. "They even
stopped my knitting after I came into the court."

The Inspector smiled again.

"Now that the proceedings are over and the coroner has left his seat, I
don't suppose they will mind what you do. In a minute or two the place
will be cleared and then I shall be glad to hear what you have to say."

"And the murderer," Miss Clewes said calmly, "will all the time be
racing away to safety."

The Inspector shook his head tolerantly.

"There's no safety from the law, Madam," he told her.

Mr. Luke glanced round the dining room at Palace Crescent that night in
his usual expressionless fashion and chuckled faintly.

"Well," he remarked, "our dear friend Miss Susannah Clewes does not seem
to have scared any one away, anyhow. No one absent without leave, that I
can see. What did you think of her performance this afternoon, Mrs.
Dewar?"

"I think, as I have always thought," was the composed reply, "that both
Miss Susannah and Miss Amelia Clewes are slightly deranged."

"They seem sane enough to talk to," Mr. Luke mused.

"That's what makes them the more dangerous," Mrs. Dewar declared.
"People who are mad all the time are no danger to any one. People who
have sudden flashes of insanity are a great menace. I am afraid I shall
have to tell the two ladies that their room is required."

"Rather hard luck on them," Reginald Barstowe reflected. "The little
lady so thoroughly enjoyed her position. Por once in her life, she was
going to make a sensation, and then the coroner wouldn't let her!"

"What I should like to know is--where she hid," Freda Medlincott
remarked. "Did she leave the house or didn't she; and if she did, where
did she spend the night?"

"She must have worked a clever stunt somehow," Maurice Bernascon pointed
out. "If she stayed in the house she must have found a unique hiding
place, and if not, how did she find any one to take her in without any
luggage?"

"Then again," Reginald Barstowe queried, "how did she get into the court
and find a place there, so that not one of us saw her? I don't believe
in that sort of insanity."

"Neither do I," Mr. Luke agreed. "By-the-by, has the Inspector been
round again, Mrs. Dewar?"

"He spent the morning here," was the coldly portentous reply. "He asked
scarcely any questions and he gave those of us who were here to
understand very clearly that he preferred to continue his investigations
alone. He was at the top of the house most of the time and he had a
policeman posted on the landing to see that no one went up.

"Could Miss Clewes have seen anything from the windows of her room?" Mr.
Luke enquired.

"Very doubtful, I should think," Freda Medlincott asserted. "Have you
ever been in it?"

"Never," Mr. Luke confessed. "Neither of the ladies has honoured me with
an invitation."

"I have been in myself within the last few hours," Mrs. Dewar said. "I
pointed out to the Inspector that from neither of the windows is it
possible to see the spot where Colonel Dennett was shot. He quite agreed
with me."

"That rather takes the powder out of Miss Susannah's bombshell, doesn't
it?" Bernascon observed.

"I have no idea what information she gave to the Inspector," Mrs. Dewar
said. "I am as anxious, perhaps more anxious than any one, to have this
terrible business cleared up, but from 'he first I had no confidence in
her information. No jury, I am convinced, would accept a statement from
her without corroboration. She has very poor long sight, which is
natural for a woman of her age, the moonlight, I understand, was only
fitful, and the scene of the murder itself is not visible from her
window."

"Come to think of it," Reginald Barstowe pointed out, "if she had
succeeded in convincing the Inspector, there would have been an arrest
before now."

"Quite so," Mr. Luke agreed.

Roger filled his glass with what was left of the half bottle of claret
they had shared for dinner. He leaned a little forward in his chair. He
had just finished giving Audrey Packe a full account of the afternoon's
proceedings.

"Of course," he wound up, "we had our sensation when Miss Clewes stood
up calmly and offered to point out the murderer!"

"I can't think why the coroner wouldn't let her," Audrey observed.

"Neither can I, but then I don't understand law," Roger agreed. "I
suppose the idea was that the police wanted to collect corroborative
evidence of anything Miss Clewes might have to tell them before they
made an arrest. It's a much easier thing to adjourn an inquest than to
keep remanding a man on trial for his life. What are you doing this
evening, Audrey?"

"Nothing."

"We might take a taxi and drive somewhere later on," he suggested, after
a moment's hesitation.

"I should love it," the girl assented eagerly. "Somehow or other, one
doesn't want to be mean to Mrs. Dewar, but the atmosphere of this place
seems to get one by the throat. Poor old Colonel Dennett! I can't bear
to look at his empty place. And those two Misses Clewes--still
knitting--sitting there like sinister ghosts! I'm even afraid of Mr.
Padgham. None of the people seem real or human, somehow. Why is it,
Roger?"

"I expect the fault is with us," he reflected. "They are all ordinary
people enough, really."

"What did you mean by saying just now that we would take a taxi later
on?" she asked.

He hesitated.

"I had a note from Miss Quayne," he confided. "She wants me to go round
and see her for a minute after dinner."

Audrey looked at him curiously.

"Miss Quayne seems to have become very devoted to you all of a sudden,
Roger," she remarked.

He flushed slightly. The hardest thing in life was to keep natural and
honest when he spoke or thought about Flora Quayne.

"I wish she would go away," he declared. "This isn't any place for a
nervous person--especially just now. I shall tell her so this evening."

Audrey was twisting and untwisting her fingers. That glimmer of anxiety,
winch had shone sometimes in her eyes during the last few days, had come
back again.

"I suppose it sounds unkind, especially considering how much she has to
suffer," she confessed quietly, "but I certainly wish she would go."

Mr. Ollivant, who had once narrowly escaped a term of imprisonment for a
minor offence against company law, was inclined to be bitter about the
police. He was sharing a small table with Mr. Lashwood, who would rather
have talked about boots and shoes, but his companion had had his way and
they had talked the whole subject of the murder threadbare.

"Seems to me that Inspector's handling the whole affair wrong," he
declared. "He never leaves these premises, they say. What he wants is to
search around for a motive--dig into his past and that sort of thing."

"Poor old Dennett was robbed," Mr. Lashwood pointed out. "Robbery is
motive enough, isn't it?"

"Robbed? What of?" Mr. Ollivant demanded. "Did you ever know him with a
bob in his pocket? Lived on his pension and I should think he was the
meanest man under this roof. His watch was an Ingersoll and he didn't
even own a cigarette case!"

"Well, I don't suppose the man who robbed him knew what a poor haul he
was going to get," Lashwood remarked.

"Look here," Ollivant argued. "Is it likely that his murderer, whoever
he was, just met him by accident with a loaded revolver in his pocket,
shot him in a lonely place and then searched him for what he might have
had about him? Rubbish! I tell you whoever shot that old man had a
motive, and that's what the police want to go for. They will never
discover anything kicking up the ground around the back of these
premises."

Lashwood smiled.

"That's where you're wrong," he chuckled. "They found a wash-leather bag
in a clump of nettles this morning, only a yard or two away. A small
chamois leather bag large enough for a pair of spectacles,--and of
course it was empty."

"Who told you that?" Ollivant enquired.

"Joseph. He was hanging round watching them."

"What's an empty wash-leather bag?" Mr. Ollivant scoffed. "Might have
belonged to any one. What the police want is a motive."

The conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Padgham was scrappy. Such as it
was, it was carried on more for the sake of their fellow guests than for
any pleasure they themselves derived from it.

"I can't think what's got you, Tom," his wife observed. "Drink, I
suppose. You're losing your nerve, you know."

"What do you mean?" her husband asked, a note of subdued anger in his
tone. "I'm all right."

"Well, you don't look it," the lady remarked coolly. "You look as though
you had just got up after a three-days' hangover! There's a spot of
blood on your collar: cut yourself shaving again, I suppose. And you'd
better have your hair and moustache trimmed and cut, if you can't keep
them in better order."

He looked at her maliciously.

"Well, I don't see that you do any good by overdressing just to make a
bluff. Low necks ain't fashionable now--no more is wearing jewellery as
you're wearing it. Sham jewellery, especially."

In the depths of Mrs. Padgham's really fine eyes there was a sparkle of
resentment which, had her husband seen it, might have brought on another
nervous attack.

"They aren't all sham," she said, "and if some of them are, that's your
fault. You're too mean to invest your money where it might do you a bit
of good. You would sooner plant it round in foreign banks, and then
you'll be the only one to get hold of it, if things go wrong. If I were
you, I'd chuck it. You're not fit for a man's job any longer. Tom, tell
me--did you go to Finsbury this afternoon?"

Mr. Padgham shook his head.

"Called off," he confided succinctly.

"I should think so," Mrs. Padgham observed. "Of course, no one would
listen to me."

"And what would your advice be?" Mr. Padgham asked with turgid sarcasm.

"Lie low or clear out," the lady replied.

On the other side of the room, Flora Quayne was seated at her table
alone, an exquisitely bound volume of Omar Khayyam propped up before
her. She was eating hothouse grapes which had nothing whatever to do
with the menu submitted to the boarders and sipping a glass of Chateau
Yquem. Her eyes had been wandering restlessly round the assembled
company all through the service of the meal. She had appreciated the
atmosphere of trouble or fear which seemed to be hanging over the
Padghams' table, the stony silence which reigned between the two Misses
Clewes, who had eaten their dinner without exchanging a single remark.
The somewhat staccato nature of the conversation at Mrs. Dewar's table
had not been lost upon her. The death of this stupid old man, Flora
supposed, was a tragedy in its way. A greater tragedy to her was the
sight of Roger entertaining his little girl from behind the counter, so
fresh and young and healthy, notwithstanding her slight air of fatigue.
She caught sight of one of his protective glances when he leaned forward
and the room for a moment seemed misty. She moistened her dry lips with
wine. If only she dared drink enough of it so that she could find
forgetfulness! She fancied herself in a Persian garden with her
favourite author, a flask of wine by her side, pouring out and drinking
with thirsty lips and soul. She could imagine the sweet confusion of her
brain--the head thrown back, the west winds, the songs of birds, the
touch she craved for. And then it all faded away. This was the
forgetfulness of love. It was the forgetfulness of hate which she
sought.



CHAPTER XVIII


Flora Quayne was already established upon her couch when Roger paid his
evening visit. Her coffee remained untasted by her side, a cigarette had
burnt itself out in the ash tray. Her head was thrown so far back that
she seemed to be gazing at the ceiling. Her arms drooped listlessly, one
on each side of the couch, towards the floor.

"Close the door, please," she begged. "Come and bring your chair close
to me. There's coffee there if you want it."

"I had my coffee in the lounge," he told her. "I'll smoke a cigarette,
if I may. I'm afraid I can't stay long. I have some figures to look into
and I've promised Miss Packe that we will take a drive for an hour
somewhere."

"A drive?" she repeated. "Why?"

"Because it's a horribly close evening."

"I'll tell you why," she contradicted. "Because in a taxicab you can sit
with your arm around that silly little girl's waist. You can kiss her if
you want to. Isn't that it?"

He would have been angry but for the spasm of pain in her face, the
fingers gripping at the coverlet of the couch. He came and stood over
her.

"Flora," he begged. "I wish you'd leave off saying things like that
about Miss Packe."

"Why should I?" she demanded eagerly. "What is she to you? Are you--tell
me if it is true--are you engaged to her?"

He hesitated for a moment.

"Perhaps I'm not exactly engaged," he confessed. "All the same, I mean
to marry her."

"You can come here and tell me that," she faltered, with her hand
pressed to her side and her eyes calling out to his. "You can't mean it,
Roger. I could forgive you for flirting with her--a man must have that
sort of amusement, I suppose. A man never realises how sacred a thing
affection of any sort should be. But marriage! You can't mean that."

"I certainly do," he assured her. "Of course, I know that Audrey isn't a
wonderful person like you are, for instance. She's not clever and she's
had to earn her own living since she was a child. That doesn't matter.
I'm fond of her and I could easily be fonder. She pleases me in many
ways, and it's through her that I've had this great success."

The fit of passion which he had feared showed no signs of coming.
Perhaps he would have welcomed it rather than the hurt, frightened look
in her eyes.

"My dear," she said quietly, "when I think of you married, it seems like
death."

"Well, we're not thinking of getting married just for the moment," he
assured her. "Don't let's talk about it, Flora. I came in because I
promised to, but I think that both you and I are tired to-night. Let's
talk about ordinary things. Tell me about the book you've been reading.
You seemed so engrossed at dinner time."

She appeared scarcely to have heard him.

"Roger," she went on, "if you want money to help you in your business, I
can give it to you."

He shook his head.

"I don't need any. It's sweet of you, all the same. All the money has
been found by Mallory's. They're forming a company to manufacture my
machines, of which I'm to be president. All my difficulties seem to have
been smoothed away."

"You don't look very happy," she observed wistfully.

"Just at this moment, perhaps not," he acknowledged. "I can't bear to
see you look as though you were suffering."

"You do care for me a little, then?"

"Of course I do. You are much too wonderful a person for me, though.
After all, you know you live in a world of which I know nothing. Omar
Khayyam," he added, looking at the book which she had been reading. "You
know, I never heard of him! I never heard even of the names of the
authors of all these books you have about. I'm a most uneducated
person--what you call a Philistine. You would be tired of me in a week."

She smiled.

"I should be tired of you, Roger," she said, "only when, like Delilah, I
cut off your locks and your strength went, and even then, perhaps, I
should not be tired of you. I don't want you to marry that girl, Roger.
You are the first man I have ever said it to, but I want you to marry
me."

He threw the end of his cigarette into the fire.

"You would hate me in no time," he assured her. "Tell me what you think
about all this confusion in the place. Are you going to stay on here?"

"I should be very sorry to leave," she admitted.

"It may be quite uncomfortable," he warned her. "The police have the
idea that we are harbouring a criminal. That must be the idea of Miss
Susannah Clewes too. Of course, no one would dream of suspecting Mrs.
Dewar of being concerned in it in any way, but I'm afraid it's going to
be rather unpleasant here for a time."

"I shall not run away," Flora Quayne declared. "Neither must you. As to
poor Colonel Dennett, who in this place would ever have thought of
hurting him? What would they gain by it? He was almost penniless. Every
one knew that."

"I have given up puzzling about it," Roger acknowledged. "I haven't much
of a brain, anyway, and what I have is addled."

"Sit on the edge of the couch, please, Roger," she begged.

She made room for him and he obeyed. Her arms stole round his neck. He
made a movement to draw away but the sight of her misty eyes restrained
him.

"Flora, my dear Flora," he began. "If only--"

"Pick me up," she ordered.

He obeyed. He carried her round the room and she was like a child again.

"Four times round, please," she implored. "Go away, Marie," she added to
her maid, "and close the door. I'll call when I want you...This is not
tiring you?"

"Not in the least," he assured her. "But--"

"Never mind if it is not tiring you," she interrupted. "It may seem
stupid to you but I like it. If I had all the money in the world, Roger,
and a beautiful island and ships and pictures and all sorts of
marvellous things, I would give them all to you to be carried about--to
have you come when I called, and love me when I felt lonely as I do
to-night. Fate has not been so kind to me," she went on, with her cheek
against his. "Why cannot she give me just this thing? You're not really
very different from other men, you know, Roger. I believe if I had seen
you before you saw that little shop-girl, you would have felt everything
I want you to feel--for me. But you do feel something sometimes, don't
you?" she continued, with sudden fire in her tone. "I felt you quiver,
Roger. You kissed me once as if you liked it. Kiss me now."

He bent over her lips. The kiss which he commenced, however, in such
brotherly fashion suddenly became a thing of passion. He felt her mouth
fighting for his, her arms seemed gifted with a furious strength. He was
absolutely helpless. He could only tear himself away by hurting her. She
turned out one of the lights as they passed the switch and her eyes
shone like fire. She laughed at his discomfiture.

"There's plenty of light," she told him, "from the lamp by the side of
the sofa. Like this, I feel more. Roger, can't you take me away from
this place? The little girl will soon find some one else. She's just
like one of the millions who pass through the streets day by day. She
will find some one else soon, and if you go, Roger, I shall never find
any one in the world, and I need you so much more than she does. She
must see heaps of men day by day in that great place where she works,
Roger. Any one of them would do for her. No one else would do for me.
And I am so helpless."

She seemed to have spent herself for the moment, with her pleading and
her passion. Her arms slackened their grip. Breathless, he laid her down
upon the couch and stood away. She covered her face with her hands.

"Oh, you are hard!" she cried. "Why do you fight against me so, Roger?
Why do you make me ashamed? Why don't you love me a little as I love
you?"

She heard his stumbling footsteps. She moved her hands away from her
eyes. The door had been opened and closed. She was alone.



CHAPTER XIX


Mrs. Dewar was seated at her hard wooden desk, carefully copying the
disbursements of the day into an ink-stained and shabby ledger. She wore
no glasses--she needed none. The back of her chair was as though it
didn't exist. She sat absolutely upright and she wrote quickly and
unfalteringly. Suddenly, however, she paused. She held her head in an
attitude of rigid attention. There was a familiar sound in the passage
outside. She felt a little shiver of fear, the fear which came to her
only from one thing in life. She knew very well who this coming visitor
was. She listened to the soft thud of the stick. She laid down her pen
as the door opened and Flora Quayne entered. Then she rose slowly to her
feet.

"Something is the matter?" she asked.

Flora Quayne listened for a moment, then she locked the door and threw
herself on to the hard horsehair couch. She seemed to pass without a
second's warning into hysterics. She turned from side to side, covered
her face with her hands; her whole slight frame seemed torn and rent
with sobs. Mrs. Dewar came slowly across the room and knelt by her side.
She laid her hands upon the girl's forehead, yet even then her voice
seemed empty of all feeling. They were the husks of words she spoke.

"My child," she begged, "don't! Please don't. Some one might come. There
is something you wish for? Tell me."

The girl pushed her passionately away. Mrs. Dewar rose to her feet and
stood looking down at the dishevelled figure. Flora waved her away.

"Get back to your chair," she cried, "I can't bear you near me."

Mrs. Dewar obeyed. She sat before her desk and waited. There was a great
emptiness in her eyes, a wilder longing in her tired heart than the girl
on the couch was feeling, but she showed no sign. Flora sat up--a
strange, witch-like figure, her beautiful hair dishevelled, her face
white and drawn.

"Listen--you," she commanded.

"I am listening," Mrs. Dewar said.

"It is because of you," Flora went on, and her voice was hard as steel,
"that I am like this! Roger only half wants me. I can make him feel a
moment's passion but no love. You got drunk--you let me fall down the
stairs. It is true, isn't it?"

For one moment Mrs. Dewar's eyes were closed, then she opened them
again.

"It is the truth," she confessed. "I have suffered for it--I have done
what I could."

"You were drunk," Flora persisted. "You were supposed to be looking
after me."

"It is true," Mrs. Dewar confessed once again. "That was twenty years
ago. Since then I have never tasted wine or any alcohol--and I have
suffered! What I have done to make atonement I have done. You have
luxury. This house is what it is so that you may be what you are. I live
in fear and I have done evil things. You remind me of my sin and I must
remind you of my sufferings."

"I have never forgiven you," Flora told her breathlessly.

"My God! Do I not know it?" the woman at the desk moaned, and all the
sorrow of the world seemed for an instant to be reflected in her voice.
"You have never forgiven me. You are my daughter and you have never
forgiven."

"Listen," Flora said. "I might forgive."

Mrs. Dewar sat quite still. She attempted no words.

"I might forgive," Flora repeated. "I am torn and tortured to death. The
thing has come to me which I never dreamed would come as it has. I want
Roger Ferrison. Get him for me and I will forgive."

"Roger Ferrison!"

"Get him for me," Flora went on, moving farther forward on the couch,
"and I will do what I have not done for all those twenty years, though
you have prayed and prayed. I will kiss you. I will put my arms round
you. I will call you 'mother.' I will tell you that you are forgiven."

"If I had power to work miracles," the woman faltered with half-closed
eyes. "Let me think."

"He is half mine," Flora continued. "You have only half your task to do.
He is obstinate. He has conscience. He thinks of that other girl. That
girl must go. Do you hear? It is the girl--Audrey Packe--who is in the
way."

"What can I do?" Mrs. Dewar asked, and she had almost the look of a
devotee in a cathedral.

"You know what has happened to others through those who are in this
house," the girl persisted. "Your friends are not squeamish people. You
know very well, and I know, that before a week is past, that fool of an
old woman, Susannah Clewes, will probably be dead. Very well. What is
going to happen to one must happen to another. You must get rid of her."

"I must get rid of her," Mrs. Dewar repeated. "You mean you are sure
that if she were out of the way Roger Ferrison would be your lover?"

"I am sure," was the feverish reply. "What you do, how you do it, is
nothing to me. Buy her, if you like. She's only a miserable little
shop-girl. Offer her money. If she won't take that, then she must be got
rid of the other way."

There was a long silence. Flora, who had raised herself to a crouching
posture, her face supported between her hands, gazed across at the woman
in the chair. Those soft brilliant eyes were empty now of their tender
lights. They seemed like the windows of a house of hate.

"Well, what are you going to do?" she demanded, and though her voice was
so low that it scarcely carried across the room, there was a pent-up
passion of anger trembling there.

"What can I do?" the woman at the desk asked hopelessly.

"Get me what I want," was the fierce retort. "You owe it to me. I want
Roger Ferrison."

"What has come to you, Flora?" Mrs. Dewar marvelled, and so far as the
advent of any emotion into her still voice was possible, it was manifest
then. "You are always surrounded by such young men as may come
here--most of them would be easy and willing victims. You will have
nothing to say to them. Suddenly you are on fire!"

The girl clasped her hands to her bosom.

"Don't I know it?" she moaned. "I'm going mad! As for those
others--don't dare to speak to me of them. I want Roger Ferrison. He
would be mine easily enough but for that girl. Am I to kill her with my
own hands?"

"The young man is so impossible," Mrs. Dewar lamented. "He is one of the
impossible type. He has a conscience which is sufficient to make a mule
of any man. Do you mean that if the other girl were out of the way--I
imagine that even then it would not make any difference. He would have
suspicions. The girl is a common little chit but he has chosen her. I
don't think even if he were free that he would accept anything you have
to offer him."

The girl was portentously calm. She picked up her stick and the thin
blue veins at the backs of her delicate hands seemed like strips of
whipcord.

"So you taunt me--you !" she cried. "You--who have made me what I am!
Other girls have decent mothers. I have you."

Mrs. Dewar's lips moved, and moved again, and went on moving without
sound. She had suddenly become like one of those dolls in a Russian
Ballet, mechanical puppets in whose soundbox some string has broken. The
girl, clutching the edge of the sofa with her free hand, half staggered
to her feet. She swung her stick and flung it across the room, so that
the woman seated there collapsed for the moment, moaning over her desk.
The girl chuckled horribly. She sidled from the couch with the palms of
her hands upon the floor. She was like some wild and beautiful animal
crawling through the jungle.

"So that hurt--yes? Some of the pain I bear day by day. My heritage from
you! If you won't give me what I want, you shall suffer as I have
suffered. Don't move! I may be slow but I am coming. Sit there. Wait for
me."

Mrs. Dewar pulled herself upright in her chair and rose to her feet. She
crossed the room with the stick in her hand, leaned down, lifted the
girl in her arms and laid her once more upon the couch--a fluttering
medley of silk-clad legs and billowy lingerie.

"You shall have your way," she yielded. "You shall triumph as you always
do."

The girl immediately ceased her struggles. She pulled down her skirt,
smoothing it lovingly as though its delicate texture pleased her. The
softness returned miraculously to her face. Her lips were moist and
tremulous, already framing a smile. Her eyes were becoming like pools of
sweet contentment. She held the hand of the woman who was leaning over
her. The slight peevishness of her tone was almost attractive.

"Why do you excite me so much?" she complained. "You know that you must
do as I wish. I wish that girl to be removed. Promise me before I go
that it shall be done and I shall spend the night happily...But it must
be soon! I cannot bear to wait for Roger. I am dying of something that
is worse than thirst."

"It shall be soon," Mrs. Dewar promised.

The girl patted the back of her mother's hand. The latter endured the
caress so long as it lasted, then she made her way to the door, opened
it softly and listened.

"You had better go to bed," she advised, looking round. "There is no one
about to-night."

There was a hungry look in the girl's eyes.

"Roger--" she began.

"The lounge is empty and the lights are out."

Flora Quayne took up her stick and with her strange yet not wholly
ungraceful gait made her way out to the passage. She looked back for a
moment.

"Good night, Mrs. Dewar," she said, with an irony which was only half
playful.

"Good night, Miss Quayne," was the quiet reply.



CHAPTER XX


Roger returned in due course from his somewhat prolonged taxicab
expedition, turned on the light in the alcove, glanced at the long line
of metal pegs and whistled to himself.

"I say, Audrey," he called out softly. "Come and have a look at this."

She joined him, carrying her hat in her hand.

"Every one out to-night," Roger pointed out. "Look--Mr. Luke is out, Mr.
Bernascon is out, Mr. Barstowe is out, Mr. Padgham is out, Mr. Ollivant
is out!"

Audrey glanced at the clock.

"One o'clock!" she exclaimed. "Roger, how much did you have to pay that
taxi-man?"

"Not half what the drive was worth," he answered cheerily. "But how the
time has slipped away. And where, Audrey--where, I ask, are our
mysterious fellow boarders? Mr. Luke, for instance, after dinner
apologising for yawning and going to bed. And Barstowe refusing Miss
Medlincott's complimentary tickets for the theatre, because he had had,
as he called it, his night out last night and wanted sleep."

Audrey shook her head gravely.

"I don't understand it," she admitted. "And remember, they are not the
only mysterious people connected with the place. There's Miss Clewes. Of
course, she may be out of her mind, but she doesn't seem like it to me.
There's that wild strange girl who won't let you alone. She isn't
exactly normal, is she, Roger? ... I have quite made up my mind I would
like to leave here if I can find a place at about the same price. Would
you mind very much, Roger?"

"We'll talk about it," he answered. "First of all, I'm thirsty after
that wonderful drive. Let's see if Joseph has obeyed orders. I told him
a bottle of whisky and a bottle of port. I tell you, Audrey," he went
on, after a brief examination of the bottles, "there's the perfect
boarding-house butler for you. Both there--both corks drawn--both in
decanters--both with neat little cards hung around the neck! We're going
to have a drink before we go to bed. Let's go in our old corner."

She laughed.

"Why, Roger," she exclaimed, "you must be tired of--holding my hand."

"Come and try," he invited. "Wait till I've made myself a whisky and
soda and poured out your port."

They made their way to the recess and established themselves upon the
lounge. Roger took a long drink of his whisky and soda.

"Good," he exclaimed. "Drink your port, Audrey. You must want something
too."

She came closer to him.

"You are not going to sit up till all those people come in, are you,
dear?" she asked drowsily.

"Not if you don't want to," he replied. "I'm quite willing to leave this
place," he went on. "We promised to stay for a short time, you know, for
Mrs. Dewar's sake, but after the inquest next week, I think we might get
away without doing any one any harm. I wish I dare smoke."

"Can't you?"

He shook his head.

"If there's any mystery about these fellows," he said, "and their queer
nocturnal habits, it's jolly certain that when they came in they would
know it if some one had been smoking during the last few minutes. I
remember the last time some one--I couldn't see who it was at first but
we found out afterwards that it was Padgham--turned on the light and
looked round as though he were frightened to death of being seen. We
were nearly discovered that time. Audrey, you're not listening!"

No reply. Audrey was fast asleep. Roger, whose curiosity was greater
than he himself realised, drew her farther back amongst the cushions,
found a safe place for his whisky and soda and composed himself to wait.

Huddled up on the couch at the back of the recess, Audrey opened her
eyes with a half-stifled croon of pleasure. She swayed gently away from
Roger's embrace.

"I believe," she murmured, "I believe I must have been almost asleep."

Roger laughed derisively.

"My dear," he told her, "you have been asleep for an hour and a half. We
have been here altogether for an hour and three-quarters. It's a quarter
to three."

"Has anybody come in?"

"Not a soul. All the same, something queer has been going on."

"Something queer? Tell me about it."

He shook his head.

"It all seems so impossible," he observed. "First of all, I am quite
sure I heard the green baize door swing but I could not hear a footstep
or a voice and there's not the slightest draught from the passage. Then,
I thought I heard sounds right out at the back, but they died away too.
Finally I had a real shock," he went on. "I heard footsteps on the
stairs and behold, Mrs. Padgham in a wonderful silk dressing gown and
boudoir cap to match--don't forget that, Audrey, when you buy your
trousseau--came down the stairs, timidly for her, carrying a torch! She
turned up the light and looked at the keys. She stayed there a few
seconds and then away she went upstairs again."

"Getting anxious about her husband, I suppose," Audrey remarked.

"Well, if you don't mind, dear, I suggest we leave them to go their own
evil way. I'm stiff and I can scarcely keep my eyes open."

"You poor dear," she cried, rising swiftly to her feet. "It was selfish
of me to have gone off to sleep like that. We will go at once. Hush!"

She caught him by the wrist. They leaned back into the black obscurity
of their retreat. There had been no sound of a latchkey in the door but
the light of an electric torch suddenly flashed down the row of keys.
There was a slight clatter.

"The first home," Roger whispered. "I wonder who it is."

They had little chance, however, of finding out. What followed was a
miracle of swiftness. A dark figure, absolutely undistinguishable, fled
up the stairs, a phantom of a human being. Again there was a
clatter--one, two, three keys were replaced. The torch was extinguished.
There was a muffled sound of flying footsteps upon the stairs and then
silence.

"Well, I'm damned," Roger muttered under his breath.

"I'm frightened," she confessed. "No one would come in like that and fly
upstairs unless he was in danger or terrified. Listen! Roger, what on
earth is that?"

"A most unholy motor accident, I should say," he replied.

They stood hand in hand listening to the crashing of metal and woodwork
and a single long-drawn-out shriek of agony. The windows rattled in
their sashes. There was the sound of a loud explosion, the hiss of
escaping steam. Then came shouts and yells.

"Roger, how ghastly!" Audrey cried. "I wish I had not sat up."

He pushed her towards the staircase.

"I think I'd better go out, Audrey dear, if you don't mind. I don't like
horrors myself, but they may need help."

Her arms were wound tightly around him. Without an effort of absolute
brutality, it was impossible for him to move.

"You shan't go," she declared. "I tell you, I will not be left here.
There is something fearful going on. That crash may have something to do
with it. Don't move, Roger. Don't breathe."

He closed his lips with an effort. Again there was the rattle of a key
in the front door. A vague shape leaped through the darkness of the
alcove--silent-footed in a whirlwind of haste. One more key clanked in
its place and the last of the returned revellers flashed by, a single
creaking stair bearing slight evidence to his flying progress. Then
there was silence, except that near by outside there was a smothered
hubbub of voices. Roger's hand clasped his companion's wrist.

"Audrey," he insisted, "we are going to get out of this. Upstairs to
your room at once. Let's see if we can go as fast as they did."

Hand in hand, they dashed up the first flight and reached the security
of the darkness above.

The front doorbell of the house of mysteries in Palace Crescent was
ringing at intervals whilst a heavy hand pounded upon the knocker.
Joseph was full of sleepy but dignified indignation, as he threw open
the door and gazed breathlessly into the night.

"What on earth are you making such a hell of a noise for at this hour of
the night?" he demanded.

There was no verbal answer, but Joseph was gently but firmly pushed on
one side. An inspector of police, followed by three constables, trooped
into the hall. Joseph stared at them open-mouthed.

"What--again!" he exclaimed. "My God! There's more of you, too, at the
back door. I can hear the noise they're making from here."

"Go and open it," the Inspector ordered brusquely. "Look here, I'll come
with you. Guard the stairs and the door here, you others. Quick, Joseph,
show me the way."

"Along this passage," Joseph directed.

"Turn on the lights."

"I can't," was the helpless reply. "Something's fused somewhere. Try it
yourself, if you don't believe me."

"Do you mean to say there are no lights anywhere in the house?" the
Inspector asked.

"Not one--for the moment."

The Inspector's torch flashed out. Joseph led the way down the passage
to the green baize door and out into the scullery. Just as they entered,
the window was smashed in and a constable crawled through.

"Door locked, sir," he reported.

The Inspector turned the key and Joseph drew back the bolt. Two more
constables entered. The Inspector flashed his torch round, left one man
at the outside gate, one in the scullery and one in the passage. He then
turned to Joseph.

"Waken your mistress at once, if she is in bed," he ordered. "Which is
her room?"

"This way, sir."

This time there was no delay. Joseph had barely knocked at the door of
Mrs. Dewar's bureau when it was opened. She stood on the threshold,
holding a candle in her hand, a dressing gown wrapped around her thin
body.

"Is it about the lights?" she asked. "Inspector Rudlett, I see," she
went on, leaning forward. "What's the trouble now, Inspector?"

"I'm going to search your house, Madam," he announced. "You can come
with me if you wish; if not, your servant here must take me to the
various rooms."

"Do you mean to say," Mrs. Dewar expostulated, "that you propose to
disturb my boarders at this hour of the night?"

"All that I require from you, Madam, in the way of conversation, is the
names of the tenants of your rooms," was the brusque reply. "Follow me,
please."

The Inspector led the way to the alcove and flashed his torch down the
long row of keys. He glanced at the names with a somewhat unpleasant
smile.

"No one out to-night, I see," he remarked sarcastically. "All your
boarders safe in bed, Mrs. Dewar!"

"My boarders are not in the habit of walking about the streets in the
early morning," she answered. "So far as I know, every one was in their
room before midnight. However, the house is at your disposal."

"How long have you had this trouble with the lights?" he asked, as they
mounted the stairs.

"Several times during the last few months."

"Have you made complaints in the proper quarters?"

Mrs. Dewar shrugged her shoulders.

"It seems quite useless," she said. "The lights go on after a time.
Building operations is generally the excuse."

"I will have enquiries made into the matter," he promised grimly.

"You might also have enquiries made into the reason for this ridiculous
visit at three o'clock in the morning," Mrs. Dewar suggested wearily.
"Do you imagine that I am keeping an improper house or a gaming place or
sheltering criminals?"

She had paused upon the stairs. The Inspector gently urged her forward.

"At present, Madam," he told her, "you give me the impression of one who
is trying to gain time."

"I will take you to the door of each room," she said, "and tell you the
names of the occupants. You can enter and explain your business
yourself. I should never be able to face my boarders again if I intruded
at this hour of the morning without the shadow of an explanation. The
door exactly opposite is the door of the room occupied by Mr. and Mrs.
Padgham. As I believe it is their custom to share a double bed, I trust
you will use all discretion in your entrance."

"The law is not concerned in conventionalities, Mrs. Dewar," the
Inspector answered, as he knocked at the door.

Detective Inspector Rudlett was more puzzled than he would have cared to
admit as he stood in the lounge, about an hour later, waiting for Mrs.
Dewar. He had made several notes in his pocketbook but he was bound to
admit that they were not of vast importance. Every room which he had
visited contained inmates who were, or who appeared to have been,
sleeping. Their discarded evening clothes were more or less neatly
disposed of, there was no sign of hurried entrance into any one of the
rooms. Roger Ferrison and Audrey Packe, it was true, were still fully
clothed, but they were not under suspicion and Roger's explanation
seemed quite satisfactory. The report from the sergeant, who had made an
exhaustive search of the rear part of the premises, was utterly
negative. Already Rudlett was figuring to himself an unpleasant
half-hour in the office of the Sub-Commissioner. A raid like this upon a
boarding house against which nothing definite was known, except that a
murder had been committed in its vicinity a few nights before, whilst
the real criminals of whom he had been in search had got away, was
scarcely likely to lead him any nearer towards promotion. Nevertheless,
he had not yet lost all hope. There was one more chance.

In due course, Mrs. Dewar appeared. Her weary expression was in no way
changed. She showed no signs of triumph. She displayed none of the usual
feminine "I told you so" attitude. She listened icily to the Inspector's
suave speech.

"Mrs. Dewar," he said, "I have seen all your lodgers and questioned them
as to their doings this evening. If I am able to verify their
statements, you will hear no more of this disagreeable affair."

"I am very glad to hear it," she assured him. "Since you appear to have
come to the conclusion that you have made a mistake, Inspector, may I
ask in what terrible criminal conspiracy you imagined us to be
concerned? A few nights ago it was a murder. What is it this time?"

"You will read more about it in the papers later on, Madam," the
Inspector confided. "There was a very serious jewel robbery in
Burlington Gardens an hour or so ago. A watchman was killed and a
policeman, I fear, mortally wounded. The criminals got away in a car
which was chased by a police automobile to the corner of this street."

"It is quite a long street," Mrs. Dewar remarked drily.

"That may be so," the Inspector admitted. "The presumptive evidence is
very strong, however, that the thieves found shelter either here or in
one of the adjoining houses. Our suspicions appear to have been directed
to the wrong one."

"You have my sympathy," Mrs. Dewar assured him. "These continued
blunderings must, I fear, shake the faith of your superiors."

The Inspector smiled as he turned away. He left Mrs. Dewar's sarcastic
comment unanswered.



CHAPTER XXI


Luncheon was never served at Palace Crescent except under special
conditions, the understanding being that the great majority of Mrs.
Dewar's boarders would be engaged in their City labours during that
portion of the day. As the dinner hour approached, however, on the day
of the police raid, the lounge was crowded at least a quarter of an hour
before the usual time for assembling. There was scarcely a single
absentee and Joseph did a brisk trade in aperitifs of every description.

"It is the first time in my life," the elder Miss Clewes remarked with
dignity, "that I have been awakened to find a man in my sleeping
apartment. I can assure you that I shall find great difficulty in
getting over the shock."

"Poor old dear," Mr. Padgham chuckled _sotto voce_. "The first time in her
life and then to find it was only a policeman!"

"Naturally," Miss Susannah Clewes continued, "when I opened my eyes and
saw the Inspector standing by my bed, I thought that he had come to
collect more evidence from me concerning the events of the other night.
I should have been quite willing to have told him the whole story but he
behaved, I must say, in a most perfunctory manner. He assured me that
next week would be plenty of time for further discussion as to the
murder of Colonel Dennett, and he persisted in cross-questioning me
about events which had nothing whatever to do with the case."

"He even opened our wardrobe," Miss Amelia complained, in a shocked
tone.

"I woke up," Reginald Barstowe announced, "to find the Inspector shaking
my dinner clothes and holding them up to the light. He asked me twice
whether the shirt was the one I had worn all the evening. He even felt
the soles of my shoes and asked me how far I had walked!"

"The row outside woke me up and I was reading when he came in to me,"
Mr. Bernascon recounted. "He examined my clothes just the same and even
felt the stub of a cigarette in the ash tray to see if it was cold."

"I can understand the police coming a bad cropper now and then," Mr.
Luke remarked judiciously, "but what I cannot understand is that having
searched the house last night and discovered every one peaceably in bed,
they should have appeared again this morning, pretty well as soon as we
had all left after breakfast, with a search warrant signed by a
well-known magistrate which permitted them to ransack every room and, in
short, the whole of the premises. What suspicious circumstances can they
expect to find in a well-kept boarding house such as this?"

"And I'll tell you another thing," Mr. Ollivant chimed in, elbowing his
way forward. "When the police left, they didn't all go. They stationed a
man on the other side of the road, another one at the corner and one
inside the house--as Mrs. Dewar will tell you. When I left, I thought
out of curiosity that I would just have a look at the back and there, if
you please, was another of them at the old tradesmen's entrance which is
not used now, close to where poor old Dennett was shot."

"You all seem inclined to treat the whole matter as a joke," Mr. Padgham
observed, "but the more I think about it, the more I ask myself what
these fellows were after? Do they think we're a company of gangsters or
foreign crooks or Russians or what?"

"I can tell you what they were after," Roger Ferrison interposed. "I was
lunching in the City to-day and heard all about it. It's the Burlington
Gardens jewel raiders they wanted. You all read about that, of course?"

"Of course we read about it," Mr. Luke agreed. "But what makes you think
that they came here after those fellows? The newspapers declared that
the Burlington Gardens thieves were a well-known gang whose headquarters
are in a provincial town."

"Some of them, perhaps," Roger remarked, "but the Evening Standard, for
instance, declares that the raiders tried to escape by the Hammersmith
Road, and we know quite well that it was in the Hammersmith Road they
deserted their car and left it without lights, for the police automobile
which was following them to run into. That was the collision we heard
from the house here. Cost three men their lives!"

"I think Ferrison is right," Barstowe agreed. "I think the Burlington
Gardens raiders tried to escape this way and every one seems agreed that
it was their car which was smashed up near the corner of the road. I
think we can take it for granted that was the crowd Inspector Rudlett
and his men were after, but why on earth they came here to look for the
fellows is more than I can imagine. We have never had a boarder of even
doubtful character since I have been here."

"I can understand the police making an initial mistake," Mr. Luke
reflected, "especially as this neighbourhood must be in bad odour for
the moment, owing to poor old Dennett's murder, but what seems to me
absolutely inexplicable is why, after having had time to make the
requisite enquiries, having searched this whole place and found not a
single suspicious circumstance, they should have come back again this
morning and have had another go."

Flora Quayne looked up from the easy-chair which Roger had drawn up from
her usual corner, so that she might join the group.

"Perhaps it was I who excited suspicion," she suggested, in her low
sweet tone. "I was still in _deshabille_ when they arrived and they found
a pistol by my bedside. I keep it there always, but it seemed to make
them very angry."

"But why do you keep it there?" Audrey asked. "Who would be likely to do
you any harm?"

Flora Quayne looked across at her with wide-open eyes.

"Well, for one thing," she explained gently, "I believe that I have very
much more jewellery than any one else here, except perhaps Mrs. Padgham.
I have some pearls which are worth a great deal of money and you must
remember that I could not defend myself if I were attacked. My voice
even does not carry far enough to shout--especially if I have a fit of
nerves. That's why I keep a pistol by my side--for protection."

"And a jolly good reason too," Bernascon declared with emphasis.

Then Mrs. Dewar came quietly in--also a few minutes before her usual
time. She was, without a doubt, a most extraordinary woman, for without
seeming to raise her voice in the least, without the appearance of
addressing any one in particular, she greeted them with a few
significant words which every one heard and understood.

"I feel that I have to offer you all," she said, glancing first at Mr.
Luke and then at the others, "my sincere apologies. To have had my house
raided as it was last night and all you people disturbed and annoyed is
most humiliating. I do not know what compensation, if any, the police
are likely to offer me, but I do beg for your consideration."

"My dear Mrs. Dewar," Mr. Luke replied, "I can assure you I speak on
behalf of every one when I express to you our deepest sympathy. There is
some slight excuse for the police, perhaps, for the simple reason that
this is the nearest house to the place where the raiders left their car.
I feel sure, however, that in due course you will receive a full apology
from the authorities."

"I think what Mrs. Dewar is afraid of," Flora Quayne ventured, "is that
some of you may think of leaving because of this mysterious visitation
coming so soon after the tragedy of Colonel Dennett's death. It is
unfortunate, of course, but Mrs. Dewar is not to be blamed. I do hope
that none of you will think of leaving. I myself shall, of course, stay
on."

"And I," echoed Mr. Luke.

"And I," from Mr. Bernascon.

"And my wife and myself," Mr. Padgham declared.

"I have no thought of leaving," Mr. Ollivant assured everybody.

"Nor I," Mr. Lashwood echoed.

"So far as my sister and I are concerned," Miss Clewes said, "we hope to
remain, if we are allowed to do so, until after the adjourned inquest
next Thursday. As for a longer period, that will depend upon events."

Roger and Audrey exchanged a quick glance.

"May I speak for Miss Packe as well as myself, Mrs. Dewar?" he asked.
"We have special reasons, not in any way connected with these
unfortunate incidents, for taking our leave. The fact is, we are engaged
to be married, and Miss Packe is going to stay with her aunt who lives
in London and who will help her with the necessary preparations."

There was a murmur of congratulations. Joseph, with a courteous but
ungraceful bending of his long neck, came round with a silver salver on
which were the requisite number of glasses of sherry ordered by Mr.
Luke. Every one drank the health of the young people.

"I thank you all so much," Mrs. Dewar said. "You are very kind indeed.
With regard to Mr. Ferrison and Miss Packe," she added, "I join in the
congratulations which you are all offering. It would, of course, be
unreasonable to expect them under the circumstances to stay on here.
What I should like to ask though, as this is the first occasion for some
time when an engagement has been announced on the premises, is that they
will permit me to offer them a small celebration one night next week, at
about this hour, something which I understand in more fashionable
circles is called a cocktail party."

For a single moment Audrey Packe had one of those queer impulses of
distrust in Palace Crescent and every one connected with it, and she
felt an almost passionate desire to refuse Mrs. Dewar's invitation. Then
she realised the hopelessness of such an effort. There was no possible
excuse for refusing without ungraciousness. Roger's face too was
beaming.

"I am perfectly certain, Mrs. Dewar," he assured her, "that Miss Packe
will be as delighted as I shall be to accept your invitation. Isn't that
so, Audrey?"

"Why, of course," was her cheerful acquiescence.

Joseph, looking taller and lanker than ever in the empty background,
made his accustomed lopping bow.

"Dinner is served, Madam," he announced.



CHAPTER XXII


Freda Medlincott abandoned a somewhat profitless interview with her
agent and, in the worst of spirits, descended the narrow stairs leading
from his office and looked out upon Shaftesbury Avenue. It is at no time
a picturesque prospect but it was less so than ever on this particular
morning for, during the last few minutes, the rain which had been
threatening all the forenoon had begun to fall. She contemplated the
immediate present with dismay. A taxicab would be an unheard-of
extravagance, especially as she had no particular destination, and the
sight of the over-filled omnibuses was depressing in the extreme. More
distressing still, however, was the reflection that she had on a new hat
and no umbrella.

"I beg your pardon."

She started at the sound of a pleasant voice in her ears. What she saw
was even more pleasant--a good-looking young man with humorous eyes and
a faintly reminiscent smile, carrying a large umbrella. The most
encouraging part of the whole thing was that his face was familiar and
she really felt that he was an acquaintance.

"I am afraid you have forgotten me," he said.

"I am sure I remember talking to you quite lately," she admitted.

"We sat side by side in that terribly stuffy little coroner's court the
other day," he reminded her. "Don't you remember that dramatic moment
when the old lady got up and offered to point out the murderer of
Colonel Dennett?"

"Why, of course, I remember you," she assented eagerly. "You were so
kind and polite."

"Let me persevere then," he begged, "and offer you a share of my
umbrella. Or shall I call you a taxicab? Where do you want to go?"

She smiled at him. He was the sort of young man a young woman like Freda
Medlincott could smile at easily.

"Anywhere," she told him. "I have been to see my agent about a job and I
can't have it. If I could get to any sheltered place without spoiling my
new hat, I think I'd sit down and drink some poison."

"An excellent idea," he decided. "I know where there's some wonderful
poison over at a place they call Ronnie's Bar. Quite respectable. In
fact, it's a sort of club. If you will cling closely to me until we get
there, we will say goodbye to the streaming world together."

She drew a sigh of content. Why couldn't some of those stupid men at
Palace Crescent talk like this? She held up her skirts partly to avoid a
puddle that stretched in front of her and partly to display her really
very trim ankles. They walked off together.

"Quite a stroke of luck, this, for me," he declared. "I was just trying
to think of an excuse for an early cocktail. I don't as a rule indulge
until about five minutes before luncheon."

"I have been very badly brought up as regards cocktails," Miss
Medlincott confided. "I take them whenever they are offered to me."

"You say you were looking for a job," he remarked. "What do you do,
then? I thought you were on one of the papers."

She shook her head.

"I do musical-comedy stunts of a sort," she said. "I have been in one or
two decent shows. Just now, there seems to be nothing doing. It's all
films and if there's one thing I hate, it's films. I expect I shall have
to trudge out to Elstree one day, though."

"I shouldn't," he advised her. "Films are an awful toss-up. I wonder if
you know a pal of mine--Sam Blundell?"

"I know him by name, of course," she acknowledged. "I don't get much
chance, though, of meeting the men who might be of any use to me. I live
in a boarding house and the people there are not in the least
professional."

He stopped outside a small, very pleasant café bar of the modern order
and ushered her in. They took two easy-chairs and he ordered Martinis. A
tiny blue cloth was laid upon the table and biscuits and sandwiches also
made their appearance.

"What a delightful place!" Freda exclaimed, looking round. "Are you
really a member?"

"Of course I am, or I shouldn't be here," he answered, smiling. "It is
only just opened as a club, though. Much nicer. Keeps the casual
wanderer out."

"Like me," she laughed.

"You don't come under the heading," he observed. "You were saying that
you live at a boarding house. Didn't you tell me that that little old
lady lived there too?"

"She does. I see her every day."

"Really! I wonder whether the old lady was serious. Fancy having seen a
murder committed and going about with it all before you."

"She lives with her sister," Freda confided. "Two old maids. I should
think both of them are over seventy. They spend the whole of their time
knitting."

"I should love to see her again. She would just fit into a story I'm
writing."

"So you write stories, do you?" Freda Medlincott remarked enviously.

"I try to," he admitted. "I am not frightfully successful but I get
one or two published sometimes. Fortunately I don't altogether depend
upon them for a living."

"My name is Freda Medlincott," she said. "You were going to tell me
yours, if you remember, at that inquest, but it was such a crush getting
out we were separated, and Mr. Luke--he is one of our boarders--took me
away in his car."

"My name is Lengton," he told her. "Major Lengton, if you like. I
started life in the army. Retired two years ago. How is the cocktail,
Miss Medlincott?"

"Excellent."

"You are not drinking it," he complained.

"I am making it last out."

"They would shake us another, if we pressed the matter," he assured her.

She laughed.

"How do I know that you can afford to buy a strange young woman two
cocktails?" she asked.

"Better than that, I can afford to ask her to lunch."

"I can't believe it," she exclaimed. "It sounds too good to be true."

"We will go to a grill somewhere," he suggested. "I hate a restaurant in
the daytime. We will find a corner and you shall tell me all about your
old maid."

"And you must tell me about your story."

"You might not like it," he reflected. "You see, I write to make money
and it is about a lot of crooks."

"I sometimes think if I didn't know them so well, and if they were not
really so harmless, that one might make a story up about our Palace
Crescent boarders. We were raided the other night."

"Tell me about it," he begged, making mysterious signs to the barman

"A perfectly awful time we had. It was the early morning of that bad
robbery in Burlington Gardens. You must have read all about it. The
thieves left their car across the road quite near us and turned the
lights off and the police ran into it; then they all seemed to get away
somewhere--at least I haven't heard of any arrests--and as ours was the
nearest house, the police came and searched us. I had a man in my
bedroom--he was very polite, but he looked in all the cupboards and
examined my clothes to see whether I had just come in or not. Every one
in the house was treated the same way."

"Did they find out an3 T thing?"

"There was nothing to find out. The boarders at Palace Crescent haven't
spirit enough amongst the lot of them to carry out a raid like that.
There's one decent young man just come," she reflected. "Of course, he
got engaged in less than a week to the only other girl there."

"I say, that's rather interesting about having the police search the
whole house," he remarked. "I didn't think they were allowed to do that
sort of thing."

"They did more," she told him. "They came the next morning and searched
the house again from top to bottom !"

"And they still found nothing?"

"If so, they kept it to themselves," she said. "They didn't seem to find
anything wrong with the place. Our landlady was terribly upset, though.
Which way do you live?"

"I have rooms in Adam Street," he confided. "I used to be in the Temple
but it's too far out. Adam Street is awfully old-fashioned but it has a
pleasant lookout and I have a decent room if I feel in the humour for
writing. You must come and have tea with me some day."

"I should love to."

"In the meantime," he suggested, summoning a waiter and paying him,
"suppose we march out and get that spot of lunch."

"You really mean it? I feel I'm rather inflicting myself on you."

He laughed.

"You needn't feel anything of the sort. I love a little adventure like
this."

"Not so much as I do," she assured him. "I am glad I went to that
inquest."

Major Lengton seemed to be quite a well-known person. At Ciro's Grill he
was offered and accepted the compliment of a corner table and the
luncheon he ordered met with his companion's complete approval.

"Do you often come here?" she asked.

"Not very," he replied. "I generally go to my own club--man's club, you
know. That's not far from here. I always think this is a cosy little
place, though, if you have some one to talk to. Who is the man over
there staring at you so? Do you know him?"

She looked in the direction he indicated.

"Not that I know of," she answered doubtfully. "His face seems familiar,
though."

"One of those rude fellows who will stare at a pretty girl, I suppose."

She flipped the back of his hand.

"Don't pay me compliments," she insisted. "You'll turn my head."

"I should like to. What will you have to drink? I didn't offer you
another cocktail. I thought that perhaps would enable you to drink a
glass of light white wine."

"How cleverly you think things out," she said. "I should like to lunch
with you every day."

"I am engaged Saturdays," he meditated, "otherwise, I think it's a fine
idea."

"Saturdays, I suppose, you spend with your _fiancée_ or your wife?"

"Saturday I play golf all day--morning and afternoon. And if I am not
out of town for the week-end, I generally dine at the club in the
evening. _Fiancée_ or wife have I none. I sometimes think it's time I
settled down."

"I expect you are probably right," she agreed. "Perhaps you find
adventures of this sort quite as interesting?"

"More so," he confided, "but they don't happen every day, nor does it
rain every day, nor do I often carry my umbrella, nor, I suppose, do you
come to see your agent every day!"

"There are pleasanter places than Shaftesbury Avenue."

"If I knew of them I should be there...What rubbish we talk!"

She laughed.

"What would you like to talk about?" she asked. "Books? Plays?"

"I would rather talk about your boarding house--what was it you called
it?"

"The Palace Crescent Boarding House. Mrs. Dewar is the name of the lady
who keeps it. There are, just at present, twenty boarders, the food is
good and the place is very cheap."

"The Palace Crescent," he repeated. "It sounds most intriguing. If I had
the courage, I would live for a time in a boarding house. I always feel
that I should like to study all sorts and conditions of people lumped
together, and when the time comes I haven't the courage."

"I should think you'd have the courage for anything you really wanted to
do," she remarked.

"Not at all. What I should really like to do would be to drink a jug of
that beer, and I daren't. I know it would give me a liver."

"Even at your tender age," she laughed.

"My dear, I am thirty-nine," he told her. "A liver is one of those
things you get in decades. Probably by the time I am fifty, I shan't
have one at all. For the present, this white wine suits me much better."

"And me," she confessed. "I like the look of beer, but I'm not very fond
of the taste and it makes you fat. I am supposed to dance when I do get
a part, so I have to try and keep my figure."

"It's a jolly nice one," he said, with the proper note of admiration in
his tone.

"You know nothing about it," she told him. "Not knowing that I was going
to meet with the adventure of my life, I have an old-fashioned gown
designed to conceal any perfections I may have. If it had been a
principal I was going to see, I should have been very differently
dressed. I thought anything would do for my old agent. He knows what I
am really like and what I can do."

"How about the new hat?" he asked.

"I forgot the hat," she admitted. "My old one is too disgusting,
though."

They talked along casually and pleasantly through luncheon. Suddenly she
gripped him by the wrist.

"Heavens !" she exclaimed. "I have just remembered who that man is."

"Tell me at once," he begged.

"He is Inspector Rudlett, the man who came and examined us after Colonel
Dennett's murder--I was not in that, though--and the man who was in
charge of the police the other night. If he was not actually in my
bedroom, he was just outside."

"What's he doing in civilian clothes?" Major Lengton asked.

"How do you know what the police do and what they don't do?" she
answered. "I suppose he's off duty."

"I remember him now, of course," Lengton meditated. "He was the man who
got up and asked the coroner for an adjournment. What on earth did he
want an adjournment for, I wonder. The jury had their verdict off
pat--wilful murder against some person or persons unknown."

"Perhaps he hopes at the end of the adjournment," she suggested, "to do
away with the person or persons unknown."

"Who was Colonel Dennett, anyway--one of your boarders, wasn't he?"

She nodded.

"Yes, but he very seldom spoke to any of us. Spent most of the daytime
at a stuffy little club somewhere and always dined there one night a
week. He was a soldier, you know, too."

"Indian Army, retired," Lengton said. "I remember now hearing something
about him once. It wasn't anything very pleasant."

"Tell me about it," she begged.

He shook his head.

"Very likely it was not true. _De mortuis_? you know. We'll leave the old
gentleman alone."

Freda Medlincott sighed.

"It would have been so wonderful to have gone back to Palace Crescent
having met some one who knew something about Colonel Dennett's past.
Perhaps it will come out at the inquest," she said hopefully.

"It may," he admitted.

"Tell me about the story you are writing," she invited.

"Well, the most important thing about it is that I'm stuck," he
confided. "I have unfortunately got my heroine into a boarding house and
I don't know how to extricate her. I don't know how she lives or what
she does or anything. Or rather, I do know some of these things," he
went on, "but I have no atmosphere. It's atmosphere I lack."

"Come and study it at Palace Crescent," she suggested.

"It's an idea," he agreed. "I should like to see inside a real boarding
house."

Freda had a sudden inspiration.

"Come and dine with me there to-night," she proposed.

"Shouldn't I love to," he replied. "But I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"If it were possible for you to dine with me," he pointed out, "it would
be a different thing. I simply cannot dump myself down on your
hospitality, especially in such a barefaced way."

"Can't you take me out to dinner some night afterwards, if you insist
upon being so particular? I shall still owe you a luncheon, even then.
And so that you need have no misgivings," she went on, "let me tell you
that Mrs. Dewar only charges half a crown for a guest at dinner and the
food is quite eatable. And I can get a whole bottle of red or white
wine, which the men all say is very good, for very little. Cocktails,"
she concluded, "are so bad that every one has given them up, but I can
give you a glass of sherry or an aperitif or a mixed vermouth."

"You are really in earnest?" he asked. "Because I should love to come."

"You are booked," she declared. "Dinner at a quarter to eight. You had
better be there five or ten minutes before, to study the wild animals
before they go in to feed--say, half-past seven. I'll be in the lounge,
waiting for you. Palace Crescent Boarding House, Number Fourteen
Partington Street, off the Hammersmith Road."

"I shall be there," he promised. "Half-past seven. Shall I see the
little old lady who got up in the court?"

"I should think so," Freda assured him. "They have been there for years
and I think they have only dined out four times. It would be bad luck if
you were to miss her. I'll tell you at once, though, that our most
interesting woman boarder is a girl of about twenty or twenty-two, very
rich but lame. She wears beautiful dresses, has a table to herself; she
has a suite of rooms unlike anything else in the place and in a queer
sort of way she is terribly attractive. Miss Flora Quayne, her name is,
and I shan't introduce you to her if I can help it. Only that she's
lame I often wonder some man doesn't fall desperately in love with her."

"I can't do it twice on the same day," he regretted.

"That's comforting."

"Coffee?"

"May I, if you please? That's another good thing at Palace Crescent.
Their coffee is quite drinkable. You must bring your own cigarettes or
cigars, though."

"I shan't be likely to forget my cigarettes," he promised her. "Try one
of mine. If you like them, I'll bring you some. And I'll tell you what
I'll do if you like--I'll ask Blundell to come along when we have that
lunch or dinner together. He might know of something for you."

"You are a dear," she declared. "I have had some quite decent parts and
I could have gone to America last year, but the old aunt I was living
with--she's died since--didn't want me to go. As I knew she was going to
leave me enough to keep out of the workhouse, I thought I had better
hang around."

"Very wise of you," he approved.

"As I really am going to see you again to-night," she said presently,
"if you don't mind, I'll run along now. There's just one man I want to
see at the Imperial Theatre. He's sending out a suburban company in a
show I used to be in. Do you mind?"

"Of course not," he answered. "You will let me see you upstairs?"

"Of course I shan't! Don't be late to-night. Half-past seven."

She nodded her farewell and hurried off. She glanced casually across the
room at Inspector Rudlett as she neared the doors. He was engaged in
earnest conversation with a friend, however, and didn't look up.



CHAPTER XXIII


Every one was suitably impressed by Freda Medlincott's guest that
evening and she enjoyed her little triumph to the utmost. He seemed even
better looking in his well-cut dinner clothes than in his tweeds, and
most of the boarders who could catch Freda's eye came up to be
introduced. He was agreeable to everybody but to the Misses Clewes he
was charming. He knew the name so well. His father had had a friend in
the Royal Surreys. Their uncle! Most interesting. He remained chatting
with them until Freda fetched him away. She presented him to Mrs. Dewar,
who looked at him with her solemn dark eyes unlit by curiosity or any
other form of interest. She said the few correct words that were
necessary, however, then left him to his hostess.

"Rather a spectral-looking lady," he whispered in her ear. "Does she
ever smile?"

"No one has ever caught her at it," Freda replied. "She works terribly
hard, I think. They say she has a husband to support somewhere but no
one ever sees him. Come along--you must be introduced to the star
boarder, only don't dare to fall in love with her!"

Flora gave him her fingers with a very sweet, although languid smile.

"How pleasant to see a visitor," she said. "I hope they will give us a
good dinner to-night for your sake, Major Lengton, and then perhaps you
will come and see us again. We are rather quaint people, don't you
think?"

"I think some of you look very nice," he said.

"Some of us are," she assured him. "Or perhaps we think we are, by
contrast. But, as you see, we are nearly all men. Everybody loves Mr.
Luke and we all wonder why he stays here. He belongs to one of the best
clubs, he has plenty of money, he is supposed to be quite a _bon vivant_
and yet, every night at dinner time, he strolls into this room at five
and twenty to eight to the minute and he drinks his glass of sherry.
Look--twenty to eight!"

"I should think that is one of the strong points of a boarding house,"
Major Lengton remarked. "It must make you awfully punctual."

"If you are not, you run a serious risk of losing a course," Flora told
him. "Everything starts at a different table every evening, but when it
has once started, no power in this world can call it back or divert it!"

"They don't take weekly guests, I suppose?" he enquired. "I'm beginning
to feel that this one brief evening will be too short for me to find out
all I want to about this place."

"But you must not class us," Mr. Luke, who had just strolled up,
observed, "with ordinary boarding houses. We are very famous just now,
or rather infamous. We have had a murder committed, if not on the
premises, within a few yards of them, and the victim was one of us--and
we have also been raided by the police!"

"With no disastrous results, I trust?" Lengton hoped, smiling.

"No arrests have been made up to the present," Mr. Luke continued
cheerfully. "Terrible business, that burglary in Burlington Gardens. You
read about it, I dare say?"

"Of course I did," Lengton admitted. "Very clever affair," he went on.
"English raiders don't seem quite so brutal as the Americans, but they
are just as clever in their methods. Leaving their car without lights
for the police car to run into--it was a stroke of genius."

"It happened not a hundred yards away," Mr. Luke reminded him. "Just
round the corner from here. We are only slowly recovering from the
shock."

The gong sounded from outside.

"This," Mr. Luke observed, "is where we run."

Joseph, with the gong still in his hand, announced the service of
dinner. They crossed the hall in irregular fashion and Freda conducted
her guest to the small table for two in the window which had been
arranged for her use. Lengton looked about him with frank interest.

"I think that our guests--or boarders, do you call them?--seem
extraordinarily nice people," he said. "I'm getting quite new ideas
about this sort of place. Tell me, who are the man and woman at the next
table but one?"

"A Mr. and Mrs. Padgham," she told him. "He is a solicitor but he has
retired from active practice. He has some appointments, I think. He goes
to the office but he doesn't do much. His wife is half-American, I
believe. She was quite a beauty once."

"She's quite handsome now," he remarked. "And the neat-looking man in an
old-fashioned frock coat? I rather like that touch. Almost Dickensy. He
looks a shrewd fellow."

"He is, I believe," Freda agreed drily. "He's a company promoter or
something. Mr. Ollivant, his name is. Just now he's suffering from a
terrible disappointment. One of our young men has invented a machine and
Mallory's are forming a company to work it. Mr. Ollivant thinks that if
he had known half an hour earlier, Mr. Ferrison would have let him form
the company!"

"And would he?"

She smiled.

"It is odd how people can close their eyes to facts," she observed.
"Poor Mr. Ollivant! I think every one is a little sorry for him, but no
one here would trust him with a sixpence. The moment Mr. Luke saw Mr.
Ollivant talking to him--But this is not interesting. What did you think
about our enchantress, Flora Quayne?"

"She's attractive," he admitted. "How did she become a cripple like
that?"

"An accident when she was quite young."

"I can't help feeling that I have met her before," Lengton said. "I saw
her looking at me as though she half recognised me."

"I believe she knows some very nice people. She has a car of her own and
a French maid and all sorts of luxuries."

"Who is the stalwart young colonial with the pretty little girl?" he
asked.

Freda pouted.

"Do you really call her pretty? I hate her. That young man was marked
down for me but she got in first! His name is Ferrison. He is not really
a colonial, only he spent some years out in Canada. He has invented a
machine which cleans a house in five minutes, and he's going to make a
fortune and Mallory's have taken an interest in the patent. That's the
company Mr. Ollivant was disappointed about."

"Well, they seem quite happy together. I mean Mr. Ferrison and the young
lady."

"Oh, I suppose so," Freda assented. "They neither of them have been here
very long and they don't seem to have mixed with the others. I always
have the feeling, somehow, that they are strangers. They're going,
anyway, I think, in a day or two."

"And these others are City men, I suppose?"

"They all disappear in the mornings, anyhow, and come back hungry about
seven o'clock. We haven't any romantic young novelists or artists who
sit in their rooms all day here."

"Not much of a place for riotous conversation, I should think," he
remarked presently.

She looked around.

"It's worse than usual to-night," she observed. "I don't know what's the
matter with them all. What they have to say they are mostly saying in
whispers. If you have finished, let's go out in the lounge and get a
place near the fire for coffee."

Lengton was obviously a young man of _savoir faire_ but even he was
slightly embarrassed by the intense, though somewhat furtive, interest
which his passing down the room seemed to occasion. Freda was too
wrapped up in her social triumph to notice anything unusual in the
attention which her guest inspired. She drew a small couch into a
favourable position and left the room for a moment to expedite the
service of coffee. When she returned, Lengton was talking earnestly to
Miss Susannah Clewes. He finished whatever he was saying a little
abruptly and resumed his seat on the couch.

"You seem to have taken a great fancy to Miss Susannah," she remarked
curiously.

He helped himself to the coffee which Joseph had just brought.

"To tell you the truth, she rather fascinates me," he confessed. "She is
sitting there with a seal upon her lips. The police have told her, it
seems, that she is to say nothing until the inquest. She believes that
she saw a murder. She is quite convinced that she recognised poor
Colonel Dennett, who was the victim, and the person who killed him. She
sits there knitting calmly with this drama in her head until the time
comes for her to lift up the curtain...I am quite certain that I shall
make use of Miss Clewes in my story. I hope she has not copyrighted
herself!"

"It's a shivery sort of thing to think of," Freda observed, after a
moment's meditation. "Of course, they all say here that she's out of her
mind. She does talk strangely sometimes."

"I should think," he reflected, "that the police would want some
corroboration of her story before they acted upon it. Perhaps that's why
they got the inquest adjourned and have made her promise not to talk. I
wonder whether she will keep her word."

"From what I know of those two old ladies," Freda declared, "no one
could make them do anything they didn't want to. They are as obstinate
as possible."

One by one the diners streamed back into the room. Some of the others
seemed a little shy, but Mr. Luke came over directly to the couch where
Freda and her guest were seated. The two men drifted at once into the
casual conversation of Londoners who have similar interests. They were
both golfers, it seemed, and played occasionally on the same courses.
They even agreed to play a match at Sunningdale upon an early date.

"You were at the inquest, I hear, the other day," Mr. Luke observed,
after a slight pause. "You recognised our spinster lady over there who
suddenly made drama of a very dull show."

"I recognised her directly I came in," Lengton acquiesced. "Slightly
touched in the head, I should think," he added, dropping his voice.

"That appears to be the general opinion," Mr. Luke agreed. "She always
seemed to me shrewd enough. I play cribbage sometimes with her sister
and it is all I can do to hold my own. I fancy the police are
disappointed, though."

"In what way?"

"Well, they took her seriously at first. We had an inspector round here
the next morning, but he discovered at once that from Miss Clewes'
window the spot where Dennett was shot is completely obscured by the
wall. There is later information come to hand that may be useful, but I
am afraid Miss Clewes' marvellous disclosure will fall a little flat.
Quite a notorious corner ours," Mr. Luke went on. "You know, I suppose,
of the scare we all had the other night?"

"Miss Medlincott has been telling me about it. She says the police
actually searched her room at three o'clock in the morning."

"I was so thankful I had folded my undies nicely," Freda said coyly.
"They took up everything I had been wearing. I think the police are very
funny people, don't you, Major Lengton?"

"I suppose they know their job," he remarked. "I had something to do
with the military police during the war. I was not very highly
impressed. They were chosen more for their bruising qualities than their
brains."

"A very famous writer of detective stories," Mr. Luke observed, "once
told me that there was no one in the world who was so easy to fool as a
detective. They are always looking round the corner instead of straight
ahead. They will neglect the obvious for the abstruse. I am quoting my
friend now, of course, but I should not be surprised if there were
something in his point of view."

Mr. Luke passed on and took a chair next to Mrs. Padgham. Freda and her
guest were left alone. They chattered light-heartedly enough for nearly
half an hour. Then Freda, glancing round, noticed a thing which somehow
surprised her and a little damped her feelings of triumph. She had
produced as a guest one of the most attractive men who had ever appeared
at Palace Crescent and yet, for some reason or other, every one seemed
to be keeping as far away as possible. Conversation was being carried on
almost in an undertone. Perhaps Lengton noticed something of the sort,
too, for he rose to his feet.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner, Miss Medlincott," he said. "You won't
mind if I run away now. We lunch the day after to-morrow at the
Berkeley. I think I am almost sure to be able to get Blundell. If the
day doesn't suit, I will make another date with him, but we will meet,
anyway."

"That's very nice of you," she acknowledged, walking down the room by
his side. "I'll see you off, if you must go. I am afraid," she added,
"you must think that our guests are not very sociable."

"I didn't notice it," he replied. "Your friend Luke seems to be a very
decent sort of fellow. I am going to take him on at golf one day. He
tells me he's a member at Sunning-dale. Don't forget Thursday."

He held her hand in his for quite an appreciable space of time and Freda
was convinced that but for the shadow of Joseph lurking in the distance,
he would have kissed her. She returned to the lounge somehow
disappointed. On the way to her place she stopped and spoke to Mr.
Padgham.

"I don't think any of you were very sociable to-night," she complained.
"Didn't you like Major Lengton? You seemed to be all whispering together
in corners."

"Not quite as bad as that, I'm sure," Mr. Padgham protested. "I'll tell
you what it is, though, Miss Medlincott. We are all just a bit shy of
strangers just now. First this Dennett affair and then the raid the
other night. Makes one feel sort of self-conscious."

Mrs. Dewar, who had paused on her way out of the room, inclined her head
gently.

"There is a sort of prejudice here just now about strangers, I am
afraid," she joined in. "Major Lengton is a very charming person but I
gathered from something you said, Miss Medlincott, that he is a writer.
One feels that we might be almost--well, exploited just now, by any one
in search of copy."

"You mean that he might write an article in the Evening Standard, 'The
Raided Boarders' or something of that sort," Reggie Barstowe observed.

"I think you are all very foolish," Freda declared. "Major Lengton is
far too much of a gentleman to dream of making use of us. I am lunching
with him at the Berkeley on Thursday and I have promised to dine with
him next week. I won't bring him here, though, I promise you, except to
call for me."

"You must not take what I said too seriously," Mrs. Dewar begged. "Major
Lengton is evidently all that you say and on any ordinary occasion he
will be a welcome guest."

"A welcome guest," Freda repeated, as Mrs. Dewar left the room. "I
should think so, indeed!"

Mr. Luke coughed apologetically. He laid a hand in friendly fashion upon
Miss Medlincott's arm.

"My dear Miss Freda," he said, "there is just one thing which has
probably been in the minds of one or two of us here. You probably have
read for yourself that Scotland Yard, who seem to have embarked
recently upon a long career of failures, have been reorganising every
department, especially the Criminal Investigation Department."

"What has Scotland Yard got to do with it?" she demanded.

"Wait," Mr. Luke said. "One of their new experiments is to put in a
different class of man amongst the detectives. I happen to know that
half a dozen ex-army men have joined the force within the last few
weeks. It is just possible, Miss Medlincott--I am only mentioning it as
a bare possibility--that Major Lengton--who admitted that he was
retired--has accepted some such post as this."

At that moment Freda Medlincott was half angry, half surprised.

"Well, what if he has? What difference does it make to us here? He's
still an officer and a gentleman, isn't he?"

There was a curious silence which seemed to grow in intensity. Freda
looked from one face to the other. It seemed to her there was the same
expression everywhere. A new and dazzling light streamed in upon her.
She suddenly saw all these companions of the years with different eyes.
She fancied them in strange costumes of disguise, racing through the
night, dealing out death from hideous weapons with humanity gone from
their expressions, the criminal lust for blood flaming in their eyes.

"My God!" she shrieked.

For a moment everything around her seemed blurred. She swayed upon her
feet. Mr. Luke patted her arm gently. She felt the reassurance of his
clipped, cultured voice. She opened her eyes. She looked round the room
in amazement. There was Mr. Barstowe handing her a chair, a look of deep
concern upon his sharply cut but pleasant features. Bernascon
bewildered. Miss Clewes, her knitting fallen into her lap, her forehead
one large interrogation. Mr. Padgham bringing her a glass of brandy.

Her old friends! What a glimpse of hell she had had! She sank into a
chair.

"Do forgive me, all of you," she begged. "I had a sudden moment of
madness. I imagined--oh, do forgive me."

Mr. Luke patted her once more on the arm.

"My dear," he said, "these have been days of strain for every one. I
don't wonder at your imagination running away with you for a moment.
Forget it. Here we all are and here we shall remain. Just as we are at
this moment--just as we always have been."

Freda held his hand tightly.

"It was only for a second," she pleaded. "One hideous hysterical
second."



CHAPTER XXIV


The last shadow of that wild moment of apprehension on Freda
Medlincott's part disappeared when she found Major Lengton waiting for
her on the Thursday morning in the Berkeley at the appointed hour, and
with him a young man whom she easily recognised as the much-sought-after
Sam Blundell. Afterwards, she almost purred to herself when she thought
of her success that morning. She talked in her most engaging manner to
each man in turn. Her face was radiant with smiles. She felt herself
full of confidence. Her moment of supreme triumph came, however, when
Sam Blundell, after looking at her hard for a moment, suddenly threw up
his hands.

"Why," he said, "you are the girl who did that clever little shadow
dance in the street with Bill Ayres, in _Barlot's Revue_. Freda Low, I
thought her name was."

"If you had looked at my card," Freda told him demurely, "you would have
seen that that is my stage name. Of course I am. We got encores for that
until the last night."

"And to think that you have been off the stage for nearly a year!" Mr.
Blundell exclaimed.

"Not my fault," she assured him.

"It won't be mine if you are ever out of a job again," he declared
pleasantly. "We will finish with the business end at once. I want you
round at my office at five o'clock this afternoon. You know--Number
Eleven, Henrietta Street. You need not bring any songs. Don't change a
thing you have on. I've got a part waiting for you to step into. Now you
can flirt with Lengton if you like."

"Oh, dear," she sighed, "I want to flirt with both of you! They were
getting so sympathetic with me at the boarding house--they really are a
nice, kind-hearted lot of people--but I think they were almost tired of
seeing me looking disappointed, when I had been to see my agent."

"How are your fellow boarders?" Major Lengton enquired.

"All in excellent health, thank you," Freda replied. "All on tiptoe of
excitement, too, about the inquest tomorrow."

"I suppose so," he reflected. "I could not make up my mind, you know,
Miss Medlincott, whether I was a success with your friends or not."

"On the whole, I am quite sure you were a success," she assured him.
"You rather stupefied them, I think. You see, they are thoroughly
commercial and they are not used to your type."

"And the lady who won my heart--Miss Clewes? The lady who is going to
have the day of her life to-morrow?"

"She's perfectly well," Freda replied, a little deprecatingly, "but
everyone seems to think that she's crazy. She's been off in a taxicab to
see the lawyers three days running. At least, she says so. We think
she's just been driving round the park."

"And the beautiful lame girl?"

"I've not seen much of her," Freda admitted. "I think she must have been
in love with Roger Ferrison, the young man who is leaving. He's going to
marry the pretty little girl he was sitting with the other night."

"Love affairs, too, at Palace Crescent," Major Lengton said, smiling.
"You certainly have chosen an interesting place for your temporary
abode, Miss Medlincott."

"Miss Medlincott will be having a flat of her own at the Savoy Court and
all the luxury of life before very long," Sam Blundell prophesied.
"By-the-by, you've kept your singing up, I hope?"

"I have not missed a day's practice in a year," the girl assured him. "I
don't believe in getting slack. I always felt that something like this
would happen to me, but I didn't take anything for granted. I have had
an orange-juice fast once a week and I'm not even on bowing terms with a
potato. When I was weighed down at the health culture place the other
day, I was the correct weight for my height to an ounce!"

They talked their way lightly through luncheon. Just as they were
finishing, Mr. Luke, with a very smart-looking, middle-aged lady, passed
their table. There was a universal exchange of greetings.

"Why, you know our star boarder too, Mr. Blundell!" Freda observed, when
they had passed on.

"Know old Luke!" Blundell replied. "Of course I do. I have played golf
with him often down at Sunningdale. That's Lady Mallison with him. They
spend a lot of time together. Every one wonders they don't get married."

"Our Mr. Luke get married!" Freda exclaimed. "Why, I think that Palace
Crescent would close its doors."

"I have heard him say he lived in a queer place down Hammersmith way,"
Blundell reflected. "Full of character, he called it."

Freda inclined her head towards Lengton.

"Major Lengton was dining with me there the other night," she confided.
"He said very nearly the same thing."

"They say old Luke's a very wealthy man," Sam Blundell remarked. "No one
knows where his money came from. I remember he put up ten thousand
pounds, I think it was, for a show at the Gaiety once. Must have hit him
pretty hard. But he's done well in some other revues."

"Well, you live and learn things about your friends," Freda Medlincott
gasped. "He seemed to know a good deal about theatrical shows but I
never dreamed that he put money into them. He has a beautiful car, of
course, but somehow or other one never gets in the way of thinking that
any one who stays at Palace Crescent is well off. Most of us are rubbing
our last sixpences together."

"Shall I see you to-morrow?" Major Lengton asked, as the time came for
farewells.

"I'm going to be at the court at half-past nine with a camp-stool," she
told him; "but heaven knows whether I shall get in."

"I would offer to take you but I have no particular influence and I
don't suppose I shall get a place myself," Lengton observed. "However,
if you are passing Ronnie's at six o'clock in the evening, put your head
in and have a cocktail and we'll talk it over."

"Love to," Freda accepted. "And I see you at five o'clock this evening,
Mr. Blundell."

"Don't you dare to forget it," he enjoined.

A wonderful luncheon! It was not until she reached home that Freda
Medlincott remembered that she had failed to ask Lengton a single
question which might have set at rest the disturbed susceptibilities of
her fellow boarders.

That evening Roger Ferrison had the surprise of his life. He was
standing at the edge of a byway cut through a great tract of country
which was to be devoted to the building of factories, when a limousine
car drove slowly up and Flora Quayne, looking very beautiful behind the
short veil which drooped from her fashionable hat, leaned out of the
window.

"Come along, Roger," she invited. "You have kept me waiting quite a long
time."

He gasped with astonishment.

"Whatever are you doing out in the country here?" he asked, taking the
place by her side.

She waved the chauffeur on and they glided towards London.

"Waiting for you," she answered simply. "You have not been kind to me
for two days, Roger, but you see I forgive."

"But how on earth could you know that I should be down here?"

"I heard you tell Mr. Luke that Mallory's were building a factory for
you on this byway," she explained. "I heard you say, too, that you came
down every day to mark progress and arrange about the flooring or
something, whilst your partner was doing his best to turn out a few of
the machines at your factory in London. I was driving this afternoon and
I thought I would try and find you. After all, it is not a miracle.
There is a great hoarding there which says 'Factory being built for
Mallory Limited for the manufacture of Mafresson Machines.' I waited by
the hoarding, read my book and you came. I wish you would always come
when I want you, Roger!"

"Well, this is luxury," he declared gratefully. "I'm tired too. I like
doing things but I don't like standing around. I should hate to be an
architect."

"Now I am here, be kind to me," she begged. "You may hold my hand."

She drew off her glove and laid her beautifully shaped fingers in his
huge palm. He stroked them with a tenderness which was so near to
affection that she drew a sigh of content.

"You are very happy these days?" she asked.

"Of course I am," he answered. "I am very fond of Audrey. We are going
to be married in a few weeks. Mallory's have booked most enormous
orders for our machines, I have a bank balance already such as I never
dreamed of and, after thinking I was going to struggle home on a bus, I
find myself in this beautiful car with you. Of course, I'm happy."

"How do you think I'm looking?"

"As beautiful as ever," he told her, "but quieter somehow. You look
rested--just as though something had happened."

"I am waiting for something to happen. You see, I have a will--I have
curbed my passion. Sometimes for odd moments the blood in me runs as
fiercely as ever and I could shriek with the pain and glory of it, and
then I remember and I am like this--quite quiet. Light me a cigarette,
Roger."

She passed him her case and he obeyed. She settled farther down in her
corner and drew him a little nearer,

"Flora," he remonstrated, "I don't want to seem stupid, because you
understand how things are with me, but I must stop this sort of thing."

"You don't like to have me almost in your arms?"

"If I do, I ought not to," he answered, "and when I do, I don't
understand myself in the least. It is Audrey I love and Audrey I am
going to marry, and though I know this is only a sort of hysteria, and
although I am sure I am not a bit of a prig, it doesn't seem to go with
honest living. It is hard to make you understand, I suppose," he went
on, "because I am naturally stupid and I suppose I have a narrow way of
looking at things. When I have kissed you, for instance, I have always
felt that I ought to tell Audrey--if she would not mind. Then I remember
that it is not fair to kiss and to be kissed, and go and tell some one
else about it. I feel as though I consent to a secret when I shouldn't."

"To think," she murmured, half to herself, "that I could be so madly in
love with any one like you!"

"Well, I can't alter myself," he said doggedly. "I don't act up to my
principles so that I don't know that it matters--not nearly as much as
it ought to. I feel a hypocrite generally when I'm with you and I am not
a bit better than other men in having scruples, because I don't act up
to them, and even though it isn't right, I love taking you into my
arms--so."

"That's the sweetest thing you have ever said," she declared, leaning
her head against his shoulder. "Roger, it will help me to get through
these days of waiting."

"Waiting--what for?"

She made no immediate answer. The palm of one of her hands was pressed
against his cheek.

"Waiting for the world to come my way," she went on. "Waiting for the
sun to shine into my heart. Some one wrote that once, Roger, or
something like it, who was very miserable. Miserable people must have
something. Let them have hope...Tell me--I am curious to know--you are
really going to stay on at Palace Crescent?"

"Only a few more days. It is very difficult," he continued. "I think
Mrs. Dewar is a wonderful woman and every one has been very kind to us,
but I know, I feel sure, that there is something strange about the
place. I made up my mind the last time I was thinking about it to try
and persuade you to go away."

"Roger!" she scolded him gently. "Why do you want to turn me out into
the world? They spoil me so at the Palace Crescent. If I left, it would
make such a difference to them. Why are you so mysterious?"

"I suppose you remember sometimes," he pointed out, "that we have had a
murder committed a few score of yards from the back door, a murder of
one of our own boarders? And that the other night our house was raided,
every bedroom was visited by the police? They didn't do that without
some very strong suspicions."

"Well, they didn't find anything wrong," she reminded him.

"Perhaps not," he admitted, "but they were there again the next morning.
Not only that, but it is not the first time. There was a police
inspector in the house one other night--almost the first night I came."

She raised her head to look at him for a moment and then laid it back
again on his shoulder.

"What do you suggest is wrong about the place?" she asked. "What are the
police looking for? Do they think it is a bad house? I am sure the other
night they found it most respectable. Mr. and Mrs. Padgham, perhaps,
were in bed together, but I suppose they could have produced their
marriage certificate at a pinch. The two Misses Clewes were alone, I'm
sure. I was alone--every one was alone. Or is it gambling they suspect?
There are only three or four shabby packs of bridge cards in the whole
house."

"What they suspected the other night is clear enough," Roger pointed
out. "They were after the men who had committed the robbery in
Burlington Gardens."

"But where could they have hidden in the house? There were policemen
everywhere like black beetles!"

"I'll tell you something, Flora," he went on, after a moment or two.
"Something I have told to nobody. Something that makes me very uneasy
about staying on, only I want to do the reasonable thing for Mrs.
Dewar's sake. There were men who entered the house only a few minutes
before the police--only a few minutes after that crash in the
Hammersmith Road. They came in like professional criminals. They were
wearing rubber shoes and black clothes. The lights in the house had been
cut off. Some must have come from the back and some from the front. I
heard them and saw them tearing up the stairs."

He felt the girl shivering in his arms. This time she didn't raise her
head.

"You're frightening me, Roger," she moaned.

"My dear, that's just what I don't want to do," he declared, "yet I
don't want you to think me unreasonable. I was up late that
night--sitting in the lounge, if you want to know, invisible. I didn't
see a single face, I couldn't identify any one. I don't know where the
people came from or where they went to, so you see my story is too
unconvincing to make a fuss about. I know that, honestly speaking, I
ought to go to the police. Well, I have not been. What I feel is that I
would like to take Audrey away and leave the thing to work itself
out--and I would like you to leave too."

"I couldn't leave," she whispered. "I hate strange places. I think you
must have been dreaming."

"I would like to think so," he assured her. "Audrey was with me too.
She's almost as matter-of-fact as I am. We neither of us fancy things."

"You have not said a word to the police?" she asked.

"No."

"You didn't tell them anything that night?"

"No."

She looked up at him.

"Then you can't possibly say anything about it now. They will think you
were one of the thieves. They would say at once--why did you not speak
up at the time?"

"Clever girl," he acknowledged, smiling. "So they would. I missed my
opportunity. Anyway, I think that before long there will be a big
flare-up at Palace Crescent. I'm going to see that Audrey and I are out
of it and I should like you to be out of it too. Money doesn't seem to
be any particular object to you, so why not go to one of those small
private hotels?"

"You are very kind, Mr. Ferrison," she said, with a curious new
stiffness in her tone, "but I shall not leave Mrs. Dewar. If she's going
to get into trouble, I'm sorry. I shall be there too. I don't want you
to think," she went on, drawing closer to him and linking her fingers
around his neck, "that I doubt a word you say, Roger; but can you
imagine Mr. Luke, or Mr. Bernascon, or Mr. Padgham as cat burglars or
gangsters or anything of the sort? Can you imagine them even providing a
hiding place for these mysterious visitors? Sometimes," she continued
dreamily, "one sits up late and one's brain works strangely. I have sat
up in bed--not many nights ago, Roger--started and sat up, and there in
the room you were. You sat on the edge of the bed. I called to you and
you let me put my arms around your neck just like this. I could feel
your cheek--and your lips. They were warm, as they are now. But you
never spoke and time went on. I was happy. I closed my eyes and when I
opened them everything had faded away. Yet it was you I saw, Roger. I
could describe everything you wore."

"You are a fanciful child," he said indulgently; "but then you see I am
not fanciful. I could not sit up in bed and make myself happy or
miserable by believing that some one else was there. I should know they
were not."

"I am not sure," she sighed. "I must lend you some of the books I read
sometimes--'The Rosicrucians' and some old volumes dealing with magic.
There are strange things on the borderland of the two worlds."

He felt the pulsating force of her body against his. Very gently he
lifted her away.

"Those things don't do us any good to think about," he declared. "We
have to live life as we know it. I am a materialist and I am going to
stay one. When I see and hear what I saw and heard that night, I know
perfectly well that there was some absolute explanation and I know, too,
if it comes to that, that I ought to have told the police about it at
once. It is too late now. We none of us do altogether what we should or
I should not be here with you now!"

"Poor man," she whispered. "You had no choice. I abducted you. I wish I
could abduct you altogether, Roger. It might save a great deal of
trouble."

He looked at her keenly.

"In what way?"

"Oh, I don't know. I believe in strange things, you see, that you don't
believe in. I believe somehow or other that I should be able to force my
way into your thoughts when you didn't want me. I should succeed in
making you feel a little unfaithful to Audrey, when you didn't want to
be. Why don't you give in, Roger? It might save a lot of pain. Just let
me love you until you have found out for yourself that there is nothing
more wonderful in the world than to be loved by a woman who sees and
feels as I do. You are trifling with the most wonderful gift of life,
Roger, when you push me away."

He let down the window suddenly and a rush of cold air swept in. She
faced it without flinching.

"I don't understand a word of what you are saying," he declared. "Let's
talk about facts as we know them. Tomorrow, by this time, the adjourned
inquest will be over, for instance, and you may know much more about
Palace Crescent than you know now."

She passed him her cigarette case. He opened it, lit one for her and one
for himself.

"Good," he said. "Lei this be the smoke of peace. What did you think of
Miss Freda Medlincott's guest?"

"He was quite attractive of his type." she admitted. "I know the type so
well. Whenever I go out from Palace Crescent, I seem to meet so many of
them. I like the less polished article, Roger. You may be surprised to
hear it, but I like you. Just in the same way you ought to like the
exotic and the unusual article, and then you would like me. But you
don't. The failure between us lies with you..."

"You know where we are, I suppose?" he asked.

"Yes, we are at Palace Crescent," she said despondently. "We are home,
if you like to call it that. Take me down the passage, please. If you
think I deserve any reward for coming all that way to fetch you, let me
make you a cocktail."

"It's a nice way of putting it," he laughed, as he helped her out and
gave her his arm.

"Carry me, please," she begged. "I'm tired. I can unlock the door. You
see, I have my key ready."

He humoured her. It was hard to do otherwise. They passed through into
the dimly lit hall and he closed the door with his heel. She hung up
their keys and he carried her down the pas-age to her room. She gave
a sigh of content when she saw the softly burning wood fire smelt the
perfume of the flowers in the room.

"The chair, please--not the couch. Then you can bring me the things
and I will mix the cocktail. Oh, there is Marie. Marie," she called
out, as the maid came swiftly forward, "take off my coat and my
hat, please. Bring me a black negligee--Mr. Ferrison can look the
other way for a moment--and bring me the Cointreau, the juice of
two lemons and the brandy, the shaker and the ice. Be quick, Marie.
We want our cocktails."

"I will carry you into the bathroom, if you like, whilst you change your
gown," he suggested.

She laughed at him.

"Shy boy," she mocked. "But then you need not look, you know. In fact, I
forbid you to. Take that illustrated paper and glue your eyes upon it
from the moment Marie appears."

When he was told to look round, she seemed to be draped from head to
foot in black velvet. She was bending over the table, pouring the
contents of the bottle into the shaker.

"You shall shake," she proposed. "With your muscle, we ought to be able
to get them all filmy. I like them like that. There you are. Shake and
then pour out."

"What beautiful glasses," he observed, looking at them.

"I ought to be able to tell you that I bought them in Venice or some
strange place, but I didn't," she confided. "They came from South Molton
Street. They are beautiful but I never feel that they hold enough.
Now--pour out, please."

He obeyed. She raised her glass and leaned towards him.

"I shall drink to the day which brings you understanding," she said.



CHAPTER XXV


Once more the small room attached to the local hall was crammed. Again
amongst the scattered places allotted to the general public were to be
seen practically the whole company of the boarders from Palace Crescent.
Freda Medlincott considered herself the most lucky person in the court.
She made for the same bench she had occupied on the first occasion and
almost ran into the arms of Major Lengton.

"I have been doing my best to make myself twice the size," he whispered,
"so as to make room for you."

"Nice man," she whispered back. "Any excitements? It took me such a time
to push my way in."

"Nothing as yet. The jury have been empanelled--there they are--twelve
exceedingly plain men, I should say, but no doubt intelligent. The
coroner is very official. There has been a lot of whispering going on
between him and Inspector Rudlett, who is still representing the police,
and this time one understands there are witnesses to be called. We are
due to have the first one at any moment. The coroner's preliminary
address has already been given. The doctor who was here last time has
been excused attendance and his affidavit that from the direction of the
bullet suicide is an impossibility has been read out. There we are, up
to date."

The usher leaned over the coroner. Mysterious words passed between them.
The former then moved to the passage near the witness box.

"Mr. Sidney Parsons," he called out.

Mr. Sidney Parsons, a stranger to every one, entered the box. He was a
quietly dressed, pleasant-looking man of prim appearance, wearing
old-fashioned, steel-rimmed spectacles. He took the oath with the air of
a novice and leaned over the rail.

"Your name is Sidney Parsons, I believe?" the coroner began.

"That is so, sir."

"You are secretary of the Junior Oriental Club in Wimpole Street?"

"Yes."

"The deceased--Colonel Dennett--was a member of that club?"

"Yes."

"How long had he been a member?"

"Seven years last March, sir."

"He was at the club on the night of the seventeenth of April last?"

"He was, sir."

"What time did he leave?"

"Not until after two. That's very late for us and I was obliged to
remind him that it was closing time."

"Did he make any request to you that night?"

"He asked for a bedroom."

"And you were unable, I believe, to give him one."

"That is so, sir. He seemed very much upset but it was quite impossible.
He said that he had particular reasons for wishing to sleep at the club
and go home in daylight. I gathered that he was in possession of some
valuables."

When he found that it was impossible for him to have a room, what did he
do?"

"He asked me for a packet which he had deposited with me earlier in the
evening and put it in his pocket. He left the club, still grumbling, at
the hour I have stated."

"And that was the last time you saw him alive?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you are probably aware that when his body was found, there was no
packet on him whatever, that his pockets were indeed empty?"

"So I understand, sir."

"I conclude, Mr. Parsons," the coroner went on, "by asking you a
somewhat delicate question but one which is necessary in the cause of
justice. Was there any hesitation about the election of Colonel Dennett
to the club?"

"There was, sir."

"And what was it?"

"The committee discovered that he had been asked to leave another club
of perhaps greater distinction than ours."

"So that he left that club under, it may be said, compulsion and put up
for yours?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did any explanation ever come to you of the reason why he was asked to
leave the other club whose name we will not mention?"

"Only vaguely, sir. We were told that a grave accusation had been made
against Colonel Dennett on account of a certain action of his when
serving as tutor to a young Indian prince, after he had left the Indian
Army, in one of the northern States."

"I see," the coroner said. "And Colonel Dennett, not being able to
satisfy the committee of the other club as to his innocence of the
accusation, was asked to resign?"

"Yes, sir."

"And he did resign?"

"Yes, sir."

"And put up for your club?"

"Yes, sir. He was strongly proposed and well seconded."

"And you elected him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did it at some time or other transpire that the accusation against
Colonel Dennett was with reference to very valuable jewellery which he
was reported to have accepted from this young prince and secreted, the
young prince not being of an age when he should have disposed of such
jewellery?"

"That was what we understood, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Parsons, that will be all," the coroner concluded.

There was a disturbed whisper through the court.

"Ever know anything about that before, Miss Medlincott?" Major Lengton
asked her.

"Never heard a word of the sort breathed," she assured him. "As to
jewellery, we thought Colonel Dennett was living on a very small
pension, as it was. He always behaved like a very poor man."

The usher once more approached the coroner. There was more whispering.
The former, in his familiar attitude with one hand resting upon the
witness box, called out a name.

"Mr. Kaw Dim."

A young gentleman, correctly dressed in European style, but of dusky
complexion, came blithely forward. He entered the witness box and smiled
at every one. It was unfortunate that his first bow was directed towards
the usher.

"Your name is Kaw Dim?" the coroner asked.

"Kaw Dim is my name, sir."

"You are secretary to an Indian nobleman, whose name it has been agreed
shall not be mentioned at these proceedings?"

"That is so, sir."

"You came to England on a mission from him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Will you tell the court, please, what that mission was?"

"To discover Colonel Dennett and to repurchase from him the jewels of
which he was in possession, which had been given to him by the son of my
master."

"Did you succeed?"

"Up to a point, sir. The jewels, I discovered, were lodged in a bank and
Colonel Dennett had arranged for an overdraft upon them which was
payable quarterly."

"That is to say," the coroner reflected, "that the bank held the jewels
and advanced Colonel Dennett a certain sum quarterly against them."

"That is so, sir."

"Not a bad arrangement, when the sale of them might have been attended
with difficulties," the coroner remarked. "Did Colonel Dennett agree to
sell you the jewels?"

"He did, sir. The transaction was practically completed. He agreed to
sell them for a certain sum in addition to the amounts he had received
from the bank. I gave the bank an undertaking, on behalf of my master,
to repay all sums that had been advanced to Colonel Dennett and they
handed him the jewels."

"They did so, I understand, on the Thursday afternoon of his death?"

"That is so, sir."

"And what happened then?"

"I was to have received the jewels from Colonel Dennett that night at
his club, have paid him the balance of the sum owing and sailed for
India with them this week."

"What happened to prevent you?"

"I received a telephone message at the Savoy Hotel, where I was staying,
purporting to come from Colonel Dennett, saying that he was ill and
asking me to meet him at the club on Friday instead of Thursday."

"To which you agreed?"

"Yes, sir. Colonel Dennett had seemed to me very unwell indeed the last
time I had seen him."

"And you went out of town, I understand, to spend that night with some
friends in the country, leaving no address?"

"That is quite true, sir. My friends were at Brighton--college friends.
I can give you their names, if desired."

"It is not necessary at this stage of the proceedings," the coroner
said. "What happened, I gather, was that Colonel Dennett was expecting
you at the club, that you did not come, that he telephoned to the Savoy
and learnt that you had gone out of town, and when he found they could
not give him a room at the club, he decided to take the jewels home with
him."

"That is apparently what happened, sir."

"Then, at the present moment, you have paid off the bank's claim, but
you still have the money you were going to pay the Colonel, and you are
without the jewels?"

"That is so, sir. Directly these proceedings are over, I propose to
advertise, offering a considerable reward for their return."

"You must do that carefully," the coroner remarked, "or you may find
yourself compounding a felony. That is all, then, Mr. Kaw Dim. Thank you
very much."

Mr. Kaw Dim smiled again at everybody and left his post. The coroner
turned to the jury. Immediately Miss Clewes rose from almost identically
the same place she had occupied a week before and leaned towards him.

"Mr. Coroner," she announced, "I have an important statement to make."

"Are you Miss Clewes, the lady who addressed me last time?" the coroner
asked.

"That is so, sir," Miss Susannah replied. "You refused to listen to me
then. This time I hope you will hear the true story of how Colonel
Dennett was murdered. I can tell it you."

"Madam," the coroner continued, "no one may speak in this court except
from the witness box. For certain reasons, I cannot listen to you. I ask
you to sit down."

Miss Susannah was evidently perturbed.

"But Mr. Coroner," she persisted, "you want to know the truth, do you
not? I can tell you the truth. I can tell you who murdered Colonel
Dennett. Surely that is what you wish to find out?"

"Madam," was the coroner's stern reply, "I don't wish to seem uncivil,
but instead of helping justice, you are likely to seriously retard it,
if you persist in these statements. Unless you sit down and remain
silent, I must have you removed from the court."

Miss Susannah reluctantly sat down.

"And you call this a Court of Justice, sir!" she mumbled angrily.

"Madam," the coroner concluded, "I have called it nothing of the sort.
This is a court of investigation. The information you have will be asked
for, no doubt, in a Court of Justice."

"If this is not a Court of Justice," Miss Susannah said, in a lower
tone, "I shall go on with my knitting."

The coroner turned to the jury.

"Gentlemen of the Jury," he explained, "for reasons of their own, which
I have no doubt are excellent ones, the only verdict required to-day by
the police is the one I suggest you give, namely, murder by some person
or persons unknown. You, of course, as men of common sense, will
appreciate the fact that an accusation such as this lady was proposing
to make would have retarded rather than advanced the course of justice,
as the police would probably not be in a position to make an immediate
arrest, and the person concerned might therefore have been able to elude
justice. Her evidence will naturally be asked for in the proceedings
which will follow upon these. Such information as she has will be
carefully considered by the police and they will act upon it. It may be
necessary for them to procure corroborative evidence before they can
bring the prisoner into court with a reasonable certainty of conviction.
Therefore, I ask you, gentlemen, to return a verdict in this case of
murder against some person or persons unknown."

The foreman turned and whispered to his fellow members of the jury, one
by one. There was in all cases an immediate response. He rose to his
feet.

"Mr. Coroner, sir," he said, "the unanimous verdict of this jury is that
Colonel Dennett met with his death by the action of some person or
persons unknown."

The coroner wrote down the verdict.

"That," he announced, "closes the proceedings."



CHAPTER XXVI


Major Lengton elbowed his way through the emerging crowd, handed Freda
Medlincott into a taxicab and gave the man an address.

"This," he declared with a grin, as they started off, "is most
interesting. The question now is--are my boarding-house pets concerned
in this? In my story, I will tell you frankly that they would be. Alas,
I am afraid there is no inspiration to be got out of your people."

"You don't think they look like criminals," Freda remarked.

"I certainly do not," Major Lengton agreed regretfully. 'One can never
tell, of course."

"There was a single moment, not more than a moment," Freda confided,
looking out of the window at the swaying crowds, "when I could have
believed anything about them. Just one moment when they were talking,
and then they all seemed to think the same thought, to be stricken with
the same fear, and I had a horrible start; and then it passed and I saw
them just as they are in everyday life--a really very ordinary, pleasant
lot of people, with nothing sinister or mysterious about them in any
way. It was just as though I had been blinded for an instant and then
recovered my sight."

"This is most interesting," the Major observed, producing his cigarette
case. "Have one, won't you?"

She leaned over and accepted a light. Just at that moment, the memory of
the expression on Miss Susannah's face was worrying her.

"You look pretty serious," he remarked. "Tell me what you are thinking
about. It might help me."

"I was wondering whether it might not be possible," she said, "that I
have been living in a sort of Fool's Paradise for years. That those
fellow boarders of mine have led secret lives, that that raid by the
police was justified and that Colonel Dennett was murdered by one of
them. Miss Susannah is very obstinate, isn't she, and you would think if
she really knew who it was, it would be some one from the house."

He smoked in silence for a moment or two.

"Look at it this way, Miss Medlincott," he begged. "You are, I consider,
a very intelligent young woman. I cannot believe it possible that you
could live in that house--for how long did you say?--four years, off and
on, with the same people, and have been deceived in them all that time."

"I certainly am not a crook," Freda declared. "Neither, I am sure, is
Mr. Luke, nor the Misses Clewes, nor Roger Ferrison nor Miss Packe, nor
Miss Flora Quayne. In fact, I cannot think of any one who might be one.
Then, there's another thing. If ever there was a severe lady in this
world, it is Mrs. Dewar. How could a small company of people make her
boarding house their headquarters and deceive her all the time as to
their activities?"

"I am beginning to admire your intelligence more than ever, Miss
Medlincott," he confessed. "I'm afraid that if we go any further in our
surmises, we must decide that, probable or improbable though it may be,
Mrs. Dewar and that long, quaint-looking manservant must be in the know.
By-the-by, what's that imposing row of keys in the cloakroom?"

"There are very few servants kept at Palace Crescent," Miss Medlincott
explained, "and every one is forced to use a latchkey. To show you how
particular Mrs. Dewar is, she insists upon each latchkey being hung in
its place immediately the owner returns, especially after dinner."

"Ingenious," Lengton murmured.

"What do you mean by ingenious?" Freda retorted. "You're beginning to
get sarcastic, I believe."

"Not I," he assured her. "What I meant was that the presence of the
latchkey in its proper place might, if any trouble arose at any time, be
a very excellent alibi."

"Sarcastic and suspicious," Freda persisted.

"Thank heavens we're there," Lengton laughed, as the taxi drew up. "We
will drown the memory of our first dispute in the quickest Martini that
was ever shaken."

They made their way into the lounge of the club and Lengton gave an
order to the waiter.

"When do you start rehearsing?" he asked his companion.

"Monday," she announced. "You can't imagine how I am looking forward to
it. It will take my mind off this Palace Crescent business and give me
an opportunity of leaving without hurting Mrs. Dewar's feelings. I can
tell her I must be nearer the theatre."

"I shall never be able to finish my story," he sighed.

"Try the boarding house on your own account," she suggested. "I have no
doubt Mrs. Dewar would love to have you. You could flirt with the
fascinating Flora Quayne, you could try and dispossess Mr. Ferrison, you
could cultivate Miss Clewes, or, if you wish to embark upon a dangerous
affair, I think Mrs. Padgham would give her eyes--beautiful eyes they
are too--for an affair of any sort."

"That is the first ill-natured thing I have heard you say about your
fellow boarders," he remarked, smiling.

"I don't think it is even ill-natured," Freda remonstrated. "All girls
and women have a right to flirt if they get the chance."

"I can see that my heroine is going to stay in the boarding house for
the rest of her life," he observed. "Tell me, Miss Medlincott--it was
you who introduced me to Palace Crescent, drew me into the charmed
circle of intrigue, so to speak--have you any views yourself about the
murder of poor old Dennett? Have you any idea, for instance, what Miss
Clewes' suppressed story really is?"

"I not only have no idea," she replied, "but no one else has. Miss
Clewes may be, as they are suggesting, out of her mind, but she has a
marvellous will for a frail-looking old lady. I think every one in the
boarding house, at different times, has tried to make her talk but not
one has succeeded. What she saw or thinks she saw that night has never
passed her lips. I suppose by this time Inspector Rudlett, or whatever
his name is, has wormed it out of her."

"You have not answered my question as to whether you have any ideas of
your own," he reminded her.

"If I had, they have been upset by what we heard at the inquest," she
told him. "Those Indians follow their jewels all over the world. They
would even climb down into hell after them. I should think, in all
probability, one of them had been tracking Colonel Dennett, shot him and
got away with the jewels. Probably that smiling gentleman, Mr. Kim Daw,
knows something about it."

The curtains of the lounge, which was an annex to the bar proper, were
pulled on one side. Two men entered. Freda turned her head carelessly at
first, then she gave a slight start. Mr. Luke, suave and detached as
usual, had drawn out an easy-chair for his companion and was sinking
into another one himself. The companion was Inspector Rudlett.

"Your friend, Mr. Luke," Lengton murmured. "And is not that the man you
pointed out to me in Ciro's Grill?"

"It is," she assented. "With Mr. Luke too. What on earth are those two
doing together?"

"They were both at the inquest," Lengton observed carelessly. "Not
together, though. Mr. Luke was with another of your friends from Palace
Crescent."

Mr. Luke, glancing across the room, recognised them and, with a word of
excuse to his companion, crossed the room.

"A quaint but happy meeting," he observed, with a bow to Freda. "I might
have known that a man-about-town like our friend, Major Lengton, would
have found this place out. The best cocktails in London."

"One needs something after the atmosphere of that stuffy court," Lengton
said.

"A very well-conducted inquest, I thought," Mr. Luke commented. "In my
younger days, I was called to the bar and but for a stroke of financial
good fortune, I might have been practising now. I might even have been a
coroner. I thought, and the Inspector here agrees with me, that it was
an admirably conducted enquiry."

"I think it's too bad," Freda said, "that they wouldn't let Miss Clewes
say her little piece."

Mr. Luke smiled.

"She will have to keep that until the Inspector is ready," he remarked.
"Did you recognise the man I am with, Miss Medlincott?"

"I was not sure," she replied. "Is it Inspector Rudlett?"

"I found him waiting for me when I came out," Mr. Luke confided. "Poor
man, he's rather in distress and I don't blame him. Miss Clewes is very
angry because she was not permitted to go into the witness box. She
refuses to talk to any one now; she has gone home to Palace Crescent and
locked herself in her room! I don't remember enough of the law to know
whether she can be committed for contempt of court, but in any case,
it's an awkward situation for the poor fellow. She absolutely refuses to
open her mouth or to confirm or put in writing what she told him last
week! He wants me to use my influence and I am trying to convince him
that I haven't any."

"I don't think there is any one in Palace Crescent, Mr. Luke, who
wouldn't do as you told them," Freda said.

He smiled gently but appreciatively.

"Well, I suppose I shall have to see what I can do with her this
evening. In the meantime I must go back to the Inspector. _Au revoir_."

Mr. Luke crossed the room and resumed his seat. Lengton had become
thoughtful.

"So that is the Scotland Yard man who was responsible for the raid on
Palace Crescent the other night."

"He is also the man," Freda reminded her companion, "who is handling the
murder case. I wonder what he thinks about the whole business."

"He must have some ideas about your friends, Miss Medlincott, at the
back of his mind, or he would not have insisted upon that second
search."

"I'm getting perfectly muddled about it all," Freda confessed.

"Another cocktail might clear your brain," Lengton suggested. "I don't
know about these being the best cocktails in London, but they are
certainly the mildest."

He gave the order, disregarding Freda's faint protest. On the other side
of the room the Inspector and Mr. Luke had just been served with
whiskies and sodas. They raised their glasses in salutation.

"You gave us all a surprise to-day, Inspector," Mr. Luke remarked. "The
case certainly looks more hopeful now, although, of course, it could not
be carried very far this afternoon."

"It was the secretary of the Junior Oriental who put us on the track,"
the Inspector confessed. "When I first talked to him, I thought there
was something he was half inclined to say, so I had another turn at him.
Then I found that young Indian's card at the club, left for Dennett, and
the thing began to work out all right."

"Up to a point," Mr. Luke remarked.

"Up to a point," the Inspector agreed. "Still, it's a great thing to
have discovered a motive. Without a motive, I always think there is
something blank and confusing about any case. Motive enough now and no
mistake," he went on. "I believe that those rubies the boy is supposed
to have given Dennett are worth at least two hundred and fifty thousand
pounds on the market."

"Where are they now, I wonder?" Mr. Luke asked.

The Inspector stroked his chin.

"I wonder," he said. "The murderer, whoever he was, seems to have got
away with them."

"Pro tern:'

"For a simple case, it is puzzling," the Inspector went on. "Of course,
we have drawn a ring round the jewels. They would be ruined if they were
cut. The only person to whom they are really worth the money is the
person to whom they belong. The worst of that is, though, that their
possession, even by the owner, would be--well, incriminating."

"I suppose," Mr. Luke reflected, "you have made enquiries into the
antecedents of this young Indian?"

Inspector Rudlett took a sip of his whisky and soda.

"I hope you won't think me ungracious, sir," he said, "after your
kindness but I cannot say very much about a I, when it is at this stage.
You have been connected slightly with the law, so you would know that.
Still, I can go so far as to say that this particular young gentleman
was at Harrow and Oxford and that he is highly thought of in the Indian
State where he lives. During such times as he has been in London, too,
he seems to have lived a very quiet and sedate life, mixing with some
very good people. It is hard to imagine him, however much he may have
his employer's interests at heart, killing a man in cold blood. It is a
great risk you know, sir, to kill a man, rob him and expect to get away
with it. It comes off now and then but not very often. The young
gentleman has shown no signs of wishing to leave the country in a hurry,
at any rate."

"It would not be indiscreet, I suppose, to suggest that you have had a
talk with him," Mr. Luke ventured.

"I have had several talks with him," the Inspector acquiesced. "He
adopts a very frank attitude. He is going to spend the next six months
searching for the jewels and he told me if he could come across them or
learn in whose hands they were, he was prepared to pay pretty well the
full value of them and ask no questions. I warned him that he must not
tell me that, and that he would be compounding a felony if he made any
deal with any person involving the return of those jewels. He only
smiled. He was an Indian, he said, and the servant of his master."

"I see his point of view," Mr. Luke reflected. "A very interesting
situation."

There was a silence between the two men. Mr. Luke's pale eyes seemed to
be watching the gently swaying boughs of an elm tree in the small garden
outside the club. The Inspector, with the air of a man who has suddenly
remembered that he had a drink, was calmly enjoying his whisky and soda.
Freda who, despite herself, had been watching them from the other side
of the room turned to Lengton.

"Those two rather fascinate me," she confessed. "They can't have been
talking about Miss Clewes all this time. I should think the Inspector
would be an interesting man for you to know."

"I should love to meet him," Major Lengton assented. "Of course, I have
seen his name in the papers. They had his picture in some of them on
that Oxford murder case last year but I should never have recognised
him."

"I'll introduce you, if you like, when we go," Freda suggested.

"Sweet girl," he murmured.

It was Mr. Luke and his companion, however, who rose to leave first.
Freda caught the former's eye as they passed.

"Mr. Luke," she apologised, "my friend here, Major Lengton, would so
much like to meet the Inspector."

"Why, certainly," Mr. Luke acquiesced. "Inspector, let me introduce you
to a mutual friend of Miss Medlincott's and mine. Major
Lengton--Inspector Rudlett."

The two men shook hands.

"Very interested to meet you, Inspector," Lengton assured him. "I read
every word of that Oxford murder case last year."

The Inspector was a very quiet man and he studied his new acquaintance
before he replied.

"You interested in that sort of thing, sir?" he enquired.

"Not professionally," Lengton admitted. "I write a few stories
sometimes."

The Inspector turned hastily away. His smile was disarming.

"You will excuse me, sir," he said. "I'm terrified of you hterary
gentlemen."

He saluted Miss Medlincott and went off with Mr. Luke.

"I love your friend," Lengton said. "He has a sense of humour. The one
quality, as a rule, policemen lack."

"I'm getting so curious," Freda Medlincott declared, as she finished her
cocktail and they prepared to depart. "I feel just now that I would give
anything in the world to know exactly what Mr. Luke and the Inspector
were talking about all this time."



CHAPTER XXVII


Miss Susannah Clewes did not hesitate to accept Mr. Luke's courteously
worded invitation to visit him for a few minutes in his sitting room
before dinner that evening, but she was in a very obstinate frame of
mind. She sat in Mr. Luke's easy-chair, she produced her knitting and
she listened to what he had to say with a faint but inexpressive smile
upon her lips.

"That's all very well, Mr. Luke," she said, when he had finished, "but
if it's justice that they want, why did they not let me tell the truth
either time in that crowded court? Why did that usher come and stand
over me so that I knew quite well I should have his horrible hand on my
mouth if I tried to disobey the coroner? That's not the way to treat a
gentlewoman who has an important statement to make. I am not sure that I
am any longer interested in the course of justice."

"But Miss Clewes," Mr. Luke argued, "aren't you making rather a personal
matter of this? It is the law of the country, you know, that you must
disclose what you know about any crime or misdemeanour that has been
committed--otherwise you render yourself an accessory. Now, you don't
want to be an accessory to a murder, do you?"

Miss Clewes' smile was no longer inexpressive. She stopped knitting for
a moment and gave Mr. Luke the benefit of it.

"Should I be hanged?" she asked.

"Of course not," he answered. "But you would be put in a very awkward
position. You certainly would render yourself liable to a term of
imprisonment. I am afraid if you persist in refusing to tell the
Inspector anything, he may apply for an order against you."

"How silly that would be," she said, resuming her knitting. "I could get
out of it so easily. I could make a false statement. I could tell him
some wild thing which I had never seen."

So this was the woman, Mr. Luke mused, whom they were trying to say was
out of her mind! He altered his ground.

"Why not confide in me then, Miss Clewes?" he suggested. "I was once a
barrister, you know, before I was fortunate enough to come into a little
money."

"Why should I confide in you?" she demanded. "I am not particularly
anxious to bring the criminal to justice."

"Then why did you try to tell the truth in court and now refuse to tell
anybody anything?" he asked in some exasperation.

Miss Susannah Clewes for a moment stopped her knitting. She looked
across at her questioner.

"Mr. Luke," she explained, "my sister and I have been brought up quietly
and our lives have been absolutely uneventful. There were times in that
sleepy country village when I think we both--I know that I did,
anyhow--ached for something to happen, even if it were trouble. We
wanted to do something, to be a little different, to be pointed out as
heroines even of a scandal. I had that feeling when I went to the
Coroner's Court, wedged in amongst all those people. It would have given
me a wicked, perhaps a malicious pleasure, to have stood up, to have had
every one listening eagerly to what I had to say, to have told them
something that would have startled them. The Inspector robbed me of that
possible minute of happiness. He would like me to tell him when we are
alone, with no one else to hear, and then everything would go on quietly
until he had his triumph, and at his behest I was to be put, a poor
little dummy, into the witness box, to have my story drawn out of me for
his glorification. You may think me a very wicked and stupid and
stubborn old lady, Mr. Luke, but you have asked for the truth and you
have it. The Inspector would not let me tell it my way, therefore I
shall not tell it any way."

"Supposing," Mr. Luke queried, "an innocent person is accused?"

"Then I should, without a doubt, change my mind," she admitted, "but it
would not be the Inspector I should tell. I should go myself to Scotland
Yard and tell some one of importance."

Mr. Luke once more changed his ground.

"I dare say you have heard what the Inspector says?" he asked.

"I have heard," Miss Susannah Clewes said calmly, "that he does not
attach a great deal of importance to what I may have to tell."

Mr. Luke nodded.

"You know the reason, of course. He has been in your room and he has
decided that it was absolutely impossible, owing to the position of the
wall, for you to have seen the murder committed."

The knitting continued faster than ever. It was the only indication Miss
Clewes ever gave that she was angry.

"If it makes the Inspector any more comfortable to believe that," she
said, "let him believe it."

"But I too," Mr. Luke persisted gently, "have been in your room and I
have looked out of the window. I do not understand how it was possible
for you to have witnessed the murder."

"Does this matter to me at all?" Miss Susannah asked.

"I am not asking any one to believe what I saw. I am keeping it to
myself."

Mr. Luke tried other tactics.

"You must remember," he said, "that the recovery of the jewels would
probably follow the discovery of the murderer. There is a reward offered
for them of ten thousand pounds. They are not only immensely valuable
but their rightful owner is very anxious to have them back again in his
country. If the murderer was arrested because of your evidence, you
would probably be able to claim a portion of that sum."

"Thank you very much for your information, Mr. Luke," Miss Susannah
replied, "but my sister and I have three hundred and ninety-five pounds
a year each, derived from very sound investments. It is sufficient for
our needs. A larger sum of money would upset our regular method of life
and be of no advantage to us."

Mr. Luke gave up the unequal contest at the sounding of the first gong.
She accepted his invitation and allowed him to escort her to the lounge.
The buzz of conversation ceased at their entrance. All eyes were turned
in their direction. Mr. Luke, with a shrug of the shoulders, acknowledged
his defeat to Mr. Padgham, who was the first to buttonhole him.

"Miss Clewes," he confided, "is exceedingly obstinate. It is, I should
think, a trait developed by the narrowness of the life she has led until
it has become an obsession."

"Surely she must know," Mr. Padgham argued irritably, "that it is very
wrong of her to conceal anything that she saw that night."

"Miss Clewes," Mr. Luke explained tritely, "is not interested in the
ethical side of the question. She twice wished to tell her story in the
Coroner's Court, she was not allowed to, and therefore she will not tell
it at all. You others can have a try with her, if you like. I have done
my best and failed."

"What I am afraid Miss Clewes doesn't realise," Mr. Bernascon pointed
out to an increasing circle of listeners, "is that the clearing up of
this murder mystery would relieve a certain ugly suspicion under which
we are all living just now. First of all, there was this murder itself,
and then the fact that the Burlington Gardens raiders ended their flight
in this vicinity and are known to have taken shelter somewhere near. The
clearing up of the murder mystery would probably relieve the situation
entirely. As it is, I feel when I leave the house in the morning and
when I come back at night that I am always being watched. People have
become curious about us. However absurd it may seem, it is certainly a
fact."

"Some one was taking a photograph of the house yesterday," Freda
Medlincott confided. "We shall all be in the Sunday papers before long."

"I can almost see it," Reggie Barstowe observed, with a grin. "It will
be something like this, I suppose:

"Miss Freda Medlincott, the celebrated actress, leaving Palace Crescent
Boarding House for rehearsal at the Cambridge Theatre! Palace Crescent
Boarding House is the venue of the unsolved Dennett Murder Case and is
in the vicinity of the spot where the Burlington Gardens raiders made
their escape."

"Very amusing, no doubt, Mr. Barstowe," Mrs. Dewar said coldly. "But I
think you might consider my feelings a little."

"Only a joke, Mrs. Dewar, I can assure you," Barstowe declared. "The
whole thing will certainly be cleared up before very long and I should
think it would be rather good for the house. No end of people will want
to come and stay here to prove their courage."

"Our notoriety is bringing us distinguished visitors, at any rate," Mr.
Luke remarked. "Major Lengton, your friend and guest the other evening,
Miss Medlincott, is an example. One felt, although his manners were
quite perfect, that all the time he was searching for a notorious
murderer and a few nimble jewel raiders when he looked round the room."

"I am sure Major Lengton had nothing of the sort in his mind," Freda
Medlincott protested. "He came simply because he was anxious to see how
a boarding house was conducted. He's writing a story and his heroine is
living in one."

"Ever published anything?" Mr. Luke asked.

"I have not asked him," Freda replied. "That's just the one question
about which I always find budding authors are a trifle sensitive."

"Mr. Grindley was once an inmate of this house," Mrs. Dewar announced.
"He wrote for the Sunday papers every week and had a serial occasionally
in one of the magazines. I often see his name in the paper now."

Flora Quayne summoned Roger to her side. He was wearing his new dinner
coat and had treated himself to a glass of sherry.

"You didn't come to my room before dinner," she reminded him
reproachfully.

"I can't come every evening, can I?" he remonstrated.

"It would give me pleasure if you did," she replied. "My cocktails are
much better for you than that sherry you are drinking. Turn round,
please. I want to admire your new clothes."

He laughed a little self-consciously.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "my partner and I are invited to dine
with one of the directors of Mallory's tomorrow night and as I have
never worn a dinner coat before, I thought I had better try this on."

"It's very nice--very well cut. But if you come to my room to-morrow
evening, I will tie your tie for you."

"I am not an expert, I'm afraid," he admitted. "Thank you."

"And Miss Packe?"

"She is still with her aunt," he replied. "She was coming round to
dinner to-night but she telephoned that she was worn out shopping."

"So you are going round there afterwards?" Flora Quayne asked jealously.

"Quite right," he assented. "I am going round directly after dinner."

"When is the party to be?"

"Friday, Mrs. Dewar has announced. Cocktails here at seven o'clock in
the lounge--real cocktails, mind you."

"Yes, I know," she murmured. "Mr. Luke has engaged a man from one of his
clubs to come up and fix a small bar."

"Jolly nice of him, I call it," Roger declared. "Well, we're all to be
here promptly at seven, I am told, and then, of course, we stay on to
dinner."

"There would have been dancing afterwards," Flora Quayne said sadly,
"but Mrs. Dewar thought that I might feel left out. It was very kind of
her, but I hate to think that I am spoiling any one's pleasure."

"No one wants to dance," Roger assured her. "I would much rather talk to
you and look at you than dance."

She glanced up at him and then away with a quick drop of the eyes. A
faint flush in her cheeks, which came and went quickly, was in itself an
exquisite thing.

"That is one of the nicest speeches you have ever made to me," she told
him. "You must not begin paying me compliments like that just as you are
going away."

"Some of us," Maurice Bernascon declared severely, "are beginning to be
very glad that he is going away. Do you ever realise, Miss Quayne, how
selfishly and brutally that young man, who is on the eve of matrimony,
monopolises you all the time?"

"I didn't notice it," she smiled.

"Well, it's true," he insisted. "Reggie and I were talking about it the
other day."

"I must make amends," she promised, holding out her hand. "There is the
dinner gong--you and Mr. Barstowe shall take me in. Don't think that I
forget," she went on, as she handed one of her sticks to Barstowe and
leaned on his arm, "how nicely you two used to look after me."

"Until that fellow Ferrison came," Bernascon exclaimed, with a fine show
of jealousy.

She sighed.

"Mr. Ferrison is so strong," she said. "He carries me as though I were a
feather. Don't go rushing off, Roger, without saying good night to me,"
she added, looking over her shoulder. "You can come and fetch me after
dinner to make up for this desertion."

"It's a promise," he consented cheerfully.



CHAPTER XXVIII


"For a company of suspected jewel raiders with an odd murderer or two
amongst us," Mr. Luke remarked, "your guests, Mrs. Dewar, are blessed
with fairly good appetites."

Mrs. Dewar withdrew her eyes from that ceaseless watch which she seemed
to keep upon the various tables.

"Yes," she admitted, "their appetites appear healthy enough. They eat
and they talk, and yet--listen! To me there seems something different in
the atmosphere. I suppose it is due to all these excitements, but I am
sure that every one eats faster and talks in a more disjointed fashion.
Have you noticed, too, the way every one keeps looking towards the
door?"

Freda Medlincott sighed.

"How I wish that Major Lengton were here! That's just the sort of speech
to have given him an idea."

Mrs. Dewar's bony fingers adjusted her brooch.

"Well, perhaps it is as well that he is not here," she said. "We
certainly don't wish to give people any more ideas about us than they
have."

"The only person," Mr. Luke observed, "who completely maintains his
somewhat eccentric attitude towards life is Joseph. When you retire,
Mrs. Dewar, I shall try and get him offered a place at the Sheridan. He
gets over the ground with those long, lean legs of his faster than any
waiter I have ever seen, and he never makes a mistake."

"The only night I have ever seen him disturbed," Roger Ferrison, who had
moved his place for the evening to Mrs. Dewar's table, remarked, "was
the night of the murder. I admit he gave me rather a shock then. How
long has he been with you, Mrs. Dewar?"

"Since the place opened," that lady replied, "I pay him good wages but I
often wonder why he stays."

"I don't think you need," Maurice Bernascon interposed. "He's one of
those stickers--fairly grown into the life here. I think he will be with
you until you close down the place, if ever you do."

Mr. Luke leaned a little forward.

"Owing to the fact," he remarked, "that the police have refused to allow
any evidence to speak of at the inquest, there are many things in
connection with that unfortunate night, to which you have just alluded,
Mr. Ferrison, which we have scarcely spoken of, even amongst ourselves.
I remember now that you heard the police whistle and went downstairs.
Was poor old Joseph in a terrible state?"

"I should say he was," Roger admitted. "I shall never forget him when I
picked up his gun and examined it."

"Do you mean to say," Freda exclaimed, "that he had a gun by the side of
his bed?"

"He certainly had," Roger told her. "Not only that, but one barrel had
been discharged."

There was a moment's rather curious silence. Mr. Luke held up his glass
of wine to the light. He seemed to be wondering whether it was quite as
clear as it should be.

"I don't remember hearing about Joseph having a gun," he observed. "Did
you mention it to the Inspector, Ferrison?"

"Of course I did," Roger replied. "I told him everything I could think
of that night. By-the-by, though, I didn't mention the telephone call
from the sergeant of the Bartels Street Police Station."

"That was of no importance whatever," Mrs. Dewar pronounced. "It had to
do simply with the fact that Joseph had foolishly left a window open
somewhere in the back premises. What one is naturally curious about is
whether the Inspector made any remark about Joseph's possession of the
revolver?"

"He did not seem to think it in any way unusual," Roger answered.
"By-the-by, he did ask me to keep what I saw in the back kitchen on my
way through and afterwards, I suppose, to myself. That didn't apply, of
course, to you people. I have not opened my mouth about it to any one
else."

"Very discreet," Mr. Luke approved.

"I should say that Joseph was very well advised to be armed," Mrs. Dewar
remarked. "He has the whole of the back premises to guard, which are
really quite unprotected, and if any one ever did attempt a burglary, it
would certainly be from there."

"But why should any one choose Palace Crescent for a burglary?" Freda
Medlincott asked.

Mr. Luke, apparently satisfied about his wine, finished the contents of
his glass deliberately and refilled it.

"Well," he reflected, "boarding-house guests, as a rule, are not wealthy
people, but I don't know whether it has occurred to any of you," he went
on, lowering his voice. "Our dear little lady, Miss Quayne, sometimes
wears very valuable jewellery. That sort of thing gets about. Even you,
my dear Miss Medlincott, when you have all London at your feet--as you
probably will in a month or two--would scarcely look askance at those
pearls she is wearing to-night, for instance."

"I think her jewellery is lovely," Freda declared heartily.

"And of course," Roger put in, "she is on the ground floor."

"I think," Mrs. Dewar meditated, "I must give her a word of warning some
day."

"It would be as well," Mr. Luke agreed. "I have been interested in Miss
Quayne's attitude towards her jewels. We all know, of course, that she
is more or less an artist. She has artistic ideas which she expresses
artistically and her taste in literature is of the best. She loves her
jewellery because it is beautiful. It gives her the same pleasure to
feel and pore over as a beautiful binding or a rare picture. It would be
a cruel thing, with her limitations as regards pleasure, if she were
deprived of a single gem that she values."

Reginald Barstowe was suddenly thoughtful.

"I wonder if she would care about some insurance," he reflected. "My
people are rather good at that sort of thing."

Mr. Luke looked down at the young man with disapproval in his face.

"I don't think," he said, "that insurance would in any way compensate
Miss Quayne for the loss of her jewellery. It is not their monetary
value which appeals to her. A woman with her outlook becomes attached to
the beautiful things by which she is surrounded in a different way."

"Nevertheless," Reggie Barstowe remarked, in a somewhat minor key, "if
she did lose her jewels, I expect a cheque for a few thousand pounds
would come in handy. Insurance is pretty cheap just now."

"Even in a very conservative old boarding house like this, Tom," his
wife remarked to him, as they paused during the courses to glance round
the room, "it's odd what changes there are. A few nights ago Mr.
Ferrison, for instance, had Miss Packe always with him. They sat in that
corner, gazing into each other's eyes as though no one else in the world
even existed. Then Miss Medlincott has left off dining first with Mr.
Bernascon and then with any one else who would ask her. Since that young
soldier gentleman came to dinner with her, she seems a different
person."

"She's got a thundering good job," Mr. Padgham confided. "Forty pounds a
week--and more if the show's a success."

"Forty pounds a week is not much for a leading lady," Mrs. Padgham, who
had been understudy to one herself, remarked.

"It's pretty good these times," her husband grunted. "I sometimes
wonder, Annabel," he went on, leaning across the table until their faces
nearly touched, "whether it would not, after all, be a wise move to make
a get-away if we can. I'm worried about old Luke. Seems to me he's
getting a bit queer in the head."

"So you have the wind up, have you?" his spouse remarked, her beautiful
eyes studying him keenly.

"Look here, my girl," Mr. Padgham continued, a touch of hoarseness in
his throat. "You and I aren't in this together as much as we ought to
be. You touch your share of what's going, all right, and you keep the
stocking, but I am the one who would have to take the knocks. I don't
like the way the police refused to call any evidence at the inquest on
old Dennett, and I don't like the way the Inspector is always drifting
in and out. I don't know whether you've noticed it, but all mention of
the Burlington Gardens case seems to have faded out of the paper. It's
the police who have done that, I'll bet. They're waiting for something."

"If you ask me what I think of Inspector Rudlett," Mrs. Padgham said
contemptuously, "I think he's a chump. I don't think he's on the line at
all. Scotland Yard has struck a bad streak. People seem to be helping
themselves to what they want nowadays."

Mr. Padgham apparently did not share his wife's confident attitude.

"You may be right, Annabel," he assented, "but to me that fellow always
seems as though he had something up his sleeve. Always, on some excuse
or other, this house is being watched. It's just as though he knew he
had got us when he chose to make his grab, but all the time he was
waiting for the last little shred of evidence so as to make his case
complete."

"Perhaps we'd better take a holiday, if you feel like that," she agreed.
"I'm sick of this place, anyhow. There are always your friends in
Russia."

"I wish we were on our way there to-night!" Mr. Padgham said fervently.
"We have done well here. The Palace Crescent Boarding House has been a
gold mine, in its way. All the same, I'm getting uneasy."

"Have you anything in your mind you've not spoken of, Tom?" she asked,
with a shrewd glance at him.

Mr. Padgham looked a little shamefaced.

"You'll perhaps think I'm dotty, Annabel," he said, "but I didn't half
like that chap Freda Medlincott brought along."

"What? Major Lengton?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean you didn't like him?"

"Well, it seemed to me he was too interested in us all," Mr. Padgham
explained.

His wife looked at him pityingly.

"Well, you have got the wind up," she scoffed. "Major Lengton was all
right. I have known that type, my dear Tom, ever since I set foot on the
stage. Nice, clean, gentlemanly fellows with just about the price of a
supper on them and a very limited credit at their jewellers. Some of
them--Major Lengton may be one--quite good at their job, but perfectly
and marvellously harmless. I'll tell you, if you want to know, that a
gentleman like Major Lengton would never be the faintest use as a
detective. They lack one quality--suspicion. They take for granted
everything they're told."

"Kind of story writer, Miss Medlincott says he is."

"An amateur, I'll bet," his wife declared. "Don't I know the type! Tom,"
she went on earnestly, "I don't want you to get into trouble any more
than I do myself. We have done very well the last eight years together
and I don't want to leave you, but if you lose your nerve I'm off.
Nerves are the one thing in this world I have no use for. I have been in
these sort of affairs too many times and whenever we have come near
grief, it's been through a nervous man. You may say what you like but
Luke's my idea of a leader. Follow him and you'll be all right. He'll
give us the word when we have to quit."

"That may be so," Padgham grunted. "He will be all right--I'm not so
sure about us...What are these, Joseph?"

"Cutlets, Mr. Padgham," the butler replied. "I watched them cut myself
at the butcher's this morning. I should recommend the one nearest to
you, sir. Perhaps you would like a little Worcester Sauce? There are
some well-browned potatoes and beans to come."

"Joseph remains always our one bright star," Mr. Padgham remarked,
helping himself.

"Your attitude towards this place, my dear Susannah, appears to me to
have changed during the last few weeks," her elder sister observed, as
they watched the arrival of Joseph with the second dish of cutlets. "Is
it my fancy, or do I not notice a certain reticence--especially when you
are brought in contact with Mrs. Dewar?"

"We change every day that we grow older," Miss Susannah declared, with
some acerbity. "You, yourself, my dear Amelia, narrowly escaped dropping
a stitch just now."

Miss Amelia bit her lip. The serious charge was well founded.

"Perhaps we have both been here without a change long enough," she
suggested. "Would a fortnight in Mrs. Moore's rooms at Hastings be
agreeable to you, Susannah?"

Susannah, whose turn it was to help herself to cutlets, laid down her
knitting.

"Not just at present, Amelia," she begged.

"You are going to see Miss Packe this evening?" Mrs. Dewar asked Roger.

"Directly after dinner, Mrs. Dewar. At least, after I have had a word or
two with Miss Quayne."

"She is still up at Putney?"

"She is still there with her aunt," Roger replied. "They spend most of
the time shopping."

"You must remember me kindly to her," Mrs. Dewar said. "Also say that we
are looking forward very much to Friday."

"So we both are," Roger lied a little grimly.

Mrs. Dewar lit the one cigarette she permitted herself during the day.
She smoked it with obvious lack of enjoyment and purely as an indication
to her boarders that they were at liberty to leave whenever they chose.
Flora Quayne waved her hand and Roger moved across to her. He carried
one of her sticks and gave her the support of his arm upon the left-hand
side. She passed out of the room, clinging to him. Outside she paused
and her hand stole up to his neck.

"To-night please carry me," she begged. "We shall get to my room quicker
and I am tired."

He would very much have preferred their present form of progress but he
picked her up without demur. She clung to him with her usual little
croon of content.

"Into the lounge?" he asked.

"Of course not," she answered. "How can we talk there? The coffee is
waiting in my room and my car is at the door. I am going to a reception
at ten o'clock. I ordered the car at nine so that it could take you to
Putney first."

"That's awfully good of you," he acknowledged, "but it isn't necessary."

"It pleases me," she said. "You are doing what I ask: I give you back
the time, you see."

He carried her down the passage and into her apartment. Roger, who had
seen a good deal of furnishing lately--artistic and inartistic--was
beginning to appreciate the soft colourings and charm of the room. The
lounge was drawn up to the fire and coffee stood on the small table,
between it and the easy-chair. There were also cigarettes and a carafe
of brandy.

"Marie has forgotten nothing to-night," Flora sighed, "except that she
has put your chair much too far away from me. In some things I remain a
baby. I like to hold the hand of any one with whom it gives me pleasure
to talk."

He paused for a moment, then wheeled his chair nearer.

"Tell me why you hesitated," she asked, as she accepted her coffee and
the cigarette which, according to custom, he had lit for her.

"If I told you, I should feel like a fool," he answered,

"Then feel like one and tell me," she insisted.

"It ought to mean nothing at all to me that you hold my hand," he
confided, "because I am engaged to be married and in love with my
_fiancée_. I am quite certain that I could hold the hand of any one in the
world and it would not make the least difference, and yet somehow it
gives me an uncomfortable feeling--in this room--close to you. There is
something in your eyes which I never quite understand. Something about
myself which I understand even less. Now you know why I hesitated."

It was always a pleasure to Roger to see her smile. For the second time
in his life he saw and heard her laugh. She laughed musically and very
softly, with her eyes half closed and the fingers of her right hand
beating her knee.

"Roger," she said, "let me tell you something. Not in your most eloquent
moments have you ever said a thing I liked to hear so much."

"Well, I don't know why," he protested. "I did not say it with any idea
of giving you pleasure."

She gave his hand a convulsive clutch, wiped her eyes with a
ridiculously diminutive confection of cambric and leaned nearer to him.

"It was because you said it without meaning to give me pleasure that I
loved it," she confessed. "It will make me happier when you leave me.
Now listen. I want to ask you a question. Why did Miss Packe desert us
here? Why has she gone to stay with her aunt?"

Roger looked, as he felt, taken aback.

"Why, I thought every one understood that. We are going to get married
next month, you know. There was no necessity at all for Audrey to go on
working and she had to get her clothes."

"We have all heard that, Roger," she agreed, "but I wanted to know the
truth. I think that there was another reason."

"What reason could there be?"

"I am not nattering myself," she went on, "that she could possibly be
jealous of me. I know she doesn't look upon me as a live human being.
Perhaps it is as well that she doesn't. She can never guess that I can,
and do, feel a hundred times more than she ever will. No, I know it was
not that, but there was some other reason, Roger."

He looked into the fire and reflected.

"In confidence?" he asked.

"Yes, in confidence," she promised.

"Audrey is not exactly an imaginative person," he went on, after another
brief pause, "but she has strong intuition sometimes. She came to me in
positive distress one morning. She has a small room, as you know, on the
second floor. Many of the doors are fitted with bolts but this one has
only a lock, the key to which, the maid told her, had been lost. She is
not at all a nervous person, and all this time she has been accustomed
to sleep without having the door locked because there was no key, but
she declares that she woke up in the night last week and found some one
in the room."

"Some one in the room?" Flora repeated. "Do you mean some one who had
come in without waking her?"

"I suppose so. She has no switch by the bed and she had no way of
getting a light. She lay still and trembled. She did what a great many
highly nervous people do at such a time--she closed her eyes. When she
opened them, the figure had disappeared. She got up then and lit a
match. There was no one in the room and there was no possible hiding
place."

"Fancy, of course," Flora murmured.

"Just what I said," Roger observed, with a reminiscent smile, "and for
the first time in my life I saw Audrey in a temper. She asked for her
key the next morning and they promised she should have it. She asked
again the third day and Mrs. Dewar said it was being made. On the third
night she woke up just the same way and without seeing any one
definitely, she is prepared to swear that some one was in her room. The
window, which she had left open, was closed and she declared that there
was a horrible smell of some chemical like gas, only stronger, and a
kind of hissing noise. She got up and shrieked and she heard the door
close. Again she could not see the figure which went out, but she was
sure that who ever it was was carrying something that looked like a
glass retort."

"This is getting quite like a novelette," Flora observed. "And what
happened then?"

"Well, rather a stupid thing happened, but I dare say heaps of us would
have done it under the circumstances. She opened the window. She stood
there for a few minutes, breathing, and all the bad air went out. She
has no bell in the room. She knows, of course, that she was paying the
minimum price, so she couldn't very well make a fuss about it. The bad
odour had all gone and there was no sign that any one had been there.
From then on, I think she was wise. She packed her bag and left."

"But why on earth didn't she complain to Mrs. Dewar?" Flora asked.

"Because she hadn't a single shred of evidence," Roger explained.

"But what about the bad odour?"

"They were laying down gas in the next street. A whiff or two might
easily have escaped."

"Well, the opened window then?"

"Who remembers positively whether they open their window or not at
night? I believe in Audrey's memory, of course, but no one else would."

"Had Miss Packe any jewellery or valuables?"

"Not a single thing."

"What about her engagement ring?"

"Even that was away being altered."

"But I never heard of a girl who had no jewellery at all," Flora
protested.

"Well, she declares she hasn't and I believe her. I should say," Roger
concluded, "that there was not a soul in the Palace Crescent Boarding
House whom it would have been less profitable to rob."

"It all sounds very stupid," Flora reflected.

"I'm afraid it does," Roger agreed. "Still, I believe that those two
unpleasant incidents really happened. They've got on her nerves and we
thought it best that she should leave quietly."

"What did she think about it all?" Flora persisted.

"She didn't know what to think," Roger replied. "No more do I. No more
do you or any one else. She has not an enemy in the world that she knows
of, she hasn't a possession that's worth a sovereign--why should any one
want to kill her? It doesn't make sense. That's why she went away.
Things that you can't understand are worse than things that frighten
you. Why any one should want to hurt a sweet harmless girl like Audrey
Packe, I cannot imagine. Now you know why I made her leave."

Her fingers tightened upon his hand.

"From your point of view, Roger," she said, "I think you were right. You
must forgive me, though, if I say that I am convinced it was all fancy.
Every one here is kindly. No one would have dreamed of hurting her. It
won't prevent her coming to the party, will it?"

"No, she'll come to the party, all right," Roger answered, "because I
shall be there to take care of her. All the same, I would rather there
was not going to be a party."

"Roger!"

He turned uneasily in his chair.

"I don't want to talk about this place, Flora," he said. "I know more
than you know. I don't want to alarm you in any way, either, but if I
had as many beautiful things as you have, I should follow Audrey's
example and clear out."

"Where should I go?" she asked pitifully. "No one looks after me but
Mrs. Dewar. She has known me all my life."

"You could get a companion," he suggested.

"All right," she agreed. "I choose you."

He laughed. For several minutes he had been exceedingly uncomfortable.
He welcomed the return of her more frivolous mood.

"Well," he declared, "I can assure you I should be very happy and I
should try to give every satisfaction. Now I must hurry off. Even in
your wonderful car, I shall be late."

"Come and see me when you get back," she begged.

"Not likely," he replied. "It might be after midnight for one thing."

"I shan't be back from the reception I am going to until midnight."

He kissed the fingers she pressed against his lips.

"Don't forget your latchkey," he reminded her.

She struggled from the couch.

"One moment," she insisted. "Your arm, please. No, it will be quicker if
you carry me. I will just show you something, then you can go. Carry me
through the bathroom into my bedroom."

"Flora!"

She turned her head away. There was a queer little sob in her tone.

"You need not be afraid," she assured him. "Do as I tell you. You will
not have many more opportunities. Marie--I have sent her on a message.
Believe me, you need not remain one minute. There is something I wish to
show you there."

He told himself that the old passionate Flora lay dead in his arms. He
could do as she begged him without risk or fear. He carried her through
the bathroom, with its haunting perfumes, into the bedroom with its dim
atmosphere of luxury. She pointed to the far wall, a portion of which
was hung with a Byzantine curtain.

"Over there," she directed.

They arrived in front of the curtain. She drew it on one side. There was
a small Gothic-looking door there, with heavy bars.

"Put me on the bed, please," she begged.

He obeyed. She threw herself down with a weary gesture and drew the
pillow towards her.

"Draw those bolts," she told him.

Once more he obeyed. She felt in her pocket and drew out a little gilded
key ring with two keys attached.

"Open the door," she directed.

There was no latch, only a spring lock.

"Which key?" he asked.

"Either of them."

He selected one and the door swung noiselessly open. A breath of cold
wind came in.

"Now close it."

He did as he was told.

"Draw the bolts back, please," she begged. "I just wanted to show you
that I am not so helpless here as I seem. I had that door made years
ago, so that in case there was a fire or trouble of any sort, I could
escape easily. You see, it is only two yards from the side of my bed. I
don't have to bother about Mrs. Dewar's latchkeys."

"You are a most astonishing person," he confessed. "You are always
springing surprises upon one. Where does this lead to?"

"Just a narrow path. It skirts the area and you go out of the front
gate, or it goes backwards into what we call the wilderness, and you can
leave by the back gate. Now please pick me up, Roger. Some day I will
show you my jewel safe. You would never find it unless I did."

"I don't want to know where it is," he declared bluntly. "To tell you
the truth, Flora," he added, "notwithstanding all this, I have a bit of
a scare on about this place. As soon as we are married, Audrey and I, I
should like to find you comfortable rooms somewhere else and have Audrey
find you a companion."

For a single moment her eyes blazed at him. She mastered herself with an
effort.

"Carry me back," she ordered. "Marie needs to come in here to prepare my
dress for the evening."

She stretched out her arms to wish him good night. In one hand she held
the keys.

"You would like one of them, Roger?" she asked softly. "You can have
it."

He tossed the keys back into her lap.

"No," he exclaimed, with an undernote of savagery in his tone.

She sighed.

"You have been so kind to me," she said. "Yet, sometimes you are so
bitterly cruel. You make me feel like some of those French ladies of the
seventeenth century. It was their idea of humour to offer a wedding
present like that. Did you ever read a story called 'The Clown of
Armenonville'? No, I don't suppose you would have. Poor little keys,"
she added, caressing them lightly.

The chauffeur sprang from his seat and opened the door as Roger
appeared. He turned away.

"Tell your mistress," he enjoined, "that I fear I should keep the car
too long. I shall take a taxicab at the corner."



CHAPTER XXIX


Inspector Rudlett, installed in his small private office at Scotland
Yard, pushed aside the papers which he had been studying with a gesture
of weariness and glanced at the card which had just been brought him. A
light broke across his usually inexpressive face. The name became
suddenly familiar. He spoke urgently on the telephone. Three minutes
later Roger was shown in.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Ferrison," the Inspector said. "To tell
you the truth, I had forgotten your name for the moment. Sit down."

Roger Ferrison accepted the chair to which the Inspector had pointed. He
laid his hat and umbrella upon the carpet by his side.

"Inspector," he announced, "I have come to ask you & favour."

"I will grant it, if I can," the other promised. "I have always had the
idea, Mr. Ferrison, that some day or other you were going to be very
useful to me."

"Well, it's just this," Roger explained. "Mrs. Dewar, our hostess, or
landlady, or whatever she calls herself, at Palace Crescent, is giving a
cocktail party to Miss Packe this afternoon. The idea is that it is a
sort of celebration of our engagement."

"I see," the Inspector said. "Go on."

Roger fidgeted a little nervously.

"Of course, I expect you will think I am crazy, but I am going to tell
you why Miss Packe left the Palace Crescent and I stayed on."

"Anything about that place interests me," the Inspector confessed.

"Miss Packe is in the position I was in a few months ago," Roger went
on. "She has nothing in the world except her small wage, she does not
possess a single article of jewellery, and she has always occupied one
of the cheapest rooms in the boarding house."

The Inspector smiled slightly.

"I know all about the young lady," he said.

"Well, Miss Packe has confided to me," Roger continued, "that she woke
up one night quite lately and found that some one was in her room. I may
say that it was a room without a bolt and the key is apparently lost.
She has asked for it several times without result. She has no electric
light and her fingers shook so that she was a long time striking a
match. When she did so, the room was empty, nothing disturbed, but she
had heard the door softly closed. She tried to think lightly of the
incident but a few nights later she woke to find a horrible smell in the
room and she herself struggling for breath. This time, too, she is
perfectly convinced, although she was unable to procure any light, that
some one left the room in a hurry, and Audrey--Miss Packe--was just able
to get to the window and throw it open. The fumes, whatever they were,
were dispelled by the fresh air but Miss Packe was faint and ill for
some time."

"Sounds queer," the Inspector remarked. "Has she any enemies in the
place?"

"Not one that she knows of."

"Of course she complained in the morning?"

"She mentioned the matter to Mrs. Dewar, who was apparently
unsympathetic. There is some work going on in the street with the gas
mains and Mrs. Dewar insisted that this accounted for the odour."

"What about the window?"

"I was coming to that. Miss Packe always sleeps with it open and
distinctly remembers opening it that night. When she staggered to it,
half choking, it was closed. The next morning Miss Packe and I talked
things over and we decided that she had better accept her aunt's
invitation to go and stay with her whilst she was getting her trousseau
ready. She left that afternoon."

"And you stayed on?"

"I stayed on," Roger admitted. "There seemed to be nothing definite to
go on. Mrs. Dewar has been terribly worried about Colonel Dennett's
murder and the suspicions that seem to have been aroused about the place
and I had promised that I would stay until our wedding."

"Pretty thin story about Miss Packe, you know," the Inspector remarked.
"Robbery seems out of the question and you know of no enemies. She
doesn't possess any information, I suppose, about the place?"

"She knows nothing more than I do," Roger said, "and everything that I
have known and suspected I have already told you of."

"Now that we have wandered away from the immediate subject for a moment,
I will take you into my confidence with regard to another branch of it,"
the Inspector said, tapping the papers on the table. "I have here a
complete dossier of every one of Mrs. Dewar's boarders. They are,
without exception, occupying reputable positions in life. The younger
men are at work in a respectable way. Mr. Luke lives the ordinary life
of a man of pleasure. Mr. Padgham is a qualified solicitor who holds two
minor offices and practises to a limited extent. Mr. Ollivant has been
connected with some financial transactions which were certainly on the
shady side but there is nothing criminal against him. Taken as a whole,
there is not a suspicious incident connected with one of them."

"I'm not surprised," Roger confessed. "A more ordinary, harmless,
unadventurous lot of people I have never known."

"Well, to return to the first object of your visit," the Inspector said.
"What do you want me to do about Miss Packe?"

"I know I am foolish about it," Roger admitted, "but I am uneasy about
the party this afternoon. Couldn't you send some one to keep an eye on
what goes on?"

"I don't see what could happen to the young lady," the Inspector
reflected.

"Neither do I," Roger acknowledged. "But I do feel uneasy. I wondered
whether it would not be possible to have some one there who could claim
to be a friend of mine or Miss Packe's."

"What time is this function?" the Inspector asked.

"From seven o'clock until dinner time, which is at eight o'clock," Roger
replied. "Afterwards, Miss Packe and I are supposed to be staying on to
dine with Mr. Luke."

"You can keep a still tongue in your head, Mr. Ferrison, if I arrange
something in this matter?"

"You try me!"

"I can send some one whose presence will not raise too much comment, I
hope. You might be the only one who would guess. Keep your mouth shut."

"It's a promise," Roger declared. "I gather from what you say," he went
on, after a moment's pause, "that there's no fresh light upon the
Dennett murder?"

"None at all," the Inspector confided. "Of course, we may be all wrong,"
he continued, "in connecting it in any way with the residents of the
Palace Crescent Boarding House. That path is not exactly a right of way
but it is frequently used by other people. If any one from outside knew
that Colonel Dennett was likely to return by the back door, they could
have waited for him there, or they might have followed him from the
club."

"The whole affair seems to be almost forgotten already," Roger said. "I
haven't read a word about it in the papers now for a long time."

The Inspector smiled.

"That's all in our favour," he pointed out. "We like an unsolved case to
drop out of the public interest. It helps the criminals to think that
the search for them is at an end and hastens the time when they may
think that it is safe to try and dispose of the booty. The search for a
murderer is never at an end here, Mr. Ferrison, and with those jewels
still to be brought upon the market, we never despair. Come and see me
again, if you ever happen to stumble across any fresh information."

"Not likely to be anything fresh, I'm afraid," Roger meditated. "There
was just one small thing about that first night I have never mentioned,
though. It probably is not of the slightest importance."

"Go ahead," the Inspector invited.

"The telephone rang in the hall, just as I was going upstairs to bed,
and I answered it," Roger recounted "Some one wished to speak to Mrs.
Dewar. I asked his name and he refused to give it. The man who was
speaking--there is no doubt that it was a man's voice--practically
ordered me to fetch Mrs. Dewar at once or I should get into trouble.
When he found that I was inclined to be obstinate--I didn't even know
where the woman slept--he told me that it was the sergeant of Bartels
Street Police Station speaking."

"The sergeant of where?"

"Bartels Street Police Station," Roger repeated.

The Inspector stroked his chin thoughtfully.

"And then?" he asked.

"I went and found Mrs. Dewar, of course. She went to the telephone and
whatever the message was, it seemed to upset her. That was the end of
the affair, however, except that in a few minutes she herself came and
hung Mr. Luke's key up on that board."

The Inspector indulged in another brief period of reflection.

"There was nothing, I suppose," he enquired at last, "familiar about the
voice?"

"The voice of the sergeant?"

"Yes."

Roger hesitated.

"It's queer that you should ask that," he said. "For a single moment
some intonation or word he used made me think of some one. Afterwards
the voice seemed quite different."

"Of whom did it make you think, Mr. Ferrison?"

Roger shook his head.

"I could not, in common fairness, answer you that question, Inspector,
because it was entirely a momentary idea which passed away almost at
once. I came to the conclusion before the conversation was finished that
I had been mistaken."

"Do you happen to know Bartels Street, Mr. Ferrison?"

"I think I have seen the name up somewhere," was the dubious reply. "I
don't even remember where it is."

"I'll tell you something about it then. It contains three or four shops,
and I think a couple of public houses. The one thing that it does not
possess and never has is a police station."

"Do you mean to say--"

"It has no police station," the Inspector interrupted, "and therefore
there is no such person as the sergeant of Bartels Street Police
Station. That was a bluff to ensure your fetching Mrs. Dewar and
possibly a code so that she should know who was telephoning. Now,
perhaps you would not mind passing on your idea as to that voice to me.
You will never be asked to substantiate it in any way. I shall accept it
as you offer it--merely as an idea."

"For a few seconds," Roger confided, "I thought that it was the voice of
Mr. Luke."

"Whose key," the Inspector reminded his visitor drily, "Mrs. Dewar hung
on the row, at the conclusion of the conversation. One of his keys,
perhaps, I ought to say. I expect he had several. Thank you, Mr.
Ferrison. I must not keep you any longer," he added, rising to his feet.
"Have no fear about to-night. We shall have a very capable man amongst
the guests."

Roger took his leave. The Inspector spoke on the telephone to another
department. The department rang up the Cambridge Theatre and found Miss
Medlincott. It was all very pleasantly arranged.

One detected the experienced hand of a man about town such as Mr. Luke
in the arrangements made for Mrs. De-war's cocktail party. At half-past
six, the lounge was a bower of plants and flowers. At the farther end a
certain space in which was a door leading into the service quarters had
been curtained off. Behind this it was understood that the cocktail bar
was situated and there were rumours that in connection with it some
pleasant surprise might be expected. By seven o'clock nearly every one
had returned from the City. There were one or two visitors--Miss Packe's
aunt, Jimmie Sark, Roger's partner, and Major Lengton, who had brought
Miss Medlincott up from the Cambridge Theatre. Flora Quayne looked as
lovely as usual in a gown of white velvet, and the roses which she
presented to Audrey were the most beautiful floral offerings ever seen
in the establishment. Joseph, with a new white waistcoat and his scrubby
grey hair carefully brushed in honour of the occasion, appeared to be
the perfect type of the capable major-domo. The Misses Clewes, according
to their habit, remained somewhat apart from the others. Their
knitting lay idle upon their laps. They were watching and listening with
absorbed interest. Major Lengton temporarily attached himself to Miss
Susannah.

"Quite a show for a boarding house, isn't it?" was one of his first
remarks.

"This is not an ordinary boarding house," Miss Susannah replied.

"I should have thought it was a typical one," he ventured. "Mrs. Dewar
appears to me the absolute personification of a lady of decayed
circumstances who is receiving paying guests, and taken as a whole, with
the exception of Mr. Luke, perhaps, the others are very much like the
ordinary men and women one passes in the thoroughfares."

"You are not much of a student of human nature, I should imagine, Major
Lengton," Miss Susannah remarked, knitting furiously.

"Well, I don't know," he replied, faintly amused. "I have met a good
many different sorts of people in my life. Miss Flora Quayne is out of
the way, of course, and perhaps Mr. Luke. The rest of them seem fairly
typical."

"Joseph, the butler? Mr. Bernascon? Mr. Barstowe?"

"Joseph is perhaps a little quaint in appearance," he admitted, "but
with those long legs of his, he gets about the room quicker than any
waiter I ever saw. Just the sort of butler, I should have thought, for a
boarding house where the standard appearance doesn't matter."

"And the others?"

"Types--quite reasonable types."

"I should give up writing if I were you, Major Lengton," Miss Susannah
advised. "You have not what Jane Austen used to call the primary gift.
You have no insight."

"_Touché_," he admitted. "Go on, though, Miss Susannah. You can't imagine
how you are interesting me! Didn't I hear once that you declared the
murderer of Colonel Dennett to be an inmate of this house?"

"And the only result," she rejoined bitterly, "was that I very nearly
got transferred to a lunatic asylum! I hold my tongue now--but I know."

"Tell me some things," he begged.

"Well, 111 tell you this," she confided. "If I had been Miss Packe, I
would not have come to this party. If people only knew what fools they
made of themselves to intelligent lookers-on!"

Lengton was genuinely startled.

"You're saying a great deal, you know, Miss Clewes."

"It doesn't matter," she answered. "No one listens to me."

"I'm listening to you and I am impressed," Lengton assured her. "What
has Miss Packe to fear in coming to this party?"

"Murder," Miss Clewes answered promptly. "She either knows something
about this place that they are afraid she will divulge, or there is some
one here who hates her. She was a fool to come. I tried to tell that
nice _fiancé_ of hers but he would not listen to me."

Freda Medlincott, making a hurried entrance, charged down upon Lengton
and whispered in his ear. He rose to his feet and the two left the room
together. Mr. Luke looked after them with a puzzled frown.

"Seems to me there is something mysterious going on," he observed to
Padgham, who was standing near.

"Some little surprise, I am told, which Miss Medlincott and her friend,
Major Lengton, have arranged for the party," the latter confided. "Very
interesting, I'm sure, but I think it's about time they opened the bar.
What's that man of yours doing, Luke?"

"I'll go round and see," was the uneasy rejoinder. "I told him to begin
serving at seven o'clock."

Mr. Luke turned towards the door. Suddenly, however, there was a rattle
of hooks as the curtains were drawn apart. There was a murmur of
staccato voices and exclamations throughout the room. A complete bar was
revealed--adequately and very beautifully arranged. There were bottles
of every description upon the improvised shelves. There were three
cocktail shakers in a row and a huge silver bowl full of ice. Behind the
counter stood Major Lengton in a bartender's white coat with Freda
Medlincott by his side. Lengton leaned a little forward, a smile parting
his lips, half quizzical, half apologetic.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "I feel that Miss Medlincott and I must
make a brief explanation before we get to business. We were exceedingly
anxious to make some offering to our young friends, Miss Packe and Mr.
Ferrison, and a little affair which has occurred within the last few
hours has helped us to make our selection. You will have many healths to
drink to-night, my friends--if I may call you so, after so brief an
acquaintance--for I have Miss Medlincott's permission to tell you that a
few hours ago we followed the very good example of our two young
friends. In other words, Miss Medlincott did me the honour to promise to
become my wife."

There was an increasing murmur of applause. Mrs. De-war, who was
standing in the background looking more like a waxen figure than ever,
stretched out her hand for the support of a chair. Mr. Luke was benign
but puzzled.

"Our little offering then," Major Lengton continued, "almost came into
life of its own accord. Miss Medlincott and I beg to be allowed to offer
to our young friends who are in a similar position, and to all of you
others, the hospitality of this roughly improvised, but we venture to
hope, adequately endowed bar. I do not wish to brag but, both in India
and at home, I have a reputation as a fabricator of cunning drinks, and
in Miss Medlincott I know that I shall have a willing helper. We now
propose to mix cocktails as fast as you can drink them. My own servant,
whom I took the liberty of bringing with me, will hand round the
champagne."

The applause this time was more vociferous, but Mr. Luke's benign
expression had passed.

"This is very charming of you, Major Lengton," he conceded, "but I have
already engaged a bartender and told him to bring the things down. I
understood that he had arrived an hour ago."

"I can explain that," Lengton said, pausing in his vigorous wielding of
the gigantic cocktail shaker. "I intercepted him at the door, told him
that the arrangements had been changed, and gave him what I think he
considered a sufficient recompense. You see, Miss Medlincott had
interviewed Mrs. Dewar earlier in the afternoon and had obtained her
permission for us to stage this small surprise."

Mrs. Dewar's still voice, which seemed scarcely more than a whisper and
yet was heard in every corner of the room, cut through the temporary
silence.

"I had no idea," she confided, "that the surprise was to be of this
description. I thought that Miss Medlincott and Major Lengton were
proposing to give us some slight entertainment."

"If we blundered in at all," Lengton said cheerfully, "we offer to every
one our most profound apologies. I promise you, however, that ours are
going to be the best cocktails in London. What about that Martini, Mr.
Padgham? What about it, Mr. Ollivant?"

"Best I ever tasted in my life," came almost in unison from the two men.

"Champagne all right, Mrs. Padgham?"

"Delicious," was the enthusiastic reply. "I shan't drink too much of
it, though, Major Lengton, for I am determined to have one of those
wonderful cocktails before I go in to dinner."

Lengton certainly did his best to atone for any inconvenience which the
joint intervention of Miss Medlincott and himself might have occasioned.
From his place behind the bar, with the assistance of his companion, he
served cocktails of enormous potency with the skill of one who had made
it his life's work, proposed the health of the young people in a witty
and pleasant speech and apologised with all humility to Mr. Luke for the
disturbance of his arrangements. The latter, in a momentary silence,
which was with difficulty obtained, proposed the health of Miss
Medlincott--one of their most charming and popular boarders--and Major
Lengton whom, during the brief period of their acquaintance, every one
had learnt to like and respect. There was more applause, there were many
more cocktails. By the time dinner was announced, every one was happy,
not to say uproarious. Lengton and his helper lingered behind to close
the bar. The thin stream of departing guests were well out of hearing.

"Do you think it was a mare's nest, after all?" Freda asked. "Neither
Mrs. Dewar nor Mr. Luke seemed very much upset."

He shook his head gravely. He had made a final cocktail for themselves
which they were slowly sipping.

"I'm afraid it was no mare's nest," he said seriously. "The man who had
been engaged to serve the drinks was a Malayan of the worst type. He may
have been clever enough at his job, but I only had to say half-a-dozen
words to him and he was off. I knew him out in Singapore."

Freda set down her empty glass, gripped her companion's arm and led him
towards the dining room.

"I wish I understood what it was all about," she complained.

"You probably will before long," he told her ominously.



CHAPTER XXX


It was a very cheerful and memorable feast to which the boarders of
Palace Crescent sat down that night. Major Lengton and Freda sat side by
side at Mrs. De-war's table and neither Mrs. Dewar nor Mr. Luke appeared
to bear the former any ill will for his interference in the evening's
arrangements. Lengton, indeed, even fancied that he sensed something
almost like gratitude in Mrs. Dewar's attitude towards him on those rare
occasions when she either spoke or glanced in his direction.

"I don't think that my little man could have mixed a better Martini than
you gave us to-night, Major," Mr. Luke said across the table.

"I have never tasted a better Side Car than yours," Freda confided.

"Very good of you both," Lengton acknowledged. "I can assure you that I
have many other accomplishments besides the mixing of cocktails," he
went on, smiling at his companion. "My sister always says that I am an
exceedingly useful person in the house...By the way, how pretty Miss
Packe is looking to-night," he added, lowering his voice and glancing
down the table.

"I never saw her looking so well," Freda declared. "Happiness makes a
lot of difference, of course. She was just getting that tired, worn-out
expression that young girls who are working purposelessly seem to
develop. Almost a pity that she has to sit opposite Flora Quayne."

"Miss Quayne has peculiarities," he remarked. "Tonight she looks like a
white flame."

"The latest gossip is," Freda confided, "that she is hopelessly in love
with Roger Ferrison. I cannot think why. She is so accomplished and he
seems to me to be rather a stupid young man."

"He may be short of the social graces but I don't think he's stupid,"
Lengton said. "By-the-by, have you given in your notice yet?"

"Not yet. I was waiting until after the first night. I think we're sure
to have a run, though. Even Ross, and he is the most critical producer I
ever worked with, seems more or less satisfied."

"Still like your part?"

"I love it. I should like one more song, perhaps. Still, they've done me
pretty well. What are you doing after this?"

"Anything you like. I hear they are not likely to dance here because of
Miss Quayne, but we might look in at the Embassy for half an hour. It's
rather too wonderful an evening to cut short, you know." he added, in a
lower tone.

She touched his hand fondly.

"You're sure you won't go away and think about it and repent?"

He glanced around the room.

"What a pity," he regretted, "that there is no immediate chance of
answering such a question in the manner it deserves!"

"Liking the party, dear?" Roger Ferrison whispered to his neighbour.

"Adoring it," she answered. "Isn't it amusing, too, about Miss
Medlincott and Major Lengton?"

He nodded.

"Nothing like following a good example. By-the-by," he added, "I'm not
quite sure that Mr. Luke cared about having his cocktail arrangements
interfered with."

"I had the same idea," Audrey assented. "He took it very well, though.
Fancy a double engagement like this, Roger! I don't suppose such a thing
has ever happened before at Palace Crescent."

Flora Quayne leaned across the table.

"Did you find the cocktails as good as mine, Mr. Ferrison?" she asked.

"I thought they were a little drier," answered that literal young man.

"I'm getting to quite like that fellow Lengton, after all," Tom Padgham
confided, serving himself and his wife to champagne out of the bottle
which Joseph had just brought.

"I have always liked him," Mrs. Padgham sighed. "I wish he had taken a
little more notice of me."

"Can't think why he came here, all the same," her husband continued.
"Seemed a bit off his beat. I suppose it was the Medlincott girl all the
time."

"Looks like it," his wife agreed. "I never dreamt that he was in earnest
about her."

"Put it across us to-night, didn't he?" her husband reflected.

He drank his champagne slowly.

"Annabel," he remarked, "you're pretty quick at noticing things. I was
speaking to Luke just now. Do you see any change in him?"

"Sometimes I fancy that he's getting to look anxious," she admitted.

"I never saw him look like this before," Padgham continued. "I think
that's the reason why we have always been so confident. We have run big
risks, Annabel, but we have always come out on top. Somehow, I've got an
idea that he's brooding over something--either the Burlington Gardens
show or Dennett. As you know, we never see much of one another, any of
us, outside here. It was Luke's idea that we keep apart, but Maurice
Bernascon came in to see me, when I was doing my stunt at the office
this morning, and he can't get it out of his head that he's being
shadowed. He's not a nervous fellow, Maurice, you know."

"If you have any suspicion of that sort, Tom," his wife begged
earnestly, "why not call a meeting and wind up? Even without the Dennett
stuff, you worked it out that there was nearly a hundred thousand
apiece."

"Take a bit of collecting," he mused. "It's all over the world."

"I'm tired of this," Mrs. Padgham went on. "Of course> I know we're only
marking time here, but we've done enough of it. This country is too
small, Tom. However stupid the police are, we can't keep them guessing
all the time."

"I'll give Luke a hint," he promised.

Ollivant finished the third whisky and soda which he had ordered during
the course of dinner.

"Lashwood," he confided, "I'm getting fed up."

"Don't see why you should," was the somewhat dubious reply. "The old
man's let you in on the Burlington Gardens show. I'm the one who's got
something to grumble at."

"You've not done any work," Ollivant reminded him. "I did get the plan
of the premises, by keeping on going in about that company business.
Funny part of it is," he went on reflectively, "I really got them going
on that. We had even discussed the amount of the capital and how the
shares should be issued. I would have made more on that than my share of
the swag without the risk!"

"You would have faked it somehow so that it was a swindle," Lashwood
observed. "Might have got you five years, all right."

"The old man's a cool hand," Ollivant said admiringly. "If he got the
touch on the shoulder, it would be a lifer for him--perhaps worse, yet
there he goes on day after day, with his golf and his flying and his
contract bridge at the club and his racing. He can't have a nerve in his
body."

Lashwood, who was drinking a thin claret, made a wry face as he set his
glass down empty.

"Good thing for us he hasn't! Still, what can a man have more? Every day
he does the thing he likes best in life, he eats and drinks of the best,
smokes the finest cigars, amuses himself just how he pleases. Of course
he hasn't any nerves."

"He's getting older," Ollivant meditated. "His face seems to me to have
fallen in under the cheek bones lately."

"Maybe," Lashwood assented. "It's not through worrying, anyway."

At the long table every one remained gay enough except the spectral
figure who presided. Mr. Luke had provided champagne and the champagne
of Mr. Luke's choosing was always the best.

"I don't know why," he said, "we seem to be treating this as a joyous
celebration. Personally, I dislike exceedingly departures from the
Palace Crescent. I am not a sentimentalist but I hate empty places."

"Others will soon fill them," Audrey reminded him.

"I'm not sure," he rejoined, with a little bow, "whether that will not
be worse."

"A boarding house is such a restless sort of place," Flora Quayne
observed. "No one settles down. Every one is always hoping for a change.
I'm the only one who stays on and on and on. I suppose that's because
life is very much the same for me, anyway."

"I wonder you don't travel more," Audrey suggested.

"Travelling is very inconvenient for a lame person," the other sighed.
"Then I'm so terrified that when I am away in Florence or some place
like that, I might get a return of my pains. No one but the London
doctors can do me any good. I nearly died in agony in Monte Carlo a few
years ago. Here I am generally just as well as you others. The only
thing is that I am lonely."

"Ever try the cure at Beuillat?" Reginald Barstowe enquired.

"I never heard of the place."

"A chap I know went there in a pretty hopeless state," the young man
went on. "He came back without his crutches. Used to have to He in mud
half the time. It cured him, anyway."

"I could be happy enough here, without lying in mud, if Fate was kinder
to me in other ways," she murmured.

The Misses Clewes had been offered and declined a small bottle of
champagne. Instead they finished up a bottle of claret which had been
opened for three days.

"You are not well, Susannah," her sister observed. "You passed the whole
of the last course, although you know that the rissoles here are always
good. You passed them by and you didn't knit. That is unusual."

"There are unusual thoughts in my mind to-night, Amelia," was the
portentous reply. "I am trying to come to a decision. There is a man
here whom I trust. It is a good deal to say of this place. He is one of
ourselves."

"Do you mean Major Lengton?"

"I mean Major Lengton," Susannah agreed. "I wish I had met a man like
that forty years ago. All these dreary days and years through which we
have plodded might have seemed different."

"Repining is useless," Amelia declared. "There's no human being who
would not have preferred to live in the sunshine. Fate for us decreed
the shadows."

"I have an idea about Major Lengton," Susannah went on, looking across
the room. "I think that he is interested in the life here. I don't know
why or how, but I believe that he is interested, that it is not only for
Freda Medlincott's sake he comes. I have refused the others because
they didn't believe in me. I think that to-night, if he approaches me
again, I shall speak."

"Will it be safe, Susannah?"

"Our lives would not be safe five minutes," Susannah declared, "if they
knew what I saw--but they don't. They think that I am an old woman who
sees visions. That may be true sometimes but I also saw Colonel
Dennett die."

Amelia, who had finished her rissole, took up her knitting.

"It will be some time before we are served with the blancmange," she
said. "We were nearly first with the rissoles, so we shall be last with
the blancmange. Make up your mind, Susannah."

"It is made up. If they had let me speak in the Coroner's Court before
all those lawyers and gentlemen, it would have been better. They refused
to hear me, though. Now I shall not go to the law. I shall tell Major
Lengton."

"When?" Amelia asked.

"I shall tell him to-night"



CHAPTER XXXI


Mr. Luke, who at odd times was an inspired raconteur, was the centre of
an animated group in the lounge after dinner listening with rapt
interest to some of the stories of his early days in the Dutch East
Indies and even further east. Joseph, relieving him of his empty coffee
cup, had an announcement to make.

"Mrs. Dewar would be very much obliged, sir, if you could spare her a
minute in her room."

"Tell Mrs. Dewar I will be there immediately," was her star boarder's
prompt acquiescence.

"You won't desert us altogether, will you?" Maurice Bernascon begged.

"I will be back directly," Luke assured him. "You should get Major
Lengton to tell you a few stories. I should like to hear something of
his Indian experiences myself, when I return."

"Tell us about the big-game shooting, sir," Bernascon suggested. "I see
that your name appears once or twice in Colonel Francis' book."

"I will try and think up a few stories for you," Lengton promised
good-naturedly. "Just a moment, though, I believe Miss Clewes wants to
speak to me."

The Misses Clewes were seated in their usual retired corner. Amelia was
knitting busily. Susannah had paused for a moment to send her little
signal across to Lengton. She moved into a corner of the lounge as he
approached...

"Major Lengton," she invited, "would you kindly sit between my sister
and myself. I have something to say to you. Your hearing is good, I
hope?"

"Excellent, I believe," Lengton replied, seating himself.

"I ask the question," Miss Susannah explained, "because, although the
room is crowded and conversation is noisy, I should not wish a syllable
of what I have to say to be overheard. I shall therefore not raise my
voice as I attempted to in the Coroner's Court."

"I am a great admirer of a low voice," Lengton assured her. "I shall
hear every word you say, Miss Susannah."

"I wish to preface my disclosure, Major Lengton," she began, "with one
word of personal explanation. Every one has made a great mystery of my
disappearance for eighteen hours before the inquest. I disappeared
because I wished for no interference from any of the guilty members of
this establishment. It was quite simple. I emptied my pockets and small
reticule of every scrap of paper which might lead to identification. I
put into my pocket plenty of money, I walked downstairs and out of the
front door and round the corner to the hospital."

She paused for a moment in her narration. She kept her eyes fixed upon
her knitting but Lengton had the idea that there was a faint smile at
the corners of her lips. She seemed to be enjoying this explanation of
her brief adventure.

"I asked to see the matron," she went on. "I explained that I felt faint
and that I had lost my memory. I could not remember where I lived. I
asked for a room for the night and a medical attendant to visit me. They
were most courteous and did as I asked. In the morning I dressed and sat
in my room, took my breakfast as usual and asked for a telephone
directory. I explained to the nurse in attendance that I thought perhaps
I might catch sight of a name or an address which would enable me to
remember my identity. At an hour before the time fixed for the coroner's
inquest, I remembered that I was Miss Susannah Clewes and that I had an
important engagement! I paid my bill, I shook hands with the matron, I
gave a guinea to the medical attendant and I thanked them all for their
kindly care. I then ordered a taxicab and was driven to the court. There
was nothing, you see, Major Lengton, very mysterious about my
disappearance."

"It was a jolly well-thought-out scheme," Lengton declared.

Miss Susannah bowed slightly, as though accepting a compliment.

"I have a fancy now, Major Lengton," she confided, "to tell you what the
coroner refused to let me disclose at the inquest on poor Colonel
Dennett."

Despite his excellent self control and perfect nerves, Lengton was
conscious of a certain acceleration of his pulses. From the first he and
the Inspector had differed about Miss Clewes.

"I announced then," Miss Susannah continued, taking up her knitting and
commencing to work, "that I was able to throw a certain light upon the
murder. The Inspector visited me the next morning to take what he called
a statement. I was prepared to give it and commenced my story. In the
middle of it, he interrupted me very rudely and insisted upon examining
my room. Having done so, he came to the quite obvious conclusion that
from no part of it could I see the spot in the byway where Colonel
Dennett's body was found. He was quite correct. He decided, therefore,
that my evidence was valueless. He thought that I was simply a
weak-headed, imaginative old spinster because I was unable to tell him
what he wanted to know in his own way. He was so right in all his--shall
I call them geographical?--conclusions but was so wrong in his
premises."

There was a moment's silence. Both women were now knitting busily. There
was nothing whatever in Miss Susannah's expression to denote anything
except the most ordinary conversation.

"The Inspector, however, has never seen far enough," she went on. "The
truth is that the murder was not committed in the place where Colonel
Dennett's body was found. The murder was committed just outside the back
door, the scullery door perhaps, I should say, which opens on to the
strip of garden."

Lengton smothered the exclamation which rose to his lips.

"Don't make this longer than you can help," he begged. "We might be
interrupted. Mr. Padgham keeps looking towards us."

"I shall finish what I have to say," she asserted equably. ''Nothing
will stop me, not even the presence of the others. I was looking out of
my window before retiring for the night--it was about a quarter past two
and very dark. My sister and I are accustomed from our country lives to
sleep with the windows wide open and from where I was standing I could
hear the key turned in the door which leads from the by-lane into what
was once the garden. The door was unlocked and locked. I heard a
footstep, I could see nothing until Colonel Dennett--for it was he who
had entered--emerged into a broad ray of light thrown from the small
electric standard at the corner. You can test the accuracy of what I say
any evening."

"Don't forget to make two stitches, Susannah," her sister said, leaning
over. "You are nearing the end of the row."

"The matter is in my mind," Susannah assured her. "Colonel Dennett then
emerged, as I was explaining, into the light and knocked softly at the
scullery door. There was some delay before it was answered. He knocked
again--three times, I believe, altogether. Then the door was opened and
what followed happened very quickly. I saw a hand and wrist extended,
clasping a revolver. There was a spit of fire and a smothered report.
Colonel Dennett crumpled up. I heard no cry of any sort. It seemed as
though he were killed dead."

"And then?" Lengton muttered under his breath.

"I am a person with considerable self-control," Susannah continued, "but
I was trembling so much that it was impossible for me to call out. There
was a very brief delay, then Joseph, in his shirt and trousers appeared.
He leaned over Colonel Dennett, emptied his pockets, and whatever he
found he took into the back kitchen. Then he came out. He lifted Colonel
Dennett up as though he had been a child, carried him down to the door,
which he unlocked with the key the Colonel had been carrying, laid him
down, I suppose, in the place where the body was found, came back,
locked the door and returned into the scullery."

"Then it was Joseph who shot Colonel Dennett?" Lengton exclaimed.

Susannah shook her head.

"Oh, no," she said, "it was not Joseph's hand that held the revolver and
fired the shot--not Joseph's at all. The fingers were long and skinny."

"Whose were they?" Lengton asked.

"They were the fingers of Mrs. Dewar," Susannah declared firmly. "You
see, Amelia," she went on, leaning forward, "I have not forgotten. I
have made three--I think it needed three."

Mr. Luke was a grimmer-looking man when he entered Mrs. Dewar's sitting
room. Mrs. Dewar was there seated at her desk. Flora Quayne was lounging
in the armchair. The latter welcomed him with a marvellous smile.

"I thought I had better send for you," Mrs. Dewar said calmly. "Flora is
disgusted with us all. She is disgusted with me, who pour out my life,
whose heart and soul are dead with profitless labour, who have made
myself one of hell's own children to atone for a minute's madness.
Nothing that I have done counts with Flora. Neither does the fact that
she too may suffer. It is her intention, she says, to disclose to the
Inspector who still haunts this house the whole truth concerning the
murder of Dennett and concerning those other things of which we have
never spoken."

Luke looked behind at the door to be sure that it was firmly closed. He
felt for the key but the key was not there.

"How have we offended Miss Flora?" he asked quietly.

"I demanded one thing," Flora replied. "My mother there promised it.
With that one thing granted, I should have been your slave. The promise
has been broken. I shall do what I have threatened."

"No, I do not think you will do that," Luke said. "Words are easy
enough, but even those fairy lips of yours, dear Flora, would soon be
closed forever if you attempted it. This is a house of recklessness,
perhaps, but I have never believed in unnecessary violence or
unnecessary caution. Let's all keep friends and abandon threats. What is
this thing your mother has failed to do?"

"I want Roger Ferrison," Flora explained, with the strange flame of
passion once more burning in her eyes.

"That is why I required the death of Audrey Packe."

"He is a stupid young man, with what his stupid class call principles,"
Mr. Luke regretted. "Otherwise the matter would have been very easy. You
must be reasonable, though, young lady. Your mother has made two
attempts to help you. She borrowed that wonderful machine of mine with
its cells of compressed and poisonous gas, and given another few
minutes, she would have kept her promise. Unfortunately the young woman
woke up, got a whiff or two of the gas, became scared and left. We still
persevered. I sought out my old friend Sandah Poor--the most expert
poisoner who ever came from Asia. This time the thing was a certainty
and no chemist in this world would ever have been able to declare that
the young woman's death was due to anything but heart failure. You know
what happened. That clumsy fellow Lengton butted in and upset
everything."

"Was he a clumsy fellow?" Mrs. Dewar interrupted.

A strange look flashed in Luke's eyes. For a single second his whole
expression was changed. His head was like the head of a ferocious
animal.

"I wish to God I knew," he muttered.

"Let us finish with this matter once and for all," Mrs. Dewar
intervened, and the words which fell from her lips were like drops of
ice. "I will confess my sins of omission. I promised my daughter that I
would kill the girl who she said stood in the way of her happiness."

"Yes, you promised," Flora gibed. "You have failed."

"I borrowed that wonderful machine of Mr. Luke's which, somehow or
other, he has neglected to patent, and I made my way into the girl's
room. There was murder in my heart. I meant to keep my promise. Then I
stood over the bedside for a moment. She is just your age, Flora. She is
not beautiful like you but she is about your age. I thought of you and I
faltered. There, you see, you have my confession. Twice I entered the
room with the will to keep my promise and twice I failed. I make no
excuses. Her life was at my mercy. I could not take it."

"You broke your word," Flora pronounced.

"I broke my word," Mrs. Dewar assented. "Then, when I sat brooding over
the coming of this horrible bartender, with his phial of death, Major
Lengton came to me. I knew that if I accepted his suggestion, the girl's
life was spared. I accepted it. Now you know the truth, Flora."

The girl was on the point of speech but Mr. Luke broke in. His voice was
under perfect control. He spoke in an even lower key than usual, but
there was a light in his eyes like the gleam of polished steel.

"Listen, Flora Quayne," he said, "you have lived for twelve years in all
the luxury money could buy. Your mother has been your abject slave. Your
father has been her helper. They may be said to have given their lives
for you."

Flora 3 7 awned slightly.

"No heroics, Mr. Luke, please," she begged. "That sort of thing does not
come well from you. My mother has told me of her failure. If she had
spoken to me of successes, you would have been safe forever."

"Listen, young woman," was Mr. Luke's stern rejoinder. "We have no time
now to deal with this girl. Every energy we possess must be devoted to
one thing and one thing only--completing the plans for our departure. I
can feel danger in the air. I have felt it for some time. Remember that
you must go down with the rest of us, if anything happens. It is in your
bedroom that the private door was built. Underneath your bed is the
secret hiding place where a few little articles we have had to use at
times are to be found. You are one of the gang, in plain words, and you
take your place with the rest of us. You are beautiful enough to turn
any man's head, even the head of a dolt like Ferrison. Get him the usual
way."

"Haven't I tried!" she moaned.

"Then you will never get him at all," Luke declared bluntly. "We have
finished operations. The book is closed. Do you hear? In a few days'
time, the Palace Crescent will be empty. Your mother is making plans for
you, I don't know what they are, but you are to be the injured heroine,
I know. And all her share of what's coming to her is in banks under your
name. You have come through life on the soft side, for all that little
accident, and you will be a rich woman until you die. There are men
enough in the world. Help yourself to them. But, if you open those
pretty lips of yours to say a word that hinders our departure, yours
will be the first funeral."

There was a smothered moan from Mrs. Dewar.

"Flora," she implored, "listen to him. He means it. I could not save
you. Everything he has said he will do in life he has done. He always
will. He succeeds whilst others fail."

Flora snapped open her vanity case, looked at herself, touched up her
lips for a moment and lit a cigarette.

"If you have to lose him for a time, you will get him in the end," Mr.
Luke observed. "His sort of fidelity is only another sort of stupidity.
It passes."

Flora held out her hand--a very familiar gesture. Mr. Luke, as he had
done so many times in the past, assisted her to rise. She made her way
to the door.

"You are very stupid people, all of you, not to give me what I want,"
she said. "However--at what hotel did you say in Monte Carlo my rooms
were taken?"

"The Hotel de Paris," Mrs. Dewar replied, and for once there was
expression in her tone, an undernote of joy.

"It is the only hotel. Your places are booked on the Blue Train
to-morrow--yours and Marie's. You have your cheque books and I will send
you a list of your balances. You have plenty of money. And, listen to
this last word. If trouble should come to us, you need have no fear. The
secret hiding place behind your bed--I have seen to that. The clothes
our men wore at night, the weapons, all the kit which came to us from
New York have gone. They are where no one will ever find them. As for
your door, it was built when you were unable to climb the stairs.
Whatever happens, Flora, you are safe."

Mrs. Dewar half rose to her feet. Her hands, gripping the top of the
desk, seemed strangely unnatural. They were trembling. It was her eyes,
however, that showed the greatest change. They called. Flora looked back
at her and laughed mockingly.

"You broke your promise!" were her farewell words.



CHAPTER XXXII


"To-morrow I go away for a change," Flora Quayne announced, enthroned
upon her couch, a glass of champagne in one hand, a pate de foie gras
sandwich in the other. "That is why I begged all of you nice people to
come in and say good night before you went upstairs. So many of you have
been kind to me and when one is afflicted as I am one needs kindness."

"You make a great deal too much of your affliction, Miss Quayne," Mrs.
Padgham declared.

"A great deal too much," Miss Susannah Clewes insisted. "Many people in
history, and even amongst us moderns, would give their souls as well as
their bodies for a face as beautiful as yours."

There was a short startled silence. No one expected such a speech from
Miss Susannah. Flora snapped open her vanity case and looked at herself.
Even she seemed momentarily unnerved.

"If I am so beautiful," she murmured, "I don't know why it is I fail to
obtain what I want in life. Can you tell me why it is, my dear Mr.
Ferrison?"

Roger, who at her earnest request had carried her in from the lounge and
was seated close to the couch, shook his head.

"It seems to me you have everything in life one needs," he answered.
"There are a great many people who love you. You have the money to
surround yourself with beautiful things. Every one admires you. You are
off tomorrow, I hear, to the gayest little corner of Europe. What more
could you want?"

"I go alone," she said. "I take with me a maid who will be making eyes
at the first good-looking stranger she sees, to whom I am nothing but a
doll who provides her with the clothes she wears and the food she eats.
John," she added, calling to the extra waiter whom Mr. Luke had imported
for the evening, "open some more champagne. Bring in some more
sandwiches. Knock at the door of Mrs. Dewar's sitting room and beg her
to come and bring Mr. Luke. This is my good-bye party, remember, all of
you. Soon, if you like, I will play to you and you shall dance. Don't
look so disapproving, Major Lengton. Perhaps I shall have a very joyful
surprise for you before you go."

"I was only thinking," Lengton reminded her gravely, "that if you really
propose to go away by the Blue Train to-morrow morning, you ought to get
rid of us all and go to bed."

"Bed," she repeated scornfully. "When I go to bed, I never sleep. Why
should I go to bed? Ah, here comes Mr. Luke and--my mother."

Mrs. Dewar stopped suddenly like a figure turned to stone. There was an
exclamation, a staccato-like gasp of surprise and incredulity. Flora
looked round as though enjoying it all. She glanced once more into her
mirror and handled her lipstick.

"I forgot I had not told you all yet," she continued. "You are going to
be so surprised to-night--some of you. Mrs. Dewar is indeed my mother.
We agreed to keep it secret a long time ago. You see, she used to drink,
and the reason I am a cripple like this is because she let me fall
downstairs when I was quite young. She was very careless--or I suppose
it was nothing to do with her being careless--she was drunk."

No one seemed to find breath or to possess in those few moments the
capacity for speech. Flora shut her case with a snap and went on.

"Since that day she has played the penitent. She has never touched wine
or spirits. She has spent all the savings of this boarding house upon
surrounding me with luxury. Not much good. I have not really enjoyed it
and as for the boarding house, most of you here know what it is. It is a
den of thieves."

Mr. Luke leaned over and helped himself to a glass of champagne. The
astonished manservant had remained rooted to the spot with the tray
still in his hand.

"I suppose I need not tell you all," Mr. Luke apologised, "what has
happened. The tragedy with which Miss Quayne has been threatened all her
life has occurred. She has lost her reason."

Flora's lips curled for a moment. She raised her glass and laughed
across the room.

"Wonderful, Mr. Luke!"

He smiled.

"Arch villain of the piece! Star boarder of Palace Crescent! What a
brain! What a pity the Inspector is not here. He was such a stupid man
or I should have asked him to join us. I like people with brains. You,
dear Roger," she went on, leaning on one side and stroking his hand,
"are the only stupid man I ever loved and, my God, how I have loved you!
It is only now when, thanks to Mr. Luke's friend, Sandah Poor, life is
ebbing away, that I realise how empty a thing love is. For weeks I have
been torn with passion. Even now--well, that doesn't matter. I suppose
you good people know--you, Mr. Luke, the arch criminal, you, my very
wicked mother, you, Mr. Padgham, Mr. Barstowe, Mr. Bernascon and you
minor puppets--Mr. Ollivant and Mr. Lashwood--I suppose you realise that
the end has come. Perhaps not yet, you think? Perhaps a little bluster
may carry things off. Major Lengton, you are a golfer, I believe?"

Mr. Luke whispered in the ear of the waiter.

"Doctor Knowles," he said, in his usual precise tone. "Number Seven, I
think it is--lower down the street. Ask him to come at once."

The man hurried out. Flora only smiled.

"The doctor," she murmured. "What a brilliant idea! What a wonderful
idea a madhouse would be for me, wouldn't it? Too late in the day,
though. Most of the things we desire in life come too late. Didn't you
hear my question, Major Lengton?"

"It seemed to me--irrelevant," Lengton remarked.

"Not at all," she replied. "Lift up that rug over the easy-chair. No,
don't look at me as though I were a lunatic. Do as I say. It will be
worth while."

Lengton obeyed. Underneath was a set of beautifully polished golf clubs.
Painted upon the bag were the initials "P. J. L." Most of the people in
the room by this time were quite sure that Flora was out of her senses.
Only, for the first time, Mr. Luke lost his sympathetic poise. He looked
at the bag of golf clubs and then he looked at Flora. His hand stole
into his pocket. Flora mocked him.

"Too late," she murmured. "This afternoon I sent my chauffeur down to
Sunningdale with a note signed by you. Your golf clubs were to be
brought back at once. You were going to Le Touquet for the week-end! You
played the other day with Major Lengton, didn't you? Poor man, he little
knew how happy he could have made his friend the Inspector if he could
have told him all the contents of that bag! You see, about an inch from
the bottom there is stitched a new leather band. The clubs do not reach
to the bottom of that band. In the cavity you will find the jewels for
which a great Indian potentate has agreed to pay Mr. Luke three hundred
thousand pounds. I believe they are worth that."

Miss Susannah Clewes looked up from her knitting.

"All the same," she said impressively, "although Mr. Luke may have the
jewels, it was not he who shot Colonel Dennett."

Mr. Luke made his effort but he made it a few seconds too late. He
slipped out of the room whilst every one was crowding round the slit in
the false bottom of the golf bag through which Lengton was drawing the
rubies. He escaped, however, only to find himself face to face with
Inspector Rudlett, who had received his summons by telephone an hour
before. The passage was very narrow and there were two tall policemen
behind. The Inspector produced a warrant. Mr. Luke shrugged his
shoulders.

"There is just one question I should like to ask, Inspector," he said,
as he held out his hands. "That fellow Lengton I played golf with at
Sunningdale the other day--he's in the room there now--is he one of your
crowd?"

"One of the new toffs, sir," the Inspector replied, as he briskly
completed his task with the handcuffs and withdrew a small revolver from
his prisoner's pocket. "Working quite well, some of them."



CHAPTER XXXIII


Her bathing dress and a certain joyous grace of carriage, which only
happiness can develop, had revealed to Roger Ferrison and to such of the
world who dwelt in the old-fashioned village of Porletto a charm in his
young wife which would certainly never have blossomed out behind the
counter of Mallory's or under the roof of Palace Crescent. The tan upon
his own cheeks, too, his broadened shoulders, an increased air of
confidence which marches with prosperity, had made him a fitting mate
even for an unexpectedly discovered beauty. They were both exceedingly
pleased with each other. They were both very much in love.

"If I have an ungratified wish in the world," Audrey murmured, listening
more to the roll of the sea in the bay below them than to her own words,
"it is to know the end of all that trouble at Palace Crescent. Do you
ever think of the place, Roger?"

"Every time I smell mutton curry down in our little shack," he answered.

She rolled over nearer to him on the glistening sands.

"Don't be silly, Roger," she begged. "I mean seriously."

He stretched out his hand towards a bundle of newspapers.

"Well," he said, "the month of silence we agreed upon, respecting the
affairs of the Palace Crescent Boarding House, is up to-day. The trial
finished on Wednesday. I can tell you everything you want to know."

"Tell me about Mrs. Dewar."

"In a moment," he promised. "First of all, I should like to tell you
about that telephone call on the night of the murder."

"You mean the one from the Bartels Street Police Station?" she asked.

"I mean the call from some one who announced himself as the sergeant of
Bartels Street Police Station," Roger replied. "I didn't mean to keep
that to myself, but for some reason or other I never mentioned it to the
Inspector until just before the final debacle."

"Was it of any importance?"

"Judge for yourself," Roger answered. "There is no police station in
Bartels Street. The man who spoke was no police sergeant but Mr. Luke,
and putting together some bits of the evidence, I am perfectly certain
of one thing--Luke was to have managed the killing of Dennett himself,
if Dennett came round to the front door, but in case he chose to enter
by the back, then Joseph was to have tackled it. Joseph had been given a
revolver a few days before and had been told what would be expected of
him, but Mrs. Dewar evidently knew there was a weak streak in the man,
so she came down to the scullery herself. I can figure them both there
with the back door open when Dennett came up that cinder path. Joseph
funked it--crumpled up, I should think. Mrs. Dewar took the revolver
from him and committed the murder."

"Mrs. Dewar!" Audrey gasped. "Then what about Miss Clewes' evidence?"

"Miss Clewes' evidence was perfectly all right," Roger pointed out, "but
you can't hang a woman, it seems, when you only see her hand. Mrs. Dewar
was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment in the second division. In
another part of the paper it says that she will spend most of them in
hospital."

"And Mr. Luke?"

"They seemed to have had the devil's own job in getting at him," Roger
replied. "However, he was for it all right in the end. Penal servitude
for twenty years."

"And all the rest of them?"

"Well, Padgham got five years, Bernascon three and Reggie Barstowe
three. Joseph, who by-the-by was Mrs. Dewar's husband, very nearly got
off altogether, but they roped him in as an accessory and he got two
years. Even the judge admitted that the evidence in some cases was most
unconvincing. Very little stolen property, except the Rajah's rubies,
was discovered. Lengton got a pat on the back. Wonderful work he put in,
according to the judge. He is supposed to have completely justified this
new experiment of drafting men of a different social order into the
police. Seems to me that he was infernally lucky, though."

"None of the others were charged, then?"

"Not one," Roger agreed. "There was really nothing against Ollivant or
Lashwood. They were only hangers-on, after all. The more I think of it,"
he went on, "the cleverer Luke's scheme really seems to me. A boarding
house like Palace Crescent is about the last place in the world where
one would have thought of looking for a dangerous band of criminals.
Every one of them had his regular job and stuck at it. Their night lives
were cut off as clean as possible from their day-by-day jobs. I have
read the whole case," Roger continued, "and I can quite see where the
police found it so difficult. They have never even now discovered a
trace of the clothes these men wore when they went out at night--rubber
shoes and so on. They were all destroyed or made away with, somehow or
other. Yet the Inspector, when he gave his evidence, admitted under
cross-examination that there had been nine robberies with violence
within the last three years where the criminals had not been caught or
the booty found. He was asked for an estimate of the value of the
missing property and he thought it must be over five hundred thousand
pounds. Obviously he believed it was the Palace Crescent lot who were
responsible but they had not left a loose thread anywhere."

"Mr. Luke was terribly clever," Audrey reflected.

Roger stretched out his hand for the newspaper.

"Here's what the Counsel for the Prosecution said:--

"The world of to-day is face to face with a serious crisis in its social
life. Crime has become more inspired. The criminal is an utterly
different type of man, moving unsuspected in our midst, often with a
legitimate occupation of his own, bearing neither in his face, his
characteristics or in his daily life any trace whatever of his secret
preoccupation. The science of detection, on the other hand, has reached
almost its limits. In any case the police themselves, in their methods,
opportunities and insight, have made not the slightest progress in
comparison with their natural enemies."

"The fact is," Roger concluded, folding up the paper, "any man of to-day
may be a criminal. The modern type is not in the least like Bill Sykes
or Charles Peace. He looks like a hard-worked lawyer or--Mr. Luke. I
expect that's what has really brought the type of man like Lengton into
the game."

"Did Flora Quayne die?" Audrey asked.

Roger picked up an illustrated paper and turned to the fashionable news.

"Not she," he answered. "That was just a bluff of hers about having
taken Sandah Poor's poison. She was much too worldly a little lady.
Listen."

"Amongst those who were entertaining at the Gala Dinner at the Hotel de
Paris last Sunday was Miss Flora Quayne and a small party of friends. Le
Mercier, the great French artist, has persuaded Miss Quayne to let him
paint her portrait and every one who has seen the work agrees that when
exhibited it will be one of the striking features of the salon."

"That settles one thing, at any rate," Audrey declared, stretching out
her hand to his. "Wherever we finish our honeymoon, it won't be on the
Riviera!"



THE END



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