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Title: Gentlemen of Crime
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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Gentlemen of Crime
by
Arthur Gask



Published in the Western Mail, Perth, W.A., in serial format commencing Thursday 3 November, 1932.

Published in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. in serial format commencing 13 August, 1932.

Published in book form in 1932.


CONTENTS.

Chapter I.—The Gathering of the Eagles.
Chapter II.—The Problem of Ephraim Smith.
Chapter III.—The Secret of the Mask.
Chapter IV.—The House in the Wood.
ChapterV.—Gentlemen of Crime.
Chapter VI.—The Masters of Ephraim Smith.
Chapter VII.—The Beginning of the Trail.
Chapter VIII.—Guests at Bodham Castle.
Chapter IX.—The Threads of Fate.
Chapter X.—The Messenger of Death.
Chapter XI.—In Danger.
Chapter XII.—The Soul of a Thief.
Chapter XIII.—Fenton Loses His Situation.
Chapter XIV.—The Bloodhounds.
Chapter XV.—McAlbane Leaves the Gang.
Chapter XVI.—The House by the River.
Chapter XVII.—The Hovering of the Eagles.
Chapter XVIII.—Detective Raphael Croupin.
Chapter XIX.—The Prey of the Eagles.
Chapter XX.—The Lights that Failed.


Chapter I.—The Gathering of the Eagles.

"Gentlemen," barked out the small wizened man, "money talks."

Nine men were seated at a long table in a very large room, where, except for a small and carefully shaded light directly above the head of the man who had spoken, everything was in complete darkness.

But although the hour was midnight, and the door was locked and the windows were closely shuttered and draped over with thick curtains, there was nothing in a way suspicious or sinister about the room itself.

It was no bare unfurnished cellar, suggestive of secrecy and the plotting of evil deeds, no hole-and-corner meeting place, where criminals might be foregathering, and no lair certainly for the hiding away of human beasts of prey.

Instead, the appointments of the chamber were in every way rich and sumptuous, speaking eloquently of refinement and of money judiciously, if lavishly, expended.

The chairs and tables would have realised a small fortune in any art saleroom in the world, and the enormous carpet, extending to the wainscoting, had cost many hundreds of pounds. There were pictures, too, upon the walls, the value which only experts could appraise, while the great oak fireplace was a rare and prized antique, a poem of those far-off days when men gave to wood and stone the beauty of the stars.

And yet there was only one small light in the room, and until the little man had darted through the door and locking it behind him, had started to address the gathering, not a word had been spoken by anyone, and the stillness had been as complete and deep as if all present had been waiting breathlessly for the pronouncement of some dread sentence of death.

"Yes," continued the speaker, in sharp and staccato-like tones, "it is my fortune or misfortune, as you all know, to be a very rich man, and indeed great wealth alone could have enabled me to arrange such a gathering as this." He thumped with his fist upon the table. "Gentlemen, will it surprise you to learn that there are now present in this room the very cream of the great detectives of the world, and, if I may say so without giving offence"—his lips curved to a sarcastic smile—"certain of its greatest miscreants as well?"

The humour died from his face, and he became at once business-like and cold. "I have been successful in bringing together upon a single occasion the most renowned trackers and the most notorious practitioners of crime, and I have brought you here at great expense, by the pulling of many strings; and, as I say, nothing but my unique position in financial circles could have rendered it possible for me to have bid so successfully for your company." He lowered his voice to an intense whisper. "And you have one and all come here by stealth, unknown to one another, by many devious ways. You are all disguised and wearing the black masks I have provided for you, this chamber is in darkness, it is in the dead of night, and mine is the only voice that so far any of you have heard." He raised his hand to emphasise his point. "There is then no human possibility that any of you can know who the others are, and unless I give the word everything is propitious for this anonymity to remain unbroken."

An apologetic tone crept into his voice. "And I have arranged that everything should happen in this way because, upon the first shock of your seeing so many gathered together here, it may seem that I have not been open and straightforward in my call for your company, and some of you may in consequence be unwilling to act for me and may desire to draw out." He shrugged his shoulders. "You have each of course imagined that you were being summoned here alone, but when I have exactly explained the position, and what I want you for, you will one and all then realise that it was vital for the success of my project that you should be under this illusion.

"Under the peculiar circumstances it was impossible that I could give you the whole of my confidence until you were all assembled here, but"—he looked round with a grim smile—"surely my terms are sufficiently generous to mollify any wounded feelings that any of you may have. I have mentioned to each of you the sum of £1,000 for one month's work, whether your labour be of any service to me or not, and I now make the promise of a further £5,000 to one and all of you if the consummation I am desirous of is brought about—no matter by whom. In addition, in the latter contingency I will also give a most substantial present to the one of you who in my opinion has been most instrumental in contributing to that success." He thumped his fist again upon the table. "Now, gentlemen, I ask you, is there any one among you who is not prepared to work upon these terms in unison with such colleagues as I have chosen? What do you say?"

A moment's silence, and then the masked man nearest to him on his right asked slowly:

"And how do you propose then, Mr. Smith, that we should work, as you say, in unison together?" There was a distinct sneer in the voice. "From what you have just told us, I gather we shall not all of us be imbued exactly with the same ideals."

"Precisely," snapped Ephraim Smith, "and you may also gather, sir, that ideals are altogether out of place and of no marketable value here." His voice was harsh and insistent as he waved his arm round to his audience. "Understand, please, all of you, that this is a commercial proposition I am placing before you—a commercial proposition pure and simple, and I make no pretences that I am appealing to any higher feelings. I want something, and I am prepared to pay for it, and it does not matter two hoots to me whether those who give it have clean hands or not in the ordinary conduct of their lives." He spoke quite coldly. "So the only bond of unison between you will be one of dollars—cash—for I have simply brought you here, good man and bad, saint and sinner, in order that you may all pool your peculiar talents to my advantage."

He raised his hand. "But mind, you"—and his face softened into an attractive smile—"although I am purposely putting the position before you so brutally, still—still in my own mind I am perfectly sure that money will not be the only factor you will dwell upon in making your decisions, for, however different your temperaments and characters, I am aware that you all possess one quality in common, the quality of courage. You are all brave men, and risk and peril belong to the atmospheres in which you live. You have all of you attuned your lives to danger and it is your wont to labour in the storm and on the precipice side. Good men and bad, you are hunters, and therefore you are never deterred by the possibility that your quarry may at any moment turn and rend you." He laughed lightly. "So, when I tell you it is dangerous work I am going to entrust to you, very dangerous work, I know quite well that I am appealing to your sympathies as well as offering you material rewards."

"But how do you propose we shall work together?" asked the man upon his right again. "You haven't explained that yet."

"Well, well," replied Ephraim Smith impatiently, "having made quite clear to you that it is to your mutual advantage that some one of you should be successful, I am confident you will all be prepared to help one another to the full extent of your abilities. After I have laid everything before you and you have duly cogitated over the matter, you will one and all, I hope, contribute your ideas and suggestions to the common fund." He glared round the table. "Now, has anyone else a question to ask?"

"Certainly," came a refined voice from the far end, "I have one." The speaker laughed musically. "Like my honourable colleague-to-be who has just asked for information, I do not feel easy at the company I am in"—he spread out his hands, as if in some anxiety—"for as by no stretch of the imagination can I think of anybody referring to me as one of the great detectives of the world, so I can only conclude that I fall into the other category as one of its greatest rogues. That being so"—and he made his voice tremble—"how shall I fare when I am uncovered naked and defenceless before my enemies? Will it be safe for the wolf to be consorting with the watchdogs, and the jackal to go hunting with the lions?"

"A sensible question," exclaimed Ephraim Smith sharply, "but one easily answered." He lifted his hand in solemn warning. "It is to be understood that a truce of God will exist whilst you are in my service and that no one among you will lift his finger against any other. I mean—upright men and rogues, men of honour and gentlemen without scruples, you will one and all for the time being act as in a common brotherhood, and will do nothing by word or deed to bring misfortune upon one another." He paused for a moment. "Now is that clearly understood? You are to take no advantage of your association together in my service."

"Good," remarked a slim man seated next to him of the refined and musical voice, "then perhaps some gentleman here will kindly give me back my watch. It is of value to me, and I have noted for some minutes now that it has been absent from the usual pocket where I keep it. It is—," and he paused while passing his hands down his waistcoat. "Oh, pardon," he went on in real distress, "I remember now I didn't bring it with me. The glass was loose and I left it at home in the chest of drawers. Really, really," and it was plain that his annoyance was genuine. "I apologise most humbly to all present. Upon another occasion if the opportunity be afforded me I will pay willingly for champagne all round. I——"

"A handsome apology, I am sure," laughed another man, "but while upon the subject of personal property, Mr. Smith, may I remark that some gentleman here must be sitting on my hat. I put it down upon another chair when I first came into the room, but your butler motioned me to sit here, and in changing my seat I forgot to move the hat with me. It is a good hat, and I shouldn't like——"

But Ephraim Smith shook himself in irritation.

"Well, are you all agreed?" he interrupted brusquely. "A truce of God and you all work together under the conditions I have stated? No one has any objection?"

The man who had lost his hat sank back into his chair and a deep silence followed.

Ephraim Smith rubbed his hands together. "Excellent," he exclaimed, "then you are men of common sense as well as men of genius, and as far as this gathering is concerned there is consequently no further need for secrecy."

With a quick movement he pushed a button under the table and instantly the room was flooded with light. There were lights then everywhere, glaring, harsh, and unshaded lights—over the table, high up in the ceiling, and all round the walls.

So suddenly, indeed, was the darkness broken that the company of masked men wilted as if they had come suddenly under the lash. They jerked themselves up stiffly and turned sharply in their chairs, regarding one another as far as their blinking and dazed condition would permit with hostile and suspicious eyes. But the shock passed away quickly and curiosity soon began to take the place of uneasiness. They subsided into their chairs again and allowed their glances to wander interestedly around.

"Now I'll introduce you to one another," said Ephraim Smith briskly, "I'll——"

"But is that necessary, sir," broke in another man sharply. He spoke with a slight foreign accent. "Is it necessary, I ask?"

"Not absolutely necessary," replied Ephraim Smith with a frown, "but most desirable, because you can then all appreciate the value of one another's opinions." He brushed the objection aside. "There is still no need, if you do not wish it, for any of you to discard your disguises. You are all past masters in the art and, if you are so minded, your everyday appearances, as far as this meeting is concerned, may remain concealed. There is no obligation on any of you to unmask."

He spoke quickly, is if to forestall any further objection.

"Beginning then on my right hand and going round the table, we have—number one, Mr. Naughton Jones, the versatile solver of many intricate problems and the terror of the aristocracy of the underworld; number two, Monsieur Vallon, of the Surete Generale of Paris, who perhaps has given more men to the guillotine than any other detective of his country; number three, Dr. Crittenden, who has as many hangings to his credit as there are years in his life; number four, Monsieur Raphael Croupin, who has all France at his feet because of the romantic interweaving of his many love adventures and his many thefts; number five, Lord Victor Hume, who, in the ways of criminology, has performed for us the miracle of making omelettes without breaking of any eggs; number six, Mr. Gilbert Larose, who comes to us from the Antipodes with a great reputation for setting small value upon lives, including, it would certainly seem, his own; number seven, Professor Mariarty, whose organisation of crime has been the one bright spot in the failure of the lawless classes of this country to establish a stranglehold upon Scotland Yard; and finally, number eight—Monsieur Gustave Hidou, the so-called sewer rat of Paris, who, if report be true, has given to the waters of the Seine more corpses than there are in many a fashionable churchyard."

Ephraim Smith rubbed his hands together exultantly and beamed round upon his audience. "Surely, gentlemen—surely as opulent a gathering of good and evil as could be found in any chamber in any city of the world."

A strained silence followed, and then Naughton Jones laughed dryly.

"A grim joke, Mr. Smith," he said, "and your need must indeed have been great for you to perpetrate it." He slipped off his mask and threw it down upon the table. "Well, I, for one; am not ashamed to show my face."

"Nor I, either," cried Vallon, throwing off his mask as well. "I'm Vallon, of the Surete of Paris, and I have no care who knows it."

And then one by one all round the table they proceeded to discard their masks, except the last man, who sat motionless and with no intention apparently of uncovering.

"I prefer to remain as I am," he said coldly. "I am not so good-looking as the rest of you, and no beauty will be lost if you don't see me."

"As you will!" snapped Ephraim Smith, as if rather surprised. He scowled. "But all the same, I think it would have shown more courtesy on your part, Monsieur Hidou, if you had followed the general example." He rose briskly from his chair.

"Black coffee will now be served," he went on, "for I want to keep you as alert and wakeful as possible until you have considered my problem. After that you will be my guests at supper, and the fastidious Lord Hume, even, will be able to find no fault in the vintage of champagne I am offering you." He smiled genially. "So, for five minutes, gentleman, you can talk and relax. You are all amongst friends, remember, and there is no need for any of you to be on your guard"—and, turning his back upon his guests, he unlocked the door and proceeded quickly from the room.

For a minute or so none of the company appeared to have any desire to further their acquaintanceships; instead, they sat stiffly in their chairs and took no notice of one another. Then Raphael Croupin got up and walked round to Naughton Jones.

"Most happy to meet you again, Mr. Jones," he said, bowing respectfully. "Why, you look younger than ever! Age and cocaine seem to nave no effect on you."

"I have given up cocaine," replied Naughton Jones, coldly, "and kindly do not refer to it. From a little failing among intellectuals it has become the vice of the degenerates and has descended even to the slums." He smiled. "How are you getting on? Trade brisk, eh?"

Raphael Croupin made reply with despondency. "Not very well, I am sorry to say," he said. "Business is slow and expenses are going on just the same. I have not the heart to dismiss the staff."

"Well, you may not need them much longer, Monsieur Croupin," broke in Vallon grimly, nodding his head. "We shall be getting you very soon, I am sure."

"Ah! Monsieur Vallon!" exclaimed Croupin, turning round excitedly, "I am delighted to meet you. It does not happen we have met before, but then who does not know the great Vallon by reputation?" He bowed gallantly. "It is my good fortune that my line of work does not especially attract your activity. Neither I nor any of my employes use vitriol nor prepare sacks and graves in cellars for lovely girls." He leant forward and touched Vallon on the arm. "But I do not like it, Monsieur—all the company we have here." He looked round stealthily. "That Hidou is a most immoral man, and really I would prefer not to have business with him in any way. It was a mistake for Mr. Smith to invite him to consult with us. He is a vulgar murderer."

The deep voice of Professor Mariarty came up from the end of the room.

"Of course, Mr. Hidou," he said, a little resentfully, "things are so much easier for you in Paris. You have the Seine close to you all the time. When, we have to get rid of a body it is not so easy, and we find it safer to leave it where it is. In making away then we don't encumber ourselves."

"But my dear Dr. Crittenden," protested Lord Hume, "you are quite mistaken. By what chemical means can you ever possibly expect to give to colonial wines the glory of the soil of the valleys of the Loire and the Rhone? God consigned to the chalk of France——"

"But, Monsieur Vallon," laughed Raphael Croupin merrily, "even if you did get hold of me by any chance, you would never be able to sustain the charge. My organisation is too perfect." He spread out his hands. "Why, there are two members of my staff whose sole duty it is to prepare alibis for me. They are always at it. Whilst I am working, say, at Nimes, there is a cast iron alibi being prepared to show that I have never left Paris; when I am at Bordeaux, a dozen honest fellows are being got ready to swear that I have been all the time at Nancy. And so on and go on. I never——"

The emotionless and solemn looking butler brought in the coffee, handing it round upon a silver tray, and the conversation became general. Despite their varied temperaments and occupations, for the moment the guests all talked in seeming harmony together, and the gay laugh of Raphael Croupin and the cultured tones of Lord Hume broke in across the deep voice of Dr. Crittenden and the precise enunciation of Naughton Jones. Five—ten minutes passed, and then Ephraim Smith made another lightning entrance into the room.

"Gentlemen," he announced briskly, "to your seats—if you please. The serious business of the night is about to begin. You have all pencils and paper before you, and kindly help yourselves to cigarettes." He switched off the lights all round the room, leaving only the table illuminated. Then he sat down and pulled his chair up close. "Now," he said grimly, "I am going to tell you what I have summoned you all here for."


Chapter II.—The Problem of Ephraim Smith.

Ephraim Smith placed a small attache case upon the table before him. A minute of silence followed, and then he rapped out:—

"Gentlemen, I am in the grip of a racketeer. That is my trouble."

His face was scowling, his teeth were gritted together, and his hands were clenched so hard that the knuckles stood out white.

He went on savagely, "Yes, body and soul, I am under the heel of a conqueror. My life is one long humiliation, and night and day I have no thoughts but for the shame that I am in."

No one made any comment, but every eye was turned upon him, and every face was set and stern.

His anger passed quickly, and he spoke much more quietly.

"But I will commence from the very beginning," he said. "I am fifty-seven years of age, and up to three years ago had lived all my life in the United States. New York City was my home town, and I made most of my money there. I am known to every banking institution in the world, and the name of Ephraim Smith has always stood for capacity, honesty and a square deal. In my time I have made men, I have built cities, and I have been instrumental in carrying progress and civilisation to the far corners of the earth. I have been a master always, and it has been my pride that I have bowed my head to no one "—he smiled—"except to a pretty woman. Well, three years ago I resolved to give up work and enjoy what remained to me of life in a country more restful than the land of my birth. So I realised everything and came over here to England to live. I spent money lavishly. I bought this castle with its thousand and more acres of land. Lord Sedlen's mansion in Park Lane, Dark Abbey in Scotland on Loch Awe, and the late Count Maranoff's house and racing stables by Newmarket Heath. As was my intention, I made my interests here as wide as possible, and with my wife and daughter settled down to enjoy the best that this beautiful country can provide. All went well for two years, and then one morning about a year ago, on July 5 to be exact, I received an extraordinary letter through the post. I say extraordinary, for its contents were so surprising in their brevity and impudence. It was just a curt command to me from an unknown correspondent to send a hundred guineas to the Norwich Children's Hospital. I will read it to you."

He spread open we attache case and took out a paper, "'To Ephraim Smith, Bodham Castle, Norfolk,'" he read. "'Send a hundred guineas anonymously to the Norwich Children's Hospital. If you fail to do so within three days, the consequences will be unpleasant. Signed 'The Man of Destiny.'"

Ephraim Smith frowned. "An insolent demand, for, although I am accustomed to allocate many thousands of pounds yearly to charity, I naturally prefer to choose for myself the directions in which my donations shall flow." He looked down at the paper again. "Posted in Norwich 9 p.m., July 4, an ordinary stamped envelope used, and a very ordinary piece of notepaper."

He laughed mirthlessly. "Of course, I took no notice of it, regarding it rather as a joke or as the outburst of some crank, for we people of means are often recipients of communications of that kind, and so it was quite by chance even that the letter was preserved. My daughter was amused and kept it to show a friend. It passed out of my mind then until a week later to the day, when there came another letter, very brief this time. Here it is, 'Take the consequences then,' signed as before, 'The Man of Destiny.'" The voice of Ephraim Smith hardened, "And the following night all the hayricks on this estate were burnt down, to the value of more than three thousand pounds."

The little wizened man leant back in his chair and regarded the company very solemnly, "And then, gentlemen, came a long series of outrages following one upon another, with the invariable anonymous communication sandwiched between every time." He sighed. "It was dreadful, for from the very beginning I saw I was almost helpless, my many possessions and estates rendering me so particularly vulnerable. I was attacked in all directions, and fire, poison, and violence were all in turn called into requisition. My racing stables near Newmarket were burnt down; my house-boat at Maidenhead was sunk at its moorings; my mare, Rose of Dawn, the favourite for the Lincolnshire Handicap, became unaccountably ill—was poisoned we are sure—on the very eve of the race; a gas explosion occurred in my house at Park Lane and some priceless old masters and rare art treasures were destroyed; my abbey on Loch Awe was partially demolished by fire; my stud cattle met with mysterious accidents; my thousand guinea greyhound, Black Arrow, disappeared, and finally, to make the long list of my troubles short, my wife and daughter had most narrow escapes when out motoring, for it was only by the narrowest margins that they both avoided colliding with other cars that, in a most deliberate fashion were driven in their way."

Ephraim Smith sighed again, "And those outrages were all carried out because I refused to hand over the large sums of money that were demanded from me." He stopped speaking and bowed his head as if the very recital of his wrongs were overcoming him. A short silence followed and Naughton Jones broke in:—

"But were the authorities then not able to discover any of the perpetrators?" he asked disdainfully. "Were they not able to discover anything?"

Ephraim Smith jerked his head up sharply and scowled at the interruption.

"No, sir," he snapped brusquely, "they were not, and I do not blame them for it either." He spoke very coldly. "Even to this day the position is that we can adduce no evidence whatsoever to prove that each and every one of those happenings was not accidental." His tone was very bitter. "And that is the diabolical cunning of it all. To outsiders it may still appear that it is only a series of coincidences that such misfortunes have befallen me here, there, and everywhere." He thumped his fist upon the table. "But I and the police know differently. They were not coincidences, for upon every occasion before they occurred I was aware that a blow was about to fall somewhere, because each outrage was preceded by a threat."

"And now," asked Vallon with great interest, "are you still being subjected to such outrages?"

Ephraim Smith glared angrily at the burly Frenchman, and for a moment it seemed as if he were about to make some sharp retort, but then suddenly his whole expression altered and he spoke ruefully like a whipped child.

"No, monsieur," he replied quietly. "I am in peace and enjoying what possessions are now left me because"—his voice was ever so gentle—"because, whenever I am ordered to, I hand over the sum of two thousand pounds to a gentleman who is good enough to call for it in person." He almost groaned, "I have given in."

A deep hush fell over the chamber, and they all held their breaths. The distress of the speaker was so apparent that they forebore to make any comment.

After a while Ephraim Smith went on, and his voice was now firmer.

"Yes, I retreated according to plan. I was spent and finished with for the moment, and I required time to organise and form a new army." He smiled. "And you gentlemen are that new army. You are the forces that I am going to rely on now, and I am confident that with your collective wisdom our campaign will be crowned with success." He clenched his fist angrily. "But you can imagine the humiliation that I feel. I, who have always held my head so high, to admit now that I have met my master, I who have always been such a fighter to bend my knee now and bow humbly to this vile extortioner." He sighed, "Yes, I gave in, but I vowed I would expend all my fortune if need be to run this wretch to earth."

He took another paper out of the attache case and spoke in crisp and business-like tones.

"Well, I have given you the general outline of what has happened and I will now go more into particulars. The first happening, as I have told you, was the burning of my hayricks, and, of course, then I immediately called in the police. Upon the production of those two communications I have read you, they agreed at once that the conflagration was not accidental and so in every way possible they proceeded to make their investigations. But they could find out nothing, and the general opinion held by everyone unaware of what had gone before was that the fires had been started—my hayricks are all close together—by some spark blown from a chimney or from some discarded cigarette. Well, two days later I received this third communication." He took another paper out of the case and read slowly:—"'Send five hundred guineas now to the Children's Hospital or greater punishment will follow.' Posted again in Norwich and by the night post. I handed the letter over to the police and a night and day watch was immediately set all over this estate. A score of men were secreted in places of vantage and if any further outrage were to be attempted we were sanguine of catching the perpetrators in the very act. We were of opinion that we were dealing with a madman, or at any rate with some individual of eccentric mind, for we had no idea then of the evil we were up against. Well, nothing happened for a week, and then like a bolt from the blue came the burning down of my racing stables at Newmarket."

He sighed deeply as if he could hardly get his breath. "After the news had reached me over the 'phone late that night I wanted to believe it was only a coincidence, for it had come to me in a flash, as I put down the receiver, how truly vulnerable I was were the outrages in fact deliberate. It would be impossible, I realised, ever effectively to protect all my interests, for my possessions were numerous and so far distant from each other. So I hoped against hope that this second trouble was just a calamity of wayward chance. But no——" and he shook his head angrily——"I was soon to learn that it was no freakish coincidence, for the next day came a fourth letter, posted, mark you, in Newmarket at 9 o'clock the previous evening—two and a half hours before the fire in the stables started. These are the words this time," and he picked up a fourth paper.

"'So you are stubborn, are you, and you won't give in. Well, hang out and see who gets tired of it first. Send a thousand pounds now to William B. Markham, care of Messrs. Hunter and Hunter, solicitors, Castle-street, Norwich. All in one pound Treasury notes and before Friday, and make no attempt to uncover my identity.' Signed again, 'The Man of Destiny.'"

"Ah!" commented Naughton Jones, with an expression of profound sagacity, "something definite now. Coming out into the open at last."

"No, sir," snapped Ephraim Smith curtly. "Hunter and Hunter are one of the most respected firms of solicitors in Norwich, and they had never heard of the man. It was colossal insolence on the part of the extortioner to give their names."

Naughton Jones frowned and, glancing round the table, made a mental reservation that Raphael Croupin was a vulgar fellow, for the vivacious Frenchman was obviously amused and making no attempt to restrain his grins.

"Yes," went on Ephraim Smith bitterly. "Upon the receipt of this fourth letter on the morning after the burning of my racing stables, and following my interview with these Norwich solicitors, I realised most conclusively that it was no lunatic we were dealing with, but a perfectly sane individual of great cunning and resource. Of great cunning, I say, for it was evidently going to be his intention to wear down my resistance to his demands by repeated outrages before he would give us the very frailest chance of any clue to follow. He was anticipating most correctly that it would take blow upon blow, and calamity upon calamity, to bring me to such a condition of despair that I should give in."

"And are you positive in your opinion then, Mr. Smith," broke in Dr. Crittenden, "that the writer of these letters was not in touch with anyone in the office of these solicitors? That he was content just to issue his orders to you without being in a position to learn afterwards whether or not you had taken any notice of it?"

"Quite positive, sir," replied Ephraim Smith, and he scowled. "Surely no one would ever dream that the mere burning of some hay and a paltry stable would bring a man of my type to his knees." He drew himself up with dignity. "I should be known as a fighter to anyone who might make inquiries about me, and this wretch, from his knowledge of my habits and the properties I possess, has undoubtedly studied me pretty well. Therefore he had no need to post any confederate in that office to be sure I would decline with contempt, and his subsequent actions proved that he knew it. He forthwith gave up ordering me to deposit money anywhere after he had curtly informed me—in a letter posted in Paris, by the by—that when I was tired of his attentions, as he put it, I could intimate to him to that effect in a communication in the Agony Column of the 'Times' under the heading of 'Injured Innocent.'"

Ephraim Smith leant back in his chair and glared round the table as if daring anyone to laugh, but no one moved a muscle, and he continued:—

"So for nearly eight months he persecuted me, eight long, weary months, the hardest I have ever spent in my life, and strive as we might we could never light upon the faintest trace of him. He just came and went and there was only the trail of destruction and calamity behind him. Seventeen outrages in all occurred—I have a list of them here for each one of you, described, in detail, and you can peruse it at your leisure—and although my nerves were at the breaking point I still had no intention of giving in. But my hands were forced suddenly." He lowered his voice. "My poor wife became desperately ill, and my medical adviser warned me that she would become insane if her terror were allowed to go on. She pleaded with me, too, not to be what she called foolish. I was rich enough, she reminded me, to be able to afford whatever the extortioner would ask of me, and it were better, she urged, to pay this dreadful tribute rather than live out our lives always in danger and always in such unnerving fear." He pursed up his lips. "So outwardly, at all events, I capitulated, and inserted the following advertisement in the Agony Column of the 'Times':—'Enough. Am willing to come to terms.'"

"Two days later then I heard from him. You shall see the letter among all the other ones presently. He wrote to me that on the Tuesday of the following week, on the 15th of the month, I was to be ready with a parcel of two thousand one pound treasury notes, not new or in consecutive numbers, and that I was to give them to an emissary of his who would call for them. I would know on the morning of the day who this emissary was going to be, and he dared me to inform the police or to make any attempt to have the man arrested or followed. All precautions had been taken, he added, and the slightest gesture of bad faith on my part would entail consequences that would be most serious for me."

Ephraim Smith laughed scornfully. "But there was no question of bad faith. I was dealing with a scoundrel, and any procedure, I considered, would be both justified and honourable; so, in spite of all his threats, I determined upon one more bid for freedom. I communicated with the authorities, and upon their advice made all preparations to do exactly as he ordered up to a certain point. I procured the two thousand pounds, in treasury notes, and we confidently expected to take the extortioner and his confederate red-handed with them in his possession."

He bent forward and spoke very solemnly. "Now, please, follow me most closely, for it is only now that you will grasp the resource and cunning of the wretch I have called you in to deal with. Well, on the Tuesday morning I received the letter that he had said would come, and it informed me that a traveller representing a firm dealing with a certain domestic appliance—it did not say what—would call here at 11 o'clock precisely. The traveller would be alone and would drive up to the front door in a car. I was to receive him without any delay and give him an order for one of the articles he was selling, and then I was to hand him the parcel of notes, done up in an ordinary newspaper, not in brown paper, but in common newspaper. The parcel was to be tied well round with string, and there was to be a label gummed on to it addressed clearly: 'Mr. Burton Jones, Post Office, Ipswich. To be called for.' The label was to bear stamps to the value of sixpence, and I was to ask the traveller as a favour if he would be kind enough to post it for me in Norwich upon his return to the city. I was warned again that if I disobeyed in the very slightest particular it would mean injury and, perhaps, even death to me and members of my family."

Ephraim Smith paused dramatically. "But by half-past 10, gentlemen, the grounds of the castle were like an armed camp; men were hidden in all directions, and we confidently surmised we were ready for anything that might happen. At 11 o'clock then, to the minute, the traveller arrived, and, leaving him waiting in the hall, my butler, Fenton, the man whom you have seen to-night, brought in a card to me where I was waiting in my study. From the card I saw that the man was representing the Hercules Vacuum Cleaner Company, whose Norfolk branch is in Castle-street, Norwich, and, bidding Fenton show him in, I received the man immediately.

"His arms were full, for he was carrying a large cardboard box and some smaller parcels done up in brown paper. He was a youngish man, about 30 I should say, quite ordinary looking, and bowing most respectfully he got down to business at once. He said his firm were most gratified to be having any dealings with me, and, opening his box and parcels, he proceeded quickly to demonstrate what he had to sell. I let him gabble on for a minute or two, and then, anxious to bring the matter to a head, cut him short, and, following my instructions, expressed my willingness to purchase one of his appliances. Then when he was gathering everything together again, I picked up the packet of notes I had handy on my desk, and, according to my instructions again, asked him if he would be good enough to post it for me in Norwich. He agreed at once, and I gave him the packet. Then I rang for Fenton to show him out, and, following him to the study door, watched him go down through the hall.

"Fenton let him out of the front door and I saw him get into his car. He started the engine and drove off at once, and from my study window I watched the car through my binoculars proceed down the drive. It was a dull cloudy day and there had been a little rain, so there was no dust to prevent a clear view. The drive, as you are all probably aware, is quite straight down to the park gates, and about a quarter of a mile or so long. There are no bushes or trees on either side, and it runs through lawns of closely cropped grass, with no cover anywhere. When he had almost reached the park gates an incoming car, as we had arranged, driven on its wrong side, got in his way and he had to pull up dead. Immediately then half a dozen of the country plainclothes detective staff, who had been secreted in the lodge, rushed out and seized him. He made no resistance at all, expressing only consternation and unbounded surprise. Then car, traveller, and all his parcels were brought back here to the castle and I again confronted the man."

"Ah!" exclaimed Vallon, with some impatience, because Ephraim Smith had stopped speaking, "and he proved to be another dummy, of course? He had nothing to do with the extortioner, eh?"

"On the contrary, Monsieur Vallon," said Ephraim Smith coldly, "he proved to be the extortioner himself or else a confederate of his, and in either case a very clever and resourceful man."

"Oh!" exclaimed Vallon, looking puzzled, "and he escaped then after all the precautions you had taken?"

"No, he had no need to escape," was the instant reply, "for there was no evidence that he was not an innocent man." Ephraim Smith thumped his fist upon the table and glared round upon them all. "He was a devil in his cleverness, and we had not a scrap of evidence against him, for he had got rid of the notes somehow and we found nothing upon him."

A deep hush fell over the chamber and the interest was intense. Ephraim Smith went on angrily. "Yes, although I had myself handed him the parcel of notes and he had never been out of my sight one second until he got into his car, and from then on had been watched every yard of his journey down the drive by a score of others, all provided with powerful glasses, he had somehow managed to get rid of the parcel of notes. And there was not the slightest proof that he was anything but what he made himself out to be, a very innocent, harmless, and inoffensive employee of his firm."

"And how did he account himself," asked Naughton Jones, frowning, "for the disappearance of the notes?"

"Said he had never taken them out of the room," scoffed Ephraim Smith bitterly—"was sure he had put them down to arrange his parcels and had no recollection of afterwards picking them up again. Also he appeared to be as astonished as anyone and could not understand what it all meant." The little man could hardly control himself. "And the police even, I could see, ended in taking his side. They didn't say so, of course, but I saw them looking slyly at one another and then back to me, for the man himself had all the proofs of the innocent and bona fide nature of his visit to me upon him. In his pocket there was a forged letter typed on my paper and signed with my signature, asking them to send up a representative at 11 o'clock that morning to give a demonstration of their cleaner."

"And what followed, Mr. Smith?" asked Naughton Jones sharply, because the speaker had again paused.

"What followed," echoed Ephraim Smith, as if surprised at the question. "Why, nothing. Or at any rate nothing that helped us in any way. We searched his car and every foot of the drive and the surrounding lawns, but to no purpose, and then, escorting the man back to his employers, we found that everything was exactly as he had said. The letter from me had been received that morning by the firm and everything was open and above board. The man had been in their employ for over six months, bore a most unimpeachable character and there was not the slightest suspicion of anything against him. We were completely checkmated."

"And how had he carried the parcel of notes out of your study, sir?" asked Gilbert Larose most respectfully. "I mean had he put it in his pocket?"

"No," replied Ephraim Smith, "it was too bulky for that. He had carried it in his hand, in his left hand I remember, and under his left arm he was holding two or three other parcels. In his right hand he carried the box containing the vacuum cleaner."

"And what had he got in those parcels?" asked Larose. "Do you know?"

"Sawdust for one thing. I understand," said Ephraim Smith gruffly, "and rice for another. He had been going to sprinkle some of both upon the carpet to demonstrate how his cleaner would pick them up, but I had cut him short and he hadn't done it."

"And there isn't the shadow of doubt then," asked Dr. Crittenden, "that he was carrying that parcel of notes away with him when he walked out of your study?"

"Not the ghost of a shadow," replied Ephraim Smith emphatically. "Oh! and one thing more," he went on quickly—"I forgot to tell you that when I spoke to him about posting the packet for me he blinked his eyes and moistened his lips, and when he took the packet from me I saw that his hand was trembling." Ephraim Smith sneered bitterly. "Yes, in spite of his self-control, he was in mental stress then, for he knew what the packet should contain, and that the supreme moment of his venture had arrived. He was privy to the extortion of course."

No one made any comment, They all sat quite still with their eyes fixed intently upon the speaker. His next words startled them.

"And that night, gentlemen," he said very quietly, "a bomb was exploded just outside the dining-room window here and—part of the wall was blown in."

An exclamation of disgust came from Vallon, but Ephraim Smith only laughed.

"That, of course, was my punishment," he said, "and it was by good fortune alone that no one was injured. We had not left the room two minutes when the bomb exploded." He sighed heavily. "I might have expected some devilry like that."

"And what was the nature of the bomb?" asked Dr. Crittenden. "What kind of——"

"Oh, you'll find all particulars of that, doctor," interrupted Ephraim Smith irritably, "in the detailed story of the outrages, copies of which I am furnishing you with and which you can peruse later. Just now, I am only giving you the general outline." He paused for a moment as if to collect his thoughts, and then sighed again. "Well, that was the last struggle I made, for after that night I gave in and accepted the inevitable, and when two days later another letter arrived, asking me if I had had enough, and if so to insert a reply in 'The Times' under 'Penitent.' I complied at once. Then a fortnight later a man called for another two thousand pounds, a dealer in portable wireless receivers this time, and he went off with the money untroubled. That was three months ago, and since then upon five different occasions I have contributed to the exchequer of the wretch who is torturing me, always two thousand pounds and always collected by a man who arrived by appointment with something to sell. A gramophone man, a man with a selection of rugs, an individual who brought with him a small library of books, a man who was agent for a patent invalid bed-table, and one who exhibited an assortment of things alleged to have been made by the blind. And always the same farce is gone through. I look perfunctorily at their goods, give them an order, and then ask them to post the packet of notes."

"And their business cards?" asked Naughton Jones. "You have got them all?"

Ephraim Smith shook his head. "No, except upon the first occasion, no business cards have been presented. They just send in a message by the butler, and then in they come."

"And they are all different men?" asked Naughton Jones. "A different man comes every time?"

"I wouldn't like to say that," replied Ephraim Smith. He hesitated a moment. "In fact, I don't think so. They looked different, all of them, but there were certain similarities in the movements of some of them that have struck me more than once." He snapped down the lid of the attache case. "Well, that is the general outline, and now, gentlemen, for the questions that you will certainly want to ask."

"Well, who knows we are here?" asked Professor Mariarty gruffly. "Who knows we are here, for a start?" His voice sounded resentful. "We may all get blown up ourselves."

"No possibility, Professor," replied Ephraim Smith confidently. "I have taken extreme precaution—only my butler is aware of this meeting, and he even did not know until half-past ten to-night."

"Can you trust him?" asked the professor. "He looks a deep one to me."

"He is forty-five years old," said Ephraim Smith drily, "and twenty-six of those years he has spent in my service. I would trust him with my life."

"And does he know who we are?" asked Naughton Jones. "Is he in your confidence in all this?"

"He is not in my confidence at all," replied Ephraim Smith, "and is quite unaware of the position. He believes, of course, as does everyone in my household, that some enemy has been destroying my property and even threatening my life, but he has no idea that I have given in to my persecutor, and am paying for my peace. He is an ideal servant, Fenton, a most reserved man, with no curiosity, and he never talks."

"Well, who knows," asked Dr. Crittenden, "that you are paying away these large sums of money now?"

"No one except my wife and daughter. Not even the police."

"Not even the police!" echoed Naughton Jones in surprise. "Surely you have told them?"

Ephraim Smith reddened uncomfortably. "No, I have not," he snapped. "It was one of the commands of my tormentor, and I obeyed him to the letter." His lips curved to a sneer. "I have never been quite satisfied that he has not spies in the force, and in consequence I am taking no risks."

"May I see the first letter that you received, please?" asked Dr. Crittenden quietly, and Ephraim Smith at once opened the attache case again. He extracted a paper, which he handed to the doctor.

Taking a magnifying glass out of his pocket, Dr. Crittenden subjected the paper to a most careful scrutiny. Everyone watched him curiously.

"Humph," he remarked presently, "a man of ruthless disposition, cruel and vindictive, and one who would stop at nothing. A natural criminal. The handwriting proves that most clearly——"

"Eh! doctor," interrupted Ephraim Smith, looking very astonished and with his eyes opened wide, "but that is my handwriting there. These are all copies here that I made myself. The originals are in the possession of the police."

There was a moment's embarrassed silence, and then Raphael Croupin burst into a merry laugh.

"Ha! ha! Meester Smith," he guffawed. "You did not dream when we were loading our guns for you that some of the bullets might rebound."

"I am mistaken, of course," frowned Dr. Crittenden with dignity and impervious to the smiles all round. "First impressions are often erroneous, but the scientific mind is always ready to revise and correct when necessary."

"And when was the last occasion that you paid out any money, Mr. Smith?" asked Lord Hume, tactfully smoothing over the awkward moment.

"Ten days ago," replied Ephraim Smith, "and the next demand will probably be made in about another ten. The intervals now are not much longer than three weeks." He looked round the table. "But now, have any of you gentlemen got the ghost of an idea? You have heard my story and surely somewhere among you a familiar chord will have been stirred."

"There is an old-established firm of blackmailers in Houndsditch that I know of," said Professor Mariarty gruffly, "but I don't think they've got the plant for a big job like this. The heads are friends of mine, but if I could get hold of a certain man who works for them I could soon make him peach. He'd know right enough if they are in it."

"But that's nonsense," scoffed Naughton Jones. "No Houndsditch practitioner could handle an undertaking of this size. It means a long purse and"—he smiled sarcastically—"with great respect to the professor, a much more delicate form of violence than is employed usually in the East End."

"I don't call bombs 'delicate violence.'" retorted Professor Mariarty surlily. "Bombs are as bad as anything we do."

"But why, Mr. Smith," asked Croupin curiously, "have you nicked three of my countrymen to work off their own ground? We Frenchmen will be handicapped by our surroundings, so why have you brought us here?"

"Because, Monsieur Croupin," replied Ephraim Smith at once, "apart from the reputation in crime which you three gentlemen enjoy—firstly, one of the threatening letters was posted in Paris, as I have already mentioned—secondly, the bomb used at this castle, the police experts say, was of French manufacture—and, thirdly, because one of the men who called upon me for money, although he spoke most perfect English, was obviously, in my opinion, a foreigner, and was wearing, I would have sworn, French shoes." He frowned. "So I was hoping that, failing information from this side of the Channel, some of you three gentlemen might be able to suggest some organisation in your country likely to be involved in such a matter as this. Now, what say you, Monsieur?"

Raphael Croupin shook his head. "I work alone, Mr. Smith," he replied modestly, "and in any case I would have no association with such malefactors as these." He looked thoughtful. "But still several things struck me, and I may be able to advise you later when I have thought things over a bit?"

"And you, Monsieur Hidou," asked Ephraim Smith, "you have nothing to say?"

"I can trace the bomb, perhaps, to where it was made," replied Hidou coldly, "but I must have more particulars first."

"You see, Mr. Smith," broke in Lord Hume quickly, "you are really asking too much of any of us to express any opinion at this stage. We must consider every outrage separately, and must go most minutely into every happening that has occurred before we can hope to arrive definitely at any idea as to what manner of man is persecuting you. We shall have to go over the place here, too, and be about when the next parcel is handed over." He shook his head. "And the difficulty is, I don't for the life of me see how so many of us are going to work on the investigation without attracting attention, for, in my opinion, you are most certainly being watched. I should say that you are undoubtedly under the most strict surveillance every hour of the day, and that your tormentor is on the lookout all the time to make exactly sure what you are doing, and that you are not plotting again to catch him in any way." He lifted his hand warningly. "You may have, indeed, escaped to-night for these few hours, but to-morrow again there will be a shadow behind you and—that shadow will not be your own. Yes, the great difficulty is how can we investigate things without the enemy knowing that we are here to get upon his track?"

"I agree there," said Naughton Jones. "His lordship expresses what must be in all our minds."

"Bien, it is a wise thought," added Vallon gravely. "We may be safe now in the dark"—he snapped his fingers—"but in the dark we cannot see."

Ephraim Smith leant back in his chair and regarded the company with polite scorn.

"I am not quite a fool, gentlemen," he said coldly, "and you might have credited me with at least some rudimentary common sense." He squared his shoulders and swelled out his small body in importance. "In my own line I am a master, and I can assure you that the riches I possess have not by any means fallen into my hands by chance. My successes have been in great undertakings, and preparation and organisation have been the obsessions of my life." His voice was coolly confident. "I have provided for everything."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Croupin facetiously and with a sly smile round at the others. "Then when morning comes we are all to dissolve into thin air." He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "We are to become the invisible men."

"Monsieur," said Ephraim Smith icily, and there was a venomous glint in his eyes, "If I did not happen to know that sobriety is among the few virtues that you are known to possess, I should say that you would be finding yourself in your proper environment within a few hours." He looked round the table without the trace of a smile. "I am providing suitable accommodation for you all in an inebriates' home."

Vallon clicked his tongue as if he were not quite certain whether to smile or scowl. Naughton Jones yawned as if nothing in the world could surprise him, and Professor Mariarty looked most uneasy.

"But I am under doctor's orders," said the professor, "and no money will induce me to play tricks with my health. My medical adviser insists that I take stimulants occasionally."

Ephraim Smith ignored the interruption and went on.

"Of course I saw that difficulty at once when the idea first came to me of getting you here together, and more than three months ago I began to prepare for it. Secretly, through distant agents and under a different name, I purchased a big house among the sandhills, about a mile from my gates here. I started to rebuild it partially, but so timed all the work that it was not finished until a few days ago. Then for a couple of weeks I have been advertising in the medical journals, offering a voluntary retreat for mild cases of alcoholism, but I made the terms so stiff that there have been no applications save those that I have sent in for you. There is a medical man in charge, but he has been very carefully selected, and he will not interfere with any of you in any way. He is well qualified, but he is a hopeless dipsomaniac himself, and he quite understands that the treatment you are giving yourselves is purely voluntary, and that you are to be allowed complete liberty and freedom of movement. He is highly paid, and believes he is acting for a company. He has never heard of me. He expects you to arrive to-morrow, and in the book of instructions I am furnishing each of you with you will find the names you are expected to go under. Now is that agreeable to you all?"

A moment's silence followed, and then Vallon asked sarcastically——

"And Monsieur Hidou here—will he continue to wear his mask?"

Ephraim Smith frowned. "That is awkward," he said. "What do you say, Monsieur Hidou?"

"I shall work alone," replied Hidou with a frown. "I shall not go to that house. I am not accustomed to hunt in packs." He spoke carelessly. "But you will not be disappointed in me. I know what I am about."

"All right," said Ephraim Smith curtly, and he turned then to the others. "But you must all keep closely in touch with me, and, with that object in view, I have noted in your books certain times upon each day when I shall be waiting in the telephone cabinet here to be spoken to, if need be. Also at certain other times specified I shall expect you to be at the other end of the wire in the Inebriates' Home in case I should be desirous of communicating with you, and, particularly, you must be holding yourselves in readiness against the day when the next demand is made upon me."

He took out his watch. "Well, gentlemen, time is flying and in an hour and a half the day will begin to break. You must be all away by then, so I shall just have time to give you supper, and afterwards at three minute intervals you will each leave here in the order that you arrived. Mr. Larose first, Monsieur Hidou second, Monsieur Vallon third, and so on and so on, with Mr. Naughton Jones last. You will proceed down the drive—there is a new moon—you will pass through the gates, which are unlocked, and you will then turn to the left along the Norwich Road and walk on until you come to a big oak tree just before a bridge. The oak tree lies on the right about fifty yards off the road. You will wait there until you are all gathered and then at exactly twenty minutes past three—set your watches please now by my time—it is exactly 1.54—a closed motor van will appear, going in the direction of Norwich.

"One of you will step out into the road and hail it. It will stop, without a word from the driver, and take you all into the city, going slowly and in a roundabout way so that you will not reach Norwich until half-past six. Then later in the day you will entrain back in this direction according to your several instructions. Some of you are to reach Weybourne Manor, for that is what the Inebriates' Home is called, by way of Sheringham—that is the nearest railway station, and barely two miles away, but some of you are to come by way of Holt—double the distance." He smiled. "I am sure you will like your surroundings. The house is lonely, but it is beautifully situated and just by the edge of the sea. Oh! one moment," he added. "Of course, if any of you would prefer not to go into Norwich and train back here later in the day, then you need not keep that rendezvous under the oak tree, but that will mean your hanging about somewhere in this neighbourhood until half past four this afternoon, for you must not reach Weybourne before that time and you must arrive then in a conveyance coming from either Sheringham or Holt. You are all supposed to have come a long distance, remember."

"Well, I shall have to go into Norwich to get some clothes," said Naughton Jones. "I've no luggage and I've come quite unprepared for a long stay."

"The same with me," said Dr. Crittenden, "and I shall have to get some chemicals and scientific instruments as well."

"And I have no proper clothes either," said Lord Hume. He laughed. "I suppose we shall all have to dress as inebriates, shan't we? Jackets with big out-of-shape pockets, bulged by bottles and flasks?"

Ephraim Smith rose from his chair. "Well, now, gentlemen, for refreshments in a room across the hall, and I hope you will all enjoy the champagne." He held up a finger to enjoin silence. "But don't raise your voices too much, please, and step softly. We are a long way from the sleeping parts of the castle, but someone may be wakeful and we cannot afford to give away any chances." His face grew very stern. "We are dealing with men who, I am sure, will have no hesitation in shedding blood, and for aught we know, our lives already hang upon a single thread," and, opening the door and followed by the company, he passed out of the room.


Chapter III.—The Secret of the Mask.

Three-quarters of an hour later, Ephraim Smith led Larose out through a side door in the thick and massive walls of the old castle.

"Now, don't forget your instructions," he whispered. "Go straight down the drive, and, once through the gates, turn sharply to the left, and then wait behind the big oak tree until everyone is assembled. Don't make yourself too conspicuous, for we don't know who's about." He laughed softly. "And, remember, I expect great things of you and Vallon, for you two are the only professionals on the side of the law among this crowd. Good-night, or, rather, good morning, and the gods grant I don't get another bomb for this!"

"And I hope to goodness so, too," muttered Larose, when the door had closed softly behind him, "but I'm none too sure about it. This old man, in my opinion, is in it up to the neck, and I should be very surprised if this super-racketeer of his omits to set a good watch night and day round here." He glanced up at the great towering walls. "But what a wonderful old place, and how calm and majestic in the moonlight, like a rock of ages defying change and the decaying hand of time. And wouldn't its original occupants be astounded if they could come back and see the kind of warfare that is being waged here now! No winged arrows hurtling over the battlements, no men in shining armour, no catapults, and no battering rams. Now, just vulgar threatening letters through the post, men calling with vacuum cleaners and gramophones, and then an evil, stinking bomb planted below the dining-room window. Lord! What a change!"

He set off at a sharp pace, and his thoughts ran on.

"I must be quick now, or I shall be having friend Hidou upon my heels before I get out of the gates. He is to follow next, and I certainly somehow don't like that man. He is worse than old Mariarty by a long chalk, and, by Jove! how his heart was beating after he had heard Vallon's name first given out. I could feel it pumping as his knee touched mine beneath the table, and I'd very much like to know the cause of his excitement." The detective frowned. "No, I don't like Hidou at all, and he had some good reason, I'll swear, for keeping on his mask." He whistled softly. "And where will he be going to now?" He shook his head. "He's a crook among crooks, and not even a good bad 'un. He'd be worth watching, I'm sure, if I only had the time."

The detective accelerated his walk to a quick run, and then suddenly broke into a laugh.

"But what a rum go altogether," he chuckled, "and what an original idea of old Smith's! The eagles and the vultures sweeping through the skies after the same prey; the cats and the rats in the same cage. But, really, the old chap deserves to get what he wants for coming up so perkily again after that bomb."

He reached the gates, and turned into the high road. It was broad and straight, and ran through richly-wooded country and stretches of sweet-smelling bracken three or four feet high. Twenty paces off the road a regiment of soldiers could have lain in ambush, so tall and thick were the ferns. In the distance, like a giant of the forest, stood the big oak tree of the rendezvous.

"Good," said Larose, "then I'll squat among the ferns and see what Hidou's going to do. Really, I'm half inclined to chuck the oak tree business and follow that chap instead, for my instinct tells me there's something very wrong"—and the detective, crossing over the road, crouched down among the bracken and prepared to wait.

But his vigil was very short, for barely a minute passed before he saw a figure darting through the gates.

"Gosh!" he exclaimed, "but he's come fast, just as if he were after me." He frowned. "And what does that mean now?"

Hidou ran almost into the high road, but then suddenly pulled himself up short and, with head strained forward and body bent, stood peering round in all directions. There was something stealthy in his attitude, like that of a crouching beast of prey. The moonlight fell down full upon him, and Larose saw that he was still wearing the black mask.

"Ah!" muttered the detective, "and now he is looking for me." He stirred uneasily. "Really, I feel more comfortable among these ferns, for, with the life story that old Smith gave of him, who would be anxious for the attention of the sewer rat?"

But suddenly again Hidou moved, and plunged abruptly now into the bracken, Larose marking his swift progress by the swaying of the ferns.

"He's making for the oak tree," whispered the detective, "thinking for certain I've gone there. Good, then I'll keep him in view," and, separated only by a few yards of bracken and the width of the road, the two ran in parallel lines towards the rendezvous that Ephraim Smith had arranged.

When a hundred yards from the tree, however, Larose saw that the ferns on the other side of the road had ceased to quiver, and, instantly crouching down, he waited breathlessly for what would follow.

Half a minute, a minute passed, and then slowly, and with extreme caution, the head of the Frenchman came into view. He stared back towards the castle gates, and then long and intently in the direction of the big oak tree. Then he dropped down once more out of sight, and the fern tops began to move again. But only for a few seconds this time, and then everything was still.

"Ah!" ejaculated Larose, "then he's settled down for good now, and he must be very near to the side of the road. He's evidently got as close as possible to keep an eye on everyone who goes by. Now what's his little game, I wonder?"

Five minutes of intense stillness followed. The road lay white and ghost-like under the moon, and there was not a stir or movement anywhere.

Then a sound came from the direction of the castle gates, and the figure of a burly man appeared in the road. It was that of Vallon, of the Surete Generale of Paris. The great detective of France came along in leisurely manner, with his head bent low in thought.

Arriving, however, to a point just beyond where Larose and the other watcher on the far side of the road were hidden, he left the highway and turned off along a narrow pathway of grass that stretched between the ferns, in the direction of the big oak.

Perhaps a quarter of a minute passed, and then, with a lightening movement, Hidou emerged from his hiding place and darted across the road. He crossed like a shadow, and entered the pathway not a dozen paces behind Vallon, who, all unconscious of anyone following him, walked slowly on.

With a feeling of dire premonition in his heart, Larose sprang to his feet and raced like a greyhound to gain the pathway, too. He burst through the ferns just behind Hidou, and saw to his consternation that the latter was clutching a long knife in the hand that trailed behind him.

Vallon was still unaware that he was not alone.

"Look out!" shrieked Larose, "look out behind you, Monsieur Vallon," and on the instant Hidou leapt forward with the knife.

But he was just a fraction of a second too late, for Vallon, turning in a flash, saw the impending danger and threw himself head foremost at his assailant's feet. Over sprawled Hidou, delivering as he fell, however, a heavy blow with his foot upon the detective's head. . . . . Vallon was too dazed and stunned to rise, but Hidou was on his feet again like an acrobat, and was about to stoop and plunge his knife into the prostrate form when, for the first time he apparently became aware of another actor upon the scene.

Larose was within five paces of him and tugging as he ran for the automatic that was in his hip pocket.

Hidou was a quick thinker, and saw his chance. He sprang at Larose, and closing with him, aimed a vicious blow with his knife at the Australian's heart. But Larose was equally as quick, and discarding instantly all attempts to get at his pistol, he threw up his hand and caught the descending wrist in a grip of steel.

Then ensued a deadly struggle, for they were both of equal weight and fairly evenly matched in strength. Hidou gripped the detective round the waist with his free arm, and tried to throw him, but Larose planted his feet wide apart, and with his disengaged hand thrust back the Frenchman's chin until the latter's neck was almost at breaking point.

In dreadful silence they swayed and circled, and the sweat burst in big beads upon their foreheads. Then it seemed that Larose was weakening, for Hidou's knife descended nearer and nearer to the detective's heart. Three times Hidou almost drove it home, but each time the Australian managed to save himself, and then suddenly like a flash of lightning, his right hand left the Frenchman's chin and chopped viciously upon the biceps of his knife arm.

The assassin's arm collapsed like a broken stick, and then quicker almost than the eye could follow, Hidou's knife, still in Hidou's hand, was driven deep up into Hidou's throat. The Frenchman's body sagged forward, but Larose thrust it violently away to escape the rush of blood. Hidou crashed to the ground, coughed horribly once, and then lay still. Larose drew in a deep breath, and sinking down upon his knees, rubbed his hands shudderingly into the grass.

"What's happened?" asked Vallon weakly, after a few moments. He opened his eyes but closed them again quickly, for he was still dazed. "So it was you, Mr. Larose, was it? Well, what's happened, I say?"

"Nothing much," panted Larose still out of breath from his exertions—"only Hidou's dead."

"He wasn't Hidou," said Vallon slowly, with his eyes still shut. "Hidou is a diabetic and that fellow I saw took sugar in his coffee. He wouldn't unmask because he knew I should see through the fraud, and that's why he wanted to kill me, to stop my mouth."

The stout detective opened his eyes again with an effort, and then, catching sight of the body not a dozen feet away, immediately forced himself to sit up. His giddiness was forgotten in his surprise.

"Mon Dieu! and so you've killed him," he exclaimed hoarsely, as if he only then realised it for the first time.

"Had to," replied Larose calmly, "and I got him with his own knife."

"But turn him over and take off his mask," went on Vallon excitedly. "Then we'll see who he is. I've got a torch in my pocket here."

"I've got one, too," said Larose, and in three seconds they were both staring into the dead man's face.

"Ravahol!" gasped Vallon, starting back. "Jules Ravahol! I know him well."

He made a clicking noise with his tongue and turned to Larose. "One greater than Hidou, my friend," he said solemnly. "A master and a renowned artist of crime." He nodded his head slowly. "Yes, one who led, who organised, and who was so clever and so nimble that we could never bring him within the meshes of the law. A lion who bade the jackals to the feast he had prepared for them and a ghoul who called the rats from their sewers to feed out of his hand." His eyes wandered back to the body. "La! la! and now he lies dead among these beautiful English ferns!"

Vallon's eyes blazed suddenly. "But what was he doing over here and how did he come to take Hidou's place?" He raised his voice in his excitement. "But this means evil for us all. We are betrayed somewhere at the very start. We are in danger now ourselves. Ravahol always had his band of killers and they were never far away."

He started abruptly to his feet, but then staggered and would have fallen if Larose had not sprung to his side and supported him.

"Oh! but I'm giddy," he exclaimed. "It was a hard blow I got on my poor ear. Put me down quickly or I shall faint."

"Walk a few steps," said Larose sharply, glancing apprehensively up the road. "We must get among the bracken and hide until the others have passed. Things are complicated now and we can't let all the crowd know what has happened. At any rate, there'll be no travelling by motor van for you and me."

Two minutes later Vallon was lying propped against a small tree behind the bracken about twenty yards away, the body of Hidou had been drawn out of sight from anyone coming along the pathway, and Larose himself was hiding among the ferns again, close by the roadside. He had managed things only just in time, for at that moment Raphael Croupin debouched from the castle gates, and, humming a lively tune, marched nonchalantly along to the big oak tree. Then at short intervals all the others hove in sight, the last two being Professor Mariarty and Naughton Jones, who turned into the road together.

"Hullo! pals already," frowned Larose. "They waited for each other then."

But the explanation was much more simple, for as they came nearer to him he saw that the professor was walking heavily, with the labour of a chronic gout sufferer. The three minutes' start had been too short for him, and the long strides of the lanky Jones had brought the two together.

Larose heard them talking.

"But, my dear Professor," said Naughton Jones laughingly, "I tell you frankly that next time I shall pistol that enterprising assistant of yours on sight. Two attempts on my life already, and I shall be quite justified in dealing with him in the most summary manner possible."

"Quite so, Mr. Jones," assented Professor Mariarty with great respect, "quite so, and I should be the last one to deny you your right." He gesticulated disgustedly. "And the man will deserve it, too. Two excellent opportunities and he has failed to remove you out of my way. He is a bungler out and out, he is——"

But the professor broke off suddenly and stood stock still. He swept his head round and sniffed hard. He was just opposite to Larose now and not twenty feet away.

"I smell blood," he said slowly, "fresh blood." He paused a moment. "I was a butcher once."

Naughton Jones laughed delightedly. "But what an interesting companion you are, Professor, and how thoroughly you must enjoy every phase of the activities of your calling! When you strike down your victim every sense in you is gratified at one and the same time. You feel the impact of the blow, you hear the poor wretch groan, and you see him fall and you even smell the very output of his severed arteries and veins. Really, you are——"

"But I smell blood here," growled the professor. "I am sure of it."

"A Rabbit most probably," said Naughton Jones with a superior air. "The supper of some weasel or some stoat." He looked round and sighed. "These woods are beautiful, but who knows what agonies and what horrors are the toll of night in the midst of all this beauty and apparent peace. Yes, Nature is cruel and bloody, and even you, Professor, can give no points to her in any way." The rumble of a car was heard in the distance. "But come, we must accelerate a little, for if I mistake not this is our conveyance and we must be with the others by the oak tree when it comes."

They passed up the road, and Larose wiped his forehead in relief.

"And fancy being nearly downed by a heavy-minded chap like that," he muttered in disgust. "But who would have had any idea of his smelling blood!" He shook his head. "Really I must be careful, for I am among great artists now."

A big motor van came lumbering by. He saw it stop just before the bridge and then in two minutes pick up passengers and disappear in the distance. The dawn now was beginning to break.

He went back to where he had left Vallon, and found him feeling a little better. He could not, however, open his eyes yet without feeling giddy.

"Let me alone for half an hour or so," he pleaded. "I shall be all right again then, and we can arrange what we are going to do." He sighed. "And it'll want a bit of arranging, too, I think." He stretched out and grasped the Australian's hand. "But thank you, thank you." There was emotion in his voice. "You saved my life, my friend, and Vallon is not the one to forget." He leant back weakly against the tree. "But go away now and leave me in perfect quiet. A blow on the ear is always as bad as a bout of seasickness to me, but I'll have a doze and then I shall be all right."

So Larose left him, but it was much longer than the stipulated half-hour before he returned—indeed the sun was then high in the heavens and the time was nearly 7 o'clock.

The Australian came up at a quick run, looking very red in the face, but arriving where Vallon was lying, he pulled himself up sharply and then with a stealthy movement sank down upon the grass. He smiled as if he were very relieved about something, and then, leaning back against a small tree, proceeded to rest quietly and get back his breath. The great Vallon, his face pale and drawn from the experiences of the night, was fast asleep.

Presently Larose sat up, took out and lighted a cigarette, and then coughed loudly.

Instantly Vallon awoke with a start. He stared round, and, glancing at the sun, immediately sat up and regarded his companion with a frown.

"But why," he exclaimed sharply, "why have you let me sleep so long?" He looked at his watch and his expression was an angry one. "Seven o'clock, and I've slept over three hours."

"Feeling better?" asked Larose sweetly. "The sleep has done you good?"

"I'm all right," replied Vallon roughly, "but where have you been all this while?" His eyes searched Larose's face. "Don't pretend to me you've been here all the time. You've been away and only just come back. You're hot and perspiring."

Larose grinned sheepishly. "I've been back about five minutes, Monsieur," he said, "and it's a mercy you've been asleep. We've lots of things to consider and you're rested now. Your head will be quite clear."

"But we've lost three hours," retorted Vallon with rising anger, "three hours when every minute is of importance." He glared at the Australian. "What about that brute Ravahol? We're in England, remember, and in this country things can't be hushed up. We must acquaint the authorities at once." He rose energetically to his feet. "Where's that body now?"

Larose looked uncomfortable. "It's gone," he said slowly. He faced Vallon with an air of resolution. "In fact I've just buried it."

Vallon gasped and Larose went on quickly. "Yes. I've buried it, and for the present everything is going to be a secret between you and me. No, no"—for Vallon was shaking his head violently—"I've thought it all out, and it's the only thing we can do. Listen"—and he raised his hand emphatically—"that man would have murdered you and he only got what he deserved. Apart from that, you say he was a dangerous criminal in your country, and so it's a good thing for everyone he's gone. He's——"

"That's nothing to do with it," burst out Vallon impatiently, "nothing at all. There's been death done here, and we must report it." He calmed down all at once and drew himself up proudly. "I am an agent of the Surete Generale of Paris, and I work within the law, not without it." His face was uncompromisingly stern. "At whatever cost we must report at once to the authorities what has taken place."

"Monsieur," said Larose simply, "I saved your life."

"I know it," snapped Vallon sharply, and then his face softened and a note of huskiness crept into his voice. "And there are a wife and two little ones, my friend, who to the last day of their lives will remember you in their prayers for that." His eyes moistened. "Papa Vallon is a great man in his little home at Versailles."

"I fought him with my bare hands," went on Larose slowly, "and three times, Monsieur, the knife that he had intended for you almost reached to my heart."

"You are brave, Mr. Larose," said Vallon, frowning, "but why insist upon what is common knowledge?" He scowled at the Australian. "You would not surely have me discharge a private debt at the cost of my public honour?"

Larose smiled engagingly. "Not for one second, Monsieur. I only want you to listen to me, and if I have brought up my small service to you it is only to emphasise that I at least deserve a hearing."

"Certainly," replied Vallon at once, "and you shall have it. If that be all, I'll listen to you most carefully," and he sat down by the small tree and lit a cigarette.

"Monsieur Vallon," began Larose very quietly, "everything in life should have its proper perspective, and it is difficult for us all at times to see exactly where our duty lies. Now Mr. Smith has honoured us by bespeaking our services, and we have all tacitly pledged ourselves to give him the best that we can produce. We know that in working for him there is risk and danger for us, but we know equally well that in agreeing to undertake the work we are exposing him to risk and danger, too. If we had refused service to him, then he would have gone on paying tribute and would presumably have been in perfect security and safe from any violence. Now that is so, is it not?"

Vallon nodded. "Our intervention, of course, means danger for him again."

"Yes," went on Larose with a smile, "our intervention to gain honour and glory or reward."

"I want no reward," commented Vallon sharply, "and there is doubt if I should be allowed to receive one if I did; I have been lent by my government to him"—he shrugged his shoulders—"through political influences."

"And I also," said Larose. "I have been lent by favour, too. So it is honour and glory only that you and I are after. Still"—and he smiled again—"we are after something. We are serving him for certain ends of our own, if indeed they are lofty ones, with no sordid side."

"Very subtle," scoffed Vallon, "but go on."

"Well, what I mean is——" continued Larose, "Ephraim Smith deserves the utmost consideration at our hands and personal sacrifice on our part, if need be. So you and I must not throw him over because of our own timidity, we must not ruin everything for him because we are afraid to delay—only for a few days perhaps—an official report of what has happened this morning. Remember, nothing will be lost by this delay, and no good purpose will be served at any time by the broadcasting of the fact that you were attacked by a compatriot here, who is now dead." Larose raised his voice in his earnestness. "It means publicity as you say, Monsieur, if we inform the authorities. It means the police coming here and collecting the body, it means inquiries being made, a coroner being summoned, and a coroner's jury being empanelled——" He wrung his hands despairingly. "It means the ruin of everything so far as Smith is concerned."

"It is the law," said Vallon doggedly. "It is the law."

"And the position here now, as I take it, is this," went on Larose as if he had not heard Vallon's remark. "There is undoubtedly a cordon of espionage round Ephraim Smith, but he may have organised so cleverly for the meeting last night, that, but for an unfortunate chance, his enemy would never have found things out. It was Hidou he summoned from Paris, but for some reason Ravahol took Hidou's place, and unhappily the persecutor of Smith is in possession of that fact."

"How do you know that?" asked Vallon quickly, and judging from the expression on his face, curiosity had now taken the place of objections.

"From this letter that I found on the body," replied Larose quietly, and he took a paper out of his pocket and with a covert smile handed it over to his companion.

"Hum," remarked the Frenchman frowning, "typed, no address and no signature and written just a week ago." He read aloud:—

"So many thanks to you. I am most interested in your news, for it happens that I have a special interest in the same gentleman myself. Yes, certainly, it will be worth your while to go, but be sure and call in here directly afterwards. Don't telephone from anywhere, and make certain you are not being followed when you come. On no account either give the slightest hint that you know or have even heard of me. I am scribbling a rough map below, so that you will have an idea where the castle is. You know in which direction I live. P.S.—I can give you a most wonderful glass of Barsac. You will be surprised.

"And the envelope," snapped Vallon. "Was there none?"

"Here is it," replied Larose—"posted in Norwich at 11 a.m., July 10th," and Vallon read again:—

"'Monsieur Jules Ravahol,

7, Rue de Guise,

Boulogne-sur-Seine, France.'"

There was a long silence, and then Vallon asked, abruptly: "And what else did you find on the body?"

"Nothing of any importance now we know who he was. An automatic, of course. French money to the value of over two thousand francs, fifty pounds in English money, and miscellaneous odds and ends. I've got everything tied up in a handkerchief, handy to here."

Vallon was very thoughtful. "So, Mr. Smith," he remarked, "wrote to Hidou under the generally prevailing idea that Hidou is the biggest operator in the Paris underworld. Hidou did not understand what was wanted of him, and passed the letter over to Ravahol, who he knew worked on bigger lines. Ravahol was a man of imagination, and decided to come. He happened to be acquainted with someone living in the neighbourhood from which the letter was written. So he wrote to that acquaintance, making inquiries, and this letter is obviously the reply. He carried it on his person, undoubtedly, only because of the map at the bottom." The stout Frenchman frowned at Larose. "Now, the acquisition of this letter means everything to us, for it gives us certain very clear and definite ideas to follow."

"And they will be almost useless," said Larose, quietly, "if Ravahol's death becomes known. The enemy will immediately play for safety, and with a snip cut all the wires that would lead us to him. We are putting him on his guard as if we were his allies."

Again a silence followed, and then Vallon asked, sharply:—

"And if I refuse to countenance this silence about Ravahol's death"—and he scowled at the Australian—"what are you going to do then?"

The face of Larose was the very picture of astonishment. "What death, Monsieur Vallon?" he asked innocently. He put the sympathy he could into his tone. "You had an accident last night. You knocked your head up against a tree in the dark. You became unconscious, and you had a bad dream. Someone actually attacked you, you say? You think you saw a body somewhere? You saw a man in a black mask, and there was a lot of blood about?" He spread his hands out incredulously. "But where is the body now, and where are the traces of blood? Look, Monsieur, it was on that grass pathway that you tell me you saw the body in your dream, but it is empty now. The grass is a little trampled, perhaps, but what of that? I was anxious before you regained consciousness, and it may be I walked over it backwards and forwards many times." He peered down on to the ground. "At any rate, the footmarks now are certainly all mine." He looked back at Vallon. "Dreams are funny things sometimes, are they not, monsieur?"

Vallon's face was a study. His eyes were cold and stern, but the corners of his mouth were twitching as if he were trying not to laugh. But laugh he did in a minute, a laugh he could not restrain, and one which was hearty and had not the slightest trace of malice or annoyance it.

"Bien, my friend," he exclaimed, clapping Larose upon the shoulder. "You are a blackmailer, are you, and would make the great Vallon a laughing stock for the English police?" He gripped the Australian by the arm. "Well, I am wrong in giving way, but you're a plausible fellow, and so we'll sit down and talk." The laughter dropped from his face. "And now you shall tell me what you have been doing whilst I slept."


Chapter IV.—The House in the Wood.

"I assure you, monsieur," began Larose with a sigh, "that when the motor van had gone off with the others I realised what it meant for us to be saddled with that body here, and I was filled with consternation at the thought of the position in which we were placed. It was a terrible misfortune that I had had to kill that wretch, and for the moment it seemed the end of everything, and the complete ruin, at the very onset, of our plans." He looked with worried eyes at Vallon. "And then when I had searched the body and found that letter, the extent of the calamity appeared if possible to be worse. Here was a spy caught in our midst with most valuable information upon him, and we would have to shout it out everywhere and inform the whole world of the fact. It meant the end of all our secrecy and the enemy would know at once that we were unloosed upon his track."

"It was good and bad luck," said Vallon. "We are fortunate that Ravahol did not get away with the information that he possessed."

"And then, Monsieur Vallon," said Larose, lowering his eyes modestly, "it came to me suddenly that there might be a way out. If we could only hide the body, who would know anything about it but you and me?" His voice was most apologetic. "And I could not consult you, remember, for you were dazed and half unconscious from that dreadful blow. I had to act all on my own and act quickly, too, for there are habitations about here and any moment someone might have been coming through these woods. So I commenced at once to scout about for some place where I could hide the body, and I did not have to seek for long. I found a spot not far from here, overhung by a bank and thick with the driftings of the leaves of many years. It was ideal for the purpose, I saw instantly, since something more than a mere covering of leaves was necessary. There are pheasants in these woods, and pheasants in this country mean gamekeepers, gamekeepers"—he looked meaningly at Vallon—"and dogs."

"Go on, go on," said Vallon, impatiently, "it is past seven o'clock."

"Then through an opening in the trees," continued Larose, "I suddenly noticed a cottage in the distance, and I thought perhaps"—he hesitated a moment—"I thought that possibly, as the day was still young, I might, unknown to anyone, borrow a fork or a spade. So I ran up and was just creeping among the ferns behind the garden when I saw the back door of the cottage open and a man come out. He threw open the door of a small shed and brought out a large white goat. Then, having tethered the goat to the fence, he fetched a pail and began to milk. He had only started, however, when I heard the rumble of a car in the distance and the man immediately left the goat and ran into the front garden. He sprang upon a packing case behind the palings there, and, with his body pressed close against the side wall of the cottage, stood perfectly still for quite two minutes. The car came and passed, and the man stepped down and returned to his milking. But he had hardly begun when another rumble came from the road. It was a motor bicycle this time, and the man did exactly the same as before, jumping on to the packing case and crouching there until the bicycle had gone by. After it had passed he came back to the goat. He was——"

"Mr. Larose," broke in Vallon testily, "is this minute narration of such importance? My opinion is the same as yours that all Ephraim Smith's actions are being watched and that our presence in this neighbourhood therefore is dangerous. We should be getting away from here as soon as possible." He looked round uneasily. "So please, get on and come to the point quickly. These details——"

"Monsieur," said Larose calmly, "in a few minutes we will go together to this cottage, you and I, and—" his face was very stern—"the great Vallon himself shall be the judge as to whether my minute narration has been unnecessary." He smiled dryly. "In my own country, Monsieur, I am not without some reputation, and I assure you it is not my habit to waste either time or breath."

Instantly Vallon was all apologies. "Your pardon, Mr. Larose, really, your pardon sincerely," and he made a wry face. "You see, in Paris I am Vallon. I am accustomed to work only with inferiors and not"—he bowed—"with an equal. Go on, sir, and I am sure you will not say one syllable too much. I am an irritable old man."

"Well," went on Larose, as if quite mollified, "the man finished his milking without interruption this time. After that he fed some fowls, wheeled a bicycle from a shed, and went indoors. Then from the smoke that came out of the chimney I knew he must be getting his breakfast. Five and twenty minutes passed, but I waited patiently, for from the trim appearance of the garden I was sure I should find a spade somewhere, and I guessed from the bicycle that he would soon be going out. His machine had two hammers with long handles tied on to it, a large one and a small. Therefore I knew he was a stone-breaker by trade."

"But how did you know it would be safe to go into the garden and look for a spade, even after he had gone?" asked Vallon, frowning. "There might have been a wife and a pack of children about."

Larose shook his head. "I didn't think so, because I was very near the cottage, and could hear no voices and, besides, I had heard him unlock the door before he first came out and had seen him put the key in the keyhole outside. That meant that he was going to lock the door again soon, implying of course an empty house."

"Go on," said Vallon, "I am interested."

"Well, he came out presently," said Larose, "and he now had a pair of binoculars in his hand. He went straight to the packing case again and for a couple of minutes, I should think, stood looking at something through the glasses. Then he jumped down and went back into the house, coming out again, however, almost immediately, this time without the binoculars. He locked the door, as I had expected, put the key in his pocket and, wheeling the bicycle out through the front garden, rode away. I was over the fence at once and found the spade and fork that I wanted." The Australian turned his eyes away. "Then, Monsieur, I made a good job of putting our friend under the ground." He sighed. "But it was hard work and, as you noticed when I returned, it warmed me up. He lies three feet or more down in the earth and then again under a thick shroud of leaves. The soil is rich and, uncoffined as he is, in a very few days he should be unrecognisable. It is a damp place and——"

"But about the cottage, if you please." interrupted Vallon coldly, "for it is there I presume you gathered the news you have to tell me."

"Oh! yes," replied Larose readily, and his face brightened as if everything was plain sailing now, "for I am sure I have found someone who is spying upon Smith." He looked thoughtfully at Vallon. "You see, I was interested in the man at once. He had left his milking so suddenly when the vehicles went by and his movements when he jumped upon the packing case had been so stealthy. It seemed he thought it necessary above all things that he should not be seen. I wanted therefore to know what he had been looking at through the glasses, so when I had put back the fork and spade, hearing no sounds in the cottage, I went at once to the packing case and climbed up as he had done. Then I realised instantly what he had been after."

Larose paused dramatically. "He could only have been watching the entrance to the castle gates or the castle itself, for that was all he could have seen. The cottage lies about a hundred yards back from the road, and from his position on the packing case his only view between the trees was that of the castle or its gates. Therefore he had jumped up to find out if either the car or motor bike were simply passing or were going into the castle grounds; and when he used the glasses it was undoubtedly the castle he was watching."

"Perhaps then he had been there all night," commented Vallon with a frown, "and had seen us all go in and come out. He could easily have done so with the bright moon there was."

"No, I don't think so," said Larose promptly, "because when I saw him first come out of the back door he looked like a man still heavy with sleep. He was only half dressed, too—in his trousers and shirt." The Australian went on. "Then I started looking about the place, and the first thing I noticed was a collection of empty wine bottles in one of the sheds." He sniffed contemptuously. "A stone breaker drinking wine, and good wine at that—Chateau Lafite!"

"Ah!" exclaimed Vallon, "and remember one of those letters to Mr. Smith had been posted in Paris."

"Exactly," said Larose, "a coincidence that struck me, too." He nodded his head. "Well, I thought I'd like to see inside the cottage, and I took a piece of wire off the fence and tried to pick the lock of the back door, but the lock was a good one—much too good for a cottage like that—and I had no luck. But I found a knife in one of the sheds and managed to prize back the bolt of one of the windows, and so get into the place." He shrugged his shoulders apologetically. "I could only give myself a few minutes, since I had already left you for so long, but almost at once I lighted upon one very suspicious thing, which alone seems to make it imperative that we should go back and make a further search." He spoke very solemnly. "I found the glasses, an expensive Zeiss pair, wrapped with apparent carelessness in an old dish cloth and lying in a corner under a chair."

"What's the man like?" asked Vallon sharply, without a moment's pause. "Did he look like a working man to you?"

"No," replied Larose, "he's rough, certainly, with an unkempt beard, but his face is oval and intellectual, and he has big, thoughtful eyes. His complexion is very dark, and he doesn't look English to me."

"Ah!" exclaimed Vallon again, and he rose instantly to his feet. "Come, my friend, we must waste no more time. I will go with you to this cottage. We are in the enemy's trap undoubtedly, and this is one of his outposts. Quick, for this man may be coming back."

"No, I'm sure not," said Larose. "He cut a lettuce and took other food with him, wrapped in a pocket handkerchief, and that means he's taken lunch."

The two walked quickly through the wood and in a few minutes they had climbed the fence and were in the garden of the cottage.

"There are only two rooms," said Larose, "and they should not take us long to go over."

Vallon frowned uneasily. "But we shall have to break in again," he said, and then smiled. "I am in bad company, I see, Mr. Larose."

"It may be, Monsieur," the Australian smiled back, "but there need be no breaking in for you. You will enter after me through the window."

They were soon inside the cottage, and then the eyes of Larose gleamed. "Now, Monsieur," he said "we will go hunting together, you and I, and the Lord have mercy upon those we are looking for."

But Vallon made no comment. His eyes were darting everywhere, his lips were tightly shut and at short intervals he nodded his head. "Ah! but he lives soft," he whispered, after a few moments. "The furniture is that of a labouring man, but the essentials to comfort are all here. Look at those blankets, the best quality; look at that petrol lamp; look at the things in which he cooks his food." He tiptoed to a cupboard and opened it. "Gruyere cheese," he whistled, "and the best quality olive oil. Bacon rashers, the middle of the back. Now quick, where does he keep his clothes?"

But a smothered exclamation from Larose brought his attention round to the Australian in a flash, and then instantly as with one movement, they jumped back and stood crouching in a corner in the shadows, away from the window.

A man had just come through the front garden gate and was walking up the path to the front door.

"Mon Dieu!" whispered Vallon hoarsely, "we are trapped. It is the man coming back."

"No, no," returned Larose quickly; "it is not he, but a stranger instead. I heard him fumbling with the catch of the gate. He is certainly not accustomed to unlatching it."

The man reached the front door and rapped on it with his knuckles.

"Anyone in?" he called out loudly. "Anyone at home?"

"Hush!" breathed Vallon, "hush and he'll go away."

But the stranger was not to be shaken off so easily, for, getting no answer to his summons, he stepped over the flower bed and glued his face against the window.

"Keep still," whispered Vallon, "not a movement, and he won't see us. We're in the dark."

The stranger stared hard through the window, and then, apparently convinced that there was nothing more to be seen there, withdrew over the flower bed. A moment later his footsteps were heard going round to the back.

"He's persistent," scowled Vallon, and, followed by Larose, he tiptoed into the back room to watch the visitor from the window there.

The man had his back to them, and he was standing before the chicken run. His head was bent down, and he stood motionless for a long time.

"He's a thief. He's going to steal them," whispered Vallon. "He's worse than even you and I."

But suddenly Larose's expression relaxed—he gripped Vallon fiercely by the arm and the latter, turning round, saw that his companion was making desperate efforts not to laugh.

"Look, look," Larose whispered hoarsely, and he pointed into the yard. "It's Naughton Jones!"

Vallon's face was at first incredulous, and then angry. "By chance, by chance," he growled. "He's only come here by chance—but keep perfectly silent, and he'll go away."

But Naughton Jones was showing no inclination to go away, for, with his inspection of the fowls over, he proceeded to examine the little garden. He was interested in everything that grew there; he inspected the rubbish heap, and finally he disappeared into the shed.

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Larose. "And what's he up to now?" He looked back at Vallon, and grinned.

"Really. I am among great artists now."

A long minute passed, and Naughton Jones, coming out of the shed, strode up to the back door of the cottage and rattled the handle vigorously. Then he stooped down and peered into the lock. Next he turned to the window, and they saw a gleam come into his eyes as he pulled it open. Larose had not thought to shoot the bolt back after they had entered.

"We must surrender," whispered Vallon, sourly, and he at once advanced to the window and thrust his face into that of Naughton Jones.

"Don't trouble to come in that way, Mr. Jones," he said, apparently with great amiability. "Go round to the front door, and we'll let you through. It's only bolted there, and we'll undo it. Mr. Larose is here, too, and we shall be pleased to have a little chat with you."

Naughton Jones's eyes bulged, and his mouth had opened wide, but he recovered himself quickly.

"Good," he said, with a grim smile. "I am delighted to find I am among friends," and a minute later they were all seated in the front room.

A short, embarrassed silence followed, and then Jones spoke sharply:

"Now, all cards upon the table, please. I am here because I noticed this cottage when I came out of the castle grounds with Mariarty this morning, and I considered it an ideal place for espionage upon Ephraim Smith." His face darkened. "I am convinced that the movements of that gentleman are being watched."

"But how did you get here so soon?" asked Vallon, scowling. "You can't have been to Norwich, then, at all?"

"No," replied Jones, carelessly. "I stopped the motor van about half a dozen miles out, and walked slowly back to investigate." He smiled as if to himself. "Professor Mariarty was good enough to agree to purchase some small articles of necessity for me, a comb and a tooth brush, etc., and to promise to bring them along with him to the Inebriates' Home. We shall meet there this evening." His face hardened again. "Now, your cards upon the table, please. What are you doing here, you two?"

Larose hastened to provide the answer. "We were curious, also," he replied quickly, "and, hiding among the bracken at the back, were fortunate enough to see the occupier himself very early this morning. He follows the trade of a stone-breaker, but his actions were highly suspicious," and the Australian detective then proceeded to narrate all that had happened in connection with the cottage since daybreak.

"Excellent," commented Naughton Jones when Larose had finished, "and I can add some information, too. The man grows chicory, garlic, and globe artichokes, and all those fowls at the back have been caponised. There are no nestboxes in the run. He is a foreigner, therefore, or has lived in France. He is not an English working man, at all events."

Larose frowned. "Really," he thought. "I am a poor thing, and I am meeting my equals, if not my superiors, at last." He nodded ruefully. "Yes, I am getting shaken up a lot."

Naughton Jones rose to his feet. "Now we'll go on with the search, but"—and he shook his head—"I don't expect too much. This affair of Smith's has been long prepared for, and the wretches are of infinite courage and resource. We can be quite sure that everything will be open and innocent here, so near the castle."

And certainly their search produced no fresh discovery of importance, though Vallon found something to interest him in the cork stops on the door and Naughton Jones drew attention to a peculiar little knife that he picked up.

"Cut from champagne corks," said the French detective, indicating the stops. He knelt down close to the floor and grinned. "Fancy a breaker of stones drinking 'Veuve Clicquot.'" He stood up and smacked his lips. "I should like a glass now!"

Naughton Jones found the knife among some homely medicines in a small box upon a shelf, and he held it up to Vallon at once.

"Know what this is for, my friend?" he asked, and upon the Frenchman shaking his head, he explained. "A tenetomy knife—cuts only in the middle third of the blade. That's what he operates upon those fowls with, and look—tincture of iodine and lysol, too. Everything quite up to date except that he has no rubber operating gloves." He put the knife back in the box. "Now out of the cottage—quick, and we'll go away into the wood and talk things over. We've got a good start, I believe."

Making certain they had left no trace behind them, they closed up the cottage and Naughton Jones with big strides led the way into the wood.

He was not content to go only a short distance, but walked on for a couple of hundred yards and the farther he went the more grim and uneasy became the face of Larose.

Jones stopped at last by a high bank where the ground everywhere was thickly carpeted with leaves.

"This will do," he said sharply, as if naturally in command of the little party, "and now we'll talk."

He leant against the bank, and then suddenly turned his head round and began to sniff deeply.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed, "someone's been digging here. I smell recently turned earth. I do gardening in my spare time."

Larose's uneasiness gave way to dismay but Vallon, smothering a smile, came to the rescue with great energy.

"A gardener!" he ejaculated explosively. "A gardener! Then undoubtedly you excel there as in everything else. You are a master, too, in the cultivation of vegetables and flowers?"

Naughton Jones sniffed again, and then, with a change in his voice, turned to the Frenchman.

"Roses are my chief interest," he said. "I am raising a new variety that my friends insist I shall call after myself. It will be known as 'The Naughton Jones.'"

"And it has many admirers?" exclaimed Vallon. "I am sure it has."

"So many, Monsieur," admitted Jones with modesty, "that notwithstanding a notice on the gate, 'Beware of the dog.' I assure you I cannot keep a blossom a couple of days after it has appeared upon the trees."

"But your hound! Mr. Jones," said Vallon incredulously. "Does he not protect you from intruders?"

Naughton Jones frowned. "He would do so, no doubt, Monsieur, but——" the great detective coughed—"it so happens that he does not exist. I do not keep a dog."

"La, la," laughed Vallon and then suddenly he became serious again. "But now to business, Mr. Jones, and then we will walk to the next village and get a meal. I feel vast spaces encroaching upon my very soul."

"Yes, to business," echoed Jones gravely, looking in turn at Vallon and Larose, "and my considered opinion is this. The authorities here have failed because they are up against a man or men with no records behind them. They are not dealing with anyone well known over here as a practitioner in this particular line. They are dealing with an importation, or rather, I would prefer to imagine, from all Ephraim Smith disclosed to us, with a new star in crime. A man, a leader, who himself before was virgin to evil-doing. An amateur, in fact, but one highly gifted and certainly, perhaps, a genius in his way," Naughton Jones looked from one to the other again, and meeting with no remark, went on impressively—"I say this because the whole affair exhibits such elaborate preparation, such infinite patience, and such great resource." He shook his head. "No professional that I can conceive of would have been content to wait so long for his reward. The prime mover here must have been in the very beginning a well-to-do man."

"Excellent," commented Vallon, and no one would have been able to determine whether there was irony or admiration in his tone.

"Yes," continued Naughton Jones, "and, granted these premises, we can be sure at once that the closest intimacy exists between Smith and someone in the enemy's camp. Every movement of the millionaire is reported at once."

"Exactly," said Vallon, and he was undoubtedly serious this time, "and that bomb, for instance, was purposely not exploded outside the dining-room window until the room was empty. It was not intended to kill. It was not going to injure the bird that laid the golden eggs."

"Of course not," replied Naughton Jones at once. He hesitated, and then rapped out—"And I suspect that butler of his. He's got a thumb on him the very spit of that of the banker Simon Lewisjohn who went down for seven years."

"But a life in his master's service!" exclaimed Vallon, shaking his head. "Remember, the man's been with Mr. Smith for nearly thirty years."

"And Lewisjohn," retorted Jones, "had served his bank for nearly forty and then"—he laughed scornfully—"he absconded with £60,000."

"Gentlemen," said Larose modestly, "did either of you notice anything significant about the manner in which it was expressly ordered that those treasury notes should be wrapped up the first time?"

"In ordinary newspaper," replied Jones frowning, "but I don't know why." He eyed the Australian distantly. "What of that?"

"Only," said Larose, and his voice was very gentle, "that the black and white of the newspaper would exactly harmonise with the furnishings of the hall. The walls there, the carpets, and all the rugs are in patterns of black and white."

"And you mean?" snapped Jones, after a moment of intense silence.

"That the vacuum cleaner man," replied Larose quietly, "slid the parcel down upon one of the rugs when he was near the front door and the butler picked it up afterwards and took it away. That is why no parcel was found upon the vacuum man when the detectives dragged him from his car."

"But Smith was watching," snapped Jones again. "He saw the man traverse the whole length of the hall, he says, right down to the front door."

"Mr. Smith's sight is not good," explained Larose. "Did you notice how he takes off his glasses when he becomes excited—and screws up his eyes? Besides," he added, "the hall is very long. It took me fifty-three paces to walk from one end to the other last night; and, remember, too, Mr. Smith said it was a gloomy day when the vacuum cleaner man came."

Vallon clapped Larose upon the shoulder with great vigour.

"Bravo, young man!" he exclaimed, with enthusiasm. "You score one over us there, and no more will Vallon of the Surete of Paris"—he laughed happily—"treat you as a child. You've cleared up what was worrying me a good deal." He turned to the lanky Naughton Jones. "Now, what do you think of that, Mr. Jones?"

But Naughton Jones was a little longer making up his mind, and, for the moment he frowned, as if he still thought there must be a flaw in the argument somewhere. In a few seconds, however, his features relaxed, and then he smiled in quite as friendly a fashion as had Vallon.

"Really, I think you're right, Mr. Larose," he said. "I wondered at the time at the significance of the newspaper wrapping, but I could think of no special reason for it; and then I let the matter pass out of my mind." He nodded his head emphatically. "And that confirms my idea about the butler, too. He's got that patient oyster type of face, the face of a man who would wait for years and years. Well, now," he went on, "we have three avenues of inquiry to follow. Firstly, that butler must be shadowed; secondly, we must make the acquaintance of our friend at the cottage; and, thirdly, we must find out where Hidou has gone." He turned sharply to Vallon. "I don't like your compatriot, Monsieur."

Vallon looked just a little bit embarrassed. "Nor I, either," he said. "He has an evil name, even in our evil underworld of Paris. It was a mistake for Mr. Smith to have sent for him."

"But he's different from what I should have anticipated, judging by his reputation," said Naughton Jones meditatively. "He has a presence, he seems capable, and, although, of course, I didn't see his face, his whole bearing gave me the idea of power." He laughed dryly. "I don't wonder you haven't been able to catch him up to now."

"But we shall do, we shall do," replied Vallon, almost, it seemed, with over-emphasis; "and it won't be long."

"Well," said Naughton Jones, looking at his watch, "we'll go after a meal now, for, like you, I feel the need of sustenance; and then we can consider in detail exactly what our next step should be."


Chapter V.—Gentlemen of Crime.

THAT same afternoon, only five miles distant from Bodham Castle, a little man as short in stature as Ephraim Smith, but very different from him in every other particular, was reading a letter. He sat in a big arm-chair in a long, low room, which looked out through large windows over a hundred yards of close-cut lawn to the sands of the seashore, and the white waves of the sea itself.

The house, a rambling, old-fashioned building, was situated upon so low-lying a stretch of ground that the room in which the reader sat seemed to be scarcely above sea level; but in reality it was only the expanse of lawn, with its gentle downward slope, and the clear and uninterrupted view of the ocean that conveyed this impression.

It was a lonely house, and on every side except seawards lay the dreary Salthouse marshes, for ever swept by the winds of the grim North Sea.

The room itself was comfortably, if not luxuriously, furnished, with deep easy chairs, rich warm-looking rugs, and thick curtains that extended from the ceiling to the floor. The wall at one end was entirely covered with books.

The reader of the letter was about 60 years of age, plump and round of body, with a cultured, thoughtful face. He had a high forehead and deep-set keen blue eyes. Altogether he was mild and pleasant-looking, except that his lips were set in a straight line, and were pressed too closely together in repose. He wore big glasses with broad black rims. Just now he was frowning as he read:

"And I did not learn until after half-past 10 just as I was going to bed that anyone was coming. Then he rang for me and told me that he was expecting some late visitors. It was most extraordinary. They would come before 12, one by one, at short intervals, he said, and they would knock on the postern door. I was not to speak to them, but was to show them straight into the banqueting room, and only one light was to be switched on there. He told me nothing more, and they began coming just before 11.30, and all wore black masks. There were eight of them, and when they had arrived he shut himself in with them and locked the door. He told me to have coffee ready in 20 minutes, and then he came out and I took it in to them. The lights were turned up then, and all except one of the men had taken their masks off.

"They were detectives, I am sure, although certainly some of them didn't look like it, but they talked together like ordinary people, and I managed to hear some of their names. There was that Mr. Naughton Jones, of London, for one, and Vallon, the French detective from Paris for another, and that Dr. Crittenden, who works with the police for a third. Then there were two other Frenchmen, whose names I didn't catch, one of whom was very quiet, but the other seemed as if he thought it was a joke. There was another they called Professor, but he didn't look educated to me, and he was elderly and stout, and talked mostly to the man who hadn't taken his mask off, and I heard them say that Paris was an easier place to hide a body in than London. That was all I could find out for the door was locked again, and they didn't come out until nearly 2.

"Then he sent me off to bed at once while they had refreshments, and I went straight up to my room, because I always act as you tell me to as if I was never interested in anything that goes on. Besides I thought he might come up to my room to give me some other orders if anything came into his mind, for, as I have told you, he is always walking about the place late at night now, and you can never be certain where he is. I don't know when the men left for they didn't make any noise; but, of course, something is going on, and I ought to see you at once. I will be at the usual place to-morrow afternoon at 3. Oh! there, was another man there that I didn't mention. I heard them asking him about Australia, so he must have come from there. He was rather stupid-looking, and was the only one who didn't look at me when I was bringing round the coffee.

"S. was in good temper this morning but he did not refer to last night in any way, and I don't think that either Mrs. S. or Miss E. know anything. I believe——"

But suddenly there was the sound of a car pulling up outside and the reader rose in annoyance to his feet.

"Now, who's that?" he exclaimed querulously, "and just when I must be quiet to think!"

A hum of voices came from outside, and the butler entered.

"Mr. Smith, sir," he announced, "and Miss Eunice and another young lady. They won't come in, they say, if you're busy. They've only just come down for a few minutes to the sea."

The face of the small man relaxed instantly.

"Wonderful!" he murmured to himself. "An extraordinary coincidence and it couldn't be better," and thrusting the letter deep into his pocket, he walked out briskly through the hall.

A big open touring car was parked before the front door and Ephraim Smith and two young girls were interestedly watching the big waves roll in from the sea. They turned round at once when the owner of the house came out.

"Hullo! Professor," called out Ephraim Smith cheerily. "Now I hope we are not interrupting any highly important cogitations upon the regeneration of the world but my daughter has a young friend here who is most anxious to see you." He turned to the taller of the girls beside him. "Sybil, this is the famous Professor Ingleby. Professor, this is Miss Sybil James." He smiled. "She is foolish enough to be an admirer of yours."

The professor bowed in a courtly, old fashioned manner.

"Delighted to meet you, young lady," he smiled; "but my good friend here is over-generous in describing me as famous. Really, I am a very insignificant person." He turned to the other girl. "And here is Miss Eunice, as radiant and attractive as ever."

And certainly the other girl possessed unusual charm. Taller than her father, and of a lithe yet graceful build she bore in her face a marked resemblance to him though in her dark eyes and mobile lips there was a beauty that had come to her from her mother. Her expression now was piquant and animated as she smilingly regarded the professor.

"Nonsense?" she exclaimed to him with a laugh, "but you were always a flatterer, and I'm sure I'm anything but radiant today. I had a dreadful headache until the drive here took it away."

"But, oh! what a lovely situation for a house, Professor Ingleby," cried Sybil James enthusiastically, "and I don't wonder now from where you get all the inspiration for your writing. To be alone on this seashore here, with its glorious golden sands, and with all those stretches of beautiful green grass behind you, why—after London it seems a paradise to me."

"But a paradise with a serpent in it, young lady," sighed the professor, with the pretence of a shudder. "A beautiful place, if you like, but—as dangerous and as uncertain as a woman's smile!"

"Don't listen to him, Sybil," said Eunice Smith. "He's always like that. He's a horrid old bachelor, you know."

"I'm not old, Miss Eunice," retorted the Professor, with instant indignation, "and I'm not horrid either, and I'm only a bachelor because it just happened that I was born thirty years too soon." He sighed again. "Now if I were only twenty eight instead of fifty-eight, it would not be my fault"—he put his hand on his heart and regarded her with humorous and admiring eyes—"if we did not hear the sound of wedding bells."

Both the girls laughed, and then Sybil James asked. "But what is there dangerous about here?"

"Young lady," said the professor solemnly, and he stretched out his arm towards the sea, "not two hundred yards from where we are now standing lie some of the most dangerous quicksands to be found anywhere round the British Isles. When those beautiful white waves, that you now see, have rolled back and the tide is low there are uncovered harmless-looking pools that to the unwary wanderer, however, invite a most dreadful form of death. One step into them and, unless immediate help is forthcoming, there would be no hope for you. You would be sucked down in a matter of seconds."

"How horrible!" exclaimed Sybil James, looking really frightened, "and are there no warning notices posted up?"

"Certainly," replied the professor. "There are warnings on those boards all along the sands." He shook his head. "But those are not the only danger." He laid a hand gently upon the girl's shoulder and turned her round. "Now look out over those marshes. They appear all beautiful lush green grass to you, but notice there are no cattle or sheep there. And why?" He paused a moment. "Because there are places on those marshes so boggy that they constitute a deadly menace to any man or beast that passes there."

"What, real bogs?" ejaculated the girl incredulously.

"Yes, and as dangerous as the quicksands," nodded the professor; "and winter and summer they are just the same. They are fed by subterranean springs, and are veritable quagmires under their covering of green."

"Really, professor," frowned Eunice prettily, "you will frighten us into believing that with its dreadful surroundings this house is like an ogre's castle."

"And no one can ever cross those marshes, then?" asked Sybil. "You have always to go round?"

The professor laughed slyly. "Now, now, you want to know something." He squeezed Eunice Smith's arm. "But come, I'll let you both into a secret." He pointed landwards. "You see that big bungalow over there about a mile from here straight across the marsh? Well, that's on our golf course and it's the clubhouse. Notice too the big flagstaff at the side. Now look back about another mile and a little to the left and you will see a big tower-like structure arising above that clump of trees. That's the town hall of Holt." He beamed at the two girls. "Well, get those two objects exactly in line, and you can walk with perfect safety from here over the marsh on to the golf course. There's a ridge of firm going all along." He raised his hand warningly. "But mind you, you must keep the clubhouse and the tower most carefully in a straight line all the time, for the fairway over the marsh in some places is not even twenty feet wide and sometimes in wet weather it is very muddy."

"Well, then, you can never cross except in daylight," said Sybil James.

"On the contrary," replied the professor, "it is just as easy after dark, for the clubhouse has a large arc-light in front of it on the flagstaff and the town hall has a clock, illuminated until midnight."

"Very convenient," commented Ephraim Smith with a yawn, "but there seems a catch in it to me. You can't cross the marsh, coming this way, unless you walk backwards all the time.

"Well, that's exactly what we do," laughed the professor. "I think nothing of it when I've been stopping late at the clubhouse over a game of cards." He rubbed his hands gleefully together. "It's quite an adventure and a test of one's courage and nerve. It always gives me a thrill, although I've done it hundreds of times."

"I shouldn't have thought it worth while," said Smith. "An unpleasant muddy walk."

"Oh, yes, it's muddy right enough sometimes," replied the professor, "especially in the winter after rain, but with thick boots on you scarcely notice it, and when you're not motoring it saves a couple of miles." His eyes rested on Ephraim Smith's car. "But what's happened here? The Rolls is a different colour to-day?"

"This is another one," said Ephraim Smith, carelessly. "I have two at the castle."

The professor frowned. "It isn't right, sir," he said earnestly. "It's wrong. It's unsocial"—he seemed almost angry in his fervor—"that one man should possess so much." He looked round at the two girls and shook his head. "Now that isn't as it should be, is it, young ladies, that any one person should possess two wonderful cars like this and others have no car at all?"

"I earned them," said Ephraim Smith smiling. "I bought them with honest money."

"Yes, yes," retorted the professor, and he almost scowled, "with money, with money"—but suddenly the whole expression of his face altered and he was all courtly smiles again. "Well, come inside all of you and I'll poison you—I'll poison you with a cup of my green tea."

"The professor's tea, Sybil," said Eunice, "is delicious," and she added maliciously:—"He's so rich that he imports it himself."

They went into the long low room and the professor rang to give orders to his butler.

"Oh! what a delightful place," exclaimed Sybil James. "And so it is here that you do all your work, Professor Ingleby. It is here you write those great books that are going to make the world so much better and everyone so good and true."

"But he's a bad man, Sybil," warned Eunice, "and he's very cruel. He would have everyone killed who doesn't come up to an impossible standard of perfection."

"No, no, Miss Eunice, now that's not fair," said the professor reproachfully. "I only advocate the putting away of the mentally deficient. We are much too namby-pamby in dealing with the cankers"—his voice hardened suddenly—"and the wrongs in our social life."

Sybil James was looking at an etching of a seagull on the wall and she turned round quickly.

"Why, it's your own, I see, professor," she exclaimed, "and most beautifully done, too. I draw and etch myself and appreciate fine work." She looked at him with beaming eyes. "I knew you were a great man, but I had no idea you were so versatile."

Eunice Smith laughed teasingly. "Oh! that's nothing, Sybil, dear. The professor is really a wonderful man. He knows something about everything, but I think"—she smiled at the professor—"his heart is really in criminology. That's his chief hobby at all events, for he's always to be found at the big trials."

The professor leant back in his big armchair, and with his plump little body huddled up he looked like some big round ball. His eyes twinkled.

"Miss Eunice has no mercy," he laughed back. "She is always exposing all my little weaknesses, but she is so pretty to look at that I can never be really angry with her for doing it." He became serious. "Yes, I am interested in crime, and I can't help it, I suppose, because some long-gone ancestors of mine happened to be real bad eggs. I'm descended from the Ingleby's of William the Second. They were robber barons and scourged——"

But he stopped speaking, for Eunice had burst suddenly into a merry peal of laughter and she rippled on until the tears came into her eyes.

"Eunice, Eunice," exclaimed her father reprovingly, "what are you laughing at?"

"Oh! forgive me, professor," she said penitently, when finally she could control her voice, "but the very thought of your being connected with robber barons"—she laughed again roguishly—"seems so extraordinary and unnatural."

The professor was in no wise annoyed—rather he was laughing, too.

"And why shouldn't I have robber ancestors?" he asked with animation. "Are fire and courage anything to do with size? Look at your father, for instance. He's no taller than I am, and yet he's got the spirit of a lion. Anyone can see that."

"Oh! but you look so innocent," said Eunice. "More like a cherub than an inheritor of crime."

The butler brought in tea, and the conversation continued in a light and merry vein. The professor and the girls were in good spirits, but Ephraim Smith seemed in a thoughtful mood and rather tired. Presently Sybil James went up to admire the etching again, and then all at once a light flashed into the professor's eyes, and he smiled cunningly. He rose briskly from his chair, and reached for a thick portfolio from a shelf.

"You are interested in my little effort, Miss James?" he said with a bow. "Well, then, I'll show you something else in the same way." He placed the portfolio on the table. "Now all gather round and you shall see some sketches of mine from real life." He laughed shyly. "Miss Eunice has told you that I have a fondness for trials, and so I have. My cousin is Mr. Justice Selbourne, and so I can always get a seat anywhere when I want it. I have been a spectator at great trials not only here in England, but also in Belgium and France." He warmed up in his enthusiasm. "I have seen a score and more of men sentenced to death, and indeed during the last twenty years few great criminals have received their sentences without my being there. I have been over most of the big prisons in the three countries I have named, and I have studied the punishments that the prisoners are receiving. I have chatted with men who had only a few hours to live, who had life sentences to serve, and again with others who were about to receive the lash, and these sketches here——"

"Professor, you are horrid now," said Eunice, frowning, "and I am inclined to believe that you are correct about your ancestors."

"And these sketches here," went on the professor, ignoring the interruption, "are part of the harvest I have gathered in. They are all done on the spot, and pasted in here afterwards. None have been touched up." He opened the portfolio. "Now this first one——"

"What an unpleasant face!" remarked Sybil James at once.

"Yes—er, certainly," said the professor hesitatingly, as if rather taken aback. "It is a bit unpleasant, I admit. However, it's my cousin, Mr. Justice Selbourne."

"Ha! ha!" laughed Ephraim Smith, "you're worse than my daughter, Miss Sybil. You're both in the professor's bad books now."

"Oh! I'm so sorry," said Sybil James remorsefully. "It was quite a mistake, I can see now. I didn't get the sketch in the right light then. It's got quite a different expression turned this way."

The professor chuckled. "Oh! you young ladies, what fibs you can tell us men!" He looked meditatively at the sketch. "Yes, certainly he's not handsome, but he's got a rich mellow voice, and it's like a great organ solo when he's sentencing someone to death." He began to turn over the pages. "Now there's Middick, the poisoner. Adolf Middick. Just look at his face. He distributed arsenic most lavishly for seven or eight years before he died, and was responsible, we are sure, for ten deaths. But his face was quite as mild as I've got it there and he ambled through life a harmless inoffensive little grocer until he was found out." He pointed again. "That's Marie Blumellier, tried in Paris about three years ago. A crime of passion there. She killed her husband just because he danced three times one evening with another woman. Cut his throat when he was asleep. Oh! no, she wasn't guillotined. She got off, and if I remember rightly she married one of the gendarmes who had arrested her. She was fascinating, was Marie.

"That is Charles Sangster Wicken, a blackmailer. He cried like a baby when he got seven years, yet we know for certain he had caused three suicides and had pity neither for man, woman, nor child. Very pleasant party, though, to talk to, one of the seemingly jovial, hearty kind. Now here's a bad man, really bad. He was Johann, the Knifer, and king of the Brussels underworld. No one knows how many people he had killed, and yet he's got the face and soul of an artist. He was a great musician and they let him play the prison organ the day before he died. I was a listener and his rendering of the 'Marche Funebre' was the most beautiful I have ever heard. It has haunted me ever since."

The professor turned over a lot of the pages very quickly and then stopped suddenly.

"Guess who that is," he said, and, although it was to Eunice that he spoke, it seemed he had unconsciously pushed the portfolio nearer to her father, "Naughton Jones," he went on, as no one made any answer. "I sketched him a couple of years or so ago. He's got something to answer for, at any rate, for he brought cocaine to the notice of thousands of people who would never have heard of the vile drug except for him."

"But he can't be a drug fiend," said Ephraim Smith, frowning. "He couldn't have the brain he has, if he were."

"Don't think he ever was," replied the professor contemplatively. "It was affectation on his part to be different from everyone else. That's all."

"I know who that is," said Sybil James when another page had been turned. "That's Vallon, of Paris. I remember seeing his photo in a French paper a little while ago."

"Yes, Vallon," remarked the professor, and he laid his hand suddenly upon Ephraim Smith's arm. "Now that's a thinker of another kind. He looks heavy and solid, but he's got every bit as much imagination as Jones. He's conceited, too, but in quite a pleasant sort of way. He says openly, 'I'm Vallon. I am a great man,' and one forgives him at once. He's like a sharp, precocious child."

They discussed more faces, and then at the last the professor laid his finger upon one page by itself and frowned.

"I'm not satisfied there," he said, "and I never was." He hesitated a moment and then went on slowly. "I don't think that's his real face. I think he balked me, I think he deceived us all. I think he gave all his evidence partly disguised, for his face seemed to me different every time I tried to sketch it. He had his eye, too, on me and my pencil, I am sure. Who is it?" the professor laughed, and again gripped Ephraim Smith lightly on the arm. "Why, it's Gilbert Larose, of course, the Australian star"—a sneer crept into his voice—"the man who never fails."

"Well, it hasn't got much character in it," said Eunice critically, "and it's quite different to what I thought it would be. I read all about him in that lonely island case in Essex."

"Yes, and that's where I saw him," said the professor. "I was present all through that trial." He looked thoughtfully at the face before him. "He has not been long over here, and we don't know much about him, but still he's very much out of the ordinary. He's got an extraordinary imagination, and I'm not sure"—he hesitated and went on speaking almost as if to himself—"I'm not sure he mightn't be very dangerous to anyone when he was on their tracks. He's absolutely lawless, that man, and if he thought it necessary—he would pistol anybody he suspected—on sight—if he had any idea they were going to try and get away."

Ephraim Smith got up and said they must go, and they went out to the car. Then Sybil James, who seemed insatiable for all information about the professor, asked him if he lived always alone.

"Always, except for my two servants," he replied—"my butler and his wife."

"But aren't you lonely?" she asked. "Don't you get very bored?"

"Not at all," he laughed, "not at all. I always have my work and my books, and, as Miss Eunice has told you, I take frequent little excursions away. Besides, I have some very good friends in the neighbourhood. My dear Mr. Smith here for one, and—" he looked round at the sound of a car approaching in the distance—"if I make no mistake here come some others."

A car driven at a great pace was jerked with grinding brakes to a standstill before the house, and two men alighted and raised their caps. A few seconds later a third man drove up on a motor cycle and stopped, too.

"McAlbane," scowled Ephraim Smith to the driver of the car, a handsome, rather dissolute-looking man about thirty, "you ought never to be trusted with a good car. You took a hundred miles wear, at least, off your tyres in those last ten yards."

"But it was worth it," smiled back the man with an admiring glance in the direction of the girls, "when I saw who was waiting here," and followed by the two other men at once walked up to Eunice Smith and made an elaborate bow.

"Sybil," said Eunice, and there was not too much warmth in her tone, "Mr. McAlbane, Mr. Texworthy, and Dr. Grain. My friend, Miss Sybil James," she added to the men.

"Real celebrities this time, Miss James," chuckled Professor Ingleby. "Arnold Texworthy, the big-game hunter, known all over the world wherever a white man lifts a rifle to his shoulder; the Honourable James McAlbane, the winning jockey of last year's Grand National; and Dr. Ronald Grain, whose chief claim to distinction, is that he cured my lumbago a couple of months ago."

They all chatted together for a few minutes, and then the professor drew the big-game hunter aside.

"Get hold of one of Smith's gloves on the back seat of his car there," he whispered, "and stow it away in your pocket. You can reach over better than I." He half closed one eye. "I'll explain later. It's urgent," and he moved up to Ephraim Smith and proceeded to engage the latter's attention.

"Come over to dinner one evening, will you, Smith?" he said heartily. "All of you, and we'll have some bridge. I'll have young Grain up, too." He grinned maliciously at the millionaire. "He seems quite interested in your daughter."

Ephraim Smith frowned and glanced across to where Eunice and the doctor were talking together. The latter was a good-looking young fellow, and the face of the girl was flushed and animated as she looked up at him.

"Hum!" remarked Smith, and then his face cleared. "No, you come up to us, professor," he said. "Come up on Friday, you and your friends." He moved to where Texworthy and McAlbane were inspecting his car. "Dine at the castle on Friday, gentlemen, will you, and we'll show you how to play bridge?"

"With pleasure, sir," replied Texworthy, answering for them both.

"And I hope then," laughed Eunice, as if she were taking it for granted that the doctor was included in the invitation, "that I don't get Dr. Grain for a partner." There was just the faintest tremor in her voice. "He's just been telling me that he's always unlucky at cards."

The shadow of a grim smile crossed into Ephraim Smith's face, but he took his cue instantly.

"You'll be able to leave your patients, I hope, doctor," he said. "Let them die in peace and quiet for once."

Dr. Grain flushed now in his turn and accepted the invitation. Then with a few more words of conversation the party from the castle got into their car and drove away, with the doctor following almost immediately afterwards.

"Quick, you two," exclaimed the professor with all the movements of his plump little body now as swift as those of a striking snake, "come inside at once. I've got some startling news for you, but I must telephone first."

They followed him into his study, and with a jerk he picked up the telephone receiver from his desk and gave a number. A few moments silence followed and then—

"Is that the castle? Oh! it's you, Fenton, is it. Professor Ingleby speaking. Mr. Smith has left one of his gloves here, and please tell him I'll drop in and return it to-morrow some time when I'm motoring to Holt. No, he needn't send you or anyone here for it. I'll bring it round tomorrow afternoon, most likely about three. Understand? Sure you do? Perfectly? Well, that's all. Good afternoon."

He put back the receiver and then turned to the two men. He looked round to make sure the door was shut and then he rapped out——

"Smith had a mass meeting of detectives at the castle last night. That's what Ravahol had been sent for, and among others Naughton Jones, Vallon and Gilbert Larose were there." An uneasy look came into his eyes. "And Ravahol hasn't reported yet."

"Damn!" swore the Honourable James, "so the little devil's got a kick in him still."

The big-game hunter made no remark.


Chapter VI.—The Masters of Ephraim Smith.

"Yes," said the professor, frowning, "I received Fenton's letter this afternoon, just before three. He put the arranged signal in his window early in the morning, a blind drawn unevenly this time, and Mattin sent a boy up to the castle to collect a pair of boots for mending. The letter came out under the cork sole of one of the boots, and Mattin bicycled with it here. Now I'll read it to you."

He read the letter slowly and without comment, and then, leaning back in his chair, regarded his two companions silently.

A short silence, followed, and then suddenly he burst out:—

"Well, I'm not going to stand it. It's a breach of faith, on Smith's part, and he won't acknowledge yet that he's met his master." He worked himself up in his anger, and his eyes blazed furiously. "I won't have it, I tell you, I won't have it. This Yankee, this foreigner"—he sneered—"coming here with his vulgar riches and buying up our old ancestral homes, our abbeys, and our beauty spots, just as if——" he calmed down all at once and sighed—"just as if we were the dirt under his feet or beings of some inferior race."

McAlbane laughed scornfully. "Well, I'm not frightened by these comedy policemen," he said, "and I don't think much of them. They're not likely to succeed where the regulars failed. All this crowd are probably bunglers too."

"No, no," exclaimed the professor instantly, "drop that idea at once. They're not bunglers, any of these he mentions." He frowned uneasily. "Not by any means."

"My oath, no," ejaculated Texworthy fervently. "Not Vallon, for a certainty. I met him when he was after a man in Tunis a couple of years ago, and you couldn't wish for a more dangerous animal in front of your sights." He scowled at McAlbane. "I'd rather meet a charging rhino than Vallon of the Surete of Paris."

In his early forties, the big-game hunter was tall and sinewy, and carried with him an air of strength and self-reliance. He looked in every way as fearless as any of the beasts that he had killed, and, tanned to a deep olive colour, was altogether decidedly handsome, except that his lips were too full and his eyes were rather hard and cruel. He had fine, sensitive hands, with long tapering fingers.

"Well, I'm not frightened," repeated McAlbane carelessly. "I've met Naughton Jones and wasn't impressed. As I say, there's no need for us to get the wind up."

"Certainly not," agreed the professor sharply, "but it's not a question of fear at all. It's just a matter of gauging the position correctly so that we can determine what action we must take ourselves. We are threatened with danger from a new quarter and we must prepare for it."

"When I'm in the jungle," said Texworthy slowly, "and beasts come near me that I don't want, I just keep still until they've moved off." He nodded to the others. "That is reason and common sense."

"And that's what we must do now," said the professor decisively. "We must not under-rate these men, and for the moment we must drop everything. We must keep away from everyone who is working with us and must close down all avenues of communication with them, so that it will be impossible for any trails to be picked up which might lead to us. But, mind you"—and his eyes glinted angrily—"Smith's not going to get off. He's going to pay for this. He'll have a short respite and that's all. I'm acting on the principles of a lifetime that it's wrong and unsocial to possess such riches as his. I told him so this afternoon."

Texworthy looked down his nose and smiled. "So you told him so, did you," he asked dryly, "just now?"

"Yes," replied the professor, "but only in connection with his cars. He has two Rolls-Royces at the castle, besides the cars belonging to his wife and Eunice and one they use for the household."

"But fancy the little beast refusing to take his fences again," said McAlbane with a scowl. "I thought we'd cured him there once and for all."

"No," commented the professor, shaking his head. "I was sure he was not tamed yet. He was bent but not broken. I've watched him chafing all the time." An amused smile came into his face: "But really, the conditions could not be better if we had arranged them ourselves. We have our friends right in the enemy's camp." He looked up at the clock. "Monsieur Ravahol may come at any time now, and we shall then have first-hand information about everything that's taking place. It was for that reason I risked telephoning and warned Fenton not to come out to the sandhills, as he proposed, to-morrow."

"But how are you certain that Ravahol was there last night?" asked McAlbane. "He may not have gone after all."

"Of course he was there," laughed the professor. "Why don't you see?—he was the one who wouldn't unmask. He didn't want everyone to take stock of him, naturally. He's a very shy bird and that's why they've not been able to get him in the net. He's very careful and takes no chances, and I only met him because, when in France, I was able to send him some inside information that prevented his falling into a trap. As I've told you, I was with my cousin, the judge, then, and we were the guests of the Surete of Paris. I learn't something and put him wise, and he's been grateful to me ever since."

"Well, I suppose, then, we shall have to let him work with us now," said Texworthy, thoughtfully. "I don't see how we can get out of it."

"We don't want to," retorted the professor instantly. "We couldn't take in a better partner, and he'll be worth every pound he receives." He looked amused again. "We needn't worry—we've inexhaustible supplies."

"We're not in any danger," went on Texworthy, after a pause, "as long as we don't lose our heads."

"Of course we're not," exclaimed the professor, confidently, "for now we shall be reaping the benefit of all those long and careful preparations that we made before we ventured on a single move." He raised his hand impressively. "We have done a large part of the work ourselves, and every man we have employed has good reason for keeping out of the way of the police." He rubbed his hands together. "Yes, my acquaintance with the criminal classes has been of great value, for we have never taken on anyone whom, from a knowledge of his history, and a knowledge of his temperament, I could not thoroughly trust. They are powerless, too, to conspire together against us, because, with two exceptions, they have never been brought in contact with one another, and, indeed, are unaware of one another's existence."

"What about Fenton?" said McAlbane, sharply. "Remember, he's the very keystone of the arch."

"Fenton!" laughed the professor. "Why, his soul's in it, and money is nothing to him. He's a zealot, as I'm always telling you. He's my disciple, and the strongest passion in him for a long time has been his hatred of the rich. He's mixed with Smith and his wealthy crowd for all these years, and he's got a grievance now that's become almost an obsession." He laughed again. "Why, it's a crusade to him, and he'd suffer martyrdom rather than squeal."

"And how do you know that the Australian there was Gilbert Larose?" asked Texworthy, after a moment. "Fenton doesn't mention his name in that letter."

"Because," said the professor, "I tried it out here this afternoon on Ephraim Smith. I showed him some sketches I have made of various detectives, and when I came to Jones and Vallon, and later to Larose, he had to take a grip of himself, each time. He was too curious, and I could see it."

"But we did wrong in the first instance, as I've insisted all along," growled the big game hunter. "We ought to have kidnapped Smith right away, and gone for a heavy ransom, and that would have finished the business. This niggling for small amounts runs up the risk every time."

"No, no," said the professor emphatically. "We should have roused all England, if we had. Besides, there would have been great danger to us in the transfer of a large sum of money." He thumped his fist on the table. "I tell you, our great safety, and the whole genius of our present procedure, lies in the fact that we have never handled a note of a greater value than one pound. They can't trace us there, and we are safe." He leant back complacently in his chair. "And we can bring Smith to heel again at once, whenever we want to."

"Well, I vote he has another letter to-morrow," said McAlbane, "and we sting him again. The little devil!—daring to call in this crowd after pretending he'd given in."

But the professor shook his head. "Wait," he said, "until we hear what Ravahol has got to tell us"—his eyes gleamed under their bushy brows—"and, really, it should be as interesting a recital as we've ever heard." He raised his hand warningly. "But, mind you, again, we've got to be very careful now, for Smith must have no inkling that we know what's going on. Any discovery on his part that we have learnt of last night's meeting and he will be asking himself where the leakage occurred. Then, even the stone faced Fenton may become suspect, and we may slip ourselves."

A long silence followed, and Texworthy said quietly:—"Of course, if Fenton and Mattin were to take a holiday any time"—he spoke slowly as if weighing his words very carefully—"a long holiday—then none of our transactions with Smith could, by any chance, be traced."

The professor flashed a look at him. "It will not be necessary," he said, "but if it were"—he frowned—"I should not hesitate a moment. What is one life, or two, when the furtherance of a great principle is involved?"

"Exactly," remarked Texworthy, looking down his nose again, "and I have never hesitated either on that score myself." His lips curved to a sneer. "Life does not mean anything to Fenton, as far as I can see. The man's a fool—and dangerous."

"But Mattin is quite different," said the professor thoughtfully, "for life is all joy and happiness with him." He smiled and rubbed his hands together again. "Yes, I did well when I picked him out to help us, for his services have been invaluable. He is an artist in everything he does, and has great courage and resource, and is as secret as the grave as well. We can rely on him always, for he has no scruples whatever."

"But he is a black," said Texworthy coldly.

"He's not," snapped the professor angrily, "as I'm always telling you." He looked disdainfully at the big-game hunter. "How can you call a man a nigger when his father was a cavalry officer in the French army—a chef-de-battaillon?"

"So he says," sneered Texworthy,

"And so he looks," cried the professor. "Why anyone can see there's breeding in him, even if he is dark on account of his mother being a Syrian." He shook his head disgustedly. "You don't appreciate his capacity enough. Why, there is no man whose finger-prints the Rue de Jerusalem would be more delighted to get hold of and no man whom the French police would be more delighted to catch. For years they have known of him, and yet—they have never seen him, and he is still a veritable shadow of the night."

The Honourable Jimmy lit a cigarette.

"I've always thought that something would have to be done about Fenton eventually," he said carelessly. "As you say, Mattin has his points, but Fenton is half mad, and it's always on the cards that he'll bark out to Smith one day like a man raving on a soap-box in Hyde Park, and then we'll all be in the soup." He laughed slyly. "But there's another thing that may perhaps upset our plans, and that is——"—he looked challengingly at the others—"I may be marrying the fair Eunice before long, and in that case"—he grinned—"you will all have to cry off, and I'll write you out big cheques instead."

Texworthy yawned. "But isn't there some impediment to that?" he asked. "Don't you happen to be married now?"

McAlbane looked as if he had just remembered something. "For the moment I am," he admitted. He blew a wreath of smoke into the air. "But as I understand that I am going to be served with papers shortly, the impediment, as you call it, may not exist for long."

Texworthy's face was almost expressionless. "She'll be a lucky girl," he remarked, and hesitated a moment—"and I'll come to the wedding with my gun."

"But you haven't a hope, Jimmy," broke in the professor quickly as he saw an ugly frown gathering upon McAlbane's face. "I've always noticed that you've no sex-appeal for her. She's a Yankee lassie and you're too much of a cave-man to please. Besides"—and he nodded his head slowly—"if I'm any judge of evidences and the case goes to a verdict, the pretty jury will decide for Dr. Ronny Grain without leaving the box. Anyone can see that."

"Poof!" sneered McAlbane contemptuously. "Papa Smith would not have him at any price. It was the girl herself who forced that invitation for him just now."

"Exactly," was the professor's comment, "and don't you know that when a woman is in love she has neither shame nor fear? A woman then"—his eyes fell suddenly upon the clock and he shook his head irritably—"but confound you and your love affairs. Why on earth doesn't Ravahol come? From all I know of him, he's to be depended upon in every way, and my injunction to him was that he should call here at once." He touched the bell. "Well, we'll have something to drink whilst we are waiting."

That night, at 8 o'clock exactly, Ephraim Smith was sitting in the hall of Bodham Castle when the telephone bell rang and, entering the cabinet, he closed the door behind him and picked up the receiver.

"Hullo!" he said quietly. "Mr. Smith speaking. Who is it?"

"Robin Hall," was the reply in a muffled voice. "You remember me?"

"Robin K. Hall," said Smith in a whisper. "Yes, I remember you."

"Well," went on the voice, "in exactly twenty minutes be by the fence near those two big elms beyond the rose garden. I want to speak to you. Take a stroll there and wait until I come. Walk close to the fence. You understand?"

"All right," replied Smith, and the caller immediately rang off.

Twenty minutes later, and about a quarter of a mile from the castle, Ephraim Smith was leaning nonchalantly against a big elm tree when he heard a voice behind him on the other side of the fence surrounding the castle grounds.

"Don't turn round, don't move, remain exactly where you are," said the voice, "and when you speak bend your head down and don't move your lips. Someone may be watching you from a distance with strong glasses. Understand?"

"All right, Mr. Larose," said Smith. "I'll——"

"No names, please," came the voice again, "and now listen carefully to everything I am going to say. I want to place an assistant of mine in the castle as your guest. Have you got it? Well that guest is going to be a friend of some friend of yours in New York, and he will have met your New York friend in Australia. Now who among your friends in New York is likely to have recently made a voyage to Australia? Now think—don't hurry, for the probability must be plausible enough to deceive both your family and your domestics. What name? Say it again. Silas John Willard. Have I got it? Well, write a dossier about this Silas John Willard, all the particulars about him that you can remember, and have it ready to give to my assistant directly he arrives. Got that? Yes, all particulars to make it appear feasible that this guest and Silas John Willard have really met.

"Well, this man will phone up to-morrow from Norwich exactly at 2 p.m., and will tell you that he has been asked to call on you upon his arrival in England. He will give his names as David Tasker and will say that his father has a sheep station in South Australia. You will then immediately insist that he come to stay at the castle, and not a soul, not even your wife or daughter, is to know his identity. Got that—understand all right? Well, you're to take this man out and show him to all your friends about here. Entertain while he's with you, and don't be afraid if he's willing to play high at cards. He can take care of himself. Oh! you've got a dinner party arranged already for Friday, have you? Capital!

"Now, one thing more. Never in public or in private, never when in company nor when with him are you to imply by word or action that this man is otherwise than he describes himself. Understand? You are to act always as if everything is quite bona fide. If the man himself wants to speak to you privately, he will do so, but you will then only answer questions, and never, never, never refer to me. My name would be like another bomb, in your home. Now, have you any questions to ask? Oh! yes, we all got there all right. No, we haven't seen any more of our foreign friend. Yes, we are all quite happy together, and the gay gentleman from Paris is teaching the professor some new game of cards. I fancy, however, the professor is not doing too well at it, for when I left a few minutes ago he was about thirty shillings down. Oh! and another thing. Have a plan of the castle ready for my friend, with the rooms marked where everybody sleeps. Yes, that's all. I don't know when I shall be ringing you again. It may be to-morrow, and yet it may not be for a few days. Good-night, and now walk very slowly back."

Half an hour later Naughton Jones and Larose were promenading together on the moonlit sands near Weybourne Hall.

"And, above all things," said Larose earnestly, "he must not know that it is I. The whole success of everything depends upon deceiving Smith as well as the others." He spoke most respectfully to the elder man. "If you are right, as I feel certain that you are, that the butler is in league with the enemy, then we must give him no chance of noticing anything different in his master's demeanour. Old Smith may have the typical poker face and be able to hide his feelings successfully from outsiders, but it is against all reason to imagine that he could keep so great a secret from a man who has been in daily intimacy with him for over twenty years. I mean that if Smith knew that it was really I who was his guest, then I am sure it would be impossible for him so to conduct himself towards me that his butler would not see there was some bond between us." Larose spoke very solemnly. "And remember, that butler of his will be in a very suspicious mood. If he's what we think he is, he will be on the alert now about everything."

"But Smith will be interested in you in any case," remarked Naughton Jones, frowning, "for even if he will not be aware who you are, he will know you have been planted in the castle for purposes of espionage. So he will naturally be most interested."

"Exactly," exclaimed Larose, "interested—and he will show it. He will be curious about me and the butler will see it. Fenton will not think then we are allies."

Naughton Jones thought for a moment and his frown deepened.

"But can you carry it through?" he asked. "Won't they, in such close association with you, see that you are disguised?"

Larose shook his head. "No, Smith will not recognise me," he said, "for I shall look quite different to last night and I shall be less made up to-morrow than now." He laughed lightly. "You have not yet seen my face in natural repose, Mr. Jones, not exactly, for as friend Vallon would say, the good God has given me features that lend themselves to many changes, and all the time I have been in England I have been in some respects made up. I reserve the face that my mother gave me for times of crisis and this—" he hesitated a moment—"is, I think, one. I shall be under observation every day. I shall be near to Smith's butler, hour by hour. I shall be among Smith's friends, and if we mistake not"—he was grave again—"the enemy will be close at hand."

"But, why," asked Naughton Jones, after a moment, "are you choosing to pass yourself off as an Australian when it is almost certain that the butler heard you last night talking about the Test matches in Sydney?"

"Because that is the only country I know," answered Larose at once, "and I don't want to be caught out by any chance questioning. I have been in England such a short time that I might make some bad mistake if I tried to pass as one of you. Smith said to-night that he was giving a dinner party on Friday, and who knows who may not be there? Besides, it will not be thought unusual if as an Australian I sleep out of doors. I shall arrange that with Smith, and so at night, if need be, I can come over and talk to you here."

"All right," replied Jones carelessly. "Do as you will."

Two other promenaders appeared upon the sands, and, approaching Larose and Naughton Jones, stopped to speak.

"A lovely evening, gentlemen," said the taller of the two. "Dr. Crittenden and I were just remarking how peaceful and restful everything was, and then up come you two and spoil the whole effect."

"Peaceful and restful only on the surface, perhaps, my lord," replied Jones stiffly. "For it was on just such a sea shore as this, and not very far from here either, that that poor woman was strangled near Yarmouth ten years ago. I sat on the very spot in the moonlight only two nights afterwards, and everything was so beautiful you would have sworn the place was a veritable sanctuary of God."

"Really, Mr. Jones, you are quite poetical," laughed Lord Hume, "and do you, too, Mr. Larose, sense possibilities for evil on these sands?"

"I do," laughed Larose, "for sand is an excellent medium for the disposal of a body. A grave could be very speedily dug here."

"Ah, well," said Lord Hume, with mock earnestness, "then if Monsieur Vallon does not reappear to-morrow I shall begin to suspect you. I noticed at dinner to-night that you were holding your knife as if you had a blister on your hand—the kind you might have got from digging here."

Larose smiled inscrutably, "Well, I didn't take into account a form like that of Monsieur Vallon," he replied. "Fifteen stone would take a good deal of putting away."

They walked slowly back along the sands together, and, turning inland, were joined by Raphael Croupin and Professor Mariarty.

The conversion broke into varying streams, and in a few minutes they had reached the Hall.

They mounted the steps below the entrance in silence, and then Croupin exclaimed suddenly.

"Oh! One moment, please. I want to ask you something, if I may, Mr. Jones. Professor Mariarty and I have been having an argument and we cannot settle it." He looked round at the others and grinned.

"Now who is the cleverest master of disguise amongst us here?"

Jones regarded the lively Frenchman with distaste. "Just such a question as might have been expected from you, Mr. Croupin," he replied coldly, "but I have no intention of answering it," and the great detective turned upon his heel and entered the house.


Chapter VII.—The Beginning of the Trail.

Next morning at Bodham Castle, just before 9 o'clock, the Smith family and Sybil James were at breakfast when the telephone bell rang, and in a few moments the butler appeared.

"A gentleman to speak to you on the telephone, sir," he said, addressing Ephraim Smith. "Name of Wenn."

"Wenn! Wenn!" ejaculated his master. "I don't know him." He frowned crossly. "Ask him what he wants."

The butler retired, to return again very quickly.

"He says the matter is important, sir. He is speaking from Norwich and is very sorry to be ringing up so early."

Ephraim Smith hesitated a moment and then, with a gesture of annoyance, rose from his chair and left the room. Reaching the telephone cabinet he picked up the receiver and rapped out curtly. "Ephraim Smith speaking. Well?"

"I'm D. T. Wenn," came a voice very distinctly. "David Tasker Wenn and I'm a friend of a friend of yours, Mr. Silas Willard. I met Mr. Willard in South Australia a few months ago and he suggested I should call and see you when I came to England. May I motor over today? I'm staying at the Grand Hotel, in Norwich."

Ephraim's heart gave a bound and turning his head, he saw that the cabinet door was wide open. He trembled a little but then spoke loudly and with great interest.

"Oh! a friend of Willard's are you? Yes, he's certainly a great friend of mine."

And then ensued two minutes of animated conversation, with Ephraim Smith concluding heartily, "Well, come along at once. I insist. And stay as long as you can. We shall be delighted to have you."

The master of Bodham Castle hung up the receiver with a grim smile.

"Clever—very," he muttered, "to change both the time and the name. He surprised me right enough, and there was no necessity for pretence on my part. Also, he saved me any unpleasant feelings—nervousness I suppose they would call it—while waiting for the agreed time of 2 o'clock."

He went back into the breakfast room and told them the news. Eunice and her friend were mildly interested, while Mrs. Smith, a gentle, sweet-faced woman, was very pleased.

"It will be so interesting to hear about Australia," she said, "and the drought and floods they have there."

Mr. Wenn duly came upon the scene before lunch, and old Smith blinked his eyes as they shook hands.

The Australian was very young, only just out of his teens, it seemed. He had a pleasant open face, with gentle smiling eyes. He held himself a little awkwardly and although his clothes were of good quality it needed no close observation to see that they were ready-made.

At first Eunice and her friend Sybil were rather inclined to laugh at him, but long before the meal was over the charm of his manner had ingratiated him with them all, and they were listening with great interest. He was certainly most intelligent and his remarks about England and the people he had met were so naive and humorous that even Ephraim Smith, much to Mrs. Smith's delight, was soon laughing as heartily as the others.

"He'll do you good, Ephraim," she exclaimed happily when later they were alone in the lounge. "You want somebody to take you out of yourself and he'll be quite a tonic for you. But he's such an innocent-looking young man, isn't he?" and her husband immediately laughed more than ever.

In the afternoon the curate of the village arrived and two hours of strenuous tennis ensued. Here again it was soon proved that Mr. Wenn, notwithstanding his gentle appearance, was no fool—indeed he was undoubtedly the best player there. By dinner time his shyness had entirely disappeared, he played an excellent hand at bridge afterwards, and when finally, long after eleven, he went up to his room, it was agreed by all the Smith family that never had they entertained a more interesting guest.

But the moment he closed his bedroom door the amiable Mr. Wenn became a very different man. The smile left his face and his eyes became hard and thoughtful. He was quickly in bed, and, lying on his back, stared into the darkness.

"Now in what way have I profited today?" he asked himself. "What have I found out? Now let me think of them, one by one—the four characters in this poignant little drama here. Smith himself a man with a halter about his neck, a halter the more galling because of his natural pride and independence. He never knows what new demands may be sprung upon him by this unknown racketeer, and his nerves are at breaking point. Then, Mrs. Smith—a woman with a shadow over her life. A gentle character who sighs and trembles because in the profound intimacies of the married state she is aware of all her husband is suffering. Then, the daughter—a shadow over her too, less pressing, however, because of the resilience of her age." He frowned. "Now, I wonder if she's got a sweetheart. She has a secret, I am sure, for she is preoccupied at times and her face then is surely that of a woman in love. Yes, she is probably in love, for Nature will have its way and at twenty-two what else should a young girl think of but love? Then the fourth character, the butler—what of him?"

Larose blinked his eyes and for a long while gave free rein to his thoughts. "Now what exactly are my impressions of this man?" he asked himself. "I have been in his orbit nearly one round of the clock and surely some ideas must have come to me in that time." He blinked harder than ever. "A perfect servant, unfailing and machine-like in his duties. An automaton. Eunice says that he is quite without vices. He doesn't drink; he doesn't smoke, and the other sex has no attraction for him. Now what then does he think about when he's off duty—and is it humanly possible—after his long association with them, that he can accept every evil happening to the Smiths without interest or curiosity? He has been aware all along of the misfortunes that have been descending upon Ephraim, he has been a spectator of many of them, and he has been in actual contact with the emissaries of the man who is harrying his master.

"Fenton is a person of intelligence—his physiognomy shows that—and I would have sworn that his eyes, if they were not so fixed, were those of a thinker and dreamer. What does he remind me of? I can't think. What does he hide under the expressionless mask of that cold face? I don't know. One thing—even if I were not prejudiced already against him, I should say that in his attitude towards his master there is distinct coldness, perhaps hostility. I have noticed it not once but two or three times, and when he was serving the coffee to us to-night he bent over all the others but stiffened perceptibly when he came to Smith.

"Well"—and he turned upon his side—"to-morrow I will get in closer touch with him. I will talk to him and I will get into his room somehow."

And in a few moments he was asleep.

The next morning after breakfast Eunice announced that she and her friend were going into Cromer to do some shopping, and she invited Larose to come with her, too.

"And I'll take you for a short run along the coast afterwards," she added when her guest had smilingly accepted, "and show you some pretty scenery before lunch."

So off Larose went with the two girls, and, Cromer being reached, the car was parked, and it was suggested that he should amuse himself for half an hour, with the strict injunction, however, that he should return to the minute when the time was up.

Larose wandered idly about the town, and, with the half-hour nearly expired, he was returning to the rendezvous with the girls when, passing a tobacconist's, and happening to glance inside, he saw to his amazement Naughton Jones there. He was standing at the end of the counter near the window and critically regarding a large assortment of pipes spread out before him.

Larose's first thought was to move off quickly, but then an idea came to him suddenly, and he smiled.

"I'll give him a chance," he muttered, "and see if he recognises me."

So he pushed open the shop door, and, lining up beside Jones, asked in a high-pitched voice, and with a slight lisp, for Algerian cigarettes.

"I smoke only Algerians," he added, "and no other kind will do."

The wizard of Dover-street looked up carelessly, but his glance was a very fleeting one, and he at once resumed his contemplation of the pipes. Larose was served with the cigarettes he wanted, and left the shop without attracting any further attention.

"Good," grinned the Australian. "He didn't know me, and I'll pull his leg when next I see him." He frowned rather disgustedly. "But what's he wasting his time here for when he should be tracking that stone-breaker at the cottage?"

The girls were waiting for him when he got back to the car, and Eunice rewarded him with a pretty frown.

"You're late, Mr. Wenn," she said with mock severity, "just one minute—and I think we ought to fine you two ice creams."

"A dozen if you can eat them," laughed Larose, and he led them into a cafe near by.

"Do you get any ice in Australia?" asked Sybil James, when they were seated.

"Ice?" asked the detective, not understanding her question. "Ice? What for?"

"Ice for keeping things cold," replied the girl, laughing.

Larose frowned. "Good heavens! yes," he replied, and then broke into a laugh himself. "Why, bless your heart, we can get everything in Australia except the beautiful complexions of you English girls!" He spread out his hands. "Caviare from the Danube, pate de foie gras from France, cheeses from Switzerland, Paris frocks, chewing gum from America, refrigerators from——"

"Oh! spare us, please, Mr. Wenn," smiled Eunice. "We feel quite crushed." She bowed apologetically. "You see, here in England we know so little of Australia."

"Well, I'll enlighten you both a lot in the next few days," Larose laughed, "and I'm sure,"—he bowed—"I could not have a more charming audience."

They left the cafe and climbed into the car again. Eunice drove along the coast road, pointing out the interesting places as they went along.

"Now, you see that long, low house?" she asked presently, indicating a building close by the shore, about half a mile ahead. "Well a very celebrated man lives there. The great Professor Ingleby."

"Who's he?" asked Larose carelessly. "Never heard of him!"

"Never heard of him!" echoed Eunice, pretending to look shocked. "Why, it's as bad as Sybil asking if you could get ice in Australia." She went on severely, "Well he's a great man, although you have never heard of him, and it happens that you'll see him to-night. He's coming with some other friends to dinner."

Larose's interest quickened at once. "Oh, he is, is he?" he exclaimed, "and what is he celebrated for?"

"He's a great sociologist," replied Eunice, "the greatest writer on social problems we have now, and he's a very wise man about everything else, too. He studies criminology——"

"Criminology!" interrupted Larose, frowning. "What does he know about crime?"

"A lot," replied the girl, "for his cousin is a judge, and he is always present at the great trials. He knows all the great criminals and the star detectives by sight, and has sketched many of them in court."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose, and there was an uneasy feeling in his chest, "then he must be a very interesting man."

"Yes," went on Eunice, "he is, and we had tea with him the day before yesterday, father, Sybil, and I." She turned to her friend. "And he thrilled us pretty badly, didn't he, Sybil?"

"Yes," replied Sybil, "he gave me the creeps." She made a face at Larose. "He showed us sketches of men who'd done murders, who'd poisoned people and of a woman who'd cut her husband's throat. Horrible-looking, all of them."

"Dear me, dear me!" exclaimed Larose. "What a gruesome experience."

Eunice laughed. "And the sketches of the detectives," she said, "were almost as bad. Hard-looking, all of them, except those who looked fools."

"What detectives had he sketched, then?" asked Larose curiously.

"Oh, lots," replied Eunice; "but I remember in particular Naughton Jones, Vallon of Paris, and Gilbert Larose. Jones looked like a poisoner himself, Vallon a man who kept a public house, and Larose like nothing in particular—just a simpleton." She laughed apologetically, "Oh! beg your pardon—of course, Larose is compatriot of yours. Have you ever heard of him?"

Larose regarded her with pained surprise. "Of course I've heard of him," he replied indignantly. "Why, he's the greatest detective in the Commonwealth"—he coughed—"although, of course, he doesn't come up to any of yours."

"No, of course not," agreed Eunice. She accelerated as they approached Professor Ingleby's house. "We'll dash by here, for if the professor sees us he'll want us to stop, and we haven't time. I hope we shan't find him outside."

But Eunice Smith need not have worried, for the professor was at that very moment speaking on the 'phone to Fenton. No news had come to hand of Ravahol and, becoming anxious, he had rung up the castle, with the excuse of finding out if dinner that night would be at the usual hour, seven o'clock, but in reality to tell Fenton to meet him among the sandhills that afternoon. The professor did not mention sandhills or refer to any meeting. He just added that Fenton could call in for the glove in the afternoon if he were passing, lest he, the professor, should forget it.

Eunice drove a few miles farther along the coast, and then she remarked: "Well, we shall be turning inland almost immediately now, so you'd better take your last look at the sea. Isn't it lovely on a day like this?"

She brought the car to a standstill, and then in silence they contemplated the stretch of ocean before them.

But the thoughts of two of them were certainly not upon the water. Larose was thinking about the activities of the great Professor Ingleby. Eunice was thinking—well, the thoughts of Eunice were far away, but they were evidently not unpleasant ones, for her face was half smiling and half tender. Only Sybil James had any real interest in the beauty of the sea.

Suddenly Eunice awoke from her reveries, and, looking across the marshes, pointed to another house.

"Now, look, Mr. Wenn," she exclaimed, "that's also the home of a celebrity—that big house standing right away by itself in the curve of the bay. Well, Mr. Texworthy, the great hunter, lives there." She screwed up her face in pretended scorn. "Ever heard of him?"

"Yes," replied Larose, searching his memory hard. "I've heard of him. I remember something. Now, let me see." His face brightened. "Oh, isn't he the man who was going to be received by Royalty—and then it didn't come off? Didn't something come out about his being mixed up with the slave trade in the Red Sea, as well as hunting elephants and lions?"

"I don't know," Eunice replied slowly and with her manner stiffening just a little. "He plays golf sometimes with father, and comes up to the castle too."

"Oh! I am not quite sure," went on Larose hurriedly. "I may have confused him with someone else." He pretended to look jealous. "Is he a friend of yours?"

"Not exactly," replied Eunice, "but he's an acquaintance." She smiled dryly, "You'll be meeting him, for he's coming to dinner to-night."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose, ruefully. "Then I've put my foot in it, I see. I'm so sorry I mentioned it. As they say, I may be quite wrong."

"But you may be quite right," said the girl, thoughtfully. "He looks like a man who would be afraid of nothing, and I should think he'd be rather cruel. He's handsome, though, in a way."

"And what does he do here?" asked Larose, curiously, "in that lonely house?"

"Nothing," replied Eunice. "He's resting between his expeditions, and appears to have plenty of money. He golfs and shoots, and fishes, and he's a great friend of Professor Ingleby's."

Larose's interest became intensified at once. "Is that so?" he said, thoughtfully. "And is he married?"

"Don't think so," replied Eunice, and she turned and laughed to Sybil James. "Now, Sybil, there's a chance for you. Set your cap at him to-night. You'll have to be quick, if you're going home on Friday."

But there was no enthusiasm in Sybil's intellectual face, and she tilted her nose disdainfully.

"I don't like his house, dear," she replied. "It would be too big and draughty for me."

"Oh, but it isn't draughty," exclaimed Eunice, instantly. "It's in good condition, although so big! It is built on the site of an old Danish camp, and they say it was used by smugglers once. There are tremendous cellars underneath."

"Who keeps house for him?" asked Sybil.

"An elderly woman," replied Eunice; "but I've never seen her." She looked at her watch. "But we must be off now. Lunch is at one, and father's a demon for punctuality."


Chapter VIII.—Guests at Bodham Castle.

Larose changed into his dinner clothes that night in a well-contented frame of mind. His second day at the castle had been by no means uneventful, for, although he had been unable to study Fenton at close quarters, he had gleaned some further information about him.

It had started to rain after lunch, and, tennis being impossible, he had taken on the two girls at snooker. Then from the billiard-room window he had seen the butler, closely mackintoshed, going down the drive. He had remarked upon their servant's hardihood to Eunice, and she had mentioned that walking was the only recreation Fenton ever indulged in. Almost every afternoon the butler went for a long walk, generally, she believed, in the direction of the sea.

Later they had gone into the library, and upon Larose adroitly switching the conversation upon Professor Ingleby he had been shown a row of the latter's books making quite a good show upon one of the shelves. 'The Principles of Sociology' was one of the titles, and 'The Ideals of Communism' another. He had then remarked that from the appearance of the pages both had been well perused, whereupon Eunice had laughingly replied that probably only Fenton had read them. The butler was allowed access to the library, she said, and as on one occasion he had been loaned for a month to the professor, when the Smith family were in Paris, he had probably fallen a victim to the great man's personality and had thus become interested in his writings.

Then, Ephraim Smith coming into the library, Larose had abruptly changed the conversation, for, above all things, he was determined that the master of the castle should not know that he had suspicions of his lifelong servitor. He was the more decided upon that because of the peculiar attitude the millionaire had adopted towards his guest since the morning. They had had no word together in private, and it was obvious to the physchologically minded Larose that his host was unsettled and annoyed. His proud spirit seemed to be chafing under the secrecy that had been imposed upon him, and he had vented his irritability upon his family.

Larose smiled whimsically to himself in the mirror as he made the final adjustments to his tie.

"Now, Gilbert, my boy," he said, "you ought to be quite happy. You're going to meet some of Smith's friends, you're going to dance with his charming daughter, and you're going to have a good dinner." His face grew serious. "But 'ware of that professor, Gilbert, and watch your steps carefully, for he'll be an awkward customer if he starts asking questions and you're not ready to answer them."

It was a party of thirteen that gathered just before seven in the great drawing-room of the castle, and never surely were circumstances more propitious for the passing of a pleasant evening.

The surroundings spoke of comfort and great luxury. The finely wrought furniture, the rich tapestries, the pictures, the painted ceiling with its wonderful blue clouds, the lights around the walls set like jewels in an emperor's crown—all blended in a harmony of beauty and distinction. And then the people themselves; Ephraim Smith, a man of power and great achievement, a very prince among the aristocracy of wealth; and his wife, a sweet and gentle woman—his daughter, pretty enough to lead astray a saint, and her friend the personification of wholesome English girlhood. Then the great Professor Ingleby, with the wisdom of the world behind his smiling face; the Honourable James McAlbane, with the stamp of breed and birth about him, and the dashing descendant of a long line of Scottish kings; the renowned big-game hunter, calm and soldierly, with the intrepid bearing of his kind, Dr. Ronald Grain, the perfect type of an English gentleman, with his clearcut profile and honest eyes; Canon Brown-Hatton, important and imperious as became a dignitary of the Established Church—with his plump wife and two plumper daughters, who every moment regarded him with the awe and reverence that the Cloth should surely always inspire—and, finally, the boyish-looking D. T. Wenn, so smiling and happy looking, although so many thousand miles distant from his home.

Unbeknown to her guests, however, Mrs. Smith was very disturbed, for at the last moment a 'phone message had arrived from an invited guest, the fourteenth, cancelling his engagement, and she was fearful lest it should be noticed that there were thirteen diners at table. Her husband had pooh-poohed the whole matter as sheer superstitious nonsense, but he had frowned, nevertheless, mindful of what the effect might be upon some of those present.

The professor gave Larose a quick glance when they were introduced, and the detective noticed that both the big-game hunter and the Honourable James also favoured him with a sharp look.

"Hullo," he thought, "but they all acted in the same manner. A quick 'once, over,' and then they turned their eyes away. It's funny—just as if they had been talking about me. I hope to goodness now that old Ingleby doesn't recognise anything familiar in me, but still a man who sketches faces is always dangerous, and I must not be caught unprepared."

Just when the chimes were sounding seven and it seemed, as Mrs. Smith rose, that dinner was about to be announced, an unexpected incident occurred.

Fenton came hurriedly into the room and handed a card on a tray to his master.

Ephraim Smith looked puzzled, and, putting on his glasses, intently examined the card. Then he said something in a low tone to his wife, and instantly left the room. He returned, however, very shortly, and was then accompanied by a slim and elegant-looking man with a huge monocle.

The new arrival was obviously a foreigner, and a Frenchman at that, for, in immaculate evening dress, he wore the sash of the Legion of Honor. He had a beautiful head of hair, finely arched eyebrows, and a big moustache with the long ends waxed. There was a long, vivid, scar across his right temple, and as he advanced, twirling the end of his moustache, it could be seen that two joints of his left forefinger were missing.

"My dear," said Ephraim Smith, addressing his wife with an inscrutable expression on his face, "this is Monsieur le Comte de Surenne, a friend of our mutual friend, Monsieur Henriot of Chantilly." He added in explanation—"His car broke down close by the castle, and he called in to use the telephone. But he has already missed his engagement in Norwich, and I have persuaded him to dine with us." He turned round to the company generally. "We are fortunate"—he smiled—"for otherwise—I may mention it now—we should have sat down at table—thirteen."

The Count, bowing almost to the level of his waist, and taking the proffered hand of Mrs. Smith, apologised in a rich voice and excellent English for so unceremoniously thrusting himself upon her hospitality. He was then introduced to the other guests, and they all went in to dinner.

Larose had been allotted to one of the canon's daughters, and facing him were Eunice and the Honourable James McAlbane. On the opposite side also, and at each end of the row, were the professor and the Count de Surenne.

A short silence followed as they settled themselves in their chairs, and then conversation began.

It was a perfect dinner. The castle chef was a master, and the wines were the best that money and good choice could provide. The canon's daughter was vivacious, and Larose soon began to enjoy himself. He kept his mind on business, however, and with his eyes and ears on the alert, took care that he should miss nothing that was happening. Unobtrusively he studied the others around him.

He was prejudiced against Texworthy at once, for the latter ate everything very quickly, and gulped down the rare wine as if they were water.

"A callous man," ran the detective's thoughts, "and with poor appreciation of good things. Yes, he's the slave trader right enough, and would be cruel, too, if he were pushed. And he's a friend of the Honourable James, is he? Well, I don't like James, either. He has a brazen, insolent look and is more interested in Eunice's neck and shoulders than he decently should let anyone see. But Eunice is not flattered and if I mistake not she's sent down one or two smiles to that young doctor chap whom old Smith doesn't appear to like overmuch. At any rate, Ephraim was not to cordial to the boy in the drawing-room just now. He seemed quite distant then."

He let his thoughts run on. "The professor's clever—very clever, but I can't quite place him yet. His manner's not entirely natural, and I'd swear he was sneering covertly when answering Smith just now." He shook his head. "No, I can't place him for the moment, but wait until I've talked to him a bit. He keeps on looking my way and, for that matter so do the hunter man and the Honourable James."

He glanced down the table. "Now that Frenchman is distinctly interesting and yet I don't exactly know why. He is very observant and is taking us all in. He's cocked his eyes several tunes on me and he's been staring a lot at Mrs. Smith's pearls. Also, he's noticed Texworthy's big diamond stud and has priced Eunice's dress down to the last penny; but he's not a bit interested in old Smith, which is peculiar, considering that they've met for the first time to-night. Well, he doesn't look nearly as haughty as he did a few minutes ago. The champagne's beginning to liven him up and we shall soon see the real man."

And certainly, it seemed, the rich wine had in part broken down the Count's reserve, for he was now vivaciously discussing the aristocracy of France with the gratified good lady of the Canon.

"But of course," Larose heard him say, "we are no longer allowed to use our titles in my beloved country. I am just plain Monsieur Surenne over there, and I have only my castle in Brittany and my chateau on the Loire to remind me of my family's former greatness. Still——"

But the professor was arguing with the Canon, and Larose turned round to listen.

"My dear Canon," laughed the great man, "am I not always telling you that you reverend gentlemen must remodel all your views of life and bring yourselves more in accord with modern ideas? The pew is always a generation in advance of the pulpit." He raised his finger reprovingly. "Now you have just said that your worthy bishop would not harm a fly and you could not have given him a worse character." He pretended to bristle up in indignation. "Why, the man who will not harm a fly, in the light of our present day knowledge, is a most dangerous character. He is a menace to the community and an enemy of the human race. He is a monster of iniquity. Why, flies are the scourge of all animal beings! They carry pestilence and disease, they——" he caught Larose's eye, and instantly he shot his hand out; "but ask Mr. Wenn there. He is a sheep man from Australia, I understand, and he can tell you of the untold agony that flies have caused to millions and millions of innocent and harmless sheep." He was at once all smiles again. "Now, is that not so, Mr. Wenn?"

"Certainly," replied Larose, who was not too pleased to be brought into the limelight so suddenly, "the blowflies are the worst enemies we have."

The professor thereupon at once dismissed the Rev. Canon Brown-Hatton from his mind as if that gentleman did not exist.

"Now I'm very interested in sheep, Mr. Wenn," he smiled, "and I always think that anyone who has a big flock of sheep is on a very good wicket indeed." He laughed. "All you have to do is to let your sheep browse away while you sit still and see your money grow."

Larose shook his head and laughed back. "Oh! it isn't like that, sir," he replied. "The life of a sheepman is a very hard one, and from dawn to dusk he is out and about doing something."

"But tell me," went on the professor, and he eyed the detective very intently, "what is the average amount of wool that you get off a sheep in a year?"

"About 14lb. from good stud ewes," replied Larose; "but less, of course, from the inferior breeds of sheep."

"And I suppose," asked the professor most politely, "you go on shearing the sheep year after year until finally they drop down and die?"

Larose felt himself getting rather hot. "Confound," ran his thoughts. "Now, if he asks me any questions like this, I shall be out of my depth." He answered readily enough, however. "Oh, no! At five years a ewe has about outlived her usefulness as a wool producer."

"And she's no more good, then?" asked the professor, as if very surprised.

"Not particularly then for wool," replied Larose; "but she can rear good lambs for a couple more years or so, and then we fatten her up for the table."

"I see, I see," said the professor; and his eyes were like gimlets, boring the detective through and through. "Well, another question, if I may. Do you——"

But, to the great relief of the detective, Eunice came to his rescue.

"Professor Ingleby," she exclaimed, in mock reproof, "now please don't talk any more about sheep. You're taking all the taste for me out of this saddle of mutton. Besides"—and she shook her finger at him—"you should be aware of these things already, for everyone says you know as much about sheep breeding as any farmer round here."

The professor bowed deferentially. "My dear Miss Eunice," he smiled, "I stand corrected and will curb my insatiable desire for knowledge until we have left the table." He made a humorous face at Larose. "I'll talk again to Mr. Wenn later."

Larose grinned to himself. "Now, it's lucky I happened to read that article about sheep the other day," he thought, "or I should have looked a perfect fool." A sudden suspicion leapt into his mind, "But those were shrewd questions he asked me, and he couldn't have asked better ones if he had been testing me out." He frowned. "And Eunice's opinion is that they were quite unnecessary, as he was certain to know the answers already. Now I wonder——"

But the voice of the Count de Surenne was rising loudly above those of all the other diners.

"But, Monsieur Doctor," he exclaimed, excitedly, to Ronald Grain, "champagne may, as you say, have saved hundreds of thousands of sick people, but, nevertheless, to the connoisseur it is not the king of wines. It does not bring home to us convincingly the supreme majesty of the grape over all the fruits of the earth given us by the good God. Only a still wine can do that, and among the still wines only Burgundy. Burgundy, therefore, is the king of wines." He laughed loudly. "Burgundy for kings, champagne for duchesses, and port for common people," and he waved his arms round for the approval of the company generally.

Larose sat up with a start. What chord of memory was stirred in him by the tones of that compelling voice, and where, before, had he seen those graceful arms? He stared hard at the count, observing intently every feature of his face. Then sudden light came.

Raphael Croupin! No scion of the French nobility—no count with castle and chateau! Only the debonair thief of Paris, Raphael Croupin!

The Australian's heart warmed in professional admiration. The rascal's make-up was the work of a consummate artist—so perfect that, had not his suspicion been accidentally aroused, Larose was sure he would never have seen through it. But there could be no doubting now, and the longer he looked at the supposed count, the more he was reminded of the lively Croupin of a few nights back. Well then, did Smith himself know? Was he in the secret or was he being bluffed as well? It looked——.

But the Frenchman was concluding his little dissertation upon the wines of his country.

"White wines!" he exclaimed scoffingly. "Bah! white wines are treacherous and they're like a beautiful woman without a soul. Red is our blood and blood-red for all time has been the colour of the great wines of the world."

Professor Ingleby at the other end of the table took up the challenge instantly.

"But I don't agree with you, Monsieur le Comte," he said, smiling, "and with some considerable knowledge of the choicest wines of your country I yet give the crowning glory to a still white wine. Now, I have just received a new consignment of wines from my agent in Paris, and if you will sometime do me the honour of calling at my poor place—I live only four miles from here—you shall taste a wine of the century and one that will cause you to think very differently about the merits of your burgundy." He lowered his voice in reverence. "I will give you a wonderful glass of Barsac and you will be surprised. If you taste——."

But Larose heard no more, for the throbbing of his arteries momentarily dulled his senses, and his breathing ceased as a wave of amazement surged through him. He kept himself steady with an effort, and cast down his eyes.

"I will give you a wonderful glass of Barsac and you will be surprised!"—the very words that he had read in the letter taken from the dead body of Ravahol, the assassin!

Was it possible that Professor Ingleby himself could be the writer of that letter! Was it credible that none other than he—the great sociologist—was the mysterious correspondent of that wretch whose body now lay rotting under those drifts of withered leaves?

Larose took a grip of himself and kept his eyes lowered.

It was inconceivable—yet it must be true, and in what an extraordinary light then it placed the professor!

Professor Ingleby had been aware of Ravahol's proposed visit to the Castle and he had commented in his letter that he also had a special interest in Smith. He had urged Ravahol to come and see him immediately afterwards, but had enjoined great secrecy, and the Frenchman was to make certain after leaving Bodham Castle that he was not being followed.

Then what did it all mean—this sinister understanding between Professor Ingleby and the worker in the underworld? What could the letter imply except that the professor had been of opinion that, when he and Ravahol met, they would find common interests in Ephraim Smith? And in the light of this insistent need for secrecy was it likely that these interests would be friendly towards the millionaire? No, no—on the face of it they would be unfriendly, and the professor therefore was conspiring in some way against Smith.

There was no denying the force of this reasoning and, impossible though it seemed, Professor Ingleby might well be in alliance with the gangsters, if he were not actually himself the moving spirit in their organisation. Indeed, everything pointed to the latter supposition, because he was undoubtedly a man of masterly disposition and, in frequent touch with Ephraim Smith, he would be aware of all the millionaire's movements and in the very position to know when and where to strike. And for motive—well, was not the whole bent of his mind, as evidenced by his writings, inimical to the possession of great wealth?

And then that butler, the man who was now actually coming round with the port—if he had been won over to the professor's opinions, as Eunice Smith had suggested, then probably he had been hand in glove with the gang all along. He was keeping them constantly informed of all that happened in the castle, they would be aware of that midnight meeting, and they might even have the names of some of those present.

And then, stung by a sudden thought, the detective trembled in his chair.

Good Heavens!—and when the professor had been exhibiting his sketches to Ephraim Smith and the girls, he had drawn particular attention to those of Naughton Jones, Vallon and—Gilbert Larose!

Larose drew in a deep breath and calmed himself by a great effort of will. The situation was disclosing itself as so dangerous that the utmost coolness and resource would be necessary to cope with it.

The reason for those searching questions about sheep was now self-evident, for the professor was undoubtedly suspicious of the identity of Mr. Wenn, the Australian. But, if he was suspicious he was not certain, and in a state of uncertainty he must remain.

The detective sipped his port appreciatively, and, looking up after a few moments, became aware that the professor was eyeing him with the demeanour of one who was very puzzled.

"Forgive me staring," said the great man, and he spoke so impressively that everyone broke off their conversation to listen, "but I am very intrigued about you, Mr. Wenn, and you have been puzzling me all the evening. You have been reminding me of someone I met once, and I have only just remembered who." He screwed up his face. "Now have you by any chance a relation here who is a public man?"

Larose's heart gave a great bound. He made no mistake as to what was to follow, for there was gloating in that suave voice and triumph behind those smiling eyes. The professor was about to pretend that he recognised a likeness in him to the detective, Larose, whom he had once sketched in court.

The Australian appeared to be very astounded.

"Yes, I have," he exclaimed instantly, "but I don't know exactly whether you'd call him a public man." He hesitated a moment, "He's a detective—Gilbert Larose."

A dead silence followed, and the eyes of everyone were upon the speaker. The professor's lips snapped grimly together, Texworthy and McAlbane were frowning hard, and Ephraim Smith's face had the inscrutable expression upon it of a man who had just picked up his hand of cards. At the far end of the table the Count de Surenne stared at him with the curiosity of a startled bird. He began to polish his monocle vigorously.

"Yes," went on Larose smilingly, as if he were quite gratified with the interest he was occasioning, "and I'm supposed to be very like him, too." He beamed at the professor. "Now is that the man you mean?"

Professor Ingleby nodded curtly. His thunder had been stolen from him, but for the moment he could not size up the thief.

"But, Mr. Wenn," gasped Eunice, "you never told me this morning. You didn't say——"

"No, I know I didn't," broke in Larose, afraid of what the girl might say. He shook his finger playfully at her. "I saw you had a poor opinion of Australians, and I didn't like to disillusion you." He drew himself up proudly. "My cousin is a great man."

"Oh! Mr. Wenn," cried the Count, excitedly. "I'm so intrigued for, of course, we've heard of Monsieur Larose over in France. Do tell us about him."

Larose looked round upon the speaker, and if he imagined he could detect a delicate irony in the Count's voice he could certainly see none in his face, for the expression there was all innocence and animation.

"Monsieur," he replied very solemnly, "my cousin is the best detective in Australia, if not in the whole world, and he is so clever"—he smiled round to the company generally—"that when a murder has been committed it is popularly supposed that, however long afterwards he may come upon the scene, he can still see the shadow that the murderer cast upon the wall."

"Wonderful!" exclaimed the Count, "wonderful!"

"Yes," went on Larose, warming up in his enthusiasm, "and once he is put upon a trail he never leaves it; and although the way he works may sometimes seem very extraordinary to others—still, he very, very rarely fails in the end."

The inscrutable expression faded from Ephraim Smith's face, and he looked quite cheerful.

"And have you then, Mr. Wenn," asked the professor dryly, "seen this remarkable cousin of yours lately? I mean, since you arrived in England?"

"No," replied Larose, "I only arrived from the Continent last week, and when I rang up Scotland Yard they said he was away, and pretended not to know where." His face brightened. "But when did you see him, Professor Ingleby, and do you know him personally?"

"I saw him once at a trial, Mr. Wenn," replied the professor slowly. He shook his head. "No, I don't know him personally."

A short silence followed, and then suddenly there came from outside in the garden the sound of a violin. Someone was playing Rubinstein's 'Melody in F.'

"Who's that, Fenton?" asked Ephraim Smith sharply, and when the butler replied that he did not know, his master added: "Then go and find out."

The butler left the room, and in a few seconds the music stopped, to be commenced again, however, almost at once Fenton came back into the room.

"An old man, sir," he said, "a stranger here. He's walked from Sheringham, he says."

"Well, send him away," frowned Smith. "Tell him——"

"Oh, no, Father," interrupted Eunice reproachfully, "don't be cruel—he's playing so nicely." An idea struck her and she clapped her hands. "Let's have him inside and hear him play in the hall. It will be great fun." She turned to the butler. "Bring him into the lounge, Fenton."

"Very good, Miss Eunice," replied the butler, and he turned and left the room.

A few minutes later they all trooped into the big lounge hall. The Count walked just behind Mrs. Smith and Larose noticed that he was again scrutinising her beautiful rope of pearls. Texworthy and McAlbane followed behind the Count.

The musician was waiting for them and he was obviously nervous in his grand surroundings. He was a dissipated looking man, inclined to stoutness, and he had something of the appearance of broken-down actor. His face was red and blotchy, his nose had been broken and his mouth was twisted to one side. He had a large head of unkempt black hair, and was very shabbily dressed, with his coat buttoned tightly over his chest. One of his boots was laced up with string.

"You play very nicely," said Eunice sweetly. "You are a real musician."

The man bowed. "I was leader of an orchestra once," he said hoarsely, "before misfortune"—he looked round gloomily upon the company—"before misfortune brought me low."

"Drink! drink!" whispered the Count melodramatically into Mrs. Smith's ear. He sighed. "But it is strange how the good God should bestow upon us one gift—to take away another."

"Now what can you play?" asked Eunice.

"Anything, miss," replied the musician. "I have a good memory and an extensive repertoire."

"Quite an educated man," whispered back Mrs. Smith to the Count. "How very sad!"

"Well, what about the 'Intermezzo' from 'Cavalleria Rusticana'?" said Eunice. "Everyone likes that."

"Fireworks, fireworks," commented the musician, deprecatingly. He put the violin to his shoulder. "Still it's pretty in parts," and he at once commenced to play.

Larose was standing back behind the others, and for the third time that evening he was receiving a great shock.

"Jupiter!" he murmured, breathlessly. "Naughton Jones! I should have known that supercilious manner anywhere." He looked at the musician critically. "Yes, Naughton Jones right enough, and he's another artist. His make-up's splendid, and that broken nose is as good as Croupin's bent-in finger." He made a wry face. "Really, Gilbert, now you're finding out you're not quite the mighty atom that you thought you were. There are others as good"—he corrected himself—"almost as good as you are."

He frowned. "And I suppose Jones has come here to form an opinion, on his own, about Smith's guests. Mine, apparently, he thought, would not have been reliable enough." He nodded his head. "But, gosh! Doesn't he play well?"

And, certainly, the musician, whoever he was, had a most appealing touch, and the beautiful melody of the intermezzo had surely never sounded so entrancing than it did that night in the old baronial hall of Bodham Castle. The player was generously applauded when he had finished, and then, by request, he played 'O Sole Mio,' some Scotch airs, and the divine 'Blue Danube' waltz.

"Now you shall have a rest," said Eunice, "and we'll give you a glass of champagne—that is, of course, if you don't happen to be a teetotaller."

"God bless you, miss," replied the musician, and he looked challengingly round. "No, I'm not quite a teetotaller, and champagne will recall pleasant memories of more fortunate days." He patted his violin fondly. "We have experienced many up and downs in life together."

The Count de Surenne thrust himself forward.

"Yes, you play well, my friend," he said, "but, if I may suggest it, you hold your bow at too acute an angle. Allow me. See," and, taking the violin and bow from the hands of the glaring musician, he struck an attitude and proceeded to strum a few notes.

The twisted mouth of the musician quivered in anger, and he restrained himself obviously with an effort.

"Thank you, sir," he said, icily. "If only I had learnt that before. No one told me about it."

There were smiles all round, and the Honourable Jimmy McAlbane gave a loud guffaw, but the Count was in no way abashed.

"And I've a great idea," he exclaimed delightedly. "When this gentleman is refreshed, let us switch off the lights and then hear him play 'The Funeral March of a Marionette' in the dark." He was all eagerness in his excitement. "It was played once that way at the house of one of my great friends, the Duke of Chantilly, and the effect was simply marvellous—so weird and so thrilling." He turned to his hostess, and asked, smilingly; "May we, Mrs. Smith—have we your permission."

Mrs. Smith gave her assent at once, and, Fenton leading the musician away for his refreshment, the company began to talk generally.

Larose strolled over to the Count. "A word with you, Monsieur le Comte," he said very quietly, and there was a stern glint in his eyes. "I see you have been taking notice of Mrs. Smith's pearls."

"To be sure," replied the Frenchman, looking surprised. "They are very beautiful and worth at least six or seven thousand of your English pounds."

"Quite that, and perhaps more," said Larose dryly.

"They remind me of some my mother has in our chateau on the Loire," went on the Count, lowering his voice confidentially, "only they are not quite so big."

"Well, if I were you," said Larose slowly. "I would make no attempt to compare the two sets side by side"—he fixed the Count with his eyes—"for I would warn you, Monsieur, that it is the butler's duty to keep a watch over those pearls, and besides—the rope is fastened to the dress with a safety chain at the side and it cannot be snatched away."

The Count seemed in no wise annoyed—indeed, he laughed as if he were amused. "Thank you, thank you, Mr. Wenn," he said, laying great stress upon the 'Mr. Wenn.' "I am obliged both for the information and the advice"—the laugh vanished from his face—"and I'll tell you something in return. I have very sharp ears, as it happens, and I heard that tiger fellow saying just now to his Scotch friend that it would be better to stick a knife into someone, and throw him afterwards into the quicksands to make quite sure." He laughed softly again. "I don't know, of course, to whom they were referring, but I fancy"—and he grinned—"I fancy from the direction of their glances that they were referring to you."

"Much obliged," said Larose grimly. "I can take care of myself." He smiled. "You are a great artist, Monsieur Croupin, and your disguise is almost perfect"—he shrugged his shoulders—"but your gesticulations gave you away, at any rate to me."

The Count looked very downcast. "It was the champagne, Mr. Larose," he said sadly. "I ought never to have touched it. As a rule when I'm on business I never take anything." He dropped his voice to a whisper. "But this fiddle man—do you know who he is? He's an imposter, at any rate, just as we are. He's a good amateur, but he's not up to professional standard by a long way, and he has certainly never led any orchestra. I am a musician myself." He glared at Larose. "Besides, he's lying about his violin. He's not at home with it, and he's not had it long. It's my opinion that he just borrowed it in order to get in here."

"Perhaps so," agreed Larose carelessly. He looked gravely at Croupin. "But remember, please, to leave Mrs. Smith's pearls alone when he is playing that funeral march as it was played at your friend's, the Duke of Chantilly's—in the dark. You understand?"

Croupin grinned, and his eyes gleamed, but he was prevented from making any reply, for at that moment Canon Brown-Hatton came up and buttonholed him. The reverend gentleman was desirous of being recommended to a first-class hotel in Paris, where the tariff would be below all reason and the moral atmosphere above all question.

Larose left them at it, and a few minutes later, the musician returning into the hall, the Australian sidled up to him as he commenced to tune up the violin.

"Perhaps you would like an Algerian cigarette?" he asked quietly, and with a gentle lisp. "I only smoke Algerians."

The musician lifted his eyes quickly, and then as quickly lowered them again.

"So it was you in the shop to-day," he replied sharply. He frowned. "It was remiss of me not to have taken more notice." His next words came hissingly from almost closed lips. "Look out for both Texworthy and McAlbane. I know them, and McAlbane knows me. They're black men, and first cousins to the criminal class. Also that Frenchman looks a bad egg. See me to-morrow upon the sands at three. Now get out and don't talk to me again. They're watching you," and he resumed his tuning up with all the impressiveness of a great virtuoso about to make his bow before Royalty.

'The Funeral March of a Marionette' was a great success in the cavernous darkness of the hall, and it was some time after the lights had been switched on before it was noticed by anyone that Eunice and Ronald Grain were no longer there.

Eunice had happened to mention that funeral marches always sounded better in the distance, and the young doctor had immediately agreed, and suggested accordingly that they should go outside to listen.

"All right," said the girl. "We'll go down into the rose garden. It'll be lovely there."

They opened one of the long French windows and tiptoed quietly down the steps so that they should not disturb the others. There was no moon, but the stars were shining, and they could just see the way along the path. Proceeding for about a hundred yards, they came to a rustic seat behind some big shrubs, and Eunice immediately sat down.

"This is far enough," she said softly, "and we mustn't be long."

The doctor sat down beside her and there was silence between them.

It was a beautiful summer night and Romance was in the air. The faint wind stirred among the trees as a far-off choir of angel voices, and the scented darkness was like incense in a temple of love.

The doctor broke the silence with an effort.

"It was very sweet of you, Miss Eunice," he said, "to invite me to-night."

"I!" laughed the girl as if surprised. "Why, it was father who asked you, not I."

"Oh! yes," laughed back the doctor, "still——." He changed the subject suddenly. "Do you know I've only seen you five times?"

"Five times!" echoed the girl carelessly. "It seems many more than that."

"No, only five," he said. "At the golf club dance, in the paddock at Newmarket, at Lady Ringer's, then outside Professor Ingleby's house, and now to-night."

"Well, I hope you'll often come up here now," said Eunice rather quickly. "Father's very lonely in spite of all the friends he has, and we can always give you tennis and bridge."

The young doctor smiled in the darkness. "I'll always come up when you ask me," he said. "You may be sure of that." He laughed lightly. "Moths always love to fly around a candle, don't they?"

The girl made no comment, and he went on meditatively. "But it must be wonderful to possess a place like this." He looked at her face so bewitchingly profiled now against the stars. "I suppose that you have everything in the world that you wish for, Miss Eunice, haven't you?"

She hesitated a moment. "No, not everything," she replied slowly. "Money cannot give you all you want. Sometimes"—her voice was very gentle—"it raises barriers that should not really exist."

"And you mean?" asked the doctor with his heart beginning to beat a little faster.

"Oh! that people put us on a pedestal," sighed the girl, "and forget that we're just the same as they are. Just the same aches and pains, just the same thoughts, just the same—" she broke off suddenly—"but really, we mustn't stop any longer. That old man will have finished playing and——."

"But wait a moment," said the doctor as she started to get up, and he laid his hand upon her arm. "When shall I see you again?"

She thought for a moment. "I shall be playing golf on Sunday," she said softly. "I shall get there about ten, and so if you are early—hush! here's someone coming down the path! Keep still."

They heard the scrunch of feet upon the gravel and the sound of low voices in earnest conversation.

"Keep still," whispered Eunice again, bending her face now close to that of her companion. "They're on the other path and will go by without seeing us if we don't show ourselves. It's that bothering Mr. McAlbane and Mr. Texworthy, and we'll never get rid of them if once they know we are here."

The young doctor nodded his head, and then, reaching down, laid his hand upon hers. She seemed too intent about the newcomers to notice it.

The voices came nearer.

"But he looks a fool to me," they heard McAlbane say, "and I don't think there's anything in it."

"Well, I'm not so sure," replied Texworthy brusquely, "and he's certainly not a fool. His eyes were on us all at dinner, and he noticed everything. I saw him scowl at you when you were looking at Eunice."

McAlbane laughed coarsely. "Well, I'd like to punch his head for it," he said. "The damned sheep farmer, I'd——"

But they walked on and their voices died away.

"They were talking about Mr. Wenn," exclaimed Eunice quickly. "Now what did they mean?" and then, apparently becoming aware for the first time that the doctor was holding her hand, she drew it away and rose to her feet. "But we must go in now before they come back."

"Wait one moment," said the doctor quickly, and he touched her on the arm. "You know I shan't see you alone again to-night, shall I?"

She shook her head. "I don't suppose so," she said, and she turned away her eyes.

"Well, let's say good-bye now," went on the doctor.

She hesitated just a moment, and then made a little curtsey. "Good-bye, Dr. Grain," she said demurely, and she held out her hand half mockingly and half as if the farewell were really sad.

He lifted her hand reverently to his lips, and then, emboldened by the tightening of her fingers upon his, he drew her to him, and, tilting up her chin, kissed her softly on the lips. She shivered in his arms, but then suddenly returned the kiss as spontaneously as he had given his. One trembling, breathless moment, and then they dropped away from one another, and without a word turned and, side by side, walked up the path. The glories of the starlit sky were all about them, but there was greater glory far within their hearts.

Just as they reached the window a figure detached itself from the shadows and joined them as they went into the drawing-room.

"What a beautiful night," said Mr. Wenn.

"Yes, it is," said Eunice, and then she added innocently: "It was delightful in the rose garden where Dr. Grain and I were."

Dr. Grain could almost hear the beatings of his heart.

The remainder of the evening found Larose completely in his element.

He was hot upon a trail, believing that he was in actual contact now with the members of a criminal band. Moreover, there was a decided spice of danger in the situation, for he was suspected by the men he was pitting himself against, and two of them at least, he judged, were of the type who would go to any lengths in dealing with him if they got the chance. Well and good—that was what he liked. He was a hard hitter himself and could be as forcible and ruthless in a fight as any he would meet. He would give no mercy, and he certainly expected none.

And so he settled himself down to enjoy the evening thoroughly.

He had several dances, and then in a spirit of business left the younger people and cut into a hand of bridge with his host, Professor Ingleby, and the reserved Texworthy. He put up quite a good game, partnering the professor, and the latter was soon smiling amiably upon him.

"When they can spare you here, Mr. Wenn," he said, "you must come out and spend a night with me. I live in a most romantic spot right on the edge of the sands and the sea is actually at my front door. We'll have a long evening's bridge, and then, if you're energetic enough, you shall get up before it's light and try your fortune with Mr. Texworthy among the ducks. Also, if you are interested in foreign stamps, I've got one of the finest collections in the country. I value it at over £5,000." He turned to the Count, who was standing near. "I think, Monsieur, I have nearly every stamp of your country that has been issued."

The Count smiled without interest, and Larose expressed the pleasure it would give him to come.

One rather disquieting incident, however, occurred during the evening, and Larose decided that Fate was certainly dealing some good cards to his adversaries.

Everyone heard about the sudden influx of patients at Weybourne Manor.

It was the canon who brought the matter up by asking Dr. Grain if he had yet met the new medical superintendent there, and, upon the doctor replying in the negative, the reverend gentleman had then proceeded to enlighten the company generally. The villagers in Weybourne, he said, were very intrigued about some new arrivals at what was popularly known as the Inebriates' Home there. Eight or nine had come, and they were certainly an eccentric lot. He had heard all about them from his verger, whose brother was the gardener there, and it was considered most peculiar that no adequate supervision was exercised upon them, for, although ostensibly under treatment for alcoholic excess, they did exactly as they liked—and, indeed, one of them was already a well-known frequenter of the village public house.

McAlbane laughed and seemed about to make some remark, but he checked himself suddenly and frowned thoughtfully. The professor made no comment, but Larose noticed that his eyebrows went up and that he immediately took off his glasses and proceeded to polish them, an action which should have been unnecessary because he had done it only a few minutes before.

The guests said their good-byes soon after half-past eleven, the professor and his two friends being the last to go.

Texworthy drove off, as usual, at a great pace, and not a word was spoken until the professor was at his door.

"Well, I'm very tired," said the latter as he got out of the car, "and I won't ask you fellows in." He spoke sharply. "We've a lot to think about, and I want a good night's rest. We need all our wits about us now, for that man Wenn is certainly Larose, and without a doubt those bogus patients at Weybourne are Smith's lot, too. They are after us, right enough, and we must look out. Good night."

Twenty minutes or so later, in the middle of undressing, the big game hunter started violently.

"Damn!" he swore, "now where's that diamond stud?"

He shook his shirt out over the bed, and then, upon his hands and knees, went over every inch of the bedroom floor. Then, switching on the light, he walked slowly along the passage to the hall door. Finally, carrying a large torch, he went down the drive and into the garage, where he minutely examined the inside of the car.

But he soon returned, angry and scowling to the house, for the costly stud was nowhere to be found.


Chapter IX.—The Threads of Fate.

The next day the waters of fate began to converge together and to flow more swiftly towards that point where it was destined they should bear upon their dark bosom the tragedies of violent and sudden death.

It was a day of consultations.

At breakfast Larose saw that his host was in a sullen mood, and took an early opportunity to whisper that he wanted to see him alone.

"All right," frowned the master of the castle, "in my study directly we've finished."

"No, no," whispered Larose again. "Not directly afterwards. Wait ten minutes and I'll be on the lawn in front of the window. No hurry and no secrecy."

And so presently Ephraim Smith came casually up to Larose in full view of the castle. The detective was interestedly examining the sun-dial in the middle of the lawn.

Smith went to the point at once. "Now who the devil are you?" he asked sharply. "Are you that man Larose or are you not?"

"That's right," replied Larose. "Keep your back to the windows and, if you do happen to turn round, try and look a bit more pleasant." He bent over the sundial. "Yes, of course I'm Gilbert Larose."

"Then what do you mean by all this foolery," asked Smith, as black as thunder, "and why wasn't I told in the beginning?"

"Because," said Larose quietly, "—bend over the sundial, please—because it was essential to my plans that no one should have a thought that you knew who I was. No one was to see by your manner that there was an understanding between us."

"And what have you gained by it? How has this pantomime helped you?" went on Smith, more furious still.

"I have gained what I wanted," replied Larose calmly, "for when you introduced me to your family, and later to your friends last night, there was none of that embarrassment with you which there undoubtedly would have been if you had been aware that you had brought a detective into the castle. I was as unknown to you as to them. Now, do you see?"

"No, I don't see," replied Ephraim Smith bluntly. "What necessity was there for me to fool my family and my friends?"

"Mr. Smith," asked Larose solemnly, "who are your friends? No, no," he went on quickly, for the millionaire had made a gesture of contempt, "don't be annoyed, for understand——" his voice was grave and stern, although he was still looking down smiling at the sun-dial—"we are convinced that it is among your friends that your enemy hides."

"But that's monstrous," said Ephraim Smith angrily. "The idea is absurd."

"But it is the idea we hold, sir," replied Larose firmly, "and it is supported by reason and common sense." He went on persuasively. "Now, did you not tell us the other night that you were being pursued with devilish cunning, that your adversary knew all about you and your disposition, and that he had studied you to such purpose that he was fully aware it would take many shrewd blows before you would finally give in? Now did you not tell us that?"

Smith's annoyance was in no way abated, but he nodded a reluctant consent.

"Well," said Larose, "and when you add to all this the incontrovertible fact that the time and manner of the misfortunes that had befallen you betray a most intimate acquaintance with your habits and movements, what more convincing do you require that your enemy might quite possibly be among your friends?" He turned away from the sun-dial. "But now let's walk along the flower beds and you must appear to be pointing out the flowers to me." He laughed. "Let me see what sort of actor you are."

They proceeded a few steps with their back now towards the castle, and then the detective rapped out suddenly:—

"Now, how long have you known Professor Ingleby?"

Smith gasped. "Ingleby!" he ejaculated. "He's a man of world-wide renown. You don't suspect him!"

"But I do," said Larose, "and Texworthy and McAlbane, too." He spoke very sternly. "And now you see how vital it was that you should have met them with no antagonism last night. The slightest suspicion in your mind, and you would have betrayed yourself. Well, how long have you known the professor?"

The millionaire seemed crushed. "Less than two years," he replied, slowly. "Only since I came here."

"And the other two?" went on Larose.

"Less than a year," replied Smith. "The professor brought them here." His annoyance came back. "But what on earth makes you suspect the professor?"

"Several things," said Larose curtly, "and one—he's abnormal. He feasts his mind on crime."

"That nothing——" began Smith, aggressively, but Larose interrupted,

"Well, never mind that for the moment," he said sharply, "but, tell me—your daughter says he showed you a sketch he'd taken of me in court. Now, was it like me?"

"No, it didn't strike me so," replied the millionaire, with some hesitancy, "at any rate, not as you look now."

"Exactly!" sniffed Larose. "Then, of course, he's got spies somewhere, and, knowing I come from Australia, he suspects me. That's what he meant by asking me those questions about sheep last night."

"But spies!" ejaculated Smith, incredulously. "Where? And what in heaven's name, I ask again, has made you suspect the professor at all?"

"Mr. Smith," said the detective with great earnestness, "I want you to go on trusting me implicitly, and I promise you on my honour that the very instant I can tell you anything definite I will do so. For the moment, please, don't ask me anything more."

"But, if I meet Professor Ingleby and the others," expostulated Smith, "how can I pretend to be friendly with them when you have sown this awful seed of suspicion in my mind? They'll see at once that something has happened."

"Poof!" replied Larose, confidently. "They'll not notice anything. With all his cleverness the professor is not too psychological, and the others are not particularly shrewd. They can be only amateurs in crime, after all. Frown and be irritable, and explain that you've got rheumatism in your back. Have Dr. Grain up here, and that will make it quite all right." His voice hardened again. "But now I want to ask you a question. You know who that Count Surenne was?"

"Yes," replied Smith, sourly. "He's another mountebank. He's that thief, Croupin, and he forced himself upon me at a minute's notice, swearing that it was vital he should see me among my home surroundings." The millionaire scowled. "But you knew he was coming, of course?"

"No, I didn't," replied Larose, "and I didn't recognise him either until half-way through dinner last night." He laughed cheerfully. "He's a great artist, Mr. Smith, and you are being well served."

"But what good did his coming do?" asked Smith, in a manner implying that he in no way shared the detective's opinion.

Larose inclined his head thoughtfully. "He was very useful, as it happens," he said, "and he gave me some valuable information that strengthened my suspicion about Professor Ingleby and the others." He spoke most respectfully to the millionaire. "Now, sir, just have a little patience and bear with us, and I can promise you that we will get you out of all your trouble." A solemn note came into his voice. "And I assure you, Mr. Smith, I never promise anything unless I am certain of delivering the goods."

"Very well," said Smith; and there was decidedly more pleasantness than hitherto in his voice. "And now I'll leave you until this evening. I have to go into Norwich on business."

The second consultation took place very soon afterwards. Ephraim Smith had not been gone a quarter of an hour when Eunice broke a sewing machine needle into her hand, and had to be taken in to Dr. Grain, at Holt. Directly the accident happened, Mrs. Smith rang up, and was informed by the doctor's maid that her master was out, but was expected back within a few minutes, whereupon Larose suggested he should drive the girl direct to the doctor's house.

Sybil James accompanied them into Holt, and they were fortunate to arrive at the surgery at the very moment that the doctor alighted from his car. The latter looked rather embarrassed when he saw who his visitors were, but changed instantly to the cool professional man when he learnt upon what mission they had come.

Then Sybil James suddenly became faint, and so it was Larose who went into the surgery with Eunice, and helped hold her finger steady whilst the broken needle was extracted.

The doctor was very calm and collected during the little operation, but, when it was over, Larose quickly perceived how things were between the two, and promptly excusing himself on the ground that he wanted fresh air, went to join Sybil in the car.

It was quite an appreciable time before Eunice came out, and then she looked so animated and happy that Sybil at once remarked how wonderfully quick she had been in recovering from the pain she must have suffered.

Eunice made no comment, but Larose thought she flashed him a grateful look when he apologised for having left her, owing to his distaste for the sight of human blood.

And at that very time an earnest consultation was being held at Marsh House, Professor Ingleby's place.

The professor and his two friends had their heads close together in the same room where, a few days before, Ephraim Smith and the two girls had been given tea. Although the door was shut, their voices were subdued and their faces very grim.

"Yes," said the professor, solemnly, "there is no doubt Smith is making a great effort to uncover us, and we are now up against forces very different from those we have met before"—he frowned—"and it is that that makes me a bit uneasy."

"But, good gracious, why?" asked McAlbane, with some irritation. "These men, as I say, have less to go on than the regular police had, and they are working weeks after anything has happened, and with the trails that were left stone cold."

"But they work differently," said the professor, shaking his head, "and they've more imagination." He looked very thoughtful. "And, if that fellow's really Larose, which I'm most sure is so, we are up against a man as reckless and as lawbreaking"—he laughed—"as we are ourselves."

"Well, I don't think he is Larose," said McAlbane, stubbornly. "It's just a coincidence that he turns out to be his cousin—that's all."

"But I think so," said the professor, thoughtfully, "and so does Texworthy," He turned to the big-game hunter. "Don't you."

"Sure," replied Texworthy, "I didn't like his eyes. I've seen that look in a crouching beast many times before. Just waiting—waiting for his chance." He frowned. "And if he's anything like what Ingleby tells us, I shouldn't be a bit surprised if he pinched my stud out of pure devilry."

"Quite possibly," said the professor dryly. "Larose is brim-full of conceit and gives the impression that he is always showing off to himself." He was silent for a moment, and then sighed. "Well, just let's sum up everything again and see exactly how things stand to-day." He looked down at a paper upon which he had jotted some notes.

"Now Smith called eight men to a secret meeting at the castle last Monday night, and four at least of their personalities have become known to us. Naughton Jones, Vallon, Dr. Crittenden and Ravahol. Of a fifth man, we know that he was an Australian. Of the other three we know nothing, but from our inside knowledge of Smith's predicament we may reasonably suppose they were detectives like the first three. One of the eight refused to unmask, and he was undoubtedly Ravahol, for, in addition to the fact that I knew Ravahol was going to be present, the description that Fenton gives of the masked man exactly tallies with that of my friend from Paris—a man who held himself very erect, was built on the light side, and had a deep voice.

"Well, Ravahol should have come and seen me on the Tuesday, and I confess I am very disturbed there, for he is not the type of individual to break his word. Five days have now gone by and I should surely have had news. Then yesterday in that long talk I had with Fenton among the sand dunes, I learnt all about this Australian who had come to stay at the castle, and we were at once suspicious that he might be the detective Gilbert Larose. Well, at the dinner last night, what did we find out?" The professor laughed scornfully. "It was not Gilbert Larose as we had thought, but, by a most marvellous coincidence, it turned out to be a relation of his! Just think of it? Among the other six million or so of people who inhabit Australia we had happened at a single chance to pick out the very individual who was his cousin." He sneered, "Ah! but that chap was clever. He saw what was coming and he got his blow in first."

"He was Larose," said Texworthy, "and Smith knew it right enough. His face was like a blank wall, which wasn't natural, for he should have been interested of course."

"Ah! There I'm puzzled," broke in the professor, shaking his head, "for Fenton is certain Smith was most surprised when the Australian rang up, and he is certain, moreover, that Smith is not too friendly with his guest. He is distant and sulky, he says, and doesn't take much notice of him."

"Part of a plan," said Texworthy gruffly, "part of a plan."

"But Smith is no actor," commented the professor, shaking his head again, "and it is that that puzzles me a lot. Smith is impulsive, a man of strong likes and dislikes, and when he wants to hide his feelings he just puts on that wooden face of his and keeps mum. He doesn't give any indication of what he is thinking either way. He doesn't pretend to be friendly when he's not, and vice versa."

The professor went on. "Well, we got one very valuable piece of information last night. We know where all those men are staying. They are the drinking squad at Weybourne Manor, of course. I watched Smith closely while the parson was talking about it, and on went his wooden expression at once—and he had been quite animated a moment before."

"Well," remarked Texworthy, with unpleasant cheerfulness, "if they are all together, like tigers in one lair, it could not be better." His eyes flashed and he curved his lips to an evil smile. "A good sized bomb and they will all go sky-high."

"But what's their plan?" asked McAlbane, frowning, "and if it is Larose up at the castle, what does he expect to do?"

The professor sighed. "If only Ravahol would come," he said, "we should know everything. As it is, we can only guess."

"Well, guess away," said McAlbane rudely. "For if there were a hundred of them instead of a miserable eight or nine I don't see how they can get a start anywhere."

"Ah!" exclaimed the professor, holding up his hand, "and that's where we score. They're out in the open and we're lying hidden. They know we're somewhere, and they're waiting for our next move to disclose our whereabouts. They've prepared an elaborate plan, no doubt, to follow our next messenger when we demand anything more of Smith." He looked quite cheerful. "Yes, as I said the other day, if we keep still they can't possibly find out a single thing."

"That's all very well," grumbled McAlbane, "but Smith won't put up with the suspense too long. Coming here just now I met old Colonel Young, and he said Smith told him last week he was disappointed in England, and it was quite on the cards that any day he might decide to sell up and go to one of the colonies."

Texworthy whistled, and there was a long silence.

"Well," said the professor, after a while, "we shall have to be prepared for that, and, at any rate, I think Fenton will always get an inkling of it beforehand, and then we'll strike heavily." His face suddenly suffused in anger. "I'm not going to let Smith escape like that, and I tell you I'd go to any lengths to penalise him." He thumped the table with his fist. "He and his vulgar money are an insult to the human race. I want £20,000 to endow a chair of Sociology at London University."

The big-game hunter laughed sneeringly. "Well, I wish someone would insult me with money. I could do with £20,000 for an expedition to Tibet."

"Well, what are we going to do now?" asked McAlbane sourly. "I'm not afraid of these men."

The professor had cooled down. "We're going to put Mattin on to that Inebriates' Home straightaway," he said, "and within forty-eight hours we'll know all about them. Also we'll get this Mr. Wenn out here to dinner. Texworthy has given me an idea. Now, listen, I've got a plan." He lowered his voice to a whisper, and all their heads came together again.

That afternoon Larose, after lunch, asked Eunice for the loan of her car. He knew she was not going to use it herself, because he had heard Dr. Grain enjoining strict quietness for the rest of the day, and the doctor had added that he would look in during the afternoon to see how she was. The doctor had also said that, although the wound was a slight one, still the risk of inflammation had always to be guarded against and the hand was not to be used more than necessary.

Eunice gave her assent readily, and off Larose went. A mile or so from the castle, however, turning into a lonely byroad, he made some slight changes in his appearance with the aid of a mirror, and then drove into Sheringham. There he placed the car in a garage, and on foot proceeded along the sands towards Weybourne.

A few hundred yards from the Manor he saw a man walking slowly along by the margin of the waves, stopping every now and then to pick up a shell.

"Good," he exclaimed with a glow of satisfaction, "it's the great Vallon. I'm in luck to-day."

"Hullo, mon brave," he called out, "and how goes la belle France?"

Vallon straightened himself up and looked with some reproach at the Australian.

"La la!" he exclaimed sadly, "and I had forgotten all about evil and was gathering shells for my little ones. Look at this beautiful pink one, so dainty and so fragile, and with the colours in it of the hands of a babe." He sighed. "Yes, I, Vallon, was as a child myself again and now here come you and I am reminded of crime at once." His eyes flashed and his voice became hard. "I flew from Paris this morning, my friend, and caught the early Norwich express here. I have spent three days searching for Hidou, assured that we could compel him to tell us who this correspondent of Ravahol was."

"And you saw him?" asked Larose eagerly.

"Yes, Monsieur," replied Vallon gravely, "last night I saw him—" he paused for a moment—"with his eyes staring—his face bled white—his hair matted and a knife wound over his heart. He had been dead about ten days." The stout detective nodded his head solemnly. "Yes, Ravahol was thorough and would brook no rivals, and he probably found that letter on Hidou when Hidou was dead." He smiled. "I rejoice now that Ravahol died at your hands."

Larose wetted his dry lips. "Sit down, Monsieur," he said. "I have a lot to tell you, but I must be quick, for I am meeting Naughton Jones at three."

"Ah! the great Naughton," exclaimed Vallon, a little enviously. "I have just left him. He was arguing with Professor Mariarty as to the quickest way of throttling a man. He favours the breaking of the Adam's apple, but the worthy Mariarty insists on pressure only on the jugular veins." The Frenchman sighed. "They are great masters, both of them, and I don't know which is right." He spoke in matter-of-fact tones. "But Jones is waiting for you now. He has made a great discovery, he says, but he will not say what it is until we three are all together."

They sat down on a sandhill and rapidly Larose put the French detective in possession of all that had happened since he had been away. Vallon clicked his tongue and snapped his fingers in astonishment and satisfaction when he heard about Professor Ingleby and the glass of Barsac, but his face grew long when he learnt that mention had been made of the new patients at Weybourne Manor.

"Well, well," he said warmly, when Larose had finished, "you have done wonders in such a short time, and I, Vallon who am feared and hated in every prison of my country, am proud to call you colleague. It seems a miracle that we can have struck the trail of the gang so quickly—and in a manner, too, that leaves them in the dark. But that Professor Ingleby would be the very type of man to be organising an affair like this. An intellectual, with resources behind him, and therefore never forced to strike before the right moment." He frowned. "The weak point in our attack is that we must at all times combine it with defence, for if they are in the open so are we, and men of their type, once they realise they are in a corner"—he shrugged his shoulders—"are like the deceased Ravahol and his knife." He rose to his feet. "But, come, we must go in now, for Naughton Jones will become impatient and his mightiness is irritable enough already."

But there was no need, as it happened for them to go right into Weybourne Manor, for they had not walked a hundred yards when they saw Naughton Jones striding towards them.

"You're late," he said scowlingly to Larose. He took out his watch. "It is three minutes later than you arranged."

"I met Monsieur Vallon," replied Larose meekly, "and we had a little talk."

"Five and twenty minutes," commented Jones coldly. "I was watching you through my glasses." He turned his head round. "But come up among the sandhills, where we shall not be seen or overheard."

"Now," he said, when they were all seated, and his voice took on a careless note—"I have uncovered the heads of the gang. I know who they are." He waited a moment for his words to sink in, and if he had expected surprise he was certainly not disappointed, for Larose opened his eyes wide, and Vallon looked astonished.

"Yes," went on Naughton Jones. "I found out last night." He turned to Vallon. "But I suppose Mr. Larose has told you about my visit to the castle?"

"Yes," nodded Vallon, "and about Raphael Croupin as well."

Jones glanced up quickly at him, and then frowned. "Ah! it was he, was it?" He sniffed. "The imbecile—he thinks he can handle a violin!" He shook his head, as if to dispose of an unpleasant memory, and went on impressively:—

"Well, when I arrived before the castle last night there were three cars parked in front, and, according to my custom of neglecting no trifles, however small, I at once proceeded to investigate them. One was a shabby Ford that had brought up some women in it, for it smelt strongly of perfume. Also, as there was a box of cough lozenges, a large Prayer Book, and a copy of the 'Church Times' in the door pocket, I conjectured that it belonged to a clergyman. The second car was the two seater of the medical man, for it smelt of ether and there was a bag of surgical instruments in it. The third car was an expensive racing Daimler, and it had brought up three men, for I saw that three seats had been occupied and there was cigar ash beneath each of them."

Jones paused for a moment as if to emphasise his remarks, and then went on:—

"Well, I was asked into the castle to play, and immediately recognised among the assembled company a man I had shadowed once, on Government service. It was known at that time that he had succeeded in bringing into the country a large parcel of prohibited drugs, but unhappily we were not able to bring it home to him, although I proved up to the hilt that he was an associate of habitual offenders in that particular line. His name is Texworthy, he hunts big game, is a racing motorist, and outside the United Kingdom has an unsavoury reputation connected with the slave trade in Africa. Another man I recognised there was the crank, Professor Ingleby, a genius, it is supposed, as a philosopher, but a man of morbid mind and invariably to be found at all murder trials which present features of unusual horror. I have seen him many times gloating over them in the courts.

"Then there was a third man I knew, the Honourable James McAlbane, a prominent amateur jockey, but a trickster of the turf and with an evil reputation in gambling circles generally."

"Well, I played before them all, and, keeping my eyes specially on Texworthy and Professor Ingleby, soon saw that they were more than ordinarily interested in Mr. Larose; for, not once or twice, but many times, they whispered together, and then turned their eyes towards him. Then afterwards, when I had partaken of a glass of wine in the pantry, and was being ushered back by a maid into the hall, I saw this man Ingleby and the butler in earnest consultation between the drawing-room doors. They were too far away for me to hear anything of what they were saying, but Ingleby's expression was hard and intent, and the butler's mouth was working as if he were talking with great rapidity." Jones raised his hand solemnly to emphasise his point. "And the very instant they caught sight of me they turned away from each other in a flash, the professor going back into the great hall, and the butler stepping to one side and waiting for me to pass, with a face as wooden and immobile as if he had never said a dozen consecutive words in all his life. The whole action was significant, because they had so obviously stopped in the middle of a conversation, and not at the end of it. Their conduct in my eyes was most suspicious."

Naughton Jones broke off in his recital, and Vallon exclaimed——

"La! La! Nothing escapes you."

Jones went on:—"A quarter of an hour later I left the castle, with a five-pound note which Smith had given me. I walked into the village, and in a telephone call box found that both Texworthy and Ingleby were on the 'phone, and lived in the neighbourhood. Thereupon I went into the village inn, and made discreet inquiries. Texworthy lived about seven miles away, but Ingleby's house was quite near—less than three miles from the village. I learnt they were great friends, and that they and the other man, McAlbane, were always about together. Leaving the inn, and knowing now the whereabouts of their places, I thought I would walk home by way of the professor's, for it is barely two miles from here. It is called Marsh House. So off I went, and eleven o'clock found me inspecting his domicile. There were no lights to be seen anywhere, and I had a good look round. Flashing a torch through the chinks of his garage. I saw that a car was there, and reasoned at once that either Texworthy or McAlbane would be driving him home in the Daimler. Then an idea struck me. I would wait and see them come home, and, if possible, hear what their last words were when they said good night." Naughton Jones paused here, and eyed them gravely. "The last words of parting, you know, often epitomise all the conversation that has gone before."

"Bien! Bien!" cried Vallon. "It is indeed so."

"Well," went on Naughton Jones, "I lay down at the angle of the wall on the far side of the house, away from the direction in which they would come, and, shortly before midnight, they arrived."

"Yes," exclaimed Vallon impatiently, "and what happened?"

"There were three of them in the car," drawled Jones, in no hurry. "Ingleby got out, and said he would not ask them to stop because he was tired. He added that they must all have their wits about them now, for Wenn, he was nearly sure, was Larose, and that he was quite certain the patients of Weybourne Manor were bogus ones and in the pay of Smith, too. He finished by saying—his exact words—'They are after us sure enough'—and then went in." Jones shrugged his shoulders. "And there you are."

"Mr. Jones," said Larose warmly, "what you have discovered is really wonderful, and I am sure there is no one amongst us who can seize on an opportunity better than you. All that you have said confirms what I have been almost certain of ever since I went to stay at the castle, particularly that the butler is a member of the gang. Professor Ingleby has known all along about that midnight meeting, for three days ago he was showing Ephraim Smith and his daughter sketches that he had drawn, when in court, of you, Monsieur Vallon, and myself. He laid special stress, of course, upon you, and he was only showing the sketches, I am sure, to watch how Smith would take it," and then the Australian proceeded to tell Naughton Jones all that Eunice had related about the tea party at Marsh House, and all that he had learnt subsequently about the butler and his association with the professor.

A long silence followed, and then Jones said thoughtfully:—"Well, as far as I can see, for the moment it is stalemate. We may be pretty certain who they are, but they know for certain who we are, and as long as we remain here they will suspend their demands upon Smith, and there will thus be no opportunity of taking them in the act." He hesitated a moment. "But I should like to have absolute proof about that butler and the way in which he keeps the gang informed, for, remember, we must be quite certain of our facts when we acquaint his master."

"We must force him into the open," said Vallon. "It should be easily done."

"How?" asked Jones. "He won't report to Ingleby and Co. unless anything unusual happens at the castle."

"Well, something unusual shall happen them," said Vallon promptly; "we will make him eager to communicate with his professor, and then watch him. Listen, this evening Mr. Larose goes back to the castle. To-morrow morning early I will begin sending him telegrams one after another, at short intervals, from Sheringham, and their arrival will surely arouse the curiosity of Mr. Fenton. He will wonder what is happening, and, with the gang already suspicious of the slightest move, he will not dare to neglect letting the others know."

"He will not telephone, that's certain," said Larose.

"No, no," agreed Jones emphatically—"they have never done that, we may be sure. The telephone is much too public in these local exchanges, and, if that had been their means of communication, with the police about, something would have leaked out long ago." He looked at his watch. "But I'm going in for a cup of tea now and we'll have a further conversation afterwards." A thought seemed suddenly to strike him. "Oh! one thing." he said slowly—"if those men take it into their heads now to be aggressive, we must look out. The face of Professor Ingleby has the same expression on it that I noticed once upon that of Sattery the poisoner, and as for Texworthy—well, he's a noted rifle shot and can pick off a man every time at a thousand yards——" the detective looked round gloomily—"and these sandhills are very lonely."

They walked back slowly upon the sands, and when opposite the Manor, which lay only a hundred yards or so back from the shore, they came upon Lord Hume putting some fishing tackle into a small red-painted rowing boat that was drawn up just beyond the margin of the waves. The boat had the name 'Hilda Mary' painted upon it and belonged to the Institution.

"And where do you fish, my lord?" asked Larose interestedly, when they had exchanged greetings.

"Oh! I have been going to the same place," replied Lord Hume, "and I always manage to get something. It's about two and a half miles along the coast and then about half a mile from the shore. One of the local fishermen told me about it."

"But how do you know when you are on the right spot?" smiled Larose. "It isn't signposted, is it?"

"Hardly," smiled back his lordship, "but I hug the coast until a little way before a certain house—one belonging to a notability, by the way, Professor Ingleby—and then I turn straight out to sea." He laughed lightly. "I believe the great man is getting to know me, for he usually turns his telescope upon me, I notice, when I arrive."

"Humph!" remarked Naughton Jones absentmindedly. "Half a mile from the shore, you say, and that is just under a thousand yards." His manner became suddenly less detached. "I shouldn't fish there in that cockboat if I were you, my lord," he said. "Some dangerous storms blow up round here, and you might have difficulty sometime in getting back to land," and, with a warning nod, he turned with the others into the grounds of the Manor.

A moment later he frowned to himself. "Now ought I to have been more explicit?" he muttered. "I wonder."


Chapter X.—The Messenger of Death.

Next morning Mattin, the dweller in the cottage by the castle gates, awoke at his usual hour, five o'clock, and rolling out of bed proceeded to make himself a cigarette.

The Syrian was a lithe, athletic-looking man, not unlike the hunter, Texworthy, in build. He carried himself with the same confident and self-reliant bearing, and moved quickly, like a man always ready with his decisions. His features, however, were mild, and from rather dreamy eyes he regarded the world with the calm, untroubled expression of the fatalist.

He might, indeed, as Professor Ingleby indicated, be absolutely without scruples, but certainly he was not without humour, and there was nothing in his appearance to suggest cruelty or lack of pity.

Mattin went out into his little garden, and for a few moments stood upon the packing case looking through his binoculars. But he saw nothing of interest, apparently, and, turning back, re-entered the cottage. Half an hour later he left for work upon his bicycle.

Two minutes had scarcely elapsed after the Syrian's departure, when the tall figure of Naughton Jones emerged from the ferns close by the cottage. The detective made straight for the packing case and, producing a pair of glasses, focussed them on the castle.

"Now," he said, "I must get an exact impression in my mind. One, two, three, four—that's the window. There's no signal up at present, or he would have shown more interest and his movements would not have been so unconcerned." He stared, frowning, through the glasses. "Yes, everything quite ordinary. Open, top and bottom, and blind not drawn. Can see chest of drawers on right and bed on left. Clock on mantel-shelf and some books on chest of drawers."

He stared for quite an appreciable time and then, pocketing his glasses, returned thoughtfully to his hiding place among the ferns. Here he stretched himself at full length again, and then, it seemed, he went to sleep. Some hours passed and it was almost high noon when he heard the clicking of the garden gate. He was alert in an instant, to see Mattin striding quickly up the path. The dark man went into the cottage, and, coming out again with his binoculars, mounted the packing case as before. But his stay there was very brief—he jumped down almost immediately and, having returned the glasses to the cottage, rode off quickly upon his bicycle. This time, however, he chose the opposite direction to that which he had taken in the early morning.

"Good," remarked Naughton Jones cheerfully, "then he's seen something and is going off to report—and now I'll see it too. Ah, exactly," he went on a minute later, "the clock is in a different position upon the mantel-shelf. No, nothing else altered—everything just the same. Very simple, certainly, but if I'm not very much mistaken there's a meaning to it." He jumped off the packing case. "And now—a hundred to one that I meet him coming back from Marsh House."

And, sure enough, some forty minutes later an untidy-looking tramp ambling along the road leading to the sea, came face to face with the Syrian riding back at a smart pace towards the cottage.

"Quite so," said Naughton Jones, when Mattin had sped by, "then in some arranged way he's warned the professor to be ready and now it only remains for me to see what the great man will do."

But the detective did not go up to Marsh House; instead, when still a mile away, he left the road and, climbing up among the sand dunes, lay down and prepared himself for another long wait.

"Now I've plenty of time," was his comment, "for if our reasoning is correct the butler has been disturbed by the arrival of those telegrams to Larose and has stressed the urgency of meeting Ingleby. He will not go to Ingleby's house, of course, but they will meet somewhere else—probably among these sandhills."

He produced a paper bag from his pocket and abstracted a large stick of sweetmeat. "Nothing like barley sugar," he went on, "when you can't get a proper meal. Glucose is an excellent muscular stimulant and most sustaining. Much better than messy chocolate, which encourages the formation of oxylades and is irritating to the kidneys." He frowned. "I must tell Vallon that. He is very conceited."

About two hours later Professor Ingleby appeared from the garden of his house. He came straight towards the sand dunes, passing within a hundred yards of where Naughton Jones was lying.

"An evil-looking little rat," remarked the latter, watching through his binoculars, "and he's got a worried air. But I daren't follow him, for among these dunes I should have to stick very close, and any moment if he turned he would see me. No; now I'll go back along the road which Fenton will have to take to get here, and I shall be greatly disappointed if I don't meet him coming along."

And within five minutes he came upon the butler, walking fast and with a very red face. Fenton gave a careless glance at the tramp as he drew level, but went by without a word.

"Good," said Naughton Jones grimly, "and now we're certain and have only to bring it home to them." His eyes gleamed. "We know the gang and we know their spy, and it will be bad fortune only if we do not get them red-handed when they make their next attempt."

But in the ensuing days it seemed as if no further attempt were to be made, and complete tranquillity reigned alike at the castle, Marsh House and Weybourne Manor.

Larose made a thorough search of Fenton's bedroom, but found nothing there of importance, and his efforts to break down the butler's reserve ended in failure. To all outward appearances Fenton was nothing but a zealous and efficient servitor of the man who employed him.

"And we are wasting our time now, I am afraid," said Vallon, shaking his head, when upon the sixth day he met Larose and Naughton Jones upon the sands. "We are all just marking time. They know we are watching, and they will do nothing as long as we are here. We must disperse and let them think we have given it up, or at any rate are no longer taking any concerted action. They are just laughing at us and doing nothing."

"On the contrary, Monsieur Vallon," said Jones, coldly, "I happen to know that they are doing something, and at any moment they may make a mistake which we can profit by." He spoke carelessly. "At any rate they are not indifferent to us, for the stone-breaker was here for quite a long time on Tuesday, disguised as a sailor. I recognised him in that excursion party that came down in that charabane to bathe, and noticed he was most interested in our place of residence. I saw him walking round at the back of the house and even peering into the windows. He has not been here since, however, and I rather think he must have gone away from the neighbourhood, for he was not at his cottage either yesterday or the day before." He sighed. "I spent some monotonous hours there among the ferns on the lookout."

"I went up to Ingleby's yesterday," said Vallon, frowning, "and tried to sell them a broom. I did not manage to see him, however, and I did no business, but he sent me out a glass of beer. Everything seemed quite ordinary." He shook his head again. "Yes, I believe we are all wasting our time."

"But what's become of the rest of our lot here?" asked Larose sharply. "Are we the only ones on the active list? What are the others doing?"

Jones looked amused. "Oh! enjoying themselves," he replied, "and apparently just waiting for a call to the castle. Taking a restful as well as a profitable holiday, I should say. Professor Mariarty is writing his memoirs, and Dr. Crittenden is assisting him to put in the crimes that he's committed and does not remember. Lord Hume goes fishing every day in the little red boat of the Institution, and Monsieur Croupin has found his ideal of beauty, I believe, in a young woman who serves in the village shop." He looked up and scowled suddenly. "Ah, here comes Croupin now, and that menacing tip-toe walk of his is indicative of his light-fingered philandering character. He will kiss or steal wherever opportunity offers."

Raphael Croupin came tripping along. He had been gathering wild flowers among the sand dunes, and had acquired enough of them to make a large bouquet. He smiled engagingly as he came up to the three detectives.

"Voyez, Messieurs," he said, holding out the flowers for their inspection. "A little labour of love. A tribute of admiration to the beautiful eyes of a most adorable woman." He addressed himself to Naughton Jones. "Ah! Meester Jones," he exclaimed; and he placed his hand over his heart. "Now, is not love the most glorious of all the flowers in the great garden of life, and does not passion mark the hour when that flower arrives at its perfection?" He shook his head sadly. "But love is madness, too, and passion but an opiate dream in the slumbers of mankind. We sleep in the courts of heaven, but we wake in the prosaic surroundings of this cold, dull earth." He made the suspicion of a wink towards Larose. "Now, is it not so, Meester Jones?"

Naughton Jones regarded him with contempt. "I am no judge of insanity, Mr. Croupin," he replied, "and, as for courts, I should say a police court is the only kind that you are ever likely to sleep in." His voice rose in anger. "And please, sir, when you next meet me when I am engaged upon my professional duties, I shall regard it as a favour if you will not approach me in any way." His tone was withering. "You know nothing about music or violins, and you occasioned me annoyance at the castle that evening."

For a moment Croupin stared open-mouthed, and then he made a gesture of astonishment.

"And so it was you, then, Mr. Jones!" he exclaimed, incredulously. "You were that gifted musician who played like a great master!" He seemed almost overcome with enthusiasm.

Naughton Jones eyed him sternly. "Were you not aware of that?" he asked.

"Of course not, Mr. Jones, I assure you," replied Croupin at once. "And should I have dared to speak to you, Mr. Jones," he went on quickly, "if I had known it was you."

"Perhaps not," said Jones. His tone was cutting. "At any rate, Monsieur, you are no violinist."

Croupin looked crushed. "But it was a joke, Monsieur," he said, "only a little joke," and, with an air of great dejection, he walked slowly away.

"But Monsieur Vallon," said the Australian, after a moment's silence, "about changing our quarters as you suggest. Let us withhold any action until after Monday. I am spending the evening then with Ingleby, and am going to meet some more of his friends. It's a bridge party, and I may have an opportunity of studying other members of the gang. There are to be two tables, I understand, and I am going to dine with them first."

Naughton Jones frowned. "But you are not going alone?" he said. "Remember, they must be sure of your identity."

"No, not sure," replied Larose at once. "I met them all at the golf club yesterday, and they were puzzled. In fact, I think they are quite doubtful now. Besides, I shall not be alone. Dr. Grain is going, too."

"Humph," remarked Vallon reflectively. "I don't like it, though perhaps it would be premature to expect violence on their part."

But the great detective of the Surete of Paris was in error, for that same night the big game hunter, leaving his car at Professor Ingleby's, secreted a rifle among the sand dunes about a mile away. He chose a spot almost exactly opposite the fishing ground that Lord Hume had exploited so successfully in the red rowing boat of Weybourne Manor.

The next day he was early among the dunes and, throwing himself down with the rifle at his elbow, lay hour after hour, almost as motionless as the dunes themselves.

The sun rose high in the sky and and a gentle wind stirred among the tall sand grass about him. In the peace and warmth he might easily have fallen asleep, but his eyelids never flickered and his eyes were always steady on the sea before him.

The shore was very lonely and no one passed. A few boats, however, went by out to sea, but one quick glance was all they received from him, and he did not even trouble to use the binoculars that lay by his side. Just after 3 o'clock, however, his interest quickened suddenly, and in a flash he put up the glasses and focussed them upon a small rowing boat coming slowly into view. It was of a bright red colour and contained one occupant, who was rowing at a leisurely pace close into the shore.

The big-game hunter stared hard for a few seconds, and then with a grim smile put down the glasses and picked up the rifle. He altered his position in the sand, and then, opening his legs wide, pulled the rifle to his shoulder and released the safety catch.

But, although his preparations were undoubtedly of a sinister nature and betokened no good to the unsuspecting occupant of the boat, it was evidently not his intention to fire straight away, for he made no attempt to take aim. Instead, he just watched as if curious to see in which direction the boat would go.

For quite a quarter of a mile the rower pulled slowly along, keeping parallel all the time with the shore; then, as if he had at last got his bearings from some object on the land, he turned the boat suddenly at right angles, and commenced rowing out to sea.

Eight or nine minutes passed. Then the big-game hunter suddenly covered him, his fingers closed on the trigger, and any second, it seemed, the messenger of death might speed over the water. The boat was now more than half a mile from the shore. All at once the rower ceased pulling and, shipping his oars, stood up to stretch across for the anchor.

Instantly then the crack of a rifle came from the direction of the shore, and the little boat dipped violently as its occupant fell across the bow. For the moment it seemed the boat would be swamped, but it righted almost immediately to settle down again quickly upon an even keel. It bobbed gently upon the waves.

The rower had disappeared.

Texworthy, among the sand dunes, was breathing hard and there was triumph in his eyes.

"Over a thousand yards," he muttered. "Conditions couldn't have been better, and there'll be no trace of him." He frowned. "But I wish it had been Vallon or Larose. We should be safer then."

He lay on in the sand, and watched the boat drift slowly away. "It'll pass Weybourne," was his comment, with a sneer, "and they'll be damned puzzled when they see it."

All that long afternoon he remained among the dunes, and then, when darkness fell, hugging the rifle closely to his side, he made like a shadow for Marsh House.

"It's all right," he said, in a low tone, as he came upon Professor Ingleby, sitting in the corner of the verandah. "I got him, and there's one less."

"Yes," replied the professor, softly. "I saw everything through the telescope, and was quite thrilled." He shook his head reprovingly. "But you let him get so far away that I became anxious that you hadn't seen him. Then, when you did fire, you aimed too high. You got him in the throat, and I just saw the flash of blood before he fell. They won't find his body anyhow. They never do, as I tell you, upon this coast. There are too many conger eels about."

"Well, it was a good shot," said Texworthy, complacently, "and I only waited because I wanted to hit him standing up, so that he would be more likely to topple out of the boat. I risked things a bit, perhaps, but, then, I knew any moment he was going to anchor." He laughed sneeringly. "Well, it'll be a puzzle for his pals."

But it was not quite such a puzzle for some of them as the big-game hunter imagined.

That night, just before ten, a very solemn conclave was held in a small room in Weybourne Manor. Naughton Jones, Vallon, and Dr. Crittenden were there, and the expressions upon their faces betokened their different natures. Jones's was stern and grim as death; Vallon's was black and furious, while Dr. Crittenden had the cold and passionless demeanour of the scientist.

The red rowing boat had been towed into Sheringham by some fishermen a couple of hours previously, and a telephone message to the manor had brought the three into the pretty little town as speedily as the lumbering manor car could take them. On the way in Naughton Jones had enlightened Dr. Crittenden of the discoveries he and the others had made up to date, and the doctor had been censorious because they had not taken him into their confidence before.

"But you would have known, sir," Jones had replied, with dignity, "at any rate very shortly, you and his lordship, too. It was no good disclosing anything, however, until we had brought our investigations to a more definite point."

Then they had inspected the boat, and, fortunately, they were able to see it exactly as it was found. It had not been interfered with in any way, no one had been in it, and nothing had been taken from it.

And so, under a glaring arc-light upon the promenade, they had examined everything minutely.

The oars had been shipped evenly, the anchor was in the bow with the rope neatly coiled around it, and in the stern was a fishing basket and a tin of bait. In effect, it looked just an innocent boat, with no sinister story to tell, and one to which the owner might be returning any moment.

Then suddenly Vallon's eyes opened wide, and his arm shot out.

"Look at that!" he exclaimed hoarsely—"it's blood," and he pointed to a dark splash on the planking in the bow of the boat.

Instantly Dr. Crittenden bent down and touched it. "Yes, it is blood," he said quietly, "and so are those spots on the anchor rope and that splash there on the gunwale;" and then, taking a penknife from his pocket, he scraped off a little of the blood and, wrapping it carefully in a piece of paper, placed it in his pocket.

For a minute they had stood in silence over the boat with their eyes searching everywhere, photographing the position of its contents upon their minds.

Then with the boat safely stowed away in a shed, they had returned to the car.

"We'll talk when we get home," the doctor had said, and the drive back was thereupon conducted in silence. Immediately upon their arrival at the Manor they went up to Naughton Jones's room, but the doctor, as an after-thought, begged them to excuse him for five minutes. Ten minutes, however, elapsed before he turned.

"Now," he said quietly, "what do you make of it?"

"Murder," exclaimed Vallon laconically, "murder without a doubt."

"He was shot," hissed Naughton Jones, "by Arnold Texworthy from the shore. He had reached that fishing ground of his, and he was about to pick up the anchor. He was shot in the neck or the head, or at any rate in an exposed part and then toppled over the boat."

The doctor regarded Jones thoughtfully. "Steady, steady," he said. "You are going upon your inside information, course, but still we must determine accurately where facts end and conjecture begins." He produced a pencil and piece of paper from his pocket. "Now let us put everything in its proper order, please."

For the moment he had assumed the leadership of the three, and he proceeded judiciously.

"Now Hume left here about a quarter past two this afternoon, and in the ordinary course of events—for he was a very punctilious man—he should have returned in time for dinner at half-past 6. But he did not return, and we learnt from the Sheringham fishermen that at 6.40 they came upon the empty boat about five miles due south from here, three miles out to sea. Now the first question we must ask ourselves is how did our friend and his boat come to part company? The blood stains indicate some sudden and unexpected development. Was he ashore with the boat or at sea? I think we may presume the latter, for, if he had merely suffered some seizure with haemorrhage while beached, we should surely have heard by now, while, if he had been attacked close in, either the boat would have been sunk or destroyed by his assailants or, before it was set adrift, the blood stains would have been removed.

"My estimate is that he must have left the boat at some time close to 3 o'clock for at a quarter-past 2 I saw him pulling away due north from here, and less than four and a half hours later, from the position when the boat was picked up, it must have drifted at least seven miles in the opposite direction." The doctor paused a moment. "Yes, at least seven miles, and with the tide going out—it was high water at three—and the moderate breeze we had to-day, two miles an hour would be a fair estimate of its rate of drift. Therefore, we may presume the boat was unoccupied for about three and a half hours before it was found, and that would take things back, as I say, to very close on 3 o'clock. Now——" and there was a solemn note in his voice—"if we did not know where it was Lord Hume's habit to fish—where should we expect to find him about three o'clock when pulling against the tide and going due north?"

"Beyond where the sand dunes end," scowled Vallon, "where the marshes begin and where that professor has his house."

"And what happened then?" asked Dr. Crittenden.

"I am no sailor," said Naughton Jones, sharply, "but horse-sense tells me that a rower in a boat only ships his oars when he is going to stop rowing, and he only stops rowing when about to do one of two things. He is either going to land or to drop his anchor."

"He had no rudder," said the doctor thoughtfully, "so if he were out to sea the moment he shipped his oars he would no longer have any command of the boat unless he immediately dropped his anchor. It would drift anyhow, it would——"

"So we can be certain," broke in Vallon impatiently, "that he did pull in the oars with the intention of anchoring, and then——"

"Then," said Dr Crittenden, for the Frenchman hesitated, "he would have risen to his feet and stepped towards the bow to get the anchor."

"And if a bullet struck him," snapped Jones, "and he fell, he would fall forward, of course."

The doctor nodded. "Because his body would be inclined that way," he said. "No one assumes an entirely erect position when standing up in a small boat."

"And if the blood were spurting as he fell," went on Jones, "it would make just such marks as we saw to-night."

The doctor nodded again. "Yes," he said, "provided he were hit on an exposed part, as you suggest, and an artery were struck. We should not then expect a continuous trail, because the spurting of the blood would correspond to the beats of the heart, and between the spurts would come those big drops."

"And he must have fallen over the bow or thereabouts," said Vallon, "for if he had fallen over the side in a small boat like that it would either have swamped the boat or at least some water would have been shipped, and the boat was quite dry." The Frenchman frowned suddenly. "But are we going too fast?" he asked. "We are assuming that it was human blood, whereas those stains may have come from some fish."

"No, no," said the doctor emphatically. "I have just made a test under the microscope. It is not fish blood, for the red corpuscles in it would then be oval, and instead they are bi-concave discs. It's mammalian blood sure enough, but further tests will have to be made before we can say definitely that it is human."

"Of course, it's human." scoffed Jones, and then he in turn frowned. "But could his nose have bled, Dr. Crittenden—could he have become giddy and fallen overboard that way?"

The doctor was emphatic again. "No," he replied at once, "the shape of those splashes suggests a far greater degree of violence than the gravity of merely falling blood, as in the case of bleeding from the nose."

A moment's silence followed, and then Vallon asked: "And would the idea have come to you, Dr. Crittenden, that he had been shot if we"—he spoke very deliberately—"in the first instance had not suggested it?"

The doctor shook his head. "No," he replied quite frankly, "at any rate, not at this stage. I should have been very puzzled and only when I had exhausted all the other possibilities, one by one, would the idea of a bullet wound have come to me. That something, however, of great if not startling suddenness had happened I should have realised instantly, for, as I saw you both noticed, that cigarette had fallen on to the boards when it had been only one-third smoked, and it had fallen when alight, as evidenced by the faint charring of the wood underneath." The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "That alone had a sinister significance for me."

"I have been careless," said Naughton Jones gloomily. "I knew they were interested in us, because that stone-breaker came spying round the other day. Of course, he saw Hume going out that afternoon and reported about the red rowing boat to headquarters. Then they watched for it."

"Well," said Vallon gruffly, "we can do nothing until the body is recovered, and that may never be."

"In the meantime," commented Jones, "we'll try and make certain of Texworthy's movements yesterday afternoon, but we must be very careful not to let him get wind of what we are doing." He frowned. "It will be difficult."

But, as it happened, there was no need to trail the big game hunter, for Larose came over to the manor the next morning, and, being informed under what suspicious circumstances Lord Hume had disappeared, exclaimed instantly:—

"Then, without a doubt, he was shot by Texworthy, for I saw Texworthy's car parked outside Marsh House when we passed there yesterday just before five." His eyes blazed furiously. "And we're fools. We ought to have been prepared for something like this. Those men are not the kind to remain only on the defensive. They're fighters every one of them. Texworthy's a killer by instinct. Ingleby for years has been drugging himself with horrors until he sees now only the cleverness of crime, and to McAlbane all danger is sport and he has the brute courage of a charging beast."

The Australian calmed down all at once and made a grimace. "And I'm going to dine with them to-morrow night! Dinner and bridge! I refused the pressing offer of a bed"—a grim smile came into his face—"because I understand from Miss Smith that the professor has some private quicksands very near."

"But you'll not go," said Vallon promptly. "It would be very foolish. It would not be safe. I don't like it."

"Oh, yes, it'll be quite safe," said Larose. "There are to be two tables, and Dr. Grain has been asked." He shook his head. "I must go. I want to see who the other players are; they may be more of the gang."

But Vallon was still doubtful. "I don't like it," he repeated. "My instincts warn me." He frowned heavily. "I smell blood—more blood."

Naughton Jones sniffed. "You're like Mariarty then," he remarked. "He was a butcher once."

Larose lowered his eyes and repressed a smile.


Chapter XI.—In Danger.

The following evening just before half past six, a very smiling and debonair Mr. Wenn drove up in Eunice Smith's car to the house of Professor Ingleby.

He turned a humorous eye upon the sands that stretched along the lonely shore. "Tide going down fast," he remarked, "and those jolly quicksands will soon be uncovered. Good way of dying, too. No bothering doctor's bill to come in afterwards, and funeral expenses cheap." He sighed. "Really, Gilbert, you are a lucky chap."

He ran the car into the yard and then met Professor Ingleby on the verandah. The great man shook him warmly by the hand and led him into the house.

"So glad you've come, Mr. Wenn," he said cordially. "You're the first one to arrive but we'll have a little appetiser at once," and he touched the bell.

Larose glanced at the butler when he came in, but was quickly reassured. "As harmless as a sparrow," was his immediate comment, "and would not touch one of his master's cigarettes. And that was his wife, of course, whom I saw through the kitchen window bending over those pots and pans. Elderly and gentle-looking, and quite harmless, too. No, they're both innocent and outside their master's schemes."

He enjoyed the sherry and bitters and had just declined the offer of a second, when the butler returned into the room.

"Please, sir, could James speak to you for a moment?" he said, addressing his master. "He wants to know about those bulbs you ordered last week."

"Excuse me for a moment, Mr. Wenn," said the professor. "My gardener is always worrying me at inopportune times," and he bustled energetically away.

The butler proceeded to pick up the empty glasses.

"Very lonely here," remarked Larose, looking out of the window.

"Yes, sir," replied the butler, "but we're accustomed to it."

"Do you get the newspapers every day?" asked Larose.

"Oh! yes, sir," replied the butler, "the grocer brings them out when he comes. That is, of course, sir"—he corrected himself—"the morning papers. We don't get the evening paper unless we go into Holt specially for it." He looked inquiringly at the detective. "Did you want one particularly to-night, sir?"

"Good gracious, no," laughed Larose. "I can wait until the morning."

"Because, sir," went on the butler, "if you should happen to want one I could bring it back with me to-night. We're going into Holt for the pictures after we've served dinner, my wife and me. The master's had some tickets given him."

"Oh! you're going in to the pictures, are you?" asked Larose thoughtfully. "Anything good on?"

"Yes, sir," replied the butler. "'The Scarlet Sin,' featuring Mary Trulove as the deceiving wife." He looked very pleased. "I think we shall enjoy it."

"I'm sure you will," agreed Larose heartily. "It sounds quite good."

The butler left the room, and the detective frowned.

"Hum!" he remarked, "now that's interesting. Letting his staff go off when he's got visitors; still"—and his face cleared—"they will be up to no tricks if there are to be eight of us, and I needn't worry therefore about what I eat or drink."

But the detective soon found that if there were, indeed, to be eight at cards there would certainly not be that number at dinner.

Texworthy and McAlbane arrived in a few minutes and then the professor began to fidget, looking frequently at his watch.

"Are you sure our time is right?" he asked of the butler, who was hovering about with a worried expression upon his face.

"It's right by the wireless, sir," replied the man. "Nearly five minutes to 7."

"Well, we won't wait any longer," said the professor, pocketing his watch. "Serve dinner at once." He turned to Larose and whispered smilingly as the butler went out. "His wife's the cook, you see, and it will break her heart if the dinner's spoilt. I was expecting another guest," he added—"Colonel Young, but I suppose the old chap's indisposed and can't come. He's very old-fashioned and unfortunately is not on the 'phone." He made a move to the door. "But we can't wait or the others will be here before we're finished, and I hate to have to eat and drink in a hurry."

The detective smiled amiably, but felt his uneasiness grow.

"So I'm going to have these beauties to myself," ran his thoughts, "with the butler and his missus going out and no certainty that anyone else is arriving. I've seen two card tables laid out, but that may be only bluff, and although young Grain told me positively that he was coming—they may have 'phoned him at the last minute to put him off." He frowned. "Lord! but I've taken things too much for granted. It'll be dark before 9, the odds are three to one against me, and they are fighting on their own ground."

But he had no opportunity for further ruminations just then, for the professor taking his arm, led him into the dining room.

"A homely little dinner, Mr. Wenn," he said, smiling. "A man's meal with no kickshaws, quite plain but the very best. A Dover sole, sirloin of beef, and the first grouse of the season, and all prepared by one of the best cooks in England."

They seated themselves at the table and Larose, seeing that there was actually a place laid for another diner, took heart and prepared to enjoy his dinner even if it were to be the last one he would ever eat.

"I shall be quite safe, at any rate," he told himself, "while the butler's here, and then after that, if the others don't appear, I must trust to my own wits to keep the breath in my body." He smiled grimly to himself. "But be careful, Gilbert, be very careful what you drink when the butler's gone, for there are many poisons in this wicked world and"—he sighed—"as I have reminded you already those quicksands are very near."

The dinner was quite a merry one and nothing could have been more kindly and hospitable than the professor's manner. A patron of crime the great man might be, but Larose had to admit that he was an admirable host as well.

McAlbane was most friendly, too, and disclosed rather recklessly, Larose thought certain ventures of his of doubtful morality upon the turf.

And Texworthy sat smiling, not saying much, but looking rather amused, as if the whole time he were enjoying some private joke.

The famous Barsac was brought round, but both the big-game hunter and McAlbane declined.

"They're barbarians, Mr. Wenn," laughed the professor, "and as they are more at home with me than with Ephraim Smith, they shamelessly express their preference now for spirits over the divine fruit of the grape." He held up the glass to the light. "And isn't this a beautiful wine, sir, perfect in appearance, flavour and bouquet? But I wonder what our friend the Count would say to it if he were here: You know—you know," and he screwed up his eyes. "I think that aristocratic gentleman got a little bit tipsy the other night. He was very free with his opinions all the evening and I saw him myself make a gift of a penny to Fenton when being helped on with his coat. Ah! and talking about drunken people—now did you hear of that poor chap from the Inebriates' Home being drowned yesterday?" and he fixed Larose with a pair of very steely-looking eyes.

"Oh! from that place the canon spoke about the other night?" the detective replied. He shook his head. "No. I've heard nothing about it. How did it happen?"

"He went fishing in a small boat all by himself," said the professor gravely, "and, it is believed, took intoxicants with him; became incapable, and fell out of the boat and was drowned."

Larose professed little interest. "Well, they should have looked after him better," he remarked carelessly, "but it's my experience that if those kind of people want to get drink, they'll get it somehow." He shrugged his shoulders. "A confirmed drunkard, however, is no good to the community anyhow."

"Ah! there you have it, Mr. Wenn," exclaimed the professor with enthusiasm, "and it is there that you come to close quarters with the dreadful catastrophe that is menacing the world." He was most impressive. "You know, it is my considered opinion that civilisation is actually breaking down, and breaking down because of the far-reaching nature of its success. It is like a beautiful motor car that we have made the product of our greatest metallurgists and engineers, and"—he threw out his hands—"it is in such demand that we are overloading it and giving to it a burden too great for it to bear."

"What do you mean, exactly, sir?" asked Larose.

"Why, we are putting too many passengers in it," smiled the professor. "The maimed, the halt and the blind, the sick and the sorry, the lunatic and the imbecile, the man who is diseased, the idler and the loafer who will not work—in fact all whom Nature intended to fall by the wayside." He thumped the table in his earnestness. "We are altering the balance of Nature and we are preserving those whom she intended should starve and die."

"Great Scott!" laughed Larose, "but you wouldn't have us lose all pity, would you?"

"Nature has none," said the professor coldly, "and why should we pretend to a greater wisdom than her? We are a sick world, and sick we shall continue to be until we bow to the inevitable and live in harmony with Nature's laws. No pity and no favours, and no pandering to the cast-offs of God." He smiled at the Australian. "The race to the swift, Mr. Wenn, and the battle to the strong."

"Ha! ha!" laughed McAlbane, "and it is clear, my dear professor, that you are no follower of the turf and have no idea how big fights are framed up."

The meal proceeded, and such cheerfulness and harmony prevailed that Larose was in a way of being completely lulled into a sense of security, when suddenly all his suspicious were reawakened and he felt furtively for the little automatic in his hip pocket.

All in the space of a few seconds the demeanour of his host and the other two seemed to undergo a change and their careless lightheartedness to be replaced by uneasy and self-conscious embarrassment.

Larose noticed it when the dessert stage had been reached and the butler had placed a decanter of port upon the table. The butler looked inquiringly at his master, and, the professor giving him a curt nod, he left the room, shutting the door for the first time, the detective noticed, closely behind him.

Then it seemed as if some cold and chilling spirit had entered among them, and for the moment conversation lapsed. A feeling of tension was in the air. The professor fidgeted and looked first out of the window, and then at the clock. Texworthy gulped down the contents of his tumbler as if it were a duty to be got over, and McAlbane was suddenly most interested in his finger nails.

Then the professor appeared to pull himself together, and, talking with great rapidity and in raised tones, he asked Larose one question after another, barely giving him time to make any response. McAlbane joined in presently, talking equally as loudly.

The Honourable James was strongly of opinion that the famous Australian gelding, Phar Lap, was an over-rated animal, and that there were many racehorses in England which could comfortably take him on at even weights. The discussion was at its height, and Larose was finding it difficult to deal with both speakers at the same time, when he suddenly heard the sounds of a motor car being started up outside. There was no doubt of it, and the sounds came from the direction of the garage.

The detective thought swiftly. Of course, it was the butler and his wife going off to the pictures, and then he (Larose) was alone now with his enemies. Then what was about to happen? Was it imagination only that made him think they intended harm? Would they attempt to drug him, and then in some way finish him off? But was it possible that they would have the nerve to molest him when it was known to everyone that he was a guest at the professor's, and when, if he disappeared, they, and they only, would have to explain his disappearance? Ah! but an accident might happen, and they could so easily say, for instance, that they had been showing him those sinister quicksands, and he had foolhardily stepped too near, and slipped in. They could invent some plausible happening; they could——

He pushed his chair back a little, and, sitting forward, prepared himself at any suspicious movement to spring to his feet. He had Texworthy on his right, and the professor on his left, and McAlbane was on the other side of the table.

It was Texworthy, he told himself, from whom he would have most to fear, and he regarded watchfully the lithe and sinuous figure of the big-game hunter. But Texworthy's attitude was one of the greatest abandon. He was lolling back in his chair, he blinked his eyes as if he were sleepy, and his whole pose was that of a man who had enjoyed a good dinner, and now only wanted peace and quiet in order to digest it.

The conversation continued for a few minutes, and then the professor, getting up, moved over to the sideboard and busied himself with a kettle that had just begun to boil over a spirit lamp.

"Now, Mr. Wenn," he said smilingly, "I'm going to give you a treat. I never allow anyone to make the coffee here but myself." His eyes twinkled. "No one can make coffee like me, and you'll want two or three cups."

"Oh! I'm very sorry Professor Ingleby," exclaimed Larose, "but, really, I never take coffee at all. It upsets me."

The professor looked very hurt. "And this is where I wanted to show you," he said, disappointedly, "that, with all his riches, Ephraim Smith could not give you what I can." He looked hard at Larose. "Are you sure you won't have any?"

The detective shook his head. "Quite sure," he replied firmly. "I'm so sorry, but, as I say, I don't take it."

"And I quite agree with you, Mr. Wenn," said the big-game hunter, smiling. "I think it dopey stuff." He helped himself to some almonds and raisins. "These are much better to finish up with."

The professor brought coffee for himself and McAlbane to the table. "Well, have some of those raisins, Mr. Wenn," he said. "They come from Australia, although I'm sorry to admit the almonds don't. Oh! by-the-by," he added, "now try those almonds. They're not quite as good as those from Australia perhaps, but they're Valencias," and he pushed over a little silver dish upon which a dozen or more almonds remained.

Larose helped himself and took some raisins as well, but he did not relax his vigilance and still kept a wary eye on the others.

He was puzzled and uneasy, for, although everything appeared commonplace upon the surface, he sensed strongly a feeling of unnatural restraint in the room. Something was about to happen, he was sure, and it was a secret held by the other three. They were different from a few minutes ago.

McAlbane, after being talkative, had suddenly become quiet and was looking meditatively out of the window into the quickly gathering dusk. Texworthy sat like a graven image, but he no longer lolled in his chair, and he was frowning as if deep in thought. Only the professor was lively and he rattled on nervously as though he talked merely for the sake of talking. He had a word for everyone in turn.

"Have a liqueur Texworthy," he said, "and don't look as if you had just got your income tax in. Another glass of port, McAlbane, and you, Mr. Wenn, have some of that brandy. It's more than fifty years old, and I only bring it out on special occasions. Now, I think, I'll light the lamp. We shall be going into the study in a few minutes, directly the others arrive, but we won't go in until they do come, so that the room will be quite fresh."

And then suddenly, with the lighting of the lamp, came another change, and all the tension in the room seemed to pass away. Texworthy awoke from his reverie and smiled with a sociable and friendly smile, McAlbane tossed down a brandy and soda as if he had well deserved it, and the professor, leaning back in his chair, drew in a deep breath, as if he could now take a rest.

"Have some more almonds, Mr. Wenn," he said after a moment. "You've only had two."

"No—three," replied Larose. "They're very nice," he added, "but rather sweet and of quite a different flavour to ours."

The professor looked at the clock. "Five and twenty past eight," he marked slowly, "and we'll wait——"

"Twenty minutes," interrupted Texworthy, flashing a quick look at the professor. "They ought to be here by then," and turning to Larose he proceeded to relate to him an amusing but rather long story about one of the players who was expected.

"Have a cigarette, Mr. Wenn," said the professor presently, passing over a box to Larose. He laughed. "You know, they always offer the condemned man one just before they begin to prepare him for the scaffold."

A shiver ran down the detective's spine. The words had been spoken jestingly, but in the suspicious mood that possessed him he sensed far more than humour behind them. Like all students of crime, he understood the vanity of the criminal mind, and if any evil were intended for him then it was quite on the cards that the professor's remark was more a boast than a joke. Ah! and he had looked so confident, too, as he had spoken, as if he were sure about something.

And then suddenly a wave of recklessness swept through Larose; he felt strangely excited, and an irresistible desire seized him to hit back. He was no weakling. He would show them, and they should learn that it was his custom always to return blow for blow.

He laughed as if he were very amused. "Yes, but I'm going to get a reprieve," he replied, taking a cigarette from the box, "and it's on its way here now. Sure," he went on after a moment, when he had lighted up, "but I've always been darned lucky in my life, and lucky, perhaps, because I've always been prepared. Why, look at this," and in a quick but careless movement his hand went back to his hip pocket, and, whipping out a small automatic he flashed it before three pairs of astonished eyes.

"But Mr. Wenn, Mr. Wenn," exclaimed the professor, his fat little body squirming uncomfortably, "you don't always carry a pistol, do you, in a civilised country like this?"

"Always," laughed Larose loudly, "it's a habit of mine." He passed his hand over his forehead as if he were suddenly puzzled about something. "And I can use it, too. At twenty paces I can hit a penny every time." He raised his pistol as if to take aim. "Now see that nail over the ventilator there. Well, I could drive that out of sight with one shot."

Perspiration came out on the professor's forehead in big beads, but Texworthy only smiled and looked at the clock. It was now twenty-three minutes to nine.

Larose was like a man exhilarated with heady wine. "I said—I said," and his voice seemed to come a little thickly, "that I've been lucky in my life and, so I have. I trod on a death adder once, it fastened into my legging so that we pulled its jaw out as we tore its head away. But the poison never reached me and I didn't even get a scratch. Then another thing—another time—" but he suddenly stopped speaking and sighed heavily.

All in a second, as it were, his animation was spent, and he dropped his pistol slowly back into his pocket.

"Another time?" suggested Texworthy softly. "What happened another time, Mr. Wenn?"

Larose pulled himself together and searched his memory with an effort.

"Oh! I was jumping a small creek," he replied slowly, "and there was a tiger snake coiled up on the other side. I landed right on top of it and killed it. If I hadn't, if I hadn't——." He shut his eyes and, bending forward, rested his giddy head upon the table, in his hands. "My God, my God!" ran his quickly failing thoughts, "but they've got me. I'm trapped," and he groped weakly for the pocket in which his pistol lay. But his hand could not find it.

A minute later and the big-game hunter, with a triumphant smile, rose to his feet.

"He'll do now," he remarked briskly, and he glanced at the dish of almonds. "Yes, he took three, and that means nearly three-quarters of a grain. It's not enough to kill him, but it'll keep him still for some hours." He lifted the unconscious form of Larose on to the sofa and then turned round to the professor. "I said twenty minutes, and it was only eighteen, but I knew directly he started boasting that it was beginning to act. They always go off in that way."

The face of the professor was white and pasty. "It had to be done," he said shakily, "but it was unpleasant to watch the process. I'll have a brandy, McAlbane. Two fingers, please, and only just as much water."

McAlbane gave him the spirit and then walked over to the sofa. "Are we going to leave him here," he asked carelessly, "until we take him outside?"

"No," exclaimed the professor, starting up: "he's to go into my room." He looked up at the clock with a worried expression. "It'll be three-quarters of an hour at least before the quicksands are uncovered, and we can't do anything until then."

"Well," said Texworthy thoughtfully, "hadn't we better, in that case, make certain of him at once? You see," he went on, "I don't know too much about this stuff, but when the natives have eaten the berries I've heard them cry out sometimes." He turned to the professor. "Now, a pillow over his face for a couple of minutes and he'd never come to."

But the professor was horrified. "No, no," he cried out, "as long as he's in this house there must be no signs of injury about him and no evidence of a sudden death." He was angry now in his vehemence. "Why, man, can't you realise the possible dangers that may come to us yet?" He pointed to the unconscious Larose. "Didn't, he say just now, when I joked to him about being condemned, that he expected a reprieve was on its way, and if any of the other fellows do come, do you want them to find us with a corpse on our hands? These men nearly always hunt in two and threes, remember, and it is quite possible that Vallon and Naughton Jones, even now, are hanging about outside. I thought of that directly he had eaten the almonds." He shrugged his shoulders. "As it is, if they do come—well, Larose has suddenly been taken ill. He is lying on my bed, and we are trying our best to bring him to. If he could tell everything, he has nothing against us."

"It was damned silly rot, that joke of yours, anyhow," snapped McAlbane. "You made him suspicious, and for two pins he'd have let fly with his gun at us all. He had the whip hand over us then if he'd only known it."

"Ah!" exclaimed the professor, puckering his face into a frown, "now you make me uneasy. Yes, he was suspicious, and I believe now that he came here suspicious." He stood silent for a moment, and then, with a gesture of disgust, snapped his fingers viciously together. "Ah! but we've been fools." His eyes blazed. "What made Larose come here to-night at all except that he was suspicious? Larose never does anything without a purpose. He is the incarnation of purpose, and he didn't intend to waste a night here at cards for nothing, I'm sure. No, not he. He'd found out something about us already, and he came to-night to find out more." The professor strode over to the sofa. "Take him into my room—quickly. No, wait a moment. Go through his pockets first."

But the pockets yielded nothing of interest except the automatic pistol, and McAlbane whistled as he picked it up.

"Damn!" he exclaimed, "but we've had an escape. He's actually got the safety catch released, the young devil!"

They carried Larose into the bedroom, the professor leading the way with a lamp, for it was now quite dark.

Throwing him upon the bed, Texworthy lifted up one of the eyelids of the unconscious man.

"Look at his pin-point pupils," he said grimly. "They will be difficult to explain if his friends turn up within the next half-hour."

"Well, we won't meet trouble half-way," said the professor quickly, "and in three-quarters of an hour he'll be in the quicksands and we'll be quite safe. But back into the dining-room now, and we'll get everything all cut and dried about our story, to that we'll be word perfect in our parts if anyone does turn up." He rubbed his hands together cheerfully. "And now, if only Mattin scores a bullseye, too, with the others, then this will indeed be our lucky night." He hesitated a moment and looked back. "But are you sure, Texworthy, quite sure, he won't come to within an hour?"

"Quite," replied the big-game hunter scornfully. "Why, now he's got no pulse at all. He's as near dead as can be."

They left the room quickly, closing the door carefully behind them.

One, two three minutes passed, and the room was so still that it might have been a chamber of death. The limp figure on the bed had not the pose of sleep, and there was something sinister in the huddled limbs.

Then, suddenly, there came a faint rustling from beneath the bed. Someone with an effort suppressed a sneeze, and a moment later a ray from an electric torch shot out across the floor of the room.

Then a head and shoulders were raised cautiously over the side of the bed, and the drugged detective was regarded with startled and wondering eyes.

And the eyes were those of Raphael Croupin.


Chapter XII.—The Soul of a Thief.

For ten seconds, perhaps, Croupin stared wide-eyed, with his mouth open, and then he drew in a deep breath.

"Mon Dieu!" he gasped incredulously, "but it's Larose, and they've killed him. The murdering brutes!"

He rose like lightning to his feet, and, darting round the bed, bent over the limp form.

"Ah, no!" he exclaimed, with great relief—"he is not dead. Only drugged, and they are waiting then for the tide to go down to throw him into the quicksands they spoke about." He glanced furtively at the door. "Oh! but they are bad men here. They are assassins and this is a house of death"—a grin crossed his face—"except for Raphael Croupin, the honest thief." He scowled. "But I'll cheat them. I'll spoil their game, Croupin's not the man to leave a comrade in distress. Besides I like this chap. He had a humorous eye the other night when I was looking at that diamond stud. But now for action and I must be quick."

He dived under the bed and, producing a large flat book, proceeded to tuck it under his tightly buttoned jacket.

"Worth £5,000 are they?" he chuckled. "Well, I'll soon find out if he's a liar as well as a murderer."

His movements then were as soft and silent as those of a cat. Without a sound he hoisted Larose upon his shoulder and tiptoed to the long French window; like a shadow he slid behind the Venetian blinds and then, in two seconds, he was out in the garden and gently closing the window behind him.

The moon was showing fitfully behind the clouds and he made a beeline for the garden gate, staggering over the flower beds with his heavy burden.

"Name of a dog!" he chuckled, "but won't they stare when they find he's gone. They didn't reckon on the good old Croupin being under the bed."

Puffing hard, he jogged across the road on to the sands.

"Better to go along here," he grunted, "for then they can't follow in a car."

He went about two hundred yards without a stop, and then laid Larose down and threw himself alongside.

"Method, Croupin, my boy, method," he panted, "and don't exhaust yourself all at once. Little runs and short rests, that's the idea, and we'll soon be out of sight of the house. Then we'll put Monsieur Larose somewhere among the dunes and go for help." He stretched out and felt for the detective's pulse. "Bien—at any rate he is no worse and the shaking will have helped to revive him."

Half a dozen times he repeated his runs and then, with his legs shaking and the sweat pouring from him, he felt his strength was giving out.

"No good, mon brave," he exclaimed ruefully. "You can't carry him any further. You must hide him somewhere," and he began looking about for a suitable place.

Then suddenly he heard the sound of a motor in the distance and to his great joy realised it was coming from the opposite direction to Marsh House. With feverish strides he raced over the intervening stretch of sand that separated him from the road.

A quarter of a mile or so away he saw the dim lights of a car. It was travelling slowly and following an erratic course, as if the driver was uncertain of the road and handicapped by poor lamps.

Croupin stared and then grinned broadly. "The wine of the country probably—the good strong ale," was his comment. "Well, all the better then, for he'll be sympathetic and not too curious about anything." He chuckled. "I'll pitch him a tale and he shall run us into that doctor at Holt."

He waited on the sands until the car was about twenty yards away, and, then stepped boldly into the middle of the road and he began waving his arms.

"Hi! hi!" he called out. "Stop—I want help."

The car, slackening pace, swerved right at him; and he had to jump quickly to one side to avoid being run down.

"Diable!" he called out angrily, as the car came to a standstill. "What's your game? Do you want to kill me?"

And then to his amazement he heard a cold, familiar, voice. "Ah!" came an exclamation, "and it's Monsieur Croupin, is it? Well, what are you doing here?"

Croupin gasped. It was Naughton Jones at the wheel, and by his side sat the great Vallon of the Surete of Paris!

"Mon Dieu!" he cried. "Help, quick. I've got Gilbert Larose down on the sands here. He's been drugged at Marsh House and I've carried him away unknown to them. Quick for they may come looking for us any moment. They'll shoot, too, if they find us, for they're killers, all that lot. I heard them say they would put him into the quicksands directly the tide was down."

With an oath Vallon leapt like a greyhound from the car, and Naughton Jones, with all his calmness, was not two yards behind him. As fast as they could run, they followed Croupin to where Larose was lying upon the sands.

"Is he dead?" asked Vallon hoarsely, and he flung himself down upon his knees to answer his own question.

"No," he went on excitedly, "his heart's beating." He flashed a light upon Larose's face and then lifted up one of his eyelids. "Yes, doped, and he's had a big dose by the look of him," and he gathered up the unconscious man as if he were a child and started back for the car. "Quick, to a doctor at once."

"And what, pray, were you doing at Professor Ingleby's?" demanded Naughton Jones jerkily of Croupin as they ran along.

"I was making investigations," answered Croupin loftily, thankful that in the darkness Jones could not see his face. "I was suspecting that professor of a great deal."

"And what's that you've got under your coat?" asked Jones in icy tones.

"Under my coat!" echoed Croupin, as if surprised. "Oh, that's my notebook. I take a lot of notes when I'm on any work."

They reached the car, and Larose was laid at full length at the back. Then Naughton Jones made for the driver's seat, but Vallon gripped him firmly by the arm.

"One moment, please," he said sharply and he turned to Croupin. "Now, can you drive a Ford car, Monsieur?"

Croupin nodded his head. "But yes," he laughed, "I can drive anything."

"Well, drive now," said Vallon sharply "and in to Dr. Grain at Holt—like lightning."

"But, Monsieur Vallon," began Jones with dignity. "I——"

"No, Mr. Jones," interrupted Vallon firmly, "you are a great detective certainly, but you are one of the worst drivers of a motor car I have ever met. It may be, as you say, that you have not driven much lately, and that the steering's loose, but I tell you my heart was in my mouth the whole time you were at the wheel." He nodded to his compatriot. "Get up, Croupin."

Jones was icily calm. "But are you licensed to drive in this country, Monsieur Croupin?" he asked. "For, if not, I tell you I will countenance no infringement of the law."

Croupin grinned, but took no other notice, and in half a minute he had turned the car round and they were speeding as hard as they could go.

Vallon's face took on an apprehensive look almost at once, for, in getting rid of Jones he had disposed of one danger, in substituting Croupin, it seemed he had raised a dozen others.

Croupin drove as if all the police in France were after him and careering over straight stretches and round curves at the same speed, the old car rattled like a thousand tin cans tied together. The engine roared like a thing possessed and ominous and sinister sounds came from its inward parts. Vallon thought of his little ones at home and Jones wondered into how many columns his obituary notice would run in 'The Times.'

But the journey, if hazardous, was very short, and before Vallon had wiped the perspiration from his forehead half a dozen times, Croupin pulled up with a jerk at Dr. Grain's house, which was one of the first in the town.

The front of the house was in darkness except for the usual red lamp, but they carried Larose through the gate marked 'surgery,' and then Vallon knocked peremptorily upon the door. Dr. Grain appeared almost immediately, frowning however, at the noise they had made.

"Man poisoned," said Vallon laconically.

The doctor's face cleared instantly. "Bring him in here," he said sharply, and Larose was quickly outstretched upon a couch.

"What's he taken?" asked Dr. Grain sharply.

"Well, we don't know," replied Vallon "He's been drugged."

The doctor felt Larose's pulse, and, bending down, looked quickly at his lips and into his mouth. Then he lifted an eyelid and touched lightly on the ball of the eye.

"Well, I'll make him sick anyhow," he said, and, taking a hypodermic syringe out of a case, he began looking among some small phials.

"But it should not be necessary," interrupted Croupin quickly. "He is as empty as a drum. I was running with him for nearly a mile and I have shaken everything out of him."

"Oh!" said the doctor thoughtfully, and he put down the syringe and again felt Larose's pulse. Then he uttered a sharp exclamation. "But I know this man. He's Mr. Wenn from the castle here."

"Yes, that is he," said Naughton Jones calmly, "and an attempt has been made upon his life."

"But where—and who made it?" asked the doctor sharply, looking from one to another.

"One moment, please doctor," said Jones. "Is he in danger? Is he going to die?"

The doctor hesitated with his fingers still upon Larose's wrist. "No," he said curtly, "he's not going to die. Some narcotic's been given him, but he's not apparently absorbed a fatal dose." He looked hard at the detective. "When did he have the stuff?"

There was a moment's silence and then Croupin fumbled for his watch.

"A little over an hour ago," he replied. "I found him about a quarter to nine and he had only just become unconscious then."

"And who are you?" asked the doctor. "Who are you all?" and when silence followed his face hardened and he moved over to his desk. "Well, we'll soon get to the truth of this," he went on grimly. "I'm going to telephone the police."

"No, no," exclaimed Vallon and Croupin together, and Jones held up his hand.

"But why not?" asked the doctor quickly. "Why shouldn't I? Look here," he went on, "I'm not quite a fool, and when three strangers bring a drugged man into my surgery and refuse to explain anything"—he shrugged his shoulders—"then I'm not going to shirk my duty, I'm going to call in the police."

"But, Dr. Grain," exclaimed Vallon quickly, "you will be doing great harm to your friends and you will be hindering and not helping the upholders of the law."

"And Miss Eunice will suffer," added Croupin, throwing out his hands.

The doctor turned on Croupin in a flash.

"Miss Eunice!" he exclaimed, scowling. "What in heaven's name——"

"Monsieur," interrupted Croupin, putting his hand upon his heart, "I am no stranger to the tender passion and too well I know how it would grieve you to occasion pain to the beloved object of your thoughts." He went on speaking rapidly. "We will be quite frank with you. We are friends of your friends, and we are"—he coughed slightly—"no breakers of the law. In fact, we are detec—"—he corrected himself—"investigators, and we are in the employ—in the service of Mr. Ephraim Smith. You are known to us, and in fact"—an impish grin came into his face—"I have already shaken you by the hand." He inclined his head grandly: "I was le Comte de Surenne."

The doctor looked the picture of amazement, and Croupin, enjoying the sensation he was creating, went on—

"Yes, the facts are, that this gentleman, Mr. Wenn as you know him, was dining with Professor Ingleby to-night, and the others there were that lion tamer and the Scotchman, McAlbane. They gave something to Mr. Wenn during the meal and brought him when unconscious into the professor's bedroom. It was by chance, that I was carrying on secret investigations there at the time, and"—Croupin hesitated and became slightly embarrassed—"having taken refuge under the bed, by good fortune I saw them bring him in. The big Texworthy said that Mr. Wenn was nearly dead, and would be unconscious for at least two hours, and the professor said they would put him in the quicksands very soon. They went out of the room then, and I carried Mr. Wenn away through the window. About a quarter of an hour later I met my two colleagues"—Naughton Jones scowled and looked at the floor—"and with all haste we brought the poor Mr. Wenn here." He shrugged his shoulders. "Now you know all."

"But Professor Ingleby intending to murder Mr. Wenn!" gasped the doctor incredulously. "What for? Why?"

"Because he is Gilbert Larose," began Croupin rapidly, "because——"

Vallon peremptorily waved him aside. "Dr. Grain," he said solemnly, "the secret is not ours and we have really no right to take you into our confidence, but as we have told you so much we must now tell you more," and then he proceeded to touch briefly upon everything that had led up to their presence in the surgery. He told how Ephraim Smith had been hounded by racketeers, he described the outrages that had been committed, and finally explained what steps the millionaire had taken to free himself. He informed the doctor of everything except the complicity of the butler, being silent on that point because Naughton Jones at the first mention of Fenton's name, flashed him a warning glance.

"Now, Dr. Grain," he concluded grimly, "you are one of us, and, instead of your sending for the police, we shall make a policeman of you yourself." His face broke into an engaging smile. "And if I, Vallon, of the Surete of Paris, am any judge of character, you will prove a most valuable ally."

But the doctor did not smile back. "And you say you are Vallon of the Surete of Paris, do you?" he said slowly, and when Vallon had nodded curtly he suddenly rapped out in perfect French: "And who then was Didonnier, Monsieur, if you please?"

Vallon's jaw dropped in astonishment, he flushed in anger, and then almost in the same second he smiled again.

"Didonnier," he replied, looking very amused, "was a window cleaner in Passy. He poisoned his wife with hyosine which he stole from a doctor's house when he was attending to the windows there. The death would have remained a mystery if I had not found his fingerprints upon the cover of a book on 'Vegetable Poisons' in the doctor's library."

"Yes," nodded Dr. Grain, "and I was present at the autopsy at the St. Lazaire. I was doing a post-graduate course there." He smiled at the detective. "Now show me the palm of your left hand, Monsieur," and when Vallon had exhibited it, he nodded again. "Good," he remarked, "I am quite satisfied. My friend, Dr. Berne removed the bullet for you the day when Voisin, the motor bandit, was killed."

"And I am Naughton Jones," said Jones with dignity, "and I too have met you before. I was the violinist that night at the castle when you and Miss Smith went into the garden. I was playing in the dark, you remember."

Dr. Grain looked slightly embarrassed, but bowed deferentially. "And you, sir," he asked, turning to Croupin, "do you also bear an honoured name?"

"Raphael Croupin," laughed Croupin, and then his eyes twinkled maliciously: "A colleague of the renowned detectives, Messieurs Vallon and Naughton Jones"—he looked round and seeing the scorn on Jones's face, added defiantly—"and the man who saved Gilbert Larose from the quicksands."

"Ah! so you did," exclaimed Vallon warmly, "and much shall be forgiven you for that, my friend."

"So, so," said the doctor, thoughtfully regarding the figure on the couch "and then this is really the celebrated Larose. Scarcely at his best now, do you think? Still, he bluffed us right enough the other night." He turned to the detectives and asked sharply: "Now what are we going to do? I take it, of course, that you want this hushed up, but your friend here may be unconscious yet for several hours, and he must be kept under observation the whole time. He really ought to be put into a hospital, you know."

"Oh, no, Doctor," said Vallon quickly, "not if it can possibly be avoided." He spoke earnestly. "You see, we're in a most awkward position until we hear what Mr. Larose here has to tell us. We can do nothing, and complete secrecy is vital to us. Those wretches will be in a terrible state of uncertainty about Larose and what they will do next no one can say. Can you keep him here for the night, and then the whole thing will be a secret?"

The doctor nodded. "I suppose I can," he replied slowly. "There's only my housekeeper here, and she won't talk." He shook his head. "But this is staggering news about Ingleby—and yet it squares with other things. I was to have gone there this evening, but at the last moment he put me off by 'phone because, he said, three other men had failed him, and he couldn't make up the second table. Yes, it's staggering, as I say."

"But we are sure, Doctor," said Vallon gravely, "perfectly sure. It's a form of madness, of course, but he is a great man, and if we only knew everything about the private lives of great men, how many of them should we consider really sane?" He took out his watch. "Now this is where you can help us. Mr. Smith must be warned instantly of what has happened so that he will be prepared if they ring him up; for if they are the first to inform him that Larose is missing, I tremble to think what the old man will do. We may even be too late now although somehow I think they will be so puzzled that they will fear to make the first move."

"But how can I help you?" asked the doctor. "What can I do?"

"You can go to the castle—and we can't," said Vallon decisively. "There are spies there, we are sure, and any stranger will be suspected at once, where as you——"

"But can't you 'phone him?" asked the doctor.

"No," replied Vallon, "that butler always answers the 'phone except at certain specially arranged times, and it's too late now."

"But they may all be in bed," said the doctor doubtfully.

"Then if they are," said Croupin at once, "throw some stones up against Miss Eunice's window and she'll come down. I know which room is hers. It is just over the library, the one with blue curtains. She always pulls up the blind, too, when she has turned out the lights, and if the night is warm she leans out of the window—to smell the flowers, I think. She wears pink crepe de chine pyjamas."

The doctor reddened, Jones looked icily contemptuous, and Vallon smiled a grim smile.

"La! la! Monsieur Croupin," said the stout detective reprovingly, "how do you know all this?"

"Oh! I've been watching," replied Croupin, "and I've noticed several things. One—I believe that butler has been signalling to someone. He switches his lights on and off so often."

The two detectives looked quickly at one another, but Croupin went on complacently:—

"Yes, and one thing more. If you go off at once you'll catch Eunice on that seat behind the bushes in the rose garden. She goes there every night and sits looking at the stars." He gave a sly grin. "The servants think she must be in love. You see," he explained, "I've been courting a young woman professionally in the village shop at Weybourne, and her sister is one of the castle maids." He rubbed his hands delightedly together. "Business and pleasure together for once."

Vallon elevated his eyebrows as if he were most surprised, and tried to catch Jones's eye, but the latter avoided the Frenchman's gaze and addressed himself to the doctor.

"And if you can get speech with Mr. Smith without anyone seeing you, Dr. Grain," he said, "so much the better, for we don't trust anyone, not even Fenton."

"But if I go up the drive in my car," said the doctor, frowning, "everyone will hear, and if I leave my car outside and walk up it will look unusual and suspicious."

"No need to do that, doctor," broke in Croupin, as if he were prepared for everything. "I'll come in the car with you and take you to the place where I am accustomed to get over the wall into the castle grounds. Then I will wait in the car, and you can go straight into the rose garden and look for Miss Eunice." He jumped to his feet. "But we must start at once or she will have gone in."

"And when you get Smith," said Vallon, as the doctor rose up immediately, "arrange for him to meet us here tomorrow at ten. Let him pretend he is not well and is consulting you professionally. We will wait now, of course, until you come back."

A quarter of an hour later Dr. Grain came upon Eunice in the rose garden. She was sitting just where Croupin had said she would be, and she uttered a startled exclamation as she saw the doctor approach.

"Good gracious!" she said, "how you startled me." The darkness hid the blushes on her face, but her voice trembled a little. "And you've been in the castle, then?" she asked.

"No," replied the doctor quickly, "I climbed over the wall and came straight here. I am so sorry if I frightened you, but I must speak to your father at once about Gilbert Larose, and, above all things, no one must know that I have come. Can you bring Mr. Smith here at once?"

"Gilbert Larose!" ejaculated the girl, "the detective!"

"Yes—Mr. Wenn," said the doctor, and then he made a gesture of annoyance. "Oh! what an ass I am. Didn't you know?"

The girl shook her head. "But what's happened to him?" she asked quickly. "He's at the professor's this evening and you—you were supposed to be there, too."

"Yes, but he 'phoned me not to come," said the doctor, "and I didn't go."

"And Mr. Wenn—Larose," asked Eunice, "what's happened to him?"

"Oh! he's quite all right now," replied the doctor evasively, "but he's been in great danger, and it is that I want to speak to your father about. If you bring him here at once I can speak to him without anyone knowing."

With an unpleasant feeling of apprehension at her heart the girl ran quickly into the castle and returned in less than two minutes with her father.

"Now, what's up?" asked the latter sharply. "You've frightened my daughter, whatever it is."

"Mr. Smith," began the doctor hesitatingly, "perhaps I'd better speak to you alone."

"No," said Eunice at once, "if Mr. Wenn is the detective Gilbert Larose, then I want to know what it means. Mother needn't know, of course, but I won't have father doing all the worrying by himself."

"She'll stop," said Ephraim Smith gruffly. "Now, what's the matter?"

And then, as briefly as he could, Dr. Grain related everything that had happened that night, with Eunice sitting motionless in the shadows, but with the millionaire fidgeting restlessly all the time.

"Damn," he exploded, when the doctor had finished, "all I seem to have got from bringing these men here is more worry and trouble. They've done nothing, and they're a pack of fools, I'm beginning to think."

"No, sir," said the doctor quickly. "They seem most capable to me to-night—men with a grip of the situation, however involved it may appear to be."

"And what, then, do they want me to do?" asked Smith querulously.

"Be prepared what to say," said the doctor, "if Professor Ingleby should ring up—and if he doesn't 'phone to-night—you are to do so the first thing tomorrow morning. You are to speak and act just as if you still thought he was your friend."

"I'll ring up," said Eunice firmly. "Father can't pretend, and he'll make a muddle of everything. I won't," she added decisively.

And then suddenly they heard someone moving on the terrace above and in the moonlight they saw the butler coming down the path.

"Are you there, sir, Mr. Smith?" he called out, and instantly Eunice stood up and pushed the doctor down on to the vacant seat.

"Lean back," she whispered. "Quick, and he won't see you."

"Yes," called out Ephraim Smith, "what is it?"

"Professor Ingleby speaking on the 'phone, sir," replied the butler.

Smith coughed to cover his embarrassment. "All right," he replied. "I'll be there in a minute."

"I'll wait to know what they say," whispered the doctor, and then he added quickly—"but you'd better not come out again. Miss Smith can come and tell me."

The millionaire frowned. "But this is getting on my nerves," he said gloomily, "and I feel morally responsible, too, for the death of that poor wretch who was missing from the boat the other day." He shook his head. "These men are too clever for us, and even now they'll have some plausible explanation to give, I'm sure."

And certainly when Eunice came back in a few minutes it was a plausible enough tale she repeated.

Mr. Wenn, the professor said, had been seized with a fit of giddiness after dinner, and had asked if he could lie down for a few minutes. They had helped him into the professor's room, and, believing he would soon be well enough to rejoin them, had left him there. An hour later, however, he was still absent, and, returning to the room, they were amazed to find that he had left through the window. They were a little bit anxious about it, because they could see from his footmarks over the garden beds that he had walked with some difficulty and had gone, moreover, straight towards the sea, where the dangerous quicksands were lying uncovered. They had searched all round the house, and although they seemed to be able to trace his footsteps on to the sands, they had soon lost them, and the tide was coming in quickly.

"And what did your father say?" asked the doctor grimly.

"Not much," replied the girl. "He was quick and sharp and said he would send our chauffeur out with the two gardeners at once to see what they could discover." A catch came into her voice. "But, oh! what a dreadful thing if Professor Ingleby is really at the bottom of all our troubles! It's incredible to me, and I can't realise it."

"Never mind," said the doctor brightly, "it will all come right in the end and you will forget all your troubles then."

"And you envied us the other night," she went on tearfully, "because we have these riches—these riches that you see now can bring such unhappiness to us." She clenched her hands together. "Oh! you don't know the agonies of mind we've been through never knowing what was going to happen to us from day to day. We've had peace for the last few weeks certainly, but now I suppose it's all going to commence over again."

"No, it isn't," said the doctor decisively. "These men who are helping your father are getting the upper hand. Naughton Jones and Vallon are great masters and, in his own country, they call Larose 'the man who never fails.' They've done wonders already and I have the utmost faith in them after what I heard to-night." He laid his hand upon her arm. "Poor little girl. I'm so sorry for you."

"I know you are," she said gently, "but I do wish we were poor."

"So do I," replied the doctor instantly, "for then"—he hesitated and laughed a little nervously—"you would make such an excellent doctor's wife."

The girl was silent, as if she had not heard him, and neither moved as they stood in the shadows.

The love of man and woman held them, but in their hearts there was no joy, for love unspoken is always sad—because the very wonder of it is so great, it seems impossible the promise of such happiness can ever be fulfilled.

The girl sighed and turned to him suddenly.

"Well, I must go back now," she said, "I mustn't leave father alone too long." She smiled. "But perhaps we shall see more of you now you know our dreadful secret. It will be a bond between us and it will comfort father to be able to talk openly to someone. It's the repression and secrecy that have been so bad for him. Good night."

She tripped away up the path, leaving Dr. Grain disgusted that he had made so little of his opportunities, but before he could anathematise himself for very long, to his amazement she was back again at his side.

"I didn't shake hands with you," she said softly, "or thank you for taking so much trouble for us."

He took the hand that she held out and then drew her gently to him and looked down upon the upturned face.

"One," he whispered, "just one."

"No," she replied very softly, "not to-night," but he took one, two, three and then—they lost count.

"I shall tell father," she said mockingly, but with her eyes as bright as stars, as she finally drew herself away and ran off.

"No," called out the doctor in an ecstasy of happiness, "that'll be my business. I'll do that," and then with a rapt expression on his face, he watched her on to the terrace. She looked round and waved her hand to him before disappearing into the castle.

He returned to the car, to find Croupin dozing peacefully, but the Frenchman sprang up directly he heard footsteps.

"Ah!" he exclaimed smilingly, "but it is by your face that I see you have found her, and soon then we shall all think of the wedding gifts," and then in no way abashed by the doctor's chilling frown he added, under his breath, "Now I wonder if he collects foreign stamps."

Returning quickly home, the doctor reported to Naughton Jones and Vallon what had happened.

"So," exclaimed the former dryly, "then, from the look of things, when Larose is able to tell us everything we shall not have much on these men. There will be no story of violence—just a simple fact that he suddenly became ill." He pursed up his lips grimly. "They will be difficult to trap, these fellows."

Larose was still unconscious, although he was move restless now, and, having helped the doctor to undress him and put him into bed, the two detectives and Croupin left about midnight, to return to Weybourne Manor.

Croupin took the wheel again as a matter of course, and, although he certainly started off in quite a leisurely fashion, he was nevertheless soon accelerating to a pace that brought uneasy frowns again to the faces of the two detectives seated behind him.

"Tien, Monsieur Jones," shouted Vallon into Jones's ear, "but you are the better driver, after all. This fellow Croupin is as dangerous to us as any of the gang."

Presently, when turning round a particularly narrow bend in the road, Croupin was putting in some fancy serpentine touches, he all but ran into an oncoming cyclist. The latter was riding at a great pace, and carrying no light, and only by the narrowest margin did he escape disaster. He shouted a guttural curse as he sped by.

"Steady, Monsieur Croupin," Vallon called out angrily. "If you can't do better than that, we'll get out and push."

Croupin grinned sheepishly, but slowed down at once, and they proceeded without further adventure until within about half a mile of Weybourne Manor, when suddenly a great glare shot up into the sky, followed almost immediately by the sound of a fierce explosion.

"But what's that?" exclaimed Jones sharply. "It's right in the direction of our place."

With a gasp of excitement Croupin pressed on the accelerator again, but, reaching the village, the brakes had to be applied violently, for the little street was thronged with men and women rushing out in their night attire.

The sky was encrimsoned, great tongues of flame were shooting up over the trees, and the acrid reek of smoke came up into the air.

"It's the Manor," shouted Jones. "It's been blown up, and it's caught fire."

"Mon Dieu!" shrieked Croupin, "and I remember now that that damned professor said to-night he hoped someone called Mattin was going to score a bull's-eye with the others. Perhaps this is what he meant."

"Imbecile!" shouted Vallon, furiously. "Why didn't you tell us before?"


Chapter XIII.—Fenton Loses His Situation.

THE following morning, a few minutes before 10, the three detectives, Naughton Jones, Vallon, and Larose, along with Raphael Croupin, were waiting in Dr. Grain's dining-room for the coming of Ephraim Smith.

Larose lay back in an armchair, looking weak and haggard, and for the time being the others, too, appeared to have lost something of the zest of life. Neither Jones nor Vallon had shaved, and Croupin was without that air of brightness and vivacity which was usually so characteristic of him.

"But I tell you," said Jones, breaking a long silence, "we have raised a devil in these men, and the most hardened criminals could not have struck with more ferocity than they have done. I reckon there were nine lives lost last night, and if Mariarty had not been too intoxicated to leave the inn, and if Monsieur Croupin had not chosen yesterday evening"—he hesitated a moment—"to obtain, as he tells us, some specimens of the professor's handwriting, and if we, Monsieur Vallon and I, had not been uneasy about Mr. Larose and driven out upon the marsh road in case help should be required, then——" (he shrugged his shoulders) "every single one of those called in by Ephraim Smith would have been wiped out." His voice was most impressive. "Yes, all of us who were at the gathering in the castle that night would have been killed."

"You forget Hidou, Mr. Jones," corrected Croupin gently.

"So I did," replied Jones, frowning. He shook his head. "But somehow I never have regarded Hidou as working with us. I have thought many times that he came to that meeting as a spy. Mariarty has an idea that it was not Hidou at all, for the fellow had no scars upon his hands, which Mariarty holds to be improbable with a man who has shared so many hiding places with the rats."

The door opened suddenly and Dr. Grain entered. "Well, gentlemen," he said with a grim smile, "you will be pleased to learn that no one will come worrying you now with questions, for it is believed everywhere that, with the exception of Mariarty, everyone has perished. I have just been talking to the police sergeant here, and they are quite sure you are all dead. They are very disturbed, however, about Mariarty, for he has bolted, and they don't know where to. It appears that he left his bedroom at half-past 6 this morning, sobered himself up with a quart of beer, and then, being informed of what had happened at the Manor, became panic-stricken and chartered a car into Norwich. The driver of the car has returned and says he dropped his fare at the outskirts of the city. Of course, as the sergeant says, the police would have no hold on him, but they believe this Mr. Muller is the only person who can furnish them with information as to who were the other patients in residence at the Manor."

"Then we weren't noticed last night?" said Jones thoughtfully.

"Apparently not," replied the doctor, "at any rate up to now no one has made any mention of you."

"It was the smoke," said Croupin, "for in two minutes everyone was of such a blackness that our very loved ones would not have known us."

"Well, that's good news," said Larose with a wan smile, "and now, as we are all officially wiped out we can start all over again, and next time—" an angry glint came into his eyes—"they will not get me so easily."

"But Meester Larose," exclaimed Croupin, throwing out his hands, "there should be no regret there. Who would have thought of almonds and who would have dreamed they would be dangerous? Bright eyes may always be our undoing, or a glass of wine, perhaps, but almonds—bah! almonds, and the very wisest of us might fall."

There was a knock upon the door, and the doctor's housekeeper entered with a letter upon a tray.

"From Mr. Smith, sir," she said. "One of the gardeners has brought it. There is no answer, he says."

Instantly everyone looked uneasy.

"Dieu!" ejaculated Vallon, when the woman had gone away. "I hope nothing's happened there."

The doctor tore open the envelope and scanned the letter.

"Great Scott!" he exclaimed, "he's gone. Listen," and he read aloud rapidly:—

"Please inform those gentlemen I shall not be with them this morning. I have heard of the awful occurrence at the Manor and have gone away. I desire no more bloodshed. I want peace and quiet or I shall go mad. I am taking my family with me and my place of residence will remain unknown to everyone until I have considered my future plans. I absolutely forbid any attempt to follow me. It would be contrary to my wishes and, besides, it would be quite futile. Later I will communicate with you again. I trust Mr. Larose has now recovered."

Naughton Jones sprang to his feet. "Ring up instantly," he shouted to the doctor, "and find out if he has already started. We must warn him against that butler at whatever risk. We cannot delay another minute. Quick, please."

Dr. Grain picked up the receiver without a word and was at once put through to the castle.

"Dr. Grain speaking," he said. "Is that you, Mrs. James? Has Mr. Smith gone yet? What! He left before nine—at a quarter of an hour's notice? Who went with him? Yes, of course, Mrs. and Miss Smith, but who else? In two cars, Fenton, Reilly and Mrs. Smith's maid. You have no idea where he was going? All right. Thank you. What? Well, I'll come up and see her at once."

He put down the receiver. "It was the housekeeper speaking. She is just as puzzled as we are. He gave them no notice, and they know absolutely nothing. He, Mrs. Smith, Fenton and the chauffeur went in one car, and Miss Smith and the maid in another. The gardener was expressly ordered not to bring the note here until after ten." He took out his watch. "But the cook is ill and I shall be going up to the castle, so I may learn more."

A stunned silence followed, and then Vallon snapped his fingers together.

"Diable!" he exclaimed, "and he's taken a live bomb with him and does not know it. He will be delivered right into the hands of those devils and we cannot save him. Yes, now anything may happen."

For a long minute again there was silence, and then Naughton Jones, with a gesture of resignation, drew his chair up to the table.

"Well, well," he said with a sigh. "I expect we have all of us at some time or other been in worse difficulties and yet have come out victorious in the end, so we'll just consider where we stand."

He looked round at the others. "Now, my advice is that for the time being we drop out of sight and take no part in the investigation into the holocaust last night. We hold no official positions, and if we come out into the open it will not benefit anybody and only ruin all chance of getting at the heads of the gang. Undoubtedly, from what Mr. Croupin overheard at Professor Ingleby's, that man Mattin engineered the explosion last night and almost certainly it was he who was the cyclist we nearly ran down in the dark"—he nodded his head impressively—"as he was returning from lighting the fuse. Well, we can pick him up later, for, as I regard it, as long as we do not alarm the gang, they will not take cover or disperse, but will be ready at hand directly we have clear and convincing evidence against them. Another thing, too—if they think we are all out of the way, they will certainly begin making new demands upon Smith, and then will be our opportunity." He shook his head frowningly as if he had suddenly realised the position. "But we are helpless, quite helpless, until we find out where Smith has gone."

"And that we shall probably not do," said Vallon dryly, "until he appeals to us again for help, and then perhaps it will be too late."

"But Fenton will certainly communicate with Ingleby," went on Naughton Jones, "and if we could get a glimpse at the postmarks of the letters that come to Marsh House we might know at once where to begin to look."

Croupin laughed scornfully. "And the bag is full every morning," he said, "when the grocer man brings it up. A big, big bag, and it has a padlock on it too. I have seen."

Larose roused himself with an effort. "It may not be as difficult as we think," he said, "for Mrs. Smith's maid and the chauffeur not understanding the imperative need for secrecy may possibly try to get in touch with their friends. I know the girl has a sweetheart, for the other evening she went out wearing a white rose and returned with a large box of chocolates, instead. I happened to meet her as she came in."

"I, too, have seen her," exclaimed Croupin with enthusiasm. "She is dark and intriguing, and has the nose that turns up, but Meester Larose,"—he shook his head despondently—"you will have difficulties there, for she has many lovers. Three times have I seen her, and each time there was a different man. One was the seller of meat here, and another——"

"But the chauffeur, Mr. Larose," interrupted Jones brusquely, "do you know anything about him?"

"Not much," replied Larose, "except that he comes from Dublin, and has been with Mr. Smith for two years. He is not mixed up in this, however, I am sure." He turned to the doctor. "But now, doctor, you are going up to the castle, you say, and so you can ask the housekeeper about Reilly. Make an excuse and tell her Reilly has been advising you about your car. Say—ah!"—a thought suddenly struck him—"you can take me with you when you go up, and I'll have a look round in his room over the garage. That's it—it will be quite easy. You shall drive your car up to the side of the castle, and then we'll get out and look at one of the tyres. You'll have forgotten your pump, and I will go to the garage to borrow one. You shall wait by the car whilst I'm gone. I shan't be away three minutes, and I may find a letter or something that will help us."

The doctor looked doubtful. "But everyone will recognise you at once," he said, "if they meet you."

"No, they won't," replied Larose, "I'll wear that old dust-coat I saw in the cupboard of the room where you put me last night, and, with a cap pulled down over my eyes, no one will spot me. Besides, there will be no one about the garage at this time. There never is, except the chauffeur."

"All right, then," said the doctor, "come along—we'll go at once."

Ten minutes later, and with the doctor ruefully inspecting a flat back tyre, Larose slipped into the garage and ran up into the chauffeur's room. All the weariness and malaise of the early morning had now left him, and he was the energetic detective once more.

For a few moments he stood perfectly still, taking in everything with the keen eyes of a trained observer.

It was a small room, sparsely furnished. A bed, a chair, a table, a wardrobe and a small chest of drawers; a shelf with a few books on it, a cabin trunk and that was all. Everything was scrupulously clean and tidy, and, although the chauffeur had been taken away at such short notice, there was no evidence of hurry or disorder.

Larose pulled open the door of the wardrobe, and went swiftly through the pockets of the clothes that were hanging there. But there was nothing of interest to him—no papers or letters of any kind; and it was the same with the contents of the chest of drawers. He looked at the books upon the shelf, but they were cheap novels, or else dealt with motor subjects, and his scrutiny was very short. Opening the cabin trunk, he saw its entire contents were a few sporting newspapers and a bundle of race cards, held together with a rubber band that had been cut from an inner tube.

The detective regarded the race cards very thoughtfully. They were soiled with oily finger marks, and their pages were well scored over in pencil.

"Hum!" he remarked. "Great Yarmouth, Newmarket, Windsor, Newbury, and Newmarket again. And when he went to Newmarket, the cards are much cleaner, and apparently he did not have a bet, either time, upon the last race. So he was driving his master then in the Rolls, and they left the racecourse early. The other times he went by himself, and on his motor bike. Good! An enthusiastic race-goer, and that's something to know."

He rejoined the doctor by the car. "Any luck?" asked the latter, as they bent together over the tyre.

"Not much," replied Larose; "but, then, you never know."

The doctor saw his patient, but did not get much out of the housekeeper afterwards. Theresa, the maid, was a Manchester girl, but, exactly in what part her people lived, the housekeeper did not know. As for the chauffeur—he came from Ireland, and that was all.

"Where do you think Mr. Smith has gone?" asked Dr. Grain of the detective, as they were driving back to Holt.

"London," replied Larose promptly. "Mrs. Smith hates long motor journeys, and London is the nearest big place. Besides, Smith would have enough gumption to see that London is the best place to hide a party with a butler, a maid, and two Rolls-Royce cars." The detective shook his head. "He must have been very frightened to go off as he has, and, not knowing the resources of his persecutors, he will certainly run to a hiding place as soon as he can. But he has acted very foolishly, and is hampering us at the most critical moment, when we might have been able to swoop down upon them as they came out into the open again."

"And do you think they'll make any new demands?" asked the doctor, rather anxiously.

"Sure," said Larose. "They'll strike quickly, and they'll strike hard. They've got him on the run, and they'll keep him so." He looked sympathetic, and then smiled. "But don't you worry. We've got a lot of kick in us yet."

But in the immediate days that followed it seemed as if the curtain had been finally rung down upon the drama of Ephraim Smith and his tormentors. The lights upon the stage had been extinguished, the actors had faded out of view, and, to all appearances, the audience had dispersed to their home's.

But, in truth, nothing of the kind had happened.

The play was not yet over, and at one flick of a finger the lights were ready to go up again—the actors were still upon the stage, and, tense and expectant, the audience were still sitting on.

The explosion and conflagration at Weybourne Manor had occasioned great interest everywhere, but, in the general opinion, there was less mystery about it than had at first appeared to be the case.

It was remembered now that during the early months of the Great War the Manor had been occupied by an Austrian family, who had later been interned, and it was surmised, therefore, that they might have secreted there a quantity of explosives for the munitioning of enemy submarines, and that, in some unaccountable way, these dreadful potentialities of destruction had suddenly become active.

No other explanation could be suggested to account for the calamity that had fallen upon a dozen and more inoffensive and insignificant men, the majority of whose identities unhappily were destined never to be disclosed.

Another mystery was what had become of the one man who was known definitely to have escaped the dreadful holocaust of that night? He was a Mr. Muller, and quite by chance it was said, he had been obliged to, by sudden indisposition, remain the night at the village inn. Then, the next morning, his mind apparently having become unhinged by the dreadful fate that had overtaken his companions, he had bolted away in panic and no trace of him had since been found. The authorities had searched high and low but to no purpose, and so the one man who could have told something about the other visitors to the Manor could not be produced.

The whole matter was a nine days' wonder, and then slipped, like so many other mysteries, into the category of unexplained disasters.

Up at Marsh House, however, there was no mystery at all. Mattin had done his work and done it well, and it was a matter of congratulation that the gang was so well served.

There had been one scene, however, at Professor Ingleby's, and for a few minutes it had been an angry one. When they had returned to the bedroom, and discovered Larose's disappearance, the professor and McAlbane had turned upon the big-game hunter and upbraided him fiercely.

"The stuff was no good," the professor had snarled, "and he's fooled us and got away."

"How could he fool us," Texworthy had replied acidly, "with his pin-point pupils and no pulse? He's been carried away, I tell you. He was nearly dead when we brought him in here."

But the professor had not been convinced, and when next day he discovered the loss of one of his beloved stamp albums he became more sceptical still.

"He's a daredevil, this wild Australian," he exclaimed, "and he only took it to show his contempt for us."

They had been greatly heartened by the calamity at the manor, and, with the days passing and no news of Larose or of any of the others coming to hand, they had gradually become confident that all danger had passed.

Who the sole survivor might be they could not tell, but they were certain he was not Larose, Vallon or Naughton Jones, because of the description broadcast, and the matter had ceased to trouble them.

The sudden departure from the castle of Ephraim Smith had caused them no dismay, for with the butler accompanying the millionaire, they were certain to learn quickly where their victim had gone.

And before a week had passed they did know.

Ephraim Smith was in London and had taken a furnished house at the Marylebone end of Harley-street, where he was living under the name of Thomas Gower. He went out very little, Fenton wrote, and then only at night and in the car, but Mrs. Smith and Eunice were out every day. The millionaire was very depressed, he had no visitors, and had neither written nor received any letters. He was in complete isolation. There was a mews at the back of the house, running the whole length of that section of the street, and there, between nine and ten every evening, he, Fenton, would be found. There was a communicating passage between the house and the mews through an area at the back. The two cars were garaged in the mews, but the chauffeur was nearly always away, on pleasure bent, in the evenings.

Then followed long conferences between Mattin and Professor Ingleby, with Texworthy and McAlbane always present. These meetings invariably took place at night, and Croupin, squatting among the sand-grass in the darkness, faithfully recorded the exact times when Mattin came and went.

Croupin always wore a very dejected air during these vigils, for his propinquity to Marsh House continually reminded him of a piece of work half done. To his mortification he had discovered that he possessed only half the professor's collection of foreign stamps. The book was labelled 'Volume I.'

In the meantime the detectives were working energetically to find out where Ephraim Smith had gone.

Larose, Vallon and Naughton Jones had considered for a long time the advisability of approaching Scotland Yard, to induce them to inaugurate a thorough search for the millionaire, but had come unanimously to the conclusion that it would be quite impossible to enlist official services without a full explanation, which at the moment they were not prepared to give.

"It would practically mean our retiring altogether from the case," said Naughton Jones, scowling, "and an admission, too, that we had failed."

Larose and Vallon had agreed, and so the former, after a day spent in Holt and Sheringham picking up all the information he could about the chauffeur and the flirtatious Theresa, had taken a train for London. For the reason he had given the doctor, he was certain Ephraim Smith would have made for London, and almost at once he was confirmed in that opinion.

He had had no difficulty in finding out in Holt upon which bank Smith was in the habit of drawing cheques, and upon his arrival in London he had called at the head office and interviewed the manager. Then, explaining frankly who he was, he stressed the urgency of getting in immediate touch with Ephraim Smith. The manager stated that he knew nothing at all of his customer's movements, but at once making inquiries, he informed Larose that the millionaire had been transacting business in the bank that very morning.

Pressed as to what was the nature of the business, the manager declined to say, and, being asked point blank if Smith had withdrawn any large amount of money, he had shown annoyance and walked to the door to indicate that the interview was at an end.

"One moment, sir," said Larose. "You are doing very ill service to your customer if you make no attempt to find out whether you ought to give me the information I require." His voice was very quiet. "I am working for Mr. Ephraim Smith, I tell you, at Mr. Smith's special request, and through a mischance I am out of touch with him for a few days. A matter of great urgency has arisen, and I want to speak to him at once. Failing the information as to where he is staying—he is not at his own place in Park Lane—you can tell me whether he has drawn out any large amount of money this morning, for I want to know if Mr. Smith has apparently any thoughts of leaving for the Continent." The detective reseated himself calmly. "In the interests of Mr. Smith, therefore, please ring up Scotland Yard, ask for the Chief Commissioner or any of the chief detective-inspectors, and inquire if a man called Adams, who has called upon you, is to be trusted. Adams is the code name we have arranged for an occasion like this."

The manager hesitated a moment. "You should know perfectly well, Mr. Larose," he said coldly, "that we never disclose any particulars of our customers' accounts, unless upon official request from the police."

"Well," said Larose sharply. "I come from the police. I am attached to Scotland Yard, and I have been passed over to Mr. Smith on special service. Please, ring up."

Hesitating a moment, the manager quitted the room, leaving the door wide open, however, with Larose in full view of a commissionaire outside. He returned in a few minutes.

"What is the other name?" he asked, and when Larose had replied "David," he said curtly—"Mr. Smith drew out a hundred pounds this morning."

"Thank you," said Larose, "and now with your permission, I will leave a short letter to be given to Mr. Smith if he should call in again."

And then, day after day, Larose prosecuted his inquiries in every possible direction that his lively imagination could suggest. He remembered the name of the firm from whom Smith had said he was in the habit of purchasing his cigars, and, using them as a stepping stone, found out, in turn, the millionaire's wine merchant, his hatter and his tailor. But his time was all wasted for none of them had seen Smith lately.

Then he telephoned to Dr. Grain for the name of Smith's London medical man, but Dr. Grain did not know it, nor was he able to find out from anyone in the castle. However, at the detective's suggestion, the doctor examined Mrs. Smith's medicine cupboard and there came upon a bottle of eye lotion with the label of a London chemist upon it. Armed with the number of the prescription, Larose quickly got in touch with the doctor who had written it. But there again he was balked for the eminent practitioner had seen nothing of the Smith family for several months.

Next, on the Saturday, he went down to a race meeting at Sandown Park, and arriving early at Esher Station, carefully scrutinised everyone proceeding on to the course. But all to no purpose, and so with powerful glasses he next scanned through all the stands. Still with no result.

Then with the meeting in full swing, he began a search through the enclosures, and at last, to his delight, came upon Reilly in the silver ring.

The chauffeur was by himself and, keeping in the background, the detective never for a second let him out of sight. He was a spectator of the man's good and bad luck with the bookmakers, he trailed him many times to the refreshment bar, and, using a taxi, he followed the gaily flagged motor charabanc which carried him back to the city. He sat beside him on the Bakerloo and finally shadowed him into the mews behind 144B Harley-street. Then, to make absolutely certain, he looked through the garage doors and was at once rewarded with a sight of Eunice's car.

But he was not finished yet and until, through discreet inquiries, he had ascertained that that particular garage belonged to the house behind it, 144B, and that the house referred to had recently been let furnished to a party by the name of Gower with two Rolls-Royce cars, he did not leave the neighbourhood.

Then he had a long telephone conversation with Naughton Jones at Dr. Grain's, returning later to his lodging in Eastcastle-street to make a complete change in his appearance. He was intending to call upon Ephraim Smith about half-past nine that night, hoping that at that time he might be fortunate enough to arrive when Fenton was not on duty.

That evening the Smiths dined almost in silence, Smith himself hardly contributing a word to the conversation. After dinner they adjourned to the drawing-room and Eunice played softly upon the piano. Fenton brought round the coffee and, her father and mother being served, the girl happened to look into the mirror, saw that the butler was stirring in her cup.

"What is it, Fenton?" she asked, stopping her playing.

"Only the sugar, Miss," he replied. "It is rather lumpy to-night."

She resumed her playing for a few minutes and then, having drunk the coffee, she closed the piano and started to read. But her book was uninteresting and very soon she put it down.

"I feel sleepy," she said with a yawn. "I think I'll go to bed."

She bade good-night to her parents and went up to her room.

"Oh, but I'm sleepy," she exclaimed passing her hand over her forehead. "I feel too tired almost to undress," and she lay back in an armchair and closed her eyes.

The room was half in shadow and lit only by a drooping light above the bed.

A quarter of an hour later there was a gentle tap upon the door, but no response was made, and in a few seconds the door was opened very gently and Fenton peered in. The butler stood hesitating for a moment and then tip-toed into the room.

"Miss Eunice," he whispered, "Miss Eunice," and gliding up, he touched her on the arm. Then he shook her gently but she was in a deep sleep and did not open her eyes.

A cold smile crossed his face and, turning swiftly, he crept out of the room, closing the door very quietly behind him.

In less than two minutes he returned, accompanied now by the dark Syrian of the cottage near the castle. The latter had his cap pulled down low over his eyes, and his coat buttoned up closely. He was erect and straight, and walked with the litheness of a panther.

"But I can't take her like this," he said protestingly. "I must have a rug or something to wrap her up in, and it must be of a dark colour if you can get it."

"Hush, hush," whispered the butler, "there's someone outside," and he darted over to the wall and switched off the light. They stood in silence for a minute, and then he switched the light on again. "It was only the maid," he said, "but we must wait now until she's gone back. She came up for something for the mistress. The two new girls they've taken on are out for the evening."

Mattin regarded the sleeping Eunice with admiring eyes. "She's very beautiful," he whispered, drawing in a deep breath, "and what a lovely little figure!"

"I have never noticed it," replied the butler coldly. "I'm not interested in women, and I've been seeing her almost every day since she was born."

Mattin looked at him pityingly. "A pretty woman," he said slowly, "is the most wonderful thing in the world." He looked back at the girl and frowned. "But you haven't given her too much, have you?"

"Exactly what I was told to," replied Fenton surlily. He bent over her and thrusting his arm beneath her dress, felt the beating of her heart. "She's all right," he went on, and drawing back his hand clumsily, he tore open her dress.

Mattin flushed. "Tiens," he exclaimed sharply, "but you are rough," and when Fenton, in lifting her out of the chair bumped her head against the wall, a look of anger blazed into the Syrian's face.

"Canaille," he hissed furiously, "you are not fit to touch a woman, you. You may have bruised that beautiful head."

He snatched the girl out of Fenton's arms and laid her gently upon the bed. "Get a cloak or something to roll her up in," he said, and when the butler had produced a big travelling rug from a cupboard, he wrapped it carefully round her and lifted her up. "Quick, now," he whispered, "we haven't all night."

"I'll tie her legs first," said Fenton, producing a piece of cord from his pocket, and when Mattin stepped back protestingly he added sullenly, "Those are my orders. The last one escaped."

With a scowl, Mattin held Eunice towards him. "No, not her knees, imbecile," he snarled, "her ankles, and not so tight. Peste! you've the soul of a eunuch and a cruel one at that."

Fenton gave him a sour look, and they moved towards the door. They stood listening for a moment, and then Mattin became impatient. "Get on," he said, "there's no one there."

"I'll go first," said the butler coldly, and with his hand still upon the door handle, he added, "and tell Professor Ingleby I shall be no more use here if she comes back. She saw me stirring the powder in her coffee just now, and remarked about it. I put her off with an excuse, but it will be remembered if she returns. I shall have to leave here."

"She saw you, and yet she drank it!' exclaimed Mattin, incredulously.

"I said I was stirring the sugar," replied the butler. "I've been with the family nearly thirty years," he added, with importance, "and they accept what I say here. I'm trusted."

Martin's lips curled in scorn. "Thirty years of faithful service, Monsieur! You should be proud. Ah!" he went on, thoughtfully, as if an idea had just struck him. "So you will be no more use, eh?" He lowered his eyes to hide the expression in them. "Yes, I'll tell Professor Ingleby, Monsieur Fenton."

They crept softly down the back stairs into the basement, Fenton leading the way with an electric torch. A deep area separated the house from the garage at the back, and the basement was twenty steps and more below the level of the mews. Climbing up noiselessly, they passed through the garage and reached the mews, where a closed car was standing with its engine purring gently and all its blinds drawn. A man was on the driver's seat, and he gave a low "all right," when he saw Fenton peeping out. The car door was opened, and Mattin lifted Eunice on to the back seat.

Then he turned swiftly and touched Fenton on the arm.

"Quick," he whispered, "into the garage. I've a message I forgot to give you."

Fenton stepped back a few paces to receive then a crashing blow upon the jaw. He fell without a sound, and Mattin, snatching him up as if he were as light as a feather, ran through the garage, and, without a second's hesitation, dropped him head foremost down into the basement.

"What he deserved," he panted, breathlessly, as he raced back for the car. "He'd have been no more use, as he said, and he was a brute, too, to the girl."

Reaching the car, he jumped in at the back, and they were driven swiftly away. Turning out of the mews, the car passed a man standing by the kerb, and the driver made a signal with his hand. The car shot down Harley-street into Cavendish Square, swaying with its rapid motion, and the unconscious girl almost rolled off the seat. The Syrian hesitated a moment, and then, with a smile upon his face, pulled her to him and held her in his arms. He stroked her head gently and kissed her lightly upon the cheek.

And at that very moment a smart and dapper looking man was ringing the front-door bell of No. 144B, Harley-street.

There was some delay in replying to his ring, and he had to push the bell three times before receiving an answer. Then it was Theresa who opened the door.

"I want to see Mr. Smith at once," said the man. "Tell him I come from the London and Norwich Bank, and the matter is very urgent."

The maid hesitated a moment, and then led him into a small room off the side of the hall.

"If you wait, sir," she said, "I'll tell Mr. Smith."

A couple of minutes later he was ushered into the study, to see there Ephraim Smith, who, with a black scowl on his face, was standing in the middle of the room.

"What's this?" asked Smith, sharply. "Who are you, and what do you want?"

The man waited until the door had closed behind him, and then replied, quietly:—

"I'm Gilbert Larose, Mr. Smith, and you've done a very foolish thing in going away. You've given us a lot of trouble, and——"

"Confound you!" interrupted the millionaire fiercely, "won't you even now leave me alone? Am I to have no choice in the matter at all? If I pay the piper, am I not——?"

The door opened suddenly, and Mrs. Smith burst in. She looked very flustered.

"Ephraim, dear——" she began, and then she looked at Larose.

"Yes," snapped Ephraim Smith angrily, "look at him. It is one of those detectives here again. They don't leave me alone. It's that Mr. Wenn who——" but he suddenly noticed how pale his wife was and, his voice softening instantly, he said, "What is it, dear?"

"We can't find Eunice," she faltered, "and Fenton's not anywhere in the house. I'm frightened and——"

But there was a loud rat-tat-tat upon the front door, and for ten seconds at least there was pressure upon the bell.

"Oh! what's that?" quavered Mrs. Smith weakly. "There's been an accident, and they've come to tell us."

Unmindful now of everything else, Smith bounded out of the room and rushed to the front door. He threw it wide open, to find no one, however, upon the step; neither was there anyone near upon the pavement when he ran out.

"A run-away knock," he exclaimed in relief as he returned into the hall. Then his anger came back. "Another piece of foolery, like the detective stunts I've been experiencing."

"Look in the letter-box, sir," said Larose sternly.

With his face as black as thunder, Smith did as he was bid, and, thrusting his hand in, brought out a letter. Instantly his eyes bulged in fear, for it was addressed, as he saw, in the manner he had come so well to know. The sprawling, printed Roman characters were there, looking for all the world as if they had been done with a pointed piece of stick.

He tore open the envelope, and scanned the contents rapidly.

"My God!" he exclaimed brokenly, "they say they've taken Eunice away." He grabbed the detective fiercely by the arm. "Come up with me and see if it's true," and followed by Larose, he raced up the stairs. Before the open door of his daughter's bedroom, however, he stopped and smiled bitterly. "But, of course it's true," he groaned. "They've always done what they've said, those devils." He clenched his hands together as if struck by a terrible thought. "But good God! If they've hurt her!"

"Quick," said Larose sternly, "tell me how long it is since she came up here. She's not been in the bed."

"About half an hour," replied Smith huskily. "She said all at once that she had become very sleepy, and she left us then——"

"She was drugged, of course," snapped Larose. "What did she have different from you at dinner?"

"Nothing," replied Smith. "We all had the same and then afterwards we had coffee in the drawing room. Fenton brought it to us as usual—ah!"—a look of incredulity came into his face—"and she asked him why he was stirring hers."

Larose pulled him roughly out of the room. "Now which way would they get out of the house?" he asked. "Look lively, and show me, quick."

"Down that back staircase," replied Smith, pointing to the end of the passage, "they could get through the basement into the garage that opens into the mews." His voice broke again. "But if they hurt her getting her away——"

"They didn't hurt her," replied Larose, "you can depend upon that. She was as drugged as I was that night when I had dinner at Ingleby's." His hand went back to his hip pocket. "Now, where's that precious butler of yours? I'll have a word with him at once."

But Fenton, as Mrs. Smith had said, was nowhere to be found, and the two returned to the study, where Mrs. Smith was lying back in an armchair crying softly.

"Don't you worry, Mrs. Smith," said Larose gently. "Miss Eunice will be quite safe, and it's only money they want"—his voice hardened grimly—"but we'll soon get her back whether we pay them or not." He turned quickly to Smith. "Now that letter, please, and we'll see what they say."

With hands that shook, Smith handed over the letter and the detective read:—

"You have gone back upon your promise, and the poor fools you sent after us have had to suffer for it. Now we are going to punish you. We have taken your daughter and unless you implicitly obey us you will not see her again; but if you carry out our instructions in every minute particular, she will be returned to you unharmed. We dare you to inform the police, and if you do—we shall learn of it within an hour. Buy the Bendle diamonds, and await further orders. You cannot escape us."

"Exactly," commented Larose, "and they are certain they have got the whip hand." He frowned. "Now, what are these diamonds they write about?"

"The heirlooms of the Bendle family," replied Smith weakly. "Lady Bendle died a few months ago, and the diamonds are to be sold by auction next week. They are supposed to be one of the finest collections in the world, and are worth a quarter of a million pounds."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose thoughtfully, "and so this is to be their final——" but he cut short what he was intending to say, and stood silent in a frowning reverie.

"It's dreadful," wailed Mrs. Smith. "What shall we do?"

The detective awoke with a start. "Oh! it won't be for long," he said hopefully. "We know who they are, and a great deal more about them than they think." He turned to Mr. Smith. "But we'll go to the garage now," and as they were passing through the hall he asked. "What do you think has become of Fenton?"

Smith shivered. "I have no idea," he replied.

They descended quickly to the basement and then, when crossing the area to the steps leading up to the garage, Smith stopped suddenly.

"What's that in the corner, there?" he asked.

Larose flashed an electric torch in the direction indicated, and gave a startled exclamation. "Fenton!" he whispered hoarsely. He darted forward, and after a moment added, "and he's dead."

Smith gave a gasp of horror, and, dropping limply down upon the area steps, closed his eyes, but the detective was all activity at once. He rolled the body over and swiftly examined the injuries. The cause of death was dreadfully apparent.

"He's only just dead," he muttered. "Fell from the top, or else——" his face hardened grimly—"he was thrown over. If he told them he'd been seen stirring her coffee then he'd become a source of danger to them and"—he shrugged his shoulders—"well, who knows? They are not squeamish these men."

He made a quick search of the dead man's pockets but found nothing of interest in them. Then, seeing that Smith was still oblivious to everything that was going on, he ran past him up the steps and entered the garage. He found both the doors open, the one leading on to the basement steps and the other opening into the mews. The further door he closed, after a quick glance into the mews. Then he proceeded to flash his torch in every direction.

It was a big, roomy garage and even with the two Rolls-Royce cars in, there was plenty of passage-way at the side.

"This is the way she was taken out," he said slowly, "and I am certain it wasn't Fenton who carried her. He wasn't strong enough and could never have brought her up those steps. But he came up with whoever did carry her because he fell from the top here outside the garage door. Then, why didn't he shut the door behind him before he came out to the place from where he fell? People usually shut doors at night, and particularly people like Fenton, who was a methodically-minded man." He thought for a moment. "No, then Fenton was not the last one to pass through the garage, and whoever did was in a hurry and had nothing to gain by shutting the doors."

He switched on the garage lights and instantly gave a low whistle and dropped upon his knees.

"A sixpence, two shillings, a penny and a pocket-knife," he exclaimed softly—he brought his face almost to a level with the garage floor, "and a smear of blood." He looked under the nearest car. "And an electric torch, too."

He picked up the articles he had enumerated and rose to his feet. "It's as clear as daylight," he whispered. "He was knocked down here and these fell out of his pocket. Then he was thrown over into the basement." He thought for a moment and then, snatching a sponge from a bucket standing near, with a couple of swipes he removed all traces of the blood smear. Then, after one long look round he tiptoed out of the garage and leaned over the area rails.

"Hist!" he called softly to Ephraim Smith, "come up here, quick."

Smith rose to his feet with an effort and, with his head averted from the corner where the body lay, climbed slowly up the steps. Larose motioned him into the garage and then closed the door.

"Now," he said sharply, "pull yourself together and play the man." His voice was hard and menacing. "If you don't"—he raised his hand warningly—"I'm sorry for Miss Eunice."

"What do you mean?" asked the trembling millionaire.

"That we are dealing with desperate men," replied the detective; "and we require every ounce of our courage and resource to beat them now."

"All right," said Smith and he drew in a deep breath, "I've never been a coward and I won't be one now." His face suffused with anger. "My God! but they're devils."

"That's the spirit," said Larose, "and don't you worry, we'll beat them before long. Now look here. This accident to Fenton alters everything, but don't you have a moment's regret about it, for he has been the traitor in your house all along. Yes, it's quite true," he went on quickly, for the millionaire had recoiled in horror, "and that's what we should have told you, if you hadn't bolted away. Fenton's been crazy for some time, and he turned against you, and has been the tool of Ingleby because of the money you've got. It was he who has made it so easy for that gang to hit you right and left, and it was he, of course, who gave some drug to Miss Eunice to-night so that they could carry her away so easily." He shook his head. "But I can't go into that now, for I must get away quickly. There'll be an inquest over Fenton now, and I don't want to appear as a witness. The gang thinks I'm dead, and they must continue to think it. So this is what you must do. I want five minutes in Fenton's bedroom, and then I'll quit, and you'll come down here and pretend to find the body. You understand—you'll find it and ring up for the police at once. Then you'll be the only witness at the inquest."

"But about my daughter?" asked Smith anxiously. "What am I to say?"

"Nothing," replied Larose sharply, "at any rate, until to-morrow, when Naughton Jones and Vallon will be here. I 'phoned them a couple of hours ago, and they'll be at my place to-night. The matter's too fateful for me to decide alone."

"But who was it who took my daughter, do you think, then?" asked Smith.

"Probably Texworthy and McAlbane," replied Larose. "At any rate, they've not been seen in their usual haunts the last two days. Croupin's been watching them ever since you left."

He switched off the garage light. "Now we'll go back into the house, and for God's sake show some courage, or we'll all be in the soup."

"I'll not fail you," said Smith grimly. "I've quite got back my nerve," and he looked as if he had, too.


Chapter XIV.—The Bloodhounds.

A long consultation took place that night between Larose and the two other detectives, and it would have been at once apparent to any onlooker that none of them was in a very decided frame of mind.

Naughton Jones looked anxious and had lost something of his air of complete self-satisfaction. Vallon was frowning hard and Larose was fidgety and restless, as if he were quite aware things were not going too well.

"But I have fear of these men," said Vallon gloomily. "They strike and strike and yet never do we find we can strike back. We know them to be assassins, almost we hear the death-cries of those they kill, and we even come upon their dead, still warm, as we pass by, yet——" and he threw out his hands—"we do nothing! nothing!! nothing!!"

"Well, what can we do?" asked Jones in some irritation. "What evidence have we against them—what evidence. I mean that we can produce in a court of law? Not a scrap." He went on brusquely, seeing that the Frenchman was unprepared with any reply. "We ourselves are certain, but to others it would be only conjecture. The utmost we could bring against them would be that they contemplated violence upon Mr. Larose, and even then we should be relying upon the word—the tainted word—of Raphael Croupin, who broke into Professor Ingleby's undoubtedly upon some mission of private theft." He shook his head. "No, we are still not ready—we have no evidence."

"But we are at a crisis," insisted Vallon, "and to-night we must decide whether we should not advise Mr. Smith to go again to your Scotland Yard."

Naughton Jones stirred uneasily in his chair. "The consequences for his daughter may be unpleasant if we do," he remarked, frowning, "for the unfortunate part is—we are not aware of the extent of the resources of these men, and what means they may possess of getting information. They say in the letter here that they will know in an hour if he appeals to the police, and it may be true. Then"—he shrugged his shoulders—"if they find there is any likelihood of their being driven into a corner, is it improbable that to ensure their safety they will do away with the girl and render all our work futile?"

"And is it likely in any case," asked Vallon sharply, "no matter what Smith may do, that they will give her up now! Smith said that those diamonds do not come up for auction until Wednesday week, and that means she will be held prisoner for a fortnight. Well, she cannot be unconscious all that time, and if she sees either Texworthy or McAlbane then they dare not give her up." He shook his head. "No, I say whatever happens, the poor creature will not come back."

"And, why should she see either of them?" asked Jones testily, "for we have the clearest evidence that it is Mattin who has arranged all the details of her abduction. He is carrying it all out."

"Make that clear to me, please, Mr. Jones," said Larose quickly. "It is most important."

"Listen then," replied Jones, "and you will see how wisely we acted in arranging for you to come up here whilst we others remained in Norfolk to keep check on the movements of the gang." He regarded the Australian impressively. "On the Tuesday night there was the explosion; on the Wednesday Smith bolted into the blue, and until the following Monday neither Ingleby, McAlbane, Texworthy, nor Mattin made the slightest change in their usual habits. They were all seen by one or other of us on each and every day. Then Croupin, who almost night and day has kept watch upon Marsh House, reported that on the Monday Mattin had two interviews with Professor Ingleby; the first, a short one, in the morning, when the two were alone together for about five minutes, and the second, in the evening, lasting almost three hours, when both Texworthy and McAlbane were present.

"Then Mattin was absent from his cottage from very early on the Tuesday morning until late Wednesday night, and that he came up to London we are sure, because, going through his place on the Thursday, I found in a macintosh pocket a paper bag containing six bananas, and from the inscription on the bag he had bought them at the fruit kiosk on Fenchurch-street station. That macintosh was not in the cottage when he was away, for we had been there on both days. Well, last Thursday, the day before yesterday, in the morning he interviewed Ingleby again, an hour and a half this time, with Texworthy and McAlbane again there. Then from the night of that day up to this evening when you telephoned us, at 8.45, we have not set eyes on any of the three of them again. Mattin, Texworthy, and McAlbane had all disappeared.

"And only Professor Ingleby then is now at his home," commented Larose very thoughtfully.

"Yes," replied Naughton Jones, "so we can determine exactly what has happened. We can follow every step they made. On Monday the gang learnt where Smith had gone, and that evening they prepared their plans. On Tuesday morning Mattin came up to the city here to make all arrangements for the kidnapping of the Smith girl, and no doubt also to secure a place where she could be hidden away. On Wednesday night he returned with everything cut and dried, and yesterday, Friday"—he shrugged his shoulders—"the three of them left Norfolk to carry the abduction out. It is quite clear."

"So, according to your reasoning," said Larose slowly, "the hiding place of Miss Smith—is here in London."

"Quite so," replied Naughton Jones, "and as Mattin undoubtedly arranged for it, it will be somewhere in the East-End, for as I look at things, from the fact that they were able to get hold of a good quantity of explosive, Mattin is not unknown in anarchist circles, and these gentlemen of violence are influential rather east of the city than west."

"But do we really know," asked Larose, "that Mattin had anything at all to do with the explosion?"

"We know nothing," snapped Jones irritably. "All the way through this business we can only surmise. Three days before the explosion I myself saw Mattin spying round Weybourne Manor, the two following nights and days he was away from his cottage, and three minutes before the explosion took place we met him on the road racing away from the vicinity of the Manor. Also, don't forget that when you were drugged Croupin heard Professor Ingleby express the hope that Mattin would be scoring a bullseye that night." He thumped his fist upon the table. "Yes, again I say it is quite clear."

Larose turned to Vallon. "And could you find nothing from your people about this Mattin?" he asked.

Vallon shook his head. "No, nothing," he replied. "His finger-prints are unrecorded in my own country and the same with our good friends here. We know nothing about him."

"And these bananas, Mr. Jones," asked Larose, after a moment, "were they in a small bag or a large one? I mean, from the size of the bag, would you say he had bought several, or only six?"

Jones frowned as if he did not see the force of the question. "Oh! it was a medium-sized bag," he replied carelessly, "and it had held a small bunch. Probably he bought a dozen from the length of the stalk that remained."

"Ah!" commented Larose, "and that means that he bought them upon coming back to the city, in the afternoon or evening of Wednesday, on a return journey that brought him to Fenchurch-street station. Not when he was starting from Fenchurch-street to go anywhere, for it is improbable that he would have carried six bananas about with him all day. It looks therefore as if he bought them coming out of the station, found three or four of them were as many as he could eat, and left the other six for when he would be hungry again, which was not before he got home to his cottage that night."

"Well, what does it matter when he bought the bananas?" asked Jones coldly. "What does that tell us?"

"It tells us," replied Larose quietly, "that on Wednesday he had been travelling to a place a number of miles down the Fenchurch-street line, for if he had been visiting any of the nearer places served by that railway he would not have travelled back by their trains." The Australian smiled pleasantly. "You see, Mr. Jones, coming from Norfolk and intending to visit the East-End, Mattin would have certainly landed in London at Liverpool-street station, and he would have almost certainly again have returned to Liverpool-street station to get the train for home. But to reach that station from any of the near London places served by the Fenchurch-street line, like West Ham, Upton Park, or East Ham, it would have been most convenient for him to return by motor 'bus or tram or the district railway, because all these three ways of returning would have landed him much nearer to Liverpool-street than is Fenchurch-street station itself."

Naughton Jones thought for a moment. "Quite plausible," he said, "quite plausible." He smiled. "And your contention is that Mattin returned that day from some distant station served by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway?"

"Yes," replied Larose, "at any rate from somewhere beyond East Ham or Barking."

Jones shook his head. "A big order my friend," was his comment. "A big order, and we have only ten or eleven days."

"Well," said Vallon, after the moment's silence that followed, "and what is it decided that we must do?"

"Why, go on, of course," replied Larose quickly. "We're not beaten by a long chalk yet, and it will be bad luck if, after all we know about them, we can't pick up some sort of trail to follow." His face grew very solemn. "But I agree that Eunice is in great danger and that unless we find her she may never see her parents again. This is the wretches' last throw, and they are staking everything upon it. One thing, however, in our favour is that now, for the first time since we have been dealing with them, they are on the defensive. We have never had a chance of attacking before."

They talked on until long after midnight, and then Larose looked at his watch. "Well, I'll have a few hours' sleep now," he said, "and then I'll get back to Norfolk. I'll pick up the trail again at Mattin's cottage. I've got a few ideas left still."

Naughton Jones rose yawning from his chair. "And I'll have to go to Mariarty," he said. "I don't like it, but he's a great master in the underworld, and it may be he will condescend to help us. The annoyance is that he told me he was always out of town at week-ends."

Soon after 10 on the Monday morning Naughton Jones, accompanied by Vallon alighted from a taxi at the entrance to a narrow street close to Shadwell station in the East End.

"We'll go the rest of the way on foot," he told his companion when he had paid off the driver. "We don't want to attract attention in this neighbourhood, and, besides, I am not quite certain exactly where to find Mariarty. The professor is a shy bird, and sleeps on many different perches—as it suits him."

And then for the next few minutes he proceeded in and out through a maze of squalid streets, until at length he reached one rather broader than the others, containing some good-sized houses and shops. An overhead railway crossed one end and, of the score or more of huge arches underneath, about half were closed and occupied. The remainder, unfenced and untenanted, looked like the dark and gloomy entrances to some forbidding underworld.

"You needn't screw up your nose so, Monsieur Vallon," said Jones. "It isn't dead bodies you smell. It's only the canal that runs behind these houses. Professor Mariarty's abode is somewhere here, and he finds it convenient no doubt, to have the canal so handy." He smiled dryly. "I am given to understand by my friends, the regular police, that the coroner of this district is always kept pretty busy. Suicides and sailor men with cut throats and empty purses have quite a partiality it seems, for the strip of water here."

He walked along the pavement scrutinising the numbers over the shops.

"Ah! This should be it, I think," he remarked, stopping suddenly. "Number forty you notice—the same number that the great Ali Baba favoured when he picked his little band of thieves."

They were in front of a ship chandler's store, and in the window was a goodly display of all things necessary for those who move upon deep waters. Coils of rope, hammocks, lanterns of all sizes, compasses and huge tins of paint.

Naughton Jones pushed open the door and walked inside. Immediately a small bearded man came forward.

"I want to see Mr. Mariarty," said Jones curtly, "and at once please, for I am in a hurry."

The man's eyes narrowed cunningly.

"Mariarty, Mariarty," he repeated, and then shook his head, "you've come to the wrong place, guv'nor. There's no one of that name here."

"No, of course not," said Jones calmly, seating himself upon a coil of rope. "Well, tell him I'm here, will you? Say Mr. Naughton Jones." A look of surprised amusement came suddenly into the detective's face and he gave a grim laugh. "Ah! so it's you, Jarvis, is it? I didn't recognise you for the moment, in that beard. No, no, you can't have forgotten me. I got you five years."

The man's jaw dropped and his face went a sickly colour.

"But don't worry," went on Naughton Jones and he smiled quite amiably now, "I'm not looking for anyone this morning. I've just come on a private friendly visit to Mr. Mariarty, and if you tell him I am here he'll be very pleased to see me. Off you go now."

The man hesitated a moment, and then without further parley disappeared through a door at the back of the shop.

"An old friend of mine, Monsieur Vallon," commented Jones with a smile. "One of the best cat burglars we have. Didn't you notice how light he was on his feet? He made absolutely no sound as he walked away." He pursed up his lips. "But finding him here now with Mariarty rather makes me fear he is again at the old game."

The man was gone quite a long time, and when he did return, he was grinning nervously. "The boss'll see you, sir," he said, "but he's not here. You'll find him four houses farther down the street to the right. Go into the pawnshop there and inquire for Mr. Bone."

Naughton Jones nodded his thanks and the two detectives immediately left the shop.

"The professor's quite a rich man," commented Jones as they walked along, "and I shouldn't be at all surprised if he didn't own all this street, with all the houses communicating in some hidden way at the back." He shook his head. "He's always been a tough nut for us to crack."

"But have you never had anything against him?" asked Vallon wonderingly. "Has he never been in gaol?"

"Never," replied Jones smilingly, "for with all his bucolic appearance the professor is a most resourceful man. He organises, he finances and he employs, but for all that we have never been able to nail him as an accomplice in the many outrages he must have sponsored in his career?"

They entered the pawnshop, and, asking for Mr. Bone, were immediately conducted down a long passage to the back. Then they descended a steep flight of stone stairs and, passing through a thick iron door, were ushered into a long and windowless room illuminated at one end by a shaded electric light.

Professor Mariarty was sitting behind a big desk and, after one quick hard glance at Jones and his companion, he closed a half-opened drawer at his right and rose briskly to his feet. Over his face spread a pleased and friendly smile.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, as if very surprised, "and so it is really you. I could hardly believe that Jarvis was right. And you too, Mr. Vallon—I was quite sure you had both been killed that dreadful night."

"No, professor," replied Jones, taking the proffered hand with a wry smile, "we were both away from the manor that night, and I am sure you will be glad to know that Mr. Larose and Mr. Croupin were also away."

"Well, well," said the professor heartily, "and that's good news." He looked rather shamefaced. "I got the wind up fair and proper and don't mind admitting it, and I cut off quick next morning, as of course you heard." He shook his head gloomily. "That crowd we were up against were too big for me to tackle alone, and so I thought I'd keep mum and return to a quiet life while I could." He looked very serious, "And I didn't want any questioning by the police."

"Of course not, professor," commented Naughton Jones politely. "I quite understand."

Mariarty frowned suddenly. "But this visit now, Mr. Jones?" he asked. "It's a friendly one, as you told Jarvis? You don't——"

Naughton Jones held up his hand. "Quite all right, professor, quite all right. I've no hard thoughts about you to-day and I won't take any advantage of anything I see or hear. For instance, I won't mention the pistol you've got in that drawer you so suddenly pushed to and for which I should hardly think you've been granted a licence——" the professor frowned—"and I will not suggest either that you're running this pawn shop under a false name." He shook his head and smiled most agreeably. "No, we've come to ask a favour of you this morning, for frankly we want your help."

The professor's face cleared. "Very pleased to do anything I can for you, Mr. Jones," he said cordially. "Just say what you want, and if I can accommodate you I will. But sit down now and try one of these cigars." He handed over a flat box to the two detectives. "You won't find better ones in all London. They were specially dropped for me by aeroplane last week——" his eyes twinkled—"and when the bill for duty comes in I may get a shock." He put on a most solemn air. "Now tell me exactly what you want."

And when Naughton Jones proceeded to explain, with as much detail as he considered necessary, all that had happened to Ephraim Smith the previous night. The professor listened with his mouth open and with his eyes very wide. He nodded his head many times and gave vent to many Ahs! and Ohs! and when it came to the mention of the Bendle diamonds his excitement was intense.

"Dear me, dear me," he exclaimed fervently when the detective had finished, "but what a wonderful firm! The Bendle diamonds! Worth a quarter of a million! Why, if they bring it off it will be the greatest stroke of our generation! No one has ever pulled off anything like that, and I don't call to mind any bit of business a quarter as great." He nodded his head violently. "Yes, I did well to leave Norfolk. They're too big for me to handle, certainly."

"But Monsieur Mariarty," said Vallon, breaking silence for the first time, "In the course of your work, which I understand from Mr. Jones here to be of a most varied kind, have you never come upon any traces of what you call this 'firm?' Have you never heard of anything being done that might be the work of these men?"

Mariarty regarded the French detective very thoughtfully. "No," he said slowly, "I've never heard a breath of them before. They're not London folk and they're not regulars, I'm sure. They're a new firm, I think, and probably Yanks."

"But where would they get enough explosives from," asked Naughton Jones, "to blow up Weybourne Manor? They couldn't buy it through the ordinary channels—could they?"

"No, no, of course not," agreed the professor at once. "They probably made it themselves."

"But if they were not chemists, Mr. Mariarty," persisted Naughton Jones, "if they had no laboratories or chemicals, where then would they be getting it from, at such short notice?"

The professor looked very stupid, and Jones went on persuasively, "Now, supposing you wanted the explosive, do you know where it could be got?"

"Oh! I'm not that kind of man," replied Mariarty quickly and with some warmth. "The police may suspect me of many things but never, Mr. Jones—never of that!"

Naughton Jones spoke very quietly. "Now, what I want to get at, my dear professor, is this. We know something about these men, much more than I am able to explain to you now, and we suspect the party who obtained that explosive for them to be the same individual who later arranged for the carrying off of Miss Smith. We believe him to have friends who supplied him with explosives under the lap, and we think he went to these same friends to provide a hiding place where he could put the girl until the diamonds have been bought and handed over." The detective was all smiles and amiability. "Now you can see what I mean. With your incomparable knowledge of all that is going on in the underworld of this great city, with your great repulsion as a man who could fill half the prisons of the kingdom if he only spoke the word"—his voice was low and solemn—"you can put your finger upon the men who may have provided these explosives and, further, you can suggest what hiding places they may have at their command?"

The expression upon the professors face was an inscrutable one, and he regarded Naughton Jones with large and placid bovine eyes. A long silence followed, and then, stretching up to a pigeon-hole in his desk, he pulled out a piece of paper.

"Give me a description of the man you want," he said gruffly, "or if there's more than one of them let's have the lot."

He took down the descriptions that the detective gave him, and then added slyly, "Of course, I'm not Scotland Yard, you understand, but still within a couple of days or so I may be able to tell you something. I'll send you word when I've got any news."

"A very remarkable man, Monsieur Vallon," commented Jones, as they were walking away, "and his secret service is one of the very best—indeed, so often have we drawn blank when trying to take him red-handed, that we are for ever conjecturing how highly placed some of his spies must be. Yes, as I told you before, he is a hard nut to crack."

And, within an hour, according to his promise, Mariarty had loosed his dogs upon the trail. Mongrels of the docksides, of the squalid streets, and of the slums; furtive-eyed creatures, who spied upon others equally as furtive-eyed; men with hard, evil faces, who shadowed fellow practitioners of crime; listeners who listened for chance words from unwary lips; questioners who questioned in dark corners, and in places hidden from the light of day; ghouls of the underworld foraging among the garbage heaps of their own homes, and other ghouls rifling the graves of their own kith and kin.

In the meantime Gilbert Larose had gone back to Norfolk, and the morning after his arrival found him making a reconnaissance behind Mattin's cottage in the woods. For an hour or more he lay crouched among the bracken, and then, certain at length that the place was unoccupied, he dropped over the garden fence. The goat had gone, he found, but the fowls were still there, and they had evidently been attended to that morning, for there was fresh water and new green stuff in their run.

"Good," was his comment. "Then someone is looking after them, and I may pick up a line in that direction."

He effected an entrance as before, through the back window, and quickly went over the cottage. Then he sat astride the one kitchen chair, and, leaning his folded arms across the back, for a long time contemplatively regarded every article in the room. Presently, as was usual with him at such times, he began talking to himself.

"Now, what have I come here for?" he asked, "and what was the good of my making this long journey back when we so confidently presume that Mattin, miles and miles away, is keeping guard over the unhappy Eunice? Yes, certainly, Mattin has no intention of returning for some time, for, apart from having sent his goat away, he has removed every scrap of perishable food. Everything tidied up, and not a crumb left anywhere, and he has brought his bicycle into the kitchen, too, for greater safety. But that he intends to return, I am quite sure, for those lettuce and cauliflowers have been watered by someone this morning, and that means care and thought for the future. But why should we think that Mattin, in particular, is guarding Eunice? Because, of course, he is unknown to her, whereas Texworthy and McAlbane—well, what part will those two beauties be playing now? Probably coming back here, I expect, while Mattin will remain away then to be the sole channel of communication between the hiding place of Eunice and the gang. At any rate, friend Croupin has got his eyes skinned, and we shall learn at once if they return. No, Mattin must be my only concern now, and for the time I must concentrate on him."

A long silence followed before the detective spoke again.

"Now, we are certain of these things about Mattin. He disappeared from the cottage very early on Wednesday morning, and he returned here on Thursday night at a time that would exactly fit in with his taking the last train from London into Sheringham. He touched London, we are sure, because of those Fenchurch-street station bananas. Well and good, but did he bring back anything else that can furnish the slightest clue as to the other places he visited. Now, let me see."

Then followed a minute examination of everything in the cottage, but as the search proceeded no expression of satisfaction came into the detective's face.

"A methodical man, this Mattin," was his comment, "and he put everything in order before he went. Except for that cookery book upon the dresser, there's absolutely nothing out of place. His working clothes all neatly folded, his spare boots cleaned and exactly in line, his bedding covered up, and all his crockery in the cupboard or on the shelf." He sighed. "Yes, there's nothing to be discovered here. I'll go outside."

But the yard, the garden, and the outhouses, yielded nothing helpful, although he smiled broadly while examining the rubbish heap.

"Gosh! but he lives well," Larose exclaimed, "this simple breaker of stones! Tinned asparagus, Penaud's sardines and the best of potted meats." He stirred over the rubbish with a stick and sniffed hard. "And if I mistake not he's been burning feathers lately. A poacher without doubt, and he's been having pheasants out of season, too. That was a pheasant's feather I saw inside on the mantelshelf that he'd been cleaning his cigarette holder with, and I thought it looked pretty fresh."

He returned into the cottage for a last look round and, idly picking up the cookery book, saw that the corner of one of the leaves was turned down. He opened the book there, and his eyes fell at once upon the heading, 'Jellied Eels.'

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "and if he was down in the East End the other day, perhaps he tasted them and, finding them so good, wondered how they were prepared. Yes, he is fond of tasty things!" He climbed out of the window. "Well, now into the ferns again and for a long wait, I expect, until someone comes back to attend to the fowls."

But the wait was not so lengthy as he had anticipated, for early in the afternoon a wooden-faced youth with a tousle of red hair arrived to feed and water the fowls. His duties over, he helped himself to a large onion from the garden and departed leisurely munching the pilfered delicacy as he walked along.

Larose was quickly out into the road, and, following the boy at a distance, watched him go into a cottage half a mile away. Then, when puzzled as to what excuse he could make for approaching its inmates, he noticed a sign in the window, 'Fresh Eggs for Sale.'

He tapped on the door, and, a woman appearing, asked for a dozen eggs.

"Certainly, sir," said the woman, "eight-pence a dozen, and they're quite fresh."

"What kind of fowls have you?" asked Larose with interest.

"Black Minorcas," she replied, "and they're a prize strain. Come and look at them, sir."

They went round to the back, where he saw the red-haired boy and a man digging potatoes. He also caught sight of a white goat through the open door of a shed.

"So!" he exclaimed, as if surprised, "and isn't that my friend Mattin's goat?"

The man touched his cap. "Yes, sir," he said. "Mattin's away for a few days and we're minding it for him."

"Gone away?" said Larose. "Where's he off to then?"

"Whitby," replied the man. "He's gone for a holiday—fishing."

"Fishing!" laughed the detective. "Why, I didn't know he fished."

"No, I didn't know it either," replied the man, "but he bought a spear-head for spearing eels last week, and asked me to fit a handle to it. But when I told him it would have to be seven or eight feet long, he didn't have it done. He said he'd get one made in Whitby."

"And where did he buy the spear-head from?" asked Larose interestedly.

"In King's Lynn he said," replied the man. "He went there to see his brother."

"And for how long is he going to be away?" asked Larose.

"About a fortnight or three weeks, he thought. He didn't know for certain."

The detective chatted on for a few minutes, and, finding he could extract no more information, bade them good afternoon and went off with his eggs.

"Now," he exclaimed delightedly, when he was out in the road again, "at last I've got something to start upon. Mattin's gone somewhere where he expects to spear eels." His heart beat a little quicker. "Jellied eels—and some place served by the Fenchurch-street line! A house near some muddy creek running down into the Thames. A house—" he gave a rather mirthless laugh—"ah! but I have seen that Essex coast line, and I know those creeks. Millions of them, and running miles and miles into the land." His face brightened a little. "Still, it's something, and it may be that Monsieur Mattin's fondness for his stomach is going to cost him dear. Anyhow, I'll be back in London to-morrow."

He spent that evening with Ronald Grain and Croupin and it was obvious the young doctor was in a very distressed frame of mind. He knew all about the abduction of Eunice because it was to his house, as arranged, that Larose had 'phoned for speech with Naughton Jones and Vallon, the previous night, but the more detailed account supplied by the Australian served to heighten his anxiety.

The doctor had been to Marsh House that morning, Professor Ingleby having sent an urgent telephone message that his lumbago was very bad.

"And I could hardly keep my hands off the little beast," he said bitterly, "and for two pins I'd have wrung his neck. He only sent for me, of course, to find out if I'd heard anything of the Smiths since they left, and, knowing all I do, it was as much as I could do to sit there and be polite."

But Larose rubbed his hands. "It couldn't be better, Doc," he smiled cheerfully. "Keep in touch with him every day and he may sometime drop a careless word that will give us a clue. At any rate from his demeanour you will be able to judge how he thinks his plans are going. One of us will 'phone up here to you every evening for news."

"And if the worst comes to the worst," went on the doctor savagely, "Monsieur Croupin and I are going to kidnap him and put him through the third degree. He's got a yellow streak in him and can't stand much pain."

"We have arranged a most fine place to take him to," said Croupin, all smiles, "where it is all quiet and no one could hear his groans."

"And where is that, Monsieur?" asked Larose curiously.

"At the lion killer's," replied Croupin. "It is all empty. I spent two hours there to-day. With great trouble I climbed in through a skylight, but next time it will be easy, for there are no screws now in the kitchen window bolt."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose quickly; "then that housekeeper of his is away?"

"Yes, and she has been for some time, it seems," went on Croupin, "for each chamber in the house that contains any furniture is locked up," He shrugged his shoulders. "But the locks are of old fashion, and with some wire from the fence I found they were easy to get open."

Larose nodded to Dr. Grain. "Well, that should ease your mind, doctor, for it looks as if Miss Eunice has a woman with her. Texworthy has certainly taken that housekeeper of his along with him." He turned back to Croupin. "But what is the house like inside, Monsieur? Anything suspicious about?"

Croupin shook his head. "Nothing to me," he replied. "But they both drink. A hundred of empty bottles, and gin in the cupboard of the woman's room." He held up his hands in horror. "And oh! the shape of her garments! She must be without form and as ugly as a witch."

"But Texworthy's rooms—" asked Larose. "What were they like?"

The Frenchman made a face. "Untidy, untidy," he said. "Cartridges, guns and many maps."

"What kind of maps?" asked Larose, quickly.

"Oh! Motor maps generally. Maps of all England. Maps in blue covers that fold up. A whole pile of them. All over the desk."

The detective at once took out his watch. "Look here, doctor," he said, "it will be dark in an hour, and I'll get you to take us over to Texworthy's place. We ought to learn everything we can about all these men, and——" He smiled at Croupin. "It will be strange if the enterprise of Monsieur, here, does not bring us some little success."

They drove to the house of the big-game hunter in pitch darkness, and, leaving the doctor and his car about a quarter of a mile away, Larose and Croupin proceeded across the marsh by what the Frenchman called a short cut.

"Now, you keep a grip of my arm, Mr. Larose," he said, "and flash no light. I see well in the dark, and there will be no wet in our feet."

"And how shall we know, then, that he's not coming back?" asked Larose. "Even if we see no light, he may have returned and gone to bed."

"But, I made marks, very secret, before the door," replied Croupin, "and he cannot cross that I do not know."

"Good!" remarked Larose; and he smiled in the darkness. "You would make a great detective, Monsieur Croupin."

Observing nothing suspicious, they climbed in through the window, and then Croupin found he had mislaid his piece of wire. He was climbing out again to get another piece, when Larose stopped him.

"Tut, tut!" he exclaimed. "You say the locks are old-fashioned, and I've got a pocket-knife," and in half a minute he had opened the first door.

"Bien," grinned Croupin, "but you would make a marvellous burglar, Meester Larose."

Proceeding into the big-game hunter's room, the detective saw books and all sorts of odds and ends upon the table, while inside the open desk, as Croupin had said, was a large pile of maps.

There were road maps of all the counties of England and Wales, consisting of a series in blue covers, each on a scale of half an inch to the mile.

The detective counted them quickly, and then referred to the index on the back of one of the covers.

"Humph!" he remarked. "There are thirty-six here, and there should be thirty seven to complete the series." He scanned over them rapidly, and then his face broke into a smile. "Exactly—and the missing one is that of the county of Essex."

The doctor drove him to the railway station for the early train the next morning, and the last words of the detective were: "Now, don't worry, Doctor. I guess how you feel, and, if it can possibly be managed, you shall be in at the death and the first to the rescue. I feel quite hopeful that we shall find her, and every night between 8 and 9 we shall ring you up to give you any news."

To Raphael Croupin the detective gave some explicit directions.

"Morning, noon, and night you are to keep in touch with the professor and report instantly to us if either Texworthy or McAlbane comes back. Also at night, if possible, lie close to the study window. You may be able to hear him then if he is speaking to anyone on the 'phone. Any message from Mattin will certainly come at night."

"Bien," said Croupin complacently, "and on Tuesday and Saturday I may perhaps do better still. The butler and his madame have great love for the pictures, and go to the town on those nights. I have a key to the back door, for I picked his pocket in the street last week, and they have not changed the lock. The professor is in his study always, and I will be hiding in the hall then." He shrugged his shoulders. "But there is no opportunity for my best work. I have called three times, with pots of ferns, but the madame is old and cold, and I could make no impression." He sighed. "If we had been lovers I might have learnt so much!"


Chapter XV.—McAlbane Leaves the Gang.

The following day, upon his arrival in London, Larose had some difficulty in convincing Naughton Jones that there was now undoubtedly a distinct trail for them to follow.

At first the great English detective was inclined to regard the ideas of the Australian as too imaginary and fantastic to be of real value.

"Pooh! Pooh," he sniffed, "and how possibly do you think you can link up those bananas and jellied eels in such a way to provide a halter for half a dozen men? It is not feasible—now is it?"

But Larose was so insistent and in such deadly earnest that in the end Naughton Jones allowed himself to be persuaded and was prepared henceforward to look with favour upon the line of inquiry indicated.

"And there is one thing, Mr. Larose," he said emphatically, "that should make our task the easier, for if they have taken to the country we may be sure it will be in an isolated building that we shall find them. No house in any little town or village will be their hiding place for common sense will have told them it would be too risky. In small country places everyone is curious about his neighbour's business and newcomers are always viewed with suspicion—and talked about."

"Good!" commented Larose hopefully, "then we must look for a house standing by itself."

They bent over a large ordnance map of Essex, and Jones's expression lost a little of its confidence as he passed his forefinger along the Essex coastline.

"Humph!" he remarked dubiously, "a tall order. Just look at the hundreds and hundreds of creeks we could explore between, say, Barking and Shoeburyness, without getting within miles of their hiding place. Look at that coastline off the Mapplin sands—look at Foulness and the creeks of the River Roach."

"But, Mr. Jones," said Larose, "why go so far afield? If Mattin is in hiding as we suppose through the goodwill of his anarchist friend, surely he will not be far from London. Any retreat of theirs will certainly be near the city."

"Motor cars have annihilated distances," replied Naughton Jones judiciously. He nodded his head after a moment. "But still I am inclined to agree with you, for on that stretch of river between Barking and Holehaven many things happen on dark nights of which the authorities never learn. Many an undesirable alien slips quietly into the country between those points and many a bit of contraband, too, reaches the river bank." He smiled drily. "I know it, because I worked on a lighter once." He pointed with a pencil to the ordnance map. "Well, we'll start this side of Canvey Island and work back up the river."

"Then I'll be round with a car before eight to-morrow," said Larose, "and each day we should cover a lot of ground. I'll have some cards printed at once, and we'll be house agents after a place for a client, but remember, every night we must be back here by nine to ring up friend Vallon at Dr. Grain's."

It was half-past seven exactly the next morning when the Australian arrived at Naughton Jones's rooms to find, however, to his annoyance, that the great man had only just got out of bed.

"I am sorry," apologised Jones, slipping quickly into his clothes, "but I sat up very late last night and overslept myself." He frowned at Larose. "I thought things over very carefully, and one idea in particular struck me. That fellow will be some way down the river, I should think, for a dainty feeder like him would not dream of taking eels anywhere near the London area of the Thames."

"But I have made enquiries," said Larose, "and there are good fat eels to be obtained quite close to the city, even in the mud off Barking Creek."

"Quite so," replied Jones, "but our friend would surely be much too particular to spear for any of them near the sewage outfall." He stopped in the middle of lathering his face and smiled. "Now, has it ever struck you, Mr. Larose, with what contempt nature views all our attempts to uplift ourselves on our spiritual side, by so continually appealing to us through the unpleasant things of life?" He plied his brush vigorously. "Take man's gastronomic tendencies, for example. Now where will you find any more filthy feeders than the pig, the duck, or the eel?—and yet the flesh of these three creatures possesses the most delicate and distinctive flavour of all edible things." He smacked his lips appreciatively. "Loin of pork and apple sauce, duck and green peas, or a dish of stewed eels—why, what better could the most exacting gourmet desire?"

"Well," said Larose laughing, "I hope you're not going to wait for anything in that line for breakfast now. We ought to be away as quickly as possible."

"No, no," replied Jones, laughing back. "My breakfast will be very quick and simple. I am getting old, and so after an apple and a pint of milk I shall be all ready for the road." His eyes twinkled, and he made his voice, deep and impressive, as if he were reading a burial service. "On milk man came into the world, and on milk he should go out." He laughed in great good humour. "But break it down with a little water, Mr. Larose, and add a pinch of salt to it, and then it won't upset your liver or give you indigestion."

Ten minutes later Larose was driving down Oxford-street, with Jones seated at his side. Jones had brought several morning newspapers with him and was engrossed in their perusal as they went along.

"Pardon my not talking to you, Mr. Larose," he said, "but I always regard it as a solemn duty to make myself acquainted with the morning's news, and, this morning, as you saw, I had no time to do so before we set out."

But Larose was quite content to be left alone, for he was soon meeting the oncoming traffic, and was obliged to drive very carefully. From time to time, however, he glanced sideways at his companion, and was interested to see that the latter was making brief notes in pencil upon a piece of paper that he had taken from his pocket.

"A great man," thought the Australian, admiringly, "and no doubt, he is going through the criminal reports and making memoranda for future reference. Really, I must start doing that, too."

Threading their way through the crowded traffic of the East-End, they at length reached Barking, and then Naughton Jones touched Larose lightly on the arm. "Please pull up before the post-office here," he said; "I have remembered an urgent call that I must put through."

Marvelling at the many strings the great detective pulled in his daily life, Larose did as he was requested, and then whilst Jones went into the post office, for a few minutes, he was left alone in the car.

He was idly watching the passers-by, when suddenly he caught sight of a piece of paper fluttering at his feet, and recognised it at once as one of the memoranda Naughton Jones had been making as they came along.

Picking it up curiously, he read:—

"Half a crown each way 'The Ratcatcher'—any to come—five shillings 'Dawn of Love,' half a crown 'Dark Catcher'—any to come—five shillings 'The Butcher's Bride.' Seven and sixpence altogether invested."

A broad grin illuminated his face. "So, so," he chuckled, "then the great Naughton is having a little flutter on the turf, and that is the urgent call he spoke about putting through."

But his merriment was short lived, for Jones himself came running out of the post office, anxiously scanning over the pavement as he ran.

"I have lost an important document," he said as he reached the car, "and I should not like it to fall into improper hands."

"Here's something that you dropped," replied Larose innocently, "and perhaps it's what you're looking for."

"Ah! so, it is!" exclaimed Jones, and then he smiled a rather embarrassed smile. "A little hobby of mine, Mr. Larose, the picking of racehorses that I think will win. A hobby, too, that is not without its pecuniary benefit to me, for thereby I am successful enough to keep myself in newspapers and tobacco all the year round." He looked down at the paper. "Ah! yes, I see I phoned them all right, and so we can drive on. We shall soon be out in the country, and then the worst of the traffic will be left behind."

"You see, Mr. Larose," he continued, as they proceeded swiftly along the Southend-road, "the study of racing is a mental exercise with me, and I regard it as a great help in my investigation work. It is not the horses alone, by any means, that I study—it is the human element that interests me." He raised his voice as if he were a professor addressing a class. "I try to see into the mind of the owners, the trainers, and the jockeys to determine exactly what their intentions are. Now take the case of 'The Ratcatcher' here. He is a good horse, and yet he has run badly, three times. They have been pulling him, I am sure, and I am convinced they are only waiting to win when the odds are long. None connected with him appear to be straightforward men. A month ago I saw them saddling him up at Sandown Park and I didn't like the look of his owner then. His facial angle was bad, his eyes were set too close together, and he had the fingers of a crook. Also, the jockey was a man with a face of low type. So they have been cheating without doubt, and to-day, probably at twenty to one, I expect the horse to romp home." He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "And I shall be a pound or two of tobacco the richer."

"Where are the races to-day, Mr. Jones?" asked Larose, more for the sake of something to say than having any real interest in the question.

"At Newmarket," replied Jones, "and also, there is a little meeting at Wye." He frowned and picked up one of the newspapers. "Now I wonder if I have missed anything there?"

A short silence followed, and then Jones gave a startled exclamation.

"Great Scott!" he cried. "Stop at once, quick, and look at this," and he thrust the newspaper under Larose's eyes.

Larose braked sharply, and pulling up at the side of the road, read down the paragraph to which Jones was pointing.

"'The Honourable James McAlbane will pilot 'Crack of Doom' in the Wye Steeplechase to-day. The 'Judgment' gelding will carry 13 stone, but with all his weight he is expected to acquit himself well. With the well-known amateur as his jockey, he will probably start a hot favourite.'"

"McAlbane!" exclaimed Larose, "and where is Wye?"

"In Kent," snapped Jones, "fifty-eight miles from London and three from Ashford." He pulled his hat down fiercely upon his head. "Turn round and drive like the very devil. We've between sixty and seventy miles to go, and we must cross the river by Woolwich ferry." He whistled. "My conscience! What a piece of luck. We'll trail McAlbane home, and it's an even chance he'll lead us to the others." He appeared now to take notice of their car for the first time. "But it's a pity you've not got a better bus. This is not too fast, and we must be there soon after 2 o'clock. The race is run at 3."

"I can manage it," replied Larose reassuringly. "This was the best car I could hire at such short notice, but I can make her go. Don't take any notice of the speedometer. The man told me it was out of order."

"All right," said Naughton Jones, a little doubtful, "but we must clap on all the pace we can. In the meantime, pull up at Barking again. We must get some assistance now, for McAlbane knows me and I can't shadow him undisguised." He looked worried. "However, there's a man in Houndsditch who will do it if I can get hold of him. I've employed him before and he was quite satisfactory. He's done seven years in prison himself."

"And I think I'd better borrow someone from the Yard," said Larose thoughtfully. "I believe I can manage it, for I'm in pretty good favour there at present."

"But we don't want the Yard butting in," said Jones sharply. "What'll you tell them?"

"Nothing," replied Larose smiling, "except that it is vital for the welfare of the community that I should know where the Honourable James McAlbane sleeps to-night." The smile left his face. "But where shall we tell these men to meet us?"

Naughton Jones thought for a minute. "Under the number frame on the racecourse," he replied. "They must get there as soon as possible and wait until we come"—he looked at his watch—"and with any luck we shall be there by two o'clock."

But they did not by any means have the good fortune that Naughton Jones had anticipated.

To begin with, it was a good half hour before they had made their telephone calls. Then they were delayed upon the ferry, and twice before reaching Maidstone, in taking what Jones called short cuts, they went considerably out of their way. Finally, they had two punctures, and the second one they had to repair on the road.

"Another mishap," said Jones grimly, as they were passing through Ashford, "and we shall arrive at the racecourse too late. As it is, we have missed the second race, and I should dearly have liked to have supported Gentle Kiss in that two and a half mile hurdle."

But no further misfortune came to them, and a few minutes before three they parked their car upon the racecourse.

"Quite a nice little meeting," said Jones cheerfully, as he viewed the animated spectacle before them, "and we are just in time to see the Honourable James in action. He is riding in Lord Banter's colours, green and gold." He nodded to Larose. "A great blackguard, my friend, but, as so often happens in such cases, a man of great courage as well. A most dashing horseman and perhaps the best amateur we have." He looked at his watch and frowned. "But we shan't have time now to pick up our men by the number frame before the race starts, so I think we'll take our stand by the water jump and see them come over. We can just get there, if we are quick."

But there was such a dense crowd round the water jump that to Larose it seemed hopeless to expect that they would get anywhere near. Naughton Jones, however, was quite equal to the occasion.

"If you please, if you please," he called out loudly, in an authoritative tone, elbowing his way into the mass of people, "let me pass, let me pass," and the crowd at once made way for him, with Larose closely following.

"If you please, if you please," he went on, until finally they had forced their way right up to the front. "Now then," he cried, sweeping his arm round, "keep that child inside there and don't lean over the rail. Put all newspapers away at once. We don't want horses shying here."

The crowd obeyed meekly and the two found themselves in the best position possible—a few yards beyond the ditch where the horses would alight when they had jumped across.

Larose was amazed at the audacity of his companion, and Jones, looking round and sensing something of the Australian's thoughts, smiled slyly.

"A dog's obeyed in office," he chuckled, "and they think I'm one of racecourse officials."

The horses were lining up on the other side of the course, and the bookmakers, from the hubbub they were creating, were finding business brisk.

"Six to four the field," shouted a purple-faced individual. "Five to one bar one. Six to four Crack of Doom, fives Piggy's Pride, sevens Rattlesnake, eights Lloyd George, tens where you like."

"There are nine running, but Crack of Doom will win easily," said Jones, "and he'd be at much longer odds if it weren't for the 13 stone he's carrying. He's a first-class chaser and wouldn't be running here at all if it didn't happen that his owner has an estate in the neighbourhood and likes to give the locals a present."

"But isn't it unwise our being so close up?" frowned Larose, struck with a sudden thought. "McAlbane knows you, remember."

"Pooh!" replied Jones, "he'll be looking straight ahead. He'll never notice me."

But Larose was not so sure. They were right up against the rail, and Jones, with his tall thin form and long white face was a conspicuous figure anywhere.

"They're off," roared the crowd and necks were craned and all eyes fastened upon the runners.

"It's three miles," said Naughton Jones excitedly, "and they jump over this twice." He adjusted his glasses. "Crack of Doom's on the outside and he's whipping in the field, but the pace is very slow. Bravo! bravo! they jumped that splendidly. They all skimmed over it like birds. Something in lavender is leading, Crack of Doom is last and he's pulling hard, but McAlbane won't let him go. Here they come to the second fence, and they're well bunched. They're at it. A-a-ah! something's gone. No, he isn't. The boy made a splendid recovery, and they're all over now safely. Crack of Doom is still last and he's losing ground. This is the next jump and here they come."

There was the thunder of beating hoofs, a surging wave of colour and the horses came charging up.

"Crack of Doom!" roared the crowd. "Come on, McAlbane. Let him go."

But McAlbane, heedless of the injunction of the crowd and riding wide out, was pulling the favourite hard. He rode with an amused and almost insolent expression upon his face, as if he were quite aware of his own prestige as well as that of his mount.

"McAlbane's playing with them," said a man behind Larose. "He could pass them as if they were standing still if he wanted to."

The foremost horses reached the water jump, and there were roars of delight from the crowd when it was seen that they had all negotiated it successfully. Then came Crack of Doom and, McAlbane, quickening him up and giving him his head, the great black gelding hurled himself into the air and almost effortlessly, it seemed, crossed over, too.

McAlbane was still smiling when, taking a tight hold of the reins, again, he flashed a quick sidelong glance at the crowd. It was only for a fraction of a second that his glance lingered but the smile upon his face died instantly as he shot by.

"Ah! but he recognised you," gasped Larose in Jones's ear. "You saw how he looked."

"No, no, he couldn't have," replied Jones sharply, but for all his assurance there was a note of uneasiness in his tone, and he immediately began to edge himself backward among the crowd. "Well, I won't risk it anyhow when he comes round again," he added; "we'll shift along farther down."

"What's happened to McAlbane?" shouted a man. "He's gone to sleep and is getting much too far behind."

And certainly it did seem as if something had happened to the crack amateur, for Crack of Doom was dropping farther and farther back until almost seventy or eighty yards was now separating him from the leaders.

"Let him go, let him go," roared the backers of the favourite. "You'll never catch them, man."

Then suddenly McAlbane moved. He let the gelding have his head at last and gave him, too, one sharp blow with his whip. Crack of Doom sprang forward like an arrow loosed from a bow, he gathered speed with every stride, and in a few seconds was going faster than any horse in the field.

He took the last two fences almost as if they did not exist, and at the third one he was no longer last.

Then accidents began to happen quickly, for Lloyd George, the leading horse, had set too fast a pace and the others were tiring. Rattlesnake fell and brought down Piggy's Pride, and at the next fence The Man of Kent lost his rider. Crack of Doom was now fourth, and with two-thirds of the journey accomplished was practically on terms with the leaders.

"But he's going too fast," frowned Naughton Jones, "and that thirteen stone will be finding him out before he's finished. McAlbane's riding a rotten race and pushing him much too hard. He's mad."

But Crack of Doom was still going like the wind, and, approaching the fence but one before the jump again, there were only two horses in front of him.

"The chestnut will win," said Jones, putting down his glasses. "He's running well within himself, whereas Crack of Doom is tiring. That last jump of his wasn't nearly so good as the others. It's ten to one against him now."

But then, as if to belie his words, the favourite headed the other two, and a storm of cheering surged round the course.

"Come on, McAlbane!" roared the delighted crowd. "Come on. The favourite walks home."

But McAlbane had eased him now, apparently content to keep just ahead of his rivals and to reserve his strength for the last run up the straight.

So they ran, crossing the next two fences with no change in their positions.

Approaching the water jump, Crack of Doom was about a length to the good. McAlbane steadied him a little and, as effortlessly as before, the gelding took the obstacle.

Then the catastrophe happened.

It was said afterwards and confirmed by many there, that when they were actually in mid-air McAlbane was seen to turn his head sharply and look into the crowd thronging the rails. It was only a lightning glance he gave, but it was sufficient to spell disaster to his mount, for in turning he pulled unconsciously on one of the reins.

Crack of Doom cleared the water with plenty to spare, but, with his head pulled sideways, his equilibrium was upset and he crashed heavily upon his shoulder to the ground.

McAlbane was thrown with great violence out of the saddle and described a complete somersault, striking the ground with his head.

The gelding scrambled to his feet, but McAlbane, after one convulsive quiver, lay still, and from the dreadful angle of his head it was not difficult to guess what had happened.

He had broken his neck.

A shriek of horror came from the crowd, and, the other horses passing, they poured on to the course and surrounded the prostrate man.

"Quick!" exclaimed Naughton Jones with his breath coming hard, "into the members' enclosure and the dressing-room if we can. He's dead right enough, and we may get a chance of going through his clothes."

Running swiftly across the course, they reached the enclosure, where, with a gesture of authority, Jones brushed aside the custodian at the gate.

"Mr. McAlbane's dead," he panted breathlessly, "and they are bringing him in. We're friends of his, and must prepare his sister, Lady Markham, for the shock."

The man let them pass without demur, and Jones turned to Larose. "A title always impresses the lower classes," he whispered, "whatever their political opinions may be. Lady Markham is his sister right enough," he went on, "but I don't suppose for a moment she is here, for she's goody-goody and very different from her brother. Now," he said quickly, "you go and overhaul his car, if you can find it. You'll recognise it at once if you see it, for it's a single seater Jehu, sports model, blue, and it has the McAlbane crest upon the doors—a battle-axe over two crossbows. There are the members' cars over there," and without waiting for any comment he strode quickly away.

"A remarkable man," sighed Larose, "although he's muddled things properly for us to-day. He killed McAlbane as surely as if he'd pistolled him. The man saw Jones at the first jump, and was looking for him the second time, when he pulled the horse round and fell."

The Australian at once picked out the McAlbane car, and was about to open the dickey seat when he saw an attendant watching him, and he thought it best to be on the safe side.

"Hi!" he called out, and beckoned to the man; "I want you for a moment please. The Honourable James McAlbane is dead," he said, when the man came up. "He fell at the water jump and broke his neck."

The face of the attendant paled. "How dreadful!" he exclaimed. "He was such a nice gentleman, and so liked by everyone."

"I was a friend of his,"' went on Larose sharply, "and we want to find out where he slept last night to break the news to them. You don't know of course?" and when the man shook his head, he asked—"Did he come here alone?"

"Yes, sir," was the reply, "he was by himself when he drove in."

"And his luggage," asked Larose, "did he take anything out of the car?"

"No, he took nothing," said the man. "Well, perhaps his luggage will help us," said the detective. "Open his dickey."

But the dickey contained no luggage, although it was not empty. Various bags and parcels were there which Larose at once proceeded to go over. About three pounds of apples in a brown paper bag; a dozen oranges; two syphons of lithia water; a tin of Cerebos salt; a jar of French mustard; two burners for a primus stove, one new and one old; a large tin of Turkish cigarettes and a small box of plasticine. Only the plasticine gave any indication of its place of purchase, and the detective saw from the stamp upon the packet that it had been bought in Ashford.

For a long while he stood contemplatively regarding the various articles, and then, the attendant having in the meanwhile been called away, he proceeded to look over the rest of the car.

A quarter of an hour passed and Naughton Jones appeared.

"The doctors say death was instantaneous," he said, "but I couldn't get into the dressing room, for there were a lot of people there. And no one knows where he's been staying. They are in a quandary even to know with whom to communicate now, for his father is abroad in Italy." He frowned disappointedly at Larose. "Found anything here?"

"Yes," replied Larose, "several things, but have a look yourself first."

"He was careful and methodical for one thing," said Jones, after a moment, "and although we know his general morality was lax, there was nothing lax in the way he looked after his car. Everything is just so-so, everywhere."

"Exactly," said Larose, pointing to the trip indicator, on the speedometer, "and so we know that he travelled 66 2-10 miles to come here this morning."

"Ah!" exclaimed Jones thoughtfully, "and you think he would turn it to zero every time he started upon a journey." He nodded his head. "I think so, too."

"Well" said Larose solemnly, "then we know that exactly 66 2-10 miles separates us from where we are standing now to where Eunice Smith is being held a prisoner." Naughton Jones made no comment, and Larose went on, speaking in a sharp, decisive tone—"Yes, for as we are agreed that he was involved with the others in her kidnapping and that they are keeping her hidden somewhere in the country, our opinion is now confirmed that they are living in some sparsely inhabited spot, not near a big town—and away from any village, too." He pointed to the open dickey. "Look at the things there, and draw the only conclusion that you can. Syphons of lithia water that you never get in a small place; a jar of French mustard, and Cerebos salt; Turkish cigarettes and plasticine. Yes, of course, he bought all those things when upon his journey down here because they were unobtainable where he came from to-day."

"To-day!" snapped Naughton Jones. "And how do you know that he came from there to-day? He may certainly have been going to take these things back with him to-night to the place where they are holding Eunice Smith, but where is the proof that he came from that same place this morning? He may have slept in quite a different locality last night," and he turned and began to rummage among the contents of the dickey.

"Mr. Jones," said Larose quietly, "look at these two primus stove burners here. One quite new and the other all burnt away and clogged up with fat. Obviously now he brought the old one with him to make sure that the new one he was buying would be of exactly the same pattern. Well, does not that look as if he were taking the new burner back to where the old one had come from?"

"Certainly it does," replied Naughton Jones, "but not necessarily that he was taking it back the same day."

"But those newspapers, Mr. Jones," persisted Larose, "those three newspapers in the door pocket, the 'Mail,' the 'Express,' and 'The Times.' All unfolded and unread as yet, and does not that mean that he bought them this morning, after he had started from home, and therefore that he came from some place where they were unobtainable on the spot?" The Australian frowned sarcastically. "Did he sleep always in lonely places where he could not obtain these things, and has he been engaged upon more abductions than one?"

But Jones was silent and thoughtful, and Larose became at once most respectful, as if he were quite aware he was only a pupil before the master.

"At least, Mr. Jones," he said gently, "if we take it for granted that McAlbane was with Mattin and Texworthy this morning, then the 66 2-10 miles he travelled from here would just reach to some place in Essex, nice and handy to London, where we expected them to be. You say we are fifty-eight miles from London here—then about fifty-one will take us to the Woolwich ferry, where we crossed over, and——"

"But if they are anywhere in Essex," frowned Jones, "he wouldn't have crossed the river at Woolwich to get here. He would have come by Tilbury and Gravesend. It would be from twenty to thirty miles nearer."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose ruefully, "I hadn't thought of that."

"No, you certainly hadn't," remarked Jones, amused at the Australian's obvious discomfiture. "Why, if we cross the Thames at Gravesend, less than forty miles from here will take us into Essex."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose a second time, "then I shall have to calculate all over again."

"Exactly," laughed Jones, and then he nodded his head. "Still there may be something in what you say about this trip of sixty-six miles, and if we only strike the right direction it may bring us to where they are." He frowned. "And you mark my words, if we do find them, they will be close to the river or some railway line."

"Why?" asked Larose listlessly, still disconcerted by Jones's disclosure of a second ferry over the Thames.

"Because," replied Jones emphatically, "I am of opinion that he bought that plasticine for Texworthy to stuff in his ears against the noise of the boat syrens or passing trains at night. I heard Texworthy tell the parson fellow at the castle that evening that he was a very light sleeper and any noise woke him up." The great detective smiled. "I use plasticine for that purpose myself."

He closed the lid of the dickey. "Well, back to the city at once, after we have communicated with our men. We can do nothing here now and we don't want it to get about that there has been anyone unduly inquisitive about McAlbane's movements."


Chapter XVI.—The House by the River.

Eunice Smith had all her life been accustomed to luxury and her soft white limbs had known nothing of coarse raiment or hard beds, so it was probably the roughness of her night attire or the board-like nature of her mattress that first roused in her feelings that something out of the ordinary had happened.

But her return to consciousness had been very gradual, and even twelve hours after her abduction she was not fully in possession of her senses.

She thought dimly, at one time, that a man and woman were standing over her, and that she was being forced to drink some hot fluid that tasted like unpleasantly strong coffee. Then she lapsed into unconsciousness again, and it was not until well into the afternoon that she could arouse herself sufficiently to take any real notice of her surroundings.

Then, very puzzled, she frowned and rubbed her eyes. She was dreaming, of course, she thought, for she was undressed in a strange bed, in a strange room. It was daylight, but the room was in semi-darkness, for there were boards fastened across the windows and the blind was drawn half-way down.

The room was evidently in an old house, for the paper was peeling off the walls, and in one corner there was a gaping hole in the ceiling.

There was very little furniture—just the bed she was reclining in, a chair, a common deal table, and an old chest of drawers. The floor boards were bare.

Yes, she was dreaming, and it was not a nice dream, so she shook her head vigorously to end it. But drawing in a deep breath, she became suddenly aware of a dank and musty smell, and, starting up into a sitting position, realised suddenly that it was no dream at all.

Immediately then in a wild burst of fear, she sprang from the bed and called out: "Mother, where am I?"

At once there was a sound in an adjoining room of a chair being pushed back, and, a moment later, the door opened and a tall and hard-faced woman came in.

"Be quiet," she said sternly, "there's nothing the matter. Don't be frightened, you're not going to be hurt."

"But what's happened?" exclaimed Eunice. "Where am I?"

The woman inclined her head. "Your father brought you here," she said, "and you're to remain here for a time."

"But where is my father?" asked Eunice. "Fetch him at once."

"He is not here," replied the woman. "He's gone, but he'll be back soon."

"It isn't true," cried Eunice. "I don't believe a word you tell me," and she made a dart for the door.

But the woman stepped before her and stretched out her arms.

"Wait now," she said sharply, "and don't make a scene. You can't get out, for all the doors to the passage are locked, but you can go in there"—she pointed with her hand—"and have a bath, and afterwards I'll bring your clothes and you shall have something to eat." Her eyes glinted angrily. "But it's no use shouting, for one one will hear if you do. We are miles away from anywhere."

"But, my God!" cried Eunice, "what is going to happen to me?"

"Nothing," replied the woman, "if you are sensible. I tell you, you'll only be here for a few days and then your father with come for you." She looked coldly at the girl. "Until then—you can sleep, you can eat, and there are books and papers. What more do you want?"

Eunice calmed herself with a great effort. "But where am I?" she asked falteringly.

"What does that matter?" snapped the woman. "At any rate you are not far from London, so you needn't worry."

"But I am feeling ill," pleaded Eunice ready at any moment to burst into tears.

"Pooh!" exclaimed the woman callously, "that's nothing. You will be quite alright when you've had a bath. It's only the sleeping stuff they gave you."

The girl started and a look of horror came into her eyes.

"Oh! my God!" she exclaimed again, "then it was Fenton who put it in my coffee." Tears choked her now. "It was our butler, wasn't it?"

But the woman was not interested. "I know nothing," she replied. "I am only here to look after you. Go on," she added sharply, "and have your bath."

Then followed the strangest days of Eunice Smith's life. Her world consisted of four rooms and she was always behind locked doors. She was locked in her room at night, and always in the daytime, too, whenever the woman went downstairs.

That there were other people in the house she was soon aware, for she could at times hear the murmur of low voices and then distinguish, too, that they belonged to men.

The woman apparently looked after the whole house, for she was downstairs the greater part of the morning, although never for very long at a time. Every half hour or so she would come upstairs, and then, unlocking the door noisily, would regard Eunice with a hard stare and then go down again. The woman was unclean and untidy in her appearance, and had always a sullen look upon her face. She spoke very little, and refused to answer any questions that were put to her.

She generally smelt strongly of spirits, and at night was nearly always half-stupid with liquor.

Eunice spent most of the day looking through the chinks of the boards that were screwed over the window.

She saw that she was on the second story of the house, situated in a large garden surrounded by a low wall. The house was not a hundred yards from a broad river, where big boats were continually passing up and down. At night the sirens kept her awake.

There were no other houses anywhere near; nothing but a dreary waste of flat meadows and marsh-land, but in the distance she could see some huge gasometers and beyond the sky was always black and smoky, and she guessed that the woman had spoken the truth when telling her that London was not far away.

The initial shock over, for the first three days Eunice's mind seemed too numbed for the expression of any further emotions, but on the fourth morning she was seized suddenly with a fit of weeping and, refusing to take food, kept all day long to her bed.

The woman showed no concern at first, just dumping the food down on a chair and taking it away when she found it had not been eaten; but the following morning she became angry and shook Eunice roughly.

"Get up, you little fool," she exclaimed, "and don't give me any more trouble. What do you think you'll get by playing up like this? You'll get no sympathy from me, anyhow. I'll force the food down you, if you don't eat."

But it was Eunice's turn now to keep silent and she pushed the woman away with spirit.

Midday came and, seeing that the girl had still eaten nothing, the woman assumed a threatening attitude and seemed about to strike her. But after a moment's hesitation she apparently thought better of it, and banged herself out of the room and down the stairs.

Then Eunice heard voices raised in argument below, the shrill voice of the woman and the much deeper one of a man, and presently there came the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs—but footsteps of more than one person.

One of the far doors was unlocked and then someone knocked gently upon that of her room. She took no notice, however, and quite half a minute passed before the door was pushed open and a man entered, with the woman following close behind him. The man was tall and very dark, but not unprepossessing, and he carried himself erect, with an easy, careless grace. Eunice, in terror, hastily snatched up the bedclothes until they were level with her eyes.

But the man was most respectful and bowed with great politeness.

"Pardon me coming in, Mademoiselle," he said in a gentle pleasant voice, and with just a trace of a foreign accent, "but I am told you are refusing to eat." She made no answer, and he went on quietly; "It is very foolish of you and will do no good. You will soon be going back to your parents and it will grieve them if you return looking ill."

Eunice found her tongue, "But who are you?" she gasped.

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"My name doesn't matter," he replied, smiling. "I am looking after you—that is all."

"Looking after me!" she exclaimed sharply. "What for? Why am I a prisoner at all?"

"You are here for your safety, Mademoiselle," he replied evasively. "We are taking care of you."

"But why am I a prisoner? What has happened?" she asked angrily.

The man cast down his eyes. "I cannot explain, Mademoiselle," he said. "I am only a servant of others."

"But my father," asked Eunice quickly, "does he know I am here?"

The man bowed. "Yes, your father knows." He looked up and smiled. "You can write to him if you like."

A moment's silence followed, and then, flinging the bedclothes from her shoulders, Eunice sat up resolutely.

"They are all lies," she cried out. "Let me go, I am terrified."

The man regarded her pityingly. "Don't be afraid, Mademoiselle," he said, holding up his hand, "and don't worry because you are here. It will be only such a little while and then you will be back again among your own people, and everything will be explained to you." He lowered his voice and added rapidly in French—"Don't be afraid, I say. I will see that you come to no harm."

And instantly Eunice sensed somehow that the man's intentions were really friendly. He was undoubtedly telling her untruths, but he was doing so unwillingly, and for the first time since she had come out of her dreadful sleep a ray of hope came to her. The man meant well by her, she was sure, and he was not a weakling, either. Indeed, he gave her the impression of strength and courage, and was evidently a man who would be faithful to his word.

"I am your friend, Mademoiselle," he repeated still in French, "and I say that you shall come to no harm." He shrugged his shoulders. "But unhappily I cannot explain things to you—as I would like."

The woman behind him was scowling angrily. It was evident that she did not understand French and was annoyed at his use of it.

"Bien, Monsieur," replied Eunice with a half smile at the woman's discomfiture, and, speaking also in French, "But then I have some complaints to make. This woman is insolent and she threatens me."

"Pooh!" smiled the man, "she can do you no harm. I am always downstairs and listening to everything."

"But she is drinking all day," said Eunice. "She is unclean in her ways and it sickens me to know that she prepares the food."

The man frowned in some perplexity.

"Very good, Mademoiselle," he replied after a moment's thought, "then it is I who, in future, will prepare it for you——" He hesitated again. "And also I will bring it up myself."

With another bow he left the room, and then Eunice heard the woman's voice raised in angry expostulation.

"Bah!" she heard her sneer at the end of a fierce tirade. "You men are all the same, and will do anything for a face of pink and white. You are fools, all of you." A menace came into her voice. "But I shall tell the master when he comes in."

In brighter spirits, Eunice took a bath and dressed, and she was sitting in the living room when presently she heard the man ascending the stairs. He came alone this time.

"Here you are, Mademoiselle," he said, coming into the room, "your lunch." And he placed upon the table some thinly cut bread and butter and a plate of jellied eels.

She felt embarrassed, but thanked him prettily, and with no further speech he withdrew.

And at 6 o'clock he brought up a grilled chop and some potatoes, beautifully fried. The woman followed him up the stairs.

"Very simple fare, Mademoiselle," he apologised, "but we are distant from any shops and there is not much variety to offer. This is claret in the tumbler. I am sorry we have no wine glasses."

The woman looked furious, but Eunice took no notice, and, left to herself, proceeded to enjoy the meal with relish.

Dusk had just fallen and the man was sitting in a large room downstairs mending a fishing net. The window was closely curtained and shuttered and the place was lighted by an oil lamp suspended from the ceiling. The man was smiling and humming softly to himself, as with quick and deft fingers he carried out his task.

Presently the door opened and a second man appeared. He entered noisily and, flinging his hat upon a chair, went over to a table and picked up a glass and a bottle of whisky. He scrutinised the glass carefully to make sure no one had used it and then poured himself out a liberal measure of the spirit, which he drank without water.

The man mending the net took no notice of him and, except that the smile had now left his face and he had stopped humming, it might almost have seemed that he was unaware of the other's presence. He had not even raised his eyes.

Presently the newcomer spoke sharply, as if speaking to an inferior.

"Anything happened, Mattin?" he asked and the man who was mending the net shook his head and answered very softly:—"No, Mr. Texworthy, nothing."

"Oh!" grunted the big-game hunter, and then he went on carelessly:—"Well, I find that Mr. McAlbane made no statement. His neck was broken and he died instantaneously." A sneer crept into his voice. "And when he was the first to see that black cat in the yard the other day he said he would be the luckiest of us three."

But Mattin made no comment and presently it was Texworthy who spoke again.

"Seen anyone about?" he asked.

Mattin raised his eyes at last. "A party of four men went by along the bank this afternoon," he replied. "I watched them through the glasses. They all looked up at the house, but they did not stop. They carried pick and shovels."

"What were they like?" asked Texworthy quickly.

Mattin shrugged his shoulders. "Just ordinary," he replied. "Working men, and they were not interested."

Quite a minute's silence followed and then the big-game hunter frowned.

"I may have been hasty the other night," he said, "and after all it may have been the truth that fellow told—that he'd lost his way, but still he shouldn't have stared at me as he did. It looked suspicious."

"But you should not have stabbed him," said Mattin coldly, "particularly as you afterwards threw him in the river upon a flowing tide." He shook his head. "It was unwise."

"Oh!" sneered Texworthy, "it was unwise, was it?"

"Yes," replied Mattin quietly, "for now if he is dragged out there will be that knife-thrust to be accounted for and if he was sent after us, as you think, they will be suspicious that he had found us, and others may come as he did." He shook his head. "Yes, it was most unwise."

Texworthy smiled contemptuously, and was apparently about to make some stinging retort when the door opened without ceremony and the woman burst in.

Mattin bent low over his net, but upon his face now there was another smile.

"Master," exclaimed the woman breathlessly, pointing to Mattin, "he's been upstairs and spoken to the girl. He would go up. I told him not to and to wait for you but he took no notice. He's been up twice and taken her things to eat, and now he's got one of the keys."

Texworthy started up in his chair and rapped out an oath. "Curse you," he exclaimed to Mattin. "What was that for?"

Mattin looked quite unperturbed. "I was tired of hearing her cry," he replied, "and Mrs. Stein said she was still refusing food."

"But she may have recognised you, you fool," stormed Texworthy. "She may have seen you sometime near the castle."

"No," replied Mattin, "it is quite unlikely." He smiled again. "I am prepared to risk it."

"But you knew the arrangement we made," cried the big-game hunter angrily, "and what my orders were."

"I used my own judgment," replied Mattin with no expression on his face, "and I take no orders from you." He smiled gently. "She was crying, I tell you, and her eyes are much too pretty to spoil."

Texworthy motioned to the woman to leave the room and when she had gone he glared threateningly at Mattin.

"Yes," said the latter carelessly with his eyes again upon his net, "it is well to have pity for Miss Smith, for she is suffering, of course. And the food she was getting was not what she is accustomed to, and that woman of yours is not clean." He made a gesture of disgust. "I would not touch any food that she prepares and so in future—" his voice was quiet and gentle—"I shall cook for Miss Smith and take up her meals myself."

Texworthy was controlling himself with an effort and from the furious expression on his face it was evident that he was not very far from physical violence; but for some reason he thought better of it and instead, settled himself nonchalantly back in his chair and curled his lips in an evil smile.

"Bah! All of your colour are womanisers," he sneered. "You are just animals where any woman is concerned—you blacks...."

The light in the room was poor, and he could not see from the expression on Mattin's face if the insult had gone home; but the Syrian replied in the same calm and even tone that he had been using all along.

"Yes, we blacks admire beauty when we see it, and who will dare to say that the love of a woman is not the greatest joy in life."

Texworthy spat upon the floor in disgust and snatched up a book off the table. Silence reigned once again in the room.

Then, every day—morning, noon and night—regardless alike of the anger on the big-game hunter's face and the sullen enmity of the woman, Mattin prepared and took upstairs all that Eunice ate.

They were delicate, dainty meals, and the girl thanked him gratefully every time.

She had been rather frightened at first by the undoubted admiration that she saw in his eyes, but he was always most polite and there was never the slightest trace of boldness or familiarity in his attitude towards her. Added to that, the woman was always present when he appeared and, as if by orders, she followed with the eye of a hawk every expression upon their faces as they spoke.

They invariably used French now, and the baffled annoyance on her face added piquancy to their interviews.

"But your accent is sweet, Mademoiselle," said Mattin one day, with a flash of his gleaming white teeth. "It is heavenly after the hard, rough speech of the people here."

"You are from Paris, Monsieur?" rejoined Eunice, smiling.

"No, Mademoiselle," he replied with a grimace, "I am an Asiatic. A black man my enemies call me. I was born in Syria."

And then many times she started to question him as to why she had been drugged and taken from her parents; but always he was either evasive or declined to answer. She tried to bribe him, and said her father would reward him richly if he arranged for her escape but he only smiled and shook his head.

"But it is unnecessary, Mademoiselle," he insisted, "for very soon you will be returning now. Three days, four days, a week perhaps, and then you will go home and forget all this. It will be but a little unpleasant memory in your life, and yet to me"—a note of sadness came into his voice—"it will be a golden remembrance as long as I live."

And downstairs, he and Texworthy hardly ever spoke a word. There was no friendly understanding between them, and they sat and read and acted generally as if each to the other did not exist.

Because of his Asiatic origin, Texworthy regarded Mattin, as he had sneered openly, as a black, and Mattin hated the big-game hunter with the resentful hatred of a man who knew he was despised unjustly.

Except upon that one occasion when Texworthy had gone up to London to learn the details about McAlbane's death, they neither of them, whilst daylight lasted, stirred out of the house, and to all outward appearance it was uninhabited.

But every night, when darkness had fallen, one or both of them went out; Texworthy to go by train from Dagenham to the city, where he rang up Professor Ingleby, and Mattin to purchase from distant villages whatever was required for the house.

Mattin never patronised any place within half a dozen miles. He bicycled, too, every night in a different direction, never going twice consecutively to the same shop. Also, when upon his journeys he always wore a wig and beard and dark glasses, and carried himself heavily with the bowed shoulders of an old man.

They had no thought that anyone was on the look-out for them, but still they invariably took all precautions, as if they were quite sure there were spies about.

And in this way a week passed, Eunice hoping that every day would bring her deliverance; Mattin with an ever-deepening passion for his beautiful prisoner; Texworthy sullen and cursing his enforced inaction; and Mrs. Stein with the irritability of a chronic dyspeptic and heavy drinker.

One afternoon Eunice noticed that the woman could not walk steadily. She was incoherent in her speech, too, and towards evening became as nearly drunk as she could be without being actually incapable.

When it began to grow dark, she lit the oil lamp with difficulty, and then rolled heavily upon her bed, the stertorous nature of her snores soon testifying to the oblivion that had seized her.

At first Eunice's feelings were those only of disgust, but all at once the idea came to her that she might now get hold of the woman's key, and, unlocking the door, effect an escape.

The very thought made her heart beat so fast that she could hardly breathe, but she calmed herself with an effort and rapidly considered every possibility.

She knelt down upon the floor and placed her ear to the cracks between the boards. There was complete silence below, and after a few moments she was sure that, except for herself and the woman in the adjoining room, there was no one else in the house.

A swift glance through the window and she saw that although there was no moon, it was a starlit night, and that she would be able to find her way without difficulty from the surroundings of the house.

Realising that she might have a long walk before her, and that she would be cold in her light dress, she snatched a blanket from her bed, and threw it over her shoulders.

Then, overcoming her repugnance, she approached the snoring woman and stealthily drew out the key.

She unlocked the door very quietly, and, stepping into the passage, found herself at the top of a deep flight of stairs, below she saw what was obviously the front door of the house at the far end of a wide hall.

There was no lamp in the passage nor on the stairs, but across the hall there was a broad path of light from the open door of a room at the side.

For a long minute she hesitated, holding her breath in fear lest the room should be occupied, but then, hearing no sound, and realising that every moment lost jeopardised her chances of escape, she started to creep noiselessly down the stairs.

She reached the hall without mishap, and then, tip-toeing into the stream of light that fell from the room—came suddenly face to face with a man who was sitting just inside the door.

He was leaning back in one chair with his feet stretched out upon another, and was meditatively biting upon a cold pipe.

They caught sight of each other at the same instant, but for a few seconds there was no sign of mutual recognition. Just a wooden expression upon the face of the man, and startled terror upon that of the girl.

Suddenly, however, Eunice gave a cry. She darted forward and gasped in a relief that almost choked her—

"Then it wasn't true what they said about you? Oh! Mr. Texworthy, and you've come to rescue me!"

The big-game hunter sprang to his feet, his jaw dropped, and his pipe fell on to the floor. Then his eyes narrowed, and his face became as black as thunder.

"Miss Smith," he exclaimed hoarsely, "how did you get down here?"

"Oh!" exclaimed Eunice wildly, and almost bursting into tears. "I've been a prisoner upstairs for over a week. I was drugged and brought here days and days ago."

Texworthy swallowed hard and tried to moisten his dry lips with his tongue. The anger upon his face had now changed to a perplexity that was almost comical.

"Take me home, quick," cried Eunice, and she looked shudderingly round the big room. "There are men here and they may come back at any moment. There is a dreadful woman, too, upstairs, but she's in a drunken sleep now and we must escape before she gives any warning."

Texworthy found his speech at last. "Hush! hush!" he whispered sharply. "I am here to save you, of course, but you cannot go yet. The place is surrounded and you must go back upstairs." He seized her by the arm. "Quick, quick, I cannot explain now, but you must go back instantly."

Eunice's face was filled with consternation. "What do you mean?" she gasped. "Go back! Why, I've been a prisoner, I tell you. I've been guarded night and day with the doors locked and the windows boarded up."

"Go back, I tell you," exclaimed Texworthy sternly. "Quick, or you will spoil everything. Quick!"

The girl leant heavily against the wall. There was something so brutal and pitiless in the demeanour of the man who, in her confused state of mind, she had been sure had come to rescue her, that for the moment she was almost on the verge of a swoon.

"Go up," cried Texworthy sharply, and there was no mistaking his anger.

And then from behind Eunice came a quiet and gentle voice. Mattin had entered the hall almost immediately after she had come down the stairs, and had been a spectator of all that had passed.

"Yes, go up, Mademoiselle," he said softly. "I promise you it will be all right."

Eunice turned in thankfulness. Anything was better than the scowling face of Texworthy. She felt that she had been betrayed.

"But I cannot walk," she wailed. "I am going to faint."

And then instantly she was lifted up into strong, protecting arms, and once again Mattin felt the beating of her heart against his.

"Don't be afraid," he said, speaking with no emotion, "I will carry you up and you will come to no harm," and, unmindful of the scowling look that Texworthy gave him, he walked unconcernedly up the stairs.

He carried her into her room and laid her upon the bed. Then, tucking the counterpane round her, he bent down and whispered softly, "To-morrow or the day after, or in three days at most, Mademoiselle, you shall go free." He patted her hand gently, "I promise it—on my honour."

Locking the door behind him, he returned downstairs to find Texworthy pacing restlessly to and fro. To his surprise, he saw that all traces of anger had now left the big-game hunter's face, and instead, the man was looking frightened.

"But this alters everything," he exclaimed shakily, directly Mattin appeared—"we must change all our plans now."

"It's awkward," said Mattin rolling himself a cigarette, "very."

"She can never go back," whispered Texworthy hoarsely. "She has seen me and that means the end of everything for her. She shall have a dose of that powder and then we'll get rid of her somehow." A little more strength seemed to come into his voice. "She brought it on herself, and it's the only thing we can do now." He swore angrily. "But I don't like dealing that way with a woman I know as I've known her."

"Naturally," said Mattin dryly. "She is young and very beautiful. You have eaten at her table, and you have danced with her, you have——"

"But what else can we do?" asked Texworthy furiously. "It was bad enough when she saw you, but now she has seen me——" he spoke much more calmly, "well, I'm not going to be in hiding for the rest of my life for any woman. I'm not going to be an outlaw from civilisation for her." He dropped back into an armchair. "Bah! it's all her own fault and she will have a big sleeping draught and disappear. She won't suffer, and it will be soon over."

Mattin looked at him very deliberately. "Mr. Texworthy," he said quietly, "let us be quite clear about this at once." He spoke very slowly. "This girl shall come to no harm from anybody, she shall have no more suffering than we can help, and, whether we obtain those diamonds or not, I have promised she shall go back to her parents next week," and he turned to the table and picked up a newspaper as if the last word had been said.

In the silence that followed, the expression on Texworthy's face passed gradually from furious amazement to the cold and wary look of the hunter in the jungle confronted suddenly with a danger he did not expect, and when presently he spoke, he had himself completely under control.

"Oh! you have promised, have you?" he sneered.

Mattin nodded as if he were in no way annoyed.

"Yes, I have promised," he replied calmly, and then he added carelessly—"She pleases me, this girl, and she is much too lovely to die." He sighed. "Yes, she is very beautiful, and one day she will open the gates of paradise for some man."

Texworthy dropped instantly into the same vein.

"And you would like to be he, Monsieur Mattin?" he laughed mockingly. "Now would you not?"

"But I never shall be," replied Mattin quietly. "She is not for me."

"You are right there," snarled Texworthy instantly, "for whatever end we design for them, we whites do not give our women up to—blacks!" He settled himself back comfortably in his chair and made his eyes gloat. "Yes, as you say, she is beautiful, and you have suggested an idea." He paused as if to let his words sink in. "And if anyone is to possess that loveliness before——" he hesitated, "before——" he rapped out his words like a machine gun. "You understand what I mean, monsieur, do you not?"

"Yes," replied Mattin quietly. "You mean—that only whites should ravish whites."

"Exactly," said Texworthy, and he added carelessly as he got up and moved towards the door, "but, situated as we are, it is foolish to quarrel, and so we'll discuss the matter again, another time."

The Syrian made no comment, but when he was alone he drew a dagger from his belt and lightly ran his fingers over the blade. His face was serene and untroubled and almost saint-like in its repose.

The next morning, when he took up her meal, he enjoined Eunice on no account to eat or drink anything unless he brought it to her himself, but, as before, he smilingly refused to give any explanation.


Chapter XVII.—The Hovering of the Eagles.

In the meantime a search was proceeding along the Essex coast and the adjoining waterways that was almost epic in its intensity. Untiring and with every faculty strained to the utmost, the detectives had unleashed themselves upon the trail, and as far east as the river Crouch they were exploring every little creek that found its muddy way into the land.

Not only Larose and Naughton Jones, but also Vallon and Raphael Croupin, were there. The great detective of the Surete of Paris had chafed at being left in Norfolk, and finally, a day after receiving the news of McAlbane's death, he had insisted upon participating with the others in their search.

"I am useless here," he had urged angrily over the telephone, "and I tell you I am afraid for that girl. That she is in desperate need I am sure, and, diamonds or no diamonds, I am convinced she will never be allowed to return to her parents. It will be too dangerous in any case now for them to let her go, and it grieves me beyond speech that I am idle here. I know these men and their type, and she will be for ever in some lonely grave if we do not rescue her in time. That man Texworthy——"

"All right, all right," Jones had replied testily, "come up if you're at a dead end there. That Croupin can stay and watch."

"But Croupin cannot do any good either," said Vallon, "for Ingleby has bought a big Alsatian hound, and we can no longer get anywhere near the house. The animal is furious when anyone approaches. Twice Croupin has had narrow escapes."

So Vallon and Croupin had joined the others, and the search was conducted in a most thorough manner, every little village and hamlet even in the marked area being in turn gone over.

For five days they worked at fever rate from early morning until darkness, covering each day a large area of ground, but nowhere did they see any likely house or hear of any new arrivals who resembled the kidnappers.

Then on the fifth evening, Jones, telephoning as usual to his rooms in Dover street, from the little village of Battlebridge, received important news. A messenger had called that afternoon with word that Mariarty wanted to see him immediately, and that the matter was very urgent.

"You all remain here," Jones said to the others, when he had told them the news, "and I'll go up straightaway and return by the early newspaper train tomorrow morning. I am of opinion that we are about to find them close near here, and what Mariarty says will probably confirm that idea. At any rate, if it's anything different I'll phone at once."

So Naughton Jones went off by the evening train, and soon after 10 o'clock that night was ushered into Mariarty's cellar-like apartment under the pawnshop in Shadwell.

The professor did not appear to be too pleased to see him. He had a strained resentful look upon his usually impassive face, and without rising from his chair he greeted the detective with a frown.

"I've got in touch with the men you want," he said at once. "One of my most valued assistants found them and he's come back. I saw him this morning. He's in the mortuary by Wapping Stairs, and he's got a knife wound over his heart. He came up with the rising tide and was picked out of the river at daybreak." The stout man rapped out an oath. "And there's another of my men missing, too—one I have employed for over twenty years. He's not reported for two days. I warned you those fellows were too strong for us."

And he would vouchsafe nothing more, meeting all the detective's questions with resolute denials that he had any knowledge of the way in which his men had gone about their work.

"I give my instructions," he scowled, "and my servants carry them out in their own ways. They are none of them spoon-fed, for I don't use men of that kind"—he glared angrily at Naughton Jones—"and my advice to you is to drop the whole business at once. That organisation is too dangerous for any of us to interfere with."

Returning thoughtfully to his rooms, the detective saw Dr. Grain's car parked outside, and found the doctor himself waiting for him within.

"Any news?" asked the latter quickly.

Naughton Jones shook his head. "No," he replied, "not as yet." He looked sharply at the doctor. "Anything at your end?"

"Nothing at all," was the reply, "except that Ingleby now seems bordering on the mental to me. He was quite callous about McAlbane and absolutely gloated over all the violent deaths that have occurred recently. One by one he brought them up to me and he was full of the newspaper accounts of the inquest on Fenton. His opinion is that there was no accident, and that someone threw the man over."

"Oh!" remarked Jones carelessly, "and what have you come up here for?"

Dr. Grain frowned. "I've come up to help," he replied quickly, "and I'm not going back until"—his voice was hoarse and strained—"something has been done."

"Ah!" exclaimed Jones, and then he added with a smile, "Well, we'll enlist you at once. You shall drive me down to Battlebridge, a charming little village in Essex, to-night. It's about thirty-five miles out, and we'll start straight away."

The next morning a long and earnest consultation took place in the back room of the village inn.

"We are in a quandary now," said Jones, frowning, "for we have no means of determining with what significance to regard the murder of that man of Mariarty's. If he just met his death in one of those ordinary quarrels that are for ever occurring in the underworld, then there is no reason why we should not continue our search in exactly the same manner as we are now doing, but if the fellow really did get in touch with the parties we are after, then that, of course, means their hiding place is quite near London. A dead body is not going to drift up as high as Wapping Stairs from anywhere in the river below Tilbury, if indeed from any place half as far down as that."

"Quite so, Mr. Jones," said Larose earnestly, "and to my mind we have been taking the wrong line all along. That 66 2-10 miles on the trip indicator was a heaven-sent clue for us, but we tried to be too clever and let it go by. I thought it all over last night and see now how blind we have been." He looked hard at Jones. "You remember the brown paper bag that contained those apples in the dickey? There was no printing on them, was there, no name and address of the shop from which they had come? Well, what can it mean except that the apples in the dickey were purchased from a barrow? All shops advertise themselves upon their bags, but the barrow people do not. So they were bought off a street barrow, I say, and that implies some place going citywards, such as Barking or Woolwich; the very places through which McAlbane would have passed if he went down to Wye in the same way as we did, over Woolwich Ferry. I saw dozens of fruit barrows as we passed."

"But why not at Gravesend?" asked Naughton Jones coldly. "Mightn't there be barrows there as well?"

"But there are not," replied Larose promptly. "I've been talking this morning to the grocer in the village. He comes from Gravesend, and the only barrow vendors there, he says, are shrimp men. There are too many orchards just round Gravesend to make any barrows selling worth while."

"And there's another reason," added Larose, "why McAlbane didn't cross by the ferry from Tilbury. He was a speed maniac, and the garage man here tells me that for eight or nine miles each side of Tilbury the road at the present moment is in a very bad condition. The surface is so broken he says that any motorist would go twenty miles out of his way to avoid it."

Jones made no comment and Larose went on quickly. "So that 66 2-10 miles represents a journey McAlbane made by way of Woolwich Ferry and"—he looked at his watch—"within ten minutes Dr. Grain and I are starting for Wye. We are going on to the racecourse, we shall set the indicator at zero, and we shrill return by way of Woolwich Ferry, taking on this side the old Southend road through Barking. Then when the indicator shows exactly sixty-five miles, we shall stop, and, marking our position upon the ordnance map, draw a circle round it." His face was all smiles. "Then, within eight and forty hours, we shall learn something of the life story of every human being living within three miles. Now—any suggestions, please?"

"Bien!" exclaimed Croupin gleefully "and I shall be of great clue to you, for it is I alone who am unknown to these rascals. You shall point out to me the burrow in which you think they are hiding, and I will be the ferret to go in and see if they are at home."

"Very good, Mr. Croupin," said Naughton Jones dryly, "and you may find that you are meeting old friends." He turned to Larose with the air of one thinker conceding a point to another. "I agree, Mr. Larose," he said. "Your alternative theory is in the circumstances quite acceptable. Do as you say, then, and in the meantime Monsieur Vallon and I will be making inquiries at the villages within ten miles of Barking, for that is undoubtedly where they will be if we are right. So let us all work on our own to-day and meet to compare notes in Romford at eight to-night. Romford is only about seven miles from the Thames, and, as it is quite a fair-sized little town, a party of five will not attract attention there, as they would in a village. Also, the Bell Inn can put on quite a good feed and so whoever arrives first can give the order."

Dr. Grain possessed a speedy car, and it was barely two hours after leaving Battlebridge that he and Larose were on Wye racecourse, and setting back the trip indicator to nought.

"There's the water jump," said Larose, "and if ghosts walk at night then the Honourable James McAlbane's begins his constitutional always at that spot. Jones caused his death as surely as if he had put a bullet in him. A peculiar man Jones, doctor. A clear thinker and one with an alert mind but very stubborn sometimes, very."

They drove back quicker even than they had come, and once over Woolwich Ferry the heart of the detective beat the faster with every mile they covered.

"Steady now," he said, when they had passed through Barking, "but I think we'll go the whole 66 2-10 miles—say 67 to allow for any differences in the speedometer, and then we shall know for certain that we've got the wretches behind us."

They passed through Rainham, taking the lower road, and the 67th mile brought them within a few hundred yards of the village of Wennington.

"Good," said Larose, in a voice that was slightly husky, "and now we stop and look at the map."

They pulled up at the roadside, and for a minute or two neither of them spoke.

Then Larose smiled. "Look," he said. "Rainham Marsh, Wennington Marsh, Aveley Marsh, Ingrebourne River and all those creeks running down into the Thames—why we couldn't be near more likely places." His face became thoughtful. "But one thing, doctor, I'd like to know. Now tell me, would it be safe to eat eels taken from the creeks about here?"

"Certainly," replied Dr. Grain. "Why not?"

"But if they came from foul waters," asked Larose, "what then?"

"The fouler—the better so far as their fatness is concerned," laughed the doctor, "and the more tasty also they'd be."

"No fear of typhoid or anything?" asked Larose.

"Not if they were properly cooked," replied the doctor. "It's only uncooked fish that is dangerous. The cooking would destroy any germs."

"Thank you, doctor," said the detective—"that's all I wanted to know." He looked up the road. "Now that should be an inn there, and we'll go and have a snack and begin our inquiries as well."

They went into the village inn and over the consumption of bread and cheese and ale Larose proceeded to make discreet inquiries about everyone who lived in the neighbourhood. He got little for his pains, however. The publican knew everyone within many miles, and apparently all about their private affairs; but there were no suspicious characters anywhere, no newcomers had arrived lately in the district, there were no empty houses, and as far as he was aware there were no houses to be let. Also he had seen no strangers about; nothing much ever happened in the village and his custom depended almost entirely upon the people whom he knew well and who had been coming in for years. He had taken no particular notice of any light blue car recently about the district.

"Well, are there any good places where you can get eels about here?" asked Larose.

The man smiled. "Plenty," he replied. "In all the creeks and up the Ingrebourne River almost as far as Upminster, between three and four miles away."

They pursued their inquiries vainly at the two village shops, and then, a little disappointed, retraced their way to Rainham, where the same process was gone through. But it was again to no purpose, and then, leaving the car in the local garage, they proceeded across the fields to look about on foot.

"If there's any truth in the sixty-six miles business," said Larose, with a long face, "then it must be somewhere about here."

They walked inland for about a mile, and then, upon slightly higher ground, Larose took out a pair of powerful glasses and raked the country round in every direction. There were quite a number of large houses about, many lying in their own grounds.

"And they may be in any of them," he sighed, "however respectable their occupants may appear to be to the village folks—but we daren't go up and make an direct inquiries. It is vital we should not excite any suspicions, for if they get to know we are tracking them, then off they go in some other direction, and we shall not have a hope in the world of finding them in time."

They sat down and surveyed the country before them. Below in the distance lay the winding course of the Thames, visible in sections where the view was clear and unobscured.

"Yes," remarked the detective gloomily, "we've taken on something, and it seems hopeless to me now."

He focussed his glasses suddenly upon a building, or rather a collection of buildings, about a couple of miles away, where the river bent out very sharply, and took a long and intent stare.

"Now, that would be a likely place," he said slowly—"that two-storied house there except that it's across the river, and if we once begin considering anything on the other side, then bang go all the theories we've built up on Mattin's journey by the Fenchurch-street line, and McAlbane's sixty-six mile trip to Wye."

A farm hand came by presently in a cart with a load of straw, and the detective, after a preliminary hail, plied him with questions of the same nature that he had asked in the village.

The man was in no hurry, and by no means averse to a chat, but Larose got nothing out of him, and soon the conversation lapsed.

"Well, good day, gents," said the man. "I'd better be getting along, I think," and then, as a parting question, the detective pointed to the collection of buildings he had been looking at, and asked what they were.

"An old tannery," replied the man, looking back, "but there's been nothing done there for some years now. The party what had it went bust, and it's been empty ever since—and a good thing, too, for it stunk the place out." He made a salutation with his whip, and the cart creaked slowly away.

They picked up their car and, tired and dispirited, proceeded to keep their rendezvous with the others at Romford. They arrived there a good hour and a half before the time arranged, and, rather to their surprise, saw Jones and the others standing before the front of the hotel. Jones strode up to them at once, almost before they had brought their car to a standstill.

"Any news," he asked quickly, and when Larose shook his head gloomily a triumphant glint came into Jones's eyes. "Well, I have," he announced grimly, "come inside quickly."

Larose's heart gave a great bound. So after all their lines of reasoning had been correct and there was still hope.

"Yes," said Naughton Jones when they were all gathered in the back parlour of the hotel, "We've heard something and, although it isn't much, it's significant at all events." He spread a map out upon the table and went on impressively. "We've found traces of a strange man in five villages—Aveley, Stifford, Orsett, West Thurrock, and North Ockenden. He comes through at night on a bicycle, always at night, and buys newspapers, butter, milk and eggs, and at Orsett he asked if they sold garlic. He's an old man, well wrapped up, dark, and wears glasses, and he speaks in a thick voice. He's appeared at all these places on different nights, and as far as we can make out has arrived at each village at different times. At Orsett he came about 8.30 last Monday, at Aveley soon after 8 one night last week, at Stifford about 8.30 on Saturday, and at North Ockenden, at about a quarter to 9—they don't remember the day. No one has seen him more than once, and no one knows anything about him"—the detective tapped significantly upon the table with his finger—"but two things stand out perfectly clear. The first—he has shopped at different villages because he has reasons for not wanting to become known, and the second—the more distant he was from London, the later the hour he made his purchases; therefore he comes not far from Barking."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Larose with enthusiasm, "and it would be just like Mattin to want garlic. Yes," he added, after a moment's thought, "I think we can say for certain therefore that he is living on the London side of the nearest village he has visited—Aveley."

"Exactly," said Naughton Jones, "and where he has been seen he does not live." He frowned. "Now where did that 66 2-10 miles land you?"

"Just before Wennington," replied Larose, "two miles away from Aveley."

"Well, then," said Jones sharply, "they are in hiding between Wennington and Barking, and it should be quite simple to find them now."

Larose frowned. "No, not so simple," he replied. "We've been over some of the ground this afternoon, and there are houses and farms and halls scattered all about there. We can't push our inquiries closely without running the risk of exciting the suspicion that would ruin all our plans." He spoke briskly. "But now we'll look out for that man to-night. We daren't follow him, though, but if we watch near as many by-roads as possible that join the main road on the London side of Wennington, we may see him come out and so get an idea in which direction they are hidden."

And a few minutes before darkness set in they were all secreted at different points of vantage, waiting expectantly for the appearance of an old man bicycling upon the main road, with the arrangement that at 10 o'clock they should reassemble near the railway station at Dagenham. Naughton Jones was lying hidden in the entrance to a by-road close to Wennington whilst Larose had selected a lane much nearer Barking.

The Australian was undoubtedly not too happy and, as he stretched himself down at full length behind a hedge, he regarded his surroundings with a somewhat anxious air. There was a fitful moon showing and in the distance he could just see the silvered water of the Thames. There were fields behind him, and in front ran the Southend road.

"But things are not going too well," his thoughts ran, "and in four days old Smith will be handing over those diamonds. We have accomplished absolutely nothing so far, and now to-night we are either on a hot trail or else"—he shrugged his shoulders and sighed—"we are as far from any discoveries as ever." His face brightened a little. "Still that old man on a bicycle means something—surely. Here are we in what we imagine to be the enemy's country, and we come upon happenings that are secretive and mysterious and highly suggestive of wrong-doing. This man's actions suggest exactly what we might expect in either Mattin or Texworthy—a supreme desire that no one should know where he comes from."

For half an hour and more he watched the cars roaring by, but there was no appearance of the man they were looking for.

Rising to his feet presently to move a little farther down the lane, he heard suddenly a low growl behind him and immediately a dog sprang at him and gripped him by the trousers. He turned in a flash and seized the animal by the throat. It was only a small dog, and he easily wrenched it from him and pinned it choking to the ground.

"Don't hurt him, mate," came an anxious voice from the hedge. "He's only a little 'un and he don't mean any harm. He was frightened by finding you there."

Larose freed one hand and flashed a torch upon the speaker. It was a young man who stood before him, roughly dressed and of the labouring class, but with a pleasant open face.

The detective released the dog and he slunk quickly behind his master.

"Sorry, mate," said the young man. "Hope he didn't hurt you."

"He's torn my trousers," scowled Larose. He kept his light on the man's face. "But what are you doing, sneaking about here?"

The man looked round apprehensively. "Douse that light, mate," he said quickly. "I'm only looking about for a rabbit, and it's quite all right, but the confounded police may be about and they know me."

Larose hesitated a moment and then, reassured by the general appearance of the speaker, switched off his light.

"A poacher, eh?" he said sternly. "You're a poacher then?"

"Yes," was the unabashed reply, "and so are you."

The detective grinned in the darkness. "Where do you come from?" he asked.

"Where I please," was the instant reply. "Same as you, I expect."

Larose's thoughts coursed like lightning through his brain. "Know the neighbourhood?" he asked.

The man hesitated. "Might—and might not," he answered. "What's that to you?"

"Look here," said Larose, and he moved out of the shadow of the hedge into the moonlight so that the man could see him plainly. "I'm very different to what you think I am and if you don't answer me at once I shall blow my whistle and you'll find——"

"Hugh!" interrupted the young fellow in consternation, "a copper."

"But I'm not one of the local police," explained Larose.

"I know that," scowled the man. "I know 'em all."

"Ah!" exclaimed Larose, frowning. "An old hand, an habitual offender, then?"

"Rabbits," was the reply, "only rabbits. Forty bob or ten days," and he added, feelingly—"the farmers here are devils, every one of them."

Larose laughed good-humoredly. "Then I sympathise with you, my friend," he said, "for where I come from it is the rabbits that are the devils, and a young chap like you would be paid, and paid well, for killing them and taking them away." He became serious. "But listen, you can help me perhaps and earn a few bob as well." He eyed the man narrowly. "Now, do you know the neighbourhood?"

"Ought to," growled the man. "I've lived not four miles from here all my life, and I work on the roads."

"Well, then," said Larose briskly, "you're the very man I want." His voice was silky in its friendliness. "I'm on the look out for certain parties, and I'm sure they're hiding about here—an old woman, very dark, a stout man with red hair, and a boy about twelve. Now, have you seen any of them about? They've only come here lately, within the last ten days. The boy rides a bicycle, and they'll probably do their shopping at nights. They used to have a blue two-seater car."

The man shook his head. "No," he replied slowly. "I've seen nothing of them."

"Never seen anyone, old or young, riding on a bicycle and slinking about at night as if they didn't want to be noticed?" asked Larose.

"No," said the man again, "I've never seen no one."

"Well," went on Larose quickly, and in no wise disheartened, "if you were in this neighbourhood and in their position where would you hide? Do you know any shady people with whom they could put up, anyone who would hide them if they were well paid, anywhere where the could go? And they have a motor car, remember."

The young man laughed. "That's a puzzler you've got, guv'nor," he replied. "No, there's no bad stuff round here. Just little chaps who keep cows and pigs and grow veggies and farm a bit. Then there are the big houses where the rich gents live and the little cottages for us poor 'uns and the shops and pubs and that's all." He shook his head. "No, I don't know anyone who'd take them in."

"And you're certain," persisted Larose, "that there's no place anywhere where they could hide?"

"Oh!" exclaimed the man, as if struck with a sudden thought, and he pointed across the marshes, "there's that old tannery there on Rainham Bank. They might have rented that. It's been empty for years."

"But that's on the other side of the river," said Larose, frowning.

"No, it isn't," replied the man. "It looks like it from the road, but that's only because the old river bends out very sharp and the front of the boss's house in the tannery faces this way, with the tannery wharf behind."

Larose held his breath. It was as if a window had been opened suddenly admitting a great flood of light where before there had been complete darkness. He was silent for a moment, and then spoke quite carelessly.

"And do you think there might be anyone there now?" he asked.

But it was the young man who was now silent, and he appeared to be thinking hard.

"Crumbs!" he ejaculated suddenly, "but there might be, for I had a bad scare a couple of nights back in the tannery lane, and I'm sure now someone passed me in the dark."

"Did you see anyone?" asked Larose, eagerly.

"No—too foggy," replied the man; "but the dog suddenly started to growl there, and he never growls at rabbits. I'd got him on a bit of rope, and I nipped him up quick. I waited a long time, but nothing happened, so I cut off. I thought I'd made a bloomer until I got to the end of the lane, and then, if I ever smelt anything, I smelt burnt oil, just as if a lamp had been blown out. Yes, someone was there all right, and it was probably a bike lamp he'd got."

"Good," said Larose, with decision; "and now you'll take me right off to that tannery, and I'll give you ten bob if we get there without anyone seeing we're about." His voice hardened sternly. "But, look here, if anyone's there, and they see us, the whole thing'll be spoilt."

The man hitched up his trousers. "Come on, guv'nor," he said. "I'll get that ten bob." He grinned cheerfully. "But it'll be muddy, for we'll have to walk most of the way right under the river bank." He pointed up to the sky. "With that old moon there, that's the only way we can go to-night, and it'll be a long way round, too."

Half an hour later, with the tannery buildings now looming up black before them, they were creeping along on the side of the river bed. The river was at half-flood, and a broad stretch of mud lay between the water and the high bank. It was heavy going, and their boots squelched with every step.

"Keep close, guv'nor," whispered the man, "or you'll be in it up to your neck. I told you it'd be crook, but it's the only way we could come; and even if they were on the lookout, they'd never spot us here."

"But is your dog likely to bark?" asked Larose, anxiously.

"Not he," whispered the man, "as long as I've got him under my arm. Steady, steady," he went on after a minute. "Here's the wharf in front of the tannery. We'll creep under those piles and get our nobs up over the bank on the other side. It'll be all dark behind us then." He chuckled. "In my line, guv'nor, a man's got to be a blooming artist not to get pinched."

They climbed breathlessly up the bank, and, then, for a long time, with a quickly beating heart, Larose stared at the cluster of buildings before him.

"That's the house where the boss lived," whispered the man, pointing to a gaunt two-storey building. "There are two doors to it, but you can't see either of them from here. The front door's right the other side, and the back door opens into that yard near where you see the big rain-water tank."

But the detective made no comment. He had got his binoculars out now, and in every direction was raking the house and buildings for any sign of life.

But there were no movements anywhere, no cracks of light showing by the windows, and no signs in any direction to suggest that human beings were in hiding there.

The light of the moon remained fitful, and every now and then small clouds drifted across its face and plunged the whole place into semi-darkness.

"Can't we get to the other side of the house," whispered Larose presently, "where the front door is?"

"Dangerous," replied the man, shaking his head—"you'd have to crawl on your belly through all that marsh."

There was silence again, and then Larose asked suddenly. "Do you ever get wild duck here?"

"My father saw one," muttered the man, "about twenty years back." He shook his head. "But now old London's come too near and we never see 'em here."

"Know the noise a wild duck makes?" asked Larose sharply.

"Yes," was the reply, "I've heard 'em on Foulness Island."

"Well, you keep your ears open and your eyes skinned and expect something in about five minutes," said the detective, "I'm going across that marsh and you're to wait for me here. Watch that back yard and listen most carefully for anyone moving about. Understand? Don't move an inch until I come back."

"Right-o, guv'nor," replied the man, "I'll count all the rats I see."

Larose slid over the bank upon his stomach, and for a couple of minutes or so the poacher could mark his progress round the edge of the marsh. Then the detective faded altogether from view.

Five minutes, ten minutes passed, and the man began to frown. He was remembering the promise of ten shillings, and an uneasy thought struck him that the prospective donor had gone off. Then suddenly he was galvanised into astonishment, for from across the marsh came the clear and unmistakable call of a wild duck.

"Zak-zak-zak-zak," he heard, the plaintive melancholy cry of a bird calling to its mates.

"Gosh!" he ejaculated after a moment, "but it's him"—he grinned—"and it was darned good, too."

"Zak-zak-zak-zak," and this time it was even more melancholy and plaintive still.

The man strained his eyes to make out where the cry had come from, but the marsh stretched dark and solitary before him, and there was no sign of his companion anywhere.

Then suddenly a sound came from the direction of the house, a soft scraping sound as of a door being opened very gently, and, turning his head round warily, he saw a figure detach itself from the side of the house and glide stealthily towards the low garden wall. It was that of a tall man and he was carrying something in his hand. Reaching the wall, he leant forward upon his elbows, and from his attitude it was apparent that he was peering through binoculars.

For a long time he stood motionless. Then he shifted his position again and for some moments remained perfectly still. He next roved his glasses round in every direction, and, finally, he turned sharply and glided back to the house. Then there was the same sound as before, like that of a door opening, and again all was still.

"But that was clever, guv'nor," whispered the poacher presently to Larose, as they squelched their way back in the mud. "What made you think of doing it?"

"Oh!" replied the detective evasively, "most people are interested in wild ducks, and some people especially."

Long after eleven that night, and in the presence of the others, Naughton Jones with stern eyes and long forefinger upraised was giving solemn instructions to Raphael Croupin.

"And remember, sir, please," he said with emphasis, "that we are putting great trust in you now. We are giving you an honest man's part to play, and it is our hope that you will employ such talents as you possess on the side of law and order for once. You will be a friend and not an enemy of the community to-morrow."

"Bien," replied Croupin smilingly, "but I am of a character reformed now and if to-morrow Monsieur Mattin opens me with his knife, or if the lion-killer gives me of his dope, then on my gravestone shall it not be cut: 'He is in Heaven now, for he worked once for Meester Jones.'"

"And understand, please," went on Jones coldly, "that we have particularly picked upon you to ascertain if it be truly those men who are living there because of all of us, you are the only one absolutely unknown to them; also"—and there was a marked disdain in his voice—"if your arrival there should arouse any suspicions, you could assuredly convince them that you are of the underworld yourself, and at a pinch you should be able to refer them to mutual acquaintances."

"Certainly, certainly," agreed Croupin readily, "and I could assure them also that my society has on many occasions been sorely missed by the police—and sometimes even by great detectives, too."

"And so by eight o'clock to-morrow morning," went on Jones with no change in his voice, "you shall start off with a pedlar's pack of mine that I keep for special work like this. You shall carry my own pedlar's licence"—he coughed—"made out, however, in the name of Herbert Walker, and you shall be at the tannery by 9 o'clock." He eyed the Frenchman very sternly. "Now you quite understand the part you have to play?"

"But yes," replied Croupin, shrugging his shoulders. "I am to get speech with that man whom Monsieur Larose attracted from the house by coughing like a duck. I am to see if he is Meester Texworthy, and if he does not kill me I am to come back here with the news."

"The question of your returning is not material to the issue, Mr. Croupin," said Jones dryly, "for if you fail to come back we shall deduce accordingly that, like Professor Mariarty's employees, you have located our men."

"But you will be all right," nodded Larose reassuringly, "have no fear at all. Dr. Grain will be in the marshes not 300 hundred yards from the house, and he will be covering anyone promising to be dangerous to you with his rifle. Like Texworthy, he is a dead shot. So that if you keep by the front door and do not go inside you will be under protection the whole time. Also none of us will be very far away." His face grew very solemn. "But remember—no signalling of any kind if you find Texworthy or Mattin are there. The absence of signalling will mean that you have found them."

"And if I don't find them," asked Croupin, "what then?"

"Take off your hat and rub your head," replied Larose. "Then we shall he waiting for you later in the lane."

"You understand?" broke in Jones impatiently. "If you get sight of Texworthy or Mattin then your work is done and what follows is a matter solely concerning yourself."

"But, Monsieur Croupin," smiled Vallon, "you are clever enough, we are sure, to deal with any happening that may occur and to come out of it with a whole skin."

Croupin made a gratified bow.


Chapter XVIII.—Detective Raphael Croupin.

The following morning just after nine Texworthy and Mattin were in the backyard of their house effecting some repairs to a large water-tank close to the wall. The big-game hunter's housekeeper had reported that the tank had sprung a leak, and, a poor mechanic himself, Texworthy had with reluctance been obliged to enlist the help of Mattin.

The two had accomplished their work without the exchange of an unnecessary word and were just about to re-enter the house when the sound of footsteps made them turn suddenly.

Passing along on the other side of the low wall was a shabbily dressed man with a big and heavy-looking pack upon his shoulders. He had apparently sprung from nowhere, for a moment or two earlier the mile and more of river bank visible from the yard had been deserted.

They jumped instantly to attention, and Texworthy darted a lightning glance round in every direction. There was no one else in sight, however, and the man was undoubtedly quite alone.

He had apparently not caught sight of them, for he was going round to the front of the house and was actually turning the corner before a loud shout from Texworthy brought him to a standstill.

"Mon dieu," Croupin exclaimed, under his breath, "but it is they and it is good old Croupin who has found them."

"Hi! What do you want?" shouted the big-game hunter roughly. "Come over here," and he added hoarsely to Mattin—"He saw us right enough. He's another spy."

The man retraced his steps at once, and, arriving opposite to where they stood, called out briskly, but in very broken English—

"Goot morning, shentlemen; any knives, scissors, pins, needles, cotton, and lots of ozzer sings. I have goot selection."

He was a youngish looking man, of poor physique, but he had an eager intelligent face, and his eyes were bright and shining like a bird's.

Neither Texworthy nor Mattin had moved from their positions near the water tank, and now the former called out imperatively—"Come in here if you've got anything to sell. There's the gate, in the corner."

The man hesitated for just a fraction of a second, and then he pushed open the gate, and with lagging steps entered the yard.

"Dangerous—to come inside old boy," he muttered, "but there's nothing else that you can do. If you bolted now—phew! everything would be ruined."

"But how did you get here?" asked Texworthy with an angry scowl, the moment the man was inside the yard. "You've come sneaking along so that you shouldn't be seen. You are on the look-out to steal something. You are a thief."

The man looked most astonished at such a reception, opening his eyes very wide.

"Oh! no," he protested instantly, "I am pedlar only. I am honest man. I come to sell leetle things."

"Then which way did you come?" snarled Texworthy, and Mattin immediately moved up and stood close to the pedlar as if he were interested in the pack.

"On ze mud, under ze bank," replied the man promptly. "I see oranges there that fall from ze ships," and thrusting his hand into his pocket he produced two very muddy-looking oranges in support of his statement.

"Oh!" grunted Texworthy, "that it, is it?" He stared very hard. "And you're a pedlar, you say?"

"Ye-es," replied the man, now all smiles, "and I haf walk 40 mile in two days."

"Where's your licence then?" demanded Texworthy sternly, and immediately the man shrank back and looked uneasy.

"I haf one," he said, and with a hesitating movement he placed his hand over his breast pocket.

"Show it me," said Texworthy and he held out his hand. "I understand these things."

The pedlar's jaw dropped and reluctantly he unfastened his jacket and produced a shining pocket book. Abstracting a paper he handed it over.

"Herbert Walker," exclaimed Texworthy, with a face as black as thunder. "That's not your name. You are a foreigner."

"Yes, from France," admitted the man uneasily. "No-o, it is not mine. A friend haf lent it to me."

"And why haven't you got one of your own?" asked Texworthy threateningly. "You must know it's a crime to use another man's licence in this country."

The man was the very picture of embarrassment. His eyes roved round, he opened and shut his mouth, and he swallowed hard.

"Monsieur," he burst out, suddenly, "I will tell you all. I haf been but few months here, and I haf not dared for licence to apply, because in Paris, where I am from, I haf had leetle trouble with ze police." He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh! nozzing much. Only, I was poor, and had no home, and ze police in Paris have pity never for we poor." He spread out his hands. "Here I am quite honest man, and I have forgot all my sins, and am good for always now."

Texworthy folded the licence, and calmly put it in his pocket.

"I shall report you to the police," he said coldly. "I don't believe a word you say. You are a thief."

Instantly then the pedlar became a different man. He threw his servility and meekness to the winds, and literally danced in his rage.

"Pig of an unmentionable mother!" he shrieked loudly in French. "Rat of a garbage heap, filth of all——"

Texworthy grinned evilly. "My man," he interrupted, speaking also in French, "I know your language, and what you are now saying will only add to your punishment when you are handed over to the police."

The pedlar almost dropped in his surprise, and his eyes were terrified as he cringed now before the big-game hunter.

"Oh! Monsieur, I am so sorry," he exclaimed quickly in his own tongue, "but you do not understand what you are doing. I have not harmed you," he pleaded, "and you will be bringing punishment upon me that I do not deserve. I shall be imprisoned here, and then sent back to France, where, where——"—tears choked his voice—"I have enemies who will bear false testimony against me, and I shall be imprisoned again."

"Then you have been in trouble already," snapped Texworthy, "in your own country, in France?"—and as the man hesitated, he went on sternly, "The truth now, or I shall detain you and hand you over to the police. You are a dangerous character, without doubt."

"Oh! no, Monsieur," insisted the man. "I have never done anything very wrong, and it is by evil chance only that I am on the records. I lost my work in Paris, and fell amongst bad men. Then——" he shrugged his shoulders eloquently—"they brought a charge against me, and I was wrongly convicted and suffered for six months." He sighed heavily. "Then there were suspicions against me again, and I came to this country to make a new start."

"What were you convicted of?" asked Texworthy, sharply.

The man shrugged his shoulders again. "They said I was a pickpocket, Monsieur," he began. "They said——"

"And so you were," interrupted Texworthy, and he smiled a cold, grim smile. "You look like one." There was a moment's silence, and then he went on more graciously, as if his anger were abating:—

"Well, bring your pack into the shed here, and we'll see if you've got anything worth buying," and he flashed a quick look at Mattin, which did not, however, escape the pedlar.

"But my licence," exclaimed the man, anxiously. "You'll give it me back, won't you?"

"Take it," replied Texworthy, sharply, tossing it over, "but my advice is—get one of your own, and don't run any risks." He opened the door of the shed. "Now come in and show us what you've got to sell, and then be off quick."

The pedlar glanced round covertly, and it might almost have been thought that he was considering the possibility of retreat, but Mattin was just behind him, and the hunter looked as lithe as a panther and as swift as a greyhound.

"No chance," whispered the pedlar softly to himself, "no chance," and he felt his teeth chatter. "They'd catch me in five yards with this cursed pack on my back." A smile crossed into his face. "Verily, poor old Croupin will have to trust to his wits now."

He followed briskly after Texworthy into the shed, and then, divesting himself of his pack and placing it upon a big bench, he suddenly threw back his head and broke into a low and mirthless laugh.

"It is no good," he exclaimed, shaking his head. "I am always suspected wherever I go. I am always found out." His face hardened bitterly. "That is the curse of the prison system in France. The instant it touches you it stays with you for all your life, and everyone knows you have done wrong," and with a wealth of invective then, he proceeded to heap curses upon everything connected with the French police.

Texworthy regarded him frowningly, but Mattin was obviously interested, and when presently the pedlar paused to take breath, he said softly:—

"I too, speak your language, Monsieur, and have lived most of my life in France. Tell, me, where does the Service de Surete have its headquarters in Paris now?"

"Quai des Orefevres," replied the pedlar instantly, and he sneered. "The flies are like a nest of wasps there."

"And you have been a pickpocket?" asked Mattin.

"Oui," replied the pedlar, "for a little time." He looked dubiously at Texworthy. "But I tell you I have given it up now, and am an honest man."

"It was dangerous work?" asked Mattin.

"Ah! yes," exclaimed the pedlar, "but I was never violent." He looked again at Texworthy. "I never harmed anyone."

He spread out his pack, and with much extolling of their qualities proceeded to exhibit the things he had for sale, all the time, however, keeping a watchful eye upon the movements of both the prospective purchasers.

"But force would be no good," he sighed ruefully to himself, "for either of them could make mincemeat of me, and there is always one of them, I notice, between me and the door. They suspect me, of course, but"—and he grinned inwardly—"they're not sure and that's my only hope." A wave of confidence swept through him. "Yes, old Croupin against the world again and it's up to him to let them taste of his quality," and he beamed on the big-game hunter as if they were now on the best of terms.

Texworthy bought a penknife and some scissors, paying three shillings. Then he said suddenly:—

"And how can you pick anyone's pocket without them feeling you?" He nodded his head grimly. "Pick mine."

The pulse of the pedlar quickened. It was a challenge, and his very life might depend on what would follow. He laughed merrily.

"Bien," he said, "then stand still. Monsieur, and close your eyes. Leave undone the top button of your jacket and if I touch you in the back it will only be as if someone had jostled you in the crowd. Now, keep still as if with your eyes open you were looking at something intently, a fire-engine passing, some clothes in a shop or a fine lady going by. So, like that."

A few moments of silence followed and he went on softly:—"No, I will not take that little pistol in your hip-pocket, for it is wrapped in a silk handkerchief and would be difficult to draw out, nor your cigarette case, nor your bunch of keys—oh! and you have two pocket-knives now! No, I do not want your watch, and the chain is not heavy enough. Very careless of me." He jumped back suddenly and called out shrilly:—"Now, without opening your eyes, Monsieur, tell me what I have taken from you."

But Texworthy had opened his eyes and was scowling angrily.

"You mountebank," he snarled. "You are an impostor. You have got nothing."

The pedlar withdrew the hand he had been holding behind him and with the glee of a child and the grace of a great lady held out the pocket-book of the big game hunter.

"Very easy," he exclaimed, all smiles, "and particularly so, because Monsieur wears his clothes so very loose."

"Bravo!" exclaimed Mattin admiringly, "it was most neatly done." He looked with friendly eyes upon the pedlar. "And now I will give you a glass of wine, monsieur, because it is good, too, to hear my language once again." He smiled. "I am from Paris also."

Texworthy at once made a movement towards the door. "I will get it," he said quickly, and it seemed that he was forcing geniality into his voice.

"No, no," said Mattin, thrusting himself in the way, "I know what the gentleman would prefer," and with a glance at the big-game hunter that was evidently intended to convey some meaning, he left the shed.

Texworthy started to follow him but then suddenly he stopped and, blocking the door, eyed the pedlar with a hard and stony stare.

The pedlar swore softly to himself.

"Ah! but I was a fool to mention that pistol," his thoughts ran, "for, if he is no longer suspicious of me, he is thinking I am now suspicious of him, and he won't be willing to let me go." He sighed. "Now the question is—are they going to dope me like they did Larose?" He shook his head. "No, no, not this chap Mattin, I think, for he looked quite friendly just now and has evidently no love for the Surete himself, and if I judge rightly he's not too fond either or this lion-killer here."

With Texworthy watching every movement, he proceeded to fold up his pack, and then in a minute or so Mattin returned into the shed with a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and three tumblers.

"A good St. Emilion," he said, holding up the label for the pedlar's inspection, and the latter was relieved to see that the bottle was a fresh one and still bore the capsule. "You have not tasted wine like this over here, I am sure."

"No? monsieur," replied the pedlar, smacking his lips as if in great expectation, "when one has no money this is a poor country for those who love the wine of la belle France."

The bottle was opened, and, Texworthy declining curtly, Mattin filled two tumblers and handed one to the pedlar.

"To the Surete Generale of Paris," he said, lifting his glass, "and may they never get all they want."

"To the great Vallon," responded Croupin, grinning, "and may I never make his acquaintance."

Texworthy started and Mattin looked down his nose with an odd, inscrutable smile.

Then it seemed that the generous wine of his country loosened the tongue of the poor exiled pedlar, and he began to recall in happy vein many of the experiences of his life. He spoke confidently of many of the great characters of the Paris' underworld, as if he were acquainted with them all. He told of one named Hidou, who made the dark sewers there his home; of Planchet, who was the very prince of forgers and the terror of all the banks; of Ravahol, who was said to be of noble birth and yet whose organisation of crime was the hourly nightmare of the Parisian police; of Raphael Croupin, whose misdemeanours were the joke of all France—and of many others also whose wrongdoings had placed them for ever upon pedestals in the minds of those whose lives were run in unsocial and unlawful ways.

And all the time Mattin regarded him with kindly interest, nodding his head every now and then as a man might nod when hearing statements that he could corroborate with his own knowledge.

But Texworthy did nothing but frown in anger and annoyance, as if he were of opinion that time was being wasted. He fidgeted about and tried vainly to catch Mattin's eye.

The bottle of wine was finished at last, and then the pedlar picked up his pack and sighed.

"Thank you, Monsieur," he said, with a bow to Mattin, "you have given me a great treat."

"And you shall have another," broke in Texworthy quickly, and with an extraordinary change all at once in his expression. He smiled most genially. "You may be an untruthful person, but you are certainly an interesting one, and so you shall have a liqueur brandy to settle that claret. Wait a minute—I'll get you one," and he strode out of the shed.

Mattin was all smiles as the big-game hunter spoke, but the instant Texworthy had gone outside he scowled at the pedlar.

"Now, you get out," he said sharply, "you've had enough drink already and if you stop here any longer, my friend may get angry again and take back that licence. He's quick-tempered and a very changeable man. So get away quickly." He helped the pedlar on with his pack and almost thrust him through the door. "Go on, cut off," and he added in a lower tone of voice, "and if you want any more oranges, keep under the bank as you did before until"—he nodded his head impressively—"you've gone at least a mile. You may find plenty."

The pedlar, as if very disturbed at the prospect of more trouble about the licence, uttered a grateful word of thanks and made off with all possible speed. Mattin, with a grim smile, watched him climb over the bank and disappear.

Two, perhaps three, minutes passed, and then Texworthy came out of the house, walking slowly and with a small tumbler of brandy in his hand.

He looked round quickly on seeing Mattin alone in the yard, and then asked with a gasp:—

"Where's the man—inside?"

"No," replied Mattin carelessly, "I sent him off. There was no harm in him."

Texworthy looked thunderstruck. "How dared you?" he almost shrieked, and he advanced menacingly towards the Syrian, spilling the brandy as he moved. Not a muscle of Mattin's face altered but his eyes were hard as steel.

"Be careful, Monsieur," he said quickly. "I have been very patient"—he spoke ever so quietly—"but I will kill you if you touch me with your hand."

Texworthy recoiled a couple of steps, and for a moment there was silence between the two. Then the big-game hunter tipped the remainder of the brandy out of the tumbler and sneered:

"You fool! You're a child in judging men. He was no pedlar, that fellow. Why, he didn't even know how to fold up his pack properly, and those scissors he sold for a shilling are worth three times the money. He didn't know the correct price of anything he'd got." He strode back towards the house. "I'll shoot him anyhow."

"I don't think so, Monsieur," said Mattin calmly, "he's gone off under the bank and besides—" he pointed with his hand—"there's a big steamer just coming round the bend."


Chapter XIX.—The Prey of the Eagles.

Following upon the abrupt departure of the pedlar and the explosive outburst from Texworthy, the usual daily calm descended upon the tannery buildings and, to all outward appearance, the big house was untenanted and as devoid of life as ever.

Texworthy had marched furiously into the living-room, and, throwing himself into an armchair, had sat scowling and staring into space, whilst Mattin had remained in the yard, and, rolling himself innumerable cigarettes, had thoughtfully regarded the wreaths of smoke that he threw up.

The morning passed without event and then, soon after midday, the Syrian took up Eunice's meal.

The girl, contrary to her usual habit, made no remark and he saw instantly that she was in a state of great dejection.

Her eyes were swollen, her cheeks were tear-stained, and there was an air of hopelessness about her that she made no attempt to hide.

He caught his breath in dismay at the sight of her distress.

"But why are you grieving, mademoiselle?" he asked quickly. "I tell you your troubles will so soon be over. In three days now, at the latest, you will be going back to your friends." His voice was confident. "I promise you that."

"But how can I believe you?" she answered tearfully. "I mean," she went on quickly, noticing the pained expression on his face, "even if you feel so kindly towards me, how can I know that you will be able to carry out that promise? You are only acting under the orders of the others, you say."

Mattin hesitated a moment, and then flashed his beautiful white teeth in a grim smile.

"But the man may become the master, may he not?" he replied enigmatically. "And then he can do as he chooses." He spoke sadly. "It is not in my nature ever to regret anything, mademoiselle, but——"—and he shrugged his shoulders—"I shall grieve all my life now that I had any part in bringing this sorrow upon you."

"But it is torture to me to go on like this," exclaimed the girl, "and never to know what the days or nights may bring." She shuddered. "Oh! How I fear the nights."

"You need not fear them," he said quietly, "I am responsible for your safety, and I am always near you."

"But you, Monsieur, are a stranger to me," she replied sharply, "and you are part of the nightmare, too. Why should it be necessary for you to protect me and what have I done that I should have all this horror coming into my life?"

Mattin made no reply, and she clenched her hands tightly. "I shall go mad if this lasts much longer." Tears choked her voice again. "I heard a wild duck calling in the marsh last night and it reminded me of home."

"It was an omen, perhaps," smiled Mattin. "It was a friend who had come to tell you he was near."

"But what is going to happen to me?" asked the girl miserably. "I am sure that there is some harm coming, for that woman here looked so strangely at me just now and she snatched my watch from me, too, saying she must borrow it to know the time." She lowered her voice quickly. "Who was she whispering to for so long a little while ago—out on the landing? I know it wasn't you, for it wasn't your step."

"Whispering," asked Mattin with a frown, "out on the landing?"

"Yes," replied Eunice, "and it was a man, for I smelt a cigar. He came up the stairs ever so quietly and scraped on the door. Then she went outside and they whispered for a long time together. Then he went downstairs and she came in here and stared at me as if for some reason I had suddenly become interesting. It was a horrible kind of interest, too, as if she knew something terrible was going to happen to me—perhaps as if I were going to die."

Mattin regarded her very thoughtfully, and then he shook his head.

"She is a woman of no account, Mademoiselle," he answered, "and you are not going to die. Be sure of that." He nodded sadly. "You are going to have many happy years and some man will bless for ever the day when you were born."

"But I know something is going to happen," persisted Eunice, "for that woman has dressed herself and done up her hair as if some change were coming to her here."

"Well, whatever happens, it can only be," smiled Mattin, as he turned to the door, "that you are going home almost within a few hours," and still smiling he left the room.

But the smile dropped from his face immediately he was outside, and he was frowning hard as he went down the stairs. Coming, however, to the open door of the living-room, he saw the big-game hunter inside, and, composing his face to placidity, he entered and sat down. He picked up a newspaper off the table and commenced to read.

Some minutes of silence followed, and then Texworthy said carelessly:

"I shall be going up to the city to-night and shall not return until to-morrow evening. I shall have a talk with Professor Ingleby and find out for certain if the diamonds are coming up for auction on Thursday. We must know exactly how we stand."

Instinct told Mattin that the big-game hunter was lying, but he replied equally as carelessly:

"Good—then I won't go far away tonight. I'll buy what we want at Wennington."

"And I shall return in my car," went on Texworthy. "It's unwise to be without a car here. We never know what may happen, and I am still suspicious about that pedlar. I am convinced that he was an impostor because, for one thing, he was not familiar with the contents of his pack."

"Perhaps not," replied Mattin, dryly. "He had probably stolen it and the licence as well." He spoke as if without interest. "At any rate he was a pickpocket right enough, for I missed the watch I was wearing after he had gone."

Texworthy gave a hoarse laugh. "You reassure me," he exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me that before?"

Mattin shrugged his shoulders. "It was of no consequence," he replied. "It was one of yours that I had borrowed from McAlbane's room.".

Texworthy's amused expression changed instantly to a scowl. "I valued it," he snarled. "It was dust-proof and kept good time in the hottest climates. Curse you, for your impudence."

Silence followed again, and then the big-game hunter, rising from his chair, strode leisurely into the hall and passed into his bedroom. Mattin heard the door shut, and a moment later the creak of springs as he threw himself upon the bed.

"A pig and a liar," was his muttered comment, "and he and that woman are plotting something."

The Syrian sat on, and it was evident from the expression on his face that he was in deep thought. Many times he frowned and sometimes he sighed.

Presently, in the deep silence, his attention was attracted by a stealthy sound that came from upstairs—the sound of a door being unlocked very gently. Then he heard someone coming down the stairs, slowly and cautiously, and with the evident intention of making as little noise as possible.

"The woman," he frowned, "and she doesn't want anyone to hear her. What's she going to do?"

He heard her reach the hall—then equally as quietly shuffle towards the kitchen. A short minute's silence and then she returned, but now, it seemed, she considered there was no longer need for secrecy, for she walked briskly and there was not the same gentleness when, gaining the upper storey again, she unlocked and relocked the door.

Instantly then the Syrian took off his shoes and, carrying them in his hand, tiptoed along the hall and into the kitchen. He gently pushed the door to and then for a minute and longer stood staring round. Then he moved over to the sink and looked to see if the tap had been turned on recently. The sink, however, was quite dry, and he counted the glasses and the cups, but as far as he could remember there were none of them missing.

"Nothing has then been mixed for her to take," he said grimly, "so what was it the woman came down for?"

He walked softly into the pantry and then, almost instantly, he smiled. Behind the door was a bulging suitcase; packed and strapped, and, as an extra precaution because the strap was old, tied round with a stout piece of cord. Near it and wrapped in a piece of newspaper were a woman's cloak and hat.

"Ah!" was his comment, "then she's going away to-night and I am not to know it. She has brought down her suitcase, and her hat in readiness and directly it is dark she will leave by the back door."

He stood thinking for a long time, and then, still without his shoes, he went into the back yard and manipulated the latch of the gate there. He bent it so badly that the gate when he had forcibly closed it, could be no longer opened hastily or without considerable noise. Then he looked for and found an old spade and hid it at the foot of the wall.

Then he went back into the living-room, and, in the same chair that Texworthy had sat, and even as the big-game hunter had done, stared stonily into space.

He sat motionless for quite a long time, and then suddenly, with a grim smile, he shrugged his shoulders and rose abruptly to his feet. He rolled himself a cigarette, and with no attempt now to prevent his movements being heard, walked noisily into his bedroom and closed the door.

The same evening darkness had just fallen and Texworthy in the living-room was reading in his accustomed place. At any rate, it seemed that he was reading, although minute after minute went by and he did not turn a page.

He was evidently in a restless mood, for he was frowning and his eyes were continually wandering from the book. Every now and then, too, he lifted his head up sharply as if he were listening for something that he was expecting to hear.

Suddenly his attitude became alert and he leant forward with slightly parted lips.

A door had been opened softly on the floor above, and the sound of footsteps followed—on the stairs. Then in a few moments a white face appeared round the door, and his housekeeper was staring at him with widely opened eyes. She looked scared and anxious, and the perspiration stood out upon her forehead in big beads.

"It's all right," he said quietly. "He's in his room," and without a word the woman disappeared.

Perhaps five minutes passed and then noises came from the vicinity of Mattin's room. The Syrian came out, humming loudly, and went into the kitchen. Then came the sound of the primus stove being started and presently the pleasant aroma of coffee was wafted through the house.

"A night-cap for his lady-love," sneered Texworthy—"but she won't need it," he added with a cruel smile.

Mattin carried a cup of coffee upstairs, and, knocking first at the door, unlocked it.

He put the cup upon the table and then, walking up close to Eunice, whispered quickly:

"She's gone, Mademoiselle, and now you're going, too. Listen," and his face was pale under its tan, and his eyes were like coals of fire. "I'm going to lock the door, but it won't be closed when I lock it. Here's your watch; she left it behind on the kitchen dresser. Well, in exactly three minutes from the moment I leave this room you will hear me talking loudly. Slip downstairs immediately and go through the hall into the kitchen and out through the back door. You will find all the doors open but in the back yard, don't go near the gate because it is fastened. Scramble over the wall and go round by the front of the house. Don't be afraid. No one will see you and you will still hear me talking loudly. Go up the lane and when you reach the main road turn to the left, and in less than a quarter of a mile you will reach Dagenham Station. Here is a pound note and in exactly five and twenty minutes a train starts for London."

"But the woman!" gasped the girl. "I may meet her."

"No, you won't," replied Mattin with a grim smile. "She's gone already on a much longer journey." His whole demeanour altered suddenly, and his voice shook a little. "And now good-bye, Mademoiselle, for you will not see me again. I have done some things I regret but all heaven could not tempt me to let any harm come to you."

She held out her hand without speaking, and he lifted it reverently to his lips. "Oh! one thing more," he said, as he turned towards the door, "Tell Mr. Smith that Professor Ingleby is at the bottom of all this." He shrugged his shoulders. "None of the others matter now," and a moment later he was descending the stairs.

He made a quick adjustment to his belt as he went down, and then, with a calm impassive face, entered the room where Texworthy was apparently still engrossed with his book.

He pulled a chair up to the table and sat down, then he bent forward towards the big-game hunter and rapped out sharply:

"I have thought it over and my opinion is that it would be unwise for you to bring your car down to-morrow. The ground is soft after the rain of last night, and you would leave the impression of wheel marks in the lane. It would not be safe. I was always uneasy when Mr. McAlbane had his big car here." He frowned scoffingly. "Besides, what good would a car be to us until the actual day when we are going away?"

Texworthy took out a cigar and lighted it.

"Thank you. Mr. Mattin," he said carelessly, "and when I want your opinion, I'll ask for it. Until then"—and he blew a wreath of smoke into the air—"you can go to hell."

"You have the mind of an animal," replied Mattin insolently—"one of those beasts that you kill." He raised his voice loudly. "And I won't have the car brought here I tell you. My safety is as much at stake as yours, and I have no wish to see the inside of an English prison for what we have done."

The face of the big-game hunter betrayed its surprise. He had never known the Syrian show temper before and the man now looked flushed and angry and almost as if he had been drinking.

"Yes," Mattin went on, and he thumped the table violently, "and at the last moment I'm not going to let anything ruin all that we have taken these months and months to prepare."

"We'll talk it over, then," said Texworthy quietly, "for it doesn't mean prison only for you, my friend, if we are brought to book. It means hanging for the business you did at Weybourne Manor," and he shifted the cushion at the back of his chair as if he were uncomfortable.

"And the more reason," shouted Mattin, "that I should be anxious nothing should go wrong."

"But don't talk so loud, man," said Texworthy quickly, and he leant forward in his chair. "We don't want everyone to hear. Hush! hush!" he went on, and a startled expression crossed into his face as he pointed suddenly to the window behind Mattin. "There's someone tapping on the window there."

Mattin looked instantly in the direction indicated, and then, like a flash of lightning, Texworthy sprang up and, with a naked dagger in his hand, flung himself upon the Syrian.

Too late the latter saw his danger, and, turning, struck a wild blow with his fist at the big-game hunter's descending hand. Texworthy winced with the pain of a half dislocated finger, but the impetus behind the blow was too great for it to be deflected, and his dagger bit deeply into Mattin's side.

With a groan Mattin crashed on to the floor, and, rolling over on to his back, with dreadful eyes out of a livid face, stared up horribly at his murderer.

Texworthy bent over him in triumph, and then his eyes narrowed as he snatched at a long knife protruding from the inside of the jacket of the fallen man. He gritted his teeth together.

"So, so," he sneered, throwing the knife upon the table, "and you were up to the same game, eh?" He chuckled good-humoredly. "But I happened to get in first."

"You fool," he went on contemptuously. "I've been waiting for this all day. I made up my mind to kill you this morning." He wiped his hands callously upon Mattin's clothes. "You've got it in the liver, my friend, and you're bleeding internally. Quite as sure a death as a jab over the heart, except that you'll take longer to die." He regarded his own damaged finger ruefully. "And to imagine that you thought yourself a match for Arnold Texworthy—you miserable black!"

He re-seated himself and dropped to a quiet and conversational tone.

"Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do now, Monsieur Mattin. My housekeeper has gone for good, and we're alone in the house; you, I, and that white-faced girl upstairs. She is going to follow you presently, after a little draught that I shall be giving her, and then you'll both lie together behind one of those big vats in the sheds." He leered. "Quite romantic, and just as you'd like it to be—undivided in death, eh? And then I'll clear off, and it may be twenty years before anything is discovered in this forgotten place."

He took out his watch and smiled. "And I'll go up to her now—the young woman with the beautiful eyes. She's going to have a glass of wine, and then——" He stroked his chin meditatively. "But first I may make love to her for a little while, for she certainly is, as you say, very pretty."

He rose up from his chair. "Listen and you'll hear," he laughed, and, taking a key out of his pocket, with a last mocking glance, he walked, from the room.

The face of the Syrian was bathed in sweat and grey in the hues of coming death, but its expression was not an unhappy one, and, indeed, it might have seemed that he was smiling.

Texworthy mounted the stairs quite leisurely, then there was a moment of silence, then a noise of quickly rushing feet and the bang of doors being hurled back, and finally he came tearing down two and more steps at a time.

He pulled at the front door, but found that it was locked and bolted, and immediately he ran back down the hall.

"You devil! that's why you shouted then," he called out furiously, as he passed the door of the living-room. "But I'll pay you for it in a minute if you are still alive."

Reaching the kitchen he saw all the doors were open and with an oath he ran into the yard. It was moonlight and the place was quite deserted, so vaulting over the low wall he started to run round to the front of the house and the entrance to the lane.

And then came one of the shocks of his life, for a loud whistle was sounded somewhere, shadowy figures rose up in front of him and someone tried to grab him by the arm—also a hoarse voice shouted: "It's Texworthy. Rush him."

The big-game hunter had lived his life among dangers and in extreme moments of crisis his brain functioned very quickly. So he was not unnerved now, he was hardly excited even, and his fury was of the cold and passionless kind that steels and does not enervate.

He struck fiercely at the man who had touched him and then, melting back into the shadows, he was as the beast of the jungle, who, disturbed from one lair, would slink unperceived into another.

He doubled himself almost in two and, darting back, rolled rather than climbed over the wall, trusting that under its shelter he would escape the lights of any torches that might be flashed.

Then almost immediately he stumbled over the legs of a recumbent figure huddled close up against the wall and, sure that it could be only one of his pursuers who had doubled back and was lying in ambush for him, like a stroke of lightning his hands travelled up the body and he seized it fiercely by the throat.

But there was no resistance, no quiver even in the warm flesh into which he had sunk his nails, and it did not take him long to realise that he was holding to someone who was unconscious, if not dead. There was a sticky substance now all over his hands and he knew it was blood.

With a curse he sprang to his feet, but on the instant he heard the pantings of someone running to the other side of the wall and he bobbed down again until the runner had passed by. His hands came in contact again with the clothes of the recumbent figure and disgustedly he wiped them down upon the sleeve. A few seconds later he was making a bee-line for the river bank.

He heard shouts behind him and many torchlights shot out, but in front of him there was only darkness and the gurgling of the water between the piles.

He climbed the bank and with the easy movements of a natural athlete set off at a rapid run towards Barking. For the moment he had shaken off his pursuers, who were now surrounding the house, thinking he had again taken refuge inside.

Then the moonlight betrayed him.

It was Larose who saw him first, a few seconds only after he had passed beyond the shadows of the tannery buildings, and the detective roared out:

"There's one of them. After him some of you, along the bank. It's Texworthy, I think."

But if Larose had been the first to see him. Dr. Grain was the quickest on to the bank, and with the fury of the outraged lover he flew after the fugitive.

Texworthy was hard and in good condition, but the doctor was ten years younger, and in the first hundred yards, even, he began to gain rapidly.

"Be careful," shouted Larose. "He's sure to be armed, and remember he won't miss you if he fires. He's a dead shot."

But Dr. Grain had no thoughts of any danger and no fear of any sudden death, his only obsession for the moment being to get his hands upon the fleeing man.

The clayey surface of the bank was slippery, making the going treacherous, and presently Texworthy, beginning to tire a little, glanced back and became aware for the first time how closely he was pursued.

The doctor was barely forty yards behind and a little further back were Larose and two other men.

The big-game hunter smiled an evil smile, and slipping his hand back to his hip pocket, drew out an automatic. He waited a few moments and then, slackening up ever so little, half-turned and took two quick running shots.

But his breathing was laboured now and with the handicap of his injured finger, both bullets went wide.

"Drop down," shrieked Larose to the doctor, "and I'll wing him. You're in my way and I can't run much further. I'm nearly done."

But apparently Dr. Grain did not hear, and unmindful of everything except his rage, charged on.

Then once more Texworthy slewed half round, and, taking more deliberate aim, twice sent a bullet unpleasantly close to the doctor, the second one actually passing through the sleeve of his coat.

"Drop, drop," implored Larose, "and I'll get him. I've got a longer range."

But the doctor was still deaf, and then all at once two new actors appeared upon the scene.

The poacher whom Larose had encountered the previous night was taking another airing with his dog and, inquisitive about the tannery buildings, had been approaching them as before, below the river bank. Then suddenly he had seen men running, and crouching low under the bank, had heard the barking of the big-game hunter's automatic just above him. Then he heard Larose shouting to the doctor, and recognising the detective and the donor of the ten-shilling note had thought there might be yet still more rewards to be gained and so had hurled the dog in the direction of the fugitive.

"Sool him, Joe. Sool him," he cried, and off the little terrier had darted to snap excitedly at Texworthy's legs.

Texworthy cursed in a fury at this new enemy and, aiming a vicious blow at him with his foot, slipped on the greasy surface and instantly was sprawling over the bank, with the pistol jerked from his hand, many feet away. Then the end came very quickly.

He had half struggled to his feet when Dr. Grain leapt on to him from the bank and forced him back into the mud. Then Larose appeared like a black mass falling from the sky, and finally two other men ran up and, as far as escape was concerned, all was over.

Texworthy was jerked to his feet, his hands were handcuffed behind him, and with hardly a word spoken, he was half pushed and half carried back to the tannery.

Croupin came running to meet them.

"Miss Smith is all right," he shouted. "She had seen us and was hiding in a shed because she didn't know who we were but he has killed his housekeeper with a spade, by the gate, and he has stabbed Mattin, who is dying. There is no one else in the place."

The detectives had found Mattin at once, and, although the end was obviously very near, the Syrian asked instantly for Eunice.

"She is quite safe," said Jones. "We have found her," and he added quickly: "Of course it was Texworthy who stabbed you?"

Mattin nodded. "His—finger—prints on—the—knife," he whispered, "hang—him."

"But a doctor will be here in a minute," said Jones kindly, "and we'll do everything we can for you."

A detective from Scotland Yard took out his note-book. "I'll take down what you can tell us," he said gently, but immediately Vallon thrust himself forward and knelt by the dying man.

"I will speak to you," he began quickly, "I am Vallon of the Surete of Paris——"

The Syrian opened his eyes with great weariness and gave a deep sigh. "And—I——"—he smiled faintly—"I am—Mattin—of—the—next—world."

His voice trailed away into silence and he was dead.

Larose eyed the big-game hunter sternly as the latter was lying hand-cuffed upon the couch in a small room off the hall, and, as an additional precaution, with his ankles tied tightly together with a towel. The prisoner was trying to appear unconcerned, but the rage of the world was in his white face and sullen eyes. He was muddied from head to foot.

"Is he hurt?" asked one of the detectives from Scotland Yard, bending over him.

Larose shook his head. "I don't think so," he replied. "None of us struck him. We got him when he was sprawling in the mud."

"But there's blood between his fingers," said the detective, "on both hands."

"His housekeeper's or the Frenchman's," said Larose. "They're pretty messy, the two. They lost a lot of blood before they died."

The prostrate man started as if he had received a blow and a look of amazement came into his face. "I never killed my housekeeper," he shouted fiercely, "it must have been Mattin, then, who did it. I didn't even know she was dead." He glared round at some police officers who had hastened into the room upon hearing his voice. "I killed Mattin, I admit, but I had to do it in self-defence. He attacked me and——"

An inspector held up his hand. "I have to warn you," he said, "that anything you may say may be used in evidence against you."

"I don't care," cried Texworthy, "I'm only speaking the truth. I'll——" but suddenly he composed his features to calmness and looked contemptuously round. "Gentlemen," he added sneeringly, "I reserve my defence."

Naughton Jones, who had come up behind the others, touched Larose upon the shoulder. "That's it. I had thought of that," he whispered, and he looked worried. "He may not yet hang."

The following evening just before seven, Dr. Grain was ushered into the big drawing-room of the Ephraim Smith mansion in Park lane. Eunice Smith was waiting there and immediately the door had closed behind him, he took her in his arms.

"The happy ending, darling," he whispered, and his lips came close to hers. A long silence followed but they were disturbed presently by the sound of someone moving by the door. The door was opened, then pulled to again, and finally opened a second time with much rattling of the handle. Then Ephraim Smith entered the room and, striding quickly to the doctor, shook him warmly by the hand.

"I'm very grateful to you, Dr. Grain," he said, "for I understand that, but for you, that devil Texworthy might have got away." He turned smilingly to his daughter. "We are very beholden to Dr. Grain, Eunice, and I hope you are being as nice to him as possible."

Eunice blushed and the old man went on:—"But now you must come and thank the others, too. They are all waiting in the library, and I said I'd come and fetch you." He linked his arm into that of Dr. Grain, "And you come, too, my boy, and afterwards you'll stop to dinner, of course."

In the library were Naughton Jones, Vallon, Gilbert Larose and Croupin. The last-named was in immaculate evening-dress and looked exactly as if he had come out of a band-box. He was sporting a large diamond stud in his shirt front.

With tears in her eyes, Eunice thanked them all, then her father broke in, in brusque and businesslike tones.

"And now about the small remuneration that I promised. You have all done excellently and anything you receive will be quite inadequate to the services you have rendered me."

"But it was a most interesting case, Mr. Smith," said Naughton Jones grandly, "and I would not have missed it for anything. In my memoirs, when I inscribe them, it will make one of the best chapters. It was lucky," he added, and he looked round complacently, "that from my intimate acquaintance with the criminal classes of this country I was able to pick up the heads of the gang so speedily."

"Yes, yes," supplemented Croupin with enthusiasm, "and I knew it too, at once when as the Count of Surenne at that dinner party, I heard Texworthy and McAlbane say that Mr. Larose must be thrown in the quicksands." His face was all smiles. "My bull's-eye was on the target next to that of Mr. Jones."

Naughton Jones jerked his head as if a mosquito had bitten him and Vallon smiled.

"Well," went on Ephraim Smith, "to Messrs. Jones and Croupin I am giving cheques for £20,000, and to Mr. Mariarty one for £5,000. Messrs. Vallon and Larose state that they are not in a position to receive anything, but I shall interview Madame Vallon shortly and trust I shall be able to induce her to accept a little present for the children. As for Mr. Larose, I have still to consider the difficulty in his case. I shall also deal as far as possible with the dependents of all who have unhappily met their deaths at the hands of these miscreants." He thought for a moment. "Now, I think I have mentioned everyone, and so——"

"One moment, please, Mr. Smith," interrupted Larose. "You have forgotten one who, if he did not work with us all the time, nevertheless gave most impressive service in the end. I mean, of course, Dr. Grain, for if he had not been there, Texworthy would undoubtedly have escaped last night, and possibly, with the unknown resources of the gang behind him, might have got clear away." He looked round at the others. "Yes, I have never seen anything finer than the way in which the doctor tackled that man. He knew Texworthy's reputation with firearms, and yet he risked it. Four times he was shot at, and in the end almost at point-blank range. He has not told you, I believe, but the fourth bullet actually passed through his jacket and drew blood from his arm."

Eunice gave a gasp of horror and looked apprehensively at the doctor, but the latter shook his head smilingly.

"Hardly a scratch," he laughed, "nothing at all."

"But he risked almost certain death," persisted Larose, "and it was the bravest thing I have seen." He smiled at the millionaire. "He deserves some thanks."

"Tut! tut!" exclaimed Ephraim Smith airily. "As for that, he's been rewarded already." He paused a moment. "He was kissing my daughter just now."

Eunice flushed hotly and a moment's embarrassed silence followed. Then Smith went on quietly:—"And I have no doubt more rewards of a like nature will follow, besides——" and he smiled grimly—"anything between me and the doctor will now be of a private nature. What a father chooses to give his son-in-law can only——"

"Bravo! bravo!" shouted Croupin excitedly, "but it is the one white flower in this garden of dreadful weeds." He turned reproachfully to the millionaire. "But, Meester Smith, the doctor has got the big reward of us all." He threw out his hands. "We will exchange. Meester Jones and I."

They all warmly congratulated Eunice and the doctor, and for a few minutes the utmost cheerfulness prevailed. The Ephraim Smith brought them back abruptly to business.

"But one thing more, gentlemen," he said sternly. "How does Professor Ingleby come out of this? Can we bring him to book, do you think?"

"No," replied Naughton Jones promptly, "we have not the slightest evidence against him, and unless Texworthy makes a clean breast of everything he will go scot free." He scowled angrily. "And he is the most dangerous of them all."

"But I will cut his claws," said Larose quietly. "I'll have a talk with him before long."


Chapter XX.—The Lights that Failed.

Two days later, about 5 o'clock in the evening, Professor Ingleby was writing in his study when his butler brought in a card.

"Gilbert Larose!" gasped the professor, with a sharp intake of breath, as he picked it off the salver, and then he stared at it for so long in silence that at length the butler remarked:

"Will you see him, sir?"

The professor moistened his lips with his tongue. "Is he alone, Benger?" he asked, and when the butler had replied in the affirmative he went on, "Has he been here before?"

The butler hesitated. "I seem to think so, sir," he replied. "There's something familiar to me about his face."

Professor Ingleby swallowed hard.

"Oh! there is, is there?" he said, and then lapsed again into silence, with his eyes intent upon the card.

"Will you see him, sir?" repeated the butler gently.

"See him?" exclaimed the professor, and, as if waking from a dream, "yes yes, of course." He looked quickly round the room. "Oh! bring that table in front of my desk first, please, and put a chair over on the other side. Yes, like that—and when he comes in don't leave the room until he has sat down. Understand? Oh! and just wait a moment," and, selecting a key from off a large bunch in his pocket, he unlocked a drawer and took out something which he carefully kept out of sight.

"Now, I'm ready," he said, and with a calm, smiling face he stood behind his desk, with the table also between him and the chair.

A few moments later and Larose entered the room. His face was equally as calm as that of the professor, but there was no smile there.

Professor Ingleby was very quiet. "Take a seat, if you will, Mr. Larose," he said, and he stood pointing rigidly so that there could be no mistake as to where he intended the detective to sit.

Larose noted the altered position of the table before the desk and the butler standing to attention, and, suppressing a smile, with no ado he at once sat down.

"You needn't wait, Benger," went on the professor. "I'll ring for you if I want you," and he continued standing with his finger significantly resting near the bell upon his desk.

The butler left the room, and the professor sank back softly into his chair.

"Now, Mr. Larose," he asked, with the greatest politeness, "what can I do for you?" His voice hardened ever so little. "But I warn you, I have an automatic in my hand, the safety catch is released, and upon the slightest movement on your part I shall fire instantly." He lifted his eyebrows to an amused smile. "You understand?"

"Guilty then," remarked Larose coldly, "that's your plea?"

"I make no plea at all," returned the professor quickly, "only I know you and am prepared."

"Professor Ingleby," said the detective sternly. "I come to warn you that although your arrest has not yet been determined upon—every movement of yours is being watched, every letter you may send will be scrutinised, every telephone message listened in to, and every caller here followed." His eyes were hard as steel. "So that any further conspiring against Mr. Ephraim Smith or any member of his family will be followed by instant action. We know all about you—everything."

The professor shook his head impatiently. "No, no, Mr. Larose," he said. "You know nothing about me—nothing at all." He smiled in a most friendly manner. "Come now, be honest and straightforward and don't put up any bluff. You have nothing whatever against me or——" he shrugged his shoulders—"you would not come to have such a conversation as this." He leant forward and tapped upon the desk. "It would be handcuffs and 'No nonsense, sir'—and I should sleep in Norwich to-night."

"In six weeks," said the detective calmly, "Arnold Texworthy will be under sentence of death——" he paused a moment—"and the experience of my life is that people in that position weaken in many resolutions they may have previously made."

"But not Arnold Texworthy," replied the professor firmly. "He is not of that breed. He comes of a long line of English gentlemen who with all their breakings of the so-called moral code would regard with abhorrence any legal treachery towards a comrade. Fight and kill their own friends they may, but—hand them over to the law to destroy—no, never!" He chuckled again. "You'll get nothing out of Arnold, certainly. He'll die game—as a gentleman should."

"You're candid," said the detective, frowning.

"And why shouldn't I be?" laughed the professor. "We are quite alone and there are no witnesses to bear testimony to anything I may say. Listen, sir," he went on, and he suddenly became serious. "I give you great credit for the discoveries you have made and I do not pretend to know how you have made them all, but—I tell you, you will never bring home anything to me. We have been far too careful for that and each footprint has been obliterated directly after being made." He laughed slyly. "And I understand now exactly why you have come to see me."

"Oh! you do, do you," nodded the detective grimly. "Then why?"

"You can sustain no charge against me," smiled the professor, "but because of my association with the others you suspect a good deal. You think, too, I am mad and you imagine that as long as I am free more trouble will be engineered against Ephraim Smith. So you come now to frighten me and hold over me impossible threats." He chuckled for the third time. "Now is not that exactly the position, Mr. Larose?"

The face of the detective was as inscrutable as that of the sphinx.

"You live in a fool's paradise, Professor Ingleby," he said coldly, "and we have much more evidence against you than you suspect." His eyes glinted. "You rather gave yourself away to Ravahol, now didn't you?"

The face of the professor was almost pathetic in its dismay, and for the moment he looked like a child caught out in an untruth. His skin assumed a sickly colour, his jaw dropped, and he shrank back in his chair.

"Ravahol!" he gasped, and then his voice steadied and his colour began to come back. He shook his head. "I know nothing of him."

"No, of course not," replied Larose sarcastically, "and you didn't write to him about Ephraim Smith and the mutual interests you both had in that gentleman?"

He drove home the blow relentlessly. "And you didn't make the offer of a glass of Barsac either?"

The professor made no more attempts at denial. "Bah!" he exclaimed sneeringly, and he sat up, erect once more, in his chair, "and what of that? A type-script letter——" he grinned—"and the typewriter disposed of for ever." He lifted one hand mockingly. "Hark, how the sea moans and remember how depthless those quicksands are!"

Then a sudden thought seemed to strike him and he frowned.

"But Ravahol is dead. I have made inquiries. I have agents in France. He disappeared suddenly weeks and weeks ago, and his mistress in Passy is still weeping out her eyes for him. Ah!" and he half rose from his chair, his face became distorted in his anger and his arm shot out: "I see it. I see it. You killed him, Gilbert Larose." His voice rose in fury. "I understand it all now. You were his murderer that night after he had been to the castle and you rifled his body to get that letter."

He was almost frenzied in his excitement. "Yes, yes, I am no longer puzzled and everything is quite clear. He aroused your suspicions because he would not unmask and you struck him down probably in the very grounds of the castle. You buried him, too, perhaps under the rhododendrons in front of the very room where you had all just been drinking champagne."

He laughed scoffingly. "That would be just like you—Gilbert Larose, the wild man from the Antipodes." He rose suddenly to his feet again and flourished a small automatic pistol. "Really, really," he exclaimed, "I should be more than justified in shooting you——" he hesitated and glanced down at some manuscript upon his desk, "and I would do it, too, if my life's work happened to be finished and I had not so much more to accomplish." He glared menacingly at the detective. "And so you killed Fenton and Texworthy's housekeeper, too. Mind you," and he stuttered in his rage, "I've read all about their deaths in the newspapers."

Larose recoiled in horror. "You are an evil man, Ingleby," he exclaimed, "and a muddy thinker, too, besides being a danger to mankind. You are mad and the asylum is where you should be now."

Professor Ingleby calmed down at once and regarded the detective thoughtfully.

"Yes, perhaps, you are right," he said, nodding his head slowly, "and after all it would only be natural if I were." He sighed. "Such mental gifts as I possess must of necessity invite contempt for the ordinary conventionalities of life, and among the world visions that I see, I am blind to the gesticulations of the law-abiding pigmies about me." He glanced down again upon the papers on his desk and scowled. "But leave me now if you will, please. Your presence distracts me, and I desire to resume my work."

Larose rose slowly from his chair. "And remember, Professor," he said sternly, "the slightest move on your part in the direction I have indicated and you will be arrested at once."

"I shall do exactly as I please," snapped the professor, "and I certainly make no promise to leave Smith alone. On the contrary, I tell you frankly, I have by no means finished with him. A great principle is involved and I am not going to let a little setback like this deter me from my obvious duty to my fellowmen. Smith must be made to disgorge his ill-gotten wealth——"—he smiled tauntingly—"and he will be the more easily brought to heel now, because there are two establishments to be protected. The bride—Mrs. Ronald Grain——"

"You brute!" interrupted the detective furiously, "you devil."

"Not at all, Mr. Larose," reproved the professor warmly, "my motives are quite honourable, for I am only endeavouring to carry to a practical conclusion the doctrines in which I believe. I am one of those who at all costs am prepared to bear the light of progress into the darkness of life." He beamed at the detective. "And really, I am over courteous in giving you warning of my intentions. I am thereby taking risks."

He ran his fingers down a calendar upon his desk. "Now let me see. September—October—November; well, in——"—he pulled himself up—"no, I will not give you the exact date, but in a few weeks from now a certain gentleman will be leaving one of His Majesty's prisons and I have great hopes that he will prove a most useful collaborator with me in the future. He will have served quite a smart sentence, he is very embittered in consequence, and I am sure that at my instigation and with my assistance, he will be a worthy successor to the late Monsieur Mattin and the late-to-be Arnold Texworthy. At any rate, it is my intention to try him out."

He rose abruptly to his feet. "But I must beg you to excuse me now. I can spare no more time." He held open the door for the detective to pass out and then suddenly he lifted up his hand. "Oh! but one thing more, Mr. Larose," he said frowningly. "Under the circumstances, I see no objection to your retaining Mr. Texworthy's diamond stud—he has no near relations that I know of—but I think——"—and he eyed the detective very coldly—"it would be an act of grace on your part to return my book of foreign stamps." He inclined his head gravely. "Kindly consider it. I shall probably be seeing you again at the trial!"

But Larose did not understand what he meant.


Six weeks later the trial of Arnold Texworthy, gentleman, of Sands Hall, Moreton, in the county of Norfolk, for the murders of Isabel Stein and Henri Mattin, commenced at the Old Bailey.

The case had occasioned tremendous interest in all English-speaking countries, not only because of the world-wide reputation of the accused as an explorer and hunter of big game, but also because of the sinister light into which—guilty or not guilty on the murder counts—other actions of his had thrown him. Weeks before the day of the trial it was common knowledge everywhere that the big-game hunter was one—if not the chief one—of a gang of criminals who for many months had been obtaining large sums of money by violence and threats from Ephraim Smith, the millionaire owner of Bodham Castle, and, added to that, he had, along with certain other criminals, been actually detaining the extremely pretty daughter of Mr. Smith in a mysterious, lonely house at the very time of the alleged murders.

Excitement had been further heightened by the premature disclosure in a Sunday newspaper that so many star detectives of international reputation had been working on the case.

Bampton Byles, perhaps the most eminent King's Counsel practising in the criminal courts, was appearing for the defence, and it was freely rumoured that the enormous sum demanded for the retaining of his services had been obtained from an unknown source.

The big-game hunter was pleading not guilty to both charges.

Every inch of space in the court was occupied the morning when the trial commenced, and the faces of many persons prominent in public life were recognised among the privileged spectators. The celebrated sociologist, Professor Ingleby, as usual, was occupying a front seat, and it was noted he looked very grave and solemn. A fact that was not to be wondered at, as it was well known that in days gone by he and the accused had been firm friends.

The preliminaries of the trial over, Peter Shearer, also a K.C., who was prosecuting for the Crown, rose briskly to his feet, and in his first sentences, even, proceeded to put forward a strong case.

In quiet and even tones he told how Miss Eunice Smith, the millionaire's daughter, in a drugged and unconscious state, had been abducted from her parents' home and held in custody for many days in a lonely house upon the Rainham marshes by a number of persons of whom the prisoner at the bar and the murdered man and woman were undoubtedly three.

He described the privations the girl had suffered, the terrors she had been through, and how then, in the course of days, the murdered man had come to befriend her, and how at last he had set her free.

Then the great counsel dropped his voice dramatically to a low solemn tone.

"And after that, my Lord and gentlemen of the jury," he said, "all that happened in that lonely tannery upon the riverside only the eye of God—and the prisoner—saw, for within the space of a few minutes following upon the departure of Miss Smith, the prisoner was the only one of the three alive, and he, my lord and gentlemen of the jury"—he spoke almost in a whisper now—"had blood under the nails and between the fingers of both hands."

A shiver ran through the court, and then, after a few moments of appropriate silence, he went on to relate how, unbeknown to the gang of criminals, they had been tracked down, and how, at the very moment when the girl was set free, the house was being surrounded.

Then he described how voices, coming from one of the front rooms of the house, had been heard by the police officers and detectives crawling through the marshes; how, suddenly, silence had supervened; and then how the prisoner had come rushing out; how he had been turned back; how he had been pursued, and, finally, how he had been captured after firing no less than four times from an automatic at his pursuers and the officers of the law.

He then went on to tell of the discoveries that had been made immediately upon entry into the house—the dying Syrian, who with his last breath had named the prisoner as his murderer; and the prisoner's knife, still bloody, upon the floor, with the prisoner's fingerprints upon the hilt.

He paused here to take a drink of water, and of all there in the court only the reporters, who were busy with their pencils, had not got their eyes intently fixed upon his face.

Then he went on.

"But the murder of the Syrian was not the only charge against the prisoner, for when he was driving his knife deep into Mattin's side, his hands were already bloody with the slaying of the woman Isabel Stein. Her body was discovered at the foot of a low wall, circling the yard at the back of the house, and her form of death had indeed been a dreadful one.

"She had been first struck a terrific blow upon the head with a spade and then the life had been choked out of her by a fearful grip upon the throat. The postmortem had revealed that, although unconscious, she had been still alive when the cartilages of her throat had been broken and—she had been choked to death."

A deep sigh came upon up from the spectators, but Peter Shearer gave them no respite from horrors this time.

"And who her murderer was there could be no doubt, for not only did the marks upon her throat correspond most exactly to the width of the thumbs and fingers of the prisoner's hands, but, by an act of God, his bloody finger prints had been left upon one of the old-fashioned linen cuffs which the poor woman wore."

Peter Shearer had marshalled all his facts most carefully and at the luncheon adjournment it was considered by the habitual frequenters of trials that counsel for the defence had little short of a hopeless task before him.

Then, in the afternoon and during the following day a stream of witnesses trouped into the witness box and, apart from the subdued and delicate beauty of Eunice Smith, the spectators were thrilled with the close-up scrutinies of several whose names had become as household words in criminal story.

Naughton Jones and Vallon were at once acknowledged as possessing most interesting personalities, and Gilbert Larose, if a little disappointing, because he looked so innocent and harmless, was voted as not at all bad, but it was for Raphael Croupin that the admiration was open and unabashed. The genial malefactor of France looked so aristocratic, his bearing was altogether so superior, and he bowed with such grave diffidence towards the Court that everyone was charmed, and a great sigh of regret went up—so deep that it could almost have been heard—when he had not any more questions to answer and, with evident reluctance upon his part, left the witness box.

Bampton Byles opened the defence upon the third day, and, fixing the jury with calm, hypnotic eyes, he struck a strong note at once.

This was a charge of murder, he said bluntly, and they were not trying the prisoner for anything else. No matter what other things he had done, no matter how heinous his offences in other ways, these were of no concern to anyone there that day, and as men of honour and loyal to the traditions of their race, he was sure that in their considering of the verdict they would have to give, they would remember that.

If weak-minded, it would be easy for them to be led away by their sympathies, and he admitted frankly that they could have no sympathy for the prisoner.

On the other hand there was a charming girl who had been vilely treated, a father and mother who had had days and weeks of torture in not knowing what had befallen their child, and some wonderfully astute and resourceful detectives whose search after the missing girl would remain for ever as an epic in the annals of black crime.

The prisoner was charged with two killings, and he admitted one. He had killed Henri Mattin in pure self-defence after the Syrian had drawn his own knife and attacked him. That, at the worst, was manslaughter and if, as he should ask the jury to believe, the prisoner had done it to safeguard his own life—then it was justifiable homicide.

As to the other death, the death of the woman, Isabel Stein, the prisoner had had nothing to do with it, and indeed did not know it had happened until he heard the detectives talking about it. In this medley of unlawful deeds it was undoubtedly the Syrian who had killed her for, unlike the prisoner, he was not on friendly terms with her, and there was bad feeling between them.

It was stark tragedy that no finger prints upon the spade could be produced in evidence for the defence, but the spade had been discarded hastily in a muddy spot, and, in consequence, its handle could tell no tale. As for the marks upon the woman's throat, they could equally as easily have been made by the fingers of Henri Mattin, for the two men were of strikingly similar physique and their hands, from the prints that had been taken, were much the same.

Well, he was going to put the prisoner into the box at once and the plain, unvarnished story that he would tell would speedily bring home to everyone the weakness of the case for the Crown.

Arnold Texworthy stepped into the witness box, and straight away, and indeed, all through his examination, his demeanor towards the Court was an ideal one. He was undoubtedly a shamed man, but he did not whine, and he faced with courage the dreadful admissions he was obliged to make.

For twelve days up to the day of his arrest, he told the court, he had been living in the tannery buildings upon the Rainham marshes, and along with the two deceased had been holding Eunice Smith captive in an upper room for the purpose of ransom. Her father's butler had been a party to the abduction, but, except for him and they three, no one else was involved in anything that had happened. The deceased Mattin had arranged and carried out all details of the abduction, and he, Texworthy, had supplied the money.

He had known the Syrian some years ago in Marseilles as an active worker in anarchist circles, and had come upon him by chance again a few months back, in Norfolk, where, as he had learnt afterwards, Mattin had domiciled himself for the obtaining of money by threats from Ephraim Smith.

Previous to the abduction of Miss Smith he, the prisoner, had had nothing to do with the harassing of her father, and from conversation with Mattin he had learnt that everything in that connection had been carried out by anarchist sympathisers.

Coming to events of the day of his arrest, he stated that, because of suspicious characters having been seen in the vicinity of the tannery, it had been arranged secretly to transfer Eunice Smith upon the morrow into Norfolk to his own house upon the coast, and they had arranged with his housekeeper, the deceased woman, that she should travel down there that night and get the place ready.

He had actually seen her leave the tannery with her luggage by the back door about 10 minutes to seven. Then he had returned to the living room, and a few minutes later had been joined there by the deceased Mattin.

He saw at once that the man had been drinking because he immediately started to pick a quarrel and became abusive and demanded money. Then suddenly, without a moment's waring, he sprang up and made a fierce attack with a large knife that he had been hiding unsheathed inside his sleeve. He, Texworthy, however, had got his own knife handy, and in the struggle that then ensued he had been obliged to strike fatally in order to save his own life.

Then—as to what happened afterwards he was not quite clear. A sudden brainstorm must have unhinged him, for his sole obsession seemed to have been to get away from the house. He distinctly remembered, however, running along by the wall and falling over someone lying there and, from what he had learnt afterwards, that must account for his finger prints having been found upon the cuff of the dead woman's sleeve.

Then, when he found that he was being followed, he was sure that his pursuers were some of Mattin's anarchist friends, and he naturally tried to defend himself.

That was all, and every word that he had spoken was the truth.

The Crown Prosecutor at once opened his cross-examination with sledge-hammer blows.

So he, Arnold Texworthy, had worked under the Syrian, had he? He the great and virile hunter of big game had been content to play second fiddle to a man whose occupation was the breaking of stones? Oh! that wasn't his real occupation, wasn't it? Still—was the prisoner seriously expecting an intelligent and alert jury to believe that a man of his undoubted capacity and strength of character had been led astray into crime by an individual much younger, and who must have been in every way his inferior in class, education, and knowledge of life? It was unnatural, wasn't it?

Well, to come to the night of the murder—so Mattin had attacked him first? But wasn't it strange, if the Syrian had sprung up as the prisoner had just told the Court—without a moment's warning—that he, the prisoner, should have happened to be so ready with his own weapon? Now, didn't it seem strange, too, that, with all the advantage of a surprise attack, and with an unsheathed dagger up his sleeve, a lithe and active man like Mattin was known to be, should not have succeeded in inflicting some injury, however slight? Oh! the man was in liquor, was he? Yes, and he was actually seen helping himself to fully a third of a tumbler of brandy when he came into the room? Well that would explain something certainly, but—if the Syrian had been so drunk, why—why had not the prisoner knocked him down instead of having resource to the knife? Oh, he had followed his first impulse, had he, but surely a dagger had not been called for?

And then another thing: how was it there was so much blood upon the prisoner by the stabbing only of this drunkard? Was the prisoner aware that the officers of the law had found no blood anywhere in the room except the pool under the side of the dying man? Did he know that there was no blood anywhere on the table or chairs, and none upon the handle or panels of the door? Then how was it that the prisoner himself was showing so much blood upon his person when the detectives arrested him? He had not bled himself, and yet there was blood all down the front of his clothes, blood between the fingers of both his hands, and blood underneath the mud that was filling up his finger nails. It was strange, wasn't it—and he still swore he didn't kill the woman?

And it was strange, too, that a man of the type of the prisoner should have been so overcome by fear? Oh! it wasn't strange, wasn't it, and his only thought had been to get away from the house? Well, how did it come about that when the prisoner was first seen by the police he was running round to the front of the house and not—away from it?

So he hadn't found out that Eunice Smith had been set free, and, after killing Mattin for doing it, he was seeking her in the only direction she was likely to have gone—namely, in the direction of the lights of other houses, and not by the dark and lonely path upon the riverside?

And so the cross-examination went on, lasting three hours, and leaving the prisoner with an ashen face and looking almost on the point of collapse.

The defence called no other witnesses, and the addresses of counsel were concluded by the luncheon adjournment next day. The judge's summing up was very brief, but it was conceded by both sides that he was most impartial, and then, in the waning light of the afternoon, the jury were marched out to pronounce upon the innocence or guilt of the prisoner.

It was expected that their deliberations would be long and protracted, but, to everyone's surprise, they were back in the court before 6 o'clock.

"Justifiable homicide in the killing of Henri Mattin," was their verdict, "but guilty of the murder of Isabel Stein."

And the judge put on the black cap and pronounced sentence of death.

Two months later, after an unsuccessful plea to the Court of Criminal Appeal, Arnold Texworthy, gentleman, of Moreton, in the County of Norfolk, was hanged by the neck until he was dead.

And he met his death silently, unrepentant and unconcerned.

During the afternoon of the cold and dreary day in mid-December upon which he died, the great Professor Ingleby played two rubbers of bridge at his club, leaving, as was his wont, at 6 o'clock, to return home by the short cut across the marshes.

Rain had begun to fall heavily, and he was seen to pass on to the fairway, picking his steps as usual with a wary eye upon the two directing lights.

Presently, however, when as it was presumed afterwards upon the matter being considered, he would have been about halfway across—the beacon light above the clubhouse suddenly went out.

It was found later that a wire had become unaccountably frayed away, but the failure of the light was not noticed for some minutes by those in the building. Then, in view of the darkness and the rain, it was not held to be of sufficient importance to attempt any repairs until the morning.

At half-past 7, however, Professor Ingleby's butler rang up stating that his master had not arrived home, and asking if he were still at the club.

Immediately then it was realised that some accident might have happened, and a search party was at once organised and, with lanterns, made an attempt to follow across the marshes.

But by this time the rain had assumed torrential proportions and, with the fairway itself now under water, the search was speedily abandoned.

Professor Ingleby was never heard of again.

The day after the news of the tragic happening had been broadcast in the newspapers, the Chief Commissioner of Police of Scotland Yard, inquiring for Gilbert Larose, was informed that the Australian was off duty and in bed with a bad cold.

It appeared that the detective had been out somewhere in the Country and had got very wet.


THE END

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