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Title: The Hangman's Knot
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202981.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2012
Date most recently updated: August 2012

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

Title: The Hangman's Knot
Author: Arthur Gask

*

Published in The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Qld. in serial format
commencing Saturday 16 November, 1935.

Also published in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. commencing 11 December,
1935, and in book form in 1936.

*



CHAPTER I.--"SOWING THE WIND."


Man is always an animal, and civilisation, culture, and the conventions
of society are but the mask that covers over the face of the beast.
Sometimes the mask is lifted and then we gaze upon expressions more
terrible than those of any creature of the wild, because of the
resentment of the beast at the restraints that have been imposed upon
him.

* * *

Ah Chung was a marine store dealer on Limehouse Causeway, and from the
outward appearance of his shop it was no different from any others of
its kind by the river side. In the big shed, however, at the far end of
the backyard, happenings occurred that were unknown except to a very
few, and which would have been of great interest to the police, if by
any chance they had come to their knowledge.

The shed was roomy and most substantially built. It had double doors,
double windows, and was completely sound-proof.

The marine store, notwithstanding its rather small size, did a good
trade, and there were always customers passing in and out. Ah Chung had,
however, several other sources of income, and indeed was quite
well-to-do. Although people were not aware of the fact, he owned the
houses on either side of the one he lived in, and also the barber's shop
that abutted on to his yard at the back, and opened into Rent Street.
There were hidden means of communication between all the four houses.

The houses adjoining Ah Chung's shop were managed by relations of Ah
Chung. One was a lodging-house, and the other a bird and live-stock
shop. In this latter, in addition to parrots, canaries, ducks, and even
the humble fowl, you could purchase animals drawn from all parts of the
world. Monkeys were always obtainable and sometimes wallabies, and
occasionally, even a mongoose. There were cats of all varieties in
cages, and a number of dogs, the latter, however, were usually of large
size, and evidently intended for watch-dogs, rather than for pets.

The tenant of the barber's shop was a Swiss, named Voisin, and like the
majority of his country-men he was taciturn and short of speech. He said
little as he cut hair and shaved, but nevertheless took good stock of
all his customers as they came in, as if instead of being a barber, he
were a medical man and studying all their cases. He had served a term of
imprisonment in his own country and in this, the country of his
adoption, he had also reason for fearing the police. Occasionally he
used to visit Ah Chung late at night, and in the intervals of discussing
business, endeavour to make himself agreeable to the latter's two young
and pretty wives. The girls, however, spoke no French or German and
little English, being both recent importations, and they only giggled at
his clumsy advances.

In a friendly way, Ah Chung was well-known to the police, and, indeed,
was held by them in some esteem. He was marked as straight at
headquarters, for he had many times been of service to the authorities
in putting them upon the tracks of dealers in illicit drugs. He was
never, however, seen to approach any police station, but from time to
time a neatly typed letter would arrive at the station in Limehouse,
with a dot and two dashes instead of a signature, and it would be known
from whom it came. It would give certain information, and that
information would invariably prove to be correct. Ah Chung was paid for
these services, and he expected to be, too, for it was at all times, he
averred, a risk to be having dealings with the police. He was most
businesslike in all his transactions, and quick in his decisions always
knew his own mind.

One day an enterprising and energetic plain-clothes man, McCarthy by
name, came into the shop, and with the pretence of inspecting a coil of
rope, put some questions to Ah Chung about the barber, Voisin.

"I'm getting suspicious," he whispered, "for I've noticed that some
nights he gets a lot of callers after his place is shut. Do you know
anything about him?"

Ah Chung's face was as expressionless as that of the Sphinx. "I have
never seen him," he lied softly. He spoke perfect English. "I know
nothing."

The plain-clothes man laughed. "Well, you be careful," he said, "and
don't start sticking a knife into me, if you catch me one night in your
back-yard. I may climb up on to his roof that way and take a peep
through the sky-light."

Two nights later McCarthy did not return home, and later it was believed
he had fallen into the river and got drowned, although his body was
never recovered. Ah Chung heard of his disappearance, but made no
comment. He had just been examining a police whistle under a powerful
magnifying-glass to see if there were any distinguishing marks upon it,
and finding there were none, had polished it up and put it into stock.
He never believed in wasting anything.

Upon certain nights gatherings were held in the big shed and then for an
unknown person to enter, it was many times more difficult than to obtain
an invitation for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. The visitors arrived
through any of the four houses, and they nearly always came alone, as
single units. Their hats, too, were generally pressed low down upon
their foreheads and the collars of their coats turned up. They seldom
spoke to one another, and when they left they were escorted out, one by
one.

Ah Chung catered for one of the by products of civilisation that can be
found in any of the big cities of the world, the educated and cultured
depraved, who with all outward appearance of refinement, yet so gloat
upon the infliction of suffering that no forms of cruelty fail to be
appreciated, or are too strong for their palates.

* * *

Ah Chung was not aware that there was a scientific name for this cult,
and that it was one, well recognised, among the classes of degenerates.
All he knew was that he supplied a want and was well paid for doing so.
It had taken him many years to build up the connection, and he had made
the circle most exclusive, a guinea being the invariable charge for
admission.

The interior of the shed was arranged in the form of a miniature
theatre, the stage, however, being in the middle. Well-cushioned seats,
in three tiers, surrounded a large rat pit at the bottom. The pit was
12ft. square, and either inside, or upon a platform that could be
speedily placed in position upon it, were staged the dramas that were so
gratifying to Ah Chung's patrons. Save for the faint and diffused rays
that escaped from a closely hooded arc-light that was swung directly
over the pit, the whole place was always in darkness.

The events of the evening generally commenced with a score or so of
large rats being introduced into the pit, to be followed by one or more
excited and yelping fox-terriers, but in order that the enjoyment of the
audience might be prolonged and the full flavour of everything obtained,
the dogs were always muzzled. The muzzles, however, were provided at
their ends with a short spike of a needle-like sharpness.

Then would follow an interesting ten minutes or quarter of an hour,
until finally the unhappy rodents had been either bruised or spiked to
death, not however, without having inflicted visible injuries upon the
victorious terriers. Red shows up well upon a background of white.

Sometimes, instead of terriers, a cat would be introduced to deal with
three or four rats, and then great enjoyment would be experienced by the
playfulness with which she would pass from one rat to another, before
giving them the final despatch.

Again, a muzzled cat, with her claws closely trimmed, would be put into
the pit and two or three monkeys would provide entertainment by jumping
upon her and plucking out handfuls of her fur.

Later, a platform would be thrown over the pit, and a huge cage placed
in position, a fight between two large and savage dogs would be shown,
or a series of cock-fights, or upon rare occasions an encounter between
an ape and a dog.

Then the seats upon one side of the shed would be vacated and with Ah
Chung's cinematograph coming into play, pictures smuggled into the
country from all parts of the world would be thrown upon the screen. It
but faintly suggests their nature to state that no censor upon earth
would have passed them, either for public or private view, for apart
from those of a wholly unmentionable kind, they always depicted
incidents of horror or brutality.

And when everything was all over, Ah Chung, placid and respectful as a
well-trained gentleman's servant, would stand by the door, and as he
collected payment, whisper the date of the next meeting, and often add
that he was expecting then to have something yet more interesting to
show.

* * *

One night after one of these gatherings, when the chimes of midnight
were just sounding, a well-dressed man alighted from a taxi-cab in
Cavendish Square, and proceeded to walk briskly along until he came to a
house at the junction of Wimpole and Queen Anne Streets. Taking a
latch-key from his pocket, he was about to insert it in the door when he
was accosted by another man, who came gliding up like a shadow from the
area railings, where he had evidently been waiting, of set purpose.

"Professor Batcher, I believe," said this second man, and receiving a
cold nod in answer, he asked. "Can I speak to you for a few minutes?"

"Speak," was the curt rejoinder, and the professor immediately slipped
the hand that had been holding the latch-key into one of the side
pockets of his overcoat.

"But I should like to have the few words with you inside your house,"
said the other. He lowered his voice, and added, "I, too, was at Ah
Chung's to-night."

The professor gave an almost imperceptible start, but he replied quite
steadily, "I don't understand. I don't know what you mean."

"Oh, yes you do," came the quick response, "and although I always wear
dark glasses at Ah Chung's, you will recognise me at once. See," the
speaker snapped a little electric torch full on to his own face for a
few seconds. "It was I," he went on, "who asked you for a match
to-night, just when that bulldog had got the Alsatian by the throat."

A moment's silence followed upon the torch being extinguished, and then
the professor asked sharply, "Well, what do you want?"

"I have a proposition to put before you," replied the man with the
torch. He shook his head quickly. "No, you needn't be afraid. It's not
money I'm after, for I've plenty of that, and I'm not connected with the
police. It's a comrade I am looking for, and I should never have dared
to approach you, if I had not been certain that you were a suitable
one."

"How did you learn my name?" asked the professor, and there was nothing
in the sternness of his tone to suggest that the explanation had in any
way tended to inspire confidence in him.

"In the same way that I have learned everything else about you," laughed
the man softly, "by extended and patient inquiries." He spoke quickly.
"I have been interested in you for many months. Your name is not
Batcher. It is Libbeus, Joseph Libbeus, and you are a doctor of
medicine, a graduate of London University. You are----"

"No, no," broke in the professor angrily, "you are quite mistaken. You
have been wrongly informed."

"You are 39 years of age," went on the stranger, as if he had not heard
the interruption, "and ten years ago came under the notice of the
police, when a woman patient of yours died. You were sentenced to five
years' penal servitude, and your name was removed from the Medical
Register. Upon your release from prison you went to Shanghai, but three
years ago you returned to this country, and set up here as an expert
upon diet and slimming. Nearly all of your patients are women, and you
are doing well, but without being aware of your real identity, the
police have recently become suspicious that you are engaged upon the
same work that got you into trouble before. They have set two traps for
you within the past five weeks, but you escaped them both and----"

The professor made a gesture of impatience. "That'll do," he exclaimed
sharply. He took out his latch-key again and thrust it in the door.
"Come in and we'll have that talk you want." He paused a moment and then
added menacingly. "But you be careful to play no tricks, for I warn you
I am armed."

"Yes," remarked the stranger quietly, "you have a knuckle-duster in your
pocket. I felt it when I was sitting next to you at Ah Chung's."

* * *

The father of Miss Cynthia Cramm kept the Gibbet Inn, situated midway
between the pretty little Sussex villages of Hartfield and Maresfield,
upon the beautiful stretch of road running on the uplands through
Ashdown Forest.

Miss Cramm had turned sixteen years of age, but she did not look
fourteen. She was small and skinny, with an alert, quick, little face,
and eyes as bright as a bird's, and what she did not know of life was of
no interest or she would have learnt it.

Essentially a product of these modern times, she knew more than her
grandmother did, and could have told that old lady things that would
have caused her to uplift her hands in horror, and dim her horn-rimmed
spectacles with tears.

She read every line of the two daily newspapers that were taken at the
inn, including the advertisements, and was particularly interested in
the divorce news. She held strong views upon certain burning social
questions, and did not hesitate to express her disapproval that she had
been followed into the world by five more little Cramms.

"We could not afford it," she snapped decisively, "and in consequence
father is not now able to give us the education that he should."

She smoked when she could do so without her father seeing her, used
powder and a lip-stick when she went out with her boy friends, and also
she already boasted of preferences in the matter of cocktails. Her great
ambition was to go on the films.

Romantically situated with beautiful views on all sides, the Gibbet Inn
did a good trade, and Mrs. Cramm's Sunday luncheons were known far and
wide. The house had become a favourite place of call for the motoring
world, and quite apart from the food being always well-cooked and
daintily served, the nomenclature itself of the inn was attractive, for
people liked to tell their friends that they had 'lunched at the
Gibbet.' The inn had prospered, and a commodious dining room had been
built on. This room contained a long table running down the centre of
the room and a much smaller one, placed just under the widow at the far
end. On Sundays three smartly-attired maids attended to the wants of the
visitors.

* * *

One certain Sunday morning then, in the last week of June, towards
half-past twelve, when all was bustle and preparation for the midday
meal, and Thomas Cramm was busy in the bar, Miss Cramm was ordered by
her mother to iron the aprons for two of her little sisters, and she
flatly refused to do anything of the kind. Not that the young lady had
any objection to the ironing on Sabbatarian grounds. She had no scruples
there, but she had been up late the night before at a party, and was
feeling tired, and it happened, too, that at that moment when her
services were required by her mother, she was busy watching from an
upper window a handsome young couple who had just driven a very smart
little two-seater into the yard and were now going lovingly over the
bodywork with a duster. From the luggage strapped on the back Miss Cramm
was of opinion that they were a honeymoon couple, and always
romantically inclined, she was considering as to whether they had been
married the previous day, and did not want to be disturbed in attempting
to deduce from the glances they kept on giving to one another, whether
she were right or not, in her conjecture.

So, when the order from her mother arrived by one of the maids she sent
back a curt message that she should not comply with the request. Her
mother was furious, for already twice that morning Cynthia had been
impertinent, or in the vernacular, had given her parent 'lip,' so now
the latter, very red in the face, left the pressing duties in the
kitchen and came running upstairs to administer suitable chastisement.

But Cynthia heard her coming, and reluctantly tearing herself away from
the window, escaped through another door, banging it to behind her in
her mother's face.

"All right, you dreadful child," shouted Mrs. Cramm stertorously. "I'll
fetch your father at once."

Now her father was the only person whom Cynthia really feared, for he
was of quick temper and had a heavy hand. It was fresh in her memory,
too, that not a week before, when following upon a very one-sided
encounter with him, she had later sat down at the piano to play her
favourite piece, 'The Lost Chord,' she had had to put an extra cushion
upon the piano-stool to escape actual physical discomfort.

So when a couple of minutes or so later, Mr. Cramm came tearing upstairs
to 'have a few words,' it is not surprising that Miss Cramm was nowhere
to be found. Not only was she not visible in any of the upper rooms, but
a hasty search of the ground floor revealed no sign of her presence
there either, and so the landlord of the Gibbet Inn, with an ugly look
upon his face, that undoubtedly presaged more physical discomfort for
his daughter when he could lay hands upon her, returned fuming, into the
bar.

There were twenty-seven luncheons served that day--the police were
afterwards able to verify that. One party of six, two of four, five of
two, and three parties who came alone. At least that was how the bills
were paid, according to the very accurate bookkeeping of Mrs. Cramm, but
the head-waitress who collected the money at the tables, later told a
rather peculiar tale. She said that where one bill was seemingly paid
for a party of four people lunching there together, it was actually
discharged for the meals of four separate individuals, who came in
singly, sat apart from one another at the long table, and had no
conversation together until all the other lunchers had left the room.
Then suddenly, in her momentary absence, they had all moved to the small
table under the window, and a call being made for liqueurs and a bottle
of the best port, they had at once started to talk amiably together, as
if they were old friends.

She remembered the incident distinctly, because the one who had ordered
the port asked that they should be left undisturbed for a little while,
and the time extending for longer than an hour, it had hindered the
clearing away and the setting of the table for the expected afternoon
teas. It had been most inconvenient.

And the story of the waitress was quite correct, except in one
particular, for after the four lunchers had moved over to the small
table they had not started at once to talk amiably together as old
friends. On the contrary, three of them had appeared to be very
distrustful of one another, and if the waitress had been of a more
observant nature she would have noted that it was only the fourth man
who was smiling, and that the others looked very angry.

What really happened was this. The four men partook of their meal,
quietly and unobtrusively and as if they had no interest except in the
fare provided. The meal consisted of boiled cod and oyster sauce, roast
chicken and roast duck, cherry tart, and a beautiful ripe Stilton
cheese.

They had kept pace with the other lunchers until the sweet had been
served, and then, all at once, they had begun to dawdle and eat very
slowly, at the same time assuming thoughtful and lethargic airs. It
seemed as if none of them were in any hurry and almost, as if of set
purpose, they each one wanted to outstay everybody else.

But a stout couple were most unduly interested in the Stilton cheese,
and returning many times to the attack, it was nearly half past two
before these latter rose from their seats and the four men were the only
occupants of the room.

Then the appearance of casual indifference upon the face of one of them
passed instantly away, and his knife falling with a sharp click on to
his plate, he made a motion with his arm embracing the other three, and
remarked quietly, but very distinctly, "Gentlemen, the password is 'the
rat-pit of Ah Chung,' and you are all three my guests." His face
expanded into a broad smile. "We are old friends."

But there was certainly no appearance of friendliness upon the faces of
the others, indeed annoyance almost to the point of positive anger
seemed to possess them. They looked most suspiciously at one another,
and then turned back to glare balefully at the man who had spoken.

The latter raised a big fat hand in protest. "No, no, don't be upset,"
he said, reassuringly, and in a pleasant, cultured voice, "for at any
rate no harm is done, and if you do not wish it, you can continue to
remain unknown to one another, and part as perfect strangers in a few
minutes." He glanced in the direction of the door, and spoke very
quickly. "I thought it best to bring you all together in this way, for I
have made exactly the same proposition to each one of you, and if any of
you so decide, you can withdraw in perfect safety from any association
with me, and it can be then as if we had never met."

He rose up from his chair. "But now, let us move over to that small
table and we'll just talk things over for a little while. You can at
least hear what I have to say." He smiled. "For the moment you can call
me 'Mr. X,' and you gentlemen"--he pointed at them, each in turn, "can
be Messrs. A, B, and C."

After a moment's hesitation, but without speaking a single word, the
three men rose up, too, and followed him over to the table by the
window. They were just seated when one of the maids returned into the
room, and, as we have heard the order was then given for a bottle of
port and liqueurs.

Once more by themselves, and the door closed again, the man who had
taken charge of the proceedings leant forward over the table and
regarded his companions with an amused smile. He was not by any means an
unpleasant man to look upon, and the first impression he would have
given anyone was of amiable and carefree good nature, of medium height
and decidedly upon the stout side, he was of a dark and well-tanned
complexion. His eyebrows were big and busy, and he sported a neatly
trimmed black beard. His eyes were large and fearless, and it was only
his lips that would have been displeasing to a reader of character, for
they were full and sensual. However, in repose, he had the habit of
keeping them pressed lightly together and in that way their defects were
not so apparent to the casual observer. He was very short-necked, and he
had fat hands, upon the finger of one of which he sported a diamond
ring, with a stone of exquisite quality.

He started to renew the conversation at once. "I regret, gentlemen," he
said melodiously, and with the glib tongue of the practised speaker, "if
any of you should regard it as a breach of confidence my having thus
gathered you here together, when each one of you expected you would be
the only one to be meeting me, but when you have heard my explanation
and all I have to tell you, I am sure you will acquit me of any charge
of trickery, and will as readily admit that I am exposing none of you to
any risk by this meeting."

He laughed slyly. "It may surprise you to learn that I have been
occupied for the best part of two years in finding out all I could about
you three, and it is only after long and patient inquiries, and the
expenditure of considerable sums of money that I feel at last justified
in risking my safety in your hands." He sighed. "There should, indeed,
have been a fourth guest with us to-day, but, unhappily, last week he
passed away with great suddenness, in fact, to make no mystery of
it,"----his eyes twinkled--"he was hanged at the Old Bailey."

One of his audience, the one he had pointed to as Mr. B., a square-jawed
man with heavy features and small, suspicious-looking eyes, here
ejaculated hoarsely and as if involuntarily "Clive Belgian! You had
approached him?"

"No," replied Mr. X., smilingly, "but I was upon the point of doing so,
when three months ago he was unfortunate enough to get apprehended after
he had shot that caretaker in Hume Buildings. I had had my eye upon him
for some time, for I was sure he would prove a most valuable addition to
our party. He was very capable, absolutely unscrupulous, and without a
grain of pity in him." He laughed again. "You have had considerable
dealings with him, have you not, Mr. B.?" Then as the man addressed
apparently showed no intention of making any reply, he went on quickly.
"But to return to the purpose for which we are assembled here." He spoke
most impressively. "Now, straightaway, you can take it for granted, you
are all three quite secured against the treachery of one another, for
you are all engaged in unlawful undertakings, and it would be dangerous
to the last degree for any one of you to----"

"What about yourself?" broke in a third man sharply, an uncommon-looking
man with a high forehead and good facial angle, but most unprepossessing
appearance, because the bony construction of his face was so pronounced,
it seemed to be stretching the livid skin that covered it, almost to
breaking point. "What about yourself? We know nothing about you?"

Mr. X. smiled. "But you soon shall do, my friend," he replied, "for when
I proceed to chapter and verse about the law-breaking proclivities of
you three, I shall be equally open regarding my own." He went on. "Now
within the last few weeks I have approached each of you in turn
recalling to you, firstly, that you have each suffered at the hands of
this so-called society, under whose laws we live--as a matter of fact
only one of us here has not served a term of imprisonment, and that
individual is not I--and, secondly, that you all should have vengeances
to exact. Accordingly, I have suggested that you should join with me to
mete out--not only to the particular people concerned, but to the
community generally--the punishments that are undoubtedly deserved." He
looked from one to the other. "Now that is the sole line I have taken,
is it not, vengeance upon our particular enemies, and, in a broad way,
making the community suffer as we have suffered?"

A short silence followed, and he received a nod of decisive, if sullen,
agreement from each one before he resumed. "Well, before I approached
any of you, I made sure that your temperaments were such that you would
be willing to exact your vengeances if you could, and also, would be
wholly callous to any suffering that you inflicted." He laughed softly
again. "Ah Chung's entertainments were a good school in which to try you
out."

"Come to the point," growled the man with the face of tightly-drawn
skin. "We are not going to stop here for ever."

"Patience, my friend," retorted the stout man. "I am coming to it now."
He spoke most impressively. "The exact position then is this. We are
none of us, by any means, poor men and I----am a very rich one. If all
of you were paupers, I have yet ample means to finance the whole
project." He struck the table lightly with his hand. "So, all I want is
comrades. Men of sufficient strength of character to help me carry out
my vengeance, along with their own. Then we shall enjoy together the
punishments we inflict." He threw out his hands. "What pleasure is there
in drinking alone, and how much greater enjoyment then will be----"

"But how are we to know you have the means you say you have?" asked the
fourth man brusquely. "It may be that this is only a trap you are
setting for us, and you may be only out for common blackmail. That
diamond in your ring, even, may be spurious and----"

The stout man instantly plucked the ring from his finger and handed it
across the table to Mr. B. "He'll tell you," he laughed in great good
humour, "for he is the biggest buyer of stolen gems in London, and the
police have been looking for him for years."

Mr. B. with no expression upon his face took the ring and examined it.
"Worth 200," he remarked laconically. He half smiled. "I should give
you 30 cash if it came to me on the way of business."

"And how could I have found out all about you that I have," asked the
stout man, "unless I had been able to spend, and spend freely." He shook
his fat forefinger playfully at the man who had questioned his financial
stability. "Why, to find out what I have found out about you alone, has
cost me more than 1000, for I had to send a private inquiry agent
expressly over to Shanghai, and all the time I was having you watched,
day by day, by other agents over here." He looked round upon them all.
"But I'll soon convince you on the score of what means I possess.
Listen, I'll tell you a story--a story with a sequel to it."

No one made any comment, and after a few moments he went on. "Now cast
your minds back to 15 years ago when the Cosmopolitan Investment Company
came into the boom. A new star in finance had appeared, Oscar Bascoigne,
a man in the early thirties, and I am sure you will all remember him.
Good! Well, he floated that company with a capital of 2,000,000 and
attracted the investments of people all over the English-speaking world.
He was a dear personal friend of mine, and when he crashed and was sent
down for seven years for fraudulent company promoting, I was perhaps the
only person who grieved for him. He served more than five years of his
sentence and then was released upon ticket of leave. He----"

"Ought to have been a lifer," broke in the man with the tightly drawn
skin. "He deserved nothing less."

The stout man ignored the interruption. "----he went over to Santiago
and there, with some thousands of pounds that he had secreted before the
crash came, made a huge fortune out of nitrates, more than 1,000,000.
Then he died, leaving everything to me, with the injunction, however,
that in return I should avenge the wrong that had been done him, for he
had been convicted under the direction of a servile and unjust Judge,
urged on by the lies and calumnies of the prosecution for the Crown.
This last fellow handed out the usual flap-doodle that every one who had
rushed in for the gamble were innocent and confiding creatures, and that
Bascoigne had robbed the widows and the fatherless and brought ruin upon
countless homes." He thumped again upon the table. "Now do you
understand my motives and believe that I have ample means?"

The man with the death-mask face smiled coldly. "Yes, I believe you," he
said, "for you are Bascoigne himself, I should not have recognised you,
but I have heard you at the company's meetings and remember now that
oily voice." He spoke quite passionlessly. "Curse you! I lost 2000 that
I could ill spare at the time, and you ruined my poor old mother when
your company failed. You are a great scoundrel."

The stout man was by no means abashed, instead, he laughed as if he were
very amused. "And when you add to that," he said, "the fact that in
leaving England I broke my ticket-of-leave, and in consequence there is
still a warrant out for my apprehension, you will appreciate how
thoroughly I am one of you--an outcast from society, and the prey of the
Law if it can lay its hands upon me."

"But you are not being open with us, as you made out you were," said the
square-jawed man angrily. "This confession that you are Bascoigne has
been forced upon you."

"Not at all," replied Bascoigne warmly. "I could have denied it, and our
friend here had no proof. Besides, did I not commence my little story by
telling you that it had a sequel? And if you had waited for that sequel
you would have learnt at the end that if Bascoigne, the financier, had
died"--he looked very grim--"yet as Mr. X. he has now risen from the
dead to wreak vengeance upon his enemies."

Then with a quick movement he thrust his hand into the pocket of his
jacket and drew out a long packet, wrapped in brown paper. "And now for
this last proof," he said sharply, as he proceeded to draw off the
wrapping. "Ten one-thousand pounds Government bonds-to-bearer. Exactly
49 numbers between each one of them, and I possess the lot, locked
securely in my safe." His smile was proud and arrogant. "Half a million
pounds, gentlemen, and that by no means represents the whole of my
possessions. So now will you throw in your fortunes with mine and obtain
the revenges for which I know you crave?"

A long silence followed, and then the man with the bony face nodded.
"Yes, I will," he said. "My liver is cirrhosed, and I know I have not
long to live. I should like to settle a few accounts before I go."

"I'm willing, too," said the square-jawed man savagely. "I'd swing
happily if I could obtain all the revenge I want, first."

"Agreed," said the third man, quietly. "Life is humdrum, and it will be
an adventure to punish the man who ruined me."

"Yes, yes, as you say, life is humdrum," exclaimed Bascoigne, excitedly,
and speaking with intense passion, "and we will not stop only at the
gratification of our private vengeances, but will wage relentless war
upon the society that has hounded us down. We will bring a chilling fear
into its smug and hypocritical heart, and from a hundred bloody deeds it
shall learn that an avenger stalks the land. We will----" but overcome
by the vehemence of his emotion, he paused to get his breath, and then
before he could resume the boney-faced man broke in.

"A drug-taker, eh? No! well you look like one to me, anyhow!" He
shrugged his shoulders. "I take chloral myself." He laughed grimly.
"Really, we shall be dangerous maniacs let loose among the community, if
we are going to act as you suggest."

Bascoigne pulled himself together, and his voice dropped into crisp and
business-like tones. "But now," he announced, "I'll make all the
necessary introductions."

Uneasy looks came at once into the faces of the other men, but he went
on emphatically. "Yes, it is absolutely necessary that we should know
all about one another, so that there may be perfect confidence between
us all, and the full realisation that any treachery among us--and we all
fall together."

"Well, go on," said the man who had just admitted he took chloral,
testily, "and get it over, quick. You are not addressing the
Cosmopolitan Investment Company now. You have been too verbose all
along."

Bascoigne bowed ironically. "Myself first, then gentlemen," he said.
"Once Convict Bascoigne, and now Sheldon Brown, Esq., of The Pines,
Crowborough, and 25 Charles Street, Mayfair. A Justice of the Peace for
the county of Sussex, and the well-known philanthropist who gave 50,000
to the London Hospital last year. Next,"--and he turned to the last
speaker--"Sir Charles Carrion, Baronet, of 47 Harley Street, the
one-time eminent surgeon with all England at his feet. Three years
incarceration in a private lunatic asylum, however, has somewhat
detracted from his professional popularity, and his practice may now be
considered small."

A look of rage came into the face of Sir Charles. "I was only certified
by my rivals," he snarled savagely, "and whatever I am now, I was
perfectly sane then. It was a vile conspiracy hatched to get me out of
the way. Hell! I'd join hands with the devil himself to get my revenge."

Bascoigne smiled and went on. "But Sir Charles's activities are by no
means confined to his practice in Harley Street, for he runs an
unregistered vivisection laboratory in his commodious residence at
Hampstead. He has been refused any sort of licence by the authorities,
but nevertheless operates, and without anaesthetics, too. He has a
private burial ground in the large garden surrounding his house, and if
I am not very much mistaken," here he pretended to cough apologetically,
"bodies have been buried there that are not only those of dumb animals.
Three months ago, he had some sort of disagreement with his butler, who
was threatening to report the vivisections to the authorities, and the
next day the butler disappeared. The man was supposed to have left the
district, but I am of opinion that he never went far away and if a
certain spot behind a big elm tree were dug over----"

"Nothing would be found," broke in Sir Charles with a contemptuous
smile. "The precautions I took were----"

"But the purchase of such a large quantity of chemicals would have to be
explained," interrupted Bascoigne sharply, "and you seem not to be aware
that your butler had four gold crowns, and was wearing artificial teeth
set upon a platinum plate." He looked amused. "Now, none should know
better than you that both gold and platinum are unaffected by nitric
acid."

Sir Charles Carrion scowled but made no comment, and Bascoigne
continued. "Well, that finishes with Sir Charles for the moment, and
from what I have just outlined, I think we others need have no fear that
tales will ever be carried to quarters where they are not wanted. We are
quite safe, I am sure."

He pointed now to a small dark man, with a sallow oval face and a beard,
trimmed and pointed, that suggested the artist. "And here is another
medical man, a one-time Dr. Joseph Libbeus, a Hebrew of course, and an
M.D., London." He broke off as if an idea had struck him, and asked
quickly. "Then you didn't recognise Sir Charles, Doctor. I was half
expecting you would."

"No," was the quiet reply. "I have heard of him, of course, and Humanity
will always be indebted to him for his 'Surgery of the Abdomen,' but I
have never seen him before." He inclined his head politely in the
direction of Sir Charles. "He is a great man."

The surgeon smiled coldly and Bascoigne continued. "Well, fifteen years
ago, Dr. Libbeus was one of the most brilliant students who had ever
qualified from St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and before he was nine and
twenty he had become a recognised authority upon 'toxicology.'" He
rubbed his hands as if very pleased. "His knowledge of poisons will be
most useful to us." He went on. "But a great calamity overtook him, for,
in financial difficulties and tempted by the big fee of two hundred
guineas, he performed a certain operation and the woman died. He might,
however, have escaped all consequences of his action but for the
hostility of a brother practitioner, and tried at the Old Bailey, he was
sentenced to five years penal servitude, from which he emerged six years
ago. He went to Shanghai, and obtained employment in a factory for the
production of high explosives--here, again, he is the very man we
want--but unhappily, strong suspicion arose in that city that he had
administered poison to the husband of a lady with whom he was on
friendly terms, and he was fortunate to be able to escape from the
country before matters came to a head. As much altered in appearance as
I am, because bearded, and an habitual opium addict, he----"

"That's neither here nor there," broke in Dr. Libbeus angrily. "I take
my opium pill just as you take your alcohol or your tobacco." He made a
sharp motion with his hand. "Keep off unnecessary personalities,
please."

"----he returned to England," continued Bascoigne, as if he had not
heard the interruption, "and, as Professor Batcher, now carries on a
highly unlawful practice at 275 Queen Ann's Street. Two of his patients
have died recently, but forging the name of a Dr. Anthony Harden of Kew,
whom he has ascertained is at the present moment travelling abroad, he
has had no difficulty in getting them interred in the customary manner."

Dr. Libbeus was moistening his dry lips with his tongue and his face had
gone an ashen grey, but Sir Charles Carrion looked highly amused.

"A most excellent joke!" he chuckled. "Most excellent! It happens I know
Harden quite well, and his eyes would pop out in horror if he knew what
had been certified over his name. He is a smug, sanctimonious man, and
the acme of unctuous respectability." He turned and patted Dr. Libbeus
in a most friendly fashion upon the shoulder. "But see here, sir--next
time you want a certificate of death, come straight to me and I'll give
it you. Then you won't be running any risks. I'm not fussy and shall be
quite prepared to certify to anything you want."

Dr. Libbeus at once recovered his composure and the blood returned to
his face. "Thank you very much indeed, Sir Charles," he said warmly, "I
shall be most grateful to you."

Bascoigne rubbed his hands together again. "That's right," he said
gleefully. "I was certain we should all become good friends." He turned
to the fourth man, the one with the determined jaw. "Now for Mr. Edward
Mason, a prosperous estate-agent of Mile End Road. His real name is
Sabine Guildford, and he is, or was, a member of the legal profession,
but in 1915 he speculated with funds entrusted to his care and an
unsympathetic judge ordered him free board and lodging for five years at
the expense of his Majesty. Of course, too, he was struck off the
Rolls."

"If they had given me three weeks' grace," interrupted Guildford
fiercely, "they would have got back every penny I took, for the
investment righted itself. But the Law Society would have its pound of
flesh."

"Exactly," agreed Bascoigne, "it was the Law Society that drove you into
the paths you subsequently took." He turned back to the others. "Well,
at the expiration of his sentence, our friend proceeded to make his home
in Mile End Road, and, with his profound knowledge of law, his
enterprise, and his undoubted business ability, soon became a person of
importance in the circle in which he now moves."

Guildford began to stir uneasily in his chair here and Bascoigne went
on. "He is a blackmailer, he finances the elite of the criminal classes,
and his house is a hiding place for them when they are pursued. He is a
receiver of stolen goods, he is engaged in the dope traffic, and he
forges passports for entry into every country in the world. Also, when
the occasion is propitious, he does not hesitate to embark upon criminal
adventures of his own." He laughed merrily. "That is so, Mr. Guildford,
is it not?"

Guildford's face had assumed an ugly look and his beady eyes were
blinking viciously. "Go on," he growled, "you seem to know more about me
than I know myself."

Bascoigne beamed good humour and good nature. "But I have told you I
have made it my business to find out everything about you all, and there
is no exaggeration in anything I say." He spoke banteringly. "At any
rate you must admit that for 10 days prior to the burglary at Lord
Farleigh's at Stoke d'Aberon last month, and the very violent death of
his gardener in the grounds--you were occupying that little cottage you
rent in Oxshott Woods, close by, and you cannot deny that you had been
making mysterious excursions from there in the dead of night, upon three
or four occasions just before the burglary occurred." He pretended to
look very grave. "So, the authorities if they are aware of it, might
perhaps be inclined to think that you have been spying out the ground."




CHAPTER II.--"THE DRUMS OF WAR."


One Sunday afternoon towards the end of September, about three months
after the events recorded in the last chapter, two men were seated in
the crowded winter-garden of the Hotel Metropole at Brighton. One of
them was a journalist, attached to the London 'Daily Cry,' and the
other, a rubber planter, home on holiday from the Federated Malay
States. The latter was reading a Sunday newspaper, and presently he
threw it down.

"Well, really," he remarked carelessly, "this dear old England of ours
does not seem the law-abiding place it used to be, and certainly its
police are not nearly as efficient as in days gone by." His voice rose a
little. "Why, here have I been home not a couple of months until next
week, and yet I can recall at least four unsolved murders, and also a
mysterious disappearance that looks darned like foul-play, too." He held
out the newspaper to his companion. "And here's another outrage, I see,
reported this morning, some one shooting at Lord Cornwall's car
yesterday at Barnstead, and a bullet going through the window. What the
devil was that done for, I wonder?"

The journalist declined the proferred paper. "I've already seen it, old
man," he said. "It's interesting, but was possibly only an accident.
Some one rabbiting, perhaps, on the common as the car went by, and maybe
he didn't know what he had done."

"And when that clergyman was shot at Surbiton," remarked the planter
sarcastically, "I suppose that was an accident, too! And when the old
judge was killed at Eastbourne, and Lord Burkington at Harrogate--both
accidents again!"

The journalist shook his head. "No, cold-blooded murders there," he said
instantly, "and very mysterious, too." He shrugged his shoulders.
"Still, among 50 million persons mysterious things are always happening,
although, naturally, we don't always hear about them."

"But has it struck you, Travers," went on the planter, "that most of
these johnnies who have struck trouble lately were at one time or other
prominent in the particular circles in which they moved."

The journalist laughed. "Of course it has," he replied, "and that is why
we remember about them. If Bill Bloggs had been killed in Whitechapel or
Sam Stuckey at Mile End, matters might have been dismissed in two
paragraphs and forgotten in two days, but the more prominent the person,
naturally the more interested the public are when anything happens to
him,"--he made a grimace--"and we newspaper men have to provide what
they want. We cater for those interests."

"Well, your police must be pretty rotten, anyhow," said the planter, "to
have made no discoveries at all."

The journalist laughed again. "And how do you know they haven't made any
discoveries?" he asked. He nodded. "You be here another month, my
friend, and then note how many of those mysteries are in the way of
being cleared up."

* * *

A short silence followed, and the two friends interested themselves in
regarding the company around them. It was the usual Sunday afternoon
crowd of well-dressed men and beautifully-gowned women. People well
known in society, business and professional men, people known in the art
and literary worlds, owners of racehorses and sporting men, and a
sprinkling of politicians.

"Well, and what do you think of them?" asked the journalist presently,
turning back to his companion. "Notice any difference in the ten years
you've been away?"

"No-o," replied the rubber planter hesitatingly, "except that there are
more women smoking now, and the sweet creatures are more made-up than
ever." He nodded appreciatively. "There are some lovely women here."

"Yes, lovely," agreed the journalist readily. He lowered his voice
quickly. "Now, that girl opposite you is a perfect poem isn't she? Did
you ever see more glorious eyes or a more beautiful profile? She's Lady
Beeming, and that's her husband, not her grandfather sitting next to
her. She's 20 and he's 65, and you'd swear from her appearance that the
blood of a long line of noble ancestors ran through her veins." He
smiled drily. "But you'd be quite mistaken, for her parents were little
green-grocers in Hoxton, and three years ago, before she went into the
chorus at Sadler's Wells she was assisting in the shop and----" he broke
off suddenly and nodded in the direction of a tall, gaunt man, who had
just passed their table, "But look! There's a party who is just as
hideous as she is lovely!"

"Who is he?" asked the planter. "He looks a near relation of Satan to
me."

"Sir Charles Carrion," whispered the journalist, "and once one of the
world's greatest surgeons. Crowned heads were among his patients, and in
abdominal surgery he was the mightiest wielder of the knife. But his
success was a cup of poison to him and some years ago, he had a nervous
breakdown, and dropped out of things altogether. He looks a corpse now,
but, funnily enough, he's returned into society lately, and I'm always
running up against him in my work. Ascot, Goodwood, Cowes--you see him
everywhere."

"Go on," said his friend. "Tell me about some of the other people here.
I don't mind a few lies as long as they are interesting."

The journalist pretended to look very angry. "Now, I've a darned good
mind not to say another word, but as you shall now pay for this show,
and I'm going to have another brandy, I'll overlook it this time." He
looked round the spacious winter-garden. "Now, let me see. Whom else do
I know? Ah! there's somebody interesting, if you like, that rather
pretty looking man, sitting at that table alone, and appearing so bored.
Now what would you make of him?"

His friend looked in the direction indicated. "An artist," he replied
after a moment. "Good-looking himself, and certainly a lover of the
beautiful."

"Exactly," nodded the journalist, "and a purloiner of it, too." He spoke
impressively. "That man, my friend, hails from Paris, and until recently
was supposed to be one of the most active and expert thieves in
France--Raphael Croupin. Haven't you heard of him?"

The planter shook his head. "A gaol bird!" he frowned. "Well, he doesn't
look like one. What's he doing here?"

"Oh! he's quite respectable and a rich man now," the other laughed. "One
of his admirers, a wealthy old countess, died at the beginning of this
year and left him a huge fortune, but before that, as I say, it was
believed everywhere that he was a burglar--if a burglar of a very
uncommon kind. He only took paintings of the old masters, old
tapestries, historic jewels, and art treasures of great value. It was
believed to be well-known to the authorities what he was doing, but they
were never able to bring the robberies home to him. He has been up for
trial three times and acquitted upon each occasion, because of
water-tight alibies that could not be broken down. It was the joke of
all France, and he was really a most popular character, for he only
stole from the very rich and disbursed large sums in charity to the
hospitals and among the very poor."

The planter looked very amused. "Continue, my dear Travers," he said
smilingly. "You are most entertaining. Any more celebrities here?"

His friend looked round. "Yes," he said, "there's a Cabinet Minister
over there, Lord Ransome, that rather stout man, threading his way
through the tables. He's the Home Secretary, and that's his daughter
with him. Oh! oh!"--he exclaimed, becoming all at once quite
animated--"now, there's some romance for you. See the people he's
sitting down with? Well, they are Gilbert Larose, and his wife, who was
once the wealthy widow, Lady Ardane." He gripped his companion by the
arm. "Two years ago, Travers, that man was just an ordinary policeman, a
detective who used to be sent anywhere and everywhere by Scotland Yard,
and now, to-day, he's married to one of the richest women in the
kingdom, and lives almost in royal state at Carmel Abbey in Norfolk."

"I've heard of him," said the planter, very interested. "He was the star
detective of Australia." He drew in a deep breath. "Gad! his wife's
beautiful! I always did admire red hair. What a lovely creature!"

"Yes, and there were scores of people who wanted her," added the
journalist, "and would have taken her without a penny piece, because of
the beauty of that red head. She might have married into the peerage any
day." He sighed. "Larose is a lucky fellow."

"But how did he manage it?" asked his friend.

"Merit, my boy, just merit," was the instant reply, "and he deserves
everything he's got, for he won her in the old-fashioned way, by saving
her from her enemies. She was kidnapped and he rescued her at the risk
of his own life, which, however, was nothing to him, for in his career
he's been in more dangers than anyone can conceive." He sighed again.
"Yes, it was a real love-match and they worship each other and the
red-haired little daughter that's come."

"And good luck to him!" said the planter. "He looks a gentleman and a
man of fine character." He screwed up his eyes. "But how did people take
it? What did society say?"

"Society!" laughed the journalist. "Well, Society was aghast!" His voice
hardened. "But if anyone thought they were going to put one over Gilbert
Larose, they were very much mistaken, for he just dropped into his place
as if he'd been born to it. A strong character, nice manners, and a
charming personality, he won over everybody at once, and to-day, at any
public function in Norfolk, he's the biggest 'draw' you can get. Next to
Royalty, he's the most popular attraction at any show, and his wife's
immensely proud of him."

"A policeman once," commented the planter after a moment's silence, "and
now that old aristocrat is smiling at him, almost as if he had a boon to
crave."

And had he only known it, the planter from Malay was quite right then,
for although Lord Ransome had entered the winter-garden with no idea of
meeting Gilbert Larose, the instant he had caught sight of him and his
wife, he had immediately stopped, of set purpose, and with a gallant bow
to Mrs. Larose, had held out his hand to her.

"And may we join you?" he asked, and at once receiving permission, he
went on smilingly. "I see you are just as charming as ever, Mrs. Larose,
and you don't look a day older than when I fell in love with your
portrait in the academy--let me see, it must be six or seven years ago."

Mrs. Larose shook her head reprovingly. "Now, that's not nice of you,
Lord Ransome," she laughed, "to remind me all that time has passed. You
don't seem to realise that I am now fighting the years."

"No, I certainly do not," laughed back his lordship, "for there are no
signs of warfare about you." He bowed again. "I am sure I can
congratulate your distinguished husband upon the care he is taking of
you." He turned to Larose. "Ah! that reminds me, sir, I've heard you're
a most outstanding success upon the Bench. My friend, the Chief
Constable of Norfolk, informs me that offenders are delighted to be
brought up before you,"--he made a grimace--"for you either pay their
fines yourself or let them off altogether."

"Oh! no," laughed Larose, "it's not quite as bad as that, Lord Ransome.
Certainly, I always----"

"But he's not complaining," broke in his lordship quickly. "On the
contrary, for he says you are exerting a most splendid influence, and it
has become almost a point of honour with the offenders not to be brought
up again. For instance, I understand that there is no poaching at all
now within many miles of Carmel Abbey."

"But my husband bribes them," smiled Mrs. Larose. "He gives them all a
day's shooting every now and then, and makes me send out lunch, too,"
she shook her head. "He's breaking all traditions and I can't do
anything with him."

They chatted animatedly together for a few minutes, Mrs. Larose telling
of the delightful holiday she and her husband had been having for nearly
three months in Switzerland, and how they had arrived only the previous
day at Newhaven and were proceeding home on the morrow to Carmel Abbey.
Then Lord Ransome turned to Larose and remarked carelessly, "Well, it's
rather fortunate I met you here this afternoon, for I've been wanting
for some time to have a little talk with you about your greyhounds. I
have thought of entering one of mine for the Waterloo Cup, and should be
most grateful to you for some advice." He made an almost imperceptible
movement with his eyebrows. "Now, what about coming up to my room for a
few minutes? I am sure the ladies will excuse us."

Larose regarded the great man curiously. He had only met him once
before, and was sure, upon such a slight acquaintanceship, the Home
Secretary would not now be inviting him to a private talk unless for
some particular purpose quite unconnected with dogs. He had noted the
expressive movement of the eyebrows, however, and so at once, falling in
with the suggestion, rose from his chair and proceeded to accompany his
lordship from the winter garden.

* * *

They ascended a few floors in the lift, and then, in a cosy little
private sitting room, Lord Ransome motioned him to an armchair. His
lordship had become all at once a very different man to the genial and
bowing courtier of the winter garden. His bearing now was one of
authority, and his features set in stern and uncompromising lines he
looked the outstanding personality in politics that he was. He opened
the conversation at once.

"Mr. Larose," he said solemnly, "it was Fate or Providence that took me
into the winter garden just now, for you have been a lot in my mind
during the last twenty-four hours, and, indeed, I was intending, in any
case, to get in touch with you tomorrow." He eyed him intently. "Now,
did your ears burn last night? No! Well, they ought to have done, for
quite a number of people were talking about you,"--he spoke
impressively--"and in not unexalted circles either." He waited a moment
to let the information soak in, and then rapped out--

"You're wanted back in Scotland Yard, my friend. That's the trouble.
You've got to get back into harness again."

Larose looked very astonished and sat bolt upright in his chair. He had
certainly been expecting some confidence, but not a request of that
nature and, for the moment, it quite took his breath away.

Lord Ransome glanced quickly at his watch and went on. "Now, we can only
stay here about twenty minutes, for it'll be unwise to absent ourselves
longer. Heaven only knows who's in that winter garden, and I don't want
to see any tittle-tattle in the newspapers to-morrow, that the Secretary
of State for Home Affairs and Mr. Gilbert Larose were closetted together
for two hours. No, there must be none of that, for happenings are
occurring that must be dealt with in the utmost secrecy." He hooded his
eyes under his shaggy brows. "Then you don't guess why you are wanted
back?"

Larose shook his head. "I am out of touch altogether with things over
here," he replied. "We have been tucked away for nearly three months in
the heart of the Bernese Oberland and have heard very little news."

"But haven't you read in the Swiss newspapers," asked Lord Ransome
incredulously, "what's been happening over here?"

"What do you mean?" asked Larose quickly. "You see, sir, we didn't often
get newspapers where we were, and when they did come they gave very
little English news. What is it, you say, has happened?"

"Then you didn't hear," asked his lordship, "that Sir John Lorraine had
been murdered?"

"The judge!" exclaimed Larose. "Oh! yes, I heard of that and also that
Lord Burkington had been shot."

Lord Ransome looked scornful. "Those are only two of our problems," he
said sharply. "We heard many others." He rose abruptly from his chair
and going over to a suitcase, unlocked it, and after a few moments'
search abstracted a sheet of paper from among others in a bulky packet.
"See, here, Mr. Larose," he said, shaking his head angrily. "To put it
bluntly--six persons have been murdered in the last ten weeks, and in
not one single instance have the local police or Scotland Yard been able
to lay hands upon the murderers, also----"

"Six!" broke in Larose. "All in the same neighbourhood!"

"No," was the testy reply, "all over the country, also, as I was about
to add when you interrupted, it is by chance, only, that wholesale
destruction has not followed upon further outrages of a most terrible
nature." He lowered his voice very solemnly. "But the sinister aspect of
the whole thing is--we know now we are facing what is undoubtedly the
unfinished series of these dreadful crimes, for within the last few days
it has come to our knowledge in a most strange and startling manner that
these widely-scattered outrages may not be considered as isolated
happenings, but are the work of a gang of individuals who for some mad
reason are declaring war upon the community."

The heart of Larose gave a great bound. He was like an old war-horse who
hears the rumbling of the guns.

Lord Ransome nodded angrily. "Yes, and it is childish for some very
superior persons to insist that the idea is far-fetched that such a gang
can exist." His eyes glared. "Why, in every country of the world there
are people who think they have been badly treated and who would inflict
any injury they could upon their fellow men if they got the chance. So
it has only to happen that a number of such wretches become acquainted
and learn the bent of one another's minds for them to pool their common
hatreds to obtain revenge."

He laid the paper upon the table and, beckoning to Larose to come
nearer, pointed with one long and white forefinger.

"Here is the complete list," he said, "up to Thursday last, as tabulated
for me by the Chief Commissioner of Police. Look, number one--the
Honourable Sir John Lorraine, of Merton Court, Eastbourne. Age 74.
Murdered on July 25th last. Bludgeoned in broad daylight in a lane,
close near his home. Number two--Archdeacon Lendon, of Canterbury. Age
63. Shot, when sitting on the lawn of Mrs. Fox-Drummond's house at
Surbiton. Number three--Lord Burkington, of The Hall, Harrogate. Age 65.
Shot through the broken window of his own dining-room on August 25th.
Number four--Dr. Bellew of Great Leighs, Essex. Age 65. Stabbed to death
in his garden with a knife wound through his heart!"

He went on. "Number five--Anthony Clutterbuck, of York Terrace, Regents
Park and Chancery Lane. The well-known solicitor. Age 62. Last seen upon
the seawall of Canvey Island on the afternoon of September 12th, but his
broken and bloodied spectacles and a bloodied glove, picked up later in
one of the adjoining fields, point most unmistakably to foul play and
that his body was thrown into the sea. Number six--Mr. Samuel Wiggins,
of Leigh-on-Sea. Age 62. A retired tea-broker. Stabbed to death on the
Esplanade there on the night of September 13th."

He tapped the paper with his finger. "Those are their successes, Mr.
Larose," he said grimly, "and their failures--an attack upon Lord
Cornwall yesterday, when two bullets, not one, as reported, struck his
car--a large bomb that did not go off in St. Paul's Cathedral, and an
abortive attempt to throw some twenty-odd pounds of arsenic into the
Kingston Reservoir." He nodded. "But I am giving you inside information
now, and neither of these two last happenings has been reported in the
Press."

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Larose, his eyes glued to the paper, "what a
dreadful list!" He looked up quickly and asked, "but what happened to
the bomb?"

"The clockwork arrangement stopped," replied Lord Ransome. "The bomb was
brought into the cathedral on the Saturday afternoon, three weeks ago,
and left under one of the seats. It was flat in shape, with its covering
of canvas painted to exactly harmonise with the stone floor. The hand of
the clock was set to go off at half-past eleven on the Sunday morning."
He drew in a deep breath. "Oh! it was damnable! It would have exploded
in the middle of Divine Service."

"And that attempt to poison the reservoir?" asked Larose.

"Was foiled by the merest chance," was the reply, "and it came about
like this. An old clergyman living close near the reservoir had lost his
parrot, and as he had offered a reward for its recovery all the boys in
the neighbourhood were on the look out for it, and two of them about
nine o'clock at night on the Saturday of the week before last climbed
over the high fence surrounding the reservoir on the chance of finding
the bird inside. Imagine then their surprise when, upon flashing a
torch, they saw a man there at the edge of the water, just in the act of
untying a small sack. The man dropped the sack and bolted instantly upon
seeing their light, and if he had not done so the boys would undoubtedly
have bolted themselves, for they took him to be the watchman of the
reservoir. Hearing him, however, scrambling over the fence, they
realised that he was only a trespasser like themselves, and, of course,
ran up to see what the sack contained."

Larose listened to the story of the attempt to poison the reservoir and
how the man had fled. "But," he asked, "didn't the man see that his
interrupters were only boys?"

"No," replied Lord Ransome. "It was pitch dark and all the man knew was
that a light was being flashed upon him." He went on. "Well, the boys
could make nothing of the white powder in the sack, and leaving it where
it was they climbed back"--he smiled here--"to jump almost into the arms
of a policeman who happened to be passing at the moment. Then,
frightened as to what might be the consequences of their trespassing,
they told the policeman exactly what they had seen. The latter was an
alert and intelligent officer, and, taking the boys with him he aroused
the watchman, and their story being investigated, it was speedily
realised what an awful calamity had been so narrowly averted."

"Nothing more heard of the man, of course?" asked Larose.

"Nothing," replied his lordship, "he had just disappeared, and, as in
all the other cases, not the faintest clue as to his identity had been
left behind." He raised his hand solemnly. "Now comes a most
extraordinary disclosure, and my story harks back to a certain Sunday
morning, June 29th to be exact at the Gibbett Inn, a little hostelry on
the Ashbourne Forest Road, midway between Hartfield and Maresfield, in
Sussex."

He leant back in his chair and now from the expression upon his face it
seemed that for the moment the anxieties of the statesman were forgotten
in the pleasure of the raconteur who had a good story to tell.

He went on. "Well, it appears that this Gibbett Inn caters for quite a
number of lunching parties on Sundays, and on that particular morning,
just prior to the time when the customers were due to arrive, the eldest
child of the inn-keeper, a young girl, was impertinent to her mother,
and in consequence her father was summoned to administer chastisement.
The girl, however, to escape the promised punishment, hid herself away,
and chose for her hiding place an old fashioned ottoman in the large
dining-room, where all the meals of the visitors are served."

He paused for a moment to enjoy the frowning and puzzled expression upon
the face of Larose. For the life of him the latter could not surmise
what he was going to be told next. Lord Ransome continued--

"The girl says she must have at once then fallen asleep. Next her story
runs that she woke up and overheard parts of the conversation of four
men, and this conversation, she avers, was all about certain people who
were going to be punished. They were to be shot, or violence of some
other kind was to be done to them." He nodded. "Mind you, she explains
she couldn't hear everything that was said, and only scraps of the
conversation reached her. Also, she couldn't see who was speaking,
either, and----"

"How then does she know there were four men?" asked Larose sharply.

"Because of the voices," replied Lord Ransome, "and also, because
through a crack in the side of the ottoman, she had a view of the
greater part of the room and could only see four pairs of legs. The men,
too, were close near her, but the sound of their voices was muffled,
because, of course, the lid of the ottoman was shut down."

"How did she breathe?" asked Larose, as if determined to verify the
story as it went along.

"There was no side to the ottoman, where it touched the wall," replied
Lord Ransome. He nodded. "You can rest assured the girl's tale has been
tested in every way. Well, as she heard the men talking, she distinctly
caught the names of two persons they were speaking about, Lord
Burkington's and Anthony Clutterbuck's, also she heard them mention
various public buildings, including St. Paul's' Cathedral and the
British Museum, and she says one of the men had a low laugh, like that
of a madman on the talkies."

"And when did you learn all this?" asked Larose.

"Only last week," replied Lord Ransome, "in a communication from the
police constable at Maresfield, which communication, indeed, he could
have given us nearly two months ago." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of
course, it is easy to blame the man now, but I really don't see that
there was any neglect of duty, for he heard the girl's story weeks after
the event had happened, and then only in such a casual sort of way that
he attached no importance to it. You see, she ran away from her home
that Sunday afternoon without saying anything, and it was ten days
before her parents discovered she was staying with an old school friend
at Eastbourne. Then, when she was brought back, she sulked for several
days, and in consequence, it was quite three weeks after she had heard
the conversation before she told her father about it, and later, he came
to mention it casually across the bar-counter to the village policeman.

"And what did the policeman do then?" asked Larose.

"Nothing," replied Lord Ransome. "The girl was out upon her bicycle at
the time he came into the bar, and he didn't think it worth while to
wait until she came in and question her. In fact, he says frankly, he
didn't believe the story, and thought it all an invention upon her part,
but"--his lordship nodded impressively--"he happened to remember the two
names and when first Lord Burkington was murdered, and later this man,
Clutterbuck, the story came back to him in a flash, and he went
post-haste up to the inn to interview the girl and make inquiries."

"And of course," commented Larose quickly, "after all that lapse of
time, no description was forthcoming of any of the four men?"

"None whatever," replied Lord Ransome, "for the officers who were of
course, immediately sent down to The Gibbett Inn, reported that the
waitresses were women of no memory or intelligence, although the little
girl was as sharp as a needle." He shrugged his shoulders. "But she
could add nothing to what she had already told her father and the police
constable. She had heard the voices and seen the four pairs of legs--and
that was all."

"Hum!" remarked Larose thoughtfully. "A funny place to choose for
hatching a conspiracy, the public dining-room of a way-side inn!" He
nodded. "Still, if the girl's story can be depended upon----"

"And it can be depended upon," broke in Lord Ransome emphatically. He
threw out his hands. "How else could she have picked up the two
names--weeks before anything happened to their owners."

A long silence followed, and then Larose nodded grimly, "All right sir,"
he said. "I'll take it on." His eyes gleamed. "But I want a free hand,
and to be allowed to go about it in my own way!"

Lord Ransome looked very pleased, and nodded emphatically. "Certainly,"
he replied, "and whatsoever eventuates we shall be very much beholden to
you." He shook his head. "Of course, I realise that the question of
remuneration will not enter into the matter at all, and your sole reward
will be that of the hunter in the chase." He rose up from his chair.
"But, really, it's a pleasure to do business with a gentleman who makes
up his mind so quickly. Well, you'll report to Scotland Yard----"

"On Thursday," said Larose. "You must give me until then."

"Good!" said Lord Ransome, "and now we'll go back to that winter
garden." He moved to the door, and then paused, with his hand upon the
handle. "But, think," he went on impressively, "of the service you will
be rendering to the country if you uncover this gang of madmen, for
started now upon their course of revenge we never know from hour to hour
what new outrage is not going to be reported." He shook his head. "But
I'm afraid the Yard won't have much information to give you, for there
were no clues that they could find to pick up, and no trails that they
could see to follow. The murders were all committed with dreadful
suddenness, and there were no eye-witnesses about to relate what
happened. Just the whine of the bullet, the stab with the knife, or the
crash with the bludgeon, and the miscreants disappeared as mysteriously
and silently as they had come." He bowed smilingly, "Surely an ideal
task for the incomparable Gilbert Larose!"

Some three minutes later Lord Ransome returned to where his daughter and
Mrs. Larose were sitting in the winter garden. "But where is my
husband?" asked the latter at once. "What have you done with him?"

"Oh! he's just stopped to speak to a gentleman in the lounge," replied
Lord Ransome, "and from the warmth of their greeting they must be old
friends."

And certainly the greeting between Larose and Raphael Croupin had been a
warm one, for notwithstanding the very differing natures of their former
activities there was a mutual liking between them. If Croupin were a
rogue, he was always a humorous one, and, apart from his rogueries, a
very likeable fellow.

"And what are you doing over here, Monsieur Croupin?" asked Larose, his
face becoming serious, and with just a trace of suspicion in his tones.

"Nothing," replied Croupin with a tremendous sigh, "and I am very
bored." He shot a quick glance at Larose, and added slyly, "I'm quite
rich now, Monsieur. I have come into money."

"Whose?" asked Larose drily.

Croupin opened his eyes widely as if he were very surprised. "Oh! it is
my own," he replied instantly. "All my very own." He looked rather hurt.
"No, no, Meester Larose, there is none of that now, for I am of a
character quite reformed." He spoke with great earnestness. "Why! I have
even given compensation when people have proved that they are poor,
because--" he coughed diffidently, "of the loss of possessions I am
credited with as having illegally acquired." He drew himself up proudly.
"Yes, I am rich now, for I have a large estate, the gift of a dear
friend who died."

"And what are you going to do, then?" asked Larose.

"I don't know," was the sad reply. He shook his head. "Life has no spice
in it now, there is no adventure, no danger, and----" he shrugged his
shoulders, "but it is the same with you, is it not? You are certain each
to-day that nothing is going to happen each to-morrow."

"Oh! I don't know whether I am," replied Larose quickly. "I'm not so
sure then." A thought seemed suddenly to strike him and he asked
sharply, "Where are you staying, here in Brighton?"

"No," replied Croupin, "in London, at the Savoy. I have a suite of rooms
there."

"A suite of rooms at the Savoy!" exclaimed Larose.

"Yes, Monsieur," replied Croupin modestly. "I told you I was very rich."

"Good!" said Larose. "Then I'll take lunch with you there at 1 o'clock
on Thursday,"--he lowered his voice to a whisper--"and you may be able
to be of service to me. Adventure, perhaps, Monsieur, for I am back in
harness again." He nodded solemnly. "A bullet in your head, or a dagger
in your heart--if only we can pick up a certain trail."

Croupin beamed with delight. "Bien!" he exclaimed, "but it will be a
pleasure whatever happens, Meester Larose, if I am working with you." He
snapped his fingers together. "I am weary of no one thirsting for my
blood."




CHAPTER III.--LAROSE UPON THE TRAIL.


"Of course," said the Chief Commissioner of Police when the following
Thursday morning Larose was discussing things with him in Scotland Yard,
"we are not dealing with ordinary criminals here, and, from the very
first, we suspected the motives behind these killings to be ones of
revenge. Then, as they went on, long before we heard the story of
Cynthia Cramm, we were certain of it. All the parties concerned, except
that Samuel Wiggins of Leigh-on-Sea were, or had been public men, and in
positions to excite enmity in unbalanced minds, particularly so Sir John
Lorraine, as an ex-judge of the Criminal Courts. Apart from that, too,
where opportunity had occurred, there had been no robbery from the
person after any of the murders had been done."

"The series of crimes may have began with acts of private vengeance,"
commented Larose, "but now its manifestations seem to be merging into a
general expression of hatred against the community." He spoke very
thoughtfully. "That means, surely, that the assassins at one time or
other have suffered public humiliation, that they have been socially
ostracised, or maybe, even undergone terms of imprisonment with the
entire approval of every one."

"Exactly," agreed the commissioner, "we are dealing therefore with the
most dangerous type of criminal--fanatics who will strike here, there,
and everywhere, and who are hampered very little by the risks they are
running."

"And assuming," went on Larose, "that the men they have killed were
instrumental in bringing them to justice, or were in some way connected
with the punishments they received, then it is probable those
punishments were inflicted some time ago, for we notice they have been
taking their revenge upon people getting up in years, all over sixty in
fact."

"We considered that point," said the commissioner, "for three of the
victims have retired from their professions, upwards of five years ago."
He nodded. "Yes, that past is being raked up here."

"Then it all amounts to this," said Larose. "We have to uncover four
men," he paused for a moment "--of the better nourished class, because
they have a preference for the best quality of port wine and a choice in
liqueurs--in command of ample means, because they are able to travel
about the country to accomplish their ends--and of outward appearance of
respectability, because the girl says their footwear was of an expensive
kind, and their trousers were well creased." He laughed softly. "Not
much to go upon, is it?"

"But you have seen in the reports that have been furnished you," replied
the Commissioner a little testily, "that in not one single instance have
we been able to light upon the ghost of any clue." He shrugged his
shoulders. "Why these poor men have been killed we are equally in the
dark, although the life-history of each one of them has been minutely
gone into, to ascertain, of course, what probable enemy he may have had.
In the case of Sir John Lorraine, for instance, all the prisoners he has
sentenced and whose terms of imprisonment have expired recently have
been accounted for, but with no profit to us in any way."

"But the elderly clergyman," asked Larose, looking very puzzled, "how
possibly could he have offended to the extent of any one wanting to take
his life?"

"Or the two medical men either, for the matter of that," said the
Commissioner, shaking his head. "Lord Burkington was a very honoured
member of his profession, and Dr. Bellew, a benevolent old gentleman,
who in his day had been a most reputable leading women's physician."

"And there were no eye-witnesses," went on Larose musingly, "of the
actual committing of any of these murders?"

The Commissioner shook his head. "No, no one has been near any of these
people when they have died," he replied impressively. "No one either,
has seen any suspicious strangers about, either before or after the
crimes; no one has heard a cry, or the report of the rifle, even, when a
rifle has been used. Just the dead bodies of five of them have been
found, as silent and uncommunicative as if there were no tale that could
be told." He smiled pathetically. "It is most heart-breaking, for the
public will soon be clamouring for our blood, and I almost jump out of
my shoes every time the telephone rings, thinking that another killing
is coming through. Thank heaven, Parliament is not sitting now, or there
would be a lot of questions asked."

A long silence followed, and then Larose got up from his chair. "Well, I
think I'll be going now," he said, "to have my little talk with that
girl at the Gibbett Inn, for it seems that there is the only hope of
picking up any trail."

"And I wish you luck," said the Commissioner heartily, "although our
best men have been to the inn and pumped everybody dry. But I'll have to
give you a note of introduction to the landlord," he added, "for they
have all been sworn to silence. Luckily Cramm himself is a taciturn man
by nature, and so far nothing has leaked out to the public of the girl's
story." He spoke sharply. "Now, which of our men would you like to take
with you?"

"None of them," replied Larose promptly, "and I'll get you, please, to
make out the introduction for a plain Mr. Smith, for I don't want it to
become known that I'm on the job." He smiled. "I'm a married man now,
and as these four gentlemen appear to be so very enterprising, it's
quite possible if they learn that I'm about they may be paying a visit
to Carmel Abbey and taking a pot shot at some one there."

Larose found Croupin eagerly awaiting him in the lounge of the Savoy,
and over a good lunch explained to him upon what mission he was going,
and suggested that the Frenchman should drive them both in his new car
and give what help he could.

Croupin was delighted, and indeed he could not have appeared more happy
if another dear friend of his had died and bequeathed him another large
inheritance.

"And it is from this young girl," he exclaimed, excitedly, "that you
expect to learn everything." His voice thrilled. "Perhaps she is
beautiful, and from Beauty's lips will then fall the words that summon
these monsters to the scaffold."

"But you mustn't speak to her," said Larose, with a smile. "You must
wait outside, or talk to her parents about the weather."'

For the moment Croupin looked very disappointed, but then his face
brightened. "Ah! well," he exclaimed cheerfully, "then I will talk to her
mother. Perhaps she will be beautiful also, and I have always eyes for
your rosebud country beauty"--he shrugged his shoulders--"if it is of
course, not too full blown."

Larose eyed the exquisitely dressed Frenchman up and down. "And you'll
please change those clothes of yours," he said sternly, "or else cover
them over with a dust-coat, and you're to wear a proper chauffeur's cap.
Also, please take off that emerald ring. You are not coming out with me,
as a rich milord of France." He grinned. "You are going to be my
chauffeur, and I shall call you Sam."

Croupin made a grimace, but replied meekly enough. "All right, Meester
Larose, I will take any orders from you, because you have promised me
some danger and some fun."

He coughed slightly. "One thing however, I should like to mention.
Although I shall of course always be Raphael Croupin to you, still I
might inform you that upon coming into my inheritance I adopted my
mother's maiden name, and am now known is Raphael de Croisy-Hautville."
He laughed softly. "By that means, perhaps, I thought the reputation of
one Raphael Croupin, might the sooner be forgotten."

"Good gracious, Monsieur!" exclaimed Larose in some surprise. "An
aristocrat, are you?"

"My mother's father," assented Croupin modestly, "was the Count Robert
de Croisy-Hautville and a member of the old nobility."

Towards four o'clock in the afternoon the two then drove up to the
Gibbett Inn, and Larose, alighting quickly, made his way into the bar.
It was unoccupied except for a surly looking man who was seated behind
the counter, reading a newspaper. The man rose leisurely when Larose
appeared.

"Mr. Cramm, I believe," said Larose, and upon the man nodding a rather
suspicious acquiescence, he presented the letter of introduction.

"Ah! I thought so," exclaimed the landlord frowningly after a glance down
at the letter. "Another of them, are you?" He regarded Larose with not
very friendly eyes. "Well, we're sick of it," he went on, "and if it
were not for the drinks your people buy when they come down, I'd not
answer another question. Here, walk this way."

He led Larose round into a passage at the back of the door and shouted
"Cyn, where are you?" whereupon, a shrill voice came from upstairs.
"Here, Dad, do you want me?"

The landlord jerked with his thumb. "Up those stairs," he said to
Larose, "and you'll find her in the sitting-room. You won't want me,"
and then, as if detectives of all kinds had become of no interest to
him, he returned unceremoniously into the bar.

Ascending the stairs, Larose found himself in the elf-like presence of
Miss Cynthia Cramm, with the girl for the moment regarding him as her
father had done, with no appearance of pleasure. But then taking in that
her visitor was fashionably dressed, quite young, and decidedly
good-looking, her expression changed quickly, and she gave him a quiet
and reserved smile.

"Another detective, of course!" she exclaimed. "And what do you want?"

Larose took her measure at once, and made a most respectful bow. "So
sorry to worry you, Miss Cramm," he said with great deference, "and I
won't keep you long." He beamed at her. "No, I'm not a detective, but my
friend, Lord Ransome, expressly asked me to come and see you."

A most pleasurable feeling thrilled through the angular little frame of
Miss Cynthia Cramm as Larose mentioned the name of the Cabinet Minister.
So Lord Ransome had asked him to see her, and he was quite different to
the others, too! They had treated her as a child, and called her by her
Christian name, but he was now addressing her as Miss Cramm.

She thawed all at once. "Come in here," she said sweetly, and she led
the way into a small sitting-room containing a piano. "We'll sit on this
sofa," she went on, as cool and collected as if she were addressing a
person of her own age, "and then we can speak quite quietly, in case any
of the maids should try to 'listen-in' at the door."

The smile of Larose was now a perfectly genuine one, and he had
difficulty in not letting it pass into a grin. The girl was as
self-possessed as if she were three or four and twenty, instead of
sixteen, which was the age he now knew her to be.

"Now ask me anything you like," she said graciously when the door was
shut and they had seated themselves upon the sofa. "I am sure I should
like to help Lord Ransome, if I can. I have read about him, of course.
He is the Home Secretary."

Larose was delighted, for with all the airs she was giving herself, here
he perceived was an intelligence that should prove most useful to him.
He came to the point at once.

"Now, Miss Cramm," he said, "it seems as if everything is going to
depend upon you, for apart from what you can tell us, we can learn
nothing whatsoever about these men"--he spoke very slowly--"these
monsters who are taking life after life and escaping without being
caught."

"Well, I've helped all I can," protested the girl, "and I tell you I've
not had a too pleasant time." She bridled with indignation. "First, I
was treated as a liar, and after that they've shouted at me as if by
their shouting they could make me remember things that I hadn't seen or
heard."

"I know, I know," Larose said soothingly. "Detectives are very annoying
men, but I'm going to be quite different. I don't want to go over the
whole thing again, because I've got a copy here of everything you told
them on a sheet of paper in my pocket," and he took out and unfolded
some closely-written typescript.

He glanced down at the paper and went on, speaking very slowly. "You say
you suddenly woke up and heard the horrible mad laugh of one of them.
Then a lot of names were mentioned but you remember only two of them,
Burkington, because you have a girl friend of that name, and
Clutterbuck, because it has such a funny sound." He laughed. "And I
quite agree with you. Clutterbuck does sound funny." He went on. "Then
it at once came to you that whoever was in the room, they were not
eating, because there were no familial sounds of the clicking of knives
and forks. Then--what happened?"

"Then I knew I must have been asleep a long time," replied the girl,
"for I saw that lunch was finished with and over. So I squirmed my body
round until my eyes were opposite a crack in the ottoman and I saw four
pairs of feet and the lower part of four legs. The crack in the ottoman
is not wide and quite low down, but I could see right across the room
and that all the chairs at the long table were unoccupied." She nodded
reminiscently. "I tell you I was very frightened, for Dad is
quick-tempered and I knew he would thrash me hard for having been away
so long."

"But how did you know the meal was over?" asked Larose. "It mightn't
have yet begun."

The girl looked scornful. "If you had ever helped clear up," she
replied, "after a lot of piggish men and women had been filling their
insides, you'd know right enough from the state of the floor whether the
meal was over or not yet begun." She tilted up her chin contemptuously.
"Serviettes thrown under the table, crumbs and crusts of bread all
scattered about, and even lumps of half-chewed meat, if they've come
upon anything tough." She smiled. "Besides, I could smell the Stilton
cheese and the port wine those men were drinking."

Larose was highly amused, for this chit of a girl was talking, as if for
all the world her father were giving the meals away.

"But about the shoes these men were wearing," he said, "that's what I
want to learn." He smiled challengingly. "Now do you know anything about
shoes?"

Again, the girl looked scornful. "If you'd cleaned as many pairs as I
have," she replied, "you'd be able to boast of something." She looked
injured. "Why, before we got on and mum's cooking brought such a lot of
people to the place--before we could afford to keep any maids--I, if you
please, cleaned all the boots and shoes of everyone who was staying
here. What were their shoes like?" She rattled off quickly. "A six, two
nines, and a 10. All of good quality and one of the nines had a very
broad welt. The broad welt belonged to the man who talked most, and who
afterwards paid the bill for them all, the ten was the man with a
horrible laugh, the six spoke very quietly, and the other nine was gruff
and rather rude." She smiled at the look of surprise upon Larose's face.
"They all spoke as if they were educated men besides being well
dressed."

Larose was not only surprised but delighted also. Here, he was already
learning something that had not been put down in the police reports--the
shoes with the broad welt. A small thing, certainly, but in the tracking
down of crime the smallest things at times become important and often
their cumulative value is priceless.

"But tell me," he asked quickly, "did you see the soles of any of these
shoes?"

"Of two of them," she replied, "and you could tell they had been driving
their cars, for, when they leant back in their chairs and rested their
feet upon their heels, I saw the polished spot where they press down the
accelerator. Those shoes belonged to the ten and one of the nines, not
the nine with the broad welt."

"And his shoes," asked Larose quickly, "the broad-welted shoes of the
man who you say talked the most. Did they look like shoes you would go
motoring in?"

"Our customers are practically all motorists," she replied grandly. "We
don't cater for hikers. Our prices are much too high. We charge 3/6 for
lunch."

"Never mind that," said Larose, "for he may have been an exception.
Think"--he smiled--"would you be likely to be driving a car in those
shoes, for if they had broad welts they would be likely, also, to have
thick soles and be walking shoes."

For the first time Miss Cynthia did not seem to be quite so ready with
her reply, and she sat frowning and biting her underlip very
thoughtfully.

"No-o," she said slowly, after a long pause, "I don't think I should,
for they would be rather heavy." Then she added suddenly and in a very
different tone. "No, he might not perhaps have come in a car, for I
remember now there was mud upon his shoes." She nodded brightly. "Yes,
his were the only dirty pair. All the others looked spick and span as if
they had just been put on."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Larose, "then he may have walked here! But how do
you know," he went on quickly, "if you could only see the legs of these
men, that it was the one with these heavy shoes who did most of the
talking?"

She smiled as if she were amused. "After a few minutes," she replied, "I
could tell instantly which of the four was speaking by the movements of
his feet or the shifting about of the legs of his chair. They were all
talking earnestly, and there was some movement in their bodies when they
spoke. The man with the thick shoes had a lovely voice, like an educated
clergyman or some one speaking over the air, and when he was talking the
front legs of his chair kept tilting up and down, and you could tell his
body was moving backwards and forwards, or from side to side. You
understand," she explained, "I could see much better than I could hear,
for their voices were always muffled to me except when I was just
raising the lid of the ottoman, and I couldn't keep that up for long at
a time. It made my arm ache so."

"You are very intelligent, Miss Cramm," said Larose warmly, "and it is a
pleasure to talk to you." He laughed. "You would make a good detective."

The girl laughed too. "But if you only knew the time I've had during the
last few days," she said, "ever since the detectives began coming up,
you would be sorry for me." She looked very sorry for herself. "I lie
awake at night for hours and hours, trying to recall something else they
said." She sighed. "But I think I've told everything I can remember."

Larose was looking down at a paper in his hand. "Well, there are one of
two questions," he said, "that I want to ask you about. You told the
detectives that one of the men mentioned they had tools all ready to
hand."

"Yes," nodded the girl, "the man with the nice voice said that."

"And then he went on to say," said Larose still looking at the paper,
"that some one they knew would cut any one's throat with his razor if
only they paid him well enough for it."

"Yes," replied the girl, "he said he was sure the man would be willing
to do it, or at any rate, he looked as if he would be willing to do it.
He then said that he had seen this same man buying filthy black
cigarettes one night in a shop in Soho, and he wouldn't wonder if he
hadn't fought against us in the war."

Larose looked up sharply. "But you didn't mention about those cigarettes
to the detectives," he said with a frown. "It's not down here on this
paper."

"No," she replied calmly. "I didn't think of it until just now, when
those nicotine stains on your fingers reminded me of it."

Larose repressed a smile. "Black cigarettes, he said he saw him buy?" he
asked.

"Filthy black ones," was the reply. "Those were his exact words."

"And then one or them said," went on Larose turning back to his paper,
"that the smell of some place they used to go into made him feel sick
every time for a few minutes until he got used to it."

"Yes, the man with the gruff voice said that," replied the girl, "the
man with the other shoes of size nine."

"And did he say that immediately after the remark had been made about
the man cutting throats with his razor," asked Larose, "as if there were
some connection between the razor man and the smell?"

"Almost immediately it must have been," said the girl, "because I
remember I was pushing up the top of the ottoman then, and had to let it
down very soon after to give myself a rest."

"And did any one else say anything about this smell?" was the next
question.

The girl hesitated. "I think it was the man with the horrible laugh,"
she replied slowly, "who said something like, 'Oh! that's nothing to
them, for they live on smells where they come from.'" She nodded
emphatically. "Yes, and he said, too, it was a better smell than that of
men and women who never washed or changed their clothes."

"And then they talked about Hankow!" said Larose.

"They only said that someone they knew about came from there. I just
caught the name of the place."

Larose looked down again upon the paper and remarked meditatively: "And
you saw a diamond ring upon the finger of the man who paid the bill when
he bent down to arrange one of his socks, and the hand was big and plump
and white." He thought for a moment. "And should you know that man's
voice again?" he asked.

"If I live to be a hundred," exclaimed Cynthia fervently, "for it was a
beautiful voice, and kept going up and down."

"Now, one last question," said Larose, "and think over it before you
reply, because it is very important." He eyed her solemnly. "Now, did it
strike you, from the way they spoke to one another, that they were old
friends--or that they were comparative strangers to one another?"

"I can't say," replied the girl slowly. She nodded. "All I can tell you
is that they talked about that throat cutting man and other people they
had been with as if they knew all about them."

"That's not what I mean," said Larose quickly. "I want to find out if it
seemed to you that that they had had chats together before. If they had
had meals and drinks together and knew each other's little ways."

The girl thought for a long time. "Perhaps not," she replied, after a
while, "for I remember when the man with the nice voice asked the one
with the small shoes once if he was sure he wouldn't have one of his
cigarettes, the answer was, 'No, thank you. I tell you I never smoke.'"

"That's it!" nodded Larose. "That's what I wanted to know." He rose to
his feet. "Well, thank you very much, Miss Cramm. I'm sure you've been
most helpful. Now, a last favour. Could I see this head waitress of
yours, although I've been told she can recollect nothing, and the other
two girls are just as useless?"

"Of course you can," replied Cynthia. "I'll go and fetch her at once."
She rose up from the sofa and walked over towards the door, but then, in
passing the window, she stopped suddenly and ejaculated, "My!"

Larose followed the direction of her eyes and saw that it was Croupin,
who had now attracted her attention. The Frenchman was standing by the
car below, and with a very disconsolate look upon his face, smoking a
cigarette.

"But isn't he handsome," went on Cynthia ecstatically. "He looks like a
film star." She turned sharply to Larose. "Is he a friend of yours? Did
he come with you?"

"He's my chauffeur," smiled Larose, "and when you've sent that waitress
to me, you can go and talk to him."

"Sure, I will," replied Cynthia archly. "I like talking to good-looking
men."

Larose questioned the waitress, but could get nothing out of her. She
was wooden and unintelligent and could add nothing to that she had
already told the detective, indeed she declared she would not have
recollected the incident of the four men at all, if it had not been that
it had happened upon the afternoon when the landlord's daughter could
not be found anywhere, and was not at hand to help them tidy up the
room.

A few minutes later, Larose and Croupin drove off from the inn, the
former in good spirits, but the latter, seemingly rather depressed.

"Well, Croupin my boy," asked Larose presently, as they were speeding
along towards the south coast, "did you admire the beauties you saw."

"I saw no beauties," replied Croupin in disconsolate tones. "Only a very
red-faced woman who waddled like a duck, and a child who came and asked
me silly questions."

"She was not a child!" exclaimed Larose, as if very surprised. "She is
getting on for seventeen and is the daughter I came to see!"

"Bon nuit!" exclaimed Croupin disgustedly, "and I told her to go back to
her dolls." Then he asked abruptly, "And did you get anything out of
her?"

"Yes," nodded Larose emphatically, "most certainly I did. I have several
things to talk over with you to-night after I've seen the judge's widow.
We're off to Eastbourne now to catch her before dinner time."

Lady Lorraine was a frail old lady, well over seventy, and she received
Larose with a gentle old-world courtesy. She did not mind discussing her
husband's dreadful end and was anxious to give all the help she could.
Larose had been up the lane and with the aid of a photograph he had
brought with him, had picked out the exact spot where the judge had been
killed. Now he pressed her hard as to any trivial happenings in the
weeks just prior to when her husband died.

"We have got as far as this," he said. "We are sure that if this
terrible happening were not the unpremeditated act of a madman, then it
was carefully prepared for and someone waited to seize the opportunity
when your husband would be alone. You have told us the lane is little
used, but that he passed along it every day, as a matter of routine, for
his short morning walk. You almost invariably accompanied him, but did
not do so the morning upon which he died, because you were in bed with a
bad cold."

The old lady nodded. "Yes, that is so," she replied sadly, "and it was
the first morning for a long time that I had not gone with him."

"Then you told the inspector," went on Larose, "that you had never
noticed any suspicious strangers hanging about and had no recollection
of meeting the same party twice, but you also said that the day before
everything happened, you both came upon a man at the bottom of the lane,
standing on the tree-trunk there, looking over your garden wall."

"Yes," said Lady Lorraine, "he said he had been admiring our roses."

"And you only happened to speak to him," continued Larose, "because your
little fox-terrier ran up and began barking at him and Sir John then
called the dog back and apologised."

"That is so," said the old lady, "and the gentleman was most polite. My
husband asked him if he would like to come in and go through the garden,
but he excused himself that he had only just time to get back to his
hotel for lunch."

"And you can't describe him!" said Larose.

"No, I am very short-sighted without my glasses," she replied, "which I
never wear when out-doors, and except that I think he was of medium
height and rather stout, I can tell you nothing about him." She shook
her head most emphatically. "But he would never have harmed my poor
husband. He was a gentleman, whatever he was."

"And, of course, you realised that from the way he spoke," said Larose
quietly, "from his voice. Now, tell me what was his voice like?"

"Very cultured and pleasant," replied Lady Lorraine, "and my dear
husband remarked upon it, too, later on."

"Oh! and what did he say?" asked Larose quickly.

"That it was the voice of an orator," was the answer, "and recalled to
him the days when the great King's Counsels used to plead before him in
the Courts." She smiled wistfully. "You see, Mr. Smith, living the quiet
and uneventful lives that we did, all by ourselves, most trifling things
interested us and that is why I happen to remember this gentleman
speaking to us."

"And perhaps," said Larose very gently and endeavouring to keep her
thoughts in the same channel, "this chance encounter made Sir John
reminiscent, and he spoke about some of the cases that had been tried
before him."

Lady Lorraine smiled. "You are quite a wizard," she said. "Yes, he did,
and we sat over lunch for quite a long time that day." Tears welled up
into her eyes. "I remember that meal so well, because it was the last
one we had together. I went to bed that afternoon and was there"--her
voice choked--"when his body was brought home."

Larose waited until she had entirely recovered from her emotion and then
asked carelessly--

"And can you recall any of the trials, in particular, that he
mentioned?"

She thought for a moment. "One," she replied, "when some doctor was
being tried for murder and Mortimer Fairfax was prosecuting. He said it
was a battle royal between Mr. Fairfax and the counsel for the defence,
Sir Arnold Trevane, and they both were so wonderful that he himself
could never be quite certain as to whether the doctor were guilty or
not." She nodded. "However, he was hanged."

That was all Larose could learn from her, and when he left the house a
few minutes later, he carried away with him the remembrance of a very
dear old lady, who was brave enough to be living out the remainder of
her life within a few yards of the spot where her husband had met with
such a dreadful end.

They put up at the Queen's Hotel in Eastbourne, and when after dinner
they retired to their common bedroom, Larose at once began to talk
business.

"Now, Monsieur," he said with a smile, "you may be a great rogue but at
the same time you are a very wise one, and in that nicely shaped head of
yours there is plenty of imagination, and good reasoning power, or you
would not have been wanted so much by the authorities of your very
charming country."

"I am a rogue no longer, Meester Larose," said Croupin with great
dignity, "for I am now your friend, and I know you would not be
consorting with an evil-doer."

"I'm not so certain of that," replied Larose, with a grin, "for it seems
to me I've been consorting with evil-doers all my life." He took some
papers out of his pocket. "Never mind, here goes. I'm going to ask you
for your suggestions and advice."

Then in minute detail he proceeded to go through the conversations he
had had with Cynthia Cramm, and the widowed Lady Lorraine. "Now,
Monsieur Croupin, what do you make of it?" he asked, when he had
finished. "Have I learnt anything to-day that will be of use to us or
not?" He looked doubtful. "You see, I can imagine so many things that
hang upon such slender threads that I am afraid to let my imagination
go."

"But some things are so clear, Meester Larose," said Croupin earnestly,
"that there is no need for imagination. One thing--that man who paid for
the meal and the wine was, of course, the host, therefore it was he who
had asked those others to meet him there."

"It looks as if the host of that dinner lives close to the inn,"
commented Larose, "and that he walked, for there was mud on both his
shoes, not a chance splash, but mud on the broad welt between the soles
and the uppers." He nodded. "Yes; this man, the host, the leader of the
four, should live within a few miles of the inn, and he chose it as a
place of rendezvous, because it suited his convenience."

"But if he lives near," argued Croupin, "why didn't he ask those men to
come to his own house? They must have thought it strange!"

"I take it they didn't know where he lived," replied Larose quickly,
"indeed, probably they were none of them aware where one another lived.
Also, I am of opinion that the man who called them together was the only
one there who knew there was going to be a party." He scoffed. "If they
had all known it, why should they have gone through the farce of sitting
apart from one another at the meal, knowing that the waitresses were
going to see them all hobnobbing together afterwards?" He added
convincingly. "This was their first meeting, too."

"Oh!" exclaimed Croupin, "how do you make that out?"

"They met to plot murder and outrage, we know," replied Larose. "None of
the series we are now called upon to deal with had commenced up to then,
but they commenced immediately afterwards. Also, over that port wine and
liqueurs, they were not too well acquainted with one another." He shook
his finger at Croupin. "Remember, the man who gave the party asked one
of them if he was sure he would not have one of his cigarettes, and the
reply was 'I tell you I don't smoke.'" He nodded. "That 'I tell you'
means the stout man had asked him once before, and therefore had not
fully taken in his tastes and habits."

"Bien, Monsieur," said Croupin with a smile, "they are little things,
but the little things count"--he drew himself up proudly--"with men who
are tracking murderers down."

"Well, now," went on Larose, "he spoke about 'tools ready to hand,' and
then went on immediately to talk about some man who looked as if he
would cut any one's throat with his razor." He looked sharply at
Croupin. "Now, when you talk about a man and his razor, obviously, who
are they thinking of?"

"A barber," replied Croupin, "and as he went on to say he had met the
fellow one night in Soho buying black cigarettes, the barber is probably
not an Englishman. Also as he said that perhaps the man had fought
against England in the war, then this barber should be a Swiss and not
either a Frenchman or a German, for in either of those cases the stout
man would have been certain whom the barber had been fighting against,
and would not have used the word 'perhaps.'" He laughed gaily. "Perhaps
I am stealing your thunder, Meester Larose, but I am of opinion we must
look for a Swiss barber here."

"Excellent!" laughed back Larose, "we are now giving our imagination
full play, but for all that we may be quite right."

"And there is, of course, a Chinaman mixed up in it as well," went on
Croupin. "The gentleman from Hankow."

"Yes," agreed Larose, "and now we come to the smell." He spoke very
thoughtfully. "What did it mean, when immediately after talking about
the barber the gruff man said that the smell of somewhere they used to
go into always made him feel sick for a few minutes, until he had got
accustomed to it?"

"They had been accustomed to meet in some place where there were
chemicals," replied Croupin promptly, "or tallow, or hides"--his eyes
sparkled--"in some warehouse perhaps, down by the docks in the East
End."

"Good!" exclaimed Larose, "and that's where most of the Chinamen are.
Didn't the man with the unpleasant voice say 'they live on smells where
they come from.'" He smiled. "Yes, our imaginations are not failing us."

A short silence followed and then he went on. "And now we come to
something that may eventually prove to be the strongest link in the
chain we are going to forge about these men." He spoke impressively. "I
have been to two houses to-day, and in both of them mention has been
made of a voice, and taking all the circumstances together there is no
doubt in my mind that I have been hearing about one and the same voice,
the voice of the stout man in the Gibbett Inn and the voice of the
stroller in the lane, who one morning spoke so charmingly to Sir John
Lorraine, and the next day bludgeoned him to death almost at the same
spot."

He leant back in his chair. "You see, Monsieur," he went on, "that voice
made a great impression upon little Cynthia Cramm, and in a lesser
degree interested Lady Lorraine. The girl described it as the voice of a
fine preacher, or some one chosen to broadcast over the air, and the
judge's widow referred to it as stamping its possessor as a gentleman.
Also, it had a singular effect upon Sir John himself, for it made him
reminiscent and stirred in him memories of great legal battles of long
ago." He nodded very solemnly. "Now, my opinion is that the old judge
subconsciously recognised the voice, that he had heard it before, and
that is why it carried him back in memory to the environment where he
had once encountered it."

"It may be," admitted Croupin slowly, "for memory can play us strange
tricks. What we remember and why we remember depends upon such trifles
some times." He sighed, "A violet, for instance, always recalls to me a
girl in Picardy I once plighted my troth to. I can recall her face
vividly, whenever I smell one, and yet, for the life of me, I can never
remember her name. She was exquisite and----"

"You see," broke in Larose, cutting him short, "the voice roused in two
people the same parallel lines of thought: in Cynthia Cramm a melodious
preacher in the pulpit, and in the judge, a great pleader arguing before
him in the court. Therefore----"

"But how can the voice help you?" interrupted Croupin in his turn,
annoyed perhaps that the recital of his romance in Picardy had been shut
down. "You can't pick out a voice from among the fifty millions of
others in England, and even if you could you can't use a voice as
evidence in a court of law."

Larose began unloosening his tie. "Well, you see if I can't, my friend,"
he smiled. "I've got a good idea there." He took off his collar. "But
it's shut-eye time for us both now, and you can start straight away to
dream of that girl in Picardy you were speaking about. To-morrow we're
off to Surbiton to guess why that old clergyman died," and he started
taking off his clothes, humming to Croupin's amused annoyance,
"Somewhere a voice is calling!"




CHAPTER IV.--GHOSTS OF THE DEAD.


Mrs. Fox-Drummond was a well-known society woman, and resided in
Surbiton in a spacious mansion standing in its own grounds. A widow
about 50 years of age and well-to-do, she entertained a good deal, and,
with no children of her own, acted as fairy-godmother to a large number
of nephews and nieces whose parents were not so liberally endowed with
this world's goods as she was.

A strong character and of literary tastes, she had written several
novels which, if they had not had a large circulation, had nevertheless
been favourably received by the Press. She was also interested in art
and possessed a number of paintings of considerable value, a very fine
collection of old china, and a harpsichord of the beginning of the 18th
century. She came of a very old family, and, immensely proud of her own
aristocratic connections, had a profound reverence for the upper
classes.

She had known Lady Helen Ardane before the latter's marriage to Gilbert
Larose, and, as a matter of principle, had heartily disapproved of the
match, so when upon that Saturday morning the ex-detective's card was
brought in upon a silver salver by a very obsequious butler she elevated
her eyebrows rather disdainfully, and when a few moments later Larose
himself was ushered in her manner was distinctly cold and distant.

But the respectful and almost deferential attitude of her visitor
speedily disarmed her, and noticing with approval that he looked in
every way a gentleman and was, moreover, dressed in perfectly good
taste, she became friendly, and was soon disposed to talk to him without
reserve.

"So you've returned to Scotland Yard!" she said. "I thought you had
naturally given all that work up for good."

"No, I haven't returned to the Yard," replied Larose, "but as all these
dreadful crimes are so baffling to every one and now appear to be a
sequence, I was asked by the Home Office to see if I could help in any
way." He smiled apologetically. "I am so very sorry to bother you, but
it is just possible coming fresh into the inquiry I may pick up
something that the others missed."

"Well, what is it you want me to tell you?" she asked.

"I want you to just go over for me exactly what happened that
afternoon," he replied, "immediately before it was discovered the poor
archdeacon had met with such a terrible death. He was your cousin, I
understand, and you were giving a little party to celebrate the 21st
birthday of his daughter, Miss Angela Lendon. You had lunched together
and then the young people had played tennis until about half-past five.
Then all of you except the archdeacon had come indoors to have a
cocktail. You left him seated in a garden chair over upon the other side
of the lawn, but in full view of all the windows of the house. He was
reading."

"Yes," she said, "and we could see him from the room where we were. He
was leaning back with his feet upon another chair, and his legs were
wrapped in a rug." She shuddered. "He might have been shot any moment
after we left him, for except that the book had dropped from his hands
and one arm was hanging down, his position when we found him was almost
exactly as it had been before." She steadied her voice with an effort.
"It was only his head that had moved, and that was leaning sideways as
if he had fallen asleep."

She rose abruptly to her feet, and beckoned Larose to follow her to the
window. "Look, that's where he was sitting," she went on, "just under
that tree and that"--she pointed to a high backed and well-cushioned
cane chair--"is the facsimile of the chair he was sitting in." She drew
in a deep breath. "The other one has been burnt."

"And none of you has any recollection," asked Larose gently, "of hearing
any noise like a rifle being fired?"

She shook her head. "None of us. We were laughing and talking, and with
the wireless on there was small chance of hearing a little .22 being
fired." She looked quickly at him. "You know of course, that it was a
.22 rifle that was used?" She sighed. "I fired with one for many years,
when a girl in Devonshire, and remember well what a little noise it
makes. Just a snap, or like the crack of a whip." Her face looked
furious. "The murderer couldn't have been a dozen yards away when he
fired"--she pointed with her finger--"and there isn't a shadow of doubt
he fired over that wall."

"And, of course, you all thought it was an accident at first!" said
Larose.

"I didn't," she replied sharply. "I knew it was murder at once, because
I saw the two bullet holes, the instant I looked at him." She nodded.
"The murderer was taking no chances, and deliberately fired twice."

Larose was silent for a few moments to allow Mrs. Fox-Drummond to calm
down, and then he asked quietly. "And none of you can form any idea as
to why anybody should have wished to take your cousin's life?"

"If it were not for these other murders," she replied, "I should say at
once it was because of his book, 'Facing Facts.' He was a very broad
churchman and his views had made him a lot of enemies. He was always
receiving letters demanding that he should unfrock himself and leave the
Church." She scoffed contemptuously. "He threw them all into the fire."

They talked on for quite a long time, and then Larose, getting up to
take his leave, she rose up, too, and moved towards the door with the
evident intention of herself showing him out.

"Your wife is a very sweet woman, Mr. Larose," she said, smilingly and
evidently relieved now to change the conversation. "I met her as Lady
Ardane several times, and from that photograph in 'The Sphere' a little
while back, she hasn't altered at all. Just as beautiful and stately as
ever!" Her face clouded suddenly, and she bit her lip. "Ah! that reminds
me. I'll show you a photograph that was taken of us all that afternoon,
not half an hour before my poor cousin died. I had a photographer down
from town, expressly, to make a good picture. Come with me and I'll show
it you."

She led the way into a small room off the lounge hall, and pointed out a
large photograph, about two feet by one, hanging upon the wall. It was a
fine piece of work, and the faces and figures of every one of the score
and more individuals stood out most clearly and distinctly.

"That is my cousin, of course," she said quietly, "and you can see what
a fine, strong face he had." Her voice trembled. "He was quite a young
man, although he was 63."

A deep hush came over them, for they were both thinking of the mystery
and uncertainty of life. Here was a group of happy smiling people,
dainty girls, stately matrons, and distinguished-looking men, all
seemingly in the full participation of the good things of life, and
yet--had they only known it--they were all standing in the very shadow
of death, and within a few short moments one of their number was to come
to a foul and bloody end.

But suddenly Larose drew in a sharp inspiration and with difficulty
suppressed an exclamation of surprise. He said nothing, however, for a
few moments, and then pointing to one of the figures in the group asked
carelessly, "And who is that gentleman holding the racquet?"

"Another cousin of mine," replied Mrs. Fox-Drummond, "Mr. Mortimer
Fairfax, the King's Counsel. He and Archdeacon Lendon were
half-brothers."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose, now unable to repress his surprise, "why,
what a coincidence, for I was only talking about him yesterday, and he
is a gentleman I very much want to see! Where does he live, please?"

"At Ingatestone," she replied, "the other side of London, in Essex."

Larose looked quickly at his watch. "Then do you think I should catch
him at home this afternoon?" he asked. "It's very important. I suppose
he's on the 'phone."

Mrs. Fox-Drummond shook her head. "No, he won't be at home this
afternoon," she replied. She laughed, "He's coming here for some tennis
after lunch."

Larose looked the picture of astonishment. "Well!" he exclaimed, "what
another coincidence! It's almost unbelievable!" He spoke very
regretfully. "Now, I wonder if I might call back here this afternoon,
for just a few minutes, and have a little chat with him. Yes, the
matter's really very urgent, or I wouldn't bother you. May I come back?"

Mrs. Fox-Drummond hesitated just a moment, "No, you mustn't come back,
Mr. Larose," she said, inclining her head graciously. "You must stay to
lunch with us. I shall be so pleased, and you can tell me about some of
your adventures. There will be only Miss Lendon with me. She is my
goddaughter."

"It is very kind of you, I'm sure," said Larose warmly, "but I have a
friend with me, who brought me down in his car"--he rolled out the name
in secret amusement--"Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville."

"Then, of course, he'll stay, too," said Mrs. Fox-Drummond instantly.
"I'll ring for the butler to ask him to come in."

"No, no," exclaimed Larose, pointing to the open French window, and
anxious that at all costs no one should see Croupin in his chauffeur's
cap. "I'll go and fetch him if I may. He's only just outside."

He found Croupin sitting in the car, and the Frenchman at once discarded
his cap and dust-coat when he heard what was going to happen, and almost
in a movement like that of a conjuror, produced and put on his big
emerald ring.

"Now don't be too friendly," admonished Larose, "for she's inclined to
be high-and-mighty, and a bit stand-offish with it as well."

But he was quite wrong there, for Mrs. Fox-Drummond received the
Frenchman in a mostly friendly fashion, and at once held out her hand.
"I've heard of your family, Monsieur," she said. "The de
Choisy-Hautvilles come from Brittany, do they not?"

"Oh! yes," replied Croupin very delighted. "My estate is near Rennes."

Angela Lendon came in presently, and the moment he set eyes upon her
Croupin's heart beat so violently that he was sure he would be unable to
taste a single morsel of the lunch.

The girl was dainty and aristocratic-looking, with golden hair, nice
complexion, and eyes of beautiful forget-me-not colour. She carried
herself proudly, but if her expression were a little cold, it was
redeemed by the hint of passion in the lips of her very pretty mouth.
She was of medium height, with a graceful and well-proportioned figure.

The luncheon party certainly proved a great success, but it was
undoubtedly Croupin who carried off all the honours. His manners were so
charming, he was so deferential towards the ladies and yet with all he
carried himself with such due pride, as became a descendant of the
French nobility. His knowledge too, of the subjects that most interested
his hostess and Miss Lendon were so profound that they could not help
being thrilled.

He could name all the private owners of the most valuable paintings in
France, all the great ladies there who possessed the most priceless
jewels, and the precautions they took to prevent them being stolen, and
all the castles and great chateaux where the historic tapestries were
housed.

Then when they spoke of music his dark eyes flashed as he told them how
he had played upon some of the great master-works of the old Cremona
school, and how he had himself once possessed a genuine Antonio
Stradivaris. Altogether, he was so interesting that it was easy to
perceive from the heightened colour of the young girl what pleasure she
was deriving from his conversation. Indeed after the meal was over she
commandeered him openly to go with her and try his skill upon the old
historic harpsichord.

"Now, Mr. Larose," said Mrs. Fox-Drummond, when they were together by
themselves, "there are six or seven people coming for the tennis this
afternoon, and some of them may be here any moment, now. So, I suggest,
as you say you do not wish it to be broadcast that you are speaking
privately to Mr. Fairfax, that you wait here for him and I'll send him
into you directly he comes."

"That's very thoughtful of you," agreed Larose, "and I shall be most
grateful." He thought for a moment. "But if you don't mind I should like
to wait in the little room where the photograph was. I want to study it
again."

And so it happened that about half an hour later a big burly man, with a
large face of ruddy complexion, bustled into the room where Larose was,
and eyed the ex-detective very keenly from under his shaggy brows.

"Good afternoon," he said gruffly as he came forward to shake hands, "I
know all about you, of course, and heard you give evidence once in the
Texworthy murder case,"--he frowned as if he were not too pleased--"but
what the deuce you want with me now, I don't understand. To my thinking,
they've found out all they will find out about the trouble here, and I'm
quite sure I can't help you in any way."

"On the contrary," replied Larose, "I expect you to help me quite a
lot." He lowered his voice impressively. "Do you know, Mr. Fairfax, in
my opinion you are in very great danger, and indeed, are under sentence
of death."

"Under sentence of death!" gasped the King's Counsel, as if he could not
believe his ears. He looked furious. "What the devil do you mean?"

"When they killed the archdeacon on the lawn here," replied Larose
solemnly, "they thought they were killing you. You are not unlike him in
appearance, and see"--he pointed to the photograph--"the shapes of your
two heads are exactly similar." He went on quickly. "The archdeacon was
sitting in that high-backed chair, only his head was visible, and as he
was fired upon from behind, whoever killed him only saw the back of it."
He nodded. "Remember, you, in your calling, are far more likely to have
excited hatred in the heart of someone than an elderly clergyman,
however broad his views." He nodded again. "Yes, in my opinion, they
thought they had got you that afternoon, and it came into my mind, the
very moment I saw that photograph."

The ruddy face of the King's Counsel had paled under its tan. "Good
God!" he exclaimed, "and last Sunday at my place in Ingatestone, my
Pomeranian was growling all night, and in the morning we found
footprints of someone in the bed of phlox, just under my bedroom
window!"

"Do you go home then to Ingatestone every night?" asked Larose.

"No," replied Fairfax, with his breath still coming unevenly, "I stay in
apartments in the Empire Residential Hotel during the week, and go home
only at week-ends. I am a bachelor."

"Have you been at home every weekend then, since the archdeacon died?"
asked Larose.

"No, last Sunday was the first night, for two months. I've been away on
holiday in the Engadine since July." His colour began to come back, and
he spoke angrily. "But, damn it all, man, whose enmity have I incurred
that they should want to murder me?"

"That's what we've got to find out," replied Larose, "and with your
help, I think we shall do it. See here, Mr. Fairfax, I have what is
quite a simple problem to put to you, and to recall some one who may be
your deadly enemy is not nearly so difficult as it may appear, for"--he
spoke now very slowly--"the individual was the enemy also of Sir John
Lorraine."

"Ah! I understand," exclaimed the K.C. with a scowl, "you mean some one
I obtained a conviction against, and whom Sir John sentenced upon the
verdict of guilty being brought in?"

"That's it," replied Larose. "Now you've often pleaded before him,
haven't you?"

Mr. Fairfax nodded. "In the last twenty years, I must have led for the
Crown a hundred times when he was presiding over the Court. I took silk
more than five and twenty years ago." He shook his head frowningly. "But
damnation, sir, how can we trail every man who's got his deserts between
us?"

Then Larose, omitting all reference to the Gibbett Inn, told of his
interview with Lady Lorraine the previous night. How, the day previous
to her husband's murder, she and Sir John had met a pleasant-tongued
stranger in the lane just outside the garden wall; how the judge had
remarked later upon the strangers voice, and how it had stirred in him a
whole train of memories of his days in the Criminal Courts.

"And he particularly brought up your name," concluded Larose, "so I
insist the man's voice made him think of you, and subconsciously he was
remembering some occasion--not the exact one he mentioned, because the
man found guilty there was hanged--where you and he had been principals
in some great drama staged in his court."

"That doesn't help us much," growled the K.C. "My life's been a very
crowded one, and even if I go through every page of my case-book, I
couldn't hope to pick out the man you want."

Then Larose played his trump card. "But think," he said sternly, "I want
a man, probably not too old, who was well, perhaps even foppishly
dressed; who was educated and, no doubt, plausible; who was certainly of
an energetic nature, and prepared to take risks; who was an organiser;
who was a leader of men; a man of imagination who painted upon a big
canvas and did things in a big way;"--he spoke very solemnly--"and,
above all, a man who was an orator and whose voice, may be, thrilled the
Court every time he spoke."

The burly K.C. stood as if hypnotised, with his mouth wide open and his
eyes fixed. In great distress of mind he was stirring the wells of
memory, and he found their waters very dark.

"Think, think," insisted Larose. "An educated, well-spoken man, a man of
great energy and an orator, with an organ voice."

The K.C. sprang suddenly into life. "Gad! gad! I know him," he almost
shouted. "I can pick him up. It was Oscar Bascoigne and I can hear him
now. He was in the dock for fraudulent company promoting, and he had
ruined thousands of people. He conducted his own defence, and although
his fraud was absolutely patent, yet he so swung the jury by his
eloquence that it was touch and go to the last minute whether he got off
or not. But they brought in 'guilty,' and Sir John sent him down for
seven years. When the sentence was pronounced he raved that Sir John's
summing-up was the most scandalous piece of special pleading that had
ever been heard." He drew in a deep breath. "Yes, it's Oscar Bascoigne,
you mean, for sure."

Larose wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "What was he like?" he
asked hoarsely.

"Everything you say he was," replied Fairfax promptly. "A clever,
plausible rogue. A silver-tongued scoundrel who was afraid of nothing."
He laughed through his teeth. "Ay! he painted upon a broad canvas right
enough. He'd been living like a nabob, and spending hundreds of
thousands of the savings of the little rich and the thrifty poor."

They talked on for a long while, with Larose now taking him into his
confidence as to all that he had learnt at the Gibbett Inn. Then the
great King's Counsel shook Larose warmly by the hand.

"You are a real artist, sir," he said smilingly, "and if it turns out
that you are right you will indeed have reaped your harvest from the
desert sands. It's perfectly wonderful to me how you have deduced so
much with so little to go upon."

"Well, don't you go for any more week-ends at Ingatestone," warned
Larose--he hesitated--"at any rate, until I am free to go with you.
Then----"

"Damn it all!" laughed the K.C. "I see what's in your mind. You want to
use me as ground bait, don't you."

Larose laughed back. "Something like that, sir," he replied, "but I
promise you they shan't get you if I'm there."

Dragging Croupin away, who came, however, with the greatest of
reluctance, the car was soon turned towards London, for Larose was now
of opinion that he had gathered quite sufficient information to make a
good start, and had best continue his investigations on the morrow in
the vicinity of the Gibbett Inn.

Croupin was strangely silent as they drove along, and not a word was
spoken for several miles. Then Larose asked with a smile. "Had a good
time, Monsieur? Did you enjoy yourself?"

The Frenchman sighed heavily. "Not too much, Meester Larose," he
replied, "for there was a ghost behind me all the time."

"A ghost!" exclaimed Larose, very surprised. "But I should have thought
you would have been supremely happy, for you took that girl's heart by
storm, I could see," and as Croupin made no comment, he asked. "Wouldn't
she talk to you when you went off together?"

Croupin's face brightened at once. "Oh! yes, and she didn't go out for
any tennis," he replied, "until Mrs. Fox-Drummond came in with some of
the others, and we had to go." He smiled sadly. "I had been playing on
that harpsichord for her 'Love's Old Sweet Song' and other pieces like
it"--he sighed again--"and she just sat and watched me."

"Well, why are you unhappy," asked Larose, "and what about the ghost?"

Croupin sighed for the third time. "It is my past," he replied. "I can
never be a good man, Monsieur, for I have been once a thief."

"Oh! that's nothing," replied Larose with a grin. "Don't you come from
the old nobility and didn't they bludgeon and thieve their way into all
they got." He laughed banteringly. "You read history, my boy, and see
how the old robber barons carried on--the jokers who made the greatness
of both your country and this one." He dug Croupin in the ribs. "It's in
your blood, Monsieur, and you couldn't help it until you'd worked it
out." Then feeling quite sorry for the woe-begone expression upon the
Frenchman's face he added, "it was only adventure you wanted. Why, I
remember I used to steal once, myself."

"You, Meester Larose!" exclaimed Croupin incredulously. "You were a
thief, too?"

Larose looked very solemn. "Apples!" he mouthed in a whisper. "Apples,
grapes, and plums!" He laughed again. "Yes, you'll settle down one day
all right, and if you marry a girl like Angela Lendon and there are soon
six or seven little de Croisy-Hautvilles knocking about, you'll----"

"Don't please, Monsieur," broke in Croupin quickly. "Such things are too
sacred to talk about. It hurts me. I must forget about her."

But Croupin would have been very interested if he could have been the
fly upon the wall when Mrs. Fox-Drummond and Angela were discussing him
after all the tennis-party had gone, at least it was the elder lady who
discussed him, for the girl herself made no comment.

"Blood always tells, darling," she said, "and you could see at once from
what stock he has sprung. I admit I was charmed with him." She nodded
impressively. "And he must mix with the very best in France, to be able
to tell us of all those jewels they've got, and the precautions they
take to prevent them being stolen. Yes, I think him a charming man."

But the girl was still silent, contenting herself with meditatively
opening and shutting her small, white hands. She had noticed Croupin
looking at them when she had handed him her cigarette case, and she was
wondering if he had thought they were pretty.

Dropping Croupin at his hotel, Larose walked round to Scotland Yard, and
was soon in possession of all the facts concerning one, Oscar Bascoigne,
who fifteen and a half years previously had been sentenced to seven
years' penal servitude, and who, when about five years later had been
released upon ticket-of-leave, had failed to report himself, even upon
one single occasion, to the authorities.

Bascoigne was 33 years of age at the time of his conviction, and the son
of a medical missionary, and born at Yokohama, had been sent to England
to be educated. From Winchester College he had gone on to Cambridge, and
there had taken a degree with first-class honours. Then for a short time
he had been tutor to the sons of a wealthy planter in Ceylon, but the
climate not suiting him he had returned to England and entered a
stock-broker's office in London. He had speedily shown a genius for
finance, and before he was thirty had started company promoting.

At first he had met with success after success, but with no bounds to
his ambition his last venture had been the formation of the Cosmopolitan
Investment Company with a capital of 2,000,000. There, however,
everything had gone against him, and he had soon resorted to devious
ways to support the undertaking, which, indeed, had been a failure from
the very first.

He had been arrested upon a charge of fraud, and, arraigned before Sir
John Lorraine, after a trial lasting eleven days, had been found guilty
and sentenced to seven years' penal servitude. He had been sent to the
convict prison on Dartmoor, and there his conduct had been of a most
exemplary character, and earning full marks he had been released upon
ticket-of-leave a little before two years the expiration of the
sentence.

That was all there was to learn, but for a long while Larose intently
studied the photographs of the ex-convict, trying hard to weigh up what
would now be the exact appearance of the man he must look for.

Bascoigne was quite prepossessing and good-looking at the time of his
conviction, and of medium height and build he had a face suggesting
great determination and force of character. His eyes were large and
fearless, and there had been a scornful and contemptuous expression in
them as he had stood before the camera.

"But that mouth is sensual," thought Larose, "and unless he's had plenty
of hard work he'll have run to fat in all these years. I don't forget
that girl said he had a plump white hand."




CHAPTER V.--LAROSE HEARS THE VOICE.


The ex-detective had offered no explanation at the Yard as to why he was
so interested in Bascoigne, but he obtained the loan of one of the
photographs, and the next morning, provided with a letter of
introduction from the Home Office, enjoining all and sundry of His
Majesty's subjects to provide one, Thomas Smith, with all the assistance
they could furnish, and accompanied by Croupin in the latter's beautiful
single-seater Bentley, he took the road for Sussex once again.

Croupin was in a pensive mood, and seemed disinclined to take much
interest in the object of their journey.

"Thinking of Angela, eh?" asked Larose as the car swung through Croydon
and they narrowly escaped colliding with a tram. "Well, you pay more
attention to your driving, please, for I don't want to be measured for
my wooden overcoat before I've had my patents of nobility." He spoke
more sternly. "Buck up, my friend, and make your atonement by catching
these wretches we are after." He laughed slily. "Do you know, Monsieur,
that in a couple of days or so, I've got a very dangerous job for you."

"Dangerous!" exclaimed Croupin, his face brightening at once. "Bien,
it's love or war always with me, and if there's danger"--he sighed
heavily--"I may perhaps be able to forget my other troubles."

"Oh! There'll be danger, right enough," said Larose, "and discomfort,
too, for you're going to strip off all those fine clothes and go into
the East End to help rout out that throat-cutting barber for me. You'll
go as a stoney-broke, my friend."

"I'm quite willing," smiled Croupin, "for I expected a rough house when
I joined with you." He speeded up the car. "But what's the business to
day?"

"I'm after the voice," replied Larose, "and our first call will be at
the post office in East Grinstead. I've mapped it all out and I'm
thinking we'll get that voice somehow through some telephone exchange.
Listening to voices is the life's work of the girls there, and I reckon
some intelligent young woman will soon be putting me upon the trail. I'm
not banking too much upon the photo, because in fifteen years he may
have altered a lot."

"I'm more convinced than ever that the man must live somewhere in the
neighbourhood of the Gibbett Inn, for otherwise he would never have
picked upon such an outlandish spot to meet his co-conspirators in. So
taking the inn as the centre of the triangle, we're going to try East
Grinstead first, then Crowborough, and if we meet with no success,
Tunbridge Wells."

They pulled up at the post office in East Grinstead, and Larose was soon
in earnest conversation with the postmaster.

"Of course, I'm on a very secret mission," he warned that individual,
"and not a word must get out that I am making inquiries. I have
approached you first, because naturally every one who lives about here
will have come to the post office sooner or later, and you must, in
consequence, have some knowledge of everybody. Now, I want a man, 49
years of age, a gentleman in appearance and the way in which he lives,
well-to-do, of medium height, may be rather stout in build, of a biggish
face and big eyes, and with white, plump hands. He will be very pleasant
to talk with, very polite, and, above all, he will have a very nice
voice. A voice that will make you think at once of an actor or a public
speaker. Oh! one thing more, he most certainly lives on the Ashdown
Forest side of here." He regarded the postmaster very intently. "Now,
can you pick him out?"

The postmaster looked very doubtful. "You've set me a hard task," he
said slowly, "for we've got a lot of good-class people about here." He
thought for a long time. "He must be 49?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Larose, "that's his age, but of course he may look older
or younger. This is his photo, taken a little over fifteen years ago.
Can you recognise it?"

The postmaster shook his head. "No, I know no one like that here," he
replied, "and I know no one either who answers to your description."

"Well," said Larose, "we want to take as few people as possible into our
confidence. Now please let me have a word with the supervisor over the
telephone girls."

But the supervisor yielded no better result. She knew plenty of people
with nice voices, but none of whom exactly fitted in with what the
detective wanted. She knew no one like the photo.

"Try Forest Row," said the postmaster; "that's nearer the forest, and
the postmistress there is very discreet."

But Larose drew blank at Forest Row, and midday found him at
Crowborough. There, to his disappointment, he learnt that the official
in charge had but recently taken up his duties, and could not help in
any way, but upon being introduced to the chief supervisor, his hopes at
once went soaring high, for that young lady, upon heaving what he
wanted, and being shown the photograph, instead of shaking her head as
everybody else had done, nodded smilingly.

"I know some one," she said, "a very little bit like that, but the
gentleman I mean is not nearly as old as fifty." She nodded again. "Yes,
he's got a beautiful voice, and is a very nice gentleman. He is always
most kind to us telephone girls. He often sends cases of fruit to the
exchange, and every Christmas we get lovely boxes of chocolates." She
looked guardedly at Larose. "But what do you want to know about him
for?"

Larose laughed good-naturedly. "Just to check him up, young lady," he
replied. He shrugged his shoulders. "It's the usual red-tape Government
business, I expect, and may mean nothing at all." His eyes glinted and
his voice became very stern. "But it'll be as much as my place and yours
are worth, if he gets the very slightest inkling that any one is
inquiring about him." He nodded. "And we shall know at once, for he'll
instantly complain." His pleasant smile came back. "Well, who is the
gentleman?"

"He's Mr. Sheldon-Brown," replied the girl, quite reassured by Larose's
smile, "and he lives at The Pines, by Jervis Brook, about a mile from
the town."

"But what is he?" asked Larose.

"Oh! he does nothing," she replied. "He's one of the country gentry and
a Justice of the Peace here. He has a lovely garden and several of us
girls have been up to see his flowers." She became enthusiastic. "He's
such a kind man, and does a lot for the town."

"What sort of house has he got," asked Larose, "a big one?"

She shook her head. "Not a very big one," she replied, "but just
nice-sized for a bachelor. He keeps a butler and his wife, who is the
cook, a house parlour-maid and a gardener, who also attends to his car.
He must be very well off." She looked amused. "But you can see him
yourself this afternoon, if you want to, for he's sure to be at the
Chrysanthemum Show here. His great hobby is flowers."

And so it came about that that afternoon, the very delighted Cynthia
Cramm was being escorted by Larose and Croupin to the Chrysanthemum Show
at the Crowborough Town Hall. She was attired in her best frock, and
knowing exactly what was wanted of her, was thrilled with the thought of
the part she was to play. She was going to be tried out, she had been
told, to see if she could recognise any of the voices she had heard that
Sunday at the inn, and if she did so, she was on no account to start, or
show any surprise, but was to just touch Larose upon the arm.

They were at the show before many other people had arrived, and made the
round of the exhibits in comfort. Larose asked no questions of any one,
but noting some very beautiful blooms with the ticket above them, 'Open
class. First Prize. Sheldon-Brown Esq. (gardener, William Harper),' he
presently took his station not far away and with the radiant little
Cynthia nestling close up to him, waited for events to happen.

The hall was by now well crowded, but he had not been waiting very long,
before he heard a rich, deep voice behind him. "Good afternoon, Vicar.
Some very fine chrysanthemums here," and he felt Cynthia tremble
suddenly, and then she convulsively clutched him by the arm.

He made no movement to turn his head, but returning the squeeze of his
small companion, after a few moments, sidled back so that the speaker
with the rich voice was in full view, and his heart beat very quickly as
he regarded him with apparent idle carelessness.

Then his first feeling was one of keen disappointment, for the man
looked very different from the photograph of Oscar Bascoigne, taken
fifteen and a half years ago. He was of very much heavier build, squarer
in the shoulders, and his face was jovial and hearty-looking, with
nothing of the appearance of a furtive and half-crazy conspirator about
him.

But then the object of his regard turned his head sideways, and for one
fleeting second his eyes rested upon Larose and for perhaps a little
longer upon the girl at his side, and in those fleeting seconds all the
ex-detective's doubts were unhesitatingly swept away.

The eyes were quite unmistakably the same big, fearless eyes with which
Oscar Bascoigne had faced the camera with such unbroken spirit, when his
feet had first been set upon the way of seven years of penal servitude
with hard labour.

A thrill of exultation surged through Larose, and it was with a great
effort only that he managed to appear unconcerned. Then, fearful that
Cynthia Cramm should become possessed of too much of the secret, by
learning who the silver-tongued stranger was, he pulled her gently away
and led her quickly out of the hall.

"That was the man!" she exclaimed excitedly. "I'm sure it was."

"But it can't be," said Larose carelessly and as if he were not much
interested, "for we know all about the gentleman and he's quite all
right." He looked very solemn. "So you mustn't say even to your parents
that you are sure you recognised his voice, for if you do, it'll be
getting us all into trouble."

The girl looked very crestfallen. "Then I haven't been of any use to
you," she said ruefully.

"But, indeed, you have," replied Larose quickly, "and through you we
shall certainly get them in the end." He smiled brightly at her. "Now
I've got a little surprise for you, and I'm sure you will be delighted.
Lord Ransome wants to make you a present, and so my nice-looking friend
here is going to take you to the best jeweller in Crowborough and buy
you a pretty wrist-watch before he drives you back home."

He bustled the excited girl into the car and then pulling Croupin aside,
whispered quickly. "Don't spend more than three or four pounds on the
watch or it will make the girl look conspicuous. Then drive her home
quickly and come back here and wait for me at the Crown Hotel." He
lowered one eye-lid stealthily. "Yes, we've made a bulls-eye all right.
It was the man," and then, waiting until Croupin had driven off with the
girl, he returned into the hall.

The silver-voiced man was now the centre of a little group of
fashionably dressed ladies, and a matronly-looking one, with two pretty
girls, who were obviously her daughters, was pressing him gushingly to
go back with her for a cocktail.

"I would with pleasure, Mrs. Melton," he replied with an admiring smile
at the girls, "if it were not that I am going away for two nights and am
due in town by five o'clock. I'm not even going back home, but am now
going to rush off as quickly as I can."

A few minutes later then, having seen him drive off in his beautifully
appointed car, in the direction of London, Larose thought it a splendid
opportunity to pay a visit to 'The Pines.'

"It's just possible I may want to look inside that place," he nodded,
"and now that I know he'll be away, I'll walk up and just see what it's
like. I'll make an excuse that I want to see Sheldon-Brown about a new
carpet-sweeper."

The Pines was an old-world house of two stories, covered with ivy and
surrounded on all sides by flowerbeds and stretches of immaculately kept
lawn. A short drive of about a hundred yards led up to the front door.

Entering the drive Larose saw a motor bicycle upon its stand, just near
the front door, and approaching close he noticed a large coil of copper
wire tied upon the pillion seat of the machine. Then he saw that the
hall door was ajar.

He pumped upon the electric bell, and although he distinctly heard it
ring in a far part of the house, after a full two minutes no one had
appeared in answer to his call. He tried it again, but with the same
result. Then he gently pushed the door wider open and looking inside,
saw the hall was untenanted. A large pair of steps, however, stood just
beneath a central electric light, and at the foot of the steps was a
gaping bag of workman's tools.

"Ah! that's it!" he exclaimed. "The electrician's here and probably
doing a line with the maids in the back-kitchen, instead of attending to
his work."

Then suddenly he became aware of the sounds of talking and laughter in
the garden, and, stepping quickly to one of the corners of the building,
he looked round cautiously to see what was happening.

Then he felt inclined to laugh, too, for about a hundred and fifty yards
away two men and two maids in print dresses were gathered round the foot
of a tall tree, and all of them craning their heads up and looking among
the branches. A good way up the tree was a third man, and he, with, a
long piece of stick, was vainly endeavouring to dislodge a big red
parrot, ensconced higher up, and with a short length of broken chain
hanging from one of its legs.

The fun was fast and furious, and the girls shrieked with laughter at
the ineffectual efforts of the man with the stick.

Larose was a quick thinker. "One--two--five," he counted, "the two
maids, the butler, the gardener, and the electrician. Yes, they are all
there, and they look as if they would be engaged for the next few
minutes."

Then in a trice he was inside the house and getting the lie of the land.
He ran the length of the hall, looking into every room as he passed.
"Breakfast-room, dining-room, drawing-room," he muttered. "Ah! and the
master's study!"

He entered the last room and ran to the window. It faced the tree where
the parrot had taken refuge and he could see that it was still
uncaptured and the laughter and the shouting still going on. Then he
took a quick look all round the study and he frowned as his eyes fell
upon a safe that was let into the wall.

"A good one," was his lightning comment, "and it'd be deuced hard to
open! Still, still, Croupin,"--he nodded--"I expect Croupin's pretty
smart."

Dismissing the safe from his mind, he next turned his attention to the
drawers of the desk and pulled at them to find them, however, as he had
expected, all locked. Then he glided to the long French window. There
was no alarm attached, but the bolts were big and strong, and would be
very difficult, he saw, to tamper with from outside. He stood still, in
deep thought, for a few moments, and then seeing that the parrot-party
were still by the tree, a smile overspread his face, and forming a
sudden resolution, he darted into the hall, to return in a few seconds
with a screwdriver and a file that he had taken from the electrician's
bag.

Then for ten minutes, and with his eyes every other moment upon the
domestics outside, he worked like a demon-possessed. He took out every
screw attaching to the big bolts to the window, pulling up a small
occasional table to get at those in the upper one. Then he well filed
all their threads, so that they would have a poor hold in the wood, and
screwed them back.

"Now," he grinned, "one good pull at this window from outside and the
bolts will drop off, and we can get in without any noise. Croupin and I
will come here to-morrow night when we've got a few things together to
tackle those drawers and that safe."

He replaced the tools where he had found them, and then finding that he
was still not likely to be interrupted, made a leisurely survey of the
whole house, noting with satisfaction, that the servants' quarters were
a long way distant from the front door and that there were no burglar
alarms anywhere in the house. The whole place was beautifully furnished,
and replete with comforts and conveniences of every conceivable kind.

But then suddenly he heard the sound of footsteps upon the gravel
outside and he had just time to fly back and let the butler find him
standing patiently before the hall door. No, Mr. Brown wasn't in, he was
told, and they didn't want another carpet sweeper, for the one they
already had was a very good one. Of course he could call again if he
wished, but he, the butler, did not think it would be much good.

Returning to Crowborough he had another talk with the supervisor. "Well,
I've seen your Mr. Sheldon-Brown," he smiled, "and he's all you said, a
very charming gentleman." He shrugged his shoulders. "Still I've got to
find out all about him, you see, and I just want to know who are his
best friends here."

The girl smiled archly. "Men or women?" she asked.

"Men," laughed Larose, "for from what I saw at the flower show just now
all the ladies are his best friends."

But then he could get nothing out of the girl, for after suggesting
humorously that if telephone calls counted for anything the town
fish-monger must be Mr. Sheldon-Brown's best friend, in as much as the
fish shop was rung up almost every day, she could tell him nothing more.
Mr. Brown rang up plenty of people in the neighbourhood, but no
particular person often, and he very seldom made a trunk call, and then
always apparently on business.

That night in Croupin's private sitting-room at the Savoy Larose went
over all he had learnt that day. "But you see," he concluded, "although
we are morally certain ourselves, we shall have no legal evidence that
this Sheldon-Brown is the convict Bascoigne until we get his
finger-prints, and then we mustn't touch him until we can bring it home
convincingly that he's been mixed up in these crimes. Also, we've got to
find who the other three are." He nodded. "Yes, and until we've got his
finger-prints we'll keep quiet, then"--he looked very pleased with
himself--"we'll drop a bombshell into the Yard."

"Bien!" exclaimed Croupin gleefully, "and to-morrow night we are to
break into his house and open that safe." He looked rather doubtful.
"But I'm not too sure after what you've told me." He smiled sadly. "I
always called in an expert."

The following morning Larose was early about, and while Croupin was busy
collecting tools for the night's adventure made an excursion into the
city and interviewed his wife's stockbroker. The latter remembered
Bascoigne well, but could add little to the information Larose already
possessed. Then suddenly the stockbroker's face brightened. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, "but I can put you on to one of Oscar Bascoigne's old
servants and he'll tell you all about him. The commissionaire in these
very buildings was in his employ when the crash came. He was his valet."

Delighted with this stroke of good fortune, Larose was soon in
conversation with the commissionaire and found the latter nothing loth
to tell all he remembered about his old master. For half an hour and
more they talked together, and Larose, with skilful questioning, drew
out all the salient features of Bascoigne's private life, his habits,
his likings, and how he spent his time when away from the city.

The interview over, and with plenty of time upon his hands before he was
due to meet Croupin, Larose decided he would go and see what were the
surroundings of the house in Mayfair where Bascoigne lived, and, to his
amazement at the coincidence, perceived Bascoigne himself step out of
the front door, just when he, Larose was only about 20 yards away.

Much to Larose's relief Bascoigne at once proceeded to make his way in
the opposite direction, walking briskly along with the gait and stride
of a man who was always very sure of himself and knew his own mind.

"I'll follow him," though Larose delightedly, "for Fortune is dealing me
such good cards now it is quite possible our friend may be going to meet
one of those very nice associates of his. Anyhow, I'll trail him."

But Fortune was certainly not going to be generous there, for reaching
the Athenis restaurant in Piccadilly, Bascoigne turned in quickly, and
looking neither to the right nor to the left, as if he were not
expecting to meet any one, took his seat at a small table and picked up
the menu.

Larose followed suit, but mindful of the fact that he had stood close to
the man at the flower show and that for a few seconds those big eyes had
rested thoughtfully upon him and Cynthia Cramm, he seated himself where
he was partly hidden from his quarry by a large palm.

Bascoigne ordered a dozen oysters, a portion of turbot, and a small
bottle of claret that was served in the cradle. He partook of his meal
leisurely and as if he thoroughly enjoyed it. Then when he called for
his bill, Larose saw him put down a pound note and receive back only two
shillings in change.

"Gosh!" thought Larose, "but he must have plenty of money! That wine
then cost him about twelve shillings!"

Bascoigne sat on for a few minutes and then rose up with an abrupt
movement, and proceeded to walk quickly out of the room, as before,
taking no notice of any one in his passing.

But he had not gone 20 paces before Larose was upon his feet also, and
stepping quickly over to the table he had just vacated, to the amazement
of the waiter who had started to clear things away, snapped up the
wineglass from which Bascoigne had just been drinking.

"Fetch the manager at once, please," he ordered sternly. "I want to
speak to him," and returning to his own table, he put down the wineglass
which he had been holding by the stem.

The manager soon put in his appearance and Larose motioned him to a
chair.

"I'm from Scotland Yard," he said quickly. "Sit down, will you, and then
we shan't attract attention." He showed him his badge and went on.
"What's happened is this. A man whose finger-prints we want badly has
just been lunching at that table there. I've got the prints on this
wine-glass and it must be put somewhere where it won't be touched until
our men come down to deal with it. They'll be here in less than half an
hour. You understand?"

The manager nodded and then Larose said sharply, "Now, call that waiter
here and ask him if he knows who the customer was?"

"But I'm sure, he won't," smiled the manager, "for he's only been
employed here a couple of days."

"Then make him hold his tongue," said Larose, "for if the man should
happen to come again he must get no inkling that we've been inquiring
about him. Here, I'll speak to the waiter, please."

A few minutes later then, Larose was again with the Chief Commissioner
and relating to him all he had found out; how he had succeeded in
linking up one of the men of the Gibbett Inn with both Sir John Lorraine
and Mortimer Fairfax, the K.C., and how through the latter he had
determined the man's identity; how he had scoured the country round the
inn for him, and with what result and how finally, without any shadow of
doubt, Cynthia Cramm had recognised the voice. Then he told of the
fingerprints upon the wine-glass, and how he was sure they would prove
to be those of the convict, Bascoigne.

The Commissioner listened thoughtfully, with no expression of surprise,
and made no remark until Larose had finished.

Then with a nod in which great satisfaction, and yet a slight annoyance
were blended, he remarked:

"Splendid! We did well to ask for your services. Great imagination was
wanted here, and we didn't seem to have it." He sat up sharply in his
chair. "Now what are your suggestions for our next moves?"

"Tap his telephone, of course," replied Larose, "and note every call he
makes and receives. We ought to get at his associates that way. Then
trail him, but rather lose him than press him too closely at this stage,
for if any of them get the slightest suspicion, they'll bolt to their
holes and be as mum as dead men. You've only got to-day to shadow
Bascoigne from Charles Street, for unless he alters his mind, he returns
to Crowborough to-morrow."

"Well, give me the best description you can of him," said the
commissioner, "as you say he's altered so much from the photo we have."

They talked on for a few minutes and then Larose said, "Now, to go off
on another tack. Will you send out a call to every east-end station for
the names and locations of every barber of foreign extraction, with a
shop in their districts? Any kind of foreigner, but I rather think the
man I want will be a Swiss, and also he will live in a commercial
centre, and not too far from the river, perhaps."

"What do you want with him?" asked the Commissioner curiously.

"Oh, it's a very long shot," laughed Larose, "and I won't bother you
with imaginative details now." He added quickly, "but on no account must
it be known any one is making inquiries. Yes, and another thing.
To-morrow I'd like to borrow a man who knows the east-end well. However,
I'll be here first thing in the morning and may be have a bit more news
for you then. I'm going back to Crowborough this afternoon."

Some two hours later the Commissioner with an official from the
fingerprint department standing at his side, was comparing two
photographs under a powerful magnifying glass. The Commissioner had a
very frowning expression upon his face.




CHAPTER VI.--THE SECRETS OF THE RIVER.


That same night, a few minutes before nine o'clock, a man alighted from
a first-class carriage at Limehouse Station, and turning up his coat
collar and pressing down his hat well upon his forehead, proceeded to
make his way briskly through the squalid streets. The air was chilly and
the river mist hung everywhere.

At all times, to most people, the mean side-streets of the East End of
London are depressing, but they are particularly so at night, for then
with the houses badly lit they suggest poverty, as surely as do the
gaunt faces of the passers-by. The dark, and often blindless windows,
make one think of want and hunger, and of ill-clothed human beings,
lacking so much of the happiness of life.

However, the man with the turned-up collar was evidently troubled with
none of these thoughts, for his face was cheerful and he carried himself
jauntily, as if he were upon some mission of pleasure.

Arriving at the shop of Voisin, the barber, in Rent Street and finding
the door, as he had apparently expected, unlatched, he pushed it open
very quietly, and entered the shop without ceremony. Then he pushed the
door to behind him, but did not close it.

The shop was in darkness, but there was a light in the room behind it,
and the barber himself was seated there, reading a newspaper before a
small gas-fire. Making no sound, he rose instantly and advanced a few
paces when he heard the footsteps in the shop, but then immediately the
tension of his face relaxed when he saw who the visitor was.

"Good evening," said the latter with a friendly smile. "Am I the first
one here?"

The barber nodded. "Yes, sir," he replied, "but nine has not struck
yet," and then, without another word, the visitor passed through the
room into the yard beyond.

Almost exactly at the same time another man entered Ah Chung's dimly
lighted shop in the same stealthy manner, and was received by a bowing
figure, which glided like a shadow from somewhere among the many bales
and packing cases that were crowded there.

The man nodded good-humouredly. "Anyone here, Ah Chung?" he asked.

"Yes, Mr. Brown," replied the Chinaman, as he now softly shot the bolts
of the shop door, "Mr. Mason came some minutes ago, and"--he stood for
two seconds in a listening attitude--"Sir Charles is now walking up the
stairs."

"Well, I want to speak to you before I go up," said Bascoigne. "I have a
commission for you, for which you will be very well paid." He lowered
his voice impressively. "In about half an hour, a man will call next
door, and ask for some canary seed. He is short and very dark. Take the
usual precautions and bring him up to us at once. Then, when later I
knock for you to take him away, if you see me offer him a cigarette"--he
hesitated a moment--"can you arrange that he doesn't go very far?"

Ah Chung's face was quite expressionless. "Why?" he asked.

"We are not certain of him," was the low reply, "and then we shall have
judged if he is dangerous--to you, as well as to us, for he has been
drinking heavily lately, and we believe him to have taken some one into
his confidence."

"Why arrange for him to come here, if you doubt him?" asked Ah Chung.
"You promised you would bring no danger to me."

"It was a mistake," replied Bascoigne quickly, "and I only heard of it
after it had been done. He went to Mr. Mason's office this morning, but
Mr. Mason could not deal with him as he would have liked to, because he
had brought a friend who was waiting outside. Mr. Mason saw this other
man through the window."

"Then the friend will be waiting here to-night?" said Ah Chung softly.
"There will be two of them."

"Yes," nodded Bascoigne, "and Mr. Mason recognised the other man as a
Dick Funnell. He has just come out of prison. He is stout like this Tod
Blitzer. They are cousins, I understand."

"I know him," said Ah Chung. "I know them both, and they are dangerous
men to have you in their power. You should have asked me before you
employed Blitzer. I know many people round here."

"Well, you see, Ah Chung," went on Bascoigne in an apparent burst of
confidence, "we are taking great risks in supplying insurgents in
friendly countries with ammunition, and if we are caught it means heavy
punishment. But there is big money in it, and as I have told you, you
are going to share."

Ah Chung made no comment, but he was under no delusions, very much
doubting if the business of this Mr. Brown and his friends had anything
to do with ammunition. He certainly did not know what the business was,
but that very morning he had completed the insertion of a secret panel
near the fireplace of the room in which they always met, and before
midnight he was confident he would have learnt all he wanted to.

"Well, can you manage it for us, if we think it necessary?" asked
Bascoigne anxiously. "It will mean a hundred pounds to you if you do."

"Two hundred!" said Ah Chung, "for there will be great risk for three
hours. The river is not high until nearly one, and the flow is not
strong then, for half an hour."

"All right," nodded Bascoigne. "200 and you shall have the money before
we leave." He thought for a moment. "Shall we give him something to
drink before you come for him?"

"It will not be necessary," said Ah Chung.

"But how will you get hold of the second man?" asked Bascoigne. "He will
probably be on the look out for any trick."

"I will manage it," replied the Chinaman quietly. "My family will help
me."

"Good!" exclaimed Bascoigne, and with no more parley he proceeded to
mount the narrow stairs at the back of the shop.

Bascoigne found Guildford and Sir Charles Carrion awaiting him in a
large room on the first floor, with the window overlooking the river.
The ex-solicitor looked worried and morose, but the surgeon, from the
cheerful expression upon his face, was in one of his brightest moods.

"Killed any one to-day, Sir Charles?" laughed Bascoigne. "You look so
happy."

"I am," laughed back the surgeon. He rubbed his hands together. "I have
but little now of the gold of life to spend, but what I have, I am
spending lavishly." He patted Bascoigne upon the shoulder. "If it were
not that I am slowly dying from this cirrhosed liver of mine, you would
have gone a long way to making me a young man again, my friend, for I am
enjoying everything immensely." He nodded solemnly. "Yes, I have killed
a man to-day, although he's not dead yet. I operated this morning. A
simple hernia, but I intended complications should ensue, for he is a
bad man and so he'll die to-morrow, or the day after."

"What's he done then, and how will you benefit by it?" asked Guildford,
his beady eyes blinking curiously.

The great surgeon smiled. "I shall not benefit in any way, Mr.
Guildford," he replied, "if indeed it is in your nature to understand
that, but I am doing a work of humanity by putting this man away. He is
a bad character, and I know him well. He has a young wife, but he is
cruel to her. They have not been married two years and he strikes her,
also he is gambling his money away and keeps an expensive mistress. He
is of no use to any one and so I feel I am justified in returning him to
his Maker. Then his wife will marry again--I've heard she has a
lover--and she will know some of the happiness she deserves. She is a
charming young woman."

"I shouldn't care to be one of your patients," growled Guildford. "I
shouldn't feel safe."

"Perhaps not," laughed Sir Charles, "for during all my career I have
occasionally exercised my prerogative in cases like the one I just
mentioned." He frowned. "But I think I should like to attend you, for
you've got a high blood-pressure, I'm quite sure and also the whites of
your eyes, I notice are often yellow, and"--but the door opened quickly
and Dr. Libbeus stepped into the room.

"Take your seats, gentlemen," interrupted Bascoigne. "We've some
important business to-night. Switch on that light, please, Professor,
and we'll sit as usual in the middle of the room. The Chinaman seems all
right"--he laughed--"but never forget the old maxim that walls have
ears, and I feel safer away from them."

But for some reason the light he pointed to, a large one in the ceiling
in the centre of the room, was out of order, and the switch brought no
response.

"Call Ah Chung," ordered Bascoigne, "He'll----"

"Rot!" exclaimed Sir Charles irritably. "Don't be such a suspicious
brute, Bascoigne." He pulled a chair up before the fire. "I, for one, am
going to sit here." He sighed. "Physically, I feel pretty bad to-day,
and I want warmth on a night like this."

Dr. Libbeus and Guildford at once pulled their chairs up too, and after
a moment's hesitation, Bascoigne followed suit. "But it's again all my
principles," he grumbled, "for I only trust those whom I've got
absolutely under my thumb."

Sir Charles smiled disdainfully, but the other two took no notice and
then Bascoigne went on quickly.

"Now, I went down to Mr. Guildford's office this afternoon and learnt
that an unfortunate happening occurred to-day. Blitzer was there this
morning and demanding an extravagant sum for what he called holding his
tongue about that Kingston Reservoir business. He seems to think somehow
that he's struck a gold-mine in us, and although he is quite aware that
Guildford here could tip him off to the police for killing that woman in
the sweet-shop at Hoxton, still, he believes that the information he
could give about that bag of arsenic he was paid to drop in the
reservoir would not only obtain a free pardon for him, but also a
substantial reward as well. That is the position, is it not, Mr.
Guildford?"

"It's worse than that," nodded Guildford gloomily, "for he's had two bad
bouts of drinking lately, and became very dangerous, because he's
evidently been talking. When he called at my place this morning he
wouldn't go into the back room, and said he'd got a friend waiting for
him outside who knew what to do if he didn't soon come out again." He
nodded again. "I saw that friend, too, on the other side of the road,
watching my house. I knew him by sight, and he's another drinker, even
more dangerous than Blitzer." He looked rather sheepish. "So, on the
spur of the moment, the only thing I could think of, was to tell him to
come here and meet us all to-night. He'll come at half past nine and he
wants 1000."

"Well, what are we going to do?" asked Sir Charles quickly. "Can't we
get rid of them both?"

"That's what's in my mind," said Bascoigne, "and I've just had a little
talk with Ah Chung about it. He's going to show the man up here, and
then if I give him a signal, well--he's going to see that the fellow
never goes out again. I'm certain we must put him away, but we'll try to
find out first to whom he's been talking."

"But what about his friend," asked Sir Charles, "supposing he's watching
outside?"

"Ah Chung will deal with him, too," replied Bascoigne. "He knows all
about it."

They talked on for a few minutes, and then there was a knock upon the
door and the barber entered. "Ah Chung has a man downstairs who wants to
speak to you," he said in a deep, guttural voice, and speaking with a
strong accent. "Is he to bring him up?"

"Yes, at once," replied Bascoigne, and so, not a couple of minutes
later, a blind-folded man was being led into the room by Ah Chung.

"Take off his bandage," said Bascoigne to the Chinaman, "and then leave
us until I knock for you. Sit down, Blitzer, will you. There's a chair."

The man from whose eyes the bandage had been removed for a few moments
blinked owlishly at the light, and then, almost before the soft-footed
Ah Chung had had time to leave the room, blurted out hoarsely, "See
here, you gents. I'm all ready for any tricks, and you'd better know
it--straight. I've got a pal watching outside, and if I'm not back to
him in half an hour, he's got a paper to give to the police."

"Don't worry, Mr. Blitzer," smiled Bascoigne suavely, "for no one's
going to play you any tricks. You shall have that 1000, or at any rate,
part of it, if you can convince us you've not been talking to any one
about that little job we employed you to do."

"I haven't been talking anywhere," protested the man hotly. "I've not
told anything, even to my mate who's looking after me. I've just
promised him a quid to hold a letter for me until I come out. That's
all."

"Well, why are you now demanding an exorbitant sum for work you didn't
even do?" asked Bascoigne sternly. "We paid you 50 for taking that lime
to the reservoir, and----"

"Lime, be damned!" sneered the man contemptuously. "It was white
arsenic, every bit of it, for my dog licked my hand when I got home, and
was sick for a week. The vet said it was poisoning by arsenic, he'd
got."

"Well, that's nothing to do with the money," smiled Bascoigne, appearing
in no wise disconcerted. "You agreed for 50, and now--you come bullying
for a thousand."

"I'm not bullying," said the man doggedly, "but him and you"--he pointed
to Sir Charles and Bascoigne--"are swells, and can afford to pay. I've
followed you both. He eats at swell restaurants, and the door-keeper of
one of them told me he was Sir Charles Carrion, and you drive a posh
limousine and take fine ladies out to supper. You must have plenty of
money, and I see I wasn't paid enough."

Sir Charles Carrion burst into a hearty laugh. "We must give him
something," he said. "He's a shrewd fellow, and we can employ him
again." He shook his head. "But not 1000, my friend, that's too much,
much too much."

"Don't pay him any lump sum," said Dr. Libbeus emphatically, and
speaking now for the first time. "Let him have 5 every week as long as
he holds his tongue, and then if he knows that money's coming, we can be
sure of him."

"No. I want 1000," said the man firmly, "and I won't take a quid less."

"But how do we know you haven't been talking about us?" asked Bascoigne
grimly. "You may have put the police on to us already."

"Upon my oath, no," swore the man vehemently. "I shouldn't be such a
damned fool to blow upon you until I knew for certain you were no good
to me."

A short silence followed, and then Bascoigne said slowly. "Well, I'll
tell you what I will do. I'll give you 200 to-night, that's all we've
got here, another 200 to-morrow if you call at the bird shop at eleven
in the morning, and 50 a month as long as you keep straight. Now, will
that do?"

The man's eyes gleamed, but he pretended to hesitate. "All right," he
said after a moment. "I suppose I'll have to take it."

Bascoigne at once took out his pocket book and counted out twenty 10
notes.

"Now," he said sternly, "you go straight with us in future and you'll
find it will pay you better. We'll have another job for you soon, and
will pay you well. Now, off you go, and don't you breathe a word about
us to your pal." He held up his hand, as the man was making for the
door. "No, no, you wait, please, until that Chink comes up to blindfold
you. It won't do for you to know too much about this place."

The man smiled contemptuously. He guessed pretty well he was in the
house next door, for he had counted his footsteps and also, had felt the
night air as he had passed through the back yard and realised, too, that
the smell of the live-stock shop had gone.

Ah Chung appeared quickly, as quickly, indeed, as he could make his way
from the spy-hole he had made in the wall, and solemnly, with great
care, began folding a length of black cloth to bandage the man's eyes
again.

"Here, have one of my cigarettes," said Bascoigne with a smile, holding
out his cigarette case to Blitzer, "if only to convince you that we bear
you no ill-will." He turned to Ah Chung. "Now you see him safely out of
the street," he commended, "for we've entrusted him with 200 of our
money for a special purpose, and we don't want it taken from him." Ah
Chung smiled deep down in his inscrutable heart, guessing that it was
the 200 he himself was going to receive.

A few minutes after Blitzer had left the room, a wizened little old
Chinaman shuffled up to a man who was leaning idly against the river
wall about a hundred yards distant from Ah Chung's shop.

"You Dickee Funnell?" he asked in broken English, and taking no care to
lower his voice.

The man started. "No, that's not my name," he replied sharply, and a
dead silence followed.

The Chinaman looked up and down the deserted street. "I want Dickee
Funnell," he said slowly. "His friend, Toddee Blitzer tell me to go and
fetch him. He drinking in the bird shop."

"Well, I'm not this Funnell, I tell you," grunted the man. He regarded
the old Chinaman warily. "Who's this chap, Blitzer?"

"Not know," replied the Chinaman. "He come buy birdseed, and after
talkee with boss, buy rum and drink. He say he have friend just come out
of prison, and he like drink, too. I know nothing more," and he started
to shuffle off along the street.

"Here, you wait a minute," called out the man. He lowered his voice
suddenly. "What did you say about someone having just come out of
prison?"

"Just that he come out," replied the Chinaman. "He drinking, I say, and
talk much about how he going to spend his money."

"Damn!" swore the man softly to himself, "and if the fool is drinking
he'll blab everything." His thoughts ran quickly on. "He must have told
them I've come out of quod. They couldn't have known it, if he'd said
nothing." He hesitated a moment. "I don't like it, but it seems O.K."

He touched the Chinaman upon the arm. "All right, Chink," he said. "I'll
come. My name's not Funnell, but the bloke may mean me."

The Chinaman nodded. "All right, then. You follow me. I take you where
Toddee drinking rum."

But the old man was in no hurry and he stopped many times to peer over
the river wall, on to the dark waters beyond.

"What's up?" asked the man at length. "What do you see?"

The old Chinaman pointed with his arm. "That black spot," he said, "Him
police boat." He smiled a toothless smile. "We always look out police
boat here."

They arrived at the livestock shop at last. The door was ajar and there
was a light shining inside. Some one was playing softly upon a mouth
organ in the room behind and there was the cheerful clink of glasses,
and then a girl laughed. The man stepped over the threshold--there was
the sound of a dull thud, and all the lights disappeared as suddenly as
if they had been blown out.

A few moments later, the old Chinaman emerged again and, crossing over
the street, leant over the river wall and for a long while regarded the
black smudge he had just been pointing out, upon the water. He had now
got an expensive pair of binoculars with him, that he had produced from
somewhere under the folds of his greasy clothes.

In the meantime the four men in the room above Ah Chung's shop had been
continuing their deliberations.

"But, of course, ours is not by any means the only organisation of its
kind," remarked Sir Charles thoughtfully, "and I confess I am rather
disappointed. I have been reading up criminology lately and note that
many such societies have existed before. In Prague in 1885, in
Marseilles in 1897, and in Vienna in 1904, here in Sydney Street in
1911, and----"'

"Never mind about that," broke in Guildford rudely. "We have other
things to talk about now, for I heard a bit of bad news this afternoon."
He paused a moment to look round frowningly and then rapped out,
"Gilbert Larose went to Scotland Yard yesterday, and was there for more
than two hours."

A puzzled silence followed and then Bascoigne asked curiously. "Well,
what's that to do with us?"

Guildford pursed up his lips. "That's what I should like to know," he
replied, "for it certainly means something. Larose married a rich wife
two years ago, and left the Force then, and if he spent all that time at
the Yard yesterday, depend upon it he didn't go there on a purely
friendly visit to any one."

Another silence followed and then it was Bascoigne who spoke again. "How
do you know he was there?" he asked.

"One of my clients saw him," replied Guildford. "He had to go there to
answer a lot of silly questions about where he was when that jeweller's
shop was broken into in Wardour Street last week, and he saw him going
in. Then, just for curiosity he waited to see him come out." He raised
his voice. "Two hours, mark you, and that Larose is a regular devil!" He
nodded solemnly. "I believe they've got him back to come after us."

Sir Charles Carrion looked very pleased. "Excellent!" he exclaimed, "for
I'm tired of this one-sided business. We've had everything our own way
up to now, but with Larose after us it will double our danger and our
sport." He rubbed his hands together exultingly. "I know all about the
fellow. He's the chap who makes two murderers grow, where only one grew
before, and disguised as a baby in arms, he handcuffs the pretty
housemaid just as she is handing over the family jewels to the
greengrocer next door."

Guildford looked furious but made no comment, and after a minute
Bascoigne asked him thoughtfully. "What's Larose like? Describe him to
me."

Guildford hesitated. "He's devilish difficult to describe," he said
slowly, "for there's nothing very particular about him. He's of medium
height and build. He's not bad looking and he's fair with blue eyes."

"Does he dress well?" asked Bascoigne sharply.

"Well, he didn't too well, when a detective," replied Guildford, "at
least when I saw him down our way. Still, of course, he never wanted to
make himself conspicuous then, and I suppose he suited his clothes to
the job he was on." He looked interestedly at Bascoigne. "But why do you
ask?"

Again Bascoigne hesitated and then he spoke very slowly. "I've been
thinking a lot to-day of a man I saw at the Crowborough Flower Show
yesterday afternoon. He was a well-dressed man who was with one of the
Cramm children from the Gibbett Inn, a girl about fourteen and I----"

"But you said you did not know any one at the Gibbett Inn," broke in
Guildford quickly. "You told us you had never been there before that day
when you got us down to lunch."

"Neither I had," explained Bascoigne, "and, up to then, I had never set
eyes on anybody who lived there. But last month, when they were tarring
the main road that leads to Eastbourne, I went by several times, and, in
passing, noticed this young girl, more than once, sitting on that form
outside the inn door. I could tell who she was for she's very like Cramm
himself, who serves in the bar."

He went on meditatively, "Well, I saw the man who was with her at the
show twice within the space of a few minutes, and, thinking things over
afterwards, something has somehow made me feel rather suspicious. The
first time, he was standing with the girl just behind me, and I thought
at once that she was staring hard at me. Then she and the man went out
of the hall, but not five minutes later I found the man close near me
again, when I was talking to some ladies." He frowned. "That's all, but
now you bring up this Larose it sort of makes me wonder about this man
and why, in all that crowded hall, he should have come and stood by me
for the second time."

"Did the man stare hard at you, too?" asked Sir Charles, now very
interested.

Bascoigne shook his head. "No, he never took any notice of me at all."

"Ah!" came from Guildford in an explosive exclamation, "and that would
be just like Larose if the man were he." He nodded excitedly. "You take
it from me, from what men whom Larose has shadowed have told me, when
he's upon your trail you appear to be the last person in the world he's
interested in. I've heard it over and over again."

Dr. Libbeus laughed derisively. "And because you meet a man who doesn't
look at you," he said to Bascoigne, "you imagine at once he must be a
detective! It's very amusing."

"There's nothing amusing about it," snapped Bascoigne, "I don't like to
think that girl stared at me, and then that the man who was with her
sent her away, and then came and planted himself again at my side."

"Well, you'll soon know if he were Larose," nodded Guildford with a grim
smile, "for if he's on your trail, you'll very quickly be meeting that
same man again." He looked round impressively. "It's part of Larose's
method, to get close up to any one he suspects, even if he's not got a
scrap of evidence against him, for his idea is that he can read the
chap's thoughts and tell if he's got anything to hide." He slapped the
fist of one hand into the palm of the other. "I tell you he drops on
things by instinct, without any thinking out whatsoever."

"Rubbish!" exclaimed Sir Charles rudely. "Instinct is the servant only
of the body, and never that of the mind. With any problem before them
people are often too lazy to think, or deduce, and so they start
guessing instead--especially women. Then, if they happen to have guessed
correctly, they shout it was instinct that told them to do this or that,
but if they have guessed wrong you don't hear them, for they hold their
tongues."

"But how could any one have become suspicious about you, Bascoigne?"
asked Dr. Libbeus.

Bascoigne shrugged his shoulders. "I don't really believe any one has,"
he smiled. "I think it's just 'nerves.'"

"Of course it is," said Sir Charles reassuringly. "You come back with me
to-night, and I'll give you a draught that will soon put you right."

"No! no!" exclaimed Bascoigne hurriedly, and he smiled again. "After
what you've been telling us to-night about how you conduct your
practice, your dose might prove too strong."

"But is it likely this Gilbert Larose would be taking to detective work
again," asked Dr. Libbeus scornfully, "now he's married a rich widow and
got plenty of money?"

"Most likely," retorted Guildford instantly. "In fact, that's just what
he would do, for the whole business is just sport and excitement to him.
When he was at the Yard he'd take any risks and put no value on his life
to get his man." He nodded viciously. "At any rate, I'll soon find out
if the gentleman is now away from his home in Norfolk and if he is"--he
nodded more viciously still--"we'll make things hot for him." He looked
round upon the others. "But now, I vote we all lie low and do nothing
more for a little while."

"Oh! no," said Sir Charles instantly. "I don't agree there. The
professor and I have several projects in view and they can't be put off,
either."

"But I've got the wind up about that Larose," said Guildford irritably,
"and I don't mind admitting it. Why not take a spell? We've done all we
set out to do, and got our revenge everywhere where we wanted to."

"We haven't got all yet, Mr. Guildford," said Bascoigne, his hand
clenching, and his eyes hardening instantly. "Remember, I haven't
touched that scoundrel Mortimer Fairfax yet, and I shall never have a
dreamless slumber until he's dead." He controlled himself and spoke very
quietly. "Come, come, sir, don't let us disagree now when, all along, we
have got on so well. Think--we have been good comrades, and helped one
another loyally, and we have none of us shrunk from anything. You put
out that tea-broker at Leigh-on-sea, who first stirred up the
prosecution against you, and you also finished the solicitor,
Clutterbuck, who was most active in getting your name struck off the
rolls. Then Dr. Libbeus put paid to that one time colleague of his at
Great Leighs, who had denounced him to the police, and Sir Charles shot
Lord Burkington who was the main offender in getting him certified for
an asylum. Lastly, I killed that unjust judge, and, by mistake, that old
clergyman." He made a gesture with his hands. "So you see by what bonds
of law-breaking we are united, and how each one of us could give the
other away."

"But you may be suspect now," said Guildford doggedly, "and from what
you have told us, I think you are. You may be dangerous to us all."

Bascoigne looked uneasy. "Well, keep away from me for a time," he said,
forcing a smile, "and only 'phone to me from a call-office, and then be
careful what you say, until we have made sure that no one is inquiring
about me." He turned to Sir Charles Carrion, "Shall you want me in what
you are now proposing to do?"

"No, you will be better out of it," replied Sir Charles at once--he
nodded towards Guildford--"but I shall want him, and I may want"--he
hesitated, a moment--"to enlist the services of that Swiss barber as
well. Ah Chung assures me he is a very trustworthy man and has been in
prison in his own country."

"But I'm quitting, I tell you," scowled Guildford. "There is no profit
in cutting throats."

Sir Charles held up one hand protestingly. "But there will be no
shedding of blood in this adventure I am proposing to you. It's just a
little matter of picking up some jewels, of great value and worth of
mint of money." He bent forward in the most confiding manner. "The
proposal is this. One of my esteemed aunts, Lady Rostrellor, of
Rostrellor Court, is giving a grand ball next week at Addington, and it
will be preceded the night before by a big dinner party. The Rostrellor
diamonds and sundry other knickshaws will be brought up from the bank to
figure in both functions, and with me as a guest at the Court, I thought
it would be an easy matter to arrange for you to step in and appropriate
the lot."

Guildford eyed him with great intentness, but made no remark, and he went
on with his eyes twinkling. "It will be a welcome diversion from our
usual line of business, and put a wholesome fear into folks of those
circles where a vulgar and ostentatious display of riches is made." He
shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, if you happen to kill a footman or
two, it will frighten them all the more."

"But your aunt, Sir Charles!" exclaimed Bascoigne, looking very shocked.
"A blood relation of yours!"

"Certainly!" replied Sir Charles carelessly. "My father's sister, and
very foolish old woman at that. I have told her many times that these
baubles only accentuate the dreadful yellowness of her skin, but she
pays no attention to me, for she is obsessed that she looks different
from the common people in them." He chuckled. "So she does--like an old
corpse trying to ape the freshness of a beautiful young girl."

Guildford was still silent and he went on quickly. "Oh! I may add, as a
relation of the Rostrellor family, that you will be quite welcome to
retain all the proceeds of the jewels for yourself." He bowed. "I shall
make you a present of them."

"But I don't like these isolated country houses," growled Guildford.
"The slightest warning, and you can't get away in your car."

"But there will be no need for any car," said Sir Charles instantly,
"and that makes the whole business so easy. I have a little bungalow by
the Keston lakes, that has been lent me by a friend who has gone abroad,
not a couple of miles away, and, as a friend of mine, you can stay there
as long as you like and be quite above suspicion until you are able to
get to town with the plunder."

"But how could we get in?" asked Guildford doubtfully.

"Through the front door that I'll leave open," replied Sir Charles, "or,
failing that, by means of a ladder straight into the Rostrellor nuptial
chamber. I'll drug the old woman and his lordship, so that you can work
on the safe in peace--it's a very old one, by-the-bye, and you'll have
no difficulty there." He snapped his fingers together. "Then off you'll
creep to my bungalow and lie low for a couple of days."

"And what are the other projects you contemplate?" asked Bascoigne.

"Oh! nothing. Mere trifles," replied Sir Charles airily, "and Dr.
Libbeus and I will manage them by ourselves. The doctor thinks he has
now got his type of bomb perfected, and so to begin with I'm taking a
small finger--one into Burlington House to-morrow night." He nodded.
"I'm a Fellow of the Royal Society, you see, and shall be attending the
conversazione there in our official capacity. The bomb he's giving me is
a chemical one, and explodes in three minutes upon being turned upside
down. I shall put it in one of the settees." He sighed. "It won't do
much harm, I fear, but it may wing one or two of the other guests and
cause something of a sensation."

"Is that all you are going to do?" asked Bascoigne.

"Oh! no," replied Sir Charles, as if very surprised. "We have several
other places on our list, the British Museum, the Albert Memorial, the
College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and--" he nodded as if he
were very pleased with himself--"well, we'll see how we get on."

They talked on for some time arranging, to mollify Guildford, that
Bascoigne should keep away from them all until further notice, and then
rising from their chairs to terminate the meeting, a knock was heard
upon the door, and Ah Chung entered.

"It is all right," he said speaking to Bascoigne.

"Both of them?" asked Bascoigne in an awed whisper.

Ah Chung inclined his head. "And there was no letter upon the other
man," he added. He looked round upon the four of them. "Will you,
please, all go out through Rent Street. There is a police boat upon the
river, and they are watching through night glasses." His face was as
solemn and inscrutable as that of the Sphinx. "It is better my shop door
does not open, for I do not want a search here, tonight."

"But where have you put Blitzer and the other fellow?" asked Sir Charles
curiously.

"In two sacks, under the counter," was the soft reply. "The moon will go
out in an hour, and then the bodies will go out with the tide. By
morning they will be far away." He spoke, almost between closed lips.
"No one will grieve for them. They were bad men."

It was Guildford who was the first one to leave through the barber's
shop. He said he was not feeling well and wanted to get to bed. Then
five minutes later Bascoigne crept down the stairs.

"Cocaine!" nodded Sir Charles, as the sound of the retreating footsteps
died away. "I always thought he did and, to-night, I noticed his pupils.
He's evidently got a bit of nerves and was actually dosing himself in
here. Oh! by-the-bye," he went on, "I may want you to give an
anaesthetic for me in a day or two. I hope to have a most interesting
operation coming on." He laughed. "Take plenty of opium that morning,
for you'll want it to steady your nerves."

"What's the operation?" asked Dr. Libbeus.

"Rejuvenation!" he whispered mysteriously. "The chance of a life-time,
if I can fit things in." His eyes blazed. "I want a suitable old man and
I'll graft the organs of a youth on to him."

"Great Scot!" ejaculated Dr. Libbeus, "but where will you get the youth
from?"

"I've got him," nodded Sir Charles triumphantly. "He's in my private
hospital, getting over a simple appendisectomy. Quite healthy and all
that, and I'll use him if I can." He lowered his voice again to a
whisper. "Do you happen to know of any man, say from 60 to 70, who'd be
willing to risk it?" He half closed his eyes. "Got any relation, you'd
like to experiment upon? No! well I'm looking hard for such a man." He
nodded again. "I've thought several times of Bascoigne, but he's a
little bit too young, and now I've got my eye upon Ah Chung."

"Have you suggested it to either of them?" asked Dr. Libbeus suppressing
a laugh, and thankful that he was on good terms with the speaker.

"No, and I should never do so," replied Sir Charles, with a cunning
smile. "I should just get them up to my place and put them under.
There's a hefty fellow I know, and he'd help me." He screwed up his
face. "The worst of it is about these Chinamen, you can never tell how
old they are and whether rejuvenation is necessary. I've asked Ah Chung
casually about his age, and he didn't reply, and the other night I ran
into two pretty young women that the fellow's got there, but for the
life of me I couldn't guess whether they were his granddaughters or his
wives."

"But what about the youth?" asked Dr. Libbeus dryly. "What does he say
to it?"

"Nothing!" replied Sir Charles blandly, "for of course he's not been
told." He shook his head. "But he's no good to anybody. He's well-to-do
and a waster. He just golfs and plays tennis and is no use in the
world."

Dr. Libbeus took out his watch. "Well, five minutes has gone now," he
said, "and I'll be off. I'll be seeing you to-morrow. Good-night," and
he in turn, proceeded to make his way down the stairs.

"We're a strange lot," he muttered when he was out in the street. "Sir
Charles and Bascoigne are both mental, Guildford's the very worst of bad
eggs, and I,"--he sighed--"live only for my opium now."




CHAPTER VII.--THE WORKERS IN THE NIGHT.


Guildford had spoken the exact truth when he had told the others that he
was in a hurry to get home, but he had lied when he had said he was
anxious to get to his bed, for bed was the last thing he was thinking of
then. Between midnight and the early hours of the morning he was
intending to make an excursion to Bascoigne's Crowborough residence, and
effecting an entry somehow, open the safe that the latter had once
mentioned contained half a million of Treasury Bonds, payable-to-bearer.

Upon Bascoigne's invitation he had paid one visit to The Pines and had
then noted with silent appreciation that it contained not a few valuable
articles of an easily negotiable nature. But it was the bonds he was
after, and with the eyes of an expert who knew a good deal about safes,
he had weighed up the chances of opening that one, and had considered
that they were excellent.

He had taken good note, too, of the general plan of the house, and had
speedily dismissed any idea of difficulty there. There were no burglar
alarms that he could see, the fastenings of the windows were nothing out
of the ordinary, and even the front door, he thought, would yield
quickly to manipulation with a good skeleton key.

As he strode quickly along from Ah Chung's, his mind was running a lot
upon Bascoigne, and he made no secret of it to himself that he was tired
of all association with him, indeed, he knew quite well he would never
have joined in with him at the beginning if he had not been impelled to
do so through absolute fear.

Certainly, with all the fury of a smarting beast of prey, he had gloated
over the thought of revenging himself upon the two men who, all those
years ago, had been mainly instrumental in bringing about his downfall,
but it had been really fear alone that, in the first instance, had made
him join up with the conspirators. Bascoigne had found out too much
about him to be a safe man to offend, but he, Guildford, had made a
mental reservation at the time. That he would be quit of the whole crazy
lot as soon as he could.

He was terribly, even superstitiously, afraid of Gilbert Larose,
regarding him almost as the Invisible Eve, and the very thought of the
ex-detective always put him in a sweat. So learning now that Larose had
been visiting Scotland Yard, he had determined to shake off his
associates without more ado.

That very night, he had intended, should be the last time he would go to
Ah Chung's, and if he could obtain those bonds-to-bearer, as he was so
confidently hoping was going to happen, then he would clear straight
away to the Continent, and by devious ways get later to South America.
He would just disappear, and leave every one, the three other
conspirators included, to imagine what had become of him.

If he did not get the bonds, well, he would join in with them in one
more throw, and with the Rostrellor jewels in his possession, clear off
in just the same way. He had already a tidy bit of money put away, and,
in any case, could live comfortably wherever he went.

He let himself quietly into the private house, adjoining his office, in
Mile End Road. The place was in darkness, and he knew the housekeeper
and the other servant would long since have gone off to bed. He looked
at his watch, and then, after a muttered imprecation at the lateness of
the hour his movements were like lightning.

He changed into a much-worn suit of workman's clothes, put on a pair of
old rubber shoes, snatched at some gloves, and an automatic pistol from
a drawer, and then closely buttoned up in a shabby overcoat, made his
way stealthily into the backyard. Then for a long minute he stood in the
shadow of the fence, darting his eyes round in every direction.

At length, apparently assured that there was no one watching from the
windows of the adjoining houses, he disappeared into a small shed at the
end of the yard.

Then, if any one had been noting his movements they would have been very
surprised to see him emerge, not two minutes later, from the front door
of the house in quite a different street. It was one of the small houses
there, whose back-yards abutted on to the yard of the one in which he
lived, for like Ah Chung, he deemed it advisable to possess more means
of exit than one.

Then for half a mile or so he strode quickly along, until reaching some
archways under a railway line, in a narrow street behind Mile End Road,
he came upon a man who had just finished lifting some sacks on to a
small lorry. He spoke a few words to the man, they both climbed on to
the seat, the engine was started, and the lorry went off in the
direction of the city.

The lorry looked dilapidated and old, and to a casual observer it would
have seemed that its long life was almost done. The casual observer
would have been quite wrong however for beneath its shabby exterior
everything about the lorry was in good condition, and the man who was
now driving it, known as 'Short Alf' to his associates, and one of the
most expert safe-openers in the kingdom, was quite aware that if
necessary he could get an easy forty-five miles an hour out of it.

In the meantime Larose and the highly intrigued Raphael Croupin were
parking their car in a small quarry about half a mile from Crowborough
and some three-quarters of an hour after Guildford and his assistant had
left the city, were creeping over the lawn up to the big French windows
of the study in Bascoigne's house. There was a faint moon showing
through some misty clouds. The whole house was in complete darkness, and
the entry, as Larose had anticipated, was effected without any
difficulty.

"But we'll screw back the bolts straightaway," he whispered directly
they were inside the room, "and then if we have to leave hurriedly there
will be no traces of us left behind, and it may be just thought that
some one had forgotten to bolt the windows before they went to bed."

He saw the door of the study was not closed and crept into the hall to
make certain there was no one moving about.

"All O.K.," he whispered. "The place is quiet as a grave."

Croupin approached the safe and flashed his light over it. Then at once
his face fell. "But this will be very difficult," he said, "for really
an explosive is wanted, or a man who has spent all his life upon safes."

"Well, quick, monsieur, and see what you can do," said Larose. "We
mustn't be longer than we can help," and taking some pieces of stiff
wire from his pocket he began manipulating one of them in the key-hole
of the first drawer.

He soon had it open and made a whispering comment to himself of its
contents as he went along. "A four-ounce bottle of quinine! Ah, that
commissionaire said Bascoigne was liable to bad bouts of malaria,
contracted in Ceylon! Egyptian cigarettes and a very long cigarette
holder! Some of his habits, I see, are just the same as they were 15
years ago. A lot of patent medicines, aspirin, phenobarbital, and by
bosh! a half-ounce bottle of cocaine!" He nodded. "Much of that stuff
would drive any one mad."

Then, one by one, he opened and went through the contents of all the
other drawers, hoping to light upon something that would help put him
upon the track of Bascoigne's associates.

But to his intense disappointment he found nothing at all of that
nature, just bills and receipts and papers of no importance. However, in
the last drawer he came suddenly upon a folded sheet of newspaper, and,
opening it curiously, he started, and then instantly his face expanded
into a broad smile. The paper he had picked up was a half sheet from one
of the magazine pages of a Sunday newspaper, dated a little over a year
previously, and under a big leaded line, running all across the top of
the page, "Famous Trials Recalled," he read the sub-title, "The
Arch-Swindler, Bascoigne Gets Seven Years."

"That clinches it," he whispered triumphantly, "without any need for
finger prints. Now, I wonder if I dare take it?" He hesitated a few
moments. "Yes, I'll risk it. The chances are he'll never notice it's
gone," and so, refolding the paper carefully, he placed it in his
pocket, and, still smiling, tip-toed over to see how Croupin was getting
on.

But Croupin, from the very worried expression upon his face, had
apparently been making no progress at all. With infinite patience, and
with ear pressed close to the safe, he had, times without number, been
turning the figures upon the dial, trying to catch the slightest
variation in the sounds as the dial fell back into its place. He
straightened himself up, however, as Larose approached, and shook his
head. "It is quite hopeless, Monsieur," he said with a sigh. "It is
beyond me, and needs the man who can hear a fly upon the wall to be able
to pick up the correct figures as they pass when I turn the dial." He
looked very disappointed. "They sound all alike to me."

"Well, never mind," said Larose, in no wise downhearted, "I've found out
something, and we'd better scoot now. Get your things together, quick,"
and then almost before the words were out of his mouth, he raised his
finger warningly and placed it upon his lips.

The faint, but unmistakable click of a key being turned in a lock came
from somewhere close near and was followed immediately by a rush of cold
air.

"Quick, quick," he breathed, "some one's opened the front door. They may
hear us if we go by the window, so down behind that settee there," and
followed by a shadow that was Croupin's he darted to a heavy settee that
stood at the other end of the study away from the safe.

A full minute of deep silence ensued, and then they heard whispering,
and the trail of a light swept under the study door.

"Mon Dieu!" groaned Croupin, "but they're coming in here," and he
crouched in the corner, as immovable as the wall itself.

The door was pushed open and a light swept quickly round. Then a
sturdily-built man, followed by one much shorter and of considerably
lighter physique, entered the study, and after softly pushing to the
door behind them, without a moment's hesitation walked over to the safe.

They were, of course, Guildford and Short Alf.

Another torch was switched on, and then for a couple of minutes or so,
in perfect silence, the two lights played up and down the big steel
door. Then the short man bent down and sharply swung round the revolving
dial several times.

"Can you manage it, do you think?" asked Guildford anxiously.

"Sure," replied the other, confidently, spitting upon the carpet, "but
it'll take a little time," and, opening a small bag that he had brought
in with him, he took out several articles, and in a most precise and
business-like manner, proceeded to prepare for his task.

He picked up a little head-light, which he switched on and fastened to
his forehead, with a broad elastic band, a doctor's stethoscope of the
latest type, and a small instrument, like a tuning fork, but rather
longer, and with its two points mounted on very delicate spiral springs.
Then he adjusted the stethoscope until its ear pieces were pressed
firmly into his ears, and next put the solid part of the tuning-fork
instrument between his teeth, resting the quivering points ever so
lightly upon the safe-door, just above the dial. Then, with the
bell-mouth of the stethoscope pressed firmly against the safe, he began
to revolve the dial very slowly, stopping every time for a few seconds,
after it had passed a figure.

About two minutes passed, and then he winked up at Guildford, who was
standing over him.

"Easy as pie," he whispered. "The first number is nine." He grinned. "I
expect that is the number of wives he's got! Trust these rich bachelors
for doing themselves well!"

Then for about half an hour he worked in intense concentration, never
taking his eyes for one second from the dial, except when he looked up
and nodded to Guildford to let him know when he had caught another
number.

At last, with a quick movement, he rose to his feet and took the
stethoscope from his ears and the tuning fork from beneath his teeth.
Then he cleared his mouth of saliva and spat twice upon the floor.

"Double nine, a nought, a seven, an eight, a six, and another nine," he
answered. "They add up to 48, and I expect you'd find that the bloke's
age. It's the usual trick, and nearly everyone puts in a nought." He
made a casual movement with his arm. "Hop in, Boss, and open it."

"Oh! what an artist!" murmured Croupin behind the settee. "Never have I
watched such a great master before!"

With a dreadful beating at his heart Guildford seized hold of the handle
of the safe door and turned it round, but to his consternation it did
not move a hair's-breadth.

"Here, let me do it," grinned the safe-breaker, noting with amusement
his ashen face. "This isn't a kitchen cupboard, remember. That door's
airtight, and wants a hard pull to overcome the suction," and,
accompanying his words, he grabbed sharply at the door, and it came open
at once.

In an instant, then, Guildford was upon his knees and starting to go
through the contents of the safe. There was not very much in it, but he
feverishly picked up packet after packet. Share certificates, leases,
fire insurance policies, legal documents, a little tray of sovereigns,
and a small sheaf of 5 bank notes! But no sign of any bonds-to-bearer
anywhere!

"Damn him!" swore Guildford furiously. "He told us there were half a
million pounds' worth of bonds-to-bearer in here." He gritted his teeth
savagely. "He showed us some of them, too."

"Half a million!" ejaculated Short Alf. He looked very reproachful. "And
you're paying me a miserable 50 quid!"

"Oh! but the bonds might be almost useless," exclaimed Guildford
hurriedly. "I mightn't have been able to get rid of any of them."

"Well, there are some flimsies, anyhow," said Short Alf, and he made a
grab for the packet of notes.

"No, you don't," said Guildford firmly, pulling him back. "He mustn't
know any one's been here, for we may go to his London house, and it
won't do to make him suspicious." He drew out a couple of the notes from
the sheath. "Here, you can take these, for if he misses them he'll only
think he's made a mistake."

"But what about his desk, boss?" asked Alf looking round. "He may have
put them in there."

"No," said Guildford emphatically, "he's not likely to have done, and
it'll only be waste of time. We'll----" but he started suddenly. "Hark!
What was that?" and in the fraction of a second both their lights went
out. "I thought I heard a click. Did you?"

"I heard something," whispered back Short Alf, "but I think it was only
the door moving to. Stand still."

Then for minute after minute, they stood like statues in the darkness,
with heads bent forward and with ears strained for a repetition of the
sound. It was Croupin who had made it. His legs had become cramped, and
in shifting his position his finger nails had struck the wainscoting
behind him.

A long time passed, hours almost it seemed to the crouching two by the
big settee, and then an audible sigh of relief came from Guildford, and
he flashed his light again. "No, it could only have been the door," he
whispered, "so come on now, quickly," and, followed by his companion, he
tiptoed out of the room.

A few minutes later then, Larose heard the catch of the front door being
let very softly into its place, and once again complete silence reigned.

"And that's how we'll go in a couple of minutes," he whispered, rising
stiffly to his feet and rubbing his chafed limbs to bring the
circulation back. "It's a pity though we couldn't have trailed them
straightaway. The big fellow evidently knows Bascoigne and he is
probably one of the other three. He was double-crossing Bascoigne by
coming here to have a go at that safe. Still, it's hopeless to dream of
following him, for they'll have come in a car, of course, and theirs may
be parked in the opposite direction to ours."

"But why didn't you bail them up with your gun when you'd got them
here?" asked Croupin very disappointedly. "Then we should have been
certain who they are."

"No good," replied Larose sharply. "We don't want to give any of them
any warning until we can connect them with the murders and lay hands
upon the lot. As for these two men, just now, we'll get them in another
way, for it isn't likely a chap who can open a safe like we saw this one
do is unknown up at the Yard."

But then came the second interruption of that night, a sound which sent
their hearts beating furiously and caused them to hold their breaths in
consternation, for suddenly the telephone bell in the hall tinkled
loudly, and they heard an extension bell ringing in a far part of the
house.

"By the window?" whispered Croupin hoarsely, as they instantly switched
off their lights.

Larose gripped him by the arm. "No, no," he whispered back, "stay where
you are, for we don't know what's happening yet. The house may be
surrounded outside. Those men may have been followed. Wait a moment and
see."

They heard quick padding footsteps in the hall, the lights went up, and
the receiver of the telephone was being lifted.

"But, oh! you did frighten me, sir," came the shaking voice of a man. "I
thought some dreadful accident must have happened to you. No, there were
no callers for you that afternoon. Oh! only just a man who came to know
if you were wanting a sweeper. About half-past three. Yes, he looked
just ordinary, sir! A commercial traveller! Yes, he was pretty
well-dressed. I didn't notice what colour, sir, but I think it was grey.
He said he'd call again. Oh! you mayn't be back tomorrow. Very good,
sir. Yes, everything's quite all right. Oh! Pluto got away this
afternoon, and it was a long while before we could catch him. He climbed
almost to the top of one of the trees. No, he wasn't hurt at all, but we
were more than half an hour catching him. Oh! it's quite all right, sir,
but the bell frightened us, it being so late. Good-night, sir. Thank
you," and the receiver was hung up.

Then they heard another voice, a woman's this time. "What was it, Bert?"
it asked in very worried tones. "What did the master want?"

"Oh! nothing," replied the man sourly. "A real bit of tomfoolery, I call
it, and I can't understand why he did it. Just wanted to know who called
here when he was at the flower-show yesterday, and when I told him only
the carpet-sweeper man, he asked what the chap was like and how he was
dressed. Come on, let's go back to bed."

"Very inconsiderate, waking us up like this," grumbled his wife. "I
thought at least the police had heard we were going to be broken into.
No. I'm not going back to bed now until I have a cup of tea. My heart's
going all of a flutter, and the tea will do me good." She shivered. "How
cold it is here. It's just as if someone had just opened the front door.
Are all the windows shut, do you think?"

"Of course they are," growled the man. "I shut every one before I went
to bed. Come on and get that tea. I want my sleep," and the lights were
clicked off and the voices of the couple became fainter as they passed
up the hall.

"Now we must wait," whispered Larose, "and we can't make a move for a
good half-hour. Of course it was Bascoigne speaking," he added, "and to
my thinking there's something very queer about it. Why should he be
ringing up at this hour?"

"Some idea has suddenly come to him," whispered back Croupin, "or he's
heard something in town tonight."

"But what could he have heard?" asked Larose sharply.

"Well, why should he have suddenly become so curious," asked Croupin in
return, "to learn if somebody had called here on that flower-show
afternoon? Yes, something has certainly come into his mind all at once,
or he wouldn't have let all yesterday go by before he rang up." He
nodded in the darkness: "He's heard something, right enough."

"But what could he have heard, I say," asked Larose again.

"Monsieur," replied Croupin very solemnly, "when I was against the law
in my own beautiful country I had always friends in the Surete Generale
willing to tell me everything our police were doing. So why shouldn't it
be the same here? This fellow is a rich man, and with money you can
nearly always bribe your way anywhere."

"He's rich, all right," growled Larose. "You can tell that by the
appointments here and the house he's got in town." He scoffed. "Besides,
that expensive safe there was not bought to hold the paltry things they
found to-night. That half million in bonds the big man spoke about is
much more likely to have been kept there." He asked for the third time.
"But what could he have heard?"

A long silence followed, and then Croupin asked hesitatingly. "Do you
think, monsieur, that, to begin with, he recognised that little Cramm
girl at the flower show and knew she came from the Gibbett Inn--I saw
him stare at both her and you--and then some one telling him to-night
that you were back at Scotland Yard--his guilty conscience makes him now
wonder if it were you who were her companion there? Don't forget he
asked the butler just now, when he heard that traveller had called, how
the man was dressed, and he may have had you in mind when he asked him!"

"Damn!" swore Larose after a long moment's consideration, "but it's not
possible. Your imagination is becoming more drunken even than mine."

A few minutes later they let themselves very quietly out of the front
door, Croupin holding back the catch, so that it would click very
softly, with a piece of specially-prepared linen thread. The thread was
caught round the handle inside, and was double ended, so that when the
catch was almost home it could be snatched aside and drawn right away,
leaving nothing to show that any thread had been used.

They found their car unmolested, where they had left it, and reached
town without any further adventure. Larose had taken lodgings in
Pimlico, at the house of an ex-policeman, whom he had known when in the
force, and Croupin was staying with him.

The two of them then snatched an uneasy three hours' sleep, and then
Larose, very alert as usual, was ushered into the Chief Commissioner's
office just as the clock was striking nine.

"Good morning, Mr. Larose," said the Commissioner, but without returning
the smile. Then when the door was shut behind the constable who had
shown the ex-detective in, he added sharply: "Look here, my friend, you
go easy with that Sheldon-Brown, for he's not the man you think. His
finger-prints are not Bascoigne's and nothing like them, either."

For the moment Larose did not take in the meaning of his words. "I beg
your pardon, sir," he said.

The Commissioner raised his voice a little tartly. "Those finger-prints
you obtained yesterday are not those of the convict, Bascoigne," he
replied. "They bear no resemblance to them at all."

A moment of intense silence followed, and then Larose, swallowing down a
feeling of dire consternation, exclaimed airly, as if the matter were of
no importance: "Ho! ho! they are not?" He tried to appear amused. "Well,
for all that, Sheldon-Brown and Bascoigne are one and the same man."

The Commissioner, making no reply, took two small mounted photographs
from a pigeon hole in the desk before him, and handed them across to
Larose, who just glanced at them quickly.

"A mistake," he said calmly, "or else--" his voice hardened--"this one of
Bascoigne has been deliberately changed."

The Commissioner looked very stern. "Our finger-print department does
not make mistakes, Mr. Larose," he said icily, "as no one should know
better than yourself. As for any deliberate alteration of the cards"--he
shrugged his shoulders--"well, we won't discuss it." He waved to a
chair. "Sit down will you."

Larose did as he was bid, and keeping a good hold upon himself, smiled
cheerfully again. "Well, sir," he said, "if this Sheldon-Brown is not
Bascoigne the convict, we are up against a series of coincidences, whose
cumulative effect would drive any mathematician into an asylum. Just
listen to me for a moment." He spoke very quickly. "Yesterday morning, I
spent some time with a man who was this Bascoigne's body servant twenty
years ago, and I dug out of him all Bascoigne's then-habits in private
life, his tastes in food, his mode of dress, his preference in colours,
his ailments, and in short, everything I could learn about him." He
coughed ever so slightly. "Then last night, I effected an entrance into
Sheldon-Brown's residence in Crowborough and----"

"Effected an entrance!" interrupted the Commissioner, frowning. "You
broke in!"

"Not exactly," smiled Larose. "I just undid the bolt of a window." He
spoke very quickly. "It was Sheldon-Brown's study I went into, and the
first thing I noticed was that the chairs and settee were upholstered in
blue leather, and the carpet was blue and the curtains were blue, also
the shades over the lights." He nodded. "Blue was Bascoigne's favourite
colour." He went on. "Then I opened the desk and in the front drawer saw
a long ivory cigarette holder--Bascoigne always used a long one--some
cigarette papers, and a tin of Egyptian tobacco--Bascoigne always used
Egyptian tobacco, and made his own cigarettes. Then I saw a gold mounted
fountain pen with a broad, thick nib--Bascoigne always used thick nibs."

He paused for a few moments to give the Commissioner an opportunity to
make some remark, but the latter was looking meditatively down upon his
blotting pad and drawing circle after circle with a blue pencil, and so
Larose went on.

"Then I came upon a 4oz bottle of sulphate of quinine, with some of its
contents gone." He paused again here, and then added very solemnly,
"Bascoigne suffered from bouts of malaria, and was periodically taking
sulphate of quinine. You will find that also, no doubt, in the prison
records. Finally"--and his voice rose to a note of triumph--"I found
this in one of the drawers," and he whipped out the sheet of newspaper.
"Famous Trials Recalled," and laid it before the Commissioner, upon his
desk.

The Commissioner put down his pencil, and, with a deep frown, picked up
the paper and began to glance through it.

"Notice, too," said Larose, "the words in it that have been scored
under--and so scored many a month ago, for the ink is faded, the words,
'neither Mortimer Fairfax nor Sir John Lorraine, either, for the matter
of that, gave him any mercy.'" He spoke very quietly now. "What do you
think of it, sir?"

A short silence followed, and then the Commissioner looked up and
regarded him very solemnly.

"You disturb me," he said frowningly. He shook his head. "It is
unthinkable there can be a mistake about these finger prints, and
yet"--he spoke very slowly--"I admit it is very strange if all these
parallels can exist in two different men."

"Just think of it, sir," urged Larose, "the bouts of malaria, the same
tastes and peculiarities of their habits, the same engaging personality,
the same commanding presence, and the same bold and fearless
imagination!" He laughed. "Oh! And another thing! They both are great
fish eaters. Bascoigne almost lived upon fish and the 'phone girl at
Crowborough said Sheldon-Brown rings up the fishmonger every day."

The Commissioner sighed. "I'll have another inquiry made," he said, "to
see who filed Bascoigne's finger prints and all about them."

Larose seemed quite satisfied. "And has the telephone been used, sir, at
Sheldon-Brown's in Charles Street? Have you any news there?"

The Commissioner picked up a paper. "We could not get in touch with him
at all yesterday, for he did lot come home until half-past 12 this
morning. Then at 2.22 a.m. he put through a call to his residence at
Crowborough, and it was undoubtedly his butler who answered it." He
passed over the paper to Larose. "Of no interest, apparently, but here
is the report of the conversation."

Larose frowned uneasily as he ran through the conversation, for he was
not thinking it was of no interest. To him it was of a very disturbing
nature.

"And that is all, sir?" he asked, after a minute.

"No," replied the Commissioner, now frowning, in his turn, "for at 7.46
this morning he was rung up from a call office in Belsize Avenue,
Hampstead, and some one talked to him for about two minutes."

"What did they say?" asked Larose eagerly.

"We do not know," replied the Commissioner with a grim smile, "for the
conversation was carried on in German, and the girl at the exchange who
was ready to take down everything in shorthand is not conversant with
that language."

For the moment Larose looked very crestfallen, and then he snapped his
fingers together exultingly. "Another link in the chain, sir, for
Bascoigne spent many holidays in Germany. His old valet told me that
year after year he went shooting in the Black Forest, so he undoubtedly
speaks German." He shook his head. "But that conversation this Mr.
Sheldon-Brown held with his butler is very disquieting, for I was the
supposed commercial traveller who called that afternoon, and Mr. B. is
evidently beginning to smell a rat somewhere," and then he related
everything that had taken place that night when he and Croupin had been
at Crowborough.

The Commissioner listened intently, and his face brightened up
considerably towards the end of the recital. "Well, we'll take extreme
care," he nodded, "that this man, whoever he is, does not learn he's
being shadowed, even to the extent, as you suggest, of letting him get
out of our sight, rather than that he should become positive he is under
suspicion." He talked on for a few minutes and then touched the bell
upon his desk. "And now you shall have that talk with the officer you
want. I needn't remind you that Detective-Inspector Quinell should know
something about every safe opener of good repute, or ill, in the
kingdom."

Larose was quickly ushered into the inspector's room, and after shaking
hands, and a few remarks about old times, he came at once to the point.

"Forgive me for not being in a position to explain everything," he said
with a most friendly smile, "but for the moment the whole problem is
very vague, and I can't put all my cards upon the table yet. What I want
to find out is if you know of any man in the safe-breaking line who
answers to this description," and he at once proceeded to describe the
small man whom he had seen open the safe the previous night.

"And he kept spitting, did he?" asked the inspector. He smiled. "Well,
that clinches it, for Alf Flick is an inveterate chewer of tobacco.
'Short Alf' they call him, and he's a perfect wonder in dealing with
strong-doors and safes. No, we've never brought anything home to him,
although we've suspected him not a few times. But he's always had a
water-tight alibi whenever we've questioned him. Either his wife swears
he has never got out of his bed, or his grandmother has never had him
out of her sight, or innumerable uncles and aunts declare he has been
with them the whole time, and always he's been too clever for us."

"What's the occupation of this Alf Flick?" asked Larose.

"He's a locksmith by trade," was the reply, "and the banks and
safe-deposit people employ him a lot when anything goes wrong, for he's
a marvel at his work."

"Where does he live?" asked Larose.

"In Rooper Street, off the Mile End Road," replied the inspector, "and
I'll come with you straight away, if you want to talk to him." He
nodded. "He's a bit frightened of me."

"No, no," exclaimed Larose quickly. "I'll go alone, please, for I've got
to handle him very gently. It's like this," he went on, noticing the
disappointed look upon the inspector's face. "I don't want this man for
safe-breaking, for I'm after much bigger game than that. All I want is
to talk to him, and no one must know he's been approached by any one
connected with the police."

He bade good-bye to the inspector, and made his way quickly to his
lodgings, where he found Croupin waiting for him.

"Yes, you'll do," he said, critically regarding the shabby-looking
figure before him. "You even look more disreputable and down-and-out
than you need have done. Where did you get the clothes from?"

"Our landlord," replied the Frenchman, eyeing his attire disgustedly,
"and I believe he found them in some field where they were scaring
birds."

"Well, off you go," said Larose, "and here's the list of foreign
barbers. It's a long one, but I think there are 11 you had better go and
look at first. Seven Germans and four Swiss, and all not far from the
Docks. Now, are you sure you can find your way about?"

"Yes," replied Croupin, as he glanced down upon the list. He sighed. "I
tell you, I was in hiding in London once, and lived in Shoreditch for
over three months."

"Good luck to you, then," said Larose. "But I'm afraid you've got a very
hopeless job, with not one chance in a thousand of picking out the
particular barber we want."

"Oh! I don't know so much about that," commented Croupin very
mysteriously, and tossing his head. "I've just been giving these nice
clothes a walk round to buy a pennyworth of cat's meat for our
landlady's cat." He grinned impudently into Larose's face. "You are not
the only one, Meester Larose, who can think of things, and I've thought
of a very good idea. Good-bye. Expect me when you see me."

He left the house by the back door, and certainly no one would have
recognised the lively and debonair Raphael de Choisy-Hautville, in the
ill-clad and melancholy individual who was now slouching along as if the
mother of all misfortunes had overtaken him.

In the meantime, Larose was making quick changes in his own appearance,
and a few minutes later, with his eyebrows straightened, a little
scrubby moustache and certain deft touches that altered the whole
contour of his face, he left the house and followed along the same
direction that Croupin had taken. He was dressed now in very ordinary
clothes, and wore a cloth cap that had evidently seen good service.

He took the Underground Railway at Westminster, and alighting at Aldgate
East soon found Rooper Street and the shop of Alfred Flick. It was a
very small one, and looking through the dusty window, he saw the
locksmith himself at work upon the bench. Close near him and seated on
the counter was a little fair-haired child about three, nursing a doll,
whilst in a chair behind sat a rosy-cheeked young woman, barely out of
her teens, with some needle-work in her lap. She was sewing
industriously.

Larose felt his heart beating a little quicker. "That's the chap," he
murmured, "and things should be very easy now." He grimaced to himself.
"A happy little domestic scene, and it's a darn shame to have to spoil
it. Still--still--we'll see what Alf. will do."

He pushed open the shop door and entered, and then immediately the girl,
gathering her needlework together, rose hurriedly and disappeared
through an inner door. The locksmith lifted the child down off the
counter. "Run away, nipper," he said. "Daddy's busy now. Go to Mum."

Larose took in the locksmith with one glance. He looked a merry-hearted
fellow of a lively disposition, and appeared to be about 35 years of
age.

"Mr. Flick?" asked Larose, and when the man replied, "Yes, sir," he
lowered his voice, and glancing in the direction of the inner door,
which was ajar, and added sternly, "Well, I want to speak to you."

The man's jaw dropped ever so little at the sternness of the tones, but
taking the hint he immediately stepped over and shut the door. Then he
returned to the counter, eyeing Larose very intently.

"I know where you were last night, Mr. Flick," said Larose, very slowly,
and with no raising of his voice.

The man's face whitened, but he put on a bold front. "And so do I," he
said sharply. "In bed where I suppose you were."

"I saw you open that safe," went on Larose, in the same low tone, "and
the numbers of the combination were nine, nine, nought, seven, eight,
six, nine. I was in the same room, behind that settee the whole time."

The man's face had gone an ashen grey, and he could hardly get his
breath. "Who are you?" he gasped.

"From the Yard," replied Larose, and he took out his badge and showed it
to him.

The man crumpled up. "You've come to take me," he faltered brokenly, and
then, jerking his head in the direction of the inner door, the tears
welled up in his eyes. "My God! And the missus in there is expecting
another baby in six weeks."

"Shut up. Keep quiet, you fool," snarled Larose. "I don't say I've come
to arrest you. It all depends upon yourself, and what you tell me. It's
that other man I'm after, not you."

Alf Flick drew in a deep breath. "What do you want to know?" he asked
shakily.

"The first thing," snapped Larose, "who was that chap with you? What's
his name?"

The man hesitated, looking the picture of distress, and Larose, his face
dark with anger, raised one forefinger menacingly. "Look here, you
fool," he breathed, in an intense whisper. "It's all or nothing with
you, and you've got to decide in five seconds. Either you tell
everything, or"--he nodded again in the direction of the inner
door--"you'll be in the cells in twenty minutes." He smiled
disdainfully. "Remember that click you heard? Well, what about my camera
with both of you snapped red-handed before that safe?"

The man wilted as if he had been struck. "I'll tell, Boss," he panted.
"You shall know everything, and then perhaps"--he caught his
breath--"you'll wait until the missus is over her trouble."

Instantly Larose was all sympathy. "I'll wait longer than that," he said
quickly, "and, indeed, perhaps you may never hear any more of it at
all." He nodded. "You're a small fish, Alf, and I tell you it's that
other chap I want. Now who is he?"

"Mason, the estate agent," replied the locksmith, looking so relieved
now that he was with difficulty withholding his tears. "He lives close
near here, in Mile End Road."

"An estate agent," exclaimed Larose. "Is that all he is?" and then
intending to remove all regret that the locksmith might have in
betraying his employer, he went on scornfully, "and he was only paying
you 50 to get him half a million in bonds! Why----"

"He had told me nothing, about the bonds, Boss," broke in the man
quickly. "He just said he wanted to get hold of some papers that had
been stolen from him, and he was sure that swell had taken them."

"And you know the man he was robbing?" asked Larose.

"No, I don't," replied the man earnestly. "I don't know him, or who he
is or even where he lives. Mr. Mason just pointed out which way to drive
the car we went down in, and then after we'd passed through Croydon I
lost all direction." He nodded. "Mason is a close chap and never tells
anything."

"But Mason knows the man, doesn't he?" asked Larose.

"Yes, he knows him," replied Alf, "and he said he was a rich bachelor,
living by himself. He'd spent one Sunday at the house there, and knew
all about it, and that there were no children or dogs hanging about. He
let out by chance that while my pay was to be only 50, he'd been
expecting to get half a million!"

"And he's only an estate agent, you say?" asked Larose.

"But he owns a bit of house property himself, as well," replied the man,
"and puts up hoardings for advertisements and collects rents for people.
He does a lot of things and has to keep four or five clerks to help
him." A cunning look came into his face and he nodded mysteriously.
"Besides it's reckoned he makes a good few quid in other ways."

"What ways?" asked Larose.

The man hesitated. "Well, for one thing, he knows a lot of chaps who
live on what they can get, and when they're in trouble he provides them
with lawyers and tells them what to do." He nodded again. "There's
nothing about the law that he doesn't know, and these chaps often get
off. Then when they find anything and get away with it,"--he lowered his
voice to the merest whisper--"he's supposed to buy it from them."

"When they pinch anything, you mean?" frowned Larose.

"Yes," was the reply, "when they've pinched some stuff and haven't got
caught."

"And how long's this Mason been living here?" was the next question.

"Oh! a long time, I think. Eight or nine years."

"Have you done any jobs for him before?"

The man was most emphatic. "No, I never met him until last week when he
came in here and spoke to me. I'd heard a lot about him, though."

Then Larose plied him with question upon question, often repeating them
in different ways, until he was quite certain in the end that the man
was speaking the truth.

"Well, Alf," he said at last. "It's a darned shame you should have been
up to games like this when you've got a young wife and kiddies to look
after." He bent forward until his face was close up to that of the man.
"You say you had no money saved and it was only because you were in a
bad way, that you agreed to work for Mason." He spoke very slowly. "Now
what do you think then would become of your young missus, if you were
put away for seven years, and she hadn't a penny and there was no one by
to protect her?" He smiled cruelly. "She's a pretty girl, isn't she?"

The locksmith winced and his eyes took on the look of a wounded animal.
"But I'll go straight, now, I promise, Boss," he said hoarsely, "if you
only give me the chance. I tell you there's another kid coming, and I
wanted that money so that the wife could have a better time. I
thought----"

"Has he paid you the 50 yet?" broke in Larose sharply.

"Yes," replied the man, "he gave it to me as we were driving home."

"Then you're all right for money now," said Larose, "and you'll have no
worry there. So that's settled." He spoke in quite a friendly tone. "And
if you keep straight in future, Alf, and do as I tell you, you need have
no worry either about what happened last night. Now you shall hear what
I want you to do."




CHAPTER VIII.--"THE TERROR BY DAY."


When Larose returned to his lodgings about eight o'clock that night
Croupin had not yet come home, and there was no sign of him when Larose
at last put himself to bed.

If the course of the evening, however, it was reported to Ah Chung that
a slightly drunken Frenchman had come to the lodging house next door.
The Frenchman said he was a chef out of work, but from the skill with
which he performed certain sleight-of-hand tricks for the amusement of
the other lodgers, it was surmised he was a pickpocket.

"Give him more drink and search him," said Ah Chung. "If you find
anything on him, don't take it, but encourage him to come again. Search
well, for he may have been sent by the police. A pickpocket should be
earning more money than to have to come down here."

The following afternoon about three o'clock, at the usual slack period
of the day, Voisin, the barber of Rent Street, was seated at the back of
the shop reading a newspaper.

Bullet-headed, and of decided Teutonic ancestry, he was a hard-faced,
stolid-looking man. He had shaggy eyebrows, big searching eyes, a square
jaw, and a large coarse mouth with full lips.

He was reading with his eyes fixed most intently upon the paper and he
was breathing hard. It was the midday edition of the Daily Cry, and its
contents were sensational enough to have aroused feelings of excitement
in anybody.

It was the leading article that was so enthralling him, and it was
referring to an explosion in the Reading Room of the British Museum the
previous afternoon, when three men had been seriously injured, and to
one that had also occurred the same night at a conversazione of the
Royal Society, but happily there, by a mere chance, attended by no
casualties.

Now, it had a duty to the public to perform, it told its readers, and it
was not going to be muzzled and it was not going to be hushed up. The
public ought to be made aware of what was happening, and it was no good
blinking facts.

Yes, a band of madmen, for there must surely be more than one of them,
had, three weeks ago, on the 25th of July to be exact, started upon a
campaign of murder and outrage, and they had got away with it, too,
every time.

The public had, of course, read, it went on, that the one-time eminent
judge, Sir John Lorraine, of Merton Court, Eastbourne, had been
mysteriously murdered just outside his own grounds on July 25th. They
had read, too, that the venerable Archdeacon Lendon had been murdered,
just as mysteriously at Surbiton on August 8, and that some unknown
person had shot Lord Burkington, the eminent surgeon, at Harrogate, on
August 25th. Then, if their memories were good, they would recall the
names of three other persons who had been killed in the ensuing three
weeks, with the killers all undiscovered.

Six murders in seven weeks and no one had been apprehended for them!
Just--a terrible crime committed, an empanelling of a coroner's jury,
and a subsequent verdict, monotonous in its repetition--"Murder by some
person or persons unknown."

Yes, the public had heard all about these murders, but drugged,
apparently, into an unthinking frame of mind by the interest of other
events that had been taking place--the Test matches against the
Australians, the Davis Cup tennis at Wimbledon, the breaking of the
unpaced bicycle record between Land's End and John of Groats, and the
poisoning of the favourite for the Manchester November Handicap,
&c.--they had apparently taken little notice of them, and certainly
altogether failed to realise that they might be crimes of a series and
carried out upon a definite and carefully thought-out plan.

But putting aside all consideration of these half-dozen dreadful,
undiscovered and unpunished crimes, had it never dawned upon people that
in their insane deification of sport they had been overlooking so many
happenings that were now occurring daily in their very midst?

Had they not noticed how the main public buildings were being guarded
now, and how quiet and unobtrusive, but very grim-faced men stopped
every one who was carrying a parcel, and attempted to go in? Had it
never struck them why the Houses of Parliament had not been opened
during the recess this year for sight-seers, and how the public
inspection of certain historic castles had been denied 'until further
notice?'

"Does no one wonder," it continued, warming up to its work, "why
the----" but the barber stopped reading here, and with his eyes staring
fixedly into vacancy, harrowed his mind mercilessly in an endeavour to
exactly remember certain dates. Presently his eyes dropped again and
fell upon a paragraph lower down.

"Let the truth be told," he read, "and let the public learn from what
dangers they have escaped, and take warning, too, what dangers may yet
be before them. It is dreadful for us to record, but it is an open
secret in Fleet Street and wherever newspaper men forgather, that bombs
have recently been left in both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's
Cathedral, and--more awful still--attempts have been made to poison
certain reservoirs in the metropolitan area with arsenic!"

The barber started here and with his eyes almost bulging from his head,
read on the next few paragraphs, in such a state of mental turmoil that
he did not grasp their meaning. Then his benumbed brain began to
function again, and he took in, "--somewhere conspirators are meeting to
hatch their dreadful plots; somewhere in some foul den, night after
night, inhuman monsters gather and--"

"Mon Dieu," he gasped, his heart beating wildly, "but it is they! They
are the four that meet here at Chung's! They are----" but his train of
thought was interrupted suddenly by the clanging of the shop-door bell,
and he started up, to see a shabby-looking stranger enter the shop.

The man shut the door behind him very carefully, and then, cap in hand,
advanced in a most obsequious manner.

"Monsieur," he said with a grand bow, and speaking in broken English, "I
have ze good rasor to sell."

"No," replied the barber in his harsh and guttural accent, annoyed at
being disturbed, "I do not want them. I do not want any razors."

The stranger started, and throwing out his hands delightedly proceeded
at once to address the barber volubly in most fluent French. "Then, you
come from France and you are the Monsieur Voisin whose name I see over
the door!" he exclaimed. "Oh! I am so happy, for it is like a breeze
from the open sea to meet one from my beloved country."

"I am not French," growled the barber in the same tongue, "I am a
Swiss."

"But it is the same," went on the stranger excitedly. "You speak my
tongue and you are not of this awful country. We are then brothers in
exile." He took a small parcel from the inside pocket of his coat, and
began to unwrap it. "Now, I have here some----"

"I don't want them, I tell you," reiterated the barber with some
irritation, and by no means responding to the friendliness of his
visitor. "I have plenty of razors and shan't buy any more."

"But these are special ones," said the man, taking no notice at all of
the barber's refusal. "They are the razors of emperors and kings, and
they are worth 500 francs the three. You cannot anywhere buy better than
these."

"Get out, you," snarled the barber, "and clear off quick, or I'll--" but
his eyes fell suddenly upon the razors that had at last been unwrapped,
and he stopped in sheer astonishment.

They were not the kind of razors he had been expecting to see; cheap,
shoddy ones that were so often brought to him by seedy-looking
individuals, trying to make a few pence by hawking from door to door. At
a glance, he realised they were of a most expensive kind, in handles of
real ivory and, as the man had said, the best that could be bought.

His curiosity overcame his annoyance at the persistence of the would-be
vendor. "Where did you get them from?" he growled, taking one in his
hands and proceeding to examine the blade.

The man hesitated just the fraction of a second. "I found them," he
said, "----in a rubbish tip." He went on quickly. "That's how I live,
and this morning I was raking in one behind some hoardings near Poplar
Station, and I found them, wrapped up in this," and he held up for
inspection the black piece of cloth from which he had taken them. He
watched the barber like a cat watching a mouse. "I only want ten
shillings for them, ten shillings for the three."

The barber looked up and eyed him with a fixed and intent stare. "They
are stolen," he said curtly. "You have been breaking in somewhere."

"No, no!" exclaimed the man instantly. "I found them I tell you, and
they belong to me." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "No one knows I
have got them and you are the first one I have shown them to. I was
looking for some one who could speak French, so that I could explain,
and when I noticed your name I came in here." He changed into a
wheedling tone. "Help a poor Frenchman, Monsieur. See, you shall have
them for eight shillings."

"What are you and where do you live?" asked the barber, in whom desire
to possess the razors and fear of getting into trouble with the police
were struggling for the mastery.

"I am a chef, Monsieur," replied the man with dignity, "but I am out of
work and can get nothing to do." He laughed bitterly. "As to where I
live, I live anywhere. Sometimes, I have no money and then I sleep in
the parks." An unpleasant memory seemed to stir in him and he frowned
angrily. "Last night, I slept close near here, in a lodging house kept
by a Chinaman on the Causeway, but they gave me rum to drink, and for a
joke put something it, and this morning I had a bad mouth and a terrible
headache." He grinned feebly. "But they could not have wanted to rob me,
for I had only sixpence, and I found it in my pocket when I woke up." He
nodded. "Still, I shall not go there again."

"I'll give you five shillings for them," grunted the barber, making up
his mind at last.

"No--eight, Monsieur," pleaded the man. "Give me eight shillings. They
are worth three pounds."

"Six shillings," said the barber, firmly. "I'll give you no more than
that, and if you do not like it, you can go."

The Frenchman looked furious, and stood hesitating, then, as the barber
held out the razor for him to take back, he made a gesture of
resignation, and forced his face into a smile.

"Bien, Monsieur," he said sadly. "I will take it, for I want money, but
it is throwing them away."

The barber showed no satisfaction at the closing of the deal, but
pointing to a wooden bench against the wall, said curtly.

"Well, you wait there until I get the money, and don't move about the
shop." Then, retreating into the inner room, but, leaving the door wide
open so that he could keep an eye upon his visitor, he busied himself
for a couple of minutes or so with a pen and a piece of paper.

"Here," he said, returning into the shop, and motioning the Frenchman
over to the counter, "sign this and I'll give you the money."

The very astonished Frenchman glanced down and read what he had written.
"Received from Nicol Voisin the sum of thirty shillings for three razors
that were given me by my late master, Monsieur le Brun."

"Le diable!" he exclaimed, "but you said you would only give me six!"

"And that is all I am going to give," remarked the barber grinning, "but
you will sign this"--he nodded--"in case the police come and say I must
have known the razors were stolen, because you sold them for six
shillings."

For the moment the Frenchman seemed stunned, and then he burst into a
merry peal of laughter. "But you are clever, Monsieur Voisin," he said,
"very clever. Still, I will sign, because it is quite safe and the
police will never come. As I say, I have shown them to no one but you,"
and he took the pen that the barber was holding out, and with a grand
flourish wrote the name, 'Alexandre Nation,' adding with a grim smile,
'with best thanks.'

The barber, now for the first time, allowed his features to relax. "And
you would like something to drink?" he asked slowly, and as if some idea
were forming in his mind.

"Not rum!" exclaimed the Frenchman, at once beginning to look very
suspicious.

"No, good wine," replied Voisin. "I have some here."

And so, a couple of minutes later, the two were drinking in quite a
friendly fashion in the inner room.

"And where were you working, Monsieur Nation?" asked Voisin presently,
"before you lost your job?"

"Here in London," replied the Frenchman promptly, "at the Semiris Hotel.
I was under-chef there, and should have been full chef soon, if my
enemies had not conspired against me."

"So, so," said Voisin sympathetically, "you made enemies, did you?"

"Yes, and they brought false accusations against me," went on Nation,
speaking with an assumption of great wrong. "Some jewellery was taken
out of one of the visitor's rooms, and they said I had done it."

"And, of course, you hadn't!" smiled Voisin.

The Frenchman smiled back. "Of course not," he replied. "But they said I
had made a master key and could get into all the rooms." He nodded
scornfully. "At any rate they could prove nothing, although they sent me
away."

They chatted on about Geneva and Paris, from where they respectively
came and the barber seemed very interested about the police system of
the latter city, asking many questions to which the obliging Monsieur
Nation was able to give full replies.

Then suddenly the bell of the shop tinkled and to the annoyance, so it
seemed, of the barber three customers came in all together at the same
time.

"But I will come and see you again, perhaps," nodded the Frenchman in
bidding good-bye, and then his voice sank to the deepest of whispers as
he added significantly, "I often have things that I do not know where to
sell, and much better than razors some times."

The barber was very preoccupied all the remainder of that day, and twice
had to apologise most profusely for the cutting of a customer's chin.
Then the moment the day's work was finished, he put the copy of the
Daily Cry into his pocket and made his way round through the street to
Ah Chung's.

"Have you seen this?" he whispered breathlessly, pointing to the leading
article that had so startled him. "I believe it is the men who meet here
and they have nothing to do with ammunition as they say."

"But I have seen the boxes of cartridges," lied Ah Chung blandly, after
one quick glance down at the paper. "They are stored in a warehouse in
Tooley Street, and I am arranging for their shipment."

"Oh!" exclaimed Voisin looking very crest-fallen. "I thought we could
have made some more money by telling them we knew." His face cleared and
he produced the three razors he had bought from the Frenchman and the
receipt he had obtained from him, as well. "See," he went on, "a man
came into my shop this afternoon and I bought these razors. I wished I
hadn't afterwards, for my customers are not the sort to buy them. Will
you take them? I paid ten shillings each. Here is the receipt."

The Chinaman examined the razors critically. "They were stolen," he
said, "and you were wise to get a receipt. They are worth more than ten
shillings." He considered. "They would be difficult for me to sell, too,
but I will give you one pound for the three," and the barber, knowing
quite well it would be useless to argue with Ah Chung, accepted the
offer, grinning covertly to himself, however, as he pocketed the
treasury note.

In the meantime, Larose, returning to his lodgings in Pimlico about 6
o'clock, found Croupin waiting for him. The latter had discarded his
out-of-work garments and was now attired in his proper clothes.

"And where are you off to?" asked Larose sharply. "You are supposed to
be helping me, but certainly, not in that get-up."

"Patience, patience! Meester Larose," exclaimed Croupin, all smiles. "I
have earned a good dinner, and have been starved for two days." He
screwed up his face inquiringly. "But tell me first, have you found out
anything?"

Larose nodded. "Yes, quite a lot," he replied, looking very pleased with
himself, "for the Yard were able to put their fingers at once upon the
man who opened that safe, and I frightened him into telling all about
the other one who had been with him," and he proceeded to relate very
quickly all that had happened.

"Then you have actually recognised the big man, in this estate agent of
Mile End Road?" asked Croupin gleefully.

"Oh! Yes," replied Larose at once, "there is no doubt about it. I have
been in his office twice to-day, as a prospective tenant of one of his
houses. I have not actually spoken to him, for one of the clerks has
attended to me both times but I have had a good close-up view and heard
him talking, too." He nodded. "He looks a determined and capable man to
me, and very clever--much too clever to be pottering about in the East
End. Of course, he is being shadowed closely now, but up to this evening
he has not left his house. We'll trip him soon, though, and another
thing--we must get hold of his finger-prints, for he looks a man with a
past to me." He looked intently at Croupin. "But now, have you any
news?"

Croupin grinned. "Nothing much," he replied shaking his head carelessly,
"except that I have marked down a German-Swiss barber who is a great
scoundrel, who smokes cigarettes of black tobacco, and who lives near
some Chinaman who comes from Hankow." He nodded significantly. "Yes, and
one of these Chinamen keeps an evil-smelling live-animal shop, almost at
the very back of this barber's house."

Larose made no attempt to hide his astonishment. "What!" he exclaimed
with widely-opened eyes. "You've found him already? How on earth did you
manage it?"

Croupin laughed. "It was the smell, Monsieur," he explained, with his
eyes sparkling, "and I was like a blood-hound on the trail!" He
explained quickly. "It happened in this way. When I put on those
dreadful clothes you ordered for me, our landlady here was all amusement
at my appearance. 'Never mind, sir,' she said. 'You do not look as bad
as my cats-meat man, for he looks really terrible.'" He made a gesture
of disgust. "But I doubted her. So, as she wanted some meat for her cat,
I went to the man's shop to see. It is only two streets from here, and
he keeps cats and dogs for sale, and other animals, and there was a
dreadful smell. I asked him if trade was good, and he looked angry at
once, because he told me the foreigners were spoiling everything. 'The
dam Chinks by the docks,' he said. 'They get all the goods things from
the sailor-men as they come off the ships and can sell cheaper than
me.'"

Croupin paused for a few moments, as if to tantalise Larose, and then
snapping his fingers together exultingly, went on. "So the great idea
came to me, the evil smell of caged animals for sale and the Chinaman by
the docks! What more could I want?"

"Splendid, Monsieur," exclaimed Larose enthusiastically. "It was a real
brain-wave!"

"So I tramped round the docksides," continued Croupin, "with my eyes
skinned for Chinamen who sold animals, and a barber with a Swiss or
German name over his shop, and I soon found them close together, a
barber called Voisin, and an animal shop on Limehouse Causeway. The
barber lives in a low quarter in Rent Street, and behind his house are
three other houses, facing the river, all kept by Chinamen. One is the
animal place, the next is a shop that sells ropes and lamps for ships,
and the third is a lodging house."

He paused again here to sigh deeply, and then related how troubled he
had been to make up his mind what to do next.

He had realised that to make any progress in his investigations he must
get in touch with the Chinaman somehow, but he did not forget also, that
if the Chinamen were what they supposed them to be, and in league with
murderers, then it would be a very risky proceeding to place himself in
their hands. He had hesitated a long while, but had finally resolved to
spend a night in the lodging-house, and knowing something of the nature
of these places, and how it was quite likely he would be searched when
he was asleep, he had had to arrange that he should be carrying nothing
upon him that would excite any suspicion. So he had wrapped his watch
and nearly all the money he had about him, some 9 odd, in treasury
notes and silver, in a piece of newspaper, keeping out only two
shillings and a few coppers. Then he had bought a penny piece of chewing
gum and entering an old ivy-covered church off the East India Dock
Road--it was just five o'clock and evensong was being sung--he had knelt
down in a pew at the back and stuck his little packet of money on to the
underneath part of the seat with the now well-chewed gum.

"And it was so sad, Meester Larose!" he said, and as if even now almost
choking with the memory. "There was the beautiful music, with the organ
notes so sweet they might have come from heaven, there was the light so
dim and holy; there was the incense as an opiate for the sick and weary
brain; and I--was worrying that my piece of gum might fall off the
bottom of the pew, and thinking all the time of that smell in the animal
shop, and whether I should get a knife stuck into me before the morning
came, I tell you I was----"

"Get on, Monsieur," interrupted Larose testily. "Tell me what happened.
Never mind these thoughts of yours."

Croupin looked reproachful, but then quickly related how he had had some
brandy to make him smell of drink, how then he had paid sixpence for his
mattress in the lodging house, and sixpence for his supper, and how to
dispel all suspicion that he was anything but what he was making himself
out to be, he had pretended to be partly drunk.

The supper had been a nauseous one, but he had eaten it and then to
ingratiate himself with the other lodgers, of whom he had been asking
guarded questions, he had proceeded to amuse them with some
sleight-of-hand tricks. Then the old Chinaman who kept the lodging
house, as a gesture of great goodwill, had brought him a glass of rum,
and he had not dared to refuse it, because pretending to be in liquor
already, it might have made the man suspicious at once.

Then he knew almost at once that he had been drugged, for he could not
keep his eyes open, and very soon he remembered nothing more. He woke up
in the morning with a bad headache, but he was very thankful to find he
had wakened at all.

"Then as I stumbled out into the street, Monsieur," he said, "so
thankful for the cold morning air, I passed the shop where they sell the
ropes and candles for the ships, and I saw another Chinaman standing at
the door. He did not turn his head as I came up, but his eyes moved on a
swivel and met mine, and they were cruel as Satan's." He threw out his
hands. "Never have I seen such a pitiless face--and I could feel that he
was watching me, too! He was undoubtedly the proprietor of the shop and
the name over the door was Ah Chung."

Then Croupin related how he had retrieved his money from the church, and
then with what disfavour and suspicious glances he had been regarded,
when in his soiled and shabby clothes, he had gone into a high-class
cutlery shop in the West End, and announced that he wanted to buy some
of the best razors that they had.

"They looked and looked," he laughed merrily, "and came and stared as if
they thought I was going to steal the door-mat or run off with the
counter, until in the end I had to tell them I had won a big prize in
the Irish Sweep. Then they were all smiles, and called the manager, and
he wanted to sell me lots of other things. It was a great joke and
I----"

"Get on," broke in Larose. "What did you want razors for?"

Croupin smiled tantalisingly, but then becoming painfully aware that he
was very hungry, he finished the recital of all else that had happened
to him as expeditiously as he could.

"Now, Meester Larose," he exclaimed triumphantly, "I shall cultivate
that Monsieur Voisin and it will be easy. He drinks like a fish, for
there were many bottles in the cupboard in his room, and to-morrow I
will go in and sell him something more."

"No, no," said Larose. "I have a better plan than that." He patted him
approvingly upon the shoulder. "You have done splendidly Monsieur de
Choisy-Hautville, and I am proud to be working with you,"--he raised his
hand warningly--"but we must do some team-work now. You just listen to
me."

He considered for a few moments, and then nodded confidently. "Now I
will not for one moment entertain the thought that the mistake about
those finger-prints of Bascoigne's is at my end. We shall probably learn
what has happened soon, but I am as certain as I have ever been of
anything in my life that Sheldon-Brown is Bascoigne and that Bascoigne
is Sheldon-Brown."

He ticked off the points on his fingers. "Well, we have undoubtedly
linked up Sheldon-Brown with the murders, and we have now linked up the
estate agent with Sheldon-Brown. Mason knows this Brown to some
considerable point of intimacy, because we heard him tell Alf. Flick
that Brown had upon some occasion shown him, Mason, some of those absent
bonds-to-bearer, and he would certainly not have done that to anyone he
was only acquainted with in a casual way."

He thought for a moment and then went on. "Now, you by a splendid piece
of work, bring this barber and the Chinaman from Hankow into the
picture, but for the moment there is----"

"No connection between them and the other two," broke in Croupin
impatiently. "I know that, Monsieur"--he looked very woe-begone--"but
for the love of heaven, do not expect me to think and reason upon an
empty stomach. Come out for a meal now, and we'll talk it over then."

Larose sighed. "All right, de Choisy-Hautville," he replied. "You are
carnal-minded, but I could do with a peck, too."

The following afternoon at about the same time that he had visited the
barber the previous day, the Frenchman pushed open the door of the shop
and flung himself breathlessly into the operating chair.

"Quick, start lathering me, Monsieur," he called out to the astonished
barber, who was in the act of sharpening a razor. "I will explain in a
minute, but put on the lather, please, quick."

For a few seconds the barber stared at him open-mouthed, but then
picking up a shaving brush and starting to comply with the request, he
was interrupted by the sharp clicking of the shop door, and a big
burly-looking man entered quickly.

"Know this fellow?" he asked, addressing the barber with no ceremony,
and jerking his thumb in the direction of the hard-breathing Croupin.

Voisin felt an uncomfortable choking in his threat, for everything about
the newcomer spoke of 'plain-clothes man' from some police station, but
he put on a stolid look and pretended to be rather deaf.

"What do you say?" he asked gruffly.

"Do you know the fellow?" repeated the man in a much louder tone.

The barber looked closely at Croupin. "No-o," he replied slowly. "He's a
stranger to me. I have never seen him before."

The burly man nodded significantly. "Well, just keep an eye on him," he
snarled. "That's all." He gave Croupin a nasty look. "He ought to have
been gaoled long ago, but he's been too clever for us up to now. He
keeps bad company, and we are pretty certain he picks pockets when he
gets the chance. So you look out." He nodded again. "He saw me up the
street just now and bolted in here. But I'd spotted him."

"Oh! no, zat is not so," began Croupin protestingly. "I vanted a shave
and I----"

"Keep your mouth shut," broke in the man roughly. He turned to the
barber again. "Now, you mind, I've warned you, and if he steals anything
from you, it's your look out," and turning on his heel, he strode out of
the shop and banged the door to behind him.

A moment's silence followed, and then the barber said angrily, "And off
you go, too, Monsieur Nation, for I see you will bring trouble upon me
if I don't look out."

"No, no," said Croupin, shaking his head. "It is all bluff. They have
nothing against me. That man is always a great bully." He settled
himself comfortably in the chair. "Give me a shave, please. I will pay
you. I have money now."

"No," said the barber firmly. "You will leave my shop at once. I will
not shave you."

"All right," said Croupin shrugging his shoulders, with a smile. "Just
as you like. I will go," and then getting out of the chair he stooped
suddenly and made to pick up a crumpled up piece of paper that was lying
upon the floor. But his movement was ill-judged, for although he
certainly got hold of the paper, it slipped away from his hand, making a
hard sound as it fell on to the linoleum. Then something rolled out of
it, and only a lightning grab on the part of the Frenchman prevented the
object, whatever it was, from rolling under the chair.

The barber started. "What's that you picked up?" he asked. "It's a ring.
It belongs to me."

"Oh, no, Monsieur, it doesn't," said Croupin coolly, putting his hand
and whatever he had picked up into his pocket. "It is mine and I dropped
it on purpose when that nosey policeman came in. I didn't want him to
find it on me."

The barber thought like lightning. Of course, he told himself, the ring
was stolen and he could give the Frenchman up to the police, on the
other hand--on the other hand the man had shown himself such a poor
bargainer the previous day, that it was quite possible, he, Voisin,
might make a good purchase again.

"Show me the ring," he said peremptorily.

The Frenchman hesitated and gave a half-glance round to the door. But
the door was shut, and if he indeed had meditated a quick get-away, he
at once thought better of it. So now, smiling amiably, he withdrew his
hand from his pocket, and held up for inspection a beautiful diamond
ring upon his second finger.

"It is a lovely thing," he said proudly, "and worth quite 200, for the
stones are of the purest water."

"They are only paste," scoffed Voisin, with his heart beating quickly,
for he sensed instinctively possibilities of great profit.

"Paste!" sneered Croupin, and in two seconds he had darted over to the
mirror and made a deep scratch down the side of the glass. "Would paste
do that?"

"Then it is stolen!" exclaimed the barber. "You have been robbing
somewhere!"

"No, no, I haven't," expostulated Croupin. He grinned impudently. "I
just found it, months and months ago." He nodded significantly. "So many
months ago that it is now probable it is forgotten it was lost."

The barber swallowed the bait. "What are you going to do with it then?"
he growled. "You'll be pinched at once if you offer it to any jeweller."

Croupin was all confidence at once. "That is my difficulty," he said,
with a very troubled expression. "I found this ring"--he nodded
again--"and lots of other jewellery, too, that I have hidden away where
no one knows." He pointed to his worn and dirty clothes. "But I can sell
nothing to any one in these."

Voisin made no comment, but crossing to his shop door he opened it and
for a long while stood looking up and down the street. Then he returned
into the shop and carefully closing the door after him, regarded Croupin
with a hard and stoney stare.

"You have been in prison?" he asked. "You look a regular thief to me."

Croupin smiled with the confidence of one who could keep his own
counsel. "I have had my troubles, Monsieur, in my own country," he
replied quietly, "but no one has got anything on me over here." His eyes
flashed in amusement. "I work always with a settled plan and if I find
anything I don't rush off to sell it at once." He shook his head. "No, I
keep quiet until all the excitement has died down. I am in no hurry and
I wait my time." He sighed and looked down again at his clothes. "But it
is not often I am as short of ready money as I am now."

Voisin made up his mind at last. "Go in there," he said, pointing in the
direction of the inner room, "and I will have a little talk with you and
we can drink again." He frowned. "But I'll shut this shop door first, so
that if any one comes they'll only think I've gone out to get a drink."
He smiled a meaning smile. "I often do."

Then, in the talk that followed, an amusing little comedy ensued with
the lively Raphael Croupin in his best dramatic and imaginative vein.
The good wine of his country stirring in him he threw all reserve to the
winds and told frankly of his one-time association with the underworld
of Paris. How although really a chef by profession, he had sometimes
pursued other avocations, and in unlawful ways had gained entrance into
many a lordly chateau in the dead of night! How he helped in the robbery
of valuable pictures and jewels, how he had worked with Mank, Labellier,
and Ravahol, and with others, too, whose names were written broad and
deep in the annals of dark crime!

But he had been fortunate in big robberies, he explained, and escaped
when all the others had fallen into the clutches of the law.

Then he told how he had come to England and obtained employment in the
luxurious Semiris Hotel, which catered only for the very rich, and
there, whilst working in the kitchen had kept his eyes open to benefit
himself in other ways.

One day, for a few minutes, he had managed to get possession of the
master key that opened all the rooms in the hotel, and taking a wax
impression of it, had had one made for himself.

Then awaiting his opportunity, he had abstracted the jewel case of a
great lady who was staying in the hotel, but had hidden them away in a
place he knew of, where they were not likely to be found, however
thorough a search were made for them.

"All except the ring, Monsieur," he chuckled to the raptly listening
barber, "and that I screwed up in a piece of paper, and thrust into the
middle of a potato. Then I threw the potato out into the yard, where I
knew I should be able to find it again. It rolled into the gutter on the
top of one of the washhouses, and I came back two nights after I had
been sent away and got it."

"Then you were sent away from the hotel!" said Voisin.

"Yes, for I was suspected at once," replied Croupin. "I had not taken
the jewels one hour before they were missed. Then a waiter, whose girl
had come to like me better than she liked him, reported to the manager
that he had seen me in the corridor, and they did not think the
explanation I gave for being there was good enough." He laughed merrily.
"I told them I had seen a rat run up the stairs, and had followed it to
try and kill it. But they put me in a little room with two of the
porters to guard me, and sent for the police. Then I was searched and
questioned until my throat was hoarse and dry with answering. But they
could find out nothing, and they had to let me go. Then I was sent away
with no character."

The barber regarded him very suspiciously. "I don't think I believe
you," he said slowly. "You may be telling me all lies."

"But I am not," expostulated Croupin quickly. "I tell you, man, I only
want decent clothes and then I will go back to that hotel in disguise,
as a visitor, and pick up those jewels." He drew himself up proudly. "I
can look as well as any of the other visitors, for my family were rich
once, and my father was of the French mobility."

"But how dare you tell me all this?" asked Voisin, screwing up his eyes
suspiciously. "I may inform the police at once! You don't know me!"

"Oh! don't I?" replied Croupin. "But I do, mon ami." He laughed
mockingly. "You are as big a thief as I am, for you only gave me six
shillings for those razors yesterday afternoon, and that very morning a
woman had bought them in Bond Street for six guineas. I pinched them out
of her car and the price was on the bottom of the case before I threw it
away. She was giving them to her husband, for there was a card inside,
'From your loving wife, Hilda.'" He chuckled. "Yes, you are worse than I
am, for you rob the very poor and I rob only from the rich."

The barber looked uncomfortable, but he had another shot ready, for he
knew if Croupin had spent the night, as he said he had done, in the
lodging house kept by the family of Ah Chung, a valuable ring would not
by any chance have escaped their notice after a drink of doped rum.

"And where then have you been keeping this ring, Monsieur Nation?" he
asked in as casual a tone as he could assume. "Do you always carry it
about with you?"

Croupin looked most astonished at the question.

"No! no! no!" he exclaimed with great emphasis, "I am not quite such a
fool as that." He pointed again to his clothes. "Why! if some screeching
woman in a crowd called out one day that she had been robbed and I were
near her"--he made an expressive gesture with his hands--"well, dressed
like this, wouldn't everybody suspect me at once, and what then would
happen, even if they got nothing else, if a valuable ring were found in
my pocket?"

"Well, where do you keep it?" asked the barber. "You've told me you've
got no home, and sleep anywhere you can."

"Ha! Ha!" laughed Croupin, "I may have no home, but there are plenty of
hiding places in London that I know of." He chuckled. "I tell you what I
do. I screw it up tight in a piece of newspaper and hide it in some
churchyard. I push it down by the side of some tomb-stone, and it is
always safe. Last night it was in a churchyard in Bethnal Green."

Voisin hesitated no more. "I'll give you 4 for it," he said. "Take it
or leave it."

Croupin looked highly amused. "4!" he exclaimed. "It is a joke! I want
60 for it, for it is worth 200."

"Well then, I shall tell the police," replied Voisin angrily, and rising
from his chair. "I shall tell them at once."

"No, you won't," said Croupin retaining his seat and unasked, helping
himself to another of the barber's cigarettes. "You are not such a fool
as that, for I should tell them of the wine you have given me and about
those razors I sold you yesterday." He nodded. "They would believe some
of it, and you would be a marked man for ever afterwards. Besides my
friend, you would get nothing out of it, whereas"--he threw out his
hands again--"if you help me, the profit on this ring is not one
fiftieth of the profit you will get from the other jewels. But you look
here," and diving into his pocket he produced a crumpled piece of paper,
and spreading it out, thrust it under the barber's eyes.

"This is the list of the jewels that the woman had written in the lid of
the case," he went on, "and I have got them all. Rings, brooches,
bangles, pendants, and a rope of pearls. I had not time to go through
them"--his eyes sparkled--"but I saw the pearls were big." His tone was
most persuasive. "You can see I am not deceiving you, for the
handwriting is a woman's, and from the paper and ink you can tell it was
written long ago. See that crest at the top, too. She was a very rich
woman no doubt."

And Croupin was only speaking the truth here, for the paper had come out
of the family jewel case of the wealthy countess who had died and
bequeathed to him all her belongings.

The barber sat down again, and now accepting as truth all that Croupin
had told him, was in a very troubled frame of mind. It was tormenting
him that he could not have all the profit for himself, but he saw that
the Frenchman was adamant, and very different now from the cringing and
easily bullied creature who had sold him the razors the previous day.
Besides, he realised that the deal was going to be too big for him to
handle, and he would have to call someone else in.

He thought first of Ah Chung, but told himself instantly that it would
never do to have dealings with him in a matter like this, for being well
acquainted with Ah Chung's methods, he was not willing that only a knife
thrust should stand between the Chinaman and the acquisition of the
whole of the booty. He knew the customs of the Orientals upon the
Causeway too well and would not risk it.

The two sat on talking and arguing for a long time, and customer after
customer knocked unheeded upon the shop door. Finally, they came to an
arrangement. Voisin was to give Croupin a receipt for the ring and the
list of the jewellery, so that there could be no double crossing on his
part, and then the Frenchman was to return to the barber's shop at 10
o'clock that night, when Voisin swore with many oaths there would be
good news for him, and a way found to put him in possession of
sufficient funds to enable him to obtain the other jewels.

Chuckling to himself, Croupin left the barber's and made his way to
Aldgate, where he partook of a more or less satisfying hot meal at a
cook shop that was in keeping with his clothes. Then he put in two hours
at a picture show and, finally, at five minutes past ten, was tapping on
the barber's door.

It was opened with no delay by Voisin, who without a word led him into
the inner room and motioned him to a chair that Croupin noticed at once
was now in a different position to that it had occupied before, upon
both of the two occasions when he had been there. It was now well away
from the wall, and turned at an angle, faced a door that he supposed
must lead out into a scullery or washhouse. This door was slightly ajar.

Croupin sniffed delicately at the air. "Good!" he thought, "then if he
doesn't shut that door I shall know I'm being watched. I'm on show to
see if I am dangerous. Some one has just been in here who is a heavy
smoker of cigars. I can smell his clothes."

Croupin knew it was at considerable risk that he had taken on the game
he had, and he was very much on the alert for any possible danger, but
he comforted himself with the thought that they would be reckoning him
as much more valuable to them alive than when dead. Also, he was assured
by the feel of the small automatic pistol that he was gripping with the
hand that he held in his pocket.

The barber seemed ill at ease and his eyes were in every direction but
that of Croupin. "That friend of mine, I have asked to call will be here
in a few minutes," he said, "but before he comes I want to ask you some
questions, quick," and then he rapped out at once--"How long have you
been in England, Monsieur Nation?"

"Nine months," replied Croupin promptly. "I arrived in January."

"But how did you get a passport," asked the barber sharply, "if you had
trouble with your police? You told me you had been in prison a few
times, for a little while."

Croupin winked his eye. "I had no passport," he said. "I did not need
one. I was cook on a boat from Bordeaux, and I deserted at Falmouth,
directly it got in."

The barber forced a sickly smile. "You are always ready with your
answers, Monsieur," he said, "and, if you are deceiving me, no doubt you
will be thinking yourself very clever." He turned his back to Croupin
and walked to the cupboard. "Well, I will get you a glass of wine."

Croupin certainly did think himself clever and, now that the man's back
was turned, would greatly have liked to have indulged in a good grin,
but he remembered that half-opened door in front of him, and accordingly
kept his features in a thoughtful and becoming gravity.

The barber was a long time getting down the bottle and drawing the cork,
and Croupin would have had ample time to have smiled many times, but he
continued to preserve a perfectly set face, and then suddenly--the door
that was ajar was pushed wide open and a man stepped into the room.

Croupin's heart beat like a sledge hammer as he sprang instantly to his
feet, for as he had half hoped and half expected, the man before him was
the one who had been with Short Alf that night when they had raided the
safe. He pretended to look very scared.

"Don't be upset, Mr. Nation," came a sharp voice, speaking in English,
"and you can leave that pistol alone that you've got in your pocket. No
one's going to do you any harm and I'm only going to speak to you about
that ring." He regarded Croupin very sternly. "You speak English, don't
you?"

Croupin appeared to have in some degree got over his fright. "Yes, I
speak it a leetel," he replied as if rather nervously, "but I understand
it a lot."

"And everything you have told Mr. Voisin is the exact truth?" asked
Guildford, for, of course, the new comer was he.

"Zat is quite right," nodded Croupin. "It is all true."

"Well, I must be certain about you," went on Guildford, "before I
attempt to do any business." He spoke sternly, as if he were a judge
addressing a prisoner. "Now you have been a chef at the Semiris, you
say? You are not just an ordinary cook on a ship?"

"No! no!" expostulated Croupin. "I am a finished chef."

"Then tell me what flavourings you use for a Peach Melba?" asked
Guildford quickly.

Croupin showed his beautiful white teeth, "Maraschino, vanilla, and
raspberry," he replied promptly.

"And what's the name of the manager of the Semiris, then?" asked
Guildford.

"Emil Ashberg," was the reply. "He is an Austrian."

"And what's the name of the woman whose jewels you took?" was the next
question.

Instantly Croupin drew himself up, and shook his head. "I shall not
say," he replied firmly. "Zat is my secret." He threw out his hands.
"You run no risk. You buy ze ring for 60, zat you can sell again for
200. You are quite safe. Zen I get the ozer jewels and you make profit
again, for I sell zem to you."

Guildford regarded him stonily for a long moment and then he turned
round to the barber and said sharply, "Put on the wine, Voisin, but I'll
have brandy. I think it's all right to deal with this man."

One o'clock was sounding when Croupin crept into the room where Larose
was sleeping, and awakening him, proceeded gleefully to give a recital
of all that had happened.

Directly he started upon his news, the expression of Larose was one of
triumph and delight, but then suddenly his face fell and he interrupted
sharply. "Great Jupiter!" he exclaimed, "but they 'phoned me not half an
hour ago, that the estate agent had not set foot outside his house and
that his light had just been switched off." He shook his head angrily.
"I shall have to see into this myself."




CHAPTER IX.--THE TRAIL OF BLOOD.


About ten o'clock on the morning of the fifth day after he had
interviewed the enterprising Alexandre Nation in the shop of Voisin, the
barber, Guildford emerged from the street door of the office of Edward
Mason, estate agent, in no very pleasant frame of mind.

He was furious with Sir Charles Carrion, for he had just been reading in
that morning's newspapers lurid and exciting accounts of the extensive
damage that had been done to the Albert Memorial by the exploding of a
bomb there late the previous night.

It was not for one moment that he regretted the damage that had been
done to the memorial, but it was in his mind that if the mentally
afflicted baronet continued to go planting bombs in public places,
sooner or later it was certain he would get caught, and then--well, he,
Guildford, did not like to contemplate what would happen.

It was quite likely, he told himself, that once laid by the heels, Sir
Charles Carrion would not only boast openly of all his exploits, but,
glorying in everything that had been done, might proceed at once to give
chapter and verse about all the other outrages, and perhaps, out of
sheer devilry, disclose the identities of all who had been associated with
him. Such a revelation would just appeal to the baronet's vicious and
distorted sense of humour, and it would delight him to know that
punishment was falling upon them all.

He left the office quite openly and strode resolutely along towards the
first bus-stop about a hundred yards away. He looked straight before
him, and no one would for one moment have imagined from his demeanour
that he had any thought of the possibility of his being followed.

But had the truth been known, he was very much on the alert for any such
contingency and, always a cautious man when upon any business he desired
to keep secret, he was now intending to take ample precautions there
should be no trailing him.

Now whatever may be urged to the contrary, in a huge and densely
populated city like London it is absolutely impossible, without
definitely confirming his suspicions, to successfully shadow an
individual who suspects he is being watched.

To trail a man who has no idea that any one is after him may be quite an
easy matter, but to follow one who acts as if he thought he were is
quite a different matter.

And so it was that morning with Guildford.

A dozen of the best men of the Yard had been placed ready to look out
for him if he left his premises on any of the preceding five days. They
had all visited the estate office on one pretext or another, and were
quite familiar with his personality, and at no hour of the twenty-four,
they were sure, could he appear either in the Mile End Road or in the
street behind his office, without at once being picked up.

But no one had ever been seen to be waiting outside his place of
business, and there had been no one even at the first bus stop in either
direction. In the first floor windows, however, of houses near both of
these stops, a man had sat all day and night long, prepared to give a
signal to a colleague 200 and more yards away, and further away still,
in both directions, a taxi had been kept hovering about.

So when Guildford walked out of his office that morning and picked up a
bus going West, it happened he was the only one to get in at the stop,
and out of the tail of his eye he noticed that fact. But he was not
thereby in any way assured, and when at the next stop two men mounted on
to the footboard he eyed them covertly, and was of opinion that both of
them might be connected with the police.

The bus proceeded down Whitechapel Road and stopped at Aldgate. He made
no movement to alight when it discharged some other passengers, but just
when it was on the move again, he sprang suddenly from his seat as if it
were from sheer forgetfulness he had omitted to get out before, and
jumped on to the road. Then he turned round and stood watching
deliberately to see if any one were going to follow him.

The two men he had noticed cursed under their breaths, but mindful of
the strict orders they had received that on no account were they to
arouse any suspicion, continued to sit on where they were, trusting that
the two of their colleagues who were following in a taxi would pick him
up.

But the taxi had dawdled just a little too far behind the bus and
Guildford was able to dart in to Aldgate Station and snatch a ticket
from the automatic machine a good half minute before they arrived. Then
rushing down the stairs he caught a West-bound train actually upon the
move. So he was certain now that no one had followed him.

He alighted at Cannon Street, and then after a sharp walk up Gracechurch
Street, and turning round twice in his tracks to make sure he did not
light upon the same people each time, he picked a taxi off a rank and
was driven to Oxford Circus.

There he went into a call office and ringing up the Semiris Hotel,
inquired if a French gentleman of the name of de Bearne were staying
there and received a reply in the affirmative. Thereupon he asked to
speak to him, but after holding on for a couple of minutes or so whilst
a search was being made in the hotel, he was informed that the gentleman
in question had gone out. He said then that it did not matter and he
would ring up again. He did not leave any message or give his name.

"Well, he's staying there all right," he nodded to himself when he was
out in the street again, "and so it looks as if what he told us were the
truth. I expect now he'll soon be getting in touch with Voisin again."

His next move was to call upon Sir Charles Carrion in Harley Street,
and, informing the nurse he had an appointment for eleven o'clock, he
was speedily ushered into the consulting room.

"My dear sir," exclaimed the surgeon loudly, and with a beaming smile,
directly he caught sight of him, "and how have you been getting on." He
made a motion in the direction of the couch. "Just take off your
clothes, will you, and I'll soon run you over."

But there was no answering smile upon Guildford's face, and directly the
door was closed he asked scowlingly, "And that tomfoolery last night was
yours, of course?"

Sir Charles looked as happy as a child. "Sure," he replied laughingly,
"with my own hands I did it." He lowered his voice impressively. "I
waited a couple of hundred yards away, until I saw the coast was all
clear, then up I drove and jumped out of the car. I put the bomb close
up against the column, released the catch, and then was off again in
thirty seconds." He chuckled with delight. "The thing exploded in just a
minute, and although I was a quarter of a mile away by then, the
explosion shook my very car. I was laughing so, I could hardly steer
straight."

"It's darned tomfoolery, I say," swore Guildford angrily, "and you are
bound to get caught if you go on."

"And what does it matter if I am," replied Sir Charles, still all
smiles. "I know I haven't long to live with this cursed liver of mine. I
had a haemorrhage yesterday, and by rights ought to be upon my back
to-day." He lifted up his hand suddenly and gave a low whistle of
enlightenment. "Oh! I know what you are thinking of--you believe I'd
give you all away if I were caught?"

"There is no knowing what you'd do," growled Guildford. "I tell you
frankly, I'm afraid of you."

Sir Charles shook his head emphatically. "No, no, friend Guildford," he
said, "you needn't worry, for you'll be quite safe there." He chuckled
again. "I have no wish to step into eternity with a scoundrel like
Bascoigne, a common thief like yourself, and a man like Libbeus, who has
disgraced his profession."

"What about you?" sneered Guildford, stung to anger by his contempt.
"You're a credit to your calling, aren't you?"

The eyes of the baronet glinted in anger too. "But of one thing you
should be made aware, Mr. Sabine Guildford," he said sternly, "and that
is, I have never in any instance strayed from the code of conventional
morality to benefit myself." His voice was firm and resonant. "Any
wrongs that I may be judged to have committed are not wrongs according
to the code of morality I have adopted for my own guidance." He nodded.
"'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth' is my motto, and as
society has done unto me, so am I now doing unto them." All his
resentment seemed to die down in a flash and he chuckled yet again. "No,
I have never sinned for cash."

"Well, I am of opinion it's devilish foolish your going on," insisted
Guildford doggedly. "What good does it do, blowing up monuments and
damaging public buildings?"

Sir Charles shrugged his shoulders. "It pleases me," he replied with a
smile, "and surely you would not take pleasure from a dying man." His
eyes brightened again. "Why I am looking forward with the eagerness of a
child to that little business at Rostrellor Court to-morrow night. It
will be a sort of Punch and Judy show to me, and carry me back to my
boyhood's days." He pulled open a drawer in the desk and abstracting a
paper, handed it across to Guildford. "Here you are. The whole programme
cut and dried. Just sit down and run through it."

With a scowl Guildford took the paper from him and then for a few
minutes there was silence in the room with Sir Charles leaning back and
closing his eyes as if he were very tired.

Presently Guildford spoke. "And exactly at a quarter-past one," he said
slowly, with his eyes fixed intently upon the paper, "you will unlatch
the front door and prop the mat up against it to keep it from moving. We
are to cross the hall and go up the main staircase, and the room is the
third upon the left. There will be no fear of waking any one, because
you will see that both Lord and Lady Rostrellor are well drugged with
sleeping tablets, and besides Lord Rostrellor will probably be three
parts drunk. We may fined the safe unlocked, or in any case, it is only
an old-fashioned Weber and a Jemmy will open it at once, or yet again,
the jewellery may have been left upon the dressing table, for they are
very careless people." He looked up and asked sharply. "Are you sure
that the whole thing will be as simple as that?"

"Quite," replied Sir Charles, opening his eyes wearily, "and if it were
not that for sentimental reasons I object, mine should be the actual
hands to rob my relatives, and I would hand you over the jewels myself."
Some energy came into his voice again. "Oh! and if everything runs
smoothly, you might look in the drawing room before you go out. It is
the second room on the right, leading out of the hall and there is some
valuable old silver there. Snuffboxes and the like. You might take a few
of them, too."

"What about the telephone?" asked Guildford. "You'll put that out of
action, of course!"

"No," replied Sir Charles at once, "there are three or four extensions
in the house and I don't pretend to understand them, so I won't risk
being caught messing them about." He spoke testily. "But you needn't
worry there, man, for if you don't bungle, nothing will be discovered
until the morning. Every one will be dead sleepy, for a lot of
Rostrellor's old burgundy will be drunk, and you can depend upon it that
all the servants will have had their whack of it, too."

"And I can find your Keston bungalow easily?" asked Guildford. "There is
no need to go down to-day?"

"None whatever," was the reply. "You can't mistake it. It is the only
residence by the lake-side and stands quite by itself. Here are the two
keys and you can run your car into the garage without a soul being any
the wiser."

"I'm only taking Voisin," said Guildford. "I can depend upon him."

"I should think you could," commented Sir Charles. "He looks a damned
scoundrel to me and should be quite up to the game." He laughed
suddenly. "Oh! I met Mr. Bascoigne by chance in Bond Street yesterday
and we had a short chat together. He's got the wind up properly and
never moves a yard now without thinking he's being followed. He says his
place at Crowborough was burgled last week and some one opened his
safe."

"The devil!" ejaculated Guildford, choking back a grin. "Did he lose
much?"

"No, only a couple of 5 notes," replied Sir Charles. "But what
frightens him is, a newspaper recording his trial was taken from a
drawer in his desk. He says the whole thing is very mysterious, and he's
got that snooker, Larose, now completely on his mind. He says he can't
understand it, for the servants found a strange glove behind the settee
in his study the next morning, and marks on the wall as if someone had
been hiding there."

Guildford's face fell. "When did it happen?" he asked quickly, and
certainly with no inclination to grin now.

"The night we were all at Ah Chung's," replied Sir Charles, "and what
happened, according to him, is undoubtedly most strange. He went down
two days after, and his butler met him with a long tale about marks of
mud in the hall, marks on the study carpet that smelt of tobacco-juice,
the front door or some window having been opened in the night, because
the hall was much colder than it should have been, and that glove and
those marks behind the settee. Then he examined the contents of the safe
and saw a lot of documents there were not as he had left them, and those
two 5 notes had gone. Finally, he found this newspaper had been taken
from his desk."

"And this glove behind the settee," asked Guildford sharply, "what was
it like?"

"An expensive Suede one that belonged to no one in the house, and a
man's glove undoubtedly." He looked quickly at his watch and then rose
at once to his feet. "But I'm sorry I can't give you any more time now.
I feel dreadfully ill, but I am still going on with my work." He made a
wry face. "I've not quite made up my mind whether to die in harness or
get blown up with the next bomb."

Guildford was most uneasy during his journey back to Mile End Road. The
thought of that glove behind the settee and worse still, that
abstraction of the newspaper from the desk made him feel sick with
apprehension.

"But they are nothing to do with me," he consoled himself finally, "and
after this Rostrellor affair and I know for certain about that stuff
coming from the Semiris, I'll clear off quick and lively. I've had
enough of these mad fools."

Arriving back at his office, he had at once other things to occupy his
mind, for Voisin was waiting for him there, and directly they were alone
the barber rapped out. "That fellow Nation's been in to see me this
morning. He wants more money to go on living at that hotel. He can't get
into the room he wants to, yet, and he's running short."

"But he had 50!" exclaimed Guildford angrily. "What's he done with it?"

"He says it nearly all went on his clothes and his luggage," replied
Voisin, "and as he's a stranger to the management, he says they may ask
him for a deposit at any moment. He knows that is the usual custom with
people who haven't stayed there before."

"Then how much does he want?" asked Guildford.

"Another 50," was the reply with a grin. "He says his suite of rooms is
costing him 4/4/ a day."

Guildford considered for a moment.

"Well, what does he look like now?" he asked.

"A real swell," replied the barber with enthusiasm. "Very well dressed
and as good as anybody." He nodded his head emphatically. "Yes, I'm sure
he's been telling us the truth. He is not a common thief and he's been
in a big way. He has altered his face a lot and wears a moustache now."

"Did he put any questions to you about me?" asked Guildford.

The barber hesitated. "Yes and no," he replied. "He said at once that he
didn't expect I would tell him who you are or where you live, but he
seemed worried as to whether you could pay up for those jewels when he
got them. He expects some thousands of pounds."

"Oh! he does, does he?" remarked Guildford drily. "Well, we'll have to
see about that."

"He wants that 50 at once," went on the barber. "I'm to 'phone him up
about it at the hotel. He's staying in until he hears from me."

Again Guildford considered. "Do you think it is a plant to get at me?"
he asked with a frown. "You haven't been followed here?"

"Not a chance," replied Voisin, grinning cunningly. "I went out through
the bird-shop and took great care." He shook his head. "Besides, I'm
sure the fellow is quite all right. I can tell he's been in gaols in
France, for he knows all the ways of prisons"--he smiled grimly--"as
well as I do."

"Well, ring him up," said Guildford after a pause, "and tell him you'll
have the money for him to-night at nine o'clock." He frowned in
annoyance. "But I'll have another talk with him first, for I'm not going
to part with the 50 without good reason. If he gets the stuff, there's
no certainty he'll bring it to us." He nodded. "Still you ring him up
and tell him to come to your place."

* * *

A few minutes before nine that night the merry Monsieur Nation was
knocking at the barber's door. He had got the collar of his coat well
tucked up, and his hat was pulled down well over his eyes. He was
carrying with him a very carefully done-up small parcel, which he
explained to Voisin when he got inside was a bottle of good brandy for a
treat. He did not add, however, that the surface of the bottle had been
very delicately rubbed with a piece of bacon rind in the expectation
that he would get the fingerprints of both the barber and Guildford
before he left Rent Street that night.

"And don't say I brought it, mon ami," he whispered impressively when he
learnt, as he had expected, that Guildford was coming to bring the
money, "or your rich friend will say that no wonder my funds are getting
low. It is good stuff. Here, hold it up to the light and see the
beautiful dark colour. No pale brandies for me!" and so a couple of
moments later the barber was leaving generous greasy finger marks upon
one of the beautifully engraved cards of 'Monsieur Raoul de Berne,
Avenue des Fleurs, Chantilly.'

"That is the address I have ready," explained the lively Croupin, as he
carefully placed the greased card in the empty side of his cigarette
case. He chuckled. "I am prepared for everything when I am playing for
big stakes."

Guildford arrived almost at the stroke of nine, and noted with silent
approval the elegant appearance of the Frenchman, indeed, being so
impressed that all remaining tinges of suspicion that a trap was being
set by the police at once faded away.

"He is no police spy," he told himself. "This fine gentleman here is a
first-class Parisian thief, and he may be very useful to me if I manage
him properly."

"Well," he asked at once, "how is it that you want more money?"

Croupin threw out his hands. "I am sorry, Monsieur," he said in his
melodious broken English, "but to stay at ze Semiris cost lot of money,
and I----"

"But you haven't paid anything there yet," broke in Guildford sharply.
"You say you have not paid them a penny."

"No, no," agreed Croupin instantly, "but ze fifty pounds have nearly all
gone on ze outfit. I had to have ze best of everysing, or ze chamber
maids vould talk. Silk shirts, silver-backed brushes, good pyzamas, ze
best of shoes." He nodded, "I buy zem all second-hand, but I have not
10 left, and if zey suddenly ask me for money it would be bad."

"And when can you get at the things?" asked Guildford.

"On Monday," replied Croupin. "Zere is a man who has been ill in ze room
I must get into, and he nevaire leave it. But he is much better, and go
away Monday, and I have bespeak his room, because of ze view." He nodded
again. "On Tuesday I bring everysing for you to buy."

"And how do I know that?" asked Guildford, eyeing him intently. "You may
take them somewhere else if once I part with the 50."

Croupin threw out his hands. "Bah! ze fifty pounds is small trifle to
me!" he exclaimed. "I tell you ze jewels vill fetch great sum of money.
No, you must trust me as I trusted Monsieur Voisin when I gave him ze
ring to show you, ze ozzer day."

"But he had given you a receipt for it," said Guildford.

Croupin laughed derisively. "And za vas of no good," he replied, "for if
he say I have not given him ze ring, zen off I go to ze police and say,
'Look here, zat Voisin rob me of ring I stole from someone else. Put him
in ze prison at once.'" He snapped his fingers together. "I should look
a fool, should I not?"

They argued on for a few minutes and finally Guildford paid over the
50.

"Bien!"' exclaimed Croupin, putting away the notes, "and now I will
drink to our healths in Monsieur Voisin's good brandy," and holding the
bottle by the neck he poured himself out a good nip and drank it up.

A minute or so later and Guildford helped himself, too, then he had
hardly put down the bottle when Croupin almost thrust one of the menu
cards of the Semiris Hotel into his hand.

"See, Monsieur," he exclaimed, gleefully, "how I am living now, and a
week ago--" he laughed with great enjoyment--"I was having my bed in
filthy holes, and eating ze food zat vas only good for pigs."

Guildford scanned down the card. "One guinea for your dinner Mr.
Nation!" he commented drily. "Yes you are certainly doing yourself
well!"

* * *

That night Ah Chung said to his relation, Ho Ling--"That Voisin will not
be of use to us much more. He sold some razors to me last week that he
said had cost thirty shillings, and I found to-day he had only paid six.
I went into his room this morning when he was away and read it in his
book. He is methodical and keeps good accounts. Besides, he is not with
us now in other ways. Yesterday he said his brother is sick in
Birmingham, and to-morrow he will tell me he goes to see him. But he is
on other business. He is lying to me."

"It is well, Ah Chung," replied his relation calmly. "To-day I found
three sacks in the street that had fallen from a dray. They have no
markings and do not come from here. They will serve when the hour comes.
This river never speaks."

"This morning he went out through next door," continued Ah Chung, "and
he looked many times along the street to see he was not followed. He was
away two hours. He is doing something and will bring trouble upon us if
we do not watch."

"I sigh for the country of our ancestors," said Ho Ling. "Will it be
long now, O Ah Chung, before it gives us greeting."

A long silence followed before the answer came. "No, it will not be long
Ho Ling," replied Ah Chung softly. "The morning will soon come. Buy no
more animals, for we shall not need them. I, too, am lonely, and would
wish to see our home."

The following morning, Larose, having informed the delighted Croupin
that he should probably not be wanting him for a couple of days, and
that, he could therefore take a holiday, proceed to pay a visit to the
finger-print department of Scotland Yard, with the request that the
clearly-defined finger-prints upon the two cards that Croupin had
obtained for him should be photographed, and a search made to ascertain
if they had any record of either of them upon their files.

Returning two hours later he was thrilled almost beyond expression to
learn that although of one set of finger-prints the department had no
record, the other was that of a Sabine Guildford, a one-time lawyer, who
fourteen years previously had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment
for misappropriation of moneys entrusted to his care.

He made no comment and gave no explanation, but next asked to see the
convict's photograph and the description of him that had been filed at
the time of his conviction.

He drew a deep breath of thankfulness as he gazed at the photo. Allowing
for the difference in age, there was not the slightest doubt that the
lawyer Guildford and the estate agent Mason were the same man! The same
forehead, the same firm jaw, the same stern expression of the eyes!

He thanked the officials for their courtesy, and next proceeded to the
office of 'The Times,' in Printing House Square, where, showing his
badge, he asked to be allowed to go over the files for November, 1915.

He soon came upon the report of the trial he wanted.

Sabine Guildford had been arraigned for employing 3000 of a client's
money in a private speculation, and had been tried before a Mr. Justice
Ames. For the moment Larose was very disappointed at learning who the
judge had been, but then remembering that the murdered Samuel Wiggins
had been living at Leigh-on-Sea, his heart gave a big bound when he read
that the client who had been robbed, a widow of the name of Wiser, also
resided in that same town.

The trial had been very short, and, although Guildford had admitted the
offence, he had insisted vehemently that if the arrest had been delayed
for only three weeks, nothing would have been heard of the matter, for
the speculation he had entered into, and which at first had seemed to be
a disastrous one, had righted itself suddenly and his client would be
receiving back her money in full.

But the Law Society, through the Prosecutor for the Crown, had urged
strenuously that in determining the sentence, the erring lawyer should
receive, no mitigation should be made because the money had been
recovered, and pleaded that an exemplary example should be made. The
Judge, thereupon, evidently agreeing with them, had sentenced Guildford
to five years' imprisonment with hard labour.

The next move of Larose was to consult a post office directory of the
County of Essex, and he was delighted again to see that a Mrs. Wiser was
still living at Leigh-on-Sea. Resolving then to advance his case as far
as possible before he made any report to the Chief Commissioner, half an
hour later he was driving down to that thriving resort at the mouth of
the Thames.

He found Mrs. Wiser, an old lady well over seventy, without any
difficulty, but upon making known from where he came and that he wanted
to ask her about the trial of 15 years ago, was met with an almost
tearful refusal to discuss it in any way.

"I'm getting old," said Mrs. Wiser tremulously, "and it isn't right for
any one to come and worry me. I've not had a good night's rest since
that dreadful murder of my poor brother, and----"

"Your brother!" ejaculated Larose in astonishment. "Then was that Mr.
Wiggins your brother?"

"Of course he was, and my only one, too," she replied with a catch in
her voice. "Didn't you know it? Why, he lived not three minutes from
here, just in that street round at the back, and every day either he or
his daughter used to come and see me."

Larose with difficulty suppressed his excitement, for in a lightning
flash the trail of the murderer of Samuel Wiggins was uncovering itself
before his eyes, the trail of Sabine Guildford from the Gibbett Inn upon
that Sunday of the dreadful compact to the bloody knife-thrust inside
that shelter upon the Esplanade close by.

Then quickly overcoming the old lady's disinclination to speak, by his
gentle and sympathetic manner, he drew out by tactful questioning all
the main incidents that had led to her one-time solicitor being placed
in the dock.

Guildford had sold some property for her, and when she was perfectly
aware the sale had been effected, she could nevertheless not get him to
make a settlement. Apparently judging her character well, and knowing
she was not in any way a business woman, he had kept putting her off,
time after time, with one excuse and another. But happening to want the
money urgently for a particular purpose, and beginning to get
frightened, she had finally gone to her brother, a tea-broker in Mincing
Lane.

Mr. Wiggins's had been a very different character to hers, and a sharp
business man he had suspected something unusual immediately. So taking
his own lawyer with him, a man of high standing on the executive of the
Law Society, he had paid a surprise visit to Guildford, and insisted
that the money should be paid over, without an hour's delay.

This, however, Guildford had been unable to do, and had pleaded for
further time, but both her brother and this other lawyer had been
adamant in their refusals to wait, and so Guildford had been arrested
and charged that same day.

"And who was this other lawyer who went with your brother?" asked
Larose, steadying his voice with an effort. "Do you remember his name?"

Mrs. Wiser shook her head. "No," she replied sadly, "my memory's getting
very bad. But he was a friend of my brother," she added, "for Samuel
called him Tony."

"Fate! Fate!" murmured Larose brokenly, "then they both died by the same
hand. Samuel Wiggins and Anthony Clutterbuck!"

His next visit was to the daughter of the dead Samuel Wiggins, who was
continuing to live on in the same house that she and her father and
their one maid had been occupying prior to the dreadful tragedy that had
overtaken them.

It was quite a good-class little house, standing in its own garden, and
it was one of the score and more of exactly similar houses that stood in
a road leading down to the sea. There were no houses opposite, just
unfenced grass-land, running up to a road at a much higher level, in
which the most conspicuous object was a large hotel.

Miss Wiggins was an athletic type of woman about 30, and in a wistful,
but perfectly business-like way she answered all the questions he put to
her about her late father's daily life. Mr. Wiggins, she told him, had
of late been in the habit of going out very little because he could not
walk far on account of his rheumatism; and he very seldom went out at
night. When it was fine and warm enough it was his custom to sit out
nearly all day long in the garden in front of the house.

"So it was only just by chance that he was killed," she explained, "for
he hadn't left the garden for three days before that night. But the warm
evening tempted him and he went down to the Esplanade to watch the
lights of the big steamers as they passed out of the river." She nodded
insistently. "And his murderer must have been a madman, for poor father
hadn't an enemy in all the world. He was always so kind!"

"So that's that," remarked Larose very grimly, as he climbed back into
his car, "and as sure as my name's Gilbert Larose there'll be an
appointment one morning very shortly for Messrs. Bascoigne and Guildford
to meet some chaplain at the early hour of 8 o'clock."




CHAPTER X.--"THE BURGLARY AT ROSTRELLOR COURT."


In the meantime the elegant Monsieur Choisy-Hautville had been enjoying
what he was certain was one of the most thrilling days of his life, for
he had been burning incense before the shrine of beauty, and the lights
upon the altar there were the flower-blue eyes of the pretty Angela
Lendon.

Now it is one of the great mysteries of life why perfectly sane and
well-balanced individuals should suddenly one day come to conceive that
some number of the opposite sex fulfils all the requirements of absolute
perfection and delight.

The conception may come to those even with wide experience of the world,
who hold most treasured memories of many adorations, and who have bent
to the winds of unnumbered loves and passions.

It is a form of madness, defying reason and quite incapable of analysis.

And so it was with Raphael Croupin now that he had met Angela Lendon.

He had become hopelessly in love with her from the very first, to the
extent of worship almost completely taking the place of passion.

Perhaps it was, he told himself, because she was so different to all he
had been himself. He was soiled and tarnished and had drunk of many a
forbidden cup, regarding love as a flower that faded soon and should be
changed often.

But with her the serenity and purity of her mind were reflected in her
face. Certainly, he thought, as yet she had only dreamed of love, and
when she awoke to its pains and ecstasies the recipient of her favours
would be among the most transfigured beings upon the earth.

Now, of course, in all these rhapsodies the ardent Frenchman was placing
the pretty Angela very much upon a pedestal. She was only just an
ordinary nice girl, who had been brought up very quietly, and, as a by
no means well-to-do clergyman's daughter, had had very little chance of
seeing the world.

She had had her flirtations, however, and was by no means averse to
being made love to. Her Madonna-like face she had inherited from her
mother, who had had seven children, and like that deceased lady, she,
too, would most probably carry her virginal expression well into married
life and with three or four children about her knees.

She had often thought of marriage and looked forward to it, but whilst
she had determined she would never enter its holy state without being
really in love she was always hopping that when Prince Charming did
appear he would not be too badly endowed with this world's goods. She
was quite a far-seeing and business-like young woman, and did not forget
the pinched and hard-scraping times of her girlhood in the ill-furnished
vicarage near Canterbury.

So, when the handsome Frenchman had sat opposite to her at lunch that
day and had fixed her with his dark impelling eyes, and she had noticed
his general elegance and his big emerald ring, her heart had begun to
flutter, and she had thought that perhaps her dreams were now in a way
of becoming true.

Then when they had gone into the music room and he was playing upon the
harpsichord, she had noticed his eyes wandering all over her and had
felt quite certain that he was admiring her.

That night, too, she had dreamed that he had kissed her and the memory
of that kiss had set the seal upon her determination to encourage him in
every way she could.

Her godmother had told her laughingly that she had seen how interested
he had been in her and accordingly had made discreet inquiries about him
from Gilbert Larose, and learnt that he was unmarried, of a very nice
disposition, and, moreover, had recently come into a large fortune from
a distant relation.

"Not that it was really necessary to make any inquiries about his
character," she explained, "for when Mr. Larose told me they were old
friends I knew that was quite sufficient. Helen Ardane is much too
particular a woman to have married any one who likes any but nice
people."

So things had been up to the morning following the day when Croupin had
lunched with them, but then day after day passing without the Frenchman
having rung up, as he had said he would, the girl had become very
disappointed, although not for one moment would she allow any one to see
it.

Mrs. Fox-Drummond was disappointed, too, for the London family had been
left badly off, and a born intriguer, she was hoping to make a good
match for Angela. Besides, apart from any question of means, she herself
had taken a great liking to the Frenchman, and considering herself a
good judge of character, was quite sure he would be kind to any girl he
married.

But when just a week had gone by an explanation of Croupin's silence was
suddenly forthcoming, for Mrs. Fox-Drummond was called to the telephone
from the breakfast table to hear the melodious voice of Monsieur de
Choisy-Hautville asking if he might come down and see them that morning.

He had had to go away, he said, on very urgent business, but that he
would explain when he saw them. He was bringing down some harpsichord
music, he added, and would like to give Miss Lendon a lesson upon the
instrument.

"But what a pity we are going to that tiresome dinner at Lady
Rostrellor's to-night," said Mrs. Fox-Drummond when she had imparted the
news to the mildly blushing Angela, "or he could have stayed the whole
day." She nodded. "Still, we need not leave here until after four
o'clock."

The girl was in the garden when Croupin drove in through the gates, and
she coloured becomingly as he sprang out of his car and came towards
her.

"And did you wonder what had become of me?" he asked, holding her hand
just long enough to let her know that his greeting was not an ordinary
one.

"Good gracious, no," she laughed. "I haven't thought of you, have I?"

"But yes, I hope so," he laughed back happily, with sufficient knowledge
of the ways of women to be aware that this would be the very sort of
answer to expect from one who had been thinking quite a lot about him.
He pretended to look very sad. "I should be grieved indeed if you had
forgotten me."

"I hadn't forgotten you, of course," she replied archly; she now
pretended to look stern, "or that you had said you were going to ring up
soon."

Croupin put his finger to his lips and looked very mysterious. "Hush!"
he whispered softly. "I have been away on a great adventure. One day I
will tell you all, but I cannot now, for it is a secret between me and
Mr. Larose." His face brightened. "But now I must see Mrs. Fox-Drummond
at once. It is a lovely morning, and I want to know if I can take you
for a drive."

She laughed merrily. "You needn't see her for that," she said, "for it
is I who have to decide." She nodded. "Yes, I should like to come. Where
shall we go?"

"I thought of Haslemere," he replied. "It is one of the most lovely
spots of your beautiful country."

They went into the house for Angela to get ready and Mrs. Fox-Drummond
at once invited Croupin to lunch. "But not a minute later than one," she
added, "for this afternoon we are off to stay for two days with Lady
Rostrellor at Rostrellor Court. There's a dinner party to-night and a
ball tomorrow." She made a faint grimace. "It is a duty visit, for Lady
Rostrellor is my aunt."

Croupin enjoyed the drive immensely, but with every minute fell deeper
and deeper in the toils. Angela was not a bit shy, and while obviously
desirous of pleasing, yet checked with laughing mockery any approach to
tenderness on his part. Perhaps her instinct told her that the strongest
chain to bind him to her would be forged by grudging and reluctant
favours.

They returned home just before one, and were met in the hall by a very
animated Mrs. Fox-Drummond.

"Oh! Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville," she exclaimed, "but are you free
until to-morrow morning?"

Croupin did not appear to quite understand what she meant. "Free! Why I
am always free!" he laughed. He suddenly remembered Larose and corrected
himself quickly. "I mean I have nothing to do to-day or to-night.
To-morrow"--he shrugged his shoulders--"I may have to help with Mr.
Larose again, but why do you ask?"

Mrs. Fox-Drummond explained quickly. Her cousin, Mr. Fairfax, had been
coming with them to Rostrellor Court, but less than an hour ago he had
telephoned that he had suddenly found he had to make a journey to the
north of England and could not possibly put it off. Manlike then, he had
left it to her to make his apologies to Lady Rostrellor, and in great
embarrassment she had rung up her godmother and told her of his
defection at the eleventh hour.

Lady Rostrellor had been in despair, for the absence of one man she had
averred, would ruin the harmony of the whole dinner party. It would make
an uneven number of guests and one lady would have to go in alone.

"So she insisted," went on Mrs. Fox-Drummond plaintively, "that I must
find the substitute myself, and bring him along with us this afternoon."
She looked imploringly at Croupin. "Now, will you come, Monsieur de
Choisy-Hautville? It will be such a kindness if you will oblige me. You
will be stopping the night there for it is a house-party as well as a
dinner one."

Croupin gave a side-glance at Angela, who was smiling expectantly.
"Certainly, I will," he replied gallantly, "I shall be most
delighted"--he drew attention to his morning clothes--"but, of course, I
shall have to go up to town and get my things."

And so it came about that that night Croupin found himself seated in the
immense dining room of Rostrellor Court among the many distinguished and
aristocratic guests that were assembled there. But they were nearly all
old or elderly, he noted, although the women were most expensively
gowned, and the display of jewels was magnificent.

"Oh! Raphael, Raphael," he murmured, "it is a good thing you are above
temptation now, for what a haul you could have made here!" He grimaced
to himself. "But what a waste of beautiful things! These wrinkled and
yellow skins are no proper background for jewels of beauty such as
these! Why don't they give them to their children to wear." He grinned.
"But perhaps they haven't had any."

The dinner was an excellent one, and the wines were the choicest that
could have been laid down. Angela was seated on the other side of the
table, and every now and again she flashed him a delicious look that
quite took away the taste of everything he had got in his mouth at the
moment.

There were 23 other diners and he had been introduced to a number of
them before dinner, the lady who had been allotted to him--an angular
and middle-aged Miss Drake-Raven, the daughter of the white-haired
Bishop of Melton Mowbray, who was sitting not far away, proved most
willing to supplement the introductions by providing details about
everybody present.

She had a rather bitter and sarcastic tongue and was evidently delighted
to meet some one, who as far as the present company was concerned, was
of an innocent and virgin state of mind.

"Yes, this is quite a family party," she explained, "and we are nearly
all related or connected by marriage to one another. That is the Dowager
Lady Wortleberry over there, whose book of reminiscences last year made
so many people furious. Dear old thing! She has such a dreadful memory.
She never forgets anything. Of course, she didn't always mention names,
but then everyone knew whom she meant. She was a very beautiful girl
once. Tall and slim as a willow, they say."

Croupin regarded the almost dwarf-like lady she indicated, upon whose
wizened bosom dangled an exquisite diamond pendant, and wondered with a
pang if Angela would ever become a monstrosity like that.

"And that is Lord Wistleton of Hull," went on his informant, inclining
her head towards a huge-chested individual with a big leonine head, who
was imbibing long draughts of the classic Rostrellor burgundy as if it
were so much diluted milk, "a very capable man, and ought to have been
Prime Minister years ago." She nodded. "And he would have been, too, if
he had not been married twice."

"Good gracious!" ejaculated Croupin, "then does a second marriage debar
you from high political honours in this country?"

"It does," replied Miss Drake-Raven emphatically, "when it so
happens"--she lowered her eyes with becoming modesty--"that your first
wife is still living and has divorced you."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Croupin, wondering incredulously what possible
physical attraction that leviathan body could have had for any member of
the opposite sex. "He is a gay gentleman is he?"

"Most fascinating," commented Miss Drake-Raven with enthusiasm, "and
when he is addressing any large audience he has a voice like a vesper
bell." She continued. "And that's Sir Charles Carrion, the one who looks
so ill. He is a very great surgeon, besides being the eleventh baronet
of his line." She shook her head frowningly. "But he is very eccentric
and disparages his own class and the nobility in a perfectly disgraceful
way. Lady Rostrellor is always terrified at what he may be going to
say."

"And who is that fine looking old gentleman with the long white
moustache?" asked Croupin. "He looks a soldier to me."

"He is," was the instant reply, "and a very distinguished one, too. He's
General Sir Pentlebury Lesage, and they say he's got enough medals to go
twice round his chest if he put them all on at once. Of course he's
getting old now, but he's still very wonderful." She lowered her voice
again. "Why, he'll drink three bottles of that heavy burgundy to-night,
and yet be eating a large breakfast of bacon and eggs to-morrow."

Just at that moment the object of their regard looked in their
direction, and catching Croupin's eye, boomed in a deep voice in the
lull of the general conversation--

"de Choisy-Hautville, I think I caught your name, sir," and when Croupin
bowed, he went on, "Well, nearly thirty years ago I remember a very
charming girl in Tours of that name, Madelaine de Choisy-Hautville I
think she was!"

Croupin was about to admit she was his mother, when some lightning flash
of prudence stilled his tongue, and General Lesage went on. "I heard she
afterwards married the Conte de Laine Croupin, and her son was that
merry rascal, Raphael."

All eyes were turned at once on Croupin, and on the instant he realised
his danger, for he had of course told Angela his own Christian name was
Raphael. His knees trembled together, and his mouth grew dry, but his
natural delight in being in dangerous situations heartened him, and in a
lightning flash his sword was out, and he was defending himself in the
boldest way possible.

"A distant relation of mine," he commented smilingly, and with no trace
of embarrassment, "and we were both born in Tourain." He seemed very
amused. "We have the same Christian names, too, for I was baptised
Raphael."

The old General reddened and coughed apologetically. "Well--well, when I
said he was a rascal," he began, "I only meant----"

"But he is a rascal," broke in Croupin, laughingly, "or, rather, I
should say he was one, for he's supposed to have reformed now, and be
leading quite a respectable life."

"Oh! but do tell me in what way he was a rascal, Monsieur?" broke in old
Lady Wortleberry in a thin quavering voice. "I do so like to hear about
bad people. They are much more interesting than the good ones." Her old
eyes twinkled maliciously. "The Lord Bishop here bores me to death."

A ripple of delighted laughter ran round the table, in which the white
haired Bishop of Melton Mowbray joined as heartily as any one. Croupin
was still the cynosure of all eyes.

"But what did your cousin do?" squeaked Lady Wortleberry. "Did he murder
any one?"

"Oh! no. No crimes of violence," smiled Croupin. "Just some little
matters of taking things that belonged to other people." He lowered his
voice dramatically. "It is supposed that it was he who took that
Michaelangelo when it was stolen from the Louvre last year, and sold it
afterwards to a millionaire in America, who gave him 40,000 for it. At
any rate, that same month an anonymous donor presented 40,000 to the
French Government for the hospitals of Paris."

"Bravo! bravo!" called out Sir Charles Carrion enthusiastically. "A fine
fellow and I should like to shake him by the hand. I remember all about
him now. It was he, too, who took the Duchess of Parterre's diamonds and
then gave a great banquet to the poor." He looked round challengingly at
the company. "We want men like him over here. The selfish rich have no
thought for the privations of their less fortunate fellowmen." He
pointed to the half-filled wineglass at his side. "Why the price of one
bottle of this burgundy we are all drinking now would provide beer
enough to inebriate a dozen honest navvies and give them for a few hours
a respite from the monotony of life. I am of opinion----

"Be quiet, Charles," interrupted Lady Rostrellor sharply. "You've always
been the black sheep of the family, and no one's interested in anything
you say."

"Oh! aren't they?" scoffed Sir Charles in unpleasant amusement. "Well, I
was talking for half an hour in the lounge with Lady Wortleberry just
before dinner, telling her everything I could remember about you all
during the last thirty years, and she's going to put it in her next
book." He smiled vindictively. "Aren't you, my lady."

"Yes, I am," squeaked the old dowager again. She spoke thoughtfully. "It
mayn't be all true, but"--she nodded vigorously--"it'll make good copy."

The dinner came to an end at last, and then after a couple of
uninteresting hands at bridge Croupin managed to get Angela Lendon to
himself.

"Let's go into the conservatory," he whispered. "It'll be much nicer
there, and we can have a little talk."

"Well, we must not be very long," she replied, as she went quickly with
him through the lounge. "We are all supposed to go to bed early tonight,
because to-morrow the dancing will go on until three or four o'clock."

They found a secluded spot at the end of the conservatory and there,
behind a big palm, seated themselves in a comfortable and well-cushioned
settee. There were no lights in the conservatory, but it was a moonlit,
though cloudy night, and the lights, too, shone in through from the
windows of the drawing-room behind.

There was silence for a few moments after they had settled themselves
down and then the girl said softly:--

"Tell me about your relation, Monsieur, this other Raphael. I am very
interested in him." She hesitated a moment. "Is he a very bad man?"

"The devil!" thought Croupin. "I may bluff a whole mob, but this child
here will not be so easy to deceive." He laughed lightly. "No,
Mademoiselle, he was never very bad, just adventurous, and his
adventures took the form of avenging himself upon society for a great
wrong that had once been done him." His voice hardened. "When he was
quite young, he was thrown into prison for taking some jewels he had
never touched. Then when he came out, he was bitter and set himself to
punish that world that had punished him. He never robbed the poor, but
made the very rich his target, and the more closely their possessions
were guarded the more delighted was he to try to obtain them."

"But wasn't he caught and put into prison again?" asked Angela.

"No," chuckled Croupin, "for they could never prove that it was he. They
thought it was, and in the end every robbery that was committed was
supposed to be his. It became at last the joke of France, and when
anything was stolen anywhere the people would say, 'See, it's that
Croupin again.'"

"But it wasn't right," said the girl thoughtfully. "He was a thief."

"Of course he was," admitted Croupin sadly. His face brightened. "But so
much of it was pure devilry." He chuckled again. "Once he stole a
magnificent diamond necklace from a great lady. She was hard and miserly
and was worth millions, but kept everything she had for herself. Then a
few days after the robbery a number of her poor relations each received
an anonymous gift of a beautiful big diamond, which they were able to
sell for thousands and thousands of francs. She was furious and said the
diamonds were hers"--he shrugged his shoulders--"but she could not prove
it and there the matter ended. It was a great joke."

"And what was your relation's occupation, Monsieur?" asked Angela. "How
did he earn his living?"

"He taught music, Mademoiselle," replied Croupin, "and as a great
musician was always in request to play at the nuptial masses when the
rich society people were being married."

"And where is he now?" asked the girl.

Croupin swore softly under his breath at her persistence. He shrugged
his shoulders. "Who knows, Mademoiselle? He had an inheritance left him,
just as I did, and he has disappeared." He sighed. "He may have gone
into a monastery."

The conversation drifted off into other ways, and she told him of her
own life, of her two brothers and four sisters, of whom she was the
youngest, and of her quiet upbringing at the old rectory! How her visits
to her godmother had been the only peeps into society she had had, how
she was never going to marry, but was intending shortly to start
training for a nurse.

Croupin listened quietly and was more assured than ever that at last he
had come upon the dream woman of his life.

They talked on, quite oblivious of the flight of time, until suddenly
the lights behind them went out and they were plunged in darkness,
except for the moon which was now partly obscured by a cloud.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed the girl looking hurriedly at her watch, "it's
a quarter to one. They have all gone to bed and we must go, too, at
once."

"No, wait just a minute or two," urged Croupin, laying a light,
restraining hand upon her arm. "Then no one will see you go up, and for
a few moments we can watch those stars." His voice was low and
tremulous. "See, how wonderful they are, watching over the sleeping
world."

The girl hesitated, but then glancing to where he indicated she sighed
deeply and settled herself back again among the cushions. Her conscience
bade her go, but the touch of his hand had thrilled her, and the opiate
loveliness of the hour held her in its spell. The mystery of life, the
mystery of youth, and the mystery of love! That eternal trinity whose
secrets will be never told.

Minute after minute passed in complete silence and then just when
another cloud was about to cover over the moon they heard the sound of
stealthy footsteps at the other end of the conservatory, and turning
wide-eyed in consternation, saw a long white hand part the leaves of a
big palm-tree there. The owner of the hand was in the shadows and beyond
their view.

The girl made a convulsive clutch at Croupin's hand, and then instantly
they both bent their bodies down.

"We shan't be noticed," whispered Croupin. "We're in the shadows, too.
Keep still. Don't move," and he turned his own hand round so that their
fingers met and the clasp was mutual now. He pressed her hand gently.

A minute and longer went slowly by. The strange hand did not move and in
their imagination only could they picture the peering face behind.

Then suddenly the moon was blotted out and the whole place was plunged
at once in complete darkness. Croupin could feel that Angela was
trembling and so he drew her closer to him.

"Oh! How awful if we were seen!" she breathed in the very faintest of
whispers. "Do you think whoever it is will go away soon?"

"Of course he will," breathed back Croupin reassuringly, and then as his
face touched hers as he had leaned so close to answer, their lips met,
too, and he kissed her.

"It wasn't fair to do that," she whispered as she shook her head free,
but Croupin had no fear that he had offended her, because she made no
attempt to withdraw her hand.

Three or four minutes passed, with the long conservatory as dark and
silent as the grave. Then the moon came out again and to their great
thankfulness the leaves of the palm were no longer parted, and the hand
could be no longer seen.

"Quick!" exclaimed Angela breathlessly, as she rose to her feet, "and
pray Heaven we meet nobody."

With the moon only to light them they darted through the deserted
dining-room into the hall, encountering no one upon their way and then
the girl paused for one moment at the foot of the stairs.

"Good night, Monsieur," she whispered, "You are a bad man and as wicked
as the other Raphael." She nodded vigorously. "One thing, I'll never be
in the dark with you again."

"Oh! won't you, my little one," whispered back Croupin tenderly. "If it
is for me to decide, you will pass unnumbered hours--" but she had
tripped up the stairs and afraid to raise his voice, he left the
sentence unfinished. "Now, I'll wait two minutes before I go up myself,"
he murmured. "It is a mercy we have not been seen or heard by any one."

But he was quite mistaken there, for at that very moment one of the
under-footmen was standing in the shadows at the back of the hall and
watching him.

The man had been sent by the butler to obtain a pack of cards from her
ladyship's boudoir, and he had arrived in the hall just in time to see
Croupin speaking to some one. He did not, however, see whom the
Frenchman was addressing, because the stairs hid the second party from
view. He was too far away, also, to hear anything that was being said.

Thinking little of the matter, but not wishing that he himself should be
seen, he waited until Croupin had leisurely ascended the stairs, and
then fulfilling his mission, returned to the butler's room upstairs,
where over a steaming brew of Lord Rostrellor's old brandy the
men-servants of the court were now preparing to round off the night with
a couple of hands at bridge.

Then it would have appeared to any one watching outside that the great
mansion of the Rostrellors was at last sunk in slumber. Its long and
massive frontage was dark as if it were untenanted, the lights had died
down in its many scores of windows, and it stretched desolate and
ghostly under the faints rays of the moon.

The clock in the big hall chimed the quarter, and almost as if they had
heard it and were waiting for the signal two figures glided out of the
trees and quickly crossing the stretch of beautifully-kept lawn,
tip-toed up to the front door.

They were Guildford and Voisin.

"It's open," whispered Guildford as it yielded to the touch of his hand,
and in five seconds they were inside the hall and the door was being
propped to again with the mat.

Then for a long minute they stood like graven images, making no movement
and no sound, and accustoming their eyes to the gloom. The interior of
the hall was illuminated faintly by the moonlight that crept through the
uncurtained tops of some of the big windows.

"There is the staircase," whispered Guildford, "and you'll wait at the
bottom." His voice was menacing in its anxiety. "Listen for every sound,
and if you hear the slightest thing that is suspicious, don't lose your
head, but come and warn me at once. Remember, I shall be in the third
room on the left at the top of the stairs, and I shall leave the door
open. If I want you I'll flash my torch and then you come up at once."

And just at that moment the four servants upstairs were cutting for
deal.

Guildford mounted the stairs as noiselessly as a cat, but with his heart
thumping hard. He tiptoed to the door of Lord and Lady Rostrellor's
bedroom, and very, very softly turned the handle.

The door yielded at once, and he entered the room. It was a very large
room, and the historic Rostrellor bed was in like proportion, being a
huge four-poster with a great sagging canopy overhead. Both the lord and
his lady were fast asleep. He was snoring stertorously, and she was
joining in, in an asthmatic wheeze. A good fire had been burning, and
its dying embers still illuminated the room. A small safe stood in the
far corner.

Guildford crept up to the dressing table and with a sigh of intense
satisfaction picked up a handful of rings and thrust them into his
pocket. Then he advanced towards the safe, and at once he frowned. The
safe was locked and the key was not visible. He considered for a moment
and then tiptoed up to the bed. Then, holding his breath in his
excitement, he very gently began to push his hand under Lady
Rostrellor's pillow until, very gradually and with infinite precaution,
he had thrust it along its entire length. The old lady felt his arm
there and as if annoyed at being disturbed, grimaced irritably, but she
did not open her eyes, and continued to wheeze on.

Then Guildford's frown deepened, for he had found nothing there.

He glided back to the dressing table and flashing a little torch, swept
it round, but he still came upon no key. Then his eyes glinted and his
hand darted forward, as he noticed that a big cold cream jar there was
standing unevenly, with one side higher than the other. He snatched it
up and then, with a gesture of contempt, picked up a small key from
underneath.

And at that very moment the four men upstairs, after three misdeals, had
found that there was two cards missing, and the young footman was being
sworn at and told to go down and get another pack.

With success so near now, Guildford's movements were like lightning. The
safe was opened in a trice and jewel case after jewel case was emptied
and their contents thrust into his pockets.

Diamonds, emeralds, pearls, a necklace alone worth thousands of pounds!
His eyes burned like red-hot coals! It was a fortune!

Quickly replacing each jewel-case back into the safe, he locked it and
with a sardonic smile restored the key to its place under the cold-cream
jar, then--his blood froze in horror, for a resounding yell came up from
the hall below.

"Help, help," roared a lusty voice. "Help, quick, there are burglars
here," and oaths and bumps and sounds of a fierce struggle came up upon
the air.

Guildford ejaculated one furious curse and then sprang into action. He
was out of the bedroom, along the corridor, and down the stairs with the
speed of a greyhound, to find Voisin prone upon his back in the hall,
with the young footman holding him down and pummelling him violently.

Guildford, coming up behind, swung his right arm in a fearful blow at
the side of the footman's head, and the latter rolled over like a
stunned ox. Then he jerked Voisin to his feet. "Come on now, you idiot,"
he panted. "Why didn't you see him in time?" and cursing furiously, he
proceeded to drag the tottering and half-dazed barber towards the hall
door.

But long before they could reach it, with a sickening feeling in his
stomach he realised that it would be only with great good fortune now,
that they would get away unhindered, for the butler and the two other
footmen came tearing through the hall, shouting loudly and calling for
help from those upstairs.

Guildford turned savagely, and faced them like a snarling beast of the
jungle.

"Keep back, you fools," he shouted, "or you're dead men all of you," and
snatching an automatic from his hip-pocket, he pointed it menacingly at
them.

The butler was elderly and married, and stopped dead in his tracks, so
did one of the footmen, but the other, who had served in the Great War,
continued to rush forward as if he had not heard the warning.

Guildford's face was of an ashen colour, but he smiled a dreadful smile,
and waiting until the man was within five paces of him, deliberately
pulled the trigger and shot him through the heart.

Gasps of horror came from the other two as their fellow-servant crashed
on to the floor, and taking advantage of their consternation, Guildford,
still, however, having to drag Voisin along with him, passed through the
front door and banged it behind him.

Then commenced an agonising journey for the two malefactors, Guildford
in an agony of mind, and Voisin in an agony of body. In the struggle at
the foot of the stairs, the barber had received a violent blow in the
stomach, and in addition to that, one of his legs had been twisted and
bent back under him. His face was corpse-like in its whiteness and
covered in profuse sweat.

"I can't walk," he wailed, "I can't go on."

"You'll have to," snarled Guildford. "Pull yourself together, like a
man. It'll mean a life sentence if they get you." Then seeing that
Voisin was tottering and actually about to fall, with a savage curse he
bent down and tugging him on to his shoulder, with staggering and
unsteady steps made for the trees upon the other side of the lawn.

He gained the shelter of the trees and then bumped Voisin roughly down.

"Come on now by yourself," he panted to the barber who seemed only just
able to stand. "We must run for it, and I can't carry you any farther."

Then all suddenly he fell headlong over Guildford's dragging arm, and
tumbling to the ground almost brought him down with him. He had at last
fainted right away.

Guildford's breath came in quick, spasmodic gasps, and for the moment he
was bereft of oaths in his dismay. They were not a quarter of a mile
from the Court, and had yet nearly a mile and a half to go before they
would be in hiding, and--he had now an inert man of 160 odd pounds to
drag behind him.

His fury blazed up again, and he bent down and shook viciously at the
barber. "Wake up, you cursed idiot. I am not going to swing for you."
Then as there was not the slightest response to all his shaking, he
straightened himself up with a quick decisive movement, and glaring
round intently in every direction, began muttering deeply. His mouth had
become very dry, and he moistened his lips shakingly with his tongue.

A dense black cloud was about to impinge itself upon the moon.

He was standing in the corner of a large field, and there was a
plantation of small trees just behind him. A tall hedge lay to one side,
and a shallow muddy ditch upon the other.

His breath was now as laboured as if he were in the act of running. He
gave another intent glance round, and then knelt down by the barber's
side.

Some six or seven minutes later the moon had emerged again, and it shone
upon Guildford, who was now half a mile and more away from the spot
where he had been when it had gone in.

He was alone and running swiftly towards the most dangerous point in his
journey, where he would have to cross over the Keston Road in full sight
of anyone who might be watching from the upper windows of either of the
two houses there.

The contents of all Voisin's pockets, including a packet of
black-tobaccoed cigarettes, were now in his own, but that would be of no
interest to their late possessor, for the barber of Rent Street would
never smoke again.

In the meantime, the happenings had been so tragic that for the moment
everyone at Rostrellor Court seemed to have lost their heads, and
Pandemonium raged. Doors had been opened noisily, there had been loud
shoutings for explanation, people had come tearing down the stairs, the
lights had been switched on everywhere, and a rush had been made to
render first aid to the injured footmen.

But it was found at once that the elder one was beyond all help, and Sir
Charles Carrion pronounced solemnly that his death must have been
instantaneous for he had been shot through the heart. The other footman,
after a quick examination, appeared not to have been much hurt, and Sir
Charles said he would probably be conscious again in a few minutes.

Then the butler gasped out what had happened. Two strange men, he told
every one, had been found in the hall, and in an attempt to seize them
they had first stunned William and then shot Henry. They had escaped
then by the front door.

Sir Charles then had at once assumed command, and vetoed most
emphatically the suggestion that weapons should be obtained from the gun
room and a search made through the grounds with no delay.

"That will be fool's-play," he scoffed contemptuously, "for of course
they came and went in a car. They will be a couple of miles away by
now." He turned to the shaking butler. "Ring up the Croydon police," he
thundered, "and the flying-squads will be upon the roads within five
minutes and all cars going in any direction held up and searched. That's
our only chance." He seemed to have become 20 years younger in his
animation. "Now, the next thing is to find out if they got away with any
plunder. Any one seen my uncle?"

And then it was remembered with pangs of horror that neither the lord
nor the lady of the Court had been seen by any one or appeared to have
been awakened by the noise.

"And perhaps they have been murdered in their beds!" squeaked old Lady
Wortleberry, who, attired in a gown of most dreadful hue, was peering
through the banisters above. "Oh! what a national calamity if the
Rostrellor diamonds have gone."

A rush was at once made upstairs to Lady Rostrellor's bedroom. The door
was found to be wide open, but reassuring sounds came from inside the
chamber, for Lord Rostrellor could be heard snoring in loud trumpet
tones and the wheezing breathing of her ladyship, too, was distinctly
audible in the respectful hush about the chamber door.

With difficulty the pair were awakened and made to understand that
burglars had been visiting the Court. Lady Rostrellor promptly screamed,
but upon pointing to the jar of cold cream, and it being lifted up and
the key of the safe being seen by her to be still there, she sank back
again into the pillows and subsided into convulsive sobs. Lord
Rostrellor contented himself with shouting loudly for brandy to be
brought up.

Then suddenly a tremendous boom was heard below, a blinding sheet of
flame lit up all the windows and then a dreadful moment's silence was
followed by the sounds of a cascade of falling glass.

"Downstairs, every one!" roared Sir Charles Carrion in stentorian tones,
and literally dancing in his excitement. "It's 'The Terror' and they've
blown up the conservatory with a bomb."




CHAPTER XI.--"IN THE SHADOW OF THE SCAFFOLD."


The morning following upon the dinner party at Rostrellor Court, a few
minutes after seven, Larose was dressing himself quickly in his lodgings
in Pimlico. He had a busy day before him and was hoping, and indeed
expecting, it was going to be one of great triumph for him as well.

He was motoring straightaway down to Canvey Island, to learn there at
first hand all he could about the undoubted murder of the solicitor,
Clutterbuck, as evidenced by the latter's sudden disappearance from all
human ken and the trails of blood that had been left behind.

He was intending to return to the city as early as possible in the
afternoon, and was hoping then to throw another bomb into the
well-ordered, but very difficult-to-be-convinced, mind of the Chief
Commissioner of Police.

"He still won't believe me about this Sheldon-Brown," he muttered with a
grim smile, "so I'll just put him wise as to the character of one of
that gentleman's nice associates, with whom Brown must have been pretty
familiar to have been flashing those bonds-to-bearer before him, as we
know he did."

He was just in the act of lathering his face, when he heard the
telephone ring in the hall below, and a few seconds later his
ex-policeman landlord tapped at the door and called out that a lady
wanted to speak to him at once.

"It's the wife, of course," thought Larose, hurriedly wiping the lather
from his face--his heart gave a big thump--"but why has she rung up so
early? I hope to heaven, nothing has happened down there!"

But it did not prove to be Mrs. Larose who was ringing; it was a voice
he did not remember which greeted him directly he announced that he was
there.

"I'm Miss Lendon," it came in quick and agitated tones, "and we met at
Mrs. Fox-Drummond's, at Surbiton, just over a week ago, when you stayed
to lunch there."

"Oh! I remember you," replied Larose at once. "Well, what can I do for
you, Miss Lendon?"

"Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville wants you to come here to him at once,"
replied Angela breathlessly. "I'm speaking from Rostrellor Court, in
Addington, near Croydon. A terrible calamity has happened during the
night. The house has been broken into, one of the servants murdered, the
conservatory blown up with a bomb, and now it's been discovered all Lady
Rostrellor's diamonds have been taken."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Larose in consternation, "and was Monsieur de
Choisy-Hautville hurt?"

"No, he's quite all right," replied Angela. "I said it was one of the
servants who had been killed."

"But how is it that my friend is staying at Rostrellor Court?" asked
Larose, very puzzled. "He never said anything to me about it."

"No, because no one had even thought about it until yesterday at
lunch-time," replied the girl, "and then, to oblige, Mrs. Fox-Drummond
he agreed to come here with us just for the one night, as there was a
gentleman short for the big dinner-party."

"Then why is it he isn't ringing me up himself?" asked Larose.

"I can't tell you why," replied the girl quickly, "and I don't
understand it myself. I've not seen him since last night, and all I know
is that he pushed a note under my bedroom door not five minutes ago,
asking me to ring you up to come at once, and not tell anyone he'd sent
for you. He marked the note urgent." Her voice betrayed her anxiety.
"Now you will come, won't you?"

"Certainly, I will," replied Larose instantly. "I'll be out in less than
an hour. But one thing more," he added, as she thanked him and was
preparing to ring off, "you've got the police up there, of course."

"Oh, yes, the Croydon ones were here almost at once," she replied, "and
others have been coming during the night. They say the heads of Scotland
Yard, too, will be here before 9 o'clock,"--she seemed very
frightened--"and orders have been given that none of us are to leave the
house, because it is thought it was opened to the burglars by some one
here inside."

"All right," exclaimed Larose cheerfully. "I'll be with you as soon as I
can."

"Now, what the devil does all this mean?" he asked, frowningly as he
hung up the receiver. "Have the police by any chance tumbled to whom de
Choisy-Hautville is?" He looked most uneasy for a moment and then his
face cleared. "No, no, he's had nothing to do with the taking of the
diamonds. I can trust Croupin as I would myself now." He gave a low
whistle. "But that bomb! It must be the work of the same gang, and what
a coincidence that Croupin has got in touch with them again!"

Well within the time specified he drove up to Rostrellor Court. The
front door was standing wide open and, springing from his car, he was
just about to explain to the uniformed constable who was in charge there
whom he was, when he saw Detective-Inspector Reynolds from Scotland
yard, whom he knew well, just inside the hall.

"Good-morning, Inspector," he called out, "then we are all early birds
this morning."

The inspector at once came forward to shake hands, but at the same time
it seemed to Larose that he did not look too pleased. "How is it you
have come here, Mr. Larose?" he asked sharply. "Has the Chief sent you
down to look after us?"

"Certainly not!" replied Larose, shaking his head. "I haven't had any
communication with him for a couple of days, but hearing there had been
an explosion, I thought I'd run down and pay you all a flying visit."

"But how then did you come to know anything about it?" asked the
inspector, looking rather puzzled. "There's nothing in the newspapers as
yet."

Larose laughed lightly. "Oh! I have my own sources of information,
Inspector," he replied, "and just now anything to do with bombs
interests me." His face became serious. "Found out anything yet?"

"Yes," grunted the inspector, leading Larose into a small room just off
the hall, "quite a lot. For one thing, someone inside the house opened
the front door for the burglars, and they came in like more invited
guests." He nodded with a grim smile. "But we've got one gay gentleman
under close observation, one of the blessed dinner-party, too, and there
are some things about him that are mighty suspicious. He was seen here
in the hall only a few minutes before the rumpus occurred, and can't
give me a satisfactory explanation. He's a damned foreigner with a
jaw-breaking name."

Larose suppressed a start. He thought he could understand Angela's
phoning up now. "What's his name?" he asked carelessly.

"de Chossy Hoveal, or something like that," replied the inspector. "He's
a bird with fine feathers, and I feel darned sure"--but seeing the
amazed expression upon Larose's face, he stopped suddenly and asked with
a frown. "What's up?"

"Great Jupiter!" exclaimed Larose in apparent consternation, "why, if
it's the de Choisy-Hautville I know, he's just been working for the Yard
himself." He spoke very quickly. "What's he like? A very good-looking
man slightly built, with very dark eyes?"

"That's him," growled the inspector, "almost as pretty as a girl. But I
tell you----"

"Man!" interrupted Larose quickly, "he's a great friend of mine and as
good as gold. Up to a few days ago, he was working in the slums of
Limehouse for me, and looking like a scarecrow, trailing one of the men
wanted for all those murders. To-day we are going to make a first
arrest, and this afternoon the chief will probably be shaking my friend
by the hand, because it is thanks to him that we shall have got the
man."

"I don't care a curse about that," said the inspector doggedly. "I'm in
charge here and his answers to my questions are not satisfactory. I've
made some other inquiries about him, too, outside, and they're not too
good, either, I can tell you." He looked as stubborn as a mule. "I
believe he had some part in the stealing of these jewels."

"Gosh!" ejaculated Larose, "de Choisy-Hautville stealing anything! Why,
he's as rich as a nabob and could probably buy up Lord Rostrellor here.
He's got a suite of rooms at the Savoy!"

"So he told me," said the inspector drily, "and I've just been ringing
up there and learnt quite a lot of things." His face assumed a most
determined expression. "Nothing alters the fact that the explanation of
his movements here are not satisfactory."

"Well, where is he now?" asked Larose quietly. "Have you put him under
arrest?"

"Almost," replied the inspector. "I've got him in a room by himself and
he's not allowed to go out"--he set his jaw and looked defiantly at
Larose--"and he's not going out either, whether he's a friend of yours
or anybody else's, until he has satisfied me as to why he was in the
hall at five minutes past one this morning, not a quarter of an hour
before those burglars were discovered here."

"Very well, then, bring him in here, Inspector," said Larose quietly,
"and I'll make him explain everything."

So two minutes later Croupin was being ushered into the room, to be
received with a scowl by the inspector and a smile by Larose.

"Good morning, Monsieur," grinned Larose. "I understand you are in
trouble."

Croupin, looking very solemn, shook hands with Larose, with no answering
expression of amusement, however, upon his handsome face.

"Yes," he nodded, "it pleases this gentleman not to believe what I say."

"And I don't believe it," commented the inspector emphatically. "That
footman saw you talking to some one in the hall just before those men
were found inside, and you deny it." His tone was most uncompromising.
"I am of opinion that you had just opened the door to your friends, and
were keeping watch for them while they went upstairs."

"Tell us what happened, Monsieur," said Larose. "You'll have to
explain," and then, as Croupin hesitated, he added quickly. "Come, now,
I've told the inspector here you are my friend, and you're not going to
discredit me. Is it true you were not speaking to any one?"

Croupin spoke very slowly. "There are some occasions, Monsieur," he
replied, "'when a falsehood is more honourable than the truth."

"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed Larose, now all smiles, "then tell Inspector
Reynolds who the lady was, and I'll promise you for him that it won't go
any further. Make a clean breast of it to us."

Croupin gave a great sigh, but seeing that there was no help for it
explained frankly what had happened. He had been sitting in the
conservatory, he said, talking to a lady, and they had not noticed how
time was flying until suddenly the lights had gone out in the
drawing-room behind them, and they were astounded to realise that it was
a quarter to one. Then not wishing to occasion any scandal by
encountering any of the servants, they had waited a few minutes longer,
until there should be no one about. Then at the foot of the staircase,
he had bade the young lady good-night and waited yet another two
minutes, until she had ascended the staircase alone and gained the
privacy of her own room.

The face of the inspector had lost a little of its sternness and then,
almost as if he were himself now suppressing a grin, he asked drily:
"And will the young lady be prepared to corroborate this story, when I
question her?"

"She would," replied Croupin with dignity. "If I had given you her
name."

"I don't want it," snapped the inspector, "for I know she was Miss
Angela Lendon"--he looked triumphantly at Larose--"and at 7.25 this
morning she rang up Pimlico 3908 to summon your friend here to get you
out of the mess." He looked down at a paper in his hand. "She is the
only woman who has 'phoned from here this morning."

Larose laughed merrily. "Excellent! excellent! Mr. Inspector," he
exclaimed, "and with men like you at the Yard, there was never any need
for any one to have asked me to come back." His face glowed. "I take off
my hat to you, sir."

For the moment, the expression of praise from such a quarter caused the
face of the inspector to redden with pleasure, but then almost instantly
it grew hard and grim again.

"But there are other things I want to know about this gentleman," he
said sharply. "He told me he has a suite of rooms at the Savoy, and I
have verified that, but"--and his voice was very stern--"how is it he
has been staying at the Semiris for four days under an assumed name? No,
no," he went on to Croupin, noticing the latter's look of discomforted
chagrin, "it's no good your denying it, for a chambermaid from the Savoy
recognised you. You have been staying at the Semiris under the name of a
Monsieur de Bearne, and the Savoy people are now aware of it, too."

Larose burst into a hearty laugh. "Another bull's eye, Inspector," he
laughed, "for this de Bearne has been acting as a decoy there for what
may probably turn out to be one of the biggest receivers that the Yard
has laid hands upon for many a day"--he made a grimace at Croupin--"but
I see I'll have to go round to the Savoy people and explain things a
bit, or they'll be asking you to vacate that nice suite of yours
straightaway."

They chatted on for a few minutes and then the inspector with a mock
sigh of resignation, turned to Croupin.

"You're free, Monsieur," he said, "and I admit I'm darned sorry for it."
He smiled. "I heard that footman's story, and now"--he shrugged his
shoulders--"I'm afraid there's nothing in it."

To the evident relief of the inspector, Larose said he must be going at
once, and Croupin accompanied him to his car to see him off. "Thank you,
Monsieur," said the Frenchman gratefully. "You got me out of a very
awkward situation and there will be no scandal." His eyes sparkled. "But
see here, Meester Larose, I think this is the work of the gang, for that
explosion was so senseless after the diamonds had been stolen. They
could have expected to gain nothing by it, except the terrifying of
everyone."

"I agree," said Larose promptly, "but I'm not interfering here, for the
good reason I've got quite enough on my hands to-day: I can't be
everywhere."

"But one moment," said Croupin as Larose was about to start up his
engine. "There's no doubt they had an accomplice inside who let them
come in and I think I know who he is," and then very rapidly he told of
the hand he and Angela had seen parting the palm leaves in the
conservatory. "But that is not all," he added mysteriously, "for when
one of the guests here, a doctor of renown, was bending over the footman
who had been shot and opening his vest, it came upon me in a flash that
he had the same long, white hand." He nodded emphatically. "I am almost
sure of it."

"And who is this doctor, then?" asked Larose, all eyes and interest.

"A Sir Charles Carrion," replied Croupin, "and Lady Rostrellor is his
aunt."

"Then it's impossible," said Larose. "That makes it so at once."

"Not at all," went on Croupin, "for he's a most eccentric man, and they
say he has been put in an asylum once. He seems delighted about all this
trouble here, and although he says how dreadful it is he keeps on
chuckling and rubbing his hands. When the bomb exploded last night, of
course everyone was terrified, but he made things much worse by shouting
out 'The Terror! The Terror!' and warning us all that another bomb might
be exploding any moment. He didn't, however, seem at all frightened
himself. I tell you----" but he suddenly gripped Larose tightly by the
arm--"Look out, here he comes, and that man he is laughing with is one
of the detectives. Don't let him see we are noticing him. He is the tall
man with the dreadful face."

Larose turned his head slightly, and out of the tail of his eye regarded
the man indicated.

"Hum!" he remarked when the two had passed round the side of the house,
"we must go into this, Monsieur, you and I. I must manage to get in
touch with him in some way." He paused for a moment. "He looks very ill.
Is he practising, do you know?"

"Oh! yes," replied Croupin, "for I heard him telling the superintendent
for Croydon that he must be back at his consulting room in town by two
this afternoon."

"Then get friendly with him," said Larose, "as friendly as possible in
the time, and tell him you know someone who's had"--he thought for a
moment--"who's had trouble in his stomach, and you may be sending him
along one day for a consultation. See! that will pave the way for me to
go and have a close up view of him, without awakening any suspicion when
he finds there is nothing the matter with me."

"Bien!" nodded Croupin. "I understand," and with a wave of his hand
Larose disappeared up the drive.

In the meantime Guildford had passed a very disturbed and troubled
night, or rather that part of the night that had still remained after he
had got back to the bungalow upon the lake-side. He was sure no one
could have been an observer of his return, and for awhile had been
thrilled into ecstasy and forgetfulness by the jewels he had poured out
upon a sheet of newspaper upon the floor. He had chosen the floor
instead of the table, so that no glimmer of light should show outside.

He had not dared to make use of any lamp, although he had taken the
paraffin one off the shelf and was in the act of lighting it when he had
thought suddenly what curiosity it would excite in any one seeing it at
that time of the night. If by any chance they came to pass near, and so
it was by the light of his torch only that he had examined the booty he
had acquired. Never had he seen such riches before, and of a disposition
in which sound common sense predominated, he then and there formed the
resolution that this should be his last adventure in unlawful ways, and
he would now clear out of the country as soon as possible.

He drank half a tumbler of neat brandy and ate some sandwiches with good
appetite, all the while going carefully over in his mind his plans for
the morrow. He would tempt fortune no more he told himself, and would
leave the bungalow as speedily as possible. It would be downright folly
to wait the few days as Sir Charles Carrion had suggested, for the body
of Voisin was now adding to his dangers, and if anyone came upon it, it
would be suggestive as to which way he had taken in his hurried flight
from the Court, and might also put into people's minds the idea that he
had not escaped in a car.

He threw himself upon one of the beds, hoping he might obtain a few
hours' sleep, but for a long time he slept only in fitful snatches,
awakening many times to see if the dawn had really come. Then, when at
last the sun rose, it did so above a heavy pall of fog, and, his sleep
deepening, it was not finally until nearly nine o'clock that he awoke to
curse furiously that the hour was so late. He did not wonder, however,
that he had slept on, for the light in the house, even now, was very
shadowy and dim.

He started hurriedly, but with extreme care and method, to make all
preparations for his departure. He put on a pair of woollen gloves, and
then, with a duster, wiped over everywhere he thought either he or
Voisin had left any finger marks, the two glasses, the two plates and
knives and forks they had used at supper, the handles and panels of the
doors, and every place where he imagined their hands could have touched.
Then, having tidied up everything and left the bungalow, he thought,
exactly as they had found it, he drove his car out of the garage, and in
quite a confident and cheerful frame of mind he started for town.

He went by way of Hayes and West Wickham and met plenty of traffic, but
no one stopped him, and finally he arrived home soon after 11 o'clock.
He was now assured that all danger was over and that no one would ever
know he had been anywhere near Rostrellor Court that night.

Guildford's blood would have frozen in terror if he had been aware of
exactly what was happening at that very moment in the bungalow upon the
lakeside.

The police were in possession, and with every bit as much care as he had
taken and with equal method and precision, half a dozen grim-faced men,
the most acute brains in Scotland Yard, were endeavouring to find out
something about the two individuals who had been staying there the
previous night. He had only just escaped in time.

It had happened in this way:

In their headlong flight from Rostrellor Court, Guildford had urged
furiously upon the barber that the danger point of their journey lay at
that spot where they had to cross over the Keston Road, close near to
the two houses. All the rest of the way they were under cover, either in
the thick woods or else beside the high hedges of fields that no one was
likely to be frequenting at night. But on this road there was no cover,
and it was always possible they might be seen.

And Guildford had been quite right. Not only was there the danger there,
but he had run straight into it, for during many hours of that night a
watcher had sat before an upper window of one of the two houses
Guildford was so fearing, and had moreover seen the two men set out, and
then later only the one return.

The watcher was the local doctor of Farnborough, and he was waiting upon
a patient who was expecting one of the most thrilling adventures of her
life--her first gift to human kind. The doctor had been sitting idly
before the window, hoping every minute to receive the summons.

Then suddenly he had noticed two men running quickly across the road
from wood to wood, appearing from the depths of one to disappear into
the depths of another.

"Poachers!" he told himself, "and after old Colonel Roach's pheasants!
Good! Then I'll ring him up about it to-morrow, and then perhaps he'll
remember to pay his little bill."

He had looked at the time and seen it was half-past twelve. Then, his
vigil being prolonged, about twenty minutes to two he had heard a
muffled bang in the distance as if three or four guns had been
discharged at the same time, and about a quarter of an hour later he had
seen the one man literally fly across the road and disappear into the
opposite wood.

He had thought everything very suspicious, but then at that moment the
stork at last dropping a lusty squealing infant down the chimney, he had
been kept busy for some time and later feeling dead sleepy, and thinking
only of getting back to his bed, he had for the time being dismissed the
whole matter from his mind.

But it had all been recalled with great suddenness the next morning,
when upon starting upon his rounds he had been stopped by the village
policeman, who had poured into his ears a lurid and exciting story of
what had been happening at Rostrellor Court. Then he in turn had told
his story, and the policeman, rushing to the telephone, a quarter of an
hour later the busy medico was being chased up hill and down dale, all
over the countryside, by a car filled with the crack trailers of
Scotland Yard.

In possession of all the facts, the detectives had at once made a
beeline for the wood into which the one man had disappeared, and
following a well-defined track, they had come speedily to the lonely
bungalow upon the lake-side.

It was shut up and apparently unoccupied, but they saw at once from the
markings in the ground, that a car had but recently left the garage, and
so, with no hesitation, they forced an entry into the bungalow itself.

Then instantly they came upon a most damning piece of evidence--a
diamond ring, close to the leg of the table in the kitchen!

That was Guildford's first mistake, and it was going to prove a very
costly one for him.

But it was easy to understand how it had occurred. He had been so
anxious to examine his booty, the very moment he had got back to the
bungalow, and hurriedly emptying his pockets upon the sheet of newspaper
upon the floor and using only his electric torch with its small and
circumscribed area of light, he had not noticed the rolling away of one
of the rings into the shadows cast by the table leg.

The detectives were overjoyed at their discovery, and like bloodhounds
nosed about for a further trail. It was finger-marks they wanted, for a
big burglary like that at Rostrellor Court, they told themselves, had
not been carried out by novices at the game, but by experienced
criminals who had been at the same kind of work before.

So they proceeded to go over the bungalow, inch by inch, and were soon
nodding significantly to one another when not a single recent finger
mark could be found anywhere. Neither upon the tumblers, nor upon the
handles of the knives and forks, nor upon the dresser doors, nor upon
any of the cupboards or chairs.

"Old lags," snarled Detective Inspector Reynolds angrily, "and they
cleaned up everywhere with gloved hands before they went away."

But they were quite certain two men had been staying at the bungalow,
for two tumblers on the dresser were cleaner and more polished than the
rest, and it was the same with two cups and saucers, and two plates upon
the rack.

Then to their great joy they came upon Guildford's second mistake, a set
of beautifully defined oily finger-marks upon the under surface of the
sheet of newspaper that had been spread so tidily upon the kitchen table
by some former tenants. The paper had obviously been used by them to
save the table from contact with hot saucepans and pans, and it was the
same sheet that Guildford had picked up when he had poured out the
jewels upon the floor, just after he had replaced the paraffin lamp upon
the shelf.

The finger-marks were undoubtedly so recent that a whoop of delight came
up from the detectives when they were discovered, and another
exclamation of joy came when a few minutes later finger marks upon one
of the cupboard-doors in a bedroom were seen also. Voisin had been more
curious than Guildford, and unknown to the latter, had had a look all
round the bungalow.

So photographs were at once taken, and together with the sheet of
newspaper hurried up to Scotland Yard. Thus, when about four o'clock
that afternoon Larose appeared up at the Yard to interview the Chief
Commissioner, he found that very interested gentleman in earnest
conversation with one of the officials from the finger-print department.

"Ah!" exclaimed the Commissioner delightedly, "the very man I want." He
dismissed the finger-print expert and then asked sharply: "Now what does
it mean, sir, that you were here yesterday with some finger marks that
proved to be those of a convict, Sabine Guildford, who was released on
ticket-of-leave ten and a half years ago?"

Larose looked the picture of astonishment, but he recovered himself
quickly and replied at once: "I was interested in them, sir," he smiled
dryly, "as those of an associate of that Mr. Sheldon-Brown, and as a
matter of fact have come here now----"

"But, good God! man," broke in the Commissioner, "do you know where he
is?"

"Certainly," replied Larose, "and as I was just going to say, if you
want him----"

But the Commissioner could not contain himself in his excitement. "If we
want him!" he almost shouted, interrupting again. "Why, he is one of two
men who got in Rostrellor Court last night, and getting away with I don't
know how many thousand pounds of jewellery, killed a footman who tried
to stop him. Apart from these fingerprints, too, some of the other
servants furnish a description that tallies exactly with how he would
look today." He dropped his voice to even tones, and forcing his lips
into a smile, asked quietly: "Where is he, then, Mr. Larose?"

Larose was astonished beyond measure at the Commissioner's news, and
then at once his heart gave a great bound of delight. Things could not
be better, he told himself, for now they could arrest Guildford on this
later charge, and then the other members of the gang would not be warned
that anything had been found out about any of them in relation to their
crimes of dreadful vengeance.

He replied quickly to the Commissioner. "Sabine Guildford is now an
estate agent in Mile End," he said, "and he goes under the name of
Edward Mason." He smiled in amusement. "The Yard has been shadowing him
for me for over a week now and he could have been arrested any moment
had we wished, for he is a burglar, a receiver of stolen goods, and"--he
paused a long moment here, and then went on very sternly--"as an
associate of Sheldon-Brown, the undoubted murderer of Samuel Wiggins,
the tea-broker, and of Anthony Clutterbuck, the solicitor." His voice
vibrated as he threw down his trump card. "He is another member of 'The
Terror Gang.'"

And then in ample detail he related all that had happened during the
past few days, by no means slurring over the part Croupin had taken in
getting in touch with Voisin and Guildford and obtaining their
finger-prints.

When he had finished, the Commissioner after a few words of ungrudging
praise, in turn related all that had happened at the bungalow by the
Kestor lakes and how fortunate they had been in picking up the trail so
soon.

"Now, Mr. Larose," he said in conclusion, "as you say, we can arrest
this Sabine Guildford at once upon this charge, and so give no specific
warning to the other members of the gang, whoever they may be." He looked
rather troubled. "But how do you suggest we do it, for he is a dangerous
man and very ready with his gun, and naturally I am thinking of our
men."

"And he is suspicious, too," added Larose, "for he's dodged us every
time when we were trying to follow him. He got away yesterday, and we
couldn't tell where he had gone."

"But he must be taken at once," went on the Commissioner, "for to all
accounts, he's got hold of a good 80,000 this time, and that's enough
to make any man get out of business for good. He may try and bolt
straightaway."

"Yes," agreed Larose, "and the devil of it is we are certain he's got
one exit into that back street, and I'm half inclined to believe he's
got several." He considered for a moment, "But I've got an idea how we
can do it."

* * * *

Guildford had been in a great state of exultation since he had returned
home. Things could not have gone better. He was in possession or
valuables that he reckoned he could dispose of abroad for about 50,000,
and he had got rid of Voisin, who could have been an awkward witness,
and moreover, would have wanted a good sum as his share.

He treated himself to a pint bottle of champagne for his lunch, and then
gave orders he was not to be disturbed for a couple of hours as he was
not feeling well and was going to lie down.

And certainly he was very tired, for he dropped off to sleep within a
few minutes and slept soundly until just before five o'clock, when he
was awakened by loud shouting in the street below, and jumping hurriedly
off the bed to find out what had happened, was greatly relieved to see
from the window which faced the street, that it was only a lorry that
had broken down. One of the wheels had come off just opposite his office
and, of course, the usual crowd of idlers had at once gathered round.

For a few minutes he watched them jacking up the lorry, but was then
interrupted by a knocking at the door. It was his housekeeper, and one
of the clerks, she announced, wanted to speak to him with no delay.

He went down at once to his private room and was then informed that a
man wanted to see him, with a message from some one called Flick, about
a key that he had ordered to be made.

Guildford's heart began to palpitate at once. "What's the man like?" he
asked with a deep frown.

The clerk smiled. "Well, he's a rough looking customer, sir," he
replied, "and he's not too sober, either. He's carrying two large
bundles of celery, and he's dropped them several times upon the floor."

"Tell him I'm busy," growled Guildford, "and ask him to send in the
message."

The clerk retired at once, and obeying his instructions, was met with a
blunt refusal from the man with the celery and thick voice.

"No, I'll not give the message to you," insisted that individual
pugnaciously. "I was told only to give it to Mr. Mason, and it'd be
worth a couple of bob to me if I did. I've got a bit of a letter, too,"
he added, as if he was now remembering it for the first time. His voice
was thicker than ever. "So you tell old Mason to come here at once."

Guildford was looking through the chink of the office door, and watching
the speaker. All he saw was a grubby-faced man, leaning against the
counter, in the usual lordly way of the slightly intoxicated, and
clutching tightly to two big bundles of celery.

He strode quickly into the office and advanced towards the stranger.
"I'm Mr. Mason," he announced sternly, "and now, what's your message."

The man blinked stupidly at him. "Ugly and cross-looking," he muttered
as if to himself, "and looks a man who'd fight anyone." He brightened up
at once. "Yes, that's you," he said. "You're Mr. Mason." He put the two
bundles of celery under one arm, and then with the hand of the other
fumbled in his jacket pocket for the letter. He found it at last. "Here
you are," he grunted, "and the message is inside."

But he suddenly drew back the hand that was proffering the letter. "Two
bob, first," he said stubbornly. "I've not come all this distance for
nothing, and boot-leather costs money."

With a scowl of annoyance, but rather uneasy that Alf Flick should be
communicating with him at all, and anxious to read what was in the
letter, Guildford thrust his right hand into his trouser pocket for the
two shillings and then--the astounding thing happened.

The seemingly intoxicated man in the twinkling of an eye flung the
celery straight into Guildford's face and then, like a flash of
lightning, he sprang forward and pinning the estate-agent's arms to his
side, tripped him violently on to the floor. At the same time, with a
clarion voice he trumpeted: "Come in, quick. I've got him."

One of the clerks jumped instantly to the rescue of his master, and
gripped the assailant by the throat, but half a dozen men who had been
standing outside and apparently idly watching the stranded lorry, burst
into the office, and, quicker than it takes to tell, the clerk had been
hurled away, and Guildford handcuffed and jerked on to his feet.

"Are you hurt, Mr. Larose?" asked one of the men of the owner of the
celery.

"Not a bit," replied Larose. He turned to the clerk who had handled him
so roughly. "Here, young fellow," he said with a smile, as he started to
rub his neck, "you can have these sticks of celery for your pluck. You
are a brave chap, and did the right thing in trying to protect your
master."

Guildford's face was ashen grey, and he heaved out his breaths in quick
jerks. "I thought you'd be in it," he gasped, "but if I'd been sure five
seconds earlier, you'd have had a bullet through your head."

"He's got a gun," said one of the men, tugging an automatic pistol from
Guildford's hip pocket. "I'm Inspector Reynolds," he added, turning to
the handcuffed man, "and I arrest you for the murder of Henry Ashby, of
Rostrellor Court. I warn you that anything you say may be used as
evidence against you."

"You big fool!" sneered Guildford. "I'm not going to say anything, and
you can hold your tongue as well," and two minutes later the estate
agent of Mile End had bidden good-bye to his office for ever.

That night Ah Chung said to his relation, "There will be changes here
now, Ho Ling, and we will go quickly. That Mr. Mason has been taken by
the police to-day. He has stolen jewels from a great lord and he killed
a servant there. He will be hanged soon."

"Thou art wonderful, O, Ah Chung," said Ho Ling, "for so quickly thou
learnest everything."

"This morning I went into Voisin's," droned on Ah Chung, "and made a
search there. He was a careful man and I found 204 in a box under the
floor. It will pay for our journey to our country. He will not need it,
for he is dead."

"The dead have no want of meat or drink," commented Ho Ling solemnly,
"for the earth and the waters are their home."

"The police came into his house to-night," went on Ah Chung, "and it was
well that I had shut the secret door. But I saw, and I listened, and
they told strange tales. They said Voisin's hands had been tied behind
him, and he was suffocated in the mud of a ditch. He had been with Mr.
Mason to the lord's house and been hurt, and he could not run. They said
Mr. Mason had killed him."

"Death is all peace and rest," said Ho Ling softly, "and so Voisin will
labour and be weary no more."

"To-morrow I shall go to Mr. Brown or Sir Carrion," said Ah Chung, "and
ask for our reward. We shall keep silent tongues and they will give us
1000. Then we will destroy that pit for the rats and break up all those
cages, so that nothing will be here if the police come." He waved his
hand to his relation. "Thy dreams be happy ones, O, Ho Ling, for in
another moon we shall be among the waters of our home," and with a bow
of profound obedience and respect, Ho Ling glided from the room.




CHAPTER XII.--THE REJUVENATION OF AH CHUNG.


About seven o'clock upon the morning following the arrest of Guildford,
Sir Charles Carrion was seated at his desk. He looked haggard and worn.
He was writing upon a large sheet of paper in rather crabbed
handwriting.

"Life itself is the great mystery of life. We come we know not where,
and we go we know not whither, and in our dreaming only are we certain
of what lies beyond."

He put down his pen, and looking up murmured meditatively. "Yes, in all
times Death has held to its dark secret, and it is in the grave only
that it whispers out its tale." He grinned. "Mr. Sabine Guildford will
be soon listening to it, for he will swing for the murder of that
footman right enough." He sighed. "And I shall hear it, too, in months,
weeks--it may be almost in a few days, for I am very ill." He puckered
up his brows. "Funny that we four are bachelors, Guildford, Bascoigne,
Libbeus, and I myself!"

He was silent for a moment, and then continued his train of thought.
"Now I wonder if any of us would have been different if we had married,
for it seems somehow that in constant companionship a woman saps the
spirit of adventure from a man. Not the women who flit across those
burning moments of our youth, but the woman who year upon year sleeps by
our side, for then in an intimacy bereft of passion it seems that she
acquires a hold upon us, even as a mother acquires the hold upon her
child."

He picked up his pen and wrote on. "The glory of Life is Youth but it is
not given to Youth to wear its crown. Youth never realises its
sovereignty, or has visions of the mighty kingdom that it owns." He
sighed again, but more heavily this time. "It is not until the sunset
comes that we take notice of the beauty of the sky."

He stopped writing and looked up thoughtfully. "Ah! and there is that
young Benson there, and if I had my way he should know none of youth's
sweet follies, for I would take all his youth from him and give it to
some unknown old man." He paused for a few moments and then shook his
head frowningly as if he were arguing with himself. "No, life is always
pitiless and cruel, and it is written in the order of things that one
man's success and happiness shall be bought always with another's
failure and distress." He shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "So what
does it matter if this boy suffers for the advancement of all mankind?"

His eyes glistened. "Ah! but it would be the crowning achievement of my
life and I should go down to all history as one of the world's greatest
sons!" He leant back despondently in his chair. "But search while I will
I cannot, I cannot lay my hands upon the old man I want, and I see I
cannot go on detaining the boy here much longer, for both his mother and
his betrothed are agreeable people and their eagerness to have him back
home distresses me. They are convinced, too, that he is well enough to
leave now."

He wrote on for a long time, and then later after a frugal breakfast of
a cup of coffee and one small piece of toast, walked round to the
private hospital adjoining his residence.

His house was in the best part of Hampstead, and stood alone in some
four acres of well-timbered grounds, surrounded by a high wall, well
spiked at the top. The house itself was an old one, but some years
before he had built on to it a most elaborate private hospital, equipped
in every particular with the most modern improvements.

Time was when it had been always full, and he had kept a large staff,
but his incarceration in a mental asylum for upwards of three years had
mowed down his practice, and now his staff consisted of only two nurses
and a wardmaid. For the time being the only patient under his care was a
young fellow, Alan Benson, of twenty-three, who had recently been
operated upon for appendicitis.

With slow and lagging footsteps, for he was feeling very ill, Sir
Charles walked into the room where his patient was, and frowned with
annoyance when he saw a young and very pretty girl seated by the
bedside.

"Good morning, young lady," he said gruffly, "so you are upsetting my
patient again, I see." Then noticing that she was flushing
uncomfortably, he patted her gently upon the shoulder, and added with a
fatherly smile. "But there, there, a little palpitation won't do him any
harm. He's not as bad as all that."

"And when will he be able to come home, Sir Charles?" she asked eagerly.
"He says he feels quite well and strong."

"You wait outside for a few minutes," he replied, taking in admiringly
her blue eyes and beautiful colour, "and then, perhaps, I'll be able to
tell you."

He examined the young man very carefully, and then announced slowly:
"You're getting on well, my boy, but I am not satisfied that it is wise
for you to leave just yet." He nodded. "Give it another three or four
days and then it'll be quite all right."

He walked slowly from the room with thoughts in his mind that would have
terrified the young couple could they but have known them. "I'll ring
the Home for Aged Seamen," he told himself, "I helped young Pitcher to
get through his exam, and he ought to be willing to oblige me now. I
must certainly get some one within the next few days."

The girl was sitting again by the bedside. "Oh! how splendid!" she
exclaimed. "He told me you could come home on Saturday!" Her eyes filled
with tears. "Dearest, we have been so anxious."

"And I have some glorious news, too," said the boy, "that I was just
going to tell you when my jailer came in." His eyes sparkled. "Lord
Macklin told dad yesterday that as I can speak French and German he
could get me into the Diplomatic Service, and dad says if so we can be
married at once." He pressed her hand very softly. "You would like that,
wouldn't you, sweetheart?"

She pretended to hesitate. "Yes, I suppose so," she replied. She sighed
prettily. "I have given my promise and I won't draw back."

The boy laughed mockingly. "And you don't want to, of course, you little
angel!" His voice trembled. "Now what about next month on your birthday,
on the 12th?"

She bent down and pressed close to him so that he should not see her
face. "No, dearest," she whispered softly, "it shall be on your
birthday, the 27th." She kissed him tenderly. "It will be so sweet my
coming to you as your birthday present."

And at that moment Sir Charles Carrion was ringing up Dr. Pitcher, the
superintendent of the Home for Aged Seamen to inquire if the doctor
could spare him a few minutes if he came round early in the afternoon.

Now, so great is the influence of the mind upon the body that,
notwithstanding the physical condition of the great surgeon, a little
while later he was being driven up to his consulting rooms with quite a
cheerful and happy expression upon his face, for Dr. Pitcher had replied
that he would be delighted to see him, and would arrange to be at
liberty any time he called.

"And he's sure to have some old man there who is in need of surgical
interference of some kind," had commented Sir Charles, "so I'll whip the
old fellow up here to-night and operate to-morrow. Libbeus daren't
refuse to give the anaesthetic for me."

His nurse greeted him as he came in. "You have four appointments for
this morning, Sir Charles," she said, "and the first one is at eleven
o'clock, but there is a new patient waiting, who says he will be so much
obliged if you could spare him a few minutes."

Sir Charles looked at his watch. "I'm early," he said, "and you can show
him in. I can spare a quarter of an hour," and so Larose was almost
immediately being ushered into the room.

"Good morning, sir," said the ex-detective. "I am sure I am very much
obliged for your seeing me without an appointment. It is most kind of
you."

"Not at all," replied Sir Charles with a weary air. "I'm disengaged for
a few minutes, and quite at your service. What can I do for you?"

Larose produced a visiting card with "Roy Colliver, Gum Creek Hotel,
Kooringa" printed upon it.

"I'm an Australian," he said, "and am only staying here for a few weeks
and I particularly want your advice. I understand my friend, Monsieur de
Choisy-Hautville, spoke to you about me yesterday and----"

"Ah! so he did," broke in Sir Charles quickly. "He said you had had
stomach trouble and you didn't know whether you ought to have an
operation or not." His eyes twinkled. "A very interesting gentleman,
your friend, and he entertained me quite a lot. We were at Rostrellor
Court, as of course you know, when that dreadful affair took place
there." He clicked his tongue. "Tut! tut! what is the world coming to
when any night respectable people may be blown sky-high from their
beds?" He looked curiously at Larose. "But now tell me all about
yourself."

"Well, it's like this," began Larose starting to relate a tale that had
been most carefully rehearsed that morning with Croupin. "I keep a
hotel, as you see by that card, in Kooringa, in South Australia, and
about four months ago I was camping out with a friend in a lonely part
of the bush about 200 miles further away from Adelaide, when I was
suddenly taken with a violent attack of appendicitis, and----"

"How did you know it was appendicitis?" asked Sir Charles sharply. "Did
you diagnose the nature of the trouble yourself?"

"Oh! no," replied Larose, "but it happened that two gentlemen who are
both well-known surgeons in Adelaide came driving by in a car the third
day after the attack, and my friend recognising one of them stopped them
and asked them to come into the tent and see me."

"And they were of opinion you had had appendicitis?" asked Sir Charles.

"Yes, they said it was a typical case?" replied Larose glibly, "and they
didn't know what could be done for me. We were up in the bush a long way
beyond Lake Frome, and more than 150 miles from the nearest hospital.
The roads were terribly rough, and as they were in a little two-seater
car they were afraid to move me. They explained everything to me, and
said I had quite an even chance of getting over it, if I lay perfectly
still where I was, especially as the temperature was beginning to go
down."

"Oh!" remarked Sir Charles slowly, "and so they went off and left you?"

"No," replied Larose, "they remained with me for two days, and then, as
I was very much better, they said good-bye, warning me to not change my
position, and not to get up or move about for a week."

"Were they sure it was appendicitis?" asked Sir Charles with a frown.

"Perfectly!" said Larose. "I had all the symptoms."

"Then do you remember those symptoms," was the next question, "and
exactly how the pain came on?"

"Good heavens!" laughed Larose. "I should just think I do. Every moment
of those awful days will be engraved upon my mind for ever. One minute I
was seemingly a perfectly healthy man enjoying life to the full, and
almost the very next I was writhing about in dreadful agony." He
shuddered. "Oh! I shall never forget it."

"Writhing about, were you?" asked Sir Charles. He spoke in sharp
decisive tones. "Well, tell me exactly how everything commenced."

"I was sitting before the camp fire," began Larose, "and we had just
finished supper when I got a sharp pain in my right side, and when I
touched it I found it was terribly tender. The sharp pain kept coming
and going like the stabs of a knife and I became very feverish and
violently sick."

"And you were all right again very soon?" asked Sir Charles.

"Except for a little soreness," replied Larose, "in about 10 days from
the time of the first attack, and I have been all right every since." He
looked very uneasy. "But I am worried as to whether it is safe for me to
go back to Australia, without having an operation. All my friends tell
me I might be attacked again on the voyage."

"And you had never had any attack before?" asked Sir Charles.

"No," replied Larose, "not the semblance of one."

Sir Charles was now regarding him with a most peculiar expression upon
his face, and almost, Larose thought, as if he were inclined to be very
amused.

Quite a long silence followed and then the great consultant asked
carelessly: "And do you happen to remember the names of those two
Adelaide gentlemen who came so opportunely upon the scene?"

"Oh! yes," replied Larose promptly, "and I have written down their names
and qualifications on purpose for you to see," and producing a small
slip of paper, he handed it across to Sir Charles.

"Ah!" commented the latter dryly, "both Fellows of the College of
Surgeons, England, and both holding hospital appointments in their city.
No doubt both eminent men over there!"

A short silence followed and then suddenly Sir Charles leant back in his
chair and burst into a loud peal of laughter. He seemed to be enjoying a
great joke, and he laughed with such enjoyment that his face grew red
and tears came into his eyes.

For the moment Larose was too startled and amazed to make any comment,
and almost thinking he must be in the presence of a madman, he drew back
his chair a pace or two.

But Sir Charles's merriment subsided almost as suddenly as it had arisen
and wiping his eyes with his handkerchief, he began making the most
profuse apologies. "I am so sorry," he explained, "but I really couldn't
help it. It is altogether too funny."

"But I don't understand you," said Larose with ruffled dignity. "I came
here as a patient and----"

"No, you didn't," broke in Sir Charles sharply, and now as stern as a
judge upon the Bench. "You came here as nothing of the sort, and I want
to know what you mean by it." He drew himself up proudly. "My good sir,"
he went on contemptuously, "just fancy you having the impudence to come
to one of the greatest abdominal surgeons of his age and dish up a lot
of faked symptoms of trouble in your stomach, with the expectation of
taking him in." He looked witheringly at Larose. "Why! you never had
appendicitis, my friend, and no medical man in the world, let alone a
Fellow of the College of Surgeons, ever told you so." He chuckled in
amusement. "You've been reading up the symptoms from a book and got them
all muddled up."

After Sir Charles had so deftly called his bluff, Larose felt an icy
feeling running up his back, and his mouth was dry, but he put on a bold
front and said sternly: "Really, Sir Charles, when I came in here I
didn't expect----"

"To be caught out so easily," interrupted the great surgeon scornfully.
"No, I don't suppose you did." His face was full of mockery. "And
talking about your coming in, Mr.----Mr.----" he looked about for the
card that Larose had given him, but for the moment could not find
it--"well, never mind the name, for I'm sure it won't be your real one,
so I'll call you Mr. Snooks, for the moment." He nodded. "And a very
good name that, for I had a dog called Snooks once, and except that he
was an inveterate thief, he was quite an acquisition to the household."

He started to laugh again, and Larose, utterly discomfited, thought it
wisest to keep silent in the hope that he, in his turn, might soon trip
the baronet in some way.

Sir Charles went on. "Yes, speaking about your coming in here now--the
very moment you crossed the threshold my subconscious mind registered
that there was something strange about you. Your walk was furtive, and
you trod softly as if you had some nefarious and discreditable object in
view. You were coming to steal something or impose upon me for money in
some way!"

He roused himself up energetically in his chair. "Great Scot! man, you
don't understand the atmosphere of the consulting room of a professional
man. It is alive with queries, and deductions, and the whys and
wherefores of everything." He smiled genially. "For instance, outside I
may be absent minded and as a child in noticing anything, but in
here"--he slapped his hand upon the desk--"I possess instincts akin to
those of a beast of the wild, and the training and experience of nearly
forty years are as searchlights that flood every corner of my mind." He
shook his finger warningly. "So beware, my friend, of a tiger in his
lair and a medical man in his own consulting room."

He leant back and spoke in a most kindly tone. "Now, I'll tell you where
you went wrong, sir, when you were at such pains to reel off the tale of
all those pretty symptoms of yours." He spoke slowly and punctuated
every word with his hand. "A typical case of acute appendicitis, such as
you say those medical men said you had, does not commence with pain and
tenderness in the right side. On the contrary, its onset is ushered in
by central abdominal pain, pain in the pit of the stomach, pain
reflected from the appendix which is being distended by the inflammatory
products within." He bent forward. "Now, do you follow me, Mr. Snooks?"

Larose laughed. "It is a lecture, sir," he replied, "and as it is being
given by so eminent a surgeon, I suppose I ought to feel very grateful."

Sir Charles went on. "Then we have vomiting and then only when the very
sensitive lining of the abdomen, just over the appendix, becomes
irritated by the inflammatory products beneath, do we get that dreadful
pain and tenderness in the right side."

He laughed scornfully. "As for writhing about in your agony, you might
do that with pain in your tummy, but--goodness gracious! with pain from
an appendix, you would keep as still as a dead man, so that by no
movement should you add to your anguish."

He bent forward again suddenly. "Now, no nonsense my friend. Tell me
frankly who you are and what is the information that you considered of
sufficient value to pay my professional fee of three guineas for." He
screwed up his face. "Now, are you a detective by any chance and
suspicious about me, because when two of these mysterious bombs have
gone off, I have upon each occasion been near the place of the
explosion? I know I have made no secret of the fact that I was at the
conversazione of the Royal Society last week, as well as at Rostrellor
Court the other night." His voice was most imperious. "Come now, tell me
honestly if you are a detective."

And all this time Larose had been thinking quickly. He realised that he
had been outclassed in the unequal fight upon the surgeon's own ground,
and that to keep up the pretence that he had come as a patient was no
longer tenable. Besides, as a good judge of character he was sure now he
would get more out of the eccentric individual before him by arousing
his interest and being perfectly open.

"I am a detective, Sir Charles," he replied, slowly, "and I admit I am
suspicious of you." He spoke very grimly. "Now what time did you go up
to your room upon the night of the entry of those men into Lord
Rostrellor's house?"

"Ah! that's better!" exclaimed Sir Charles gleefully, "and my powers
cannot be failing to have so quickly forced such an admission from a
gentleman with the good forehead and facial angle that you possess. What
time did I go up to bed? I can tell you the exact moment. It was five
minutes past one and I was the last to ascend the stairs." He nodded. "A
courting couple had gone up just before me. They had been sitting in the
conservatory in the dark and he had kissed her for the first time." He
smiled. "At least, I suppose it was for the first time, because I was
just behind them and heard her say: 'Oh! you shouldn't have done that,'
which, if I remember aright, is always what a woman does say upon such
an occasion."

Larose thought of the episode of Angela and Croupin in the conservatory,
and could not for the moment suppress a smile. But he was grim and stern
again almost at once, and asked: "And what can you tell me about this
man Guildford?"

"He was a solicitor once," replied Sir Charles promptly, "but fourteen
years ago was sentenced to five years imprisonment and struck off the
rolls. Since then he has ostensibly carried on a business as an estate
agent in Mile End Road, but in reality he is supposed to have been
receiver of stolen goods, No. 1, for this great city of London." His
eyes twinkled. "All this I read in the newspapers this morning."

Larose frowned angrily. "But you have known him before, Sir Charles," he
said with the utmost confidence. He drew a bow at a venture. "We are
sure of that."

Sir Charles sniffed contemptuously. "Bluff, sir, bluff." His eyes
blazed. "I, consorting with a receiver of stolen goods! I, a gentleman,
sir, and the eleventh baronet of my line!" His tone was icy cold. "Who
told you so?"

Larose avoided the question. "Well, you admit you were in the hall at
Rostrellor Court a bare ten minutes before the house was entered through
the front door, and my opinion is you opened that door for them."

"And that opinion, my friend," returned the baronet dryly, "is of as
much value as that other one of yours when you thought you were
suffering from appendicitis,"--he sneered--"and when two eminent
practitioners from Adelaide arrived so opportunely to confirm the
diagnosis." He rose up from his chair. "And that is all the time I can
give." He bowed. "I will waive the matter of the fee, but still I think
it would be a gracious act upon your part to bring round some flowers or
a box of chocolates for my nurse. She is a nice girl, and would
appreciate either." He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. "Offer to
take her to the talkies and then you could pump her about me. You have
my full permission. Oh! one moment," he added quickly. "May I have the
pleasure of learning what is your real name?"

"Snooks," replied Larose gravely, "a very good name, and a most eminent
gentleman of this city thinks so, too."

"Ha! ha!" laughed Sir Charles merrily, "and that is the first score
you've made since you came into this room."

"Most unbalanced in his mind," muttered Larose when he was out in the
street again, "but clever--deuced clever." He grew hot with the
recollection. "Really, I never felt such a fool before in all my life."
He nodded. "But I'm very inclined to think he may be one of the Terror.
He tells everyone he has not long to live and in that case he is just
the type to run amok whilst he does." He nodded again. "Anyhow, he is my
mark now and I ought soon to be able to link him up with Bascoigne or
Guildford somehow."

* * *

That night about 8 o'clock Sir Charles was sitting in a very despondent
attitude at his desk. The afternoon had been one of great
disappointment, for Dr. Pitcher either could not, or would not, produce
an old man who was likely to be benefited by any operation and the great
surgeon had been much annoyed. He would, however, have been more annoyed
still had he been aware of what was passing in the doctor's mind.

Dr. Pitcher had not at all liked the look of his old friend, and,
moreover, had formed the decided opinion that the latter was now almost
bordering upon the mental. Sir Charles had been very evasive as to why
he was so anxious to operate upon someone, and all he had seemed to want
was to get one of the inmates of the Seaman's Home under his care upon
any excuse whatsoever.

Sir Charles heaved a great sigh, and taking up his pen, commenced to
write.

"The brave man has no fear of death, and it is only a contemplation of
the physical distress of dying that renders the thought of his passing
distasteful. The common herd, who neither think nor reason, apart from
the fantastic bogies of their imagination, fear death so much because
they die alone. Were a mass extinction of all mankind to loom suddenly
before the world, the elderly and the aged, for whom the grosser
pleasures of youth have lost their savour, would mind much less that
their days were numbered. It is the road that is lonely that terrifies
with its shadows."

He heard a ring at the front door bell, and put down his pen with an
uneasy frown. A minute later his butler appeared and announced that a
gentleman wanted to see him.

"He has no card, sir," went on the butler, "but----"

"I won't see him," broke in Sir Charles angrily. "Tell him my evenings
are my own."

"Very good," replied the butler, turning to leave the room. "He said his
name was Mr. Chung."

Sir Charles started as if he had been stung by a wasp. "Ah!" he
exclaimed instantly. "Wait, Rutter, wait. He is a Chinaman?" he asked.

"Yes, Sir Charles," was the reply, "but not a common one. He looks very
well dressed to me."

The baronet could hardly contain his excitement. "I'll see him," he said
quickly. "He is not a patient, and I forgot he was going to call. Show
him in at once. No"--a crafty look came over his face--"bring in some
glasses first, and the port and brandy."

The butler left the room and instantly all traces of despondency
disappeared from Sir Charles's face. His eyes sparkled and he rubbed his
hands delightedly. "It is fate, fate," he muttered, "and the man has
come at the appointed time. Elderly or not, I will rejuvenate him, and
when he passes again from under this roof it will be with stride and
strength of a young man in the early twenties." He threw out his hands
in his excitement. "Oh! what an opportune arrival!"

The butler returned with what had been ordered. "Shall I show him in,
Sir Charles?" he asked.

"No," replied the baronet, who had now taken up his pen again and was
pretending to frown over his manuscript. "I shall not be ready for a few
minutes, and then I'll fetch him myself. I suppose he's in the morning
room?"

The moment the butler had left the room Sir Charles lifted himself
softly out of his chair and, going to a small cupboard, took out some
little tablets from a bottle and, crushing them in a small mortar,
placed an equal portion of the powder in one of the wine glasses and one
of the tumblers upon the tray. Then with a genial smile upon his face he
went and fetched Ah Chung.

"Come in here, my friend," he said, ushering him into the study. "It is
much warmer, for there is a nice fire. Now sit down and tell me what you
want."

Ah Chung was certainly showing a good appearance, for he was well
dressed in a perfectly-fitting suit of good material, and he carried
himself with dignity, and his face was as calm and impassive as ever.

"I have sought for Mr. Brown," he said, in his soft and gentle voice,
"but he is not at his house in London, and his servant says he is not in
the country either. He has gone away, and they do not know where he is.
They do not know when he will return, and so I have come to you."

"And what, can I do for you, Mr. Chung?" asked Sir Charles, most
politely.

"I want my reward," said Ah Chung. "Mr. Brown said I should have 1000
as the profit of my share in the ammunition, and for other things I have
done."

"Certainly, you are entitled to it," said Sir Charles, "and I will see
that you get it."

"I want it now," said Ah Chung, "for in three days I sail for my own
country. I have secret news that the police are watching me, and I do
not want to meet trouble."

"What! You are leaving England in three days!" exclaimed Sir Charles.

"The ship sails on Friday," was the reply, "and I weary for the land of
my ancestors."

Sir Charles appeared to consider. "But I don't know what I can do in
three days," he said slowly. "Is it absolutely necessary you have the
money before then?"

"I want it now," said Ah Chung, "and it must be that you give it to me.
I should want it, too, if I were not sailing, for"--there was no threat
in his tones--"I have kept a still tongue."

"So have we for the matter of that," laughed Sir Charles. "It was best
for us all that no one should mention those amusing little exhibitions
you provided for us."

"But I know who you all are," went on Ah Chung very quietly, "and yours,
alone, is your real name. Mr. Brown is Mr. Oscar Bascoigne, Professor
Batcher is Dr. Libbeus, and as it is known now, Mr. Mason's name is
Guildford."

The baronet's jaw dropped, and he drew in a deep breath. Then his voice
was very stern. "So you have been an eavesdropper, Ah Chung? You have
been listening when we were in your room?"

Ah Chung did not attempt any denial. "The master of a house should learn
what goes on under his own roof," he said softly, "and it was wise I
should know who you were." He spoke quite respectfully. "You shot that
Lord of Burkington, Mr. Bascoigne killed the judge and that priest, Mr.
Guildford stabbed----"

"That's enough, my friend," broke in Sir Charles, with a hearty laugh.
"I admit it all. It is as you say." He looked the picture of merriment.
"And how many people, you old rascal, have you killed yourself? Can you
remember them all?"

"The lives of some are of little value," said Ah Chung, "and it is best
that the foolish pass away."

"And I suppose what it really amounts to," said Sir Charles dryly, "is
that you have got frightened, because Guildford has been caught."

"He was a weak link in the chain," sighed Ah Chung, "and his tongue may
not be silent as has been mine."

A long silence followed, and then Sir Charles sat up and drew out his
pass-book from a pigeon-hole in his desk. "I see I can give you a few
hundred in cash," he said after a few moments, "and the rest you must
take"--he looked inquiringly at the Chinaman, "do you understand what
bonds are--Government bonds?"

"I have some myself," replied Ah Chung.

Sir Charles laughed. "Good! a remarkable man, I see," was his comment.
"Then I'll make the rest in bonds, and you're lucky, because I have them
here in my safe."

He rose up from his chair and then suddenly his eyes seemed to fall upon
the tray the butler had brought in and placed upon a small table. "Ah!
but you will have a glass of wine," he said. "No?--then a little
brandy?"

"I never drink when I am on business," said Ah Chung quietly, "and I do
not like the wines you have in this country."

Sir Charles pressed him, but he refused resolutely, and so, with a smile
masking his chagrin, the baronet took a bunch of keys from his pocket
and passed behind the Chinaman to get at the safe.

Then suddenly Ah Chung received a stunning blow upon the back of his
head, and without a sound he slipped from his chair and in two seconds
was lying a huddled and inert figure upon the carpet.

Sir Charles sprang at him with the ferocity of a wild beast, drawing
back his arm to strike again. But it was unnecessary, for the Chinaman
was quite unconscious and dead to all the world.

"The poor fool, with all his cunning!" panted Sir Charles. "He might
have gone out in quite a comfortable way, and instead he forced me to
adopt these violent means." His eyes gleamed with maniacal fire. "And so
when all seemed hopeless, my glorious dream is coming true, for I shall
make history to-night." He paused suddenly and stood, with his finger
upon his lip. "No, not to-night. To-morrow, for I shall have a lot to
arrange first. The preliminary preparations need as much thinking out as
those for a great battle."

And then it would have seemed that there was no saner or more
resourceful and businesslike person in all the great city of London than
Sir Charles Carrion.

He went to the cupboard, and, taking a hypodermic syringe from its case
and a sterile needle from a glass tube, broke a small glass ampoule, and
gave the Chinaman an injection into one of the veins of his arm. Then he
laid him upon the sofa and covered him over with a large rug.

Next he rang for the butler, and, meeting him in the hall, told him he
desired to be disturbed by no one again that night, as he should be busy
writing. He added that the visitor had gone, and he himself had shown
him out.

Then, with the butler back in his own quarters, Sir Charles rang up Dr.
Libbeus.

"I shall want you to give an anaesthetic for me to-morrow morning at 7
sharp," he said quickly. "It is a very urgent case."

"What is it?" asked Dr. Libbeus.

"Thyroid," replied sir Charles, "and don't you be a minute late. Come
straight round to the hospital door, and take care you have all your
wits about you. I shall want you for about two hours."

"Seven o'clock's a ghastly time in cold weather like this," said the
doctor, "but I'll be with you all right."

Then Sir Charles ordered two tins of scallops to be sent round to the
nurses' quarters; and followed it up by himself taking them a part of a
decanter of port.

"It's my birthday," he told the nurses with a beaming smile, "and I
remembered it only this evening. Just warm up the scallops for about
five minutes and then serve them with white sauce. They are the most
delicious shell fish I know of, and are better than oysters every time.
You can give young Mr. Benson some and a glass of wine as well. They
will do do him good." He shook his finger warningly at them. "But mind,
young ladies, not more than two glasses for either of you. That's quite
enough for any girl."

"Isn't he a dear," said one nurse to the other when he had gone. "The
patients and every one simply loved him when he was at Bart's. He was
always so kind and sympathetic."

The following morning, long before 7 o'clock, Sir Charles was waiting at
the door to let Dr. Libbeus in, and he frowned irritably when the latter
appeared. "Almost late," he snapped. "It's only two minutes to the
hour."

They proceeded into the ante-room, adjoining the operating theatre, and,
washing and sterilising their hands, put on their theatre gowns.

"What exactly is it you are going to do?" asked Dr. Libbeus, who seemed
heavy and in an apathetic state of mind.

"The operation of my life," replied Sir Charles excitedly, "the
rejuvenation of an old man. I am going to transfer to him certain glands
of a youth, and it will take thirty years off his life."

"But what glands?" asked Dr. Libbeus incredulously, roused from his
apathy all at once.

"The thyroid, the adrenals, and the gonads," replied Sir Charles
majestically. "I would transfer the pineal as well, but I don't think
they'd stand it. It would take too long."

"But, good God, man!" exclaimed Dr. Libbeus aghast, "it's murder, and
the two of them will die, and then----"

"I will sign the death certificates," broke in Sir Charles firmly, "one
due to cerebral haemorrhage and the other to cardiac failure." He shook
his head emphatically. "But they won't die, I'm certain. They will both
get over it, and then"--his voice rose in triumph--"my name will be
remembered for ever."

"And the young man," gasped Dr. Libbeus, "have you thought of him?"

"Certainly I have," replied Sir Charles sternly. "He will be able to
devote all his energies to whatsoever occupation he chooses, for I shall
have saved him from the calls to the lower nature of his youth." He
gripped the doctor by the arm, and led him towards the theatre. "Come
on, it is too late now to draw back," and Dr. Libbeus, with his will
weakened by years of drug-taking, just shrugged his shoulders and gave
in.

Sir Charles and Libbeus entered the theatre where Ah Chung lay stretched
out all ready, and drugged as a thing of death upon the narrow operating
table. There was another table, but unoccupied, close by his side.

"But where are the sisters?" asked Dr. Libbeus, his hands trembling and
his mouth gaping.

"We shall be quite alone, my friend," laughed Sir Charles, "for they are
both indisposed and unable to come on duty." He grinned. "They partook
of tinned scallops last night, and are now terrified they may be
suffering from bad ptomaine poisoning. As a matter of fact, however,
they have been slugged with a large dose of calomel, and they are
twisting about with colicy pains." His eyes glistened. "Now I have got
everything ready, for I have been hard at work all night. I have not had
a wink of sleep."

"But where is the other pa--subject?" asked Dr. Libbeus, looking round.

"In his bed until I want him," replied Sir Charles, "and deeply under a
basal narcotic." He went on quickly. "Now we shall have no trouble at
all. I purpose first to dissect out every gland from this old man, but
leave each one in its surroundings, so that two snicks only with the
knife will enable me to lift them out. Then I am going to bring the boy
in, remove every gland of his in turn, and rapidly transfer them to this
old man." He drew the trolly of instruments up to the table. "Now, are
you ready?"

Dr. Libbeus was frowning heavily. "I don't like to have anything to do
with it," he said, "and damn you, I wish I'd never seen you." He took up
his mask reluctantly and then looked round in a very dubious manner.
"And I don't like the heat here either, you've got the place much too
hot."

"It's only seventy," snarled Sir Charles. "I looked at the thermometer
there, just before you came in."

Dr. Libbeus walked over to where he indicated, and immediately gave a
low whistle. "Whew!" he exclaimed, "but it's seventy-four now." He
raised his voice. "It's cursed dangerous with an anaesthetic at this
temperature, as you know. There's that great risk of a spark coming from
anywhere, when, as in here, now, there's not sufficient moisture, in the
air to make a proper earthing."

"You needn't worry about any discharges of electricity in this theatre,"
scoffed Sir Charles. "All the floor's rubbered, and the trolly wheels,
too, as you can see."

"But think of the inflammatory vapour that will be all round us
everywhere in five minutes!" went on the doctor impressively. "We shall
be surrounded by the highest explosive mixture possible, seventy five of
oxygen and five of ether, or thereabouts, and I tell you I don't feel
safe."

"Poof!" sneered Sir Charles contemptuously. "It's been used in the
theatre for years and years, and nothing's happened yet." He jerked his
head impatiently. "Get on with the anaesthetic, man."

More reluctantly than ever, so it seemed, Dr. Libbeus prepared to adjust
his mask, but then, glancing down upon the operating table, he started
suddenly.

"But it's Ah Chung!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "Did he give you his
consent then?"

"Upon my word of honour," replied Sir Charles testily, "I assure you he
never made the slightest objection. Come on. Start away, please."

"Well, damn you, again I say," said Dr. Libbeus sullenly, "and whatever
you do don't start jolting my trolly. In my opinion we are as near dying
as this poor devil here, and you'd better be mumbling your prayers."

He adjusted his mask, however, and proceeded to administer the
anaesthetic.

Then minute after minute passed, and there was complete silence in the
theatre, except for the gentle hissing of the oxygen as it issued from
the cylinder to pass over the ether, and the sharp clicking in the tray
as the surgeon changed one instrument for another.

"That's all ready," he said at last, "and now for the adrenals. I'll
take the left kidney first," and he proceeded to very gently turn the
patient to the position that he wanted.

At the same moment Dr. Libbeus made a slight movement with the face
piece he was holding over the patient's mouth and nose to accommodate
himself to the altered position of the latter's head. The covering of
the gas bag then seemed to rub upon the rubber bag itself, for
instantly--a spark was emitted, and in the thousandth fraction of a
second the operating table and all round it was bathed in a shroud of
flame. Then the ether container was blown into fragments with a violent
explosion, and two seconds later a much more terrible one occurred, as a
large bottle of ether upon the anaesthetic trolly exploded, too.

The whole theatre instantly became a sheet of flame. Dr. Libbeus was
flung back with such force upon the floor that he immediately lost
consciousness, whilst Sir Charles Carrion, with a yell of pain, darted
in the direction of the door, covering his eyes with his hands.

Only Ah Chung made no movement and no sound. He was quite dead, for the
vapour in his lungs had exploded also.

The great surgeon just failed to reach the door, and then he crashed
down, to moan and grope blindly with his hands.

Two awful minutes followed. Then came the sound of hurried footfalls,
and the door of the theatre was violently flung open, and the butler,
with one of the nurses close behind him, burst in. For just a second, at
the sight of the licking flames, the butler hesitated, and then, bending
his head low down, he sprang forward and dragged his master outside.
Then holding his breath, and unmindful of their burning clothing, he
next rescued Dr. Libbeus and then the dead Chinaman.

All that could be done in the way of first aid was rendered, and then
the telephone was set ringing and the firemen and the ambulance quickly
arrived.

Dr. Libbeus died on the way to the hospital, and his body and that of Ah
Chung were soon lying side by side in the mortuary, but Sir Charles,
although terribly burnt about the head, face, and legs, remained
conscious and appeared to be quite aware of all that was going on.

"No hope," he murmured faintly to the casualty officer who bent over
him. "I shall be out within a few hours, so give me plenty of morphia
and don't mess me about."

They asked him if he would like to say anything about how it all
happened, but he made no reply. Then he asked suddenly how the others
were, and when they tried to evade a direct answer, he remarked with
little interest. "Dead, eh?" adding after a moment, "and a damned good
thing, too."

Then he lapsed into semi-consciousness and no further attempts were made
to question him.




CHAPTER XIII.--"THE WAYS OF DEATH."


The day of the explosion in the operating theatre of Sir Charles
Carrion's private hospital was a very busy one for Scotland Yard, for it
was stretching out its tentacles in all directions.

It had been quite aware of the urgent operation that was going to be
performed at 7 o'clock that morning, and, moreover, that a certain
Professor Batcher, of Queen Anne's street, whose name did not appear
upon the Medical Register, was going to give the anaesthetic. Also, it
had surmised that the Chinaman who had called at Sir Charles's private
residence the previous evening at 8 o'clock, and had not been seen to
come out again, was presumably going to be the patient.

Of all this, too, Larose had been kept informed, for he had waited upon
the Chief Commissioner the previous afternoon, and, expressing his
profound suspicion of Sir Charles, had asked that the latter's telephone
should be listened into forthwith, and all the great consultant's
movements be kept under the closest observation.

So it had happened that the arrival of two Chinamen the previous night
to the entrance to the drive leading up to Sir Charles's house had been
noted by three plain-clothes men, who were on the watch in different
parts of the road there. Then they had seen the two Chinamen part
company, one disappearing up the drive and the other moving off for
about 50 yards, to take up a position where he could watch until his
friend came out again.

But the night was cold and frosty, and the waiting Chinaman had soon not
been content with just stamping his feet and flapping his arms about to
keep warm. So, instead, he had started to take quick, sharp walks of a
couple of hundred yards or so, continually glancing back, however, to
make certain that his friend had not yet reappeared.

Presently then, upon one of these excursions, he had seen a motor car
swerve into a barrow and almost run over the man who was pushing it, and
in the interest of the angry quarrel that ensued, he had allowed his
attention to be engrossed for a period that he realised all suddenly had
been much longer than it should have been. So, after glancing quickly at
his watch, he had started running back towards Sir Charles's residence.
Arriving at the entrance to the drive, he had hesitated a moment as if
doubtful what to do, and then, evidently thinking that his friend must
have come out when he was watching the car, with no more ado he had
taken himself off at once.

The chief of the plain-clothes men had been half inclined to detach one
of his assistants to follow him, but, then, knowing the other Chinaman
had not yet come out of the drive, and reckoning he must be the more
important of the two, had decided it was best not to weaken his forces
so early in the night, but just let this second man go.

So things had been up to 7.45 the next morning, when Larose received the
news of what had just happened at Sir Charles Carrion's place in
Hampstead, and within half an hour he was on the spot, along with a
couple of men from the Yard. The ambulance had gone off some minutes
ago, but the firemen were still on watch to make sure there was nothing
continuing to smoulder among the ruins.

The fire had been an easy one to put out, having been entirely confined
to the theatre and the anteroom.

The butler had been badly burnt about the hands in his heroic rescues,
and was in considerable pain, but, as in his master's absence he had
been always in sole charge of everything, he had refused now to leave
the premises, and so had been put to bed in the ward by the nurses, and
a local doctor called in.

Strict injunctions had then immediately been issued by the latter that
on no account were any pressmen or others to approach the butler for
interviews. The man was to be kept perfectly quiet, and no strangers
were to go near him.

But it was one thing to give this order to the two nurses, and quite
another to insist upon its enforcement to a very grim-faced Larose,
accompanied by another equally uncompromising Detective-Inspector from
Scotland Yard.

It was not just a matter, explained Larose, of the injuries to the
butler's hands and the probable death of both doctors, in addition to
that of the Chinaman which had already occurred. It was a matter
possibly of many other deaths that had been occurring during the last
few weeks, and therefore it was vital that the butler should give
certain information at once.

"But, damn it all man," insisted the doctor, warmly, "I don't feel
justified in exposing my patient to any such risk. He is suffering from
bad shock as it is."

"And I won't add to it, I promise you, doctor," replied Larose equally
firmly. "I needn't be with him three minutes. I just want to find out
who that Chinaman was, and you shall stop my questioning any moment if
you think I am upsetting your patient too much."

The doctor continued to object, but Larose handled him tactfully, and so
at length he gave way. "But mind you," he said sternly, "you've promised
to stop the moment I tell you and I shall expect you to adhere to your
word. Remember, too, that apart from his physical suffering, the man is
naturally in a condition of great distress about his master."

Upon being taken into the ward, Larose found the butler looking
desperately ill, and he did not wonder the doctor had preferred no one
should come near him. The man's eyes were wandering blankly round, and
it almost seemed that he was not in full possession of his senses.

Fearful that at any moment the doctor might order him away, Larose at
once bent down, and laying his hand upon the butler's shoulder in order
to make sure of attracting his attention came at once to the point.

"Was that Chinaman who was upon the operating table this morning," he
asked, "the same one who called last night?"

The butler appeared to be startled by the question, and then fixing his
eyes upon Larose, stared and stared, but all the time as if quite
unaware that he was being spoken to.

Larose repeated the question very quietly, and then the butler awoke at
once to life and understanding.

"That's what I don't know, sir," he said quickly, "for all Chinamen seem
alike to me." He looked very troubled. "And I'm very puzzled about the
whole business. The Chinaman who called last night wasn't in the house
20 minutes, and the bell never rang again." He shook his head. "Yet,
this morning Sir Charles was operating upon another Chinaman who somehow
had arrived during the night."

"Did you let the first Chinaman out yourself?" asked Larose, holding his
breath to await the reply.

"No, sir, Sir Charles let him out," said the butler. "He rang for me and
told me so in the hall. He also said he didn't want to be disturbed
again, for he was going to be busy with his writing until late at
night." He shook his head. "He had said nothing to any of us about this
early operation, Although directly I got back into the kitchen I heard
him on the 'phone, and think now he must have been arranging about it."

"Then you don't know anything about this visitor who called last night?"
asked Larose.

"No, sir, nothing at all," replied the butler, "for I'd never seen him
before. He said, however, that his name was Chung."

Larose's heart gave a big jump, but then, noting out of the tail of his
eye that the doctor was now jerking his head in the direction of the
door as if to intimate that the questioning had gone on quite long
enough, he asked quickly: "And were the Professor and Sir Charles great
friends?"

"Only just recently," replied the butler, his voice now obviously
beginning to weaken, "for up to about three months ago the professor had
never come here. But he's been here a lot lately, for they've been
making experiments together in the laboratory." He closed his eyes.
"Something--to--do--with--ammunition--Sir Charles--told--me--once."

The doctor plucked Larose sharply by the arm. "That'll do," he said.
"Not another word, now," and Larose with his pulse beating quickly, was
almost pushed out of the ward.

Thanking the doctor he next proceeded to interview the head nurse, and
the mystery of everything at once deepened. She told him of how she and
the other nurse, along with the only patient in the hospital, had
suddenly become ill after eating some tinned scallops Sir Charles had
sent them, and how she had been obliged to call him in the night; how
she had found him up and dressed, and how he had given them all sleeping
draughts, but had said nothing about any operation. Then, how finally
she had been awakened by the noise of the explosion in the theatre, and
what happened after.

Larose listened thoughtfully, and then, having asked a few more
questions, said he was going to the laboratory.

"But you'll want poor Sir Charles's keys," the nurse said tearfully,
"for it's always kept locked," and she produced a bunch of keys that had
been in the surgeon's pockets when his clothes had been cut away.

Then Larose, accompanied by Detective-Inspector Martin, made his way
round to the laboratory, an isolated building about a hundred yards from
the house away among the trees, and their eyes opened in amazement the
moment they were inside.

"Explosives!" ejaculated Larose incredulously. "Good God! and someone's
been making bombs here!"

And certainly, even to the most untrained eye there would have been
something suspicious about the contents of the large room. Huge carboys
of heavy looking liquids, nitric and sulphuric acids, and glycerine,
long black packages with broad danger stripes of red down their sides,
long lengths of fusing and fulminate caps of all descriptions. Then
there were iron cases of varying sizes that looked like bombs, all
waiting to be filled.

Inspector Martin whistled. "It's like a young arsenal," he exclaimed
excitedly, and then seeing an innocent-looking attache case lying
against the wall, he started to pick it up to examine what was inside.
But he did not shift it more than half an inch from the floor, and then
with a very white face he put it softly back in its place. "As heavy as
lead, and perhaps all ready to go off!" he whispered. "Gosh! if I'd only
let it fall!"

Making arrangements for the laboratory to be guarded, Larose gave a
lightning survey over Sir Charles's study, and then, locking and sealing
the door, proceeded at once to the hospital to which the injured men had
been taken.

There he learnt Sir Charles Carrion was in a semi-conscious state, and
likely to pass away any moment, and that Professor Batcher was already
dead and in the mortuary with the Chinaman. He examined both the bodies,
but was no wiser in consequence, for they were both strangers to him. He
arranged, however, that their finger prints should be taken at once, and
hurried down to Scotland Yard.

Then, after a very brief interview with the Chief Commissioner, by half
past 10 he was being driven down to Limehouse with a search-warrant to
go through the premises of Ah Chung. He was accompanied by Inspector
Martin, who was well acquainted with the Chinese quarter in the East
End, and two plain-clothes men.

He was hoping by acting thus expeditiously to get to Ah Chung's house
before any of its inmates could have become aware of the Chinaman's
death, but, as it so happened, although he was not to learn it that
morning, he was just one hour too late.

It was Ho Ling who had accompanied Ah Chung to Hampstead the previous
evening, and, being most uneasy that his relation had not returned when
he himself had arrived back home about half-past 10, he had sat up all
night to wait for him. Then when morning came and there was still no
sign of the missing man, he had become very alarmed, and by 7 o'clock
had set off to try to find out what had happened.

He had arrived at Sir Charles's just at the very moment when the
ambulance was coming out of the drive and, standing among the crowd who
were being kept back by a policeman, he had heard a butcher-boy tell a
woman that there had been a dreadful fire, and two doctors and a Chink
had been burnt to death. "Them were their bodies," the boy had added,
"that the ambulance has just took away."

Quite certain that the Chinaman could have only been Ah Chung, he had
waited a few minutes to overmaster his horror before approaching the
policeman, who had then at once confirmed the facts. Then with no delay
he had speeded back to the Causeway and made known what had happened.

Ah Chung's two young wives had immediately started to wail, but they had
been sternly repressed in the callous oriental manner, and then a
conference of all the relations of Ah Chung had been held.

Naturally, they were all staggered at the death of their compatriot, for
they could hazard no guesses even as to how it had come to happen. But
they quickly masked their grief and ceased all speculations for the
moment realising that they must set to work at once, for there were
certain things of which it was desirable the authorities should not
become aware.

They had no reason to expect a police-raid, but at the same time they
thought it wisest, as far as possible to be prepared for one.

So the two wives were promptly bundled over to the lodging-house next
door, and all of Ah Chung's valuables that could be found, as well as
certain other things, were laid hands upon and transferred to the same
quarter.

They would have liked to dismantle everything in the big shed, but that
they knew would have been a matter of at least two or three days, and to
be caught in the act of doing it, they realised, would have looked very
suspicious. So they decided to meet everything with blank looks and the
attitude that they know nothing of Ah Chung's affairs, and with that end
in view only two old men were left upon the premises in which the marine
store was situated, all the others betaking themselves off to the
adjoining houses.

And they were only just in time, for not a quarter of an hour later a
police car drove up and stopped in front of Ah Chung's. It contained
four passengers besides the driver, and the former at once sprang out
and entered the marine store of the dead man.

"We're police," announced Inspector Martin curtly to an old Chinaman who
came to the door of Ah Chung's store. "Who are you?"

The old Chinaman seemed in no way alarmed. "Me Wen Loo," he replied
softly. "Me shop-man for Ah Chung."

"Who else is on the premises?" asked the inspector sharply.

"Another shop-man who help in the house," replied Wen Loo. He looked
over his shoulder. "He is here. He is Fo Sin."

"Well, I've bad news for you," said the inspector at once, dropping his
sharp tone and speaking very kindly. "A terrible accident has happened
to your master, and he died just before 8 o'clock this morning."

"He will be back velly soon," said Wen Loo, with no expression on his
face. "He gone out last night for little vile."

"But I tell you he's dead man," snapped the inspector. "I've just come
away from his dead body."

"He say he come back," insisted Wen Loo. "He have business to do
somewhere," and then it was only by much reiteration that the two
Chinamen could be made to realise what had happened.

But they expressed no horrified comments, and just stood regarding the
inspector as if he had imparted news of a most casual nature.

"Well, I've a search warrant to go through the house," the inspector
went on briskly to the elder Chinaman, "and you'd better come with me.
I've got all the keys that were found in Mr. Chung's clothes."

Leaving one of the plain-clothes men behind in the shop they proceeded
to go through the rooms one by one. The upper ones were well and even
richly furnished, and Larose expressed his astonishment at finding so
much luxury in so poor a quarter.

"Pooh! that's nothing," exclaimed the Inspector. "Some of these Chinks
down here are worth a lot of money. They get hold of it somehow and"--he
nodded significantly--"we'd often like to know how."

Presently they came to a large bedroom even more comfortably furnished
still, and the inspector sniffed hard. "But this is a woman's bedroom,"
he said sharply, turning to Wen Loo. "It reeks of scent. Now who sleeps
here?"

"No one for to-day," replied the Chinaman softly, "but Mr. Chung have
visitors sometimes. Two ladies were here just a little vile ago." His
face was quite expressionless. "They vere his aunts, he say."

The detectives found nothing of much interest to them in the house,
except a number of photographs of finger-marks, which Larose at once
thrust into his pocket. But in the yard when they had unlocked the door
of the big shed and switched on the lights, they had hardly taken a
glance round before they were nodding to each other significantly.

"A rat pit!" commented the Inspector sharply. "All the paraphernalia for
cock-fights, too, and"--he examined the big cages quickly--"if I am not
very much mistaken, from the amount of dried blood here, fights between
large animals have been staged here as well." He turned sternly to Wen
Loo. "Who come here?"

But the Chinaman for the first time now betrayed surprise. "Me not
know," he said, with his puzzled eyes roaming round and round. "Me not
been here before."

"You liar!" snarled the inspector angrily. "Don't you tell us that. You
know everything that's being going on here."

"Me not been in here," insisted the Chinaman firmly. "It is Ah Chung's
business, and he talk never what he does. No one know much about him."

And that was the attitude with which the detectives were received in the
adjoining houses on either side.

Indeed, no one seemed to know anything much about Ah Chung. He was a man
of mystery, and avoided by all! No one liked him, for it was thought he
was in the pay of the police, and he quarrelled with every one! One
Chinaman, indeed, Ho Ling by name, who kept the bird and live stock
shop, had not spoken to him for years! Also, it was the same with Ming
Chow, who kept the lodging house on the other side. Ah Chung was his
enemy, and he would have put him wrong with the police if he could! He
was an evil man, and dangerous to have any dealings with!

Then when they were asked if they ever heard of Sir Charles Carrion or
Mr. Sheldon-Brown they all looked as innocent as little children. No,
they had never heard of either of them, but of Mason, the estate agent,
they had of course heard. They had read all about him in the paper, and
he was going to be hanged. He was supposed to have killed their
neighbour, Voisin, too, the barber who lived at the back. No, they none
of them knew Voisin to speak to, but most of them knew him by sight. He
drank much whisky and was often seen coming out of 'The Bargeman's
Friend.' The detective spent about two hours questioning them, and then
drove away, leaving, however, the two plain-clothes men in Ah Chung's
store.

"But I'll go back there in an hour or so with an interpreter and more
help," nodded Inspector Martin with an unpleasant scowl.

"Do you think they've been telling us the truth?" asked Larose
thoughtfully. "It seems to me----"

"The truth, sir!" exclaimed the inspector scornfully. "Great Jupiter,
no!" He grinned. "We've been listening to a pack of lies from the very
first moment we arrived, and if we only knew it every man jack of them
is a relation of Ah Chung." He looked very amused. "Why, probably that
Ho Ling is Ah Chung's brother, and it's quite possible one of the old
Chinks there is his dad."

* * *

Late that night Larose called again at the hospital where Sir Charles
had been taken, and learnt that the baronet was in extremis and likely
to pass away any moment. Then, after a long argument with the resident
medical officer, he was allowed to enter the ward and approach the bed
of the dying man.

Sir Charles's head was all swathed in bandages, and only one ear and a
portion of his mouth were visible.

Larose bent down and whispered very quietly. "I'm Larose, Gilbert
Larose."

Then to his great surprise Sir Charles spoke back instantly, softly, but
quite distinctly. "Oh! you are, are you?" he said as if with no
astonishment. A ghost of a chuckle gurgled behind the bandaged lips.
"Well, no one can do me any harm now, for I put on the black cap for
myself when I came in here, hours ago." He sighed. "I'll be on that
mortuary slab before morning."

"And we know all about you," whispered on Larose, "all you have done,
and Dr. Libbeus and Guildford and Oscar Bascoigne."

"Very interesting," commented Sir Charles, with some faint amusement,
"but the curtain is falling much too early. I was only just getting into
my stride."

Larose made a grimace of dismay, for he had thought that if the baronet
spoke at all it would be in a very different vein.

"Well, as some atonement," he said very solemnly, "tell me how we can
prove that Oscar Bascoigne killed Sir John Lorraine. Bascoigne is the
last of you four, and we want direct evidence against him."

"Then you won't get it from me," whispered Sir Charles very faintly,
"for, ever since time was, no Carrion has been known to betray
anyone"--he chuckled--"except perhaps a few women." He sighed. "No, I'll
die a gentleman."

"You won't tell me anything, then, about Oscar Bascoigne?" asked Larose
after a short silence.

"No, nothing," was the scarcely audible reply, "except that he's hot
after Fairfax and will get him sure as hell." His voiced began to trail
away. "Go--away--please. I--want--to--die--in--peace."

Larose tiptoed softly from the room, and learnt next day that when the
chimes of midnight were sounding the baronetcy of the Carrions became
extinct.

* * *

About a week later the Chief Commissioner of Police was arguing with
Gilbert Larose, and, as usual, the two were not seeing eye to eye.

"I admit, Mr. Larose," said the Commissioner, "that there is not the
slightest doubt that three out of the four of that dreadful gang have
been laid by the heels. Two of them are dead and buried and the third
will assuredly hang, but"--and he shrugged his shoulders--"upon
whatsoever charge can we arraign this fourth man, Sheldon-Brown, or
Oscar Bascoigne, whichever he may be?"

"If there be any value in circumstantial evidence," replied Larose
doggedly, "we have enough to hang him twice over. That he had committed
two murders himself we can be sure and----"

"We have no witnesses," broke in the Commissioner.

"But we have the motives," insisted Larose testily, "and upon both
occasions we can prove he has been upon the scene of the crime at the
very hour when----"

"We have not the motives," cried the Commissioner, interrupting for the
second time, "and we shall never have them until we can satisfy a stolid
British jury that in the finger-print department of Scotland Yard it is
always possible for the finger-prints and descriptions of one, Thomas
Smith, to become changed to those of another, Albert Brown." He leant
forward and spoke most kindly. "Look here, my friend. As you say, there
is a large amount of circumstantial evidence suggesting that
Sheldon-Brown was a member of the gang and the actual murderer of Sir
John Lorraine and Archdeacon Lendon, but"--he spoke very
solemnly--"there is little value in all this circumstantial evidence
until it be supplemented by some direct evidence as well. You
understand?"

Larose nodded grimly. "Yes," he grunted, "it is necessary for me to
catch him cutting Brown's throat before you will be prepared to consider
he may have cut Smith's."

The Commissioner smiled. "That's it, exactly," he replied. "A little
direct evidence and the value of the circumstantial kind will be
increased a hundredfold."

He looked up at the almanac upon his desk. "Now the trial of Guildford
comes off in exactly three weeks, and the killing of that footman will
be the only charge we are bringing against him." He looked very sharply
at Larose. "We might have brought a lot of kudos to the Yard by
arraigning him upon the other charges as well, but we have yielded to
you there."

"Yes," nodded Larose, "and what good would it have done us by exposing
our hands? We should have gained nothing by it and only warned Oscar
Bascoigne"--he looked sternly at the Commissioner--"what we know about
him." He sighed. "But good God! How easy it would have been to bring
home those other murders to Guildford!"

"Yes," exclaimed the Commissioner with a ring of triumph in his voice,
"because we should then have had this proven murder to give a background
to the other charges we are bringing against him." His face beamed.
"That is all we want about this Sheldon-Brown, sir. Catch him fairly out
in another crime and he'll break like a rotten stick in our hands."

A short silence followed, and then Larose got to his feet.

"Then you absolutely refuse to tackle this Sheldon-Brown," he asked,
"upon the evidence I have produced?"

"I do," replied the Commissioner, emphatically. He smiled kindly. "But
don't give it up yet, Mr. Larose, I pray you, for remember you are the
man that never fails," and with an answering smile, in which, however,
there was not much warmth, Larose left the room.




CHAPTER XIV.--LAROSE BAITS HIS TRAP.


A week went by after the conversation between the Chief Commissioner of
Police and Gilbert Larose, and then one crisp November morning the
latter arrived at Mortimer Fairfax's chambers in Lincoln Inn's Fields,
and asked to see the K.C.

He was not kept waiting long, and then directly he was ushered into
Fairfax's room, the latter remarked drily: "More sentences of death, I
suppose, Mr. Larose, and the day of execution getting nearer!"

Larose nodded solemnly. "I had not much to go upon when I warned you
last time, sir," he said, "but now I have obtained evidence of a
concrete nature, and I assure you the danger is very great."

"Sit down," said Fairfax, with his eyes and mouth smiling, but with his
face grown an ugly grey. "I am quite interested."

"But no harm will come to you," smiled back Larose, "if you meet the
situation bravely and make it possible for us to get hold of your
would-be assassin before the sentence can be carried out."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed the K.C., "then the time of which you spoke has
arrived, and I am to hand over my poor carcase as the bait for your
trap."

"Well, not exactly," laughed Larose, "but of course we want you to be on
the spot as the star attraction. We'll take care, however, that no one
gets near you."

"But what's this extra evidence you've got," asked the K.C., "that this
scoundrel is really coming after me to take my life?"

"A little less than a fortnight ago," replied Larose, speaking very
slowly, "one of Bascoigne's confederates died as the result of an
accident. He would not give us the information we required, but I had
speech with him just before he died, and his last words were that
Bascoigne was upon your trail," and then Larose proceeded to relate
quickly the greater part of all that had taken place, since that
afternoon when they had first met at Mrs Fox-Drummond's in Surbiton.

"But good Lord!" exclaimed Fairfax, looking very amazed, "how on earth
you have managed to keep all this from the public I don't know." He
clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "And fancy Carrion
being one of the band of madmen! I have known him for more than twenty
years and the whole business would be inconceivable if it were not
public property that he was almost a homicidal lunatic when he was put
away about eight years ago." He looked thoughtfully at Larose. "But that
finding of the scored newspaper in Bascoigne's desk doesn't certainly
look too good for me, quite apart from what Carrion told you!"

"No, it doesn't," agreed Larose significantly, "and what I've witnessed
this past week makes it much worse."

"Go on," smiled the K.C. "Let's have the whole issue. I'll have to go
through it, I see."

But there was no answering smile upon Larose's face and he started to
tell his story. "I've been shadowing Bascoigne for six days now," he
said, "and five of them I have spent in Crowborough." He punctuated his
words with his hand. "On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday he was
in the garden nearly all day, practising at a miniature rifle-range he's
got there"--the K.C. made an uncomfortable grimace here--"then on
Saturday morning he went off in his car, and later I made my way over to
Ingatestone. I sat among some bushes in a field opposite your house, and
during the afternoon saw him drive by twice. He drove very slowly, and
upon both occasions stared up towards your house. I also saw him go by
once, on Sunday morning, and then he was back at Crowborough the same
evening. I left him there last night."

"Hum!" remarked the K.C. "Practising in his garden with a rifle was he?"
He grinned. "What sort of a shot is he?"

"Not too bad," replied Larose. "His rifle is a small .22 and his target
is always placed at thirty yards."

"Just about the distance from the garden wall to the middle of my
dining-room," commented the K.C. dryly, "and I always sit at the head of
the table near the window." He looked sharply at Larose. "Now tell me
exactly what you suggest. Do you want to catch the fellow in the very
act of taking a pot shot at me with his .22?"

"Certainly not," replied Larose warmly, "but we do want to catch him in
your vicinity in suspicious circumstances, with a weapon, a fire-arm
preferably, ready to take the vengeance we are sure he has all along
been waiting to exact." He went on quickly. "You see we have most
definite proof that there were two men particularly upon whom he might
want to take revenge, you and Sir John Lorraine, and we can show,
definitely again, that he was in the vicinity of the Judge when he was
killed. So if we can now catch him prowling about your house and armed
with some weapon of destruction, then it will greatly add to the weight
of the circumstantial evidence that it was he who killed Sir John
Lorraine."

"All right," nodded Fairfax curtly. "I'll take it on. Now tell me
exactly what you want me to do?"

"Firstly," replied Larose, "let me take this notice to the office of the
'Morning Post' for insertion tomorrow." He smiled, "The 'Morning Post'
has always been the paper that both Bascoigne and Sheldon-Brown read."

The K.C. took the notice he held out and read. "Mr. Mortimer Fairfax,
K.C., is suffering from the aftereffects of a bad cold and has been
ordered by his medical adviser to remain, for a few days at his country
residence in Ingatestone."

"All right," he said, "now what next?"

"Go down the day after to-morrow," replied Larose, "and make a little
house-party of it. Ask Mrs. Fox-Drummond and Miss Lendon and my friend
de Choisy-Hautville, among others."

The K.C. grinned. "You vouch for this French chap, I suppose?" he asked.
"He's going great guns with Angela."

"Certainly!" replied Larose, "he's as straight as a die now. He had a
bit of a wild youth, but that's all over and done with, and he's a very
fine fellow."

"Well, how are you going to protect me?" asked the K.C. sharply. "I tell
you I'm not a bit afraid, but it's an uncomfortable position to be in,
and I expect reasonable precautions to be taken."

"And they shall be taken," replied Larose instantly. "I promise you you
shall be so safeguarded that the man will never be able to get near
you." He nodded. "I spent all yesterday studying the lie of the land
about your place, and the house lends itself admirably to a scheme of
protection. It is only about 200 yards from the high road, it stands by
itself upon rising ground, and can be seen from all parts of the town!
The land behind it slopes up for about 300 yards to those little hills
from which you get a view in every direction." He looked very confident.
"Things could not be better."

"Yes!" commented the K.C. dryly, "and those hills would be an ideal
place for a man firing high-velocity cartridges, even if they were only
.22's."

"But Bascoigne is not a rifleman," replied Larose quickly, "and he's
never been known to possess a rifle until he bought this one in
Crowborough about three months ago. He buys all his cartridges there,
too, and that is how I come to know he is using long .22s." He raised
his hand. "Now listen Mr. Fairfax and I'll explain to you exactly what I
want to do."

* * *

So it was that two days later quite a merry little house-party assembled
in the old Manor House in Ingatestone. There happened to be a
considerable amount of influenza in the city at that time and excuses
were easily found that a few days in the country would brace them all
up, and although it was November they were sure they would have anything
but an uninteresting time.

They intended to explore lovely little, and still almost unknown,
villages, whose very names carried one back to medieval times. Their
host would provide unlimited rabbit-shooting whenever the weather was
fine. There would be always bridge when it was too wet to go out, and
they had enough musical talent among them to make up quite a good
orchestra when anyone wanted to dance.

And the company assembled there, too, was so very interesting. There was
an old Admiral Harcourt who had such a fund of good stories, and who
made everybody so deliriously terrified, because they never knew what he
was going to say next. There was Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville, a
descendant, it was whispered, of the Bourbon kings, who could play like
a virtuoso upon his violin and wrap the room in silence for many moments
after his playing had died away. Then there was a dear old man from
Australia who was a thought reader and could hypnotise people and do a
lot of uncanny things.

Then there was Mrs. Fox-Drummond, whose men-servants and whose
maid-servants had been lent, almost it seemed, by the score. She was the
hostess, and discreetly and with a very light hand, chaperoned a bevy of
delightfully pretty girls.

There were some well-known beauties among these girls, too; Margot
Devine, who had been regarded as one of the most charming debutantes of
the past season; Angela Lendon, who could have sat to an artist for an
angel from Paradise, because she was so happy and so much in love, and
Selina Courtland, who, as every one knew, would be featured in the
forthcoming greatest screening of all time, 'The World's Desire.'

But above all surely there was the host, the genial, hearty Mortimer
Fairfax, the fighter, who a hundred times and more upon behalf of some
poor trembling prisoner, had faced so unflinchingly a hostile judge and
jury, and who now, although only a few of them there knew it, was facing
equally bravely the lurking figure of an assassin he might never see,
and the whining of a bullet he might never hear.

It was indeed a strange gathering, symbolising at once the happiness of
life, the menace of foul and dreadful death, and the scaffold of the Law
hidden only such a little way away.

The house-party had all arrived upon the Thursday afternoon, and towards
dusk upon that day, a car coming from the direction of Chelmsford pulled
up to a small shop in the little town of Ingatestone, and its driver
getting out he made some few light purchases of tobacco and sweets.

He was quite a pleasant-looking man, and while the woman of the shop was
getting him his change asked chattily who lived in the big house upon
the right, just coming into the town.

"Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, the great King's Counsel," replied the woman,
"but unfortunately for the town he doesn't often stay here. However,
he's arrived to-day, and with quite a big house-party, too, for I must
have counted eight or nine cars turn up his road since noon."

"Good gracious! but where does he get his staff from?" asked the man,
appearing very interested.

"Oh! his cousin, Mrs. Fox-Drummond sends them," replied the woman. "A
brakeload of them came along yesterday and two of the gentlemen were
drinking at the King's Head last night." She smiled. "They're just
human, like the men who work in the fields."

On Friday the day was mild and bright and the house-party had quite a
sporting time, for 30 pairs of rabbits were available for distribution
among Mr. Fairfax's tenants.

Saturday was equally fine and most of the young people drove over for
lunch to Felixstowe, returning home soon after five, just as a mist was
beginning to roll up from the sea.

"But it's not going to be much," remarked Admiral Harcourt loudly, "and
the summer-house will still be available for courting couples, after
dinner, if the moon's not too strong."

He was at once informed that his ideas were disgraceful and he could go
by himself to the summer-house if he wanted to, for 18 tickets had been
taken for the Talkies at the Town Hall, and he was going to be left to
ruminate upon his sins, alone.

The old man from Australia who could read thoughts was very troubled in
his mind and listened to the badinage with deaf ears, for as Detective
Inspector Larose, fog was the one thing he dreaded. He had four men
stationed in the garden and there was some one watching night and day
upon one of the hills. But what good were any of them if a dense fog
descended, and how could he then guarantee the safety of the K.C.?

He remembered the bold way Lord Buckington had been murdered, with his
assassin smashing the glass of the dining-room window and then coolly
firing through the broken pane.

But he was taking all the precautions that he could, he told himself,
for when the party would have left for the talkies, the lights in all
rooms were to be left on, so if any one were prowling about outside he
would be very puzzled to determine in which particular room was
sheltered the master of the house.

Dinner was over about half-past seven, and then, attired warmly to face
the short walk into the town, the young people stood about in pairs
waiting until every one was ready.

Larose slipped out of a side door and in the half light of the mist made
his way round outside the low garden wall, towards where he could look
across the garden on to the lights of the dining-room, and the other
living room of the house.

The mist was not very thick and the moon, nearly at his full, was making
determined efforts to break through. He whispered a few words in passing
to two of the men who were lying well-rugged, behind some bushes, and
then gaining the position he wanted, stood leaning against a big tree
which was almost touching the wall itself.

And at that very moment Oscar Bascoigne, with the tread of a tiger, was
parking a bicycle among a small clump of trees not ten paces from where
Larose stood. He was carrying a small rifle under his arm.

A breeze had sprung up from the sea and the mist was clearing rapidly,
rising in great wreaths and rolling up over the hills.

Larose bent over the wall, and, giving way to his thoughts, wondered, as
he had so often done before, why the good things and the foul things of
life came to be so intermingled.

The young people going into the town were evidently almost ready, for he
could hear them so plainly that he knew the hall door must be now open.

He could catch the lilt of their happy laughter, with the rapture of the
promise of life that ran as a beautiful refrain in the music of their
voices as they called to one another. He could picture their sparkling
eyes and the soft pressure of their hands in the darkness, the snuggling
close together as they stood arm in arm--and here was he clutching to a
deadly little pistol and hoping with as deep a hope as he had ever hoped
before that some one was not far away and bent that night on murder.

A puff of wind came up from the road below, whisking away the last
wreaths of mist, and the moon came out in all its glory.

Suddenly then, in a dim, subconscious sort of way, Larose became aware
of a faint sound, as of some one breathing close beside him. He did not
take it in for a second or two, but then with a choking feeling in his
throat he stepped back a pace to see if any one were sheltered behind
the other side of the tree.

Then his heart almost stopped beating in his surprise, for not three
feet away from him stood the man who had been in his thoughts for so
many weeks--Oscar Bascoigne, the ex-convict and assassin.

For just the fraction of a second he did not take it in, and then with a
yell of triumph he moved to spring forward. But Bascoigne was just that
fraction of a second before him, and the ex-convict's fist struck like a
sledge-hammer between his eyes, throwing him back with great violence on
to the ground.

Then Bascoigne was upon him like a stroke of lightning, and kneeling
across his chest, with one hand he gripped his throat and with the other
tugged fiercely at a big-headed hammer that he had got in his pocket.
But the greater part of the hammer had been sawn away and in its
truncated condition it stuck across the pocket.

He managed to pull it out at last, however, and was just raising it to
crash down upon the forehead of Larose, when he suddenly heard an angry
shout close near and, jerking up his head, saw not fifteen paces away a
lithe and supple figure darting towards him.

He dropped the hammer instantly and, springing to his feet, made a jump
for the rifle that he had left upon the wall. Then came the sharp click
of the ejector, the rifle was lifted up and pointed, and three shots
came in quick succession at the flying Croupin. The first went through
the lobe of one of his ears, the second furrowed along the side of his
forehead, and the third passed harmlessly through his clothes just under
his left armpit.

There was no fourth shot fired, for Croupin was upon him with the leap
of a greyhound. There was no chance for either of them to strike a blow,
but Bascoigne lunged furiously with the butt of the rifle at Croupin's
face. The butt, however, struck harmlessly in the air, and the next
second the ex-convict felt an excruciating pain in his left elbow, and
as quickly as he could start to scream out in his agony his arm was
twisted over his head, and he crashed to the ground.

Then the voice of Croupin rang out like a clarion call, "Help! help!" he
cried. "I've caught someone who's attacked old Mr. James."

Help was immediately forthcoming from a dozen places, and in less than
two minutes Bascoigne had been handcuffed and under a strong escort was
being marched into the Manor House. Then to the great joy of everyone,
it was found that the kindly old Australian was not much hurt, and
indeed was able to rise to his feet and even talk.

"But my good friend," he whispered, pressing the Frenchman's hand, "you
saved me from having my face bashed in. Another second and the hammer
would have fallen, but he heard you shouting, and dropped it just in
time. You are a brave man, Monsieur."

"I never saw a braver action," confirmed one of the plainclothes men.
"This gentleman ran right into that devil's fire, facing an almost
certain death."

A hundred questions were asked by the house-party, but they were put off
by evasive explanations that the attacker was only a poacher, and
finally persuaded, all except Croupin and Angela, to proceed as arranged
to the Town Hall.

Then Larose and Mortimer Fairfax, after a short conversation together,
accompanied by one of the plain-clothes men, went in to interview
Bascoigne, finding him, however, in a very different mood to that which
they had expected.

"Now what the devil does this mean?" he expostulated fiercely. "I find
myself a prisoner, presumably in a gentleman's mansion, and yet two
dastardly assaults have been made upon me, and I have been obliged to
fight for my life."

He gave one glance at the plainclothes men, two at Larose, and then a
long, intent stare at Mortimer Fairfax.

The plain-clothes man had been deputed to do all the talking, and he at
once asked sharply, "What's your name?"

"Thomas Sheldon-Brown," replied Bascoigne with dignity. "My addresses
are The Pines, Crowborough, and 25 Charles Street, Mayfair. I am a
justice of the peace for the county of Sussex."

"Then, Thomas Sheldon-Brown," said the plain-clothes man sternly, "I
arrest you for firing, with intent to murder, at Monsieur Raphael de
Choisey-Hautville, and I warn you that anything you say now may be used
in evidence against you."

"Damnation!" swore Bascoigne, spluttering with rage, "and where shall I
sleep to-night?"

"In Chelmsford," was the curt reply, "and directly the Ingatestone
sergeant comes up, you'll go straight away."

Ten minutes later, over some stiff brandies and sodas Larose and
Mortimer Fairfax were discussing everything together.

"And you recognised him?" asked Larose.

"Instantly," replied Fairfax. "He's altered a lot, of course, but his
eyes are just the same and the shape of his forehead and his voice."

"And didn't he look hard at you!" said Larose. His eyes sparkled. "But
one thing--those wounds he gave to poor de Choisy-Hautville could not
have been more opportune, for we need not now show down our best cards."

The K.C. considered. "But it's the bail I'm thinking of," he said
thoughtfully, "and that's where we may come a dreadful crash." He roused
himself up in his chair. "You see, he'll bring out some big guns to get
bail, and I'll stake my life it will be no local solicitor who will be
appearing for him on Monday." He shrugged his shoulders. "The Chelmsford
magistrates are only homely little people after all, and they'll be awed
by a big bug from London."

"But if he gets bail," frowned Larose, looking very uncomfortable, "we
may never see him again. With the resources at his command he could
escape anywhere."

"Exactly!" nodded Fairfax, "and so he'll do his very utmost to get out
on bail on Monday." He looked pessimistic. "You've just heard the
defence he's going to put up, and it'll sound quite a plausible one. An
enthusiastic naturalist out cycling to get a specimen of a long-eared
owl--it is known there are a few about here--and suddenly he is set upon
by a man who darts from behind a tree. Then up comes tearing another
fellow and terrified that he is going to be murdered, the poor
naturalist threatens this second man, calling out that if he doesn't
stop he's going to fire. Well, when this fellow takes no notice of his
warning and still comes rushing on, the nerve-shaken naturalist, scared
out of his life, lets fly bullet after bullet, as he says, to save his
life!" The K.C. shrugged his shoulders again. "Now, what could sound
more plausible?"

Larose shook his head. "A man can't deliberately fire three times at
another man," he said, "and not be committed on a charge of firing with
intent to kill. Whatever his defence he'll be sent up for trial."

"Oh! yes, of course," agreed Fairfax at once. "But what I mean is, if
his solicitor can so impose upon the Bench that the whole matter is in
reality only a trivial one, due in the first instance to your terrifying
his client by jumping out from behind that tree"--he shrugged his
shoulders--"then if they're prepared to put up substantial bail, I'm
more than half afraid the local J.Ps. will grant it."

Larose nodded grimly. "I understand," he said. "So on Monday we'll just
charge him with firing with deliberate intent to murder Monsieur de
Choisy-Hautville, and then when it comes to a question of granting bail,
we'll fight them tooth and nail. The Yard will be sure to send down a
good man."

Fairfax nodded. "Yes, Matthew Wain will probably come. He's not much to
look at but he's very convincing and puts up with no nonsense from any
one."

A thought seemed suddenly to strike Larose and he leant forward until
his lips were close to the K.C.'s ear. "But now have you by any chance,"
he whispered, "a particular friend among the Chelmsford magistrates to
whom you could just give the office and ask him to be sure and take his
place upon the Bench on Monday? Then we could be certain of one who
would oppose bail at all costs."

Mortimer Fairfax made no reply, but smiling knowingly, tapped the
telephone upon his desk and then solemnly winked one eye.

"Good!" grinned Larose, "the scales of Justice must be kept even, but
still the balance may just want a wee drop of oil on one side every now
and then."

* * *

The following Monday morning the old Court House at Chelmsford was
packed full, for long before the doors had been thrown open a big crowd
of people had been waiting to get in.

The previous day rumour had been busy all round the country-side, for it
had been whispered that a man had been caught in the very act of trying
to murder some one in the old Manor House at Ingatestone.

The Court opened punctually and five magistrates took their seats upon
the Bench. One was a retired Colonel, an old gentleman with a bald head,
a very red face and a huge white moustache; another was a grocer in the
town, who supplied everything for the Colonel's household; a third was a
brewer; the fourth was a refined-looking woman, the president of the
local women's political association, and the fifth was a plumber who had
recently been made a justice of the peace when the Labour Government was
in power. The old Colonel was in the chair and, looking very important
and stern, he frowned round the Court and tugged fiercely at his big
moustache.

The case of Sheldon-Brown was the only one that morning, and he appeared
in the Court looking smart, well-groomed, and a typical English country
gentleman. There was a drawn look about his face, however, and it was
obvious he was not nearly so unconcerned as he wished to appear. He was
represented by Skipton Bellington, about the best-known and most capable
Police Court advocate in London.

Bellington was a big, stout man, weighing about seventeen stone. He had
the head and face of a bull, and with his big bold eyes, he had
proceeded to weigh up, in one hard stare, the personalities of all the
magistrates as they had come in. He decided there was not much danger in
any of them. Just local nobodies, all except the chairman, and he looked
peppery and would have to be handled with more care!

As Mortimer Fairfax had predicted Matthew Wain appeared for the police.
He was a wiry little man with sandy hair and looked like a fighting
terrier. He, too, took good stock of the Bench, and thought, as
Bellington had done, that Colonel Jones was the main person to be
considered. Still, he was not quite certain of the woman there, for she
looked too sympathetic and emotional, he thought, with all her firm chin
and good facial angle.

He looked sideways, with a covert smile, at Bellington, and smacked his
lips in anticipation, for he loved a good fight, and was sure there was
going to be one. He knew what he had been sent down for. He was not to
let the accused get out on bail, what ever happened, and, as much as
possible, he was to keep back all they knew about him.

He opened his case very quietly, and detailed in brisk, decisive tones
what had happened.

The authorities were in receipt of information that had led them to
expect an attack was going to be made upon Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, the
eminent King's Counsel, and mindful of the fact, that his half-brother,
Archdeacon Lendon, had been murdered in August last, they had taken good
steps to protect him, and no less than six plainclothes men had been on
duty round the Manor House two nights previously.

Well, the accused had been found prowling about under very suspicious
circumstances, and, in an attempt to apprehend him, had been in the very
act of striking at Inspector Larose's head with a heavy hammer, as the
latter was lying half-stunned upon the ground, when one of the guests of
Mr. Fairfax, a Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville, had run up to interfere.
Then the accused, who was armed also with a rifle, had fired three times
at this guest, almost at point-blank range, with the undoubted intention
of killing him. Happily, however, he had not succeeded in doing so, but,
nevertheless, Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville's escape had been a very
narrow one, for he had been wounded twice and a third bullet had passed
through his clothing, within an inch of his heart.

It has since been discovered that the accused had been staying in an
adjoining village under an assumed name, and was, moreover, an addict to
a most deadly drug, cocaine. He was undoubtedly a most dangerous man to
be at large.

The charge was a very grave one and he had no doubt their Worships would
forthwith commit the accused for trial.

Then Larose, Croupin, and two of the plain-clothes men gave their
evidence and substantiated all he had said. Bellington tried hard to
fluster and make them contradict themselves but it was no good, and in
the end he sat down looking very heated and angry.

Then after a long drink of water, he rose up to put the case for the
accused, and the whole tenor of his speech was to make light of
everything that had occurred. He did not intend for one moment, he said,
to attempt to justify the actions of the accused, but they were not of
the serious nature his humorous friend, Mr. Wain, had tried to make out.
The police were barking up a wrong tree and if Mr. Mortimer Fairfax
indeed had an enemy, who was seeking to injure him, then it certainly
was not the accused.

As Mr. Wain had said the case was very clear, but in quite a different
way to that he had indicated. The accused was a harmless, inoffensive
naturalist who had come to the neighbourhood to obtain a specimen of a
long-eared owl. He was naturally of a nervous disposition, and this
nervousness had unhappily been aggravated by his smoking too many
cigarettes lately and also, very injudiciously, taking a little cocaine
to allay a certain irritation of the throat from which he suffered. So
being in that condition, what was more natural, when after suddenly
being grabbed hold of by a strange man in a lonely lane at night, and
then seeing another man rushing upon him, he should have started to
defend himself. He lost his head, that was all, as probably nine men out
of ten would have done in similar circumstances.

In conclusion, the accused was extremely penitent about the whole
matter, and was anxious to pay substantial compensation to the gentleman
he had wounded and also contribute the sum of 1000 to the funds of the
local hospital. Therefore, taking all things into consideration, he
thought their worships would be fully justified in imposing a big fine
and disposing of the whole matter straightaway.

Matthew Wain gave a screech of laughter. "And Monsieur de
Choisy-Hautville will at the same time," he called out, "apologise for
having got in the way of the accused's bullets." His voice rose in
contempt. "A fine for a deliberate attempt to murder! It is a joke."

Colonel Jones gave a quick glance to either side at his colleagues. "We
shall commit the accused for trial," he said curtly.

Bellington appeared to be rather hurt at their decision. "Then as to the
question of bail, your Worships," he began, "we are prepared----"

"Bail!" gasped Matthew Wain, jumping to his feet as if he had been
bitten by an adder. "We shall not agree to bail under any circumstances.
It is preposterous to suggest such a thing and my friend knows it."

"Preposterous!" thundered Bellington, his eyes blazing with fury as he
addressed the Bench. "Why, if your Worships do not grant it, it will
bring down ridicule upon all the county magistracies in the kingdom!" He
almost choked. "Not grant bail to a man of the standing of my client, a
county magistrate himself! It would be unheard of!"

And then for many minutes the two argued on, with the big man the
thunder, and the little man the lightning. Bellington scowled and
shouted to intimidate the Bench and Wain was at his throat, interrupting
every time he spoke.

But old Colonel Jones was not in the least intimidated if any of his
colleagues were. Years ago he had heard the guns of Mons and at home,
now, he kept in order a very assertive wife. He regarded the two
disputants coldly and would have liked to decide against them both if he
could. He had always thought that most lawyers were rogues, and
certainly neither of these two before them now looked like gentlemen.
Then he remembered the conversation on the 'phone the other night, with
his old friend Fairfax, whom he now saw in Court, and he decided it was
time for the wrangle to stop.

He would give a decision at once, and he was sure his colleagues would
agree with it afterwards! Binks was his grocer, Mrs. Callow was a friend
of his wife's, the plumber had just sent him an estimate for putting in
a new bath, and the brewer was an easy-going man with whom he often had
a round of golf.

He just looked round casually at his colleagues, and then rising to his
feet majestically, raised his hand for silence.

"We refuse bail," he announced sternly. "We are unanimous," and then with
a courtly smile he stepped back to make way for Mrs. Callow to precede
him off the Bench.




CHAPTER XV.--THE BATTLE OF THE GIANTS.


The arrest and committal for trial upon a charge of attempted murder of
the well-known philanthropist, Mr. Sheldon-Brown, was the sensation of
all the newspapers the next morning.

There were so many intriguing points about the arrest. The wealth and
social position of the accused, the sudden incursion of London's two
most able Police Court advocates into the little town of Chelmsford to
fight the case, the bitter and acrimonious dispute, as if it were a
matter of life or death when the question of bail came to be considered,
the hinting by the police that even graver charges might follow, and,
above all, the fact that the great international detective, Gilbert
Larose, was back in harness again and had been one of the chief
witnesses for the Crown, all made the case one of outstanding interest.
Rumour, of course, began at once to cry aloud with her thousand tongues.

Scotland Yard was humming like a hive of bees that had been disturbed,
and every plain-clothes man that could be spared was hunting somewhere!
Mortimer Fairfax was the half-brother of that old clergyman, Archdeacon
Lendon, who had been so mysteriously murdered last August, and the veil
upon a dreadful family vendetta was about to be lifted! Sheldon-Brown's
magnificent residence in Crowborough had been raided by the police, and,
most astounding tale of all, the romantic marriage of the beautiful Lady
Helen Ardane and Gilbert Larose had turned out a dreadful failure for
the latter had left Carmel Abbey for ever and, in dire financial
straits, it was to earn his living only that he had been forced to
return to the yard!

Unhappily for the scandal-mongers this last story came abruptly to an
inglorious end when an enterprising photographer from the Daily Cry
motored down into Norfolk and snapped Mr. and Mrs. Larose coming out of
the village church after the christening of a child of one of the Abbey
tenants. Also, he obtained the interesting story from one of the
villagers that however busy the great detective might have been of late
he had rarely let 48 hours go by without flashing down at night for a
few hours in his blue single-seater car that was so well known all round
the countryside.

Still this little tit-bit of scandal, snatched from their very lips, was
as a small thing compared with the sensation that followed so quickly
after, for on the Thursday Sheldon-Brown was removed to London by
special order, and the following day, to the stunned amazement of the
public, under the name now of Oscar Bascoigne, an ex-convict, charged
before the Recorder with the murders of Sir John Lorraine and Archdeacon
Lendon.

The proceedings before the Recorder were very brief, for to the surprise
of all present in the Court, after the bare outline of the charges had
been given, it was at once announced that the accused was reserving his
defence. So with no more ado he had been committed for trial.

The evening papers sold like wildfire, and there were probably few
people that night who did not read one. The public were quick to realise
what it meant and were almost unanimously of opinion that the Terror
gang had at last been laid by the heels. More arrests, they were sure,
would soon follow, and now they could understand why Larose was in the
limelight again, for, of course, with his genius for the tracking down
of crime his assistance had been invoked by the authorities.

"And it is no disgrace to the Yard," nodded the wise ones, "for only
once in a generation comes a man like Larose. He can reason backwards as
easily as other people reason forward, and it is no wonder that in
Australia there are those who, after a murder has been committed,
actually believe that he can see the shadow of the murderer upon the
wall."

Angela was very tearful that all the details of her father's murder were
being recalled again, and when Croupin called that night at Surbiton she
was almost upon the point of breaking down.

"Let us go into the music-room, Mademoiselle," he said nervously, "I,
too, am very distressed to-night."

But then when the door was closed behind them, instead of giving the
explanation she expected, he seated himself before the harpsichord and
began to play, and she, upon the settee by the window, stared out into
the darkness, as for a long while she listened to the soft and beautiful
harmonies that he drew from the old instrument.

Presently, however, with a little grimace and a deep sigh, she moved
across the room, and, drawing up a chair close to him, laid her hand
gently upon his arm. "That'll do, thank you, Monsieur," she said
quietly. "I want to speak to you."

Croupin's heart beat quickly, for behind her gentle tones he sensed
somehow that something stern and serious was coming.

"Bien," he said equally, quietly. "I am always at your service, as you
know,"--his voice deepened passionately--"now and for ever."

She laughed a little nervously. "You court differently in your country,
Monsieur," she began, "to the way we do in ours." She was obviously
speaking with an effort. "For example, you have been with me a lot
lately, and yet you have only kissed me once and then"--her voice was
mocking--"you assure me it was an accident."

"There are kisses and kisses, Mademoiselle," replied Croupin gravely,
"and the kisses I would give you would have the promise of a lifetime's
devotion behind them." He bowed. "They are not to be given until you are
my affianced wife"--his voice was very sorrowful--"and now I am not
justified in asking you."

"Oh!" exclaimed the girl carelessly and yet choking back a lump in her
throat, "but my godmother has told me that you spoke to her about me at
Ingatestone and said"--she hesitated--"that you wanted to take me back
to France." She laughed lightly. "Of course I might have told you that I
didn't want to go, but still it would be interesting to learn the reason
why you have so suddenly changed your mind." She seemed quite amused now
and bent forward confidingly. "You know, Monsieur, a girl is always
flattered when she received a proposal, whether she is going to accept
it or not."

The lines of Croupin's face were soft and gentle. "Mademoiselle," he
said very solemnly, "I would ask you to become my wife this very moment
were it not wrong that for the present I should ask you to link your
name with mine." He reached over and took her hand. "Come, let me hold
it, and I shall have courage to tell you everything."

The girl flushed. "But it's not going to be such a surprise as you
think," she said quickly, "for I know you are that other Raphael who was
put in prison. Your name was Croupin before you changed it."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Croupin, very aghast. "Who told you?"

"No one," scoffed the girl, "but I guessed it that night when General
Lesage spoke about him at dinner. I had come to learn the kind of man
you were by then, and the answers you gave were just what I should have
expected of you."

Croupin's face set like a flint, and he let go her hand instantly. "Then
you think I'm a bad man," he said grimly, "that I'm despicable
altogether!"

"Certainly not," she replied warmly. "I was only meaning that you are
brave and resourceful, and can meet any situation with courage." She
spoke carelessly again. "As for any wrongs you have committed, I am sure
you are sorry for them, and if it has been in your power you have atoned
for them." She looked fearlessly at him. "Do you think I should have
gone into the conservatory alone with you that night if I were despising
you?" She spoke gently. "I was sorry for you."

Croupin's face was the very picture of astonishment, and then the stern
lines faded from his face, and he looked very sad again.

The girl went on, "I am not quite a fool, Monsieur, and if I hadn't
liked you I wouldn't have given you the encouragement that you may
perhaps be imagining I have done." She tossed her head. "If he were as
rich as Croesus I wouldn't marry a bad man and be made miserable for
life."

Croupin spoke very gently. "It is well that they called you Angela," he
said, "for you are as near being an angel as any woman can be." He
reached for her hand again. "No, I am not a bad man, and if I had not
been put in prison unjustly I should never have gone the way I did
afterwards."

A long silence followed, and then Croupin went on--"I have just come
from Mr. Fairfax, to whom I have told everything, and the position is
this. The trial of that dreadful man will come on in a few weeks, and as
I shall be one of the witnesses it is almost certain that they will have
been making inquiries about me, and so when I go into the witness-box,
to discredit the value of my evidence, they will force me to acknowledge
that I have been in prison." He let go her hand. "And that is why I
cannot ask you to be my wife until we see what happens."

He rose quickly to his feet. "And now, Mademoiselle, I must go, and if
you do not see me for some weeks"--his voice shook a little--"you will
understand why."

Angela rose up too, and stood regarding him with a curious expression
upon her face.

"You are not very just, Monsieur," she said quietly, "for you take all
the courage to yourself." Her eyes flashed. "Do you think I have had no
courage in being seen about with a man whom I knew at any moment someone
might recognise as having been branded as a thief."

Croupin flushed. "I don't quite understand what you mean," he stammered.

"Then you are very dense," she smiled, "and not nearly as intelligent as
I thought you were." She held out her hand and added sweetly: "Goodbye,
Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville. I see you prefer to fight your
battles"--she hesitated a moment--"alone."

Croupin seized her hand almost roughly, and then when she tried to
withdraw it would not let it go. "Tell me what you mean," he said
hoarsely. "I am as a child where you are concerned. Come, I won't let
you go until I know what you mean."

It was now Angela's turn to flush. "I mean, Monsieur," she replied very
softly, "would it not be better for you to have some one by your side
when your disgrace comes?" She drew herself up proudly. "I shall not be
afraid of what people say."

There was no mistaking now what she meant, but for a long moment Croupin
stood looking down into her eyes. Then very gently he drew her to him,
and tilting up her chin, touched her lips lightly with his own. The kiss
was a very short one, but a moment later he swung her up into his arms,
and this time their lips met long and passionately.

So, for all ages have man and woman dreamed, and as long as time lasts
will their dream continue to run its little course! The night will have
no ending, the stars will never fade, and there will be no morning with
the waning of desire.

And if Raphael Croupin had at last found a mistress who would lavish all
her love upon him, he had surely also found one who would see that he
walked henceforth in the straight and narrow way.

In the meantime the Commissioner of Police and Larose were closeted
together, and they both looked troubled, for not half an hour previously
the very startling news had come through that Sabine Guildford had had a
stroke of apoplexy and died within three minutes.

"The medical officer told me last week," almost wailed the Commissioner,
"that his blood-pressure was dangerously high, and he might go off in
any excitement, but I certainly never expected this." He looked
plaintively at Larose. "It couldn't have happened at a worse time, for
our charging him to-morrow with the murders of that tea-broker and
Clutterbuck would have just let the public know we are not such duds as
they think we are." He scowled. "I wish to goodness now I had not
listened to you, and had had him charged straightaway, when I wanted
to."

Larose seemed in no way offended. "It wouldn't have been safe, sir," he
smiled, "for we should never have caught Bascoigne if all that we knew
about Guildford had been broadcast prematurely."

The Commissioner smiled back. "Yes, yes, you are quite right," he said.
He laughed. "I'm greedy, and want all the fish in the basket." He became
serious again. "But this means that Bascoigne's case will come on sooner
than we thought, and it may even be taken this session."

"Well, we are all prepared except for the finger-print business," said
Larose confidently, "and I somehow think that matter will not be so
difficult to solve as we imagine."

* * *

A few weeks later, one cold and foggy morning, the stage was all set for
the trial of Oscar Bascoigne, and surely never before had a greater
crowd risen in that court than when Lord Arlingham, who was to try the
case, entered.

Now there is always something very strange about the atmosphere of a
Court of Justice when the matter at issue is one of life or death. It
has a peculiarity all of its own, and to a thoughtful mind, with all its
majesty and refinements, it harks back to the savagery from which the
race has sprung. The culture and kindliness of our age are stripped
ruthlessly of their veils, and, beholding forces that are almost
elemental in their cruelty and their passion, we realise that from the
whipping-post and the scaffold are still spoken the thousand and one
commandments of our communal laws.

The beast of the jungle has met another beast more powerful, and that is
all.

Yet, nevertheless, everything is so overlaid with such beauty and wealth
of ritual that the brutality and horrors of the combat are all forgotten
in the grandeur of the majesty of the law.

There are so many appeals to the imagination--in the hushed and
awe-inspiring opening of the Court--in the dramatic entrance of the
prisoner when all have resumed their seats--in the quaint and age-old
phrasing of the indictment--and in the solemnity of the taking of the
oaths.

Then we see the judge, enthroned as a great high-priest upon his dais,
brave and magnificent in his wig and ermined gown; and below him the
shining lights of the legal world, attired also in raiment to lift them
above the common herd, who are to battle over the life of a man, and
incidentally whose motor cars and whose town houses and country houses
depend upon their prowess in the fight.

So, to the majority of the spectators, who by privilege or favour have
secured seats in the court, a trial for murder presents the most intense
drama of their lives, and with quickly beating hearts they stare
wide-eyed at the prisoner, thrilling at the thought that they may be
actually gazing upon a man who is standing in the very shadow of the
valley of death. They will almost choke, too, with a terrifying yet
sweet emotion if in the end the Judge puts on the black cap. The women
among them are all well dressed, and probably many of them are dainty
and pretty looking. They have brought vanity bags, and will powder their
faces before the very eyes of the man who is about to be condemned. Some
of them are delicately scented, too, and maybe the prisoner's last
memory of womankind will be associated with the perfume from some
chemist's shop.

And it was before an assembly such as this that Oscar Bascoigne mounted
into the dock that morning to stand his trial upon the charges of having
murdered Sir John Lorraine and Archdeacon Lendon.

He looked much better than he had done at Chelmsford, a little thinner,
perhaps, but due probably to his enforced abstinence from any drug, much
less strained and heavy about the eyes. He was dressed smartly, and, as
before, looked the very type of an English country gentleman. He seemed
in no way abashed at his position, and glanced round the court with an
air of quiet and assured confidence.

Peter Drew was leading for the Crown, and a handsome-looking man in the
late thirties, he had a fine Grecian profile, with a thoughtful and, in
repose, rather gentle face. It was only when one took note of the mouth
and chin that one could discern his latent strength of character.

Tresidder-Jarvis, also a King's Council was leading for the defence, and
one of the most eminent members of his profession, he was a mighty
fighter in the Criminal Courts. He was stout, with a massive head coming
almost straight away from his shoulders, and he surveyed the world from
under big and bushy eyebrows. He had the large and mobile lips of the
orator.

There was a gentle whispering at the table as the charges were being
read, and then, upon a nod from his lordship, Peter Drew rose instantly
to his feet.

"My lord and gentlemen of the jury," he began in quiet and beautifully
modulated tones, "never perhaps in the annals of all time has a stranger
tale been told in any Court of Justice than I am going to tell you now,
and its ramifications are so many that I have had considerable
difficulty in determining which particular one to explore first. They go
back to happenings that occurred nearly sixteen years ago, and they deal
with matters of only a few weeks back." He spoke very solemnly. "There
should, indeed, be four men, instead of one, arraigned for murder now
before these Courts, but where the long arm of the Law has failed to
reach the hand of God has struck, and the prisoner is the only one of
them alive to-day."

He looked towards the jury. "But, notwithstanding we are concerned now
only with these two specific charges laid against the prisoner,
nevertheless to convince you of his guilt, I shall have many times to
refer to the crimes of these others, because they and the prisoner
undoubtedly constituted that gang of criminals, who, for months past, as
you are well aware, have been terrorising the country with their deeds
of dreadful violence."

His tone was easy and conversational. "Now once upon a time, and,
indeed, up to a few weeks ago, there were four men who, among a number
of others, used to gather in a shed in the backyard behind a marine
store in Limehouse, kept by a Chinaman, called Ah Chung," and then he
went on to describe the horrible nature of the entertainments provided,
and to relate how these four men became acquainted with one another
there. Then he told of three of them being ex-convicts living under
assumed names, and who they were and for what offences they had been
imprisoned. Finally, he disclosed the identity of the fourth man, Sir
Charles Carrion, a once very eminent surgeon, but who only a few years
back had been released from an asylum for the insane.

His voice became most impressive. "And in the light of events that
followed we can see that in their warped and dreadful minds all these
four men considered that upon certain and particular persons their
downfalls or disgrace had, in the main, depended. The prisoner was
incensed against Sir Charles Lorraine, the judge, before whom he was
tried, and also against Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, who had led for the Crown
at the trial. Dr. Libbeus nursed a relentless hatred against a brother
practitioner, Dr. Bellew, because the latter had communicated with the
authorities when the woman upon whom Libbeus had operated had died.
Sabine Guildford had never forgotten that but for a certain Thomas
Wiggins, a tea-broker, and Anthony Clutterbuck, a brother solicitor, he
might have escaped all consequences of his embezzlement, and, lastly,
Sir Charles Carrion was well aware that it was to Lord Burkington, a
surgeon equally as eminent as himself, to whom he owed all his hospital
appointments being taken away, and his certification for an asylum, as
he was becoming insane."

He paused here to take a drink of water, and then went on: "So here we
have what is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all combinations from a
communal point of view--men of degraded minds, drug-takers, and almost
madmen in their thoughts, in possession of ample means"--he nodded
solemnly--"and obsessed with grievances and intense hatred of their
fellow-men."

He looked up from his brief. "But now, my Lord, and gentlemen of the
jury, the scene changes to another meeting place of these four men, and
we are taken down to a little wayside inn about 40 miles from
London"--he shook his head frowningly--"and we may never learn why they
gathered there. Perhaps it was they did not trust one another as yet,
perhaps even up to that time they did not know one another's real names.
Anyhow, on Sunday, the 29th of June last, they all arrived at the Gibbet
Inn, and there partook of lunch in the public room."

Then he went on to relate all that had happened at the inn that day, how
Cynthia Cramm had come to hear scraps of their conversation, how she had
run away from home, and how later she had told what she had overheard,
but how no one had believed her, then how mysterious murder after murder
occurring, she had suddenly become a person of great interest, but how
all to no purpose the best detectives from Scotland Yard had tried to
pick up a clue from her story.

"Then, by the 12th day of September, my lord and gentlemen of the jury,"
he cried, "five of the six imagined enemies of these four men had died
violently and bloody deaths, Mr. Mortimer Fairfax being the only one to
be left alive, and, in his stead, his half-brother, Archdeacon Lendon,
who much resembled him, had been murdered by two bullets through the
head."

A deep hush overhung the Court, and instead of the hundred and more men
and women present there, from the dead silence it might have been an
empty room.

Then Peter Drew, after referring to the attempts to bomb St. Paul's
Cathedral and poison the Kingston reservoir, next proceeded to relate
how a certain Cabinet Minister had happened to meet the ex-detective,
Gilbert Larose, and had persuaded him to return to the Yard and give
what assistance he could, how Larose had interviewed the little Cramm
girl, and all that he had deduced from his conversation with her, how he
had then called upon Lady Lorraine, and what had happened when he and
Mr. Mortimer Fairfax met.

"Then at last," cried Peter Drew, "the authorities began to see light,
and realised without any doubt that the unfortunate victim of each of
these murders must have been the personal enemy of one or other of those
miscreants who had entered into that dreadful pact of crime that Sunday
at the Gibbett Inn."

Then the story went on how the voice of Sheldon-Brown had been found to
be that of Bascoigne, and what had happened that night when Larose had
effected an entry into the Crowborough house; how then through Alf.
Flick Larose had got in touch with Mason, the estate agent of Mile End
Road, and what part de Choisy-Hautville had played in obtaining an
impression of his finger-prints; then how the finger-prints had proved
to be those of Sabine Guildford, the ex-solicitor and ex-convict.

"Then two and two were very quickly put together," said Peter Drew,
after he had related the discoveries of Larose at Leigh-on-sea, "and
just as it had been surmised that the murdered Sir John Lorraine and Mr.
Fairfax had been marked down by the prisoner, so it was concluded that
Thomas Wiggins and Samuel Clutterbuck had been brought into the scheme
of murder by Guildford"--he looked at the jury, and paused a long
moment--"the confidant and associate of Mr. Sheldon-Brown."

Then came the story of the burglary and murder at Rostrellor Court, and
how at once freed from their fears of alarming the other members of the
gang by any reference to the previous outrages that had taken place, the
authorities had made a lightning arrest of Guildford. Then he told of
Larose's suspicions of Sir Charles Carrion, of the fire in the operating
theatre and all that happened after, including the discovery of the
private bomb factory and the bags of arsenic similar to the one that had
been brought to the Kingston Reservoir.

"But still," said Peter Drew, "there was the prisoner, the leader of the
gang, in a position where the authorities could not be absolutely
certain of obtaining a conviction, for they had up to then no direct
evidence against him." He nodded grimly. "So being confident that he was
only waiting for the opportunity to exact his second vengeance and
murder Mr. Fairfax, they set a trap for him"--he paused
dramatically--"and he fell into it."

Then he related the arrangements made between Larose and Mortimer
Fairfax, and all that had happened a few nights later at Ingatestone,
ending with the seizing of the prisoner who had, however, tried so
desperately to evade capture that he had not hesitated to fire his rifle
three times with the deliberate intention of committing murder.

He looked again towards the jury, and raised his voice to emphasise the
significance of what he had just told them. "Mark you," he cried, "the
police were sure that it would be the murderer of Sir John Lorraine who
would attempt to murder Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, and setting this trap to
catch him"--he paused a long moment--"it was the prisoner, the very man
whom they were expecting to get hold of, who fell into their hands!"

He paused for a moment to let the information sink in, and then
continued. "Next we see from the visitors' book at the Majestic Hotel in
Harrogate that Mr. Sheldon-Brown and Sir Charles Carrion arrived there
on August 24th"--his voice was calm and passionless--"and upon the 26th
Lord Burkington of The Hall there was murdered."

A long silence ensued here and every eye in the Court was turned upon
the prisoner, but the latter appeared to be quite unaware of their
scrutiny, and was regarding Peter Drew very thoughtfully.

"Next," went on the K.C., "we come to the murder of Dr. Bellew of Great
Leighs in Essex, and here we learn Sir Charles and Dr. Libbeus put up at
the Red Lion Hotel in Chelmsford, seven miles from Great Leighs, on
September 3rd and left again the following day." He spoke in a calm and
business-like tone. "Quick work that, for Dr. Bellew was murdered upon
the morning of September 4th. However, there was probably no difficulty
experienced there, for the old gentleman was caught alone at the far end
of his long garden, when he was killed."

He looked up at the jury. "I have only just referred to this murder of
Dr. Bellew, because it was so typical of the methods of the
gang--putting up at a hotel in the neighbourhood, accomplishing their
fell purpose, and then clearing off as soon as possible."

He took a drink of water again. "And now we come to the last two murders
and we learn that on September 10th the prisoner and a Mr. Edward Mason,
whom you will remember was the ex-convict Guildford, put up at the River
Hotel at Leigh-on-sea, and they occupied two bedrooms and a private
sitting-room," he paused here--"that all looked straight down upon the
house and garden of Mr. Thomas Wiggins."

He spoke almost as if the recital of the stories of so many crimes were
becoming monotonous. "Well, two days later upon the 13th, Anthony
Clutterbuck, the solicitor, was murdered upon Canvey Island, a few miles
away, and upon the evening of the following day"--he struck his hand
upon the table before him--"the very first time that Thomas Wiggins had
set foot out of his garden for more than a week, he was stabbed to death
in a shelter upon the Esplanade."

He took a few moments' rest and then returned to quiet and even tones.
"And now, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, we are brought up against a
fact that will bring home to you most clearly why, apart from the other
reasons I have enumerated, the authorities, with all their evidence
against the prisoner, were so loath to lay hands upon him at first." He
spoke very slowly. "It was this. When Inspector Larose was hot upon the
heels of the prisoner, and had been quite certain that this Mr.
Sheldon-Brown, of Crowborough and Mayfair, was the ex-convict Oscar
Bascoigne, and he had managed to obtain, in the way I have told you, his
finger-marks, upon their being photographed"--he paused
dramatically--"it was found that they were not those of the
company-promoter who had been sentenced to penal servitude fifteen and a
half years ago."

A thrill of intense excitement ran round the Court, and it was seen that
the prisoner was smiling ironically.

"Yes," went on Peter Drew confidingly, "the facial photograph of Oscar
Bascoigne that was taken at the time of his conviction, allowing for the
lapse of years, was undoubtedly that of Sheldon-Brown, but the
finger-prints and the body measurements recorded did not in any one
respect agree with those of the prisoner." He shook his head. "The files
were checked most carefully, but the fact remained that unless a ghastly
mistake had been made"--he shook his head again--"and they don't make
mistakes like that in the finger print department of Scotland Yard,
Sheldon-Brown, and Oscar Bascoigne were not one and the same man."

He continued. "As you can imagine, the authorities were dumbfounded, but
then realising that the hundred and one similar tastes, habits, and
peculiarities, and also the recurring attacks of malaria that I have
mentioned to you are common to Sheldon-Brown and the prisoner, could not
by any possibility be mere coincidences, they set to work to find out
what had happened, on the assumption"--he spoke very sternly--"that the
records had been tampered with, and tampered with because some one had
been paid well to do it."

"So knowing that the prisoner was a very wealthy man and in the position
of being able to offer a bribe of so substantial a nature that it would
have been a great temptation to any employee, and knowing also that he
had arrived in this country from South America about four years ago,
they started to make secret inquiries about all who had been working in
the finger print department during that time." He nodded towards the
jury. "They were curious if any among them had been living as if he had
come into money."

He took a sip of water and went on briskly. "And they were soon rewarded
for their pains, for almost at once it was remembered of one of the
officials who had occupied a very responsible position in the
department, that about three years ago he had been dismissed under very
peculiar circumstances."

He gave a quick glance up at the prisoner, who in the imagination of
many in the Court had gone a little pale and lost something of his quiet
assurance. "This man," he went on, "had been in the department for 17
years, and had always shown himself a trustworthy and capable servant.
Then all suddenly he started to neglect his duties and absent himself
without adequate explanation. Also, he took to coming to work under the
influence of liquor, and finally he struck a superior officer and was
then, of course, summarily dismissed." He looked significantly at the
jury. "In effect, he deliberately made them send him away."

Peter Drew raised one long forefinger impressively. "This man was traced
with difficulty, for he had been killed in a motor accident last May,
but what was found out was this. About three weeks after he had been
thrown out of employment, to the great astonishment of his relations and
every one who knew him, he had left his house in Balham, and, paying
cash down, had bought a poultry farm near Saffron Walden. Then from the
moment of his taking over, this concern appeared to have developed into
an extraordinary success, for its purchaser at once started to live well
and was able to send his two boys, he was a widower, to a good school in
the neighbourhood." He thumped again upon the table. "But my lord and
gentlemen of the jury, I shall bring before you the manager of the
National and Provincial Bank in Saffron Walden and he will tell you that
this man, within a few days of his coming to live in the neighbourhood,
deposited with him Government bonds to bearer of no less value than the
sum of 9000."

He folded up his brief and sat down. He had spoken for longer than five
hours, and it being nearly 5 o'clock the Court rose until the following
day.




CHAPTER XVI.--THE BATTLE CONTINUED.


THE following day, all day long, a procession of witnesses trooped in
and out of the witness-box; the head of the finger-print department of
Scotland Yard, the manager from the bank at Saffron Walden, the one-time
valet of Oscar Bascoigne, and half a dozen city men who had been
acquainted with the company promoter in former days.

Tresidder-Jarvis seemed to be little interested in any of them, for of
some he asked nothing at all, and to the others he put, perhaps, only a
single question.

Cynthia Cramm appeared presently and she entered the witness-box with an
aplomb that made every one smile. She told all that had happened that
Sunday at the Gibbett Inn, and during her subsequent association with
Larose, and how finally she had picked out the prisoner's voice at once,
when standing out of sight of every one in the corridor she had heard
the head warder carry on a number of conversations with other prisoners
through the opened doors of the rooms in which they were confined.

Tresidder-Jarvis cross-examined her at some length, but could not shake
her evidence in any way. Then he asked finally with an awe-inspiring
frown: "And do you actually want this Court to believe that after
listening to that man's voice in your father's inn for a few minutes
last June--you were actually able to recognise it again, when you stood
in that corridor the other day after five months had passed away?"

"Yes," replied Cynthia convincingly, "I recognised it at once."

"Then you must be a very remarkable young woman," said Tresidder-Jarvis
dryly, and then as he prepared to resume his seat, he added
sarcastically, "I suppose it must be a gift you have inherited from your
father who has listened to so many voices in his bar, calling for beer."

"No," commented Cynthia pertly, as she was bustling out of the witness
box, "I get it from my mother who was a telephonist for ten years before
she married."

Larose was the next witness, and a thrill of expectation ran round the
Court when his name was called. Here was the star witness for the Crown,
and the man who had sent so many people to the scaffold that he was
known as the Angel of Death. Besides, who had forgotten his romantic
marriage to the rich and beautiful Lady Ardane, such a little while ago?

Larose looked very spick and span, with his handsome face tanned to a
rich bronze by his many journeyings in an open touring car. He made an
ideal witness and under the skilful questioning of Peter Drew the whole
tale was soon told of all that had happened, from his first meeting with
Cynthia Cramm to when he had been knocked down by the prisoner at
Ingatestone.

Tresidder-Jarvis smiled pleasantly when he rose up to cross-examine.
"Now I take it, Mr. Larose," he said quietly, "that it is for no matter
of remuneration that you have been working on the case for the
authorities! You have just taken it on, so to speak, for the love of the
thing?" and when Larose answered, "Yes," he added: "It is a sort of
sport to you?"

Larose shook his head. "No, not exactly," he replied, "but it has been
my life's work, and it still appeals to me."

Tresidder-Jarvis nodded as if he quite understood. "But of course you
are anxious to show the Yard, and incidentally the public, too, that you
are still the same old Gilbert Larose,"--he smiled ironically--"the man
who never fails!" He paused a moment and the smile left his face. "Then
that being so, according to your lights, you have done everything in
your power to produce evidence against the prisoner!"

"I have done everything in my power," corrected Larose, "to find out
everything he has been doing."

"And you have not been too scrupulous in your methods either, have you,"
suggested the K.C. with the fire of battle now beginning to smoulder in
his eyes. "In fact, not to mince words, you have resorted to criminal
means yourself."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose, very surprised.

"Yes, oh! oh!" repeated Tresidder-Jarvis sarcastically, and then his jaw
shot out and his voice rose ominously. "You broke into the prisoner's
house, sir, like a common felon yourself, with no mandate from the
authorities, and you abstracted therefrom property belonging to the
prisoner." His eyes glared. "You took a paper from his desk! Now, do you
attempt to justify that?"

"Yes," replied Larose boldly. "The need was urgent and the occasion was
so opportune that in the public interest I acted without authority.
Murders were being committed, bombs were being----"

"That'll do, thank you," interrupted Tresidder-Jarvis rudely. "You are
not in the witness-box to make speeches, but to answer questions," and
Larose, with a smile, at once subsided into silence.

The K.C. went on very sternly. "And your assistant, your accomplice that
night was a"--he looked down at his notes and spoke with intense
sarcasm--"A Monsieur Raphael de Choisy-Hautville. Was he, a foreigner,
acting under the instructions of the authorities here in investigating
this case?" he asked incredulously.

"No," replied Larose instantly, "but he is friend of mine, and meeting
him accidentally upon the day when I was invited to come back to the
Yard, I suggested that as he had nothing particular to do at that moment
he should help me."

"What is his occupation?" was the next question asked very quietly.

"He does nothing. He is a well-to-do man of independent means."

"But now, did you consider it wise," asked Tresidder-Jarvis with a
frown, "to take him into your confidence, when you were working for the
Crown?" and when Larose had replied "Yes," he broke suddenly into a
voice that rose stridently through the Court. "But are you aware, Mr.
Gilbert Larose," he thundered, "that this man, this friend of yours, is
an ex-convict, who for years has been the target of the French
authorities, the Surete Generale of Paris?"

"Yes," nodded Larose, "quite aware."

Tresidder-Jarvis half-closed his eyes and proceeding to ask the next
question, his loud tone subsided all at once like the dying away of a
storm. "Then for what purpose did you take him with you, to
Crowborough?" he asked, almost gently.

"To see if he could open the safe," replied Larose candidly. "He has
considerable knowledge of safes generally."

"Ah!" came a long-drawn exclamation of the great K.C., as he turned
round to glance at the jury. "Considerable knowledge of safes!" He
looked back at Larose. "I expect so."

He picked up his brief and after considering it for a few moments passed
quickly on. "And so, after your interview with that very remarkable
young lady, Miss Cramm," he said, with his lips curving scornfully,
"upon the strength of a soiled pair of boots, a voice, and the reference
to a razor, an unpleasant smell, and a Chinaman from Hankow, you have
been able to adduce all this guilt against the prisoner!"

Then for nearly two hours he kept Larose in the witness-box, but it was
generally conceded he did not get much change out of him, and had not
indeed shaken his evidence upon any point.

The next, and as it turned out, the last witness for the day, was
Raphael Croupin, and another deep thrill ran round the Court when, upon
his name being called, he entered and took his stand in the witness box.

"Oh! what a good-looking man!" murmured one woman, and another
exclaimed: "Poor fellow! he probably doesn't know what is in store for
him."

Croupin's dark eyes flashed curiously up at the gallery, and his
handsome face lighted up as they fastened upon Angela, who was sitting
there with her hands clenched so tightly that the nails almost bit into
the flesh.

Peter Drew took him in hand, and quickly drew out the salient parts of
his association with Larose, and the part he had taken in getting in
touch with Guildford.

Tresidder-Jarvis rose to cross-examination with all the delight in his
massive face of a terrier about to worry a rat.

"Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville," he began, rolling out the words as if
he took great pleasure in their enunciation, "we have heard that Mr.
Larose took you with him when that night he broke into the prisoner's
residence in Crowborough." His voice was silky and quite innocent of
offence. "Well, tell the Court why he took you down with him."

"To see if I could manage to open the safe," replied Croupin at once.

Tresidder-Jarvis's voice was still pleasant. "And what experience, pray,
had you in opening safes?" he asked gently.

"I am the patentee of a certain lock," replied Croupin confidingly, "and
one of the largest shareholders in a safe manufacturing company, Le
Tourjours Sauf, of Rue de la Lune, Paris."

"Oh!" grunted the K.C. and his face hardened, as if he were very much
annoyed, "then what was your occupation before you came into this estate
that we are given to understand you now possess?"

Croupin's reply was quite ready. "I was a dealer in paintings," he said,
"an expert in precious stones, and"--he smiled, "I taught music."

"Is de Choisy-Hautville your real name?" asked the K.C. carelessly.

"It is now," replied Croupin, looking interestedly round the Court. "It
was my mother's maiden name and I adopted it six months ago, when I came
into the money." He looked quite innocently at the K.C. "Before that I
was Raphael Croupin."

"And did you change your name, Monsieur," asked Tresidder-Jarvis
silkily, "because of this estate you inherited?"

"No," replied Croupin, "that had nothing to do with it."

"Then for what reason did you change it?" asked the K.C.

Croupin's face was pathetic. "Because I have been in prison," he replied
sadly, "and I thought if I changed my name people would forget me
sooner."

A deep hush filled the Court, and for the moment Tresidder-Jarvis was in
such a fury of annoyance that he could not pick up his train of thought.
He could see now that a trap had been set for him and he had fallen into
it like the veriest tyro at the bar.

His next remark was almost brutal in its rudeness. "You need not pull
faces like that," he said loudly, "for it doesn't impress the Court,"
and then before Peter Drew could interfere to protect his witness he
blurted out roughly: "And if you have been in prison only once, you have
been tried many times, have you not?"

"Three," replied Croupin promptly, "and I was acquitted every time."

Then for half an hour he tried to catch Croupin tripping, but the latter
never made a mistake, and in the end Tresidder-Jarvis sat down looking
hot and out of temper.

Peter Drew at once rose up to re-examine. "Arising out of the questions
my learned friend has just asked you," he said, "tell the Court when it
was you were in prison and what for."

"It was ten years, ago," replied Croupin, "when I was eighteen, and I
was found guilty of stealing the jewels of my hostess in a country
house. I was sentenced to two years' imprisonment."

"Did you serve the whole term?" asked Peter Drew.

"No, I was released after one year and one month," replied Croupin,
"because the man who had been the chief witness against me was himself
caught breaking into another house. He was shot dead."

"And these are the papers substantiating your statements?" asked Peter
Drew, handing up a small parcel of faded newspapers for him to examine.

"Yes," nodded Croupin, and the papers were at once passed up to the
Bench.

"And one more question," said Peter Drew. "Why is it, in your opinion,
these three other charges have been brought against you?"

"Because," replied Croupin, "it has become a sort of legend in my
country that when any art treasures are stolen it must be I who have
done it. It has been so ever since I succeeded in getting in the Louvre
one night, and affixed a notice to a painting that it was not a genuine
Rubens, but only a copy." He smiled. "I was apprehended in the morning,
when trying to get away."

That ended the day's proceedings, and Croupin's reward for the ordeal he
had gone through came that night when Angela put her arms about his neck
and told him she was proud of him, and that he need never be ashamed any
more. Croupin sighed heavily.

Then during the ensuing two days witness after witness stepped into the
witness-box and corroborated every statement Peter Drew had made in his
address.

Again Tresidder-Jarvis showed little interest and either let them go
altogether, or else just asked a few what seemed to be quite unimportant
questions.

Then on the fifth day he rose to open the case for the defence, and
directly he began to speak the spectators were of opinion they were
going to enjoy themselves.

"My lord and gentlemen of the jury," he began, "in the opening words of
his address for the Crown my learned friend announced that the story he
was going to unfold to you would be extraordinary, but surely it is much
more extraordinary still that he ever stood up to tell it, for
notwithstanding the eloquence of his address and the large number of
witnesses who have been brought before you, we have seen he is not in
possession of one single atom of convincing proof against the prisoner."

He smiled sarcastically. "Of course it is most unfortunate for him that
all the witnesses whose testimony would have been vital to the charge
have passed away. The Governor of Dartmoor Prison is dead, two of the
most important officials in charge there are dead also, Sir Charles
Carrion is dead, Sabine Guildford is dead, Dr. Libbeus is dead, the
mythical receiver of the enormous bribe is dead, and even the Chinaman,
Ah Chung, who might perhaps have been able to tell us something, is
sleeping with his ancestors."

He looked up at the jury. "Now I will at once take the question of
identity, for it is undeniable that if the prisoner cannot be shown to
be the ex-convict Bascoigne, then there is no conceivable motive for the
crimes and the while elaborate edifice of guilt that my learned friend
has built up topples ignominiously to the ground."

He punctuated his words with his hand. "Now to every individual who has
been brought here to testify that after the long lapse of years he can
recognise the prisoner as Oscar Bascoigne, it has been first suggested
the fact that it is so. In effect, to each of them it has been said.
'Here is Oscar Bascoigne whom you once knew and we want you now to
recognise him for us!'" He emphasised his point. "You see the idea has
been put in their minds, and, admitted that there are certain physical
points of resemblance between the two, what is more natural than that
they have fallen into the trap?"

He proceeded to elaborate his contention for a few minutes, and then
nodded confidentially to the jury. "So you see we are fully justified in
regarding with a very grave suspicion these wholesale recognitions with
which we have been regaled."

He laughed scornfully. "And how has he tried to induce you to believe
that it is so." He lowered his voice and went on, speaking very slowly
and in mock solemnity now. "An employee in the finger-print department
was dismissed three years ago, and it has just been discovered that
later he was in the possession of a poultry farm and 9000!" He paused
for a moment and looked smilingly towards the jury box. "Yes, he had not
had money left him and kept it quiet--the head of his department told
you he was a silent and reserved man--he had not perhaps had 5 upon two
horses in a double at long odds, nor yet again he was not sharing in
some good prize in the Irish Sweepstakes." He looked very amused. "No,
none of these things happened to him as might have happened to you or
me, but he had been bribed"--his big frame shook with merriment--"just
bribed."

He became serious again. "But I will not labour the point, for it is as
certain as anything is certain in the world that the prisoner is not
Oscar Bascoigne, and that, therefore, if he is guilty of these crimes
with which he is charged--they were motiveless and committed without
reason."

He picked up his notes. "And now we come to the Gibbett Inn and the
story of Cynthia Cramm and of all she overheard and her subsequent
recognition of the voice of the prisoner as being one of the four men."
He spoke very sternly. "I don't believe a word of it." He looked up at
the jury. "You were able to form your opinion of her character from her
demeanour in the witness-box! A pert, precocious child delighting to be
in the limelight and filled with her own importance! No doubt she made
up the story of the intended killings she pretended she had overheard,
partly to discount the cool reception she would be receiving from her
parents upon her return home. Then, when she read that murders had
actually taken place you can imagine her saying: 'Yes, and those were
the very names I heard mentioned, Burkington and Clutterbuck. I told you
so,' and her father and the village policeman having themselves no
remembrance of the exact names, immediately accepted as Gospel what the
girl said"--he shrugged his shoulders--"and so the story grew and grew."

Then he went on to say that when suspicions, conjectures, and surmises
were put away, he was in complete accord with his learned friend. The
prisoner certainly did frequent that shed at Ah Chung's, along with many
others, but being a spectator of cockfights did not make a man a
murderer, such exhibitions were not approved of in these, perhaps, too
squeamish times, but then it must be remembered that when the greatness
of this great country of ours was being built up in the face of the
enmity of the whole world--they were the most favoured pastimes of the
people and patronised even by the highest in the land.

Then, too, those visits to Eastbourne, Harrogate, and Leigh-on-sea were
frankly admitted. The prisoner often went to Eastbourne, and Harrogate
was Sir Charles Carrion's favourite resort, and it was just a
coincidence that murders were done when they were visiting those places
together. It was a coincidence also that the prisoner was at
Leigh-on-sea when those other men were killed.

He broke off here and nodded towards Peter Drew. "My friend may laugh,"
he said dryly, "but such coincidences as these are occurring every day."
He turned towards the jury-box again. "Why, I am told one of the ushers
in this very court, whose name is Gale, drew the horse Hurricane in the
last Derby sweep and sold half of his ticket to a man called Breeze!"

He reiterated that the case for the Crown was all built up upon
conjectures and they had no proof for instance that Carrion bore any
animosity against Lord Burkington, or, indeed, had even been aware that
his lordship had had any part in getting him put in an asylum. They had
no proof either that Guildford had nursed any gnawing hatred against two
of the many who had given evidence against him when he had been put on
trial.

Unhappily, it was quite useless to put the prisoner into the witness
box, for the levelling of this charge against him had made him a nervous
wreck, and for the time being his memory could not be relied upon, and
he could remember very little of his early days.

As far, however, as could be gathered, his life-history was that he had
been born in Lagos 45 years ago, with his father the manager of the mine
there, but the family, moving to San Francisco, he was the only one to
survive the great earthquake of 1906, and he had no relations living in
any other part of the world. Then for 12 years he had followed the sea,
but later he had been one of a party prospecting for copper in the
interior of the Argentine, and finally 19 years ago he had made his way
to Santiago and there, after accumulating a large fortune, he had
remained, until he had sailed for England a little over four years ago.

The great King's Counsel folded up his brief and added finally: "The
prisoner is not Bascoigne, and that being so, the whole case for the
Crown breaks down. I shall call no witnesses for there is nothing to
disprove."

Peter Drew's address in reply was brief but most incisive. He laughed to
scorn the idea of Tresidder-Jarvis's coincidences and insisted that if
any improbabilities had been put forward to sustain the charge of the
Crown, surely they were as nothing to the improbabilities that formed
the whole basis of the defence. The prisoner had admittedly been a close
associate of bombers, poisoners and murderers, and from the evidence
that had been given it was impossible he had not known of their
activities and taken part in them himself. Indeed, he was probably the
worst of them all. Bascoigne or Sheldon-Brown, his hands were stained in
blood, and he implored the jury not to let loose this monster in human
form upon the community again.

Tresidder-Jarvis, having called no witnesses, had the last word to the
jury, and reiterating over and over again that the prisoner must be
acquitted because as Sheldon-Brown there was no motive for him to have
committed any murder, and the evidence that he had done so that had been
given for the Crown was the weakest that had ever been put forward in a
court of law.

The judge summed up long and carefully, leaning to neither one side nor
the other, but finally admonishing the jury that if there was the very
slightest doubt in their minds they must acquit the prisoner.

The jury retired at half past three, but having come to no agreement by
six o'clock they were locked up for the night. Then at noon the
following day, and later again at four o'clock, the foreman intimated to
his lordship that there was no possibility of their agreeing, and so
finally they were discharged, and the prisoner recommitted for trial at
the next session.




CHAPTER XVII.--THE HANGMAN'S KNOT.


The day following upon the trial the Chief Commissioner of Police was
furious, for it had become known that but for the dissension of two of
the jurymen the verdict would have been guilty upon both charges,
without any hesitation. One of the dissentients, too, was a crank who
ought never to have been empanelled, for he objected to capital
punishment upon principle, and the other had taken the stand that
although things certainly looked very suspicious, yet he would never
hang a dog upon circumstantial evidence alone.

Larose, however, was still bright and smiling. "Never mind, sir," he
said trying to hearten the Commissioner, "we'll be more careful in
challenging the jury next time, and may get him after all."

"But I am always frightened of these disagreements," frowned the
Commissioner, "for they tend to make the next jury nervous, and you'll
always find that one disagreement is likely to be followed by another."
He shrugged his shoulders, "Then the Crown drops the case and proceeds
no further."

Then in the weeks that followed, for the second trial was listed to
begin early in February, both sides were busy. The Crown sent over to
Lagos and Santiago to determine what truth there was in the statements
that had just been forwarded by the defence and Messrs. Grundy and
Grundy, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, acting for the prisoner, were likewise
at work in the same directions.

Bascoigne had many interviews with his legal advisers, and upon one
occasion he had a long conversation also, in the presence of a warder,
with a well-dressed man who purported to be an old friend of his. What
they said the warder did not know, for they spoke in a foreign language,
but as he caught the word 'Espagnol' several times he judged they must
be speaking in Spanish.

At length the second trial came on, and it followed very much the same
course as the first, except that the Crown now brought up all they had
been able to find out about Bascoigne's alleged place of birth and the
date of his arrival in Santiago. But the information gathered was most
unsatisfactory upon both points, for while it had certainly been
ascertained that a man called Richard Brown had at one time been the
manager of a tin mine near Lagos, as could be substantiated by that name
appearing upon an old mining prospectus, still the few who remembered
him were certain he had had no wife or children, and neither was there
any evidence of any birth having been registered there. As to the exact
year when a Thomas Sheldon-Brown first appeared upon the scene at
Santiago no one could say with any certainty.

And it was the same with the defence, for they admitted they had no
witnesses to testify upon the prisoner's behalf. The population of
Santiago, they averred, was so floating that although many remembered
Sheldon-Brown as a big and daring speculator, they were none of them
prepared to swear when he came there.

The trial dragged on for eight days and then as the Commissioner had
anticipated, the jury disagreed again.

"And that's the end of it," he sighed the same evening to Larose. "They
won't try him a third time, but will just drop the case." He nodded
solemnly. "And then you look out, my friend, for you'll be a marked man.
I could only get into the trial once, for a couple of hours, but I don't
forget the way the wretch kept looking in your direction." He held up
his finger warningly. "He'll get you if he can, you and your wife and
that little daughter of yours."

"Oh! We shall be all right, sir," replied Larose with an assurance,
however, that he did not feel. "I've taken all precautions in case he
did get off, and we are all prepared."

And very soon Larose had good reason to rejoice that he had anticipated
what might happen, for two days later the Crown entered a nolle
prosequi, and, the Ingatestone charge being dropped also, Bascoigne was
once more a free man.

The Commissioner immediately rang up Carmel Abbey to give the news to
Larose, also adding pathetically, "And I have just made certain of the
rumour that it was only one of the jury who disagreed this time, an
uneducated fellow, who works in the meat market. But for him a unanimous
verdict of guilty would have been returned. It is most mortifying to us
all."

And it was certainly particularly mortifying to Larose, for he could not
help being aware that the authorities, and indeed the public generally,
had all along realised that it was upon the evidence obtained by him
that the charges against the prisoner would be sustained or would fall.

"L'Affaire Larose," as one of the newspapers had humorously referred to
the trial, and upon the Crown entering their nolle prosequi he saw that
same afternoon that the Daily Cry had headed one of its columns, "The
Great International Detective Fails at Last."

The next day he received an anonymous letter, post-marked London and
made up of words and letters clipped laboriously from some newspaper and
gummed on to a sheet of good-class notepaper. "Look out, you devil," it
read, "for it'll be your turn next." He did not doubt from whom it came
for the envelope and paper were of a blue colour and an Egyptian
cigarette was enclosed, of the same brand as those which he had seen in
the drawer of Bascoigne's desk.

Then a sinister rumour began to circulate in the city, for it was
whispered the last jury had been 'got at' and one of them bribed. At any
rate it was stated that the one man among them who had disagreed had
done so most unreasonably, just contenting himself with insisting over
and over again that his vote was for not guilty, and yet refusing to
give any reason for his opinion or enter into any argument at all.

His identity becoming known to an enterprising pressman, the latter had
tried to interview him at his house, but had been received with angry
renunciation and threatened with immediate violence if he did not clear
out. The man still continued to work at the meat market, but refused to
discuss the trial with any one.

Then ensued a very anxious time for Larose, for he made no attempt to
deceive himself about the danger they were all in at the Abbey.
Bascoigne was a madman, and, as such, might even be willing to sacrifice
his own life to obtain revenge.

So the servants were in part taken into their confidence and with the
explanation given them that for some fancied wrong an attempt to injure
their master or mistress or their little daughter might be made by a
lunatic at any time, warned that a most careful watch must be set.

The gates leading into the Abbey were from then always kept closed
unless the lodge-keeper was opening them; barbed wire was fixed all
along the walls surrounding the grounds, and during the day a man, with
a rifle handy, was stationed on duty among the trees. At night three big
wolf-hounds roamed at their will, well-muzzled, however, so that they
should not pick up any poison-baits thrown over for them.

In the meanwhile Mr. Sheldon-Brown had returned to his Crowborough
residence upon the afternoon of his release, like a savage and sullen
dog slinking stiff and sore into his kennel after a good beating.

Although no charge had been proved against him he nevertheless knew that
in the eyes of the world he was a leper, and, imagining that every one
whom he encountered was aware who he was, he had left London at the
earliest possible moment.

His old servants had gone, leaving without the wages due to them and
telling every one they would not stop another night in the house with
him for a thousand pounds, and so he found the place empty when he
arrived. He had opened the front door with the key in his left-hand and
an automatic pistol in his right. Then room by room he had gone through
the house in the same stealthy manner until he was assured that there
was no one there and above all--not Larose.

That night he drugged himself to sleep with brandy and opiates, and the
next day started upon the task of arranging his domestic affairs,
according to what he realised must henceforth be his mode of life.

He intended to cut himself off from all communication with the town, and
as far as was practical obtain all his supplies from the city. He would
pay no visits and receive none and, above all, he would fortify his
house, for if Larose was afraid of Bascoigne so equally was Mr.
Sheldon-Brown now afraid of Larose.

In the interval between the two trials, in the course of many
conversations with the warders, he had heard a good deal about Larose
and, among other things, had learnt that it was reputed the one-time
detective would never leave a man whom he had once come to believe was
guilty. The warders, with many sly smiles, had hinted also that it was
supposed to be his delight to take the law into his own hands if he
could not get the man he was after in a lawful way.

Then in about a fortnight Mr. Brown had provided for everything, and was
settling down to a life of severe and monotonous seclusion.

After considerable trouble, for directly they had learnt who was wanting
them, several eligible parties had immediately cried off, he had
succeeded in obtaining new servants, consisting of a Scotch family,
father, mother, and daughter, whom he had engaged at a very high rate of
wage.

This family knew all about him, and, having read almost every word that
had been written about both trials, the older two, at any rate, were
taking no chances.

The husband, who acted as butler, a dour, poker-faced man from
Inverness, always carried a cheap pistol about with him in his hip
pocket, and his wife, the cook-housekeeper, was never very far away from
a big skewer that she kept handy on the kitchen dresser. Only the
daughter seemed to have no fear, and, a fine, buxom lass, she often made
eyes at her master, in the hope that he might die one day and leave her
something in his will. From the notice Mr. Brown took of her, however,
it almost seemed that he was unaware of her existence.

The house was now well guarded, for every door and window had its own
alarm, and all the windows on the ground floor had high steel shutters
that were swung to and barred at night. The front door had now another
lock, and no would-be intruder could open it with a skeleton key.

The garden was left neglected. Weeds, inches high, now grew upon the
paths and the beautiful flowers, of which their master had once been so
proud, bloomed uncared for and in disarray.

Then in the weeks that followed, Mr. Brown was always distant and short
of speech with his servants. He never spoke to them except to give an
order, and then he gave it with a scowl as if he grudged the words he
uttered.

He rarely went out into the garden, but every morning would proceed into
his garage and make sure his car was ready for instant service, testing
the pressure of the tyres and letting the engine run for a few minutes.

The rest of the day, except for coming out for scanty and hurried meals,
he would spend in his study, with the door locked so that he should not
be disturbed. There, leaning back in a big arm-chair for hours and hours
he would brood, staring into vacancy, or again, he would seat himself at
his desk and write feverishly, but in a beautiful copper-plate
handwriting, in a thick morocco-bound book that he always carried about
with him, and never for one moment let out of his sight.

Larose was always the obsession of his mind, and fearful that the
one-time detective might be on the watch for him, he never by any chance
took a step outside the house after dark. He nearly always, however,
kept very late hours; and then above the curtains of his study windows,
until long after the chimes of midnight had struck, a thin streak of
light would filter through outside.

Always expecting that some one would attempt to break in, the slightest
sound would make him start and lift his head, but then after a few
moments he would remember the steel shutters and closely barred doors,
and with a loaded automatic upon the desk before him, his mind would
sink to rest again and he would feel assured that no danger would come
near him.

Night and day he nursed a dreadful hatred as he thought of how Larose
had tracked him down and so nearly brought him to the scaffold, and
often with a large ordnance map of Norfolk before him his eyes would
light up balefully as he ran his fingers in and out among the little
by-roads between the towns and villages there. Then, too, he would
mutter a lot to himself, and his face was not a pleasant one to see.

He still took cocaine, and now drank copiously of brandy.

Such was his uneventful daily life, and then one morning in the
beginning of April, after a very restless night, he rang for the butler
and announced curtly that he was going away, it might be for a day, it
might be for a week. Then ten minutes later his amazed domestics,
peeping from the kitchen window, saw him drive off in his car.

That same afternoon, driving his wife and the children back from Norwich
where they had been spending the day, and when not far from the entrance
to the abbey grounds, Larose's heart gave a great bound as a grey
limousine flashed up towards them and then quickly passed by, for he had
thought for the second that its driver was Bascoigne. He had only,
however, had a very fleeting glimpse of him, and a minute later he
believed he must have been mistaken, for this man was more evil-looking
than Bascoigne had ever been, even upon that night when such violent
hands had been laid upon him at Ingatestone.

But the next afternoon, to his great alarm, Croupin ringing him up from
Norwich, told him excitedly that but a few minutes ago he had seen
Bascoigne coming out of a gun-smith's shop there. He had, however, not
taken in who it was until he had driven the length of the street, and
then it had come to him in a flash that it was Bascoigne, and Bascoigne
clean-shaven!

"And, my dear friend," went on Croupin, "he looks awful now, with heavy,
sodden eyes, and such a wicked looking face."

Larose dismissed the matter quickly, lest his wife should come into the
hall, and asked laughingly how Croupin was enjoying his honeymoon,
whereupon Croupin, who was still in the seventh heaven of rapture--he
had only been married a fortnight--gave him a ten minutes description of
Angela's charms, declaring that with each hour he was finding her the
more and more perfect.

The master of Carmel Abbey was very troubled when he hung up the
receiver. It might mean nothing that Bascoigne had been in the
neighbourhood, and yet--well, they could only wait and watch.

And they had not long to wait, for three nights later when Larose and
his wife were at dinner, two bullets in quick succession came crashing
through the windows and buried themselves in the wall. Then came the
sounds of a rifle being fired not very far away.

The butler, an ex-service man, took in the situation like lightning, and
sprang over and switched off the lights.

"Good man!" exclaimed Larose quietly, "but I don't think he'll dare to
fire again." He moved over to his wife's side by the light of the fire
and pressing her hand, added smilingly, "And that'll be a lesson to us,
dear. We'll have dark curtains up everywhere to-morrow."

Then he darted out to the 'phone and getting through to the Norwich
police told them quickly what had happened. "Don't lose a minute," he
snapped, "and you may perhaps get him. He'll be alone in a grey
limousine."

But although a cordon was instantly thrown all round the main roads, no
grey car containing any such person as Larose had described was held up
that night.

Mrs. Larose bore up bravely and made light of the whole matter. Larose,
however, was in a fever of apprehension about her, for only a few days
previously she had become aware she was going to have another baby.

That night it was many hours before Larose got to sleep, and lying by
her side and listening to her tranquil breathing he considered in a
thousand ways how he could protect her from further shocks. He fell
asleep at last and dreamed that sitting wigged and gowned upon the
Bench, he was presiding over a Court of Justice, peopled only, however,
with dark shadows.

Nothing more happened the following day and the next and the next. "And
that's all he'll do," said Larose reassuringly to his wife. "I've found
out he's back again in Crowborough, and from the life he's leading there
he'll probably soon break up altogether. One of his maids tells them in
the town that he's drinking at least two bottles of brandy a day."

Then in the weeks that followed there were no more alarms at the Abbey,
and things went on in just the ordinary way. It was seen by everyone,
however, that the suspense was telling upon its master, and he made no
secret that he was now suffering badly from insomnia. Often he would go
for long walks at night, in the hope of obtaining a few hours' sleep in
the early morning.

Tiring of these lonely walks, he suddenly conceived a passion for night
fishing, and when the tides were favourable would motor night after
night over to Holkham Bay, generally starting directly dusk had fallen.
There he kept a small cutter, and manning it himself, he would fish for
hour after hour, often indeed until the daylight had almost come. He
always went alone, and was not always successful in catching any fish.

One beautiful night in May, when there was no moon showing, Mr.
Sheldon-Brown was seated at his desk about two o'clock in the morning,
writing in his book. He was writing slowly, for his hand was rather
shaky that night.

He wrote "----for of all my enemies he has proved to be the worst. But
I know that I have made him suffer, even as I suffered when my fate was
hanging upon a single thread. Day and night his suspense must have been
terrible, forever wondering how and when the next blow would fall. But
this cannot go on for ever, and soon I shall meet him face to face again
and then--" but he suddenly lifted up his head and began to sniff
violently.

The faint smell of petrol was stealing into the room, and it seemed to
be coming in by the window! A look of dire dismay came instantly into
his face, for knowing there were two 40 gallon drums of petrol in the
garage about a hundred yards away from the house, he realised in a flash
that if the smell were coming from either of them, then for it to have
travelled as far as his study the drum must be leaking dangerously.

For the moment forgetting all his fears in his anxiety he stepped
quickly across the room, and, unbarring the steel shutter, opened the
long French window. The smell was then instantly more apparent, and so,
with an oath of consternation, he started to dash over the lawn to the
garage, with the smell getting stronger and stronger with each yard that
he covered.

Reaching the garage he flung open the door and, stepping inside,
switched on the lights.

For the moment he was blinded by the glare, but he wrinkled up his
forehead in perplexity, for the smell seemed to have now all passed
away. Then to his amazement he saw that his car had been moved forward,
and as in a dream he caught a lightning glimpse of a long rope dangling
down from one of the rafters at the back of the garage. He----

* * *

The same day, just before noon, Larose was walking in the grounds of
Carmel Abbey with his little stepson, Sir Charles Ardane. He was
carrying a letter in his hand, and in a few minutes he came upon a man
on patrol among the trees.

"Here, William," he said, "just take this letter into the village and
post it, please. I'll look after your rifle," but when the man had gone
he left the rifle where it was and wandered away to try and find some
squirrels to show the little boy.

Returning presently to the house, they had just sat down to lunch when
the telephone rang in the hall, and a footman came in to announce that
some one from London wanted his master at once. Proceeding quickly to
the 'phone, Larose picked up the receiver and then recognising the voice
of the Chief Commissioner of Police, looked back over his shoulder to
see if any one were near.

The Commissioner's voice shook. "That Bascoigne has committed suicide,"
he called out excitedly. "Hanged himself in his garage during the
night!"

"Good God!" exclaimed Larose as if he could not believe his ears, and
then he added fervently, "Oh! what a relief!"

"Yes, and that's not all," went on the Commissioner with no abatement in
the excitement of his tones, "for he's left behind him his life-story
that he's written in a book. He admits everything and actually commences
with 'I, Thomas Oscar Bascoigne!'"

"What!" shouted Larose incredulously; "he's left a confession behind!"

"No, no, it's not a confession," replied the Commissioner, "it's a
boast. It's a glorification of all he's done, and it's not finished. He
was apparently writing in it, however, just before he hanged himself."

"But are you sure it's his handwriting?" asked Larose, hardly able to
get his breath.

"Sure," replied the Commissioner instantly, "for I've had both his
solicitors in here and they say it's his, without a doubt. I've got the
book on my desk at this moment, but it'll have to go back to Crowborough
for the inquest to-morrow. You'd better come up at once and I'll get you
also to attend the inquest if you don't mind."

So, after a short explanation to his wife, who clung tearfully to him in
her overwhelming thanksgiving, Larose set out for town.

The following morning accompanied by Inspector Reynolds, who was
representing Scotland Yard, Larose went down to Crowborough, and, along
with one of the uniformed constables from the town, proceeded to inspect
the garage where Mr. Brown had hanged himself. The identity of Larose
was not disclosed and the inspector did all the talking.

The constable was the one who had come up with a detective the previous
morning, directly upon the butler 'phoning up that his master had hanged
himself, and he described exactly what they had seen upon their arrival.

"Everything is quite clear, sir," he said finally, to the inspector,
"and there can be no doubt about the way he did it. He brought in that
ladder to tie the rope across the beam up there, and then with the noose
round his neck he just jumped off and dropped." He smiled. "He had
calculated very well, too, for his feet were not eighteen inches above
the ground when we found him."

"Humph!" remarked the inspector, looking up at the beam, "and did you
have to climb up there to get the rope down?"

"No," replied the constable, "for when we had taken off the noose from
the deceased's neck we were able to jerk the other end of the rope away.
It was only tied with a slip-knot over the beam," and at that moment the
butler's wife running into the garage to announce that the constable was
wanted upon the 'phone the inspector and Larose were left alone.

"These country chaps are always so sure about everything," smiled the
inspector, "that no wonder we Londoners like to take a rise out of
them," and, picking up the ladder, he propped it up against the rafter
and proceeded to climb quickly up.

"Here, you come up, too," he said after a moment, and upon Larose
complying with his request, he pointed to a little stain upon the beam
close near to where the rope had been tied.

"Looks like a smear of blood to me," he said, "so perhaps he barked his
knuckles when he was tying the rope." He nodded. "At any rate, I'll find
out at the inquest if there were any abrasions upon either of his hands.
It may turn out to be most important."

A few minutes, later as they were getting into the car to drive to where
the inquest was going to be held, the inspector asked Larose if he would
stop at some hotel on the way. "I've got a bit of a sore throat," he
said, "and as I shall now have to do some talking about that
blood-smear, I think I'll take a drop of port to ease it. I don't seem
to be able to shake it off," he added. "I caught it three weeks ago
fishing on Southend Pier."

"Oh! a fisherman are you?" asked Larose, as if very interested. "I'm
keen on it, too. I had three days night-fishing last week."

"Lucky man!" said the inspector enviously. "I can only get a day very
occasionally, and then I never seem to find a place where there are any
fish."

Larose thought for a few moments. "Well, look here, Inspector," he said.
"You were very decent the other day when my friend was under suspicion
at Rostrellor Court, and I'd like to make you some small return. What
about getting a week's leave next month and coming down with your wife
to Carmel Abbey when Mrs. Larose and I are alone? The whiting will be
biting then and I'll give you some good sport. No, nonsense, man, and if
you do find you're drinking port over 50 years old, and a footman is
standing behind you, remember I was only a policeman, too, and it isn't
three years since I left the Force."

The Inspector's face glowed with pleasure. What a feather in his cap he
thought, and how interested they would all be at the Yard! It was
believed that Larose lived like a lord at Carmel Abbey, and what a time
he, Henry Reynolds, would have!

He accepted the invitation at once and thanked Larose warmly. Then when
Larose allowed him to pay for the port wine they both had he thought the
ex-detective was quite the finest fellow in the world.

The inquest was held in a large room adjoining the mortuary, and the
coroner, a quick, sharp-looking man, was soon seen to be most
business-like in his methods of conducting the proceedings.

The constable and the local detective were the first witnesses called,
and they both stated what they found when they had arrived at the
garage, and then gave it as their emphatic opinion that to all
appearances the deceased had undoubtedly hanged himself.

The police surgeon of the district, who, along with a brother
practitioner, had performed the autopsy, came next. He was an elderly
man, and looked tired and overworked, as indeed he was. He told the
court he had seen the body before it was cut down, and there was no
doubt it was a case of self-destruction. The neck was broken between the
third and fourth vertebrae, and death would have been instantaneous. The
deceased was not a healthy person, for the heart was very much dilated
and the liver partly cirrhosed.

He gave his evidence quickly, as if he were anxious to get it over and,
had the truth been known, he had been equally as expeditious with the
post-mortem, and in consequence had not noticed a slight extravasation
of blood under the skin at the back of the head.

"If you don't bother him with any questions," whispered Larose to the
inspector, "it may be all over in time for us to get away to the one
o'clock lunch at the 'Crown' and then we'll have some much better port
than that we had this morning." He passed his hand over his face. "I've
got a bit of a headache and feel tired and hungry."

The inspector nodded and sat back. Certainly, after that invitation to
Carmel Abbey, he was not going to cross Larose in any way, and besides,
that it was a case of suicide seemed perfectly clear, and he was bored
with the proceedings, the like of which he had listened to many hundreds
of times before.

The last witness was the butler, Alec MacTavish, and he related
cautiously all that he knew. He had happened to wake up during the night
at ten minutes to three, he said, and had noticed from his bedroom
window that the lights were burning in the garage. He had remarked then
to his wife that it was a great waste of money, but he had not gone out
to switch them off because his master was always very angry at
interference of any kind. So he had got back into bed and gone off to
sleep again.

Yes, his master had been behaving very queerly lately, and drinking
heavily, too. He really had not seemed to be in his right mind. He often
sniffed, too, at that white powder in the bottle that had been
exhibited, and was now upon the table there. That was all he, MacTavish,
had to tell, and if his master had not died, he had been intending to
give notice immediately, for things had begun to get on his nerves.

The coroner summed up very briefly. There was no doubt, he said, that
the deceased had taken his own life, and a heavy drinker and a
drug-addict--they had heard from the doctor that that white powder was a
deadly poison, cocaine--it was not surprising that he had done so in a
sudden fit of depression. As they had heard, he had taken off his coat
and, folding it neatly, put it on one side along with his collar, his
tie, and his shoes, which, strange to say, was a proceeding very often
noticed in people who took their own lives. The deceased had left behind
him a sort of diary--he held up the book here for every one to see--but
although its contents were of great importance they were not relevant to
the inquiry and it was not for him, the coroner, to disclose their
nature.

He advised the jury to bring in the customary verdict of suicide during
a fit of temporary insanity, which they at once did, and the proceedings
terminated in time for Larose and the inspector to hurry away for the
one o'clock luncheon at the Crown Hotel.

The newspaper had a great sale that evening, announcing in huge
headlines the suicide of Sheldon-Brown, but they were not in all their
glory until two days later, when the contents of Bascoigne's life story,
as written line by line, was given to the Press. Then the flags went up
with a vengeance, and Larose was not a little gratified by a big
headline in the 'Daily Cry,' 'Entire Vindication of Gilbert Larose,'
followed by a line in smaller type. 'The great international detective's
reputation restored to its pedestal. Still the man who never fails!'

The story was most enlightening in its details, and besides giving the
inner history of the crash of Bascoigne's last financial venture, it
went fully into how he had first come to meet his co-conspirators and
how their vengeance had been later carried out.

Incidentally the authorities were enabled to assure themselves of its
trustworthiness by its mentioning of many things they had not learnt and
the truth of which they were able to immediately verify. For instance,
that the hat of Anthony Clutterbuck had been thrust down behind a groyne
upon the wall of Canvey Island, and that the rifle with which Lord
Burkington had been shot had been hidden in a rabbit-warren just behind
his house.

In the meantime, armed with a search warrant, four detectives, under
Inspector Reynolds, had made a lightning descent upon the domicile of
the only juryman who had refused to agree to a verdict of guilty at the
last trial and whom Bascoigne had recorded in his book as having
received a bribe of 2000. They were accompanied by a woman searcher.

They had expected an easy prey, but not a little to their surprise were
met by a furious and truculent individual who swore well and truly, with
one adjective many times repeated, that it was all a lie that he had
ever received a penny-piece from any one.

"Here, search that, you"--he hesitated--"you gentlemen," he shouted,
taking off his ragged coat and throwing it into the arms of one of the
detectives, "and keep all the fivers you find in the pockets for
yourselves." His voice was like the bellowing of a bull. "Me with two
thousand quid, and owing six weeks' rent to my crimson landlord!" He
pointed to the mantelpiece. "And there's a summons for 2/14/6 from the
ruddy grocer up the street."

Then when he learnt that the woman with them was a searcher, he began to
cast off more garments, with the grinning intimation that she could
start at once upon him.

The house and the little yard at the back were gone through most
minutely, but no money was found anywhere, and everything suggested the
border-line of abject poverty.

Then, when after a couple of hours of hard searching the detectives were
proceeding to leave, the man shouted at them.

"And you'll be keeping an eye on me, will you?" He laughed scornfully.
"Well, I'll tell you exactly what I shall be doing for the next few
days. To-morrow I'll be carting coals for old Stuckey round the corner;
on Friday I'll be working in the market, and on Saturday"--he looked
pleasant for the first time--"if I've got a bob or two, I'll go down to
Kempton Park and make a couple of quid. I know a brute that's going to
win at twenty to one."

Then when at last the front door was closed behind them, he wiped over
his forehead with his shirt sleeve and grinned at his now smiling wife.
"Whew!" he ejaculated in great relief, "but that was a close shave!" He
shook his finger warningly at her. "But I told you we should have to be
blasted careful for a long while, and now there'll be no going near
Mother's for a good month, and we won't shift from here for another
three."

He picked up the coat he had thrown at the detective and, abstracting a
well-folded piece of dirty newspaper from one of the pockets, drew out a
one pound Treasury note from among six or seven others. "Here," he said,
handing it over to her, "go and get some fish and chips and a couple of
bottles of stout," and then when she was putting on her hat he proceeded
to roll himself a cigarette, humming softly, but in very jubilant tone,
"A boy's best friend is his mother."

* * *

Inspector Reynolds and his wife had their week at Carmel Abbey and both
enjoyed themselves immensely.

Upon the night of their arrival the inspector and his host were smoking
in the lounge when the former remarked laughingly. "Oh! I've got
something very curious to tell you, and I'm sure you'll be interested.
Last Sunday four of us made up a little party to go down to Bexhill, and
we stopped for a drink at Tunbridge Wells. In the bar of the hotel were
a lot of country chaps yarning together, and presently that inquest upon
Bascoigne cropped up. One man then said it was a scandal the way it had
been hurried through, with no help being given by us up at the Yard.
Then he went on to tell an extraordinary tale that he said was going all
about Crowborough. According to him, that Scotch butler had got hold of
Bascoigne's book one day long before he hanged himself and, making a
copy of several pages, had sent them up to London, to the police."

"Great Scot! What a tale!" commented Larose.

"Yes," went on the inspector, "and he said we were all furious, for even
with this proof of the man's guilt in our very hands, we could not touch
him, because we knew he could not be tried again upon the same charge."
He grinned. "So what did we do?"

"I don't know," smiled Larose. "Suggested that he should hang himself,
perhaps!"

"No," said the inspector with his eyes twinkling, "but we just waited
for the opportunity and then hanged him ourselves." He nodded. "Yes,
this chap said that for weeks and weeks before the supposed suicide a
phantom motor car had been often noticed in the dead of night going up
and down the lanes near Bascoigne's house. It never showed any lights
and used to crawl so slowly that it hardly made any sound." He shook a
big fat finger. "And, by Jove, that wasn't all!"

"Gosh!" exclaimed Larose, pretending to be very awe-struck, "then some
one actually saw Bascoigne being hanged?"

"No," laughed the Inspector, "but the young fellow who was telling the
story went on to say that he'd been present at the inquest, and had
noticed something that no one else had done, and it was this." He
lowered his voice impressively. "When the rope with which Bascoigne had
hanged himself was being exhibited to the jury in the court, he had seen
that the noose had been tied in a certain peculiar way, with the true
hangman's knot at the back, so that the neck would break in exactly the
right place."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose with a smile, "he noticed that, did he? He was a
sharp fellow."

"Yes," continued the inspector, "and he said that not one person in a
million would know what a hangman's knot was, but he did, because it so
happened his uncle was a warder at the Old Bailey, and had often showed
him how they tied one." He leant back looking very amused. "Now, what do
you think of the story, Mr. Larose?"

For a long moment Larose regarded the inspector very thoughtfully, and
then replied with perfect seriousness: "I should think it's quite
true"--his face hardened--"and if it isn't, it ought to be, for
Bascoigne was a public enemy, and his hanging by any one would have been
justice and not murder." He smiled his most pleasant smile. "I would
have done it myself with the greatest of pleasure if I had been allowed
to."



THE END.


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