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Title: The Silent Dead
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Silent Dead
Author: Arthur Gask

_______________________________________

By the Same Author:

THE VAULTS OF BLACKARDEN CASTLE
THE STORM BREAKS
THE HOUSE WITH THE HIGH WALL

___________________________________________

Published by HERBERT JENKINS, LONDON, 1950.

___________________________________________


THE STORY:

A young and beautiful wife, happily married, is hiding two secrets of
which she is determined her husband must never learn. The one man who
discovers these secrets and threatens exposure meets with death under
mysterious circumstances, and she is suspected of murder.

Then Gilbert Larose, Scotland Yard's most famous detective, intervenes.
But, although Larose becomes convinced of the innocence of a courageous
woman and dramatically learns the truth about her past, even he is
unable to unmask the killer. It is not until the very end of this most
ingenious of Arthur Gask's many thrillers that the identity of the
murderer is revealed.

_______________________________________


CONTENTS:

CHAPTER

I........THE CHILD OF THE SLUM.

II.......THE HOUSE ON THE MOOR.

III......THE RIVER OF LIFE.

IV.......THE WEAKNESS OF A WOMAN

V........TAKING RISKS

VI.......THE COMING OF THE STORM.

VII......THE BATTLE OPENS.

VIII.....THE COMING OF GILBERT LAROSE

IX.......IN GREAT DANGER

X........THE CURTAIN FALLS.




CHAPTER I.--THE CHILD OF THE SLUM.


I have just seen my babies put to bed and made cosy for the night. I
know I could not have two better nurses looking after them, but my own
childhood was so hard and lacking in affection that I am perhaps
over-anxious to be sure that my own children do not want for love and
tenderness. My dear husband laughs at me, but I know it pleases him
that, with all my social duties, the children always come first.

Today is my twenty-eighth birthday and I know I shall never be able to
take in as fully as I should what wonderful things have happened to me
from my early teens onwards. Still, all my life has been wonderful, as
it can be little short of a miracle that, with the truly dreadful
promise of my early days, I should have come to my present very
prosperous and happy position.

Certainly I am a most fortunate woman, as life could surely be giving me
no greater happiness than it is giving now. I have a husband who loves
and respects me as much as any husband could love and respect his wife,
I have two lovely children, and we are happily situated, socially and
financially. Last year I had the thrill of being presented at Court.

If, too, I am not by any means a beautiful woman, I am grateful for
other qualities which are equally desirable. My husband declares that I
possess the rare gift of charm, derived, he says, half seriously, half
whimsically, from the French family of the ancien régime from which I am
supposed to be descended.

Yet--I was born in a London slum, my mother had been a general servant
and my father was, and indeed still is, a keeper in one of the animal
houses of Max's Menagerie.

My so humble origin is one of the two deeply buried secrets of my life,
and my dear husband, least of all, must never learn them. Thank Heaven,
he never will now, as all save one who could give me away are dead.
Strangely enough, this one who still lives is my own father, but he has
quite forgotten me and probably does not even imagine that I any longer
exist.

For a long time, however, he was a great anxiety to me, as there was
always the nagging fear at the back of my mind that one day we might
meet somewhere, perhaps in the street, and he would stop me and call
out, "Hullo, you're my daughter, Polly, aren't you?" Oh, how awful it
would have been and in time the very thought of it so came to haunt me
that at last I determined I would put it to the test.

I went to the Menagerie to see if he were still there and found that he
was. Though all those years had passed and he was much altered, I
recognised him at once. I did not dare then to approach him close, but
kept well away. Still, I knew I should have no real peace of mind until
I was sure he would not recognise me, and so, a few days later, made a
little party of friends and we went to the Menagerie to see the big
African lioness, whom we had read in the newspapers had just had twin
cubs.

Going into the Lions' House, I saw my father standing in front of one of
the cages and, with my heart beating painfully and my legs shaking under
me, forced myself to go up to him and ask if we could see the new cubs.
He looked at me uninterestedly and, nodding curtly, took us round to the
back of the cages and shewed them to us. After we had duly admired them,
I gave him a half-crown as a tip and he thanked me with a blank look of
no recognition. Oh, how relieved I was! Since then I have never given
him another thought, and he doesn't deserve one either, as he was a bad
father to me and an even worse husband to my mother.

Still I am quite sure that were everything known about me many would say
that I have been both bad and wicked myself, but I do insist that with
all my faults I have never wilfully brought pain or sorrow upon anyone.
Wherever, too, I have sinned against the conventions of our times, it is
I who have been the sufferer and no one else. Speaking there, however,
it is not for nothing that woman has been always called the weaker sex.
As long as time was she has been the natural prey of Man and if, in
temptation, it has happened she has been strong enough to resist her
inclinations--then to most people that very strength will have detracted
not a little from those endearing qualities which are both the crown and
glory of her sex.

My life-story is an unusual one.

I was born in Rocker Street, a dreadful squalid little street in Camden
Town, upon July the tenth, nineteen hundred and three, and I was known
as Polly Wiggs. Our house was the poorest and most mean-looking of all
the miserable ones there, and as a child, I remember we had very little
furniture, with what there was being so worn-out and shabby that even in
my very early years I was always ashamed for anyone to come inside.

Directly I was old enough to take notice of things I came to realise
what a disgrace my father was to us. Upon his weekly 'off days' when he
was not wearing his keeper's uniform he went about unshaven and unwashed
and with no collar or tie. I don't think he ever washed anywhere except
his hands or face; the smell of the animals he looked after at the
Menagerie always clung to him. Upon entering our house I could always
tell whether he was at home or not by the smell in the passage. He drank
a lot and spent most of his wages in the public-house. As I grew up he
took no interest in me except to slap me hard whenever he could make out
that I had done something wrong, and I came to hate and avoid him as
much as possible.

My poor mother was a most unhappy woman, always tired and always
complaining. She had good cause for complaining, as with my father's
drinking habits we were always short of money, always in debt and with
the landlord continually threatening to turn us out.

Before her marriage she must have been pretty in a dolly sort of way,
but worry, chronic ill-health and an almost annual child-bearing had
aged her very early and, taking no pride in her appearance, at thirty
she looked many years older than she really was. Happily, perhaps, for
my little brothers and sisters, they never lived long, infantile
diseases generally taking them off in the first year. Such mortality was
not unusual in Rocker Street and was symptomatic of the conditions of
life for so many of the poorer classes in the early years of this
century.

So, when I was about twelve years old and my mother stopped having
babies, I was the only child, and I remember so well what I looked like
then. As I went to and from school every day I used always to take a
glimpse at myself in the big mirror in the window of the barber's shop,
and saw a pale-faced, skinny, weedy-looking little horror, with hollow
cheeks and eyes seeming to occupy the greater part of her face.

Still, as I came to realise later, if I were indeed weedy-looking, there
must yet have been something of the vitality of the strong unwanted weed
about me, as I flourished while so many of the other children in the
street sickened and died. Croup, measles, scarlet fever and other
children's ailments passed me by and, ill-nourished as I undoubtedly
was, diseases of malnutrition got no hold upon me. I remember, I was
proud, too, that while so many of the other children had warped and
crooked little bodies mine was as straight as a willow.

Certainly, no one would have called me pretty then, but the woman at the
sweet-shop where I used to spend a very occasional 'halfpenny' told me
once over a small wrapping of acid drops that, when I grew up and my
face filled out, my eyes would be lovely. She said, too, the shape of my
face would one day make a lot of girls envious. I came to be quite a
favourite with her and sometimes, when I had nothing to spend and she
saw me looking at the good things in her window, she would darkly beckon
me inside and give me a farthing sugar-stick. Then I thought she was the
kindest woman in all the world.

At the Board School I attended I didn't get on as well as I should have
done, as I was generally not interested in much which they taught me.
Still, with any effort, I could always beat all the other girls in
poetry and reading. I remember one of the teachers saying once that when
I like I could be as sharp as a weasel, but I was too what she called
apathetic to bestir myself. She didn't take in that I was always hungry
and my poor little stomach never more than half-filled. Often for
breakfast, all I had was a slice of bread and a scrape of dripping on
it, and a cup of almost milkless tea. Milk by itself was a very rare
treat.

With the other girls at the school, I was very unpopular, as I kept
myself as aloof as possible and made no friends. It was not that I would
not have liked to have friends, but, with the cruelty of children, they
were always jeering at me about my shabby clothes. Certainly my clothes
were dreadful. Always of the cheapest and poorest quality they would
become in time so patched and darned that it was a wonder they held
together. Then, when at last as a matter of dire necessity I had to have
something new or be unable to go to school, my father always quarrelled
with my mother about it and would slap me angrily for having, as he
insisted, played so roughly that no clothes would stand the resulting
wear and tear.

Altogether, my school days were most unhappy ones and I slunk through
them an unhappy, unwanted and ostracised little leper. Even now, I
shudder when I think of my miserable childhood, and wonder its cruelty
did not leave its mark upon me all my life. Looking back, I really think
I was saved from that by my becoming so callous to the wretchedness of
my surroundings that I let it pass over me like the proverbial water on
a duck's back.

At any rate, better times were coming to me and at fourteen, just half
my number of years now, I started upon a new life, the turning-point, as
I realise now. I left school and went out as a daily girl at, what was
considered then a good wage, eighteen pence a day to a childless widow
who ran a small newspaper business and 'tuppenny library' in the Camden
Road.

From the beginning she was very kind to me and, out of pity I am sure,
at once took a great interest in the gawky, awkward and uneducated girl
whom she was now employing. She had been a school-teacher once and, with
nice gentle manners, always spoke most grammatically and in refined and
educated tones.

"But, my child," she said to me when I had only been with her a day or
two, "why do you talk so horribly? There's no need to. You've got a
nicely-modulated voice if you use it properly and from your face I can
tell you are something of a little actress, too. So, try straightaway to
improve yourself or you'll never get on in life."

Anxious to do everything she wanted, I did try, at first almost as a
joke, but very soon I was taking a great pride in it and she became so
very pleased with me. After a few weeks with her, to talk quietly and
pronounce my words correctly without dropping any aitches became quite
the natural thing. Even my father noticed it. "Play-acting now, are
you?" he scowled. "Then the way we brought you up ain't good enough for
you?" but my mother bade him be quiet and said that if I spoke nicely it
would mean more money coming in. That silenced him, as some of my weekly
money always went his way for beer.

My employer became particular, too, about my hands and, telling me they
were pretty ones and might easily belong to an artist, made me take care
of them and see they never became rough and red. Also, making out it was
a sort of uniform to serve in the tuppenny library, she bought me a new
dress of, to me at all events, amazing quality. She accompanied it with
the gift of a pair of shoes.

Making my father's acquaintance once when he called me to the shop door
one evening to get some money off me, she was so shocked at his general
appearance that the next day she suggested I should come to 'live in'
with her. I was to have food and lodging and £26 a year. I jumped at her
offer and, accordingly visited our squalid home only for a short time on
Sunday afternoons.

By now everyone was noticing my so altered appearance and the girls who
had been at school with me had taken to calling after me in the street
as 'the duchess.' Sex was raw in Rocker Street and my mother said that
some of them were even suggesting I was being kept by a man. Boys now
tried to catch my eye, but thank Heaven I had no interest in them and my
nature was to remain cold and unresponsive for many years after.

When I had been with the widow about eighteen months no one would have
recognised in me the scraggy girl who had first come to her. With the
so-much better food and the happy surroundings my face and figure had
filled out and I was no longer thin and pale. Attending upon the
customers, too, had given me confidence and altogether I was feeling a
very important young woman.

Again, the books I read, and my employer made me read every new one she
bought so as to be able to advise the borrowers which one to choose,
opened up a new world to me and I started day-dreaming and building
castles in the air, situated very far away, however, from Camden Town.

Still, all this happiness was not to last, as my poor mother died
suddenly from heart failure and my father said I must come back home and
keep house for him. My mother's death came as a terrible shock to me,
for though I had never loved her very much and there never had been any
real confidences between us, of late years I had been feeling intensely
sorry for her in the dull and dreary life she lived.

I should have fought hard against returning to Rocker Street except for
two things. The first, my father insisted that as I was under sixteen I
could not leave him without his permission, and threatened me with the
police if I did not do as he ordered. I was very frightened of the
police, always associating them in my mind with the struggling and
shouting that ensued when they descended upon Rocker Street to arrest a
fighting drunk.

The second thing, my grief at leaving the library was mitigated a lot by
learning that in any case my benefactor and I would have had to part.
She was selling the business to go to live with a brother of hers in
Aberdeen who had just lost his wife. For a parting present she gave me
five beautiful golden sovereigns, with the stern injunction that I was
not on any account to let my father get hold of them.

A fortnight back in Rocker Street proved as much as I could put up with,
and I made up my mind to run away. I told myself that, at any rate to
begin with, I would take the first situation offered me and go anywhere
where the police would not be able to find me.

So, one morning, leaving a note for my father to read when he came home
at night, saying I had heard of a good place in Scotland, I took a train
going almost in the very opposite direction and arrived at Torquay, in
the West of England, the same afternoon. With my heart beating a little
faster at the thought that for the first time in my life I was now
alone, I walked boldly into a cheap temperance hotel and enquired the
price of a room. I was told it would be half a crown including
breakfast.

Out early the next morning to buy a newspaper, I saw an advertisement in
the Western Morning News that a girl was wanted for general housework in
the country and, to my great joy, application for the situation was to
be made at an address in Torre, a suburb of Torquay. Within an hour I
was being interviewed by the advertiser whom I found was a Colonel
Jasper, an amiable and pleasant-looking old gentleman of a much better
class than any I had up to then been brought in contact with.

He asked me a lot of questions and, it struck me he seemed pleased I had
come from London only the previous day and knew no one in Torquay. I
fibbed that both my parents were dead and I had no relations at all.
Also, I put my age on two years and told him I was nearly eighteen.
Asked what references I could give, I said none at all, as my previous
employer who had kept a small lending library had died just recently.

After staring at me for quite a long minute, he seemed satisfied and
said he would give me a trial. "But I must tell you," he added, "that on
Dartmoor where you will live it is very lonely. You will find no Town
amusements there, no pictures or anything like that, and you won't see
many people either. Still it is very healthy and the scenery is very
wonderful. Your wages will be £18 a year." I was delighted. This was
exactly what I wanted. However long the arm of the police, I thought it
could hardly reach me there.

It was arranged I should meet him the next morning at nine o'clock upon
the platform of Torre Railway Station and we were to take the train to
Bovey Tracey, a small town about fourteen miles up the line close to
where the road starts to climb up on to the moor. I found him waiting
for me and took good stock of him again. He was wearing breeches and
leggings which were anything but new, and a leather motoring overcoat
which from the oil-stains upon it had evidently seen good service.

When the train drew in it was nearly full, with us having to occupy the
last vacant seats in a carriage. Accordingly, no conversation took place
between us on the journey and I was not sorry for it, as I was
interested in a book he had bought for me at the station bookstall. It
was all about Dartmoor and I was thrilled at learning to what a
mysterious place I was going.

The book said the moor was all that remained now of a once mighty
volcano which millions of years ago had heaved up great masses of molten
rock to remain as the tors of today. With a circumference of under fifty
miles, it rose abruptly from the surrounding country to heights varying
between two and three thousand feet above sea-level. It was studded
nearly all over its wide expanse with these big tors whose clefts and
crannies were the last home of the deadly viper, the one remaining
poisonous snake of the British Isles. Less than two hundred years ago,
too, wolves were to be seen roaming on its uplands.

The book went on to state that for many centuries the moor had had
something of an evil reputation, as history recorded that human
sacrifices had once been offered up upon the tors. Even today it was
believed by many of the superstitious dwellers round the countryside
that the ghosts of the violent dead still haunted the moor, and upon
nights when the moon was full would creep out from their hiding-places
under the tors and attack human beings who had been unwary enough to
come their way.

In summer, it said the moor was well-favoured by picnic parties and
tourists, but, even then straying far from the only two roads crossing
it its many stretches of dangerous bog-land always constituted something
of a menace to the unwary as they were deep and treacherous, with their
surfaces easily mistaken for solid ground. From time to time wandering
cattle and moorland ponies had been actually seen to disappear in them
within the course of a very few minutes. The danger of walking into
those bogs was all the greater because of sudden mists and fogs which,
even upon a bright summer day, might sweep down, apparently from nowhere
and quickly blot out all visibility beyond a few yards.

Such was what I had been reading and in a way, I was quite sorry when
the train reached Bovey Tracey and I had to put the book down. Colonel
Jasper said he wanted to go into the town to make a few purchases as
well as pick up his car, but I was to wait for him in the small hotel
near the railway station. He took me in there by the private door and I
sat down in the hall to wait until he was ready. He went out again by
the same door through which we had entered.

I was expecting to be very bored by the waiting, but, as it happened,
the chair I had chosen was close to a door which was slightly ajar and
hearing voices very near to me, I peered cautiously round to find I was
looking straight into the hotel bar. Besides the barman, there were two
customers, young fellows in the late twenties with all the appearance of
returned soldiers about them, and I guessed that the motor-cycling
outfit I had noticed standing outside the hotel belonged to them. They
looked very different from the barman who was a round-faced
simple-looking man of middle age.

All at once I heard Colonel Jasper's name mentioned. It was the barman
speaking in his soft Devonshire drawl. "Yes, as you say, he looks," he
remarked, "an eccentric character. For one thing he lives in a lonely
old place in the very heart of the moor miles away from anywhere."

"You mean he's got a shack there," asked one of the young fellows, "a
sort of holiday home?"

The barman guffawed. "Shack be damned! Why, it's a big stone house of
two stories with a fenced-in yard and plenty of out-buildings. It was
built by the Government some fifty to sixty years ago. They had some
cracked idea of sinking shafts all round to discover--well Heaven only
knows exactly what. However, they soon dropped the idea and the house
was shut up and left to go to wrack and ruin."

"Does he live there alone?" asked the other.

"No, he's got two Indian servants with him, an old man and his wife."
The barman laughed. "All old codgers up there, and we call it the old
folks home."

"But how on earth does he pass the time?" asked the motor-cyclist
curiously.

"Writes books about old gold coins," replied the barman, "and we've
heard tell he got one of the finest collections of them in the kingdom.
Then he goes fishing a lot, and watches the stars. Oh, yes, he's got
plenty of money. Last year he had a big telescope built into the roof of
the house and three men came all the way from London to fix it."

"But isn't he afraid of being robbed?"

"Not he," laughed the barman. "He's been a big-game hunter all over the
world and is afraid of nothing. He's a tough old guy. Besides, he's got
a couple of big savage dogs up there with him, Alsatians, and they keep
everybody away."

All the time I was seeing and hearing everything exactly as if I were in
the bar itself. One of the motor-cyclists had changed his seat, so that
while he was talking, he could keep his eye on his motor-cycle through
the window. This had brought him so near to me that by stretching out my
hand I could almost have touched him. However, the dim light in the
little narrow hall made me feel quite safe and I was thrilled at
learning anything about my employer. Of the conversation which followed,
too, even after all these years I can recall almost everything which was
said, as it seemed so much like a fairy tale to me that it left its
lasting impression upon my mind.

Suddenly I saw the other young fellow move up to the bar counter. "Here,
Gov'nor," he said, "have a pint with me, and tell us more about those
dogs and the old gentleman. I'm quite interested as I'm a newspaper man
and might make a good story out of it."

The barman drew himself a pint, and filled the other's glass. They
chin-chined together and the journalist asked, "Has the old chap been
there long?"

"Four or five years," said the barman, "and before him there was an
artist fellow, but he didn't last long. When he rented the place from
the Government he told everyone all he wanted was peace and quiet." He
banged his fist upon the table. "By hell, he got it, too, as one day he
disappeared and not a blooming trace of him was found afterwards. Some
think he slipped into Fowler's Bog, near by, but we round here believe
the warlocks got him and, carried him away."

"Warlocks!" exclaimed the journalist, looking very puzzled. "What are
they?"

The barman nodded darkly. "Evil spirits which haunt the moor, ghosts of
those poor devils who were killed as sacrifices on the tors those
hundreds and hundreds of years ago."

"But you don't mean to tell me," frowned the journalist, "that there are
actually people who believe in such things now?"

"My oath, I do," exclaimed the barman emphatically. "There are lots of
us round here who believe in them, just as our ancestors did long
generations back. It's in the moorland blood and we can't drive it out
of us." He laughed.

"Oh, yes, we may go to church on a Sunday and sing hymns and pray and
say our prayers and all that, but you offer us a fiver to go to certain
places on the moor when the moon is full and you just see how we'll look
at you. You'll have to put your fiver back in your pocket every time."

"And you've got this moorland blood yourself," asked the journalist.
"You wouldn't take the fiver if I offered it?"

The barman shook his head. "No, I just wouldn't." He flushed up a bit.
"I know I've never seen one of those bad spirits myself, but my old
grandfather did. He died a couple of years back at ninety-seven and I've
many a time heard him tell how one of them nearly got him when he was a
young chap."

"You mean he actually saw it?" asked the journalist.

"Actually saw it!" exclaimed the barman. "Why, man it almost seized hold
of him and it was touch and go that he escaped. It had taken the form of
a dark man, with a long white face and black hair right down on to his
shoulders. My grand-dad says it glared at him and its eyes seemed to
pierce right through him."

He spoke so earnestly that, although I thought it all nonsense, yet I
could feel my legs shaking. I saw the journalist wink at his companion.
"And where did all this happen?" he asked.

"On the main road right on top of the moor," said the barman, "just
before you turn off to where this old colonel lives. My grand-dad said
it was all bad luck, as he was caught out late just as it had got dark
and the moon rose. His pony had gone lame and he couldn't ride it. So he
was walking beside it, when all of a sudden this dark man sprang out of
the ground and stretched out his hands which my grand-dad says were like
claws."

The barman seemed quite affected by his story and there was a catch in
his breath as he went on. "Grand-dad knew what he was up against at
once, and fortunately kept his head. He made the sign of the cross with
his forefinger and ran for his life. He ran all the way until he got
home and then it took half a bottle of old brandy to revive him."

"But couldn't this evil spirit run faster than he did?" asked the
journalist, as if wanting to draw him on.

The barman pounded again with his fist upon the counter. "Yes, of course
it could, but my grand-dad's pony saved him! The spirit stopped to drain
his blood. My grand-dad heard the poor brute's dying screams. No one
ever saw the pony again."

"But how is it?" asked the journalist sarcastically, "that this old
colonel and his servants can live up there unharmed with these evil
spirits haunting round so close to them as you say?"

"We think, for one thing," said the barman earnestly, "it's because
these two servants of his may be something of bad spirits themselves.
They're not Christians and keep to the heathen gods where they come
from. One of these gods is a snake and called Siva, the Destroyer."

"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed the journalist, looking very amused. "How
did you find out that?"

"Jan Hedden, who used to live here," said the barman, "told us all about
it. You see, he was a tradesman in this town, and one day just afore
Christmas he went up to 'The Grey House'--that's the name of the
colonel's place--to mend a leak they'd got in the roof. While he was
having his dinner, a darned good one with plenty of cider, he said, the
old woman started to talk to him and she talked to him a lot. She's a
sorceress, right enough!"

"A sorceress!" exclaimed the journalist. "That's funny, isn't it?"

"It's more than funny," scowled the barman. "It's damned wicked. She
read his future for him and told him he hadn't long to live. Jan laughed
at her, as we all did when he told us, because he was as healthy as a
trout and could down a gallon of cider in about ten minutes." He nodded
very solemnly. "But Jan died three weeks later. He got pneumonia from
digging out a fox one cold Monday afternoon and the parson buried him on
the Sunday following."

"Dreadful, dreadful!" exclaimed the journalist. "And you think she made
him die?"

"Certain of it," nodded the barman. "She did it to show her power." He
shook his head savagely. "And if the law had allowed it we'd have gone
up in a mob and burnt her as a witch. Jan was a fine fellow and well
liked."

"But speaking quite seriously," said the journalist, "and not wanting to
laugh because we Londoners don't understand such things, are there
really many round the moorside who believe as you do? Now tell me
straight."

"There are many," said the barman with the utmost seriousness, "but
generally we don't talk about it, and I oughtn't to have done so now. I
tell you it's in our blood and we can't help it."

Evidently to keep things going, the journalist here suggested another
pint of beer, but this time the barman said he'd prefer a double brandy,
as talking about evil spirits had made his stomach queer. The brandy was
downed in one gulp and the journalist went on with the conversation.

"You say these dogs the old man's got are very savage?" he asked.

"Yes, very," said the barman, "and we know they're sheep killers. All
the farmers round here would just love to have the law put on the
colonel and get a magistrate's order to have the dogs destroyed, but the
devil of it is that, though so many of them have had sheep killed in the
night, they've never yet managed to get the actual proof that his dogs
were the killers. A couple of weeks ago Harry Baker was sure he had got
it at last, but the evidence, once again, all fizzled out."

"And how was that?" asked the journalist. "It'll fit in well with my
story."

"It was early on a Sunday morning," said the barman, "and, just as it
was beginning to get light, Harry--he's a farmer up Lustleigh way just a
couple of miles from here--was woke up by hearing his dog starting to
bark like fury. He whipped on his trousers and boots and ran out to
loose his animal off the chain. It was a misty morning and in the half
light he couldn't see far, but he swears he caught sight of a big brute
of a dog just vanishing out of sight. He unchained his own dog and it
picked up the strange scent at once and was off like an arrow. Then to
Harry's great uneasiness, everything went quiet again and his dog didn't
come back. Daylight came on in a few minutes and, the mist clearing a
bit, what do you think he saw?"

"One thing, for sure," nodded the journalist, "his own dog was dead."

The barman nodded back. "With its throat almost torn out. Then, within a
hundred yards or so, he saw five of his best ewes had been served in the
same way. Now Harry's always a quick worker and, within ten minutes, he
had routed out the local policeman, taken him to see the slaughtered
sheep and, with him in his car, was racing like blazes up to 'The Grey
House.'"

"And what happened?" asked the journalist, because the barman had
tantalisingly stopped speaking.

"Nothing," he grinned, "except that they found both the Alsatians there
with the colonel giving them their breakfast of bread and milk. Neither
of them showed any signs of sweat or blood and it was certain they had
not left the place all night."

The journalist laughed and, looking at his watch, rose up to go. "Thanks
for the story, old chap," he said, "and here's half a dollar for it. We
must be off. Goodbye."

I was disappointed to see them go but another customer immediately took
their place. "Two journalists from London," remarked the barman to the
newcomer, as the motor-cycle was being ridden away.

"Journalists, my eye!" commented the other. "They come from London right
enough, but they're street bookies in Whitechapel Road, and I had a bet
or two with them when I was up there last month. I recognised them at
once. The good-looking one with the moustache is called Tod Bellamy and
his reputation's not too good. They say he's been in quod for burglary,
only a little while ago."

I didn't hear any more of the conversation as at that moment the hall
door opened and Colonel Jasper beckoned me out.




CHAPTER II.--THE HOUSE ON THE MOOR


Following upon my coming to the house on the moor, it was some weeks
before I settled down into a contented frame of mind and felt happy in
my surroundings. It was not that my employer and two fellow-servants
from the very first did not do their best to make me comfortable, as it
was obvious they were intending to be most kind to me. The work, too,
was light and I had plenty of spare time to myself; the food was good
and there was a cosy, homely atmosphere in the big kitchen where we
three had our meals. Another thing, I had a nice comfortably furnished
room in the upper story and, the weather being cold--it was November
when I arrived--I could have as big a fire as I wanted in the huge
old-fashioned grate.

Yet--I could not shake off the feeling that an evil spirit brooded over
the place. There was something so gloomy and sinister in the great
loneliness of our surroundings, and it seemed to suggest to me tragedy
of a mysterious and unknown kind. As I expected from what I had heard at
the hotel in Bovey Tracey, we were miles and miles from anywhere, with
no other habitations in sight, no road near us and, week after week, no
human beings passed by. We might, I thought, be the last people left
alive in all the world, destined to live and die and meet no fellow
creatures again.

The house was situated about halfway down a sort of big saucer in the
moor and surrounded on all sides in the near distance by the huge grey
tors. Though of anything but a nervous disposition, I used sometimes to
sit at my window at night and imagine there were hundreds of unfriendly
eyes watching the house. When the moon was up I was quite sure I could
see dim and ghostly figures flittering round among the rocks at the foot
of the tors.

Amusingly enough, to some extent I had got upon a confidential footing
with my master at once, almost indeed before I had been in the house a
couple of hours. We had hardly finished the midday meal when he appeared
at the door of the kitchen and beckoned me out.

"I want you to get accustomed to the dogs," he said, "and the sooner the
better, because, seeing so few people, they are inclined to be
unfriendly with strangers. I hope you are not afraid of dogs."

I told him I certainly was not, though up to then my acquaintance with
dogs had been confined to the patting of the few mongrel strays that
were always hanging about Rocker Street. He led me into the yard and two
magnificent-looking Alsatians sidled up and eyed me suspiciously. "These
are our children, mine and my servants," he said with his voice dropping
to gentle and affectionate tones, "Jupiter and Juno, the much-loved
children of three old people. We dread the time when one day we shall
have to lose them. No, don't be afraid. They'll be quiet as long as I am
here with them."

But I wasn't in the least bit afraid, and at once started to pat them.
At first they just tolerated my attention, with their huge, fierce eyes
fixed intently upon my face. Then, however, their tails began to wag
ever so slightly which made my master seem rather surprised. "That's
splendid!" he exclaimed. "You've evidently got a way with animals. Some
people have, but it's a gift born in them and can never be acquired.
Yes, they'll soon be friends with you and, once they are, they'll be
faithful unto death. Now I'll show you another dog, but he won't take to
you so easily. He's of a wild breed and you must never go too near him.
First, I'll chain these two up. They've never got over their jealousy of
Sakao. That's the other dog's name."

He led the way across the yard to a big shed and, opening the door, I
saw it contained a good-sized cage, heavily barred. The front of the
cage faced away from us and looked out on to the open moor. I sniffed
hard and an unpleasant chord of memory stirred in me. I was back in our
horrible little house in Rocker Street again.

"But you've not got another dog here," I exclaimed. "I can smell the
smell of a wolf."

My master turned on me with a start. "No, no," he said sharply. "It's an
Indian dog. He came from near Tibet."

A dark blackish shape darted out from the shadows at the far end of the
cage and, standing on its hind legs, thrust its muzzle against the bars,
at the same time wagging its tail violently.

I laughed merrily. "But it is a wolf, sir," I said, "an Alaskan wolf,
and it's only half-grown as yet. It'll be twice that size one day."

My master's pleasant face turned to one of great sternness. "What makes
you think that?"

"Oh, I know for certain," I said confidently. "You see, you see--" I
hesitated for a few moments to gain time, "I had an uncle once who was a
keeper in Max's Menagerie and he had charge of the wolves there. As a
little girl, he used often to take me behind the cages and show me their
cubs. That's how I recognise this wolf here."

His face was a study. He looked most embarrassed and uneasy, and, indeed
almost angry. Then suddenly his whole expression altered and his face
broke again into its usual pleasant lines. "Then I see it's going to be
no good trying to deceive you," he said with a smile, "but I didn't want
to frighten you. Yes, it is an Alaskan wolf and only half grown, as you
said."

A sudden thought came to my mind. "And did he then get out and kill
those sheep that Sunday morning," I asked, "those belonging to that
farmer at a place called Lustleigh?" and a second later I could have
kicked myself for being such a little fool to say I knew anything about
what I heard had happened.

My master's face had become very stern again and he glared with angry
suspicion at me. Still, he spoke very quietly, "And how, pray, do you
come to know anything about it?" he asked.

Now as can be well understood, up to then I was only a very ill-educated
young girl who had practically had no experience of the world, but I
always take something of a pride in remembering how, after my so
tactless and foolish admission that I was in possession of a secret he
would certainly want no outsider to know, I yet collected my wits so
quickly again and spoke quite as quietly and casually as he had done.

"Oh, I heard all about it this morning," I replied, "when I was waiting
for you in the hotel," and I told him what the barman had said, adding
quickly, "But you needn't be afraid, sir, that, if you do not wish it
known, I shall never tell anyone you have a wolf here. I'm not a girl
who talks and know when to hold my tongue. You can quite trust me."

His face had cleared while I was speaking and he smiled quite nicely
again. "Yes, I think I can," he said. He shrugged his shoulders. "You
see this poor beast has become something of a worry to me. When only a
few weeks old he was smuggled here to me by a sea-captain friend of mine
who thought he was giving me a wonderful present. I didn't want him, but
I've gradually grown quite fond of him. He's a terrible one for getting
out of his cage. That's twice he's done it now and the farmers would
murder me if they knew I'd got him here."

"But how did you get him back after he'd killed those sheep?" I asked
wonderingly.

"He came back by himself and I found him whimpering outside his cage.
The poor beast had become frightened and wanted to get back to his
home."

I took a great liking for my master at once and, in return, he evinced
quite a fatherly interest in me. I always think it might have been
because he had never married and had no children of his own. So the fact
of having someone young about him appealed to him now in a novel sort of
way. Another thing, too. With all his many interests, his collection of
gold coins, his books and his writing at times he must have been lonely
and wanted someone to talk to. His man, Rahm, was rather deaf and,
accordingly, difficult to carry on a conversation with, and between him
and Mrs. Rahm--I learnt the two of them had been in his household for
upwards of thirty years--there was always something of the barrier of
natural awe which I understand every Indian woman has for her Sahib. At
any rate, with all her strength of character, Mrs. Rahm, I soon
perceived, always seemed shy and meek when in his presence.

So, apart from helping in the housework for which I had been engaged
because of Mrs. Rahm's advancing age and rheumatics, I speedily became
as well something of a companion to my master. I carried his things for
him when he went trout fishing in the little stream about half a mile
from the house and accompanied him as well when he went out with his gun
after plover on the moor. Of an evening, too, when I had soon become
quite an expert with his typewriter, I typed while he dictated slowly a
book he was writing about his so prized collection of gold coins.

And, oh, as it turned out in time, how fully I was to be repaid for
every service I did for him! The three years I was associated with him
were to make all the difference in the world to me in my after-life, as
when we eventually parted I was altogether a changed girl from the raw
and ignorant one who had first come to him.

When I had been with him only a few weeks, always of a kind and in a
general way most conscientious disposition, it seemed suddenly to dawn
upon him how unfair it was for him to have brought a girl of my age into
such a lonely place where no chance would be given her of developing her
character. So one day he told me smilingly that, as my mind was so
virginal--of course he meant I was so ignorant of everything--he felt it
his duty to give me some sort of education.

Accordingly, he started to awake my interest in everything generally. He
talked to me of the countries he had been to, of history, of science, of
the religions of the world, of the great men living and dead, of the
great books that had been written, of art and even music.

His knowledge, as I came to realise later, was encyclopaedic and he had
a way of imparting it that impressed it forcibly upon my memory. My
memory was good and, naturally quick and sharp, he found me an apt
pupil. He accompanied his teaching, too, with a reference to the
hundreds and hundreds of books he had in his library.

Soon he was making me give a good part of each day to study, and if he
had not stirred my ambitions I should certainly have regarded him as
something of a hard taskmaster. However, I had become as enthusiastic as
he was and never gave him any cause for complaint. I thought him one of
the kindest and best of men and a real affection sprang up between us. I
was not the only one either who thought the world of him.

His two Hindu servants idolised him, and everything he did, in their
eyes, was right. Watching him like a faithful dog, his man, Rahm was
always alert to do him any service he could.

Rahm and his wife were unlike any Hindus I had ever read about, as they
both ate anything, and Rahm himself smoked quite a lot. Also whenever my
master went into Bovey he always brought back a bottle of beer for him.
I never had much to do with Rahm, as he was a quiet and reserved man who
spoke very little. While he seemed to me to have little religion at all,
his wife appeared to have lots of different kinds. Indeed, my master
told me laughingly once that, though her people in India were of the
Brahman or priestly class, she generally picked up something of a new
religion wherever she went.

From the very first I was most interested in her, as she was a very
unusual woman and so very clever and capable in so many ways. Of medium
height, she was stout, with a big heavy face and huge dark eyes. She
cooked beautifully and was one of the best dress-makers I have ever
known. Of an evening when all the work was done, she would appear in a
beautiful silk gown, and wearing big earrings and big bracelets of solid
gold. She had beautiful brooches and rings of sparkling stones, too, and
would bind her head round in a rich-looking scarf of most lovely
colours. When later I had got to know her quite well I told her
laughingly that she looked like a picture I had once seen of the
favourite wife of an enormously wealthy Rajah. She was very pleased with
what I said and gave me a stately bow. She could speak English
perfectly.

About her religion, and I never could get out of her exactly what it
was, but it was certainly of a funny kind. While she never admitted
saying any prayers, at night she would burn incense sticks in her
bedroom before several beautifully-carved little ivory statues she had
upon a shelf there. One, in particular, always intrigued me. It was that
of a squatting bull richly caparisoned, and she told me it was an exact
reproduction of the Giant Bull of Siva in the city of Mysore. She had
another one, the head of a fearsome-looking hideous snake with big amber
eyes, and she said he was 'Siva the Destroyer' himself.

I asked her once if she believed in God and she replied, very solemnly,
"Yes, and in more than one, in many." She went on to tell me she was a
student of the Occult, "That which we don't see," she said, dropping her
voice into a low whisper, "that dark world which lies all around us, but
where the spirits move only in the mystery of the night." Her arm shot
out towards the window looking out on to the moor. "At nights when the
moon is full spirit men and women move along those tors, and if it is
warm and not too bad for my rheumatism I go out and walk among them."

"But don't they ever harm you?" I asked, pretending to be very
astonished.

She shook her head. "They would do if they dared, but they know I am
myself of the spirit world with them, and accordingly protected. So,
while they might do dreadful things to you if you went among them, they
leave me alone."

Of course, while it certainly gave me a deliciously creepy feeling
listening to her, I didn't believe a word she said. Still I asked
curiously, "But how is it you are like this, so different from other
people?"

She became very serious. "By long years of meditation. I am well over
sixty now, and for more than forty years I have been training myself."
She held up one fat and bejewelled hand warningly. "Do you know that
when I look in one of those crystals I have shown to you I can see into
the future as well as the past? I could see into some of yours if I
tried, but the Sahib has forbidden me to do anything to you, and I bow
to him as I would to any gods." She laughed softly. "Why, I could throw
you into a sleep if he would let me and strip you bare of all your
secrets. Oh, yes, girl, you have secrets, though they are not bad ones.
Still, you have not told the Sahib all the truth. I had a spirit dream
about you the other night and a rough-looking man asked me about you,
but I would not tell him, and he went away. He will never trouble you
any more."

Remembering what I had heard the barman say about her powers, I felt
really uneasy now and was glad to think she was so friendly with me.
After all, I told myself, it was impossible for anyone to read the
future, though for all that I resolved to get my master's permission one
day and let her tell me what she could of all that was going to happen
to me.

Now, while undoubtedly this Indian woman talked a lot I considered
rubbish about things I could not understand, of things I could grasp, as
I have said, I found her a very clever woman.

One day she had a bad headache, with so much pain that she said she
could hardly see. She suggested I should massage her head and neck for
her and explained to me how I should do it. "But you must concentrate,"
she said sternly, "and be confident you are going to do me good." I did
as she directed and almost at once she declared her pain was passing.
"You have the gift of healing, my child," she exclaimed excitedly. "It
is stronger in you than in me. You have the power of giving something of
your youth and strength to others."

After that she gave me many lessons in massage, not, as she said, the
mere kneading of the muscles, but acting also upon the nerves and
transmitting curative properties all over the body. At any rate, when
later my master had a bad attack of neuritis in one of his shoulders it
was found I could take away the pain almost at once, and he was very
grateful to me. "So, there's some good after all in that old lady," he
laughed. "I told you she was a remarkable woman."

Mrs. Rahm was very proud of what she had discovered in me and, sending
down to Plymouth for some of the best quality tweed, made me a costume
which I was to learn afterwards was as beautifully cut as if it had come
from the workshop of a designer in Mayfair.

And now I come to the beginning of a happening which years later was to
occasion me much anxiety before its reverberations were silenced and
died down for ever, Thank Heaven, now some time ago!

It started upon a horrible wet evening in the March after I had arrived
at the Grey House. The morning had been fairly fine, but towards noon
the mists began to roll over the moor and a drizzling rain set in. So
far from clearing in the afternoon as it often did, the rain became
worse and, with darkness setting in it was raining heavily. It was
bitterly cold, too, and there was all the promise of a dreadful night.

I was in the big living-room, laying the table for my master's evening
meal, while he was reading in an armchair before the bright fire. The
two Alsatians were sleeping on a big rug beside him.

Suddenly, the dogs stirred uneasily and, sitting up, began to growl
ominously. My master turned to me with a frown. "They heard something,
Polly," he said and, as he spoke, the growls turned to snappy barks and
then, even as we stood listening, there came a loud knocking upon the
front door.

My heart began to beat painfully. All the months I had been upon the
moor no one had ever come to the house after the night had fallen and,
with the windows and doors heavily barred and the two big dogs to
protect us, I had always felt so secure from any harm or danger. Now,
however, the coming of someone, upon such a dreadful night, too, when
the rain was lashing against the windows sent a chilling fear into me
and I could feel my legs shaking under me. From the expression upon my
master's face I could see he was not wholly undisturbed, either, and
that made me feel even worse.

I always remembered that barman at the hotel having said the Colonel was
afraid of nobody and nothing, but I had long since came to realise that
the man was mistaken there. Fearless of everything in the ordinary way,
I had learnt my master had yet one great anxiety and that was his
collection of gold coins. They were more than three hundred of them and,
very valuable, they would have tempted any thief to get hold of them. I
know I had made his anxiety worse, too, by so tactlessly telling him, as
I had done, that his possession of them had been discussed openly that
morning over the bar in the Bovey Tracey hotel.

Now he sprang quickly to his feet. "Tell Rahm," he ordered me sharply,
"to light the lantern and bring it to me upstairs. I am going to open
the window over the front door and see who is knocking."

Obeying his orders and seeing Rahm run up with the lantern, I stood
trembling at the bottom of the stairs to listen to what was going on.

I heard the window opened and my master call out, "Who are you, and what
is it you want?"

"I've lost my way," called back a man's voice. "How far is it to
Princetown, please?"

"Ten miles," was the reply, "but you'll never get there on a night like
this. Who are you?"

"A holiday-maker from London. I've walked from Okehampton today."

"Extremely foolish," snapped my master. "You ought to have had more
sense."

"Well, if I can't get to Princetown as you seem to think," said the man
outside, "could you let me sleep in a stable or some barn tonight. I've
got some sandwiches with me, and shan't trouble you for any food. I'm a
returned soldier and accustomed to roughing it."

Now I knew my master to be very kind-hearted and would not allow that
with all his disinclination to let a stranger come into the house. So, I
was not at all surprised when I heard him say, "No, I'll have to let you
come in," and then he added sharply. "But, first, are you carrying any
firearms? You're not? Still, you'll have to let us search you to make
sure. We are old people here and can't afford to take any risks. Wait
where you are, and I'll come down and open the door."

A minute or two later the front door was opened, to bring within the
rays of a lantern a young fellow, looking drenched from top to toe. With
one hand my master held up the lantern and with the other restrained the
snarling dogs whom he was holding by their leashes.

"Stand quite still," ordered my master, "or I shan't be able to keep in
these dogs. Hold your hands above your head and my man will search you.
I'm sorry, but we must be quite sure."

The stranger submitted smilingly to the search and then, unbuckling his
knapsack from his shoulders, exposed the contents. No weapon being found
there, my master led him into the house and ushered him into the big
room where the fire was burning. "Now we'd better introduce ourselves,"
I heard him say. "I am Colonel Jasper, late of the Indian Army."

"And I'm Baxter Smith," returned the other, "at one time Lieutenant in
the Second Kents and now an officer in the London branch of the
Consolidated Bank." He held himself every erect and spoke in educated
tones. "I am sure it is most kind of you to take me in. I am most
grateful to you."

My master, repressing the annoyance he must have felt, at once became
the courteous host. "My man is getting a room ready for you," he said
graciously, "and, directly the fire is burning, you shall go upstairs
and get rid of your wet things. I'm afraid an old dressing-gown is the
best I can do for you while they are drying." Then, noticing his guest
was looking at the growling dogs, he went on. "You needn't worry about
them as long as I'm here, though they're always inclined to be
unfriendly with strangers."

In the meantime I was going on laying the table, now, however, arranging
for two. Covertly having a good look at the guest-to-be, I felt almost
ashamed with myself for having been such a little fool and so frightened
at his knocking upon the door. He appeared to be just what he said he
was, an innocent holiday-maker who had lost his way, and one could not
help feeling sorry for his drenched condition. Obviously, he was soaked
to the skin.

Still, for all my sympathy there, I was not too much taken with his
appearance. Certainly, he was not bad-looking, but I thought the
expression of his face was an overbold and insolent one, and it was not
made any better by his hard and glittering eyes. I judged him to be
about seven or eight and twenty.

For the meal which followed, with his wet clothes taken away by Rahm to
dry, he came to the table in the promised dressing-gown and pyjamas. I
waited upon them, and it was a very nice meal, grilled trout, a cold
duck and Stilton cheese. He stared at me quite a lot, almost, I thought
disgustedly, as if he were trying to catch my eye. He was most
respectful, however, to his host.

"But how is it?" asked my master, "if you were travelling from
Okehampton to Princetown by compass as you say, that you were so much
out in your reckoning, quite ten miles in a comparatively speaking short
journey?"

The young fellow shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I had to keep on
avoiding what I thought were bogs and I expect that put me out a bit.
You see that damned mist closed down upon me about noon and I could see
absolutely nothing after that until a narrow streak of it lifted for
about two minutes about half an hour before I knocked on your door. Then
I found I was almost banging into that big tor you've got close near
here."

"I don't understand," said my master, looking very puzzled. "You mean to
tell me you've been walking blind over the moor since midday to-day."

"Except for my compass. I was holding it in my hand almost all the
time."

"And the first thing you saw was this big tor near the house?"

The other nodded. "Yes! Another five yards and I should have walked
head-on into it. But that lift in the clouds came just in time and I saw
the light of this house, too. I was so done up by then that, though the
rain had started to come down in torrents, after taking the bearings of
your lights, I had to sit down for a bit of a breather." He laughed. "I
think I was lucky to see the lights here."

"Lucky!" exclaimed my master. "I should just think you were. Why, that's
Black Tor you nearly ran into and it's surrounded on three sides by
Fowler's Bog, the deepest and most dangerous bog on the whole moor. Two
men are known for certain to have lost their lives there and, coming the
way you must have done, you were walking within a few feet of it for two
or three hundred yards. Why, it's dangerous for anyone who doesn't know
every inch of the ground to walk there even in broad daylight."

At that moment the conversation was interrupted by Rahm coming into
speak to Master and a short conversation followed. They spoke quickly in
Hindustani and there was no particular expression upon their faces. Of
course, at the time I didn't understand a word of what they said, but
later that evening I learnt what the talk had been about.

"This man, Sahib," had said Rahm, "is a liar. He had had a pistol on him
somewhere, most likely in one of his boots. He hid it in the bed before
he handed out his wet clothes for me to dry. I saw the sheet had been
disturbed and looked to see why. The pistol is fully loaded. Should I
take the cartridges out and put the pistol back."

My master had replied quite quietly, "Ah, now we know where we are! No,
don't touch the cartridges, or, directly he handles the pistol, he'll
know they are gone. Get that piece of carborundum out of my drawer and
file away the nipple on the trigger of the pistol. Be sure you file away
enough, so that it won't strike the cartridges, and then put the pistol
back. We'll lock him in his room tonight." Then, as Rahm had been
leaving the room, he had turned apologetically to his guest. "I am sorry
I can't give you coffee from freshly-ground berries, as my man tells me
our little grinder has gone wrong. So, it's only coffee essence I can
offer you," and he resumed the conversation where it had been
interrupted.

At nine o'clock to the minute my master rose to his feet. "I don't want
to appear inhospitable," he said, "but we always retire at the same time
here and so, if you don't mind, I'll get you to go up to your room now."
He laughed. "We shall be locking you in, too, for as I told you we old
people cannot afford to take any risks. Besides, if you happened to walk
in your sleep during the night it might turn out to be very dangerous
for you, as the dogs run loose in the house after dark and, as I've told
you, they're savage with strangers."

The next morning the lieutenant's door was unlocked very early and my
master, accompanied by Rahm with the dried clothes, came into the room.

"Your good fortune is still holding," he said briskly, "for the rain has
cleared off and it's going to be a fine day. When you are dressed you
can find your way down yourself, as my little dogs are now out in the
yard. Breakfast will be ready in twenty minutes."

However, our guest was quicker even than that, as when I was carrying
some breakfast things into the big living-room to my great annoyance I
found him already there by himself. He was holding a book of
Shakespeare's Plays in his hand, and I guessed he must have taken it
haphazardly out of the bookshelf. As it happened, it was one my master
had recently given me for my lessons in English literature and he had
written my name on the fly-leaf.

The young fellow looked up when I came into the room and greeted me
unpleasantly. "Hullo, Polly," he exclaimed in cheeky and familiar tones.
"So, the Polly of last night is Miss Polly Wiggs, is she?" He grinned.
"Well, the surname's not half nice enough for such an elegant young lady
as you are, and I think it a great shame, too, your wasting all your
prettiness up here, so far away from the boys who'd like to make a fuss
of you."

I felt myself colouring up hotly at his impudence. I had heard all about
the pistol from Mrs. Rahm and was detesting him for the lies he had told
my master. So it was something of an annoyance to me now that he had
come to learn my name. Certainly, it seemed only a small thing then,
but, had I only known it, his chance finding it out was to cast a dark
shadow over my life in later years and, at any rate for a time, fill me
with the chilling fear of dreadful consequences.

He was saved from the sharp retort I was about to make by the appearance
of my master, and the two sat down to the meal. Directly it was over, my
master lost no time in speeding him upon his journey. Having bidden him
goodbye, he returned into the room where I was now clearing away the
breakfast things.

"A bad character that young man," he remarked impressively to me, "and I
am wondering now if it were a trick his arriving here last night in the
pouring rain. It seemed to me that, during our little dinner when he
wasn't watching you, he was looking very hard at my coin-cabinet, as if
he had been expecting to find some such piece of furniture here." He
smiled. "Yes, and he had the impudence to ask from where you came,
saying you looked a London girl. When I didn't tell him immediately--I
had no intention of doing it at all--he went on he was sure you were not
one from Devonshire, as in that case you wouldn't have come to live up
here."

"How did he make that out?" I asked sharply.

"Because Devon people, he said, believed this part of the moor was
haunted and he told me a ridiculous story about someone he'd met a
little while ago, whose grandfather had been attacked one night on the
moor road not far from Bovey Tracey by an evil spirit in the form of a
man with long hair, and he'd only managed to escape by leaving him to
drink the blood of his pony. I told the young man I was astonished at
his being so credulous."

A sudden chord of memory had stirred in me as my master was speaking,
and then all suddenly I recollected what it was. "Oh, Colonel Jasper," I
exclaimed, "then I've seen this man before and know who he is. I'm sure
of it now. Several times last night his face puzzled me and I was
wondering of whom he was reminding me. Now I know."

"Then who is he?" asked my master sharply, because I had stopped
breathlessly.

"He's one of those two men," I said, "whom that barman at the Bovey
Hotel, as I told you the first day I came up here, had been telling
about Sakao killing those sheep. He must be, because afterwards I heard
the barman tell him that same story you've just been telling me about
the evil spirit drinking a pony's blood. The barman said it was to his
grandfather it had all happened."

Another thought struck me and I felt my voice shaking in my dismay. "Oh,
and it was to him the barman went on to tell a lot about you and how you
had a valuable collection of gold coins. Worse than that, too, though
the young fellow told the barman he was a journalist on a newspaper, I
heard the man who came into the bar directly after he had left say he
recognised him as a street-bookmaker from Whitechapel called Tod Bellamy
who had a very bad reputation as he had been put in prison once for
breaking in and stealing from someone's house."

My master looked troubled. "Then it seems almost certain," he said,
"that he did come here to spy things out, and no wonder he seemed so
interested in my cabinet." His face brightened and he spoke quite
cheerfully, probably, I thought, to comfort me. "But at any rate, we
needn't worry. It he does come we'll always be ready for him and, with
the dogs here, we'll always know in plenty of time when there are any
strangers about."

For many days afterwards, however, I was feeling intensely nervous and,
at night, for hour after hour would lie awake listening for the dogs to
start barking. My nervousness, too, was not made any better when Mrs.
Rahm whispered darkly that she had been looking into her crystal and had
seen blood in it, streams of blood, she said, and it meant evil was
boding for someone. In her dreams, too, she said she had seen the
black-winged angel of death flying round the tors, and she was sure it
would not be very long before he would swoop down and bring death to
someone.

Of course. I knew it was all nonsense, but for all that it frightened
me. Still, weeks going by without anything happening, I at length lost
all my fears and could sleep soundly once again. Then, all suddenly,
like the bursting of a bomb, something worse than anyone could ever have
imagined actually did happen and we were plunged headlong into terrible
tragedy.

It was upon a Sunday morning and about half an hour after the dogs had
been let out of the house, that Rahm came rushing into his master in a
great state of consternation to say the dogs had been poisoned. Jupiter
was not so very bad, for he was vomiting fiercely and getting rid of
much of the poison, but Juno was in a pitiable state. Lying upon the
ground, with her eyes almost bursting from her head, her outstretched
body was arched horribly and jerking in convulsive spasms of agony. She
was covered in sweat, as if she had been lathered with a shaving brush.

My master went white as death but, all prepared for such an emergency,
lost not a second in trying to save the poor animal. She was given
copious draughts of salt water to make her sick, the veins inside her
ears were cut and cut until she was bleeding like a stuck pig and, when
the spasms seized her, the two men held her down with all their strength
to keep these spasms from tearing her to pieces, while to me was given
the task of holding a chloroform-soaked sponge a few inches from her
mouth and nostrils to render her as deeply unconscious as possible.

At first, with the awful spasms following so quickly upon one another,
it seemed impossible she could be saved, but gradually they came less
frequent and their strength weakened. Finally, they passed off
altogether and we could see her agony was ended and that she was going
to live. She lay limp and exhausted, but she was saved. Dosed with
brandy and wrapped in a blanket, she was carried into the house and laid
before the kitchen fire.

In the meantime, Jupiter was much better. He had had no very bad spasms,
but, limp and sweating profusely, he looked a dreadfully sick animal.
Given brandy, too, he was also blanketted and laid before the fire
alongside of his mate.

It was not difficult to be quite certain how the poison, which my master
said had been strychnine, had been picked up by the dogs, as Rahm found
the remains of two pigeons lying in the yard. He brought them to his
master who, after one quick glance at them, without a word disappeared
into the house and I heard him going up the stairs to the upper story.
In all my life, never before nor since have I seen such cold fury upon
anyone's face. I knew he must have been sharing every spasm of the agony
of his so-loved Alsatians, and I thought he looked like a madman
controlling himself only with great difficulty.

A very few minutes later he came quickly into the kitchen where Rahm,
his wife and I were looking after the dogs, and issued a sharp
peremptory order in Hindustani to Rahm who nodded understandingly and at
once left the room. Then he turned to me. "You stay where you are,
Polly," he said curtly. "Through the telescope I've seen two men hiding
behind those rocks under Black Tor and I am going out to deal with
them."

But with his following after Rahm, I felt I must see what was going on
and, disregarding Mrs. Rahm's insistence I should obey her master's
order, ran up to the roof to look through the telescope myself. It was
housed in a glass-walled dome-like structure, half sunk in the roof
itself which was flat at that end of the house. Even at a short distance
away the dome was not very conspicuous, though it allowed the telescope
to be swung round in every direction upon its tripod. As my master had
left it, the telescope was now pointing direct on to Black Tor and took
in very clearly the line of rocks at its foot he had referred to. They
were about breast high and I stared hard and breathlessly at them.
However I could pick out no movement of anyone behind them.

My attention, however, was soon drawn to much nearer the house, and
there was no longer any need for me to look through the telescope. In
one direction I saw Rahm striding along with a rifle upon his shoulder.
In another, also with a rifle upon his shoulder, my master was walking
quickly and, to my horror, I saw he had got Sakao with him. The wolf was
wearing his big collar and straining hard at the attached chain.

It was no wonder I felt scared, for I knew that if Sakao were loosed he
would savage anyone, and I was fearful that in the mood my master then
was, with the thought of the agony his loved Alsatians had gone through
so upper most in his mind, there was no knowing to what length of
punishment he would go.

I very soon took in what it was intended should happen. With my master
going one way and Rahm the other, whoever were hiding behind that line
of rocks would soon in one direction or the other be exposed to the fire
of their rifles. Even if the hidden men were armed with pistols, they
would be helpless against rifles, as they could be picked off long
before their attackers came within pistol range.

What was flashing through my mind must have come too to the two hiding
men. At any rate I knew suddenly that Rahm must have seen something, as,
dropping upon one knee, he uplifted his rifle and I heard two reports in
quick succession. Obviously, however, he hadn't succeeded in hitting
either of them, as the next moment two figures darted from behind the
rocks and began racing away.

Then what happened is almost too horrible to describe, and for years
afterwards the memory of it haunted me. Sakao, the wolf, had broken away
and was going after them like a streak of lightning, with his long dark
body stretching close to the ground. I turned quickly to the telescope
again and just caught him as the hindermost of the two men whipped round
to deal with him. The telescope brought them close to me as if they were
only a few feet away and I could see so plainly the man's ghastly face
and terror-stricken eyes. His right arm shot out and I could glimpse the
pistol in his hand, but however quickly he fired he must have missed the
wolf and, in a matter of seconds, the big animal had got him by the
throat and was shaking him from side to side in a way horrible to see.

Then everything which followed seemed to happen like lightning. The man
who had been running in front stopped and ran back to help his companion
whom Sakao had now pinned to the ground and was continuing to worry like
a terrier with a rat. I heard the faint sounds of several pistol shots
and, as the wolf instantly crumpled up, was sure he must have received a
mortal wound. Then for perhaps two seconds the man who had shot him bent
once over his friend, before turning round again and racing off at his
utmost speed to disappear over a rise in the ground.

I saw my master arrive upon the scene of the ghastly struggle of which I
had been such a fascinated but trembling spectator. From his attitude as
he stood over the two bodies it was evident both the man and the wolf
were dead. Rahm ran up quickly and a short conversation ensued. Then
Rahm came back to the house and, going into one of the sheds reappeared
quickly carrying a tarpaulin with him. I saw the two bodies, those of
the wolf and the man, laid upon the tarpaulin and then it was dragged
out of sight to behind Black Tor. I guessed what was probably going to
be done. The bodies were to be thrown into Fowler's Bog.

Nearly an hour passed before my master, accompanied by Rahm came back to
the house, and I went in to the big room at once to speak to him. He
looked very strained and white and was mixing himself a brandy and soda.

"A bad business this, Polly," he said. "Sakao killed one of those men
and--"

"I saw it all through the telescope," I interrupted, "and you've thrown
the bodies in Fowler's Bog, haven't you?"

My master nodded miserably. "Yes, and I realise already that I have been
much too hasty. It was very foolish as when the police come I shan't be
able to deny what's happened. The other wretch will point out to them
where his companion was killed and--" he shrugged his shoulders "--I
don't know what will happen to me."

"Nothing will happen to you," I said sharply, "for the police won't be
coming here and they'll never learn anything about it. When the man who
escaped ran back to shoot Sakao I saw his face quite plainly. He was the
man who came here that night for shelter from the rain, the man called
Tod Bellamy, a Whitechapel bookmaker. I recognised him without the
shadow of a doubt. Then, remember I heard them say at the hotel that
he's been put in prison for house-breaking. So, he'll not dare to go to
the police. How would he account for his being up here hiding among
those rocks, and, another thing, to explain that he had shot Sakao he'd
have to admit he was carrying a pistol. That would make things look very
black for him as a one-time convict."

My master certainly appeared relieved at what I said, but for all that
he spoke hesitatingly. "But he'll want his revenge," he said. "Of the
bold character we know him to be, he's not the type of man to sit down
tamely under all that's happened."

"But he'll have to," I insisted. "He's clever enough to realise he can't
hurt you without hurting himself as well. No, I'm sure we shall not have
any police coming up here. We shall hear nothing more about it."

And I proved to be quite right. Certainly we were all very worried at
first, but with the days and weeks and even months passing and nothing
happening, our fears gradually died down and in time we became quite
certain we were safe.

Two years and longer passed by. My education had long since become a
real obsession with my master, a greater one even than his collection of
gold coins. He was tireless in instructing me and, awakening in me, as I
have said, a lively ambition to become a really educated woman, I worked
my hardest to do him credit.

"You're a clever girl, Polly," he said one day to me, "and, from what
you tell me, you can only be getting most of your cleverness from your
mother."

As can be well understood I had told him little of the truth about my
parentage, fibbing that my mother had been a schoolteacher and my father
a verger in a church. He was not at all curious about my parents and
never doubted I was speaking the truth. Associated so much with him, he
at length decided I should take my meals at his table. "And you're not
to call me Master any more," he smiled. "I no longer look upon you as my
servant. We are friends and companions and I am treating you almost as
my adopted daughter. So, it's Colonel Jasper you are to call me now--"
he regarded me affectionately "--and perhaps one day it may even be
'Father.'"

The Rahms were not at all jealous and, as the changes were the wishes of
their so dearly-loved sahib, they accepted them as a matter of course.

"But you're not a girl who will spoil," Mrs. Rahm said to me once, "as
you're much too sensible for that." She smiled knowingly. "Still, as
I've told you before, I know you are something of a little story-teller
and I certainly don't believe all you've told us about yourself. The
other night I looked into one of my crystals and learn't quite a lot
about you. Your ship will have to go through some great storms, but it
will live through them and one day come safe into harbour." She nodded.
"And it was quite a big ship I saw, with nothing small or shabby about
it."

"Then when it comes in," I laughed, "you shall have one of its best
cabins and I'll take you and Mr. Rahm for a lovely voyage."

She shook her head sadly. "But we shan't be here then, Polly dear," she
sighed. "When I whisper to my crystal about myself, it always refuses to
tell me anything. It goes very dark then and I see nothing but black and
heavy clouds." She smiled brightly. "Still, I don't worry about it, as
whatever Fate has ordained will happen to us, and we can only bow to her
decisions and accept them uncomplainingly."

I had been at the house upon the moor for getting on for three years
when a letter came from my master's sister in India, saying she was
coming home for a few months stay and would arrive only a short time
after her letter. I was most interested as I had heard quite a lot about
her both from my master and Mrs. Rahm.

A Mrs. Arundel, and four and twenty years younger than my master, her
husband was an important official in the Indian Civil Service. A
highly-educated woman and a graduate of Cambridge University, she was
something of a star in Indian social circles. So, as can be well
understood I was not a little nervous as to exactly what she would think
of me and the position I now held in her brother's household.

However, directly she arrived I realised that any fears I had been
entertaining were quite groundless, as I found her a charming and
broad-minded woman. She smiled when my master told her proudly of the
education he had given me, but when she came to try me out--which she
did very thoroughly--she became quite as enthusiastic as he was.

"I wouldn't like to say, with a little coaching, Polly," she said, "what
examinations you could not pass. At any rate you certainly seem to have
a wider general knowledge than I had at your age. Now what are you going
to be when you leave my brother?"

My master answered for me. "I'm going to find her a place that will lead
to something good," he said. "What she needs most now is a knowledge of
the world. I have given her a good foundation and she must go to people
of a good class who will help her on."

Mrs. Arundel looked amused. "But I don't think it will matter much what
career you map out for her, James," she said, "as I'm quite sure she
won't continue in it for long." She nodded smilingly to me. "You'll get
married, won't you, Polly? With a face like yours, dear, to be someone's
sweetheart is what you were made for."

She certainly made things much more lively for us from the first minute
she entered the house. She was full of jokes and humour and poked a lot
of good-natured fun at Mrs. Rahm for her crystal-gazing and belief in
the Occult World.

"You take me out with you one night," she laughed, "and we'll meet some
of these spirit friends of yours among the tors. I'm sure I could
interest them as India is supposed to be cram-full of spirits like
them," but Mrs. Rahm looked very serious and said it was never wise to
joke about such matters.

However, if I greatly enjoyed Mrs. Arundel's company and the breath of
new life she had undoubtedly brought into The Grey House, I was
nevertheless soon to realise she was about to bring another crisis into
my life, as after a lot of argument, she persuaded my master to give up
living upon the moor and return to India with her, at any rate for a
time.

She insisted Dartmoor was no place for old people, for directly she had
seen them she said she had been shocked how they had all aged. The cold
moorland air was too strong for them and they would certainly contract
fatal illnesses if they didn't get away from it. My master at first
resisted strongly, but ultimately gave in and it was arranged they
should all return to India with her the following April.

My master wanted to take me with them but I was not too keen upon it and
Mrs. Arundel thought, too, that it would not be in my best interests.
"If you do come with us, Polly," she said, "you won't profit as much
from all my brother has taught you as if you stay on in England. Now I
have some old friends, French-Canadians, who are staying in Plymouth and
I'll go and find out if they'd like to have you as a companion for their
daughter Madeline. They are very nice people and I'm sure you would be
happy with them."

She was gone for three days and returned triumphant. "They'll be
delighted, Polly," she said, "and you're to be taken as one of the
family. As I've told you, there are only three of them, this Mr. Charles
de Touraine, his mother, a very old lady, and his daughter, Madeline, a
pretty young girl and, funnily enough, something very much like you."

Taking me aside, she whispered, "I had to tell them a fib or two about
your parents, as the old lady is a bit snobby and very proud of their
descent from one of the French kings of Navarre. So, I told them your
mother had been at Girton College with me when I was an undergraduate at
Cambridge, and I said your father had been a clergyman. After all, as
your dad was a verger, he was something to do with a church, wasn't he?"
She looked amused. "Quite excusable fibs and it doesn't do anyone any
harm. You speak nicely and you'll look the part anyhow, and I think it
rather a joke."

Things happened very quickly then and less than a month later I said
goodbye to them all. My master was obviously very upset and gave me £50
as a parting present. Mrs. Rahm was in tears and, greatly to my
surprise, gave me two of her belongings, both of which I knew she prized
greatly, one of her mysterious crystals and a gold bangle with peculiar
markings upon it. She said the bangle was given her by a monk in one of
the Lamaseries in Tibet and the markings meant she had been accepted
into the Outer Circle of workers in the World of the Occult.

I left them only a few days before they were due to sail from Tilbury
and went straight to my new place in Plymouth. Then, to my intense
horror and unutterable grief, I read in the newspapers the following
week that the boat they were on had foundered in the Bay of Biscay, with
everyone on board being lost. It was surmised the boat had struck a
floating mine, an aftermath of the Great War.




CHAPTER III.--THE RIVER OF LIFE.


I found my new family very much what Mrs. Arundel had said they would
be, except that the old lady was rather eccentric and inclined to be
very outspoken in her remarks. She told me at once she did not like my
surname and that to outsiders I should always be referred to as Miss
Polly and not Miss Wiggs. She told me, however, that she approved of my
appearance which, she smiled, was a good thing as she could never bear
to have people who looked plain or common about her. At seventy-five,
she said I must excuse any little irritability she might show as she had
a bad heart and it often troubled her.

Her son, Mr. Charles de Touraine was a handsome aristocratic-looking man
with a Vandyke beard, and reminded me very much of the pictures I had
seen of Charles the Second. An artist by profession, or rather I should
say to occupy his time as he was well-off enough not to care whether he
sold his paintings or not, he was a good-natured, easy-going man who
never seemed to mind much what anyone else did. As with his mother, he
suffered from a bad heart, in his case brought on by rheumatic fever in
his youth.

The daughter, Madeline, or to give her her full name Madeline Marie
Louise de Touraine, I liked the first moment I saw her. My own age
within a few days, she was certainly not unlike me, with eyes, colouring
and shape of face very similar. Also, our height and figures were much
the same. She was a bright vivacious girl, full of the joy of life, but
of a much shrewder nature that would appear upon the surface. In fact I
saw at once I must be most careful not to make any slip lest she would
learn how I had deceived Colonel Jasper in the matter of my parentage
and upbringing.

In passing, I may say my conscience had never troubled me there. I took
the view, and indeed have taken it all my life, that my secrets are my
own property, and deception is quite permissible unless it be practised
for a wrong and disgraceful purpose. After all there are different kinds
of untruths and, upon occasions, the blurting out of a truth may be both
unwise and cowardly--unwise because it may cause pain to others and be
of no benefit to anyone, and cowardly because the utterer of the untruth
has not the courage to take the risk of keeping silent and being found
out. I did not forget the very mild deception Colonel Jasper and his
sister had practised upon the de Touraine family by making out I had
come to The Grey House in the first instance to be trained for the
position of secretary. Nothing had been told them of my being an
ordinary maid.

How justified I had been in my estimation of this shrewdness of Madeline
de Touraine came home to me long after, when I read what she had written
about me in the diary which she so scrupulously kept and was so careful
always to lock away in her leather despatch case. I remembered it ran
something like this. "Polly Wiggs has now been with us a month and we
all like her very much. She is a pretty girl of a stately and dignified
appearance. She has far more book-learning that I have, but in many ways
she is as innocent as a little child. It is easy to see that all she
knows of the world she has learnt from books. She is much more reserved
than I and I think no one will ever quite get to the bottom of her
character.

"She is certainly a perfect little lady, but sometimes I fancy she
hasn't yet quite succeeded in ironing out some trace of commonness one
of her parents must have had. Of course, that may be all imagination on
my part, but it seems to me that she is always upon her guard to make
sure she shouldn't trip. Still, her disposition is a very kind one and I
feel I could always trust her in everything. Really, I think if I told
her I had committed a murder she'd keep it secret as a matter of course.
She is very unconventional in her ideas and it would take a lot to shock
her."

So that's what Madeline thought of me and in one way at any rate she
wasn't far wrong. I was always upon my guard and, as I say, I kept off
the subject of my parents as much as possible. Still, we got on very
well together, and she was most interested in what I told her about Mrs.
Rahm and her Theosophical views. We got out some Theosophical books from
a library and spent a lot of time reading it up. Mr. de Touraine was
interested, too, being of the opinion there was undoubtedly 'something
in it.'

The crystal which Mrs. Rahm had given me was a great source of interest
as well, and we three spent many an evening gazing into it, sometimes
imagining we could really see things there. Once Mr. de Touraine made us
girls shudder by declaring positively that he could see a large ship
going down in a storm and that it must be the one on which all my former
friends had all been drowned.

For another amusement, Madeline started teaching me French. She spoke it
as well as she did English and, with her putting all her energy into the
lessons, I found her every bit as hard a taskmaster as Colonel Jasper
has been. However, I soon became very interested, too, and, a good
mimic, started right-away with a good appreciation of the correct
accent.

These lessons soon turned out to have been a splendid thing for me, as
Mr. de Touraine suddenly took it into his head that he would go to stay
in Paris to be under a great heart specialist there. Accordingly, barely
six months after I had come to them in Plymouth, we were all established
in a furnished apartment in Boulogne-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, with
Mr. de Touraine setting up a studio there as if he were intending his
stay should be a long one.

There followed for Madeline and me a very happy time, for surely there
can be no city in the world where there is so much to see as in Paris.
With our time all our own, we spent day after day in the Louvre and the
Palace of Luxembourg, enthralled with gazing upon the renowned paintings
and sculptures they contained. We wandered in the lovely gardens of the
Tuileries, and up and down the famous streets, feasting our eyes upon
the treasures the shops contained. We explored the Latin Quarter and had
delightful little meals at the cheap restaurants frequented by the
students there.

Then on Sunday mornings we would occasionally go to one of the
fashionable churches and hear the Mass sung, with the music so glorious
and the incense and the beautiful surroundings so appealing to the
senses that it was often a greater treat to me even than a visit to the
Opera.

We went to the Opera only when escorted by Mr. de Touraine and then our
visit there was always preceded by dinner at some expensive restaurant.
The meals of rich food brought seemingly from all parts of the world
were a revelation to me and, watching the other diners with the
wonderful gowns of the women and their jewels of an unsurpassed beauty,
would leave me almost spell-bound in my delight.

Mr. de Touraine had always been most kind to me, but in time his
kindness became a little embarrassing, as he started upon a sort of mild
flirtation with me. He made a head study of me, saying I made an ideal
model, as, very different from Madeline, I could keep so still for such
a long time. Then he said he would like to paint me as Aphrodite, the
Goddess of Love rising from the sea, adding laughingly, that, if he did,
of course I should have to sit for him in the nude. He said I had a
beautiful figure for it.

Madeline was very amused, but greatly to my relief old Mrs. de Touraine
put a damper upon the idea at once. "You stick to landscapes, Charles,"
she said sharply. "They're what you can paint best, and don't go
bothering about the figures of young girls."

We had been just a year in Paris when tragedy came once again into my
life and made me almost think that it was destined I should bring
disaster upon everyone with whom I became associated. Madeline and her
father both died within a few days of each other, she from typhoid fever
and he from heart failure.

It was a dreadful time for me and took me many, many months before I
felt anything like myself again. I had grown to love Madeline, quite as
much I was sure as I would have ever loved a sister, and not only was
there the grief at losing her, but also the most uneasy worry as to what
was now to become of me. I was then still under twenty and--quite
reasonably not taking Mrs. de Touraine into account--had not a friend in
the world to turn to. What was going to become of me I did not know.

It was well indeed that I was not relying in any way upon Mrs. de
Touraine, as the very day after the second funeral was over she began
making preparations for leaving Paris straightaway and returning to
Canada. Her only relation was a sister in Montreal who was almost as old
as she was.

Strangely enough, the two deaths of those so near to her, seemed to have
affected her very little. Rather, they seemed to draw upon some
unsuspected resources of strength, for she became more active and full
of energy than I had ever known her before. Fortunately, when they had
come from Canada, the de Touraine family had brought few things over
with them and, living in furnished apartments both in Plymouth and
Paris, there were only personal effects to be considered and disposed
of.

All her son's belongings, his clothes and his painting things, she gave
away to a charitable institution, and to me, greatly to my surprise, she
gave everything Madeline had possessed.

"You can have everything, dear," she said. "I have no one else to give
them to. You're a good girl and Madeline loved you. So take everything
you want in remembrance of her, and what are not likely to be of use to
you will go with my poor boy's clothes to the institution."

She was so preoccupied in making arrangements for getting everything
finished up quickly for her getting away that it seemed only as an
afterthought that she asked what I was intending to do. I told her that
to begin with I should go to a women's hostel I had heard of in
Montmartre and from there look out for a situation as a secretary.

"And I'll give you the best of references," she said, and she
immediately sat down to write one. "But what a pity you've got such an
unpleasant-sounding name like Wiggs," she went on. She smiled. "If you
don't marry soon and change it that way, if I were you I'd alter it by a
legal deed. It can be done, you know, quite easily."

The night before she and I were both going to leave the apartment at
Boulogne-sur-Seine, when she was in bed and asleep, I completed my
packing. I came upon Madeline's leather despatch-case. It was locked but
I found the key among the trinkets in her jewellery case. Examining the
contents of the case, for a moment my brain was too numbed to be greatly
interested. In turn I picked up her diary, her English Identity Card and
her passport with the photograph upon it not too clear.

Then a folded paper turned out to be her birth certificate and I read
that Madeline Marie Louise de Touraine had been born in Montreal, in
Henri Street in the parish of St. Joseph, upon Friday, July the twelfth
in the year nineteen hundred and three.

I sighed heavily. Born just two days after me and what pretty names she
had! How different must the names of Polly Wiggs have looked upon my
birth certificate! And then I wondered if I had ever had any birth
certificate at all. Certainly, I had some hazy recollection of once
having heard the ten-shilling midwife who was usually called in by my
mother to preside over the births of her other babies, saying something
about my father risking a fine if within so many days he didn't notify
some office or other that another Wiggs child had come into the world.
However, I was well aware that in Rocker Street Government rules and
regulations did not carry much weight, and so I guessed that quite as
likely as not my father had never troubled to register the births of any
of his children. So, that being so, I sighed again to think that, if
ever I should want a certificate of birth, there would not be one to be
found.

Then, as I stood holding Madeline's certificate in my hand, a sudden
thought flashed into my mind and I felt my face flushing in my
excitement. Why--why shouldn't I take Madeline's certificate to be my
own, and change my name to hers straightaway? What was there to prevent
it? It would be quite safe! Not a soul in Paris had known me as Polly
Wiggs, and when on the morrow I quitted our present apartment I could go
as Marie de Touraine--I preferred Marie to Madeline--and no one would
know there had been any change of name. Surely, I told myself, I should
get on better in life as Marie de Touraine than under the ugly-sounding
names of Polly Wiggs? Oh, if only I had the courage to make the change!

Hardly daring to breathe, I tip-toed out in the the passage to Mrs. de
Touraine's door. It was ajar and I could hear her snoring gently. She
was the only danger. Suppose, the next morning she suddenly remembered
about Madeline's private papers, and asked me for them? I should have to
give them up! I couldn't say I had not found them! Oh, what a lot was
depending upon the next few hours!

That night I slept very badly. Indeed, I think I hardly slept at all,
but the next morning I was up early and getting the old lady's
breakfast. She was brisk and lively and talked of nothing but herself
and the delights of the wonderful voyage in front of her. It almost
seemed she had already forgotten the so recent deaths of her son and
grand-daughter. To my intense relief she said nothing about Madeline's
despatch case and the private papers. Still, I was so scared she might
suddenly recollect about the birth certificate that it was not until I
had finally seen her train leaving the Gare de St. Lazare that I felt
absolutely safe. She waved as excitedly as a little child from the
window of her carriage as the train drew out. I was confident I should
never see her again, as, with her heart in the condition the doctors had
told her it was, I knew the poor soul could not have much longer to
live.

By noon that same day I was installed in the Women's Hostel in
Montmartre, with a quickly-beating heart having registered there as
Mademoiselle Marie de Touraine. I was devoutly hoping Polly Wiggs had
disappeared for ever.


Now although I am by nature anything but a timid disposition, and never
for one moment regretting having assumed Madeline's name, it speaks
volumes for my state of mind in those first early days when I was in
Paris all alone that it was nearly three weeks before I could bring
myself to make use of it in applying for a situation.

Mademoiselle de Touraine seemed so high-sounding and I was sure it would
focus attention upon me at once. Not that I did not feel confident I
would not disgrace the part. I knew I was quite nice-looking and was
well, if quietly dressed. All Madeline's clothes fitted me as if they
had been made for me. Whenever I went into any restaurant or shop I
noticed women always looked at me well up and down and from their
expressions did not find anything wrong in me. The men of course were
interested in me, too, and seeing I was by myself apparently thought it
quite permissible to give me a good ogle. In particular, the elder men
were a nuisance and when I sat upon a seat in any of the public gardens,
generally it was not very long before one of them would come to the same
seat and try to start a conversation.

However, I never gave any encouragement, and indeed never troubled to
take any notice of an opening remark. Still, some of them were
persistent and once I had to catch a passing gendarme's eye and ask him
to deal with a well-dressed elderly offender. "This man is annoying me,
Monsieur," I said. "I don't know him. Will you please tell him to leave
me alone."

Then it was most gratifying to watch the gendarme's response. Of small
stature, he yet bristled with rage and blew himself out like a
turkey-cock. He grabbed the man roughly by the shoulder and dragged him
a good ten yards away before dismissing him with a not over-gentle kick.
Returning to me, he was most apologetic. "I am sorry, Mademoiselle," he
said, "but I'm sure he won't annoy you again." He nodded in the
direction of my admirer who was slinking away as quickly as he could.
"The old rooster! He's probably got a wife and half a dozen children at
home. The older they get, the worse they are," and he left me with the
nicest of smiles and a most courtly bow.

The three idle weeks I gave myself I looked upon as a sort of holiday,
to recover from the shock of Madeline's and her father's deaths and to
acquire confidence in myself, not only as Mademoiselle de Touraine but
as a young girl who had been so suddenly thrown upon her own resources
to fight the world alone.

I returned again and again to many of the places I had visited with
Madeline, but it was the Louvre which always fascinated me most and
hardly a day passed without my going there to have a look at the
glorious paintings and sculptures it contained. How I wished I could
become an artist myself! I had grown to love beautiful things and to be
able to create them myself I thought must be one of the greatest joys
that life could give.

The days quickly passing, I realised I must delay no longer and start in
earnest about getting something to do. Though I had been receiving £6 a
month all the time I had been with the de Touraines, I had not saved a
single penny of it, as I had always been very scrupulous to pay my share
of all the outings Madeline and I had had together. Still, I was not as
yet in any way short of money, as I had kept intact the £50 Colonel
Jasper had given me. Also, if things ever came to a pinch I had little
pieces of Madeline's jewellery which Mrs. de Touraine had given me.
However, Madeline had never been fond of jewels and, except for her
wrist-watch which was a very expensive one of gold with a
diamond-studded case and platinum chain, the money I should obtain from
their sale would not last me very long. One other thing of a little
value I certainly did have and that was the gold bangle Mrs. Rahm had
given me. It was solid and heavy and even to my inexperienced eye,
looked good.

With my first attempt to obtain work I thought I had landed a good
position very easily. Seeing an advertisement in Le Soir for a
confidential typist, I went to interview the advertiser. I found his
office in a building in a good-class locality just off the Boulevard
Germain and I saw by the notice painted up that he was an Exporter and
Importer. At once I was of the opinion the omens were good, as my
English would be most useful. I now spoke and read French fluently. In
the outer office I noticed two elderly women clerks. Shown into the
advertiser, I found him a smartly-dressed man about forty. He asked me a
number of questions and everything seemed to be going well. I was to
start working for him the following week. Finally, he suggested I should
come out to lunch with him when we would continue the conversation.

He took me to quite a good restaurant and over a good meal, and a bottle
of Burgundy which, of course, I in part shared with him, he became most
confidential. He asked me a lot of questions about myself and seemed
surprised I was living alone in Paris. Presently I felt his foot
pressing mine under the table and, thinking it was an accident, drew my
own away. However, his came back against mine at once and I knew this
time the movement was intentional.

I know I got very hot, for it was as if a bomb had burst suddenly in my
mind, and I was disgusted both with myself as well as with him. So that
was the sort of man he was and, as I looked at his bold and sparkling
eyes I thought what a little fool I had been not to have summed him
directly I saw him! Why, if he started becoming as familiar as this
after less than an hour's acquaintance what would he be expecting of me
after a few days' employment in his office? Oh, what a lot I had to
learn if I was to take proper care of myself!

And then the humour of it struck me and I wanted to laugh. Evidently the
beast must be thinking he had made an immediate conquest of me! I smiled
as if in amusement and now let my foot remain where it was. At any rate
I was having an experience and a nice meal at his expense! Also, before
getting up from the table I let him buy me a large-sized packet of
expensive English cigarettes.

We parted, apparently, upon the most friendly terms and then, having
given him as I thought enough time to get back to his office, I phoned
up there and gave a curt message to the girl who answered that she was
to tell her employer the situation would not suit me. Thinking of the
good English cigarettes he had bought me I hoped I had taught him a
lesson. I congratulated myself that he had forgotten to ask me for my
address.

My meeting with this man greatly depressed me and brought home to me the
seriousness of the warning Mr. de Touraine had so often given us two
girls when we had been setting out upon our almost daily wanderings
round the city. He said it was well recognised that of all the highly
emotional Latin countries, France led the way in their worship of sex.
Sex with them was the lodestar of life with its pursuit coming before
everything else in the world. "That's why," he would wind up, "their
Governments are so unstable. To get any favour out of a politician you
must not go to him or his wife, but must approach his mistress, as he is
sure to have one. Through nearly all the histories of their important
public men illicit love has been a prominent factor of their lives," and
he would shake his head warningly at us as he watched us go out.

My next attempt, however, to obtain a situation was a very prosaic and
matter-of-fact 'turn-down,' because I had no knowledge of shorthand. It
was a woman who interviewed me this time and I wasn't with her three
minutes.

A few mornings later, with my spirits at rather low ebb, I found myself
in the Louvre again, standing before the painting I loved best there,
that of the mighty de Vinci's famous masterpiece Mona Lisa. Painted all
those hundreds of years ago, the secret of the haunting smile upon the
woman's face had continued to intrigue the millions who had come to gaze
upon it, with its mystery remaining as impenetrable and insoluble as
ever. I thought with a deep sigh that no one would ever learn what was
in the artist's mind when he painted her.

Then suddenly the idea swept into my mind that, while I could certainly
never create anything artistic myself, was it not possible I might yet
help others to do so? Why should I not become an artist's model? Mr. de
Touraine, no poor artist himself, had so often said that with my good
figure I had all the necessary qualifications to become an ideal one.

I remembered, too, what had happened once when we were dining, of course
at Mr. de Touraine's expense, in one of the most fashionable and
expensive restaurants of the city! A beautiful and exquisitely gowned
woman of a proud and even haughty bearing had swept in the salon, and
the aristocratic Maitre of the restaurant had at once proceeded to bow
her reverently to one of the best tables.

"Look, look," had whispered Mr. de Touraine in an excited manner that
was quite unusual with him, "that's Etienne Ramoutier, the great
artist's model." He sighed deeply. "Isn't she a lovely woman?"

"And she looks quite respectable, too," had commented Madeline.

"Respectable!" had scowled her father. "I should think she is
respectable! Why, she's as conventional and chaste as any woman can be.
The king of a great country--it's not wise to mention his name--has made
several passes at her for her favours, but she's turned him down as if
he were the lowest kitchen-boy in some disreputable hotel." He had
seemed quite angry. "Let me tell you, young lady, an artist's model may
be quite as, what you call, respectable as any Archbishop or Prince of
the Church."

Full of my idea, that morning to think with me was to act at once, and
within an hour I was interviewing Monsieur Thiery the proprietor of a
big artist's supply store which I had once heard Mr. de Touraine say was
patronised by the tip-top of the profession.

Monsieur Thiery was a kindly fatherly-looking man in the middle forties
and at once showed his interest in me. "So you want to become a model,
do you?" he said. "Oh, you've had some experience, have you?" He
regarded me critically. "Well, you certainly seem to me to have all the
requirements." He smiled. "Quite a good-looking face and, what is more
important, a very nice figure. I'll see what I can do for you."

He left me for a few minutes and I heard him speaking energetically upon
the phone. Returning to me, his face was a beaming one. "You are
fortunate, Mademoiselle," he exclaimed. "I've just been having a word
with an old friend of mine, Monsieur de Vallon, the Principal of the de
Vallon Art Academy. He's a painter himself and has taught many of our
rising artists. It happens he's wanting a model and you are to go to him
tomorrow morning at ten o'clock for an inspection. He's a charming man,
but don't be disappointed if he doesn't take you, as I warn you he's a
very, very particular man."

I thanked him warmly and the following morning, with my heart beating
quickly, arrived at the de Vallon Academy. It was quite a good-sized
building off the Boulevard Montparnasse. I was interviewed first by his
secretary to whom I gave a small card upon which I had written my name.
I was kept waiting a few minutes and was then ushered into Monsieur de
Vallon's private office.

He was a small man about Monsieur Thiery's size with a large head, white
hair and very big shrewd eyes under very big brows. He looked very
active and the personification of energy. He bowed politely. "Ah,
Mademoiselle de Touraine," he exclaimed looking down at my card which he
held in his hand. "A good name! Then of course, you are descended from
the Navarres?" he nodded, "You look as if you might be, too."

He motioned me to a seat in front of his desk and for a long minute
stared very hard at me, his eyes wandering up and down from my figure to
my face and then to my figure again.

"Stand up, please, Mademoiselle," he ordered. "Drop your hands to your
sides and keep quite still," and the scrutiny continued. He rose from
his own chair and walked round so that he could take in everything about
me in profile. Then he made me stand upon a weighing machine, and after
that took my height from a measurement upon the wall. He made a note
upon a card which he had taken out of his desk. Finally, he touched the
bell upon his desk and his secretary reappeared.

"Help this young lady to undress," he said curtly, "everything to the
waist, vest and brassieres." He took a tape measure out of a drawer and
laid it upon his desk. "The measurements, too, please; the thigh,
halfway up above the knee; the leg from the hip-joint to the sole of the
foot, the hips, the arm from the shoulder to the wrist and the wrist to
the tip of the forefinger," and he turned to a small wash-basin in the
corner of the room and proceeded to wash his hands.

Bare to the waist, strangely enough I did not feel a bit ashamed or even
shy and I am sure there was no heightened colour upon my face. The whole
matter was being carried on in such a business-like way that it might
almost have been that I was only going to have a photograph of my face
taken, in an ordinary photographer's studio.

His hands washed and dried, Monsieur de Vallon put down on the card the
measurements his secretary had called out and then turned to me. "Now,
Mademoiselle," he said very quietly, "you seem to be quite a sensible
girl and are realising that your body is no more to me than a piece of
furniture. You have come to me asking to be employed as a model for my
pupils and I am just ascertaining if you are symmetrical enough." He
moved up close to me with the tape measure in his hand. "So, now I am
going to take the measurement of your bust. It is most important and I
always do that myself. Stand up and keep quite still, please. Don't
strain yourself to be unduly erect. Just stand naturally and breathe as
shallowly as you can."

He cupped each of my breasts in turn with his hand and nodded. "Firm as
they should be. The typical virgin bust!"

He was most careful in his measurement, passing the tape round me
several times before he was satisfied. Then he motioned me back in my
chair and went through all the measurements noted on the card. For the
first time he smiled, a warm congratulatory smile. "An almost perfect
bust, Mademoiselle," he exclaimed. He tapped the card. "Falling into
accord with the other measurements here, it is within a few millimetres
of absolute perfection. How old are you?"

I certainly flushed now at his enthusiasm. "Not quite twenty yet,
Monsieur," I replied. "I shall be twenty in July."

He frowned slightly. "Then you must be careful of yourself,
Mademoiselle," he exclaimed, "very careful, as you have come to this
condition of, almost perfection nearly a year earlier than might have
been expected. Your danger is that of becoming too plump. Keep off too
much sugar and rich cakes." A thought struck him. "You are not
betrothed?" he asked. "Good! Then have you some fortunate bel ami? No!
Then better still! You keep away from les jeunes messieurs and then the
better for the symmetry of your bust." He sighed. "The good God has
given to woman the loveliness of her form to attract and then when the
attraction has done its work "--he shrugged his shoulders--"it has been
particularly at the expense of the symmetry of the bust. Marriage and
maternity spell disaster in that respect."

He spoke in brisk and business-like tones. "Yes, I shall be delighted to
engage you for my pupils. Two mornings a week to begin with and you can
start on Monday at nine o'clock. I will pay you fifty francs an hour for
your services."

"But I shan't have to sit in the complete nude?" I asked a little
timidly.

He shook his head. "No, at any rate not at first. That may come later
for the advanced pupils and then your remunerations will be greater. The
standing position is very tiring."

He rose to his feet and shook hands with me. "So goodbye for the present
and now you go into the next room with my secretary and she will give
you a little advice as you re-dress yourself."

Alone with the secretary, I said how delighted I was Monsieur was going
to take me. "But do models," I asked, "sit for a whole hour without
moving?"

"They do when they get used to it," she replied, "though at first they
certainly find it rather tiring. Anyhow, Monsieur will break off for a
few minutes if he sees you are tiring. He's most considerate with all
his models." She laughed. "He's very shy, too, with all the
mesdemoiselles and that's why he wants me to tell you to shave under
your arms before you come on Monday. I'm sure that's what he meant by
saying I was to give you advice."

I crimsoned up in mortification at my ignorance. I had never as yet worn
a sleeveless gown and was disgusted to think what an inexperienced girl
Monsieur de Vallon must have thought me. I was still flushing when I
went out into the street.




CHAPTER IV.--THE WEAKNESS OF A WOMAN


It might have been thought I should have been feeling very nervous as I
approached the Art Academy upon the following Monday morning, but no--I
took it all in my stride and went on to the platform to face the sea of
upturned faces as if I had been accustomed to doing it all my life.
Certainly, Monsieur de Vallon who was the only one present there who
knew it was my first experience as a model, was a great encouragement to
me with his business-like manner and yet kindly smile.

As his secretary had told me he would be, he was most considerate with
me, taking care when I was upon the platform it was sufficiently warm. I
had a tall screen behind me and a radiator at my feet. Upon the screen
was pinned a thermometer and he saw to it that the temperature did not
fall below seventy-five.

"That is the right temperature," he whispered to me, "for you unclothed
as you are. A chill is what a model should be always most careful to
guard against."

Then, after a quarter of an hour he gave me a few minutes' rest and,
when the sitting was finished, he took me into a little room and shared
some hot coffee and biscuits with me.

"Nothing very formidable about it, is there," he smiled, "and you need
never meet any of the pupils afterwards. I should keep myself quite
aloof from them if I were you." He shook his head sagely. "They say
Paris is a wicked city, but all places in the world can be wicked for
young people if they do not place a proper value upon themselves. We
know that in these days chastity is supposed to have lost its halo, but
the wise young ladies will never forget they can be only maiden once."
He smiled again. "I am speaking to you as I would to my daughters,
because I can see you have not had much worldly experience yet, and when
private artists offer you work as they certainly will do--" he hesitated
just a few moments, "--I should like you to understand I shall always be
most happy to advise you if it be wise for you to go to them."

I thanked him warmly and, looking back in after years, realised what a
good friend I had made in him.

As he had said, I soon had offers of more work, and indeed in a few
months had as much as I could do and was able to pick and choose from
whom I should accept employment.

The private artists paid much better than the Academy did, particularly
those ones whose paintings were selling well, and I would often get from
these latter the equivalent of two to three English pounds for a few
sittings upon different days. The nude was nothing new to me now and, as
Monsieur de Vallon told me once when I was spending a Sunday with him
and his wife and family at their home--he had a charming wife with three
very pretty grown-up daughters--absolute nudity was a far greater
protection to a woman than when she was wearing scanty clothes. "There
is nothing left to the imagination then," he smiled, "and it is the
imagination which always plays such a large part in the stirring up of
the emotions to a dangerous pitch."

With my rapidly increasing earnings, I felt quite safe in leaving the
Hostel and renting a flat in Passy, only a few miles distant from the
city. The flat was very small and consisted only of two rooms, a
kitchenette and a bathroom, but, as I had all along set my face against
making friends, it was quite big enough for me, receiving as I did no
visitors.

Certainly my life was a lonely one, but for all that it was quite a
happy one. I read a lot, I went to concerts, to the Opera, to cinemas
and the theatres and, when I did not dine out, cooked myself delicious
little meals. Apart from the de Vallons and those I had met at work, I
had practically no contacts with anyone.

And now I come to the most humiliating part of my life, the very memory
of which can, even after all these years, make me grow hot in shame
whenever I recall it. It is a dreadful confession, for I had always
considered myself as immune to all the weaknesses of my sex and able to
protect myself from everyone.

With no real thought for what I was doing and with hardly any fighting
against it, I yielded up my chastity as wantonly as any little slum girl
in Rocker Street might have discarded hers for sixpenny-worth of
chocolates and a few hot kisses snatched in some dark corner. My
downfall came about in this way.

Turner Meynall of middle age, well-known English artist and an Associate
of the Royal Academy, had set up a studio in Paris, because, as he said
the atmosphere there was more congenial for inspiration, and he was
painting me as Vesta, the Goddess of Fire, attended by her maidens in
the temple. It was a painting in the nude, but I never had the slightest
misgivings at being alone with him, as in every way a gentleman he
always treated me with the utmost deference. Of a reserved disposition,
he spoke very little to me, but always greeted me with a charming and
encouraging smile.

A nephew of his, Anton Meynall, arrived to share the studio with him and
I could see that he was interested in me from the very first. Twenty-six
years old, he looked younger than that and I took him to be a nice,
happy clean-living boy. Standing in great awe of his uncle, he never
spoke much to me when he was there, but when, as it sometimes happened,
we were alone for a few minutes he opened out at once and was very
bright and chatty, talking about art in general but managing to get in a
few compliments about what a beautiful goddess I made.

Certainly, I came to like him. He was good-looking and full of fun, but
he never stirred the slightest emotion in me and his compliments only
amused me. I felt rather sorry for him, too, as he was a poor artist and
even I could see he would never meet with any success.

Encountering me in the street one afternoon, apparently by chance,
though I was to learn later he had been on the look-out for me to pass
by, after a few casual remarks he suggested we should go to
Rumpelmazer's for tea. Rumpelmazer was a great patisserie chef and
renowned the world over for his delicious cakes. I had not been to his
place as yet, mainly because everything was so excessively dear, costing
twice and even three times more than at everywhere else.

At first I laughingly refused, but as he really seemed so eager about it
I ultimately gave in and went. We spent a very pleasant hour together
and I remember I ate so much that I cooked no dinner for myself that
night.

The ice broken, with some little uneasiness at doing so, I went with him
to a few concerts and twice to the Races at Chantilly upon a Sunday
afternoon. I was very lucky there upon both occasions, the second time
winning more than a thousand francs at the Pari-Matuel, about £14 in
English money at the then rate of exchange.

All the time his uncle knew nothing about my going out with him, Anton
being quite as anxious as I was that he should learn nothing of it.
Anton said Mr. Turner Meynall was cold as a fish and would not
understand, while I took the view that, with him never unbending enough
to speak of anything but the work he was engaging me for, I would be as
equally reticent about myself.

Then one Sunday morning when sitting upon a seat in the Luxembourg
Gardens, to my amazement Anton suddenly asked me to marry him. When I
had got over my surprise, I treated his proposal as a joke. "Why, I know
nothing about you," I laughed, "and, besides, I'm sure I'm not the kind
of girl who'll ever marry anyone. I don't feel for men in that way."

"What, you've never been in love?" he asked in great surprise.

"No, I'm never likely to be," I said.

"But I should make you such a good husband," he pleaded. "I've got a
nice little private income and we should be so happy together."

"I don't think so," I laughed. "I'd make a horrid wife, as I'm as cold
as the fish you say your uncle is," and I warned him that if he ever
asked me again it would be the end of our outings together.

He did ask me twice more, but each time appeared to accept my refusal as
so final that I did not carry out my threat of coming out no more with
him.

Then came the fatal night. He had often taunted me that he did not
believe I could really be the good cook I was making out I was and so,
out of bravado, I said he could come to supper at my flat and he would
see what I could do.

He was taking me to the Opera that evening and the divine melodies of
Wagner's Lohengrin thrilled me through and through. Never before had I
realised how stirring and arousing sensual music could be. Afterwards,
going home in the taxi I allowed him to hold my hand without demur. Up
to then I had never allowed him to touch me except in the briefest of
handshakes.

He had brought a bottle of champagne with him and that alone should have
warned me of the red lights. I was accustomed to only the very lightest
of wines and, though I did not know what was happening, I experienced at
once its releasing effects. I was thirsty and drank glass for glass with
him.

It was a simple but dainty little meal I had prepared for him, salmon
mayonnaise, a galantine of chicken, potato salad and some delicious
little cakes. All of a sudden, however, I seemed to have lost all
appetite for food and I saw it was the same with him. In the perfect
health of youth, alas! it was more than food we wanted, though I, at
least, was not realising it.

He helped me wash up and we were very silent as we did so. Then he said
sadly, "And I suppose it's good-bye now. Anyhow, I've had a lovely
evening and I'm sure that you'll be sweet enough to give me just one
kiss before I go."

I made no reply, but I know I was smiling at him and so he took consent
for granted. He put his arm round my waist and pulled me gently to him.
He tilted up my chin and kissed me upon the mouth.

The kiss was a long one and I felt myself shuddering. I had never been
kissed by any man before and the sensation loosed in me a terrible wave
of passion. He repeated his kiss, a much harder one this time and I
kissed him back. He put my arms round his neck and I closed them
spasmodically. My knees were trembling under me and, lifting me in his
arms, he sank back into an arm-chair with me upon his knees. I felt weak
as water and I knew it was all over with me. In my then abandonment I
could refuse nothing to him.

He did not leave my flat until dawn was breaking and then it was he who
said he must go before anyone in the building was about and saw him.

No, I didn't cry when he had gone and for the time being felt no
remorse. In those few short hours all my outlook upon life seemed to
have altered and the thrill of my awakened womanhood was still stirring
in me! He was a dear boy, I told myself, and, of course, I loved him! If
I did not I comforted myself, as a decent girl I should certainly have
not yielded him as I had done. Now I should settle down happily to a
full life of wifehood and motherhood. After all, could there be anything
more wonderful in all the world than holding one's own baby in one's
arms?

Unhappily for my peace of mind this mood did not last very long and,
reaction setting in, before night had come I was upbraiding myself as
the worst of abject little fools for having spoilt my whole life for a
few short moments of passion. I did not love the boy I told myself. I
had only liked him, with my main feeling for him being one of amusement
that he had been so persistent in wanting me to become his wife upon so
short an acquaintanceship.

I did not see him for two days. He did not come near his uncle's studio
on the Monday or the Tuesday, because, I was sure, he was ashamed of
what he had done. By then I was becoming very worried and angry with
him. He must marry me at once, as I might be going to have a baby, and I
had certainly no intention of letting people point scornfully at me as a
girl who had given herself up to her lover in pre-nuptial days.

With his keeping out of my way, which I was now certain he was doing
purposely, I thought with horror how undignified it would be if I had to
go and search him out at his uncle's private apartment where I knew he
was living. Still, I was determined to do it, at whatever cost.

However, I was saved the shame there, as I found him waiting for me in
the street on the Wednesday afternoon at the time when he knew I should
be leaving the studio. Certainly, though appearing to be rather shy, he
seemed so genuinely pleased to see me that all my anger melted at once.
He accounted for his not meeting me before by explaining he had got
soaked to the skin when walking home in the rain in the early hours of
that Monday morning and it had brought on a bit of a chill. However, he
said he was quite all right again now and asked if he might accompany me
home as there was so much which had to be talked over.

"But you're going to marry me?" I asked sharply.

He looked very hurt. "Of course, I'm going to, darling," he said, "and
I'm the luckiest man in the world to have won you for my wife."

Greatly relieved, after I had bought some cutlets for our evening meal,
which he insisted upon paying for, we went home on the top of a tram and
he squeezed my arm so affectionately and talked so gaily of our future
prospects, that I felt very ashamed of myself for having doubted him.

Over the meal he said he was going to put up the banns in the morning at
the English church in the Rue de Guise and we would be married in three
weeks. He said he would not buy me the engagement ring yet, because I
would not be able to wear it openly, as it would be wiser, in both our
interests, that his uncle should learn nothing until we were actually
man and wife.

"Of course, he would be against it," he laughed, "as he has always
preached I must not think of marrying until I have been more successful
with my painting."

After the meal he stayed on, and at once started making love to me
again. Reluctantly at first, I was soon responding to his mood. I knew I
was now so completely in his power that I must give in to please him in
every way he wanted. I thought sadly of the so vaunted equality of the
sexes. Her feet once placed upon a certain path, how difficult, and
indeed at times how impossible, it was for a woman to retrace her steps.
She had given and there can be no taking back of her gift. She had sold,
and woe-betide her if she had not seen to it that she has been paid the
price before-hand.

So, for the ensuing ten days we continued on as lovers, and of an
evening, after we had been out to dine somewhere or had gone to a show,
he would come back home with me to my flat as a matter of course. As the
time when we were to be married came nearer I thought more than once
that he was uneasy about something, but put it down to what he was
anticipating his uncle would say when he learnt we had done everything
without his knowledge. I knew his uncle had done a lot for him and no
doubt it did seem rather ungrateful to be keeping him in the dark.

Then at the end of the next week I was rather surprised and a little
uneasy that I saw nothing of Anton either upon the Saturday or the
Sunday. In my precarious position as an unwedded wife anything unusual
in any way tended to make me feel nervous and I was always fearful of
his meeting with some accident which would postpone or even prevent our
being married.

On the Monday morning I went to Turner Meynall's studio as usual and
nothing happened until the sitting was over and I was about to bid him
good-bye. Then he said sharply, "Oh, by-the-bye, I saw you in the Rue de
Rivoli with my nephew on Friday evening and, if you are becoming
friendly with him, I don't think it quite the right thing." He eyed me
curiously. "Has he told you he's a married man?"

For the moment I could not take in what he had said, and then I went
cold in consternation and horror. My tongue clove to the roof of my
mouth and I felt choking as if I could not breathe. I just stared at him
and made no reply. Evidently he saw how he had upset me, as he tactfully
turned round and busied himself with putting his brushes away.

"Yes," he went on casually, "he's married, though he's not living with
his wife. She might divorce him, as he's given her plenty of cause to,
but she won't do it because she's a devout Catholic and instead, very
sensibly, she gives him an allowance to keep away from her. She's
well-off, but he has nothing. The rascal only married her for her
money."

He was looking at me again now and spoke with the utmost kindness. "In
any case he won't bother either of us any more. On Saturday I gave him a
sharp talking to for paying you attention and yesterday packed him back
to England by plane. We are both well rid of him, the young blackguard."

And all the time I had not spoken. What I should have said or done I
never like to think over, as I am sure I should have broken down and
burst into tears. Happily, at that moment a brother artist arrived at
the studio and, on their warm greeting to each other, I managed to slip
away, just pulling myself together enough to say a quick good afternoon
to Mr. Meynall.

I reached the street in the grip of a dreadful terror, as only that very
morning I had realised I was probably enceinte.

Two days later I received a letter from Anton. It was postmarked London,
but had no address and he had not even signed his name. It had no
preamble and ran to only five lines. He wrote,


"I am the vilest of all the vile men God ever made. I won't ask you to
forgive me, for you never can. It is no excuse that I was crazy with
love of you. I would kill myself if I dared. All I pray now that I may
be punished mercilessly in this world and the next."


I read it only once and then thrust it into the fire. What a mad woman I
had been, but, at any risk, I told myself, I would not bear his child.

I never knew how I managed to endure the misery of the few weeks which
followed, as there was soon no doubt that I was going to have a child.
The one bright spot was that Monsieur de Vallon was away. With the
strain of his work threatening a nervous breakdown, he had gone for a
long holiday to South Africa. Otherwise, with him there, I should never
have dared to sit at the Academy again, for with his eagle eyes upon me,
I was sure he would have at once noticed a difference in my bust. I
remembered so vividly how he had said that even sweethearting would
affect its symmetry, and in a pregnant woman--God! he would have seen
the change the moment I sat myself before his pupils.

Now I was not despairing of being able to keep my shame from the world.
With the confident assurance of one who really knew nothing of what she
was talking about, it was in my mind how Madeline had once told me that
in cases such as mine it was wise to wait a few weeks before trying to
get help. So I would wait, I told myself, until the following month
before consulting any doctor. Then I would consult the best women's
physician that I could hear of. I didn't expect he himself would do what
I wanted, but with Romance making such a strong appeal to every
Frenchman I felt confident he would recommend me to someone else who
would.

However, as if at last Fate were repenting for the evil she had brought
upon me, she dealt me the ace of trumps from the pack and the whole
matter was put right for me in a totally unexpected way.

Paris was in the grip of a bad and wide-spread epidemic of influenza and
one morning, after having had all the preliminary symptoms the previous
day, I found myself feeling so wretchedly ill that it was all I could do
to summon the conciérge of the building and ask him to send his wife to
me.

She was a kind, motherly woman and telephoned for a doctor at once. He
turned out to be younger than at first sight I would have liked,
apparently being still only in the twenties, but he seemed so clever and
capable that in a very few minutes I had complete confidence in him. He
told me I had more than an attack of influenza, as I had a pneumonic
patch upon both lungs. He said I must go into hospital without delay. He
recommended a private one where I should receive the best treatment, and
went down to the conciérge's lodge to telephone and make all
arrangements.

He returned to my apartment to be with me until the ambulance should
arrive and, learning I had no relations in Paris who would look after
me, showed himself to be of such a kind and sympathetic nature that,
giving way to tears, I choked out the dreadful trouble I was in.

I told him everything and how the man who was responsible for my
condition had turned out to be already a married man and left me without
a word. I asked him if, later, when I had recovered from the pneumonia
would he help me.

He listened very solemnly to my story, but, when I had finished his only
comment was, "One thing at a time, Mademoiselle. We will see."

In the days which followed I know I was a very sick girl, indeed I
learned afterwards that for three days my condition was so critical that
it was not expected I would live. Happily, I knew nothing of what was
happening then, as I was mercifully unconscious for most of the time.
However, a strong constitution pulled me through and soon I was taking
an interest in life again. Looking back, really I think one of the most
joyful moments of my life came when the young doctor whispered to me
that I need worry no more as I was out of all my trouble now.

That was all he had need to tell me. My dreadful illness had proved a
blessing in disguise. He was one of the most tactful men I have ever met
and, finding out from me in a roundabout way that I was in good funds
and had no need to consider expense, he kept me in the hospital as long
as possible and until I was well into a good convalescence. Then he
insisted I must take a long holiday and suggested my going to the
Riviera.

"I know a splendid little pension in the old part of Nice," he said,
"that would just suit you; quiet, yet not dull, as it is in the heart of
everything that is going on. The food is excellent, as the proprietor is
an old chef."

So to Nice I went, and I found the pension was all my nice young doctor
had said it would be, beautifully run and with food as good as that of
any hotel. It was not one patronised much by visitors, because of its
unfashionable position in the old town, the guests being nearly all
'permanents,' good solid business men and women of middle-age.

With my health getting better every day, whatever attractions I had had
before by illness soon returned, and the men would have liked to make
quite a fuss of me. One old gentleman, well up in the sixties, in
particular, paid me a lot of attention. It happened that he sat next to
me at meals and he was always pressing me to share his bottle of wine.

He was an Englishman, a Mr. Robert Chapel, and he confided in me that
for many years he had been in the diamond business in Hatton Garden, but
was now partly retired, giving only expert advice to the big jewellery
firms upon the Riviera.

"You see, Mademoiselle," he said, "handling precious stones as I have
been doing for half a century and longer they are now in my blood and--"
he bowed gallantly, "--except for the face of a beautiful woman, the
most lovely things in the world to me."

Laughing at his compliment, I asked, "But can there be much demand for
such expert advice as yours among the jewellers here in the Riviera?
They don't deal with the same quality of jewellery that you see in the
Paris shops, do they?"

He looked shocked. "My dear Mademoiselle," he said, earnestly, "at the
height of the season here jewels of great value change hands without any
remark, almost day by day. Why it is nothing for my great friend,
François Bethune upon the Boulevard Charlemagne here to sell a necklace
or other piece of jewellery priced at two hundred thousand francs or
even more. His house is as well-known as Manton's in the Rue de Rivoli
in Paris." He smiled. "Somehow I must manage to get you taken over his
atelier and have you shown some of the glorious pieces he turns out. He
is a famous goldsmith, as well as famous as a dealer in precious stones.
I have known him for over forty years. Yes, I'll find an opportunity for
him to show you his treasures."

And he found the opportunity very soon, when I had been staying at the
pension for about six weeks. Monsieur Bethune's place of business was
more like a salon for the gathering of notable people than a place where
things were bought and sold. Situated in the best part of Nice, it was
beautifully appointed, with rich carpets, valuable paintings and
etchings upon the walls, and elaborate and expensive art furniture.
Monsieur himself was a distinguished-looking old gentleman of benign and
artistic appearance, far more like, I thought, some fashionable
physician than a trader, no matter how beautiful might be the things he
was trading in. He appeared not to be in the best of health and carried
one arm in a sling.

He took us into his private room and from a big safe brought out parcel
after parcel of precious stones, as beautiful to me as any I had seen
upon the lovely Society women in Paris. He let me handle them and
explained exactly what made one more valuable than another.

"And I suppose, Mademoiselle," he smiled, "that, as with so many of your
charming sex, you think there can be no stone as beautiful as a
diamond." He shook his head. "Still, I don't quite altogether agree
there as, if you take away its sparkle, the diamond is by no means so
much more beautiful than all other stones."

"I think so, too," I nodded. I laughed. "Of course, I've never possessed
or even actually handled one, but I like a big ruby best, but it must be
a striking carmine red one."

"Ah, then I'll show you something," he exclaimed with enthusiasm and,
turning back to his safe, he brought out the usual tissue-wrapped little
packet and unfolded it. "Now here are rubies of a very fine quality," he
went on, "real, what we call, pigeon-blood rubies. They come from a deep
valley, more than four thousand feet above the sea, near to as dirty and
evil-smelling a little town as you could find anywhere, Magok in Upper
Burma. As you see they are very beautiful, so beautiful that I wonder
why the two biggest here were not kept to adorn an idol in some Buddhist
temple there."

I handled them with becoming awe: their colour, that of the richest
blood, fascinated me.

"And it's funny the tricks old Mother Nature plays upon us," laughed
Monsieur Bethune, "for these glorious rubies are first cousins to the
common emery stone--the emery powder which we use to polish our knife
blades and other steel things. In a way, it is just that the ruby is
transparent and the emery is not."

He made a grimace of pain and explained apologetically that he was
suffering from one of the bad attacks of neuritis he so often got. "Last
night I was walking the floor nearly all night."

"Have you ever tried massage?" I asked.

He nodded. "But it makes it worse. I think the masseur was rough."

"Well, sometime ago," I said, "I used to massage an old gentleman friend
and it did him no end of good. In fact it took away all his pain."

Monsieur Bethune was most interested. "Then you are a masseuse?" he
asked.

"Not a professional one," I said. "I'm really an artist's model by
profession, and I am down here on the Riviera for a long holiday after
an attack of pneumonia. No, I've had only private lessons in massage,
but I learnt from an old Indian woman who was splendid at it. Some of
her relations had been Yogis in Tibet and she believed that all ills of
the body could be cured by deep breathing and the human touch. That's
why she taught me how to massage."

Monsieur Bethune had become quite excited. "Then will you see what you
can do to me?" he pleaded. "I should be so grateful if you will take
away my pain."

I hesitated at first, saying I was out of practice, but then, mainly to
please Mr. Chapel, my pension friend, I consented, and that afternoon
Monsieur Bethune's sumptuous car took me up to his private residence. It
was a magnificent place and, as with his reception rooms upon the
Boulevard Charlemagne, everything was beautifully appointed, with no
expense having been spared. Remembering Mrs. Rahm's teaching that all
health treatments should deal with the mind as well as the body, I made
quite a solemn and important business of the massaging.

I asked for the room to be only dimly lighted and enjoined there should
be no talking while I was at work. I said far more was demanded of a
good masseuse than the mere physical handling of any sufferer. She must
concentrate and by sheer power of will endeavour to impose some of her
own well-being upon the sick person.

As I intended they should be, Monsieur Bethune and his wife and daughter
were very impressed, and the two latter watched everything I did with
great interest. To everyone's delight the patient's pain was eased off
at once and, later, he had a splendid night's rest. I gave him more
massage upon the three succeeding days and he declared it was a long,
long time since he had felt so fit. His gratitude was quite
embarrassing.

Then, upon his bewailing that I was only a visitor to Nice and asking
what he should do when his next attack came on, which he was sure would
happen with any cold wind, I suggested giving his daughter some lessons.
She was an intelligent, but very plain-looking girl in the late
twenties, and seemed delighted with the idea.

Accordingly, Madame Bethune, many years younger than her husband, became
a patient. She was worried a lot with insomnia, but, rather to my
surprise, the massage appeared to do her as much good as it had done her
husband and she began to sleep better straightaway.

I gave the daughter about a dozen lessons and at the end was quite proud
of my pupil. She was very keen about the will-power part and, feeling
very tired after each massage, was sure she was imparting something of
her strength to her mother. Her mother believed so, too, and thought
there was something quite romantic about it.

Then, as I had been disagreeably expecting all along, came the question
of remunerating me and, one evening after I had been dining with the
family, Monsieur Bethune smilingly held out to me a sealed and rather
bulky envelope. "Just a little token of our regard," he said, "but not
that it is in any adequate way relieving us of our obligations to you."

I know I got very hot, but I refused to take the proffered envelope.
"No," I said emphatically, "I don't want any reward, and I won't take
it, though I thank you very much for offering it to me. It's been a
great pleasure to me to help you."

Somehow I didn't think he seemed surprised, or even disappointed, when
after a few moments' hesitation he put the envelope back in his pocket.
"Then, all right," he said, "and when you leave us, it will afford us
great pleasure to present to you some little token of our appreciation."
He smiled. "I dare say that among some of the old junk I have in my
little shop I shall be able to find some little trinket or other to
please a lady."

I remained in Nice about a month longer and the Bethune family made a
great fuss of me, calling at the pension almost every day to motor me to
some place of interest. Several times, too, I went to his place of
business again to watch his men at work in the atelier.

Monsieur Bethune was very sad about his business. Although it had not
been made public yet, he had only recently sold it to an American firm
and they were to take over very shortly.

"I hate having to retire," he said, "but my medical man tells me that
unless I do--" he made a grimace, "--I may soon be where there is no
buying or selling of my so-loved stones." He regarded me with obvious
affection. "If I were not retiring, Mademoiselle, I would have suggested
your coming to me to train as a saleswoman. With those beautiful hands
of yours and your so chic appearance you would make an ideal one." He
smiled. "Why, you would charm all the messieurs who came into my salon
and they would take anything you offered them."

"For some things I would have liked it very much," I said, "but for
others I would have felt I must go back to Paris." I smiled. "You see,
Monsieur, my heart is there."

He mistook my meaning and smiled knowingly. "Ah, that's it, is it?" he
said. "Well, he's a lucky man." He sighed again. "Youth! What a
wonderful heritage it is, but alas! none of us appreciate its glory
fully enough until it is gone!"

The evening before I was leaving Nice I went up to dine with him and his
family. With the meal over they all gathered round, and with sparkling
eyes, Monsieur Bethune gave me the parting present he had spoken about.

When I opened the little morocco case I saw it was a brooch of a single
stone set in a big platinum claw and the stone was one of the
pigeon-blood rubies I had so much admired!

My eyes welled up in tears at the magnificent present, as I know it was
worth many thousands of francs.

When I showed it the next morning to Mr. Chapel at the pension his
eyebrows went up in surprise. "A great gift!" he exclaimed with
enthusiasm. "The gift of a king to his queen! Why, a necklace of them
would be worth a fortune in English pounds!" He spoke warningly. "Never
wear it in a crowd, Mademoiselle, though it will be some safeguard for
you that no ordinary thief will think it is real." He laughed. "It is a
jewel that, ordinarily, would go with sable coats and a big silver Rolls
Royce car."

The morning I arrived back in Paris was a day of bitter cold, with dull
clouds overhead and deep slush in the streets, I thought with a shudder
of some of the cold draughty studios I had sat in, and the dread of
another pneumonia loomed up large into my mind. The young doctor had
warned me very earnestly against risking a second attack, lest the
dreaded tuberculosis might follow, as it so often did in young girls.

The next week I was busy moving into another little flat I had found in
Autueil. Then I thought of the card I must send round to my former
patrons notifying them that I had resumed work, but every time I sat
down to draw it up nothing eventuated. Somehow I felt I simply could not
return to my old calling. If I did, for one thing I knew I must break
with my good friend, Monsieur de Vallon. I dared not offer to sit for
his Academy again, as although I saw no difference in my bust, I was
sure he would, and I could visualise the pained look with which he would
regard me. The thought preyed upon my mind. Added to that, I felt I had
lost confidence in myself. I dreaded the cold and, even with the studios
kept warm enough for my comfort, the going out afterwards into the
chilling air frightened me.

I was in this state of mind, when one afternoon, taking my usual walk, I
stopped to look in the window of Louis Manton's big jewellery shop in
the Rue de Rivoli. I knew it had a world-wide reputation and certainly
it was bigger and from the outside looked more imposing than that of
Monsieur Bethune's. Glancing through the revolving door, the interior
seemed beautifully appointed. The window had a magnificent display, but
with a thrill of pride I noticed among the rubies there was no stone
which surpassed or even equalled mine in beauty.

Suddenly, I made up my mind. I would interview the proprietor and see if
he would take me on as a saleswoman. Accordingly, the next morning,
dressing myself very carefully with the best of everything I had and
wearing my ruby brooch, I walked boldly into the big shop and asked to
see Monsieur Manton. After some short delay, as he was engaged for the
moment, I was taken into his private room and found myself in the
presence of a very smartly-dressed and youngish-looking man whom I took
to be well under forty.

I stated confidently upon what errand I had come and he regarded me very
intently, his eyes falling, I noticed several times upon my ruby brooch.
I told him something about myself, how I was born in Montreal, but had
lived most of my life in England and for the last three years in France,
how my father who was dead had been an artist and how, for getting on
for two years, I had made my living as an artist's model.

Asked why I now wanted to give up that occupation, I explained how I had
been very ill with pneumonia, with my doctor strongly advising me not to
risk the danger of a recurrence by coming out from the heated studios
into the cold air.

He was most polite and I could realise from his manner that my general
appearance had certainly not made a bad impression upon him. "It is
true," he said, "that I could do with another assistant, but in your
case the great drawback is that you have had no experience." He
considered for a few moments and then asked, "What references can you
give me?"

"Only those from Monsieur de Vallon of the de Vallon Academy of Art," I
replied, "and some of the artists for whom I have sat."

"And how far do those go back?" he asked quickly.

"For a little longer than a year and a half," I said.

He shook his head frowningly. "But they would be no good to me," he said
at once, "no good at all." He spoke emphatically. "You must understand,
Mademoiselle, that in a business such as mine I have to take the utmost
precautions, and to know everything about those I employ, even to their
family histories. Working for me, you would be hourly handling articles,
small portable articles at times of very great value. On your own or
with a confederate you would have many opportunities of robbing me
and----"

"But I hope, Monsieur," I interrupted in heat, "that I don't look a
person like that."

"Certainly you don't, Mademoiselle," he said smilingly. "On the
contrary, you look a very charming young lady who would be a great asset
to my establishment." He bowed gallantly. "Those beautiful hands of
yours were made to handle beautiful things and that so shapely neck
would show to great advantage any necklace you put on to tempt my
client, but--" he shrugged his shoulders, "--as the hard-hearted man of
business I take myself to be, I could not let such things for one moment
weigh with me in the absence of proper references."

"Then I suppose it's quite hopeless for me," I said sadly.

"Quite, I'm afraid," he replied. He went on. "You see, Mademoiselle,
between us jewellers and the underworld of this great city a battle of
wits is always going on. They use every trick and artifice to rob us
and, in return, we do everything to baulk them. They employ demoiselles
almost as elegant and attractive as you yourself, and the more appealing
they are the more we are upon our guard." He threw out his hand. "Why,
not a fortnight ago, here in this very shop, we caught red-handed a
young girl of all seeming innocence and with the face of a Madonna
trying to palm back upon us a good imitation for the valuable diamond
she had just been looking at. It was a splendid piece of sleight-of-hand
and she would have got away with it if her imitation stone had not
happened to pick up some of the perfume from her scented fingers, and
also if the assistant who had been serving her had not, as a non-smoker,
had a keen sense of smell. As it was he became suspicious at once, and
we caught her out, so to speak, red-handed."

A thought seemed to strike him, and he asked, "But what first put the
idea of your getting employment in a business such as mine?"

"When I was convalescing after my illness, upon the Riviera," I said, "a
few months ago I happened to get very friendly with a jeweller there and
often went to his atelier to watch his assistants at work. Then, for a
service I was able to render him and his family when they were ill--" I
put my hand upon my ruby brooch--"he gave me this as a parting present
and--"

"I've been admiring it," broke in Monsieur Manton. "It is a very fine
imitation."

"Imitation!" I scoffed indignantly. "Why, it's a genuine Burmah stone!
I'm quite sure Monsieur Bethune would have nothing imitation upon his
premises."

The jeweller's eyebrows went sky-high. "Bethune!" he exclaimed, as if in
great surprise. "François Bethune of the Boulevard Charlemagne in Nice?"

"The same," I said, and I saw the ghost of a smile steal into Monsieur
Manton's face and he looked down his nose. "Oh, these French!" I
thought. "Their minds for ever running in the same groove," and I felt
my face getting hot. However, I said quite calmly, "Yes, and it happens
I had a letter from Madame Bethune only this very morning," and, opening
my bag, I took it out and showed it to him. I handed it across the desk.
"You can read it if you like."

He did like and read it through carefully. It was a very short one, but
warmly affectionate. She wrote how they all missed me and that I was to
remember how delighted they all would be when, according to my promise,
I came to stay with them. In a fortnight her husband was to relinquish
the business for good and he was very upset about it. She had signed
herself 'Always your dear friend, Lucille Bethune.' Below that, Monsieur
himself had added, "And you take good care, ma petite, as Monsieur
Chapel has told me he has warned you, never to wear that little brooch
we gave you when you are going to mix in a crowd. If you lose it I shall
be very angry and have to give you another one."

"The postscript is Monsieur Bethune's," I said. "That is his
handwriting."

"I am quite aware of it," smiled the jeweller, handing back the letter.
"Monsieur Bethune was a great friend of my father's and I, too, have met
him. I had heard he was giving up business, but did not know it was
going to be so soon."

"Yes, and but for that," I said, "I should have gone as an assistant
with him. He said how much he would have liked to have me."

"And that Monsieur Chapel he mentions," asked the jeweller, "is he by
any chance an Englishman, a Mr. Robert Chapel at one time of Hatton
Gardens? Ah, he is, is he? And another friend of yours." He laughed,
"And you said you had no references!"

He asked to look at my brooch and I took it off and handed it to him. "A
magnificent stone," was the verdict. "Not as large as some I have seen,
but in every way as lovely."

I thought some explanation was necessary. "And he gave it to me," I
said, "because I had been able to do him and his family a service." I
shrugged my shoulders. "Not to merit such a present as that, but all the
same I had been able to help them."

"I'm sure you had," he nodded smilingly, "and now I intend to help you.
Of course I shall write to Monsieur Bethune as a matter of routine, but
you can start work here at once. As you have had no experience, to begin
with I shall give you three hundred francs a week, but if you prove a
success, as I feel sure you will, you shall soon receive more than that.
I can afford to pay my employees well."

And I am sure that before long they did realise that I was going to be a
success. Of course, at first mostly all I did was to look on and keep an
eye out for light-fingered customers who were hoping to pick up
something with no payment at all. When, after a few weeks, I did start
as a saleswoman, I was put among the silver articles, where not so much
experience was needed and where there was less risk of my making any
mistakes.

Strangely enough, before I had been with Monsieur Manton for even a
month I was able to do him a great service and it was a great feather in
my cap.

One Monday morning, to everyone's amazement it was found there had been
a break-in during the night, down through the floor above where a
costumière carried on her business. The thieves had made a hole
obviously only big enough to admit the very small man who had dropped
down into the shop in a corner right at the back, in the shadows.
Everything had been cleverly thought out, with a long grey sheet having
been first lowered through the hole to screen whoever had been dropped
down from lights in the shop window which were always kept burning all
night.

Apparently, the thieves had become frightened as they had not managed to
take much, but for all that they had got off with a number of valuable
rings which they had obtained by cutting through the plate glass
protecting the tray which contained them.

Detectives swarmed all over the place, but we carried on as usual,
though with hushed voices and rather scared faces. In the course of the
morning a sudden recollection came to me and I went at once to speak to
my employer. I was told he was engaged with one of the inspectors of the
Sûrété, but for all that I knocked boldly upon his door.

Bidden to enter, directly he saw who it was, he frowned, "I am busy," he
said curtly. "I cannot be disturbed."

"But I have something to tell you that may be very important," I said,
and I told him quickly what I meant. About a week previously I had been
going out to lunch when I passed a car stationary upon the other side of
the road. It was a closed one about twenty yards away and a man was
sitting in the driving seat. As I drew level with the car, I distinctly
caught sight of someone else huddled in a corner at the back with a
camera in his hands. He was taking a snap, and it had struck me at the
time that the camera was pointed towards our building. Almost the very
moment I had gone by, hearing the car start and move away, I turned
round to notice that a rug or something which had been obscuring the
back window was being pulled away.

"What was the man like who was using the camera?" snapped Monsieur
Manton's visitor, who was of course the inspector from the Sûrété.

"I didn't see his face," I replied, "as his head was bending down, but I
remember now I got the impression at the time that he might have been a
boy. He seemed so small and slight."

"And the man in the driving seat?" went on the inspector. "Can you
describe him?"

"Better than that," I smiled, "I can tell you who he is. I was at the
races at Chantilly on Saturday and his horse, La Belle Rose, won the
third race. I happened to come upon him in the paddock directly after
the race and some friends were congratulating him and shaking his hand."

The inspector frowned. "But how did you come to remember his face so
well," he asked, "when, as you tell us, you had seen him for only those
few seconds as you went by the car."

"Because," I replied emphatically, "he reminded me so exactly of one of
the attendants in the picture gallery at the Louvre. In fact, for a
moment I thought it was he. He had the same type of face and the same
peculiar-shaped nose. The great difference was that this man in the car,
from what I could see of him sitting down, gave me the impression of
being very smartly dressed."

Monsieur Manton jumped to his feet and, with no comment left the room,
returning, however, in a minute or so with that morning's copy of Le
Matin in his hand. Re-seating himself, he turned to the racing news and
in a few moments read out, "La Belle Rose, owned by Monsieur Jules
Bernier."

The inspector whistled. "Mon Dieu," he exclaimed, "we know him well at
the Sûrété. He's a very shady customer. He runs a second-rate night-club
in the Rue Boisonnier and we have had several brushes with him. He's a
real bad egg." He turned smilingly to me. "Thank you, Mademoiselle. What
you have told us may turn out to be of great value," and I left the room
feeling very pleased with myself.

Late that afternoon I was summoned to Monsieur Manton's room. The
inspector was there with him and they were both smiling. Spread out upon
a paper on the table were the stolen rings.

"Not one missing, Mademoiselle," said the inspector. "We raided that
Monsieur Bernier's flat an hour ago, and I am sure he was the most
surprised man in the world. No wonder you thought the man with the
camera was of small size and might have been a boy. He was the jockey,
Patten, who had just managed to squeeze through the small hole they had
made in the ceiling." He laughed. "You wait until you see the newspapers
tomorrow morning. They will acclaim us messieurs of the Sûrété of Paris
as the best detectives in the world, but, unhappily, will not ever learn
we owe all our success to the very charming Mademoiselle de Touraine. We
shall have to keep that dark to mystify those other blackguards of the
underground."

After that, I ranked very high in the estimation of my employer and was
gradually entrusted with the sale of the more valuable pieces of
jewellery. I have good reason to remember always the first big sale I
made. It was that of a diamond necklace costing a hundred and fifty
thousand francs or about eighteen hundred English pounds. The buyer was
an Englishman, a Mr. Temple Fane, and he bought it for his wife who came
with him. Both of them I judged to be not far off forty, but while he
was a gentle, reserved man of charming manners, she was a very
unpleasant woman, bad tempered, and most difficult to please. She seemed
almost mental to me and was very rude and overbearing. I could see how
uncomfortable she made her husband.

They came several times to the shop before the purchase was actually
made, and then afterwards I was sent up to their hotel because she
complained the catch on the necklace was not satisfactory. She was in
bed with lumbago when I saw her and was even more querulous and exacting
than ever. I found there was nothing wrong with the catch, and that the
trouble was because she had not been managing it properly.

Before they left to return to England--they lived in London--Mr. Fane
came into the shop by himself and gave me the most lovely box of
chocolates I had ever seen.

I was three years with Monsieur Manton and, though I loved my work
there, I don't think I was ever really happy or contented. I didn't know
what was wrong with me. It didn't seem to be a lover I wanted, as I had
never got over my one experience with Anton Meynall. It had sickened me
of men, and I was regarding myself again as a naturally cold type of
woman. I could have had plenty of lovers had I wanted them, and it came
to me in time that even Monsieur Manton himself would not have been
averse to some encouragement upon my part, had I shown myself at all
predisposed that way.

However, I turned him and all the others down and, without giving any
offence, made them understand quite clearly that sex was of no interest
to me. Looking in a long mirror one day I summed myself up and
considered what exactly it was that attracted men to me.

I knew I dressed well and had acquired the French flair of wearing
exactly what best suited me. Light blue was my favourite colour and the
other girls used to say I always looked what the French called chic. I
made the most of my good figure by going to the best dress-makers for my
costumes.

Certainly I was not beautiful, but I had many good points, which taken
altogether gave me a dainty appearance. My colouring was very good and
my complexion without a blemish. I always looked clean and fresh. My
face was oval-shaped, I had nice violet-coloured eyes and my artist
patrons had often told me what a pretty mouth I had. When I smiled I
showed good teeth which had never needed any dentist's care. I was very
proud of them.

Yes, I told the mirror ruefully, my appearance was not unattractive,
though I was not allowing it to get me anywhere. My temperament did not
incline me to matrimony and yet--what prospect was there for a girl in
my position except a good marriage?

I laughed a little sadly. What a queer girl I was! Here was I sailing
under false colours with a name which did not belong to me, and telling
any amount of untruths to keep up that deception and yet--at heart no
one was more conventionally inclined than I. I scorned the idea of
becoming the mistress of any man, however wealthy he might be, and, in
little things, I was most scrupulous in every way. I was dead honest,
would never cheat anyone of a penny and, strangely enough, I never told
lies.

A little over six months before I left Monsieur Manton's I got a great
shock, for coming home to my flat one evening the wife of the conciérge
of the building told me a man had been round that morning making
enquiries about me. He had given her fifty francs not to let me know,
but she came knocking at my door before I had been home five minutes.
The enquirer had wanted to know if I were married or betrothed or if I
went about with any particular man friend. Indeed, she said he had been
most interested in everything she could tell him about me, declaring
many times, however, that his enquiries meant no harm to me. The
description she gave me of him was that he was young, very respectable
in appearance and looked as if he might be a clerk in some office.

As can be well imagined, I was terribly upset. In fact, when I was by
myself again I literally shook with fright.

Who on earth could it be who was now coming after me in this dreadful
secret way? Was it that by some evil chance old Mrs. de Touraine had
heard from some traveller returning from Paris that a Mademoiselle Marie
de Touraine was living there and, knowing she and her sister were the
last of their name, the old lady was now wanting to find out who this
strange woman was?

Naturally very ignorant about all matters relating to the Law, I now
asked myself fearfully if, in taking Madeline's name as I had done, I
had committed some dire criminal offence for which I could be punished
and put in prison. At any rate I was sure the position was very serious
for me, as it was not for nothing money was being spent to track me down
to where I lived.

However, I was determined to baffle whosoever was after me there and,
within a week, had moved off to another flat in a quiet little street
off the Boulevard St. Germain, quite a distance away. I paid a week's
rental in default of any notice, and was gone within an hour, leaving no
address to where I could be followed.

Then week after week went by without my learning of any more enquiries
being made about me and, gradually I became confident that whomsoever
had been the man who had called at my flat in Passy I had successfully
shaken him off. Then, about six months later, coming home as usual one
evening, to my horror I learnt that someone had been round, asking much
the same questions as before. From the description given me, the
enquirer was the same one as before.

It was one of the cleaners of the building who told me this time, and I
was filled with a terrible feeling of foreboding. It was evident someone
was determinedly keeping watch upon me and whatever they were intending
to do--my guilty conscience frightened me they would assuredly do in
their own good time.

The very mystery added to my fears and very soon I was realising there
was going to be no peace of mind for me until I left Paris and buried
myself far away where there would be no beginning of any track to be
picked up and followed.

Unhappily, however, I could not do that for nearly a whole month, as,
when after a short probation Monsieur Manton had taken me on as a
permanent assistant, I had signed an agreement for three years and the
time would not expire until then. Had I been inclined to leave him
without notice, straightaway, all apart from such shabby treatment to
one who had been so kind to me, there was another reason why I should
stay on to fulfil the contract to the end. An annual bonus of a fairly
substantial nature and amounting to five thousand francs would be due to
me then and, with little money saved, I certainly could not afford to
lose it.

Still, in a week or two now I should have to tell him I was leaving
and--I dreaded doing it.




CHAPTER V.--TAKING RISKS.


One evening about three weeks before my time with Monsieur Manton would
be up I left the Rue de Rivoli in a very disconsolate frame of mind. I
still had said nothing about leaving, very cowardly putting off from day
to day the breaking of the news to my employer. I knew so well how
annoyed he would be, as I was now reckoned his most valued saleswoman,
with most of the big deals, particularly if it were thought some
considerable persuasion would be needed, being almost invariably handed
over to me.

The season, too, was now approaching when the usual crowd of American
and other wealthy visitors would be pouring into Paris and I could not
be resigning my position at a more awkward time. All along Monsieur
Manton had been so consistently kind to me that I realised how
ungrateful it would seem thus leaving him in the lurch. I must give him
a good reason, too, for going off so abruptly to obtain a satisfactory
reference from him.

Added to these thoughts was another one which worried me not a little.
If I changed my occupation, what new one was I going to take up?
Whatever decision I made there, it must be made quickly, as I should
have very little money behind me. As I have said before, I had
practically saved nothing, for though I received a good salary, I had
lived up to it. I had dressed well, always priding myself that none of
the other assistants dressed better. Then I spent a lot upon amusements,
worst of all undoubtedly, as an habitual race-goer, losing many hundreds
of francs at Long-champs and Chantilly.

So, as can be well imagined, altogether I was feeling very depressed and
preoccupied as that evening I was making my way to catch my usual tram
home, indeed so preoccupied that I almost walked straight into a man
standing on the pavement before me.

"Good evening, Mademoiselle," came a pleasant, cultured voice to break
into my thoughts. "I am afraid it is too much to hope you will remember
me?"

I glanced up with a frown to see a well-dressed man, apparently of about
middle age, regarding me smilingly. His whole appearance was so much in
his favour that even in those first moments of surprise it never entered
into my mind that he was some enterprising stranger trying to pick up an
acquaintanceship. Somehow, too, his face seemed vaguely familiar.

"But, of course, you won't," he went on with a laugh, "seeing it must be
more than two years since we last met. You were at Monsieur Manton's
here in the Rue de Rivoli then and sold me a diamond necklace. I was
with my wife. My name is Temple Fane."

With a slightly heightened colour I did remember. He was the customer
with the unpleasant wife, and it was he who had afterwards given me that
lovely box of chocolates. I took the hand he held out and smiled back.
"Of course, I do remember," I said. "Your wife was not well at the time
and I went up to the hotel to attend to her. How is she now?"

His face clouded. "I lost her a little over six months ago," he said.
"Poor soul! She had a long illness and we knew she couldn't get better."
He regarded me intently. "You haven't altered at all. You look just the
same as when I first saw you." He spoke most respectfully. "You are
going home, are you? Then may I walk a little way with you?"

We walked on at first chatting about nothing in particular. He said how
he had always loved Paris and thought it the most lovely city in the
world. I agreed with him, and then he went on that with all its
fascination it was a lonely place to be in by oneself, and he was
finding that so now. Instinctively I sensed what was coming and was not
a bit surprised when he asked me if I could come out to dinner somewhere
with him that evening.

"It would be such a kindness, Miss de Touraine," he said earnestly. "I
am here for a few days and feel so lonely."

For just a few moments I hesitated. As I have said I was feeling very
worried, and I would much rather have spent the whole evening at home
considering what I would have to do. Then I thought suddenly that if I
went out with him, it would at any rate mean a nice meal, with of course
the usual champagne. There would be music and gaiety, too, and for the
first time I could pack all my troubles away. So, saying how nice it was
of him to ask me, I agreed to come.

He looked very pleased and flushed up like a boy. "And I'll come and
call for you in a taxi," he said. "We'll go to Pradelli's. You get a
very good meal there."

It was a happy evening for me and I enjoyed every moment of it to the
full. The food was delicious and the champagne drove all my worries back
into their dark holes. I knew I was as well-dressed as any other woman
there, and my ruby shone out compellingly like a big red star against my
cream velvet gown.

Aware that Mr. Fane had been looking many times at the stone, I remarked
smilingly, "It's a lovely one, isn't it, a real Burmese ruby? It was
given me by a gentleman-friend of mine some years ago when I was on the
Riviera convalescing from a bad attack of pneumonia," and then, noticing
the shadow which had fallen across my new friend's face, I added
casually. "He's a dear old man and when I first came to know him, he was
in the jewellery business himself. He gave me such an expensive present
because I had been able to do a service to him and his family. I go to
stay with him and his wife every year. They and the principal of the Art
Academy here--a Monsieur de Vallon--" I laughed, "another old gentleman,
are really the only friends I have."

Mr. Fane's face had cleared. "But you lead rather a lonely life, don't
you," he asked, "with only old people for your friends?"

"Perhaps I do," I said, "but I've got accustomed to it." I smiled back.
"You see, I am getting an old maid now and the young people seem too
empty and frivolous for me."

He told me quite a lot about himself. He was upon the Board of
Management of several companies in London and his life was rather a busy
one, though of late, with no children of his own he was finding it very
monotonous. He had a house in Lowndes Square, which was much too big for
him, but he had been born in it and, accordingly, did not get rid of it
because of its associations. His only close relation, was a sister who
had married a cousin, a one-time Colonel in the Coldstream Guards and
they had no children either. This sister was very kind to him, but he
did not see as much of her as he would have liked to, as she was very
occupied with social duties. She was a woman of tireless energy and
lately had taken up Spiritualism and was rather keen about it.

In return for his confidences I told him something about myself, with
many reservations of course, and how I had no relations at all. He
frowned slightly when I told him about my artist's model days, but
commented with a smiling bow that he could quite understand anyone
wanting to paint me. He was very interested in my career at Monsieur
Manton's, remarking there, with another smile that I ought to be wearing
beautiful things instead of selling them.

In parting, it was arranged I should go out with him the following
evening and I said goodbye with my brain in something of a whirl. I
should have been very simple indeed if I had not taken in he was greatly
attracted by me and my heart beat quickly when I considered to where it
might lead. I realised instinctively that he was not the kind of man to
be paying such attentions to me, as he had been trying to make out, just
as it were only to pass the time away. Even after such a short
acquaintance the idea was forming in my mind that if I gave him tactful
and not over-forward encouragement, a real friendship might ensue which,
in the end, might lead to anything. Always of a sanguine disposition,
though I was half laughing to myself at the idea, I could almost already
see myself as the second Mrs. Fane.

That night it was many hours before I could drop off to sleep, with
thought upon thought rioting through my mind.

To begin with I asked myself tremblingly what would marriage with Mr.
Temple Fane mean, and the answer came instantly. Why, everything! He was
of the type of perfect Englishman! He was good-looking and, I could see,
of the kindest possible nature! He would make any normal woman happy
and--he must be very well off.

Then about myself. If my past could be wiped out and I were to start
life all over again I was sure I could make him a good wife. I was
presentable, I was a decent woman, and no one who had ever known me
could have ever said my disposition was not a nice one.

Ah, but could my past be wiped out?--and my heart beat uncomfortably
when I considered if, under any circumstances, I should be justified in
marrying a man like Mr. Fane without first disclosing to him the secrets
of my life.

Nothing could wipe out the fact that I had been someone's mistress,
certainly for only a few short weeks and then under circumstances which
were not as discreditable as it would make the bare statement seem.
Still, I should not be coming to him as I was sure he would be
imagining, in the untouched maiden state. If, however, I confessed to
nothing, I was confident he would never learn it for himself as I could
judge from everything about him how ignorant he really was about sex. He
would be easy to deceive and, with him making love to me, the part of a
woman with no experience would not be difficult to play.

I thought long and hard about it, but in the end satisfied my conscience
that my brief association with Anton Meynall did not unfit me to become
Mr. Fane's wife. It was a chapter of my life finished and done with and
no one would read its pages again. It was my own personal secret and,
certainly did not brand me as a bad or unworthy woman. So much for that.

However, my passing myself off as Marie de Touraine was quite a
different matter, as it was not one which could not be closed down but
must now continue for the whole of my life. Still, I reasoned I was
hurting no one by my deception there and, indeed, was myself benefiting
only in a sentimental way. As old Mrs. de Touraine had impressed upon me
so strongly, had I so wished I could have changed my name to any other
in a perfectly open and legal way. Instead, with such a favourable
opportunity presenting itself to me, I had chosen to do it secretly, but
with no one being in any way the worse by my so doing.

Comforting myself that it was another secret which was nobody's business
but mine I dropped off to sleep at last.

I went out with Mr. Fane both the next evening and the one following. He
could not have been more kind and attentive and I was sure that by now
he had quite made up his mind about me. However, each time we went out I
could see the more and more clearly that he had had very little to do
with women--indeed, I was to learn later that his dead wife was the only
sweetheart he had ever had--and was so obviously nervous how to approach
me. I was sure it was not that he was nervous about committing himself,
but nervous only because, as a man of his age, he was wanting a girl of
mine to become his wife and was wondering what I should say to it. He
was afraid to venture to ask me.

On the third day, the Sunday, after we had been to the races at
Chantilly and dined afterwards at a fashionable restaurant I determined
to bring things to a crisis. He accompanied me as usual to the block of
buildings in which my flat was situated and then I suggested if he
should come in and have a cup of coffee.

I had not asked him in before and I could see how pleased he was. Inside
my little flat, which after the great spacious restaurants he had taken
me to seemed smaller even than a small cupboard, he helped me off with
my cloak. Then, upon turning round, I saw his tie was a little bit
askew. "Let me put it right," I said, and at once proceeded to do so.

My face was very close to his and I knew that my bare arms smelt nicely
of some new scent I was trying, and my warm fingers came up against his
neck. It was more than the poor man, with all his ordinary restraint,
could put up with and, just as I was putting the last finishing touch to
his tie, he flushed hotly and, laying hold of my fingers, pressed them
hard against his lips. I let him have them for a few moments and then
pulled them gently away.

"You're a bad boy," I smiled, "and I can see young girls are not as safe
with you as I thought."

"I couldn't help it," he stammered. "Your hands smelt so delightful."
His voice shook a little and he seemed most contrite. "But you're not
angry, are you?" he asked.

"Of course, I'm not," I said. "After all," I laughed, "what is a kiss on
the hand in this country? It's only politeness, isn't it?"

"But it wasn't just politeness with me," he said with his voice more
unsteady than ever. "It meant far more than that," and, taking courage,
as I intended him to from the smiling way in which I was regarding him,
he suddenly reached out and, pulling me to him, kissed me full upon the
mouth. It was a warm and passionate kiss and by no means a short one.
Then for a few moments he stopped to lift up his head and look into my
eyes before kissing me passionately again. This time I kissed him back.

"Then you'll marry me, darling," he exclaimed chokingly, "for all that
I'm such an old man?"

"You're not old," I reproved sharply. "You're in the very prime of life.
Yes, dear, I'll marry you," I went on in pretended resigned tones, "as
you seem to want me to." I smiled. "What else could a decent girl do
after she'd let a man kiss her the way you've been doing?"

"Then we'll be married straightaway," he exclaimed delightedly. "Where
shall it be?" and he started kissing me again. "Do you know, darling,"
he said, "I have loved you from that first day I saw you nearly two and
a half years ago?"

"Well, let me make the coffee now," I said, "and then we'll sit down and
talk everything over."

It was nearly two hours before he left me and then I had almost to push
him out, pointing out laughingly that the conciérge of the building had
seen us come in and my reputation would be lost if it became known I had
been entertaining a gentleman friend until the small hours of the
morning.

We had decided to be married at an English church in Paris in three
weeks. In the meantime he would go back home and get things ready. We
would have a ten-day honeymoon in Switzerland.

When at last he had left me I drew in a long breath. Only three short
weeks and I should be safe! Of whatever anyone was suspecting me it
could not be anything that would take a husband from me and, even if he
found out I had married him under a name which was not my own, in the
full tide of his passion for me I was sure that as my husband he would
forgive me. I knew the marriage would be quite valid in any case.

It was very amusing when my husband-to-be, or David as I will henceforth
refer to him, bought the engagement ring the next morning. I had told
him exactly how I stood with Monsieur Manton and he agreed with me that
to buy the ring from him would be as tactful a way as possible of
breaking the news that I was leaving him.

I had already picked out the ring I would like best. It was a rather
expensive one and would cost twenty-four thousand francs, or at the then
prevailing rate of exchange about £300 English money. Still my fiance
had said the sky was to be the limit.

When he came into the shop it happened Monsieur Manton himself had come
forward to attend to him and, learning what he wanted, had laid upon the
counter a tray of our most valuable rings. Repressing my amusement at
the unfolding of the little comedy we had arranged, I was standing only
a few yards away. David just glanced casually over them and then said,
"But, if you have no objection, Monsieur I think I'll get your
Mademoiselle de Touraine here to choose one for me. With those pretty
hands of hers she should be a good judge."

Monsieur Manton looked rather surprised, but beckoned to me to approach.
I pretended to consider for a few moments and then picked up the one I
had set my mind upon. I put it on my engagement finger and held it for
David to inspect. "A very good choice, Mademoiselle," he said. "No,
don't take it off. Leave it where it is." He turned to my employer. "And
the price, Monsieur? Ah, twenty-four thousand francs! Then I'll write
you a cheque at once."

Monsieur Manton frowned. Of course he had forgotten David and, with no
idea who he was, it went contrary to all his business principles to
accept cheques from a perfect stranger. However, before he had time to
make any comment David went on smilingly, "Oh, the cheque will be quite
all right and, besides, the ring will not be leaving your premises here
before you have had ample time to cash it, as Mademoiselle will be
wearing it all the time." He laughed happily. "Which is one way of
telling you that you will be losing her services in less than three
weeks. She will become then Mrs. Temple Fane," he bowed--"my wife,
Monsieur."

For a few moments Monsieur Manton looked the very picture of
astonishment. Then he congratulated us warmly. However he shrugged his
shoulders rather sadly. "But in one way I do so, Monsieur Fane, with the
greatest of regrets, as I am losing one of the most efficient young
ladies I have ever had."

After arranging to meet me for lunch, David left the shop and my
employer turned to me with a knowing smile. "Well, you've certainly done
very well for yourself, Mademoiselle," he said. "I recall everything
about Monsieur Temple Fane now. He's a friend of Milord Rashleigh of the
Embassy here and a very wealthy man. As I expect you know, he's on the
board of management of several big companies in England."

I had three days with David before he went back to England and getting
leave from the Rue de Rivoli went about with him everywhere. He wanted
to buy me everything he saw in the shops for my trousseau, but I
insisted I could myself provide all I needed. Still, I could not prevent
him buying a very expensive moleskin coat. He said I was sure to be glad
of it in Switzerland.

It was strange, to note the great change which had come over him.
Instead of the shy and nervous man he had been in the preceding few
days, he was now masterful and with no hesitation about how he wanted
anything done. I could so easily visualise him as the successful man of
business Monsieur Manton had told me he was.

The three days having passed, he returned to England, not intending to
come back until the eve of our marriage. Looking back in after years, I
can realise what a worrying fortnight then followed for me. So near to
the wonderful time it would be for me when I was actually his wife, I
was expecting every day that something terrible would happen, and the
cup of happiness be dashed from my lips even at the last moment.

Every night when I returned home I thought someone connected with the
building would come knocking at my door again and that I should learn
more enquiries had been made about me. It filled me with apprehension
and I passed broken nights.

However, nothing happened and upon the appointed day I was married in
the English church in the Rue de Guise. There were only a few casual
spectators present, and I was married in my travelling dress. Monsieur
de Vallon gave me away, and one of the attaches at the British Embassy,
an old friend of David's was the best man. We left by the night express
for Geneva. The train was very crowded and, owing to the attache having
very carelessly applied for the reservation in the wagon-lit so late, we
were separated from each other on the journey.

Reaching our hotel the next morning, when we were at last alone together
in our room and I was hiding my nervousness by starting at once to
unpack. I received what was certainly one of the surprises of my life.
Taking me in his arms, so that we could exchange our first wedding kiss,
after we had both said how happy we were, he went on with a sly smile,
"Now I believe, darling, it is customary for all newly-married couples
to confess to each other everything that they've done." He smiled
fondly. "I am sure, sweetheart, you have nothing to tell me, but I'm not
quite as innocent as that and I do so hope you won't be angry when
you've heard what I've got to say."

With my guilty conscience stirring in me at once, my mouth went dry in
apprehension and my knees shook, as I wondered if his confession meant
something he had found out about me. However, I had not time to work
myself up into a fright, as he went on quickly, "Now, darling, don't you
just imagine in your pretty head that it was by chance only that I met
you in the street that afternoon when you had left Monsieur Manton's to
go home. There was no chance about it as I had come over to Paris on
purpose to see you and ask you to marry me."

I stared at him blankly, for the moment hardly able to take in what he
had said. However, realising from the affectionate way in which he was
regarding me that I had frightened myself for nothing, as he stopped
speaking I forced myself to what I was sure must have sounded a rather
nervous laugh. "I am flattered," I said, "but how did you know I was no
longer a single girl?"

"Ah, that's my confession, darling," he laughed back. He spoke very
solemnly. "I knew you weren't married or even engaged, because for many
months, all unbeknown to you I had from time to time been having
enquiries made to learn all about you."

"Making enquiries about me!" I choked. "Where?"

"At your flats," he replied. "I employed an agent and he used to follow
you home from the Rue de Rivoli to find out where you were living. Then
the next day he went there and made the enquiries I wanted, so
tactfully, however, that he assured me you would never learn from
anybody that they had been made."

Oh, the relief I felt! So all my worries had been for nothing, and how
many broken nights I might have spared myself had I only known!

David went on. "As I told you, I fell hopelessly in love with you that
very first day I saw you when we came to the Rue de Rivoli to buy that
diamond necklace and when my poor wife died--and before that when I knew
her death was only a matter of months--you were always in my thoughts.
An old fool you may think, me, but----"

"I don't think you an old fool," I burst out indignantly, "I think--"
but a feeling of such great thankfulness was stirring in me that I did
not finish my sentence and, instead, put my arm round his neck and
buried my face in his shoulder to keep back the tears which would have
come so easily. When he lifted up my face to kiss me I kissed him back,
and after that, never at any time could he have had any cause to
complain of my coldness.

We had a very happy honeymoon, and if he were masterful in the ways with
others, with me he could not have been more gentle or more grateful for
any favours that I gave him. I often wondered what his former wife could
have been to him as he had very inexperienced ways of making love. I
thought she must have been a very cold and unresponsive woman, and with
me becoming really very fond of him so much of our mutual happiness must
have been something of a revelation to him.

I was feeling very nervous, when, with the happy days of the honeymoon
over, we started back for London, in my inexperience of all household
management dreading having now to take up my position as the wife of an
important business man. I was wondering, too, what his sister would
think of me. Of course she would be very curious, and I thought rather
apprehensive as well as to what 'the shop-girl' her brother had married
was like. David had told me she would be at the house in Lowndes Square
to welcome us, and had arranged to stay there for a few days to put me
in the way of things.

My ordeal commenced when we were met at Victoria Station by a liveried
chauffeur in the big Bentley car. I saw the man give me a quick
appraising look, but then was very relieved when his face broke into a
bright smile. Driving up to the house, a smartly-dressed woman of about
middle age, whom I realised instantly was David's sister, appeared
almost the moment after the butler had let us into the hall. She, too,
gave me one sharp intent glance and, then approached quickly, kissed me
warmly upon both cheeks. She seemed a bright vivacious woman of a kind
and happy disposition.

"Welcome home, dear," she exclaimed heartily. "I hope you had a pleasant
crossing!" then, turning to her brother, she went on, "Now, David,
whilst you are looking at your letters--there are a lot waiting for
you--I'll show Marie over the house."

She led me first into our bedroom for me to take off my things and then,
with the door closed, said laughingly. "Now, let me have a good look at
my new sister-in-law."

And she certainly did have a good look, taking me in from top to toe. I
know I was blushing furiously. "Why," she exclaimed after a few moment's
scrutiny, "you're a regular little beauty and I can certainly teach you
nothing in the way of dress. You look a nice-natured girl, too, and
David is a very lucky man to have----"

By now, however, I had quite recovered my composure and as she hesitated
broke in laughingly, "Picked me up! That's what you were going to say,
wasn't it?"

It was now her turn to blush. "No, no, dear," she said sharply, "chosen
was the word I was going to say." She went on quickly. "Of course I was
a little bit anxious about you, as I'm very fond of dear old David and
he really knows nothing at all about women." She nodded viciously. "Your
predecessor was a horrid creature, a real Tartar, and it was a mercy for
everyone when she was gone."

I soon settled down into my new surroundings. Clara, Mrs. Robert Hume,
was kindness itself and took no end of pains to tutor me not only in
household affairs, but also into the ways of the social life into which
as David's wife I was so abruptly thrown.

Approaching fifty years of age and a woman of strong and resolute
character, she was full of energy and excelled in everything she
undertook. An enthusiastic golfer, she was equally good at tennis, she
rode to hounds and was an excellent shot. A keen race-goer, she had two
good jumpers of her own and superintended not a little of their training
herself. Attending spiritualistic seances as I already knew, was another
of her hobbies.

With a small flat in Earl's Court, her real home was yet in Eastbourne
where she had a big residence known as Mead's Court, abutting right on
to the Downs leading up to Beachy Head. The house stood in its own
beautiful grounds and was absurdly large for a childless couple such as
were she and her husband, but it had been left to her by an uncle and
she said the idea of disposing of it had never entered into her mind.

"My husband likes company," she explained, "and, entertaining a lot as
we do, the place is really not too large for what we want."

Her husband, the Colonel, was a peppery old gentleman some fifteen years
older than she was and very eccentric in many ways. However, he thought
the world of her and tolerated her spiritualistic leanings in an amused
contemptuous sort of way. When she was having a seance at the Court, he
was generally present, always on the look-out for trickery upon the part
of the medium and hoping to catch him or her one day.

Clara and I soon became great friends, with her never ceasing to express
her gratitude to me for having made her brother such a happy man. "You
are making him so happy, dear," she said once, "that if you were the
ugliest and commonest girl in all the world I would still love you."

In other ways, too, she said she could not possibly be more pleased with
me than she was, always declaring I was a genius for management and was
the most adaptable girl she had ever met. She added she was very proud
of me whenever, in our social world, we went anywhere together.

Our house in Lowndes Square was full of beautiful things and, when I
looked round upon them sometimes, I almost choked in emotion on the
realisation that as David's wife they were all mine. Still, in those
first days of marriage when under my sister-in-law's guidance I was
taking my place in Society and mixing with the best class of people, the
fear was always with me that someone would one day bring up my
relationship with the de Touraine family in Montreal. However, it
comforted me not a little in remembering that the de Touraines with whom
I had lived had been the last of their line and, as Madeline had often
told me, had mixed very little with other people. No one ever did
mention them to me and so the fear gradually died down.

I often wondered if old Mrs. de Touraine were still living and one day,
passing a Canadian Shipping office in the city, I went in and asked if
they would very kindly allow me to see a recent directory of Montreal.
To my relief the name of de Touraine did not appear in it.

I had been married a bare ten months when my son was born, and David was
thrilled that, in his forty-fifth year, he had become the father of such
a lovely baby. My cup of happiness seemed full to the brim, as I was
getting the more sure that now no shadow of the past would fall across
my life. However, just when the baby was about a year old and I was
expecting another one, I was to realise with a shock that the ghosts of
the past are not so easily laid. One of my secrets came dangerously near
to the surface.

One morning I was sitting in my own private little sitting-room doing
some sewing when Chalmers, our very solemn butler, came in to tell me
that a man had arrived from the registry office about the situation of
chauffeur. Our then-chauffeur was leaving us very shortly to migrate to
some relations in Australia.

The engaging of a chauffeur was really in my husband's province, but I
felt quite capable of dealing with it and so ordered Chalmers to show
the man in. It happened I was putting some coal upon the fire when he
entered and so did not glance round at him until I heard the click of
the closing door. Then I turned and, to my horrified amazement, saw
Anton Meynall, the man who had so wronged me, standing gaping before me.

It was nearly six years since I had seen him and, though he had aged and
altered and was looking in poor health, I recognised him instantly, and
my heart bumped painfully. From the startled expression upon his face it
was obvious the recognition was mutual and for a few moments we stood
staring at each other without saying a word. He recovered first.

"You are Mrs. Temple Fane?" he gasped incredulously, and, when I bowed
icily, he exclaimed with some animation, "Well, that's the brightest
spot of news I've heard since I last saw you." His voice shook. "It's
taken a great load off my mind, as I've often wondered if----"

"You never need wonder anything about me," I broke in sharply, "as I
never wonder about you." I spoke with the utmost contempt. "To me you
don't exist."

"And that's how it should be," he nodded slowly. "You'll never meet with
a viler blackguard than I was, however long you may live."

"Exactly!" I snapped, and I regarded him stonily.

He went on. "I know I can never atone for the wrong I did you, though
I'd do anything I could for you, even to committing a murder if you
asked me to."

"Then if you can talk so glibly about killing people," I said, "why
didn't you kill yourself?"

He shook his head. "No, I could never do that," he said. "My religion
wouldn't let me."

"Religion!" I exclaimed disgustedly. "Has a creature like you got any
religion? You, you--" but the dreadful word blackmail flashed up before
my eyes and I stopped what I was intending to say. I thought it wisest
not to infuriate him.

"Is your wife still keeping you," I said.

"And, pray, who told you she ever had been?" he asked. He scowled. "Ah,
that precious uncle of mine, of course!" He shook his head. "No, I
haven't heard of her for years, and I don't want to either." He laughed
bitterly. "As you see, I am now supporting myself." He made a grimace.
"I didn't turn out as I thought to be a budding Michelangelo with my
painting, and so took to the only occupation I could make a bit of money
by driving other people's cars." He grinned in his old boyish way. "I
think, it would hardly do for me to take on the position here."

I did not think it necessary to reply to his question. "But I will pay
you for your out-of-pocket expenses in coming here," I said, "What are
they?"

"Fourpence," he replied with another grin. "Tuppence each way by bus."

I took in again how shabby and frail he looked and, for the first time
since he had betrayed me all those years ago, a certain feeling of pity
came to me. I reached out for my bag upon the desk and producing a £5
note held it out to him. He gave just one look at the note and his face
reddened in anger.

"I said fourpence," he snarled, "not £5. Do you think I'd want to
blackmail you for threatening to tell people I know you've got that
pretty little mole above your right knee?" His eyes blazed. "No, thank
Heaven I've been a blackguard only where women were concerned and in
other ways still continue to behave as much like a gentleman as I can."
His voice rose. "So, keep your £5 and your four-pence as well, and be
damned to you for judging my character so badly that you offered them to
me," and, as I put out my hand to ring the bell for Chalmers to come to
show him out, he turned and opened the door himself.

"Good morning," he said curtly, "and you can comfort yourself you'll
never hear of me or see me again."

The whole interview could have barely lasted five minutes, but it had
left me feeling as limp as a rag. Still, after that first agonising
thought of blackmail, the idea that he would ever persecute me passed
altogether out of my mind. Strangely enough, as he had said, in some
ways he would always be what the world called a gentleman, and it was
quite clear to me that he was abidingly penitent for what he had done.

He had said I should never see him again, but about a year later I did
see him when I was upon a visit to my sister-in-law in Eastbourne. He
was driving the delivery van of a provision store and I was sure he had
seen me, too, but he turned his eyes quickly away and passed on.




CHAPTER VI.--THE COMING OF THE STORM


I was not really worried that Anton Meynall had found work in
Eastbourne, though it was certainly rather annoying, because I spent
quite half of my time at Mead's Court. Clara was always so very pleased
to have me and it gradually came about that she never liked to throw a
party, and certainly she threw plenty of them, without my being present
to help her in the entertaining. It suited David quite well, too, for he
loved Eastbourne every bit as much as I had come to, and was glad of the
excuse to spend long week-ends there. When, again, business took him
away from London, he said it always comforted him to know I was in such
bright and happy surroundings. As with his brother-in-law the Colonel,
he was amused at the seances, having no belief at all in them, but
regarding them as a mildly exciting form of entertaining everyone.

In the main, social life in Eastbourne centred round retired Service
people and at most gatherings colonels and admirals were very much to
the fore. We had a fair sprinkling, too, of other local retired
professional men, but at week-ends the Court was an open house to
everyone, some drawn from Town itself, with literary and theatrical
circles being well represented.

As I have already mentioned, my sister-in-law was a great racing
enthusiast and, with my inclinations there being every bit as strong as
hers, we seldom missed a race-meeting at either Lewes or Brighton. They
were a great joy to me at the time, but it is well the future is hidden
from us, for, as it turned out, they were to bring another dreadful
crisis into my life where, however, by good fortune more than by
anything else I came through everything unharmed. When peace at last
came to me again I was confident the dark chapters of my life were
closed from the prying eyes of the world for ever.

One Saturday afternoon when Clara and I were in the paddock at Lewes
together she suddenly clutched my arm in great excitement. "Look, look,
Marie," she exclaimed, "see that clever-looking dark man with the beard,
there is the great Caesar Sturm, the most successful medium we have now
in England."

I was as interested as she was, for everyone who dabbled ever so
slightly in spiritualism had heard something about Caesar Sturm. Upon
the right side of forty, he had recently taken London spiritualistic
circles by storm. A foreigner, he was something of a mystery to everyone
and there was no doubt he purposely cultivated this mystery as a great
asset for him. He would never speak about himself and no one knew from
what country he came. Known to speak Hindustani, however, it was
generally believed he must be of Oriental origin. He spoke English
perfectly, but with a slight accent.

As a professional medium he was certainly a great success, for at his
seances he would nearly always get good and, at times, even striking
results. He charged high fees for his services and was particular to
whom he gave them. Insisting that spiritualism was a religion to him, he
would never submit to any tests, declaring that, with hardened scoffers
present, it was hopeless to expect the dead would ever leave their
spirit homes.

Many attempts had been made to catch him out in trickery, but they had
never met with any success. Sceptics said one reason for that was
because before starting upon any seance he would exact from all present
a solemn promise to on no account flash a torch or bring light into the
room in any way. If he had any doubt about anyone in particular he would
approach that person personally and demand a specific assurance upon his
or her word of honour that the conditions he demanded would be
religiously observed.

Of course, many people had no belief in him and gave it as their opinion
that he was a fraud, but he took no notice of them. He was evidently
making plenty of money as he was always in good request. A bachelor, he
rented a very nice house in St. John's Wood and ran an expensive car. He
employed two maids and a secretary. This latter accompanied him
everywhere and acted as his chauffeur as well.

This then was the man Clara was so excited about. I knew she had been at
several seances where he was the medium and wondered now if she were
going to speak to him. However, she soon settled any doubts there.

"Come on, Marie," she said with enthusiasm. "You've never met a medium
of his importance before and I'll introduce him to you. He's very
expensive, but I really feel I must get him to give us a seance or two."

Waiting her opportunity to catch him alone, she buttonholed him and,
mentioning where they had met before, introduced him to me. At close
quarters he was certainly not undistinguished looking, with his big
piercing eyes and neatly pointed black beard. He wore his hair rather
long. He stared so long and hard at me from behind his strong and
slightly tinted glasses that I began to feel quite embarrassed.

"A beautiful little racecourse, this, Mrs. Temple Fane," he said in a
rich deep voice, waving his arm round the encircling hills, unusually
pretty for a course in England. "In this country the accommodation for
the betting crowd seems always to be the main theme, but in France, for
instance, the authorities cater for lovers of the beautiful as well."

"And I am sure my sister-in-law will agree with you there," broke in
Clara smilingly, "as she is always so enthusiastic about Longchamps and
Chantilly."

Mr. Sturm's eyes which had never left my face were more piercing than
ever. "Ah! then you have lived in France and know Paris?" he exclaimed
animatedly. He bowed gallantly. "The first moment I saw you I thought
you had something of the tone of that beautiful city about you!"

"Yes, I lived there for several years," I replied, and he at once
proceeded to draw me into a discussion about the many glories of Paris
and its surroundings.

Not wanting, however, to monopolise all the conversation with him and
seeing some friends I knew, I excused myself and went off, leaving Clara
to talk to him. For some reason which I could not explain I was feeling
rather annoyed at the bold and familiar way in which he had been
regarding me.

When, a few minutes later Clara left him to rejoin me, she announced
with some pride that we had prevailed upon him to come down to Mead's
Court upon the following Thursday week and, staying over until the
Sunday, giving a seance both on the Thursday and Friday nights.

"And I shall have to pay him sixty guineas," she sighed, "but I'm sure
it'll be worth it. We'll have the same people at both the seances, so
that they can give him a good try-out." She laughed. "And he was so
extraordinarily interested in you, Marie, that it's evident you've made
quite a conquest of him at once. He wanted to know all about you, whom
you were before you married David, how many children you'd got and where
you lived."

Fond as I was of Clara, her gossiping ways always annoyed me, and I was
really angry now when she went on to say she had told him I had been a
Mademoiselle de Touraine, descended from the royal house of Navarre.

"But you shouldn't have told him that," I said crossly. "He'll only be
thinking what a lot of snobs we are."

"No, he won't," she laughed. "I could see he was greatly impressed. He
said anyone would know at once you were an aristocrat as you were so
dainty and such a beautiful-looking woman." She nodded merrily. "But you
be careful, Marie dear, as he's got something of a bad reputation with
his conquest of us poor women. That's one of the weaknesses and there's
been quite a lot of scandal about him."

"Well, he'll make no conquest of me," I scoffed, "as I wasn't at all
taken with him. I didn't like his manner. It's too oily and familiar for
me. I wouldn't trust him a yard."

Clara considered, "And you may be right, dear," she said slowly. "I
think I know what you mean. When he was staring so hard at you just now
it came to me that he was not a man I should care to have as my enemy. I
should say he'd be horribly bitter and spiteful to anyone who had
offended him." She laughed. "Never mind--it's only as a medium that we
have to consider him."

It happened David was upon the Continent on business and would probably
be away for three weeks. So, in his absence, I had brought the children
and their two nurses to the Court. In a way I was glad David would not
be present for the séances, as they would have only bored him. Both
séances were to be preceded by a dinner party. Only twelve guests were
to be invited and in the days which followed, Clara gave a lot of
thought about whom to pick as guests.

The first two to be invited were Dr. Frank Burton and his attractive
young wife. A decidedly clever man in his early thirties, the doctor had
a good private practice in Eastbourne as well as being the surgeon
attached to the police. His house was the next one to Mead's Court and
Colonel Hume was a patient of his. Always excellent company, we were
very disappointed the doctor said he could not come, as it happened a
medical congress was meeting in Eastbourne that week and he had
engagements upon both nights. However, his wife was delighted to come
and that was a great load off Clara's mind, as Mrs. Burton was an
accomplished pianist and would take on the music during the séances.

The next two chosen were Admiral Peacock and his wife. The Admiral was a
merry old soul and accepted at once. "And I shall have a nice little job
for that medium chap," he laughed, "which will fairly test him out. I
heard last week that that butler of mine who went off with my old silver
two years ago has just died, and if this medium can raise up his spirit
I shall be greatly obliged, as the rascal can then tell us what he did
with the forks and spoons. You remember he denied having taken them, but
I'm quite certain he had, though what became of them was never found
out."

"I'm ashamed of you, Admiral," said Clara in mock reproof, "If Caesar
Sturm knew of the base uses to which you are intending to put his
spiritualistic powers he would have a thousand fits. Remember, he says
his calling up the spirits of the dead should be regarded as solemnly as
any religious ceremony in a church."

An elderly maiden lady, a Miss Hunt had been next asked to come. An old
friend of Clara's she said she had never been to a séance before, but
stated she was open to believe anything. She was hoping both to see and
hear a much beloved sister who had been dead for many years. "But
directly he speaks," she said plaintively, "I shall know if it is really
she, as she always lisped slightly."

Another guest was to be Professor Rattery. Up to a few years ago he had
filled the Chair of Physical Science at a University. Rattery, too, had
never been to a séance and was an aggressive sceptic about the whole
thing, giving it as his opinion that men like Caesar Sturm were out and
out frauds who should be prosecuted by the authorities, or shot
privately by some public-spirited individual who had courage enough to
take the risk of being found out.

Then came old Major Button who had spent many years of service in India,
and in his time been a noted slayer of man-eating tigers. Just recently
had written a very successful book about his exploits. He was a bluff
light-hearted old gentleman and a great favourite with everyone.

A half-believer in the mysteries of the Occult World, he admitted he had
seen some wonderful and quite unexplainable things done in India, but,
he would add, only by men who denied themselves everything and lived
lives of great austerity. Not by those of the type of Caesar Sturm who
was known to smoke expensive cigars, drink plenty of whiskies and sodas
and ride about in big motor cars. The moment he set eyes upon the man he
said he would be able to determine at once whether or not he was a
humbug.

The only really interested guests-to-be were an old retired judge and
his wife and two Varsity girls from Cambridge. The judge said he was
quite prepared to sentence Caesar Sturm to ten years penal servitude
without going through the formality of a trial, while the girls were
pretty and flippant, looking forward to enjoy a good dinner and have a
good laugh afterwards. They both hoped Clara would put them to sit next
to a good-looking young man when the darkness of the seance was on.

"A nice lot to be going to sit under Caesar Sturm," sighed Clara
despondently, "and I told him that, though some of those present would
not be actual believers, still they would be favourably inclined that
way."

"Well, whatever happens," I said, "they won't be rude to him, if only
for your sake."

"I'm not so sure about that," she frowned! "You don't know Navy people
and it's old Admiral Peacock that I'm most afraid of. He swears
dreadfully at times. He's only a grown-up child in some ways and if he
doesn't hear anything about that previous butler who stole his silver
spoons, it's quite likely he may start swearing at Mr. Sturm. Those
sailor people are so blunt and forthright in what they say."

"But don't worry," I laughed. "They'll all be so full up with champagne
when the séance starts that they'll be quite amiably disposed. If the
waiting in the dark is at all long I shouldn't be at all surprised if
the Admiral didn't drop off to sleep. I don't think I've ever known him
come here of an evening without having a bit of a snooze when no one's
looking and he's dropped out of the general conversation."

On the Sunday before the Thursday when Caesar Sturm was due to arrive he
rang up Clara, asking who were going to be present at the stance. "I
always like to have some idea of what kind of people I am going to meet,
as when it's known I'm coming anywhere certain enemies of mine often try
to wangle an invitation to make themselves nuisances and put me out of
my stride."

"They're all local people and quite harmless," said Clara. "I think only
two of us will have ever taken part in a séance before," and she
proceeded to rattle off the names. Whereupon Sturm seemed quite
satisfied and rang off.

"But I shouldn't be at all surprised," Clara laughed to me, "that as
I've told him they are all local people, he'll have a few enquiries made
about them in the town, to see if he can find out anything which he'll
use to make them imagine they are hobnobbing with spirits when the
lights are turned out."

"You know, Clara," I commented, "somehow it always strikes me that you
are not much of a believer yourself."

Clara smiled. "I am and I am not. Of course I know the whole thing can
so easily lend itself to trickery and yet--yet I've been present at
séances when quite genuine people have most solemnly declared that they
have seen the spirits of those who have passed on. I can't get over
that."

"But have you seen the spirits, too?" I asked.

She shook her head. "No, I've seen nothing. No one I have concentrated
upon had condescended to appear." She laughed. "Still, I've always found
séances very interesting, as I expect you know, they give you a
delicious creepy feeling that something exciting may happen any moment."

The eventful Thursday arrived and an hour or so before dinner most of
those who had been invited were having cocktails in the lounge when
Caesar Sturm and his secretary were announced. The latter was a
well-groomed young fellow about seven or eight and twenty. He had a
pleasant humorous face with shrewd grey eyes, and it struck me at once
that he did not at all look the type of man who would have
spiritualistic leanings. Both he and his employee took a quick glance
round upon all of us gathered there.

Sturm shook hands with Clara and Colonel Hume and then, ignoring most
rudely I thought the former who was starting to introduce him to those
standing near her, made a bee-line right across the lounge to speak to
me. "Ah! the very charming little Mrs. Temple Fane!" he exclaimed with
animation, and he held out his hand to me with so knowing and familiar a
look that I was sure everyone would think we were old friends. Of course
I had to take the proffered hand, but my annoyance mounted when he
proceeded to squeeze mine tightly and was so obviously in no hurry to
let it go. I felt myself getting hot at his impudence and, finally
dragging my hand away, turned half round and took no notice of what he
went on to say to me.

With some apparent reluctance he went back to Clara, but evidently had
no idea I had meant to snub him, as a few moments later he brought his
secretary up to me to be introduced.

"Mr. Eric Danvers," he exclaimed with his voice booming through the
lounge, "another admirer all ready to fall at your feet, Eric," he went
on, "this is Mrs. Temple Fane, that little friend I've spoken to you
about whom I met at Lewes races the other day."

"Friend!" I exclaimed loudly, and determined to let everyone in the
lounge know upon what footing we stood. "Why, that was the first time
I'd met you."

"Of course, of course it was," he said in great good humour. He looked
amused. "But then I make friends easily when the friendship promises to
be a pleasant one."

Clara saw he was annoying me and came up to lead him away then, seeing I
was going to take no notice of him as I had turned quickly to speak to
Admiral Peacock, the secretary took himself off after his employer.

"A regular bounder that Sturm," commented Admiral Peacock who was
standing near me, "and I'd like to bet any money he's been spotting on
the drive down. He just reeks of spirits. You can smell him miles away."

And Clara, too, remarked upon his smelling so strongly of drink when
later she sort of apologised to me for the man's persistence. "I am
sorry, dear," she said, "but that's the worst of men like Caesar Sturm
when they get up in the world. They imagine every pretty girl they see
is going to fall in love with them at once." She laughed. "Still, I
think you let him see plainly enough that there's going to be none of
that with you and I don't expect he'll bother you any more."

However, he did start annoying me again when he came into the lounge
just before dinner was due to be announced. I saw his eyes wandering
round and, picking me out at once, he came over and plumped himself down
next to me upon the settee where I was sitting.

"Well, young lady," he asked, "and have you been backing any good
winners lately. I myself have been having a rather----"

But with no hesitation I rose sharply to my feet. "But I mustn't
monopolise you, Mr. Sturm," I said coldly. "There are others here who
want to speak with you." I beckoned to old Miss Hunt who was
interestedly watching us from only a few yards away. "Miss Hunt," I
called out smilingly, "Mr. Caesar Sturm would like to have a little chat
with you," and I motioned her to the seat I had just vacated.

There was no doubt now that Sturm had taken the snub, and his eyes
blazed with such a horrid look that for the moment I felt really
frightened. Clara had been noting everything from the other end of the
lounge and, happening to meet me in the corridor just before the dinner
gong sounded, said she didn't think she had seen such concentrated venom
in anyone's face before.

"You keep out of his way, dear," she enjoined. "He's a most unpleasant
type of man and I'll never have him here again." She laughed. "Now
here's something prophetic and you see if I don't turn out to be right.
Miss Hunt buttonholed that secretary just now and I heard her telling
him all about her sister. Of course, he'll pass it on to Caesar Sturm
and it's pretty certain one spirit will arrive tonight. Won't the poor
old thing be pleased?"

During dinner it was evident to me that I was well and truly in the
medium's bad books, as I saw him glancing several times in my direction
and each time he scowled. Colonel Hume was most annoyed with him, not
for that, as I don't suppose he noticed it, but because Sturm's manner
was so generally bumptious and overbearing, letting everyone see he
thought himself a most important man. Another thing. While he hardly
addressed a word to any of the men guests, during nearly the whole
course of the meal he was talking animatedly across the table to the two
Cambridge girls and Dr. Burton's pretty young wife. He seemed to take no
notice at all of his host or hostess. Some of the stories he told, too,
were rather verging on the coarse side, and I could see an angry scowl
upon Colonel Hume's face. I knew him to be most particular about what
stories were told in front of our sex.

"But I'm not in my best form with my stories tonight," he said
presently, "or I'd be remembering some more funny ones." He looked
troubled. "I'm rather worried, because upon Friday and Saturday nights
there'll be no one looking after my house in Town. My two maids are
sisters and they will be away up North at their mother's funeral."

"And you're afraid of burglars, Mr. Sturm?" asked Miss Hunt a little
nervous at addressing the great man.

"Yes, I am rather," nodded Sturm.

"Then have you anything valuable they could take?" grunted old Major
Button.

"Not valuable that they could sell again," replied Sturm, "but there are
the records of every séance I have presided over, my diaries and a few
presents given me when I was staying at a monastery in Tibet."

"Charms, eh?" queried the Major, looking amused.

Sturm hesitated a few moments. "Well, I suppose you might call some of
them that. One is a small crystal specially dedicated to me in a solemn
ceremony by the monks. At ordinary times it sparkles and glistens, but
when I am in any danger it loses all its lustre and goes almost black."

"And you really do put trust in it?" scoffed the Major.

Sturm nodded. "Yes, I do now," he replied very solemnly, "though I admit
I didn't when it was first given me. Two years ago when I was in India I
was about to take a certain long journey by train when the crystal
suddenly went black. I hesitated quite a long while about postponing the
journey as it was a very important one, but I eventually did." He looked
very grave. "That night the train I should have travelled upon met with
a dreadful accident. It ran off the line when going at a high speed and
a number of the passengers were killed." He shrugged his shoulders. "Had
I gone I might have been among them."

A short silence followed and then the Admiral asked dryly, "And did you
happen to look at the crystal before you started to come down here this
afternoon?"

Sturm shook his head. "No, I was in a hurry and forgot to see if there
was any warning of possible danger coming." He looked round laughingly.
"So I must be sure and give you good measure at the séance tonight, or I
may, perhaps, be getting a bullet in my head before I go back to Town on
Sunday. One can make a lot of enemies in my calling, you know,
unbelievers and others who are jealous of what I can do. I have always
to be upon the lookout."

"A clever rogue," whispered the Admiral who had taken me in to dinner,
"and I don't believe a word he says. Still, we may get some fun out of
him."

The meal over, we all adjourned to the library where the séance was to
be held. Sturm appeared very hopeful and was sure it was going to be a
very successful one. It was a heavy sultry night, with thunder about,
and he said it would all help to draw the spirits from their actual
homes. Privately, though for another reason, I thought things were
propitious, too, as if any of the guests were at all spiritualistically
inclined, as I had told Clara, from the amount of champagne which had
been drunk at dinner, they would certainly be in a happy enough frame of
mind to believe anything. Rather to everyone's surprise, Sturm suddenly
announced that his secretary would not be present at the stance. "To
assure you all," he said laughingly, "that there shall be no collusion
between us." Eric Danvers looked rather puzzled. The decision was
evidently a surprise to him, too, and it seemed he couldn't understand
it.

We were all seated at a round table, with each one of us clasping
tightly to the hand of our neighbour on either side. All our hands were
resting upon the edge of the table and fully exposed to view. I was
seated between Clara and the old judge. As I have mentioned, Mrs.
Burton, was to be in charge of the piano, and, during the whole
continuance of the seance, was to play soft and gentle music.

Before switching off the lights, Sturm proceeded to issue the usual
instructions. On no account, even for one moment, were we to break the
circle of our clasped hands, or all contact with the spirits would be
prevented. No one but him was to speak and we were all to keep perfectly
still. We were not to cough or fidget, and were to breathe as quietly as
possible. Religiously keeping to these orders, we were to concentrate
our thoughts hard upon someone whom we had once known and whom had now
passed into the spirit world.

"Please all of you take in," he finished impressively, "that it is not I
who summons the spirits to appear. The call comes direct from you, and
my part is only to open the doors of the spirit world so that they may
be freed to come down among us."

The lights were switched off and in the darkness a dead, deep silence
filled the room, until very softly there came up upon the air the
strains of Chopin's March Funèbre, and the glorious melody stirred even
sceptical me to anticipatory awe.

Minute after minute went by. A delicious Nocturne followed the Funeral
March and, soothed by the music in some mysterious way, my thoughts
began wandering back upon my life. I recalled the dreadful little house
in Rocker Street and the big lonely one upon the moor. I saw my beloved
master, the two Hindu servants, Sakao the wolf and the big fierce-eyed
Alsatians. Then--but the voice of Sturm broke in at last.

"I hear rustling sounds!" he hissed sharply. "I feel a draught of
chilling air! A spirit has come among us! It is hovering near!
Concentrate, concentrate, or it may leave us again!"

He stopped speaking and for a long minute only the soft and opiate
strains of a cradle lullaby were heard. Sceptics though they might be,
all seated at the table seemed to be holding in their breaths, and my
heart beat painfully.

Then came Sturm's voice in an excited whisper. "I see a thick cloud
before me! It is taking shape! It is that of a woman! I see her plainly!
She is elderly and has grey ringlets and her hair is parted in the
middle."

Miss Hunt's voice broke in, weak and all shaking but we could all hear
her. "It is Emma," she choked, "the sister I loved so dearly!"

"Hush! Hush!" came very sternly from Sturm. "Her face is drawn and pale,
but she looks happy. She is glancing round among us! Her lips are
moving! She is trying to speak! No, no, she is fading away! She has
gone!"

Poor old Miss Hunt started to cry softly, but upon a sharp "Hush!" from
Sturm she pulled herself together and, save for the soft music, the room
was in silence again. Notwithstanding what Clara had told me of the old
lady's talk with the secretary, my scepticism was in part waning, as the
description of the dead sister was so exact. Miss Hunt had once shown me
her photograph. She did wear old-fashioned ringlets and her hair was
parted in the middle! I could not help feeling impressed.

For a long time nothing more happened, except that I thought I had been
a true prophet, as I was almost certain I could hear Admiral Peacock
starting to snore quietly. Then, just as I was expecting Sturm to
declare the stance was finished and he could do no more for us that
night, he suddenly warned us hissingly that another spirit had come into
the room. For minute after minute, however, he left us in suspense until
he began excitedly to describe this new spirit in minute detail.

He said it was that of a tall and turbaned man who was dark and swarthy
and had big, flashing eyes. He was moustached and bearded and was
wearing gold earrings. To my great disappointment that was all Sturm
could tell us before the form of the spirit faded gradually away.

"Damn," swore Major Button quite audibly, betrayed into speech in his
amazement, "but that was devilishly like old Abdul Khan, my head beater
in Johore. He must have--" but Sturm in some anger called for silence,
and the séance went on.

Another silence followed, but not nearly so long this time and then, all
in a few short moments I was plunged into feelings of horror and
consternation.

In intense but subdued excitement Sturm announced the coming of another
spirit and, when the cloud of mist had taken shape, he went on in his
hissing whisper that it was that of an old man of commanding and martial
appearance.

"He looks as if he had been a soldier once," he breathed. "He has white
hair and a closely clipped white moustache. He has big eyes and big
bushy brows and there is a scar on one side of his forehead. His face is
very sad and his hair is damp and matted over his forehead."

Oh, how amazed I was! I struggled to fight against it, but I was sure
the spirit was that of my old master, Colonel Jasper, whom he was
describing! The scar upon the forehead made it so certain! His hair,
too, was damp and matted, because it must have been so when he had been
drowned that dreadful night in the Bay of Biscay! I felt I wanted to be
sick.

Sturm went on sibilantly. "He is looking round upon everyone in this
room! Oh, his gaze is fixed upon someone here! His lips move! He is
saying something but his speech is so faint that I cannot catch what it
is. Let whoever here has called him, concentrate, concentrate, so that
his voice may gather strength! Ah, he is going! He is fading away! He is
gone!"

I almost choked in fright. It must be that we had really been in the
presence of a spirit from the dead! I had thought of my poor old master
and my thoughts had brought him to me! It seemed incredible and yet--but
Sturm was whispering again and the whispering was more intense than
ever.

"Another spirit is here," he warned us, "and is that of a young man! He
has come so quickly that he must be linked up with that last one! They
have travelled together from the spirit world! Oh, I can see him so
plainly now! He looks white and terrified and there is blood upon his
face! There is blood, too, upon his hands which are clutching to his
throat as if he is trying to protect it! His eyes are horror-struck, as
if he knows he is facing some dreadful form of death! His head rocks to
and fro! Oh, he is fading, fading! He has passed from my sight!"

I choked back a scream. The medium had been describing the man whom
Sakao, the wolf, had killed that dreadful morning by the house upon the
moor, and he described him exactly as I had seen him in those awful last
moments of his life. My heart seemed to almost stop beating, a black
mist rose up before my eyes and I had just time to tell Clara what was
happening to me when everything went blank. I heard afterwards that
Clara had had the séance stopped at once and the lights turned on. I was
carried into another room and laid upon a sofa. When I came to I was put
to bed with a big dose of brandy and two hot-water bags.

It can be well imagined in what a dreadful state of turmoil my poor
brain was. One thing, I was a sceptic no longer. What I had believed to
be absolutely incredible was undoubtedly true. Caesar Sturm, sensual and
drunken beast though he was, did possess the power of calling up spirits
from the dead. It must be so, as there could have been no trickery about
it. Then a terrible thought struck me and made my blood run cold. What
if he raised the spirit of Colonel Jasper again at the next seance and
my old master actually spoke and called to me by name? What if--but no,
I would not be present at the next séance. I would keep away as far as
possible from Sturm, the medium, as I was intending to keep away from
Sturm, the man!

One consolation I did have, I told myself. Neither Sturm himself nor any
of the others who had been present at the séance would be aware that
those two particular spirits had come from my thinking about them and
had anything to do with me.

It was hours and hours before I finally dropped off to sleep, but when I
did I slept deeply until the morning and was very pleased with myself
that, upon Clara's coming in to see what sort of night I had had, I was
feeling really quite well. She told me it was generally considered the
séance had been quite a success and everyone was looking forward to the
one that evening.

Intending to face the music boldly and not let Sturm, above all people,
know how upset I still was, I insisted upon getting up for breakfast.
Sturm came into the meal, but we just exchanged a curt good morning and
I did not join in any conversation he was taking part. I noticed he gave
me not a few quick glances and was rather puzzled; they seemed not only
spiteful but also, in some subtle way, triumphant ones, as if he thought
he had succeeded in paying me out for my snubbing him the previous
evening.

I didn't see him again before lunch, but heard later he had been in the
billiards-room with Eric Danvers and, greatly to Colonel Hume's
annoyance when he learnt about it, had made the butler bring him in a
large bottle of champagne soon after they had started their games.

At lunch I was puzzled again by the amused and, I thought, almost
sneering looks with which he kept regarding me. However, soon after the
meal was over, the mystery there was cleared up in a horrible and
ghastly manner, and all in a few moments I found myself in as desperate
a position as I have ever been, before or after, in all my life.

Sturm caught me alone and told me he knew I had once been a servant girl
known as Polly Wiggs!

In the Court grounds, at the bottom of the garden there was a narrow
lane running between two tall privet hedges, parallel with the road
outside, and with a five-barred gate opening out on to it. Sheltered
from the winds in every direction, the lane was a favourite place of
mine, and I used often to sit in a small summerhouse there and either
sew or read. Everything was so peaceful and I used to enjoy listening to
the birds.

So, not very long after lunch, still feeling very upset by the séance of
the previous night, I took myself off to the summerhouse, quite sure
then I should be left by myself and not be bothered with having to talk
to anyone. I had heard it mentioned casually at lunch that Sturm and his
secretary were going for a long drive over the Downs and would not be
back until evening. So I was confident there would be no annoyance for
me from that quarter.

However, I had badly miscalculated there, as Sturm, waiting outside for
Danvers who had gone round to the garage to fetch the car, happened to
catch sight of me entering the lane and immediately proceeded to follow
after me. The first I knew of anyone being near me was when, just
approaching the summerhouse, I heard footsteps behind me and turning
quickly to see who it was, to my dismay I saw it was Sturm. He came up
in quick purposeful strides and my heart beat uncomfortably when I noted
the sneering smile with which he was regarding me.

"Here, young woman," he said sharply. "I want to have a good talk with
you on the quiet before I leave here on Sunday and you've got to arrange
it somehow"--he leered horribly--"even if it means you coming into my
room at night when everyone else has gone to bed." He laughed
scoffingly. "No, no, you can't put on any of your grand airs with me, as
if I choose I can be as dangerous as a bomb to you." He looked round to
make sure there was no one near and went on quickly. "The other day at
Lewes you were recognised by a friend of mine who knew you years ago,
and you were then"--for a long moment he held my eyes with his--"a
little servant girl to a Colonel Jasper who was living in Devonshire
upon Dartmoor."

I stood as if thunderstruck. It had all come so suddenly and his words
were striking at me like a dreadful blow. I could not breathe and I knew
my face must have gone white as death.

He regarded me exultingly. "Ah, I can see that's hit you," he exclaimed
with gleaming eyes. "A bit sudden, isn't it? But it makes you realise
how I've got you so completely in my power, doesn't it?" He went on
sneeringly, "You were no Marie de Touraine then, descended from the
great Kings of Navarre! You were just plain little Polly Wiggs, as I
say, a servant in that house upon the moor!"

I could not speak. My tongue was cleaving to the roof of my mouth. All
my world was tumbling about me and the worst I had so dreaded had
happened at last.

He dropped his voice to conversational tones. "It's quite simple how I
found out all about you," he said. "You will remember that stormy night
when you were at Colonel Jasper's and a holiday-maker had got lost and
came knocking upon the old man's door. Well, that holiday-maker was the
friend of mine who recognised you at Lewes races the other day, and he
told me that Colonel Jasper, after he and his nigger servant had
searched him for a pistol, gave him something to eat and a bed." His arm
shot out accusingly. "And it was you who waited upon them at the
meal--yes! you, the little slavey, known then as Polly Wiggs," and he
paused for a long moment to let his words sink in.

In the meantime, the numbness of my poor brain was passing off and I was
beginning to think again, and think hard, too. In spite of the terror I
was in, memory after memory was forcing itself into my mind--until
suddenly a great light came.

Oh, what a fool I was and how easily I had been taken in! I saw
everything so clearly now! No spirits had been raised from the dead the
previous night, and no vision of Colonel Jasper or the man whom Sakao,
the wolf, had killed had come into the room! All that this wretch now
standing before me had made out had been revealed to him in the séance,
he had known before, as he had been the lost holiday-maker himself.
He--but my fury at having been so deceived overwhelmed all my prudence
and my fears and, not realising the danger I was bringing upon myself, I
burst out fiercely, "And you were the holiday-maker himself, you
swindling cheat! You were no grand-sounding Caesar Sturm then, but just
a common Whitechapel street-bookmaker who had been put in prison once
for breaking into a house." My anger rose. "Your real name, you
blackguard, is Todhunter Bellamy! Yes, and you were the companion of
that man the wolf killed, that morning when you had both been giving
poison to our dogs! Oh, you wretch!"

There was no doubt that I had returned him a stunning blow, as his jaw
dropped, his eyes opened very widely, and for a few moments he looked
the very picture of consternation.

However, he pulled himself together quickly. "Then you admit," he
snarled, "that you were Polly Wiggs? You don't deny that?"

Too late I realised that I had fallen into the pit I had dug myself, but
my anger was still strong and it sharpened my wits. "You fool, you poor
fool," I retorted sharply, "Polly Wiggs was the name of affection
Colonel Jasper had given me. It came out of a book we had both read."

But the man was a fighter, too, and he rapped out like bullets from a
gun, "That's a lie, a silly lie if ever there was one!" His eyes glared
venomously. "But I have more against you than that. As well as enquiries
about you last week in Devonshire, I made plenty in Paris as well. Your
sister-in-law told me when you were married. From there I traced you to
the shop in the Rue de Rivoli and, before that, to your life as an
artist's model in the nude"--his eyes gloated--"in the nude, mind you,
and that would be a nice thing for your husband to hear about, wouldn't
it?" He pretended to look amused. "I understand Mr. Temple Fane is very
prim and proper in all his ideas about women and I don't fancy he'll
much relish the disclosure of his charming little wife having been
mauled about upon such a grand scale before he married her. What do you
think about it, eh?"

I regarded him scornfully, but he went on leeringly, "Ah, you were a gay
young woman then, weren't you with plenty of lovers coming to your flat?
I've got the names of several of them written down at home, in case I
have to show the list to your husband." He smiled a horrid smile.
"Still, I don't think it'll come to that. You've been a devilish sharp
girl to have impressed so cleverly upon everyone as you have done up to
now, and I'm sure you'll quickly see upon which side your bread is
buttered and join in a sensible partnership with me."

Still--I made no comment, and he changed to an ingratiating tone. "Come,
come, it seems we both have something against each other, and so it
won't pay either of us to quarrel. I know when to hold my tongue and
besides, I really feel very sorry for you at being found out. Still,
business is business, and it'll be most useful for me to have for a
friend a young woman who's got a husband as wealthy as yours." The
horrid smile came again. "Don't worry! I won't be hard on you. I'm never
hard on pretty girls and--" but we heard Danver's voice shouting for him
and he turned to go. "Think it over," he commanded sharply, "and I'm
certain we'll see eye to eye." He gave me a last menacing look. "But you
make no mistake, young lady. Find that opportunity for us to discuss
things together, here on my return at quarter past six or else"--he
nodded viciously--"you'll see how nasty I can make myself. I swear I'll
go to your husband and tell how he has married an impostor and a bad
woman at that. Under French laws I don't think the marriage was a legal
one."

With a mocking wave of his hand he started to run quickly away, in his
haste not noticing that his big silver cigarette case had fallen from
his pocket on to the ground.

I sat down upon the garden seat outside the summer-house and, covering
over my face with my hands, began to sob bitterly. What I had so dreaded
had happened and the happy little world about me was falling into
pieces! Everything seemed hopeless! I could do nothing!

Then rage as well as grief possessed me, and hardly a minute could have
passed before I began to start to pull myself together. I would never
give in to him, I told myself. Far rather, I would tell my husband
everything and throw myself upon his mercy. But the first thing now was
not to let anyone learn I had been crying. I must get indoors as quickly
as possible without anyone seeing me, and bathe my face.

I was proceeding to mop my eyes with my handkerchief when, hearing a
sound behind me, I turned sharply to see a man, whom I recognised
instantly as Anton Meynall, striding up towards me. I gasped in mingled
fright and astonishment as he came quickly to my side.

"Marie. Mrs. Fane," he said hoarsely, "what are you crying about?"

"Go away," I cried angrily. "Get out of this, You've no business here,
you know you're trespassing."

But he stood his ground. "I was passing slowly here in my van," he said,
"and I heard loud voices in this lane. I stopped to listen and
recognised yours. Through the hedge I saw that man with the black beard
and he seemed to be threatening you about something. Was he?"

"Go way," I reiterated. "It's no business of yours. Go away and leave me
alone." More tears began to well up, and so that he should not see them,
I sprang to my feet and started to move away. Then in a sudden paroxysm
of rage and fear I turned to face him again. "You said once," I choked,
"you would commit a murder for me if I asked."

"And I would, too," he nodded. He smiled grimly. "The offer still holds
good."

I shot out my arm in the direction he must have seen Sturm go. "Then
murder that fiend with the black beard," I cried wildly. "You are right.
He was threatening me."

"Who is he?" he asked.

"He calls himself Caesar Sturm, but that's not his real name. He is a
spiritualist and is staying here at the Court to hold some séances. He
leaves again on Sunday." I was calmer now and spoke less passionately.

"What's he threatening you about?"

My voice shook. "He's intending to blackmail me over something I've
never done. I'm to meet him here at a quarter past six. He says he has
been to Paris and found out I was a woman of evil life before I married
and"--but for a moment I stopped speaking before bursting out--"My God,
my God, perhaps he found out about you and me and is going to tell my
husband!"

"But he shall never tell him," said Anton savagely. "I'll see to that.
I'll fix him, and I won't be caught doing it, either. Don't you worry,"
and before I could stop him he went back along the way he must have
come, to the gate at the end of the lane.

I dried my eyes and making myself look as usual as possible went back
towards the house. I was hoping to slip unseen into my room, but to my
dismay I ran into Clara in the corridor and, linking her arm in mine,
she asked me to come into her room as she had something to tell me.

I knew quite well that from my tear-stained face she must have seen I
had been crying, but to my relief and surprise she made no remark about
it. She drew me into her room and closed the door behind us. Then she
rapped out sharply, "Marie, directly that man Sturm gets back from his
motor ride I am ordering him to leave the Court at once. Cook has been
up to tell me that just before lunch he caught little Betty in the
corridor and started kissing her. She struggled, but the beast tried to
drag her into his bedroom. The servants are furious and Cook says none
of them will wait upon him any more!"

For the moment I forgot my own trouble in my surprise, and stood
open-mouthed before her. "Yes," she went on, "Robert is so angry that
I've had great difficulty in persuading him to let me deal with the
brute. He wanted to take a horse-whip to him." She shrugged her
shoulders. "The trouble is Sturm had been drinking, but that's no
excuse. He's got to go and he shall go. I shall tell him that the moment
he enters the house. I've ordered Benson to go into his room now and
pack his suitcase, so that there'll be no delay." She was quite fierce.
"So that's that."

Suddenly then, her whole expression altered and, linking her arm in mine
again, she drew me over to a sofa and we sat down together.

"Now, Marie dear," she said gravely, "we are real friends aren't we, you
and I? Yes, of course we are! And you would trust me, just the same as I
always trust you--in anything and everything?" She regarded me with the
utmost affection. "Then tell me what you've been crying about? When you
were crossing the lawn just now I saw you from the window and, even from
the way you walked, I knew something was upsetting you. So, tell me what
it is, dear?"

My tears were still very near the surface, but I replied carelessly,
"Oh, nothing much. Clara, I've just got a headache--that is all."

She shook her head unbelievingly, "But that's not trusting me, dear,"
she said. "You are not speaking the truth now. It happened that I was by
my window, too, about twenty minutes ago when you went into the privet
lane and I saw Caesar Sturm hovering about the front door. Tell me
truthfully--did he come after you? If he did, then I am sure it's he
who's been upsetting you."

I tried in vain to keep back my tears, but knew they would come and, as
Clara drew me to her, I buried my face into her and sobbed quietly. "You
poor child," she said. "Have your cry out and then tell me what's wrong.
I'm certain it's that beast who's been making you cry, but, thank
goodness, you need never see him again."

Oh, I was so thankful for that brief respite! I thought hard what I
should tell her. Of course, now she must learn one of my two secrets and
it didn't take me long to decide which one to tell her. It was going to
be dreadful to have to confess about Anton Meynall, but I was sure that
telling her about him would not be anything like as bad as telling her
about my lowly origin and how I had been deceiving everyone then,
including her so dearly-beloved brother, David.

As a woman herself, and a broad-minded one at that, I was sure she would
condone my one moral lapse with Anton much more readily than she would
forgive my deceit about my name and origin.

With her coming from one of the best families in the land and saturated
as she had been all her life in the prejudices of the so-called 'better
classes,' it was possible she might never forgive my imposture then.
Every time she looked at my children, instead of regarding them, as she
did now, as the little aristocrats descended from the Kings of
Navarre--visions might come up to her of their grandfather, the common
animal keeper, and their grandmother, the one-time uneducated little
general servant.

Her voice broke into my thoughts. "Now, darling," she said, "you just
tell me everything." She regarded me with great intentness. "First of
all, had you ever met that Caesar Sturm before I introduced him to you
at the races?"

I hated telling her an untruth, but felt there was no help for it. "No,
no," I cried, "and when he came up to speak to me he didn't try to make
out he had ever seen me before that afternoon. He said it was a friend
of his who had recognised me then, and this man, he says, declares he
saw me years ago in Paris, when"--my voice trembled--"I was making my
living as an artist's model in the nude."

"And that is all he has against you, Marie?" she asked slowly. "Don't be
afraid, dear. Tell me truthfully. You won't find me a hard judge." She
sighed. "I was young and passionate myself once and, if they knew all
about me, lots of people would say that I haven't always been a good
girl."

I hesitated. I knew I must take the plunge, but dreaded doing so. Noting
my hesitation, she smiled a sad smile, and, with a shrug of her
shoulders went on, "Then, I suppose I'll have to help you to tell me
your story."

She spoke with the utmost kindness. "Now, with you as David's wife,
dear, and me as his sister, we must regard each other with the greatest
possible affection"--she nodded, "as I thank Heaven we do. Not only
that, but with the coming of your babies we are bound together by a much
greater tie, as there is now a bond of blood between us." She laughed.
"So, as this is the time for confessions, to show my trust in you, I'll
give you one of mine, one I have given before to no one except my
mother, not even to my husband or dear old David."

She went on in matter-of-fact tones. "Yes, it may help to give you
courage to keep back nothing of your trouble when I tell you"--she
paused a long moment to regard me smilingly--"that I made a bad slip
myself once and, as an unmarried girl, had a baby before I was
seventeen." She sighed. "What do you think of that?"

I knew I gasped. She had said it all so casually, as if it were a matter
of small importance which might have happened, as a matter of course to
any girl.

"No, we were not even engaged, the baby's father and I," she went on
calmly, "and I don't think we were even really in love. It was just a
boy and girl affair and we had only known each other a few days." She
shrugged her shoulders resignedly. "He was passionate and so was I. I
was curious, as well, and it just happened. That was all."

"But the father, Clara," I exclaimed. "He----"

"Never learnt anything about it," she smiled. "He was a midshipman in
the Navy, and his ship was off to the China Station before I had any
suspicion that anything was wrong. I didn't panic, but told my dear
mother at once and she took it grandly. She said there was to be no
scandal, and so took me abroad for my baby to be born in Switzerland."

She laughed at my horrified face. "Oh, yes, the father is still alive!
He's an elderly, pot-bellied Rear-Admiral now, with a whole tribe of
grown-up sons and daughters. I met him at a dinner party last year and
he appeared to have quite forgotten everything." She made a grimace.
"So, I didn't think it worth while to jog his memory, and please, dear,
don't ever jog mine by bringing it up again."

She spoke frowningly. "Now, Marie, tell me all the hold this man Sturm
has over you."

"But, as far as I can make out, he really has no hold at all upon me," I
exclaimed. "I'm sure he's making everything up, as he brought nothing
definite against me, but he says that, before I married David, he has a
lot of evidence I was leading a dissolute life."

"No one who gave one glance at you," snapped Clara, "would believe that.
You are not a woman of that type."

"But he suspects something," I went on chokingly. "As last week he went
over to Paris to make enquiries about me, of course only to try to find
out something so that he could blackmail me. You had told him at Lewes
when I had been married in Paris, and from the English Church he traced
me back to the Rue de Rivoli and then, before that, to my artist's model
days. He made out he had found out a lot of bad things about me and got
them all written down on a paper and in a diary he's got locked up in
his safe at home. He hadn't time to tell me anything more then as we
heard Mr. Danvers shouting for him and he went off, daring me not to
find an opportunity to have a long talk with him before he left here on
Sunday even if I had to have him in my bedroom when everyone else was
asleep."

"The brute!" scowled Clara. "But did he say why he had been taking all
this up against you. Did he ask you for any money?"

"Not definitely," I replied, "but he leered horribly how nice it was for
him to have a woman-friend whose husband had such a lot of money,
particularly when the woman had got a pretty face."

Clara regarded me with a stern, intent look. "But tell me frankly,
Marie," she said and she spoke very slowly, "if Sturm has found out
everything about you there is to be found out--is there anything in your
life you would not like David to know?"

I nodded miserably and, hesitating no longer, poured out the whole story
of my association with Anton Meynall, keeping very little back. "But I
never loved him," I said tearfully. "It was only in a mad moment after
the music and champagne that I forgot my decency and let myself go."

Clara was sympathy itself. "I understand, dear," she said gently. "When
our emotions are stirred we women are weak as water, and, with the
opportunity coming, so often we don't seem to be able to defend
ourselves. You didn't have a baby? No! Then you were fortunate. Now,
tell me who was the man?"

"His name is Anton Meynall," I said. "His uncle is Turner Meynall, a
Royal Academician now."

"I've heard of him," she said. "He had two pictures hung in the Academy
last year. And this Anton--have you seen him since?"

"Yes, about eighteen months ago," I told her. I had to smile. "He
applied for the situation with us as chauffeur," and I went on to relate
all about the interview and how angry Anton had been at my offering him
the £5 note.

She was amused, too. "And, if it could only be broadcast," she said,
"what a lesson it would be to every girl that if they must go
wrong--then, every time, let it be with a gentleman."

She became serious. "Now, when I have my little talk with the wretch
when he comes back from his drive this afternoon, I don't think I'll say
anything about you. I shall tell him simply he's being sent off because
of his attempted assault upon Betty this morning. I shall make out the
matter is most serious as her father says he is going to the police and
if he does it'll bring a horrible scandal upon us all at the Court." She
nodded viciously. "I'll frighten him and he'll be wanting to get off as
quickly as possible."

She was a great comfort and I felt a hundred per cent better. "And I
don't think," I said, "that he can really have found out anything about
Anton, or he'd have brought up his name at once."

"Of course he would," agreed Clara. She nodded. "If he did hear
something about you, he's certainly not been able to link it up with any
particular man. Don't you worry. He'll never dare approach David, and
this scandal here will have made him so frightened for himself that
you'll never hear anything more of him."

Considering all I had been through, I spent quite a happy afternoon in
the nursery with the children. Mrs. Robinson, the Vicar's wife and her
sister arrived unexpectedly and, both ardent amateur photographers, took
quite a number of snaps of them. Indeed, they did not desist until the
light was getting too poor. Just as they were getting ready to leave
Clara appeared, and it was she who took them downstairs to see them off
from the front door.

Coming back upstairs, she took me into her room. She looked very grim
and stern. "Well, this afternoon I've been phoning all round," she said,
"putting all the dinner-party off. I've told them Sturm is not feeling
well and going back to Town at once. Now, I'm going to tell him. He's
just come back, as I saw Mr. Danvers driving the car round to the
garage, but before speaking to Sturm I thought I'd first come up and
reassure you that your name is not going to be dragged in. I tell you I
shan't mention you."

"You are very sweet to me," I said. "I feel a different woman since I've
spoken to you." I kissed her cheek. "But Clara, dear, aren't you hating
to have to tell him he's to go off at once?"

"Not a bit," she replied. "In fact, knowing what a beast he's been to
you, I shall rather enjoy it." She turned to leave the room and then
went on laughingly, "And, perhaps, it's a good thing for him he's going
off, as old Major Button is furious with him and told me over the phone
just now that he was going to play havoc with his constitution when he
saw him again tonight. From the description Sturm gave him of the Johore
beater at the séance, the old chap really believed he had called up his
spirits from the dead. Now he remembered there was a photo of this
beater in his book 'Tiger Hunting' which was published last season, and
he swears Sturm must have got hold of the book and seen it there. I tell
you he is furious about it and, quite as likely as not, he might have
brought his gun with him tonight and given Sturm the fright of his
life."

We were both laughing at what she had told me, when suddenly the door
opened sharply and Gertrude, one of the parlourmaids burst in.

"Mistress, Mistress," she cried with a face as white as death, "George
wants you to come at once. He says Mr. Sturm has met with a fearful
accident in the privet lane and is lying on the ground there, with his
face all covered in blood. George is quite certain he is dead."




CHAPTER VII.--THE BATTLE OPENS


A dreadful shiver ran down my spine and I gasped for breath. I knew it
was no accident that had happened. Anton Meynall had killed him
deliberately, but I was the real murderer as he had only done it
because, in my wild rage, I had implored him to. Oh, how terrible it
seemed that I was bringing such tragedies into people's lives and--

But my eyes happened to fall upon the clock on the mantelshelf and,
after perhaps two seconds of dazed surprise, I gave a start and gasped
again, this time, however, in relief.

It could not be Anton who had shot him! I had told Anton I would arrange
for Sturm to meet me by the summerhouse at a quarter past six and
now--it was barely twenty-five minutes past five! Oh, Heaven, then it
might really have been an accident after all!

I glanced wonderingly at Clara to see how she was taking it. Her face
was pale but singularly composed, though it seemed to me that long
moments passed before she spoke.

"You haven't told anyone but me, Gertrude?" she asked hoarsely.

"No, Mistress," replied the frightened girl. "I've come straight up to
you at once. George has not told anyone either. He said you must be the
first one to know. He's waiting for you now by the back kitchen-door."

"All right," snapped Clara, "and you wait here until I come back, so
that you can't tell anyone either," and, with a curt nod to me, she
hastened from the room.

As can be well imagined, the waiting which followed was agony to me.
Much as I was relieved that so-called Sturm could threaten me no more
and that it could not be Anton who had killed him, I was now most
fearful as to where the enquiries about his death might lead. With my
imagination leaping from one stepping-stone to another, I was shuddering
that, unless it did turn out clearly to be an accident, in groping for
some reason for his murder, the police might somehow stumble upon what
he had found out about me.

With my poor brain in its then numb and bewildered state I was regarding
all detectives as supermen who could pick up tracks and trails where
none actually existed and, from sheer intuition alone, run any criminal
to earth.

As it happened, only the previous week Colonel Hume had met Sir Basil
Bartley, the Chief Constable of Sussex out at lunch somewhere and had
come home with some extraordinary story. Sir Basil had told him about a
wonderful young detective called Gilbert Larose who had come lately to
Scotland Yard. This new master in the detection of crime was supposed to
be gifted with an extra sense, so much so that it was said that, when a
murder had been committed, he could put himself in the murderer's place
and travel back by the exact way the criminal had come. It was believed
by some of his admirers, too, that he could reason backwards as quickly
as other people reasoned forwards, with his imagination reaching out
like tentacles and drawing to him discoveries of which no one else would
have ever dreamt.

So, although now I was so thankful that my enemy was dead, I was yet
filled with a dark foreboding that his death by no means meant peace and
security for me.

It was longer than an hour before Clara came back and then, dismissing
the parlourmaid with a curt nod, she turned to me, looking very
troubled, "Yes, he's dead," she said, "and it's a terrible thing to have
happened. It'll mean a dreadful scandal for us here, though to you and
me it may seem a veritable act of God. He was hit with something in one
of his eyes and must have been killed instantly. The police think it was
an accident from a stray bullet from one of some boys who were said to
have been after rabbits in the quarry just across the road this
afternoon. Still, there's so much blood about that Dr. Burton says
nothing is certain until he's made the post mortem. He says it might
even have been a stone from a big catapult that pierced his eye."

She went on to tell me that, after George had taken her to where the
body was lying, she had immediately sent him to find his master and
waited there until he came. He had told her to get Dr. Burton whom he
had just seen passing in his car and who would therefore certainly be at
home.

She had caught the doctor who had come back with her at once and, after
one glance at the body had run indoors and called up the police. The
Superintendent had come himself with two plainclothes men, and two
policemen with the ambulance. After the usual photographs which had been
taken with flash-lights, the body had been carried away, and Dr. Burton
was to make the post mortem the first thing in the morning. The inquest
would follow in the afternoon.

"Of course," she said, "the police could get no footmarks of anyone who
had been in the lane today as the ground is much too hard."

"And I suppose now," I choked, "there will be detectives arriving to ask
us all sorts of questions."

Clara shrugged her shoulders. "Well, we must put up with it, dear. It
can't be helped. At any rate, as far as you are concerned his death is a
great mercy, as he can persecute you no more." She regarded me intently.
"From the clotting of the blood Dr. Burton says he could only have been
dead about ten minutes before George found him, and that means he must
have gone straight into the privet lane the moment he got home from his
drive in the car." She spoke very slowly. "If I did not implicitly
believe every word you have told me, Marie, I should almost be thinking
he was expecting to find you waiting there to meet him."

"No, no, Clara," I exclaimed warmly, a little bit annoyed that the idea
had ever entered into her head, "I think he must have gone back there to
look for the cigarette case he had lost," and I told her how I had seen
it lying upon the ground after he had gone.

"Then, of course, that was it," she said. She looked a little bit
uncomfortable. "No, dear, it wasn't in my mind that you had told him you
would be there, but I was thinking he might have been believing he had
given you such a shock that you would be still hiding yourself away from
everyone to recover from it"--she nodded--"so that no one should see you
had been crying." She drew me to her and kissed me on the forehead. "No,
Marie, I know you have told me nothing but the exact truth."

Her demonstration of affection so touched me that I took a sudden
resolution. "But I haven't been as open with you as I should," I said
miserably, and I am sure I looked as guilty as I felt. "I have told you
nothing but the truth, but I have not told you all of it. Anton Meynall
did come to me to apply for the situation as chauffeur, but that is not
the last I have seen of him. I have seen him several times since, as he
is driving a grocer's delivery van here in Eastbourne. Still, I had not
spoken to him again until this afternoon and then"--my voice shook--"I
asked him to kill that wretch Sturm for me," and I went on to tell her
everything which had happened after Anton had appeared so unexpectedly
in the privet lane.

"But as Dr. Burton is sure Sturm must have been killed before a quarter
past five," I said, "and Anton was not likely to be at the summerhouse
until a quarter past six--it could not possibly have been he who had
anything to do with the killing."

"Of course it couldn't have been," agreed Clara at once. "So you can put
that altogether out of your mind." She smiled. "If Anton did go into the
lane about six, he'd have been greatly astonished at what he saw was
going on there, as the police would hardly have finished with their
flash-lights and have taken the body away by then."

She comforted me quite a lot and in a few moments I was feeling much
more hopeful again. Then she said very seriously, "But, Marie, there's
one trouble we shall have to deal with." She held my eyes with hers.
"Have you thought what it is?"

I hesitated. "You mean that diary of his and those papers about me which
he said he'd got locked up in his safe at home?" I was feeling most
uncomfortable again. "But I was hoping that was all bluff and that he'd
only made it up to frighten me."

"It may have been," she nodded, "but all the same I don't think we ought
to run more risks than we can help. If the police take it into their
heads to go back into his private affairs to see if he'd got any
enemies, they are certain to go through any papers he left and if they
find your name in them they may ask you questions which will be very
awkward for you to answer."

I shrugged my shoulders. "But there's nothing I can do to prevent it," I
said. "If they do come questioning me about everything that's happened
to me in my life--surely I shall be quite justified in refusing to
discuss them? They'll know I couldn't have had anything to do with the
shooting, as I never left the nursery all the afternoon and there are
four witnesses to prove it, the Vicar's wife and her sister and the
nurses."

"And they certainly can't get behind that," agreed Clara. She hesitated
for a few moments. "But it'll be better, dear, if you have to make no
mystery about anything and it happens there is a way to save you from
that." She went on quickly. "You remember what Sturm told us at dinner
last night about his house having no one to look after it from this
evening until Sunday. Well, do you feel equal to running up to Town
tomorrow and taking any papers he's got about you from his safe?" She
thrust her hand into the pocket of her cardigan and with some triumph
drew out a bunch of keys. "See, here are all his keys!"

"But, but," I asked very astonished, "how did you get them?"

"I took them out of his pocket," she nodded, "after I'd sent George
running off his find his master. I thought of them at once."

"Oh, how splendid of you to think of them," I exclaimed warmly. I was
quite excited. "Yes, yes, of course, I'll go. All the servants here know
I've been talking about going up to Town to see how those decorators are
getting on in Lowndes Square. So they won't think there's anything
extraordinary about it." A thought struck me, "But what about the police
here?" I asked. "Won't the Superintendent want me here, in case they
want to ask any questions?"

"Not if he's already spoken to you," she said. "He's with the servants
now, getting a list of all who were in the house about the time Sturm
was killed and finding out if any of them heard a rifle shot, but he
says there'll be no thorough questioning of anyone until after the
inquest tomorrow and it is known definitely how he died. Now you wait in
the nursery and I'll go and bring him up so that he can speak to you and
the nurses all together."

In a very few minutes she came back with the Superintendent and
introduced him to us. He was very polite, and I told him how we had all
been in the nursery, along with our two visitors all the afternoon.

"And none of you heard the report of a rifle being fired?" he asked,
taking in the two nurses with his questioning. The girls shook their
heads and I said, "I hardly think we should have taken any notice of it
if we had, though one of the windows was open all the time. The cars and
motor-cycles make such a noise going by in the road that we are quite
accustomed to them."

He seemed satisfied and went off as quickly as he had come, while back
in Clara's room she and I proceeded to discuss my journey on the morrow.
"And I'll leave very early," I said, "to get to Town before the traffic
rush, and, perhaps, be back here before lunch."

"The earlier the better," she said, "so that I can put the keys in the
bedroom, as if he was accustomed to leave them there. The Superintendent
has had his room locked up and taken the key away with him, but I have a
duplicate one and so there'll be no difficulty then. Oh, do you know
where Cedar Road is in St. John's Wood?"

"Yes, I think I do," I nodded, "but I shall want to know what the number
is."

"I'll get that out of Eric Danvers tonight at dinner," she said. "Of
course, the Superintendent wants him to remain here until after the
inquest tomorrow and, he says, perhaps even longer than that."

We were a small party at dinner that night, Clara, the Colonel, Eric
Danvers and myself. Upon closer acquaintanceship, the secretary showed
himself a most pleasant companion, and several times it struck me what a
nice face he'd got. It was not only that it was good-looking and kind,
but it was a clever one as well, and I told myself the young fellow
deserved much more of life than to have been hanging about a swindler
such as the so-called Caesar Sturm had been. With the servants waiting
upon us, no reference was made to the dreadful tragedy which had taken
place, but when the meal was over and we had all adjourned to the lounge
for the usual coffee Clara opened her questioning at once by asking
Danvers if his late employer had had a nice house in St. John's Wood.

"Yes, quite a nice one," he replied, "but to my thinking it was spoilt
when he had the outside painted a flaming red. It made it the most
conspicuous house in the whole road, like a Fire Brigade Station, I told
him."

Clara flashed me a quick glance. She had got all the information she
wanted without asking for it. Painted in that way it would be easy for
me to pick it out. She turned again to Danvers and asked hesitatingly,
"Is it painful for you, Mr. Danvers, to talk about your late employer?"

The secretary seemed amused, "Not a bit," he replied. "Why should it be?
I've known him for only a few months and we were just employer and
employee. We were not friends. He didn't particularly like me, and I
certainly didn't like him. In fact, at times I was very ashamed of him,
as when this morning he started kissing that little maid of yours. I
told him afterwards about it and said we should get kicked out of the
house. He was furious and threatened to give me the sack."

"Then you don't mind my asking you some questions about him?" said
Clara.

Danvers shook his head. "Now he is dead it can't hurt him, and besides,
a lot of discreditable things about him are bound to become public
property in the course of the next few days."

"Then were Caesar Sturm his real names?" asked Clara.

Danvers laughed. "No, neither of them were. He must have chosen Caesar
for the Christian one, because he thought it gave him importance." He
nodded. "The police have known for some time who he really was and,
though he was quite unaware of it, have been keeping watch upon him."

"Did you know it," asked Clara.

Danvers only nodded and being obviously disinclined to discuss the
matter further then, Clara did not press him. Instead, she asked, from
what country Sturm came.

Danvers laughed again. "From here in England," he said. "He was an
out-and-out Cockney. That trace of foreign accent he used to drop into
was part of his stock-in-trade. He always argued that mystery was what
the public wanted and so he gave them as much as he could of it."

"But his dark skin--" began Clara very astonished.

"Was artificial tan," smiled Danvers. "He had big bottles of it at home
and put it on every morning."

"But he must have lived in India," she said, "if what he told us was the
truth."

"Oh, yes, he had, but I believe only for a few months. Still, he'd read
up a lot about it from a number of books he'd got. He was an educated
man and very well informed. Theosophy was one of his hobbies and he made
good use of his studies there."

"Had he ever married, do you know," asked Clara.

Danvers looked amused again! "Not that I know of, and I don't think so.
He was always chasing the other sex, but it seemed to be a different one
every time."

"Do you know anything about his people," asked Clara, "his relations, I
mean."

Danvers shook his head. "I don't know if he's got any. I told the
Superintendent that a little while ago when he asked me with whom he
should communicate to let them know what had happened to him." He spoke
emphatically. "You see, Mrs. Hume, though I've been for about three
months now employed by him, he's never told me anything of his private
life. He was very secretive and kept everyone from me. From nine to six
were my ordinary hours and, unless I was on some special job for him,
out of them I was supposed to know nothing of what was going on."

"Did you do much secretarial work for him?" asked Colonel Hume.

"Quite a bit arranging the séances," said Danvers. "He had worked up a
good connection there. Besides that and attending to the car, I was
general factotum, errand-boy and sometimes private detective. Every now
and then I was sent to make private enquiries about different people,
for what reason I often never knew. I had to prepare reports for him and
then, as far as I was concerned the matter generally ended."

"He told us," fibbed Clara, "that he himself went to Paris last week."

"Oh, did he?" exclaimed Danvers who didn't seem much interested. "I
expect he had friends there."

Clara spoke casually. "But is it really true that his house has been
left without anyone in it this week end?"

Danvers nodded. "And the only reason I can think of to have made him
mention that was to make out how important his literary work was." He
laughed. "The champagne he'd drunk had loosened his tongue."

"But did he really think his writing was very important?" asked Colonel
Hume.

"Hardly, I should say from what I've typed for him," said Danvers. "It's
been mostly a record of the séances he's held, with the names of the
people who were there. He was always particular about that, because it
said it helped him a lot if he happened to meet the same people at
séances again."

"And was his work as a medium," said the Colonel, "as really a religion
to him as he made out."

Danvers shook his head. "No, it was just a way of making money that was
all. He considered himself as a sort of public entertainer who earned
every penny he got."

Clara appeared to be very shocked. "Then don't you think it a very
wicked thing for him to have imposed upon people in the way he did?"

"He didn't think so," smiled Danvers. "He's often said it was the people
at the séances who imposed upon themselves. Sometimes he was astonished
at what they declared they saw."

"Then, being the kind of man you tell us he was," frowned the Colonel,
"he must have often resorted to trickery at the seances he held?"

Danvers shook his head. "No, very seldom, sir. He wouldn't run the risk
of being found out." He spoke earnestly. "You see, it takes a very
shrewd and clever man to be the successful medium Caesar Sturm had
become. He was a very good judge of character and could realise at once
when it wouldn't be safe to step one hair's-breadth over the line. He
never attempted any tricks, as you call them, when there were any
professional men present. Then, a good actor, he would work up the
excitement and, as he said, let the séance take care of itself. Nearly
always there would be at least one person present, nearly always a lady
and generally an elderly one at that, whose emotions were so stirred
that she would be thinking she really did see what she wanted to."

"And what tricks did he do," asked the Colonel, "when he did go, as you
call it, over the line--make chairs move about and the table go up and
down."

"No, nothing as clumsy as that," laughed Danvers, "but he was a good
ventriloquist, at any rate good enough to make some people imagine there
was a strange voice floating over the room."

"And that spirit of Major Button's beater he called up last night," said
Clara, "was--"

"All due to you, Mrs. Hume," laughed Danvers. "You had told him the
Major was the well-known tiger killer and he guessed that being
well-known he must have written a book about it. So he sent me to the
library of the British Museum and I found the book and told him about
the photograph and you saw he made use of it at the séance."

"But come now, Mr. Danvers," frowned Colonel Hume, "don't you think it
very dishonourable for him to have imposed upon us like that, and
dishonourable, too, on your part to have been helping to do it?"

Danvers shook his head. "Not exactly, sir," he said. "As with Sturm I
regarded the séances as a sort of entertainment, just as are
fortune-telling with the cards and conjuring tricks. Nearly all people
have a love of mystery and the marvellousness and derive a real pleasure
in being knowingly deceived. When, for instance, they go to an
exhibition of conjuring they expect to be taken in by the skill of the
conjurer in his sleight-of-hand and clever tricks. Then, the greater
their deception the greater they are pleased. So, I take it, with all
people of ordinary intelligence and powers of reasoning, the calling up
of the spirits of the dead is--or should be--regarded in the same light,
as a form of entertainment only. Their common-sense must tell them it
can't really be done."

Of course Colonel Hume did not agree with his reasoning, but, as with
Clara and me, censure of Eric Danvers was to some extent mitigated by
the amusing frankness of the man. Certainly there was no hypocrisy about
him.

Of one other matter Colonel Hume was curious and he asked Danvers why it
was that if he, Danvers, as he declared, never took part in any trickery
at the actual séances--Sturm always insisted he should be present at
them. Danvers explained this by telling us that upon a few occasions
Sturm had been called a fraud and actually threatened with physical
violence and he had had to protect him. He added that he couldn't
understand why he had not been allowed to be present at the séance the
previous night.

The next morning well before six o'clock I started upon my adventurous
journey to try to get hold of the papers Sturm had made out he was
holding against me. I remember how nervous I was feeling, but on the
other hand the risk I realised so well I was running filled me with a
sort of pleasurable thrill. Still, the thrill was not without its great
anxiety, as if I were caught in the house, rack my brains as I did, I
could think of no excuse I would be able to offer to explain my being
there. I told myself I must just chance my luck, and that was all.

As it proved, good fortune was certainly with me, though for a few
minutes it seemed I was in very grave danger. Apart from that, too, I
was careless about one little thing, though thinking it over later I did
not see how it could do me any harm.

I found Cedar Road with no difficulty. It was a quiet side one and,
passing along it in my car, the red-painted house was easy to pick out.
I went by it slowly, without stopping, and parked my car round a corner
three or four hundred yards away.

Walking briskly back, I pushed upon the gate of the little garden
fronting the house, with my heart beating wildly. I had already picked
out from the bunch of keys the one which looked as if it belonged to the
front door, and was just about to try it in the lock when I heard the
garden gate click behind me and, turning sharply in a terrible fright,
saw a man coming into the garden after me.

For the moment my guilty conscience made me sure it was someone who had
been posted to watch the house and that I was caught red-handed.
However, my relief was unbounded when I realised it was only a bent old
man with things to sell who had followed me in. Over his shoulder were
three or four brooms and he was carrying a big basket on his arm. I
waited breathlessly for him to come up.

"Want a nice broom, lady?" he asked in a weak and quavering voice. "Very
nice quality and very cheap." Then, when I shook my head emphatically,
he went on, "Strong clothes-pegs, lady? Best quality, too!" and, putting
his basket down upon the ground, he took out a peg to show me.

Anything to get rid of him as quickly as I could, I said I'd take a
dozen. A shilling was the price he asked, but I found the only silver I
had was a sixpence and a half a crown. He made out he had no change and
so I said he could keep the half a crown. Slowly counting out the
required number of pegs, he was profuse in his thanks and started to
tell me all the circumstances. However, I cut him short quickly, saying
I was in a great hurry and watched impatiently as he walked slowly back
up the garden path.

Inserting the key into the lock, to my intense relief I realised I had
picked the right one out, as the door opened at once and in a few
seconds I was standing in the hall. The blinds of the house were drawn
and for a full minute I stood motionless until my eyes were accustomed
to the dim light.

Then, opening the first door I came to, I found myself in a room which I
was sure at once was the very one I wanted, as it had all the appearance
of being used by Sturm himself. A spirit tantalus was upon the
sideboard, a box of cigars upon the big roll-top desk before the window
and a good-sized safe in one corner.

For a few moments I stood hesitating. The whole house was as silent as
the grave. Not a sound of any outside traffic was to be heard, not even
that hum of the great city which is said to be never stilled. The air in
the room was chilling and my teeth chattered with the cold.

However the need for urgency stirring in me, I tip-toed softly across
the room to the safe. Instantly all my hopes of being able to open it
were dashed to zero. The safe was a modern one with a combination lock!
Wasting no time, I turned next to the desk. The key to that was easy to
pick out and, quicker even than it takes to tell, I had unlocked it and
rolled back the top.

With no searching about, my eyes at once fell upon two papers spread out
in the open desk. One was typed, consisting of a single page of
foolscap, and headed in big lettering, "Report upon Colonel Jasper and
The Grey House on Dartmoor." The other was handwritten and consisted of
only about twenty lines, with the first one reading, "Madeline Marie
Louise de Touraine, married to David Temple Fane, St. George's Church,
Rue de Guise, Paris, July the eleventh, nineteen hundred and
twenty-seven."

A mist rose up before my eyes and I read no more. I folded up the two
papers and thrust them into my bag. Now for the diary, I thought and I
opened drawer after drawer to find it. However, I saw no sign of it
anywhere and, anxious to get out of the house as quickly as possible,
pulled down the roll-top and re-locked the desk.

I was giving one quick glance round the room in the desperate hope that
he might have left his diary lying somewhere about, when to my horror I
heard the sounds of a car being pulled up outside and, as I stood
listening, there followed the bang of a car door being slammed to, and
the voices of men growing louder as they came up the path towards the
house.

Darting to the window, with my heart beating like a sledge-hammer, I
peered round the corner of the blind and saw two men, big and tall, and
with all appearance of belonging to the police. They passed out of my
sight and then came a resounding ring at the front door.

I crept into the hall. A few moments' silence and then the bell sounded
again. "No, evidently no one's at home," I heard a voice say, "but now
we're here we may as well have a look round. We'll try at the back. As
likely as not we'll find an unbolted window there. It there isn't, well
I expect we'll be able to unbolt it for ourselves," and I could follow
the sounds of their footsteps as they moved away.

Oh, the agony of those next two or three minutes! Crouching in the
passage, I heard them rattle window after window until one of them said,
"Here, this one'll do. The bolt looks flimsy enough. Give us the
screwdriver," and there came a scraping, rending sound of the
screwdriver being pushed in hard.

Faced with the awful predicament in which I found myself, strange to say
my terror had calmed down and my brain was working like lightning. It
was one of the kitchen windows they were forcing and my first thought
was to go out boldly through the front door. Fortunately, I remembered
just in time that the front door was in line with the window they were
forcing and, if either of them happened to look round, they would catch
sight of me at once.

I altered my plan instantly and, darting across the kitchen, hid myself
behind the scullery door only just in time, however, before I heard the
window go up and the bumps of two heavy men alighting into the room.

As I had expected they would, they took little interest in the kitchen
and at once moved up the passage to investigate the other rooms. I
waited just long enough for them to be safely away before climbing out
of the window. Holding my breath in my excitement, I walked very quietly
up the garden path, congratulating myself that I had managed everything
so cleverly.

However, another shock was in store for me. The car the two men had
driven up in was parked in the road just opposite to the garden gate and
to my consternation I saw there was a uniformed policeman in the
driver's seat. He was reading a newspaper and was evidently very
interested in its contents, so much so that my appearance upon the
garden path had obviously not yet caught his eye.

For a few moments I stood stock still, but, realising there was no help
for it and that I must go on, I started moving on again, but now so
slowly that my walk was almost a creep. I got nearer and nearer to the
gate until, at last reaching it, I lifted the catch very softly and,
knowing that no longer could I hope to proceed unseen, flung it wide
open and like a flash was walking up the road, with my head turned
sideways so that the man in the car would not be able to get a look at
my face.

It was all over in a couple of seconds at most, and I was yards up the
road before I heard the sound of the gate banging to behind me. It had
all been done so quickly that I was quite confident the man in the car
would never be able to recognise me if he saw me again. My only anxiety
now was that I had left the clothes-pegs I had bought upon the table in
the study.

Long afterwards I heard the sequel and, of all people from the great
Gilbert Larose himself--Larose, a deadly enemy when he was upon anyone's
track, but a charming companion when he was sporting a feather of the
dove of peace in his cap.

He told me laughingly that it was quite correct that the two men who had
got into the house were from the police, as they were
detective-inspectors from Scotland Yard. When a few minutes later they
had returned to their car and were being driven back to the Yard, one of
them had remarked conversationally to the driver, "A disappointment,
Bob! The cage was empty and there were no birds upon the perch! Not a
soul was in the house. We shall have to come again later."

Whereupon the driver had remarked, "No birds upon the perch! But what
about that one with the fine feathers who came out through the garden
gate, not very long after I heard you ringing the front-door bell?"

"What bird?" had asked the inspector sharply.

"A young female one," had replied the driver, "very fashionably dressed.
I didn't see her face as she was too nippy in getting away. She seemed
in a bit of a hurry," and in the conversation which followed, the
inspectors to their great annoyance knew they had been tricked.

I couldn't possibly have been in the garden when they went in, they
argued, they would have seen me at once, as the garden was small and
there were no bushes or trees behind which I had been hiding. So I must
have been in the house all the time. Then why was it I hadn't answered
their ring and what was I doing there with all the blinds drawn? Why had
I kept so quiet, too, while they were opening the window, and how had I
managed to slip out when they themselves had managed to get inside? It
couldn't have been through either of the doors or they would certainly
both have heard and seen me.

No, directly their backs had been turned I must have gone through the
very window by which they themselves had entered. It had been a smart
bit of work and the whole thing looked very suspicious. Only a few hours
back the owner of the house had met a violent form of death and, with
his body barely cold, a woman who had obviously no business to be upon
the premises had made her way there. Not only that, but she had
evidently been in possession of a key to the front door. She could not
have come through the back one as that was bolted as well as locked.

At that particular moment when the two inspectors were debating with
each other about me, I was congratulating myself that all danger to me
had passed. However, I was to learn later that the driver of their car
having seen me coming out of the garden of the house was to prove a most
unfortunate occurrence for me, as it immediately brought Scotland Yard
into the enquiry about Sturm's death. But for that it might probably
have been left to the Eastbourne police as a purely local matter,
particularly so if nothing definite had come to light, with the only
reasonable explanation of the tragedy being then the medium had died as
the result of an accident from a bullet fired by some boy who had been
rabbiting in the nearby quarry.

Arriving at our house in Lowndes Square, I went breathlessly through the
two papers I had taken from the roll-top desk. They were both very soon
read. I guessed that the typed one was Danver's, the report of his
mission down into Devonshire.

It recorded that he had duly made his enquiries in the little village of
Bovey Tracey, about a Colonel Jasper and his household, but had found
out very little. The Colonel had left the house upon the moor some years
previously to go back to India where, apparently, he had spent most of
his life, but he had been drowned when the boat he was upon had
foundered with the loss of everyone on board, in the Bay of Biscay when
only three days out from England. During the later years of his stay
upon the moor it was remembered that, besides two Indian servants, there
had been a young girl there, but what her name was no one seemed to
know. Also, while some people thought she had been just a servant,
others believed she was some relation of the old man. No one remembered
what she was like, as she had only been seen about a few times and then
when she was in a motor car. It was not known if she had been upon the
ship when it went down.

Danver's report went on that the house had been untenanted since Colonel
Jasper left. It belonged now to some distant relation of his who was
living in India and had never been to see it. However, a firm of Estate
Agents in Torquay had been given charge of it and, visiting it
occasionally, were supposed to make sure that it remained in a proper
state of repair. He, Danvers, according to his instructions, had been to
look at it, but had not been able to get inside, because the two very
substantial doors were locked and all the windows upon the ground floor
well-shuttered. However, looking through the cracks of these shutters,
he had seen some apparently worthless pieces of furniture had been left
there and in one room there were quite a number of books and papers
lying about. The house was in a very lonely part of Dartmoor many miles
from any other habitation, and was supposed to be haunted by evil
spirits.

Upon the other paper, which I took to be in Sturm's own handwriting, was
put down when and where I had been married to David in Paris, that I had
been employed at a jeweller's in the Rue de Rivoli for three years and
that prior to that I had earned my living as an artist's model, sitting
in the nude. It went back to the days when I had started at Monsieur de
Vallon's Academy of Art. It had also got the address of the last flat in
which I had lived.

Also, somehow he had managed to get hold of the names of some of the
artists for whom I had worked and, among them, to my great annoyance, I
saw that of Tudor Meynall. However, I smiled to myself that, with all
the trouble he had been put to, he had evidently not been able to trace
me a day farther back than my first employment at the de Vallon Academy
of Art.

Wasting no time, I was back in Eastbourne in time for lunch. Danver's
report of his enquiries in Devonshire I burnt at once, but Sturm's paper
I showed to Clara. Of course, she was very interested to hear how I had
got on, but was rather disturbed I had been seen by the driver of the
police car. Also, she was worried that I had not been able to lay my
hand upon any diary, but took hope in the idea that, seeing the paper
about me had been preserved, he might not perhaps have written up his
diary to date.

I saw her and Danvers start off for the inquest which was to be held at
two o'clock. They were both wanted to identify the body. Back much
sooner than I expected, Clara gave me a detailed account of all that had
happened.

After the Superintendent of the Eastbourne Police had told briefly of
their being called to the body the previous evening, Dr. Burton had
stepped into the witness-box.

He stated the post mortem had revealed that the deceased had met with
his death from a .22 bullet which had penetrated through the eye and
orbit wall into the brain, and the bullet he had taken from there was
produced by the police. It had been fired either from a .22 pistol or a
small rook rifle. He could not say from what distance it had been fired.
It might have been from five yards or even fifty. Certainly the injury
could not have been self-inflicted. He added that the contents of
deceased's stomach smelt very strongly of alcohol.

Asked how long death had taken place before he had seen the body, he
replied, that from the condition of the clotted blood, probably about
twenty minutes, certainly less than half an hour, which, as he had
arrived just before half past five, meant that deceased had been shot
somewhere a little short of ten minutes past the hour.

The doctor's evidence completed, the inquest was adjourned to a date to
be fixed later.

Rather to our surprise, the Superintendent, accompanied by two
plain-clothes men, arrived at the Court even while Clara was talking to
me. He asked at once if anyone among us was in possession of a pistol or
small rifle firing a .22 bullet. Clara said she had one, and I thought
she looked rather uncomfortable when she went on to say that at the
present moment it was behind the door in the summerhouse in the garden.

The Superintendent's eyes opened very wide. "What, in that summerhouse
we saw in the privet lane, close near to where the body was found?" he
exclaimed, and I thought instantly that he spoke to Clara more like the
brusque policeman he undoubtedly was than he had shown himself before.

Clara coloured up. "Yes, lately," she said, "I have been keeping it
there, as it was a handy place to have it when I was trying to shoot
some crows who have been coming after my chickens. The hedge is a
favourite place with the crows."

"But why didn't you tell us that at once," he asked sharply, "when you
knew someone had been shot close by?"

"I didn't happen to remember it until this morning," she said calmly,
"and then I thought I'd wait until Dr. Burton had found out exactly what
had killed him. Remember--last night the doctor said it might have been
a stone from a catapult." She nodded. "Of course, I was intending to
tell you now," and she went on to explain that in the ordinary way the
rifle was kept in a small room near the butler's pantry. Besides
firearms, the room contained fishing rods, tennis racquets and other
sporting articles.

The Superintendent was frowning heavily, "But wasn't it very unwise to
leave it," he asked, "so near to the road when it could be so easily
have been stolen."

She shook her head. "We've never lost anything from there yet, though
more things beside the rifle have occasionally been left there, such as
books and even my little camera at times."

"Was it known to anyone in the house," asked the Superintendent, "that
you were accustomed to leave this rifle there?"

"I don't think so," said Clara, "as I've only lately, as I've just
mentioned to you, taken to doing it. You must understand,
Superintendent," she explained, "that crows are very cunning birds and
seem to know at once what anyone approaching them has got in their
hands. If they see it is a gun or a rifle and not a walking stick they
fly well out of range at once. So, having the rifle ready there, I have
a much better chance of getting a shot at them."

"Are you the only person who uses this rifle?" asked the Superintendent
and, upon Clara nodding, he said, "well, if you please, we'll go and get
it now," and they all went off together.

A horrible fear leapt instantly in my mind. Could it be Clara who had
shot Caesar Sturm? Had she been waiting in the lane for those crows when
he had come there to look for his cigarette case? If she had ordered him
to leave the Court at once, high words might have passed between them!
Then, with the rifle ready in her hands, upon the impulse of the moment
she might have threatened him and the rifle gone off when she wasn't
intending it to! I knew she was hasty and impulsive and not the person
to put up with intimidation from anyone! I felt sick with apprehension
at the thought.

It seemed quite a long time before they came back and then I saw Clara
was looking very worried. The rifle was nowhere to be found! She was
certain she had left it behind the door three nights previously, and now
it was gone! A box of cartridges which she had also left there was still
upon the summerhouse floor, but the Superintendent had not allowed her
to pick it up, as he said they must examine any finger-marks upon it. He
had added that he took a very grave view of the rifle being missing,
declaring that if it were not found it would change the whole complexion
of everything and bring suspicions upon everyone who had been about the
Court at the time of Sturm's death.

At once proceeding to question us one by one, though the rifle was
well-known by sight to us all, as it had been a present to Clara from
her husband and had her monogram in big letters upon the butt, the
Superintendent soon learnt that no one remembered having seen it lately.
Also, an intense search in every place where it was likely to have been
put brought no result.

The Superintendent looked very grim and announced curtly we must all now
give a precise account of where we had been the previous evening during
those fatal minutes just after five o'clock. Fortunately, the time to be
accounted for was a very short one, as there was ample evidence on hand,
apart from the supporting statement of Dr. Burton at the inquest, that
Sturm had been shot between a few minutes after five and a quarter of an
hour past.

From his questioning the Superintendent drew out that at exactly five
o'clock when the Town Hall clock was striking the hour, Benson, the
Court butler, had come into the lounge to draw down the blinds there and
switch on the lights, and had seen Sturm and Danvers arriving back in
their car. The car had pulled up right in front of the hall door where
Sturm had got out. Sturm had not come into the lounge and Benson did not
know where he went, but he heard Danvers driving the car round to the
garage, and a minute or two later, when he was in the dining-room, heard
someone whom he took to be him going up the stairs.

George, the gardener had also heard the chimes as he was taking in some
bunches of grapes from one of the hot-houses into the kitchen. He had
stayed there only just long enough to weigh the bunches and enter their
weights in a book kept in the kitchen for that purpose. He was very
proud of his grapes and to record their weight was a routine act with
every bunch he brought in. He said his master was very particular about
it, as the growing of the grapes was one of his hobbies.

Then his day's work being over, making a remark or two to the butler who
had stood watching him roll a cigarette, he had gone straight across the
garden to one of the sheds where he kept his bicycle, lit his lamp and
blown up one of his tyres which he had noticed was rather low, and
started for home.

By then it had been nearly dark, but there was a bright half moon
showing and, across the wide lawn, he had seen his mistress saying
goodbye to two ladies at the hall door. He had distinctly recognised one
of them as Mrs. Robinson, the vicar's wife. He knew her quite well.

Entering the privet lane to get on to the road by the gate at the end,
of which he always carried a key, after cycling about half way along, he
had seen the body of a man lying upon the ground. Jumping from his
machine and propping it against a tree, he had bent over the body and,
though one side of the face was much obscured in blood, had recognised
it instantly as being that of the Mr. Sturm who was staying at the
Court. He had ventured to touch his cheek and found it to be quite warm,
though from the pool of blood upon the ground he felt sure Mr. Sturm was
dead.

Not losing a second, he had run to the house and came upon the
parlourmaid, Gertrude at the back kitchen door and told her to fetch her
mistress at once. He had taken Mrs. Hume to where the body was lying and
then, upon her orders, had run back to the house for his master.

He had felt so faint and ill he went on that he had been violently sick,
but for all that his mind was quite clear about everything which had
happened and, from the time when he had heard the chimes striking five
in the lounge-hall to when he was speaking to Gertrude at the back
kitchen door, only between ten and fifteen minutes could possibly have
elapsed.

Apparently, satisfied with what George told him, the Superintendent
proceeded to question all the staff. However, they could all be
accounted for. My alibi, too, supported by the two nurses was
unassailable; Clara was accounted for by her having been seen by George
with the Vicar's wife just before he had come upon the dead body;
Colonel Hume had been in the smoking room from about four o'clock until
the butler had run in with George's message from his mistress that he,
the Colonel, was to come at once. At the moment of the summons Colonel
Hume had been wearing his carpet slippers and, lying back in an
armchair, had been half dozing before the fire.

I was very relieved to notice that Clara seemed to have thrown off her
uneasiness about the rifle not being able to be found.

"I don't see, Superintendent Hanson," she said emphatically, "that the
fact of my rifle having been taken by someone, in any way, as you seem
to think, throws any suspicion upon anyone in the house. If any of us
had shot Mr. Sturm with it, what reason should we have had in hiding it?
Surely--rather we should have wiped the finger marks off it and put it
back to where it had been." She answered her own question. "No, it looks
to me now as if at last we have had a thief coming into the grounds,
someone who had got in from the road and taken the rifle any moment
after those three afternoons ago which was the last time I used it."

"But how would anyone but someone in the Court have known it was there?"
queried the Superintendent doubtfully.

"He mayn't have known it was there," snapped Clara. "Trespassing in the
lane, he may have come upon it by chance. If he had come on purpose why
didn't he take the box of cartridges. They were just under his eyes."
She spoke as if very annoyed. "I think the whole thing was an accident.
Boys are always shooting in the quarry just across the road, and
probably it was a stray bullet which hit him."

"But we can't learn of any boys being there yesterday," rejoined the
Superintendent. "No one that we can find out heard of any shots being
fired."

"Still they may have been fired for all that," countered Clara. She
added scornfully: "One must have been fired to have killed Mr. Sturm,
but no one heard that."

The following day was Sunday and we saw nothing of the police or
detectives. The Sunday papers had a lot to say about the tragedy and, to
Colonel Hume's great annoyance, all day long sightseers were strolling
up and down the road looking at the house. In the evening one of the
maids brought in some rather disturbing news. A woman from a house about
two hundred yards away had gone to the police and told them that she
remembered having seen on the Friday a man climbing over the gate
leading into the privet lane. She thought he had come back to climb over
from a lorry farther up the road. She gave a poor description of the man
but believed she would recognise him if she saw him again. She couldn't
remember exactly what time it was, but she had an idea it was early in
the afternoon.

Eric Danvers was still staying with us. The Superintendent had told
Clara they would be greatly obliged if she would put up with him for a
day or two longer as they might want to ask him some more questions
about his dead employer.

On the Monday we still saw nothing more of the detectives, but Colonel
Hume was so upset by everything that he had a slight heart attack and
Clara called in Dr. Burton to attend to him. The doctor brought in some
rather startling news that he had been told on the quiet by a policeman
whose wife he was attending.

It appeared that for some time the police had been very interested in
Sturm and keeping an eye upon him. They knew who he really was and were
certain his work as a medium, though it brought him in quite a lot of
money, was really only a blind to cover other activities. They knew he
was an important member of a ring handling forbidden dangerous drugs in
a large way. However, though they have gathered plenty of evidence
against him as yet they had made no arrest, hoping, through him, to
uncover the other ringleaders of the gang. His finger-prints were
recorded at Scotland Yard as, years ago, he had served a term of
imprisonment for another offence.

Danvers was good company and Clara was quite agreeable he should stay on
at the Court. However, after dinner on the Monday evening, she said to
me suddenly, "Do you know, Marie, I rather think that this entertaining
young man has something to do with the police. He's been called to the
telephone cabinet four times today, and twice, when I happened to pass
by when he was inside, I noticed that when he was listening to
whomsoever was speaking he turned right round as if to make sure no one
was near the cabinet to overhear what was being said. It struck me both
times that his precaution was most marked. Another thing, when the
Superintendent was last up here he seemed much more friendly in his
manner towards him than he was towards us." She nodded darkly. "I'm
going to keep a sharp eye upon him. I can't make out what's up."

And then Clara did what I thought at the time was a very foolish thing,
at any rate it meant her telling the police a lot of stories later. Upon
the Monday morning, in a spirit of morbid curiosity to look round the
place where the medium had been shot, she went into the privet lane and
was just passing the gate at the end when she saw a Hickson Provision
Store van coming slowly up the road with a man whom she guessed rightly
was Anton Meynall driving it. Upon the impulse of the moment she waved
to him to stop and come over to the gate to speak to her. With a scowl
he complied with her request.

"I am Mrs. Hume of the Court here," she said quickly, "Mrs. Temple
Fane's sister-in-law, and you are Anton Meynall, aren't you?"

He nodded a curt assent. "And what about it?" he asked.

She went on in a whisper. "Now did you come into the Court grounds again
that Friday evening?"

He stared at her blankly. "I don't know what you mean," he said.

"Oh, yes, you do," she retorted. "Now did you come back here? It's quite
safe your telling me. I tell you I'm Mrs. Fane's sister-in-law."

He shook his head. "I don't know either of you," he said. "I've never
heard of you. Good afternoon. I've got my work to do and I've no time
for gossip," and without another word he went back to his van and drove
away.

"A very discreet young fellow," commented Clara, telling me about it.
"No one will ever get anything out of him."

So things were up to the Tuesday morning and then the Superintendent
rang up Clara quite early, asking her please to be sure that she,
Colonel Hume, Danvers and I would be at home about eleven o'clock when
he was intending to call.

"Most annoying," said Clara crossly as she came away from the phone.
"What more can they want to ask us?"

At eleven sharp the Superintendent arrived when we four were all
together in the lounge. He had driven up in an imposing big police car,
accompanied by a stout and rather heavy-looking middle-aged man who had
policeman written all over him and whom he at once proceeded to
introduce.

"This gentleman," he said, "is Chief Detective-Inspector Charles Stone
and he's come down from Scotland Yard to help us." He laughed. "He's
really not half as frightening as he looks. Indeed, he's a very gentle
and kind-hearted man. I know him well, as he and I joined the Force
together."




CHAPTER VIII.--THE COMING OF GILBERT LAROSE


Now I am quite sure that, if I had been warned beforehand that so
important an officer as a Chief Detective-Inspector of Scotland Yard was
going to be sent down to find out at whose hands the medium had met his
death, I should certainly have been quaking in my shoes and filled with
a sickening terror as to what was going to happen next.

Now, however, having actually been confronted with him, my state of mind
was not by any means a terrified one, for in appearances he was very
different from the grim suspicious accuser I had imagined all detectives
who had worked themselves up to a high position must be.

Although undoubtedly there was that about him which, as I say, would
make one think at once of a policeman, he yet looked fatherly and
kind-hearted, and with nothing of a bully about him. Certainly, he
seemed very capable and I guessed those shrewd and big ox-like eyes
under their shaggy brows would never at any time miss anything of what
was going on.

The Superintendent explained who we were and the Inspector bowed
smilingly, not, however offering to shake hands. He took us all in with
a quick appeasing glance, but I somehow thought he regarded Eric Danvers
with a harder look than he gave anybody else.

"A most worrying business this for everyone," he boomed in a big deep,
voice, "but we'll try to make it as less unpleasant as possible." He
took a sheaf of papers out of his breast pocket. "Now Superintendent
Hanson has provided very full notes for me about you all. Still to some
extent I'll have to go over the same ground again and so, if you don't
mind, I'll go on to take you one by one."

"Certainly," said Clara who had been expecting that and had prepared for
it. "You shall have the library to yourselves."

I say Clara had prepared for it, but hardly in a way the Inspector would
have approved of, had he only known. It happened that her uncle, a
childless widower who had bequeathed Mead's Court to her, had been an
eccentric old man who for many years had been at work upon a book
dealing with the history of the religions of the world. In his later
years his writing had been the obsession of his life, and day after day
for many hours on end, he would shut himself in the library, giving the
strictest orders then that on no account was he to be interrupted in his
work.

To such extremes was this order carried out, that between the library
and the adjoining room he had had a dumbwaiter built into the wall, so
that his mid-day meal could be served on it, without his being
disturbed. When upon his death Clara had come into possession of the
Court, she had let the dumb-waiter remain, but, to do away with what she
considered its unsightly appearance in the library, had had it made into
a shelf there to carry some rows of more books.

The result was that in the library there was no sign of the dumb-waiter
being there, while in the little adjoining room, if you opened the door
of this dumb-waiter, you could plainly hear every word of any
conversation in the library itself. Also, by a little manipulation of
the books and pushing them slightly apart, you could actually see what
was going on.

So, while by arrangement Colonel Hume was regaling the two police
officers and Eric Danvers with a whisky and soda before any questioning
began, Clara and I had slipped off to take up a position by the
dumb-waiter in the little room. Clara was certain it would be quite
safe, as the dumb-waiter opened in a corner of the library well away
from any window and where the light was poor.

Inspector Stone had mentioned that he would question Danvers first, and
Clara was delighted she would speedily know whether her suspicions about
the latter were correct and if he indeed had been roped in by the police
to find out anything he could about us all at the Court.

"Be prepared for a surprise, dear," she whispered as we crouched down by
the opened dumb-waiter door. She smiled. "We may hear something
unpleasant about ourselves."

In a minute or two, the library door opened and we saw Benson show the
three men in. However, with the door closed behind them, to our
amazement, for a long minute not a word was spoken. Instead, they all
stood stock-still, looking smilingly at one another, while the Inspector
had got one fat forefinger pressed warningly against his pursed-up lips.
Then, suddenly the last named darted back to the door and, turning the
handle sharply, threw the door wide open and peered up and down the
corridor.

"No one there," he said, re-closing the door. "Quite O.K., but we can't
be too careful." Then, with his outstretched arm indicating Eric
Danvers, he went on with a chuckle to the Superintendent, "Let me
introduce you, sir to the new star who's just begun to twinkle at the
Yard"--he bowed in mock respect--"Detective Gilbert Larose."

Clara gripped my arm so tightly that I wanted to cry out with the pain,
and I am sure it was only the dire consternation into which I had been
plunged which enabled me to control my feelings.

So this supposed secretary of the dead man was the dreaded Gilbert
Larose, and leaving him planted among us as they had done for three
whole days, could surely only mean that in some way the police were
gravely suspicious of us! Then of whom and why were they being
suspicious?

My thoughts raced like lightning through me. Of the actual shooting they
could only be suspecting Clara, but of me they might suspect several
other things--that I had known the medium before, that for some reason I
had wanted his death and, oh! Heaven, that I had been the woman who,
almost before his body was cold, has rushed up to his house in Town,
most probably to get hold of some document or paper which in some way
incriminated her and which she knew was in his possession. Of course
they would have guessed this, as Gilbert Larose would have told them
that I had been absent from the Court in my car from so very early on
that Saturday morning until just before lunch was being served. They
would have guessed, too, I had got the keys to get into the house, as
they had not been found in Sturm's pockets when his body had been taken
to the mortuary, and of course Larose would have told them his employer
always carried them about with him upon his person.

But for the moment I could give no further time to my agonising thoughts
because of what was then happening in the library under my very eyes.

The Superintendent was shaking Larose warmly by the hand. "Very pleased
to meet you, Mr. Larose," he said. "When they told me you were one of us
I had no idea whom I was being privileged to work with." He looked very
puzzled. "But how on earth was it, that you had managed to get taken on
as that rascal's secretary?"

"Ah, but that was almost a miracle!" explained Stone. "One of the small
fry in the dope gang had ratted and it was upon his recommendation that
Bellamy engaged Mr. Larose. A few more weeks with him and our friend
here would have uncovered the whole lot who were peddling in those
drugs"--he shrugged his shoulders--"but of course it must happen Bellamy
ran up against that rifle bullet last week and so, for the time being,
we are again almost at a dead end."

Larose shook his head. "No, no, a long way from that, Charlie," he said.
"I found out who three of them are and they should lead us to the
others. We are not quite as much in the dark now, as we were when I
started."

"Yes, that's true, Gilbert," agreed Stone. "As far as you went, you
certainly made a good job of it." He seated himself down in a big
armchair and went on. "Well, what do you make of things here?"

"Bad! bad!" exclaimed Larose frowningly. "The whole business just reeks
of blackmail. If that blackguard was not killed accidentally, then
whoever brought about his death has my utmost sympathy. He was a vile
man."

"Then if it were a case of deliberate homicide," pressed Stone, "who
would you be inclined to make out was the killer?"

"Clara, that Mrs. Hume, would be my first choice," replied Larose with a
smile. "She is a woman of strong character, a brave woman and she is
protecting that young sister-in-law of hers, the little Marie Temple
Fane, to whom she is devoted and for whom she is acting like a mother."

A dreadful fear surged through me as I felt Clara so close beside me,
was trembling. I did not turn to look at her, but reached down and
grasped her hand. It was icy cold and I held it tightly. I felt I could
hardly breathe. However, Larose's next words were reassuring and I began
to breathe easier at once.

"But mind you," he was saying earnestly, "if she did do it I don't think
it will ever be brought home to her, as there are certain things to me
which suggest her complete innocence."

"And what are they?" asked Stone.

"Ah, but wait a minute before we consider the actual killing," said
Larose. "Let us first be quite certain that there was a strong reason
for someone wishing Bellamy dead and then following it up with a
deliberate murder. If there was--then the whole thing must have started
and been rushed to its dreadful climax all in the course of three to
four hours. At lunch Bellamy was a more or less honoured guest at the
Hume table, but by a few minutes after five the Superintendent here and
I were wanting to make out that one or other who had been sitting at
that table with him had brought about his death."

"Putting it that way," commented Stone with a frown, "it doesn't look
like deliberate murder, but rather suggests an accident. Now doesn't
it?"

"That's what I think," agreed Larose. "Ordinary normal people, such as
those women are we've just been talking to, don't get their passions
stirred up to fever heat so quickly. So let us now consider the
background of the whole matter."

Quite a long silence followed before Larose continued slowly. "I think
that blackguard had somehow got hold of some secret of that younger
woman, though she had no idea of it until the very afternoon he was
killed. I feel sure she was not aware she had ever met him before her
sister-in-law introduced him to her at that race-meeting in Lewes a
fortnight ago last Saturday. She may have been wrong then, as he
certainly knew a lot about her, but I believe he only started
threatening her that Friday afternoon just after lunch."

Stone tapped the Superintendent's memorandum, which he still was holding
in his hand. "But from these notes here she could not have shot him, as
her alibi is absolutely watertight."

"Of course, she had nothing to do with it," agreed Larose instantly,
"though, mind you, she wouldn't put up with any nonsense from him, for
she's as game as a pebble." He laughed. "That first evening when we
arrived here and he started upon his slimy sex advances to her, it was a
real treat to watch the way she snubbed him. She did it so openly, too,
that he soon realised she was making him a laughing-stock before
everyone, and, accordingly, he was venomously furious with her. He
stopped speaking to her and didn't take the slightest notice of her,
while she just ignored him as if he wasn't there."

"Then she didn't appear afraid of him?" queried Stone.

"Not in the least," replied Larose, "and that's what makes me sure he
didn't unmask his guns until he got her alone in the privet lane just
before we started for that motor drive, that last afternoon."

"You are certain he had a talk with her then?" asked Stone.

"I didn't actually see them together," replied Larose, "but everything
pointed to it. You must understand he and I had arranged to go for that
drive soon after two. We came down to the front door together and I left
him standing there, while I went round to the garage to bring out the
car. I was away longer than he would have been expecting me to be, as I
had to put water in the radiator. When I got back to the front door he
was gone. I shouted out for him several times and, after three or four
minutes or so, he came running up a bit breathless and jumped into the
car."

"Did he say anything?" asked Stone.

"Not a word, but I remembered afterwards I had noted subconsciously that
he had got that leering, gloating look which he always put on when he
was thinking about women."

"And how could you know," grunted Stone, "when he was thinking about
them?"

"When he spoke his thoughts aloud to me," smiled Larose, "and actually
told me what they were. For instance, when driving down here in the car
on the Friday he referred several times to the beautiful young Mrs.
Temple Fane whom we were going to meet, and I quite thought from the way
he talked that she was very sweet on him. He was leering quite a lot
then and I felt very sorry for the girl. Still, I wasn't much
interested, as he was always gloating about some woman or other. He was
an unpleasant sexy man."

"And about Clara and the missing rifle," asked Stone. "What do you make
of that?"

Larose shook his head. "I can't make anything," he said. "I was with the
Superintendent here when we found it had gone and I am positive she was
genuinely surprised." He turned to the Superintendent. "Didn't you think
so, too?"

The Superintendent nodded. "Yes, I did. If she was acting, she was doing
it devilish well and certainly took me in for one."

"And she probably was acting," frowned Stone.

"I don't think so," commented Larose instantly. "Her face went quite
pale, and no actress, however talented, could manage that. Besides, she
looked intensely annoyed."

Clara here pinched me hard. "And so now, Marie, you won't suspect me any
more," she whispered. "I know you've been doing so."

I grimaced at her and squeezed her hand. I certainly had been more than
half suspecting her and now felt very relieved.

The Superintendent was speaking. "But Mrs. Hume's alibi is not too
good," he said. "When I was having a word yesterday with Mrs. Robinson,
the Vicar's wife, she let out that she and her sister were just about to
leave the nursery when Mrs. Hume came in, and she thinks it could have
only been two or three minutes at most before Mrs. Hume started to come
downstairs with them to show them out at the front door. So, if George,
the gardener is right and he saw them making their good-byes just before
a quarter past five--then from five o'clock until ten minutes past,
these very fatal ten minutes, we have nothing to go upon expect Mrs.
Hume's own words to tell us where she really was. She declares that
except when she was upon the phone putting off all the dinner-party
guests, she was in her own room from three o'clock in the afternoon
until she went up to the nursery only a minute or two after five."

A long silence followed and, crouching so close to Clara, I could hear
the beating of her heart. I could not help it, but I felt uneasy again.
I remembered clearly how very, very short the time had been after Clara
had come into the nursery before she had started to take Mrs. Robinson
and her sister downstairs.

It was Larose who broke the silence. "But against that, Superintendent,"
he said thoughtfully, "I put the disappearance of her rifle, as that to
me is a most important happening. Surely, if she had shot the man, say
by accident or in a sudden burst of temper, as a shrewd and far-seeing
woman she would have grasped instantly that to hide the rifle away would
have been the worst thing for herself that she could do. It would at
once suggest her as being the guilty party. No, what any guilty person
would have done would have been to wipe away his or her finger marks and
put the rifle back where it had been. Then everyone would have been
baffled."

"Well, Gilbert," said the stout inspector, "we'll leave her alone for a
minute." He eyed Larose most intently. "Now you are quite sure in your
own mind, are you not, that if indeed it was a definite case of murder,
we shall be able to produce strong circumstantial evidence that he was
killed because he was attempting to blackmail that little Mrs. Temple
Fane?"

Larose shook his head. "I don't say we shall be able to produce that
evidence, Charlie, but I believe it's there. I think Marie has some
well-hidden secret in her life and that now-dead blackguard got very
close to finding it out."

"What kind of secret?" frowned Stone.

Larose laughed. "Why a sex one, of course! What other kind would you
expect of a pretty woman? She's not likely to have been a pick-pocket,
or a counterfeiter, or a spy in the Great War, is she? No, probably she
had a lover in her pre-nuptial days and Bellamy knew something about it
at the time." He spoke impressively. "But does not every one of
Bellamy's actions of the last fortnight suggest blackmail? He is
introduced to Marie at the Lewes race-meeting as Mrs. Temple Fane, the
wife of a well-known wealthy city man, and he recognises her as someone
he knew years ago. He gets busy at once and puts himself to no end of
trouble spending three days in Paris enquiring about her past life."

"Four days," corrected Stone, "as we saw on that diary he had got in his
safe."

"Oh, his diary!" exclaimed Larose, "and of course, it was for that Marie
rushed up to his house on the Saturday morning. He must have told her
about it." He went on. "And not content with those enquiries in Paris,
he sent me racing down into----"

But to my intense relief, as I was trembling in fright that Clara was
about to hear about Colonel Jasper and the house upon the moor and would
start wondering at once if it had anything, of which I had not told, to
do with me--we heard a knock upon the library door and Benson entered to
tell us the Superintendent was wanted upon the phone.

"And I'll go out, too," whispered Clara, as the Superintendent left the
room, "in case I am wanted for anything. It would be dreadfully awkward
if Benson came looking for me here."

With the Superintendent away, Larose went on to tell Stone about his
enquiries in Devonshire. "But what they had to do with this Marie here,
of course I don't know. That they had something I should certainly
think, as she went off with my report as well as that paper about
herself when she was Miss de Touraine, which were lying open in
Bellamy's desk. I had noticed them both there just before we left the
house to drive down here. I had got a squint of Bellamy's notes when he
was out of the room."

The Superintendent was back very soon. "A bit of luck!" he said
smilingly. "We know now who that man is who got over the gate in the
privet lane that afternoon. The same woman who saw him then recognised
him in the road here again a few moments ago, and rang up the Station to
tell us. She says there is a lot she can tell us about him. He drives
the delivery van for Hickson's, a grocer in Terminus Road. We'll pick
him up and question him when I get back from here, though I think we had
better have a talk with the woman first, as she lives so close to the
Court."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Stone. "We're getting on slowly." He turned back
to Larose. "Now what about the husband here, old Colonel Hume?"

"Of course, he's got no proper alibi," said Larose, "but I can't see him
taking the law into his own hands and shooting anybody. He's a most
conventional man and loathes all kind of publicity. He would never be
the means of bringing any scandal upon his own house. Certainly, he was
furious with Bellamy for interfering with that young housemaid and,
directly he heard of it, insisted his wife should cancel the
dinner-party and everything and pack Bellamy off the moment he came in.
Still, rather than suspect him I'd suspect others who were present at
the séance the previous night, that Major Button, for instance."

Stone scanned down the names in the Superintendent's notes. "Oh, the
tiger-killer!" he exclaimed. "Why him in particular?" and Larose at once
related how the old man had found out he had been hoaxed about the
spirit of his Johore beater appearing at the seance and was thirsting
for the medium's blood.

"And it's not impossible to imagine," he laughed, "that he did saunter
round here with his rifle that afternoon--he lives only a few hundred
yards up the road--to give Bellamy a fright if he caught sight of him.
He's a very hot tempered old gentleman."

"Ah, one moment!" exclaimed Stone. "Going back to that Mrs. Hume again.
During that Friday afternoon I understand she'd been busy phoning up to
put off all those people who would have been coming to the Court that
night, and so I should say she would have worked herself up into a fine
state of annoyance by the trouble she'd have been put to. So, when
Bellamy got back from his drive and went straight into the privet
lane--if she happened to be there after those crows, as she makes out,
and ran into him unexpectedly, isn't it quite likely that in her
disturbed state of mind, she upped with her rifle and, with no thought
of what she was doing, gave him a bullet at once?"

Larose shook his head. "I don't think so. I'm sure she wouldn't have
denied herself the pleasure of first lashing out at him with her tongue
and, knowing the fine gentleman as I so well do by now, it's pretty
certain he would have hit back with language which would certainly have
not been over-choice. He was full up to the neck with Scotch, as he had
made me pull up at almost every pub we had come to that afternoon. He
was a foul-mouthed brute when he was in a rage and got fairly going."

A short silence followed before Stone said, "Well, we must get on with
our enquiries, and I've got a good idea. So that you can remain here to
listen all the time I'll tell Mrs. Hume I've roped you in to take
short-hand notes. I'll explain I thought the Superintendent here would
be able to do it, but find he can't write shorthand and you can.

"That'll be all right," nodded Larose. "As the dead man's one-time
secretary, that'll appear quite the natural thing."

"Good!" exclaimed Stone. "Then I think we'll take Marie first." He
hesitated a few moments. "Now should we put down our good cards straight
away and bounce her into admitting that Bellamy was threatening
blackmail and that it was she who rushed up to Cedar Road on Saturday
and stole those papers from his desk?"

"No, no, don't do that," said Larose instantly. "For the moment don't
let it come out that we have good reason to believe anyone is benefiting
by the man's death. Leave out the matter of blackmail altogether and
just concentrate upon finding out what everyone was doing at the time it
happened. Then they'll be less upon their guards and may make a slip
somewhere. In particular, deal tactfully with Marie for, while we are
certain she cannot be the actual killer, if the killing was a
premeditated one she is sure to know who did it because the killing was
done to save her."

Stone shook his finger at Larose. "But there's going to be no sentiment
here, Gilbert," he said very sternly. "If there was a murderer we're out
to get him or her, and no face, however pretty, is going to stand in our
way."

"Of course not, of course not!" agreed Larose readily, but all the same
he gave the Superintendent a sly glance of amusement.

"Then while we are on personal matters," smiled the Superintendent,
"what about yourself, Mr. Larose? I didn't put down anything about you
in those notes of mine Mr. Stone has got there!"

"There was no need for you to," smiled back Larose. He turned to the
Inspector, "I was alone in the garage, Charlie, from the moment I drove
in the car until I came out to see Mrs. Hume and the man, whom I learnt
afterwards was Dr. Burton, striding over the lawn in a great hurry. From
their haste I was curious as to what was up and followed after them to
see."

"But why so long in the garage?" frowned Stone.

"I fancied the car had been running sluggishly and looked to see if
there was any dirt in the carburettor. There was and I took it out.
Then----"

"Here, I say, there's something wrong there," broke in the
Superintendent. "That butler told me he heard you come into the house
very soon after you had dropped Bellamy at the front door and driven off
to take the car into the garage."

A short silence followed and Stone whistled. "Then it wasn't you,
Gilbert, whom he had heard come in and go up the stairs." He looked very
grave. "In all probability it was the very party we want."

"Then we'd better start questioning Benson again straight away," said
the Superintendent.

"And after him the other members of the staff," said Stone. Then as the
Superintendent rose to his feet and moved to the door he added, "And
explain to Mrs. Hume, please, how it happens"--he grinned--"Mr. Eric
Danvers is going to be present at the questionings."

"Quick, Marie, quick," whispered Clara who had long since returned to my
side, "we mustn't be caught here," and she hurried me out of the room
and into the lounge where the Superintendent found us and explained how
they were to make use of Mr. Danver's shorthand knowledge.

When he had left us Clara regarded me quizzically to see how I was
taking it all. Then the troubled and uneasy expression upon her face
changed to one of some amusement. "But wasn't it funny," she laughed,
"to hear ourselves turned inside out? That Gilbert Larose is a very
clever man and we shall have to be much more careful in our replies to
him than if the Superintendent were questioning us."

"But how mean of him," I said hotly, "that he asked for your hospitality
here so that he could spy upon us to find out anything about us he
could."

"Well, as you've just heard," said Clara confidently, "he didn't find
out much. He made a lot of guesses and some of them were very clever
ones." She nodded, "One thing, we didn't make an enemy of him, and
another, he has no sympathy for that wretched Sturm, or Bellamy, as I
suppose we must call him now."

I looked Clara straight in the face. "But tell me honestly," I asked
with a little quiver in my voice, "was it you who deliberately shot that
man?"

"Certainly not," she replied instantly. She laid her hand affectionately
upon mine. "And you take this in Marie dear, whatever they may find out
about me and wherever this smart Gilbert Larose may perhaps catch me
tripping in some little things"--she spoke most impressively--"they can
never bring anything home to me. So, if you are ever worried about me,
remember I have told you I haven't the very slightest fear for myself. I
shall have a perfect answer to everything"--she nodded--"in the end."

I felt myself shaking. "But you frighten me, Clara," I said. "You make
me think you are in great danger."

"But I'm not," she said emphatically. "I am in no danger at all." She
frowned. "Still, I can see that Inspector Stone suspects me"--her frown
changed into a half smile--"and he may suspect even more before he has
done with me." She spoke quickly. "And one thing more, Marie. I can see
now that, if they ask you about it, you mustn't deny that brute followed
you into the privet lane and had a talk with you. After what we've just
heard Mr. Larose say it will be wisest for you to admit at once. We
mustn't tell more untruths than we are obliged to and so give them more
chances of catching us out."

"All right," I nodded, "I know what to say."

Now how all the servants came out of the gruelling questioning they had
to submit to at the hands of the Chief-Inspector Stone we learnt from
Mabel, Clara's own particular maid, and some part of it was certainly
disturbing. It was not only that the butler was mistaken in his evidence
that he had certainly heard someone come in by the front door and go up
the stairs a very few minutes after five, but Betty, the under-housemaid
was positive she had seen someone, whom in the fallen dusk she had taken
to be her mistress, cross over the lawn somewhere about the same time.

The questioning by Inspector Stone was many times more thorough and
lengthy than that of the Superintendent's had been. Benson was examined
at once, but Betty's evidence was not taken until the afternoon.

"But you say, Mr. Benson!" said the Inspector, "that when you were in
the very act of switching on the lights and pulling down the blinds in
the lounge hall you heard the Town Hall clock striking five?"

"That is so, sir," said Benson.

"And after attending to these lights and the blinds," said the
Inspector, "you went straight away into the dining-room and then you
heard someone come in through the hall door."

"No, not quite straight-away, sir," said Benson. "I did a little tidying
up in the lounge, first. I straightened up the cushions upon the chairs
and settees and put some coals upon the fire and swept up the hearth.
Then I folded up some newspapers lying about and put them in the rack.
Also, I emptied the ash-trays and put the ashes in the fire. After these
little duties it was then I went into the dining-room and attended to
the blinds and fire there."

"And when you were performing these last duties," said Stone, "you heard
someone opening the inner front door?"

The butler hesitated. "It mayn't have been the opening but I'm not sure.
At any rate, without thinking about it I certainly got that impression,
perhaps because I didn't see anyone pass the open dining-room door or
hear him moving about anywhere downstairs."

"Well, then you heard whoever it was who had come into the lounge go
upstairs?" said Stone.

The butler hesitated again. "I may have done so, sir, I heard, sir," he
said, "but it was probably the clicking of its being shut to. It always
does make a click as the door handle is not a gentle one to turn."

"And how long do you think it was before the door clicked after you had
heard the striking of those Town Hall chimes?"

Benson shook his head. "I couldn't say, sir. Certainly not ten minutes,
I am sure." He smiled. "I am always pretty brisk in all my movements."

The questioning of the staff went on and, as it appeared obvious it was
going to take some time, Clara sent word into the library that she would
be pleased if they would come into lunch, which accordingly, at one
o'clock they did.

Now, certainly, as the Superintendent had said, Inspector Stone did not
seem a very formidable person and he and Clara, in particular, were soon
chatting amicably together as if they were quite old friends, indeed
monopolising most of the conversation at the meal.

"And when you are upon an enquiry such as this one," asked Clara with an
assumption of great innocence, "do you find that most people generally
tell you the truth?"

The Inspector looked amused. "Oh, yes, I think so," he said, and then he
added quickly, "that is, of course if they have nothing to hide?"

"But if they have," went on Clara, "can you tell when they are speaking
untruths?"

"We've a pretty good idea," nodded Stone. "That's where our training and
experience comes in."

"Then it seems to me," frowned Clara, "that the dice are loaded against
any poor guilty creatures directly he or she comes into the room. If you
can tell at once that they are story-tellers then they haven't a
chance."

Stone laughed merrily, "Oh, no! It isn't as easy as that. We may be
quite sure they are untruthful, but we can't always bring it home to
them. They may be too clever for us. That's the snag!"

Clara looked troubled. "And do you think it is always wrong, Mr. Stone,
when sometimes people don't speak the truth?"

"Of course, it is," said the Inspector firmly. "Why, that's perjury,
isn't it?"

"But suppose, of course unbeknown to your wife," said Clara, "you have a
sweetheart--would you feel bound to tell the truth if someone asked you
about her?"

Stone made a grimace. "Ah, but you are getting too subtle for me now,"
he said. "In a matter such as that there would be a lot of pros and cons
to consider." He spoke sharply. "As an educated woman you know quite
well that truth and untruth in such matters have always been considered
upon an entirely different plane to ordinary affairs." He threw out his
hands disgustedly. "But who would want a fat old man like me for a
sweetheart? I am stones and stones too heavy for romance. Just look at
me now. One Stone by name, but many, many stones too many by nature."

Everybody laughed, but Clara evidently had not finished with the stout
Inspector yet, as she asked next, "And I suppose, Mr. Stone, it must be
very difficult to work your way up to be a tip-top detective."

"Not at all," smiled Stone. "All that anyone wants is to have a
good-looking face and slim figure like our friend Mr. Danvers, here, and
success is assured. Then you'd float up to the top like a cork?"

Clara nodded. "Yes, I think he'd make a good detective. In fact I've
been thinking that in many ways he and you might be blood-brothers now.
In the short time you've been together here in the house I've noticed
several things that you have together in common. You smoke the same
brand of cigarettes, you both use the same kind of pencils and from the
seller's names on the bands inside your hats I see you both go to the
same shop for them." She seemed interested. "That's very remarkable as
Alfred Perkins in the Vauxhall Bridge Road can't be a very well-known
hatter."

I would have loved to have had a good laugh. So that was what Clara had
been working up to? She had been pulling the Inspector's leg with a
vengeance and letting him see quite plainly that it would be no timid
yes-and-no miss he would be questioning later.

I took a quick glance at Larose. He was looking down his nose and, I
thought, suppressing a grin. However, the Inspector rushed manfully into
the breach.

"Oh, but Alf Perkins, is a very well-known hatter," he exclaimed
volubly, "and I've been going to him for years. Indeed, I don't think
now I should be comfortable in any hat but his," and he went on to
expatiate upon their good quality and the long time they lasted him.

The meal over, the interrogation of the staff was renewed, but it was
not until they had the very last of them before them, the little
under-housemaid, Betty, that any grist came to their mill. Then what she
told them was very startling and certainly brought Clara strongly under
suspicion.

Stone was asking her the usual questions--what exactly was she doing
that Friday afternoon just after five and, remembering she had seen
George the gardener bringing the hot-house grapes into the kitchen when
he had knocked off work at the usual time of five o'clock, she was able
to tell him quite accurately. She seemed to be enjoying the importance
of being questioned. She said she had gone straight up from the kitchen
to her bedroom to make herself tidy and shut the window and pulled down
the blind. She had heard no sound of any rifle going off, but was sure
she would have done had one been fired, as her window looked out upon
the drive and across the lawn to the end of the privet lane.

"Then you saw and heard nothing?" smiled Stone, apparently about to
dismiss her.

"No, sir," she smiled back, no doubt thinking what a nice gentleman the
great detective was, and then she added as an afterthought, "except that
I saw Mistress coming up to the front door."

Stone took her up at once. "Oh, you saw your Mistress, did you, coming
up to the front door?" he asked sharply.

"Well, I think it was Mistress," she replied, "though, as it was
practically dark then, I couldn't see her very plainly, but I judged it
was her by the way she walked."

The girl said afterwards that the detective seemed very interested and
repeated the question several times in different ways before dismissing
her.

So that was how the position was when immediately after Stone had
finished with Betty, Eric Danvers, or Gilbert Larose as we now knew him
to be, came into the drawing-room to look for Clara. We guessed
afterwards that he had been sent to fetch Clara as quickly as possible
before she had heard what the under-housemaid had said.

Clara rose up to follow him, when suddenly an idea came to me. "And I'll
come, too," I said. "It will be all right for us to come together, won't
it, Mr. Danvers?"

I thought Larose's eyebrows went up ever so little, and for the moment
it seemed as if he were going to say something, perhaps, I thought to
raise some objection, but, of course, as the supposed Danvers he could
have no say in the matter and so, he just smiled, and we walked into the
library together.

The Inspector who had risen to his feet as we came in frowned when he
saw us both. "But it was Mrs. Hume I wanted to question first," he said.
"If you don't mind, Mrs. Fane, I'll take you afterwards."

"I don't mind that at all," I said, speaking as sweetly as I could, "but
I want to be present to hear what my sister-in-law says, first"--I
laughed--"so that we shan't contradict each other." Then, as the
Inspector appeared to be most suspicious at my frankness, I went on
still laughingly, "And it can't possibly upset any schemes or traps of
yours, Mr. Stone, as we are intending to speak only the exact truth,
just like some of those innocent people we were speaking of at lunch who
have nothing to hide."

For a few moments the Inspector regarded me with a frown, but then his
heavy face broke into a reluctant smile and with an air of mock
resignation he motioned to us both to sit down. "And now for one small
matter which we think it best to clear up at once," he said. "I shall
have to ask your pardon for a harmless and quite accidental little piece
of deception." He indicated Larose smilingly. "This gentleman, whom so
far you have known only as the secretary of that so-called Caesar Sturm,
happens also to be an esteemed colleague of mine at Scotland Yard,
Detective Gilbert Larose and----"

"You say he is a detective at Scotland Yard!" gasped Clara with a fine
assumption of amazement. She turned angrily to the Superintendent. "And
you, Mr. Hanson prevailed upon me to let him stay on here as an honoured
guest, when all the time you knew he was acting as a spy!"

"No, no, Mrs. Hume," exclaimed the Superintendent looking very
uncomfortable, "at first, I was quite as much in the dark as you were
and----"

"But, please, Mr. Hanson," broke in Larose smilingly, "If I may, let me
make the explanation, as I am the real culprit if there is one," and he
went on to tell us--as we had already overheard--that all the time while
he had been working as the medium's secretary he had been acting for the
police.

"And you see," he finished up with, "when this Caesar Sturm's death
occurred we thought it would bring less talk and scandal upon the Court
if I remained on here as the secretary for a few days, rather than go
away and return as an officer from Scotland Yard."

Clara appeared mollified. "Well, you didn't get anything from staying on
here," she scoffed, "and it appears I found out more about you than you
did about us."

"You certainly did," laughed Larose. "Those little matters about the
cigarettes, the pencils and the hats was a really smart piece of work."

The Inspector turned briskly to me. "Well, Mrs. Fane, I think I'll take
you first." He looked down at the Superintendent's notes. "You say you
were in the nursery all the afternoon and that Mrs. Hume arrived there
just as your visitors were getting ready to take their leave and stopped
chatting with them for quite five minutes before she took them
downstairs to see them out of the house." He looked up quickly. "Can you
add anything to that now?"

I shook my head. "It must have been quite five minutes, because they
discussed the babies and had time to talk about the Vicar's health."

He eyed me intently. "Now Mr. Larose here," he went on, "tells me that
when he was acting as that Mr. Sturm's secretary it seemed to him that
you and Mr. Sturm did not appear to get on very well together."

"I wouldn't have called it a matter of getting on," I said sharply. "The
man's manners were too familiar and I daresay I showed I didn't like
them," I nodded. "At any rate I intended to show that and I think I did
because eventually he left me alone."

"And you kept out of his way as much as possible?"

"Yes, I did."

Stone then asked and I thought he spoke with studied carelessness. "And
when did you last see him?"

My answer was prompt and ready. "A few minutes after lunch. He saw me go
into that little privet lane where he was afterwards killed and followed
after me."

"And you had a conversation together?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "A sort of conversation, though the talking was
nearly all on his side. I told him plainly I didn't want to have
anything to do with him."

"But what did he have to say to you?" asked the Inspector.

"He declared he had met me some years ago when I was living in Paris," I
said, "but I told him I had no recollection of it." I spoke warmly. "It
is no secret, Inspector Stone, that I earned my living as an artist's
model once, but he wanted to make out there had been something
disgraceful about it and that it would be best for me if I remained on
friendly terms with him, as then he would not tell anyone about it."

"Then he threatened you?" frowned the Inspector.

"Yes, in a way, but I let him see instantly that I wasn't the least bit
afraid of anything he might say."

"Then you think he was intending to blackmail you?"

"Oh, I don't exactly think that," I said, "but he was looking at me in
that disgusting leering way his type of men do when they are alone with
a woman."

"And how did the conversation end?"

"He heard Mr. Larose calling for him and he went off."

"Then he didn't say he must talk to you again? He didn't want you to
arrange some further time and place of meeting him?"

"Good Heavens, no!" I exclaimed indignantly. "I wouldn't have dreamed of
such a thing."

"And you went back into the house," suggested the Inspector, "and told
Mrs. Hume everything straight away."

"Not exactly, straight away," I said, "because she had something to tell
me, first. He had been behaving offensively with one of the maids and
she said she was going to have him packed off at once directly he
returned from his motor drive. Of course she was very much upset, as
that meant cancelling all arrangements for the second séance which was
to have been held that night, and, for the moment, the annoyance I was
feeling about the man passed out of my mind. However, I told her in a
minute or two."

"And what did she say."

"How well it fitted in with him going to be sent away from the Court at
once. I should be spared all further annoyance from him."

"Thank you, Mrs. Fane," said the Inspector. "That's all I want of you.
Now, Mrs. Hume for the few little questions I want to ask you."

"Ask away," smiled Clara. "I'm all ready for you."

"I expect you are," smiled back the Inspector. "I take you to be one of
those ladies who would always be a hard nut to crack." He became
serious. "Now, I won't go over all the ground the Superintendent has
taken you, but there is one thing that strikes me. Now, of course you
would have been very much upset at having to send that Caesar Sturm away
in such disgrace. You would have been thinking it an unpleasant business
to be got over as speedily as possible, would you not?"

"I was," agreed Clara, "but still it had to be done."

"Oh, by-the bye," said the Inspector, apparently going off on a tangent,
"did you happen to know Mrs. Fane had got visitors in the nursery?"

"Yes, I saw them come," nodded Clara.

"Then why," asked Stone, with his question asked as quickly as the dart
of a snake, "admitting as you have just done to us that you wanted this
unpleasant interview with Sturm to be got over as quickly as
possible"--he raised his fat forefinger impressively--"why did you waste
any time by first going up to the nursery to have a chat with Mrs.
Fane's visitors? You told the Superintendent that you knew Sturm had
come home--so why didn't you go to deal with him at once?"

Clara was quite ready for him. "Because I wanted to wait until those
visitors had gone," she replied instantly. "I knew they would have to
leave through the lounge where I expected Sturm would be and I didn't
want them to be witnesses of any unpleasantness which might have been
going on. I wanted as little scandal as possible."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone, and it was evident he was disappointed with her
answer. However, he recovered himself very quickly and asked, "Then why
did you waste more time by going back again to the nursery to speak to
Mrs. Fane?"

"Just to reassure her," replied Clara calmly, "that in my interview with
Sturm I was not going to bring up her name, so that Sturm could have no
excuse to make out he was being sent away because he had told her he
knew something discreditable about her."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone again and he went off at once on to something
else. "Now about this girl, Betty, who complained Sturm had been
molesting her. Are you certain she wasn't exaggerating things or,
perhaps even making them all up?"

"Quite certain," said Clara sharply. "She's a girl of good character and
not given"--she spoke scornfully--"to exaggerating or making things up."

"Then Mrs. Hume," said the Inspector, slowly, and solemnly, "if she
tells us that on that Friday afternoon a few minutes after five, at a
time you declare you were in your room, she saw you from her window
coming up to the front door"--he hesitated a long moment--"would you say
she was reliable witness or not?"

"Ask me that again, please," said Clara frowningly. "No, no, I don't
want time to think, but if she says she saw me then she is mistaken,
that is all. Remember, it would have been dusk and at that time faces
and even figures are hard to pick out."

The Inspector shook his head. "It was not by your face or figure that
she says she knew you, but by your walk and, if it were dusk as you say,
you do the remembering now and remember there was a good moon shining
that afternoon. It was just after five o'clock."

"And that side of the house Betty was looking out upon would have been
in the shadows," smiled Clara, "until long after five o'clock. Another
thing, too, Inspector, if you had asked Betty about her sight, which I
hardly think you would have thought to do, she could have told you she
is very short sighted. As it happens, only yesterday she was at the
optician's having her sight tested for a pair of glasses and was very
amused at his telling her that at almost only a few yards she was a
blind as a bat." She laughed merrily. "No, Mr. Stone, you haven't caught
me yet."

At that moment there was a hurried knock upon the door, and, without
waiting to be told he could come in, Benson brandishing a small rifle,
burst into the room.

"It's found, Mistress," he exclaimed excitedly, "your little rifle. It
was in the gun-room after all. Betty found it a moment or two ago. It
had slipped down behind Master's golf-bag."

The Superintendent sprang to his feet. "Put it on the ground, man," he
cried. "Keep your hands off. Your paw-marks will be all over it," and
Benson laid it on the carpet as quickly as if it were a bar of red-hot
iron.

Larose picked it up gingerly by the end of the barrel and laid it down
again upon the desk before the Inspector, where the three police
officers bent over it.

"It is yours, Mrs. Hume?" asked Stone.

"Yes, it's mine," replied Clara, and rather to my surprise, I saw a look
of intense relief upon her face. She pointed to the monogram upon the
butt and then, noticing Larose had taken a small magnifying glass from
his pocket and was minutely inspecting the barrel, she turned sharply to
Benson. "Fetch that photograph, please, from the billiard-room," and the
butler left the room at once.

The Superintendent was frowning hard. "But it wasn't in the gun-room,"
he said, "when we looked on Saturday, I'll swear to that."

"No, it wasn't there then," corroborated Larose. He handed his
magnifying-glass to the Inspector. "And it looks as if it had been
hidden somewhere in the ground. See those traces of earth lodging
between the barrel and the butt?"

"And there are precious few finger-marks upon it," commented Stone,
"with those there are being probably Benson's or Betty's."

The butler came back with a framed photograph of about ten inches
square. "This is an enlargement of a photograph from The Sketch," said
Clara, "taken some years ago when I won the Women's Championship Cup at
Lewes. Oh, yes, it's the same rifle I am holding then, as you tell if
you use your magnifying-glass from the scratches and dents on the butt.
Also, on the barrel there near the end you'll notice that deep graze at
the side where a waggon-wheel nipped it as it was lying upon the ground.
I had lent it to a woman friend and the careless creature dropped it
just in front of a heavy waggon as it was going by."

"Yes, it's the same rifle, right enough," agreed Stone. He leant back in
his chair and regarded Clara intently. "Now what do you make of it, Mrs.
Hume, this first hiding the rifle and now putting it back."

She shrugged her shoulders. "I can make no more of it than you can," she
replied. "It all seems so senseless to me. If I had fired the shot which
killed the man"--she smiled--"as you gentlemen seem inclined to think,
what earthly reason could I have for monkeying about with the rifle like
this, first hiding it away and then putting it where it would be found?"

"But someone had a reason," said Stone sternly, "and someone obviously
connected with the house, as no outsider could have had the opportunity
to put the rifle back to where it has just been found." He threw out his
hands. "Just visualise how the matter appears to us. A man is shot and
within a few yards where he met his death was a rifle the very type of
which might have killed him. Not only that--but it is known to us that
this man was of such a character that his death would certainly not have
been deplored by at least two people in this house, you whose
hospitality he had outraged by his attempted assault upon one of your
domestic staff and Mrs. Fane here whom he had insulted with his
disgraceful insinuations about her pre-nuptial life." He shrugged his
shoulders in his turn. "Then I ask you--what are we to think?"

"It's not what you are to think that counts," commented Clara dryly.
"It's that of which you have absolute proof that matters." She smiled
sweetly. "You must be very sure, mustn't you, before you issue a warrant
for my arrest?" She looked amused. "Why, you don't even know yet if it
were actually a bullet from my rifle which killed the man."

"Oh, we'll soon know that," exclaimed the Inspector grimly, "but I don't
think there can be any doubt there."

And then to my astonishment Clara seemed to drop her defiant attitude
and become all at once meek and almost resigned to whatever was going to
happen to her.

"Well, I suppose, Inspector," she said with something of a sigh, "that,
as an experienced officer of the law, you'll think very carefully before
you take any drastic step which would do irreparable harm to me and,
besides that, if it did not prove later that you had been justified in
taking it, might altogether ruin your career at Scotland Yard."

"Oh, yes, Mrs. Hume," said the Inspector quite kindly, "I'll be thinking
of you as well as myself. The law may often seem hard to us, but we have
to do our duty."

"And you, Mr. Larose," she asked, "what do you think?"

"I think," said Larose in an equally kind tone, "that through no fault
of your own, you have been forced into a very awkward situation,
probably as the result of an accident. So, if you are really deeply
involved, don't go to great pains to prevent us proving it. Far better
admit what you have done and then you will be no longer an accused
facing her accusers." He smiled. "It will be so much less public
interest and excitement."

Clara smiled back. "Thank you so much for the loophole, Mr. Larose," she
said, "but I don't need it for, as far as I am concerned, there has been
no regrettable accident."

Larose shook his head disappointedly. "Then in that case, Mrs. Hume," he
said, "I am afraid it is you pitting your wits against ours until either
you or us have been proved to be in the wrong."

A few minutes later the three of them took their departure bidding us
quite cordial good-byes and saying nothing about coming up to the Court
again.

I was surprised at Clara being so bright and lively that evening. It was
as if with the finding of the rifle a great load had been taken off her
mind.

"But I am very puzzled," she said to me. "I can't think who could have
meddled with it. All along, in spite of his denials to me, I have been
believing it was Anton Meynall, but, after its having been put back in
the gun-room, of course I have to give up all that idea, as he couldn't
possibly have done it without help from someone here and that is
altogether unthinkable."

"Besides," I said confidentially, "where I was concerned I am sure he
wouldn't lie. His remorse is real. Now don't you think so?"

"It should be at all events," replied Clara, "but I wonder how far he
really would have gone with his promise to you to kill that man.
Probably, we shall never know."

"Don't talk about it," I said with a shudder. "It makes me wince every
time when I think of my having egged on anyone to commit a murder. I
really don't believe when it came to the point that I should have dared
to actually lure that dreadful man to his death in the privet lane."

"If I had been in your place," said Clara calmly, "I should have dared
it, as judge after judge has said blackmail is the very worst of
crimes."

Now Clara was quite wrong in thinking we should never know how far Anton
would have gone, as we were to learn all about it the very next morning.
Not very long after breakfast Clara and I were in the drive just outside
the hall door enjoying a glorious burst of winter sunshine, when, rather
to our consternation, we saw the big police car come racing up and the
Inspector and Larose jump out of it.

"I'd like a word with you, please, Mrs. Hume," and his tone was very
grim and cold.

"Of course," said Clara. "We'll go into the library. You come, too,
Marie," she added. She laughed brightly. "You may as well be in at the
death."

With us all seated in the library, the Inspector wasted no time and came
straight to the point. "This is going to be a final show-down, Mrs.
Hume," he said sternly. "We are going to put down all our cards and
advise you it will be wholly in your best interests to deal frankly with
us"--he eyed her very intently--"for the first time."

"Splendid!" exclaimed Clara flippantly. "Let us see how many aces and
trumps you hold."

The Inspector's words came like a bullet from a gun. "Exactly what are
your relations," he asked, "with this Anton Meynall, one of the men who
drive the delivery vans for Hickson, the provision merchant in Terminus
Road, in connection with the death of that man in the grounds of the
house last week?" He spoke very sternly "Now, please don't wait to think
out any prevarications, as we have ample evidence there has been
something going on between you two."

"What, a crime of passion at my age!" exclaimed Clara as if scornfully
surprised. She shook her head. "No, I am long past that, and besides, to
my knowledge I have never had any acquaintance with this delivery-van
gentleman."

The Inspector's eyes blazed. "Listen!" He spoke slowly and impressively.
"Upon the afternoon of last Friday, the day of the trouble here, this
man, Meynall, was seen to enter these grounds here by way of the privet
lane, and remain out of sight of the party who saw him enter for some
minutes. In the early evening of the same day he was seen here on
another part of these grounds, but without doubt to avoid being
questioned by the police officers who had caught sight of him, he took
himself off in a great hurry leaving behind him a motor-tyre lever and,
we believe, a packet of pepper." The Inspector paused here for a few
moments to let the significance of his words sink in. He went on, "Then
on Monday, the day before yesterday, he was seen in earnest conversation
with you by the gate at the end of the privet lane"--he spoke very
slowly--"again that privet lane!" He lifted an accusing finger and
rapped out almost menacingly, "Then do you mean to tell me these three
incidents had no connection with one another and you intend to go on
denying you know the man?"

With a great effort I had managed to suppress a gasp and make my
expression one of supposed perplexity and surprise. So, after all Anton
had come to the rendezvous with murder in his heart! Good God! And he
had been intending first to blind Caesar Sturm with the pepper and then
batter him to death with the tyre-lever! And it was I who would have
been responsible for this ghastly crime! I felt sick with remorse.

I was glad the eyes of Larose were bent intently upon Clara and not upon
me. There was no need for her to assume any expression of horror and
surprise, for she was now undoubtedly expressing both these emotions. To
shoot a man might have been a clean way of murder, but to blind him with
pepper and then make of his head a bloody pulp would surely always
strike some dreadful chord of disgust in the mind of the most callous
person!

"Well, Mrs. Hume," asked the Inspector grimly, "and what have you to say
to that?"

"Nothing," said Clara curtly. "It is all double Dutch to me! Haven't I
already told you I know nothing of this mysterious strange man." She
spoke angrily. "Do you mean to imply--and of course you do--that,
failing by getting an opportunity to murder Caesar Sturm with my rifle,
I had arranged with this other man to be upon the spot and carry on for
me?"

The Inspector ignored her question. Instead, he went on, dropping his
voice now to quiet and even tones. "Now, would not all these three
happenings taken together suggest to any reasoning person that between
you and him there existed some bond of conspiracy, a conspiracy that was
not for the well-being of this man you knew as Caesar Sturm."

"You make me tired," said Clara scornfully. "Yesterday you were asking
me to confess that I shot him accidentally and now----" she shrugged her
shoulders.

"The charge takes on a graver aspect," said Stone finishing the sentence
for her, "And you must realise now where our duty lies." He shrugged his
shoulders. "As the enquiry has proceeded everything about you has stood
out in a clearer and clearer light." He enumerated his points upon his
fingers. "You met that so-called Caesar Sturm when he was alone in the
lane just as dusk was falling--at the moment you were filled with
animosity against him--you are by nature a hasty and impetuous woman and
no doubt hot words passed between you. Then----"

But there was a knock upon the door and Benson glided in quickly.
"Inspector Stone," he said, "You are wanted upon the phone, sir. Some
gentleman says he has a message for you."

With some irritation at being interrupted, the Inspector turned to
Larose. "You take it for me," he said. "Tell whoever is ringing that I
am very busy for a few minutes," and, with Larose at once leaving the
room, he went on with what he had been going to say to Clara.

However, it appeared he had lost the thread of his argument, and he
could not pick it up again until he had gone over once more the points
he had been making against Clara.

"But I tell you I deny having met Caesar Sturm that evening when he had
returned in the car," persisted Clara angrily. "I deny----"

"Well, for the sake of argument," broke in Stone grimly, "supposing that
you had met him. You would have been very angry with him would you not,
and when you ordered him to leave the Court at once you would have told
him what you thought of his conduct? Then, most probably he would have
been insulting to you and, as we believe, with your rifle in your hand,
in a sudden burst of rage you might have----"

"Oh, that poor little rifle of mine!" exclaimed Clara petulantly. "If I
hadn't said anything about it, which I need not have done, you would
never have had any suspicions about me. As it is you are building up
your whole case upon it."

"Exactly," nodded the Inspector, "and does it not follow all reason that
we--" but Larose was back in the room and handing him a slip of paper.
From where I was sitting I could see there were only a few words on it,
but their perusal brought a frown to Stone's face, though it seemed to
me that the expression upon that of Larose was a half-smiling one.

Quite a long silence followed before, looking up at Clara, the Inspector
spoke again, and then I thought his tone was a much milder one than
before. "But, however strongly you may deny it, Mrs. Hume," he said, "it
seems abundantly proved to us that you did have that conversation with
the provision delivery-van man at the privet lane gate. The woman in the
house just over the road who gave us the information is certain it was
you talking to him, and what reason would she have for making it up? She
knows you quite well by sight and----"

But the library door was flung open and Colonel Hume burst
unceremoniously into the room. "Inspector Stone," he exclaimed, in great
excitement, "I have just had a ring from my friend, Sir Basil Bartley,
the Chief Constable, and he tells me information has come through this
moment from Scotland Yard that their ballistic experts there say the
bullet found in Caesar Sturm's head was not fired from my wife's rifle.
They declare emphatically that it is quite impossible."




CHAPTER IX.--IN GREAT DANGER


For a few minutes, following upon Colonel Hume's dramatic announcement
that the ballistic experts at Scotland Yard had given out that by no
possibility could the bullet which had killed the so-called Caesar Sturm
been fired from Clara's rifle a dead silence prevailed in the room. The
expression upon Clara's face was one of mingled triumph and intense
relief, while the Inspector showed no surprise at all. Indeed, if the
latter were disconcerted by this so sudden upsetting of all his
calculations, he was determined not to allow anyone to see it. It was he
who broke the silence at last.

"Yes, so I was informed a minute or two ago," he remarked casually and
as if the matter were after all of no great importance. "Mr. Larose
brought in a phone message for me, direct from Scotland Yard. So, for
what it is worth, we can accept the experts' opinion as final, as they
are not in the habit of making mistakes in matters such as this." He
nodded grimly to Clara and his voice rose. "But you please take in, Mrs.
Hume, that what we have just learnt about your rifle by no means clears
up everything as far as you and the others in this house are concerned."

He spoke with the utmost sternness. "We still want to know who was
hoping to defeat the ends of justice by hiding that rifle away.
Obviously a conspiracy of some kind has been going on here, with certain
of you banding yourselves together to prevent us learning how that man
you knew as Caesar Sturm came to meet his dreadful death." His voice
boomed. "Yes, there are conspirators among you and we are determined to
find out who they are."

And then, to everyone's amazement, Colonel Hume leapt into the limelight
again and dropped a veritable bomb among us all. "But there has been no
conspiracy in this house," he exclaimed with a very red face. "A
conspiracy means more than one person and it is I alone who have been
mixed up in this. I am terribly ashamed to have to admit it, but it was
I who first hid the rifle away and then, the night before last, took it
back into the gun-room where I was sure it would soon be found." He
spoke emphatically. "Until this moment no one knew anything about what I
had done."

The Inspector's eyes boggled and his jaw dropped, while I thought Larose
was again inclined to look rather amused. Clara moved over to her
husband and placed her hand affectionately upon his arm. "But you dear
old boy," she asked with a choke in her voice, "why did you do it? Look
at the suspicion and mystery you have caused," and she repeated her
query. "Why did you do it, Robert?"

"Because I was a fool, Clara," he replied gruffly, and his voice seemed
to be choking as was hers. "I know you can be a very hasty woman and I
was terrified it might have been you who had shot that man in a moment
of anger. I thought that, perhaps, you had come across him accidentally
when you had the loaded rifle in your hand and, intending to frighten
him, the damned thing had gone off when you didn't intend it to.''

"But Robert, dear," she went on plaintively, "you should have seen what
a silly thing it was to do?"

"I see it now," he said, "but, on the spur of the moment, I didn't see
it then." He regarded her reproachfully. "I had no idea you were going
to be so foolish as to tell the Superintendent you had got a rifle at
all and that you often left it in the summerhouse." He shook his head.
"If only you had said nothing we should have been spared this worry and
annoyance."

"And where did you hide the rifle?" asked the Inspector very sternly.

"Not half a dozen feet away," said the Colonel. "I pushed it under the
foundations of the summerhouse outside. I wonder those who were looking
for it didn't find it at once. It was almost under their very eyes."

"When did you put it there?"

"The next morning after the man's death, almost directly after
breakfast. I had been thinking about it all night."

"And it was you who wiped all the finger-marks away?"

The Colonel nodded. "But not until I was taking it into the gun-room the
night before last. Then, of course, I didn't want my own to be found
upon it."

The next question was one of the Inspector's quick ones, like a bullet
from a gun. "What did you use to wipe them off with? Quick, please, no
stopping to think."

The Colonel scowled at the abrupt way the question had been asked and,
in reply, whipped a large silk handkerchief from his pocket. "With
this," he said sharply. "My wife is a particular woman and the rifle was
always kept clean. So you see the handkerchief was hardly soiled at all,
at any rate not enough for me to change it at once for a clean one."

The Inspector and Larose bent over it and, after a moment's
scrutinising, the latter pointed to what we learnt later was a small
trace of oil.

"All right," snapped Stone, "we'll believe you there," and he went on
with some sarcasm, "And how, pray, Colonel Hume, after suspecting your
wife of having been a murderer, did you come to the conclusion that your
suspicions about her were not justified?"

"For one thing," replied the Colonel, "because I saw how genuinely upset
she was because the rifle could not be found and, for another, because I
realised that, if she were really guilty of the shooting, she was much
too clever a woman to have admitted so readily to the Superintendent
that a loaded rifle of hers had been all handy, within a few yards of
the very spot where the man was killed."

"And does not it come home to you, Colonel Hume," asked Stone very
solemnly, "that, when believing your wife to have been the perpetrator
of a dreadful crime, you hid her rifle to prevent her being found out,
you became in part guilty yourself and, in the eyes of the law were an
accessory after the fact?"

Colonel Hume nodded. "I know it," he said gloomily. "It was the most
foolish thing I have done in my life." He shrugged his shoulders. "My
only excuse is that I am an old man and I was so upset at the time that
I couldn't reason properly."

The two detectives left presently, both of them quite smiling and
pleasant in their good-byes. Still for all that it was obvious Inspector
Stone was a very deflated man, with all his case against Clara having
flattened out like a punctured balloon.

"And what they found out about you, dear," said Clara to me when we were
alone, "they'll never be able to use. So we need worry about that no
more. However much, too, they may suspect you were the woman who took
that paper from Sturm's house they have no actual proof and there again
they are at a dead end." She sighed. "Now my only anxiety is what is
happening to Anton Meynall. Unhappily we have no means of finding out."

However, to her great surprise, she came upon him two days later in a
quiet by-road at the back of Meads, driving his van as usual. He saw her
at once, but evidently would not have stopped to speak to her if she had
not planted herself in the road right before the van and forced him to
pull up. He looked up and down the road and, seeing no one in sight,
turned to her and asked with obvious irritation, "Why are you bothering
me again? Haven't you the sense to leave me alone?" Though there was no
one near them, he lowered his voice to a whisper and asked hoarsely,
"Which of you killed that man? Did she do it herself?"

"We neither of us did it," said Clara sharply. "Both of us had perfect
alibis. It is believed now it was an accident from a stray shot fired by
some boys rabbiting in that quarry." She spoke in a whisper in her turn.
"The police have been suspecting you?"

He nodded. "But what of it? They've been suspecting everybody. They have
nothing against me. It was proved to them I was working in the shop that
evening until knocking-off time at half-past five."

"But we have heard you were seen in the Court grounds later that
evening," she said. "You were recognised before you ran away."

"I didn't run," he scowled. "I went off on my bicycle. I had seen
several men about in the lane and a lot of torches flashing and wanted
to find out what was going on. They caught sight of me and I had to get
away quick."

"And you dropped a tyre-lever and a packet of pepper," said Clara.

"The tyre-lever was mine," he said, "and I couldn't deny it as I knew
they would have found my finger-marks upon it." He half smiled. "But I
denied everything about the pepper and I knew they could prove nothing
there, as the paper it had been wrapped in had become sodden from the
rain and there were no finger-marks upon it. It wasn't found until the
next morning."

"And how did you account for your being in the grounds?"

"Quite simply," he grinned. "I had followed a big squirrel going into
the lane in the afternoon and in the evening had come back to try and
find where its nest was. I wanted a baby-squirrel if I could get one."
He grinned again. "The tyre-lever was to knock the mother on the head if
she came for me. They are vicious little brutes."

"And they questioned you about talking to me by the gate on Monday?"
asked Clara. "The same woman who had seen you climb over into the lane
on the Friday afternoon recognised you again."

"I know," he scowled, "but I denied it. I denied I knew you. I denied I
had ever heard of Mrs. Fane, and I shall go on denying it. They had me
up to the police station three times to question me, but could prove
nothing and now they are leaving me alone." He let in the clutch and
started to move off. "So you just leave me alone, too," he called out in
parting, "and don't even stop me to speak again. You'll be a fool if you
do."

That was the last we were to hear of Anton for a long time, but two days
later, to my great consternation, his uncle, the artist, rang me up. As
I had been fearing, Caesar Sturm had entered in his diary all the
details of his visit to Paris and, going through it, the detectives had
come upon the mention of Tudor Meynall's name, with him as being one of
the artists for whom I had worked in Paris in my model days. Inspector
Stone had pounced upon it at once, guessing that Tudor would probably be
some relation of the Anton who drove the Eastbourne delivery van.

Tudor Meynall spoke now with the utmost kindness. "I have always been
interested in you," he said, "and of course, I read of your marriage in
the papers. I got the address of where you are now staying from the
housekeeper in Lowndes Square. How are things going with you?"

Wondering almost uneasily what had made him ring me up, I, however,
choked down my fears and spoke as brightly as I could. "Very well, thank
you, Mr. Meynall," I said. "I am very happily married and have two
lovely little boys."

"That's splendid," he said, "and with a mother such as you are I am sure
they are lovely." He spoke casually. "What I've rung you up to tell you
is this. Yesterday I had a visit from Scotland Yard who had come
enquiring about you when you sat for me in Paris those years ago. No,
don't be alarmed. They said they meant no harm to you and that their
enquiries were only to round up officially those they had been making
about that medium, Caesar Sturm, whom they recalled to me had met with
that mysterious accident those few days ago. They asked me if I knew you
had met him any time when you were in Paris."

"Oh, those detectives!" I exclaimed irritably. "They made a great
nuisance of themselves here, trying to ferret out things that could have
had nothing whatever to do with the man's death. I told them I had never
met him in Paris and that he was a perfect stranger to me until he came
down here." I spoke curiously. "But what on earth made them come to
question you?"

"That's what I asked them," he said, "and they were very evasive in
their replies. They wanted to know next if you knew that rascally nephew
of mine"--he laughed--"but they got nothing out of me there, as I told
them it would be news to me if you did. I shut them up sharply, saying I
knew nothing whatever about your private life. You were just a model to
me and that was all. I did add, however, that you were a young lady of
the highest reputation, respected by everybody."

I came away from the phone, thinking what a perfect gentleman Tudor
Meynall was. He probably guessed there had been something on between me
and Anton, but he didn't intend I should even be aware of any suspicions
he had about me.

Then I thought how dangerous those detectives were. Of course they were
realising perfectly well now that my life and that of Caesar Sturm had
crossed somewhere, but when and how they had no idea. They had no proof
of anything and all the information they had gathered was of no use to
them, as it lead them nowhere.

However, I had another shock the day before I was leaving Eastbourne.
Old Major Button called in in the afternoon for a cup of tea when,
fortunately, Clara was out. He was very full of a meeting he had had the
day previously with Larose. They had run into each other in the Strand
and gone into a hotel to have a drink, and Larose had twitted him about
the way he had been fooled at the séance when the medium had made out he
had raised the spirit of Abdul Khan, the Johore beater, from the dead.

"I admitted I had been fairly hooked in there," laughed the Major, "but,
still, I told him the whole séance had been a piece of amusing
play-acting with some nice little dramatic touches to make it go down.
He hadn't heard of you going off in a dead faint, and when I told him
about it and what it was had made you feel ill, he started questioning
me like any detective would. He wanted to know everything Sturm had said
about the military drowned-looking old man."

I felt myself grow cold with a horrid feeling of uneasiness stirring in
me at once. Had not Larose in his notes about those who had been living
in the house upon the moor put down that, besides the young girl Sturm
had wanted to know about, there had been a Colonel Jasper who had
afterwards been drowned. Then if he connected him in any way with my
attack of fainting, wouldn't he have guessed at once that I had been the
mysterious unknown girl who had been living there at the same time and
so of course had known the drowned-looking old man?

However, I was to hear worse than that of what he had told Larose, as he
had related to him next all about the next spirit whose throat was all
bloodied and torn.

"Oh, yes," ambled on the Major, "he was most interested in that second
spirit and said it was enough to make anyone feel ill."

Thinking over everything after the Major had gone, I felt quite sure
that whatever doubts Larose might have had before about my path and that
of Tod Bellamy having crossed before, earlier in our lives--he could
have no doubt about it now. That we had met he would be quite certain,
but I comforted myself greatly with the thought that that knowledge
could be of no use to him at all. He would be curious and that was all.

The next day my visit to Eastbourne was over and I returned to Lowndes
Square quite confident that the matter of the medium's death was closed.
About a week later Clara phoned me up that the adjourned inquest had
been held and, upon the direction of the coroner, the jury had returned
an open verdict. The man known to them as Caesar Sturm had met his death
from a bullet fired from a rifle, but by whom and under what
circumstances it was not known.

I was quite confident it never would be, and the consideration of it
troubled me no more. It might have been thought it would have been the
same with both the two great secrets of my life. However, unhappily it
was not exactly so there, as my mind often harked back to that report
Larose had made after he had paid that visit to the house upon the moor.

I was always remembering how he had written that when looking through
the windows he had seen what looked like papers and old exercise-books
lying about in one of the rooms and I knew some of them must have been
mine. So, I told myself there would be plenty of evidence connecting my
handwriting with that of the Polly Wiggs of all those years ago. I knew
that the chances of anyone ever using it against me were many millions
to one, but still that the evidence was there was always at the back of
my mind and it haunted me in an uneasy sort of way. I resolved that if
ever I got the opportunity I would return there for an hour or so and
get rid of all the papers in the kitchen grate.

I knew I should have no difficulty in getting into the house as, when an
adventure-loving girl I had often in fun climbed on to the flat roof
where the telescope had been and knew where the cover of a small
skylight close near could be lifted up. The screws of the hinges there
had rusted in the wood and I remembered the cover itself used to be
quite loose.

I never expected to get the opportunity of revisiting the house, but
strangely enough it came to me in the late spring of that same year. My
husband was intending to take a few weeks' fishing holiday and accepted
the loan of a friend's bungalow near Exmouth. So down there we all went,
but a week later my husband was called away to Aberdeen upon important
business. He would be away three days and my heart beat excitedly when I
realised my opportunity had come. Less than thirty miles separated us
from the moor house and I could do everything with plenty of time to
spare during the course of one single day.

So I set off the morning after my husband had gone, telling the maids I
was going to visit some friends in Torquay and they were to expect me
back when they saw me. I left about ten o'clock and, to general
appearances there was all promise of a fine day, though I was a little
apprehensive to note that the glass was falling slowly.

I was thrilled with the thought of the adventure. It was getting on for
nine years since I had left the moor house and I was intensely curious
as to how it would appear to me now. However, my feelings were not all
quite pleasurable ones. Certainly I had had a lot of happiness in my
three years there and the education I had received had opened the gates
to a new and wonderful life for me. But for that education I realise so
well that I should not be where I was, with the best of husbands, two
lovely children and indeed everything I could want in the way of money.

Still with all my happy and grateful memories of the Grey House, I had
yet something of a grudge against it as I was now regarding it in a
sinister light. It held that dark secret of my life and if its old walls
could have spoken what a downfall would be mine. I should be unmasked as
an impostor and in the eyes of the world be regarded as a bad woman,
which I was sure I certainly was not.

Well, now I told myself I was going to destroy that last remaining
evidence against me and after that, search as they might down all the
happenings of the years, nothing could ever be brought up against me.

All went all right upon my journey until I arrived at Chudleigh, only
about six or seven miles from my destination, and then my clutch began
to slip badly. I pulled into a garage to see what could be done. The man
there told me it would be quite a simple matter to be put right, but
that it would take a couple of hours. So, I wandered about the little
town while the repairs were being done, and bought some biscuits and
chocolate and a bag of apples to have a picnic meal later on.

At one o'clock I was upon the road again, though I could not say my car
was running at its best. It pulled badly and I had to drop into bottom
gear to climb the steep hill up on to the moor. Then, when only a few
hundred yards from where I was to turn off on to the ill-defined track
leading to the house I struck trouble again.

I was upon the wide open road when I came upon a man sitting by the
roadside having a meal and, with only a casual glance at him as I
approached nearer, made up my mind instantly that I would not give him a
lift even if he asked for one. He looked a tramp and a very
unprepossessing one at that. I was about to pass him with a wave of the
hand when to my disgust there was a loud bang behind me and I knew I had
got a blow-out in one of my back tyres.

Of course I had to pull up at once and, jumping out, stood ruefully
regarding the offending tyre. I should have to change the wheel and it
was a dirty business I always hated. The tramp was most interested and
came up with part of a loaf and a large knife in his hand and stood
beside me. He looked more horrible and dirty than ever, so much so that
I regarded the lonely road a little nervously. Obviously a foreigner, he
was dark and swarthy with a ragged unkempt beard and long hair reaching
down to his shoulders. He was wearing gold earrings and was clothed in
very dirty blue overalls. I thought he looked about forty.

"Good afternoon," I said after a moment's hesitation, "can you change
this wheel for me?"

He shook his head. "Spanish, no Inglish," he said, but when I tried him
in French his eyes opened very wide and he started to speak volubly. No,
he knew nothing about cars, he said, but he could undo any nuts if I
showed him what I wanted. He leered familiarly, he was always delighted
to do anything for the ladies, indeed his manner was so objectionable
that for some reason I felt afraid of him at once and wished I hadn't
let him know I spoke French so that we could carry on a conversation.

I got out the jack and propped up the wheel, with him making no attempt
to render any assistance. A noisy charabanc, crammed full with what I
supposed were tourists, came rumbling by and apparently to give his
passengers a good eyeful of us, the driver slowed down to almost a
walking pace in passing.

The passengers gave us a cheer and one of the men blew me a kiss, and my
companion was delighted. "They think we are sweethearts," he grinned
horribly, "and perhaps even that you are my little wife and we are upon
a honeymoon together."

Now more afraid of him than ever, I made no comment and handed him the
spanner to undo the nuts. He couldn't have been slower about it, talking
the whole time with his eyes more upon me than what he was doing. His
glances roved up and down all over me, taking in everything about me
many times, my legs and figure in particular appearing to interest him.
He looked at my wrist-watch and my rings, too, and it made me the more
uneasy that he kept peering up and down the road as if to see if any
other cars were coming.

"The car which has just gone by," he remarked with his horrid grin, "is
the only one I have seen all day. This must be a very lonely road."

Then he started telling me about his private affairs, that he was a
seaman, a Spanish South American and had recently come off a ship in
Plymouth, and was walking to Bristol, where he had got a brother, to get
another one. He had got a young wife in Rio de Janeiro, he added, but
she was a bad woman and he knew she went with other men while he was
away. Then he became very curious about me and wanted to know where I
was going and if I should be returning this way, to both of which
queries I told him sharply they were my private affairs.

I was very relieved when at last the wheel was fixed, but when I opened
my purse to pay him for his services I found I had only a shilling and
sixpence in silver and so had to give him a ten-shilling note. I saw his
eyes sparkle when he saw the little roll from which I had taken it. He
thanked me profusely and, thrusting himself so close to me that I could
smell the sour, rank smell of his body, declared that all his life long
he had found pretty women the easiest to deal with. For the ugly ones he
said he had no time. I cut the conversation off sharply and made to get
back into the car, but he deliberately planted himself before the door
and, bending down his head to a level with mine, with that horrible leer
upon his face, opened and shut his lips several times, as if inviting me
to kiss him.

I was so furious that, forgetting all my fears I thrust my arm forward
and pushed him away. Rather to my surprise, he took it all in good part
and, moving to one side let me get into the car and bang the door behind
me.

"I like a little spirit in a woman," he laughed, "and so off you go
before you tempt me any further."

I drove off in great relief, thinking it a most unpleasant encounter and
regarding the man as nothing short of a sexual maniac. With his horrible
gloating face, he was the most animal-like man I had ever met. When a
few hundred yards farther on I turned off the road into the track
leading to the Grey House, glancing half round, I was not too pleased to
see him standing still, watching me.

The nearly two miles of track took much longer to negotiate than I had
anticipated, as the going was very heavy and I was most uneasy in
speculating as to what its condition would be like if even a little more
rain came, and it certainly did not look as if the fine weather would
continue much longer.

Arriving at length at the lonely squat house set in the basin between
the surrounding tors, I thought with a pang that things could not look
more gloomy. By now the sky had become black and overcast and the house
looked most uncared-for and unhospitable. However, running the car into
one of the open sheds, I set about what I had come for as quickly as
possible.

As I had anticipated I had no difficulty at getting into the house by
way of the flat roof and I tiptoed down the stairs on to the ground
floor with my heart beating painfully. Obviously the whole place was
being terribly neglected, as there were many places where the roof was
leaking badly, indeed the big kitchen and the passage beyond it seemed
the only part of the house where the flooring was perfectly dry.

In the darkened rooms with the light filtering eerily through the
shuttered windows the whole atmosphere of the place was most depressing
and I shuddered, though it was not from cold. The barring shutters
looked too complicated to undo, but I threw wide open both doors to let
in some fresh air.

Practically all the furniture had been removed, but some comparatively
worthless articles were still there, some kitchen utensils, four or five
plain chairs, the heavy kitchen table and the old-fashioned dresser.
Looking quickly round, in Colonel Jasper's study I came upon the papers
and books which Larose had seen through the window, a whole pile of them
which almost filled one corner of the room. Newspapers, old magazines,
books with damaged covers and old discarded exercise books of mine. I
held my breath in consternation at the amount of evidence there was that
once one, Polly Wiggs, had been living there.

Upon the outside of more than one exercise-book I had written my name in
the bold sprawling handwriting of a young girl and, most damning of all,
upon the cover of one was gummed a snapshot taken of me upon one of the
very rare occasions when I had been to Plymouth with Colonel Jasper.

I had forgotten all about it, but I remembered now it had cost a
shilling and been taken by an itinerant photographer upon the Hoe.
Underneath the snap, my old master had written in his crabbed
handwriting, "Our Polly, July 16th, 1921."

Tears welled up into my eyes. How kind he had been to me and with what
affection he had worked so hard to give me an education that would raise
me up from the drab little servant girl I had been when I had first come
to him. I sighed heavily. If he were looking down from some far-off
spirit land and knew everything, I asked myself uneasily exactly what he
would be thinking of me now. Would he be proud of the way I had profited
by his kindness and loving care, or would he be grieving that I had put
them to a base use and was living, as I would have to live all my life
now, as an impostor?

But I pulled myself up sharply. It was not time for speculating and
sentimental memories. I must get rid of all these books and papers. I
would burn them on the huge old-fashioned kitchen hearth which was quite
spacious enough to have roasted an entire sheep on the spit, and I
realised it was going to be a race against time, as the afternoon was
waning and there were all signs that one of the so-dreaded moorland
mists was rising.

And I soon saw the burning was not going to be a simple easy matter, as
the top layers of the papers were damp, and it was quite an appreciable
time before I could get a good fire started. Then I could not throw
everything on in armfuls, but had to separate all the papers and old
books and give them one by one to the flames.

Every few minutes, too, I kept running backwards and forwards to the
open door of the house to note what the weather was like. However, there
was nothing heartening there as the sky looked more black and gloomy
than ever and the mist was certainly getting thicker. I grew more
fearful than ever that it would deepen to a fog and blot everything out.

I hurried feverishly, but it was well past four o'clock before I had got
the last of the papers burning. By then there was a huge pile of ashes
on the hearth, but I stirred them well with an old broom handle and at
last was confident there were no pieces large enough for anyone to make
out any handwriting.

Then, just as I was looking round to make sure I had burnt
everything--my blood froze in my veins and I gasped in terror at the
sound of heavy footsteps coming up the passage from the direction of the
front door. Paralysed in my fright, I could not move hand or foot, but
just stood stock still as immovable as a graven image.

The footsteps came nearer and nearer, the kitchen door was flung wide
open and, to my dire consternation, I saw the dark-faced seaman whom I
had met upon the road now entering the room. He was grinning, with his
usual horrible leering look.

"Ah, I was sure it would be you," he exclaimed with a chuckling laugh.
"A man I spoke to after you had left me told me there was a short cut
over the moor here and, hoping I should see you again, inclined me to
take it." His eyes roved round. "Whose house is this? Is no one living
here?"

With a supreme effort I pulled myself together and found my voice. "This
house is private," I said hoarsely. "You are trespassing. The gentleman
it belongs to may arrive any minute. You had better not be found here."

He grinned evilly. "But I'm doing no harm, am I? The track leads onto
Okehampton and I'm going there."

"There is no further track," I said sharply. "It stops here and leads
nowhere. You had better get back on to the main road as quickly as you
can. There's a fog coming and if you're not quick you won't find your
way."

"The fog's come already," he said. "Outside you can barely see twenty
yards before you, and this is as far as I'll go tonight." He unbuckled
the knapsack from his shoulders and threw it down on to the floor. He
grinned his evil grin again. "If that gent you are expecting don't come
quickly he'll never be able to find the house." He regarded me
impudently. "Any wood about, do you know? We shall want some to keep
that fire going. It's going to be bitter cold tonight."

The horror of the implication of his words struck at me like a blow and
I stared blankly at him.

"I asked you if there was any wood about," he said roughly. "Don't you
know?"

"No, I don't," I replied sharply, "and if there is you've no business to
use it." I tried to hide my mounting terror and spoke as casually as I
could. "Well, I'm going off now and, when that gentleman I told you
about arrives, please tell him I thought I'd better not wait," and I
moved off towards the door.

The man's face was a study. He was scowling hard and obviously in two
minds what to do. That he was half intending to stop me I was sure, but
on the other hand he was not quite certain as to whether I had been
bluffing or not when I had said I was expecting someone else to arrive
any moment, and so for the moment did not dare. At any rate he made no
attempt to interfere with me and let me pass, contenting himself with
following closely after me as I went outside.

Then--oh, the terror that surged through me again when I saw what the
conditions outside were like. Even in the last few minutes they had
greatly worsened. The mist had deepened and clung so thickly to the
ground that I could only just make out my feet as I hurried over to the
shed where I had left my car. With a fearful pang I knew that if it got
any worse I should have the greatest difficulty in keeping to the long
track leading on to the high moor road and, in places, the slightest
deviation from it would be disastrous.

Mine must have been the only car which for months had passed along it
and it would be my own wheel ruts which I should have to follow. There
were several quite long stretches along the track where the ground on
either side of it was dangerously boggy and Heaven help me if I ran the
car into them. I knew there would be no hope of my getting out of them
by myself.

However, determining with a brave effort not to meet my difficulties
until I came to them, I hoped for the best, my only thought now, being
to get away from this dreadful seaman. Anything, I told myself, rather
than remain in his company.

Reaching my car, I sprang on to the driver's seat and pressed upon the
self-starter. Nothing happened. It did not turn over the engine. A
little apprehensive I tried again. Still nothing! Next, I pressed for
quite a long time and a dreadful fear filled me when not only did the
engine not start but I felt the current from the self-starter weakening
and actually beginning to die away. I waited a full minute before trying
again. It was just the same. The battery was almost dead.

And all the time the man had been standing as close to the car as he
could get, with his head half projecting through the window and his eyes
intently watching every movement I made. Upon my third unsuccessful
attempt to start the car, I imagined he drew in a deep breath of
satisfaction. He stepped back a pace or two and an oily smile replaced
the frown upon his face. He eyed me again in his horrible would-be
possessive way.

Now I always take credit that in that dreadful moment of my life I did
not give way to panic and that my expression gave no indication of the
terror I was in, though I was quite aware of the deadly peril which was
now facing me.

There was I with night coming on, in as desolate a place as anyone could
imagine, miles from any other house, alone with a man whom every womanly
instinct in me told me was no whit better than an animal where his
inclinations were concerned. And what chance was there of any help
coming to me? None at all! Even if anyone were aware of the peril I was
in, no one could come to save me, for, with the fog closing down, it
would be impossible to reach the house, and in a few minutes it would be
as if the man and I were cut off from everyone else in the world.

However, I certainly had one hope left. It might be the car could yet be
started with the handle. I knew I could not swing it myself, but it was
possible the man could and, at any rate, I would try to bribe him to
attempt it.

I jumped out of the car and getting the handle from the back held it out
to him. "Here," I ordered peremptorily, "you start it with this. It's
quite easy and I'll show you how to do it. I'll give you ten shillings
if you do." I spoke quite casually. "I want to get away quickly now."

But he shook his head and refused to take the handle "Not I," he
scoffed. "I've heard of its breaking a man's arm." He spoke with obvious
sarcasm. "You'll have to wait until your friend arrives."

I made no attempt to press him, knowing it would be quite useless.
Instead, I jumped on to the driver's seat again and pressed upon the
self-starter once more. It was deader than ever, and I gave it up at
once. I sat on where I was--considering. The one and only hope now of
escaping from my enemy was to take him off his guard and vanish into the
fog before he could catch me. With the fog, as it was, growing denser
and denser, I reckoned a dozen yards start and he would not be able to
see to follow me.

There was one thing, too, greatly in my favour. I knew exactly where the
track began and he didn't. All just round the house the ground was hard
and stony, and the wheel marks of the car could not be picked up until a
good twenty and more yards away.

I looked at the man out of the corner of my eyes. Certainly, he was
lithe and agile looking, but then I knew seamen were never good runners
and that I had another advantage over him there.

I got out of the car. "I'm going into the house," I said. "I shall wait
for my friend there. It's getting much too cold and damp here." He
followed me as close almost as my shadow.

Pulling up one of the chairs I seated myself before the still
smouldering fire, while he took another one and sat and watched me. We
neither of us spoke and in a few moments even the silence became so
unnerving that I wanted to scream. I could feel his eyes upon me all the
time and was sure that if I turned round I should find him regarding me
with that horrible gloating look. The room began to get darker and
darker, and a very few minutes were as much as I could stand. The time
had now come to put everything to the test.

With a yawn I said as casually as I could. "You had better go and get
something to put on the fire. There are some pieces of wood in the room
at the end of the passage. Also you'll find two hurricane lamps there.
Bring them in and see if you can light them. There is probably some oil
left in them."

But he made no attempt to move. "Plenty of time yet," he smiled, "and
then you can come with me and show me where everything is. It is still
quite warm here and--" but he suddenly stopped speaking and turned his
head round in the attitude of one who had heard something.

For the moment I heard nothing and then upon my startled and amazed ears
fell the faint sound of the chug-chugging of a distant motor bicycle. My
heart almost stopped beating. It was impossible! It could not be one!

The seaman was as incredulous as was I, and with his mouth opened wide
and his eyes almost bulging from his head, sat still as death to listen.

The chugging stopped for a few seconds, but came on again and continued
in jerks. There was no doubt about it. It was a motor bicycle and the
rider was evidently coming very slowly to keep to the track.

Oh, the exultation in my heart! It was like being reprieved from a most
horrible form of death. I sprang to my feet and ran, followed closely as
before by the seaman, to the open door. The chugs were much louder now.
Louder and louder they came and then through the fog, to me like an
angel from Heaven, burst the muffled and be-goggled figure of a man upon
his machine.

He caught sight of us at once and riding straight up to us, pulled up
and dropped the motor-cycle on to its stand. Next, with a flourish he
pulled off his goggles and with one hand brushed away the moisture from
his eyes. Looking up at last, his eyes met mine and I gasped in
amazement.

The man was Gilbert Larose.




CHAPTER X.--THE CURTAIN FALLS.


Now if I were astonished at the so dramatic appearance of Larose, his
face was the very picture of amazement, too.

"You, here?" he asked incredulously, "It's really you."

"Yes, it's me!" I choked. "It's really me!"

He was evidently about to ask further questions, but apparently seeing I
was upon the verge of tears, turned tactfully to the seaman who was
standing beside me. "Good afternoon," he said, "or considering how late
it is, perhaps I had better make it good evening!"

The man's face was as black as thunder. "No, Ingleesh," he scowled,
shaking his head vigorously, whereupon Larose turned back to me. "Who is
he?" he asked curiously.

With a great effort I steadied my voice. "He's a Spanish seaman just off
a Plymouth boat," I said. I went on hurriedly. "He's a horrible man. I
met him on the road this afternoon and he followed me here. My battery
has run down and he wouldn't help me start the car, so that--" I was
trembling like a leaf--"I should be compelled to spend the night alone
with him. I am terrified of him."

The face of Larose hardened. "Oh, that's it, is it?" he said. He nodded.
"Well, you'll be all right now."

"But you look out," I went on breathlessly. "Don't let him get behind
you. I'm sure he's dangerous. I'll tell you everything presently."

"Good," said Larose. "I'll watch him,"--he made a motion with his arm to
the man to precede him into the house--"but first, I'll bring this
machine of mine into the passage. This dampness will be doing it no
good." He turned to look at the fog. "Whew, isn't it thick now? I only
got here just in time."

"Yes, only just in time," I said brokenly. "In another few minutes I was
going to rush out to try to escape somehow." I shivered. "Anything
rather than be alone with this man any longer."

Larose looked at me compassionately. "Poor girl," he smiled, "you seem
to have been having a bad time, but don't worry. It's all over now."
Entering the big kitchen, he became practical. "But this is awful," he
said. "Can't we unearth some sort of light anywhere?"

"There are two hurricane lanterns in a room up the passage," I said,
"and they may have some oil in them. Then there are several broken
packing-cases and we can get the wood to put on the fire. There may some
coal left, too, in the cellar."

"Ah, the fire!" he exclaimed. He pointed to the big heap of ashes and
smiled. "That's your work, I expect, burning all the books and papers
that were here?"

"Yes, I was here alone by myself for a long time before this man came,"
I said. I turned the conversation. "But let's go after those lamps and
that wood before it gets quite dark. We must take the man with us to
help carry them. I tell you I'm sure he's dangerous and you mustn't let
him out of your sight for one second. He must be furious that you've
come." My voice began to choke again. "He was so positive that he'd get
me in his power and----"

"Never mind about that now," broke in Larose. "You can tell me about it
later." He looked back at the seaman. "But it'll be a job to make him
understand what he's got to do, won't it?"

I shook my head. "No, he speaks French and so do I," I said, and I
turned to the seaman and told him what he had to do. To my surprise, he
was now all smiles and amiable and readily agreed to help us. So the
wood and lamps were brought in and to my delight we found there was
plenty of oil left in the containers of the latter. I sent the man down
into the cellar to look for coal and he returned with a good armful.
"Plenty more there," he grinned, "enough to last us a month or two."

With the lamps burning and a good fire blazing up, the kitchen soon
began to take on a more cheerful outlook. "But," asked Larose with a sly
smile, "how long do you think this fog may last?"

I made no pretence of having no opinion, but replied readily enough. "If
it were winter," I said, "it might last for a week, but at this time of
the year it is quite likely to have all cleared off by the morning. But
still, that's only guess-work, for one can never be certain of anything
up here."

"Well, about food," said Larose. "I've got a few things in my carrier,
as I'm really upon a camping-holiday. I've got some bread rolls, a
little butter, some cheese and two tins of corned beef." He looked as
happy as a schoolboy. "Also, I dare say it will please you that I've got
condensed milk, tea and a good old Australian billy to brew it up in."

"And I've got biscuits," I said, "some chocolate and a bag of apples."

"Good," said Larose, "then we can have quite a satisfactory meal." He
looked towards the seaman. "But what about our ugly-looking friend
here?"

"Oh, at any rate he's got bread and cheese," I said, "as he was having a
meal off them when I first met him. Also, he must have some spirits in
his knapsack, as he smells horribly of them."

So the food was brought out and we had quite a merry meal, with the
seaman sharing one of the tins of beef. Also, the latter produced a
good-sized flask of rum nearly full, and offered it round. However, it
was declined with thanks and so he himself proceeded to drink
generously.

The meal over, Larose said smilingly, "Now, I think Mrs. Fane, that you
owe me some explanation. Don't you think so, too?"

"What about?" I asked innocently.

"Firstly," he replied, "why you told us an untruth when you said you had
never met that Caesar Sturm before you met him at the race-meeting at
Lewes; and secondly, why are you so anxious that no one should know you
lived in this house at the time when that Colonel Jasper was here, and
thirdly, why you thought it necessary to make the long journey to here
just to destroy all those old papers."

"And why do you want to know all these things?" I asked. "They can have
nothing whatever to do with how that man came to meet his death. You
know quite well I could have had no part in that."

"I know that," he agreed, "but still"--he shrugged his shoulders--"well,
I suppose it was mostly curiosity that prompted me to break my journey
here this afternoon. As I've just said I am upon holiday now and,
crossing over the moor, I thought it worth while to come a little out of
my way to see what I could find out." He laughed. "You see I hate being
beaten, Mrs. Fane, and you know you and Mrs. Hume have certainly beaten
us in more than one thing, so much so that my good friend Inspector
Stone is still like a bear with a sore head whenever he thinks of either
of you."

"And if I tell you," I asked, "how are you going to use your knowledge?"

"I'm not going to use it at all," he said quickly. "As far as Scotland
Yard is concerned, I promise you the whole matter of the medium's death
is closed. Against all our instincts to the contrary, we are now
regarding it as having been an accident from the shooting of one of
those undiscovered rabbiters." He spoke with the utmost earnestness.

"So, anything you tell me now, upon my honour, I assure you is quite off
the record."

"Then part of what you want to know I'll tell you," I said. "I spoke the
truth in telling you that when I was introduced to Caesar Sturm at Lewes
I had no idea we had ever met before. But that afternoon when he
followed me into the lane to speak to me I learnt I was wrong. When I
was living here--I'll have to admit that--he arrived one night and was
given shelter in a storm. He knew that Colonel Jasper had a valuable
collection of gold coins and a few weeks later he came to steal them. He
tried first to poison some savage Alsatian dogs we had here, but it
didn't come off and he had to bolt for his life when that Colonel Jasper
went after him with a rifle."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" commented Larose. "And you must have been quite
a young girl then?"

"Just over sixteen," I nodded.

"But why are you so anxious no one should know you lived here," asked
Larose, "and why was that so-called Caesar Sturm so wanting to find out
what had been your position in the household?" He eyed me very intently.
"Tell me, strictly between ourselves, was Colonel Jasper your father?"

I had to laugh and I think Larose realised my laughter was genuine.
"Certainly not," I said, "though I don't think he would have been fonder
of me if he had been." I spoke pleadingly. "Look here, Mr. Larose, I
want my little secret there to remain mine only and I assure you that if
I told you everything you would only be amused."

"Very well, then," smiled Larose. "I'll let it go at that, but now about
your adventures in Paris? What had he found out about you there?"

"Really, actually nothing," I said, "but he had somehow stumbled upon a
half-truth and might have made my life a misery by the blackmail he was
threatening me with, if he had lived to carry out his threat. I admit
frankly that it was a mercy for me that he died when he did."

"Now one more question," said Larose and he spoke with the utmost
sternness. "On your honour, have you any idea how that man came to die?
Did your sister-in-law have anything whatever to do with his death?"

I spoke as solemnly and emphatically as I could. "Upon my honour, no,
Mr. Larose. She was as horrified as I was at the scandal and suspicion
which fell upon us all. I am positive she is as much in the dark as we
all are."

"All right," said Larose. "I believe you." He smiled a rather sly smile.
"But, another thing. Does your husband know you were coming here today?"

I know I must have looked horrified at the idea. "No, no," I cried, "he
doesn't know anything about it and though I know he would never believe
anything wrong about me, I am sure he would feel very hurt if he came to
learn I was keeping anything back from him. The family and I happen to
be staying about thirty miles from here, but he has had to go up to
Scotland and will not be with us again until tomorrow evening. Then, in
a foolish moment, I thought I would come here and burn all these papers.
If I get back before tomorrow evening everything will be all right and
he will never know."

"And you'll be back by then," said Larose confidently. "I'll see to
that." He turned the conversation. "And now about this new friend of
yours who's been staring so hard at us all the time we've been talking.
I certainly don't like his looks, but why does he so frighten you?"

I told Larose about our meeting on the moor road and how he had scared
me from the very first moment. "He began looking at me at once in a
horrible way," I choked, "my legs, my body and every part of me. He kept
on thrusting himself so close to me, too, that every moment I was
terrified he was going to catch hold of me. I hadn't been with him for
five minutes either before he leered at me that he loved pretty girls
and petted them every time he got the chance. Every instinct in me told
me he was a man it was unsafe for any woman to be alone with and he kept
looking up and down the lonely road in a way that made me feel sick with
fright. Except for that one charabanc nothing passed us all the time."

"And when he came here," frowned Larose, "he didn't actually attempt to
molest you?"

"No, because I had told him I was expecting a friend to arrive every
moment," I said, "and he didn't quite know whether to believe me or not.
But, when the fog was getting thicker and thicker every minute and he
saw I couldn't start the car, he refused to help me and looked so
gloating and triumphant about it that I felt as I were going to faint in
my fright. Then I---" but suddenly I felt ashamed of myself and asked
falteringly, "But do you think I was a fool imagining everything?"

Larose shook his head. "No, I don't," he said very gravely. "On the
contrary I think you were in as dreadful a position as any woman could
be. I know this fellow's type well. We see such a lot like him down at
the London Docks, hot-blooded Latin-Americans who are all what you say.
Sex-starved upon their long voyages, they are like animals when they get
on shore. They are always getting into fights, too, about their women.
Life's cheap where they come from and, upon very little provocation,
they whip out their knives." He looked at the Spaniard out of the corner
of his eyes. "I'll bet he's got one tucked away somewhere."

"He has," I said fearfully, "and its like a dagger. He was cutting his
bread with it when I first met him."

"But don't be frightened," said Larose. "He won't get up to any tricks
now I'm here. As a rule, his class of men are not dangerous until their
tempers are roused."

We talked on for a long while and I found Larose a most agreeable
companion, realising, too, that he was one of those men whom you can
trust absolutely. I thought that of all the men I knew I couldn't wish
for a better protector than I had now. When he decided it was about time
for us to try to get some sleep, he fetched the seat from my car and,
with the big rug which I always took about with me from there, too, made
me quite a comfortable-looking bed in the passage.

"You shall sleep here," he said, "and the man and I will be in the
kitchen. I'll make a bed on two chairs and he'll have to pass me to get
at you. So you'll be quite alright." He frowned, "I don't think I shall
attempt to go to sleep, as the fine gentleman seems to be rather funny
tonight. He's been too quiet for my liking. He's evidently been thinking
a lot." He nodded, "I wonder what about."

I laid down and, making myself as comfortable as I could, closed my
eyes, not expecting, however, to get any sleep. I had been through so
much anxiety during the day and my nerves were in such a state of
tension that I thought sleep would be quite impossible.

I heard the others in the kitchen getting ready, as I thought for bed;
on Larose's part a scraping of the chairs and on the seaman's the
plumping down somewhere of the heavy boots he announced earlier to me
that he was going to take off to ease his aching feet. Then a deep
intense silence filled the house. From where I was lying I could not see
into the kitchen, but the flickering shadows upon the wall of the
passage told me the fire was still burning well. Larose had said he was
not certain how long the oil in the hurricane lamps would hold out and
so was going to keep a bright fire to enable him to keep a good watch
upon his companion.

The minutes passed and I began to feel drowsy, my thoughts became the
less and less coherent and, hours sooner than I had expected, I dropped
into a heavy and coma-like sleep.

As I learnt later I must have slept nearly three hours, and then a dream
came into my sleep, as dreadful and vivid a dream as I ever remember,
before or since.

Sakao, the wolf, was chasing me, and as when too exhausted to run a step
further, I turned to face him, I saw he was about to spring at my
throat. The fur upon his neck was bristling, his eyes were shining like
balls of fire and with his mouth wide open and dripping froth I saw the
huge fangs which were about to tear the life out of me.

I gave a shrill scream of terror and it was my own scream which woke me.

Then with all my senses still half-drugged from sleep, upon my startled
ears came a succession of crashing sounds from the kitchen. It seemed
that chairs were being flung about, that the hurricane lamp had been
thrown on to the floor and more horrifying than all, I heard a cry from
Larose, followed by a snarling shout of triumph which I knew could have
only come from the seaman.

For only a very few seconds did I seem to lose my presence of mind and
then I threw off the rug which covered me and darted like an arrow into
the kitchen. The room itself was half in darkness as the hurricane was
lying extinguished somewhere upon the floor and there was only the
flickering light of the fire which enabled me to see what was happening,
but what I did see made me feel sick with terror.

With all his watchful intentions, I realised Larose must have fallen
asleep to be awakened by my scream and find himself in deadly peril. I
took in everything in a lightning glance.

Larose was prone upon his back on the floor. The seaman was astride his
chest, with one hand pinioning his right arm to the floor and with the
other endeavouring to plunge the large and dagger shaped knife into his
throat. But Larose had caught the man's wrist there and was holding it
away, though it was only an inch or two from piercing the flesh.

I did not hesitate an instant, but spring forward seized the seaman's
long hair with both my hands and tugged fiercely to pull his head back.
The muscles of his neck were like bars of steel and I did not quite
succeed in my effort. Still, the fury of my tugging undoubtedly
unbalanced him, as Larose was able to slant the dagger away from
menacing his throat. Then with a lightning movement of his wrist he
twisted the man's arm right round until the dagger point now threatened
him.

Some spasmodic gasps on both sides and then, still grasped convulsively
in the man's own hand, with a mighty effort Larose forced the dagger
upwards to plunge deeply into the man's own throat.

It was all over in a few seconds. The man gave a dreadful gurgling
squeal and the blood gushed in torrents from the wound as he crumpled up
like a limp rag. Larose flung the body away from him and sprang to his
feet. His first thought was for me.

"Don't look," he ordered hoarsely. "You get out of this. Go back into
the passage," and I obeyed him instantly. I flung myself down on my
improvised bed, and for a minute or two was sure I was going to be
violently sick. My heart was beating like a sledge hammer, and I pressed
hard upon my eyes with fingers to shut out what I had seen.

However, gradually I calmed down and was able to take in what was going
on in the kitchen. Larose had succeeded in relighting the lamp, and I
could hear him moving softly about the room. I heard him go out into the
other passage and, as he trod heavily and slowly I guessed he was taking
the body of the seaman away. I had no doubt about the man being dead.

Next I heard a splashing of water in the sink--Larose seemed to be quite
a long time there--and then came a long silence. At last Larose put his
head round the kitchen door. "You can come in now, Mrs. Fane," he said
gently. "There's nothing to distress you. I've taken it away."

I walked unsteadily into the kitchen, where the fire was burning
brightly again. Larose came up close to me, and feeling for my hand,
took it and held it, looking down at me very intently with eyes that I
guessed were moist with tears.

"Thank you, so very much, Mrs. Fane," he said softly. "I won't say more,
but I know you will understand." He pressed my hand tenderly, but then
let it go with a jerk and turned his eyes away and sighed.

Tears welled up into my eyes. I wanted to cry and, much as I loved my
husband, would have liked to have buried my head on Larose's shoulder. I
am sure he sensed the emotional stress I was in, for he reached out
again and took my hand. He lifted it to his lips. "My first and last
kiss, Marie." He bowed. "From now on always your most devoted slave. You
are one of the bravest women I have ever met," and he dropped my hand
again as abruptly as he had done before.

"But I'm not really brave," I said, "I think it was temper more than
anything that made me seize his hair. I was furious to think that he had
got the better of you."

"And, indeed, he had," said Larose solemnly. "It was a dreadful thing my
going off to sleep." A thought struck him. "But how on earth did you
come to give me that warning scream. From where you were lying you
couldn't have seen into here."

"I didn't," I said and I told him what had happened.

"Well, it came exactly at the right moment," he said, "as it gave me
that split second to roll off my chairs before he was upon me." He
laughed. "And your pulling his hair was a master stroke. You could have
done nothing better. No kicks or blows such as you could have given him
would have been any use." He pointed to a chair. "Now you sit down and
we'll talk things over. First, here are what I found in his pockets."

"That's the ten shilling note I gave him," I said with a shudder at the
recollection of my meeting him on the high moor road.

"Well, that and these few shillings were all the money he had," said
Larose, "So we can understand why he was interested in the roll of notes
you let him see in your bag. Now, here's a discharge in Plymouth from
the steamer Janeeta exactly a week ago of a fireman Carlos Vasco, so we
can be pretty sure that was his name. And here's another name, Philip
Vasco, of 17, River Lane, Bristol. That of course is the fisherman
brother whom he told you he was going to see."

"Oh, burn everything," I said impatiently, "so that his body will never
be able to be identified."

Larose shook his head. "I'm afraid we can't hope that, Mrs. Fane," he
said. He spoke very solemnly. "We are in a very awkward position, for it
looks as if there is going to be a lot of publicity about the death of
this man. I hate to tell you, but I don't see how you can escape being
brought into it, too."

"Why--why," I exclaimed with a dreadful fear beginning to surge up into
me, "I was certain that you'd leave him here to be discovered by the
next person who came to the house, which mightn't be perhaps for years
and years. No one could ever learn then who'd come here with him."

Larose shook his head again. "But I'm afraid it's not going to be as
easy as that," he said, and he took a key out of his pocket and held it
up for me to see. "Yesterday I went to the house-agent in Torquay and,
as a possible purchaser, borrowed this to look over the place. Worse
even than that, the man said he himself was coming out here very shortly
to see how the roof was standing up to the rough weather." He made a
grimace. "So you see that anyhow I am in it up to the neck, and will
have to tell the police."

His words broke upon my astounded ears like a thunderclap. My mind had
been so filled with relief at the thought that the seaman was dead that
I had given no thought at all about anything else. Now the awful
possibilities of what might be going to happen made me gasp in my
dismay.

"Then my husband and everyone will learn that I came here?" I exclaimed
wildly. "This secret of mine which I want no one to know will become
known everywhere and broadcast in the newspapers."

I burst into tears at last. "I would rather that vile man had killed
me."

Larose was obviously upset at my distress. "You know I'd make any
sacrifice I could," he said earnestly, "if it would be the slightest
good to you in any way"--he frowned--"even if I had to perjure myself,
but I can't think of anything I could say or do to help you."

"But couldn't you leave me out altogether," I wailed, "and make no
mention of having seen me here?"

"I could," he replied at once, "but the police won't do it. Directly
they learn of the way this man met his death they are bound to want to
question you, as probably the last person except me to see him alive.
Then, when they see your wheel-marks to and from this house, they'll be
intensely curious to know what you were doing here in this lonely place
all by yourself, if you gave the man a lift here or if he followed you
against your wishes. If we make any mystery of anything they'll suspect
something at once."

"But how will they ever be able to learn," I asked petulantly, "about me
ever having set eyes upon the man at all?"

"You forget the charabanc of tourists," he said very gravely, "which
went by when he was helping you to change your wheel, and aren't both of
you people to be remembered?" He smiled sadly. "Beauty and the beast!
You, a prepossessingly young woman all by yourself with your
fine-looking expensive car and he a repulsive mahogany-faced foreigner
with earrings and long hair! Why, directly the story of the horrible
form of death a Scotland Yard detective had to give him to save his own
life becomes known--the story will be red-hot news for the sensational
newspapers and everyone will be talking about it. Then don't you think
some of those charabanc people will go rushing to the police and say,
'Oh, yes, I saw him talking with a pretty girl in her car not far from
the house where that detective must have stabbed him?'"

"But how will they find me?" I quavered. "I left no traces coming here
that they can pick up."

"My dear Mrs. Fane," said Larose with a deep sigh, "you began to leave
the clearest of traces in the first village you passed leaving Exeter.
As I have said, a woman such as you in a car such as yours would be
remarked upon everywhere when you were on the road, particularly in the
comparatively slack time in the middle of the week." A sudden thought
seemed to strike him and he asked sharply. "What about Chudleigh? You
say your car was in the local garage there for upward of two hours, then
was there anything in it that would give any clue as to whom you are,
even if they didn't take the car number which they usually do?"

My stomach heaved over in my fright. "My driving-licence was in one of
the pockets," I faltered, "and I think I had left some of my
visiting-cards in a pigeon-hole on the dashboard."

Larose made no comment and went on, "Then, when they take the
finger-marks in these rooms they'll find hundreds of yours, many many
more than you can find now and wipe away. They'll see they're a woman's
at once and, directly they have identified them as yours, they'll know
you passed a long, long time in the house, and guess, probably that you
stayed the night here." He shrugged his shoulders despondently and
asked. "So what can I do? If I attempt to leave you out I should create
a mystery and that will make the whole trouble a hundred times worse."

Then to Larose's obvious astonishment, he could see that all of a sudden
I was smiling. Still, he would have thought that the smile was a forced
one, as my hands were shaking like a gambler who was about to make his
last throw with the dice.

"Mr. Larose," I said quietly, "I take you to be a brave man and, more
than that, one who is not afraid to take risks."

Larose frowned. He told me afterwards that he wondered what on earth was
coming. However, he made no comment.

I went on speaking quickly because I was upon tenterhooks to get over
what I had to say. "Now there is quite an easy way out of all this," I
said, "quite a simple one which was tried once many years ago and proved
quite successful." I held his eyes with mine. "But, first, I shall have
to be more frank with you than I have been up to now and keep nothing
back. I have told you that, when that man I was to know later as Caesar
Sturm came here after Colonel Jasper's gold coins, he didn't succeed in
getting them, as the Colonel drove him away with a hail of bullets from
his rifle."

"And that was true?" asked Larose, because I had stopped speaking to get
my breath.

"Quite true," I nodded, "but I should have added that he came with
another man who was not so fortunate in getting away. He did not return
home and is still here?"

"What?" queried Larose with his eyes opened very widely.

I shook my head. "No," I said with my voice trembling, "he had his
throat torn out. Unbeknown to anyone in the district, Colonel Jasper was
keeping a pet wolf here and he set him on to him. Caesar Sturm ran back
to try to save him, but he was too late, though he killed the wolf."

"And you saw it all?" asked Larose with horrified eyes. "What a dreadful
secret for a young girl to have to keep!"

"Yes, and I was not much more than sixteen at the time," I said, "and
that wretched Sturm brought everything up so vividly at the séance I
thought it was the genuine spirit of the dead man which had come into
the room. Do you wonder it upset me?"

In reply Larose reached his hand across the table and laid it gently
upon one of mine. The kind and sympathetic smile which accompanied this
action made it easier all at once for what more I was intending to say.

"Well," I began in matter of fact tones, "Colonel Jasper found himself
then in exactly the same difficulty we are in now. Living in this lonely
house so far away from all help, he dreaded the publicity his valuable
gold coins would get and how it might suggest to others to come after
them. And another thing--he knew the fearful censure which would fall
upon him for having, in a farming district like this, kept a tame wolf
here. The animal had escaped upon several nights from his cage and
killed quite a number of sheep. He had been seen by lots of people but
they had never been close enough to recognise him as a wolf. So, with
these difficulties confronting him, Colonel Jasper----"

"Did what you are now going to suggest I should do," broke in Larose
with an ominous shake of his head--"say nothing to the police and give
this man's body a private burial somewhere in a lonely part of the moor,
trusting to good fortune the place may never be discovered." He frowned.
"But I don't like these private burial grounds, Mrs. Fane, as all the
annals of crime tell us that when a killer gives the body of his victim
to the earth she has so often proved a most unwilling ally. So many
times she has seemed to be on the side of the Law and----"

"But I am not going to suggest anything as clumsy as burial," I broke in
in my turn. "No, Colonel Jasper just threw the body into an almost
unfathomable bog near here and it disappeared for ever. This bog is
Fowler's Bog and it's the deepest and most dangerous on the whole
moor-side. It never gives up anything that gets into it. The man who
lived in this house before the Colonel slipped into it and was never
seen again. Lots of moor ponies all known to have been lost there and
some have actually been seen sinking down."

Larose looked incredulous. "And you mean to tell me," he asked, "that
bodies falling into it disappear at once and never rise to the surface
again?"

"No, not at once," I said. "They take from twenty minutes to half an
hour for the bog to finally close over them and then they lie hidden
deep down under the mud and peat for ever and ever."

"But it's against all reason," objected Larose. "When they putrefy the
gases of putrefaction must force them to the surface again."

"But they don't putrefy," I said sharply. "It is well known that peat
has some preservative qualities and no gasses are formed."

"And how big is this bog?" asked Larose thoughtfully.

"More than half a mile long and some hundreds of yards broad and this
end begins just behind Black Tor, a huge tor which when the fog clears
you'll see about a quarter of a mile away from here. A wide ledge of the
tor hangs over the bog for about ten feet and that's where the bodies
were dropped over. The man's body and that of the wolf went together.
I'll show you the exact spot tomorrow. About a year later one of the big
Alsatians, too, became so sick that Colonel Jasper had to shoot it and
it was thrown in at the same spot. The Colonel was so overcome with
grief that he couldn't wait to see it disappear, but I did and, as I
say, it took about twenty minutes."

Larose considered for quite a long time and then said, "But one thing I
don't understand. About that man the wolf killed--why didn't his
companion, go at once to the police and tell them what had happened?"

"He daren't," I replied, "and we knew we were quite safe there. When he
had come here the first time, that night of the storm when he had lost
his way, after he had gone I remembered him as a man whom I had
overheard someone in the village of Bovey Tracey say had recently served
a sentence of penal servitude for burglary. Then if he had gone to the
police what account could he have given them for he and his companion
having been up here to throw poison to our dogs in the dead of night?
No, we didn't expect any trouble and it followed we didn't get any
either."

"Yes, yes, of course," nodded Larose, "I was forgetting all about
Bellamy being known to the police."

A long silence ensued and then I asked anxiously. "Have you any scruples
about getting rid of the body in that way, if you don't think it will be
found out?"

"None whatever," he smiled, "as it would do nobody any harm and that's
how I would always judge matters like that. I was only considering if
the idea were really feasible and I must think it well over before I
decide anything." He looked at his watch. "But come, we'll sleep on it,
young lady. We can have a good two hours, and then, with the first
breaking of the dawn, if our good fortune is in and the fog has cleared
a bit, you shall take me to this dreadful bog and I will make up my mind
at once."

And the fog did clear and soon after dawn the high gaunt pile of Black
Tor was visible from the house. I led Larose to behind it and pointed
out the exact spot where the bodies had been thrown in. For a long
minute he regarded the black oily surface of the bog and then, to my
immense relief, exclaimed cheerfully, "Yes, I'll risk it, though the
consequences will be terrible if you've misled me and the body doesn't
disappear as completely as you say."

We went back to the house and he set me clearing up as far as possible,
all traces of our having been there. With the seaman's body he would
allow me to have nothing to do, and indeed I never would set eyes upon
it again. Finding a derelict old wheelbarrow in one of the sheds he made
use of it to cart the body away. He was gone a good hour and the sun was
beginning to come through the mist when he returned.

"All right so far," he announced, "it disappeared in just over the
twenty minutes you gave it."

He made short work of starting my car and on his motor-bicycle preceded
me up the track towards the high road. "I'll go first," he said, "to
make certain the road is clear. Then I'll go Bovey Tracey way, while
you'll turn in the opposite direction. Make a wide detour round and
don't go through any of the villages you passed when coming here. Get
into Exeter by the Okehampton road."

"And how can I get in touch with you later on?" he asked. He grinned
impishly. "As a fellow criminal, I can keep you wise as to anything
moving in Scotland Yard."

"You can always phone me," I said, "my husband is not the least bit
inquisitive and never wants to know who is ringing me up?"

"Good," he said, "and I'd like to meet him one day if we can arrange it
somehow." He smiled all over his face. "It would be interesting to see
the lucky man who owns this lively piece of goods who holds so many
secrets in her pretty little head."

We shook hands warmly in parting and in an assumption of affection
called each other by our christian names. Obeying his instructions, I
made a wide detour round and reached home in plenty of time to meet my
husband who arrived by the afternoon train.

In one way I felt very ashamed of myself and, in another way, I didn't.
My love was all for my husband and the great deception of my life in no
way detracted from my worthiness as his wife. So, I would forget it all,
I told myself, and harrow my conscience no more about it.

And now I come to what I am sure I shall always regard as the very
greatest surprise of my whole life, and it was avalanched upon me
without a second's warning. It came about six months after my dreadful
adventure with the Spanish seaman. David and I had accepted a very short
notice invitation to dinner from Clara. We were in Town and she rang up
from her flat.

"Frank and his wife are coming," she said, "and we want you two to make
up a table for bridge. You know she doesn't play and so I shall sit out
with her."

Frank was the Eastbourne Dr. Burton and I had noticed she always made a
great fuss of him. I liked him very much, too, for he was always such a
bright-natured young fellow and so full of fun. Indeed, I had once said
laughingly to Clara that if only it had happened I had met him before I
had her brother I would probably have become Mrs. Burton, and she had
commented that it was quite likely, as anyone could see he was half in
love with me now.

She told me over the phone to be sure and come early as she had
something very important that she wanted to tell me before the others
arrived. Accordingly we arrived in good time and she took me into her
own little room and rather shocked me by announcing abruptly that Anton
Meynall was dead.

Three days previously she had a message from him from the Eastbourne
Hospital to ask her to go to see him. He was in the last stages of
leukaemia, that dreadful incurable disease, and knew his death could be
only a matter of days. He had wanted to express to her for the last time
his great grief at the way he had behaved to me.

The news was certainly a shock, but I did not for a moment pretend that
I was sorry, for the haunting thought had always been with me that one
day he and David might have somehow met and he, in an uncontrolled agony
of contrition have burst out something which might have started David
questioning me.

However, now I discussed Anton's death very shortly with her, just
saying what a relief it always was to my conscience that he had not been
able to carry out the dreadful crime I had been urging him to.

"And what another great relief to me it would be," I went on, "if we
could only be sure that the death of that wretch in the lane was the
accident we all think it to be. I am always a little bit afraid that one
day Inspector Stone will come jumping round with something else he's
found out about you or me."

"No chance of that, Marie, dear," said Clara smilingly, "as there is
nothing more to be found out."

"Oh, isn't there?" I said sharply. "What about who fired the actual
shot? Can you tell me that?"

All on the instant the smile passed from Clara's face and she regarded
me with the utmost solemnity. "Yes, I can," she said, speaking very
slowly, "though I'd never dare to tell anybody else. But I'm not afraid
of telling you and many times have thought of doing so." She looked
round to make sure the door was closed before almost whispering her next
words. "I killed him and it was only through Dr. Burton that I was
saved. He changed the bullets at the post-mortem and gave the police a
different one which could not have been fired from my rifle."

I stood aghast. Clara a murderess! And she had sworn to me so solemnly
that she had not killed him! Clara whose word I had thought, too, that I
could always rely upon as never being anything but the truth!

She coloured up and reached impulsively for my hand. "No, Marie,
darling, I did not lie to you when you asked me if I had deliberately
shot the man and I assured you solemnly I had not. The quibble was about
the word 'deliberate' which you had used. My killing him was not
deliberate. It was purely accidental. He was menacing me. I was holding
the rifle in defence and it seemed to go off by itself. I'd swear I
never pressed on the trigger." She pointed to a chair. "But sit down,
dear, and I'll tell you everything quickly. I must be quick as the
others may be here any minute now."

I sat down as ordered and she went on. "That afternoon, directly Sturm
returned from his drive he came running up the lane looking about
everywhere for his cigarette case, just as I had got a big crow before
the sights of my rifle, and that made me angrier than ever with him. I
ordered him to leave the Court instantly, as an unwholesome sexual
beast. He was furious and said it was not because of that girl I was
wanting to get him into trouble, but because you had come sneaking to me
about what he had found out about you. He called you a vile word and
said that by shielding you I was probably one, too. Then he advanced
close and I pointed the rifle at him in self-defence--and it went off."

Her voice shook. "Imagine the state of terror I was in, as like a flash
of lightning, I realised everyone would say I had done it on purpose.
Then, as in another flash of lightning, all my terror passed from me
when I heard the report of a rifle being fired in that quarry across the
road. If I said nothing it would be thought he had been killed by that
rifle over there! Then it would be considered his death had been an
accident. I calmed down instantly and putting my rifle back in the
summerhouse, walked as casually as I could back into the house."

She smiled wanly. "I felt quite safe until those few minutes later, upon
my husband's orders I had run for Dr. Burton and stood panting before
him. Then I realised for the first time what a fool I was, as of course
the police would be able to tell that the bullet which killed Sturm had
come from my rifle. I blurted out everything to Frank in a fierce rush
of words and he was terribly shocked. Then, as we were running back to
the Court, he ordered me to admit everything immediately, as the longer
I put it off the worse it would look for me. Then I sobbed out that you
might be dragged into a horrible scandal, too, as Sturm had been making
out he knew something dreadful about you, and people would say I had
shot him on purpose to close his mouth. That seemed to upset Frank more
than ever. Then, to my amazement, just as we came in sight of where
Robert was waiting for us by the body, he said sharply, 'No, continue on
saying nothing, I will make things quite safe for you. I shall be doing
the post-mortem tomorrow and I'll change your bullet for another one I
have. It's in a hare which the Vicar gave me. He shot it yesterday with
a rifle the same size as yours!'"

Clara smiled brightly. "And that's why, Marie dear, I've always felt so
safe. I was so sure nothing could ever be brought home to me."

"But Clara," I asked incredulously, "how was it Dr. Burton was willing
to take such a risk for you. If it had been found out the consequences
would have been dreadful for him. Of course I know you are great friends
but----"

"We are far more than great friends," she said earnestly. She dropped
her voice again to a whisper and her whisper was a very solemn and
tender one. "He is my dearly beloved son, Marie, the child of that slip
I told you I made when I was only sixteen."

"My God," I exclaimed, more astounded than ever, "does he know it?"

"You old goose," she laughed, "of course he does, and so would do
anything for his foolish old mother." She lifted a hand warningly. "But
hark! There goes the bell! They've arrived!" She patted me
affectionately upon the cheek. "Now never you worry any more about
Inspector Stone. He can harm neither of us now." Her face was all
smiles. "And, after what you know Frank did for us, you be extra nice to
him tonight. He's going to take you in to dinner."



THE END.



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