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Title: The Storm Breaks
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1203131.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2012
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Storm Breaks
Author: Arthur Gask


____________________________________________

THE STORY:

An attractive and aristocratic-looking girl of apparently quite ordinary
origin has always had good reason to believe she was not the daughter of
her mother's husband. Losing both her parents, she seeks her fortune in
London, makes her way into the social world and marries into a titled
family. Then, through no fault of her own, she becomes involved in the
death of a scoundrel who was attempting to blackmail her. Thanks to the
help of the one-time great detective, Gilbert Larose, she at first
eludes the law, though Scotland Yard is quite certain that she is the
guilty woman.

Move and counter move follow in rapid succession right up to the
thrilling and dramatic climax of one of Arthur Gask's most notable
novels.

____________________________________________

By the Same Author


THE HOUSE WITH THE HIGH WALL

UNFOLDING YEARS

THE DARK MILL STREAM

__________________________________________________

Published by: HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED, LONDON 1949

__________________________________________________



CONTENTS:

I........RECOMPENSE
II.......THE GREAT ADVENTURE
III......BIRDS OF PREY
IV.......THE PRECIPICE SIDE
V........THE FIRST STEP ON THE LADDER
VI.......THE TURN OF THE WHEEL
VII......GHOSTS
VIII.....THE MISSING KERCHIEF
IX.......THE HOUNDS UPON THE TRAIL
X........THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW


*



CHAPTER I.--RECOMPENSE


"Mr. Larose," said the aristocratic-looking young woman, with a choke in
her voice, "I have come to you for advice. Two days ago I killed a man.
He attacked me and had been intending to blackmail me. His body lies
hidden in a pond. Should I give myself up to the police, or say nothing
in the hope that I may not be found out? You remember me, don't you? We
met at Blackston Manor a little while ago."


It would be difficult for the generation of to-day, or even, perhaps,
for middle-aged people, to realise the social conditions prevailing in
England sixty to seventy years ago. It was an age of class-distinctions
appalling in their bitterness and stupidity.

The so-called upper classes regarded all who were not born to lives of
idleness and pleasure as being of different flesh and blood from those
who had to work for their living; and, looking back now, it seems almost
incredible that their snobbery and exclusiveness could have been of such
a silly and childish nature.

Those engaged in trade in any form were never admitted to society or
considered eligible to be presented at Court. The disadvantage, too, of
their father's calling was passed down to the children, and boys whose
fathers owned businesses were automatically debarred from many of our
best public schools, with their social inferiority being rubbed into
them during all their adolescent years.

In country towns this prevailing snobbishness was even worse than in the
big towns, but it was not without its humorous side. There--families
high up in the social scale might be deeply in debt to the local
tradespeople, but it was considered to be quite all right to pretend not
to see them, or cut them dead when they were met out in the street.
Recognition, it was believed, would have been lowering to the dignity of
those who possessed birth and breeding.

As for the labouring classes, the contempt in which so many held them
was exemplified by a story current then of a titled young lady of
extremely ancient lineage who took to herself a husband of an equally
exalted birth and, gratified with the privileges of married life, is
said to have remarked to her husband, "And is marriage the same for the
common people, Adolphus, because, if so, it is much too good for them!"

With the nation divided into the historic upper, middle and lower
classes, the snobbery of the upper one in turn affected the middle one,
now, however, taking on an entirely different form, as it was the
possession of money there which so lifted a man above his fellows.
Anyone with a shilling in his pocket regarded himself as greatly
superior to one with only sixpence. So it followed therefore that the
gulf between the well-to-do and poorer middle class was every bit as
wide and deep as that between the people of society and those engaged in
commerce. In middle-class circles it was a man's income, every time,
which determined his position in his social world.

Mary Hinks's father was a 4-a-week clerk in a firm of wholesale
clothiers in the city, and, though his salary was considered quite a
good one, he mixed neither with those who were earning more nor with
those earning less.

With a wife and six children, the family lived in Manor Park, an East
End suburb of London close to Wanstead Flats, and enjoyed, or rather
endured, the usual drab monotonous lives common to those in their
position in the comparatively speaking uneventful years from the late
'seventies almost to the coming of the first Great War.

There were no pictures in those days; theatres were far too much a
luxury for families with small means, and music-halls were considered as
improper for young people. In consequence, a concert arranged by the
church the Hinkses attended, a very occasional jaunt by tram to Epping
Forest, or a rare visit to the Zoo, were the main highlights of their
existence, and, with so few outside interests for the parents, it was
not to be wondered at that the Hinks children were so generously
begotten.

The Hinks family, as with the great majority of their class, was
eminently respectable, conforming religiously to all the conventions of
the day. Neatly, though it might have been poorly, dressed, and with
clean hands and faces and hair nicely brushed, all who were old enough
to go attended church twice every Sunday. Mr. Hinks did not swear or bet
or frequent public houses, and his only luxuries were his pipe and
morning and evening papers.

The Sunday paper was read exclusively by Mrs. Hinks and himself. It was
invariably kept out of the way of the younger members of the family.

At that time divorce cases were fully reported, and when the divorce
courts were sitting the Sunday papers vied with one another in providing
full and spicy details for their readers. So, with divorce almost wholly
the privilege of the wealthy classes, "What the footman saw through the
crack in the blinds," and "What the butler heard through the keyhole,"
often constituted the general type of headlines.

The intense interest the middle classes always showed in the doings of
the classes above them was also catered for by a very lively red-covered
mid-weekly journal known as Modern Society, and within reach of everyone
at the price of one penny. It had a very wide circulation and, from
backstairs information and kitchen tittle-tattle undoubtedly supplied by
the domestic staff of certain of 'the great houses', it was notorious
for its scandal and innuendoes about many society people.

Now it cannot be too strongly insisted that, with all their smug
respectability and narrow-mindedness, right down from the Victorian era
the middle classes had been the very backbone of the country's morality.
Their eldest born did not arrive until the proper time, their marriage
vows were rarely broken, and their daughters, in course of time, entered
matrimony in the virgin state.

It is true that in their days of adolescence the male scions of the
family often set their feet upon unlawful and forbidden ways, but it
seemed to be a point of honour with them never to bring misfortune upon
a girl of their own class. In the main it was the servant girl who was
their target, she being held to be good hunting, and materfamilias with
a pretty one in her service had to keep a vigilant and unclosing eye
upon the youthful males of the family.

Mrs. Hinks, however, was spared all anxiety there, as she was never well
enough off to keep a maid. Always in poor health, she kept Mary, the
eldest of the children, at home to be the family help. A girl of gentle
disposition and uncomplaining nature, though she would certainly have
much preferred to go out and earn her own living, Mary did not grumble
and accepted the conditions as a matter of course.

Her father was as generous with her as he could afford to be and, when
eighteen years of age, she was receiving the weekly wage of five
shillings. With this she had to dress herself and provide all luxuries
such as sweets, papers and books. With books she did not trouble much,
but she always bought two weekly papers, one, the Family Herald, a
weekly fiction magazine of twenty-four pages which could be purchased
for a penny, and another, Bow Bells Novelette, at the same price. This
latter magazine was not high-class, but for all that was most satisfying
for those sentimentally inclined. A monotonous life Mary's might
certainly have been, but it was one endured by many hundreds of
thousands such as she, and never having known anything different they
did not complain.

Of medium height and decidedly pretty, with her perfect little figure,
she was undoubtedly an attractive girl. She always looked fresh and
clean and had a nice colouring, a good complexion and frank, clear blue
eyes.

Her father, however, was very strict and never allowed her out at night.
Added to that, he insisted they were not well enough off to entertain
and, moreover, the house was not large enough for company. Accordingly,
Mary had no opportunities of making friends.

Of course she had her dreams and hoped that one day she would make a
good marriage and perhaps--oh, how beautiful the thought was--live in
the country among the trees and flowers. Then she would keep fowls and
ducks and might even have a pony and trap!

When she was approaching her twentieth birthday it seemed to her that
her chance had come at last, though there was certainly not much romance
about it. A man nearly as old as her father fell violently in love with
her, and being in a good position with a good salary, her parents also
backing him up, had little difficulty in persuading her to become his
wife.

By name of Birtle Dane, he was quite ordinary-looking, with a long and
rather solemn face and grave, unsmiling eyes. She made his acquaintance
one August Bank Holiday when her father, in a burst of extravagance, had
taken the whole family down to Southend for the day.

They first noticed him when, after their picnic meal, the children and
Mary were building castles upon the sands. He was seated upon the
promenade above them and seemed interested in watching all they were
doing. Presently he walked down to them and, raising his hat politely,
asked if Mr. Hinks would kindly tell him the time, as he did not think
his own watch was correct.

A conversation ensued, he admired the children and remarked how healthy
they all looked, and expressed surprise to learn that they did not
always live by the sea, but, as with himself, were only excursionists
down for the day. It was remembered afterwards that, though it was
mostly about the children he talked, his eyes never left Mary for very
long. And certainly she was worth looking at, with her blue eyes
sparkling in animation, her face so delicately flushed by her exertions
and her pretty hair looking its best under the bright sun.

Presently, this agreeable stranger suggested that he and Mr. Hinks
should stroll away in search of some liquid refreshment, and in the bar
of the Grand Hotel more conversation ensued, names and addresses were
exchanged in the most friendly way, and to his astonishment Mr. Hinks
learnt that his new acquaintance was staying not a mile away from Manor
Park, indeed quite near in Forest Gate.

At length returning to the family, Mr. Dane passed the rest of the
afternoon with them, and finally returned to town in the same railway
carriage.

He told them quite a lot about himself, how he was only upon a holiday
in England, how his work lay with a big firm of wine merchants in the
wonderful city of Bordeaux and how, as a bachelor, he lived in a big
house upon the bank of the beautiful Garonne river, and was looked after
by a housekeeper with a maid under her. Life in France, he said, was
much brighter and gayer than in England.

In parting he asked if he might call one evening at Manor Park and
continue the conversation; he knew no one but his mother with whom he
was staying in Forest Gate and he was very lonely.

Permission being readily given--Mr. Hinks had been greatly impressed
with his prosperous appearance--he called the following evening, and
from the very first there was no doubt that it was Mary who was his main
attraction. He took her and Mrs. Hinks to see his mother, and later Mary
went alone with him to Madame Tussaud's and several theatres. The young
girl was thrilled at the attention she was receiving, and when one night
they had the three-and-sixpenny dinner at the Holborn Restaurant, and
she sat listening to the soft and gentle strains of the orchestra, she
was sure that at last she was indeed seeing life.

It was a whirlwind courtship, with the climax coming one evening only
ten days after she had first come to know her ardent admirer. With the
connivance of her parents, she found herself alone with Dane, and in
their shabby little parlour, with his voice choking in his eagerness, he
asked her to become his wife.

She had been warned by her mother what was coming and, demurely turning
down her eyes in the fashion approved of in the Bow Bells Novelette,
whispered that she would.

She knew quite well she was not in love with him, as she was
experiencing none of those exquisite feelings which, again according to
the Bow Bells Novelette, should have been running up and down her spine
at such a thrilling moment. She was just consenting to marry him to get
away from the drab and dull monotony of her life at Manor Park.

In the joyful excitement of buying new clothes she gave practically no
thought to the sex side of marriage.

As Dane's holiday was quickly running out, they were married by special
licence at the church in Manor Park. When the ceremony was over, as
there was no reception following, they were driven straightway to the
Regent Palace Hotel where they were to stay until the morrow when they
would take the boat-train to Southampton and sail for Bordeaux.

For Mary Dane, ignorant and all unprepared, the victim of her parents'
reticence and prudery, the beginning of her wedded life was a great
shock to her, when what marriage really meant burst like a clap of
thunder upon her.

She had sold her young body, with all its possibilities of ecstasy and
passion, for the sixteen thousand francs a year which was her husband's
salary, the big house upon the banks of the Garonne and the servants who
went with it! All romance for her was finished, and she would never know
the fulfilment of those fierce hopes and longings which, she had so
often read, were the heaven-sent gifts to all young life!

An angry resentment surged through her. Her father and mother should
never have encouraged her to marry such a husband. They had sold her
like a slave, just as if their only thought had been to get rid of her
as quickly as they could.

The next day they boarded the boat for Bordeaux, and to her great
delight Mary found herself to be a good sailor, quite unaffected by the
rough sea they encountered directly they reached open water. Everything
was most enjoyable for her and she was able to go down to all the meals.
Not so her husband, however, as he started being sick at once and,
during the whole crossing, lay moaning and groaning in their cabin. A
dreadful green colour, with his face all sunken in without his dental
plates, he looked a horrible, unsavoury old man, and poor Mary shuddered
as she thought that now he was always going to be her bedfellow.

When eventually they arrived at Bordeaux, Dane was so exhausted that he
had almost to be carried off the boat, and Mary realised only too well
that a time of tribulation for her had begun.

Then followed three very unhappy years for her when she never ceased to
regret her foolish and hasty marriage. Certainly at first her husband
had made a great fuss over her and shown himself thrilled in her
possession. However, it had not lasted very long, and very soon his
middle-aged passion had begun to flag, within a few months manifesting
itself in only very occasional short and sharp flares-up which were
never anything but most distressing to her.

With his interest in his wife waning, his character was soon to show
itself in a very different light from the courteous and so charming
suitor of Manor Park. His temper was exceedingly irritable and he was
mean and petty in many ways, expecting Mary to account for every sou he
gave her. Also, in a surly and bullying fashion, he expected her to fall
in line with all his confirmed bachelor habits.

Meals must never be one minute late, and the food was monotonous in its
lack of variety and only consisted of what he himself fancied. Mary
vexed him greatly, too, by showing no appreciation of good wine and
always preferred, as he styled them, horrible cups of tea, taken at all
hours of the day whenever she could obtain them.

A hypochondriac of long standing, he was always imagining he was upon
the verge of some serious illness and for ever dosing himself with
different drugs. Upon the slightest cold in the head, Mary had to put
poultice after poultice upon his chest to prevent, as he said, things
getting worse. He had a horror of draughts of fresh air of any kind, and
wherever he was, both night and day, the doors and windows had to be
kept shut.

The house and domestic arrangements, too, were disappointing to Mary,
not being upon anything like so grand a scale as her husband had made
out. It was true he lived in a large house of three stories, but the
whole of the ground floor was occupied by the business part of the firm.
Then, the housekeeper and maid he had spoken of were really nothing more
than two general servants. They were two sisters, the elder of them only
about seven and twenty, and as well as attending to the residential part
they acted as cleaners to the offices. They were hard workers, doing
much more, Mary thought, than any English servants would have done,
getting up at five every morning and at work down below again every
evening after the clerks had gone.

Dane had no friends, and no strangers were ever brought in to meals. He
hardly ever went out, and expected Mary to lead the same uninteresting
and monotonous life. Even when he had apparently lost all interest in
her, he was yet extremely jealous, introducing her to as few people as
possible, and after she had returned from her daily walk, never failing
to ask where she had been, to whom she had spoken and whom she had seen.

From the very first the two maids, Jeanne and Lucille, had been most
kind to her and anxious to do anything they could for her. They smiled
all over their bright red faces whenever they saw her, and, even before
she had picked up enough French words to hold any conversation with
them, she realised from their manner how sorry they were for her. When
Dane was not upstairs it was a great joke with them to bring her many
cups of the so discredited and almost forbidden cups of tea. She knew it
was a wonder to them how she had ever come to marry their master.

Another sorrow for Mary was that Dane was deliberately attempting to cut
her away from her family. He would not allow her to return to England
for the briefest of holidays, and when she once timidly suggested he
should invite her father or two of the older children to visit her, he
refused so disagreeably that she never dared ask him again.

So was Mary, after three years of married life, a sad and dispirited
woman, her vivacity and brightness all gone, living a dull and
monotonous life with apparently no hopes whatever of any happiness in
the future. Sometimes she used to look in the mirror and think how old
and worn she was growing. No wonder, she would sigh, for she had nothing
worth living for, and to put a crown upon her misery her conscience told
her she had come to positively hate her husband. She loathed the very
sight of him.

Then, suddenly, and as if at last in pity for her, Fate opened a window
in the clouds and romance came into her life, real romance such as she
had read of in those far-off days in the Bow Bells Novelette.

She first met him one sunny afternoon in the public gardens. She was
sitting upon one of the seats there, idly watching the ducks swimming in
the ornamental water, when she noticed a young fellow passing by and it
struck her at once how handsome he was. She judged him to be a little
older than herself. He was refined and distinguished looking, with his
expression, however, quite a boyish one. He was walking slowly and she
noted he gave her a quick appraising glance as he passed.

He did not go very far away, but, turning to retrace his steps and
drawing level with her, raised his hat politely and asked if she would
very kindly tell him the time. He spoke in French and she replied in the
same language, though her words were halting and she knew her accent was
not good.

"Oh, you're English!" he exclaimed with a bright smile. "I thought so
when I passed just now. I'm English, too. Do you mind if I have a little
chat with you? It's so nice to speak in one's own language for a
change."

He seated himself down and quite an animated little conversation
followed, or rather the animation was at first almost entirely upon his
side. Mary was shy and confused, though greatly thrilled he should have
thought her attractive enough to want to speak to her. Still, gradually,
she lost her shyness and could look him straight in the face without
getting hot.

He told her he had come from London upon a holiday, but he knew no one
in Bordeaux and didn't find it so much fun as he had thought it would
be, being all by himself. He never had been a great one for
sight-seeing. In return, Mary told him she, too, was a Londoner, and in
many ways would rather be living there now, but then, she added with a
blush, she was married, and her husband having his work here, of course
there was no help for it.

The conversation lasted only a few minutes, and then he left her with
the smiling hope that perhaps he might be seeing her again in the next
day or two, as he generally came to the gardens in the afternoon.

Of course he did see her again. Mary had lain awake half the night
thinking of him, and the following afternoon had seated herself upon the
same seat, almost exactly at the same time. She learnt afterwards that
he had been watching from among the trees, and he came up to her within
a couple of minutes of her arrival.

Their conversation was more personal this time. They exchanged names,
and she thought how well his unusual Christian name of Athol suited him.
It had such a distinguished sound. He told her he had just come down
from Cambridge where he had taken his degree. He had not yet made up his
mind what occupation to follow.

In return, Mary told him something of herself, how she had come to
Bordeaux as a bride three years ago, and had seen none of her relations
since. She had no real friends in France and often felt very lonely. She
had no little ones and it was something of a grief to her she was so far
from home. She often felt very lonely.

They met again the next day, and after a few minutes' talk Athol
suggested they go for a little walk. For a few moments Mary hesitated,
but then replied with a certain tremor in her voice, "All right, but up
the other end of the gardens, please." She laughed a little nervously.
"You see, my husband is much older than I and might be annoyed if he
came to know about it. He is rather old-fashioned in his ways."

"Oh, you'll be quite safe with me," laughed back Athol, "I wouldn't eat
you, though the prospect there"--he gave her an admiring glance--"might
be by no means an unpleasant one."

They had their little walk among the trees, exchanging more confidences
as they went along. Mary was thrilled at being alone with him and
certain now that no inquisitive eyes were watching them. Their conduct,
however, could not have been more correct, as Athol treated her with the
greatest respect and never ventured upon the slightest familiarity. Even
when once he took her hand to help her over a stile, he did not hold it
for the fraction of a second longer than was necessary. Mary was very
sorry when at length she had to hurry away to be home before half-past
five. Beyond that time things might be awkward, as, if her husband came
upstairs, and found her away, he might become curious and start
questioning her. She knew only too well how easily she gave herself
away.

So things went on for a fortnight. They met every afternoon somewhere,
but with no apparent warming up of their relations. Of course, by now
she had told him all about her unhappy marriage, but to all appearances
he had only the deepest sympathy for her loveless life.

As for Mary--she had apparently no deeper feelings for him than he had
for her. It had just been a relief to her to tell her troubles to
someone who she was sure would feel sorry for her. She knew it must be
that he would quickly pass out of her life again, but it would remain
for ever an abiding and cherished memory that someone had once been so
kind and understanding.

Thus was everything upon the surface, but underneath and in their
reality things were very different. In no way a philanderer and never
having had much to do with the other sex, for this lonely and unhappy
little woman Athol had come to conceive a deep and passionate regard,
and he longed to take her in his arms and comfort her in the way only a
lover could.

As for Mary, she made no pretence to herself that she was not deeply in
love with this good-looking and kindly-natured boy. Regardless of all
conventions and her marriage vows, she would have given herself to him
with no care of any consequences. He was in her thoughts night and day,
and she was dreading the time that must so soon come when he would be
leaving her. She felt as she imagined a condemned criminal would feel
when awaiting the morning of his execution. Back she would go to misery
and loneliness, and her unhappiness, she was sure, would now be the more
poignant as she had at last learnt what love really meant for such a few
short hours before it was going to be snatched from her.

One afternoon a fierce thunderstorm came over the city and, as they were
near a big church at the time, they took refuge in it until the rain was
over. The light was very dim inside and they appeared to be the only
persons present. They seated themselves in one of the pews and started
whispering together.

Presently a verger appeared from the direction of the vestry, and as he
passed by several times Athol thought he eyed them curiously. So
slipping a couple of francs into his hand, he asked him what time
evensong was held. The man told him and then, with a pleasant smile,
suggested they should go and sit in the lady chapel. "You will be out of
the draughts there, Monsieur," he said, "and can whisper as much as you
want to without disturbing anybody."

So they moved their seats to where he led them behind a big pillar, and
directly he had gone Athol remarked carelessly, "A very understanding
man that"--his voice shook ever so little--"and at last I've got you all
to myself." He gave a quick glance round to make sure that no one could
see them and then, without a moment's hesitation, put his arm round Mary
and, drawing her to him, gave her a long and lingering kiss full upon
the lips.

There was no drawing back on Mary's side, and she was as ready with her
kiss as he was with his. For many minutes no words passed between them.
Time stood still and they were just man and woman in the first ecstasies
of the avowal of their passion.

All about them so lent itself to their mood. The dark church was so
hushed and still that they might almost have been alone in the world
together. They had no thoughts except about each other. Past and future
meant nothing to them and they lived only in the present.

Soon the soft notes of the organ broke through their dreams, and hand in
hand they sat through the evening service. When it was over they left
the building with the friendly verger giving them a farewell beaming
smile.

The next morning Dane announced he had caught a chill. His temperature
was slightly up and he stayed in bed. Mary had a hurried meeting with
Athol, which she snatched upon going out to the chemist's.

Athol had bad news for her and she thought her heart would stop beating
when she heard it. He had received a telegram and would have to leave
for home by the early morning's boat on the morrow.

"But I must say good-bye to you, darling," he pleaded. "Couldn't you get
out and meet me to-night? I have such a lot of things I want to say to
you."

For a long moment Mary hesitated. "I might," she replied, feeling very
frightened at the thought, "but it'll have to be very late. He's always
ringing his bell for me, and I can't come until he's well asleep. I
shall have to wait, too, until the maids are in bed. Then it mustn't be
far away, as I can't be out for more than ten minutes."

So it was arranged they should meet on one of the quays only about three
hundred yards distant from the house, at eleven o'clock, and he was to
wait for her until one. If she were not there by then he'd know
something had prevented her getting out.

She had a terribly anxious time all the evening, and thought her husband
would never drop off to sleep, but at last, after well doping himself
with his tablets, he did, and at nearly half-past eleven, muffling her
head in a shawl lest she might be recognised, she slipped out, leaving
the catch of the street door up so that she could get in again.

Then it seemed as if all possible ill-fortune was dogging the lovers,
for a boat was coming up the river and there were a lot of people about.
Added to that a heavy rain storm set in and there was no place where
they could take shelter and be alone. Their clothes were soon wet
through.

So, very reluctantly and in great disappointment, Mary decided she could
not stay out any longer and must return home. Athol insisted upon
accompanying her to the door so that he might be able to snatch a last
kiss.

At the very moment, however, when they reached the door, they saw two
men coming up the street from the opposite direction and Mary exclaimed
in great fright, "Oh, I'm sure that big one there is our porter! Quick,
come inside! He mustn't see us standing here," and, hurriedly opening
the door, she dragged Athol in and closed the door behind him.

For a few moments they stood in the darkness with bent heads and holding
their breath, listening. The footsteps and voices passed and Athol
whispered gleefully, "Just what we wanted! It couldn't be better," and
he made to take Mary in his arms.

"No, not here," she whispered back. Her voice shook. "Wait--let me
think."

Her thinking, however, was very short, and she felt for his hand in the
darkness and pulled at it to lead him up the passage. "I know it's very
wicked," she choked, "but I don't care what happens now you're leaving
me. But oh, do tread so carefully on the stairs. We'll have to pass his
room--and the door's open--to get to mine."

It was a fearsome journey and both their hearts were in their mouths,
but at length they reached the safety of Mary's room. She pushed the
door to very quietly. "I dare not shut it," she whispered, "in case his
bell rings. But reach up and take out that globe. Then we shall feel
safer," and with hands that trembled violently, she began stripping off
her wet clothes.


Mary awoke with a start. The faint glow of dawn was stealing through the
window. She flung Athol's arm from her. "Oh, darling," she exclaimed in
terrified tones, "we've slept much too long. Look--it's nearly five
o'clock! Quick, quick, you haven't a second to spare. The girls will be
about any moment now. No, don't stop to kiss me. Quick, put on your
clothes. I'll help you."

It was a merciful ending to those wonderful hours. Not a moment of time
given them to grieve that they were parting, and no harrowing agony in a
last long lingering embrace. Just action, quick decisive action, every
moment.

She bustled him into his clothes, stuffed his tie and collar in his
pocket and laced up one shoe while he laced up the other. Then, throwing
a dressing-gown over her night-dress and still in her bare feet, she
preceded him out of the room.

They passed down the stairs meeting no one, but then at the bottom and
just as they were both drawing in deep breaths of relief--Jeanne came
into the passage and caught them.

"N'ayez-pas peur, ma cherie," she exclaimed emphatically. "Je ne sais
rien. N'ayez-pas peur," and then, for the benefit of Athol whom she
realised at first glance was not a countryman of hers and therefore
probably English, she added beamingly, "No, I say nussing, Monsieur. I
not speak a word."

Athol beamed back at her. "Good girl!" he exclaimed fervently in fluent
French, and he was putting his hand in his breast pocket to feel for his
wallet when the indignant look upon the girl's face stopped him.

"No, Monsieur," she said, drawing herself up with dignity, "nothing of
that." Her face was at once all smiles again. "I rejoice that Madame is
having a little happiness"--she pointed with her thumb to the floor
above--"away from that old ogre up there."

A hurried kiss, and Athol had gone.

Strangely enough in the succeeding days Mary was not nearly so depressed
as it might have been thought she would have been. She had experienced a
great happiness, and the memory of it she determined should last her all
her life. In some strange way, however, she was sure she would one day
meet her lover again. She had no fear that she was now going to have a
baby by him, as nothing had happened before from her husband and she
felt sure she must be a woman who was never intended to have a family.

Still, in the week which followed she had good cause to be worried, and
then, all suddenly, her fears that her husband would learn she had not
been true to him were swept away. He was ordered by his firm to go to
Bayonne on business and, though he had long since ceased to be
interested in her, his jealous temperament made him take her with him.

They were away a fortnight, and, the change seeming to do him good, he
was much more agreeable to her, with one of his old moods of tenderness
actually taking possession of him again. His attentions were a great
trial to Mary, but she realised sadly they had their good side, and
shortly after their return home she told him she was sure she was going
to have a baby.

He received the news with something of an incredulous frown and at first
was obviously more annoyed than pleased. However, upon consideration it
was evident he realised there would be some recompense for him in his
coming fatherhood.

When those three years back he had returned with a wife, he had been
made the butt of many sly jokes among his acquaintances, and in his
hearing they had talked about the foolishness of people buying good
books which their sight was not good enough for them to read. Also,
there had been casual mention of the undesirability of mating old
roosters with young hens.

Now, however, he had the laugh of them and, throwing out his chest, he
strutted about as if he had suddenly become a clever and very important
man.

Jeanne and her sister were kinder than ever to Mary, with the former
never referring to the meeting that morning with the handsome stranger
upon the stairs.

So in due time was born Dora Jacqueline Dane, as lovely a baby as anyone
could have wished, and who will say it was not sent by heaven as some
recompense for the tragic marriage of her poor little mother?

For the first time since her wedding day Mary was supremely happy.




CHAPTER II.--THE GREAT ADVENTURE


At eighteen years of age, Dora was undoubtedly one of the prettiest
girls in Bordeaux. With her mother's perfect colouring, she had
aristocratic clear-cut features and beautiful serene grey eyes. She
carried herself proudly, and from early childhood days there had been a
certain dignity about her which discouraged patronage from anyone.

Of a much stronger character than her mother, she had plenty of courage
and a determined will. Afraid of no one, upon occasions she did not
hesitate to speak her mind, never, however, in any argument losing her
temper. With a general contempt for authority and convention, she
complied with rules and regulations only because it profited her to do
so.

Outwardly of a cold and reserved nature, and making few friends at the
convent school where she was a weekly boarder, her outspoken opinions
nevertheless carried not a little weight with the other girls, often
rather to the distress of the Sisters in charge.

"You know sometimes I am rather afraid for Dora," said one of the
teaching Sisters one day to a colleague. "She has great influence with
the other girls, but is not always the best example for them. For one
thing, she hasn't the reverence she should have for the Fathers, and
last week after Monseigneur Herblay's address she said openly in class
that he made her feel tired. She asked, too, what could an old and
unmarried man like Monseigneur know about the feelings and hopes of
young girls. I was very sharp with her, because I could see the others
in the class were smiling and giving one another sly nods."

The other Sister sighed deeply. "And she's so pretty," she said, "that
if Monseigneur came to learn what she had said he'd probably only smile,
too." She sighed again. "I notice all the Fathers who come here take
more notice of her than of anyone else."

"But you shouldn't have allowed yourself to imagine you had noticed such
things," reproved the first Sister sharply. "Your conscience and your
training must have told you you were wrong. To the Fathers, all our
girls here are only souls to be guided in the right way. All earthly
thoughts about them, however pretty they may be, have no existence at
all."

The second Sister sighed again, but, had her vows permitted, it might
have been she would have smiled as she had just been told the girls in
class had done.

Now if Dora were so admired and looked up to by the other convent girls,
she was simply idolised by her mother. From babyhood to childhood and on
to girlhood, down all the years she had filled Mary's life, giving to
her a happiness she had never thought she would ever experience.

She would gaze and gaze at her for long minutes at a time, thinking
fondly what a little aristocrat she was and what a beautiful woman she
would one day be. And was it not natural, she told herself, for had not
she the best of English blood in her veins? Had not Athol told her that
his mother was a daughter of a peer of the realm, with the barony going
back for hundreds and hundreds of years?

So Mary's dreams for her daughter's future were full and ambitious ones.
When Dane was dead--and, a quickly ageing man with many ailments, she
was sure he could not live for very long, she would take her to England,
and search out her father so that he could help her to make a good
marriage and take a rightful position among his own class of people.

She had never heard from Athol since that morning when he had so
hurriedly gone away, but she had hardly expected she would. They had
agreed it would be far too dangerous for him to write or attempt to get
in touch with her in any way. Still, she often sighed to herself that
she was sure had he only become aware that she had borne a child of whom
he was the father he would have wanted to risk everything to set eyes
upon his own flesh and blood.

Her faith in him had never wavered, and she knew he would never have
forgotten her. What a surprise it would be for him when she brought him
face to face with Dora! He would know instantly that she was his
daughter, as she was very like him, with the same profile, the same eyes
and the same beautifully-shaped hands. Why, even that slight crook in
one of her little fingers was exactly like the crook in one of his!

Of course, she would sigh again, Athol would have married long ago. She
must expect that, but she consoled herself with thinking that no wife,
however highly born, could have given him a daughter anything like as
beautiful as was Dora.

Then, unbeknown to Dane and paying for them out of the housekeeping
money, she began to take in some of the best illustrated English society
journals, hoping that one day she might read in them something about
Athol or his mother, and perhaps even see their photographs.

She and Dora used to pore over these journals at week-ends, and whisper
animatedly together of the wonderful times they would one day have when
they went home together and would see, and perhaps speak to, some of
these great people. Dora, of course, had no idea how it would come
about, but in time the expectation came to form not a small part of her
day-dreams.

All along Dora had had a great affection for her mother and never given
her any of those cold and distant looks which so often she bestowed upon
others. As she had grown older, too, it was as if in her much stronger
nature she had thrown a mantle of protection over her, for when she was
present it seemed to Mary as if Dane never dared to be quite so
unpleasant as when they were by themselves. Undoubtedly he was always a
little bit afraid of Dora with her sharp words and contemptuous looks.

Dane had not improved with the passing of the years and, now approaching
sixty, was more bad-tempered and crotchety than ever. He never showed
the slightest affection or consideration for Mary and, taking as little
notice of her as possible, seemed to regard her as only one of the
servants to manage the affairs of his house.

Mary hated him with as deep a hate as her weak nature would allow. She
had never forgiven him for his treatment of her family. Of them she had
never seen anything since her wedding day, as they had all been killed
in one of the few bad bombing raids the Germans had made upon London in
the first Great War. They had moved from their house in Manor Park to
one in a part of East Ham, newly built ones, and one night only a few
weeks later a bomb had fallen there and wiped out nearly the whole of
the little terrace.

It had been many weeks before Mary had been able to find out what had
happened to them, and then only upon writing to the Superintendent of
Police in East Ham. He had replied that hers was one of nine families
that had been completely wiped out, either by the bomb or the fierce
conflagration which had followed. No trace of any of them had ever been
found.

Dane's attitude towards Dora had been always a peculiar one. In a way,
as his supposed daughter, he could not help feeling proud of her good
looks and forceful character, but of real affection for her he had never
had any. As a baby, she had always been a source of irritation and
annoyance to him, and as she had grown older he had taken little
interest in her--it may have been because even as a little child she had
never liked him to touch her and had kept as far away from him as
possible.

From the earliest days of her coming, too, Mary had been different
towards him. Motherhood had given her a little courage, and no longer
had she put up with his bullying in the old-time meek and uncomplaining
ways. Upon occasions she would answer him back sharply, especially in
anything affecting the child, when she put her foot down firmly and took
her own line of action.

It was she who had insisted that Dora should go as a weekly boarder to
the convent, not because she was of their religious persuasion, but for
the purpose of getting her out of the atmosphere of her home where
Dane's presence was always a depressing one.

Dora's dislike of Dane had become intensified as the years had gone by,
and it was a great but unspoken sorrow for her to think that she should
have come from such a father. Often, as she looked at him with his
frowning and ill-tempered face and noted how invariably curt and
off-hand he was with her mother, she used to wonder whatever the latter
could have seen in him to induce her to marry him.

Naturally of an ambitious disposition and with this trait in her
character so encouraged by the confident assurance of her mother that a
bright future lay before her, a chilling doubt so often took possession
of Dora's mind. Herself of a keen intelligence, when she considered both
her parents she doubted how any child of theirs could make a success of
her life. With all her deep affection for her mother, she knew the
latter was anything but clever and with a character that was both
yielding and weak. As for her father--with what good and outstanding
qualities could he have possibly endowed her? Shallow-minded and of a
childish and querulous disposition, outside his own particular work he
was most ignorant and ill-informed. Just a very ordinary and common old
man!

Every time she looked at him she hated the thought that his blood ran in
her veins.

Then one day suddenly a great weight was lifted from her mind, and her
hopes for the future went up with a bound. Wishful thinking became a
probability, and probability passed quickly into certainty. Dane was not
her father, and indeed he was no relation of hers at all.

Under his selfish ruling, no school friends were ever invited to the
house. He would not be bothered, he said, by noisy giggling girls, and
so few of them had ever set eyes upon him or had any idea what he was
like. Her mother, however, many of them knew, as they had seen her when
out walking in the streets with Dora and also when she had been present
at the breaking-up parties when Dora had received not a few prizes.

Then, one afternoon in mid-week, when Dora and the girl with whom she
was probably the most friendly at the convent had been sent upon an
errand by the Reverend Mother to a stationer's shop, they ran into Dane,
who was inside talking to one of the assistants.

"What are you doing here?" he asked frowningly of Dora, in great
surprise.

"Oh, I've come for something for the Reverend Mother," replied Dora in a
tone as off-hand as she could make it, not liking the curt way in which
he had addressed her in the hearing of her friend.

"But I thought you were never let out alone," went on Dane sharply, as
if he only half believed what she had told him.

"I'm not alone," said Dora, equally as sharply. "I have my friend here
with me."

"Oh," grunted Dane, "then get back to the convent directly you've got
what you've been sent for." He glared nastily. "Mind, no hanging about
the streets," and without another word he turned and left the shop,
quite ignoring the polite "Good afternoon, Mr. Dane," of the assistant
who had been serving him.

"Oh, Dora," exclaimed her friend when a minute or two later they were
out in the street again, "is that old man really your father?"

"I suppose so," replied Dora casually, intensely mortified, however,
that a fellow pupil had been a witness of his rudeness.

"But are you sure," went on her friend most interestedly, "because," she
added emphatically, "you're not a bit like him?"

"Don't be so silly, Marie!" snapped Dora. "Of course I'm sure!" She
spoke angrily. "Do you think I would have allowed anyone else to try to
order me about like he was doing--without saying anything?"

"So you're sure, are you?" laughed her friend. "Well, I'm not. In fact
I'm sure he can't be." She dropped her voice to an excited whisper. "Oh,
Dora, dear, can't you see your mother must have had a lover before you
were born? That man couldn't be the father of a girl like you.
Why--anyone can see the breeding in you, but he's as common as can be.
No, your father was an aristocrat, I'm certain of it."

Dora's heart almost stood still. Although, with the precocity of the
Latin races, sex matters were freely discussed among the convent girls,
and passion and illicit love were the most favoured themes of their
whispered conversations, the idea had never for one moment come to her
that anything of an unlawful nature would ever touch her or anyone to do
with her. Now--the very suggestion that perhaps it might have already
done so burst like a thunderclap into her mind.

It might be, oh yes, it surely might be, for had not her mother, as far
back as she could remember, always brought her up as if her father were
some sort of stranger to her? Had she not all along let her have as
little as possible to do with him, and spoken of him to her, the few
times she did mention him, in a cold and unsmiling way? Had it not
always seemed, too, that there was a barrier between her parents, on her
mother's side far greater than could be accounted for by her being tied
to a bad-tempered and selfish old man?

Dora's thoughts raced on. A-ah, and another revelation avalanched into
her mind! Now she could understand her mother's absorbed interest in
those society journals coming from England! Of course she was always on
the look-out to read something about her old lover and perhaps even see
a photograph of him! If he were an aristocrat, as Marie had suggested,
he would be moving in English society circles and----

Her friend's voice broke into her reverie. "Yes, Dora, depend upon it
that old man's not your father, and your mother had a lover once."

Dora steadied her voice and spoke casually, as if the matter were of
small importance. "And would anyone blame her if she had?" she asked
coldly. "Would you?"

"Certainly not!" exclaimed Marie emphatically, and, a true daughter of
that country where, in the minds of most people, affairs of sex have
always taken precedence over everything else, she went on with all the
wisdom of her sixteen years, "Everyone knows there are millions of
loveless marriages in the world, and if any woman finds she has made one
of course she'll look for love somewhere else."

Dora spoke fiercely. "All the same, Marie, my mother's affairs are no
business of yours, and I think I'll almost kill you if you ever say a
word of this to the other girls."

"Oh, I won't say anything," returned her friend instantly. "I'll never
breathe a word." She laughed meaningly. "But I'm quite certain I'm
right."

Deep down in her heart Dora believed it, and a mighty thrill surged
through her. Indeed, she could have cried in her relief that the
dreadful taint of the Dane blood would no longer haunt her. She was
freed for ever of the fear of the horrible qualities he might have
passed down to her.

When she went home that week-end she was more affectionate than ever
towards her mother and, strange to say considering the strict moral
precepts inculcated at the convent, with an added respect for her. To
have dared to take a lover, as she now was certain she had, her mother
must have had more courage than she had hitherto believed, and she must
have been cleverer than she had thought, too, to have succeeded in
keeping all knowledge of it from her husband.

Dora was quite certain Dane had never discovered anything, for had he
done so he would have been the very man to throw his wife out into the
streets, glad in his mean and selfish nature to rid himself of the
expense of keeping her.

She would have dearly loved to have brought the matter up and questioned
her mother point-blank, but, she told herself, she would never do that,
as her mother, notwithstanding her one undoubted moral lapse, was by
nature a clean-minded and chaste woman, conventionally inclined.

Still, with a greatly increased interest now in the London periodicals,
she did go as far one Sunday as to suggest in all innocence that the
photograph of one of the great people she saw there was not unlike her,
and, as she made the remark, she noticed her mother's face had gone a
little pink.

"But that Lord Hindhead, Mother," she had said, "might be some relation
of mine, mightn't he? His nose is something like mine."

"But he's much too dark, darling," had laughed her mother, "and his eyes
are quite different, too." She shook her head as if greatly amused. "No,
we'll have to look another day for someone else who resembles you."

Approaching eighteen, Dora left the convent, smilingly giving no
encouragement to the suggestion of the Reverend Mother that she should
become a religious.

"No, Reverend Mother," she said decidedly, "I have not been made that
way. I'm much too selfish and, besides, I want to have babies one day."

The Reverend Mother made no attempt to persuade her. "Then the good God
be with you, my child," she said, "and be sure and remember all you have
learnt while with us here," and Dora, mindful of the many things which,
unbeknown to the Reverend Mother, she had learnt, smiled covertly to
herself.

Her education over, Dane wanted Dora to take up secretarial work, but
neither the latter nor her mother were of his opinion.

"You're going to be a hospital nurse, darling," had said her mother,
with her grand ideas for Dora's future. "That is a profession which will
provide you with work anywhere, and when we go to England it will bring
you in contact with the class of people I intend you shall get to know.
A nurse in the sick room is the equal of everyone."

Dora smiled at her mother's eagerness, but the nursing profession
appealed to her, too, and so, disregarding all Dane's attempts to
prevent her, she was entered as a probationer at a small private
hospital, chosen mainly because it was not far from where the Danes
lived.

From the very first she was a success. Sharp and thorough in all she
did, with her attractive appearance she stood out from among the other
girls and soon became a favourite with the matron and sisters. Some of
the doctors, too, who came to the hospital, had she in any way
encouraged them, would have been most willing to show their interest in
her, but with no prudery she yet managed to keep them all at a distance,
declining all association with them except when carrying out her nursing
duties.

Not that she was not interested in men, for beneath her cold and
reserved manner, as a perfectly normal and healthy young woman, she had
been endowed with warm and strong feelings. However, in her later years
at the convent it had been well drilled into her by the older girls
where a woman's power lay and that she would be a foolish creature to
part with her treasures lightly, or indeed allow them to be tarnished
before she had been safeguarded by the marriage vows.

"After that, dear," had summed up the sophisticated Marie, "it all
depends upon the man you marry whether or not you remain what they call
a good woman. If he makes you happy you'll probably be content with him,
but if he neglects you"--she laughed slyly--"you may, in time, have
secrets to hide."

So, accepting these views of life as being probably the correct ones and
her ambitions to get on in the world strengthening her resolution, she
had determined there should be no weakness upon her part. She had set a
price upon herself and, moreover, when the time came would accept
payment only from the man she had come to love. With her mother's sad
experience before her, she would make no loveless marriage, however
tempting the prospects might appear to be.

With Dora's training only partly completed, Birtle Dane died suddenly
from an apoplectic seizure, and neither Mary nor Dora, when by
themselves, made any pretence of grief. Unmindful of anyone's interest
but his own, he had been careless to the last and left no will. The
estate was estimated to be worth about seven thousand pounds, and Mary
was delighted to think they would be so well-off when she returned to
England. Still, to her great disappointment, the lawyer who had always
had charge of Dane's affairs stated that as the latter had died
intestate there would be some little delay in winding everything up.

So Mary removed into apartments to wait with what patience she could,
while Dora continued at the hospital, with the intention that when she
did get to London she would finish the training there.

Then, to Dora's dreadful consternation and unutterable grief, two months
after Dane's death her mother was stricken down with pneumonia and
passed away within the week. She had been nursed at home, Dora hardly
ever leaving her side and being with her in her last moments.

It was truly a dreadful position for such a young girl as Dora to find
herself in. She had no relations and had practically no friends either.
Also, knowing nothing of business matters, she was completely in the
hands of Dane's lawyer, whom she speedily came to dislike intensely. A
good-looking man about forty, he started to make advances by wanting to
hold her hand. Letting him see sharply there was going to be none of
that, his manner became at once disagreeable and it seemed to her that
of set purpose he was in no hurry to wind up the estate.

Pressing him continually, he kept putting her off, however, with one
excuse and another, until at length she became suspicious that
everything was not right and, knowing no one else to whom she could go
for advice, finally approached the manager of the bank where Dane had
had his account and told him the trouble she was in, asking what she had
better do.

A grave and quiet man of middle age, the bank manager was touched by her
helplessness and promised to go and interview the lawyer with no delay.
He told her to call again the following morning. When she did he had the
worst of news for her.

"My interview was most unsatisfactory," he said, "and you had better put
everything in the hands of another lawyer at once. If you give me a
power of attorney I'll have the whole matter gone into thoroughly."

A week later the horrifying news was communicated to Dora that she would
get practically nothing from Dane's estate, as the lawyer had all along
been gambling unsuccessfully with the securities he had held and now had
no assets.

"Of course he'll be punished," said the banker, "but that is all we can
do. I am afraid the money is lost irretrievably."

And so, it proved, it was, and Dora found herself in London a month
later with just over fifty pounds, all the money she had in the world.

The bank manager had been kindness itself, but, getting to know him
better, she had been greatly embarrassed by his attentions. He had taken
to expressing his admiration for her and, finally, had wanted to kiss
her. Also, he had intimated very delicately that if she would like to
remain on in Bordeaux he would be quite agreeable to lend her all the
money she needed until she had obtained her certificate and was finally
launched into her profession. It had been very unpleasant for her to
repulse his advances as, apart from his capable and business-like ways,
he had shown himself a charming and most sympathetic man.

"But it is only as Marie said," Dora reflected sadly. "All the men are
after the same thing, but once a woman has sold it, if she has sold it
badly, she may be poor as a church mouse."

So Dora had realised early that while so much of a woman's happiness in
life depended upon how she used her sex, sex was a weapon with a blade
of the finest temper and very easily blunted.

Putting up at a women's hostel in King's Cross to which she had been
recommended, she lost no time in applying to be taken on at St. Jude's
Hospital. Though it was smaller than several of the other hospitals, she
had chosen that one in particular because she had remembered reading
that Lord Avon's daughter had had her training there.

The matron was very polite to her and said that, while she had no
vacancy for the moment, she would certainly be able to take her
eventually, though it might not be for two or even three months.
However, Dora, liking the look of her and also of what she saw of the
hospital, decided she would wait.

In the meantime, with her small reserve of money, she had no intention
of remaining idle and so started to find something to do at once.

Then, in the advertisement columns of almost the very first newspaper
she looked into, she saw there was a vacancy for a female receptionist
at a health institute and, to her great delight, it stated, 'one with
some experience of nursing preferred'. Applicants for the position were
to call that evening between five and six.

So, well before the time specified, full of high hopes, Dora set out to
interview the principal of the institute whose premises were situated in
Shaftesbury Avenue.




CHAPTER III.--BIRDS OF PREY


The proprietress of the Institute of Perfect Health, Madame Bertha de
Roche, was a tall woman of commanding presence. As a girl she had been
decidedly pretty and, now, approaching her forty-third year, was
considered by no means ill-favoured by those who were admirers of her
type of coarse and rather masculine beauty. She had big blue eyes which
seared you through and through, a well-developed nose, a big mouth which
a physiognomist would have described as being both ruthless and cruel,
and a strong, determined chin. Altogether she was not a woman whom a
timid person would care to cross.

To her patients--she would never call them clients--she made out she was
of Swiss nationality and came from Zurich, but in truth she was of
German-Jewish birth, born in Stuttgart and baptised Griselda Haffman.

Her father had been a veterinary surgeon attached to the Zoological
Gardens in Berlin, but admitted with his family into the United States
some ten years before the first Great War, he had taken out papers of
naturalisation and they had all enjoyed the rights and privileges of
American citizenship.

She had been married to a Chicago druggist, but when he died three years
previously had come to London with a small capital and with the
assistance of her brother, Leopold Haffman, who had been a French
polisher by trade and who for reasons best known to himself kept very
much in the background, had started the Institute of Perfect Health. A
cousin of Madame's, Anna Barl, helped in the work of the Institute, too.

At first the Institute had confined itself to perfectly legitimate
business, advising as to diet to suit various ailments, giving massage
and carrying out ray treatments.

In time, however, building up quite a good connection, it began
gradually to enlarge its activities, with Madame giving scope to her by
no means inconsiderable medical knowledge by performing a certain
operation, a proceeding which would have been highly interesting to the
authorities had they come to learn what was going on.

She was, however, most wary there, only taking on these operations in
most carefully selected cases and then only when the attendant risk was
made well worth her while by a substantial fee. Generally speaking, all
the ordinary treatments given by the Institute were expensive ones which
could be afforded only by the well-to-do, and so when it came to these
extraordinary and unsocial treatments, as can be well imagined, it meant
good money changing hands.

Knowing her appearance was an unusual one and would be easily called to
mind by any third party who had once seen her, she was always adamant in
declining to wait upon anyone in their own house. For whatever they
wanted done they must come to the Institute and come alone. No friend
was ever allowed to accompany them, and the fee had invariably to be
paid before anything was started. Also, the names of these particular
patients were never entered in the appointment book of the Institute, so
that, if occasion should arise, there should be no proof that she had
ever come there.

All things considered propitious, the procedure carried out appeared to
be a very simple one lasting only two or three minutes, and then the
woman would be sent home in a taxi to wait events. If she became ill,
with her temperature rising, she had the strictest orders on no account
to approach Madame again. Instead, she was enjoined at once to call in a
certain medical man, with whose name and address she was provided. This
practitioner was a Dr. Chalda Simeon with consulting-rooms in Wimpole
Street, and Madame would then pay him a big fee to cover her by
attending the patient and dealing with anything which might happen.

Madame had a most wholesome fear of the police, and elaborate
precautions were taken in case they should send decoys as wolves in
sheep's clothing to consult her. Two friends who came together were
always suspect from the very moment they entered the waiting-room. A
hidden microphone had been installed there and, if need be, every word
they spoke could be listened into by Madame in another room. Also, her
cousin, this Anna Barl who was entirely in her confidence, after
ushering into the consulting-room any two callers who had come together,
never left Madame's side unless by a prearranged signal--the moving of
the inkstand upon the desk--she understood she was to go away.

Madame had only had one brush with the police and, though nothing had
come of it, it had not been a pleasant happening.

A young girl art-student living in West Kensington had been suddenly
taken gravely ill following upon a visit to the Institute, and, contrary
to Madame's instructions, a local doctor had been hastily summoned by
the girl's mother. He had at once given it as his opinion that the
patient's condition was due to the very recent performance of an illegal
operation. She had been rushed to hospital, but had passed away that
same night before she had given any explanation of what had happened to
her.

Then a friend remembered that only a few days previously she had talked
of having some electric treatment for her neuritis and was going for it
to someone who practised near Shaftesbury Avenue. That was the only
information the police could obtain, but they had visited all likely
places in the neighbourhood mentioned and, among several other
practitioners, had interviewed Madame de Roche.

Of course, when they appeared at the Institute Madame was all innocence,
and denied ever having heard of the girl, with her appointment book
being produced as evidence. Added to that, she assumed a great
indignation that the police should now be coming to question her about
such a disgraceful matter. However, the inspector, Inspector
Hatherleigh, had not seemed at all satisfied and had sharply questioned
the cousin, too, even then appearing very reluctant to take his
departure.

When, however, he had at last disappeared, Madame, with a sigh of great
relief, wiped the perspiration from her forehead and, taking out a
five-pound note from her desk, handed it to her cousin.

"And that's for you for not losing your head, Anna," she said. "You were
splendid in the way you answered all his questions. I can't for the life
of me see why, but the beast is evidently very suspicious about us."

So she doubled all her precautions and indeed for several months
declined to take on any more such cases at all. It was well she was so
wary, for she soon found out the police were continuing to be interested
in her.

One afternoon, after having rung up for an appointment to consult her
about continual bouts of dreadful indigestion, a woman of about thirty
arrived at the Institute accompanied by a friend. Madame was immediately
suspicious, as when in the waiting-room they conversed together in such
low whispers that nothing could be picked up by the microphone. Shown
into the consulting-room, Madame's suspicions that they had come from
the police were at once strengthened by their appearance. They were both
strong, muscular-looking women and the patient, who said the friend who
was accompanying her was her sister, gave no appearance of having
anything the matter with her.

She started off describing her symptoms, but Madame at once interrupted
by intimating it was her invariable rule that the consultation fee of
one guinea should be paid in advance. The woman complied, and Anna, who
was seated at a small desk in a corner of the room, proceeded to make
out the receipt.

Madame listened patiently to the woman's symptoms, asked a few
questions, and then made out a diet sheet.

"But do you think," asked the woman hesitatingly, "that my indigestion
can be due to anything else?" She looked embarrassed. "Could it be that
I am expecting?"

Madame choked down her fury that the police should be so intent on
catching her, and replied with something of a grim smile, "But I'm
afraid I can't tell you that. It is altogether out of my line. You must
consult a gynaecologist."

"But if I should be in that condition," went on the woman plaintively,
"I am quite prepared to pay almost anything to be put right." Her voice
seemed to choke. "Remember, I am an unmarried woman."

For a few moments Madame regarded her with blazing eyes and then, anger
getting the better of discretion, she burst out, "No, you are not
expecting----" and, taking in the woman's homely, spotted face, she
added witheringly, "--and you can go back to Inspector Hatherleigh and
tell him it is not likely you ever will be."

The woman coloured up. "I don't know what you mean," she said sharply,
"except that you are intending to be insulting. I have nothing to do
with any inspectors."

Madame laughed scornfully. "I was a policewoman myself once," she lied,
"and you can't take me in. I knew you were police the very moment you
entered the room." She flung the diet sheet at her. "Here, take this,"
she went on sharply. "If you follow the directions there you'll benefit
by them and get rid of those disgusting-looking pimples on your face.
You are a gross feeder and guzzle too much fat," and the two women,
scowling angrily, were ushered out by Anna, who appeared to be enjoying
herself immensely.

And so this was the high-class Institute of Perfect Health to which Dora
so hopefully made her way upon that afternoon at five o'clock!

There were three other girls in the waiting-room when Anna, after a hard
and long stare, ushered her in. Dora was impressed with the
appointments. The waiting-room was well and tastefully furnished with
comfortable chairs, a settee and a very good carpet. Everything looked
prosperous and as if the Institute were doing well.

The three girls before her were fetched away, one by one, but, as none
of them were gone for very long, Dora was hopeful they were not
suitable. Then her turn came and Anna led her in to see Madame,
remarking quite audibly in German as she ushered her into the room, "And
here's a stuck-up bit of goods if ever I saw one. She thinks a lot of
herself, she does!"

Now Dora had always been good at languages and, as two of the teaching
Sisters at the convent had come from Berlin, she had more than a fair
knowledge of German. So she understood perfectly well what Anna had said
and with some difficulty suppressed a smile when she heard herself
described as looking stuck-up.

Madame eyed her suspiciously, being very annoyed that an outsider should
have had to be called into the Institute. However, there was no help for
it, as Anna might be leaving any time now to be married, and in
consequence another receptionist had to be obtained as quickly as
possible to pick up the routine of her duties.

"And where have you had your training?" asked Madame. "In a private
hospital at Bordeaux! Then how is it that if you have lived all your
life in France, you speak English as well as any English girl?"

Dora explained that both her parents had been English and she had been
brought up to speak that language in her home.

A thought seemed suddenly to strike Madame, and remembering what Anna
had remarked upon bringing Dora into the room, she asked sharply, "And
you speak German, too?"

Dora fibbed boldly. After the rude remark that had been made about her
she thought it would be awkward for both of them if she admitted she had
understood it. So she shook her head and replied she had no knowledge of
German.

Madame was impressed with the look of her and was thinking quickly that
with her prettiness and innocent appearance she would be quite an asset
to the Institute. However, she was determined no police spy should be
planted near her, and accordingly the questioning of Dora was both sharp
and searching.

She wanted to know everything about her, who her parents had been, what
had been her reason for coming to London and what relatives and friends
she had in England.

"Then if you know no one over here," she frowned, "you can give me no
English references?"

"No, these are the only references I have," replied Dora, and she handed
over to her those from the convent and the hospital, along with a letter
from the Bordeaux banker, vouching for her respectability.

"Then are you a girl who can be trusted?" snapped Madame. "Because I
won't have anyone here who will gossip about the affairs of the
Institute. My patients are all high-class and it will do me a lot of
harm if their ailments are discussed outside."

"But I can hold my tongue," said Dora warmly. "I have never been one to
make many friends, and I don't give away confidences."

"Very well, then," said Madame after a long pause, "I'll give you a
trial. I'll supply you with a uniform and you can start here to-morrow.
If I find you don't suit me, you'll go without any notice. I'll pay you
two guineas a week."

Dora coloured up. "But that's not enough," she said instantly. "I can't
come to you under three," and then, as Madame glared fiercely at her as
if very astonished she did not at once accept the terms offered her, she
added, "I couldn't live on two guineas. I have to pay thirty-five
shillings for my weekly board and lodging at the hostel, and that would
leave only seven shillings for my fares, clothing and other expenses."

In a way, Madame was not displeased at her demanding the extra guinea,
as it suggested at once that Dora had nothing to do with the police.
Were that so, she thought, she would have taken any salary offered. So
it was finally agreed Dora should be paid the three guineas, and the
next morning she started upon her duties.

She liked the work at once. The patients interested her, and she was
always speculating as to what their ailments were. However, she never
came to like Madame, as the latter's manner was always rude and
bullying. She disliked Anna, too, and she felt she was being watched by
her as a cat would watch a mouse.

She was sure, too, it was Anna who had been making enquiries to find out
if she were really living at the hostel, as one evening when she
returned home the girl at the desk, with some amusement, told her a
stranger had rung up that afternoon and enquired if a Miss Dank were
staying there and, if so, if she was in. The girl had said they had no
Miss Dank, but there was a Miss Dane. Whereupon, the stranger had asked
how long she had been staying there and, upon being told only a week,
had at once said that was not the lady she wanted, and had rung off.

Dora had asked the girl what the stranger had seemed like to talk to,
and, when the girl had replied that she spoke in a quick and jerky tone,
was sure it had been Anna, as that was exactly the way in which she
always spoke. Dora was disgusted the Institute was so distrustful of
her.

To Leopold Haffman, Madame's brother, who had charge of the ray
treatments, she took no liking either, though he amused her in a mild
sort of way as he was always making fun of the patients behind their
backs. She summed him up as a dissipated roue whom no girl could trust.
She kept him well at a distance, though he was always most polite and
respectful to her and never attempted the slightest familiarity.

She saw the West End doctor a few times, and used to wonder what brought
him in to the Institute, as she knew it would not be considered ethical
by the medical profession to have dealings with Madame, who in their
eyes must be considered as an unqualified practitioner, trespassing upon
their preserves. The doctor was a well-dressed and good-looking man,
with something of a distinguished air. He never spoke to her, but eyed
her inquisitively, and an instinct told her that, if she gave him the
slightest opening, he would not be averse to starting up an acquaintance
with her. She never learnt his name, as Madame never called him anything
except 'Doctor'.

When she had been at the Institute for a very little while the idea
began gradually to come to her that more was going on than it was
intended she should know. She was not quite certain, either, that it was
believed she did not understand German, as though all the time Madame
and Anna invariably used that language when speaking together, they
would often abruptly stop talking when she came into the room.

Several times, too, at first she was certain Madame had tried to catch
her by rapping out a sharp order in German. However, she had always been
prepared for that and it gave her not a little amusement to stare
blankly and wait until the order was repeated in English.

Her suspicions that certain activities of the Institute were being
deliberately kept from her, once aroused, became strengthened in many
little ways, and then, to her disgust and fright, it burst suddenly upon
her that she was now in the employ of a woman who was carrying on
illegal operations. The almost absolute conviction came to her in this
way.

Every now and then she would be sent out to buy certain medicaments,
such as creams and oils needed in the massaging of the patients, but the
suspicious thing about these errands was that the purchases had always
to be made a good way distant from the Institute, when what was required
could just as well have been bought at shops close at hand. It meant her
being away much longer than she need have been, and, another thing, she
was always sent out at exactly the same time of day, about ten minutes
before two o'clock. It had often puzzled her, as these longer journeys
had always seemed such a waste of time.

Another thing, too; she began to associate these peculiar errands with
Madame having arrived that morning with a certain little black bag which
was at once bustled away into a cupboard and not seen again until she
took it off with her in the evening.

Then one day, immediately upon having returned from one of these
errands, going into Madame's consulting-room when no one was about and
placing what she had been sent out to buy upon the desk, she happened to
notice the surgical couch had been recently used, as the sheet upon it
was disarranged. Also, she distinctly smelt the smell of some
antiseptic.

Sniffing hard, she looked round with a puzzled frown. Antiseptics meant
to her some kind of operation, and yet she had never seen a surgical
instrument of any kind in the place! A great light came suddenly into
her mind! Could it be that Madame was in the habit of performing those
dreadful operations which, if it were known, would bring upon her the
punishment of the law? Of course, that was it, and why, too, she had
been sent out once again, so that she should not see the patient when
she arrived, and guess what she had come for!

She tiptoed quickly round the desk and opened the appointment book which
Madame was accustomed to use also as a rough sort of day-book and pencil
down against the name of each patient what had been done. No, according
to the book no one had been while she had been away and the next
appointment was for half-past two.

That afternoon the work at the Institute went on as usual, with Madame,
however, being perhaps a trifle quieter when she spoke. When the
telephone bell went, too, as it did several times, she dropped
everything she was doing at once to answer it herself, instead of, as at
other times, leaving it either to her cousin or Dora to find out first
for what it was being rung. She was anxious, thought Dora, and wondering
how the patient was getting on.

By now Dora had worked herself up into a most uneasy state of mind, for,
quite certain at last of what was going on, she was very frightened
that, with any scandal falling upon the Institute, as one working there
she would certainly be involved, too. Then, with the terrible publicity
which would ensue, it would mean good-bye to her chances of being taken
on at a hospital like St. Jude's, and her whole professional career
might be ruined.

Back at the hostel that evening she was half minded not to return to the
Institute again and would probably not have done so had it not been for
the question of money. There, she was in something of a quandary, as she
had been spending every penny of her weekly salary and more out of her
quickly dwindling little nest-egg, in fitting herself out with badly
needed new clothes. Indeed, she had only a very few pounds of ready
money left.

Finally, she resolved to continue on at the Institute, as, with two
months having passed now since her interview with the matron of St.
Jude's, she should be hearing from her any day now. She had promised to
write to her at any rate within three months, and she had appeared
emphatically to be a woman who would keep to her word.

So the following morning Dora turned up at the Institute as usual,
hating Madame now not only for her rude and overbearing manner but also
for the vile work she was carrying on.

Her feelings towards Madame would certainly not have been improved had
she overheard a conversation that took place between her and her brother
one afternoon in the former's room.

"You know that Dane girl could be very useful to us," Madame remarked
thoughtfully. "She's quick and intelligent, and patients like her.
Besides, if ever we happen to get another visit from that insolent
blackguard, the inspector, her appearance would help to disarm any
suspicions he had. He would see at once that she is of good class and
looks an innocent, too." She paused thoughtfully. "Still, I think I
shall have to get rid of her."

"Get rid of her!" exclaimed the brother. "What on earth for?" He leered.
"I'm not without hopes of one day having a good time with her." He
nodded. "She wants a lot of angling for, but she'd be worth it, every
time."

Madame frowned. "Then it's a pity you haven't brought it off already,"
she said slowly. "If she was your sweetheart it would bind her to us and
it wouldn't matter then what she found out." She added reluctantly,
"Still, as I say, I'm getting a bit afraid of her."

"Why," asked Leopold, "what's she done?"

"Nothing that I'm certain of," replied Madame, "but it's in my mind that
lately she's becoming too curious. She's all eyes and ears, and I
strongly suspect she's been going through my papers and things here.
Yesterday I'm sure she meddled with my cheque book, as it wasn't exactly
where I'd left it." She nodded. "Yes, I'm sorry, but I think I'll have
to get rid of her. At any rate, I'll watch her for a little while
longer."

"And you say she has no friends or relations in England?" asked Leopold.

"Not a single one. She's not well off, either, and hasn't a penny to
live on except what she earns here. When I first interviewed her she
told me she had been robbed by a thieving French lawyer of all the money
her mother had left her."

"And she's such a pretty girl," sighed Leopold, "as pretty as any lover
could want."

Madame spoke sharply. "Then why don't you get busy with her at once?
Shut her mouth by becoming her lover."

Leopold grinned. "I'm quite willing, but do you think she would be,
too?"

"Of course she would be," snapped Madame. "A girl of her age is hungry
for all the pleasures she can get, and you've only got to approach her
properly."

Leopold shook his head. "We're on quite good terms, certainly, but the
moment I attempt to get a bit more friendly"--he pursed up his
lips--"it's keep off the grass every time. Why, she'd slap my face if I
even stroked her arm!"

"Well, manage somehow to make her take a couple of nembutal capsules one
evening," said Madame brutally, "and she'll be so sleepy she'll be
completely off her guard. I've got some in one of my drawers." She
considered for a moment and then added, "I'll arrange she has to stop
here late after Anna and I have gone, and it'll be up to you to do the
rest."

Leopold's eyes gloated. The prospect was quite a pleasing one and he
would have no compunction in trying to bring it to fruition.

So it followed that a cup of coffee about half-past four in the
afternoon became an established form of refreshment at the Institute,
with Dora, rather to her surprise, being always offered one.

Madame had provided a dainty little percolator, but it was always her
brother who made the coffee and he made it very well, too. It was
stimulating towards the end of the day's work and Dora was always
pleased to see it appear.

In the meantime, in the pursuance of an intention of finding out all she
could about Madame's unlawful acts, Dora neglected no opportunity of
prying into her affairs. In fact she became what Madame had so
dreaded--a real spy in the citadel.

Whenever she got the chance, when Madame was out of her room, she
scanned through her correspondence, turned over the butts of her cheque
book and occasionally even got a glimpse of the transactions in her bank
book. Also, she methodically examined the contents of any drawers she
found unlocked. In some ways Madame was careless and occasionally left
her keys lying on the desk.

Dora saw nothing at all dishonourable in her prying. They didn't trust
her and she was only repaying them in their own coin. Madame was a bad
woman. She was preying upon the public, and it would be interesting to
find out all her methods.

Some things which she found out made her more certain than ever about
what Madame was doing, and she was astonished at the money she was
making. She saw from her pass book that from time to time quite
substantial sums in cash had been paid in; fifty, sixty-three and one of
eighty-four pounds. She observed grimly that the two last sums had been
payments in guineas, sixty and eighty guineas.

Then one Monday morning Anna had been sent hurriedly to the bank, and
later in the week Dora saw from the butt in the cheque book that a
hundred pounds had been drawn out. She cudgelled her brains, speculating
as to what the hundred pounds had been so suddenly wanted for, and then
it came back to her that the West End doctor had arrived very soon after
Anna had returned with the money and had been closeted with Madame for a
few minutes. Then they had come out together, with the doctor cool and
professional and Madame rather flushed in the face. She had remarked to
herself that Madame had been very quiet and subdued that day.

One thing Dora had come upon when searching through the drawers had been
a small bottle of nembutal capsules and, knowing the drug to be a most
powerful hypnotic, she had wondered smilingly to herself if Madame were
accustomed to take them at night to quieten her guilty conscience. She
could not imagine her giving them to a patient for sleeplessness, as a
much milder and much less dangerous hypnotic would be quite effective.

As it happened, Dora had learnt something about nembutal when at the
hospital in Bordeaux as, not only was it used there as a pre-anaesthetic
sedative, but also it had an evil reputation outside as it was not
infrequently given to seamen from ships calling in at the port. It was
known then as 'knock-out drops' and, put in their drinks, would quickly
render them so doped that they could be robbed with impunity. She had
heard of not a few drugged sailors who had been picked up unconscious in
dark and lonely streets and taken off in an ambulance to some hospital
for treatment.

One day, to her astonishment, Madame was most polite and nice to her,
giving her when she first arrived in the morning quite a warm and
friendly smile instead of the usual curt and cold nod. She continued to
be agreeable all that day, which seemed to amuse Anna not a little, as
if she were enjoying a good joke to herself all the time.

Somewhat late in the afternoon Madame announced that she must be leaving
a little earlier than usual and asked Dora very sweetly if she would
kindly type out some diet sheets for her, so that they would be all
ready for the first patient the next morning. Then she went off and,
taking Anna with her, Dora was consequently left alone in the Institute
with Leopold. Dora was not in the least concerned with the latter's
presence and, never even giving him a thought, started upon the typing
which she reckoned would take her about three-quarters of an hour.

Presently Leopold brought in the now customary coffee, and put the cup
down upon the table near where she was typing. Subconsciously, she
recalled afterwards she had noticed his hand was shaking, but had put it
down to his having had too much to drink the previous night. It was well
known that upon occasions he indulged in that way. She thanked him and
went on typing. For the moment the coffee looked too hot to drink.

A minute or two later the bell of the Institute rang sharply and,
getting up to answer it, to her surprise Dora found Leopold upon her
heels as she arrived at the door. She had never before known him attend
to any ring, as he was of the type who thought themselves much too grand
to do any menial jobs. He was an expert in the rays, he used to say, and
expected both Anna and Dora to wait upon him.

Two workmen were waiting in the corridor, and one announced they had
come to attend to one of the electric fires which had gone wrong.

Leopold appeared furious. "But you are too late," he snarled. "We are
just closing up. Come to-morrow."

However, the man persisted. "But we were told it would be all right if
we came any afternoon before five, and it's only just gone half-past
four." He frowned and seemed annoyed in his turn. "We're very busy, and
if we don't do it now it may be a week before we can come this way
again," and he added, "It may only take us a few minutes."

With evident reluctance Leopold let them come in and led the way into
Madame's consulting-room. Dora went back to her typing, but, before
starting again, took a sip of the coffee. Immediately she made a wry
face. The coffee tasted strange!

She took another very small sip to make sure she was not mistaken. No,
there certainly was a peculiar taste, though it was not a strong one,
and as she moved her tongue about to get its full flavour it struck her
suddenly that it was not altogether an unfamiliar one.

Why, it tasted like phenobarbital, tablets of which were often given to
the patients in the hospital at Bordeaux to make them sleep!

Phenobarbital! What was phenobarbital doing in her coffee? And then
suddenly a horrible feeling came over her and her mouth went dry in
fright. Phenobarbital was one of the barbitone group and so was that
nembutal she had seen in Madame's drawer! And they would both taste much
the same!

Her thoughts coursed like lightning through her. She remembered Madame's
peculiar and ingratiating manner that day, Anna's covert smiles and,
only such a few minutes ago, Leopold Haffman's shaking hands! Why, too,
had she been asked so late in the afternoon to do that typing when it
could just as well have been given her earlier in the day? Had it been
done for some particular purpose, and--oh, God!--was it intended she
should be drugged when she would be alone with this man?

Madame, with her operations, was a vile creature, and both Anna and
Leopold knowing, of course, all that was going on would be just as bad!

But why want to drug her? Why--but her face crimsoned up in shame and
she gave rein to her speculation no longer. She became a woman of
action, quick action, and prepared to think of everything.

Springing up from her seat with the cup in her hand, she darted over to
the wash-basin, at first minded to tip all the coffee away. However,
with a nervous smile, she first put a little in the saucer. Then, with
the rest emptied away, she tipped what was in the saucer back into the
cup.

"That'll puzzle him," she breathed. "He'll think I've suspected nothing
and drunk the lot."

Snapping the portable typewriter into its case, she collected her papers
and, quickly putting on her hat and coat, with the typewriter in her
hand, tiptoed softly down the passage to Madame's door. The door was
ajar and, putting her head into the room, she saw the two men working on
the electric fire, with Leopold standing watching them.

"I'm going, Mr. Haffman," she called out loudly. "I'll take the
typewriter with me and finish the typing at home."

Leopold looked round in a flash, with his face the study of amazement.
"But--but you can't do that," he said sharply. "I'm going to use the
typewriter myself when you've finished."

"Very well, then," she said calmly, "I'll leave it here and borrow one
at the hostel." She put down the typewriter upon the floor.

"You can't go like this, I say," went on Leopold angrily. "I want to see
that the diet sheets are all right."

"But I am going," she retorted curtly. "I've got a headache coming on
and it won't get better until I've had my tea," and as he made a move
towards the door as if he were going to try to stop her, she pulled it
to in his face and darted out of the Institute.

In her short ride home in the omnibus her thoughts were terrified ones.
She was sure she was not imagining everything! With her drugged and
helpless, the man might have been intending to do anything to her, and
it would have been done with Madame's connivance! What the latter's
motive was she could not imagine, but it might have been that in her
vile nature she was willing her brother should have his pleasure of her,
regardless of all consequences that might follow.

At any rate, she told herself, she had done with the Institute and would
never go near it again. She frowned here. It was certainly unfortunate
that everything had happened on the evening it had, as, with Madame
paying her salary only on alternate Fridays, six guineas was due on the
morrow. She sighed. Well, she would have to lose the money, that was
all!

She arrived at the hostel in a very depressed state of mind. All her
depression, however, was at once dispelled when she found waiting for
her a letter from the matron of St. Jude's saying that she could take
her now and would like her to come as soon as possible.

Dora was overjoyed and at once phoned St. Jude's that she would arrive
some time on the morrow. Her spirits rising at the prospect, her courage
rose also, and she decided to go to the Institute for a last day so that
she could collect the six guineas owing to her. Besides, she wanted to
see the expression upon the faces of the conspirators when she turned up
the next morning, because if she were right and there had been a vile
plot against her--and she was sure there was--they would not be able to
meet her in the ordinary, casual way. She would be able to tell at once
by their manner towards her whether or not they were guilty, and she was
quite confident what the verdict would be.

So, borrowing a typewriter from the office, she typed out the diet
sheets, and she typed them out faultlessly and with no mistakes, so that
Madame should have no excuse for reproof.

The next morning, her trunk and everything packed, she paid her bill at
the hostel and told them she would be calling for her luggage later in
the day.

She reached the Institute purposely a few minutes late, so that Leopold
would have had the opportunity of telling his sister all that had
happened the previous afternoon.

Madame glared hard at her, with her fierce eyes, Dora thought, one big
note of interrogation before snatching the diet sheets from her without
a word of thanks. Leopold looked irritable, and just gave her a curt nod
instead of his usual ingratiating smile, while Anna looked so positively
venomous that Dora would have liked to shut herself up in the toilet
room and have a good giggle.

Now Dora had been quite right in her surmise that the conspirators would
have talked things over before she arrived. They had, and Madame had
slated her brother caustically and called him a fool who had bungled
things badly. He must have frightened the girl somehow and made her
suspicious.

"But I hadn't," had snarled back Leopold. "She was as quiet and composed
as she always is when I brought in the cup of coffee, and she thanked me
nicely for it."

However, his sister had been unconvinced, and gave him more of her
tongue after she had seen Dora upon the latter's arrival at the
Institute.

"You big fool," she jeered, "that girl never had those three grains of
nembutal. If she'd taken half of them she couldn't come here this
morning looking so fresh as she does now." She glared at him angrily.
"You didn't put in enough sugar as I told you to, and she probably took
one sip and threw the rest away."

"But I tell you she didn't throw it away," insisted Leopold hotly. "When
she had gone I found her cup where she had left it on the table, and it
had got about a tablespoonful of the coffee still left at the bottom. If
she had emptied it at the sink she would have emptied all of it and not
left any in the cup."

"Well, I don't understand it," growled Madame. "It acts very quickly and
she ought to have been getting on for being aware of nothing in a
quarter of an hour."

Everything at the Institute went on as usual that morning, and when Anna
returned from her usual Friday visit to the bank, Dora received her six
guineas. The latter, seeing she had been paid for them, was intending to
work for the remaining hours of that day and then slip off without a
word and never come back again. If she told Madame her intentions she
thought it quite possible that the latter, in her rage, might resort to
actual physical violence.

Upon her return from lunch just before two o'clock, Madame sent Dora off
with a grunt to buy some massaging oil at a chemist's in Knightsbridge.
"Exactly," thought Dora, "another of those operations," and, determined
to get a glimpse of the patient this time, she took a taxi both ways, so
that she would return long before she was expected.

Arriving back nearly half an hour earlier than she would have done if
she had come by the bus, and meeting no one in the corridor, she slipped
into the little cloak-room to take off her hat, but then was brought to
a sudden halt by hearing Madame's excited voice upon the telephone, and
her heart almost stopped beating at what she heard. Madame was so
agitated that she had not even noticed that the consulting-room door was
only pushed to and not properly shut.

"But, doctor, you must come," wailed Madame. "I tell you she's dead, and
what can I do with a dead body here? . . . Yes, yes, I had just finished
and she went off in a faint. . . . I knew it was shock and we did
everything we could. . . . But you could give a certificate saying it
was heart failure from the shock of the galvanic battery. . . . Oh, you
must come. . . . But what am I to do? ... How can I get it away? . . .
But every minute's delay is dangerous. . . . She may have told friends,
and if she doesn't return soon they may come to see what's happened. . .
. No, I can't wait until it's dark. . . . Then where could I drop it in
the country? . . . Oh, you must come. . . . Remember all the money I've
paid you, and you'll get another hundred pounds now! I'll----"

But Dora, with a face as white as death, did not stop to listen to any
more. Her only thought now was to get off the premises as quickly as she
could.

As she had been expecting, another illegal operation had been done! The
woman had died under it from shock, and the body was lying in the
consulting-room! Of course, the police would have to learn about it now
and everyone found in the Institute would be arrested!

Again, to her intense relief, meeting neither Anna nor Leopold, she
snatched up the bottle of oil she had been sent for so that Madame
should not learn she had returned and might have overheard something of
the phone conversation, and fled down the stairs and was out of the
building in barely a minute.

Hailing a taxi, she ordered the driver to take her to the hostel and,
calming down during the short journey, was soon able to think clearly.

Of course, it had been that doctor Madame had been speaking to, and
without a doubt she was accustomed to bribe him heavily to 'cover' her
when anything went wrong with her patients. That was where that hundred
pounds had gone! But the doctor had evidently been refusing to help her
now, and that was why she had been so terrified at what was now going to
happen.

For certainly Madame would not be able to get rid of the body! How could
she? No, she would have to call in the nearest doctor, and it wasn't
likely any bribe would induce him to take the risk of giving a death
certificate. So the police would have to be told, and, oh, God! if her,
Dora's, name came to be in the newspapers----!

It would be good-bye to all hopes of a career at St. Jude's and, all
apart from that, the stigma of having once been in the employ of a
convicted abortionist might cling to her all her life.

However, she drew in a deep breath and took a little hope here. If she
could get away from the hostel before the police came to the Institute,
it was just possible they might never find her. She had made no friends
at the hostel and no one had any idea of where she was going.

However, she had qualms of doubt as it came home to her how slender was
the chance that she would not be drawn into a horrible publicity. Of
course the police would learn at once that there had been a fourth
person at the Institute, and, if only out of spite, Madame would tell
them who she was. Then, if her name were advertised along with her
description, how could she remain undiscovered?

The one chance was--and she took hope again--that having caught Madame
and the others red-handed, as they certainly would do now, the police
would have all the evidence they wanted and perhaps not trouble to find
her.

Arriving at the hostel, to her great dismay there was quite a long delay
before her trunk was brought down, as the porter was out upon an errand
and it was too heavy for the girls to handle. So, a good half-hour was
wasted before, finally, she was at last able to get off, and then, in a
loud voice so that everyone could hear, she ordered the taxi-driver to
take her to Waterloo Station.

Suddenly, as she was being driven along, the disconcerting thought came
to her that after all Madame might manage to escape from the dreadful
position in which she now found herself and not fall into the hands of
the police. She was a bold and resolute woman, and when night came might
smuggle the body away in her car, adopting the suggestion made to her
over the phone and carry it to some lonely place in the country.

Why, even in Epping Forest not a dozen miles out of town there were
plenty of such places where a body might lie under the thick carpet of
leaves for many months before it was discovered.

Another thing, too, in Madame's favour. The poor creature who had come
to her for the operation in all probability had told no one where she
was going, so when she failed to return, her relations would be able to
furnish no clue as to what had happened to her.

Then Dora's thoughts harking back to the vile attempt which she was sure
had been made the previous evening to ruin her, and which she was
equally sure, too, had been made with Madame's connivance, she was
filled with such loathing for the woman that the sudden resolution came
to her that at all risks to herself Madame should not escape.

So, arriving at Waterloo, she had her luggage taken to the cloak-room
and then, with shaking legs and quickly beating heart, went into a
telephone-box and rang up Scotland Yard.

Not wasting a moment when her call was answered, she began breathlessly,
"Go at once to the Institute of Perfect Health in----" but a voice
interrupted her by asking sharply, "Who's speaking?"

"Never mind that," she countered, "but you do as I say. The Institute is
upon the fourth floor of Alma Chambers in Shaftesbury Avenue. There's
the dead body of a woman there. She had just died from shock. Go
instantly, for they may try to remove it. The matter's very urgent," and
giving the voice at the other end no opportunity of asking any further
questions, she hung up the receiver and darted from the telephone-box.

Engaging another taxi, she was driven with her luggage to St. Jude's
Hospital and heaved a sigh of deep relief when she was deposited there
and the taxi had gone off. For the moment, at any rate, she was safe.

In the meantime her message had been passed on to Inspector Hatherleigh,
who happened to be on duty at the Yard, and he frowned heavily. "May be
only a hoax," he scowled, "but I'll have to chance that. We'll go at
once. That Madame woman was so insolent that I'd almost give my right
hand to catch her."

So less than a quarter of an hour later the inspector, accompanied by
two plainclothes officers, and a member of the Women Police, arrived
very quietly at the door of the Institute. The door was shut, but with
his ear pressed hard against the crack, the inspector could distinctly
hear the hum of low voices.

He pressed upon the bell and the voices at once stopped, though the door
still remained closed. His eyes gleamed. So the message had been no hoax
and there was a good kill coming.

He pushed the bell again, and still getting no answer, proceeded to rap
loudly with his knuckles upon the door. "The London Express Delivery
here," he called out with a wink round at his subordinates. "I've got a
parcel for Madame de Roche."

A few moments' waiting and the door was at last opened by Anna. She
gasped and her face went a dreadful colour when she recognised the
inspector, but he pushed by her and strode across to where he knew from
his previous visit was Madame's room.

His heart gave a mighty bound of triumph.

Madame and her brother were busy cording up an ottoman.


In the ensuing weeks, as can be well imagined, Dora went through a
terribly anxious time. She was always expecting a sudden summons to the
matron's room and to find herself confronted there by stern-faced
detectives from Scotland Yard with a warrant for her arrest.

The day following upon her arrival at the hospital, in the nurses'
recreation-room, she had seen in an evening newspaper that Madame, her
brother and Anna had all been up before a magistrate and committed for
trial, and she wondered pitifully if she herself were being traced and
in a few hours would be arrested, too.

Still, as day upon day passed with nothing happening, her peace of mind
returned, and she began to think that perhaps the police had never even
come to know of her existence.

However, she was wrong there, as the police had learnt from the porter
at Alma Chambers that there had been a fourth person, a young girl who
had not been very long there, associated with the others at the
Institute.

When questioned about her by the inspector, Madame remarked scoffingly,
"Don't waste your breath, Inspector. You know all about her." She nodded
viciously. "You haven't been pulling the wool over my eyes quite as much
as you imagine you have, as I was suspicious from the very first that
she was your spy." She jeered mockingly. "She's an attractive girl,
isn't she, Inspector? No doubt she is one of your lights of love?"

The inspector was very puzzled. Still, he succeeded in finding out from
Anna that Dora had come from the Women's Hostel near King's Cross, and,
accordingly, sent two men there to make enquiries. When, however, the
men came back, all the information they could give was that a Miss Dane
had stayed there for nine weeks, but had left suddenly upon the
afternoon when the Institute had been raided, and it was not known where
she had gone.

The inspector considered. After all, he was not very keen about finding
her, as he had caught Madame with all the evidence he wanted. Besides,
he shrewdly suspected that it was this missing girl who had rung up the
Yard that fatal afternoon. Added to that, the porter at Alma Chambers
had described her as being a superior type, and not likely to have been
aware of the unlawful work which had been going on, as upon two
occasions he had heard Madame being most abusive to her.

So, all things taken into account, no further efforts were made to trace
Dora, and some six weeks later, when the trial came on, she felt quite
confident she need no longer fear any trouble.

All the three accused were found guilty upon certain specified counts.
Madame was sentenced to seven years' hard labour, and Leopold and Anna
each to three. The presiding judge congratulated the police upon the
celerity with which they had brought the criminals to book.




CHAPTER IV.--THE PRECIPICE SIDE


Within a very few days of her arrival at St. Jude's Dora was quite sure
there could not be a nicer lot of girls anywhere than those among whom
she was now destined to work, and that was smilingly impressed upon her
by her colleagues themselves. She was told how particular Matron Paridy
was about whom she accepted as probationers, as it was generally
believed that, to satisfy her as to their fitness, not only must
applicants be of irreproachable character, well educated and come from a
good-class family, but also they must have the appearance of being of a
pleasant disposition and possess more than just passable good looks.

From the very first Dora had been most favourably impressed by the
matron and, as time went on, she realised more and more how right her
judgment had been. Built rather on the small side, Matron Paridy had a
kind and gentle face, with nothing haughty and pompous about it. She
liked to regard those working under her as all children of a large
family, but for all that she ruled them with a rod of iron, and woe
betide any among them who was brought before her for a deserved reproof.

"I must have efficiency," she would say to the offender. "We pride
ourselves here that we have the best hospital in London, and you must do
your part so that we can continue to think so. You've been careless, and
I can't have careless girls here. You mustn't become slack and allow
yourself to make mistakes. So, if you are brought before me again I
shall have to think seriously of telling you you must leave us," and she
would dismiss the girl with a kindly pat upon the shoulder.

When Dora had first arrived the matron had asked Elsie Waring, a senior
probationer, to put her in the way of everything. "Elsie Waring's not
only a clever girl," she told her, "but a very charming one as well, and
you won't find her quite so formidable as you might a sister."

Certainly Elsie was clever. For a year she had been at Girton College,
Cambridge, intending to take her degree in arts and make teaching her
profession. However, changing her mind, she had suddenly determined to
take up nursing and nearly three years previously had started at St.
Jude's. Undeniably very attractive, with big blue eyes and rich auburn
hair, she was of a bright and merry disposition. Always witty and
amusing, she was not only capable in her work at the hospital, but was
also, she would aver laughingly, wise in the ways of the world. She was
three years older than Dora.

"And I suppose Matron has told you," she laughed, "that St. Jude's is by
far the best hospital in all the world. Well, we certainly couldn't have
more distinguished doctors than we've got here. They are all of them the
aristocrats of the profession and three or four of them have royalty
among their patients. So, sometimes they'll come straight from attending
the highest in the land to palpate the tummy of a costermonger's girl."

"Are they very stuck-up?" asked Dora, a little awed.

"Not exactly," replied Elsie. "I'd rather call them aloof. You see--a
doctor on the staff of any hospital knows all the sisters and nurses
have been taught to look upon him as a little god. They have to wait
upon him as if they were inferior beings, or slaves who'd get their
heads chopped off if they did anything wrong. So that makes them think
they're tremendously important people."

"I know that," laughed Dora. "Don't forget I was two years in a hospital
in Bordeaux, though it was certainly a rather small one."

"And how did you find the doctors when you met them outside the
hospital?" asked Elsie.

Dora shook her head. "I never had anything to do with them."

"Innocent!" laughed Elsie. "Well, I've met some of ours outside," she
went on, "and found, as I might have expected, that meeting us away from
the hospital they forget we're nurses and, if at all pretty, regard us
at once as desirable females. If they're over thirty and getting on
towards middle-age, as of course most of them are before they can get
taken on the staff here, directly they get us alone they start at first
being fatherly"--she laughed merrily--"but very soon want to become
husbandly, and need telling when they must stop." She lowered her voice
mysteriously. "Why, do you know at the Nurses' Ball last year, when I
had a dance with the cold and haughty Sir Miles Braddock--Sir Miles is
one of our senior surgeons here"--she threw out her hands
dramatically--"what do you think he started to do when he'd taken me out
into the grounds to get, as he put it, a breath of fresh air--to me, one
of the despised nurses at whom he had so often scowled when he was doing
an op. in the theatre?"

"Put his arm round your waist, I suppose?" suggested Dora, very amused.

"Poof! That was only a beginning," scoffed Elsie, "and a very short one,
too. No, he started to try to kiss me as if we'd been old pals for ever
so long."

"And did you let him?" asked Dora with a smile.

Elsie looked modestly down her nose. "I might have let him for just a
few moments," she admitted, "for it was so funny with his prim old
missus tucking in to strawberries and cream in the hall not fifty yards
away." She nodded. "Besides, I thought it might be good for business,
and that I should be a marked girl in future and he'd push my interests
here with Matron."

"And did he?" asked Dora.

"Did he!" laughed Elsie merrily. "No, not a bit of it! In fact I thought
he scowled at me more nastily than ever the next time he saw me. The
ungrateful old wretch!"

Dora turned the conversation. "I suppose there are a lot of great
specialists here?" she asked.

Elsie nodded. "The best in the kingdom, with the cream of all special
knowledge from heads down to toes." She frowned. "But my dear old dad's
rather taught me to be afraid of specialists. He's a doctor, too, an
ordinary general practitioner in the Midlands, and believes so much of
the treatments they give are unnecessary. If you go to one of these big
bugs he may make a tremendous hullabaloo about whatever you've got the
matter with you and run up big bills with cultures and injections and
all sorts of expensive things. Whereas if you go to an ordinary doctor
it's just as likely he'll put you right with something quick and cheap."

She laughed. "You see--if you're a specialist you're naturally inclined
to welcome opportunities to give your speciality a run. Your special
knowledge seems to take possession of your whole mind. Look at our Dr.
Bankes Boulter here, for example. He's a great authority on syphilis,
and his brother medical men say he's so keen on it that he's come to
look at everybody through a syphilitic haze. He's sure nearly all of us
have either acquired it ourselves or else inherited traces of it from
our dads and mums, or their parents before them."

"If I were a great doctor," commented Dora, "I'd like to be a great
surgeon. The operating theatre always gives me a big thrill."

"Of course it does," agreed Elsie, "and it does nearly everybody else,
too. There's real drama there, with the hushed silence, the white-gowned
sisters standing round, and the surgeon the arbiter of life and death."
She held up her hand warningly. "And there's a great danger to the
public, if they only knew, in all this theatrical effect, as, with the
glamour about operations, nearly every young doctor, directly he gets
his diploma, wants to take to the knife at once. So I'm sure thousands
and thousands of operations are done which needn't have been, with the
wretched patient never getting the benefit of the doubt.

"I'll tell you something else you probably don't know," she went on.
"It's much harder to find a good physician than a good surgeon. My dad
says lots of doctors can do a splendid operation and yet be duds outside
their surgical work. He swears it takes a far better man to be a great
consulting physician than to be a good surgeon, as the physician has to
deal with the minds of the patients as well as with their bodies."

Dora laughed. "But I suppose, after being nearly three years at a big
hospital like this," she said, "all doctors are heroes in your eyes?"

Elsie considered. "Well, not exactly," she replied, "though I always
regard theirs as the most noble of all callings."

"Is your father clever?" asked Dora, and she added smilingly, "But, of
course, he must be to have a daughter like you."

"Flatterer!" laughed Elsie. "Yes, he is clever and one of the best-read
men I ever knew, which only goes to prove what I always say--that you
can't have a clever doctor unless he's a clever man outside his
profession as well. Find a man who's got no breadth of outlook on life,
who has no imagination and doesn't read books--and if he's a doctor,
he's never a good one. That doesn't apply so much to surgeons as to
physicians, for a surgeon's work is to some extent mechanical." She
nodded again. "Keep your eyes open as you go along and see if I'm not
right."

Dora was longer than four years at St. Jude's, and in the course of that
time her whole nature seemed to undergo a great change for the better.
Thoroughly happy in her surroundings, she became much less bitter
against the world generally and threw off not a little of her studied
reserve. Taking part in the social life of the hospital in the dances
and conversaziones, she was brought in contact with many of the other
sex and speedily got rid of the idea that every man who was polite to
her was intending to seduce her.

Developing, as her mother had so fondly anticipated, into a beautiful
and aristocratic-looking woman, she had yet more than her good looks to
recommend her, with her poise and natural dignity always demanding
respect. Of course she had many admirers, but, save for a few mild
flirtations, she kept them all well at a distance.

Though, as we have seen, of a much deeper character than her mother,
strangely enough, the latter's influence over her was stronger now than
it had ever been when she was alive, with the dead hand reaching out
beyond the grave and holding her in a vice-like grip. To find her father
was the secret legacy which had been left her, and to do so was the
greatest incentive in her life.

She was quite certain that one day she would learn who he was and, with
the abiding obsession that she would then find him in a high social
circle, she was determined when she did make herself known to him that
they should both be meeting on equal terms. Otherwise, she told herself,
if a nonentity and a woman of no standing, when she came to call him to
account for the way he had dealt with her mother--and she most
resolutely intended to do that--the judgment she would pass upon him
would lose much of its force. She would be able to sting far deeper, she
was sure, if by her own effort, and with no help from him, she had
raised herself to be his equal in the social scale.

Often, however, when she considered in cold blood the likelihood of her
ever learning who he was, she would sigh deeply. The world was so very
wide and chance played so great a part in the ordering of people's
lives. Still--and she would at once take heart again--the improbable and
the seemingly impossible did sometimes happen, and she was sure it was
going to with her.

At any rate, she had two clues to help her. She knew her father's
Christian name must be the unusual one of Athol, as in her dying hours
her mother had many times called upon that name. Another thing, too, she
remembered, looking back to her childhood and girlhood days, and that
was how interested her mother had always been in the crooked little
finger of her, Dora's, left hand. She would smilingly draw her attention
to it, never seeming to regard it as a deformity, but rather as if it
were something to be proud of. Occasionally she would kiss it, and so
for a long time now it had been in Dora's mind that it must be something
unusual that she had inherited from her father.

Dora often laughed mockingly here. A man who had a crooked little finger
and whose Christian name was Athol! How easy he would be to find!

Dora's work at the hospital could not have been better, and in most ways
she was an ideal nurse. Most capable, and with infinite patience, she
was always sympathetic towards anyone in suffering, and her nature never
hardened by its familiarity with pain, as is unhappily the case with so
many of her calling. The patients loved her, and many a fretful child
would at once cease its crying only with her, as she held its little
hand or stroked the fevered little forehead with her cool white fingers.

Once, when the matron was ill, she picked upon Dora, of all the other
nurses, to attend to her. "I feel safe with you, dear," she smiled.
"You've got something of the healing presence, and I should always be
happy if it were you who were nursing anyone I loved."

The medical staff, too, never had anything but good words for her, and
it was said by the nurses that it was only to her Sir Robert Griffin,
one of the senior physicians and a cold stern man, gave his rare smile.

"Of course he's in love with you, Dora," laughed Elsie. "He follows you
about with his eyes. If it weren't for old Lady Griffin I'm sure he'd be
wanting to marry you."

"Thank you," laughed back Dora. "But if or when I do marry, it'll be
someone not old enough to be my father."

Dora had had two offers of marriage, one from an assistant surgeon, on
the staff, and the other, of all people, from the middle-aged chaplain
of the hospital. The young surgeon she certainly liked well enough. He
was very much in love with her, good-looking, and everyone prophesied
for him a brilliant career. However, Dora did not think he would ever be
able to give her the social position she wanted, and so she turned him
down quite nicely, but with a definite refusal.

With the chaplain she had a lot of difficulty in convincing him she
could never be his wife. A high churchman approaching forty years of
age, he had been proof against all the attractions of the other sex
until he had been introduced to Dora, and then, with all the madness of
the middle-aged man who was experiencing passion for the fest time, all
his power of resistance seemed to have left him.

He started his courtship by suggesting she should attend the services at
his church. Next, he wrote her a special invitation to come to one of
his parish concerts, and then asked if he should get the matron to allow
her a day off so that she could help with his annual fete.

At last, finding these advances of no avail, he boldly proposed to her
when he met her one afternoon in the street. She was most embarrassed,
but told him flatly she could never be a clergyman's wife and, apart
from that, did not intend to marry at all, as her profession was her
only interest in life.

It ended in her disconsolate suitor resigning his chaplaincy at St.
Jude's so that he should not have the unhappiness of seeing her after
her refusal of his offer to marry him.

"And that's another heart you've broken, Dora," reproved Elsie in
affected sadness, "but with those eyes of yours I am sure there are
other tragedies to come."

Shortly afterwards, Dora had yet a third proposal and, though she was
furious at the condition imposed upon it, she could never think of it
without laughing.

Elsie and she had continued to be great friends, and one summer along
with her and another nurse she spent a three weeks' holiday at a
hydropathic in Harrogate. All three were good-looking girls and
attracted a lot of interest. Among their joint admirers was an elderly
Scotchman from Glasgow, by name of Angus Charles McRob.

He was a widower, in obviously well-to-do circumstances, and though he
had already been married twice he made no secret that he was now looking
for number three. He was greatly attracted by all the three nurses and
to their great amusement told them quite seriously that one or other of
them might soon become the next Mrs. McRob.

Regarding his attentions as a good joke, they rather encouraged him and
let him take them about, always, however, all three together, upon motor
excursions, to theatres and concerts and the other amusements of the
spa.

Then, one evening after dinner when they were all sitting together upon
a seat in the grounds of the hydro, he patted Dora upon the knee and
announced suddenly he had made up his mind at last, and that she was the
chosen one.

Dora reddened uncomfortably at the realisation of the awkward position
to which their foolish encouragement of him had led her, while her two
friends giggled delightedly.

Then Mr. McRob went on to tell them with a crafty smile that he had been
'a canny mon' all his life and was quite aware of what sort of girls so
many nurses were. So there was a condition, he said, attached to his
proposal before it was 'offeecial' and could be made public.

The three girls held their breaths, all agog in curiosity as to what the
condition might be. Then it came out.

On the morrow, he said, "to make su-ure she was a gude girrl," Dora was
to go across to a doctor friend of his for "a wee bit examination."

For a moment there was a dead silence, while Mr. McRob looked smilingly
at one and the other of them as if waiting for their admiration of his
cleverness. Then Elsie burst into a shriek of laughter, while Dora was
so furious that she gave him a resounding smack on the face.

None of the three became the third Mrs. McRob.

Not very long before Dora ultimately came to leave St. Jude's, a great
happening occurred in her life, and for a time, at any rate, it seemed
as if all her ambitious dreaming was to be thrown to the winds.

She fell in love and with a man who in no way fulfilled the requirements
she had so often insisted to herself were necessary for the end she had
in view.

By name of Eric Dalton Chalmers, undeniably handsome and of an
attractive appearance, he was fifteen years older than Dora. Certainly
he was well-educated and came of a good family, but his relations had
long since cast him off and, as Dora was to learn later, he was a man of
loose and bad character, and it was even said he had been in prison. He
had no money and with his careless and irresponsible disposition had
made every occupation he followed--and he had followed many in his
time--an unsuccessful one.

Strangely enough, nearly everyone liked him and was ready to find
excuses for him. Merry and light-hearted, he was good company wherever
he went, and through all his bad social lapses yet continued to carry
something of the gentleman about him. With all things favourable, he
might indeed cheat at cards, with no pangs of conscience let down every
tradesman who was foolish enough to trust him, but he regarded a
gambling debt as a debt of honour and would go to great lengths to
discharge it.

Dora was introduced to him at a Chelsea Arts Ball, and as he led her out
on to the floor, for no reason that she could understand her heart began
to beat a little faster. With his bold eyes looking down possessively,
he smiled at her with what she thought was a most fascinating smile. "So
you're a nurse, are you?" he said. "Well, you're much too pretty to be
one, as with you nursing me I'm sure I should never want to get well."

He was a good dancer, and Dora sighed deeply in a strange delight at his
close proximity to her in the glorious melody of the beautiful Blue
Danube waltz. Later, they sat out two dances and were soon chatting
interestedly as if they were quite old friends. Indeed, afterwards Dora
was in the way of being rather ashamed that she had told him so much
about herself. However, his own confidences had led her on and he spoke
so candidly there that she could not help becoming immediately
interested in him.

As a rolling stone, he said, he had knocked about in many parts of the
world, but had never done much good anywhere. He was a thorough bad egg,
he laughed, and always had been. He thought, however, that he had been
happiest when serving in France during the First Great War. Then, with
all its horrors, life had been carefree and exhilarating, with the
fighting coming like continued deep draughts of the best champagne. His
return to civil life had been a great flop and taken all his moral
strength from him.

"No, I am not married," he smiled, "but don't you go building any hopes
there, as I'm not a marrying man. For one thing I'm much too fickle and
want to make a fuss of every pretty girl I see. I shouldn't have asked
to be introduced to you if you were the least bit plain."

"Then I'm not safe with you," laughed back Dora, quite thrilled to think
that she was running into danger.

"No, I'm a bomb to all young and attractive females," he grinned
cheerfully. "So you look out and remember I have warned you." He
pretended to sigh. "Just now my wings are clipped a bit, as I'm pretty
hard up. I'm only scratching along as a black-and-white artist."

Later, in bidding her good-bye, he gave her hand a gentle squeeze and
whispered, without going through the formality of asking for any
permission, that he'd ring her up one day and take her out to dinner
somewhere to see a bit of life. "When I've sold some of my sketches," he
added, "and am in funds again."

Dora laughed happily that she wasn't sure whether she'd come, but for
all that she knew she would.

There was no doubt he had made a great impression upon her, and that
night before she went to sleep her thoughts were full of him. He had
struck some chord in her woman's nature which no man had ever vibrated
before, not because he was good-looking, but for some other quality he
possessed, a quality which, however, she could not analyse.

In the days which followed, when no message from him came through, she
took to wondering if she would ever meet him again, each time, however,
dismissing the idea as impossible. He was not that kind of man, she told
herself, for, with all the bad character he had so candidly given
himself, she was sure he was one who would always keep a promise if he
could.

So she was not at all surprised when one evening she found herself
called to the phone and heard his voice speaking. As once before, the
beatings of her heart quickened.

"Thought I'd forgotten you?" he asked, and she was about to reply she
hadn't thought about the matter at all when she suddenly changed her
mind and replied, "No, I thought you'd ring some day," and she added
laughingly, "Then you're in funds again?"

"Just for a little while," he laughed, "but it won't last long; money
never does with me. Now what about me calling for you and giving you
that dinner I promised? Can you manage, say, to-morrow night?"

He wanted to call for her at the hospital, but she wouldn't have that,
and so it was arranged they should meet at the tube station in
Piccadilly. Though she was early at the rendezvous, he was earlier
still, and the moment he saw her he exclaimed fervently, "My word, but
you're a little beauty, aren't you?" and she thrilled at the admiration
she saw in his eyes.

He took her to Claridge's, and it was well he had booked a table as the
place was thronged. Dora looked round with a flushed face and
widely-opened eyes. The suggestion of wealth was everywhere.
Superbly-gowned women seemed to occupy every table, and never before,
except in a jeweller's window, had she seen such beautiful precious
stones. Most of the men, too, looked distinguished and as if, even if
they were not among the best-born, they had at least made their mark in
some important walk of life.

Dora's feelings were almost overwhelming ones, for here at last, she
thought, she was getting a glimpse of that greater world in which one
day, she had always dreamed, she would move herself.

Noting her unmistakable appreciation of her surroundings, Chalmers was
delighted at the pleasure she was so obviously experiencing. "Plenty of
money here," he remarked, and he smiled whimsically. "It's a sure thing
that everybody has got more money than you or I."

"But you shouldn't have brought me," reproved Dora warmly. "It'll cost
you far too much of the little you say you have."

"Nonsense," laughed Chalmers, "I've always lived in the present, and
to-night, with you as my companion, I'm having a little stroll through
Paradise." He made a grimace. "Of course, I know I'll be turned out
to-morrow, but no one will be able to take the memory from me." He
looked tenderly at her. "So enjoy yourself, little one, while we are
walking in this garden of bright flowers."

For a few fleeting seconds Dora's happiness was chilled by the way he
was regarding her. He was giving her all he could, and in return would
get little out of her. She ought not to have come out with him! She was
leading him on!

However, these uneasy moments passed quickly, and she took interest
again in the people around her. "What a lovely, aristocratic-looking
girl," she exclaimed, "that one at the table over there with the
carnations. The old man with her might be her grandfather."

Chalmers looked round and then laughed scoffingly. "Grandfather--not a
bit of it!" he exclaimed. "I happen to know who they are. They're
husband and wife, Sir Guy and Lady Beeming, and she's twenty and he's
sixty-five. Their wedding, not six months ago, was a wonderful society
affair." He looked round again. "Yes, she does look an aristocrat. I'm
sure everyone would say that."

"But I wonder why she ever came to marry him?" frowned Dora.

"No wonder at all," retorted Chalmers instantly. "He's as rich as
Croesus and two years before she married him, before she'd gone into the
chorus at Sadler's Wells, she was helping in her parents' shop in
Hoxton. They were little greengrocers there in a small by-street
and----But oh, see that tall gaunt man there, who's as hideous as the
woman seated opposite him is lovely?"

"Yes, I see him," replied Dora. "He looks a full brother to Satan to
me."

"But he's a most distinguished man," frowned Chalmers. "He's Sir Charles
Carrion, one of the world's greatest surgeons, and they say his fee was
fifty thousand guineas when he went to India last year to operate upon a
fabulously wealthy Rajah there."

"I've heard of him," exclaimed Dora in some excitement. "We've got his
Abdominal Viscera in the hospital library, but fancy such a great man
being so ugly!"

"And there's another great man," went on Chalmers, "and neither would he
take a prize in a beauty show now. He's Lord Rabbin, the painter, the
President of the Royal Academy, and I'd get no change out of five
thousand guineas if I got him to paint you."

"Then it's a good thing you haven't got it to throw away," laughed Dora.
She indicated the woman with Lord Rabbin. "And I suppose she's his
wife."

Chalmers nodded. "What do you think of her?"

Dora considered. "Well, she looks rather like a vulture now, but I
should say she wasn't bad-looking once."

"Bad-looking!" exclaimed Chalmers. "Not if what I've heard is true." He
spoke emphatically. "Do you know, Dora, that forty and more years ago
theirs was a romantic love-story that stirred society to its very
depths. I've heard my mother speak about it. Young Rabbin was a
struggling artist then, without a penny, and that woman whom you say is
like a vulture now was the only daughter of the Marquis of Rivington,
and one of the loveliest girls of her year. Now she's blue blood, if you
like, with ancestors going back for a thousand years and more--and she
just eloped with him before she was nineteen."

"And they've been happy?" asked Dora.

"Undoubtedly," replied Chalmers. He smiled. "At any rate they've had
seven or eight children, and there's a granddaughter now who's said to
be even more lovely than her grandmother was."

"But how do you come to know so much about these people?" asked Dora
curiously.

Chalmers frowned. "Before I disgraced my family I was friendly with some
of them." He added bitterly, "As we came in here I noticed a man I used
to know well, years ago, but he pretended not to see me."

A short silence followed and then Dora asked hesitatingly, and with a
little catch in her breath, "Do you happen--do you happen to have ever
heard of a man whose Christian name is Athol?"

"Athol! Athol!" repeated Chalmers slowly and as if searching his memory.
He nodded. "Yes, I believe I've heard of several. But who's the
particular one you want to know about?"

Dora laughed nervously. "I don't know. I want to find out. He's someone,
I should think, in good society. But what ones have you heard of with
that Christian name?"

Chalmers shook his head. "I can't remember, though it's in my mind
somehow that I've heard of one in particular." He nodded. "However,
it'll certainly come back before long."

"Then be sure and tell me," said Dora earnestly, and he promised he
would.

The meal over, they went into St. James's Park, and for an hour and
longer sat talking upon one of the seats before he took her back to the
hospital in a taxi. He was most circumspect and, in parting, gave her no
more than a squeeze of the hand.

On two more evenings he took her out again, with Dora realising with
some fright that she was getting really fond of him. He was so natural
and boyish, and she was sure that at bottom there was little wrong with
him. It was only, she thought, that during all his life he had met no
one who had an influence for good with him. Married happily, he would
have turned out to be a man very different from what he was always
impressing her he was now.

Excusing herself for her growing friendship with him by insisting it was
more maternal than anything else, she gave little real thought, however,
to how it was going to end. It was just, she sighed, that they were both
enjoying the present, with no regard to the future, and she kept on
assuring herself that she would definitely refuse to marry him if ever
it happened that he came to ask her.

Still, one thing was disquieting to her. The unexpected and passionate
kiss he had given her in parting upon the third night she had been out
with him had not been without its aftermath, for, when thinking about it
later, she had trembled many times at the memory of the ecstasy it had
given her. However, she assured herself that never, never would she
allow him to go further than a kiss.

Then for three weeks she heard nothing of him, until he rang up, making
another appointment for dinner and a picture afterwards. This time it
was to no magnificent Claridge's he took her, but to a small foreign
restaurant in Soho. He was rather silent during the meal, and several
times she thought he was regarding her curiously.

Out in the street again, and walking towards where they were going to
see the picture, he stopped suddenly and said, "Oh, damn the pictures! I
don't feel inclined to go to one to-night. Instead, I'll take you to my
studio and you shall see some of my sketches," and without waiting for
her assent he hailed a taxi and handed her into it.

Now Dora was no fool and her knees shook under her in the privacy of the
taxi when he put his arm round her waist and gently pulled her to him to
kiss her. What was now going to happen to her, she asked herself
fearfully? Up to then she had never been alone with him in any building,
and the very thought frightened her, while at the same time she knew she
was not going unwillingly.

What did it mean? she asked herself. What--but his kisses seemed to
benumb all her powers of reasoning, and the rapture of lying limp in his
arms and returning his caresses made her oblivious of everything else.

The drive was a short one, and pulling up at a small house in a little
street off Sloan Square he opened the door with his key and led her up
to his studio on the first floor.

"I share this with a friend," he said, speaking a little huskily, "but
he's away this week and so"--he turned away his eyes--"we shall be all
alone. Take off your hat dear, and make yourself at home."

With shaking hands, she did as she was told and laid the hat upon a
chair. Then, with her breath coming quickly, she turned to face him.

He was looking at her with all the ecstasy of an accepted lover and,
with his eyes shining and his lips parted, moved towards her to take her
in his arms.

Suddenly, however, and as if in a flash of startled discovery, he
stopped dead. He dropped his widely-opened arms, he stood hesitating and
then, all in an instant, from a great tenderness the whole expression of
his face became hard and stern.

"Sit there," he ordered harshly, pointing to a settee. "I'm going to
talk to you," and, turning a chair round, he sat down facing her, with
his arms folded upon the chair back.

Dora was thunderstruck, and if her limbs now shook under her it was from
sheer fright because he was looking at her so furiously.

"You damned little fool," he burst out; "you've got no more sense than
the rest of them. You women tempt us men beyond all endurance and then,
when you've raised the devil in us, you whine at the consequences." He
raised his voice angrily. "Why did you allow yourself to come here alone
with me? Didn't your instinct, let alone your common sense, tell you I
wasn't the kind of man to stop at kisses once you had let me start
taking them?" He gritted his teeth savagely. "Oh, yes, you were guessing
right enough what I had brought you here for, and don't you pretend you
didn't know quite well the danger you were running into."

He spoke scoffingly. "And now can you make another guess, Miss Dane, and
ask yourself why what you were in such danger of is not going to happen,
why you are being saved from your own damned stupidity."

Dora had gone as white as death at so extraordinary and bitter an
outburst from the man whom, in spite of all her grand resolutions, she
had come to love, and she was so overwhelmed that she was in no
condition to utter even a single word. She sat on, with her heart
beating painfully.

Chalmers, as if not expecting any answer to his questions, went on much
more quietly and almost in conversational tones now. "Well, I'll tell
you." He drew in a deep breath. "You know, young woman, you've always
been a bit of a puzzle to me. You puzzled me almost from that first
moment when I was introduced to you. To begin with, I thought you were a
good girl, a young lady as yet untouched by the coarseness of any of us
wicked men, but soon"--he frowned--"I began to take you to be something
of an old stager, with perhaps not a little of experience behind you.
That idea grew upon me and so"--he shrugged his shoulders--"I just
brought you here to gain a little more experience still."

He paused a few moments and then went on sharply, "I believed this worst
of you until about three minutes ago and by now, if I hadn't suddenly
altered my opinion"--he smiled grimly--"you wouldn't have been what you
are any more." He held her eyes with his. "Do you know what saved you
from both yourself and me? No, of course you don't, but I'll tell you."

He took out a cigarette and lighted it quite leisurely. "I told you once
that I am not married, and it is quite true. But I was married once"--he
shrugged his shoulders--"until my wife, quite deservedly, divorced me.
She was a good girl and had been all she should have been until her
wedding night." He made a grimace. "Her mother was a shrewd woman and
had left no chances for me lying about." He spoke gently. "Well, when I
took my wife upstairs in the hotel that night, as we entered the room I
saw a nervous frightened look upon her face." He raised one long
forefinger in emphasis. "She was frightened at what she knew was going
to happen to her, as she had had no experience of it before."

He lifted up his hand and spoke very slowly and emphatically. "And, to
your good fortune, I saw that same scared look on your face just now
when you had taken off your hat. You were frightened as she had been
because you are what people call good, too." He nodded. "Yes, that look
saved you"--he bowed ironically--"and so I am going to leave you to make
that last gift of yours one day to some decent man."

He sprang abruptly to his feet and pointed to her hat. "Put it on," he
ordered sharply, "and get out quick, as I'm only human and may change my
mind. Go on--get away quick! I've finished with you and never want to
see you again. Go on! You can get home by yourself, and if you've no
money on you to pay the bus fare so much the better. You can walk, and
you'll have plenty of time then to realise what a damned little fool
you've been," and, almost pushing her out of the studio, he slammed the
door viciously behind her.

With his head bent down, he listened to her retreating footsteps until
they had died away, and then darted over to a cupboard and took out a
bottle of whisky. "A damned fool myself," he growled, "and I'll never
get such a chance again." He sighed deeply. "Still, I've done the right
thing for once, though I'm not sure I won't regret it all my life."

And Dora? Dora was in the depths of a most bitter humiliation as she
walked along. He had been right! He had seen through her! She had known
quite well what was going to happen and she had fallen for it like the
veriest drab of a little servant girl who had gone out for a walk in the
dark for the first time with her lover!

She crimsoned up in shame. And he had almost called her by a bad name
and thrown her out as if she had not been worth the taking! Oh, God, as
he had said, what a little fool she had been! Yet--in his upbraiding her
he had not plumbed to half the depths of her folly. Entangled with him,
what would have become of her high resolve to climb to a position where
she could meet her father--when she found him--on equal terms?

She shed many tears that night before sleep at last came to her, but in
her weeping there were no bitter thoughts for the man who had so reviled
her. Bad he might be, but, for all that, he had saved her from herself,
and she was grateful.

The next day she made up her mind that she would leave St. Jude's. She
did not wholly trust herself if Eric Chalmers should try to get in touch
with her again. Added to that, she wanted now to mix with the class of
people among whom she was sure her father was to be found.

She told herself it would not be as difficult there as it might seem,
for she would try to get her cases from among the patients of the
highest of the hospital medical staff.

Once having made up her mind, she acted quickly and that same afternoon
spoke to the matron. The latter was sympathetic. "Yes, Sister," she
said, "I quite understand. Of course, I shall be very sorry to lose you,
but I won't try to dissuade you, for I know you'll make an ideal private
nurse and will get plenty to do." She looked thoughtful. "In fact I
rather think I can put you on to something straightaway. Just wait a day
or two and I'll speak to you again."

So it came about that a few days later Dora was sent for to the matron's
room. Rather to her embarrassment, Sir Robert Griffin, the senior
physician of the hospital, was there. The matron was all smiles.
"Sister," she said, "Sir Robert has a proposition to put to you, and I
think it will please you." She laughed. "I know it would me if I were
you."

"It's like this, Sister Dane," said the great man pleasantly. "I want a
nurse for my consulting-rooms"--he smiled his rare smile--"and from what
I know of you, you are just the one I'd like to have. It's nice
interesting work and I would pay you eight guineas a week. I must tell
you, however, that the position would not be a permanent one, as I
should only want you for about six months. My present nurse is going to
have a serious operation and afterwards will have to go away for at
least a three months' holiday. Now does the proposition appeal to you?"

Did it appeal to Dora? Why, it was an opportunity, the magnificence of
which almost took her breath away! Sir Robert attended royalty and, as a
consulting physician, everybody knew his practice lay among the
wealthiest society people.

She stammered her thanks at his asking her and accepted at once.

So the following week saw Dora starting upon her duties in Cavendish
Square, and she was so thrilled with everything that the wound caused by
her break with Eric Chalmers seemed to heal almost at once. It was an
unpleasant adventure, she told herself, from which, however, most
undeservedly, she had escaped very lightly.




CHAPTER V.--THE FIRST STEP ON THE LADDER


For the agreed six months Dora was in attendance upon Sir Robert at his
consulting-rooms, but there was no doubt she was disappointed with the
result, as she had soon come to realise what a priceless little fool she
had been to have ever imagined that it might bring her the opportunity,
upon which she had set her heart, of making a good marriage.

Certainly she was working among the very class she had wanted to, as
hardly a day passed without her being brought in contact with some of
the best of titled society people, many of whose names were so often
mentioned in the social columns of the newspapers. Still, they were
nearly all either old or elderly and, apart from that, she met them only
as Sir Robert's nurse, and, their attendance at his consulting-room
finished, her association with them was over and done with.

It is true some of the men patients were quite agreeable to paying her
plenty of attention, bringing her flowers and boxes of chocolates and
even on the quiet suggesting they should meet her outside and take her
out to dinner. The older they were, too, the more gallant some of these
latter were inclined to be. Indeed, one old lord of an historic name and
well into the seventies, who was being treated by Sir Robert for
arthritis, was so insistent she should meet him one evening that she had
to tell him off sharply, even at the risk of giving offence. That he was
married to an old lady seemingly as ancient as himself had not in any
way damped his ardour, and Dora had had several grim laughs to herself
at the thought of what people would think of her if they saw her in
public with this tottery old gentleman as her cavalier.

In another way, too, she had suffered a great disillusionment, for it
had come to her of late that the idea she would ever learn who was her
father was altogether a fantastic one, and she grew hot in shame at the
thought of what a silly, foolish girl she had been. Probably it had been
a dream on her poor mother's part that her lover had been of the upper
classes!

Of such humble birth as she knew her mother had been, and, with such
scant education and no experience or knowledge of the world, no young
girl could have been more easily imposed upon than she. With a sigh of
pity, she, Dora, could visualise it all so clearly now. A young and
pretty neglected wife, with the background of a most unhappy home--a boy
out upon a holiday and eager as all young men always are for a love
adventure--why, what would have been more natural than that the boy
should have pitched her a tale, got all he wanted out of her and then
faded back into the millions and millions of young fellows like him.

Then another thing was beginning to worry Dora quite a lot. She was
marking time, or, worse than that, was actually losing ground in her
endeavour to make a good marriage. At twenty-five the best years of her
life were slipping dangerously by, and with every year that passed her
chances would get less and less. Why should she not marry well? she kept
on asking herself. Countless other girls with fewer advantages than hers
had done it. She knew she had good looks and, in the main, that was what
men most wanted. She had intelligence, too, and some knowledge of the
world. Surely they should help her! Yes, it was just opportunity she
wanted, and she must find that opportunity somehow.

So things were up to the Monday of her last week at Cavendish Square,
and then, arriving at the consulting-rooms as usual at half-past nine,
the secretary told her Sir Robert had been called into the country and,
in consequence, would not be seeing patients until about one o'clock.

"He's gone to a place near Tunbridge Wells," she said, "to a Mrs.
Britton-Fox who's got chunks of money," and, having once spent a holiday
not far from there, she went on to expatiate upon the grandeur of Marden
Court where the patient lived.

Dora listened with some interest to a description of the beautiful park,
with its large ornamental lake, the herd of deer, the great house with
its more than forty rooms and the many pictures and art treasures it
contained. "It's a show place," the secretary said, "and, when Mrs.
Britton-Fox's husband was alive, scores of important people used to be
entertained there."

That afternoon when Sir Robert had finished with his patients he called
Dora back into his consulting-room and to her great delight suggested
that she could go down to the Court to look after this Mrs. Britton-Fox.

"She's got a shocking heart," he said, "and though at the moment she is
not actually ill, she's liable to become so any day. So I want someone
with her who is capable of furnishing me with an adequate report twice a
week. It may not be at all a hard case for you to look after, as she is
not being confined to her bed, but, for all that, you may find her
difficult to manage, as I particularly want you to be very strict about
her diet. You will receive your present salary."

Dora was thrilled. It might turn out to be the very chance she had been
looking for, a chance which after all had come to her without her
looking for it! She would be among the best-class people and surely
anything might come of it!

So at the end of the week she was driven with Sir Robert to Marden
Court, and on the way down he told her chattily quite a lot about her
patient-to-be.

The childless widow of Marcus Britton-Fox who had had large commercial
interests in India, she was a proud and wealthy old woman. During her
husband's lifetime, and for a short time following his death, she had
been an important person in the society world, entertaining lavishly
among the best society people.

Her chef had been an artist, her cellar one of the best in the kingdom,
and money had been poured out like water to provide amusement for her
guests. She had kept on in this way, too, for the first couple of years
or so of her widowhood, and then had been brought up sharply by a bad
heart attack.

"That was a little over a year ago," went on Sir Robert, "and then I
made her drop all this senseless entertaining and insisted she should
live the very quietest of lives. She didn't want to, but I frightened
her into it, and now she has settled down very ungraciously to a
semi-chronic invalidism. I understand she has shut up most of the rooms
of the Court and keeps only a butler and four maids."

He laughed. "I'm afraid you won't find her a very good-tempered old
lady, but, from what I've seen of you, if anyone can manage her you
will."

Arriving at the Court and introduced to her patient, Dora was rather
surprised the latter showed little outward sign of being in the
precarious condition Sir Robert had described. She looked active and
full of life.

"So you're the very capable young woman," she greeted Dora frowningly,
"who's going to make sure I don't do anything I want to? Well, you're
much too pretty to be a nurse----" and she added spitefully, "you'll
find no men here to use your charms upon, except Bevan, my butler, whom
you've just seen. I don't have visitors."

Dora's heart sank into her shoes. So she was going to meet no nice and
eligible young men, no knights in shining armour and no fairy prince
with a golden shoe for the poor lonely Cinderella! She had run into
another blind alley!

However, she dissembled her disappointment with a bright smile, and when
shown into her room by a smartly uniformed parlourmaid was to some
extent mollified by the speedy realisation that if life were indeed
going to be monotonous at the Court, at any rate there was going to be
no lack of creature comforts. Her room was spacious, a bright fire was
burning in the grate, and all the appointments were luxurious. Lights
could be switched on wherever you wanted them, and there was a
beautiful-looking little mantel wireless set. Added to all these there
was a private bathroom.

At the luncheon, too, which followed, it was evident that if the old
glories of the Court had in the main departed, something of their
splendour and ceremony still lingered. The food was the best one could
have wished, there was the choice of several wines, and they were waited
upon by two parlourmaids as well as the butler.

Mrs. Britton-Fox had specifically asked Dora not as yet to change into
her uniform, and so Sir Robert, who stayed for the meal, for the first
time saw Dora other than as a nursing sister or consulting-room
attendant. She was a very beautiful young woman, he told himself, and he
was particularly pleased to see she was neither shy nor awkward in her
surroundings. Later, in saying good-bye to her, she was quite thrilled
he so far departed from his usual severe professional manner as to give
her hand a gentle squeeze while he held it much longer than he need have
done.

Dora very quickly settled down to her duties and found that for the time
being there was nothing onerous about them. Her patient was living an
almost normal life, and all Dora had to do was to look after her
generally, record her pulse twice a day, see that she took her medicine
and restrain her from eating more than she should or what was not
allowed.

Simple as were these duties, carrying them out conscientiously, however,
speedily made her something of an enemy to her patient. Never at any
time of a particularly agreeable disposition, Mrs. Britton-Fox's state
of health had made her most bad-tempered, and in many ways she was now
childishly spiteful. Accustomed all her life to having her own way, she
hated to have to obey orders. So, standing in great awe of Sir Robert
and afraid to offend him, she began instead to visit her spite, as much
as she dared, upon Dora.

She was rude and overbearing, too, to all her servants, and at first
Dora could not understand how it was they had stayed so long with her.
However, she was to learn later they were being very highly paid,
getting almost double the wages they would have obtained anywhere else
and having everything they wanted in the way of comfort.

It was very amusing to Dora to watch the behaviour of the butler when
she was abusing him for something he had done or not done. A quiet and
intelligent-looking man, he took not the slightest notice of anything
she said, except to listen respectfully. Then he would leave her
presence with the most deferential of bows.

Dora liked Bevan very much. He was always anxious to do anything he
could for her in a quiet and unobtrusive way, and she could sense his
sympathy when things were particularly trying. Still, he had been too
well trained to ever discuss his mistress with her in any way.

However, it was very different with Mrs. Humphreys, the cook, and from
her Dora learnt quite a lot about Mrs. Britton-Fox. She told her she had
quarrelled with nearly all her relations and indeed behaved so
offensively that only two of them now ever visited the Court. These were
her two nephews, Ernest Wynwood, a well-to-do stockbroker of middle age,
and Richard Paris Stroud, a young fellow of six and twenty, who, when
his uncle, the childless baronet Sir Warwick, died, would become Sir
Richard Stroud.

"He is the mistress's favourite," said the cook, "and it's no secret
he'll come into most of her money. She's always telling him he ought to
marry some girl high up in society, too. She's very ambitious about him
and wants him to bring back the great reputation the Court once had."

Both of these nephews, she went on, paid occasional visits to the Court,
but never stayed very long, as their aunt was always nagging at them,
Mr. Wynwood because he had married a woman she didn't like, and Mr.
Stroud because he had not married at all.

"Is this Mr. Stroud well off?" asked Dora a little curiously.

"Oh, no! Both his parents are dead and they left him no money. He works
with some big chemical firm, but Mistress makes him an allowance and he
has a small flat in Earl's Court and runs a little car. He's such a nice
gentleman and so polite to everyone."

"But he'll have money, won't he," asked Dora, "when he comes into the
baronetcy?"

The cook shook her head. "No, there's not a penny there. Sir Warwick has
just his pension from the Army and it'll die with him. He lives in an
inexpensive hotel in Harrogate."

"But why doesn't Mr. Stroud marry?" asked Dora, her curiosity now
beginning to be stirred more strongly.

"He says he's not interested in young ladies," smiled the cook, "and
never has anything to do with them."

Dora was a little thoughtful after what the cook had told her.
Notwithstanding her comfortable surroundings, she had been wanting badly
to throw up the case, and had only been prevented from doing so because
she did not want to displease Sir Robert.

Now she felt rather more disposed to stay on for at least a little
longer. It would be interesting to see what this young man who had no
interest in girls was like, and rather amusing, too, to try to lead him
on. Certainly she had not the confidence in her powers that an old
campaigner would have had, but her years of hospital life had taught her
that no man, unless he were physically wanting and deformed in some way,
could ever be actually dead to the attractions of the opposite sex. The
urge must be there and it was only lying dormant for some particular
woman to awaken it.

A few days after this conversation, the stockbroker nephew came down for
a long week-end, and Dora was not too much taken with him. He was a big,
red-faced, smiling man of free and easy manners. He ogled her quite a
lot and evidently wanted to get very friendly all at once. Happening to
be alone in the lounge, he started to put his arm round her waist. She
pushed him away sharply, but he did not take the snub and a moment or
two later chucked her under the chin. By now she was really angry and
gave him so hard a box on the ear that his eyes watered. "You little
she-cat," he snarled; "it'd serve you right if I gave you one back."

He left her alone after that and took no more notice of her. She was
relieved when he had gone.

Then, to her delight, only about a fortnight later, Mrs. Britton-Fox
announced that the other nephew would be coming down on the Saturday and
would be staying at the Court for all the following week.

"But you needn't plume yourself up," and she went on with something of a
sneer, "and think you're going to make a fine catch, for if you do
you'll only have all your trouble for nothing. It happens our sex has
never interested him." She looked very scornful. "Besides, if he ever
does marry it'll be someone in his own class."

Dora looked amused. "Well, I'm certainly not likely to lose any sleep
over him," she said smiling, "as his sex no more interests me than you
say ours does him," but then, knowing by now how shrewd the old lady
was, she added quickly, "At least, men interest me so little that I
never expect to meet the one who will make me want to give up my
independence for him."

"Then you're a cold woman, are you?" queried Mrs. Britton-Fox, regarding
Dora's bright and piquant face very doubtfully.

"I suppose so," fibbed Dora, "as men never trouble me."

Young Richard Stroud arrived on the Saturday morning, and Dora's heart
gave something of a bump as she was introduced to him. He was of the
very type that she knew appealed to her most. Tall and undeniably
handsome, with a grave and thoughtful face, he smiled pleasantly as they
shook hands.

"You needn't be afraid of her, Richard," said his aunt disdainfully, "as
she tells me men never interest her."

"Very sensible!" nodded her nephew. "We men are always a cause of
trouble, and are never worth it."

Sitting opposite to him at lunch, Dora proceeded to take good stock of
him at her leisure and, as he seldom looked in her direction, had plenty
of opportunities. "In every way a gentleman," ran her thoughts, "and
he'd never do anything mean. Very conscientious and a dreamer. No girl
has wakened him up as yet."

During the course of the meal the old lady took charge of the
conversation and purposely never once brought Dora into it. However, the
talk was apparently not very interesting to her nephew, as he looked
obviously bored, though politely, Dora saw, he did his best not to show
it.

"He didn't seem very taken with you, Sister, did he?" remarked her
employer spitefully to Dora, when later they were alone. She laughed
unpleasantly. "You haven't made much impression yet."

"No, because you didn't give me any chance," returned Dora in mock
reproach. "You never once gave me the chance of speaking to him."

"Oh, then you think it is only opportunity you want," said Mrs.
Britton-Fox with a contemptuous look. "Very well, then, I'll give you
plenty"--she sneered--"and when he's proposed to you I'll help you
choose the ring."

So that afternoon when they had finished tea in the lounge, with a
sweetness and consideration that was quite foreign to her nature, his
aunt suggested to Richard that he should take Dora for a little walk in
the grounds. "She doesn't get enough fresh air," she said, and quite
ignoring Dora's perfectly healthy appearance, added, "She wants more
roses in her cheeks."

"Delighted!" exclaimed Richard with a smiling inclination of his head
towards Dora.

"And you be sure, Sister," went on Mrs. Britton-Fox with pretended
animation, "that you show Mr. Stroud my Gloires de Dijon in the rose
garden." She gave Dora an impish look. "You'll be out of sight, too, of
the windows of the house there."

Dora at once became furiously red, but Richard, with a ready sympathy in
her so-obvious embarrassment, touched her in a friendly way on the arm.
"Come on, Sister," he said briskly, "we'll go and see if these roses are
really worth looking at."

With still heightened colour, Dora followed him into the grounds, and
then he looked down at her and said with a smile, "I suppose my aunt was
intending to be facetious."

"Offensive would be a better word," snapped Dora angrily, "but she's
often spiteful towards me like that. I have to see she obeys her
doctor's orders, and she detests me in consequence."

"But it was only her fun," said Richard. "She didn't mean anything."

"Oh, didn't she?" retorted Dora scornfully. "She did right enough. She
intended to make me uncomfortable by sort of warning you to be on your
guard when you were alone with me."

Richard laughed merrily. "But strangers might think it was the other way
round, with you being in any danger there was--not me."

"You," queried Dora with some amusement in spite of her anger, "with
your reputation of a woman-hater?"

"My dear aunt again, I suppose," frowned Richard. "No, I'm nothing so
foolish as that. It's only that Aunt is always wanting to push me into
matrimony and I'm not that way inclined. I've never had much to do with
girls and they don't enter into my life at present. I work in the
laboratory of a metallurgical chemist and there are no women there."

The unpleasantness of Mrs. Britton-Fox forgotten, they talked friendlily
together, principally about music, and Dora found him an agreeable
companion. Every time she looked at him she thought how handsome he was.
He was so boyish and frank, too, about his life, though he said nothing
about being heir to a title.

Their walk almost over and passing through the rose-garden again, Dora
suddenly got a fly in her eye. Blinking ineffectively to dislodge it,
the water began to trickle down her cheek.

"Here, let me see what I can do," said Richard briskly and, accepting
his attention, Dora felt herself get hot as, steadying her head with one
hand under her chin, he lifted up her eyelid by the long lashes and
tried to locate the offending insect.

Certainly it was a rather embarrassing moment for both of them and
particularly so to Richard, for as far as he could remember his face had
never been so close to that of a woman before. Still, as he noted the
softness of her skin and smelt the fragrance of her hair, he found the
experience was not by any means an unpleasant one. He could feel his own
face had got rather hot, too.

"I see it," he said after a few moments. "Let's have your handkerchief
now," and after she had moistened it, between what he noticed for the
first time were a very pretty pair of lips, the fly was quickly removed.

She thanked him gratefully, and then, as they resumed their walk, a
silence fell between them and continued until they were back in the
house. Dora was thrilling with the memory of his close contact with her,
and he, rather to his annoyance, was not undisturbed, either. He had not
given much notice to her appearance when his aunt had introduced her,
but now that he had realised how really good-looking she was, his
thoughts were directed into a most unusual channel and he was surprised
at himself.

Dora was much relieved they did not meet Mrs. Britton-Fox as they were
going through the lounge, but in the privacy of her own room she felt
her legs wobbling under her.

Here was the very man, she breathed, she had been hoping would one day
come into her life, of a charming disposition, good-looking, likely to
be well-off in the future and the possessor of a title. With all her
ambitions, it was to her credit that she put his personal qualifications
first.

The three of them met again at dinner, and Mrs. Britton-Fox was
maliciously pleased to see that Dora was so quiet and subdued. She
noted, too, that Richard during the whole course of the meal hardly once
seemed to glance Dora's way.

"Poof, of course the walk was not interesting to him," she told herself
viciously, "and the girl's disappointed in consequence! With all his
politeness, he's as cold as ice with girls, and when he does marry he'll
choose with his head and not be led away by any sentimental nonsense."
She frowned with just a trace of uneasiness. "Still, the girl looks very
pretty to-night."

Richard thought so, too, and that was why he avoided as much as he could
looking in her direction. However, he had well taken in her appearance
in one quick glance as they had sat down to the meal, and it had been
even more disturbing than the first revelation in the rose-garden.

Her face was so delicately flushed, her eyes were as pretty as any he'd
ever seen, she had a beautifully shaped mouth, and her uniform could not
have shown up to more advantage her perfect little figure.

He had another reason, too, for purposely taking such little open notice
of Dora. Quite aware of his aunt's disposition, he knew any attention he
paid to her nurse would make his relative more spitefully inclined than
ever. Still, fearing that Dora, after their pleasant conversation that
afternoon, might feel a little hurt by his apparent neglect, once, when
Mrs. Britton-Fox was occupied in giving an order to the butler, he
managed to flash across the table a smile of faint amusement.

Dora lowered her eyes quickly to hide the exultation that was surging
through her. So already there had come between them a secret
understanding of which his aunt was to know nothing, and surely it might
be the beginning of an intimacy that could lead them anywhere!

Then in the ensuing week which followed was enacted as interesting a
little comedy as would have delighted the most hardened playgoer.

First, there was the woman, Dora, who, with no pretence to herself that
she had suddenly fallen head over heels in love with Richard, was yet by
no means unstirred by his physical attractions. In other ways, too, she
was intensely interested in him, regarding him as possessing practically
all the qualifications she so desired in a husband. Added to that, as
was only natural, she would have been greatly pleased to bring home to
the spiteful Mrs. Britton-Fox how mistaken she had been in her sneering
statement that she, Dora, would never succeed in making Richard
interested in her.

So, to attain her ends, she was now using every wile and artifice with
which her sex had been endowed. She was playing her cards well, too,
being in no way forward or bold, but letting Richard see in many little
ways that she was not wholly indifferent to him.

Next there was Richard, a man for the first time interested in one of
the opposite sex, and with that interest coming so long after his
adolescent days it was surging through him with a violence he would
certainly not have felt had he had any such experience before. He would
have liked to have feasted his eyes upon Dora whenever she was by, to
note how her face lit up and her eyes sparkled when she was amused, and
to watch the play of her pretty lips as she spoke. The peculiar thing
was that, though he knew he was falling in love with her, he yet fought
feebly against it, because it had always been a proud obsession with him
that he would never fall for any girl, however pretty she might be.

In two minds, he did not know whether he was awakening from some
unsatisfying and unnatural sleep or else--sinking into a delicious and
opiate dream. He felt something like a man who all his adult life had
been walking between two high and forbidding walls, and now the walls
had suddenly fallen down, and before his startled and wondering eyes was
stretching a pathway leading into a garden of bright and lovely flowers.

Then there was Mrs. Britton-Fox, watchful, very watchful, but for a
while quite unsuspicious. Notwithstanding that Dora made out to her she
was not interested in men, an instinct had told the old lady that the
pretty Sister would not be averse from receiving any attentions Richard
might care to give. However, her very malice made her quite confident he
would never give them. She was sure he was immune to the attractions of
the most pretty girls, and so Dora would get nothing but disappointment
for her pains! It would serve her right and be a good punishment for
her!

Still, towards the end of Richard's intended stay at the Court something
of a disturbing thought began to come gradually into her mind. She had
caught a few of his stolen glances at Dora, and several times had
noticed him looking hard at her undoubtedly very pretty hands.

So on the Friday--Richard was leaving on the Sunday night--she kept Dora
hanging about her all day, that there might be no opportunity for her to
have the now customary walk with him. In the evening, too, just before
dinner and before Dora had come down and she and her nephew were alone
in the lounge, she said sharply, "I hope you are not putting ideas in
that girl's head, Richard, by paying her too much attention?" and,
giving him no time to reply to her question, she added rather viciously,
"I think now it was a mistake my suggesting you taking her for that
daily walk. I believe it has encouraged her to think she has made some
headway in leading you on."

Richard had just been in the act of lighting a cigarette when she put
her question, and apparently it was drawing badly as it was a few
seconds before he replied. "Is it my habit, my dear Aunt," he asked,
looking very amused, "to pay any young woman any undue attention? Have
you ever known me to do it?"

"No, I haven't," she snapped, "but I've noticed you've been looking a
good lot at this girl lately."

He nodded. "She's rather pretty," he said lightly, "and I like pretty
things. No harm in that, is there?"

"Not if you stop at just looking," agreed his aunt with a frown, "but if
ever"--her voice hardened viciously--"you had anything more to do with
her than that, then it would be good-bye to all my interest in you and
you'd never get another penny from me, alive or dead."

"Then you don't like her?" he queried as if rather surprised.

"Oh, I suppose she's all right as a nurse," was the grudging reply, "but
she's too masterful, just like all women of her common class who're
given a little authority. They always abuse it."

"Well, don't you worry about me, Aunt," laughed Richard. "I haven't got
to nearly twenty-seven without learning how to take care of myself."

So his aunt appeared satisfied. She would have been aghast, however, had
she but known exactly what was passing in his mind. He would have liked
to have slapped her for her malice, for if there was one thing no one
would have ever said about Dora it would have been that she was common.
Everything about her spoke of breeding, and both in looks and manners
she was a perfect little aristocrat. So it followed that his aunt's
disparagement of her made Dora the more and more to fill his thoughts.

The climax came the following evening, on the Saturday, the day before
he was intending to leave the Court.

It was just before dinner and, happening to go into the library, he saw
Dora upon a ladder there putting back a book on one of the high shelves.
When she started to come down he noticed the ladder was shaking, and so
he steadied it with his hands. Then when Dora was half-way down he said
jokingly, "Jump, I'll catch you," and as she turned round he held out
his arms.

Smiling a little nervously, she hesitated just a few seconds and then
jumped. It was a very small jump and there was certainly no occasion for
it, but it had flashed through her like lightning how thrilling it would
be to find herself in his arms.

He caught her, and with her hands upon his shoulders, their eyes held
each other's. Hers were sparkling, and her face, he thought, could not
have been more divinely flushed. His heart was beating painfully. "You
little beauty," he exclaimed hoarsely and, pulling her to him, his lips
were pressed ardently upon hers. To his delight, Dora kissed him back.
Certainly it was a great thrill for them both, and, though their mutual
rapture had lasted for a very short time, its intensity had left them
weak and trembling.

"Dora, my darling----" he began, but Mrs. Britton-Fox's voice was heard
in the corridor and they sprang guiltily apart.

Fortunately, for neither of them at that moment could have faced her
without showing most obvious signs of embarrassment, she passed by the
library door which was not shut but only ajar. However, they could still
hear her voice in the distance, and with an arch and roguish smile Dora
blew Richard a kiss and, tiptoeing out of the room, hurried away.

At the meal which followed a few minutes afterwards, the mistress of the
Court became suddenly suspicious again. Not only was Dora, with her
sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks, looking prettier than she had ever
seen her before, but Richard also looked extremely happy and pleased
with himself. There was the same atmosphere of content about them both.

She eyed them narrowly, and her suspicions grew. Richard was bringing in
the girl much more often into the conversation than it was usual for him
to do, and she seemed more confident in herself and altogether less
demure.

"The little minx!" thought the old lady viciously. "She's losing her
place and getting more familiar. I was a fool to throw them together.
Richard's weaker than I thought. He's become interested in her. I'm glad
he's leaving to-morrow, and I'll see she's not here when he comes again.
I'll tell Sir Robert she doesn't suit me and I don't need a nurse any
more."

To give Dora no chance of being alone with Richard that evening, upon
one pretext or another she kept her by her the whole time, and it was
nearly half-past eleven, much later than was usual, before they both got
ready for bed.

Because of the condition of her heart, Mrs. Britton-Fox's bedroom was on
the ground floor. Once having been the music-room, it had been made into
a bedroom so that she should have no stairs to climb. Dora's room, also
on the ground floor, was in the same corridor, but separated by two
other rooms from that of her patient. However, there was a bell
operating between the two rooms so that Dora could be summoned at any
moment if she were needed.

Though it was still August, the evening had turned out chilly and there
was a bright fire burning in Dora's room. She sat looking into the
flames and her thoughts were not unpleasant ones.

So one part of her day-dreaming looked like coming true! She was sure
Richard would ask her to marry him, for kissing with him would mean far
more than any casual flirtation. He took life seriously and was in every
way an honourable and conscientious man--too honourable and
conscientious in fact, as he might want to go straight to his aunt and
tell her everything, with perhaps an open quarrel ensuing.

No, the old lady must be kept quite in the dark! One thing, she was not
likely to live very long, and who would be sorry when she was gone? She
was an unpleasant and unlovable old woman!

Her meditations were interrupted by a gentle tapping Upon the door and
her heart leapt into her mouth at the thought that it could only be
Richard. She opened the door very gently and, as she had expected, it
was he who tiptoed into the room. Delight and consternation were mingled
in the look with which she regarded him.

He looked uneasy, too, and put his finger upon his lips to impress upon
her--if indeed that were necessary--to be as quiet as possible.

He realised quite well how unwise, if not wholly wrong, it was of him to
come to her bedroom at that time of night, but compounded with his
conscience by telling himself there was no help for it. His aunt, no
doubt deliberately, had made it impossible for him to get a word alone
with her all the evening, and leaving the Court as he was the next
afternoon he knew there would be little chance of speaking to her before
he went away.

Yet, he had told himself, he must see her. After what had happened in
the library earlier in the evening he could not possibly let matters
rest where they were. He must tell her his kisses meant that he loved
her and wanted her to be his wife. Then they must consider, too, how
they should tell his aunt. All his life a dreamer, and deeply in love as
he now was, the possibility of losing his inheritance seemed a small
thing in comparison with his possession of Dora.

In the meantime Mrs. Britton-Fox had been much too restless to drop off
to sleep. She was certain Dora had been trying to lead her nephew on
and, from both their demeanours at dinner, was greatly afraid not
without some success. She wondered uneasily what they both were doing
now.

Very soon her misgivings as to exactly what might now be going on making
it impossible for her to compose her mind for sleep, she slipped out of
bed, and, putting on her dressing-gown and slippers, opened the door
very quietly. The long corridor was not in complete darkness, as faint
moonlight was coming through a window at the far end and she could just
distinguish where the door of Dora's bedroom was.

Not a sound was to be heard anywhere, and it seemed to her that everyone
but herself in the Court was now fast asleep. For a few moments she
stood hesitating and then, as her feet were feeling cold, was about to
withdraw back into her own room when she saw a shadow detach itself from
the darkness and heard the unmistakable sound of someone tapping very
gently--it could only be--on Dora's door.

Holding her breath in amazement, she waited for what would happen next.
A fleeting shaft of light fell across the corridor as the door was
opened, just long enough, however, before it was very softly closed
again, to give a glimpse of a figure, which even at that distance she
recognised as that of her nephew, slipping into the room.

Fury and delight struggled for the mastery in her face; fury at the
deceit of her nephew, and delight that she had caught out the so hated
Dora.

She crept down the corridor and for a long moment stood listening at
Dora's door. A light showed from the crack underneath, but not a sound
came from inside the room.

Slowly and very softly she turned the handle of the door and to her
amazement, as she had expected to find it locked, the door opened. She
flung it wide to see her nephew and Dora standing motionless in the
middle of the room, she with her head upon his shoulder and he with his
face bent down low over hers.

"Oh, you slut!" she shouted at the very top of her voice. "Just as I
expected; you're no better than a woman of the streets. Oh, you----"

"Aunt, Aunt, please don't!" cried Richard, recovering instantly from the
shock of her appearance. "We were doing nothing wrong, and Sister Dane
has consented to be my wife."

"Consented to be your wife!" shrieked his aunt. "Oh, you young fool,
she's been jumping at you all the time you've been here, throwing
herself at your head for my money she thought you were going to have!"
She almost stuttered in her rage. "But you won't get another penny from
me now, alive or dead! Not another penny!" She shouted louder than ever.
"Do you hear what I say?"

"I hear," replied Richard calmly, "and I don't want it, I can----"

"Liar as well as fool," shouted his aunt. "You'll be a pauper on the few
shillings you earn a week and this woman here will turn on you and sell
herself to somebody else. I tell you she's nothing but a----"

"Stop it, Aunt," ordered Richard sternly. "I won't hear another word
from you, and----"

"You won't get any more opportunities," she snarled, suddenly calming
down, "for you'll be out of this house in ten minutes, you"--she put all
the mockery she could in her voice--"and the young lady who has so
obligingly"--she mimicked--"consented to be your wife."

She stepped back into the passage and shouted, "Bevan, Bevan, come here
at once. I want you instantly."

The butler was not far away. As with everyone else in the house who was
already asleep, he had been awakened by his mistress's shouting. Now he
came running up with jacket and trousers over his pyjamas.

"Bevan," she said, speaking jerkily and in sharp gasps, "run out Mr.
Richard's car, please. He's leaving at once, and Sister is going with
him," and, as if she had now finished with the whole matter, she turned
up the corridor to her own room, and with the door ajar, stood listening
there.

A couple or so of minutes had passed when she heard Richard come out of
Dora's room and walk away in the other direction. Evidently he was going
to his own room to get his things together with no delay! With a
spiteful smile she walked quietly up to the door of Dora's room, and
flinging it wide open once again, ordered her sharply to take nothing
with her which was not her own.

Dora's only answer was to bang the door in her face and lock it.

Within a quarter of an hour at most Richard and Dora were passing
through the lounge to the hall door, with Bevan behind them carrying the
latter's two suit-cases. Mrs. Britton-Fox was waiting there to see the
last of them.

"Good-bye, Aunt," said Richard smilingly, "and thank you so much for all
you have done for me," but "You blackguard!" was all the answer he got
from her.

Not to be outdone in politeness, Dora said sweetly, "Good-bye, Mrs.
Britton-Fox, and you go off to bed at once, or you'll be a perfect wreck
in the morning," but the answer was a vile word which made Richard
scowl.

Then as they were driving out of the grounds, Dora said chokingly, "Oh,
Richard, dear, I'm so sorry I've brought all this upon you."

"But you didn't bring it on me, sweetheart," he replied. "I brought it
on myself. It was stupid of me to come to your room, but I didn't
realise it at the time."

"And it will cost you a fortune!" choked Dora.

He laughed lightly. "I don't mind if you don't. Don't worry, I'll soon
make another one, or, at any rate, enough so that we can live happily
together. I needed something like this to shake me up. I've been far too
much of a dreamer and never tackled things earnestly." He squeezed her
hand tightly. "To-night I'm the happiest man in all the world!"

Dora was touched by his words. Here was one who had just lost a fortune
regarding his loss as nothing in the light of his possession of her. She
nestled up close to him.

"Where are we going now?" asked Dora.

"Why, to my flat, of course," said Richard. "I can't drop an unattended
young lady at a hotel at this time of night"--he glanced at the watch
upon his wrist--"getting on for one o'clock in the morning."

"But----" began Dora. However, she did not finish what she was going to
say and was glad the darkness hid the blushes in her cheeks.

Then it was as if Richard had read her thoughts, for he went on
laughingly, "Don't you be afraid, sweetheart, for there are two bedrooms
in my little flat, and you'll be quite all right."

When at length they reached the big building in which was situated
Richard's flat, though it was now past two o'clock, there were several
cars parked outside. When Richard had garaged his own, upon entering the
building they ran into a noisy party of men just coming out, and, to
their intense vexation, saw that Richard's cousin was among them. The
stockbroker's eyes fell upon Richard at once. "Hullo," he called out
with alcoholic joviality, "you're a late bird, aren't you? Come, come, I
never thought that of an old sobersides like you!" and then, taking in
who Richard's companion was, he whistled in great surprise.

"What!" he exclaimed, his face now one big grin, "the pretty little
Sister from the Court. Well, I'm damned," and he was most annoyed when
Richard shook him off sharply and started to go up the stairs.

"Unfortunate, meeting him of all people," frowned Richard, "for now, of
course, he'll down to my aunt straight away to find out what it means."
His frown changed into a beaming smile. "Still it doesn't matter,
darling, does it? Nothing matters now we're going to be married on
Monday."

Then followed some very embarrassing moments for them both. Richard was
palpably nervous, as, now alone with Dora in the middle of the night,
the temptation was very strong to start caressing her again, with the
result which he felt certain would follow. However, with no experience
at all of the other sex until Dora had swept like a tornado into his
life, he did not know how she would take it and was terribly afraid of
doing something for which she would be reproaching him all his life.

Dora's ideas, however, of their position were slightly different. A
healthy, normal young woman with the experience of the attentions of
many men in her life, the sex urge had often been stirred in her, with
the result that, greatly interested in Richard as she now was, her
warmest emotions were dangerously near the surface. She made no secret
of it, either, to herself, and knew she would be as wax in his hands,
whatever he wished.

So in a way she was disappointed when, while preparing to go to their
different rooms, he hardly looked at her, and a quick and hurried kiss
was all he gave her as they said good night. Indeed, he almost pushed
her into the room she was going to occupy and closed the door at once.

"Dear boy," she sighed wistfully, as she began to undress, "it'll be
better to have a man like him for a husband than one who'll take every
opportunity he can get. At any rate I shall know that he'll be faithful
to me."

As she had expected, it was a long time before sleep would come to her,
but, as she lay staring wide-eyed into the darkness, her thoughts were
happy ones.

Naturally, with her ambitious longings, she was disappointed she would
not be marrying the wealthy man she had been scheming for. To her
credit, however, she judged that to be a small matter compared with her
having won the kind of man she had, and, against the loss of his aunt's
money, she consoled herself that she would at any rate be marrying into
a prospective title.

When at length she fell asleep, her sleep was a deep and dreamless one,
to be broken only when Richard came into the room fully dressed and
carrying a cup of tea.

"Nine o'clock, sweetheart," he laughed, "and you've had a good
refreshing sleep." He bent down and gave her a not overlong but very
tender kiss. "I vote we drive down to Eastbourne for lunch and then come
back to town for a nice little dinner somewhere." He tickled her under
the chin. "To-morrow, Dora, Lady Stroud-to-be, we will commence our
honeymoon," and these words made clear to her exactly on what lines
their pre-nuptial conduct was going to be.

They had a happy day at the seaside, an excellent dinner at a good
restaurant, where they shared only a small bottle of wine between them.
They lingered until quite late over the meal and then followed a hurried
and almost furtive retiring to their respective rooms directly they got
back to the flat.

The next day they were married by special licence, and when later as man
and wife they were clasped in each other's arms certainly neither of
them could in any way have complained of the other's coldness. Eros, the
god of all lovers, gave them his blessing and they were in the seventh
heaven of happiness.

So entered Dora Laura Stroud into her wedded life.




CHAPTER VI.--THE TURN OF THE WHEEL


Having seen her nephew and Dora off the premises so late upon that
eventful Saturday night, Mrs. Britton-Fox tottered to her bed, with very
little sleep coming to her before the morning. Then, as Dora had warned
her, she felt a dreadful wreck.

However, her very vindictiveness seemed to give her strength, and before
eight o'clock Bevan was ringing up Mr. Litchfield, her London solicitor,
at his private house in Belsize Park, to instruct him to come down at
once to Marden Court and draw up a new will for its mistress. To her
intense disappointment, she learnt he was away for the week-end and
would not be back until the Tuesday.

Still, determined to vent her spite upon Richard and make certain he
should get none of her money, as according to her present will he would
if she were to die suddenly, propped up with pillows in her bed, she
proceeded to draw up a new one upon a sheet of the Court notepaper.

It was only a few words, as a feeling of horrible weakness warned her
she would not be able to write much, but for all that her malice made it
longer than it need have been merely to express her wishes.

Intending to be as insulting as possible she wrote, "To my imbecile
nephew Richard Paris Stroud, because to my intense displeasure he has
shown himself so depraved as to promise marriage to the woman known as
Sister Dora Dane, I leave the sum of one shilling only, this money to
help towards the education of his first child, whom by now is most
probably well upon the way. All else, personal and real, I bequeath to
my other nephew Ernest Charles Wynwood."

Summoning Bevan and Mrs. Humphreys, the cook, to act as witnesses, the
will was signed, enclosed in an envelope, and sent off to her solicitor,
Bevan taking it into the head post office to get the letter registered.

With what she considered her duty done, she sank back exhausted upon the
pillows, going so dreadful a colour that the frightened cook at once
rang up the local doctor, Dr. Wood, before Bevan had been gone even ten
minutes from the house.

The doctor did not at all like the look of her either and, administering
a strong restorative, at once had a nurse sent in to look after her.
During the day her condition seemed to improve a little, with the
improvement continuing on the Monday. She would have liked to have sent
for Sir Robert Griffin, but knew from what Dora had told her that he was
away on holiday.

Then, very early upon the Tuesday morning, when attempting to sit up in
bed, she went off into a dead faint, and without recovering
consciousness passed away within the hour.

Bevan at once rang up Richard, the latter learning the news as he and
Dora were just about to sit down to breakfast. "And I think, sir, you
ought to know," went on the butler very solemnly, "that on the Sunday
morning she made another will and, from what she told us, has left you
out of it. The will was posted at once to Mr. Litchfield, so he will be
in possession of it now."

Naturally feeling most upset, Richard told Dora what had happened and
what Bevan had said about the new will, being greatly heartened,
however, at the calm and unruffled way in which she received the news.

"But this new will was only what we expected, darling, isn't it?" she
said. "So it's no disappointment," and she was so bright and undisturbed
that the absolute realisation now that nothing would be coming to him
from his aunt's estate lost a lot of its sting for Richard.

Dora was certainly a good actress, and though for her husband's sake
might indeed have appeared to be in no way upset by learning that his
aunt's money was now definitely lost and by such a narrow margin of
time, too, for all that she could have burst into tears when once out of
his sight.

Oh, if the horrid woman had only died a few hours earlier--what a
difference it would have made to them! Better off than in her wildest
dreams she had ever hoped to be, all the world would then have been at
her feet! Now--but she choked back her tears, remembering she could not
have won a better husband. Whatever happened, she was determined to make
him happy and, after all, with their health, and their affection for
each other, surely they would have many joys to come in their lives.

Later that same morning Mr. Litchfield rang Richard up asking him to
call round at his chambers as soon as he could. Upon Richard duly
presenting himself, with some reluctance, the solicitor showed him the
notepaper will.

"Very different from the last one I hold," he sighed, "in which nearly
everything was left to you. A nasty, spiteful will, but one which there
is no doubt will hold good in law," and he went on to ask what had so
suddenly changed Mrs. Britton-Fox's intentions.

He listened sympathetically to the story. "A bad-tempered woman," he
commented, "but then she always has been a bit queer that way." He
hesitated a moment and continued, "I saw your cousin a few minutes ago
and put out the suggestion that, under the circumstances, he should give
something to you. He didn't absolutely refuse, but said he would do
nothing unless you approached him yourself."

Richard shook his head. "Not I! We've never been friends, mainly perhaps
because he knew my aunt favoured me." He frowned. "Besides, when he went
up to the Court a few weeks ago my wife slapped his face for him. He
wanted to get too fresh. No, I'd never ask him for a farthing."

So Richard and Dora reconciled themselves to expect nothing, and
accordingly were very surprised when one evening about a week later
Charlie Jackson, a young solicitor acquaintance of Richard's, called at
the flat to suggest the will should be contested.

Young Jackson practised in Tunbridge Wells and Richard knew him only
from meeting him a few times at tennis. Jackson was most apologetic for
having come to see him now.

"I know it's hardly ethical," he said, "but, of course, we've all heard
about the will and, myself, I think you have a good chance of upsetting
it."

"Upon what grounds?" asked Richard sharply.

"That when she drew it up," he replied, "she was not in a fit state of
mind to deal with so important a matter."

"But Mr. Litchfield, her London solicitor," protested Richard, "for
whose opinion I have the greatest respect, tells me I haven't a hope in
the world."

"For all that," said Jackson, "there can be no harm done if you
authorise me to approach him and see the exact terms of the will."

Richard shook his head. "No, I won't bother about it, thank you. To be
quite frank, I haven't the money to risk. I'm quite poor at present."

"But that doesn't enter into the matter at all," exclaimed Jackson
quickly, "or I wouldn't have dared to come to you. It shan't cost you a
penny." He smiled. "I know again that I am being unethical, but I'm
quite prepared to take up the case on spec."

At that moment Dora entered the room and the young solicitor was
introduced to her. With quite a catch in his breath, he thought how
lovely she was and, romance stirring in him, was of opinion she was
worth all the money her husband had lost by marrying her. Dora was not
unimpressed with him, too. She liked his frank and open face.

Richard explained the position to her. "Mr. Jackson wants me to contest
the will, as he says Aunt made it when she was not in a fit state of
mind."

"Of course she wasn't," agreed Dora instantly. "No sane person of her
breeding would have called me the names she did that night." She looked
troubled. "But it'll cost a lot of money, won't it?"

"Not a penny if we don't win our case," said Jackson quickly. "I've told
Mr. Stroud I'm prepared to pay all the expenses, court fees and
everything, if we don't win our case."

"And how will you benefit if we lose it?" asked Dora doubtfully.

Jackson threw out his hands. "By the advertisement I'll get. Win or
lose, the publicity will be so good that I'll be a made man at once.
I've got some small private means and shall be delighted to risk some of
it."

"But what about the publicity for us?" frowned Richard. "It won't be
very pleasant for us to have to appear in court."

"You won't have to," returned Jackson instantly. "As I look at it now,
you will not be wanted."

A short silence followed, and then Richard turned to Dora and asked,
"Well, young lady, what do you say to it?"

"Why, accept Mr. Jackson's offer, of course," she replied, "and be
grateful to him for making it."

Accordingly notice was at once served upon Mr. Litchfield that the will
was going to be contested, and when the day for the hearing arrived,
most people present in court seemed to be rather amused at so
boyish-looking a solicitor as young Jackson being about to pit himself
against the mighty Jarvis Romilly, one of the most eminent King's
Counsels practising in the Court of Probate. They were intensely curious
as to what line of action Jackson was going to take.

Lord Royston was presiding over the proceedings, and when, after its
contents had been read out to the court by Jarvis Romilly, the will was
handed up to him to peruse, it was noticed that he frowned heavily.
However, he passed back the document with no comment.

After a few preliminary remarks by the K.C., Mrs. Humphreys, the
one-time cook at Marden Court, was ushered into the witness-box. The
will was handed up to her and, with no hesitation, she testified to her
signature.

"And you had seen your mistress put her signature," asked Jarvis
Romilly, "in the presence of your fellow-servant, Mr. Bevan, and then
both you and he affixed your signatures in the presence of each other."

"Yes, sir, that is so," replied the cook, and the K.C. at once turned to
Mr. Jackson and remarked with the politest of bows, "Your witness, sir."

Young Jackson rose slowly from his seat. He did not seem at all nervous
and for a few seconds regarded the cook thoughtfully before he spoke.

"And did Mrs. Britton-Fox seem quite all right to you that morning?" he
asked.

"She looked very ill, sir," replied the cook, "and her face was
twitching quite a lot."

"But I don't mean that," said Jackson. "I want to know did it seem to
you that she was any different from what she usually was--in her state
of mind, I mean?"

The cook considered. "She wasn't quite certain what she wanted, sir,
from one moment to another. Anyone could see she was rather confused."

"What do you mean by rather confused?" asked Jackson with a frown.

"Well, sir," smiled the cook, "when I came into the room she told me to
shut the door, and then hardly a moment afterwards she called me a fool
because I hadn't left it open."

"Why was that?" queried Jackson.

"Because Mr. Bevan hadn't come in yet. She was waiting for him."

Jackson sat down, and Jarvis Romilly rose lazily to his feet. "But after
all, Mrs. Humphreys," he said with a pleasant smile, "if your mistress
did not look in the best of health that morning and was irritable and
impatient in her manner, all the same she was the shrewd and very
capable old lady you had always known." Then, as the cook hesitated, he
asked with some amusement, "Come, she wasn't confused enough to mistake
you for Mr. Bevan or him for you--now was she?"

"Oh, no," said the cook instantly. "She was nothing like as bad as
that."

"Of course not," nodded the K.C. "She was just what any old lady of her
age might have been who had had an upset the previous night and not got
over it. She was nervy and irritable." He smiled a most friendly and
persuasive smile. "Now is that not so, Mrs. Humphreys?"

The cook smiled back, and upon her admission that it might have been so
Jarvis Romilly did not question her further.

The butler was then called and he stepped jauntily into the box. He was
asked by Jarvis Romilly if he, too, had witnessed his mistress's
signature in the presence of the cook, and then if each of them had seen
the other sign as witness to that signature. Upon his replying to these
questions in the affirmative, the K.C. sat down.

Young Jackson rose up to cross-examine. "Now, Mr. Bevan," he asked in a
quiet and conversational tone, "do you think Mrs. Britton-Fox was quite
alive to the importance of the document she was signing that morning?"

"Oh, I think so, sir," replied Bevan. "She certainly did look very ill
and her face was twitching badly, but she was most determined to get the
paper signed."

"But from the shakiness of her handwriting," went on Jackson, "she must
have been very agitated when she was affixing her signature?"

The butler considered. "Well, at any rate, sir," he said, "she was so
very shortly before she signed, but as I did not see her actually write
her name I cannot say what was exactly her condition at that very
moment."

A gasp so loud that it was distinctly audible ran round the court,
mouths were opened with astonishment, and upon everyone's face was a
look of startled and incredulous surprise. Young Jackson recovered
first.

"What!" he almost shouted. "You now tell us you did not see your
mistress sign the will?"

The butler seemed to sense something unusual was happening and lost
something of his jaunty look. "Well, not actually, sir," he said
quickly, "because after she had covered up what she had written on that
paper and was just picking up her pen to sign, I thought I heard the
front-door bell ring and went out to see who it was. I couldn't have
been gone a minute, but when I came back mistress had signed and cook
had just finished putting her signature. That's how it was cook came to
sign before me. I was to have signed first."

Jarvis Romilly sprang to his feet. "I don't see, my lord," he cried,
"that the previous witness is now sitting where she was. If she has gone
out, I ask that she be detained before she has had time to leave the
precincts of the court," and, upon a sign from the judge, an usher
hurried away.

With difficulty restraining the exultation that he felt, Jackson
proceeded with his cross-examination. "Now, Mr. Bevan," he said very
solemnly, "this is a most important matter." He spoke slowly and
impressively. "After having stated upon oath that you saw both your
mistress and your fellow servant sign the paper--you now go back upon
your word and tell us you were not present when either of them put their
signatures."

The butler looked frightened. "I am very sorry, sir," he said with a
choke in his voice. "I didn't mean to swear an untruth. It was just a
mistake. I knew they had both signed it and I thought it was quite all
right to say I had seen them do it."

"You say you knew they had both signed it," said Jackson with the utmost
sternness. "How did you know that?"

"I didn't know it, sir," said the butler feebly, "but I only realise
that now."

"Did you even see your mistress's signature at all," asked Jackson,
"after she had signed the paper?"

Bevan hesitated for a few moments and then shook his head. "No, sir, I
didn't. She had covered up everything with the blotting paper again and
just pointed to me where I was to sign."

"Then, for all you know," persisted Jackson, "you might have been
putting your signature to a blank sheet of paper?"

"Yes, sir," nodded the butler miserably, "that is so."

Jackson sat down and Jarvis Romilly sprang to his feet.

"Then you admit, Bevan," he thundered fiercely, "that you have lied to
the court--that when upon your solemn oath you have deliberately told us
an untruth?"

"Not deliberately, sir," choked the butler. "I have said it was a
mistake."

The K.C. spoke more quietly now. "And I suppose," he said silkily, "you
went at once to Mr. Stroud and told him what had happened, how you had
not actually seen the will signed?"

"No, no, sir," replied Bevan quickly. "I never said anything about it to
him. I have not seen or spoken to Mr. Stroud since that night he left
the Court," and, though Jarvis Romilly badgered him in every way
possible, no amount of questioning could make him contradict himself.

Mrs. Humphreys was recalled and Jarvis Romilly addressed her with the
same pleasant, friendly smile which he had used before. "Now, madam," he
said, "you told us just now that your mistress signed this paper in your
presence and that of Mr. Bevan as well."

"Yes, sir," agreed the cook. "I did."

"And Mr. Bevan was actually standing by your side," went on Jarvis
Romilly, and the court was so still that the dropping of the proverbial
pin would have been heard quite distinctly.

"Yes, sir," nodded the cook, "he was."

"You are quite sure of that?" asked the K.C. "Quite sure that he was
actually standing by your side during the whole time that the three
signatures were affixed?"

"Yes, sir, quite sure," smiled the cook. "Mistress signed first, I came
next and Mr. Bevan last." Then suddenly a startled look came into her
face and she added quickly, "No, sir, I remember now that Mr. Bevan was
not in the room all the time. He went out to answer the front-door
bell."

"Before your mistress signed?" asked Jarvis Romilly, and the court was
as hushed and silent as the grave.

"Yes, sir," said the cook, "and before I signed, too. I remember he came
back just as Mistress was blotting my signature."

Decidedly non-plussed at her corroboration of the butler's story, the
K.C. tried in every way to shake her testimony, indeed hectoring her so
much that at last the judge interfered. "I am sure, Mr. Romilly," he
said, "that you will not be doing any good by further questioning the
witness. She is obviously speaking the truth." Then, when the cook had
left the witness-box, he announced curtly, "The will was not properly
attested and I decline to admit it for probate."

"But, my lord," protested Jarvis Romilly warmly, "the intentions of the
testatrix are so clear and it is not justice if----"

"How often, Mr. Romilly," broke in his lordship wearily, "have I not had
to explain in this court that it is law I have to dispense here and not
necessarily justice. No, the will is invalid, and I cannot admit it for
probate."

The young Tunbridge Wells solicitor felt as thrilled as he was sure he
would ever feel in all his life, and rushed to the telephone to give
Richard the exciting news. However, upon getting speech with him, he
calmed down his voice to ordinary business-like tones.

"It's all finished, Mr. Stroud," he said quietly, "and his lordship has
refused to admit the will for probate."

"What, what, why?" exclaimed Richard incredulously.

"Because it wasn't properly attested," laughed Jackson. "I got it out of
the butler in cross-examination that he was out of the room when the old
lady signed. He didn't actually see her make her signature and that
damned everything at once." They spoke very briefly together and then
Jackson said, "I can't tell you more now, but, if convenient for you,
I'll come round to your flat this evening at five o'clock."

When Richard in turn rang up Dora to give her the good news she was
speechless for so long that for a moment he thought she could not have
heard what he said. Then she burst out chokingly, "Oh, darling, it can't
be true!"

"But it is, Dora," he said hoarsely. "I couldn't believe it, either, at
first--it seemed so wonderful. Anyhow, Mr. Jackson's coming round to the
flat at five and then we'll hear all about it. He says it'll be in the
evening papers."

And certainly it was in the evening papers, with some of them making
quite a splash of the happening that morning in the Probate Court. One
of them featured the case with quite good-sized headlines, "Great
Triumph for Young Country Solicitor", and it went on to picture for its
readers a boyish-looking young lawyer standing up to the great Jarvis
Romilly and scoring a most signal victory within minutes of the hearing
opening before Lord Royston.

Later, when Charles Jackson arrived at the flat, his audience were
thrilled with the story he was able to tell them.

"So far," he went on, "things couldn't be going better. We have won the
first round and now, at any rate, you are certain to get something very
substantial out of the estate. The stake is too big for them to dare
risking everything upon an appeal before they have tried to come to
terms with you."

"Then they'll try to buy us off?" asked Richard.

"No," laughed Jackson, "they'll be expecting us to try to buy them off,
as we are in the better position for bargaining. Lord Royston is a very
sound jurist and he wouldn't have given his judgment so quickly if he
had not felt himself on very sure ground. Of course the will was so
malicious in its abuse of both you and Mrs. Stroud that it was a strong
indication of your aunt being in a state of unsound mind when she drew
it up, but that had nothing to do with his judgment to-day. His lordship
decided on a cold point of law, and I believe, from the expression upon
his face, he was quite pleased at being able to do so."

"And what will happen next?" asked Dora, rather troubled.

"Oh, it'll resolve itself into a case of bluff," said Jackson. "They'll
approach us with an offer of so much of the value of the estate if they
don't appeal. We'll say it isn't good enough and then we'll argue and
wrangle until some agreement is reached."

"But what are they likely to offer?" asked Richard.

"Perhaps a fifth portion at first, and then, when we don't accept, they
gradually raise their offer. I expect a half share of everything will be
their utmost limit."

"But must we compromise at all?" asked Richard.

Jackson nodded emphatically. "Oh, yes, it would be very foolish not to.
You see, as Jarvis Romilly said, the intentions of your aunt were so
perfectly clear, and it's very uncertain what the appeal judges would
decide. They're only human and at times just love to give a colleague a
rap on the knuckles and put him in his place. So they might waive the
faulty attestation in favour of your aunt's wishes being carried out.
Then--we should have to fall back upon the plea that she was of unsound
mind."

"Have we any chance there?" asked Dora gloomily.

The young lawyer was quite enthusiastic. "Oh, yes, a very good one, a
much stronger one than they think." He took a paper out of his pocket
with something of a triumphant grin. "See, I got this out of Dr. Wood a
week ago. It's an affidavit in which he swears that when called in to
see your aunt upon that Sunday morning--within a few minutes, mind you,
of her having drawn up and signed that will--he was at once of opinion
that her mind was wandering. In proof of which, when he at once rang up
the local Nurses' Association in Tunbridge Wells, he asked them to send
a nurse who had had some mental training." He snapped his fingers
together. "What better evidence could you want than that?"

He turned smilingly to Dora. "And if, Mrs. Stroud, they do appeal and
you go into the witness-box, when their lordships see you"--he laughed
merrily--"what price the depravity of Mr. Stroud in wanting to marry
you?"

Things happened very much as Jackson had said, for a few days later Mr.
Litchfield rang him up with the information that of course they were
intending to appeal, but at the same time suggesting it might perhaps be
possible to avoid further proceedings in the courts by a just and
reasonable compromise. He added that he would like Jackson to come up to
Town upon the following Thursday when he would be free to have a talk
with him.

Jackson, however, did not appear to be too anxious to make the journey
and said he certainly could not manage Thursday as he was occupied in
the local court upon that day. Upon some consideration he suggested
Sunday instead and Mr. Litchfield reluctantly agreed.

Accordingly, upon the Sunday morning the two lawyers met at Mr.
Litchfield's private house in Belsize Park, and the latter, with his
large and long-established practice among the best-class people, was
inclined to be a little off-hand in his manner towards his very
youthful-looking professional brother from the country.

"I had some difficulty in persuading my client to let me approach you,"
he said with a frown, "but having acted for the family for very many
years, I thought it best if things could be settled in a friendly way."

However, Jackson was not to be taken in so easily and frowned, too. "I
had the same difficulty with Mr. Stroud," he said. "He's very bitter
about the wording of the will and wants to clear his wife of the
aspersions cast upon her. Mr. Wynwood has been very tactless in
broadcasting exactly what his aunt wrote, and it has got about all over
Tunbridge Wells."

Mr. Litchfield looked annoyed. "He shouldn't have done so. It makes for
bad blood." He cleared his throat. "Well, Mr. Jackson, it will be in
every way better for your client if we come to some compromise. Your
client has a poor case and that judgment of last week is bound to be
upset upon appeal."

Young Jackson smiled. "I don't think so," he said emphatically, "and I
am advising Mr. Stroud to agree to only the smallest of concessions." He
nodded. "Apart altogether from that judgment, we have a very strong
case."

Mr. Litchfield seemed most sorry for the inexperience of this so
confident young man. "But, Mr. Jackson," he said in a pained tone of
voice, "in dealing with testaments brought before it, the main
consideration of the Court of Probate is always to determine the wishes
of the deceased and see that they are carried out."

"Exactly," nodded Jackson pleasantly, "but that is, of course, when the
party signing the testament has not been proved to be in an unsound
state of mind." His voice hardened sharply. "In this case we contend the
testatrix was not in a condition to realise exactly what she was doing
in those few minutes when she drew up and signed that will."

Mr. Litchfield pursed up his lips. "You will have some difficulty in
bringing the court to accept that view, won't you?"

"I don't think so," snapped Jackson. He raised his hand. "See here, Mr.
Litchfield, I am quite willing to lay my cards upon the table." He spoke
slowly and emphatically. "This is how I regard the position. Mrs.
Britton-Fox, a lady of breeding and refinement who all her sixty-odd
years had been living the traditional life of her class, had a deep
affection for her nephew, Richard Stroud, dating back to the time when
he was quite a little child. She paid for most of his education, gave
him an allowance when he was twenty-one and was continually assuring him
he would be well provided for at her death."

He threw out his hands. "Suddenly, and without a moment's warning--no
matter why--she turned upon him and the young lady he was intending to
make his wife, abused them in coarse and violent terms used only by the
lowest of the low, and was so lost to all the self-respect and
conventions of her class that she called in the servants to let them
hear what she was saying."

Mr. Litchfield made no comment and Jackson went on, "A few hours later
she drew up this precious will--certainly not so much as to make known
her wishes as to the disposal of her property as to inflict further
abuse upon the offending couple. Then, at that moment her mind was so
confused with the bout of her mad fury that, a shrewd and clever
business woman and accustomed to all forms of procedure in the handling
of her affairs as she was--she yet so far forgot herself as to sign her
will in the presence of only one witness."

He paused for a few moments, and Mr. Litchfield, with some sarcasm,
asked, "Is that all?"

"No, it isn't," was the sharp reply, and the young solicitor spoke very
deliberately. "Not half an hour after she had signed that will, Mr.
Litchfield, she was mistaking the local Tunbridge Wells doctor, Dr.
Wood, whom she has known intimately for twenty years, for the eminent
London consultant, Sir Robert Griffin, and addressed him as such."

A short silence followed, and then as Mr. Litchfield made no comment,
young Jackson asked dryly, "A most satisfactory mental condition for her
to be in, wasn't it, Mr. Litchfield, just after she had drawn up what
was undoubtedly the most important document in all her life?" He raised
his voice. "But still, that is not all, sir," and quickly abstracting a
paper from his breast pocket, he handed it across to Mr. Litchfield.
"See--an affidavit from this Dr. Woods in which he states that after
being called in to Mrs. Britton-Fox upon that Sunday morning he was
feeling most uneasy as to her mental condition, so much so that when he
rang up the Tunbridge Wells Nursing Association immediately afterwards
he told them it was particularly a nurse with some experience of nursing
mental patients that he required."

Jackson spoke scornfully. "And in the face of all this, have you the
hardihood to tell me we have no case that the testatrix was of unsound
mind when she drew up this will?"

For an hour and longer the matter was discussed by the two solicitors,
and that evening Jackson reported to Richard the result.

"They want badly to come to some arrangement," he said, "and we should
want it, too. In fact we must come to an arrangement. Think how awful it
would be if the case did go to an appeal and we lost it. We should be
grieving all our lives. There's plenty to divide if we only get half,
the Marden Court property and all the house contains, the house in
Cadogan Square, which brings in 450 a year rent, and about 275,000 in
liquid assets, stocks and shares. I went through everything with Mr.
Litchfield this morning and was astounded at the amount at stake. I had
no idea it was so big."

"Well, do get it over quickly," said Dora with a choke in her voice.
"The worry of it is terrible."

"Of course it is," agreed Jackson. "One thing--the worry of it must be
just as bad for Mr. Wynwood, indeed perhaps worse for him than for you,
as I heard a rumour in the city last week that things have not been
going too well with him lately. It was said he'd been speculating and
lost heavily." He spoke reassuringly. "So, worry as little as you can,
Mrs. Stroud, as it should be all settled pretty soon now. I've suggested
a meeting between your husband and his cousin next week, and I expect
it'll come off."

It did come off right enough, and one morning Jackson and Richard
arrived at Mr. Litchfield's chambers in Gray's Inn Road to find the
lawyer and Wynwood waiting for them. For the moment the two cousins eyed
each other warily like fighting dogs and then Wynwood burst into a loud
laugh and held out his hand.

"Come on, Richard," he called out jovially, "don't let a mere matter of
half a million make us unpleasant with each other. After all, it's only
a temporary affair, for in fifty years' time, both of us'll probably be
dead," and, very pleased with his joke, he shook Richard warmly by the
hand.

Jackson flashed a quick look at Richard. It was evident the burly
stockbroker had been having some refreshment to buoy himself up.

The four men sat down at a big table in a comfortably furnished room and
Mr. Litchfield opened the proceedings by remarking it would be best in
every way that an agreement should be reached between the cousins as
then there would be no occasion for any reflections on their dead
relative to be broadcast about.

"Oh, dammit all, Litchfield," broke in the stockbroker rudely, "everyone
knew what the old woman was like. Besides, nothing that comes out can do
her any harm now." He addressed himself to Richard. "The only question
now is what terms are you prepared to offer me if I don't appeal against
that decision given the other week?"

Richard hesitated to reply, and Jackson at once spoke up for him. "We
have very carefully considered everything," he began, "and----"

"Excuse me," interrupted Wynwood, waving him aside, "but I'd rather talk
directly to my cousin. Then I'm sure we'll be able to settle the matter
in a few minutes." He turned abruptly to Mr. Litchfield. "Look here.
Haven't you got a room somewhere where we could be alone together?"

"But I don't advise that," said Mr. Litchfield sharply. "This is a
matter for trained legal minds to be at your elbows to advise you both.
No, I don't advise that."

"Nor I, either," said young Jackson, equally as sharply. "I agree with
Mr. Litchfield that----"

Wynwood ignored them both and, turning again to his cousin, asked, "What
do you say, Richard? I am sure we shall get on better alone."

Richard hesitated. Strangely enough, though he had never liked his
cousin, at that moment he was disliking him less than he had ever done
before. There was something very human about him, and he liked the
straightforward way in which he was evidently prepared to try to settle
the matter.

"Well, I don't see any harm in it," he began, "and----"

"No, of course you don't," broke in his cousin, rising at once to his
feet. "Come on, we'll go out and take a couple of turns round the square
and come back with the whole thing cut and dried in a very few minutes,"
and, waving his hand to the two very annoyed-looking men of law, he led
Richard out of the room.

Once out in the square, he remarked dryly, "A good thing to get away
from those jaw-breakers. They'd talk for hours and get nothing settled."
He guffawed heartily. "Old Litchfield thinks I'm half tight, but I'm not
by any means. I've only had one brandy and soda, and, by Jove, I could
do with another. There's a nice little pub just round the corner and
we'll go in there and I'll stand you a drink."

So, a couple of minutes later, they were seated in the deserted lounge
of a small hotel and Wynwood opened the ball with no delay.

"Now, I know we've never liked each other," he said briskly, "but that's
been mostly because of jealousy. I've always been jealous of you. As
small boys, Aunt used to give you a quid and me a lousy five bob, and I
didn't think it fair even then. Lately, she's been making you a good
allowance and never given me a penny. She got her dander up, too,
because I married a bar-maid, but I've got a damned fine missis and
we're very happy."

He took out a case and, giving Richard a cigarette, lighted one himself.
"Now, Richard," he went on, "let's be quite frank with one another. We
were the only two relations Aunt had and I think it devilish unfair one
of us should have more than the other of what she's left. We ought to
share equally."

"You didn't think so the other day," remarked Richard dryly, "when Mr.
Litchfield suggested you should give something to me."

"I did think it," said Wynwood emphatically, "but it rankled in me that
your wife had slapped my face--and a damned hard slap, too. Oh yes, I
know I deserved it, but I didn't know she was anybody else's property
then, and I just slipped my arm round her waist on the spur of the
moment." He regarded Richard intently. "Believe it or not, I'd have come
down with something handsome if you had asked me for it yourself. But
you're such a damned proud fellow and you never suggested my giving you
anything."

"Am I to believe that?" asked Richard with some sarcasm.

"Yes," came the answer instantly. "I felt very sorry for you, and so did
my wife. Damn it all, couldn't we see Aunt was only spiting you for the
same reason she had spited me--because we had both chosen girls she
didn't approve of for our wives?"

"And you say you'd have given me half?" asked Richard with a grim smile.

Wynwood shook his head emphatically. "No, I don't say that for a moment.
I don't pretend my nature's as noble as that." He spoke
conversationally. "You see, Richard, in my work it's the smart one who
gets all the plums and there's never any encouragement for fine
feelings. Upon the Exchange we're all birds of prey on the look-out to
get the better of the other fellow. For example, suppose I get hold of a
bit of information that no one else has heard of and, in consequence,
have good reason to believe certain shares will go up in value. Well, I
set out quietly to buy a packet of them on the cheap, and so a few days
later some poor devil is cursing because he's been taken down." He shook
his head again. "No, I certainly shouldn't have offered you half. A
fifth would probably have been about the limit."

"And yet you suggest you should have half now?"

Wynwood laughed. "Yes, things have become different and very tricky for
us both. Everything hangs upon a razor's edge, and the cleverest and
most experienced man of law cannot tell which way the balance will go."

"The odds are in my favour," said Richard.

The other shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows? Who can say that?
Litchfield has told me, and I'll bet any money Jackson has told you the
same, too, that it's all a toss up." He clenched his fingers together.
"And here are we, two damned fools, with more than 270,000 in liquid
assets, money that could be cash in our pockets, within half an hour of
probate going through, trying to bluff each other to get a few quid
more." He spoke frowningly. "You want a settlement, don't you?"

"Of course I do," declared Richard. "The whole business is a terrible
worry."

"Worry!" exclaimed the stockbroker, and with the deepest of sighs. He
leant over towards Richard and almost whispered, "Why, it's such a worry
to my poor little wife that I shall not dare to go back this morning and
tell her nothing's been done. Poor little woman, she can't eat, she
can't sleep and she pipes her eye every time she looks at the children."
He nodded. "I've got two of the nicest little nippers you ever saw." He
spoke confidingly. "You know--I don't mind admitting things are not too
good with me just at present, and a few thousand now will make all the
difference in the world. I'm hard up."

Now there can be no doubt that had Mr. Litchfield been present to hear
his client's last remark, his very hair would have stood on end. In a
single sentence, he would have argued, the stockbroker had given away
his whole case and exposed his willingness to accept even the hardest
settlement--as long as he got something.

However, upon Richard the confidence had a startling and very different
effect. All in a moment he saw his cousin in a new light and no longer
as the wily and rather swaggering schemer, bluffing to get the last
penny he could. Instead, he appeared a very human and rather to be
pitied family man with a profound affection for his wife and very
troubled because of the anxiety she was in.

Also, in a flash Richard's mind harked back to his own wife, how worried
she was and what an overwhelming relief it would be to her if he could
return home and tell her all was settled.

He took a sudden resolution and regarded his cousin with an amused and
friendly smile. "You're a clever chap, Ernest," he said, "and, perhaps,
not half the bad sort I've always thought you. Yes, I'll make you an
offer and you'd better accept it quickly before those jawbreakers, as
you call them, upset our minds again."

His cousin looked most relieved, but for all that there was a note of
anxiety in his voice as he said hoarsely, "Good for you, Richard! I knew
we could do better by ourselves. Now what do you propose?"

"Divide the money evenly between us," said Richard. "Then I'll take
Marden Court with all it contains, and you'll have the house in Cadogan
Square, also with all its contents intact. An interim document to be
prepared straightaway and signed by us both before we leave Mr.
Litchfield's chambers."

For the moment the expression upon the stockbroker's face was a blank
one and then it changed into one of delighted surprise. The offer was
more generous than he hoped and his face showed it. He shook Richard
warmly by the hand.

"Yes, I think it quite fair," he said. "You've got rather the better
bargain in the matter of the houses, but in a way that's only fair as
you are the man in possession and in the better position for bargaining.
Come on now. We'll go and give those two johnnies the surprise of their
lives."

And certainly it was a surprise for the solicitors, though, when the
surprise had passed, they both agreed it was a just settlement. In his
own mind Mr. Litchfield was inclined to be annoyed that his client had
parted with the many art treasures in the Court so easily, but he wisely
kept his opinion to himself. As for young Jackson, he was delighted,
for, in private, he had been just as worried as any of the other parties
concerned as to what might have happened had the matter gone to an
appeal.

In due time the previous will was admitted to probate and shortly
afterwards Dora and Richard went to live at the Court. A few weeks later
Bevan came to see them and, Dora happening to be out, Richard received
him alone. Richard shook hands warmly and said, "I'm glad you've come. I
couldn't find out where you had gone and I want to do something for
you."

The butler smiled. "I kept away on purpose, sir, so that you shouldn't
offer me anything." He shook his head. "No thank you, sir. I have all I
need. Under my late master's will I came into 2,000 when my mistress
died. I've only come to see you now because I'm leaving for Australia
the day after to-morrow, and I thought I'd like to say good-bye." He
hesitated a moment and then added: "Besides, I've something I want to
tell you."

"Well, I've a lot to thank you for," said Richard. He laughed happily.
"But for your accidentally being out of the room when that will was
being signed all I would have come in for would have been that
shilling."

The butler spoke very seriously. "It was no accident, sir. I went out on
purpose to invalidate the will. I only pretended to think I'd heard the
bell, as, knowing Mistress's impatience, I felt quite sure she would
sign without waiting for me to come back."

Richard was aghast. "But--but have you told that to anyone besides me?"
he asked. A sudden light dawned upon him, and his arm shot out
accusingly. "A-ah, I know you have. You told Mr. Jackson."

Bevan nodded. "Yes, sir, I did, but we both thought it was wisest not to
mention it to you then, so that the other side should not be able to
suggest there was any conspiracy between us."

"Conspiracy between us!" exclaimed the astonished Richard. "Why, what on
earth do you mean? You had no interest in the will or in me."

"Well, not exactly, sir," replied Bevan slowly. "Still, all my
sympathies were with you and I thought it really terrible the things
Mistress called Mrs. Stroud." He regarded Richard steadily.

Richard could hardly get his breath. "Then that business in the
witness-box," he asked in a shocked tone of voice, "was all arranged
between you and Mr. Jackson? It was a trumped-up piece of acting by both
of you?"

Bevan's expression was as near a grin as his solemn and impassive face
could get. "Yes, sir, and we had to rehearse it a good many times before
Mr. Jackson was satisfied with me," and then, noting the frown of
disapproval on Richard's face, he added quickly, "You see, sir, Mr.
Jackson said that what we did was quite justified. It was only an act of
justice, because Mistress was not in her right mind when she made that
last will. Oh no, sir, no one but you will ever know, and if you don't
mind, sir, I'd rather you never mention to Mr. Jackson that I've been to
see you. For my own sake I shall never speak of it again to another
soul."

"You're going to Australia, you say?" asked Richard.

"Yes, sir, and I shall never come back to England," replied Bevan. "I'm
over seventy, and going to a younger brother in Queensland who's been
settled on the land there for nearly forty years. Good-bye, sir, and
good luck to you both." He put his finger upon his lips and smiled
slyly. "Better not say anything about it to Mrs. Stroud, sir. Secrets
are never good for the ladies. I know I should feel dreadfully worried
if cook knew."

And when alone by himself again Richard did not quite know whether he
ought to feel intensely angry with young Jackson or--most grateful to
him for the trick he had played.




CHAPTER VII.--GHOSTS


Only A few months after his aunt's death, his uncle died, too, and
Richard came into the baronetcy. Then followed four years of almost
unalloyed happiness for Dora. Two children were born to her and she was
worshipped by her husband. With her good looks and her poise and dignity
as if she came from among the highest in the land, he was immensely
proud of her.

As had always been her dream, she moved now among the best society
people, and she often smiled to herself as she compared her present
state with that when she lived in those drab and ill-furnished rooms
above the wine offices in Bordeaux. She sighed a little, however,
thinking how thrilled her poor mother would have been had she only lived
to see how she had got on.

She hardly ever thought of her father now, dismissing as foolishness the
idea that she would ever find him, and realising now that if, by some
miraculous chance, she actually did come to learn who he was, she would
never dare to disclose herself to him. So she had long ceased to make
any enquiries for anyone who possessed the unusual Christian name of
Athol.

She had grown to love her husband dearly, and there was an almost
perfect confidence between them. She had told him of most of the
happenings of her life, and among other things how she came to work for
three months for Madame de Roche at the Institute of Perfect Health.
Afterwards, she had rather regretted she had told him that, as he had
been horrified to think his so beautiful and stately wife had had
anything to do with a woman who had been sentenced to seven years' penal
servitude for the carrying out of illegal operations. Wide as the world
was, he was uneasy that one day she might run up against one of the
patients she had attended there.

Though she had not told him so, Dora was always a little bit uneasy
about that, too, with the vague fear always at the back of her mind that
a warrant had once been actually issued for her. Common sense told her
no charge could ever have been brought home to her, but for all that the
scandal of being brought before a magistrate would have been terrible.
She had often read in the newspapers about the long arm of the law, and
though so many years had gone by she was never wholly free of the fear
that one day she might yet be called upon to explain her association
with Madame.

This fear had almost died down when one day it was suddenly revived
again by coming face to face with Madame's cousin, the hated Anna Barl,
in Regent Street. Dora had got her eldest child with her, a little boy
of a few months over three, and had come out of a shop and was just
stepping into her car when she felt rather than saw someone staring hard
at her. Turning casually to see who it was, on the instant she
recognised Anna. The latter's mouth was gaping wide and her eyes almost
popping out of her head as she took in Dora, the little boy and the
beautiful big car with its liveried chauffeur.

It was all over in less than a minute, and Dora was driven swiftly away,
with her heart beating painfully. Of course, she told herself, Anna had
completed her years of imprisonment, but what a mercy it was they had
met when she, Dora, was not on foot in the street. Then it would have
been just like the woman's impudence to have stopped to question her,
and she might even have attempted to follow her to find out where she
was living now.

Altogether the encounter had been a very disconcerting one for Dora,
and, without saying anything to Richard, she brooded over it quite a
lot, wondering fearfully if the pages of that unpleasant chapter in her
life were ever going to be turned again.

It was altogether a most depressing time for England just then, as
everyone was talking about the war which most of them thought must
inevitably come. The baleful shadow of Adolf Hitler was looming large
and menacingly over the world, and prospects of peace looked very small.
Richard, with his training in metallurgical chemistry, had already given
his service to the Government, and as his work lay in London, he was
only free at week-ends.

In the late spring of 1939 when Dora had just passed her twenty-ninth
birthday, she went down, accompanied by her little ones and their nurse,
to stay with a Mrs. Bentick Rayneham at Blackston Manor a few miles out
of East Dereham in Norfolk. She had recently become very friendly with
her, a charming girl about her own age, with one little boy. Her husband
was very well-to-do and the squire of Blackston village. A so-called
gentleman farmer, his great hobby was a stud of Jersey cows, with the
Blackston strain taking many prizes at the agricultural shows.

Knowing there were nearly always visitors at the Manor, a large
old-world house standing in extensive grounds, Dora was expecting
cheerful company for her visit, and she was certainly not disappointed
there. Upon her arrival she found several other visitors, all of them,
however, except one, being either middle-aged or elderly.

Still, they were most of them interesting, particularly so Milton-Byles,
an eminent King's Counsel, Lord Merrildon, a well-known judge, and
Lieutenant Harry Jocelyn, a nephew of Mrs. Rayneham, a breezy, manly
young fellow in the early twenties.

She took to the lieutenant as readily as he seemed to take to her. Of
the fine type the British Navy nearly always makes of those who serve
her, he was light-hearted, full of spirit and the love of adventure. As
she learnt later, he had already seen active service and been in several
brushes with pirates in the China seas.

The judge's wife, too, at once took a great fancy to her and, being a
childless woman herself, was always most interested in the children.
Very ordinary-looking, but coming from one of the best county families,
she had been plain Mrs. Vaughan until a few years previously, when, upon
his elevation to the Bench, her husband had been made a peer. One
evening in the lounge, a few days after her arrival, she made Dora most
uneasy by announcing suddenly that she was sure she had seen her
somewhere before.

"You know, you've puzzled me ever since I came here," she said. "Your
face seems so familiar to me somehow." She called across the lounge to
her husband. "James, where have we seen Lady Stroud before. You think,
too, that we have met her, don't you?"

His lordship, a very handsome and distinguished-looking man, came over
at once. "Certainly, I believe we have," he replied smilingly, "or, at
any rate, you've made me think so"--he bowed gallantly--"though how,
once seen, we can't place a face like hers, I really cannot understand."

Now Richard had never made any secret that Dora had once been a sister
at St. Jude's. Indeed it was his proud boast that they had never needed
a doctor for any of the children's little ailments because she knew so
much about them. So Dora said at once, "Well, for six months I was with
Sir Robert Griffin, the consultant in Harley Street, and----"

"Oh, but I've never been to him," broke in Lady Merrildon, "though,
goodness knows, in my time I've been to plenty of doctors for my
headaches."

"And now she's stopped going to them," nodded her husband, "she's better
than ever she has been before." He laughed. "And she's consulted many
other people besides doctors. Indeed, I should say half the quacks in
London have had money out of her for massage, different coloured rays
and all sorts of weird treatments." He looked very amused. "She won't
tell me half the dreadful places she's been to."

His wife smilingly brushed aside his accusations. "Never mind," she
nodded confidently to Dora, "sooner or later it'll come back to me where
we've met. My memory always helps me out in the end."

Dora felt a horrid feeling at the pit of her stomach. What if Lady
Merrildon had been one of Madame's patients? Certainly she had no
recollection of her, but then she was so very ordinary looking that she
mightn't have noticed her. As for not remembering the name--she mightn't
have been Lady Merrildon then. Oh, how dreadful if it came back into her
mind that she had seen her, Dora, at the Institute! She was sure to have
read in the newspapers that Madame had been put in prison!

Unhappily that was not the only shock poor Dora was going to have at the
Manor, as the very next morning, walking along one of the paths in a
part of the large garden some little distance from the house, to her
amazement and consternation she recognised in one of the gardeners
working there her old admirer, the artist, Eric Chalmers. He was bending
down, weeding, when she was about to pass him, but, looking up and
apparently at once realising who it was, he rose to his feet and stood
facing her.

She stopped and regarded him with frightened eyes.

It was he, sure enough, but he had greatly altered in the five years
since she had last seen him. His hair had greyed, his face was thin and
weather-beaten, there were deep lines about his eyes and he looked
altogether an old man. His clothes were soiled and ragged and all out of
shape, and instead of a collar he had a scarf twisted round his neck.

"Yes, it's me," he grinned with his old devil-may-care, impish air, "but
a bit worse for wear and tear, and I'm called Henry Wood now. Oh, yes, I
knew you were staying here. I recognised you the other day as you were
getting out of your car and I've heard all about you since. So you're
Lady Stroud, are you, with pots of money and all that? You've gone up
and I've gone down. Serves us both right. We've each got our deserts."

Dora found her voice. "Oh, Eric, I'm so sorry----" she began.

"Don't you pity me," he interrupted sharply. "I don't want it. I'm quite
happy. I've got a cottage in the village and I get roaring drunk every
Saturday night. A gentleman's life at the end of the week and I don't
complain." He fumbled in one of his pockets and produced a folded piece
of paper. "Here, take this, I've been on the lookout to give it to you.
It's some information you wanted."

He touched his cap ironically with his finger. "Good morning, Lady
Stroud, and don't you ever attempt to speak to me again." He almost
snarled his next words. "Get off with you, quick. I've finished with you
in this life and any other life, too," and turning his back on her, he
bent down and resumed his weeding.

Dora was very quiet that night at dinner; so much so that the judge
rallied her about it and wanted to know if she had a headache. Later, he
had quite a long conversation with her in the lounge, telling her
something of his work in the criminal courts and how great was his
responsibility sometimes to hold the scales of justice evenly.

"And when a man is being tried, say for murder," asked Dora curiously,
"are you always certain in your own mind whether he is innocent or
guilty?"

He shook his head. "No, I am not, and then I often feel most sorry for
the poor jurymen and women who have to make the decision." He smiled.
"You see--so much of the really important evidence is like water on a
duck's back to them and I am afraid they are always more influenced than
they should be by the appearance of the accused person. Then when a
clever gentleman like Mr. Milton-Byles gets hold of them they get all
muddled up and don't know what to think."

"But you always have the last word in your summing-up, haven't you?"
said Dora.

"And that's when the responsibility comes in," he nodded. "Often upon
what I tell them depends whether the life of the poor creature before me
is cut short--or he goes free." He smiled. "Yes, a judge's life, like
that of the humble policeman in the song, is not always a happy one."

The following day, a Sunday, quite a large party sat down to lunch, as
two extra visitors, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Larose, had arrived for the
meal. Dora had been told a lot beforehand by Mrs. Rayneham about this
Mr. Larose and how before his marriage to the wealthy widow of Sir
Charles Ardane he had been only a detective-inspector at Scotland Yard.

"But there's nothing common about him, Dora," she said, "for he's one of
nature's gentlemen and such a kind and charming man. Everybody likes
him. The marriage, about fifteen or sixteen years ago, was quite a
romance, and they do say it was Lady Ardane, as she was then, who
proposed to him. He didn't dare to, as she was a very wealthy woman."

"And he was only a policeman?" asked Dora wonderingly.

"Not exactly, as he was the star detective of Scotland Yard, and the
very best one they've ever had. He was a genius in his way and they used
to say laughingly that when a murder had been committed he could even
see the shadow that the murderer had left upon the wall."

"And has the marriage to this rich woman turned out all right?" asked
Dora.

"Oh, yes, you couldn't find a happier couple. They've got three children
and Mrs. Larose is as delightful a woman as her husband is a nice man."

The lunch was a very happy meal and, in particular, Dora was greatly
impressed with Larose. He seemed such a happy man, and, so full of fun,
he kept everyone in smiles and laughter the whole time. With some
prompting he related some of the reminiscences of his detective days and
something of a few of the cases he had handled.

"But you must admit, Mr. Larose," remarked the K.C. with a grim smile,
"that when you were working in the Criminal Investigation Department you
were regarded as the bad boy of the Yard. Wasn't it common knowledge
that sometimes when you had run a criminal to earth, before handing him
over for punishment, you would first try him yourself and then, if you
found extenuating circumstances, suppress vital evidence and let him go
free?"

"No, no," laughed Larose merrily, "I was not quite as bad as that." He
looked amused. "It might have been that at times I did turn a blind eye
to something I had found out, but certainly never when it was against
the interests of the community to do so. No, I never let an evil man
escape the consequences of his wrong-doing."

"But you were always a sentimentalist, weren't you?" persisted the K.C.

Larose hesitated. "Not exactly," he said, "but upon some occasions I
admit I have turned aside the harshness of the Law. Now I'll give you an
example. Many years ago I was investigating a case of murder where a man
had been found shot in a lonely road some miles from his house. We found
out he had been of a most evil character, a brute and a blackguard in
almost every way. Not married two years to a good and gentle woman of a
gentle disposition, he had treated her with the utmost brutality and
made her life a misery. Not only did he flaunt his other loves before
her, but to strike her was nothing to him. It was common knowledge all
over their little town that a week before he was shot he had cut her lip
open and given her a black eye."

"Ah, now we have the inevitable woman," exclaimed the K.C. gleefully,
"and, of course, the sentiment will follow!"

"The only excuse for him," went on Larose, ignoring the interruption,
"was that he'd once been in a mental asylum for two years. It had been
kept very secret, however, and he had even married without telling his
poor wife. Well, of course, when he was murdered the suffering wife was
the first suspect, but fortunately she had an unassailable alibi. Still,
for all that, as a matter of routine the house and all her possessions
were gone through thoroughly."

He smiled. "I was glad that, as I had expected, nothing incriminating
was found. However, in a drawer in her desk I came upon a dance
programme of a hospital subscription ball. It was about three months old
and, scanning down it, I saw she had had three dances with someone whose
initials were--well, we'll call them A.B.C. I was interested at once and
scouted round to find everyone she knew whose surname commenced with a
C."

He nodded. "I soon found a Mr. C. whose Christian names commenced with
A.B. No, he wasn't her lover. I made certain of that. When I questioned
her about him the only feeling she showed was curiosity why I should be
interested in him."

"But the gentle sex can be very subtle and evasive," remarked the K.C.,
shaking his head doubtfully.

"I know that," agreed Larose, "and I was well upon my guard not to be
taken in. However, all my life's training told me she was perfectly
innocent there. He was only a passing acquaintance and she had not seen
him since that dance. Still, I went to call upon the man himself and,
telling him who I was, asked him point blank what dealings he had ever
had with the murdered man. Then I was pretty certain at once that the
long shot I had made had hit bang in the very middle of the target.
Taken entirely by surprise, he was the very picture of consternation and
guilt. In his amazement at my coming to him he looked as if he were
going to faint. The whole thing had been as easy as shooting at a
sitting rabbit."

Larose paused for a few moments and then shrugged his shoulders. "Now
what, in the best interests of the community, was I to do? An unknown
person had rid the world of a thoroughly bad man and I thought I knew
who the killer was. He was a nice, manly-looking and clean-living young
fellow who had done good service in the war, and I was certain that if
he had committed the murder the only motive for his crime would have
been a quixotic sympathy for the tortured woman. So I ask you, what was
I to do? Should I have hounded him down or kept my suspicions to myself
and let others find out if they could?"

"You should have hounded him down, as you call it," growled the K.C.
"You were being paid to do it and your duty was quite clear."

Larose sighed. "Well, I didn't do it. I got from him a most
unsatisfactory alibi, had a little chat with him and bade him good-bye.
In parting, I told him that as a matter of routine his rooms would
probably be searched and advised him laughingly that if he'd got a
pistol he'd better get rid of it before the searchers came."

"You did quite right, Mr. Larose," exclaimed Mrs. Rayneham approvingly.
"After all, you had only suspicions about him and you might have been
quite wrong."

"Exactly," nodded Larose, "only suspicions and, as you say, I might have
been quite wrong."

Lord Merrildon, who had listened most interestedly to Larose's story,
now asked curiously, "And did you ever happen to see this young man
again?"

"Oh, yes," nodded Larose, "about two years afterwards, one Sunday
afternoon upon the Parade at Brighton. He was pushing a perambulator
and"--he smiled all over his face--"the lady who was walking beside him
had been the wife of the man who was shot. They looked very happy."

A moment's silence followed and then a ripple of laughter went round the
table, in which they all joined.

The next morning the visit of Lord and Lady Merrildon came to an end
and, in parting, both expressed to Dora the hope that they would be
seeing her again. "You must come and stay with us, dear," said the wife.
"We'll send you a special invitation, and be sure you don't make any
excuse. Our Saffron Waldon house always seems so lonely without
children's voices."

The following Friday Mr. Rayneham brought two friends down with him for
the week-end and by great good fortune it happened that Dora was in the
lounge with young Lieutenant Jocelyn when they arrived and through one
of the windows saw them getting out of their car.

To her horror she recognised one of them as being the West End doctor
who was called in by Madame to help her out when any of her patients
were in danger because of what she had done to them.

She always thought afterwards that it was one of the most terrible
moments of her life. What she had always been so dreading was actually
coming to pass! She was meeting someone who had known her when she was
associated with Madame de Roche and she was sure, from his helping the
woman, that he would be a thoroughly bad character himself, just the
very type who would resort to blackmailing if ever he had any hold over
anyone.

One hope, however, leapt like lightning into her mind, and that was he
would not recognise her. After all, he had only set eyes upon her a few
times--the last being nine to ten years ago.

Mr. Rayneham, bringing the two men into the lounge, introduced them.
"Lady Stroud," he said smilingly, "this is Dr. Chalda Simeon, and this
is Mr. Beverley--both old friends of mine."

With a great effort Dora pulled herself together and bowed distantly,
her hopes leaping high when the doctor returned her bow conventionally,
with no sign of any recognition in his face. She thought he had altered
very little and looked, just as he used to, the suave well-mannered
professional man.

All went well that evening, and when it happened he was brought in
contact with her he could not have been more respectful and polite.
Drawn once as her partner at bridge, she noted, as she had done in the
old days, how good-looking he was--all except for his eyes, which were
set too close together and had, she thought, an unpleasant, cunning
look. She went to bed that night quite happy and reassured. No, he had
not recognised her! She was quite safe!

The next morning, however, she got a horrid shock. Seated on the
terrace, she was watching her two children at play upon the lawn just
below her when Dr. Simeon came up and with no ceremony plumped himself
down beside her. His very first words almost froze her blood in her
consternation.

"Well, little Miss Dane that was," he said, with what she thought was a
horrid, evil smile, "you've done very well for yourself, haven't you?
From assisting in illegal operations with that unfortunate Madame de
Roche to becoming Lady Stroud with any amount of money is a great lift
up, isn't it?" He bowed ironically. "I congratulate you."

Dora was absolutely astounded. Her mouth went dry, she swallowed hard
and was afraid she was going to faint.

Dr. Simeon went on conversationally, "Yes, you were very clever, weren't
you? How you managed to evade the police I cannot for the life of me
understand. They were looking everywhere for you with a fine comb."

Dora knew it would be useless to deny her identity, and, drawing a long
breath, found her speech. "That's an untruth," she said shakily. "They
didn't want me. I had done nothing wrong. I had had nothing to do with
that vile woman's horrid work."

"Nothing to do with it!" exclaimed the doctor as if in great surprise.
He lied glibly. "Why--she confessed everything and told the police you
were her right hand and brought her in lots of cases. They issued a
warrant to arrest you at once, and as far as I know it is still out to
bring you in." He shook his head warningly. "Remember the police have
long memories. They never forget."

Dora found her courage. "I don't believe a word you say," she retorted
firmly. "That woman had no reason to tell such lies about me and I am
sure she didn't. If she had turned against anyone it would have been
against you because of the hundreds of pounds she had paid you and your
refusing to help her when she had most need of you."

"A-ah!" exclaimed the doctor instantly. "And for you to know that shows
how thick you were with her. You must have been or she wouldn't have
told you anything about me." He looked amused. "But that gives you no
hold upon me, young lady, for of course I should always deny it and no
one has any proof."

He regarded her strained and white face. "But there, there, don't look
so troubled," he went on ingratiatingly. "I shall never give you away.
You can depend upon that." He looked amused. "However, it will be nice
for me to have a wealthy friend like you. Besides, I've always admired
you and I see you've lost none of your good looks." He broke off
suddenly. "But where's your husband? Don't you get on well with him? How
is it he's not here with you? I should have thought----" but at that
moment one of the other guests appeared upon the terrace and he stopped
speaking.

Dora passed a horrible day. Verily, she was in the toils, with all her
happy little world tumbling about her! Richard was not coming down that
week-end and she felt she had no one to protect her.

However, she pulled herself resolutely together again, and tried hard to
believe they were all untruths that Dr. Simeon had told her. Madame had
never lied to the police about her, no warrant had been issued and they
had never been looking for her! Still, at the back of her mind lurked
the dreadful fear that something of what Dr. Simeon said might be true,
that the police had issued a warrant and that it had never been
withdrawn. Then if that were so she was completely in his power, and the
thought of what he might do next terrified her.

All that day she avoided him as much as possible, taking good care never
to be caught alone with him. However, in the evening, shortly before
dinner, he outmanoeuvred her. She was alone in the dining-room arranging
the flowers upon the table and did not hear him enter the room.
Approaching on tiptoe behind her, the first thing she knew of his
presence was when, pulling her close to him and pinioning her arms to
her sides, with his free hand he pulled her face round and began kissing
her ardently upon the lips.

Struggling furiously, she succeeded in freeing herself and pushed him
violently away. Looking very amused, he asked smilingly, "In which part
of the house is your room? Do you have any of the children sleeping with
you?"

"You beast! You coward!" she panted. "I'd like to kill you!"

He laughed merrily, but as she looked as if she were going to spit at
him, he added warningly, "Steady, steady now, and remember that
unexecuted warrant." He shook his head. "I'm never too good-tempered at
any time."

But whatever retort Dora would have given was cut short by the entrance
of one of the maids, and with a wave of his hand to Dora, as if they
were upon the best of terms, the doctor made his exit from the room.

It was a long time before Dora could get to sleep that night. Strange to
say, she was no longer frightened at what Dr. Simeon would do, her only
thought now being how to outwit him. In a clever sort of way he had
shown his hand a bit more after dinner and she had a pretty good idea
that his next move would be to attempt to extort money. Playing at the
same table with him at bridge, though this time not as his partner, he
had remarked jokingly to the company generally that he must have a good
win that night as he happened to be short of money.

"A thousand pounds is my minimum," he had laughed, "but how I'm going to
win it with points at half a crown a hundred I can hardly see," and the
others present had thought it a good joke.

As Dora lay wide awake in bed she clenched her teeth viciously. She was
not going to be blackmailed! She would not pay him a penny! Rather she
would tell her husband everything, or, better still, perhaps, she would
go to Lord Merrildon and lay everything before him. She thought of the
kind yet strong face of the judge, and was sure he would help her. So
high up in his calling, too, it was certain he would have influence with
the authorities and a word from him to the Chief Commissioner of Police,
if indeed it were needed, might put everything right at once. After all,
she was no guilty party to be shielded.

The next day she never allowed herself to be alone anywhere about the
house, and if she had not been feeling so upset Dr. Simeon's many
attempts to get speech with her would have been amusing. Then, to her
dreadful consternation, she heard it mentioned casually at lunch that he
was not going away on the morrow, but instead was prolonging his stay
until the following week-end.

She was so distressed at the thought of being followed about for a whole
week by her persecutor that she was half minded to cut short her stay.
However, she could think of no adequate excuse, and in the end resolved
to ring Richard up and ask him to come down on the morrow. Then she
would tell him everything and he would know what best to do. Most
likely, she thought, he would go and lay everything before the Chief
Commissioner of Police himself.

So much relieved in mind at what she was intending to do, after they had
all had afternoon tea in the lounge, she said to her hostess that she
would like to go for a quick sharp walk to get rid of a headache she had
got. It was to the post office in the little village about a mile away
she was meaning to go. She knew where she would be able to catch Richard
about that time and preferred to phone away from the Manor, so that by
no chance should anyone overhear her telling him the matter was most
urgent.

"Yes, dear, by all means go," said Mrs. Rayneham, "and while you are
about it, you might as well take the letters down to the village. It
will save anyone going down in the car."

So making sure Dr. Simeon was nowhere about to see her leave the house,
Dora started off in a short cut by a path through a small wood near the
house, which would bring her out upon the high road only about half a
mile from the village.

Congratulating herself upon having so successfully evaded the doctor,
she would have been terrified had she been aware she was now running
into the very danger she so feared, for only a few minutes previously
Mrs. Rayneham had sent Dr. Simeon along the same lonely little path she
was now traversing.

Two hawks had of late been playing havoc with the Manor chickens and it
was known they were often to be seen near a small pond round which the
path circled toward the end of the wood. They were very wary birds and
no one as yet had been able to get near them with a shot gun. Dr.
Simeon, however, was reputed to be very good with a rifle and, now armed
with a small rook one, he had come to the pond to see if he could get a
shot at the marauders.

Arriving there only just before Dora, the doctor laid down his rifle to
light a cigarette and then proceeded to scout round to locate a suitable
place where he could sit comfortably to await the coming of the hawks
who were supposed to visit the pond about that time of the afternoon. He
was expecting to have to wait about an hour.

Suddenly he caught sight of someone moving between the trees and to his
great delight saw it was Dora coming up the path. Throwing away his
cigarette he placed his rifle upon the ground, and, slipping behind a
big tree, waited until she had drawn level with him before springing out
to catch hold of her.

However, he was just the fraction of a second too late, as Dora had
become aware of some movement behind her and turned just in time to see
him not half a dozen feet away. With a startled cry she sprang forward
and started to run for dear life. A few lightning moments' thoughts,
however, convinced her she had no hope of escaping, and that therefore
it would be better to face her pursuer and do her best in the struggle
that she was sure would ensue.

So she stopped dead in her tracks and, in turning sharply, her eyes fell
upon the little rook rifle on the ground. She snatched it up and pointed
it at the doctor who had stopped also only a few paces from her.

"You come nearer," she panted, "and I'll shoot you," and, without taking
her eyes off him, she felt for and pulled up the trigger.

Dr. Simeon smiled a craftily vicious smile. "You daren't, my charmer,"
he said confidently. "Murder would mean hanging and not just perhaps a
couple of years' imprisonment if the police now find out where you are."
He took out a cigarette and lighted it. "Come--let's have a little talk
together. Don't be afraid. I won't touch you again. I know I oughtn't to
have kissed you last night, but you looked so pretty I couldn't help it.
No, I don't really want anything from you. It was only my fun last night
when I spoke of that thousand pounds. I make plenty of money and----"
but, thinking he had thrown her off her guard, he darted forward and
grabbed hold of the rifle.

For a few seconds a fierce struggle ensued, but, freeing his grip upon
the rifle, Dora thrust the muzzle into his chest and pulled the trigger.
Instantly his hands dropped from her, and with a deep groan he crashed
on to the ground. The front of his light flannel jacket became crimsoned
over in blood.

Panting hard and as white as death herself, Dora stood over him. Then
from behind her came a shout, "Bravo! Well done!" and Lieutenant Jocelyn
came running up. "I came as quick as I could," he panted, "but I was
just too late." He bent down and turned the body over. "But, by Jove,
you've killed him. You've shot him over the heart."

"He attacked me," choked Dora, her voice heavy with tears. "I was only
defending myself."

"Of course you were!" exclaimed the lieutenant. "I saw it all. It wasn't
your fault."

"But, my God," wailed Dora, "I shall be tried for murder! The police
will take me up."

"But my evidence will prove it was an accident," comforted Jocelyn at
once. "You won't get any punishment for it. No jury would find you
guilty."

"But the scandal," went on Dora. The tears rolled down her cheeks. "It
will kill me."

"He must have been mad to molest you as he did," said the lieutenant.
"Why--he didn't know you until the day before yesterday!"

She shook her head. "He did, Mr. Jocelyn," she choked. "He met me years
ago and made out he'd got hold of some discreditable secret in my life.
He was going to blackmail me."

"Whew!" whistled the lieutenant. "Then I'm glad you killed him." He
frowned. "You were meeting him here by appointment?"

"Oh, no," replied Dora, "it was only by chance that I came upon him
here. I was going down into the village. Last night he seized hold of me
and kissed me by force. All to-day I've been keeping out of his way as
much as possible." Her tears came again. "Oh, the publicity and scandal
of it will kill me."

The lieutenant was thinking hard. "I say," he asked, "did anyone see you
come on to this path?"

Dora shook her head. "Not that I know of. There was no one about."

Young Jocelyn's eyes glistened. "Then why let anybody know you met him?
Keep the whole thing dark." He pointed to the pond. "I'll throw him in
there, with the rifle just near him. Then if the body's ever
found--perhaps it'll be thought he fell over that high bank and shot
himself accidentally. Come, it's worth trying, anyhow."

"Oh, but will it be safe?" asked Dora tremulously.

"I don't see why it shouldn't be," was the reply. "Then no one need ever
know you met him here. Now don't you be afraid. I'm sure it'll be the
best way out of all your worry."

Always of a hasty and impetuous disposition, not arguing the matter any
further, he laid hold of the body by the heels and, dragging it over the
rather high bank, rolled it into the pond. The rifle he dropped into the
water, close to the body.

Then, linking his arm in Dora's, as her legs were trembling so
violently, he proceeded to walk her quickly up the path towards the main
road.

"Now no one must know you came by this path," he enjoined sharply. "See?
You came by way of the drive and you're going back the same way. If
we're ever asked any questions about anything we'll say I met you in the
drive and we went for a little walk together. We'll go along it now for
a little way in the hope that somebody may see us."

"I was going to the post office," faltered Dora. "Mrs. Rayneham gave me
these letters here in my jacket pocket to post."

"Then we'll go there together," said Jocelyn, "just as if nothing had
happened. We have got to act all along as if nothing has happened."

"But when he doesn't come back," choked Dora, "they'll search everywhere
and are bound to find his body."

"And what does it matter if they do," asked the lieutenant confidently,
"as long as there is no evidence to link it up with you? No one here
need ever know you had met the blackguard before." He frowned. "By the
by, what was the hold he made out he had over you?"

Dora told him, and he scoffed contemptuously. "A thousand to one it was
all a lie. There was no warrant out for you! If there had been, your
name would have been published in the newspapers and the police would
have soon got hold of you."

They walked down to the post office and posted the letters, Dora now
giving no further thought to phoning up Richard. Sauntering back
leisurely, the whole countryside was so steeped in the peace and
quietness of an ordinary Sunday evening that it seemed altogether
impossible to her that she could have been so lately involved in such a
dreadful tragedy. Her agitation died down, her nerves no longer troubled
her and she was able to look up at her companion with a smile.

"No, we shan't be found out," she said quite calmly. "As you say, we've
only got to sit tight and we shall be all right."

"That's it!" exclaimed Jocelyn enthusiastically. "I knew you were a girl
with plenty of courage or I shouldn't have let myself in for what I
have." He frowned. "I'm awfully sorry I shan't be with you to buck you
up during the early part of the week, but I must be up in Town to give
my evidence in that collision case I told you about." A thought struck
him and he asked, "When does your husband come down?"

"Next week-end," replied Dora, "unless, of course, I send to him
before."

"And you won't send for him," he said firmly. "Don't worry him, at any
rate until things have settled down a bit. I'd better be here when he
comes and break the news to him."

"No, I'll tell him," said Dora quickly. "I'll tell him everything."

"Then let me be present when you do," urged Jocelyn. "I can put things
in a good light. After all, I saw it was an accident."

"It wasn't," sighed Dora. "I knew what I was doing well enough."

"You didn't," retorted the lieutenant. "You were far too strung-up to
think of any consequences." He frowned. "But I say--what sort of man is
your husband?"

Dora sighed again. "He's very conscientious, and that makes me afraid
he'll think we're doing wrong."

"Hum!" remarked Jocelyn. "Then it is certainly I who must talk to him,
because, as I've told you, I'm up to the neck in it as much as you."

A few minutes before dinner when most of the guests were having
cocktails in the lounge, Mrs. Rayneham remarked upon how late Dr. Simeon
was in getting back. "I sent him," she said, "along the path through the
home wood to try to get those hawks which have been coming after my
chickens." She turned to Dora. "You didn't see anything of him, did you,
when you went to the post office?"

Young Jocelyn answered quickly for her. "I went with Lady Stroud to post
those letters. I overtook her in the drive. No, we didn't see anything
of the doctor."

"How tiresome of him," exclaimed Mrs. Rayneham. "He knows how punctual
we always are."

Her cheerful mood continuing, Dora had shaken off all of her
nervousness. The confidence of the young lieutenant was infectious and
he seemed so sure that everything would be all right. Still, if the
truth did become known, she told herself, she would not be blamed as
after all she was only defending herself and, as Lieutenant Jocelyn had
said, the shooting must have been an accident. No one would accuse her
of killing Dr. Simeon deliberately.

Dinner over with no appearance of the doctor, Mr. Rayneham with some of
the men visitors, including the lieutenant, made up a search party and
went out to see if they could find anything of the missing man. It was a
bright moonlight night and, taking no lanterns with them, they traversed
the whole length of the path through the wood as far as the main road.
Of course, however, they found no sign of him, and returning home, Mr.
Rayneham rang up the village policeman, but the latter agreed with him
nothing more could be done until the morning.

The next day the search was resumed, now under the direction of the
police sergeant from the little town of East Dereham, but no trace of
the doctor was found. His flat in Earl's Court was rung up, but his
housekeeper--he was a bachelor and she managed the flat for him--could
give no information. She did, however, say he was a rather forgetful and
eccentric man and occasionally had absented himself from home without
giving her any notice.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Jocelyn having gone up to Town, Dora was
losing something of her confidence and beginning to think she had made a
great mistake in having allowed herself to be induced to hush the matter
up. She ought to have made out to them that she had come upon Dr. Simeon
lying dead by the path in the wood, or she ought to have returned to the
Manor and not said a word to anyone about having seen him.

On the whole, she had begun to feel a little angry with Lieutenant
Jocelyn for having swept her off her feet and acted so hastily upon the
spur of the moment. She began to worry herself upon the Monday night,
and by the following morning felt positively ill. Her hostess noticed it
and asked if anything were the matter with her. She replied smilingly
that all she had got was a bad headache.

"Well, what about going for a nice ride in my little sport's car?" said
Mrs. Rayneham. "With the hood down, you'd get a good blow of fresh air.
You could drive over to Carmel Abbey. Mrs. Larose left her gloves here
the other day and I promised to post them on to her, but with all this
worry about Dr. Simeon I forgot all about it. Yes, you can take the
gloves and tell Mr. Larose about the trouble we are in. I'm sure he'll
be greatly interested."

Dora's heart gave a big bound. Go to see Mr. Larose! Why--why hadn't she
thought of it? He would be the very man to help her! Oh, what a
heaven-sent help he would be! Instinct told her he was a man anyone
could trust implicitly.

"I'm sorry I can't come with you," went on Mrs. Rayneham, "but with this
dreadful mystery about Dr. Simeon I must be here if the police come from
Norwich. You wouldn't mind going by yourself, would you?"

Dora felt better at once. "No, of course not," she said. "Besides, I'll
take Nurse and the children with me for company. They love motoring."

"Well, you go and get ready," said Mrs. Rayneham, "and I'll have the car
brought out and see if it's quite all right for the journey. In the
meantime I'll ring up Mrs. Larose to tell her you're coming."

In less than a quarter of an hour the greatly relieved Dora was down
again in the lounge with her two children and the nurse. "I rang up the
Abbey," said Mrs. Rayneham, "but couldn't get either Mr. or Mrs. Larose.
The butler said Mrs. Larose was away, in Town, but that Mr. Larose would
be in any minute and at home for the rest of the day." She laughed. "I
didn't say you were coming, so you'll be able to have a nice little
flirtation with him all on your own."

It was only a twenty-mile drive to Carmel Abbey and Dora's heart beat
tremulously when she pulled up the car by the huge and massive door,
hundreds of years old. "From Mrs. Rayneham," she explained when, in
answer to her ring, the butler appeared.

Leaving the nurse and children in the car, she followed him into the
study where Larose was seated at a desk. The latter at once came forward
smilingly to meet her and they shook hands.

Then, with the door closed behind them, cutting short Larose's words of
greeting, she burst out chokingly, "Mr. Larose, I have come to you for
advice. Two days ago I killed a man. He attacked me and had been
intending to blackmail me. His body lies hidden in a pond. Should I give
myself up to the police, or say nothing in the hope that I may not be
found out? You remember me, don't you? We met at Blackston Manor a
little while ago."

All on the instant the face of Larose had become the very picture of
amazement. His jaw had dropped and his eyes had opened wide. For the
moment he did not seem to be able to take in this extraordinary
announcement from the beautiful and aristocratic-looking young woman
standing before him.

"Yes," went on Dora tremulously, "he attacked me on the path through a
lonely wood and I shot him with his own rifle. I think it was partly an
accident." Tears filled her eyes. "I've come to you to know what I ought
to do."

Larose had recovered very quickly. "Now don't cry," he said kindly.
"Just sit down and tell me all about it," and, taking her arm, he led
her to a chair in front of his desk. "Ah, one moment," he said glancing
out of the window. "I see you've brought your little ones with you."

"Yes, and that's their nurse with them," said Dora faintly.

"Well, I'll take them to my housekeeper," he said, "and she'll amuse
them in the play-room. I'm sorry my wife's away."

He was gone about two minutes and then bustled back into the room. "Now
we can have our little talk," he said briskly, seating himself again
behind his desk. "Take your time. We shall not be interrupted. Let me
hear how it all began."

So Dora told her story, beginning with her work at the Institute, going
on to her marriage and the happy years she had spent with her husband,
the coming of Dr. Simeon to Blackston Manor the previous Friday, his
kissing of her by force the next evening, her unfortunate meeting with
him in the wood the following day and all that happened afterwards.

"I'm sure now that I did very wrong," she went on, "in deciding to try
to keep myself out of everything, but I was terrified that any publicity
would draw attention to myself, with the police learning that I was the
Dora Dane for whom that warrant had perhaps been issued all those years
ago. Young Mr. Jocelyn was most sympathetic. His reason for advising me
to act as I did was because he was afraid it would be bound to come out
that I had known Dr. Simeon before."

"And I think the lieutenant was right there," nodded Larose judicially,
"for you mustn't forget you have those three enemies, that horrible
Madame, her cousin and her brother. It is hardly probable that if you
had admitted you had shot him accidentally one or the other of them
would not have read about it in the newspapers and, as likely as not,
some pressman would have got hold of a photograph of yours and published
it. Then where would you have been if, out of spite, one of these people
had written to the police?"

"But we ought to have left the body lying where it was," said Dora, "for
someone else to find."

Larose shook his head. "What about the fingermarks on the rifle?" he
asked. "There were sure to have been some of yours on it."

"We might have wiped them off," said Dora. "Mr. Jocelyn would certainly
have thought of that."

Larose smiled. "Worse still! No fingermarks on the rifle would have
pointed to murder at once, and would have intensified the interest and
publicity in every newspaper in the kingdom. Then all the guests at the
Manor would have come into the limelight, and their fingerprints taken
at once. Don't forget your Christian name is not a very common one, and
remember, too, what you have just told me about that cousin of Madame's
seeing you getting into your car that day in Regent Street." He smiled.
"A fine and expensive-looking car, I am sure, and you as elegantly
dressed as you are now! So she would be pretty sure you were living in
good circumstances. Then the two names Dora, Lady Stroud, and Dr. Simeon
together might have made her think and, just on the chance and out of
spite, as I say, she might have written to the police."

"And what do you advise me to do?" asked Dora piteously.

Larose looked troubled. "Well, it's a little late in the day to ask me
that now, isn't it, seeing that you seem to have already decided for
yourself? If you were going to speak up you ought to have done so at
once."

"But I'll do whatever you tell me to," choked Dora. "What do you think
is best?"

Larose regarded her very gravely. "If you come to me to ask me that in
my capacity as a Justice of the Peace, most people would unhesitatingly
say that of course I ought to tell you to give yourself up at once to
the police and make a clean breast of everything."

Dora's face went white as death. "Then you hold out no hope for me?" she
asked tremblingly. Her voice firmed a little. "But need I bring in
Lieutenant Jocelyn? It will ruin his whole career."

Larose held up his hand. "Wait a minute," he said. "Don't be so quick."
He smiled his pleasant, friendly smile. "I said if you came to me as a
Justice of the Peace, but you don't come to me as such, do you? You come
to me privately, as a friend?"

Dora nodded. "I didn't know you were a magistrate. I came to you because
that story you told us at lunch the other day showed how sympathetic you
could be."

"Exactly!" commented Larose. He made a grimace. "I only brought up that
I was a Justice of the Peace because if I tell you to keep silence and
say nothing I want you to realise I am joining you in a conspiracy
against the law and that"--he shook his head--"would be rather a serious
matter for a magistrate if it became known."

"Oh, I'll never say anything," broke in Dora quickly. "I promise you
I'll----"

"I know that," said Larose. "I feel I can trust you. There's any amount
of courage in those so well-spaced eyes of yours." He spoke briskly.
"No, under the circumstances I think the best course for you now is to
go on saying nothing, for if you speak now after these two days of
silence, it will rather suggest guilt in some way. The police will argue
you must have had some very strong reason for hiding the body--a much
stronger reason than that by an accident you had caused his death. If
you made out you were struggling in self-defence when the rifle went off
they would not be likely to credit that Dr. Simeon made such a vicious
and unprovoked attack upon you after less than a two days'
acquaintanceship."

"Then you think they'd guess I knew him before?" asked Dora shakily.

"Most certainly!" nodded Larose. "So they'd probe back into your past
life and I'm afraid there's little they wouldn't be able to find out.
Once started upon a trail, you have no idea how patient and thorough
Scotland Yard can be."

Dora looked upon the verge of tears and he went on quickly. "That's the
dark side of things, but the bright side is--if you continue to keep
silent you may never come into their suspicions at all. I don't for a
moment see why you should, and from all you tell me his death may be put
down to an accident, with the shooting self-inflicted."

"Then you think they'll find the body?" asked Dora.

"Yes, and within the next day or two--directly his disappearance is
considered mysterious enough for the Norwich detectives to be put on the
case. With Mrs. Rayneham informing them he was going near that pond
after those hawks they're bound to go there almost at once."

After they talked for a long while, Dora calmed down and was beginning
to feel much more hopeful again.

"Now you go back to the Manor," said Larose in conclusion, "and carry on
as if you are not unduly interested in the matter. Steel yourself to be
all prepared for the body being found. Summon up all your courage and
say to yourself, 'Well, if the worse comes to the worst, and I have to
tell everything, it will only be the scandal I shall have to face, for,
with my tale told, no jury will convict me of anything more wrong than
trying to hide the body.'"

He patted her kindly upon the shoulder. "Another thing. I'll keep well
in touch with Mrs. Rayneham to learn everything that is going on and
come over at once and take a hand if I think you are in any danger." He
laughed. "It's well known in Norfolk that I'm always butting in on any
mystery that is interesting."




CHAPTER VIII.--THE MISSING KERCHIEF


It was well that Dora had been so well buoyed up with hope by her
interview with Larose, as upon her return to the Manor just in time for
lunch she was to realise that the curtain was indeed being rung up for
the presentation of the drama in which she might unhappily be cast for a
most dreadful part.

Mrs. Rayneham had had several visitors, reporters who had come down from
two London newspapers to work up an interesting story for their readers
about the missing doctor, and a police sergeant from Norwich,
accompanied by two plain-clothes detectives.

"The newspaper men were most inquisitive," she said, "and I had to choke
them off when they asked what I considered a lot of unnecessary
questions. They actually wanted to know the name of all the visitors
staying here, and without asking my permission took photographs of the
house."

"But you didn't give them our names?" asked Dora, with an uncomfortable
feeling at the pit of her stomach.

"Certainly not," replied Mrs. Rayneham, "and I took care they didn't get
any chance of pumping the servants. I thought they were altogether much
too pushing, quite different from the detectives from Norwich. They came
with Constable Wicks from the village and were most polite and so
sympathetic. When I had told them everything they said that in the
circumstances the doctor was not likely to be missing for long and that
they would soon have news of him."

Sure enough news came through that same afternoon, and it was of a
terrible nature. The doctor's body had been found in the very pond to
which he had been directed to go to get a shot at the hawks.

It appeared that the detectives had started straight away to search
along the path through the wood and, coming to the pond, one of them had
looked over the bank and at once called out that there was a body there.
Throwing themselves down prone to get their eyes as close as possible to
the surface of the water, they could see that it was that of a man. The
pond was so shallow that the body was only just covered over. The face
looked a dreadful colour, with its eyes closed and a wisp of hair
trailing across its forehead.

"God!" exclaimed the sergeant. "It's the man we want right enough!" and
becoming brisk and business-like, he issued quick orders to one of the
detectives. "Go back into the village and get in touch with Norwich at
once. Tell the superintendent that of course we're not touching anything
until he comes. You wait in the village and bring him along here."

A police posse arrived within the hour and, while awaiting the arrival
of the surgeon, some preliminary photographs were taken from the bank.
With the appearance of the surgeon, the local constable took off his
boots and socks and waded into the pond to help lift up the body with as
little disturbance as possible.

Immediately, however, one of his feet trod on something hard and,
groping down, he brought into view a mud-covered little rifle.

"Careful!" ordered the sergeant sharply. "It's a repeating one! Keep,
your fingers away from the trigger."

The rifle being handed over, the body was lifted out with the utmost
care and laid upon a sheet of tarpaulin. Covered with mud and slime, it
was not pleasant to look at.

Pointing to a charred hole in the centre of the jacket, the police
surgeon remarked grimly, "Bullet wound there! Probably he slipped and
fell upon the rifle and it went off! That's all I can say until I've
done the autopsy. I mayn't be able to do it to-day, but I will, at
least, to-morrow morning."

"Very good, doctor," said the superintendent, "then we'll make the
inquest for the day after to-morrow."

Mr. Rayneham being one of the magistrates of the district, the local
constable came up to the Manor that evening with the full story. Dora
heard it later and was greatly relieved to learn that the constable took
it for granted that the doctor's death had been the result of an
accident.

"It's quite easy, sir," he had explained to Mr. Rayneham, "to see how it
happened. He must have slipped on the bank and fallen on to the rifle,
as we can see from his clothes that the muzzle was pressed tight against
his chest. He would have died instantaneously."

The inquest was held in a small hall adjacent to the East Dereham Police
Station, with all the coroner's jury, however, being chosen from the
village of Blackston. They unanimously picked upon Harry Wood, the
under-gardener at the Manor, to be their foreman, because from their
Saturday night disputations at the village inn they knew him to be the
best educated of them all. By occupation, the coroner was the proprietor
of a livery stable in East Dereham. A Justice of the Peace and a shrewd
and capable man, he was well versed in his duties.

As the dead man was unknown locally, not much interest was taken in the
inquest, and only a few spectators were gathered in the hall. Mrs. Hunt,
Dr. Simeon's housekeeper, and Mr. Rayneham identified the body. The
sergeant from Norwich, who was representing the police, detailed where
and how it had been found, and then the police surgeon stepped on to the
stand.

He was sharp and quick and did not waste a word in what he told the
court. In brief, he stated he had duly conducted the autopsy upon the
deceased and found he had met his death by drowning. Then, after a short
pause, he added that just previous to his being immersed in the water of
the pond in which the body had been found the deceased had received a
bullet wound in the chest.

The spectators gasped, a thrill of startled amazement ran through them
and then a hard tense silence filled the court.

"Then deceased was alive," asked the coroner, "when he fell, or was
placed in that pond?"

"Undoubtedly," replied the police surgeon, "as I found water in both the
stomach and the lungs, indicating vital acts and that as a living being
he had swallowed and breathed in the water. I found, too, that the water
taken in contained algae, a minute form of vegetable growth found in all
inland ponds. They were in plenty in that pond from which the body was
taken."

"Would he have been conscious when he became immersed in that pond?"
asked the coroner.

"From his being found drowned in such shallow water," was the reply, "I
should say not. The shock of the bullet in the sternum or breast-bone,
as we know it, probably produced a state of instantaneous
unconsciousness."

"Would the wound in the breast-bone have been a fatal one?" asked the
coroner.

"By no means. Comparatively speaking, the injury was a trivial one, as
the bullet had penetrated no vital organ."

"And from what kind of weapon had the bullet, in your opinion, been
fired?"

"From one similar to the rifle which was found lying by his side--a
small .22 rifle."

A short silence followed and the coroner asked, "And, in your opinion,
how was the wound inflicted?"

The answer was prompt. "To all appearances deceased slipped and fell
upon the rifle and it went off. From the charred condition of the cloth
of the jacket where the bullet went in the muzzle must have been pressed
up tight against the body of deceased."

"Then you would say the wound was accidental?"

"Yes, and that the deceased fell into the pond and was drowned."

The coroner paused again. "Anything else to tell us, doctor?" he asked.

"Only that I found a long scratch upon the back of the right hand of
deceased," was the reply, "a scratch that must have been received very
shortly before he died."

"What sort of scratch?" asked the coroner. "What is likely to have
caused it?"

The doctor shrugged his shoulder. "Anything almost, a sharp thorn, the
trigger of the rifle or a finger-nail."

"His own finger-nail?" queried the coroner.

"Quite likely," nodded the doctor. "I noticed they were by no means
short."

The coroner looked first towards the sergeant and then towards the jury,
obviously inviting questions, but, no one responding, he thanked the
doctor for his evidence and the latter at once left the witness stand.
The jury were now whispering together.

The coroner turned towards the jury again. "No questions then?" he
asked, and immediately the Manor under-gardener, shaking his head, rose
to his feet. "We are quite satisfied, sir," he said, "and ready to
record our verdict. We . . ."

But the sergeant had jumped up, too. "I ask for an adjournment, sir," he
said, "an adjournment until further notice."

Everyone, including the coroner, looked surprised. The whole case seemed
so straightforward that they could not understand the sergeant's
attitude.

However, the foreman was still standing his ground. "The evidence of the
police surgeon----" he began, but the coroner cut him short with a
smile.

"If the police ask for an adjournment," he said, "I must grant it." And
he rapped out, "Adjourned for a day to be fixed later."

Dora was most uneasy when Mr. Rayneham had returned with the news. Young
Jocelyn, who had got back earlier than he had expected, was with her in
the lounge.

"I think the real inner reason for the action of the police," explained
Mr. Rayneham, "is that they picked up a button which had apparently been
torn with some violence from the doctor's jacket. Also, I fancy the
doctor's housekeeper must have told them something, as I saw her and the
sergeant having a long whispering together just before the inquest
opened." He smiled. "Harry Wood, our under-gardener here who had been
made foreman of the jury, was all ready with his verdict of accidental
death and looked quite annoyed when the police asked for an
adjournment."

"And what do the police think they are going to do now?" asked the
lieutenant.

"Well, it's no secret," replied Mr. Rayneham, "and I expect everyone
will soon know. So there's no harm in my mentioning it. Colonel Mayne
told me it happens they've got two of the star detectives from Scotland
Yard at present in Norwich upon another case, and they're putting them
in a day or two on this one, as well. They are Inspectors Stone and
Mendel, and supposed to be very shrewd fellows. As Chief Constable, it
happens the colonel has met them before."

"Never mind, Lady Stroud," assured Jocelyn when Mr. Rayneham had gone.
"They can't find out anything and we're quite safe."

The next morning, however, Dora button-holed him with a very anxious
look upon her face. "I'm very worried now about something else," she
said. "I've lost one of my silk head-kerchiefs, and I only remembered a
few minutes ago when I couldn't find the particular one I wanted that I
was wearing it on Sunday afternoon when I went for that walk through the
wood." Her voice quavered. "I'm afraid it must have come off when I was
struggling with that dreadful man. I was too worried then to notice
anything."

"But someone would have picked it up if you had," comforted Jocelyn,
"and they wouldn't have known it was yours if they had."

Dora shook her head. "But it had my monogram worked on it," she said
most uneasily, "D.L.S. I'm thinking the wind may have blown it into the
bushes. Remember it was very windy that afternoon?"

Jocelyn whistled. "That's awkward. I'll go and look for it at once."

"Oh, I do so wish you would," said Dora. "It will relieve my mind such a
lot if you find it. It's one of the brown ones I generally wear. I
daren't be seen near the place myself."

So the lieutenant set off with no delay, and was soon going over every
yard of the wood round by the pond. Not finding the kerchief anywhere
there, and by no means disheartened, he proceeded to go over an
adjoining field just outside the wood.

Engrossed in his search, he did not notice that three men, driving up in
a car, had entered the wood. One was Wicks, the village constable, and
his companions were Chief Detective-Inspector Stone and Inspector Isaac
Mendel, the two detectives whom Mr. Rayneham had just been talking
about.

In the early fifties, Charles Stone was one of the Big Four at Scotland
Yard and for many years had been recognised as one of the smartest men
in the Criminal Investigation Department. Big and stout, with the real
bull-dog type of face, he was nevertheless at heart of a very kindly
nature, with a humorous twinkle always ready to light up the shrewd big
eyes which looked out from under his big and bushy brows. Very little
ever escaped Charlie Stone, and though there was nothing of the bully
about him, woe betide the evil-doer who thought he could deceive him
with trickery and lies. Then his face would harden and he would rap out
his questions like bullets from a gun.

His colleague, Isaac Mendel, a son of Israel as his name implied was one
of the youngest inspectors at the Yard, being only thirty-two, and had
been cast in a very different mould. Born in an East End London slum, he
was nevertheless refined-looking, with the eyes and forehead of a
dreamer. He owed his high position for one so young to his lively
imagination and remarkable powers of deduction. Well read, too, in the
annals of crime, he was continually drawing upon that knowledge for
inspiration, and not a few of his successes had been achieved in that
way.

Such were the two detectives who, arriving at the pond to start upon
their investigations, suddenly caught sight of young Jocelyn through the
trees, pacing to and fro, looking for the missing kerchief.

"Who's that man?" asked Stone sharply of the village constable. "Do you
know him?"

"I'm not sure," was the hesitating reply, "but I think I've seen him
somewhere before. Oh, yes, I remember. He's staying up at the Manor. I
don't know his name, but sometimes he uses Mr. Rayneham's car. I've
heard he's an officer in the navy."

"Well, what's he doing here?" frowned Stone.

"Don't know," replied the constable, "but he's evidently looking for
something."

For a couple of minutes or so the three men stood watching Jocelyn, and
then, his search bringing him nearer to the edge of the wood and
happening to look up, he caught sight of them.

He swore under his breath, for he knew the constable by sight and
guessed at once that his companions would be detectives. It was
certainly an awkward moment, but always quick in his decisions--the Navy
had taught him that--he was minded to make the best of it, and so,
walking boldly nearer to them, called out, "Seen a pheasant trailing a
broken wing? I saw one come in here from the road."

Receiving the reply from Stone that they had not, he nonchalantly
resumed his search, giving it up, however, in a few minutes and taking
himself off. He was very disappointed he had not found the kerchief, but
intended to come back again later when the coast was clear.

Dora was naturally most distressed at his want of success, but things
became much worse when the conspirators heard the next morning at
breakfast that the kerchief had been found.

Only a few minutes before, Mrs. Rayneham had been told casually by her
cook that the latter's sister who lived on the outskirts of Blackston
village had picked up a beautiful silk kerchief with a monogram on it,
among some bushes at the side of the road skirting the small wood in
which was situated the pond which was now uppermost in everybody's mind.
She had found it on the Monday morning, but had said nothing about it to
anyone.

Then two days later, upon the Wednesday, she had washed it and, along
with two good tea-clothes which she had just bought, had hung it upon
the line in the garden just before going out. Upon her return home,
however, she had found all the three articles gone. She suspected some
gypsies as being the thieves, because shortly after leaving home she had
met a one-horse gypsy caravan on the road going in the direction of her
cottage, and it was well-known how dishonest so many gypsies were.

"But having found it not far from that pond," concluded Mrs. Rayneham,
"I think she should have mentioned it."

"Of course she ought to have done so," said her husband. "I don't
suppose it's of any importance, but still she ought to have told the
police. However, I'm going into Norwich to-day and shall probably see
Colonel Mayne at lunch at the club. So I'll tell him about it."

"But if those gypsies have taken it, sir," said Jocelyn steadying his
voice, "they'll hardly catch them now three days have gone by."

"Oh, won't they?" laughed Mr. Rayneham. "When they're on the job they'll
learn where that caravan is within an hour. With only one horse they
won't have gone very far, and going in the direction the van was they'll
probably find it up Sheringham or Cromer way. Every little police
station all round will be phoned up at once and someone is sure to have
seen it pass."

"Splendid!" whispered Jocelyn to Dora when they got up from the table.
"I'll go off on my motor-bike at once and be back with the kerchief
before tea. Don't you worry. I'll get to those gypsies before the police
do. They'll be quite easy to find."

Sure enough, at the cost of three beers at different public houses he
found them with no difficulty, though not altogether in the direction
Mr. Rayneham had indicated, as arriving at the small town of Holt the
caravan had taken the road directly opposite to that leading to
Sheringham and Cromer.

Giving the same explanation every time he made his enquiry--that he
wanted to find the gypsies because he had heard they had some good
fox-terrier pups for sale--he was lucky to learn from a publican in Holt
that the latter had happened to see the caravan turning in the road
leading towards Wells the previous evening.

"There were a man and his wife and two children on board," said the
publican, "and if ever I met a rogue that gypsy is one. He came in here,
wanting to sell me a rush basket they'd made and asked six bob for it.
It was not a bad basket, and I offered two bob. After he'd had a couple
of beers I got it for that." He grinned. "He had some sort of young dog
with him outside, but it was certainly nothing like a fox terrier. It
looked a mongrel to me, a real poacher's lurcher. It was only a puppy."

Greatly elated with the thought that the gypsies could not be very far
away, Jocelyn proceeded up the Wells road and, sure enough, a bare half
mile before reaching the little town, came upon a shabby-looking caravan
parked upon a stretch of turf just off the side of the road, with a
rather dense wood just behind it. A horse was tethered nearby, a woman
was plaiting rushes on the steps of the van, and two young children, a
boy and a girl, were playing round with a half-grown puppy.

Jocelyn's heart almost leapt into his mouth as he saw the girl had got
her head covered with what looked like the very kerchief he had come
after. It was exactly like the one he had seen Dora wearing.

Pulling up his motor-cycle, he lit a cigarette and strolled over to the
caravan. Now for it, he thought, with his heart beating quickly; a
little tact and, if they'd got it, the kerchief would be his!

"Good afternoon!" he exclaimed smilingly to the woman. "Can you tell me
how far I am from the sea? Oh, about two miles! No, don't stop working.
I'd like to watch you."

Leaning up against the caravan, he watched the progress of the making of
a basket, with the children eyeing him shyly, and the dog capering
around.

Suddenly a movement from the direction of the wood behind the caravan
caught his eye and he saw a man step furtively out from among the trees
and peer up and down the road. From one hand dangled quite a large
catapult and, from the other, the carcass of a lordly cock-pheasant. Not
noticing Jocelyn, and apparently satisfied that the coast was clear, the
man began walking towards his wife on the steps of the van. Then, for
the first time catching sight of a stranger, he looked scared, and with
a quick movement put the hand holding the pheasant behind him.

"Too late, old chap," laughed Jocelyn merrily. "I saw it, and a nice big
long-tail it is. No, don't worry about me I'm always game for a bit of
poaching myself when I get the chance."

Reassured by the young lieutenant's words, the man came forward with a
sheepish grin and allowed Jocelyn to take the pheasant from him. "And do
you mean to say," asked Jocelyn, "that you killed it with that catapult
you've got there?"

"Not exactly killed it, guv'nor," laughed the man, "but I smashed one of
his wings with it, so that he couldn't run fast, and then caught him and
broke his neck." He took a handful of round stones out of his pocket.
"These are wot I use and anything that keeps still is an easy mark for
me. A bunny rabbit doesn't often get away."

"A real good bird this," remarked Jocelyn, "fat and heavy and all ready
for the pot. Come--I'll give you five bob for it. Well, then, six! No,
not a penny more and that's all it's worth! All right! Then I'll put it
in the box upon my carrier before anyone comes along to see."

The lid of the box was lifted, disclosing a small camera and a nearly
full bottle of whisky. Seeing the whisky, the man's eyes gleamed and
Jocelyn laughed. "What about a little tot to clinch the bargain?" he
asked. "All right, then! You get a glass and you shall have one."

Apparently the caravan did not run to glasses, however, and a cup
without a handle was produced instead. Jocelyn poured out a generous
dose and then took notice of the children.

"And what about a photograph of them?" he asked. "All right, and I'll
give them sixpence each for letting me take it! Now children, stand
quite still, with the dog between you."

He posed them in the right position and then said it would be better if
the girl took off her kerchief and let her pretty curls be seen. Her
face all grins and excitement at the promised sixpence, the girl
snatched off the kerchief and dropped it on to the ground. The puppy at
once made a dart for it, but Jocelyn was too quick for him, and picking
it up, threw it over his arm.

He took several snaps, dawdling over the business so that they should
all forget about the kerchief, which without their noticing he had
crumpled up and thrust into his pocket. The taking of the snaps
finished, he took some small change, including some silver coins as well
as pennies, from his pocket, and announced he would scramble everything
among them.

First, he flipped over some pennies, and the children had great fun in
searching for them among the grass, with the puppy joining in with much
barking and excitement and continually getting in their way and tripping
them up.

Finally, thinking the game had gone on quite long enough, he threw all
the rest of the coins at the same time, and the gypsy and his wife
roared with laughter at the fierce scramble which ensued.

Suddenly, in the middle of all the noise and when the children were
fully occupied searching in the grass, Jocelyn looked at his wrist-watch
and exclaimed in consternation, "Goodness, gracious, I'm due in
Hunstanton in twenty minutes. Shan't I catch it for being late?" and
running over to his motor-cycle, he jumped into the saddle and with a
smiling wave of his hand, was off like the wind.

For about half a minute or so he was expecting every moment to hear a
harsh voice calling upon him to stop and asking where the kerchief was,
but, had he only known it, the gypsy was every bit as anxious for him to
get away as was he himself. For a very good reason, too, as during the
excitement of scrambling for the coins, upon a whispered injunction from
her husband, the woman had sneaked over to the motor-cycle and
abstracted the bottle of whisky from the box on the carrier.

Oh, the thankfulness in the young lieutenant's heart when, out of sight
of the van by a turn in the road, he took the kerchief out of his pocket
and saw upon it the monogram of D.L.S.

It was a most thankful Dora, too, who met him when he arrived back at
the Manor by a roundabout way so that he would not have to pass the
gypsy's van again. There were others present when he came into the
lounge, but she saw from the expression upon his face that he had been
successful, and when later they were by themselves and he returned the
kerchief to her and told her the whole story, she said she could not be
grateful enough.

"Nonsense!" he said. He made a wry smile. "Don't you forget I'm deeper
in it than you are, as it was I who according to what that doctor said,
drowned the man. So there's no need for you to be grateful. I'm working
now as much to save myself as you. It'll be the devil of a business for
me if everything is found out."

Dora had told him about her visit to Larose, and he had quite approved
of her having gone to him. "But about telling your husband," he frowned.
"I admit I'm rather uneasy about that. Why bring him into it at all? He
can't help us in any way and it would only worry him. Besides, if it
should ever come to a show-down, which happily is not likely now, it
would look much better if he had known nothing about it. Then he
wouldn't be able to be dragged in for conspiracy against the law. Yes,"
he said reflectively, "I should think hard before telling him anything
about it."

Dora fully realised the sense of his argument, but for all that she
hated the idea of keeping such an important matter from Richard. There
had always been such perfect trust between them, and she did not want to
start deceiving him now. At any rate, she told herself, she would think
it over and decide later what to do.

The lieutenant broke in upon her thoughts. "And I got such a lovely
pheasant from the poaching gypsy," he grinned. "I've hung it up behind
the door in one of the potting sheds. I daren't bring it into the house
until I've spoken to Aunt first. She mayn't like to have a bird taken
out of season put upon the table."

"But how are you going to tell her you obtained it?" asked Dora.

Jocelyn frowned. "I'd better keep up the story I told those detectives
and say it was in that field near the pond. It has got a broken wing
right enough." He nodded. "Yes, I'll go and tell Aunt at once."

"Well, you've been a darling boy to me," exclaimed Dora fervently, "for
with the police getting hold of that kerchief I should have been utterly
lost. I couldn't have denied it was mine, and when they started
questioning me they would have seen there was something guilty about me
at once." Her voice choked. "Yes, Harry, I'm so grateful to you," and
upon the impulse of the moment she put her arms round his neck and
kissed him.

Then just at that very moment Mrs. Rayneham came into the room and her
eyes went wide as saucers in their amazement. "What on earth are you
doing, Dora?" she asked sharply. Her voice took on a pained note. "Oh, I
didn't think that of you! What do you mean by it?"

Dora, with her face as red as fire, was speechless in her embarrassment,
and though to all appearances as embarrassed as she was, it was young
Jocelyn who answered for her. "It's all right, Aunt," he said
frowningly. "It wasn't a flirtatious kiss. Lady Stroud was just thanking
me for something I'd done for her."

"And you, too, Harry!" went on Mrs. Rayneham, looking very distressed.
"I didn't think you capable of it either. Do you forget you're engaged
to that nice Elsie Sherbourne girl?"

"Oh, damn it all," exclaimed Jocelyn with intense irritation, "I've said
there was no flirtation business about it." He turned to Dora with a
huge sigh. "There's no help for it, Lady Stroud. We'll have to tell her
everything." He spoke sharply. "No, don't you interrupt. I'll make her
understand better than you," and into the horrified ears of his aunt he
proceeded to pour out the whole dreadful story.

Mrs. Rayneham listened with a face as white as death, her first
thoughts, naturally, being only of the scandal that would fall upon her
house. Then, seeing Dora's terrible distress, her better feelings took
possession of her, and choking back her own consternation, she put her
arms round her friend to comfort her.

"You poor dear little woman!" she exclaimed. "But don't lose heart, for,
as Harry says, the police may never find out what happened."

"I told everything to Mr. Larose that day I went to Carmel Abbey," said
Dora chokingly, "and he said the only thing now was to say nothing. He
was very kind and nice and said I was to let him know if Scotland Yard
came bothering me."

Mrs. Rayneham was thrilled to learn Larose was in the secret, too, and
began to calm down immediately. Always a good organiser, she began to
take charge of things at once, and brightened up considerably in doing
so.

"We are playing for high stakes," she said, "and we must have our
defence all cut and dried, and be ready to answer any questions they put
to us. First, give me that kerchief and I'll burn it at once. As Cook's
sister washed and ironed it, there may be something about it she would
recognise at once, a frayed thread somewhere or something small like
that. Besides, you've got plenty of others, haven't you?"

"Six or seven," nodded Dora, "but they are of different colours, as
you've seen."

"All with your monogram on them? Well, that doesn't matter. Two or three
of mine have got my monogram on them, but I've always been too busy to
work it on them all."

"Now what about an alibi for Lady Stroud?" asked Jocelyn, looking most
relieved at the way things were going. He grinned. "Now you are in with
us, you can say you saw us start on that walk together."

"Of course I did," smiled his aunt. "Didn't I suggest you went down to
the post office with her?" She became grave. "Now we mustn't tell our
husbands. They'd worry themselves to pieces and, as Harry says, it's
much better not to bring them into it."

"Oh, Nina, dear, you are sweet!" exclaimed Dora. "I shan't feel half so
worried with you helping us."

"And I'm helping myself, too," smiled Mrs. Rayneham. "Goodness knows I
don't want any scandal here." She looked quite animated. "Come, we three
of us pulling together ought to be quite a match for any clumsy
detectives. We've all got courage, and if we play our parts carefully no
one should be able to get behind our defences."

"And now what about that pheasant?" asked the lieutenant. "It's such a
beauty and, though out of season, it would be a great pity to waste it.
What about it coming on at dinner to-morrow night? It would be a great
surprise for Uncle."

Mrs. Rayneham shook her head. "It would certainly be a great surprise
for him," she said dryly, "but he would be furiously angry. Just think,
too, of what they'd say in the kitchen with the chairman of the Bench of
Magistrates eating a pheasant in close time. It might get all round the
neighbourhood. No, you leave it where it is until you go up to Town and
then you can give it to your mother."

"Good," grinned Jocelyn; "she won't be so particular. It's a lovely
bird."

In the meantime Mr. Rayneham, as he had said he would, had passed on the
information to the Chief Constable of a monogrammed head-kerchief having
been picked up upon the bushes near the pond, and the detectives at once
got busy.

They interviewed the cook's sister in the village and, with no delay,
went after the gypsy caravan. Phoning up the country police-stations, as
Mr. Rayneham had surmised they would, they soon learnt where it had been
last seen, and almost within an hour had come upon it parked by the side
of the road where the lieutenant had found it.

The two children had gone into the town to spend the money which had
been given them, and only the father and mother were now with the
caravan. Of course the kerchief had been missed, but the thought had
never for one moment entered any of their minds that the generous donor
of the pennies and threepences had taken it. After a thorough search all
round, the disappearance was put down to the puppy having taken it off
and dropped it somewhere in the wood. Accordingly he had been well
smacked for having done so.

So when a car pulled up and a police sergeant and two detectives jumped
out of it, there were only the gypsy and his wife to be dealt with.

"Now then," said the sergeant brusquely, "we've come about those things
you stole off that clothes-line in Blackston three days ago."

By this time the man and his good lady had between them drunk all the
whisky they had acquired from the lieutenant, and in consequence were in
quite a jocular and happy state of mind. With their well-seasoned
stomachs, there had not been enough of the good spirit to make them well
drunk, but they were full of the joy of life and afraid of nothing and
nobody. So neither of them appeared to be in any way put out by the
arrival of their visitors.

The man cupped his ear as if he were rather deaf. "Stolen a
clothes-line!" he exclaimed in great indignation. "What should I want a
clothes-line for? It'd be no good to me."

"You stole things off a clothes-line," shouted the sergeant truculently,
"and it'll be best for you if you own up. You stole a silk handkerchief
and two tea-cloths."

The man laughed derisively. He felt quite safe. The handkerchief had
gone and the tea-cloths, being large and of good quality, had already
been made into underpants for the children and they were now wearing
them.

"Prove it," he retorted. His voice rose in anger. "I'm an honest man, I
am. You ask my missis."

"Yes, he's honest enough," hiccuped the wife. "He'd no more steal off a
clothes-line than rob a church."

"And I certainly wouldn't trust him there," snarled the sergeant. "From
the look of you both I wouldn't trust either of you anywhere with a
sixpence." He spoke menacingly. "You passed through Blackston village on
Wednesday?"

"What of it?" demanded the gypsy with some heat. "That wasn't a crime,
was it?"

The sergeant ignored his question and scowled nastily. "Well, we're
going to search your van, anyhow," he said, and he made a motion with
his arm to the two accompanying detectives.

"Search away," grinned the gypsy; "and any diamonds or clothes-lines you
find you can keep for yourselves. I don't want them."

The caravan was small and soon gone through, but of course nothing of
what was being looked for was found. The gypsy and his wife were most
willing, if not indeed anxious, for their persons to be searched, too,
generously discarding garment after garment until the disgusted sergeant
ordered them to stop. He eyed the empty whisky bottle with evident
suspicion.

"How did you get that?" he asked.

"Why, I bought it, of course, in the same way as I suppose you buy what
you want to drink," returned the gypsy, apparently in some surprise at
the question being asked. He grinned. "You don't find bottles of whisky
growing on trees, do you?"

"But you stole that handkerchief off the clothes-line," snapped the
sergeant angrily. "We are certain of it."

"Not I," retorted the gypsy. "I never use one." He grinned again. "I
blow my nose in the natural way," and he made an upward movement with
his thumb and finger which made the detectives grin, too, and the
sergeant inclined to retch.

"But I don't trust you," the sergeant snarled.

"Nor I you," shouted back the gypsy, "and I'm ruddy glad I was here to
look after my poor missis when you blokes came. I know darned well what
you police are with the girls," and the three minions of the law,
regarding with loathing the now scantily-attired and filthy-looking
gypsy woman, hurried back quickly to their car and proceeded to drive
away, followed by the derisive laughter of the gypsy and his wife. Had
there been more whisky in the bottle the two last might even have been
quite agreeable to starting a fight.




CHAPTER IX.--THE HOUNDS UPON THE TRAIL


Three mornings later Inspector Stone and Mendel, who had motored down
from Town, were closeted with the Chief Constable of Norwich and the
superintendent of the Norwich police to report upon their progress in
the matter of the investigation into the death of Dr. Simeon.

"And we tell you frankly, sir," said Stone, "that we are by no means
satisfied that his death was accidental. Indeed, my colleague and I
think there are good reasons to believe to the contrary." He shook his
head. "No, we are not in any way influenced to this conclusion by the
fact that a valuable gold wrist-watch, which his housekeeper states he
always wore, is missing. We don't believe that that had anything to do
with the murder."

"Quite so," agreed the Chief Constable, "for if his death were a
criminal act the motive could not have been that of robbery, since
nearly thirty pounds in notes was found in his hip pocket." He frowned
heavily. "But what on earth makes you think he was murdered?"

"Our suspicions were roused at once," replied Stone, very gravely,
"directly we read over the police recording of the inquest, and when we
saw that button which had been torn off his jacket, things looked very
serious to us."

"But our men here," said the Chief Constable rather testily, "were of
the opinion it might easily have been, and probably was, torn off if the
doctor had been among those bushes close to where it was found."

"Yes, but torn off so violently as it had been," said Stone, "with a
piece of the cloth of the jacket adhering to the threads, he must have
known it had happened, and surely then he would have picked it up at
once and put it in his pocket?"

"But he might have been too intent when getting those hawks," frowned
the Chief Constable. "At that moment one of the birds might have been
right in front of the sights of his rifle."

Stone noted the frown and, not wanting to annoy the Chief Constable by
any apparent reflection upon his own men, at once spoke with less
assurance. "Certainly, sir, it might possibly have been as you say," he
admitted. He shrugged his shoulders. "Still, it struck us he might have
been engaged in some sort of struggle with someone, and we mustn't
altogether rule that out."

The Chief Constable smiled a dry smile. "Well, what else have you found
out?"

"You may think nothing much," smiled back Stone, "but then little things
sometimes mount up to make a big one, don't they?" He continued, "Now
first to consider the man himself in the light of some very searching
enquiries we have been making about him in Town." He spoke slowly and
impressively. "Dr. Simeon was forty-seven years of age and had a large
practice in Harley Street where he had had his consulting-rooms for from
twelve to thirteen years. His speciality was supposed to be diseases of
women, but he treated nerve cases as well and had quite a fair
proportion of men among the patients who came to consult him." The stout
inspector frowned. "Though we police have never had anything definite
against him, I find now that his name was not altogether unknown to some
of us up at Scotland Yard. It was rumoured he was by no means averse to
operating illegally, provided the fees were big enough to induce him to
take the risk."

"And from where did the rumours come?" asked the Chief Constable with
obvious scepticism in his tones.

Stone shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows? In the end you can't keep
these things altogether dark. At any rate it appears to have been well
known that he ran a small private hospital in St. John's Wood where
female patients went for operations, and it was remarked a good
proportion of them were out and suspiciously well again in a few days.
You know nurses and servants will talk."

The Chief Constable made no comment and the inspector went on, "Then
another thing. His reputation with other doctors was by no means a good
one, as it was believed it was very easy for well-to-do drug addicts to
get a prescription for morphia out of him, at a very good fee, of
course."

"But as a successful professional man," remarked the Chief Constable
sharply, "he is sure to have made enemies, and so most probably these
rumours, like the others, were only pure scandal."

Stone shook his head. "I hardly think so, as medical men generally size
up their professional brethren pretty accurately, and shady customers
among them soon become known."

"But if there were the slightest suspicion of any bad reputation about
him," frowned the Chief Constable, "I am sure Mr. Rayneham would have
had nothing to do with him. Mr. Rayneham is one of the straightest of
men I know, and is always most particular about the friends he chooses."

"That may be," said Stone, "but he might have known nothing about the
doctor's later life. The friendship between them went back to nearly
thirty years, to their undergraduate days at Cambridge. Certainly, on
the surface, Dr. Simeon was a very likeable man, and particularly a
great favourite with the ladies." He smiled a grim smile. "It was common
knowledge he was continually to be seen about with different ones at
theatres, cinemas, and expensive restaurants, and I expect Mrs. Hunt,
the housekeeper at the flat in Earl's Court, could tell us some
interesting tales if only she would open out."

He went on. "Well, here we have a very busy professional man going down
to Blackston Manor on the Friday afternoon, under the distinct
understanding with his host that he was to be put on the London Express
at the Norwich Railway Station on the following Sunday evening. He had
impressed upon Mr. Rayneham that he must go back to Town upon the
Sunday, because he had a heavy week's work before him. We have verified
he was speaking the truth there by the appointments book at his
consulting-rooms. He had four operations during the week, and every hour
almost seemed booked up with an appointment."

Stone shrugged his shoulders. "Then what followed? Suddenly upon the
Sunday morning just before lunch, saying he thought a little rest would
do him good, he announced to his host that he would like to prolong his
stay for a few days. Mr. Rayneham told the superintendent here that he
was much surprised, as he knew his friend never spared himself by
shirking any of his work. But there it was--all in a moment, as it were,
gone was all his concern for the many patients who would have been
consulting him the following week, and gone also was all his interest in
the four operations which would be awaiting him." He eyed the Chief
Constable intently. "So we must ask ourselves what was the reason for
this sudden change of plans? What had happened in the preceding
forty-eight hours to cause him to alter his mind and no longer think it
necessary for him to return to Town on the Sunday evening? Surely it
must have been something very important! Then what was it?"

He looked smilingly towards his young colleague. "Well, Inspector Mendel
thinks he can tell us and I do believe he's right."

Mendel turned to the Chief Constable with a grave, unsmiling face. "My
opinion, sir," he said with some decision, "is that it could only have
been the presence at the Manor of some member of the other sex which had
made him change his mind. He had suddenly become interested in some girl
or woman there."

For the moment the Chief Constable looked most astonished, and then he
burst into a hearty laugh.

"That's a long shot, isn't it," he asked, "if ever there was one?"

"But not such a long one, sir," said Mendel gravely, "as it may first
appear." He spoke impressively. "Dr. Simeon was in his forty-eighth year
and, going back for many years through the records of Scotland Yard, we
see that, in crimes of passion, far more often than not it is the man of
middle age who is the central figure." He spoke interestedly. "It would
seem, sir, that when well into middle age, just when with most men the
normal and natural interest in the other sex is beginning to grow
less--in others it starts to take on a new and unnatural lease of life.
Then it becomes an obsession far more absorbing and overwhelming even
than that of a young man in his first love affair. The middle-aged lover
will sacrifice everything to his passion. So if the doctor was intensely
interested in some woman, neglecting his practice for a week or so might
have been to him a matter of no importance at all."

"But--but," protested the frowning Chief Constable, "surely there is
nothing to suggest that any woman had anything to do with his being
drowned in that pond?"

"We think there is, sir," said Mendel firmly. "We believe that
head-kerchief which was picked up came from some woman who had been with
him in the wood that afternoon. There may have been a struggle, with the
kerchief being torn off and blown away. The struggle, too, would explain
the torn-off button and the scratch upon the back of the doctor's hand."

"But you're building up a lot upon a very little, aren't you?" asked the
bewildered Chief Constable.

"Not more than we have good reason to think we are entitled to," said
Mendel, "particularly so, as by a strange chance we believe now we were
actual eye-witnesses of a search being made for that kerchief," and he
proceeded to tell them about the young fellow they had seen who had
pretended he was looking for a wounded pheasant.

"And the village constable who was with us," he concluded, "recognised
him as one of the visitors then staying up at the Manor. So what could
be more certain than that, if someone from the Manor were looking for
the kerchief, then someone from the Manor had lost it? Of course, we
didn't know then a kerchief had been lost."

"But who was the man," asked the Chief Constable sharply, "whom the
village constable said he recognised?"

"He didn't know his name," replied Mendel, "but he'd seen him driving
through the village in Mr. Rayneham's car, and he was then in naval
uniform."

The Chief Constable burst into a hearty laugh. "Lieutenant Jocelyn!" he
exclaimed. "I know him well. He's Mrs. Rayneham's nephew, and as fine a
young fellow as ever wore His Majesty's uniform." He looked scornful.
"Oh, what a mare's nest you've got hold of!" He spoke sharply. "But what
is exactly your idea of what happened in the wood that afternoon?"

"We think, sir," said Stone gravely, "that by arrangement Dr. Simeon met
some woman there. They quarrelled. Perhaps he started to get too fresh
with her and----"

"Got too fresh with her!" exclaimed the Chief Constable, with obvious
irritation. "And you say the whole affair had started since he arrived
at the Manor less than forty-eight hours before! Do you mean to make out
that, even if he had become so infatuated with this unknown female, she
would have so fallen for him in that time as to be willing to make a
secret appointment in that wood?"

"We don't say that, sir," said Stone sharply. "We don't think for a
moment that the two had only known each other for those few hours. We
say that they had met before, that they were old acquaintances--it might
be of years ago. As for the woman having fallen for him---it might have
been that she hated him, and had kept the appointment only because he
had some hold upon her and she dared not refuse."

"I think it all nonsense," commented the Chief Constable crossly, "but I
suppose you'll have to have your way and go up to the Manor and annoy
them with your questioning."

"But there'll be no harm done, sir," Stone assured him, "if our
suspicions are groundless, and that's where you can help us. I
understand you are very friendly with Mr. and Mrs. Rayneham and were
actually lunching at the Manor on the day before Dr. Simeon disappeared.
So you can tell us who was there for the week-end, particularly ladies
of an attractive age."

"The only ones at all young," replied the Chief Constable, unwillingly,
"were Mrs. Rayneham herself and Lady Stroud. Mrs. Rayneham has been
married eight years and I think Lady Stroud about five. Both of them are
certainly very good-looking."

The superintendent spoke for the first time. "Lady Stroud is a very
beautiful woman," he said, "and I understand she was a nurse at some
hospital in London before she married Sir Richard Stroud."

Stone lowered his eyes. A London medical man and a nurse from a London
hospital! Then what was more probable than that they had met before? He
did not dare to look at his colleague. He rose at once to his feet.
"Then we'll go up to the Manor straight away and put those few little
questions we would like to." He saw the Chief Constable's eyes turn to
the telephone upon his desk. "No, sir," he went on quickly, "if you
don't mind, I'd rather you didn't let them know we were coming. We'll
take a chance at finding them at home."

The Chief Constable flushed that his thoughts were being read. "All
right," he said at once, "and I'll come up with you." He spoke grimly.
"The unpleasantness of being suspected will not perhaps be as great if I
am present at the questioning."

Stone cursed under his breath, but, hiding all signs of annoyance, he
merely expressed his pleasure at the Chief Constable's company, and
accordingly the three set off together in the last named's car.

Now it happened Lieutenant Jocelyn had driven Dora, the two children and
their nurse to Cromer for the day, and so Mrs. Rayneham herself was the
only victim for the two inspectors that morning. She was in the drive
with her little son, who had not gone to Cromer with the others because
he had a slight cold. When the car appeared, to her horror the boy ran
across the drive after a butterfly he had seen, right in front of the
car, and only escaped being run over by the Chief Constable ramming hard
on his brakes. She went white as death, and with her child clasped in
her arms, it was a very shaky woman who faced her visitors.

"No, it wasn't your fault," she said chokingly. "It was mine for not
keeping hold of him as I should have done. It was wonderful the way you
pulled up so quickly."

"Damn!" swore Stone softly. "Now we shan't be able to tell how much of
her fright is due to the boy's escape and how much to our coming here."

The inspectors were introduced, and Mrs. Rayneham led them into a little
room just off the lounge. Both Stone and Mendel were impressed by her
appearance. Though most attractive-looking, she certainly did not seem
the type of woman whose conduct would ever lay her open to the chance of
being blackmailed. The Chief Constable in part explained the reason for
their coming and then Inspector Stone at once took on the tale.

"You must understand, Mrs. Rayneham," he said respectfully, "that we are
not quite sure in our own minds that the death of Dr. Simeon was just
the simple accident it appears. Certainly it may have been an accident,
but we rather believe there were two persons involved in it, and the
other one was a woman."

Mrs. Rayneham's heart beat unpleasantly, but the expression upon her
face was one only of a great surprise. "What woman?" she asked
incredulously.

"Who she was we do not know yet," replied Stone very gravely, "but we
think that head-kerchief which was found upon those bushes belonged to
her." His eyes gripped hers intently. "You heard about that kerchief, of
course?"

Mrs. Rayneham smiled. "It was I who heard about it first," she said. "My
cook told me her sister in the village had found one, and I happened to
speak about it at breakfast." She turned to the Chief Constable. "Then
my husband told you the same day, didn't he?"

The Chief Constable nodded. "And I passed on the information to the
superintendent here at once."

"And you thought the matter important, Mrs. Rayneham?" asked Stone very
softly.

Mrs. Rayneham shook her head. "No, I didn't. Our interest in it was only
because cook's sister thought those gypsies had stolen it off her line.
Gypsies are very annoying to us and we have caught them poaching quite
close to the house. The pheasants in that wood where the pond is are
very tame and will allow you to approach to within a few yards."

"But Mrs. Rayneham," persisted Stone, "if that kerchief had come off the
head of some woman who had been talking to Dr. Simeon in that wood--then
that woman must have been someone staying here at the Manor."

"How do you make that out?" from Mrs. Rayneham.

"Well, it was known only to people in this house that he was going
there," said Stone. "I expect all here had heard you had asked him to go
after those hawks, and so we think someone met him at that pond by
arrangement."

"But what for?" demanded Mrs. Rayneham, looking very puzzled.

Stone hesitated. "That's what we want to know. We've got to find that
out."

"But I think your idea is all nonsense," said Mrs. Rayneham. "Why, he'd
not met any of the other visitors until he arrived here on that Friday
evening. So is it likely he had had time to become so friendly with one
of them that she'd have been willing to make a secret appointment with
him in that wood?" She laughed merrily. "Besides, as it happens all we
women have got unshakable alibis. Lady Stroud was the only one of us to
leave the house after Dr. Simeon went out and she went down to the post
office with Lieutenant Jocelyn to post some letters."

Stone was all smiles and amiability. "Still, if only purely as a matter
of form we shall have to go on making a few enquiries. Now please tell
me who among you are in the habit of wearing head-kerchiefs?"

"I am, for one," replied Mrs. Rayneham at once. "Then there are old Mrs.
Henson and Lady Stroud, too." She held up her hand warningly. "Oh, you
won't be able to talk to Lady Stroud this morning, as my nephew,
Lieutenant Jocelyn, has motored her down with the children to Cromer for
the day and they won't be home until nearly dinner-time."

Stone hid his disappointment with a smile. "Never mind. Perhaps I'll
have a little talk with her another day. Now, about those kerchiefs.
Have they all got a monogram upon them?"

"A few of mine have," said Mrs. Rayneham, "and I think two or three of
Lady Stroud's."

"Oh, then you ladies have several kerchiefs!" exclaimed Stone.

"Of course we have," laughed Mrs. Rayneham, "to match the colours of the
different blouses we wear. Kerchiefs take the place of hats when we are
out in the country."

"Then would you very kindly let me see one of yours," said Stone, "and
of Lady Stroud's, too--a brown one preferred, like the colour of the one
that girl in the village found."

Mrs. Rayneham at once left the room to get them, and the Chief Constable
smiled at Stone. "Not much to fit in with your great idea, Inspector, is
there?" he asked. "Those alibis knock the bottom out of everything."

Stone smiled back. "It looks like it, certainly." He shook his head.
"Still, you never know."

Mrs. Rayneham returned with the kerchiefs in a minute or two and the two
inspectors handled them interestedly. "The letters are not very clear,
are they?" remarked Stone. "Which are yours and which are Lady
Stroud's."

Mrs. Rayneham pointed them out, and Stone asked if he might borrow one
belonging to each of them.

"To show to the girl in the village?" smiled Mrs. Rayneham.

Stone nodded. "To see if the monograms are anything like that on the one
she found. However, I don't expect she'll be able to tell us, as she's
rather stupid, with not much intelligence. I'll bring them back tomorrow
morning when I'll just have a word or two with Lady Stroud and
Lieutenant Jocelyn." He smiled ironically. "You see, we have to do
something to earn the big salaries the Government pay us."

The inspectors were introduced casually to the other visitors, but did
not appear much interested in them, and soon took their leave. On their
way back to Norwich they stopped in the village to show the kerchiefs to
the girl who had found the one in the bushes, but she was not much help
to them. Certainly she said the kerchiefs they had now brought with them
were very like the one which had been stolen from her, and both the
monograms upon them looked very similar. However, she could not
definitely pick out from the two monograms which one most resembled
hers.

"A fool," remarked Stone later with a frown, "and there's no help
there."

When Dora and the lieutenant returned home that evening the former was
certainly not too pleased to hear of the visit of the two detectives
from Scotland Yard and to learn they were coming again on the morrow.

"But they were not very formidable, dear," reassured Mrs. Rayneham, "and
you've only got to stick bravely to your story of not having met Dr.
Simeon before and they can't get behind it."

"Besides," said the lieutenant confidently, "you can say truthfully that
you've never met him. Meeting a man means that you've spoken to him and
not just seen him passing by, it might be in the street."

Still, upon Mrs. Rayneham's advice, Dora rang up Larose and told him the
two inspectors from Scotland Yard had been and were coming again on the
morrow. It was well for Dora that she did not see the uneasy frown upon
Larose's face when he learnt who the detectives had been. However, he
made light of the whole matter and comforted her a lot by stating he'd
drive over to the Manor early in the morning and give her some advice as
to how to deal with any questions they might be asked.

"I know them both quite well," he said, "and Inspector Stone is an old
friend of mine." He laughed. "He won't try any tricks with you if he
sees I'm there with you."

However, as he hung up the receiver, he remarked to himself, "Poor
little woman, it couldn't be worse with old Charlie Stone happening to
be on the case! He's as wily as a fox and as wise as any serpent."

The next morning Larose arrived at the Manor just as they had finished
breakfast and had a good talk with the three conspirators. He was
delighted to see Dora was looking quite calm and collected.

"Now, don't you be too meek and too obliging, Lady Stroud," he advised.
"Be a bit haughty with them, as if you were annoyed at being questioned
at all, and, if it seems to you they're beginning to get dangerous, just
refuse point-blank to answer any more questions at all. Remember, they
can't make you."

"What do you mean about their getting dangerous?" asked Dora with a
frown.

"Well, if they want you to go back year by year as to what your life has
been, stop them long before they get near the three months you spent at
that Institute. Don't wait until they're right on top of it and have to
pull yourself up then. Stop them when you see the red light going up."

"She will be all right," said Jocelyn confidently. "Now that she's got
over the first shock she's got the courage of a lioness."

"And you, young man," smiled Larose, "take it as a joke. Look amused,
but don't talk too much, for remember Inspector Stone is a very
dangerous man and never more dangerous than when he is speaking in a
fatherly and kindly way." He paused and then added, "One more bit of
advice to both you and Lady Stroud. Take care what you do with your
hands when he is questioning you, as he'll watch them quite as closely
as he does your faces. So many people give themselves away then, for
when they're being asked awkward questions or are telling a fib they're
apt to clench their hands together tightly. You remember that."

To the relief of everyone, the butler came in to announce that the two
inspectors had arrived and, at a nod from Larose, Mrs. Rayneham told him
to bring them into the room. Stone scowled to himself when he saw his
old colleague of the Yard was among those present.

"We are all here, Inspector," said Mrs. Rayneham quietly. She introduced
Dora and young Jocelyn and added smilingly, "Mr. Larose, of course, you
know. I rang him last night and told him you were coming, and, as he
knows us all well and is very interested about poor Dr. Simeon, he said
he'd like to drive over and hear all the news."

"Of course he would," said Stone. He fibbed gracefully. "Still, I'm glad
he's come as he's often helped me when I've been at a dead end."

They all sat down and the two detectives eyed Dora most intently. Stone
thought she was of the very type to have had secrets in her life and to
be well able to guard them, too. She was no weakling, and it was going
to be hard to make her admit anything she didn't want to. As for
Inspector Mendel's thoughts--his opinion was she was beautiful enough to
have inspired any crime of passion. Always sentimentally inclined, he
hoped, however, she had not anything to hide.

Stone turned at once to Dora. "Of course," he said with his nice,
fatherly smile, "Mrs. Rayneham has told you what our ideas are and so
there is no need for me to go over the ground there." His voice hardened
ever so little. "You understand we are looking for some lady who was in
the woods with Dr. Simeon when he met with his death?"

Dora was cold and unruffled. "And you have picked upon me?" she queried
scornfully.

Stone looked horrified. "Oh dear no," he exclaimed at once, "we have
picked upon no one." He pretended to look uncomfortable. "It is only
that you fill so many of our requirements that we are bound to be
curious about you. You are in the habit of wearing a head-kerchief
and----" but he broke off abruptly, and taking out of his pocket the two
kerchiefs Mrs. Rayneham had lent him, he handed them back to her with a
bow. "That village girl," he said, "is quite sure neither of them is the
actual one she found, though she thinks the one with Lady Stroud's
monogram upon it is exactly like it, except that it is not frayed at one
corner as was the one she washed and ironed." He laughed. "So, we really
got nothing to help us there."

He turned to Dora again. "Yes, the points that interest us are--you wear
a kerchief and were probably wearing one that afternoon as it was a
windy day. That is so, is it not?"

Dora nodded casually and he went on, "Then you are certainly attractive
enough to have interested a man of Dr. Simeon's type, whom we learn was
notoriously fond of the ladies, and the third thing--you were absent
from the house at the same time as he was."

"But I was with her all the time," broke in the lieutenant sharply.

Stone regarded him smilingly. "Of course, of course, but I hadn't
forgotten that." He turned back to Dora.

"Now the first thing that strikes us, Lady Stroud, is why, if you were
going to the post office, you did not take the easier and shorter way by
the path through the wood, instead of going so much farther through the
drive and round by the road."

"The path isn't the easier way," said Dora a little tartly, "for a woman
wearing ordinary shoes. It is rough and uneven and you have to pick your
steps in many places. Also, my purpose in going out that afternoon was
not to post those letters. Mrs. Rayneham suggested I should take them
when I told her I was going for a walk. It was quite an afterthought."

"And you carried the letters in your hand?" suggested Stone.

"No, Lieutenant Jocelyn put them in his jacket pocket."

Stone went on another track. "Now we understand you were a hospital
nurse before you married? Then in what hospital were you? Oh, St.
Jude's! And how long were you there? A little longer than four years!
Any private nursing?"

"Very little," replied Dora, "only about seven or eight months."

"And how long have you been married, may I ask."

"About four years and a half," replied Dora.

Stone considered. "Then it is getting on for ten years since you started
upon your nursing career! Where were you living before then?"

"In France, in Bordeaux. I was born there."

Stone's eyebrows went up. "Oh, then you are French."

"No, my parents were both English."

"You say were," commented Stone. "Then they are dead?"

"Yes, they died suddenly within a few months of each other," replied
Dora.

"And then you came here to England?" queried Stone.

Dora flared up. "What do you want to know all this for?" she asked
sharply. "It can have nothing to do with Dr. Simeon's death."

The inspector was very patient. "Well, what was your father's name"--he
paused a few moments--"and his occupation?"

Dora spoke quite calmly. "I shall not tell you," she said. "That is my
own private affair."

A short silence followed, which, however, was broken suddenly, by
Inspector Mendel addressing Dora in quite good French. "Better tell him,
Lady Stroud," he said smilingly, "as we can so easily find out from your
marriage certificate. Besides, I am sure you have no reason for making a
mystery of anything."

Dora regarded him in great surprise. "Fancy an English detective
speaking French!" she exclaimed. "I am astonished."

The young inspector laughed. "Why should you be?" he asked. "I studied
French so as to be able to read their records of crime, and I have spent
several holidays in France. Why, I have even visited your beautiful city
of Bordeaux!"

Dora turned at once to Inspector Stone. "My father's name was Dane," she
said. "Birtle Dane. He was in the wine trade and his place of business
was upon the quai des Etoiles in Bordeaux."

"Thank you, Lady Stroud," said Stone most politely, "and now I'll go
back to the time you were at St. Jude's." He spoke casually. "I suppose
you met plenty of different doctors when you were there?"

"Come to the point at once, Mr. Inspector," said Dora sharply, "and ask
me, if among them I had met Dr. Simeon." She spoke emphatically. "No, I
had not, and I'd never even heard his name until he arrived here as a
fellow visitor that Friday evening. It was quite a new one to me."

"But come, Lady Stroud," said Stone rather sceptically, "he was a
well-known practitioner in the West End, wasn't he?"

"But I was in the East End," retorted Dora sharply, "and unless he had
written some standard book and it was in the hospital library it is not
likely I nor any of the other nurses either would have been likely to
have heard of him."

A long silence followed and then Stone asked finally, "Then you state
definitely that you had had no acquaintance with the doctor before he
came here and you didn't lose a head-kerchief upon that Sunday
afternoon?"

"My answer to both questions," replied Dora emphatically, "is no."

Stone turned to Lieutenant Jocelyn, and he was as smiling and polite as
ever. "You are a great friend of Lady Stroud's, are you not?"

Young Jocelyn grinned. "As far as one can be after knowing her for about
a fortnight." He regarded Dora admiringly. "I should say she is a lady
every man would like to be on good terms with."

"Exactly," nodded Stone. "I quite agree with you there." He frowned. "By
the by, you didn't find that wounded pheasant you were looking for, did
you?"

"Oh, didn't I?" laughed Jocelyn. "I went back later with Toby, the fox
terrier here, and got him at once."

For a moment it might have been the inspector showed his disappointment.
"Then what did you do with it?" he asked. "I suppose it's eaten by now."

"No, by Jove it isn't," said Jocelyn. He grinned again. "A pheasant out
of season is very much of a white elephant in a house like this where
the master is a magistrate sworn to uphold the game laws. My aunt, Mrs.
Rayneham, wouldn't allow it to be cooked, and so I'm waiting to take it
with me when I go back to Town where they're not so particular."

"Show it to them, Harry," said Dora rather spitefully. "Of course, they
think it was a lost kerchief of mine I'd sent you to look for in that
field"--her lips curved scornfully--"four days after I was supposed to
have lost it."

"All right," said Jocelyn. He turned to the inspectors. "I'll take you
to where I've got it hidden when you're finished here."

Apparently they had finished already, as with smiles and polite bows all
round the two inspectors took their leave, followed outside the house by
young Jocelyn and Larose.

"But do you really want to see that pheasant?" asked the lieutenant with
a frown. "Can't you take my word for it?"

It was Mendel who replied. "We never take anybody's word, sir," he
smiled. "Our calling makes us most suspicious men."

"And if I can't produce it," asked Jocelyn, "what then?"

Mendel was still smiling. "We shall think you put up a good bluff," he
said, "and we shall look further then for the reason for your untruth."

Jocelyn grinned. "Come on then. I'll show it to you," and he led them
some hundred yards away to one of the potting sheds in the garden. From
underneath the coat hanging up behind the door he produced the bird
which the younger inspector proceeded to handle curiously.

"A broken wing, certainly," he remarked with a frown, "but as there's no
puffiness or swelling round the break, it must have received the injury
very shortly before you caught it."

"Probably it had," commented Jocelyn carelessly, a little bit uneasy,
however, at the shrewdness of the detective. "I reckon it had banged
into those telegraph wires on the other side of the road."

Walking back to the police car, Larose lagged a little bit behind with
Inspector Stone. "Well, are you satisfied, Charlie?" he asked.

"No, I damned well am not," replied the inspector sharply. "Instinct
tells me there's much more in it than we've found out." He nodded
towards Jocelyn's back. "I reckon there was a well-thought-out
conspiracy between that boy and those two women"--he glared at
Larose--"and I wouldn't like to swear you had not put them up to a trick
or two."

Larose grinned. "Good Lord, Charlie, you're always suspicious about me.
What's biting you now?"

"Nothing much," grunted Stone, "but that Lady Stroud had got her fingers
stretched out stiffly the whole time I was questioning her. No, by Jove,
there was going to be no clenching of those pretty hands for her."

The three conspirators were quite relieved when the inspectors had gone,
feeling the latter had found out nothing more to justify their
suspicions. However, the very next morning poor Dora, to her great
distress, was to learn that yet another person was sharing the secret of
how Dr. Simeon had met his death.

Going into the garden to pick some flowers for Mrs. Rayneham, she
suddenly became aware that the under-gardener was walking up towards
her. His gait was rather unsteady, and when he touched his cap and
stopped to speak to her, she knew at once that he had been drinking.

"Good for you, little Dora," he hiccuped in a hoarse whisper. "I'm
damned glad you shot that old devil. I wasn't far from you that
afternoon, but saw you'd got all the help you wanted in that young
lieutenant, and so kept out of sight." He hiccuped again. "I knew that
Simeon well and would have killed him myself if I could! Good luck to
you, old sweetheart, you're quite safe with me. I'd hang rather than
give you away."

Dora was speechless in her consternation. Her heart beat painfully and
she felt she could not breathe. However, there was no occasion for her
to say anything, as Chalmers, touching his cap with a grin, took himself
off at once.

Dora sat down on a nearby seat to compose herself. Oh, God, was her
trouble never to end? How awful to think that one word from Eric and the
police would be coming for her at once! Certainly she knew he would
never say a word if he were sober, but when he had had too much to drink
it was quite possible he might boast of what he knew. Then if it reached
the ears of the detectives it might start all their enquiries over
again!

Still, she realised she could do nothing and must bear all this anxiety
herself. Of course she couldn't tell either Mrs. Rayneham or Jocelyn. It
would only add to their worries and could not possibly do any good.
Certainly she might confide in Larose, but he would not be able to do
anything, either. She sighed heavily. No, she must just wait and see
what would happen. Time alone would tell her whether she was safe.

Then suddenly all her courage seemed to come back. She would be brave
about it! She wouldn't let it worry her! After all, the chances of Eric
Chalmers saying nothing were greatly in her favour, and if he did say
anything when he was drunk, she was certain he would deny it all when he
was sober. No, she would put the whole thing out of her mind and not
give it another thought! She would not anticipate that misfortune was
going to come to her, and would not worry until it had actually come.

So in the last few days of her stay at the Manor no one appeared
brighter and in better spirits than she, and when the following week she
said good-bye to them all, her hostess remarked regretfully that it was
like a ray of sunshine going out of the house.

When she had been home about a week the adjourned inquest upon Dr.
Simeon's death was held and Mrs. Rayneham wrote her a long account about
it. It appeared the police had wanted a verdict of 'found drowned' to be
brought in, but to their annoyance the jury had unanimously and with no
hesitation brought in one of 'accidental death'.

"And that under-gardener of ours, Henry Wood, was splendid," wrote Mrs.
Rayneham. "Of course, the verdict was all due to him. As foreman of the
jury he exerted a great influence over the others, and he told us
afterwards that he wasn't going to let the slur of any mystery as to the
doctor's death hang over us here at the Manor. Mr. Rayneham was so
pleased with him that he raised his wages at once. A rather mysterious
man, that Wood! I am quite sure he puts on his rough way of talking and,
if he chose, could speak like a gentleman. It's only drink that has
brought him down. There's no doubt about that."

Dora had been home only a couple of weeks when the storm which had been
so long threatening broke over the world and the Second World War
started. The terrible danger in which the whole British Empire stood was
not generally realised, but for all that with those who were 'in the
know' prospects were not considered too bright. Sir Richard and Dora
threw themselves whole-heartedly into helping in every way they could,
Sir Richard at once offering nearly the whole of Marden Court to the
authorities for turning into a military hospital, with Dora to help with
the nursing of the patients.

With every moment of her day fully occupied Dora no longer gave any
thought to her private troubles, confidently regarding the whole matter
of Dr. Simeon's death as a closed chapter in her life. Corresponding
often with Mrs. Rayneham, she learnt from her that Lieutenant Jocelyn
had disappeared into the blue upon active service, and it was believed
he was upon a destroyer in the Mediterranean.

Then one morning, greatly to her uneasiness, Mrs. Rayneham rang up,
saying she must see her at once about something which had happened.

"I can't tell you over the phone, dear," she said, "but the matter is
really very urgent. I'll go up to Town tonight, and so can you meet me
at the Belvedere Hotel, say at eleven to-morrow morning? Yes, you must
put off everything to come."

So it was with a rather palpitating heart that Dora met her friend as
arranged and was at once taken up to the latter's room.

"I have some very disquieting news for you, Dora, dear," she said
breathlessly. Her voice choked. "That under-gardener of ours, Henry
Wood, was caught on Tuesday night, red-handed, burgling Colonel Benson's
house. He had come after the silver. There was another man with him, but
he got away."

"Oh, Nina," exclaimed Dora incredulously, "what a dreadful thing!"

"The following day he was brought before the magistrates in Norwich,"
went on Mrs. Rayneham, "and remanded until next week." She could hardly
get out her words. "Then my husband has heard they are going to bring
another charge against him--oh, Dora, what shall we do?" she wailed.
"The police are going to charge him with having murdered Dr. Simeon."

Dora's knees trembled under her and she sank down into a chair. "But,
but----" she began.

"Oh, the evidence is very black against him," exclaimed Mrs. Rayneham
fearfully. "In his cottage in the mattress of his bed they discovered
the wrist-watch Dr. Simeon had been wearing and, worse than that, they'd
found out he'd known the doctor for a long time and once had attacked
him and would have badly injured him if the doctor's friends hadn't
pulled him off. Then he wrote the doctor a letter saying he'd kill him
one day if he had to wait twenty years, and they've got the letter."

She spoke much more calmly now and went on, "You remember at the
adjourned inquest how angry the police were because the jury had brought
in a verdict of accidental death when they wanted one of found drowned.
We know why that was now. The doctor's sister had found among his papers
the threatening letter and handed it over to them. So they knew the
doctor had an enemy and were trying to find out who he was. There was no
address upon the letter, but it was signed boldly, 'Eric Chalmers'."

She drew in a deep breath and went on, "Then this week the housekeeper
of Dr. Simeon's flat went to the detectives at Scotland Yard and gave
them the very information they wanted. She told them that when she had
attended the first inquest she was sure she had recognised the foreman
of the jury as someone she had seen before, but she couldn't remember
who he was. Then suddenly, she said, after all these weeks it had come
back to her. He was an artist, Eric Chalmers, and he and the doctor had
once been very friendly. He had come to the flat two or three times, but
one night there had been a violent quarrel, about some woman, she
thinks, and this Chalmers had seized the doctor by the throat and would
have strangled him if the others hadn't pulled him off. Then, while the
others were struggling with him, the doctor had kicked him and broken
some of his ribs and he had to be taken to a hospital. That's what she
told the detectives, and of course they came down to the village at
once, to find that, only a few hours before, our Henry Wood had come
into the hands of the local police for burgling." She was almost upon
the verge of tears. "Oh, what a dreadful thing it all is!"

Dora herself felt sick with apprehension, but with Mrs. Rayneham's
distress so apparent and mindful that she, Dora, was the cause of it
all, she pulled herself resolutely together and even forced a smile.

"Don't worry, Nina," she said. "There's no chance of him being found
guilty of murder simply because he made the threat. They'll have to
prove he killed him and they'll never be able to do that."

"No, of course not," said Mrs. Rayneham, brightening up, "and perhaps
he'll have a complete alibi."

"I expect he will," agreed Dora, "and he'll almost certainly say he
picked the watch up somewhere the next morning."

"Well, what are we to do?" asked Mrs. Rayneham. "He must have a good
lawyer to defend him."

"Of course he must," agreed Dora, "and I'll speak to Mr. Larose at once
about him. Oh, what a mercy it is Mr. Larose came to lunch that day and
I got to know him!"

Ringing up Carmel Abbey at once, to her great relief Dora learnt Larose
would be in Town on the morrow, and it was arranged she should meet him
at his hotel at twelve o'clock. Mrs. Rayneham returned home greatly
comforted by the thought that they had him behind them.

The following morning Dora was in the lounge waiting for Larose and
directly he arrived they seated themselves there in a secluded corner.
"Of course I know what you want me for," smiled Larose at once. "I've
heard all about it from Colonel Mayne, the Chief Constable, who's a
great friend of mine as well as of Mrs. Rayneham, and first of all we
shall have to see that this chap has a good lawyer to defend him."

"But you don't know everything," exclaimed Dora plaintively. "You don't
know half." She spoke very solemnly. "Years ago, Mr. Larose, I knew this
Eric Chalmers, before drink had made him the sodden man he is now, and
for a time we fancied we were in love with each other. Not only
that--but he was in the wood that Sunday afternoon and saw everything
which happened. He saw me shoot Dr. Simeon."

Larose's eyes opened very wide. "Goodness gracious!" he exclaimed in
obvious consternation. "What a dreadful complication!"

"But not so dreadful in the way you think," said Dora instantly, "as at
bottom all his instincts are those of a gentleman and I know he'd never
give me away. He knows his life is ruined, and I believe his only
feeling would be one of relief if he knew he were going to be hanged."

She told Larose the whole story of her one-time friendship with Chalmers
and how, since it was broken off, she had not seen him again until their
meeting in the Manor garden.

Larose listened attentively, and when she had finished her story a long
minute elapsed before he spoke. "And you have told no one," he asked,
"what you have just told me, not even Mrs. Rayneham or Lieutenant
Jocelyn?"

She shook her head. "The lieutenant is upon active service and no one
knows where he is. Thank goodness he's out of it. As for Mrs. Rayneham,
poor soul, she's worried enough as it is by befriending me, and I'm not
going to pile on the agony there. No, no one knows but you that I had
ever met Eric Chalmers before or that he was present in the wood that
afternoon."

"And your husband knows nothing of the matter," said Larose, "from first
to last?"

"Nothing at all," said Dora, looking very worried. "I hate deceiving him
because, as I've told you, we have such a perfect trust in each other,
but now it has gone so far I think it kinder to say nothing until he has
to know."

Larose nodded in agreement. "And that time may never come." He smiled
his kind and reassuring smile. "At any rate, we'll hope it won't." He
considered for a few moments. "Now I think I'll go at once and have a
talk with this Chalmers. I'll make out to the Chief Constable that I was
a friend of his in his prosperous days, and I'm sure he'll let me see
him." He frowned. "You say Chalmers comes of a good family."

Dora nodded. "Yes, and though they've long since thrown him off I'm sure
everything will come as a terrible shock to them."

"Of course, he'll get penal servitude for this burglary," said Larose,
"but he'll be tried on the capital charge first and that's all that
concerns us." He became brisk and business-like. "Now can you provide
the money for his defence without your husband knowing? It'll cost a
good bit, you know."

"Oh, yes," replied Dora. "Soon after we were married my husband settled
40,000 upon me, so there'll be no difficulty about that."

"Good," said Larose, "then everything can be done through me and my
lawyers, and we'll brief the very best man we can to defend him. We'll
have to get a good man, because of course he'll be tried at the Norwich
Assize and in all probability Angus-Forbes will be the prosecutor for
the Crown there." He shook his head. "He's a clever and dangerous man is
Angus-Forbes, one of the most relentless King's Counsels practising in
the criminal courts."

Dora sighed heavily. "What sort of a man is he?"

"Not much to look at," replied Larose, "and somewhere about fifty I
should say. But he's got a voice like a church bell and, rightly or
wrongly, can sway juries a lot by the very force of an impelling
personality."

Dora made no comment. She looked down so that Larose should not see the
expression upon her face. She dared not, however, let her thoughts
wander and looked up quickly again. She knew she had still the most
important thing to say to Larose, and she tried to make her voice steady
when she spoke.

"Of course, Mr. Larose," she said, "I should not let him hang. If he is
found guilty I shall own up at once." Her voice shook ever so little.
"The consequences will be terrible, but I should have to face them."

Larose took it as a matter of course. "Only what I expected of you, Lady
Stroud," he smiled, "but we won't talk of it now." He took out his
watch. "The most important thing for the moment is that we're going to
have lunch."

The meal was quite a bright one and, by an unspoken agreement, no
further mention was made of the matter which had brought them together.
In parting, with tears in her eyes, Dora thanked Larose for his great
kindness to her. "You've been so good," she whispered, "that I feel I'd
like to give you a good hug."

Larose smiled all over his face. "Well, there would be no objection on
my part," he said. He squeezed her hand, and his smile became something
of a frown. "The trouble with all us men," he went on, "is that however
strong may be our admiration and affection for one particular woman,
when another desirable one comes along we always seem to be able to
squeeze out a little more admiration and affection for her," and Dora
gave him a roguish smile, as if she quite understood.




CHAPTER X.--THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW


Thanks to the influence of the Chief Constable, Larose was allowed to
have his conversation with Eric Chalmers just out of earshot of the
attendant warder, and, gaining his confidence with no difficulty, found
him very much as he had expected from Dora's description he would,
casual, bored and very tired of life, not worrying at all as to what
might be going to happen to him. Indeed, he appeared to be deriving such
satisfaction from the way the so detested doctor had come to his end
that he admitted frankly that he was half-minded not to put up any
defence and allow himself to be hanged for a murder he had not
committed.

However, when Larose pulled him up very sharply and told him with the
utmost sternness that there must be no nonsense like that, as, if he
were found guilty, Dora was intending to come forward and confess
everything, he changed his tune at once.

"What I was afraid of," he scowled. "I thought she might be wanting to
do something like that, though it's damned silliness to ruin her life to
save a rotten one like mine. She's got everything to live for, and I've
got nothing. Several times lately I've thought of finishing myself off."

"Well, you can please yourself and do as you like about that," said
Larose grimly, "when this affair is over, but until then you've got to
fight your hardest to protect Lady Stroud."

"All right," he said. "I'll give them a good run for their money, and I
don't see how they'll be able to get a conviction." He made a grimace.
"I suppose Lady Stroud is going to waste a lot of money on my defence."

"She's not going to waste it," said Larose, "but you're going to have
the best lawyers and best counsel we can get. We're briefing Bernard
Harcourt. You couldn't get a better man, and----"

"I know him," said Chalmers with a grin. "We used to get tight together
at the Varsity, but he knocked it off while I let it get a hold of me."
A thought came to him, and he asked sharply, "But how did the damned
police come to connect me with Simeon at all? Oh, that housekeeper at
his flat! I saw her staring devilish hard at me at the inquest, but,
nothing happening, I thought she couldn't place me and so felt quite
safe."

"And they've got that letter you wrote, too," said Larose, "threatening
you'd murder the doctor if you have to wait twenty years for the
chance."

Chalmers's jaw dropped. "The devil!" he exclaimed ruefully. "Fancy his
keeping it all this time. It must be quite four years since we had that
row." He clenched his teeth together. "He was a devil, that Simeon. When
his pals were holding me tight so that I couldn't get at him he broke
two of my ribs with his cowardly kicks, and I've never really recovered
from the injury. Do you wonder I threatened him?"

The ensuing weeks were dreadful for Dora, and she had difficulty in
keeping from her husband the low spirits she was in. With the war news
filling the papers, there was little mention in them of the forthcoming
trial, and she had to depend upon Mrs. Rayneham and Larose for every
scrap of information there.

Counsel was very hopeful there would be an acquittal, said Mrs.
Rayneham, but agreed such a lot depended upon who the presiding judge
happened to be. They would not know that, however, until almost the last
moment. Poor Dora lost a lot of her pretty colour under the strain, but,
happily for her peace of mind, her husband put it down to her war work
and was always urging her to take things more easily. Engaged as he was
upon some 'hush-hush' business for the Government, she saw very little
of him; sometimes he did not come home for longer than a week at a time.

The day for the trial came close at last. It was to open on a Tuesday,
and on the preceding Saturday morning Larose rang up with the startling
news that Lord Merrildon was going to be the presiding judge.

"Bernard Harcourt is quite cheerful about it," he said, "and so am I.
There's nothing hard or harsh about his lordship and he'll pull
Angus-Forbes up very sharply if he tries to bully or intimidate the
jury."

"From what I saw of him at Mrs. Rayneham's," sighed Dora, "I thought him
very kind and sympathetic."

"But he's rather a peculiar man," said Larose. "In private life, as you
say, no one could be more kind than he, but upon the Bench he's very
strict and stern and a great upholder of the sanctity of the law. In his
final address to the jury there is never any appeal to sentiment, just
an impartial weighing up of all the facts that have been presented to
them."

Larose's summing up of Lord Merrildon's character left Dora very uneasy
in her mind. If only she dare lay everything before him, what a
difference it might make in how he advised the jury in his last words to
them.

That night it was many hours before she could get to sleep and she was
devoutly thankful her husband was not with her, as he would have
undoubtedly noticed how upset she was. Towards morning, however, she
fell into a troubled and unrestful sleep, waking up then to a sudden
resolution.

She would go and see Lord Merrildon, and tell him everything, no matter
how angry she was sure she would make him by attempting to influence him
in a case he was about to try.

Fortunately, her husband was not coming home that week-end and she had
the whole day free to do exactly as she wanted to.

Ringing up his lordship very early at his house in Saffron Walden, as
she had expected he would be upon a Sunday, she found he was at home.
Telling him she wanted his advice upon a very important matter, he was
most kind and said she could come any time she like. As it happened, his
wife was away and he would be alone and free all day.

It was only a seventy-mile journey, and shortly after eleven she was
shown in to him in his study. Her spirits rose as he greeted her with
such obvious pleasure.

"No, don't apologise," he smiled. "I shall be very pleased to do
anything I can for you," he laughed. "Both my wife and I took a great
fancy to you when we met at Mrs. Rayneham's and we've often talked about
you, but we still can't remember of whom you remind us, though we've
puzzled over it quite a lot."

"Lord Merrildon," began Dora, with a great effort steadying her voice,
"it's a very sad story I have to tell you, and it begins about eleven
years ago. A young girl friend of mine, losing both her parents very
suddenly when she was only nineteen, went to London to find work. For
three months she was employed as an attendant at a so-called Health
Institute run by a woman I will call Madame, who was assisted in the
work by a brother and a cousin. Massage and diet were supposed to be
what the Institute was run for, but in reality a great part of the money
was earned by performing illegal operations. This girl had no part in
them, for whenever they were going to be done she was sent out upon some
errand so that she should not know what was taking place. However, she
soon began to have her suspicions and in time became certain she knew
what was going on."

Dora paused to draw in a deep breath, and went on. "I must mention here
that a very well-dressed, professional-looking man used to come to the
Institute from time to time to have private talk with Madame. His name
was never mentioned, but Madame called him Doctor, and the girl
suspected he went to the private homes of her patients when anything
went wrong. She knew for certain that Madame had once paid him a hundred
pounds. This doctor never actually spoke to my girl-friend, but he used
to stare at her hard when he came and she took him to be a man whom any
decent girl who was even passably good-looking would not care to know."

"Go on, Lady Stroud," said his lordship kindly, as Dora had stopped
speaking and was biting hard upon her lip to control her emotion. "Don't
distress yourself. I am taking it all in."

"Well, now I come to something terrible," said Dora. "One day returning
unexpectedly early from one of these errands upon which she had been
sent, my friend heard Madame wailing over the phone to someone that a
patient she had just been attending had collapsed and died, and asking
this someone to come at once. From the conversation which went on it was
evident, however, that this someone wouldn't come and was advising
Madame to wait until night and then take the body to somewhere in the
country and leave it there. Then, if the patient had never told anyone
she was coming to the Institute, nothing might ever be found out."

"What a dreadful position for your friend," commented his lordship
frowningly, "to have become mixed up with people like that."

"Yes, and she realised it," went on Dora, "and was terrified that, as an
attendant at the Institute, she might be drawn into it. So she rushed
out straight away, intending never to return again. However, she was so
furious with the wicked woman for another reason that she at once went
into a telephone booth and rang up the police, telling them what had
happened and that there was a dead patient at the Institute."

"A good action," nodded Lord Merrildon, "and of course the police went
at once?"

"Yes, for it appears they had had their suspicions of this Madame for
some time," said Dora. "They went and caught her and her brother and
cousin red-handed putting the body into an ottoman to take it away. All
three were sent to penal servitude."

"And your girl-friend?" asked his lordship with a peculiar expression
upon his face.

"That same afternoon," said Dora, "she moved from where she had been
living and the police never found her; indeed, she never knew whether
they had looked for her." She went on slowly and with some difficulty.
"Longer than ten years went by. This girl had made a good marriage and
was very happy. Then one afternoon when she was staying at a friend's
house in the country another visitor arrived, and to her horror she
recognised him as the doctor who used to come occasionally to that
dreadful Institute and stare at her so hard every time he came. She
thought at first that he had not recognised her, but he had, and the
next day, catching her alone, he seized hold of her, and, in spite of
her struggling hard, kissed her forcibly. He dared her to complain to
anyone, as he said there was still a warrant out for her arrest for
having helped Madame in those operations, and if she did he would tell
the police where she was. Believing what he told her, she realised she
was completely in his power and that he was intending to blackmail her
in every way he could."

Dora was almost choking here, and for a few moments could not go on. The
judge was now frowning hard, but made no comment, and the silence in the
room was hard and tense. At length she went on.

"The next day a dreadful thing happened, for this doctor caught her,
unexpectedly alone again, but this time outdoors in a wood not very far
from the house. He had gone there to shoot some birds and had a small
rifle with him. He seized hold of her, but in the struggle which
followed she turned his rifle on him and shot him dead."

She spoke very quietly now with a rush of words. "She told no one what
had happened, and at first it was thought he had accidentally shot
himself, but later a servant of the house became suspected and now he's
going to be tried for murder." Her voice broke and she added
falteringly: "That is my story, my lord, and----"

"The servant is the man I am going to try next week," said Lord
Merrildon, very sternly, "and the woman who shot that doctor is you."

Dora made no attempt at any denial and, covering her face with her
hands, broke into quiet and gentle sobs.

"You have done very wrong," went on the judge in cold and solemn tones.
"When you had shot that wretch, at all costs to yourself, you should
have had the courage to tell what had happened. Now look at the position
you yourself are in and the dreadful one in which you have placed that
unfortunate man, accused of a crime he did not commit."

"But I shall not let him be hanged," said Dora fiercely. "If he is found
guilty I shall own up to everything."

"But you must consider," went on the judge, with a deep frown, "the
mental anguish he must be in, facing as he does the prospect of a
dreadful death. Does not your conscience distress you there?"

"No, it does not," retorted Dora instantly, "as he knows quite well he
will not be hanged. I have sent him word what I am going to do if he's
found guilty. He knows, too, that it is I who killed Dr. Simeon, as he
was in that wood at the time and saw everything that happened."

"Then why hasn't he told anyone?" demanded the judge in some
astonishment.

Dora's tear-stained face flushed. "Because, my lord," she said very
quietly, "he and I were sweethearts once. No, no, although he was only a
gardener at the Manor he is not of that class. His father was the
Archdeacon of Barchester Cathedral and he himself is a graduate of
Oxford. When I knew him years ago he was an artist, and it's only drink
which has ruined his life and brought him so low."

The judge eyed her very solemnly. "But do you not realise, young lady,
into what contempt you are bringing the majesty of the law. By coming
here to me as you have done you are making of it a farce by the trying
of a known innocent man, and of me a puppet in having to preside over
the trial." He shook his head. "I know you yourself have been placed in
a horrible predicament, but"--he smiled sadly--"great as is my
admiration and respect for you I can but censure you most strongly."

Dora was drying her eyes. "But have you yourself never made an error of
judgment," she asked, "or worse than that, failed in your duty when what
you should have done was most clearly before you? Does your conscience
never prick you, Lord Merrildon?"

"What do you mean?" he asked, looking very puzzled.

For a long moment Dora hesitated. Then she burst out, "Tell me, you were
in France, were you not--in the late spring of 1909, in Bordeaux?"

The judge looked more puzzled than ever, but after a few moments of
consideration, nodded, "Yes, I was."

"And to be exact, the month of June, was it not?" asked Dora. "The early
part of June?"

He considered again. "Yes, I think it was." He stared hard at her. "But
why do you ask? Is it of any interest to you?"

Dora's voice trembled now. "Yes, of great interest," she replied. She
spoke very slowly as if weighing every word. "Because it happens I was
born in the following year upon the twelfth of March." She held his eyes
with hers. "Yes, born in Bordeaux in a house upon the quai des Etoiles.
The ground floor of the building was occupied by a firm of wine
merchants, with my mother and her husband occupying the floors above."
Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. "My mother's name, my lord, was
Mary Dane."

The judge stared incredulously at her. Bereft of speech, he drew in a
long deep breath and his face went a deathlike colour. His eyes were
wide and staring, his lips were parted, and little beads of sweat began
to form upon his forehead. All his poise and dignity gone, he slumped
back into his chair the very picture of a guilty man. He looked at Dora
as if she were an apparition risen from the dead.

Dora moved up close to him. "Give me your hand, please," she said
imperatively. "No, your left one," and she laid hers beside it. "See our
little fingers," she went on. "They're both crooked in the same way."
She spoke very sadly. "My mother used often to kiss mine! I realise now
because it reminded her of yours."

The judge spoke hoarsely. "Did she tell you all about me?" he asked.

Dora shook her head. "No, she never said a word, but all my life long as
far back as I remember she brought me up as if I were not her husband's
child. There was no affection between them. He was a horrid man.
Mentally and physically, too, there was nothing in common between him
and me, and from many, many things I grew to realise he could not
possibly be my father. He died only a few weeks before my mother and
then as she was dying she kept on asking for Athol. It was all 'Athol,
Athol', and so I knew that must have been the name of the lover she had
once had."

Tears welled up into the judge's eyes, and all her intended reproaches
dying away at the sight of his distress, Dora, her own eyes wet too, put
her arms around his neck and nestled her cheek close up against his. He
clasped one of her hands so tightly that she almost called out with the
pain.

"And I ruined her life," he choked. "I brought a great unhappiness upon
her."

"No, no, you didn't," protested Dora quickly. "On the contrary you gave
her the only happiness she ever had in all her married life. She was
always full of hope, too, that one day she would be free to return to
England and, as I realise now, perhaps meet you again."

The judge was much calmer now, and something of his old self again. "And
how long is it," he asked, "since you first thought you had found out I
was your father?"

"Only when I met you at the Raynehams'," replied Dora, "and one morning
in the garden there this Eric Chalmers slipped me a piece of paper with
James Athol Vaughan, Lord Merrildon, written upon it," and she went on
to explain why he had done so. "Then when I saw your crooked little
finger," she concluded, "I was certain I had found you."

They talked on for a long while and then the judge said sadly, "Oh, how
proud of you I should be if I could only acknowledge you openly!"

"And I of you, too," smiled Dora. "I was always so sure my father would
turn out to be a handsome and distinguished man." She nodded. "At any
rate we can be proud of each other in secret."

The judge sighed deeply. "But in what a dreadful predicament we are now.
Things could hardly be worse."

"Of course they could be," said Dora sharply. "What you have to do is
very simple. You must step down from your high pedestal for once and
forget all about the sanctity of the law. You must get Eric Chalmers
off. Your summing-up to the jury must wipe out everything that
Angus-Forbes has said." She frowned. "But what a strange thing, is it
not, that you have dropped the name of Athol. Why are you not known by
it now?"

"I dropped it when I was admitted to the practice of the law," replied
the judge. "I thought it sounded too theatrical."

Seated close together and with him holding one of her hands, for an hour
and longer, putting aside for the moment what had brought Dora there, as
father and daughter they told each other a lot about the happenings of
their lives.

"And I never forgot your mother," said the judge, "but we had agreed it
was best I should not approach again." He coloured up uncomfortably and
added with a sad smile, "Of course I blame myself now beyond all words I
can think of that it never seemed to enter my mind that you could have
eventuated from the few short hours I spent with your mother. I was
young and unthinking and----"

"Don't talk about it," said Dora sharply. She smiled. "No wonder both
you and your Lady Merrildon thought you had seen me before. You saw in
me my resemblance to my mother and she--my resemblance to you."

Harking back to the matter of the forthcoming trial, the judge asked
thoughtfully, "Have they anything of a case against this Eric Chalmers?"

"Mr. Larose thinks not," said Dora. "He has been advising me all along,"
and she went on to relate how Chalmers had come to be suspected, after
she herself had had to run the gauntlet of the two detectives from
Scotland Yard.

"Ah, those two inspectors are very clever men," frowned the judge, "and
it is remarkable how you came to outwit them." He made a grimace. "Now
you have dragged me into the conspiracy, too."

Dora returned home in quite a hopeful state of mind. She was thrilled
that she had dared to make herself known to her father, and for the
moment her only anxiety was that something might prevent him at the last
moment from presiding at the trial. On the Tuesday morning, therefore,
she was greatly relieved when Larose rang her up early to tell her Lord
Merrildon had arrived in Norwich.

With the war news taking up so much space in the newspapers, she knew it
would be very briefly reported and that she would have to depend upon
Larose. The trial was quite a short one, lasting only three days, and
upon each of the two first evenings he rang her up and gave her a good
resume of the procedure. Still it was only when the trial was over and
he came down to Tunbridge Wells to see her that she was able to grasp to
the full everything which had happened.

When Lord Merrildon took his seat upon the bench it was remarked by many
in the court that he was paler than usual. Still, he looked, as he
always did, a calm, unruffled embodiment of the majesty of the law.

Angus-Forbes, who was to open for the Crown, at first sight appeared
anything but the great pleader he really was. His head was
bullet-shaped, his eyes were small and pig-like and his nose snub and
insignificant. His well-developed chin, however, spoke of a forceful and
determined character, and his mouth was that of an orator. His voice
could boom like a harsh-sounding bell and he could work himself up to a
passion of denunciation which, upon occasions, was most effective with a
jury.

Bernard Harcourt, also a King's Counsel, was cast in a very different
mould and he looked the aristocrat that he was. Tall and distinguished,
with something of the appearance of a university professor about him, he
spoke always in well-modulated tones, rarely rousing himself to
invective or anger. Rather, it was said, he would wheedle himself into
the confidence of a jury, almost making them believe he was one of them
and just the spokesman for the mutual opinions they all held. If needed,
however, he could unleash a wealth of sarcasm that would make everyone
in the court smile.

Eric Chalmers, stepping slowly up into the dock, made quite a good
impression upon the court generally. Though greatly benefited by his six
weeks' forced abstention from alcohol, he looked frail and in a poor
state of health. However, he carried himself with something of a jaunty
air, and there was certainly no sign of cringing fear about him. He
smiled as he sat down.

Opening very quietly, as was his wont, Angus-Forbes told the jury the
prisoner in the dock was being charged with the wilful and deliberate
murder of Chandra Simeon, a doctor of medicine, and, though the evidence
against him was mainly of a circumstantial nature, it was none the less
convincing. Indeed, in this particular case, it would only be following
the usual course of nearly all homicidal trials, for, unless a murder
was committed upon the spur of the moment and in the heat of passion in
front of witnesses, as a general rule it could only be brought home to
the perpetrator by evidence which was circumstantial. Circumstantial, he
would remind the gentlemen of the jury, was the bringing together of
small happenings to make up one solid and coherent whole.

Now it must be taken in straight away, he went on, that the accused was
no common and uneducated man such as his recent lowly occupation might
suggest. He had not always been of the so-called working-man class, for
he was a graduate of Oxford University and his training had been such
that it would enable him to reason and calculate well. So, if he were
intending to carry out any undertaking he would not plunge into it
headlong and without thought, but would consider everything, step by
step, in a most careful manner.

"I would impress all this upon you," he cried, raising his voice,
"because this crime was carried out with a considerable degree of
cunning, with the accused confident he had left no trails behind which
could be followed up. Now to find the undoubted motive for it we must go
back to nearly four years ago. The accused was making his living as an
artist then and, becoming acquainted with the deceased, upon a few
occasions went to his flat in Earl's Court for cards. One night, there
was a violent quarrel between them. It does not concern us what the
quarrel was about, but the accused attacked Dr. Simeon in his fierce
outburst of temper and we are told would have done serious injury to him
had not the latter's friends interfered and held him down. Then it
appears the doctor took an unfair advantage of the accused and, kicking
him with great violence, broke several of his ribs. At any rate no doubt
the accused was badly injured, as he was in hospital for longer than a
month."

The K.C. paused here to look among his papers. Finding what he wanted,
he went on, "Now we come to a most damning piece of evidence--a letter
which the accused wrote during his convalescence and to which he
recklessly signed his name in full. It is short, but very much to the
point. I will read it to you.

"'You cowardly devil! Don't think I have forgotten you, for I have not,
and never shall. I'll pay you out one day if I have to wait twenty years
to get my chance. I'll kill you as I would a mad dog, you brute! Eric
Chalmers.'"

Angus-Forbes paused again here. "Now, gentlemen of the jury, because
nearly four years elapsed before the accused carried out his threat and
then only obtained his opportunity by sheer chance, it must not be
imagined that he had in any way abandoned his intention of obtaining his
revenge. We can understand the reason for the delay when we realise that
in these years the accused had fallen into evil habits and became an
habitual drunkard. Intemperance would not have sapped his resolution,
but it would have made him slothful in attempting to carry it out.

"Well, this sheer chance of which I am speaking all at once played into
his hands when the accused was working as a gardener at Blackston Manor.
Dr. Simeon came to stay as a guest there for a week-end. I shall prove
to you that he learnt of the doctor's presence and was unduly interested
at once. I shall prove also that he became aware that the deceased would
be found that evening, most probably alone, by the pond in that lonely
wood where he was subsequently found drowned."

He spoke slowly and dramatically. "What exactly happened there upon that
quiet and peaceful Sunday evening we shall probably never know, unless
in due time the accused makes a full confession, but with no great
stress of imagination we can determine something of what took place." He
raised one long forefinger significantly. "The accused was probably in
waiting, secreted behind a tree. He sprang out upon his unsuspecting
victim, and twisting round the barrel of the rifle the latter was
carrying, thrust it into his chest and pulled the trigger. Then, without
a moment's delay, he dragged the body into the pond, threw the rifle in
beside him and made off home as quickly as possible, no doubt full of
gloating over what he had done and supremely confident that he would
never be found out."

A breathless silence filled the court, with all eyes now turned upon the
prisoner in the dock. It might perhaps have been thought he would be
looking shamed and frightened. But no--he appeared quite calm and
confident and was even smiling.

The eyes of the great King's Counsel blazed and he made a contemptuous
gesture towards him before he went on menacingly. "Now how can we be so
certain the accused was in the wood that afternoon, and carrying out his
vengeful and evil purpose?" he asked in vibrant tones. "I'll tell you
why." He dropped his voice abruptly and answered his own query, slowly
and impressively. "Because in his cottage, secreted in the mattress of
his bed, was found the wrist-watch which it was known the dead man had
been wearing that afternoon."

A plainly audible gasp went round the court and again all eyes were
turned towards the dock. The accused, however, appeared still
unperturbed. Angus-Forbes continued. "Then what follows?--and I will ask
you as men of common sense to consider whether the actions of the
accused were those of an innocent man!"

He raised his long forefinger again to emphasise what he was going to
say. "Now we have no knowledge of exactly at what hour the accused had
left his cottage that afternoon, but we are certain he did leave it for
he was seen to return by the woman in the cottage next door at the very
moment when the church clock was striking five, striking five, mind you,
only such a short time after we know the deceased would have arrived by
that pond to meet his dreadful death."

Again he waited a long moment, with his eyes passing from one to the
other of the jurymen before he asked very quietly, "And how did he
return? Did he do so as an honest man would have done, as one innocent
of all recent wrong-doing, or did he come back as a haunted, guilty
creature who had just committed a dreadful crime, as one who had taken
another man's life and was exposed to the danger of being found out?"

The K.C. spoke with the utmost solemnity. "Gentlemen of the jury, the
accused did not come home in the ordinary way by the front gate of his
cottage, but instead he climbed over the back fence of his little garden
in a secretive and furtive manner, with his eyes roaming round and round
to see if anyone were watching him." His voice rose in strident and
declamatory tones. "And not only that, but so anxious was he to
establish an alibi, that at the village public house, the same evening,
he twice made the statement to those assembled there that he had been
feeling so sleepy all day that after his midday meal he had thrown
himself down upon the bed and slept heavily for longer than four hours."

Angus-Forbes drew in a deep breath. "So now we have the full picture of
everything before us. The accused nursing a deadly spite against this
doctor and, as evidenced by the threatening letter he wrote him, only
awaiting his opportunity to obtain his revenge, his obtaining that
opportunity at last and taking full advantage of it, as evidenced here
by his being found in possession of the dead man's watch, and finally
his determined efforts to establish an alibi so that nothing should be
brought home to him."

He struck his fist viciously upon the table before him. "Could we have
more convincing evidence of the guilt of the wretched man now before us
in the dock? From all I have brought up to you is it not sealed once and
for all? Does not everything point to it?"

Finally the K.C. introduced the matter of the inquest, when, by an
ironic stroke of fate, the accused had been the foreman of the coroner's
jury inquiring into the death of the man he himself had killed. Then he
had tried to get the enquiry closed in indecent haste by resisting an
adjournment. Later, no doubt it had been he who had persuaded his fellow
jurymen to bring in a verdict of accidental death--against the advice of
the police.

With the opening address for the Crown finished, a procession of
witnesses proceeded to file into the witness-box. The first was the
doctor's sister who testified to finding the threatening letter among
his effects. She had not come across it until some weeks after his death
and that accounted for the delay in handing it over to the police.

Next came the housekeeper at the flat. She said the accused had only
come there a very few times and that was why she had not recognised him
at first. It happened she had actually been an eye-witness of the attack
upon her master, as it had occurred just when she was bringing some
glasses into the room. Chalmers had sprung upon him, and, taking him
unawares, when he was sitting down, had seized him violently by the
throat. She had heard nothing about the threatening letter, but did not
think it would have worried her master much, as he was a very
self-confident man, strong and athletic, and in ordinary circumstances
would have been well able to take care of himself.

Bernard Harcourt, for the defence, did not question either of these
witnesses.

The third witness was the Manor cook, and it was obvious that she gave
her evidence with some reluctance. She said the accused, whom they all
knew as Harry Wood, had been the under-gardener for about a year, and
the only complaint she had heard about him was that he drank too much.
He never came to work actually drunk, but he often looked as if he had
taken too much, and then was surly and morose when spoken to. At other
times, however, he was of a bright disposition and well liked by all the
servants. He never appeared to be in good health, but always looked
rather white and ailing.

She remembered very distinctly a happening upon the morning after Dr.
Simeon had arrived at the Manor as a guest. Wood came into the kitchen
with some vegetables and remarked he had got a bad headache, and she had
said jokingly he had better see the doctor they had staying with them
now and get a prescription out of him. However, he had shown no interest
until she had gone on to say the doctor was a crack West End one, called
Simeon. Then he had asked instantly what he was like and she had replied
he was dark and good-looking, adding laughingly that he would make two
of him and could take him by the neck and shake him like a terrier with
a rat. Wood had made no comment and gone off without a word.

Asked if the accused had known the doctor was going to try to shoot
those hawks upon the Sunday evening, she had admitted with some
hesitation that she thought he must have done so, as, bringing in some
grapes upon the Sunday morning, she had told him four more of the prize
Orpington chickens were missing and that her mistress had asked the
doctor to see what he could do to get the hawks then at the pond in the
wood, near where it was thought they had their nest.

Bernard Harcourt rose up briskly here to cross-examine her.

"Now how does it happen, Mrs. Smith," he asked smilingly, "that you
remember so well the trivial and casual conversation you had with the
accused that morning about Dr. Simeon?"

The answer was prompt and ready. "Because, sir, it was so unusual for
Wood to take any interest at all in our guests. Indeed, he used always
to avoid them as much as possible, and we noticed he pulled his cap down
well over his face whenever any of them happened to come near where he
was working in the garden. So it made an impression upon me at once when
he asked what the doctor was like." She went on volubly, "You see, sir,
Wood was always a mystery to us, and we were always interested in him.
We all knew he had been a gentleman once and we often thought he was
afraid of being recognised by some of the many visitors we had."

"Then you went on to say, Mrs. Smith," said Bernard Harcourt, "that from
a conversation you had with the accused the next morning, the Sunday
morning, that you thought the accused knew Dr. Simeon had been asked by
your mistress to try to shoot those hawks. Now what do you mean by
saying you only thought?"

The cook hesitated. "Because he didn't make any remark about it, but
just went off without a word. Of course, it might have been possible he
didn't take in what I said, as he was never too bright on Sunday
mornings after his heavy drinking every Saturday as long as the inn kept
open."

The next witness was the woman from the cottage adjoining Chalmers's and
she came in for some rough handling from Bernard Harcourt in the
cross-examination he gave her.

He drew out she was not friendly with Chalmers and had not spoken to him
for several weeks, as she believed he had destroyed her cat because it
had been scratching up the seeds in his garden. At any rate it had
disappeared and Chalmers had only laughed when she taxed him with having
got rid of it.

Asked what she meant when she had told the police he had got over his
back fence in a furtive way, all she could explain was that he had
stared hard at all windows of her cottage as he was getting over, and
she thought he looked rather frightened about something.

She admitted, however, she had not at the time thought the matter of
sufficient interest to mention it to anyone. She had said nothing about
it until questioned by the police.

The last witness was a man who had been in the village inn upon that
Sunday evening and he testified the accused, who had been yawning a lot,
excused himself with the explanation that he had been feeling terribly
sleepy all day, so much so that after his midday meal he had lain down
for a short nap, as he thought, but had slept all through the afternoon.
There was no cross-examination of this witness, and that closed the case
for the Crown.

A rustle of thrilled and excited interest stirred round the court and it
was generally conceded Angus-Forbes had made things look very black for
the accused and that the defence would have a hard task to stave off a
verdict of guilty.

However, the accused had lost none of his confident air and was smiling
when Bernard Harcourt opened his address.

Speaking very quietly and in a rather sarcastic tone, Harcourt remarked
that his learned friend had given them early warning that most of the
evidence he would put forward would be of a circumstantial nature, and
he might well have added it would take on a most shadowy and
unsubstantial form. Indeed, guess-work would have been a better word
than evidence, for it was by guess-work only anyone could imagine the
accused had been anywhere in the vicinity of that wood where deceased
had come to his death that Sunday afternoon.

He raised his voice in a declamation here--yet, the whole case for the
prosecution depended absolutely upon that. No matter how many
threatening letters the accused might have written in those years ago
and no matter what evil thoughts he might have been entertaining for the
dead man--unless it could be absolutely proved, or implied by reasoning
that was water-tight that he had been there--then the charge against him
must inevitably collapse like a bubble that had been pricked.

He spoke in crisp and business-like tones. "Now I shall call no
witnesses, for there can be no one to prove anything on the accused's
behalf, but I shall put him straightway into the witness-box and he will
tell you his tale in his own way, on oath. Much that the prosecution has
gone to such pains to prove he will admit at once. He did write that
threatening letter, he did harbour the bitterest feelings towards the
deceased and he did know he had come to the Manor as a visitor. However,
he will swear that he was not aware deceased had been going to that pond
that afternoon, for if the cook had mentioned it to him, he had not
taken it in. As you have gathered from her demeanour in the witness-box,
she is a garrulous and gossiping woman and he never paid much attention
to what she said."

He paused here for a moment to look down at his notes, and went on, "As
for his not wanting to be seen that afternoon when he was returning to
his cottage--this is quite true, too. He had been out poaching upon a
neighbouring estate, and fearing he had been seen, if taxed with it, was
wanting to make out he had not left home after his midday meal. One last
thing--his possession of the dead man's watch. The explanation is very
simple." He looked down with some amusement at Angus-Forbes. "Every
morning he bicycled through that wood upon his way to work, and on the
Monday he saw it lying under a bush just off the path and picked it up."
He spoke with the utmost sternness to the jury. "Remember, gentlemen,
this man in the dock is not being tried for larceny"--his voice was very
low and solemn--"but for murder, wilful murder."

Eric Chalmers stepped briskly into the box and took the oath with a
steady voice. He looked quite confident. His counsel took him quickly
through all he had outlined in his speech and the replies were quick and
ready. Handed over to Angus-Forbes for cross-examination, he appeared in
no way nervous at the latter's threatening tones, and it was generally
agreed by all present in the court that the stout K.C. had not scored a
single point until he came to the matter of Chalmers getting into his
garden over the back fence, and there undoubtedly he got the latter into
something of a tight corner.

"And you tell us," he said with a steely glint in his eyes, "you were so
anxious not to be seen because you say you were returning from a
poaching expedition. Then to where had you been?"

"To a wood upon Major Henniker's property, about two miles away," was
the reply.

"But what could you have been expecting to get," asked the K.C. with
some sarcasm, "poaching in broad daylight in the middle of the
afternoon?"

"A pheasant or a rabbit," replied Chalmers. "I had a big catapult with
me and a pocketful of marbles."

"And you had got nothing?" asked Angus-Forbes.

Chalmers shook his head. "No. As I have said, there were other people in
the wood and I almost ran into them. I was afraid they had seen me and
might have recognised who I was. That made me bolt away."

"But even if you had been more than recognised," went on the K.C., "if
you had been actually caught, with nothing upon you, you know quite well
no charge could have been laid against you."

"That wasn't frightening me," said Chalmers, "but Major Henniker is a
friend of my employer, Mr. Rayneham, and, if the people who saw me
thought they had recognised me, they would certainly have complained to
him and I might have lost my job."

Angus-Forbes looked mockingly round the court. "And do you really want
to make us believe," he asked, "that you were expecting a sort of
enquiry might be held by your employer, with witnesses, for and against,
you being called--in fact a regular trial such as we are holding here
now?"

Chalmers looked sullen. "Yes, I did," he replied. "At any rate,
something of the sort."

"And you considered the matter so important," went on Angus-Forbes with
intense sarcasm, "this matter of deciding whether you had been upon this
Major Henniker's property or not, that you had to make elaborate
preparations for an alibi by first creeping into your cottage over the
back fence and, later, trumpeting it about in the village public-house
that you had been sleeping all the afternoon. Come now--weren't you
overdoing it?"

"I don't thing so," snapped Chalmers.

Angus-Forbes's voice was low and threatening. "Why--you couldn't have
been taking more precautions, could you, even if you had just returned
from committing a murder?"

Chalmers, for the first time looking uneasy and embarrassed, made no
answer, and after a long and significant pause the King's Counsel
shrugged his shoulders contemptuously and went on.

"Now about this watch which you had hidden in your mattress, you say you
found it the next morning as you were bicycling to work under a bush a
few feet off the path! Then how is it you came to see it when the search
party of seven gentlemen had not noticed it?"

"I suppose because they were out late in the afternoon," replied
Chalmers, "whereas I was going by in daylight. Also, I have always
looked well about when going by that pond because I know a pair of
stoats have got their hole somewhere there."

Angus-Forbes raised his arm with a lightning gesture. "Ah, that's a bad
slip, a very bad one! Stoats are nocturnal animals and never to be seen
about in the day!"

Chalmers got very red. "But I've seen them," he said stubbornly, "and I
know what I'm talking about."

The King's Counsel dismissed his comment with a contemptuous gesture and
went on, "Now, when, as you say, you picked up that watch, the path
being a private one, you must have realised at once that it belonged to
someone staying at the Manor?"

"I suppose so," admitted Chalmers after a moment's hesitation, and then
he added quickly, "Yes, of course I did."

Angus-Forbes went on another track. "Now when was it," he asked, "you
want to make out you first heard that Dr. Simeon had mysteriously
disappeared?"

"Ted Blake, the other gardener, told me," replied Chalmers, "directly I
arrived for work that morning."

"And you make out, too, that it was only then that you heard the doctor
had been asked to try to shoot those hawks who were generally to be seen
in the vicinity of the pond in the early evening?"

"That is so," agreed Chalmers.

"Then it must have struck you at once," asked Angus-Forbes, "that
finding the watch where you say you did it must have belonged to him?"

"It did," admitted Chalmers.

"And of course it at once entered into your mind," went on the King's
Counsel, "that if any accident had happened to him it would have
occurred in the vicinity of the pond close to where you had found the
watch?"

"No, it didn't," replied Chalmers sharply. "I just thought he might have
been swinging his arm as he walked along and the watch had fallen off.
The catch on the chain was not bent in any way. It was just weak and
appeared to have sprung open of its own accord." He shrugged his
shoulders. "As for an accident having happened to him, I didn't think
one had. I remembered him as an eccentric and impulsive man who could
never be relied upon in private life, and thought it quite possible the
whim to go off had suddenly come into his mind and he had followed it
with no consideration for anybody else. He was always a selfish man."

Ringing up Dora that evening, Larose spoke much more hopefully than he
really felt. "I think everything is going fairly well and it will soon
be over now," he said. "Counsel have finished their address and
to-morrow his lordship will sum up." He spoke with some enthusiasm. "Oh,
Lady Stroud, I do wish you could see Lord Merrildon on the bench. He
looks so majestic and distinguished, and it is undoubtedly his
personality which dominates the whole court. He makes even the great
King's Counsel look second-rate, and, though he intervenes very little,
when he does speak everyone seems to hang upon his words. Yes, I think
Chalmers will get off. I'll ring up the moment the verdict has been
given."

With Mrs. Rayneham, however, whom he also rang up, he was not quite so
confident. "Things are really not going too badly," he said, "but
Angus-Forbes was in great form, and in that impelling and almost
hypnotic way of his, as I was afraid he would do, he fastened his teeth
like a bulldog into Chalmers's attempt to establish an alibi, and I
could see he was making no little impression upon the jury. But there is
still his lordship's summing-up and I think in that we have a very good
chance. For one thing, I'm certain he'll damp down Angus-Forbes's
fireworks quite a lot and, as far as he can, allow only the bare facts
to influence the jury."

The following morning when Lord Merrildon took his seat upon the bench
it was thought by many in the court that he looked rather pale and as if
he had not slept well the previous night. However, his beautifully
modulated voice was strong and vibrant, and, even though he spoke very
quietly, every word he uttered could be distinctly heard everywhere in
the court. All eyes were fastened intently upon him.

Warning the jury as Angus-Forbes had done that the whole case against
the accused was built up on evidence that was circumstantial, he
considered quickly and briefly all the points that had been put forward
by the Crown.

He agreed that the motive for a homicidal attack upon the part of the
accused was there, and that it had lain dormant for nearly four years
must not altogether rule out the possibility of the attack having at
last been carried out. As Counsel had pointed out, the intemperate life
the accused had been leading would have gone far to sap all his energy
to make an opportunity for himself to obtain his revenge, but chance
having at last, as he thought, thrown that opportunity in his way, he
might possibly have risen to the occasion and seized it.

Still, it must not be taken for granted he had done so. He had denied he
knew this opportunity was there, and his denial must not be idly cast
away until all subsequent happenings went to prove that he was not
speaking the truth.

His lordship paused here for a few moments to look at his notes and then
went on slowly and impressively. "Now the first thing that suggests
itself to me here is that if the accused did realise that he had now the
chance of obtaining his revenge, if he did know his enemy was going to
be alone that evening in that lonely wood, did he make adequate
preparations to deal with him? Put yourselves in his place. Himself of
small physique, and admittedly in a poor state of health and weakened by
years of intemperance--how did he intend to pit himself against the
strong, athletic man he knew the deceased to be? Had not the cook of the
Manor told him only the previous day that this West End doctor looked
robust and strong enough to take him by the scruff of the neck and shake
him like a terrier would a rat? So, with the odds so heavily against
him, with what weapon did he provide himself? Surely at least he would
have had a heavy stick?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Yet there has been
no suggestion put forward by the Crown that he was in any way armed, and
there were no wounds or bruises found upon the deceased to suggest it,
either."

A hushed silence filled the court. All present seemed to be hanging upon
the judge's every word. He went on.

"Of course, too, everything would depend upon his taking his victim by
surprise, and there he must have realised his chances would be very
poor. Surely the deceased, arriving in the vicinity of that pond, would
have been very much upon the alert? He was a hunter pitting his wits
against creatures of the wild and his eyes would have been here, there
and everywhere! Then how did accused manage to get near enough to him to
engage in that hand-to-hand struggle, as evidenced by the torn-off
button, which is the crux of the whole case for the Crown? Then, if this
struggle did take place, how is it deceased showed no marks or bruises
upon him, and, again, how was it he was worsted so easily by his much
weaker opponent?"

Larose was thrilled and would have dearly loved to clap his hands. His
lordship was actually putting up a stronger case for Chalmers than had
the counsel for the defence. Angus-Forbes was frowning hard.

The judge continued, "And now I come to another matter, that of the
alibi the accused had been at such pains to prepare to make out he had
not left his cottage that afternoon, and it may have seemed to many of
you, as it did to me at first, that the accused did not come out of it
too well."

A rustle of excitement went round the court and Angus-Forbes dropped his
troubled, frowning look.

The judge went on. "Then I asked myself--why, if he were so wanting to
safeguard himself from the charge of having killed the deceased, should
he have thought it necessary to prepare any alibi at all? As no witness
has been brought forward, apparently he knew no one had seen him come
out of the wood. So, if and when the body of deceased were found in the
pond, why should he have been fearing anyone would in any way associate
it with him? Even if he had given a thought to that threatening letter
he had written four years back being still in existence, he would have
been confident it meant no danger to him, as the identity of Eric
Chalmers, the artist, had been lost in that of Henry Wood, the gardener.
So, who would be aware he had ever known the dead Dr. Simeon, ever met
him, ever even heard of him?"

The judge raised his hand warningly. "Remember he did not know then that
his real identity was to be uncovered later by the deceased's
housekeeper recognising him at the inquest. So with all this in his
mind, why should he not have walked boldly up to the front entrance of
his cottage, indifferent to everyone who might see him enter?"

In conclusion, his lordship warned the jury with the utmost gravity that
unless they had no doubt at all as to the guilt of the accused they must
acquit him of the charge now brought against him. For a man arraigned
upon the capital charge, with the dreadful consequences which would
ensue if he were found guilty, it must not be merely that certain of his
actions were inclining them to the belief that he had committed the
crime. Far more than that was needed, for the chain of evidence must be
whole and complete in every way. Were even one small link missing, then
it must be taken as if there were no chain at all, and then their
verdict must be that the case against the accused had not been
sustained.

The summing-up over, the judge left the bench, the jury filed out and a
buzz of subdued excitement filled the court. There was no doubt in the
minds of most of those present that his lordship had summed up dead in
favour of an acquittal; indeed, it was agreed he had torpedoed the whole
case of the Crown.

Angus-Forbes was frowning angrily, and there could be no doubt the
summing-up had not been to his liking. He conversed whisperingly with
his junior and was seen to shrug his shoulders, as if in great
annoyance. His junior was looking displeased, too, and it was evident he
was of the same opinion as his leader.

Less than a half-hour passed, and the usher called for silence, the
judge resumed his seat upon the bench and the jury filed back into
court. At once, from the expression of their faces, it was evident what
the verdict was going to be, and a great sigh of relief rolled round
when "Not Guilty" was announced and Eric Chalmers stepped down from the
dock.

It was a very happy moment for Larose when he rang up Dora and told her
all that had happened. Tears streamed down her face, and it was some
moments before she could speak.

"But we owe it all to Lord Merrildon," said Larose, "for never have I
heard a summing-up more strongly in favour of an accused. I can tell you
now that at one time things were looking very black for Chalmers, and
but for his lordship he would almost certainly have been convicted. But
the summing-up altered everything. It seemed exactly as if his lordship
knew everything that had happened in that wood and he was determined not
to allow the jury to have the very slightest reason for bringing in a
verdict of guilty."

"And did he seem pleased when the verdict had been given?" asked Dora in
trembling tones.

"By Jove, he did," replied Larose, "and, for some reason which appeared
to me rather unusual, most relieved, too. It was evident the trial had
been rather a strain for him and I even thought there was a trace of
nervousness in his voice when he thanked the jury for their services.
Oh, but his summing-up was grand!"

"And Eric Chalmers," asked Dora, "what about him?"

"Oh, he," laughed Larose, "seemed more unconcerned than anyone in the
court. He kept up his devil-may-care expression right up to the very
last and was even grinning when he stepped down from the dock. Of course
he was re-arrested again at once for that burglary, and I expect he'll
be punished for it."


Lord and Lady Merrildon became great friends with the Strouds and, as
can be well understood, Dora arranged that her father should see a lot
of his grandchildren, with frequent visits being exchanged between the
two houses.

In the following year, however, Lady Merrildon died of pneumonia and
Lord Merrildon, disposing of his estate in Saffron Walden, took a small
flat in Town. At weekends and whenever his judicial duties would allow
he was invited down to Marden Court, but was always under the restraint
of having continually to be guarding against letting his affection for
Dora and his grandchildren become noticeable, not only to outsiders, but
to Dora's husband as well.

For all that, people did notice it, and one morning Sir Richard received
an anonymous letter from some spiteful person warning him that the judge
was well on the way to becoming his wife's lover. Not for one moment
giving credence to the idea, the letter, however, annoyed Sir Richard
not a little, and a happening that same week in a way added to his
discomfiture.

His duties having unexpectedly taken him north to preside at some
assizes when it had been arranged he should spend the week-end with the
Strouds, his lordship wrote a warm letter of apology to Dora, at the
same time adding that he was sending her a box of orchids with his
kindest regards.

The following morning the orchids duly arrived, with apparently no
message in the box, but a little later, going into the room where they
had been unpacked, Sir Richard picked a small slip of paper off the
floor and he frowned heavily when he read what was written on it.

He said nothing during the day, but that evening after dinner, when he
and Dora were alone in the library, he remarked suddenly, "Dora, I want
to speak to you about something rather important."

Dora looked up at once from the book she was reading and asked
curiously, "What is it, darling? Are you worrying about anything?"

"Not exactly worrying," he replied slowly, "but I'm wondering if we're
not getting a little too friendly with Lord Merrildon."

"Too friendly!" exclaimed Dora sharply. "What on earth do you mean? You
like him, don't you?"

"Yes, very much," said Richard. "In fact I regard him as one of the
finest men I have ever known." He hesitated. "But it's really that I'm
thinking about you."

Dora felt her face flushing and turned her eyes down again upon her
book. "Thinking about me?" she asked carelessly. "Why in particular
about me?"

"About you in this way," he replied slowly and as if with some effort.
"I want to know, has Lord Merrildon----" but he suddenly raised his
voice and spoke sharply. "Don't move! Don't look up! Keep still, exactly
as you are."

A few moments' intense silence followed, with Dora's heart beating
uncomfortably.

"That'll do," said Richard. "You can look up now." He passed his hand
over his forehead. "Now what was I going to ask you? Ah! I know." His
voice was not accusing, only curious, as he went on. "Dora," he asked,
"has Lord Merrildon ever kissed you?"

Dora's face was now as red as fire, and she had to steady her voice to
speak. "Yes, he has," she replied as casually as she could; "often upon
my forehead, but never upon my lips." She drew in a deep breath and went
on in a torrent of words, "Oh, Richard, I've so hated having a great
secret from you and I'm so glad you asked me now about Lord Merrildon,
as it compels me to tell you something which I thought I should never
dare to." She sprang up from her chair and, moving up close to him,
knelt down and buried her face against him. "Darling," she went on in a
choking voice, "Lord Merrildon is my father."

To her amazement her husband laughed, but laughed very softly. "Of
course, it is quite impossible, sweetheart," he said, "but when I told
you to keep perfectly still just now it was because I had suddenly seen
a great likeness between him and you. As you were casting your eyes
down, your expression was exactly the same as his when he is looking
very thoughtful. I can tell you it startled me."

"Then you are not ashamed or hurt," asked Dora pleadingly, "to learn of
my mother's fault?"

"Ashamed or hurt!" exclaimed Richard with a laugh. "Why, I should be
delighted if it were true. I should be thinking how clever our children
might turn out with a grandfather of the eminence of his lordship."

"It is true, Richard," said Dora earnestly. "I'll tell you everything,"
and into her husband's astonished ears she poured the whole story of the
tragedy of her mother's life, and how, after these many years, she had
at last come to learn the secret of her birth.

During its recital, Richard never said a word, and gradually, only very
gradually, the sceptical and doubtful expression faded from his face. In
the end it was evident he realised what she had told him was all true,
and it seemed he was quite happy about it.

"But we must not tell him you know," said Dora finally. "He must never
learn that I have told you."

"Nonsense," laughed Richard. "Of course we'll tell him, and the poor old
chap will have the happiness of being able to show his love for you and
the children--openly. You shall call him Dad and the children Grandpapa.
He shall make this his home, too."

"But what will people think and say?" asked Dora, rather aghast.

"Let them think and say what they like," declared Richard. "It won't
hurt us. Besides, we'll give out your father died before you were born
and you can say you've adopted him."

Dora threw her arms round her husband's neck and kissed him fondly. "You
are a good man, Richard, darling," she said, "but then I always knew
that. I never minded your seeing how friendly I was with my father,
because I always knew you'd never think anything wrong about me."

At that moment one of the children's nurses knocked at the door and told
Dora the youngest was crying for her and would not be pacified. "All
right, I'll come," said Dora, and she followed the nurse out of the
room.

Alone by himself, Richard smiled a slow, inscrutable Mona Lisa smile
and, taking a small piece of paper out of his pocket, crumpled it up and
threw it in the fire. Upon the paper had been written in the judge's
handwriting, "To my darling Dora, with all the love in the world."



THE END.



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