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Title: Clowns and Criminals - The Oppenheim Omnibus
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim
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Clowns and Criminals
The Oppenheim Omnibus

by

E. Phillips Oppenheim

First published by
Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 1931
Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1931






TABLE OF CONTENTS

Michael's Evil Deeds



Peter Ruff



Recalled by the Double Four



Jennerton & Co.



MICHAEL'S EVIL DEEDS

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Dec 1921 - Oct 1922
First US book edition: Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1923
First UK book edition: Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1924
First Canadian edition: McClelland & Stewart Co., Toronto, 1923
First US reprint edition: A.L. Burt Co., New York, 1923
Republished in
The Oppenheim Omnibus: Clowns and Criminals,
Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 1931



TABLE OF CONTENTS





I—THE UNDISCOVERED MURDERER

First published as "The Green-Eyed Accomplice" in The Red Book Magazine, Dec 1921

Michael

The duel—or shall I call it, perhaps, vendetta—between Norman Greyes and myself—known under many aliases but christened Michael Sayers—commenced on the morning of the third of November, some years ago, when I left my suburban home at Brixton to catch my usual train to the city, and found myself confronted upon the pavement with the immediate chances of life or death.

I will admit that I was taken by surprise. Every man at Scotland Yard was known to me by name and reputation, and I was perfectly convinced in my own mind that there was no one in that much abused but, from our point of view, admirable institution, capable of penetrating the secrets of my daily life and discovering in me, the reputed Thomas Pugsley, leather agent of St. Thomas' Street, Bermondsey, and Number 138, Woollerton Road, Brixton, the most accomplished and daring criminal of modern times. I knew at once, when I saw the police sergeant, with his two plain-clothes companions, crossing the road towards me, that some one else was taking a hand in the game. Even at that moment, when I had little time for observation, I saw the wellremembered figure of a man emerge from behind the curtains of Number 133, opposite, and it took me exactly ten seconds to realise that henceforth, after I had escaped from this present dilemma, I should have to move my pieces with greater circumspection across the chessboard of life. I recognized him the instant he appeared before the window. There were a few streaks of grey in his black hair, but his keen, grey eyes, his forceful mouth, his long, lean face were all unchanged. He was the one man in the old days whom we had all feared, the man whose retirement from the Force we had celebrated with a small but very select little dinner at the Café Royal. My old hatred of him blazed up as I realised the voluntary nature of his return to the career which he had abandoned. I made up my mind then that if ever the time came when I should be the arbiter of his fate, this man should have no quarter.

The street was a short one, and within fifty yards of a bustling thoroughfare. Nevertheless, at that early hour there were not many people about, and, as it afterwards transpired, witnesses of the spirited few seconds which followed were almost non-existent. It has always been my principle that the best form of defence is prompt attack. Whilst the inspector, therefore, stood with his mouth open ready to inform me that he held a warrant for my arrest, I shot him through the right shoulder blade. He staggered and would have fallen but for his two companions. Before they had propped him up against the railings and recovered from their surprise, I was round the corner of the street and in an empty telephone booth in the adjacent post-office.

I have always maintained that the Telephone Company is an unjustly abused institution. On this occasion, at any rate, my defence of them was justified. Within thirty seconds of asking for Number iooo Hop, I was speaking to the warehouseman whose duty it was to dust and keep in good order my samples of leather, which, to tell the truth, were rarely used. My few rapid words of instruction spoken, I turned my attention to those ingenious devices which, although savouring a little of the trickster, have on more than one occasion assisted me in preserving my liberty. I turned my overcoat, which, in place of a sober black garment, now became a covering of light grey tweed with a belt behind. I rolled my trousers up to the knee, disclosing very well cut brown leather gaiters. I left my black bowler hat in the telephone box, replacing it with a tweed cap; removed with a little pang of regret the most wonderful dark moustache which the hand of artist had ever fashioned, adjusted a pair of spectacles, and made my exit.

There was some commotion in the street outside, and the freckled young lady behind the counter paid scant attention to me.

"The telephone service doesn't get any better," I said pleasantly. It's taken me nearly ten minutes to get two numbers." She accepted my complaint with equanimity. Her attention was still on the street outside.

"What is it? A fire?" I asked.

She shook her head.

"I don't know," she answered. "Did you pay for both your calls?"

I assured her that I had done so and made my way into the street. There was a little crowd in Woollerton Road, and a motor ambulance came dashing by. I strolled along the broad thoroughfare until I came to a taxicab. I hailed the man and hesitated for a moment, glancing up at the sky.

"Is it going to keep fine?" I asked the driver.

He considered the point for a moment.

"Don't fancy there's much more rain about, guv'nor," he replied.

"Then drive to Streatham Hill Station," I directed.

From Streatham Hill I travelled to London Bridge by the electric railway, and from London Bridge I took a taxi to Waterloo. From Waterloo I caught the ten-forty train to Brookwood, and from the hotel there, where I paused for some slight refreshments, I engaged a taxicab to drive me to "Linkside", the country retreat of a certain Mr. James Stanfield, situated on the fringe of Woking Golf Links. William, my man-of-all-work, was digging in the garden, and welcomed me with the bucolic indifference of his class. Janet, his niece, admitted me promptly to the house and received my unexpected visit with that respectful lack of curiosity which was a heritage of her earlier training as parlourmaid. She lit the fire in the little sitting room, and listened to my few remarks with imperturbable pleasantness. Yet on that morning, perhaps more than any other in my life, I felt a shadow of uneasiness concerning Janet. I watched her in silence, stooping over the fire, a young woman with a figure whose perfection her ill-fitting corsets and clothes failed altogether to conceal, pale of complexion, with introspective, queer-coloured eyes, closelipped, and with a mass of well-brushed, glossy brown hair. When she stood up, a little flushed with her exertions, she faced me for a moment, waiting for orders. I am not a susceptible man, but it struck me for the first time that the girl was more than ordinarily good-looking.

"Nothing has happened during my absence, Janet?" I enquired.

"Nothing at all, sir," she replied.

"Nobody called?"

"There was a rate collector," she said. "He wanted to know your address in London."

"Did you tell him?"

"I do not know it, sir," she reminded me quietly.

I removed my glasses and polished them. I am an expert physiognomist, but the girl's impassivity baffled me.

"I will leave it with you before I go away next time," I promised.

"Please put me out a grey tweed golf suit and stockings."

"Shall you be requiring lunch, sir?" she asked.

"I will lunch at the Golf Club," I told her. "I shall dine at home."

"Is there anything particular you would like for dinner, sir?"

"I leave everything to you," I replied.

She left me silently and without further remark. When I went i ipstairs, a few minutes later, my bedroom as usual was spotlessly aeat, my golfing clothes laid out without any single omission. I discarded my somewhat heterogeneous articles of attire, donned my golfing habiliments with some care, and made my way to the links. In the passage of the clubhouse I met the Secretary.

"Are you wanting a game this afternoon, Mr. Stanfield?" he asked.

"I should be glad of one," I replied.

"There's a man just come down," he went on, "four handicap. You will find him in the luncheon room."

I made my way there. Seated at a table alone was Sir Norman Greyes, the man who had watched for my arrest, a few hours ago, in Woollerton Road, Brixton.

Norman Greyes

I resigned my position at Scotland Yard early in the autumn of 19— for two reasons. First, as protest against an act of gross injustice which, although it did not affect me personally, was still bitterly resented by the majority of my fellow workers; and secondly because, through the unexpected death of a distant relative, I succeeded to a baronetcy and a sufficient income. I spent the best part of three years in travel, nearly half of which time I was in the United States. On my return to London I found myself, much against my will, hankering after my old profession. It was very clear to me that my old department had lost the mastery it had once attained over the criminal world. The problem of several cold- blooded murders and various large and daring robberies remained entirely unsolved. In the intervals of my country life, I began to study these from an outsider's point of view, chiefly from the columns of the newspapers, but also to some extent from hints and information supplied to me by my friend Inspector Rimmington, who had been one of my colleagues in the old days and now held the post which I had vacated. Gradually I came to a certain conclusion, a conclusion which I kept largely to myself because I felt sure that no one at the Yard was likely to agree with me. I decided that the majority of these undetected crimes were due to one person, or rather to one gang of criminals presided over by one master mind. Purely from the inherited instinct of my long years of service in the Police Force, I set myself the task of hunting down this super-criminal. In November, 19—, I began to believe that I was on the right track.

There were three crimes which I became convinced had been committed by the same hand. The first was the great robbery of jewels from Messrs. Henson and Watts' establishment in Regent Street, and the murder of the watchman, who was shot dead at his post. No trace of even a single article of this jewellery had ever been discovered. The second crime was the robbery of a number of bearer bonds from a messenger in a railway carriage on the London, Chatham and Dover line. The messenger was also shot, but recovered after six months' nursing, although he could never give any coherent account of what had happened to him. The bonds were disposed of in South America at a considerable loss. The third was the robbery from Lord Wenderley's house in Park Lane of a great collection of uncut jewels, and the serious wounding of Lord Wenderley himself, who was attacked in the dark and who neither saw nor heard anything of his assailant. There were other crimes which I thought might be connected with these, but these three, for various reasons, became linked together in my mind as the outcome of one man's brain. I set myself the task of discovering this one man, and the day came at last when I really believed that I was in a position to lay my hand upon him. There is no necessity to detail the whole train of circumstantial evidence which finally brought me. to a certain conclusion. It is sufficient to say that after watching him for three weeks, I became convinced that a man by the name of Thomas Pugsley, carrying on business in Bermondsey as a leather agent, and living apparently the most respectable of lives at Brixton, was in some measure connected with these crimes. I discovered that his leather agency business was prosecuted without energy or attention, that his frequent absences from London were not in neighbourhoods where his wares could be pushed, and that he was often away for a month at a time, with his whereabouts unknown even to his landlady. The latter was a highly respectable woman at whose house he had lived for the last two years, and who I honestly believe was ignorant of her lodger's antecedents, his habits and business. By taking rooms in the neighbourhood, I easily discovered all that she knew and one or two circumstances which lent colour to my suspicions. I placed these, before Rimmington and it was decided to make an arrest.

A more clumsy piece of business than this intended arrest was never planned or carried into effect. The inspector placed in charge of the affair by Rimmington, with his two subordinates, arrived at Brixton an hour later than the time fixed upon, accosted Pugsley in the street, and were very soon made aware of the class of person with whom they had to deal. Before the inspector could get out half a dozen words, he was lying on the pavement with a bullet through his shoulder. His companions dragged him on to the pavement and set him up against the railings. Then they turned to look for Pugsley. There was not a trace of him to be discovered anywhere. The amazing skill and cunning of the man was amply demonstrated on that morning. By some extraordinary means he seemed to disappear from the face of the earth. The books of his business, when examined, showed that he had done scarcely any business; his warehouseman was an honest but stupid fellow who knew nothing except that his master took numerous trips, he thought abroad, to obtain fresh agencies. There was enough money in the bank to pay all liabilities, but so far as Thomas Pugsley himself was concerned, he seemed to have walked off the edge of the world.

The morning which witnessed, however, the shooting of the inspector and the remarkable disappearance of the man in whom I was so deeply interested, was memorable, so far as I was concerned, for another noteworthy incident. Absolutely disgusted with the result of my six months' labours, I determined to wipe the whole thing from my memory and travelled down to Woking with the intention of playing a round of golf. I was introduced by the Secretary to a resident of the place whose name was James Stanfield, and we had a round which ranks amongst the best I ever played in my life. Stanfield was a silent but by no means a gloomy person. He appeared to be about forty years of age and an absolute golf maniac. He played every shot with the most ridiculous care, but I must confess with also the most wonderful precision. His drives were never long, but they were long enough for him to escape trouble, and in the approximate eighty shots which he took to complete the course, I cannot remember one that was in any way fluffed or foozled. He beat me at the seventeenth hole, and it was whilst we stood together upon the eighteenth tee that the incident happened which was to bring still more excitement into the day. On our right was a small plantation of shrubs through which wound the path which my partner pointed out to me as leading to his house. Our attention was attracted by the continued barking of a small dog which had wandered from the adjacent foot-path. I had the curiosity to walk a step or two into the plantation to see what was the trouble. My companion, however, who was a little on my left, was the first to discover the cause of the dog's excitement. At a little cry from him I hurried to his side. Stretched upon his back, with extended arms, and a small blue hole in his forehead, we found the body of a man. He was dead but still warm, and by an extraordinary chance I at once recognized him. He was one of the two plain-clothes policemen whom I had seen in Woollerton Road that morning, foiled in his attempt to arrest the man who had been passing under the name of Thomas Pugsley.

Janet Soale

Just before midday on Thursday, the third of November, my master made one of his unexpected reappearances. I was not surprised. Only the night before I had dreamed of him, and it seemed to me impossible that with my passionate prayers going out day by day, he should stay away much longer. When I first saw him turn in at the gate, I was filled with wild excitement. If he could have seen me at that moment, he would have known and understood everything. By the time he had reached the front door, however, and I had let him in, I had regained my self-control. I must have seemed to him just the ordinary well-mannered, wellconducted parlourmaid.

He changed his clothes and went off presently for his round of golf. When I went to his room to brush and press the clothes which he had taken off, I found, however, that he had placed them in a drawer and apparently locked it. The discovery, coming on the top of many others, gave me food for thought I resolved to watch the next morning's newspapers. It was becoming more and more clear to me that there was something in my master's manner of life which he was anxious to conceal from the world. I was the more convinced of this when I saw that in the top drawer, which he had opened to take out a tie, he had concealed a small revolver, loaded in all six chambers. A merchant with offices in the City and a country cottage for golf does not carry a loaded revolver about with him. My heart beat with excitement as I picked it up and handled it. I forgot my master's indifference. I ignored the fact that, although I am well enough to look upon, and that my face and figure have won me more admirers than I could count on the fingers of both hands, he has never cast a second giance in my direction. I still had faith in myself if I chose to make the first advances. I have never made them to any man, but I have an instinct. I believe that he is cold and unresponsive from habit. I believe that if I could make him understand the fires which are burning me up night and day, he would throw off this mask of coldness and mystery, and give me that place in his life which I crave.

I was loitering about his room, looking still at that closed drawer, when to my amazement a man entered?a thin, weedy-looking person, with sunken cheeks and a straggling, sandy moustache. I am not easily frightened, but it gave me a turn when he closed the door behind him.

"What do you want?" I asked sharply. "How dare you come up here?"

He looked at me earnestly. It was obvious that my first thought was a mistaken one. This was not one of the admirers whom I found it difficult sometimes to keep at arm's length.

"Young woman," he said, "I am a police officer. You seem to be a sensible girl. Answer the questions which I ask, do not obstruct me in the course of my duty, and you will be rewarded."

I looked at him in silence for several moments. I do not think that I changed colour or showed anything of the terror which sat in my heart. My master was in danger. All the time 1 stood there, I was thinking. How was I to help—How could I help—

"Your master returned here an hour or so ago," this man continued, "and has now gone off to play golf. I want the clothes which he wore when he came down."

"How do you know that he changed?" I asked.

"I saw him come in and I saw him go out," was the quiet reply.

"This is his bedroom, is it not?"

"It is," I admitted.

"Then the clothes must be here. Where are they?"

"I do not know," I answered. "I was looking for them myself. I was just going into the bathroom next door to see if he had left them there."

He stepped back and entered the bathroom. He was only gone for a few seconds, but I found time to take the revolver from the tie drawer and to slip it into my open pocket.

"The bath has not been used," he said a little shortly, when he came back. "I should like you to stay with me whilst I search these drawers."

I made no objection, and he made a hasty search of the contents of the first two. When he came to the bottom one and found it locked, he gave vent to a little exclamation.

"Have you the key of this drawer?" he demanded.

"No," I answered. "My master has taken it with him."

He made no bones for what he did, nor offered any apology.

With an instrument which he carried in his pocket, he forced the lock and bent over the contents of the drawer. He was a man addicted, I should imagine, to silence, but I heard him muttering to himself at what he found. When he stood up, there was a smile of triumph upon his lips.

"What time do you expect your master back?" he enquired.

"I do not know," I answered. "He was lunching at the golf club and playing a round afterwards. About five o'clock, I should think."

He walked to the window and stood looking out over the links. I, too, looked out. In the far distance we could see two men playing.

"Do you know the links?" he asked.

"Very well," I told him. "I have lived here all my life."

"What hole are they playing now?"

"The seventh."

"What green is that just opposite?"

"The seventeenth."

"Where is the tee for the eighteenth?"

"Just out of sight underneath the trees."

He nodded, apparently well content. His eyes lingered upon me. I saw a look in his face to which I was perfectly well accustomed. He had discovered that in my quiet way I was goodlooking. He came a little nearer to me.

"Are you very fond of your master?" he asked.

"I see very little of him," I answered. "He gives no trouble."

"Do you know that you are rather a pretty girl?" he ventured, coming nearer still.

"I am always very careful of strangers who tell me so," I retorted, taking a step backwards. He laughed.

"You'll give me just one kiss for this?" he begged, holding out a pound note. "You're an intelligent girl and you've told me just what I want to know."

I looked at him curiously. If it were true that I was an intelligent girl, it was scarcely a compliment which I could return. For a police officer he must have been a hopeless idiot.

"I don't allow any one to kiss me," I objected, pushing the pound note away.

"You must put up with it just for once," he insisted. I scarcely believed that he was in earnest—and for the first time in my life a man kissed me upon the lips. I can find no words even now to describe the fury which was born in my heart against him. I feared even to speak, lest my passionate words might carry some warning to him of the things which were in my heart. He seemed perfectly indifferent, however, and in a few minutes he strolled out and made his way across the garden to.the little spinney. I took up my master's field glasses and satisfied myself that he was still a long distance away. I waited for a quarter of an hour. Then I took another path which led into the plantation and made my way cautiously to where the man was standing with folded arms, leaning against a tree. I drew nearer and nearer. I am light-footed and I have even been called stealthy. It was part of my early training as a parlourmaid to make no noise when I moved. So I stole to within a few yards of him, unperceived and unheard. I am not an emotional person, and my mind was quite made up as to what I meant to do. It was curious, however, how slight things left vivid memories with me during those few seconds. It was a queer, gusty November day, with tumbled masses of clouds in the sky, and a wind which bent the tops of the sparse trees and brought the leaves rustling down the muddy paths. A bird was singing just overhead, and I remember that in those strained moments I found myself translating his song. He was singing because he was glad to be alive in this wood full of dying autumnal things. Very soon there would be company for the creeping and crawling insects to whom winter meant death. And afterwards! I had a vivid little mind-picture of a crowded courthouse, of the judge who might try me and the jury who might pronounce my fate. For a moment I shivered. Then I thought of that loathsome caress. I thought of my master and I smiled. If he knew, he would thank me. Some day he would know!

I was so close that I think my victim felt the breath from my lips or the sensation of my approaching body. He turned quickly around and I saw his eyes wide-open with apprehension. He would have shrunk away but he seemed paralysed, and as he stood there I shot him through the forehead. He swayed on his feet, his mouth open like the mouth of an insane man. His eyes rolled, he pitched and fell forward on his face. I listened for a moment. Then I took the path back to the house. I had finished what I came out to do.

Michael

My round of golf with the man who was the declared hunter of my life and liberty afforded me no apprehension whatever, although I must confess that the first sight of Norman Greyes seated in the club luncheon room, only an hour or so after he had witnessed the abortive attempt to arrest me, was something of a shock. I came to the conclusion, however, that his presence here was accidental, and in no way connected with that harmless and respectable inhabitant of the neighbourhood, James Stanfield. I played golf steadily and with success. It was not until that startling discovery close to the eighteenth tee that my equanimity was seriously disturbed. As we looked down upon the dead body of the plain-clothes policeman whom I had last seen in Woollerton Road, we both recognized him. No hint of anything of the sort, however, escaped from my lips.

After the first few seconds of stupefaction, Greyes naturally took charge of the affair. He set the caddies to search all around for a weapon, and begged me to summon my gardener, or any one who might be of assistance. I called for Soale in vain, however, and remembering that he had asked leave to visit his brother at Mayford, I abandoned the quest. Subsequently, one of the men working on the course appeared, and we carried the body into my tool shed. Greyes locked the door and telephoned for the police and doctor.

"You will excuse my apparent officiousness," he said, "but I once had some connection with Scotland Yard."

"There is nothing to excuse," I assured him. "I am only too thankful that you happened to be here. Do you think that it is a case of suicide?"

"I have reasons for doubting it," he replied, "apart from which, if it were suicide, the weapon would have been found. As the event happened so close to your house and actually on your path, Mr. Stanfield, you will not mind, I am sure, if I ask your servants a few questions."

"I shall be only too pleased," I told him. "My staff is rather limited as I am only here occasionally. My gardener is out for the afternoon, so there only remains my maidservant."

I led the way into the house. Janet was busy in the kitchen but came at once at our summons. As usual, she was wonderfully neat, and her manner, although reserved, was perfectly open.

"We want to know," my companion asked, "whether there have been any callers at the house this afternoon?"

"None, sir," she replied, "except the boy with the chicken I ordered for the master's dinner."

"Have you seen any one about the place?"

"No one, sir."

"Did you hear anything which might have been the report of a pistol?"

"Nothing at all, sir."

"Have you been outside the house yourself?"

The girl shook her head.

"I have had no occasion to go out, sir," she replied. "I have been busy in the kitchen."

Greyes nodded and dismissed her after a few more unimportant questions. Soon a police inspector arrived, and the doctor. I let them visit the scene of the crime alone. As soon as they had gone, I went upstairs. I looked in my tie drawer for the small revolver. It had gone. I looked in the bottom drawer, which I had left locked, for the clothes which I had worn when I had made my escape. The drawer had been forced open and they, too, had disappeared. Then I realised that I was faced with a problem. Some one had penetrated my defences. I had been—I probably still was— in danger. I went down to the study and summoned Janet once more to my presence. When she arrived, I took a seat between her and the door. I made her face the window. Down in the straggling plantation, the police inspector was still talking to Greyes.

"Do you know anything about this affair which you did not tell Sir Norman Greyes?" I asked her.

"Yes, sir," she replied. I looked at her thoughtfully. She was very straight and shapely in the grey twilight. Her eyes met mine without flinching. I have been an indifferent student of women's looks, but I realised then that they were a very beautiful though rather a cruel colour, greeny-brown of a light shade, with delicate lashes and finely cut eyebrows. There was a passionate curve to her lips which I had never before noticed. Her neatly braided hair was brown and lustrous.

"You had better tell me everything, Janet," I enjoined.

"Soon after you had gone out," she said, "the man who lies in the outhouse came here and asked me questions about you. He made his way into your bedroom. He was anxious to see the clothes in which you had travelled down. He opened the bottom drawer of your wardrobe and found them."

"There was a revolver in the top drawer," I remarked.

"I had discovered that and hidden it," she replied.

"And after he had found my clothes?"

"He went down to the plantation to wait for you."

"Did he say what he wanted?"

"He had told me that he was an officer of the police."

"And then?"

"I went down the other path, and I made my way across the spongy turf to where he was standing. When I was so near that there was no chance of missing him, I shot him dead."

I am a man to whom courage is second nature, and I have seen death trifled with, and have trifled with it myself, like the juggler with his ball, but I have never heard it spoken of with more indifference. Outside, the figures of the detective and his companion were still visible in the little wood. The body of the dead man was only a few yards away. I leaned forward and looked at the girl, striving to get past the almost cynical impenetrability of her speech.

"Why did you do this, Janet?" I asked.

"He did what no man in the world has ever dared to do before, sir," she replied. "He kissed me—upon the lips! I wonder that I did not kill him where he stood!"

"Had you no other reason except this, Janet?" I persisted.

"I wished to save you, sir," she answered.

"To save me from what?"

"From the Law."

"You think that I was in danger?"

"I know that you were."

"Who or what do you think I am?"

"A great criminal," she answered. I was staggered, for it was plain to me now that I must have been at this girl's mercy many a time. She went on slowly.

"I have always believed," she continued, "that you were leading a double life. The few visitors you have had have come at night, and secretly. Whenever you have arrived here and Mr. Stanfield has recommenced to play golf, there has been a tragedy or a great robbery in the newspapers on the following morning. I always felt that some day or other this would happen. Now that it has come, I am glad."

"You realise that you have killed a man in cold blood?" I persisted, determined to try her to the limit.

"I am glad that I have," she replied.

"For a domestic servant," I said, "you have a wonderful sense of your obligations."

"You need not scoff at me," she complained. "I am a woman, a dangerous woman but a clever one. I was not brought up to be a servant. I am fit to be your companion. That is my hope."

"I have never trusted a woman in my life," I told her.

"You will trust me," she declared, in a low tone. "You will remember what I have done for you to-day. I am the woman who was made to complete your life. You had better realise it and make use of me. You will not regret it."

She came a little closer to me, and though women have never been more than the toys of my idle moments, I felt the passion of her strike into my heart. My senses were aflame. I saw life differently. Her voice became softer and more sibilant. She was like some beautiful animal. Her eyes were appealing but inhuman.

"You shall marry me," she continued. "I have a fancy about that and I insist. Then think of the benefit. If disaster should come, I shall never be able to give evidence against you. But there will be no disaster. I know how clever you are. I, too, have wains. My master, say that this means something to you. I have given you proof of my devotion. Repay me."

I took her into my arms. There was a savage fire about her lips which warmed my blood, a fierce delight in her strangecoloured eyes which amazed whilst it enthralled me. This modern Borgia seemed to have fastened herself on to my life. The figures of the men in the little wood grew more shadowy.

"Where is the pistol?" I whispered, holding her away from me for a moment.

"Where no one will ever find it," she answered.

"And the clothes?"

"Burned. I run no risks when your safety is in question."

The searchers came back to the house half an hour or so later. I was busy rebinding the handle of my putter. Janet was in the kitchen, preparing my dinner. Greyes accepted a whisky and soda. He looked tired and a little dejected.

"Any luck?" I asked him, under my breath, as he prepared to take his leave.

He shook his head.

"So far as circumstantial evidence is concerned," he admitted,

"I am afraid we shall be in a bad way. A more brutal murder I never remember. A young man, too, with a wife and three or four children, simply out to do his duty. If—" He stopped short, swallowed a little sob in his throat, and turned away.

"I hope that you will give me another game of golf some day, Mr. Stanfield," he said, as he prepared to take his leave.

"With great pleasure," I assented.

Norman Greyes

Yesterday the inquest on poor Richard Ladbrooke, after having been twice adjourned, resulted in a verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown. The verdict itself is a terrible reflection upon our present criminal methods. It pulls at the strings of my conscience with sickening intensity. Ladbrooke had found a clue which he confided to no one. He had travelled down to Woking in search of the missing man Pugsley—or Michael Sayers, as I believe him to have been. He must have been murdered there either by Pugsley himself or some confederate, yet not one of us has been able to lay our hands upon a single shred of evidence. I have been unable to tear myself away from the place. I have had several games of golf with Mr. Stanfield, and I have dined with him once at his house—a very excellent dinner and wonderfully cooked. He is desirous of offering a small reward for the apprehension of the murderer, but at present I have not encouraged him. I do not want a crowd of people stirring up the waters. I have not said as much to any one—not even to him—but I am making it the object of my life to lay my hands upon the so-called Thomas Pugsley. The day I find him, the mystery of Ladbrooke's murder will be solved. And I shall find him!



II.—THE KISS OF JUDAS

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Jan 1922

Norman Greyes Tells the Whole Story

On the evening of my return from the Riviera after a three months' holiday, I was accosted in the lounge of Marridge's Hotel by a middle-aged man of inconspicuous appearance, who had been seated in a corner alone. It was some few seconds before I could recall him to my memory, but curiously enough a crowd of unpleasant associations gathered themselves together in my mind even before I recognized him.

"You haven't forgotten me and our golf down at Woking, Sir Norman?" he asked.

I knew all about him then.

"Mr. Stanfield, isn't it?" I said. "No, I haven't forgotten."

I was a few minutes early for my party, and I accepted the offer of a cocktail from my golfing acquaintance, while I waited.

"That was an extraordinary interruption to our first game," he remarked. "I never fancied my little house much afterwards. I gave it up, in fact, within the year."

"I heard you had left," I told him. "Have you still your model domestic?"

"She left me soon afterwards," he replied regretfully. "You had no luck in your investigations, Sir Norman?" I shook my head. The subject was still a sore one with me.

"I had no luck at all," I confessed. "I came to certain conclusions which carried me a little way along the road, but all the clues ended abruptly. Yet I don't despair. I always have the fancy that some day or other I shall solve that mystery."

The waiter brought the cocktails and we raised our glasses.

"I drink, then, to that day, Sir Norman," my companion said.

"I am with you," I declared heartily.

We talked idly of various matters for a few moments—principally of golf, which I had been playing regularly in the South of France. There were several dinner parties being given in the restaurant that evening, and some very beautiful women were in evidence. One in particular attracted my attention. She was tall and, though slim, beautifully made. Her complexion was perfect, although a little colourless. Her strange-coloured eyes had a nameless attraction. Her hair, beautifully coiffured, was just the shade of brown which appealed to me. She bowed to my companion as she passed, and joined a little group at the farther end of the hall. The last thing I noticed about her was her wonderful string of pearls.

"That is a very beautiful woman," I remarked. "Do you know who she is?"

"A South American widow—De Mendoza, her name is."

"You know her?"

"My humble apartment is on the same floor as her suite," my companion replied. "She is gracious enough sometimes to remember the fact that we meet occasionally in the lift."

My friends arrived, and I made my adieux to my erstwhile golfing acquaintance. Somehow or other, my meeting with him had left an unpleasant impression behind it. It forced my thoughts back to the humiliating recollection of the fact that the murderer of Richard Ladbrooke still remained undiscovered, and that the man who had called himself Pugsley had walked away from detection under our very eyes and never been heard of since. Amongst my fellow guests was an official of the Home Office, and our conversation naturally drifted into the subject of social order.

"Your connection with Scotland Yard having long since ceased, Sir Norman," he remarked to me, "you will not be over-sensitive as to facts. The epidemic of crime which was raging about two years ago seems to have broken out again with exactly the same results. There are four undetected murders and five great robberies up to the debit of your late department. Your people believe that the same person is at the head of it who planned all those robberies eighteen months ago and escaped arrest by shooting the inspector."

I affected to take only a casual interest in the information, but as a matter of fact I was considerably moved. If the man who had last concealed his identity under the name of Pugsley, but whom I strongly suspected to be the notorious Michael Sayers, had really come out into the open once more, life would certainly possess a new interest for me during the next few months.

We were a party of six that evening—a celebrated criminal lawyer and his wife, my friend from the Home Office, with his wife and sister-in-law, and myself. The criminal lawyer, who was our host, heard scraps of our conversation and leaned forward.

"You did well to leave Scotland Yard when your reputation stood high, Sir Norman," he said. "A new era of crime has dawned and the struggle is no longer equal. It isn't the riffraff of the world to-day who take to murder and burglary. The skilled and conscienceless scientist has taken their place. The criminal of today, in nine cases out of ten, is of higher mental calibre than the detective who is opposed to him."

"The struggle should be the more interesting," I remarked vaguely.

It was a fancy of mine that my continued interest in my profession should remain as little known as possible, and I talked for some time on indifferent subjects to the lady who was seated by my side. We admired Mrs. De Mendoza and her gorgeous rope of pearls. My host intervened.

"It is women like that," he commented, "who choose to deck their bodies with jewels of fabulous value, who encourage crime. Roughly speaking, I dare say that necklace is worth eighty thousand pounds. For purposes of theft, it could probably be disposed of for fifty thousand. What a haul for the scientific thief! If it is really true that Pugsley is once more at work, what an opportunity!"

"A woman must be very brave," my hostess declared, "to run such risks."

"The jewels are probably in the hotel safe most of the time," I suggested. "I don't suppose she goes out in them."

Our host smiled.

"I can imagine Pugsley finding a few minutes in the hotel quite sufficient," he observed. "He or his successors, whoever they may be, would think little enough of human life by the side of, say, fifty thousand pounds. The modern maxim of the thief seems to be all or nothing. By killing at sight they certainly increase their chances of escape."

That closed our conversation upon the subject. We sat about in the lounge and drank coffee and liqueurs, danced for a time and smoked a few cigarettes. The party broke up as the lights in the lounge were being lowered. I was the only one of our little gathering remaining in the hotel, and I was talking for a few moments to the head porter, who was an old acquaintance of mine, when a man made a somewhat hurried entrance through the swing doors and seemed on the point of proceeding to the office. As he saw me, however, he hesitated and, turning aside, addressed me.

"Excuse me, but are you Sir Norman Greyes?" he asked. I admitted the fact.

"Can I ask you to give me five minutes of your time on a matter of urgent business?"

I looked at him with some surprise. His voice and address were good, and in appearance he differed in no respect from the crqwd of diners who frequented the place. He drew a card from his pocket and handed it to me.

"It is an absurd hour, I know, to trouble you," he apologised,

"but I can explain in a very few minutes if you will give me the opportunity."

I stepped underneath one of the electric standards and looked at the card—

MR. STANLEY DELCHESTER

and underneath was the name of a famous insurance company. I motioned him to follow me into the deserted lounge and invited him to take a chair. I must say that he wasted no time in stating his business.

"Many years ago, Sir Norman," he reminded me, "when you were officially engaged at Scotland Yard, you saved our firm a great loss in the matter of the Hatton Gardens emerald theft."

"I remember it quite well," I admitted.

"We understand," my visitor continued, "that you have now resigned from the Force, but we hoped that you might be inclined to undertake a small commission for us. It came to the ears of our Chief quite unexpectedly that you were staying here, and he sent me after you at once."

"I can at least hear what the business is," I replied.

"There is staying in this hotel," the insurance agent proceeded, "a Mrs. De Mendoza, the reputed widow of a fruit merchant in Buenos Aires. She is the fortunate possessor of a very wonderful pearl necklace, which she has insured with our firm for a hundred thousand pounds. Our acceptance of the policy was a grave error which we recognized almost immediately afterwards. We know nothing of the lady, and under those circumstances it is against our business policy to accept the risk. We have done our best to protect ourselves, however. Since the policy was issued we have kept in constant touch with the lady and in daily communication with the hotel detective. By to-night's post, however, we had a message from the latter to say that he was at home ill, and that during his absence his duties would be taken over by the night watchman. The policy has only one more week to run, and will not under any conditions be renewed. We want to know if, for any fee which you care to name, you will do your best to guard the necklace for us during that week?"

"Have you had any intimation of thieves working in this neighbourhood?" I asked him.

"None whatever," he replied. "I will be perfectly frank with you. It is not an ordinary robbery of which we are afraid. For some reason or other, our enquiry department has formed a dubious opinion of Mrs. De Mendoza herself."

"I see," I remarked. "You are afraid of a bogus theft."

"Precisely! Directly we received the letter from the hotel detective, we rang up the manager here. All that we could learn was that the illness was altogether unexpected, and that the man had been compelled to go home at a moment's notice. In reply to our request that a trained detective might take his place, the management assured us that they considered nothing of the sort necessary. No robbery of jewels had ever taken place from this hotel, and they considered their night porter fully competent to watch over the interests of their guests."

I considered for a moment.

"Sir William Greaves, our manager, desired me to suggest a fee of two hundred guineas," my visitor concluded.

"I will accept the commission," I promised.

The next morning I interviewed the manager of the hotel, to whom I was well known. He showed some irritation when I spoke of Mrs. De Mendoza's necklace and her nervousness concerning it.

"To be quite frank with you," he confessed, "although Mrs. De Mendoza is a good client and pays her accounts regularly, I am inclined to be sorry that we ever let her the rooms."

"Why?" I replied.

"People with valuable jewellery should accept its possession with a certain resignation," he replied. "This is the last hotel in London where a jewel robbery would be likely. The lady herself, I understand, takes every possible care and caution. She wears her necklace nowhere except in the restaurant and lounge, and every night it is deposited in the hotel safe. I cannot see that she has the slightest cause for anxiety, nor do I understand the nervousness of the insurance company. However, you may rely upon it, Sir Norman, that every facility will be given to you in your task. I would suggest that you pay a visit to the lady herself."

The idea had already occurred to me, and later in the day I sent up my card to Mrs. De Mendoza and was at once invited to enter her sitting room. I found her writing letters, simply dressed in a black negligee and wearing the pearls. I was struck once more by the extreme elegance of her bearing and figure. As she turned and invited me to seat myself, she stirred in my memory a faint suggestion of reminiscence. I was not sure even then, however, whether it were a real person or a picture of which she reminded me. She listened to the few words with which I introduced myself and smiled deprecatingly.

"It is true that I am very foolish," she admitted, "but then I have always been a person of superstitions. I have owned my necklace for some years, and I have had it with me in quite lawless places. I have never, however, felt just the same amount of apprehension as I do at the present moment."

"That certainly seems strange," I replied. "The servants at this hotel are more carefully chosen than at any other hotel in London, and the guests are in nearly every case old clients."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Apprehensions such as mine," she said, "are not based upon reason. However, I must confess that I feel more comfortable now that the insurance company has engaged your services. Would you, not like to examine the pearls?"

She came over to my side, and, without unclasping the necklace, let it rest in my hands. The pearls were all marvellously matched, all of considerable size, and with that milky softness which she pointed out to me as being a proof of their great perfection. As wc stood there, necessarily close together, a wisp of her hair touched my forehead. Something in the timbre of her low laugh as she brushed it back, induced me to look up. There were qualities about her smile and the peculiar expression of her eyes which gave me a momentary thrill. I understood at once why men turned their heads always to look at her. Notwithstanding her reserved appearance, she possessed that strange gift of allurement which Helen of Troy might have bequeathed to Mademoiselle de Valliere.

"Do you admire my pearls?" she asked softly.

I let them slip from my palm.

"They are very wonderful," I admitted.

She moved slowly away. I breathed more easily as the distance increased between us. She looked over her shoulder unexpectedly and I believe that she realised my sensation. The slight frown passed from her forehead. She was obviously more content.

"Tell me how you propose to guard my treasures, Sir Norman?" she enquired, as she sank into an easy-chair. "Shall you stand behind my chair at dinner, disguised as a waiter, and lie on my mat at night? It gives one quite a shivery sensation to think of such espionage!"

"Believe me," I assured her, "I shall not be in the least obtrusive. I understand that you send your pearls down every night to the hotel safe."

"I have always done so," she answered. "Do you think it would be better to keep them up here? Will you promise to sit in this easy-chair, with a revolver on your knee, all night, if I do so?"

"Not for the world," I declared. "The hotel safe is much the better place."

"I am glad to hear your decision," she said, with a slight smile.

"I should sleep very little if I thought that my pearls were near me—and that you were sitting here, on guard. The idea would be disturbing."

"One cannot guard against miracles," I observed, "but I think you can make your mind quite easy about the necklace. If you should need me at any time, the number of my room is four hundred and thirty- two."

"On this floor?"

"On this floor."

"Tell me," she asked a little abruptly, as I rose to take my leave, "who was the man with whom you were talking last night in the lounge—a slim, middle-aged man with a very hard face—I am always seeing him in the lift."

"A man I know scarcely anything of," I replied. "His name, I believe, is Stanfield. I once played golf with him down at Woking."

"Stanfield?" she repeated. "Was it in his grounds near Woking that a murder was committed—a policeman was found shot there?"

I nodded.

"1 was playing golf with Mr. Stanfield at the time," I told her.

"And the murderer was never discovered?"

"Never!"

"I wonder you didn't take an interest in the case yourself," she remarked.

"I did," I told her.

She made a little grimace.

"My fears for my necklace are reawakened," she declared.

"Surely it ought to have been an easy task for a clever man like you, one who used to be called a really great detective, to discover the murderer?"

"It is beyond my powers to bring him to justice, at any rate," I replied. "There are many criminals walking about to-day, of whose guilt the police are perfectly well aware. They cannot be arrested, however, for lack of evidence."

"How thrilling!" she murmured. "Will you ask me to dine with you one night and tell me some of your adventures?"

"I shall be charmed," I assented. "Meanwhile,—" She accepted toy departure a little unwillingly. I am not a vain man, and I felt inclined to wonder at a certain graciousness of attitude on her part which more than once during our interview had forced itself upon my notice. I decided, however, that she was just one of those women who are born with the desire to attract and dismissed the matter from my mind.

About seven o'clock, a note was brought into my room:

Dear Sir Norman,

A lady and her husband who were dining, have disappointed me. Can you, by any chance, be my guest? If so, let us meet at eight o'clock in the lounge.

Hopefully yours,

Blanche de Mendoza

I scribbled a line of acceptance. I felt, as I descended into the lounge that evening, a premonition that life for the next few hours was going to be very interesting indeed.

At eight o'clock precisely, Mrs. De Mendoza came into the lounge. She was wearing a white lace evening dress, with an ermine wrap which hung loosely around her, disclosing the pearls underneath. Her entrance made a mild sensation. Mr. Stanfield, who was seated in his accustomed corner, drinking his cocktail, watched our meeting and departure into the restaurant with obvious surprise.

"The little man was there again who stares at me so much—Mr. Stanfield, I think you called him?" she remarked, as we took our places.

I nodded.

"I dare say he was surprised to see us together," I said. "I asked him who you were, on the night of my arrival here."

"Why?"

"For the same reason that a great many other people ask the same question," I replied.

She made a little grimace.

"You are determined to pay me no compliments this evening, and I am wearing my favourite gown."

"I admire your taste," I assured her.

"Anything else?"

"You are the best-dressed and the best-looking woman in the room."

"Too impersonal," she complained.

I turned the conversation to the subject of the necklace. The pearls were collected for her, she told me, by her husband, some in India, some in the Malay States, some in Paris, some in Rio. She spoke of him quite frankly—a prosperous fruit broker who had achieved sudden opulence.

"It was quite as much a change for me as for him," she remarked. "I was a typist in Buenos Aires before we were married. I have known what it is to be poor."

She answered all my questions without reserve, displaying later on much interest in the recounting of such of my adventures as were public property. I began to feel that I had been mistaken with regard to her, that she was really exactly what she seemed—a very wealthy woman of adventurous type, suddenly released from matrimonial obligations and a little uncertain what to make of her life.

We took our coffee in the lounge afterwards. In the background, my golfing friend, Mr. Stanfield, was seated, smoking a cigar in a retired corner, and having the air of studying every one who passed.

"He is quaint, that little man," my companion remarked once, as he glanced over towards us. "He reminds me of those impossible characters one reads about in magazines, who detect crime for the pleasure of it, and discover hidden treasures in absurd places."

"He is, as a matter of fact," I told her, "a retired city merchant with a passion for golf—at least, that is what the Golf Secretary at Woking told me."

The music was seductive, and presently we danced once or twice. In the ballroom, however, my companion showed signs of renewed nervousness. The fingers of one hand were nearly all the time straying around her neck, as though to assure herself that the necklace was still there. Presently she drew me away with an apologetic little laugh.

"I am quite mad," she confessed, "but I have a fit of nerves tonight. I am going upstairs early. Do you mind?"

"Of course not," I told her. "Let me see you to the lift."

"I am going to ask you to do more than that," she said, as we crossed the hall. "I am going to ask you to come up to my sitting ?wm and escort my maid down to the office when she takes my necklace there. As a reward, you can come back afterwards, if you will, and have a whisky and soda with me."

"I shall be very pleased," I acquiesced.

I rang for the lift and we ascended together to the fourth floor. She handed me her key and I unlocked the door of her charming little salon. She pointed to the evening paper and an easy-chair.

"Please make yourself comfortable for five minutes," she begged, looking back from the threshold of the inner room. "I shall just let Annette help me out of my gown. Then I will give her the jewel case and she shall call for you."

She nodded and disappeared. I stood for a moment looking after her. The door was closed softly. I heard her call to her maid in the further apartment.

Those next few seconds seemed to beat themselves out in my brain, charged with a strange and almost amazing significance. I am convinced that I acted from impulse. There was nothing definite in my mind when from behind that closed door I conceived the sudden idea which prompted my action. I crossed the floor of the sitting room and opened the door which led on to the corridor. There was no one in sight, and it seemed to me that fewer of the electric lights were lit than usual. I stood there, every nerve of my body rivetted upon an attempt at dual listening. I listened for the return of Mrs. De Mendoza, and I listened for the opening of either of her doors. Presently, what I had divined might happen came to pass. The door of her bedroom, in a line with the one behind which I was lurking, opened. I peered through the crack. Annette, the maid, a trim, dark figure, had crossed the threshold. She stood for a moment, listening. Then without even glancing towards the sitting room, she walked swiftly along the corridor and turned to the left towards the lift and staircases. In a couple of stealthy strides I, too, had reached the corner, and, peering round, watched her movements. To my surprise, she passed the lift and turned the other corner of the corridor towards the staircase. As soon as she was out of sight, I followed. As I reached the farther angle, every light was suddenly extinguished. There was a little gurgling cry, the sound of a heavy fall upon the soft carpet. In a second or two I was on the spot. I could dimly see where Annette was lying, gasping for breath, apparently half-unconscious. By her side lay the jewel case, open and empty.

I did nothing for a moment towards raising any alarm. I bent over the girl and satisfied myself that she was not shamming,—that she had, in effect, been subjected to a certain amount of violence. I glanced at the transoms over the doors of the bedrooms opposite. There were three of them between where I was and the turn to the lift. Suddenly the farthest door was opened, softly but not stealthily. A figure appeared and, leaning down, threw a pair of boots upon the mat. I suppose that I was dimly visible in the semi-gloom, for the man suddenly left off whistling and turned in my direction.

"Hullo, there!" he called out.

I drew from my pocket the little electric torch which I had been keeping in readiness, and flashed it upon him. It was my friend Mr. Stanfield, in striped yellow and white pyjamas, a cigarette between his teeth, his feet encased in comfortable slippers.

"What the devil are you doing out there?" he demanded. "And who's turned the lights out?"

"Better turn them on and you may see," I replied. "There's a switch close to your door."

He found it after a second or two's fumbling and stared at us in amazement. The maid, with her fingers still to her throat, had recovered sufficiently to sit up," and was leaning with her back to the wall, ghastly white and moaning to herself. The empty jewel case told its own story.

"Jerusalem!" Mr. Stanfield exclaimed breathlessly. "A robbery!"

"Ring your bell," I directed.

He disappeared into his room for a moment, leaving the door open. Presently he reappeared.

"I've rung all three," he announced.

"Then the wires have been cut," I answered, pointing to the register lower down, which had not moved. "Go to the lift and see if you can get any one."

He was gone for about half a minute. I leaned down towards the girl, who was beginning to cry.

"Did you see who attacked you?" I asked.

"No!" she sobbed. "All the lights went out suddenly. Some one came up from behind. I never heard a sound—just the clutch at my throat and the choking."

"Why did you not wait for me or go down by the lift?" I demanded.

She looked a little puzzled.

"I never go by the lift," she replied.

"Why not?"

"Fred, the second-floor valet, generally meets me on the floor below," she explained reluctantly, "and—"

"I see," I interrupted. "But didn't your mistress tell you to wait and go down with me?"

The girl seemed surprised.

"My head is queer," she admitted, "and I can't remember much, but Madame said nothing to me except to tell me to hurry down."

The silence of the corridor was suddenly broken. Mr. Stanfield reappeared, followed by a little army of servants and the manager.

"Send every one away except two men whom you can trust," I begged the latter. "Mrs. De Mendoza's necklace has been stolen."

There was a murmur of consternation and excitement. The manager selected two of the servants and dismissed the rest. He posted one by the lift and one by the staircase. I explained in a few words what had happened.

"Do you think the thief has got away?" he asked.

"One cannot tell," I replied. "I want to know about these three rooms."

He glanced at the numbers.

"The furthest one is occupied by Mr. Stanfield," he announced.

"The other two are empty."

"You are sure that this one," I asked, pointing to the door close to where we stood, "is unoccupied?"

"Certain," was the confident reply. "Take my keys and see for yourself."

I was on the point of doing so when Mrs. De Mendoza appeared. She was clad in a wonderful light-blue wrapper, and the touch of excitement seemed to add to her beauty.

"My necklace!" she gasped. "Don't tell me that it is gone!"

"Madame," the manager began, "I regret to say—"

"What were you doing, then?" she cried, turning to me. "Do you mean to say that it was stolen whilst Annette was with you?"

"Annette was never with me," I replied. "She left your bedroom with the jewel case, without coming near the sitting room."

"Is this true, Annette?" her mistress demanded.

"But why not, Madame?" Annette faltered. "You said nothing to me about going into the sitting room. I did not know that Monsieur was to accompany me."

"The girl is telling a falsehood," Mrs. De Mendoza declared angrily.

"Could these matters wait for a moment?" I intervened. "Our immediate task is to try and recover the necklace. I wish every one to leave this place—except you, sir," I added, addressing the manager, "and myself."

The manager was a person of determination, and in a moment or two the corridor was empty. Mr. Stanfield lingered on the threshold of his room.

"Can I remain?" he enquired. "In a way I am interested, as my room is so near."

The manager waved him back.

"I desire to hear what Sir Norman has to say, alone," he insisted. Mr. Stanfield reluctantly withdrew. We first of all entered the room opposite to us. It was empty and apparently undisturbed. There was a connecting door on the left.

"Where does that lead to?" I asked.

The manager unlocked it. It led into a similar room, also empty. The room on the other side was Mr. Stanfield's, also connecting. The outlook of all three was on to some mews.

"These are our cheapest rooms," my companion explained.

"They are generally occupied by servants, or people of an economical turn of mind."

We withdrew into the first one we had entered.

"Will you lend me that master key of yours?" I begged. The manager detached it from his chain and handed it to me.

"If you should be instrumental in recovering the necklace, Sir Norman," he said, "the hotel authorities would appreciate all possible reticence in the matter."

I nodded.

"It is hard to keep anything out of the Press, nowadays," I reminded him, "but so far as I am concerned, you may rely upon my discretion."

The few days that followed were filled with hysterical and irritating appeals, complaints and enquiries from Mrs. De Mendoza herself, the insurance company and the management. No efforts on our part could keep the affair out of the newspapers, and the disappearance of the necklace became the universal subject of conversation. A hundred amateur detectives suggested solutions of the mystery, and thousands of knowing people were quite sure that they could put their hands on the thief. On the morning of the sixth day after the robbery, I felt that a brief escape was necessary. I proposed to Mr. Stanfield, whom I met in the hall of the hotel, that we go down to Woking and have a round of golf, an arrangement to which he agreed with avidity. We lunched at the clubhouse, and, as on previous occasions, we played a careful and hard-fought game. It was on the eighteenth tee that one of those unexplained moments of inspiration came to me which serve as the landmarks of life. We had spoken of that grim tragedy which had interrupted our first game. I thought of poor Ladbrooke lying there with a bullet hole in his forehead; Janet, the maid, serene and secretive, with the strange eyes and unruffled manner. The memory of these things came back to me as I stood there, with the wet wind fluttering in the leaves of the trees and Stanfield filling his pipe by my side, and it seemed as though my faculties were suddenly prompted by a new vigour and a new insight. Supposing it had been the maid who had killed the prying stranger! What was her motive—Whom was she trying to shield—Could it be her master? And if her master's name were not Stanfield, might it not be Pugsley—The two men were of the same height and build, and the one thing which Rimmington had always insisted upon was Pugsley's genius for disguise. The pieces of my puzzle fell together like magic, and with them the puzzle of the necklace. I turned back to the tee, and I was suddenly conscious of my companion's intense gaze. His eyes seemed to be boring their way into the back of my head. I knew that something in my face had given me away.

"Your honour," he said tersely.

I topped my drive miserably. My companion's drive went sailing down the course, and he halved the match in a perfectly played four. We walked together to the clubhouse.

"A whisky and soda?" I suggested.

"I'll change my shoes first," he answered, turning towards the dressing room.

I drank my whisky and soda, exchanged greetings with a few acquaintances, and paid my bill. Then I went to look for Stanfield. I might have spared myself the trouble. He and the taxi had alike disappeared. I had to wait whilst they telephoned for another, and I travelled up to London alone.

The game was played out in quite the grand fashion. On my arrival at the hotel, I found the representative of the insurance company waiting to see me, and I was told that Mrs. De Mendoza was in her room. Accompanied by the manager, we made our way thither. I think that she was well prepared for what was coming, or rather one part of it. She received us a little impatiently.

"I have been waiting to hear from your firm all day," she said, addressing Delchester. "My jewellers who valued the pearls, and my legal adviser have helped to make out my claim. I am anxious to know when I may expect your cheque."

"I am thankful to say, Madame, that that will not be necessary," the manager announced, stepping forward. "Here is your necklace."

He handed it to her. She stared at it like a woman transfixed. There were no signs of joy in her face. She seemed, indeed, for the moment stricken with consternation.

"When was it found?" she demanded breathlessly.

"About four o'clock on the morning after the theft," I told her.

"But where?"

"If you will come with me," I replied, "I will show you."

I led the way down the corridor to the exact spot where Annette had been attacked and opened the door of the nearest room. I saw Mrs. De Mendoza start when she saw the heavy bolt which had been fitted to the communicating door.

"I came to the conclusion," I explained, "that the theft was committed by some one hiding in one of these three rooms, and to the further conclusion that the necklace had been hidden on the spot."

"How did you guess that?" she enquired.

"Because the thief made a slight blunder," I answered. "For a single moment, as I stood by Annette's side in the darkness outside, I saw a light flash out through the transom of this room. I must admit, however," I went on, "that it took me four hours to find the necklace."

"Where was it then?" she asked curiously. I turned up the rug. In one of the planks of the wooden floor was a knot. I took a little corkscrew gimlet from my pocket, bored through it and drew it out. Then I made Delchester push his finger through. There was a hook fastened in the underneath side of the floor.

"The necklace was hanging there," I told him. "I imagine it would have been found later on by some one making a point of occupying this room. As a matter of fact, I believe it was booked for the first week in June."

"By whom?" Mrs. De Mendoza demanded.

"By Mr. Stanfield," I replied. "He is paying a return visit in June, and he appears to prefer this room to the one he is occupying at present."

There was a brief silence. Delchester held out his hand.

"We are very much obliged to you, Sir Norman," he declared.

"Our insurance, as you know, expired at midday to-day. I need not say that it will not be renewed. I wish you all good morning."

He took his leave. The manager appealed to me.

"Sir Norman," he said, "there is a great deal in this matter which it is hard to understand. I hope that you will not consider it a case for the police?" I turned to Mrs. De Mendoza.

"Do you wish to prosecute?" I asked. "There is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence which might be collected."

"Against whom?"

"Against the gentleman whom we have known as Mr. Stanfield."

She laughed scornfully.

"That funny little man who sits about in the lounge? I would as soon believe that you yourself were the thief, Sir Norman! I have my necklace back, and that is all I care about," she concluded.

The manager departed, very much relieved. Mrs. De Mendoza beckoned me to follow her to her suite. Arrived in her sitting room, she closed the door. She had rather the look of a tigress as she turned and faced me. Never was a woman born of more splendid courage.

"And the epilogue?" she asked.

"I fear," I replied, "that the epilogue must be postponed. It was only to-day, on Woking Golf Links, that a certain little scene of eighteen months ago became reconstructed in my mind. I saw a motiveless crime explained. I realised by whose hand that bullet might have found its way into Ladbrooke's brain, and for whose sake."

"Yet you let him go!" she cried.

"If I had dreamed," I said slowly, "that it was possible for him to escape, even for an hour, I would have wrung the breath from his body first. As it is, I must admit that he has scored a trick. But you must remember, or perhaps you have yet to find out," I went on, "that the world where such a man can live is a very small place."

"And what about me?" she asked. "From the moment when I heard that you had gone out with him alone, I could foresee what was coming. Yet I was not afraid. I waited for you."

I looked at the necklace and shrugged my shoulders.

"It is hard to leave a hundred thousand pounds," I pointed out, "and so far as you realised, the game was not up. Not a soul in this hotel knew that the necklace was in the manager's safe. Yet you had courage to remain and see the thing through. I admit that."

She came a little nearer to me. The green lights in her eyes were soft. I felt the attraction of her as she meant me to.

"Where I love," she said, "I have courage, and my love has every quality which the devil ever distilled, except constancy. Are you afraid of me, Sir Norman, because I killed a man who—?"

"A confession," I muttered. She laughed.

"No witnesses," she reminded me. "After all, it was you who once said that murder was the easiest of crimes. What you know and what I know will never take me to the dock. Would you put me there if you could, my enemy?"

I drew a little away. Her breath was almost upon my cheek, her lips had taken to themselves the curve of invitation.

"I would put you there without a moment's hesitation," I retorted. "You killed a man in cold blood to shield a murderer and a criminal. The hand of justice is slow, especially where evidence is scanty, but in the end it grips."

She laughed scornfully.

"You speak in ignorance," she declared. "At least be friends," she went on, "until you can drag me to the gallows. I shot him with my right hand."

She held out her left fingers. I raised them to my lips.

"The kiss of Judas," I warned her.

"You will need more than his cunning," she answered.



III.—THE MENWOOD ROAD BANK ROBBERY

First published as "The Leeds Bank Robbery" in The Red Book Magazine, Feb 1922

Michael Sayers

It had taken months to collect all the necessary information and make the preliminary arrangements, but the moment had arrived at last. At twenty minutes to twelve on a Friday morning, I descended from a rather shabby Ford car exactly opposite Bailey's grocery stores at the corner of Menwood Street, in one of the northern suburbs of Leeds. It is a neighbourhood of six-roomed houses and long, cobbled streets; a neighbourhood teeming with men and women when the great factories close at hand are empty, but at this particular hour of the day, before the children's schools have finished their morning session, and whilst the men and a considerable portion of the women are still in the mills, showing signs of something approaching desertion. There was a handsome grey touring landaulette containing two passengers, a man and a woman, drawn up on the other side of the way, apparently to take advantage of the shade of some tall advertisement boardings whilst the chauffeur filled up with petrol. Otherwise, a careful glance up and down the street convinced me that not a soul was in sight. I walked along a hot, asphalt path, and turned the corner into what was known as the Boulevard, almost unnoticed. On my left was a stretch of waste ground, black and stinking with refuse, empty tins and bottles, abandoned even by the children as an undesirable playground. On my right were more houses in course of erection, deserted to-day by reason of an opportune strike amongst the masons. The only inhabited edifice was the one where my business lay. A brass plate upon the door indicated that this was a branch of Brown's Bank, planted out here in this uncomely spot for the convenience of the huge factories which dominated the neighbourhood.

With my hand upon the swing door I glanced around. My luck was certainly in, for there was still not even a child to be seen. Inside, behind the counter, both the manager and his clerk were busy counting out bundles of treasury notes. They looked up enquiringly as I entered. Strangers in such a place, I imagine, were rare. Such a stranger as I was a rarity which they were never likely to experience again in this world.

My plans were cut and dried to the last detail. I wasted no time in any silly attempt to hold the place up, but, brief though the seconds were, it was amazing how my brain chronicled a host of varying impressions. I saw the bland smile fade from the manager's lips, I saw the dawn of suspicion in his eyes, the gleam of terror followed by the spasm of pain as I shot him through the right shoulder blade. His assistant had not the courage of a rabbit. White-faced, gasping for mercy, he stood there with his hands above his head and his knees shaking. I am convinced that if I had left him alone for another five seconds, he would have collapsed hopelessly without any interference on my part. I was not able to take risks, however, so leaning over I struck him on the point of the jaw. He fell in a crumpled heap behind the counter. I then helped myself to seven thousand pounds odd in bank and treasury notes, and in about a minute and a half after I had entered the bank, I strolled back again the way I had come.

At the corner of the street, I looked back. There were no signs of life about the bank, no one apparently on his way towards it. There were a few children playing about the unoccupied houses, and behind the windows of the cottages in the street where I now was were women intent upon various domestic duties. One woman was scolding her child just outside the door. She glanced at me only in the most perfunctory fashion. My Panama hat was pulled well over my head, a reasonable precaution with the sun at its greatest power. A man was bending over the open bonnet of the Ford car which I had left at the corner. I passed him by without a glance and stepped into the grey touring car behind. The engine was purring gently, the chauffeur's fingers were upon the gear handle as I appeared. I took my place by the side of Janet, unrecognizable beneath her motor veil, and we glided off northwards. There were no signs of any disturbance as we shot into the broad main street. We gathered speed up the Chapeltown Hill and very soon we were racing for Scotland.

Janet passed me a silver flask soon after we had passed out of the suburbs. I shook my head.

"You know that I never take anything until one o'clock," I reminded her. "Why should I drink in the middle of the morning?"

I fancied that I caught through her veil a gleam of that almost worshipping fidelity which had led me to trust this woman as I had trusted no other in my life.

"What a nerve!" she murmured.

"I have no nerves," I rejoined, "neither have I any fear. By this time you ought to realise it."

"All went smoothly?" she asked.

"Absolutely according to programme. A chance customer would have been the only possible disturbance, and the position of the bank rendered that unlikely."

"What happened?"

"I shot the manager through the shoulder blade," I told her.

"The heart would probably have been safer, but the blinds of the bank were all drawn to keep out the sun, and my Panama was as good as a mask. His clerk was almost dead from fear before I touched him. I had not to waste a bullet there."

"And how much?" she enquired.

"Only just over seven thousand pounds," I admitted. "It seems a pitiful amount for so much planning and risk. Still, something had to be done."

We were up on a stretch of moorland now, well away from curious eyes. Janet and I were busy for some ten minutes, making three parcels of my stock of notes. Then she looked at the map.

"Arthington should be the next village," she remarked. I nodded. We descended a steep hill. Halfway up the next we came upon a small motor car, drawn up by the side of the road, the bonnet thrown open, its owner seated in the dust. The latter rose to his feet as we approached. I handed him the black bag which I had been carrying, in which was my Panama hat and one of the packets of notes. He raised his cap nonchalantly.

"According to plan?" he asked.

"According to plan," I replied.

We sped on for another twenty miles, when almost a similar occurrence happened. A man seated by the side of his motor bicycle rose to his feet as we approached. I handed him the second packet.

"All well?" he enquired.

"Perfectly," I assured him.

We were off again in less than ten seconds. Our third stop was at the top of a hill forty miles farther north, after we had partaken of a picnic luncheon in the car. A man was seated motionless in a large touring car headed in our direction. He held out his arms as we approached and glanced at his watch.

"Wonderful!" he murmured. "You are three minutes to the good."

I handed him the third packet. He waved his hand and started up his engine. Soon we left him, a speck behind us. I leaned back and lit a cigarette.

"I have now," I remarked, "only one anxiety."

"And that?" Janet enquired quickly.

"About the greens at Kinbrae," I confided. "I met a man last year who told me that they were apt to get dried up."

She smiled.

"We had plenty of rain last month," she reminded me. "I thought you were going to speak of our friend."

I shook my head.

"Norman Greyes is in Norway," I told her. "I am not sure," I went on, after a moment's hesitation, "whether I do not sometimes regret it."

"Why?"

I looked out across the heather-clad moor to where rolling masses of yellow gorse seemed to melt into the blue haze. It was a very wonderful day and a very wonderful country into which we were speeding.

"Norman Greyes has made life inconvenient for us for several years," I said. "One of our best men has had to devote the whole of has time to watching him. We have been obliged to stay away from places which I very much wanted to visit. He has that absurd gift—he always had—of being able to connect a particular undertaking with a particular person. For that reason we have had to remain idle until we are practically paupers. When we have paid the expenses of this coup, and paid the staff, there will be barely enough left to keep us until Christmas. If we could get rid of Norman Greyes, we could seek wider fields."

"Why not?" she asked indifferently. "He is only a man like the others."

I pretended to be deep in thought. As a matter of fact, I was studying Janet. No creature or servant in this world could render such faithful service as she has rendered me, yet I am one of those persons gifted with instincts. I know that she has a strange mind, a strange, tumultuously passionate nature. I have so far been the man of her life. If it were not I, I sometimes wonder whether it might not be Norman Greyes.

We were to have one tense few minutes before we reached our stopping place for the night. We had just passed through a small town, and our silent chauffeur was preparing to let out his engine again, when we were confronted by what was, under the circumstances, a very sinister sight. Two men on bicycles, approaching us, dismounted and stood in the middle of the road with outstretched hands. The sun, even in the distance, flashed upon their uniforms. We realised at once that they were policemen. The chauffeur halfturned towards me.

"What shall you do?" Janet demanded.

"Do?" I replied. "Why, the natural thing, of course. All this is provided for. Oliver," I added, leaning forward, "those policemen seem to want to speak to us. Pull up."

We came to a standstill a yard or two away from them. The larger of the two men, who wore the uniform of a sergeant, made a solemn and portentous approach.

"Good afternoon, Sergeant," I said. "I hope that we are not in trouble?"

He looked at me as he might have done at a man whose hands were dripping with the blood of his best friend.

"It's your number plate, sir," he announced. "They telephoned us through from Ripon to stop your car and call your attention to it."

"What is wrong with my number plate?" I asked.

"Why, you've been driving where they've watered the roads freely," the sergeant pointed out, "and it's mudded it up entirely. There's no one can read a number of it."

I felt Janet's fingers clutch mine, and they were as cold as ice. It was not a moment which I myself forgot, less for its significance than for its effect upon my companion. The chauffeur, the police sergeant and I solemnly inspected the number plate, and the former, with a duster from his tool chest, carefully rubbed it clean.

"That will be all right now, Sergeant?" I enquired.

"That will be quite all right, sir," he admitted, taking off his helmet and wiping the perspiration from his forehead. "It's a warm day, this, for they bicycles."

It was my policy not to overdo the matter, and indeed it was not necessary, for the man's eyes glistened as I deposited a couple of half-crowns in his hand.

"I am sorry to have given you this trouble," I said. "We tourists are proverbially thoughtless about our number plates. I hope you will accept this and have a drink with me."

"We will that, sure, sir," the Sergeant promised, saluting first me and then Janet. "Come along, Jock," he added, "we'll pay a little visit to the Widow MacGill on the way back."

So we drove off again northwards. My chauffeur was an elderly man, who has faced all that the world may hold of evil with me many a time, but his driving for the first few miles was erratic. Janet, I could see, although outwardly she had recovered herself, was on the point of hysterics. I settled myself down in my corner, adjusted my horn-rimmed spectacles, and drew from the pocket of the car a new half-crown book on the principles of golf, written by a late beginner. So we travelled until we reached the inn where we stayed for the night, and late on the afternoon of the following day we arrived at our destination. There was just a bare white house, a lodge, the gate of which was held open by a great, rawboned gillie, miles of what seemed to be interminable moorland, and below, the sea. I looked around with satisfaction.

"You're Sandy Mac Lane, the caretaker here?" I asked, leaning out of the car.

He made a noise which sounded like "Oo ay!"

"Which way might the golf links be?" I enquired. He pointed with a long and hairy forefinger.

"The clubhouse is yonder," he vouchsafed; "a step across the road is the fifteenth tee."

I sighed with content.

"Come up to the house," I ordered. "After tea I shall play a few holes."

Norman Greyes

My friend Rimmington called to see me on the night of my return from Norway. He looked around with an air of dismay at my various travelling paraphernalia.

"So you're really off, then?" he remarked.

"On the contrary, I've just returned," I told him. "It was too late in the season to do any good, and I made a mistake in changing my river. The whole thing was a frost."

Rimmington sighed.

"Well, I'm glad to see you back," he declared, sinking into my easy-chair. "All the same, London in August isn't exactly a Paradise!"

"Tell me about Leeds?" I suggested. "To judge from the newspapers, you seem to be having a lot of trouble about a very simple case."

Rimmington frowned. He was silent for several moments, and, glancing across at him, I noticed that he was pale and apparently out of sorts.

"I think I'm stale," he confessed. "The Chief pretty well hinted the same thing, and worse, when I got back last night. I really dropped round to see whether you could help me."

"If I can, I will with pleasure," I promised him. "You know that."

"You read the bare account of the affair, of course," Rimmington went on. "Two fairly credible witnesses deposed to seeing a man in a grey flannel suit, with a Panama hat pushed over his eyes, drive up in a Ford, leave it outside Bailey's grocery stores, walk down the street and turn into the Boulevard where the bank is situated, exactly at the time that the robbery took place. Three women and two children saw him pass up the street two minutes later, and thirty seconds after that he crossed the street and entered Bailey's grocery stores. The clerk who served him with some marmalade, tea and bacon saw him climb up into the Ford and drive away. The man was known at the shop as Ralph Roberson.

There is no doubt that it was his car. Half an hour after the robbery, he was arrested at his house—he was cleaning the car at the time—and although he had changed his clothes, the light grey suit which he had recently worn was discovered in his bedroom, and the Panama hat, warm with perspiration, in a cupboard. His excuse for changing his clothes was that he put on older things in which to clean the car, and his account of his morning was that he had driven straight up to Bailey's Stores for some groceries, and straight back again. Two witnesses are ready to swear that they saw him get out of the Ford and go towards the bank; the grocer's clerk, who served him, is absolutely certain that he was in the shop within thirty seconds of the Ford pulling up outside, and that when he left he drove straight away."

"What sort of a man is this Roberson?" I asked.

"A man of bad character," was the prompt reply. "He was once a bookmaker, but failed. He has been in prison for obtaining goods by false pretences, and there are half-a-dozen summonses for debt out against him at the present moment. The only little money he earns, nowadays, seems to be by acting as a bookmaker's tout. He knew the neighbourhood well, and has once been heard to remark upon the isolated position of the bank. In every respect he is just the man to have done it, and yet there are all my witnesses swearing to different things. Furthermore, he had scarcely a shilling in his pocket, and he confessed that he was going to try and sell the car that afternoon to raise a little money."

"It seems to me," I admitted, "that you have been a little premature in framing your case against Mr. Ralph Roberson."

"So the magistrates thought," Rimmington rejoined drily. "We managed to get two remands. This morning he was discharged."

"If the grocer's assistant is telling the truth," I remarked thoughtfully, "Roberson could not possibly have committed the robbery. What sort of a young man is the assistant?"

"Highly respectable and very intelligent," Rimmington replied.

"It would be quite impossible at any time to shake his evidence."

"So much for Mr. Ralph Roberson," I said. "And now who else is there?"

"That's the difficulty," Rimmington confessed. "One doesn't know where to turn. The only other two people who were about the spot at the same moment were a man and his wife touring up to Scotland in a big Daimler car. They stopped to make some purchases at Bailey's Stores, but neither of them alighted."

"Any description of the man?" I asked.

"Yes, the grocer's assistant who went out to take the order remembers him. He describes him as a sporting-looking gentleman wearing a brown alpaca dust coat and a grey Homburg hat. Such a person could not possibly have left the car and walked down the street without notice."

"Any description of the woman?"

Rimmington shook his head.

"To tell you the truth," he confessed, "I didn't ask for one. There were guns and cartridge magazines and golf clubs on the i top of the car. The two were apparently motoring up to some place they had hired in Scotland."

On the face of it, there seemed no possible connection between these tourists and a local bank robbery. Yet the thought of them lingered obstinately in my mind. A man and a woman, a bank robbery, and the fact that I was supposed to be safe in Norway! I began to take' up the pieces of the puzzle once more, and fit them in accordance to my own devices.

"You seem to have done everything possible, Rimmington," I said at last, "but I think, as my Norway trip has fallen flat, I shall go up to Scotland for a fortnight. Would you like me to call over at Leeds and see if I can pick up anything?"

"Exactly what I hoped you would suggest," he confessed eagerly.

"I have brooded over the affair so long that I can think of nothing but the obvious side. The Chief will give you a letter to the Leeds people. Would you like me to come with you?"

I shook my head.

"Better not," I told him. "Better for me to go as a stranger."

That night I travelled down to Leeds.

There was nothing about the neighbourhood which differed materially from Rimmington's description. I paid a visit to the place at exactly the hour the robbery had been committed, walked from the grocery store to the bank, carefully timing myself, and made some trifling purchases inside the shop. The neighbourhood seemed to be thickly built over and populated in patches, but here and there were vacant lots. The land opposite the grocery stores was marked out for building, but operations as yet had not been begun. Later in the day, I tracked Roberson to ground in his favourite public house. Choosing my opportunity, I addressed him.

"Are you the man whom the police made such idiots of themselves about in this bank robbery?" I asked.

"What the hell's that to do with you?" he answered. His tone was truculent, but he obviously only needed humouring.

"Just this much," I replied. "I am a journalist representing one of the picture papers. It would be worth a fiver to you if you would let me do a sketch of you."

His manner changed at once.

"You don't want an interview?"

"Not likely," I assured him, commencing a rough sketch in a notebook which I had put into my pocket for that purpose. "I read the case myself. A fool could see that you had nothing to do with it."

He stopped drinking and looked at me curiously.

"If I were the police," I went on, "I should want to know a little more about the two tourists on their way to Scotland."

"Then you're as big a fool as the police," he retorted gruffly.

"They hadn't nothing to do with it. They were filling up with petrol and neither of them budged from the car."

I smiled in a superior way and went on sketching. He watched me with thinly veiled anxiety.

"Toffs they were," he went on, "on their way up for a bit of sport."

"Maybe," I commented. "They didn't seem in any hurry about it."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't see why they stayed at the Queen's two nights," I remarked.

"Who said they did?" he demanded. "They stayed one night, and grumbled at having to do that."

"How do you know?" I asked, looking up at him.

"I spoke to the chauffeur," he replied sullenly. "He told me my oil was leaking."

I changed the subject, finished my ridiculous sketch, and handed over the five pounds. That night I caught the mail train to Scotland.

It took me less than a week to discover the whereabouts of the man and the woman who I learned were passing under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Grover. On the morning after my arrival at the very remote corner of Scotland where they had taken up their temporary abode, I committed an indiscretion. I donned a knickerbocker suit and set out for a tramp over the moors. I had just clambered up to the top of a little ridge overlooking the sea, when I came face to face with a little party ascending it from the other side. The little party consisted of the person I had known chiefly as Mr. Stanfield, his wife, a villainous-looking gillie, and two dogs. It was a curious moment, full of the suggestions of tragedy, afterwards ridiculous in its conventionality. I saw the flash of the man's gun, and I saw the woman's hand restrain him, heard the single word whispered in his ear. I raised my cap, he followed suit. His gun hung idly under his arm. My hand was inside my breast pocket, clutching something hard.

"What an extraordinary meeting!" Janet exclaimed, with a faint smile. "So you sometimes take holiday also, Sir Norman?"

"Sometimes," I admitted. "I came home unexpectedly from Norway. I was disappointed in my fishing."

"Are you aweer that you're trespassing, mon?" the gillie demanded severely.

"I'm afraid I didn't know it," I replied. "There were no notices."

"It doesn't matter," Janet intervened. "We happen to be walking up a covey of birds this way."

"I put nothing up," I assured them.

"They lie verra close hereabouts," the gillie observed. "We'll take a little further sweep."

"How long are you staying in these parts, Sir Norman?" Stanfield enquired.

"About a week, if I like the golf," I answered.

"I've taken the Lodge down there," he pointed out. "Call and see us before you leave."

"Won't you come and dine with us to-night?" Janet invited, with a challenge in her eyes.

I hesitated. The invitation appealed to me in one way as much as it repelled me in another. Stanfield watched me as though he were reading my thoughts.

"You need not take salt," he said grimly.

"I shall be delighted," I assented. "About eight o'clock, I suppose?"

"Not 'about', I implore you," Janet answered earnestly. "Sandy shall catch you some trout this afternoon and they must be served to the second. Say a quarter to eight, please."

"I will be punctual," I promised.

I spent the afternoon wandering about the moor, inspecting the golf links and speaking on the telephone. Punctually at twenty minutes to eight I passed up the long, neglected drive and presented myself at the front door of the sombre-looking house. The summons of a harsh bell was answered almost immediately by an. immaculate butler. Janet, from the other end of the cool, white hall, came forward to meet me. Almost simultaneously the gong rang, and a few minutes later we sat down to dinner in a quaint, octagonal room, with a dome-shaped ceiling of rough oak. The dinner was excellently cooked and served by the manservant who had admitted me. The champagne was of an excellent brand, and my host, with a twinkle in his eyes; called my attention to the fact that it was opened in my presence. As soon as the last course was concluded, Janet led the way out on to the flagged terrace, where a table was already arranged with dessert and coffee. We sat in easy-chairs, gazing over a strip of moorland away to the sea. The sun was behind us now, and the air deliciously cool.

"You are a brave man, Sir Norman," my hostess said abruptly.

"Why?" I asked.

"You know—and you alone—that I once killed a man—although you don't altogether know why," she went on softly. "How do you know that I have not within me the makings of a modern Lucrezia—I have read quite a good deal about poisons—I may be said even to have studied the subject—and you have delivered yourself into my hands."

"Why should you poison me?" I argued. "I will do both you and your husband the credit to believe that you don't bear malice. Revenge is a senseless sentiment. As regards our last conflict, I probably prevented your drawing a matter of a hundred thousand pounds from the insurance company for the pretended loss of your necklace, but that was all in the day's work. I was paid to match my wits against yours, and I did it. There is no one particularly anxious to take proceedings against either of you for that little—error of judgment."

My host leaned forward in his chair. His face was solemn and brooding, his gaze was hard and intent.

"You have things against me dating from before that," he said. I nodded.

"But I am in the same position as Scotland Yard," I reminded him. "For those things I have no case. For those misdemeanours of which I suspect you in the past, I could at the present moment go only so far as to procure a warrant charging you with feloniously wounding a police inspector. For the rest, I suspect but I have no proof."

"You suspect what?" he asked.

I shook my head.

"There are limits to my candour," I protested mildly. "You must admit that I am not secretive or unduly aloof, inasmuch as I dine at your table, discuss your peccadilloes and pass on, like an ordinary guest. What I may suspect in the past I keep to myself. I am your enemy, and you know it. If it pays you to attempt to murder me, I imagine you will try."

"Janet would desert me if I did," he declared, with a grim smile.

"She finds these little conferences with you so inspiring."

She looked at me with that wonderful smile of hers. She was a little way behind a pillar and her face was hidden from her husband.

"I do not like to hear you say that we are enemies," she murmured. "I would rather think that we are like the soldiers who fight in two opposing armies. We fight because it is our duty. So we are enemies because it is our duty. Even that does not interfere with personal feelings."

"That is true," I admitted carelessly. "I could never absolutely dislike a man who played such good golf as your husband."

"And what about me?" she demanded, with some simulated show of peevishness.

"You drive me to be obvious," I replied. "No one could possibly dislike a person who contributed to the beauty of the world."

She laughed softly.

"Why, you are a courtier, Sir Norman," she declared. "Your compliments and the perfume of those roses and the flavour of the Benedictine are getting into my head. I begin to picture you as the serpent who has crawled into this Utopian Paradise."

"Talking about golf," her husband intervened in a harsh tone, "what about a game, Sir Norman—Will you play me to-morrow morning?"

"With pleasure," I assented.

"At ten o'clock?"

"I will be in the clubhouse," I promised him.

"We go to bed up here," he remarked, "practically with the sun."

I rose to my feet. The hint was unmistakable. I took my leave, and as I walked down the drive, with the yellow moon shining through the sparse trees, I felt the ghosts of tragedy gathering. At five minutes to ten on the following morning, I watched Mr. James Stanfield push open his private gate leading on to the links, and stroll across towards the clubhouse. I waved my hand and stepped back into the locker room. Three or four men in tweeds and golfing outfit were waiting there. In five minutes my prospective opponent entered. In five seconds the handcuffs were upon his wrist and one of the three apparent golfers had the matter in hand.

"You are charged," he said, "with feloniously wounding William Harmell, manager, and John Stokes, clerk, of Brown's Bank in the Menwood Road, Leeds, and with stealing from the premises the sum of seven thousand pounds. I should recommend you to come with us quietly and to reserve for the present anything you may have to say."

Looking at him as he stood leaning a little against his own locker, I could have sworn that there was no manner of change in the face or expression of my enemy. He ignored the others and looked across at me.

"This is your doing?" he asked.

"Altogether," I admitted.

"You knew it—last night?"

"It was you who reminded me that I need not take salt," I replied.

He nodded.

"The trick is to you," he confessed. "I am ready, gentlemen."

He walked quietly out to a waiting motor car, with a burly policeman on either side of him, and a very important man from Scotland Yard in the party. Rimmington and I were left behind and presently we essayed a round of golf. All the time my eyes kept straying towards the Lodge. No sign, however, came from there.

"I still," Rimmington remarked, as he waited for a few minutes on the tenth tee, "don't quite understand how you tumbled to this affair so quickly."

"It was quite easy when you once admit the possibility of the occupants of the Daimler car being concerned," I replied. "Of course, Roberson was in it up to the eyes. It was Stanfield who drove up in Roberson's Ford and went direct to the bank. The Daimler car was already there, containing Janet Stanfield and Roberson, wearing a grey Homburg hat and a linen duster. The chauffeur brought into the store a small order which the grocer's assistant packed and took out. The chauffeur was taking advantage of the delay to fill up with petrol. The moment Stanfield descended from the Ford and made his way to the bank, Roberson slipped off his linen duster, produced a Panama hat which he pulled over his eyes, and made his purchases in the shop. He came out just as Stanfield reappeared and drove the Ford away. Stanfield just stepped into the Daimler, put on his linen duster and grey Homburg hat, and off they started. The idea was to contuse, and at first it succeeded. The whole affair was ingenious, from the selection of that particular bank, which is wickedly isolated, to the exact location of the Daimler car, which made any one on the off side almost invisible."

"It's pretty generous of you to let me take the credit of this," Rimmington remarked.

"If Stanfield turns out to be Pugsley, and Pugsley the man I believe him to be," I said, "I shall need no other reward than the joy of having brought him to book."

"Do you believe him to be Michael Sayers?" Rimmington asked.

"I am absolutely certain of it," I answered.

We completed our round, lunched and played again. There came no sign from the Lodge. Somehow or other, the silence seemed to me ominous. Towards evening I began to get uneasy. Just as we were sitting down to dinner, I was fetched to the telephone.

"Inspector McCall speaking," the voice I heard declared. "Are you Sir Norman Greyes?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Have you heard the news?"

"I have heard no particular news since early this morning," I replied.

"Stanfield escaped eleven miles from here," the inspector declared gloomily.

"Escaped? Ridiculous!" I exclaimed.

"He did it, anyhow. He shot both his guards with an automatic pistol fixed in the sole of one foot and worked with the toe of the other. Mr. Gorman from Scotland Yard is seriously wounded, and one of the others is shot in the leg. Stanfield then threatened the driver until he released him from the handcuffs and took him to within a mile of a railway station. There he tied the man up, drove the car on himself and disappeared. So far we have no news."

I could make no intelligible reply. I muttered something to the effect that Rimmington and I would come on to the police station the first thing in the morning. Then I walked outside, a little giddy, sick at heart, furious with myself and Fate. I stood looking towards the Lodge until at last I yielded to an irresistible impulse. I hastened across the few yards of heather-grown common, crossed the road, made my way up the straggling avenue and rang the great front-door bell. There was a suggestion of emptiness about its rankling echoes, no sound of any one moving or stirring within. I was inclined to laugh at myself for my pains. I was indeed on the point of turning away when the great door swung silently open. Janet stood there, looking out at me.

I freely admit that I lost my nerve. I lost my poise, and with it all the gifts which enable a man to face an exceptional situation. For this woman showed no signs of any mental disturbance. I had never seen her look more beautiful. She wore a loose white gown, open at the throat and tied with a girdle at the waist. Her hair shone like burnished copper, her eyes were almost fiercely yet softly bright. She moved away from the door.

"Come in," she invited. "I have been expecting you."

Our footsteps awakened strange echoes in the hall. She led the way into the sitting room which opened on to the terrace, and sank back on to the divan, where apparently she had been resting.

"Judas!" she murmured.

"You know, then?" I demanded harshly.

"Everything—even the last little episode. What fools you policemen are!"

"He isn't safe yet," I muttered.

She laughed mockingly.

"I worry no more about him," she declared. "It is not an equal struggle. I worry only about myself."

"Alone—here!" I echoed, dimly conscious of the fact that I had been aware of it all the time.

She nodded.

"Harding, our butler-chauffeur and confederate, has taken the car?where you can guess. Our gillie broke his leg this morning and has gone to hospital. I am not afraid of burglars but I am terrified of mice, and the place is overrun with them. Also, I simply loathe the idea of having to get up and make my own coffee in the morning."

I rose to my feet.

"There are empty rooms at the Dormy House," I told her, "where you could obtain service and be made quite comfortable. I am going back now. Shall I bespeak one for you?"

"You would really have me there," she asked curiously, "under the same roof as your august and respectable self?"

"Why not?"

"The wife of a famous criminal," she reminded me, "the wife of the man whom you have betrayed! You and I share a secret, too, don't we? Would you vouch for my—respectability?"

I moved a step towards her. Her eyes were filled with a mingled light, a light of allurement and cruelty. Her lips were moist and quivering—was it with anger? A long, bare arm was withdrawn from behind her head. Then a voice fell upon the throbbing silence like a douche of cold water.

"Hands up—like lightning!"

I obeyed. I recognized the voice of the man in Harding's livery. It was Stanfield who had crept in upon us, unheard.

"A mixture of Lothario and Inspector Bucket!" he mocked.

"Any prayers to say?"

"If you are going to shoot, let's have it over quickly," I answered.

The woman slipped from the divan and stood between us.

"Don't be absurd," she said to the newcomer. "We couldn't afford to part with Sir Norman. Life would be too dull without him. Put him on parole. He is perfectly trustworthy."

Stanfield lowered his pistol.

"You are right," he admitted. "Take your choice, Greyes— twelve hours' silence or Eternity."

"I will be silent for twelve hours," I promised. He pointed to the door.

"I cannot have the last few hours I may ever spend with my wife, disturbed," he said. "Kindly leave us."

I went without a backward glance. I opened and closed the front door and walked down the straight avenue. In the woods beyond, the owls were hooting. Bats flew through the twilight before me, and a quarter of the yellow moon showed behind the hills. I realised all these things dimly. There was a mist before my eyes, a cloud befogging my brain. For those few moments, Stanfield's escape, the steadiness of his automatic pointed directly at my heart, were vague memories only. I was angry and humiliated, I was filled with a man's hatred of his own weakness.

Rimmington was sitting in the porch, smoking, when I got back. He moved his head towards the Lodge. It was obvious from his dejection that he too had heard from McCall.

"What do you think about taking a look around there?" he suggested.

I think that, if anything, I went beyond the obligations of my parole.

"Quite useless," I replied tersely. "Let's have a game of billiards and try and forget the damned business."



IV.—THE HONOUR OF MONSIEUR LUTARDE

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Mar 1922

Michael

It was perhaps the greatest surprise of my life when the trim, benevolent-looking gentleman with the red ribbon in his buttonhole, who was sharing my seat in the Jardins des Invalides, suddenly addressed me by name. For over a year—ever since, in fact, my escape from the English police in Scotland—I had been engaged in the strenuous task of founding and cultivating a new identity. My name was Mr. John D. Harmon. I was a retired drygoods dealer from Providence, U.S.A., and I spent most of my time at the Grand Hotel, talking with compatriots and playing dominoes and billiards. A trip across the ocean, a few days spent in Providence, and a general knowledge of the structure of American life had been all the actual training necessary. I had a circle of friends willing to vouch for me, whom I could have increased almost ad lib; a dossier accepted and pigeonholed by the police; a general appearance which, thanks to my manner of dressing, my horn-rimmed eyeglasses, my short beard and moustache, would have left me unrecognised even under the scrutiny of the great Sir Norman Greyes himself. I had not even heard the sound of one of those names under which I had passed in England for many months. It came upon me, therefore, as a thunderclap when my companion, to all appearance a person of the upper and official classes, whom I had noticed many mornings when strolling in the gardens, deliberately went behind the many aliases of which I had made use at different times and addressed me by my baptismal name.

"A little chilly for April, is it not, Monsieur Michael Sayers? Yet the spring marches well. You perceive that the chestnut buds are already waxy."

I turned a little towards him, my right hand stealing towards my pocket. He bore my scrutiny without flinching.

"By what name did you address me, Monsieur?" I asked.

"By your own," was the courteous reply. "You have borne many others, have you not, Monsieur, yet between us the real one is perhaps best."

He was of the French police, I decided, and my hand stole a little deeper into my pocket. My mind began to contemplate the chances of successful escape. There were not many people about, and the nearest Metropolitan station was close at hand.

"Permit me to offer you my card," my companion proceeded, drawing an elegant case from his pocket and handing me a thin strip of ivory pasteboard. I read it carefully. My eyes, however, were watching for any movement on his part:

Monsieur Gaston Lefèvre
Agent de Compagnie d'Assurances
13 Rue Scribe

"That, Monsieur," my companion confessed, "is not my name."

"Indeed?" I muttered.

"It is an identity," he continued, "which I have fixed upon the little world in which I spend the greater part of my time, a name under which I have earned a certain reputation, a certain social standing. But it is not my own. I was christened Paul and my surname is Gont."

"Paul Gont?" I repeated incredulously.

"I am indeed he, Monsieur," was the convincing reply. My fingers once more gripped the butt of the weapon from which they had been momentarily withdrawn.

"It was reported," I said, watching him steadily, "that Paul Gont had joined the secret police of France."

A flicker of annoyance passed across my companion's face. His expression was no longer so beneficent.

"If that were true, Monsieur," he rejoined, "I should by now have become their chief. I address you, believe me, as one master craftsman to another."

"Why do you imagine that my name is Michael Sayers?" I asked cautiously.

He smiled.

"I take a keen interest," he confided, "in the exploits of my—shall I say fellow adventurers?—in other countries. I read with much amusement—not unmingled, believe me, sir, with admiration, of your escape from the police in Scotland, and the arrival of Mr. John D. Harmon from Providence here shortly afterwards also interested me. There is little that goes on in Paris of which I do not hear."

"You have your own secret police?"

"Certainly, Monsieur," he assented, "but they work for me and not for the law."

He lit a cigarette from a handsome gold case which he passed courteously on to me. With his hands upon the carved top of his Malacca cane, he gazed benignly around.

"It is indeed a spring morning," he declared. "There is a perfume of lilac in the air. Even the hard faces of the flower sellers are softened by the sunshine. And you observe the little nurse girl over there, my friend, how wistfully she looks around, and how coquettish the little ribbon at her throat? Even we elders—"

"I should be glad to know," I interrupted, "why you addressed me as Michael Sayers?"

"It was a risk, I imagine," my companion admitted. "You are reputed to be a man who shoots from his pocket with great skill. However, remind yourself that I have trusted you with a secret at least as amazing as your own."

My hand came out from my pocket. The man indeed spoke truthfully. The name of Paul Gont was even better known in the history of crime than the name of Michael Sayers.

"You had some reason for making yourself known to me?" I queried.

He bowed.

"Apart from the pleasure of meeting so distinguished a confrere," he said, "there is a scheme in which I am at present interested, in which it might amuse you to take part. You are probably a little wearied by the idleness which must go with the building up of a new identity."

"Let me hear about it," I begged.

My companion brushed the ash from his trouser leg and rose to his feet.

"Let us walk to my office," he suggested. "We will see whether any fresh business has come in. Afterwards, we will, if you choose, lunch together at some discreet place. How the police of the world would tremble if they saw our heads together over a bottle of wine!"

I could not altogether discard my suspicions, for it seemed incredible that this man was really the daring criminal whom the police of three countries had sought for many years in vain. Nothing in the least disturbing happened, however. We visited a reputable and quietly handsome suite of offices in the Rue Scribe, where my companion conversed for several minutes on various matters of business with his clerks, gave some general instructions and signed his letters. Afterwards we walked across to the Place Gaillon, where my host selected a lunch with the skill of the born gourmet. He refused to allow me an aperitif but ordered the choicest of wine. In the course of our meal he asked me a most surprising question.

"Do you hear frequently from your friend, Sir Norman Greyes?"

"If I heard from him at all," I replied, "I imagine that the situation would be, to say the least of it, precarious. What do you know about him?"

My companion smiled.

"I had a little affair of the same nature," he confided, "with the sub-Chief of the Police here. Francois Dumesnil, his name was."

"And where is he now?" I asked.

"He disappeared," was the considered reply. "A great many people disappear in Paris. It was a battle of wits between us, and I was almost sorry when the end came. Self-preservation, however, makes strenuous demands upon one sometimes."

"Concerning Norman Greyes?" I persisted.

"Forgive me, I wandered a little from the point. I mentioned Norman Greyes' name because he is in Paris."

"In Paris?" I exclaimed.

"He arrived by the Calais train last evening. I fancy that later on in the day he may probably stroll into the American Bar at the Grand Hotel."

The news was in its way terrible, yet I could think of no broken link in the chain of incidents connecting my new life. If Norman Greyes were indeed upon my track, he was possessed of gifts for which I had never given him credit. Either that, or there had been treachery in the one direction where I knew no treachery was possible.

"I take it," I said slowly, "your suggestion is that Norman Greyes has discovered my whereabouts?"

"I will be perfectly frank," was my companion's prompt avowal. "I do not know that. I am as anxious to discover the truth as you are. There is a distinct possibility that Norman Greyes has come over here in connection with another affair in which I am indirectly interested. If that should be so, his coming may be, so far as you are concerned, only a coincidence. I have a proposition to make to you. Take a taxicab and drive out to Versailles for the afternoon. On your way back, stop at the Taverne Bertain, near the Armenonville. I will meet you there at seven o'clock. By that time I shall know. I propose a perfectly fair bargain to you. If he is here on your business, I will assist you to escape. If he is interested in the other httle matter I spoke of, I shall claim your help."

"It is a bargain," I promised.

"So to our chicken," my companion murmured, eyeing with approval the dish which had been extended towards him.

It was about half-past five that afternoon when I dismissed my taxi and seated myself at one of the small tables under the trees outside the Taverne Bertain. The chairs were set far enough back to avoid the dust, but commanded a pleasant view of the constant stream of passing vehicles. I ordered a glass of tea with a slice of lemon, a packet of Caporal cigarettes, and settled down to one of my favourite tasks—watching my fellow creatures. Every variety of the human race was in evidence, riding in every description of carriage: the sublimely insolent Parisian beauty with her cavalier of the moment, she the last word in elegance and perfumes, he almost apish in his sartorial vanity; the shopkeeper and his family; the prosperous merchant with his richly dressed wife; the man of serious affairs, generally with a comely companion. So they passed on, their momentary quest of fresh air an obvious hiatus in the greater and more strenuous pursuit of what for them meant life. A rabble, I told myself a little contemptuously. Not one of them had realised the supreme joy of existence.

It was as though Fate had suddenly decided to deal my philosophy a mortal blow. The thing which I should have deemed impossible was there before me. In a handsome limousine car, travelling slowly in the trail of other vehicles, appeared my enemy, Norman Greyes—and by his side Janet. He wore a light grey suit and a Homburg hat; his long, lean face seemed as sombre as ever. Janet was talking whilst he listened—talking of something, it seemed, more important than the idle flotsam of the moment. The car passed on. I remained seated in my chair. I do not think that I had turned a hair, yet an icy hand seemed to be gripping my heart. I had a moment's wild and savage desire to throw my glass at a thrush hopping contentedly around me.

A quietly appointed electric brougham turned in at the entrance to the cafe, and the man who had introduced himself to me as Gaston Lefèvre, descended. He was looking very spick and span, dressed with the utmost care and apparently fresh from the barber's. He approached and seated himself at my side.

"You have self-control, my friend," he observed, "but perhaps you did not believe your eyes."

"My eyes are the only things in this world which I do absolutely trust," I answered coldly.

My companion stroked his grey imperial.

"I will drink absinthe to-day, Francois," he told the bowing waiter. "See that it is made as I like it. Come, my friend," he added, "throw away your wishy-washy tea and join me."

I shook my head.

"Alcohol is not one of the necessities of life with me," I said.

"It stimulates some, I suppose. It merely depresses me. Tell me what you know about the coming of this man Greyes?"

"In the first place, then," Lefèvre announced pleasantly, as he helped himself to one of my Caporals and lit it, "let me reassure you. Greyes is not in Paris on your account."

"And his companion?"

"For the moment I am puzzled," was the frank confession. "I can tell you this, however. Your wife was sent for according to my instructions. I know very little about her, it is true, but I have agents in London who keep me well informed as to what goes on, on your side of the Channel, and, from certain things I have heard, I came to the conclusion that she was the one person who could bring to a successful issue the little affair which I shall presently propose to you."

"You seem to be taking things rather for granted," I reminded him.

"Your co-operation is a certainty," he replied, with a smile.

"There will be half a million francs for you, and you must be getting short of money. Furthermore, by a very pleasing coincidence, the brains of the other side are controlled by your ancient enemy."

"The scheme is already commended to me," I admitted. "Nevertheless, expound it."

My companion glanced around as though to drink in the pleasant spring air and to bask in the warm sunshine. He drew a little sigh of content. All the tables around us were empty.

"I will tell you a curious story," he proposed.

Norman Greyes

I celebrated my return to England and civilization by a stroll down Bond Street on the morning after my arrival. A light but gusty wind was blowing, fleecy fragments of white clouds were being driven across the blue sky. The occasional sunshine was deliriously warm, the air was full of perfume from the florists' shops and from the flower-sellers' baskets at the corners of the streets. After two years' absence, it was like a new city to me. I met a few acquaintances and exchanged greetings with a couple of friends. Then, at the corner of Conduit Street, I came face to face with Janet Stanfield.

We stopped as though by common consent, and the civilization by which we were surrounded seemed to fall away. The last time I had thought of her was when I had lain on the edge of a windy precipice in northwestern India, fastened by my belt to the roots of a stunted shrub for safety, with a camp fire blowing strange and lurid lights into the black gulf below, and my little corps of guides in their picturesque costume murmuring low chants after their last evening meal. In that eternal silence, the woman's inscrutable face, her cold yet seeking eyes, the constant invitation of her reluctant lips had held and filled my thoughts. Sleep had come only with the pink dawn, and a troubled sleep at that. Now I was face to face with her, unchanged, with the same riddle in her eyes and smiling lips.

"Welcome home, Sir Norman Greyes," she said.

"Thank you," I replied. "I only arrived last night."

She looked at me critically.

"A most becoming shade of brown," she commented. "And you are thinner, too. Have you been going through hardships?"

"None but those I have sought," I asured her. "I was in Mesopotamia for eight months, and in India most of the rest of the time."

"Big-game shooting, the papers said," she continued. "Tell me, my enemy, was it as interesting as man-hunting?"

"Each has its thrill," I replied, "but you must remember that I long ago ceased to be a professional hunter of men."

She smiled.

"So that is why you have let my husband alone?"

"It was not my affair to search for him. That was a matter for the authorities. If my help is sought in solving the mystery of a crime, I am generally prepared to do my best. Otherwise, I do not interfere. You have news of him?"

She laughed bitterly.

"Since he left the Lodge that night," she replied, "and you kicked your heels over at the Dormy House because of your parole, I have neither seen nor heard of him."

"Do you mean that?"

She nodded.

"Scotland Yard," she declared, "has not imagination enough to juggle with facts, but as regards detail its myrmidons are wonderful. I think that I was watched every day up to the end of at least the first year. Wherever my husband may be, he will not approach me until it is safe."

"And when it is safe?" I ventured.

"I shall go to him, I suppose," she answered.

I suddenly realised with a little shock that she was plainly, almost shabbily dressed. The undefinable elegance of her still remained, she was still distinct from all other women, but she owed nothing to her clothes. She read my thoughts in most disturbing fashion...

"A terrible neighbourhood, this, to frequent in one's last year's garments," she observed, smiling. "I was just thinking that I should like a black and white check tailored suit. Would you like to buy me one, Sir Norman—You really ought to, you know. We made terribly little out of that Menwood Street Bank affair, owing to your flash of inspiration."

"I admit the liability," I replied. "Which establishment shall we patronise?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"At heart I believe that I am an honest woman," she sighed.

"I cannot bear the thought of your paying out notes for the adornment of my person. You shall give me lunch instead. For all that you know, I may be as short of food as I am of clothes. I am certainly very hungry."

We turned towards Regent Street and lunched in a restaurant of bygone fame, half bourgeois, half Bohemian. She would tell me nothing of her manner of life or of her abode, yet somehow or other I fancied, reading between the lines, that life had become something of a struggle for her. She asked me deliberately for my address, but refused me hers. She angled for another invitation, but shook her head when I proffered it. If ever she had been in earnest in her life, she was in earnest when we said good-bye.

"These meetings with you," she declared, "stimulate me more than I can tell you, but they leave something behind which I cannot define. I do not think that I will dine with you, Sir Norman—not just yet, at any rate."

She glanced at her watch and hurried off. I had an idea that she was returning to some daily task. I called at my club, talked for an hour or two with some friends, and in due course made my way back to my rooms. I was restless and ridiculously disturbed. It was the most accursed stroke of ill luck that I should have met with this woman on the very day after my return. Fortunately, distraction awaited me.

"Mr. Rimmington has been waiting for you for some time, sir," my servant announced. "He is in the sitting room with another gentleman."

My friend rose eagerly to welcome me as I entered. I shook hands with his companion, who was known to me slightly.

"The Chief asked me to bring Lord Hampden to you," Rimmington explained. "He came this morning to ask for our help in an affair which is rather outside our province. The Chief thought that you might be of assistance."

"Let me hear about it," I begged.

My distinguished visitor plunged at once into the matter.

"The story is simple enough, Sir Norman," he said, "but serious. You are in touch with French politics?"

"Scarcely," I answered. "I have been in India for the last eighteen months and only arrived in London last night."

"French politics to-day," Lord Hampden explained, "hinge chiefly upon the question of France's attitude towards Germany. There is a party—the patriotic and military party—fiercely determined to make Germany pay to the uttermost farthing, and to squeeze the last drop of blood out of her by force of arms. The opposing party is all for compromises, encouragement of German trade, and even for a rapprochement with Germany. You know, of course, who is the leader of the patriotic party?"

"Lutarde, I should imagine."

"Philippe Lutarde," my visitor assented. "He is hated by the pro-German party, as I will call them, first because of his bitter enmity towards Germany, secondly because of his devotion to England, and thirdly because of his unfaltering rectitude. An attempt was made upon his life not long ago, and the French police have been instructed to watch him night and day. Lately, however, there has been more uneasiness than ever amongst the patriotic party. It is, I fear, true that the Chief of the Police is of the pro-German party, and there is, without doubt, a plot brewing at the present moment against Lutarde. It has been suggested to us that a thoroughly capable secret service man from this side might be of assistance in unravelling it. You follow me, I hope, Sir Norman?"

"I think so," I admitted, "but what is the nature of the plot?"

"One can only surmise," Lord Hampden replied. "We do not believe, however, that it is assassination. That would only make a martyr of Lutarde and sanctify his cause. We want you to go over to Paris and consult with a person whose name I will give you. You will be backed in any steps you may think well to take, by unquestionable authority. It will be a difficult commission and in a sense a vague one, but I may say that, in the event of your achieving any success, the Government would consider itself under the deepest debt of gratitude to you."

"I will do what I can, of course," I promised. "When do I start?"

"We should like you to catch the eleven o'clock train to-morrow morning," the Cabinet Minister suggested, rising to his feet. "If you will dine with me at eight o'clock to-night in Carlton Terrace, I will furnish you with every other detail."

So on the following morning, in less than forty-eight hours after my return to England, I found myself going through the ordinary routine of the continental traveller, registering my luggage, arranging my smaller belongings in the seat which had been reserved for me, and strolling back to the bookstall for a few final purchases. There I came face to face with Janet Stanfield, engaged upon the same task. She was studying a ladies' journal and looked up at the sound of my voice. For the moment her indifference deserted her. She was frankly amazed.

"You?" she exclaimed. "Where are you going?"

"To Paris," I answered. "And you?"

"We are fellow travellers," she said slowly. "Why did you not tell me yesterday?"

"In an armed truce," I pointed out, "the combatants do not usually disclose their future plans."

She turned a little pale.

"So we are in the lists again," she murmured.

"I thought you enjoyed the struggle," I reminded her.

"I am a little tired," she admitted.

I performed several small offices for her on the journey, for which I could see that she was thankful. At Calais she had no reserved seat in the crowded train. I did my best to procure one for her, but in vain. I had no choice but to offer her a place in my reserved compartment. She was looking very fragile and tired as she accepted my offer with a grateful smile and sank into a vacant seat.

"You are a wonderful enemy," she confessed. "I am losing all my hatred of you. I will be franker with you than you have been with me, and tell you that when we met yesterday I had no idea of this journey. I am not used to travelling and I hate the sea."

She curled up as gracefully as a cat and went fast asleep. When she opened her eyes, the people were streaming down the corridor in answer to the call for the first dinner.

"Have you eaten anything to-day?" I enquired.

"Nothing, and I am ravenous," she admitted frankly. I committed the atrocity of dining at half-past five. Afterwards, she once more took a corner seat in my compartment and lit a cigarette. She was a good deal more like her old self.

"Has your husband sent for you?" I asked bluntly.

"The parole has expired," she reminded me.

I nodded.

"Listen," I continued, "I am not out to do the work of Scotland Yard. I do not know where your husband may be hiding. My journey to Paris has nothing to do with him or his affairs. Yet you must understand this. If chance at any time should put me apon his track, I should follow it up and hand him over to justice. Nothing," I added, looking her steadily in the eyes, "could alter my determination so far as that is concerned."

This time she did not take up the challenge. She only sighed and looked out of the window.

"You are very hard," she murmured.

"I have been a servant of the law," I reminded her, "and I belong to those who choose to abide by the law."

"Why," she asked, "have you never denounced me as the murderess of that man at Woking?"

"Because there has never been a tittle of evidence against you," I replied. "There are any quantity of known criminals walking about to-day, in the same position."

"Supposing there were evidence and it came into your hands?" she persisted.

I hesitated, and my hesitation seemed to count to her as a triumph.

"I cannot assume a situation that has not arisen," I told her stiffly.

I saw her luggage through the Customs, for which, as she knew no French, she was grateful. I offered her a seat in the car which had been sent for me, but she shook her head.

"I am going to the Gare de l'Est," she said.

"Where you will take a fresh cab and drive to the address which you do not intend me to hear," I remarked. "You need not go out of your way. I will give you another parole. I will make no effort to discover your address, so you can take your taxi and drive straight there. I shall be at the Hotel Meurice. If you have an hour to spare, we will drive in the Bois to-morrow."

For the next few days I was fully immersed in the complications of the business which had brought me to Paris. Rather to my surprise, Janet called to see me at the hotel and we took our drive in the Bois. It was easy to realise that, whatever the business which had brought her to Paris may have been, it was of a disturbing nature. She was nervous and ill at ease, looking around all the time as though she were afraid of being observed.

There was a certain hardness, too, which seemed to have returned to her. Somehow, I gathered when we parted that she was obsessed by some new fear, some underlying dread of circumstances of which, however, she gave me no inkling. It was only after she had gone and I found myself thinking over our rather disjointed conversation, that I came to a certain conclusion. I decided that she had received definite and disquieting news of her husband. I could scarcely believe that he was in Paris. Rimmington had assured me that he had been located in Central America, and after all, I decided, the affair was no concern of mine. Some day or other would come the reckoning between this man and myself. I frankly confess that I had not the ghost of an idea that such a day might dawn within the next few hours.

At the end of the third day of my stay, a little conference was held in my salon between Guy Ennison, who had worked in the English Secret Service during the war, and whose headquarters had been in Paris; myself, and Monsieur Destin, an ex-Chief of the Police, now a member of Lutarde's Government. The latter was a short and corpulent little Frenchman, with black moustache and imperial, vivid black eyes, and a most vivacious manner. He spoke English with a marked accent but with great fluency. He opened our conference with a few words of plain speaking.

"Sir Norman Greyes," he said, grasping my hand, "you are welcome. If you can help us to save our Chief, you are more than welcome. He is in danger—of that I am assured."

Much of the rest of his speech was irrelevant. The gist of the matter, however, was contained in his concluding sentences.

"They will seek to strike through his one weakness—his sentimentality, his too great good nature. Philippe Lutarde has always been a lover of women, a kindly and a generous lover. He can resist no appeal to his sympathies, and our French public— you know, perhaps, how strange they are. Whatever our own private lives may be, we tolerate not even indiscretions from our great men. We glorify and sanctify them, we place them on a pedestal, and if they fall we depose them from our hearts. All nations have their peculiar form of hypocrisy. That is ours. Lutarde's daily life is being examined at the present moment, hour by hour."

"By the police?" I asked.

"No! By the agents of a very dangerous gang of criminals, whose chief we believe to be in league with the other side."

"Why not give warning to Monsieur Lutarde?"

"That has been done. He is haughty and impetuous. He will brook no interference with his actions."

"Is his life above reproach?" I asked bluntly.

"Absolutely," was the confident reply. "He is seventy years of age and a philosopher. He has too much natural dignity to attempt that side of life for which his age renders him unsuitable. At the same time, he is full of sentiment. He likes to dally with the finer emotions. He would inhale the perfume of the roses from his neighbour's garden, but he would never seek to pluck the blossoms."

"Can I meet him?" I suggested.

"To-day at the British Embassy," Guy Ennison replied. "We have arranged a little luncheon. He does not know your errand, and he scarcely even realises our anxiety."

Our conference broke up soon afterwards. At luncheon I found Philippe Lutarde gracious, charming and brilliant. He had the clear skin and bright eyes of a younger man, his snowwhite hair was a veritable adornment. His sense of humour was abundant and his laughter infectious. He was a delightful companion, and I easily understood the enthusiastic adherence of his friends. Towards the close of luncheon, Ennison spoke to him quite seriously of the existence of some conspiracy against either his life or his honour. Lutarde only smiled.

"My friend," he said, "I much appreciate all your efforts on my behalf, but behold, I am seventy years old! A few years more or less of life now are" little. As to my honour, that no enemy can besmirch. If I were to surround myself by guards, as you suggest, place myself in a glass house, I should live an artificial life. I know that without me things might for a time be difficult, and relations between our two countries might suffer. In a month or two, however, all that will be changed—we shall have entered upon a new era—and for these few months I choose to take my risk. I will not submit to espionage."

"You are subject to it at present from the other side," Ennison reminded him gently.

"If I find a man attempting it," was the fierce reply, "I will shoot him."

Nevertheless, for the next three days I cast away my name and I resorted to the meaner walks of my profession. I shadowed the great French statesman from the moment when he rose until nightfall. I accompanied him, unseen, on those midnight walks against which his friends had protested so forcibly. I watched him give alms freely, speak kindly words to the distressed, and I watched other things a little more tensely, understanding what lay behind them. There was a young girl, very beautiful, with great dark eyes and an appealing face, who stopped him one night with some pitiful story. She was limping, and she pointed continually to her foot. Lutarde called the fiacre which she indicated. She leaned her fingers upon his arm. I was close enough to see the pressure of them, to note the subtlety of her upward glances. He handed her to the cab. I heard her pleading words. She was so lonely. If Monsieur would drive with her a little way! But Lutarde shook his head gravely. He paid the taxicab man a fare which surprised him, lifted his hat courteously and walked away. I saw the change in the girl's face as he disappeared. That was just one of his escapes. We had a more exciting few minutes one night when he insisted upon walking home from the Quai d'Orsay. I saw the four dark, silent figures gliding together, two of them in front of him and two behind, and I saw the waiting motor car at the corner of the street. Prudence led me to anticipate their action, whatever it might be. When they heard the spit of bullets against the wall, they took to their heels and ran.

To the gendarme who came hurrying up, I had only to show my little badge of authority and he procured for us at once a taxicab. Lutarde, convinced now that his enemies were in earnest, yielded to my first proposition. I was installed in his house as major-domo.

We had three or four days of absolute quietude. Then the moment which we had been expecting arrived. It was about six o'clock in the evening, and I was seated in Monsieur Lutarde's study, copying some letters at a desk and posing as his secretary. A servant brought in a note, which the Minister read hastily and passed to me. It was written on British Foreign Office note paper and signed by a very important personage. The gist of it was contained in these lines:

The bearer can be altogether trusted. He brings you a verbal message of great importance. You will further our mutual interests if you give it your most serious consideration.

"This, at any rate, is genuine," Monsieur Lutarde observed.

"It would appear so," I admitted.

"You can show the bearer in," the Minister ordered, addressing his servant.

It was a mere chance which led me to retire to what Lutarde was pleased to call my spy hole. Notwithstanding my disguise, it was perhaps as well that I did so, for, to my amazement, it was Janet who was presently ushered in. Monsieur Lutarde rose to his feet in some surprise.

"You are the bearer of this letter, Madame?" he queried, touching it with his forefinger.

"In a sense I am not," she replied, taking the chair to which he pointed and leaning a little over his desk. "It is my husband who should have come. He would have waited upon you and brought the letter and message to which this note refers, but he was attacked last night by an old complaint of his—sciatica—and he is absolutely unable to move. He asked me to hasten to you, and to beg that under the circumstances you would do him the honour to come to the hotel. He is ashamed to have to ask you, but the doctor who is with him now absolutely forbids him to stand up. I have here his certificate."

"I will come without delay, Madame," Lutarde promised, waving away the half-sheet of note paper which she had tendered.

"I came in a taxicab—it is waiting," she continued. "You doubtless would prefer your own car?"

"It is no matter," he answered. "At which hotel do you stay?"

"The Hotel Napoleon in the Rue Tranchard," she replied.

The Minister started. I, too, received a shock, for the district was the most notorious in Paris.

"My dear Madame," he protested, "the neighbourhood of the Rue Tranchard is certainly not a fit place for you and—"

"That is what distressed my husband so much in having to ask you to go to him," she interrupted. "It was the particular desire of the person on whose behalf he has come that his presence in Paris should not be known, and my husband deliberately chose this hotel, where he sometimes stayed when engaged in secret service work during the War. He desired me to say that, if you preferred not to risk being seen in such a locality, he would endeavour to procure an ambulance car from the hospital and come here."

"Such a thing would be unheard of," Lutarde protested. "I will come with you, of course."

He touched the bell.

"Show this lady back into the taxicab which is waiting," he instructed the servant. "Afterwards, fetch my coat and hat at once."

Janet passed quite close to me on her way to the door. She was her old self—quiet, impassive, deliberate. There was not the slightest sign of satisfaction in her face that she had so far succeeded in her mission. She was just the anxious wife performing a necessary duty for her husband.

I emerged from my hiding place as soon as she was safely out of the way.

"Well?" my temporary Chief asked, looking across at me.

"The moment has arrived," I answered.

Monsieur Lutarde, who by nature was one of the most unsuspicious men that ever breathed, looked positively aghast.

"You suggest that the woman is an impostor?" he exclaimed.

"She is the wife of a well-known English criminal," I declared.

"Her story was plausible but very improbable. What about the letter that she brought?"

Monsieur Lutarde searched his table. I watched him grimly.

"You will not find it," I told him. "I saw her pick it up as she passed."

"What shall we do?" he asked.

"Keep her waiting for a few minutes and then go to the address she gave you but nowhere else," I decided. "I am going to telephone to Ennison and I shall be there before you. If we see this thing through, we may find out who is at the bottom of it. I will see that you run no risk."

"I have no fear," Monsieur Lutarde asserted, frowning.

"I referred only to your reputation," I assured him. The two drove off together after a brief delay. Ennison, to whom I had telephoned, picked me up almost immediately in his car. We made one more brief call and reached the hotel as the taxicab containing Monsieur Lutarde and his companion was turning into the other end of the long street. Madame, from behind the glass windows of her bureau, eyed us a little suspiciously as we entered. I engaged her in confidential conversation, however, respecting a suite, and she did not even notice the three or four men who had followed us at intervals into the hotel and who disappeared in various directions. Presently I heard the taxicab stop. I made an excuse and we hurried into the salle a manger. Janet, followed by Monsieur Lutarde, who, although he had taken off his hat, held it in front of his face, crossed the floor swiftly towards the lift. Madame held out her key, which Janet accepted with a little nod. They passed into the lift and we heard it ascend. I returned to the bureau. I allowed myself to show much interest.

"But surely, Madame," I whispered, "that was Monsieur Lutarde, the great statesman, who entered with the lady?" Madame smiled at us knowingly.

"In effect it is he," she admitted. "Madame is the wife of an old client, an American gentleman who left this evening for London."

"A love affair?" I queried under my breath. Madame shrugged her shoulders. Her glance was eloquent.

"What can one do?" she murmured. "Only I hope that Monsieur will never discover. He has a violent temper. Ah! The merciful heavens! It is Monsieur himself who returns! Now there has tragedy arrived indeed!"

Into the hotel with his coat tails flying behind him came a man who for long I did not recognize. I myself had stepped back out of sight and I watched the scene. The newcomer acted his part well.

"My key, Madame," he shouted, banging his fist against the counter.

Madame pretended to search for it. She too had been schooled in her part. So had the guests who, with a little crowd of journalists, came closing around.

"But I have it not, Monsieur," the woman faltered. "Madame herself—"

The newcomer strode towards the lift, which I imagine was wilfully delayed. He shook the gates and pressed the bell furiously. Madame leaned over the counter.

"But what ails Monsieur?" she demanded.

"What ails me?" he replied at the top of his voice, speaking now in broken French, now in English with an American accent. "I tell you that not three minutes ago I saw my wife enter this hotel with a man—she who saw me off, as she thought, at the Gare du Nord not an hour ago! A curse upon your lift, Madame! This is a plot!"

"But, Monsieur " Madame faltered.

"Hell!" the outraged husband interrupted angrily.

He turned and ran for the stairs, followed by a little crowd, amongst whom I easily escaped detection. We reached the second floor. The man who now, to my amazement, I realised must be Stanfield, was banging at the panels of a closed door and shouting.

"It is locked!" he cried. "I knew it! Locked! Open.Suzanna! You gain nothing by this. I come if I blow the hotel about your ears!" The door opened. A few of us were almost pushed in. Janet, with her face buried in her hands, turned away. Monsieur Lutrade, not wholly at his ease, stood there with folded arms.

"Who are you, sir, and what are you doing in my salon?" Stanfield demanded fiercely.

"I am here at your wife's bidding to receive a message which she assures me that her husband has brought from London," Lutrade replied.

"It is a lie!" Stanfield shouted. "I am her husband and I know nothing of you. It is years since my wife was in London. These are subterfuges. Tell the truth, woman?"

Janet threw herself on the couch and hid her face.

"He is your lover?" Stanfield insisted.

"I could not help it," Janet sobbed. "You have been so cruel lately. Why did you come back?"

There was a little murmur amongst the curious crowd in the background. A thin, dark man with pince-nez, obviously a journalist, was on the point of stealing away. The time had come for action. I disentangled myself from the group. Stanfield looked into the muzzle of my automatic.

"Hands up, Stanfield!" I ordered. "Close in behind, Ennison. Pass the word down to bolt the doors of the hotel."

I had once come to the conclusion that, no matter how long our duel might continue, I should never see a sign of feeling in my enemy's face. Through his wonderful disguise, however, the real man at this moment leaped out. He stood staring at me, viciously yet with the half-fascinated amazement of one who looks upon a new thing in life. Janet was crouching back upon the couch, shrinking away from me as far as possible, her fingers tearing to pieces some shred of antimacassar. Suddenly she sprang like a cat between her husband and me. He saw his chance and leaped for the door. The crowd of stupefied people opened as though by magic to let him pass. I lowered my pistol and shouted a warning at the top of my voice. There was the sound of a shot below and the trampling of many feet. A grey-haired, well-dressed man with a red ribbon in his buttonhole, whom I afterwards discovered to be the editor of a leading journal, pushed his way through.

"Monsieur," he said to me, "is there any answer to this riddle?"

"You will find it below," I answered shortly. "There has been a plot to compromise the personal honour of Monsieur Lutarde here, which you have seen frustrated. The injured husband is an English criminal. His wife"—I hesitated—"his accomplice. Monsieur Lutrade has never seen either of them before in his life. You journalists were invited here to witness something different. If I may be allowed to say so, you will do well to give what pledges may be required of you. The hotel at the present moment is in the hands of agents of the French Government."

There was a little murmur.

"Might one enquire your name, sir?" my questioner demanded.

"My name is Norman Greyes," I answered. "I was once an English detective. I am now in the employ of the English Government."

The man bowed low.

"The affair is explained, sir," he said. The curious crowd of onlookers melted away. Downstairs, behind the locked doors, an inquisition was being held. Monsieur Lutarde came over and shook me by the hand.

"My thanks later, Sir Norman," he began. "Meanwhile—" Ennison entered, accompanied by Monsieur Lutarde's private secretary and a personage whom I recognized as a high official of the French Court. There was a great deal of rapid conversation between the four, a mingled outpouring of congratulations and wonder. Then we all moved towards the door. I touched Ennison on the arm.

"What about Stanfield?" I enquired eagerly.

"Escaped for the moment," was the reluctant admission. "He got through the back premises of the hotel, somehow."

"Escaped!" Janet murmured, in enigmatic accents.

They were filing out of the room. I was the last. Janet rose to her feet. She stood there looking at me.

"What happens to me?" she asked.

"There is no charge against you that I am aware of," I replied. She came a step nearer.

"I am afraid," she muttered. "They will say that it was my fault."

Ennison was already out of the room, leaving the door, however, wide open. The woman and I were alone.

"I am afraid," she repeated, and she came still a step nearer. Below, the hotel was in a turmoil. I was suddenly sick of the whole business, a sordid piece of chicanery.

"You descend the ladder," I said. "I scarcely believed that you would stoop to an intrigue of this sort."

"We needed the money," she declared hardly. "He had spent everything, and I had only what I earned as a dressmaker. The people who stood behind this affair were generous. It would all have been so easy and so safe if you had not interfered. I begin to think that you are my evil genius, Norman Greyes."

I heard myself called from below. I took a last glance at her. Her beautiful body was drawn to its utmost height. She was breathing quickly, as though with some suppressed emotion. The danger lights were gleaming in her strange-coloured eyes. For a single moment temptation raged within me. Then I remembered.

"If you need money to get you back to England," I said, "you can apply to the British Consul. I will arrange it for you."

"I may not come to you—for it?"

"No!"

I heard Ennison's returning footsteps upon the stairs. I turned away and closed the door behind me.

"Everything O.K.," Ennison declared triumphantly. "Our friends have made quite a coup."

"Any further news of the outraged husband?" I asked.

"I'm afraid he's got clean away," Ennison confessed. "Our people declare that he was helped by the police. Come on, old fellow, my car's waiting and we're going to have an absinthe at the Café de la Paix."

A quarter of an hour later, we sat amongst the most cosmopolitan crowd in the world outside the Café de la Paix, sipping our absinthe and watching the passers-by.

"A very successful evening's work," Ennison declared thoughtfully.

"So far as it goes," I acquiesced. "After all, though, a man with so many enemies can never be held altogether free from danger."

"We have gone to-night further than you think," my companion assured me. "The agents of the French police who were with us extracted confessions from the hotel proprietor and his wife, amongst others, which implicate some very well-known people. I need not explain further to you, I am sure. You can rely upon one thing for certain, however. From this evening Monsieur Lutarde is free from the danger of any attempt upon either his life or his honour."

"In that case," I agreed, "our work has indeed been well done."

We drank our absinthe in great content. Many months afterwards, a curiously insignificant episode of those next few minutes was brought forcibly to my mind. Near us, a very precise and elderly man, carefully dressed, with a red ribbon in his buttonhole and a stiff, official bearing, raised his hat to Ennison as he passed us. My companion returned his salute, and I watched his dignified wandering amongst the chairs until he found one to his liking. The waiter, seeing him approach, bowed low and hurried away without waiting for his spoken order.

"Who was that?" I enquired curiously.

"An insurance agent in the Rue Scribe," Ennison replied. "His name, I think, is Gaston Lefèvre."

"A type," I observed.

"There are many here," my companion assented.



V.—THE THREE MALEFACTORS

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Apr 1922

Janet

It was about four months after I had been in the service—how I hate the phrase!—of Mrs. Trumperton-Smith, that I decided to rob her. I first went to her because, day by day, I felt the need of money for those luxuries to which I had become accustomed. After my disastrous visit to Paris, no news whatever had come to me from my husband. A slack period had set in at the dressmaking establishment where I had been employed, and I was informed that my services were no longer necessary. I spent a month at a manicurist's and a few weeks at a photographic studio. I left them for the same reason. I have killed a man with my own hand and been a partner in more than one robbery, but the one virtue of my plebeian ancestors has remained—an uncomfortable, sometimes an almost accursed gift. I have never lost my self-respect. The touch of an unloved hand upon my fingers awakens in me at once a passionate repugnance. It was that feeling which was responsible for my one great crime.

Mrs. Trumperton-Smith advertised in the Morning Post for a companion-lady's maid. I secured the post on account of my manners and appearance, but I soon found that the duties which I was expected to fill pertained far more to the latter position than the former. My mistress was a lady of ample person and ample means. She lived in excellent style and apparently had plenty of money. She was a widow about forty-five years old, still goodlooking in a florid sort of way, and well enough educated from the middle-class point of view. She wasted no time upon pets.

Men were her one and everlasting hobby. She was not difficult to please, but in a general way she preferred them young and silly. I do not think that matrimony ever entered into her designs. I gathered later on that she had been ill treated by two husbands, each of whom, however, had left her a substantial fortune.

We were staying at the Magnificent Hotel at Brighton when the idea which I have mentioned—of robbing my mistress—first took definite shape in my mind. I should have bided my time, I think, but for two reasons. One was that the salary which she paid me was absurdly small and I saw no chance of saving anything, and the other was the very imminent fear of being anticipated. Mrs. Trumperton-Smith was not always so discreet as she should have been in her acquaintances. At the present time she was on exceedingly friendly terms with a Mr. Sidney Bloor, whom I put down, from the moment I first saw him, as an undoubted adventurer. He was young and rather pimply-faced, with weak eyebrows and eyelashes, small, cunning eyes, a vapid expression but an acquisitive mouth. He was always dressed in the height of fashion, and he had acquired the shibboleth of the up-to-date young man of the moment. Mrs. Trumperton-Smith admired and believed in him. I mistrusted and despised him. He made languid attempts to kiss me whenever he found me alone in the sitting room, attempts which I always managed to evade without exaggerated prudery, and without thinking it necessary to refuse the frequent tips which his position as my mistress' declared admirer seemed to render my due. I knew exactly what he was after, though. I had seen his covetous eyes light up when my mistress had more than usually overloaded her portly person with some of the magnificent jewels in which a portion of her large means was invested. I had seen him make mental calculations as to their value with a greedy, almost ferocious light in his unpleasant eyes. There was a particular diamond necklace which seemed to move him more than any other of her possessions. I felt sure that, when he made his attempt, it would be this necklace which he would endeavour to secure.

He found me one evening, some four months after our arrival in Brighton, alone in the sitting room at about the hour when Madame was sometimes pleased to dispense cocktails. A spasmodic attempt at gallantry having been met and repulsed, he lingered to watch me busy myself repairing a liair ornament which my mistress desired to wear that evening.

"Where is the old bird?" he asked confidentially.

I did not discourage this familiarity as I should have done, because I was really anxious to make a guess at his plans.

"Madame is out playing bridge with some friends," I told him.

"What little gewgaws are you sending her down in to-night?" he enquired, with affected carelessness.

"Whatever she chooses to wear," I replied.

"Only last night," he remarked, "she told me that it was generally you who made the selection."

"She usually does wear what I put out," I assented. "Which do you admire her in most, Mr. Bloor?"

The young man scratched his chin thoughtfully. All the amorousness of the barroom lounger was in his tone and expression as he glanced down at me.

"It doesn't matter to me what she wears," he sighed. "I know a little girl, though, who would look the real thing decked out in those diamonds, eh?"

"I expect you have a large acquaintance amongst my sex," I replied demurely.

"Wasn't thinking of any one farther away than this room," he assured me. "You're a damn good-looking girl, you know, Janet."

"Do you think so, Mr. Bloor?" I ventured, without looking up.

"I do, indeed," he insisted, edging a little nearer towards me. "I say, go and fetch them just for a joke and try them on. I'd like to see how they look on that white throat of yours."

"And have Madame come in and send me away without notice! No, thank you, Mr. Bloor!"

"If you lost your job through me," he declared magniloquently,

"I should take good care to make it up to you."

"Your way of making it up might not appeal to me," I answered.

"You're a cold young woman, Janet," he complained. "My last evening, too."

"Are you going away?"

"Back to the City to-morrow. I'm my own master and all that, of course—take a week or two just when I want it—but one has to pick up a bit of the rhino now and then. We haven't all got Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's money."

"If it is really your last," I said, "tell me what jewellery you would like the mistress to wear this evening, and I will put it out for her."

He affected to treat the matter with indifference, but it was obviously what he had been leading up to.

"What about the diamond necklace, then?" he suggested. "She's coming to dine at my table, so I ought to have a say. The diamond necklace, earrings and bracelet! What-ho! We sha'n't need any other illumination!"

"I will do my best," I promised him.

My mistress came bustling in, a moment or two later, and busied herself making the cocktails. I went through into her bedroom to lay out her gown. It was perfectly clear to me now that if I were going to rob Mrs. Trumperton-Smith at all, it had better be done quickly. Mr. Sidney Bloor's choice showed that he had a very fair idea of the value of jewels.

The drinking of cocktails was concluded a little more quickly than usual, and Mrs. Trumperton-Smith joined me in the bedroom, full of what passed with her as geniality. She was always agreeable when things had been going her way, and she had a certain florid good nature which made her popular in the hotel and amongst her casual acquaintainces. It was a quality, however, which was entirely superficial, and in a general way I found her disagreeable, selfish and jealous to a degree. Her whole expression altered as she submitted herself to my ministrations.

"How long had Mr. Bloor been here?" she asked.

"About five minutes, Madame."

"Another time," she said stiffly, "it would be more seemly if you brought any work you had to do in here, whilst he was waiting for me."

"Very good, Madame."

"And what a mess you've made of this aigrette!" she went on. "I don't think I shall ever wear it again."

"I have arranged it exactly according to your instructions, Madame," I told her.

"Don't answer me, woman," she snapped. "And be careful with my hair on the left side. You're making me look a perfect fright. Here!"

She withdrew the key of her jewel case from a bracelet, and passed it to me.

"As Madame is wearing black," I said, "I thought she would prefer the diamonds."

"Bring them along and don't talk so much," was the curt reply.

I selected the diamond necklace, earrings and bracelet, locked up the case and returned the key. My mistress' expression softened as she looked at herself in the glass.

"I really think," she reflected, with a little sigh, "that black does become me."

"I have heard a great many people say so, Madame," I assured her.

She picked up her gold bag, looked inside to see that I had placed her handkerchief there, and turned away.

"See that the fire is kept up in the sitting room, Janet," she ordered. "Mr. Bloor and I will take our coffee there."

"Very good, Madame," I replied.

I went into the steward's room and had my supper as usual, and I also paid a visit to Mr. Bloor's bedrom and borrowed certain trifles which I proposed to use later on. It was not yet clear to me by what means the young man was scheming to possess himself of the jewels, but I was quite convinced that the attempt itself would be made that night. I happened to know that both he and Mrs. Trumperton-Smith were engaged to play bridge after dinner at a neighbouring hotel, and I was quite sure that it was the jewels she was wearing, rather than those left in her case, upon which he had designs. I contrived to leave open the connecting door between the bedroom and sitting room, and to be in the former when they returned for their coffee. Madame had come in for her cloak and they were on the point of starting out again, when her escort at last gave me the cue for which I had been waiting.

"I say, Mimi," he drawled—he called her "Mimi" although she weighed fourteen stone—"I don't feel comfortable walking along the front with you in those diamonds. Leave them behind, there's a dear. All those women at the Royal wear flashy jewellery. You'll look much more the real thing with none on at all."

"Just as you like, dear," she assented meekly. "Perhaps you're right, especially if we go on to supper afterwards. Here, Janet!" I hurried out.

"Yes, Madame?"

"Take these off—all of them," she directed, extending her arms and poising her neck. "I am going out and may be late."

I relieved her of the jewels. All the time Mr. Bloor was watching with a gleam in his eyes.

"If you will give me your key, Madame, I will lock them up," I suggested.

I could judge that this was the critical moment for Mr. Bloor. He had gambled correctly, however, upon Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's general indolence.

"Oh, that will do when I get back," she said. "Put them in one of the drawers, Janet."

They went off together. I did exactly as I had been bidden, and afterwards lingered in the sitting room whilst I completed my plans. I had just come to a decision when there was a sharp knock at the door. The manager of the hotel—a Mr. Leon Grant—made his appearance. He looked around the empty sitting room.

"I understood that Mrs. Trumperton-Smith was up here," he said courteously.

"Mrs. Trumperton-Smith went out some little time ago," I told him. "I think she has gone into the Royal Hotel to play' bridge."

He seemed disappointed. He was a thin, rather nervous-looking person, with a very agreeable face and manner, but with lines about his eyes and a general air of over-anxiety. It was rumoured that the hotel was not doing quite so well as some of its rivals, a state of affairs which he felt keenly.

"What time do you expect your mistress back?" he enquired.

"She did not say, sir," I replied. "The last time she went out to play bridge, it was about one o'clock when she returned. Mr. Bloor is with her."

The manager nodded and turned away.

"Can I give her any message, sir?" I added. He hesitated, closed the door and came back again.

"I should imagine," he said, looking at me attentively, "that you are a trusted servant."

"I was engaged as companion-lady's maid, sir," I told him. "I believe that my mistress has every confidence in me."

He nodded.

"To tell you the truth," he explained, "I am a little worried about your mistress' jewels. There was a small robbery last night at an hotel in the neighbourhood, and I have had an indirect sort of warning from the police that there are thieves about. Mrs. Trumperton-Smith has the reputation of being very careless. I came to ask her if she would allow me to keep her jewels in the hotel safe."

"I should be very glad if you could persuade her to do so, sir," I assured him. "I suggested it when we arrived, but Madame likes to take them out and look at them when she is alone."

"It is scarcely fair upon any hotel," the manager pointed out, a little querulously. "Will you be so kind as to tell me where she keeps them?"

I showed him the case, although I said nothing of the diamonds in the drawer. He frowned severely.

"It is placing temptation in people's way," he declared.

"The door of the bedroom is always locked," I reminded him, "and you have a night watchman. Then, too, we are on the fourth storey—"

"My dear young woman," he interrupted irritably, "those things are nothing to an experienced thief. The hotel safe is the only place for such jewellery as Mrs. Trumperton-Smith possesses. I shall wait upon her to-morrow morning and tell her so."

He said good night pleasantly and left me. I went back to my room, undressed, and donned a complete suit of Mr. Bloor's evening clothes, and theatre hat, which I had taken the liberty of borrowing from his room. At the time when I knew that the night watchman's back was turned, I slipped out, descended a few of the stairs which were exactly opposite my door, ascended them again noisily, walked along the corridor, entered Mr. Bloor's room, waited there a moment or two, came out again, and entered the sitting room of our suite. In ten minutes I was back in my bedroom with the diamonds. In an hour's time, Mr. Bloor's clothes were returned to his room and the diamonds safely disposed of.

Norman Greyes

It was really, in the first place, not owing to any request from my friend Rimmington that I became interested in the Brighton robbery and murder case. Philip Harris, who was director of the hotel company, wrote me a personal letter, asking me to represent the interests of the hotel in any way I thought fit, and it was on the strength of this appeal that I travelled down to Brighton and took up my temporary residence at the Magnificent Hotel. Within a few minutes of my arrival, the manager himself waited upon me. As was only natural, he was in a state of great distress. Almost before we had shaken hands, he had commenced to unburden himself.

"Forty different people," he told me distractedly, "have given notice to leave the hotel within the next few days. Several have gone already, right in the middle of the season."

I probably seemed a little unsympathetic.

"It was another tragedy I came down to investigate, Mr. Grant," I reminded him.

I think that he perceived the justice of my rebuke for he apologised at once.

"I am sorry, Sir Norman," he said, "but there are times when one can't help being selfish. Mr. Johnson, the chief of the local police, is here waiting to see you. Is there anything I can tell you first? You will visit the suite in which the affair happened, of course?"

"Presently," I answered. "Apart from the obvious evidence, have you any personal impressions you would like to confide?" Mr. Leon Grant hesitated.

"There is just one small matter, Sir Norman," he said, "which worries me a little. Mr. Sidney Bloor is all the time practically under arrest. He has left the hotel and is staying in lodgings on the front, but he is watched night and day."

"There seems to be a moderately clear case against him," I remarked.

"In many respects it would appear convincing," the manager assented. "His antecedents are bad, his attentions to a woman nearly twenty years his senior are difficult to explain on any other basis except that of self-advantage. He escorted her round to the Royal Hotel to play bridge, cut out during the evening, came back to this hotel, and was seen by the fireman, who acts as night watchman, to enter Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's suite. The presumption is, of course, that he stole the jewels then, left the hotel with them in his pocket, and passed them on to a confederate. Mrs. TrumpertonSmith and he returned together early in the morning, between one and two, and he escorted her to her suite. His story is that he stayed there for about five minutes and had a whisky and soda in the sitting room, parted with her on friendly terms and subsequently went to his room, to be awakened at nine o'clock and told by the floor valet that Mrs. Trumperton-Smith had been murdered in the night and her jewellery stolen."

"And what is your comment upon his story?" I enquired.

"Just this," was the earnest reply. "There is no doubt whatever that the young man did return to the hotel alone, but whereas the night watchman swears that he saw him enter Mrs. TrumpertonSmith's suite at half-past ten, the hall porter downstairs, two of the pages and a reception clerk are equally positive that it was exactly midnight when he came in and went upstairs."

"Could he have paid two visits?" I suggested.

"It is exceedingly unlikely, Sir Norman. If he had come in at the time that night watchman swore that he saw him go into Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's suite, he must have been noticed downstairs."

"This divergence of evidence," I observed, "is interesting, but I scarcely see what it leads to. Perhaps, I had better talk to Mr. Johnson for a little time."

The Chief Constable himself paid me the honour of a visit, accompanied by Johnson, who was an exceedingly painstaking and capable officer. They had very little fresh information to give me, excepting certain technical details which certainly told against the young man Bloor.

"You say that none of the jewellery has been recovered?" I enquired.

"None of the jewellery in question, I fear," Johnson admitted.

"Mr. Bloor has two very handsome pins in his possession, but he was clever enough to admit at once that these were given him by the deceased."

"Is he short of money?"

"Apparently," was the somewhat dry reply.

"You haven't been able to collect any evidence as to his having spoken to any one outside, on his way back to the Royal?"

"Not at present, I am sorry to say, sir. We are working on that now."

"What about this discrepancy in the alleged time of his visit?"

"That is another of the things we are trying to straighten out. Anyway, the night watchman, who is a very respectable fellow, is prepared to swear that he saw Sidney Bloor re-enter the suite, even though his idea of the time seems to be out. Assuming that the theft took place then, though, the motive for the murder becomes obscure."

"And Mr. Bloor's own story?"

"He came a terrible cropper, sir," Johnson declared, a little triumpantly. "He at first stated that he only left the bridge table, when he cut out, to get some fresh air; that he leaned over the wall of the promenade, looking at the sea, the whole of the time. Afterwards he admitted that he had visited the hotel and gone up for a moment to Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's suite, where he thought he had dropped his cigar case."

"Did he mention any time?" I asked.

"He thought it was about midnight."

"The inquest," I remarked, "has been adjourned."

"Till Thursday week, Sir Norman," the Chief Constable told me. "The evidence given at the inquest is at your disposal at any time."

"I have already studied it, thanks," I said. "I should like, if possible, to have a few words with the night porter and with the deceased's maid."

The former, whose name was John O'Hara, proved to be a very respectable, stolid and obstinate man. Nothing could shake his conviction that he had seen Sidney Bloor enter Mrs. TrumpertonSmith's suite at about half-past ten and emerge from it five minutes later. He admitted that the corridor was badly lit, but he would not hear a word against his watch. I dismissed him with the conviction that, so far as he knew it, he was speaking the truth. Then I sent for the maid. There was a brief delay, followed by the sound of soft footsteps outside and the opening and shutting of a door. I glanced up from the copy of O'Hara's evidence which I had been studying, and I received, I think, the greatest shock of my life. With her back pressed to the closed door, her fingers clinging to the handle, stood the woman whom I had known as Janet Stanfield!

Neither of us spoke for several moments. Her lips were parted, but if she gave vent to any exclamation it was inaudible. Her eyes were fixed upon my face in a stare of amazement. I could see the rapid rise and fall of her bosom. It was obvious that no one had mentioned my name—that she had come to me as a stranger— that her surprise at this meeting was as great as mine. I rose to my feet, and then, at the moment of attempted speech, a new horror seemed to flow in upon my senses. She had been the maid of the murdered woman! It was, in any case, an ominous coincidence!

Janet came slowly over towards me.

"I did not know that you were here," she said.

"Nor I that you had re-entered domestic service," I replied. She flinched a little but she answered me quite quietly.

"Poverty is a hard mistress. When you met me in Bond Street some months ago, and I lunched with you, I was engaged at a dressmaker's establishment. Then my husband sent for me to go to Paris. You know very well what happened to us there. I returned to London worse off than when I had left it. I lost my situation. Then I became a manicurist. I stood that for about three weeks. I had nine shillings in my purse when I saw Mrs. TrumpertonSmith's advertisement. I answered it and came here."

"You are better off now?" I ventured. She was beginning to recover her self-possession.

"Hadn't you better warn me that anything I say may be used as evidence against me?" she asked mockingly.-

"I agree. Yet I shall ask you one question, and one only."

"I do not promise to answer it."

"But you will answer it," I insisted, watching her steadily, "and you will tell me the truth. Had you anything to do with Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's death?"

"I had not," she replied unfalteringly.

I sat down with some abruptness. Psychologically it was impossible for me to explain the feeling of relief which seemed to be lightening my whole being.

"You were not even an accomplice?"

"One question you promised to ask, and one I to answer," she said. "I have finished."

I was thoughtful for a moment. I was thinking of the doctor's evidence at the inquest. The coroner had asked him whether the injuries on the throat of the deceased could have been inflicted by a woman. The reply was there on the depositions before me: "I should think it very unlikely."

"Very well," I said, "I will waive my second question. Instead, I will make an appeal to you. I am here to try and discover the person who robbed and murdered your late mistress. Can you help me?"

"If I could, why should I?" she demanded. "We are in opposite camps."

"There will certainly be a reward for the recovery of the jewels."

"I should very much like to earn it," she admitted. "I do not know who stole them."

"Have you any idea," I asked her, "why Mrs. TrumpertonSmith left the hotel for her bridge party that night without any jewellery at all?"

She considered for a moment.

"Mr. Bloor suggested that she should take off her diamonds and leave them at home," she answered.

"And did she?"

"Yes!"

"You know that Mr. Bloor came back to the suite?"

"I have been told so."

"And you know that the evidence is very conflicting as to what time he paid his visit?"

"Yes, I know that. Why shouldn't he have paid two?"

"It is an idea," I admitted. "Do you think that Sidney Bloor is the man we want?"

"Why should you imagine that I would help you if I could?" she asked coldly.

"From the little I have heard of Mr. Sidney Bloor, I should have looked upon him as a nincompoop," I continued.

"I should not have thought," she agreed, "that he would have had courage enough to wring the neck of a chicken."

I regarded her fixedly.

"Why don't you try to earn the reward?" I asked.

"I am thinking about it," she replied. "If I have any luck, I'll come to you."

She left me then and I went for a stroll along the front. Seated in one of the shelters, a little way towards Hove, was a young man whom I felt sure, from his description, was Sidney Bloor. I looked around and found that one of Rimmington's men was seated on the other side of the shelter. I touched the young man on the arm, and his violent start assured me that I had not made a mistake.

"I believe that you are Mr. Sidney Bloor," I said. "Can I have a few words with you?"

"If you're a journalist," he began surlily

"I can assure you that I am not," I replied. "My name is Norman Greyes. I was once a detective, but at present I do not hold any official position. It is more likely to be to your advantage than not, to spare me a few minutes."

He rose doubtfully to his feet.

"We can't talk here," he objected.

"Let us take a stroll along the sands," I suggested. "We shall be sufficiently alone there."

We walked side by side over the pebbles to the edge of the sea and turned towards Hove. My companion was obviously in a state of nerves. He walked unsteadily. He was out of breath before we had gone fifty yards.

"I have no official connection with this case, Mr. Bloor," I began, "but the hotel company have asked me to make a few enquiries. If you are guilty, the police will probably bring the crime home to you. If you are not—"

"I am not!" he interrupted passionately.

"If you are not," I repeated, "I am here for your assistance. Remember, I am here to discover the truth, not to try and fix the guilt on any particular person. Why don't you tell me the truth?"

He was silent for several moments, probably, I decided, piecing together the story he had made up his mind to tell. He went further, however, than I had expected.

"I have never laid violent hands upon a woman in my life," he declared. "I never would. All the same, I did mean to rob her. I meant to steal her diamonds."

"Why didn't you?"

"They were stolen before I could get at them. I made her take them off before we went out to bridge. They were left in a drawer, not even locked up. The first time I cut out the rubber, I came back to the hotel. I went up to her room and searched the drawer where the jewels had been put. They had gone. I concluded that some one had either been before me, or that Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's maid had put them in a safer place. I went back to the bridge party, came home with Mrs. Trumperton-Smith about two o'clock, said good night to her in her sitting room, had a whisky and soda and went to bed. That's all I know about it, so help me God!" We turned around and retraced our steps.

"When you couldn't find the diamonds, why didn't you take the jewel case?" I asked.

"I should have been seen carrying it," he replied, "and I had no tools with which to open it. I am not a professional thief. That night I almost wished I had been."

"You are aware that the evidence looks rather black against you?" I pointed out.

"I can't help it," he answered sullenly. "I didn't do it."

"Have you any theory as to who did?"

"The maid, I should think," he replied. "She was much too superior for her job—a secretive, unsociable sort of person. She wasn't there for nothing."

We reached the steps leading to the promenade.

"I am sorry that you made that last suggestion," I said. "Otherwise, you have done yourself no harm by your frankness. Your story may possibly be true. If it is, you have nothing to worry about."

I left him on the promenade and saw him stroll across the road to a chemist's shop for a pick-me-up. I went back to the hotel and discovered that my friend Inspector Rimmington from Scotland Yard had already arrived and had taken over formal conduct of the case. He had already had some conversation with the manager, and had interviewed Janet and the night watchman. He was now waiting for Sidney Bloor, whose very unenviable dossier he had brought down with him. I glanced it through without any particular interest. Rimmington watched me curiously.

"The young man is a thoroughly bad lot," he observed.

I nodded.

"There's only one thing in his favour. When you talk to him, you will realise that he is absolutely a decadent, a young man without nerve or any manlike quality. Now I don't know whether it has ever occurred to you, Rimmington, but I should imagine that it would take a person with great strength of nerve to hold a woman by the throat and watch her die. Somehow, I don't believe Bloor could have done that."

Rimmington was singularly unconvinced.

"I shall know better when I have talked to him, perhaps," he remarked.

"Don't encourage these local fellows to make an arrest until to-morrow," I advised.

I took the midday train to town, and travelled in the Pullman with Mr. Leon Grant, the manager of the hotel, who was on his way up to confer once more with the directors. It was obvious that he had taken the tragedy very much to heart. He showed me a cable from Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's son, who was on his way back from Egypt. It ran as follows:

greatly shocked. arrive 17th. hope police will discover criminal. believe jewels principal part mother's estate. offer reward immediately for return any one not connected crime.

"I am suggesting a tenth part of the insured value," he announced. "I shall see the solicitors before I return."

As we drew into Victoria, I offered my companion a lift. He refused, however, on the ground that he had a case of wine in the van, which he was taking back to a wine merchant. I made a few calls, dined at my club, and travelled back again to Brighton by the late train. I met Rimmington in the hall of the hotel and we strolled into the manager's office. Mr. Leon Grant, looking more tired than ever after his long day in town, was speaking passionately down the telephone.

"It is absurd," he declared, as we came in. "I spoke from the number I am asking for, several times this afternoon. The telephone is in perfect order."

"If you are speaking of Mayfair 1532, Mr. Grant," I intervened,

"I am afraid the supervisor is correct. The number is disconnected."

His face, as he looked at us, grew horrible. The receiver slipped from his fingers and fell to the ground, dragging the instrument after it.

"What do you mean?" he gasped.

"Simply that Scotland Yard disconnected your flat in town, for fear you should ring up and find out that the case of wine you brought up to London has been opened," I explained. "Rimmington, this is your job."

Rimmington was quick, but not quick enough. Grant's right hand was in the drawer by his side in a moment, and the silverplated little revolver at his temple. I believe that he was a dead man before the inspector laid hands on him. I held the door whilst Rimmington telephoned for a doctor. He arrived almost at once and his examination lasted barely a few seconds.

"A clean job," he pronounced. "The man must have died immediately."

Rimmington came to my sitting room, later on, and helped himself to a whisky and soda.

"A little secretive this morning, weren't you, Sir Norman?" he observed.

"We wanted the jewels," I pointed out. "Directly the man told me he had a case of wine in the van, I knew that everything was all right."

"When did you get his dossier?"

"By the second post this morning," I replied, "and a pretty bad one it was. He has a flat in town under another name; he owes one bookie alone over two thousand pounds; and his domestic arrangements were, to say the least of it, irregular. He was desperately in need of money."

"Even now the reconstruction isn't absolutely simple," my companion mused. "Leon Grant evidently made his way to Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's rooms after her return; she woke up whilst he was making off with the jewel box, and he strangled her. But what about the two visits from Bloor, earlier in the evening, and the missing diamonds? I think you said that they were not in the jewel case which you have recovered?"

"I imagine that the night watchman must have made a mistake," I told him. "On the other hand, Bloor may have already disposed of the diamonds. Again, they may have been mislaid and will be brought in for the reward."

"What first of all made you think of Grant?" Rimmington asked, a little later, as he was preparing to take his leave.

"A very slight thing," I answered. "The woman was strangled, as you know, although the fingermarks were undistinguishable. There was a scratch upon her throat, and a few drops of blood, evidently caused by the finger nail of the murderer. Now Sidney Bloor's finger nails are bitten almost to the quick. The manager's, on the other hand, were really noticeable. They were long and brought to a point. The nail on his right forefinger, however, was broken off short."

"I see," Rimmington replied. "Good night!"

I sat up for some little time, waiting for what I felt sure was inevitable. It was nearly one o'clock when there was a soft knock at the door and, in reply to my invitation, Janet entered. She was still fully dressed, her manner was as composed as ever. She closed the door behind her and came over towards me.

"I have found the diamonds," she announced.

"I congratulate you," I replied.

"I have heard all that has happened," she continued. "There will be no trouble about the reward?"

"None whatever," I assured her.

She laid them upon the table—the necklace, the bracelet and the earrings.

"Where did you find them?" I asked.

"In the small silk bag which Mrs. Trumperton-Smith took with her to the bridge party," she replied. "She came back to her room for a moment just before starting, and must have taken them without saying anything to anybody."

"A most ingenious supposition," I murmured. She looked at me for a moment with the strangest light in her eyes. She had no need of speech. I knew perfectly well of what she was reminding me. I opened the door for her.

"Good night, Janet," I said. "I have stood in the way of your fortunes more than once. This time I am able to remind myself that Mrs. Trumperton-Smith is not my client. The reward will certainly be paid."



VI.—THE WINDS OF DEATH

First published in The Red Book Magazine, May 1922

Norman Greyes

I know nothing of psychology, or any of the mental or nervous phenomena connected with the study of this abstruse subject. What happened to me during the autumn following my visit to Paris remains in my mind unexplained and inexplicable. I shall just set it down because it becomes a part of the story.

A strong man, in the possession of vigorous health, living an out-of-door life in a quiet country neighbourhood, I suddenly became afraid. I had the strongest conviction that some terrible disaster was hanging over me. Every morning, when I took up my gun for a tramp or stepped into my car for any sort of an excursion, I felt a chill presentiment of evil. It was not that I lost my nerve. I was still shooting and playing golf as well or better than ever. I drove my car and went about the daily pursuits of life with an even pulse. My fears were unanalysable, and it really seemed as though they reached me through the brain rather than the nerves. I felt evil around me and I looked always for an enemy. I woke often in the night and I listened for footsteps, unafraid yet expecting danger. I altered my will and sent it to the lawyer's. Several matters connected with the letting of my farms I cleared up almost hastily with my agent. I was conscious of only one enemy in the world, and it was practically impossible that he should be in England. Yet I expected death.

I was living at the time at Greyes Manor, the small but very pleasant country house which had come to me with my inheritance. My establishment was moderate, even for a bachelor. There was my housekeeper, Mrs. Foulds, who had been in the service of my uncle, an elderly lady of sixty-four, who had lived at Greyes all her life, was related to half the farmers in the neighbourhood, and was a pleasant, high-principled and altogether estimable person. Adams, her nephew, was my butler and personal servant. There was a boy under him, also of the district, a cook and three maidservants whom I seldom saw. The only other member of my household was Miss Simpson, a secretary engaged for me through a well-known office in London, to whom I dictated, for several hours a day, material for the work on Crime which I had made up my mind to write directly I had relinquished my post at Scotland Yard. She was a woman of about fifty years of age, small, with grey hair parted neatly in the middle, the only sister of a clergyman in Cambridgeshire, an agreeable and unobtrusive person, whom I invited to dine downstairs once a week, but whom I otherwise never saw except when engaged upon our work, or in the distance, taking her daily bicycle ride in the park or the lanes around. Out of doors there was Benjamin Adams, my gamekeeper, the brother of my butler; and Searle, my chauffeur, who came to me from a place in Devonshire with excellent references, a simple-minded and almost over-ingenuous youth. These comprised the little coterie of persons with whom I was brought into contact, day by day. Not one of them could possibly have borne me any ill will, yet I lived amongst them, waiting for death.

One morning—I remember that it was the first of November— 1 set out for a long tramp, accompanied only by Adams, the keeper, and a couple of dogs. We were on the boundary of my land, looking for stray pheasants in a large root field. On my right was a precipitous gorge which extended for about half a mile, thickly planted with small fir trees. I was walking, by arrangement, about twenty yards ahead of Adams, when I was suddenly conscious of a familiar sensation. There was the zip of a bullet singing through the air, a report from somewhere in the gorge, a neat round hole through my felt hat.

"Gawd A'mighty!" yelled Adams, leaping into the air. "What be doing?"

I showed him my hat. He stood with his mouth open, looking at it. There was no further sound from the gorge except the tumbling of the stream down at the bottom. It was an absolutely hopeless place to search.

"We'll be getting home, Adams," I said.

"There be some rascal about, for sure," the man gasped, gazing fearfully towards the gorge.

"As he can see us," I pointed out, "and we certainly shall never be able to see him, I think we'll make for the road."

Adams complained sometimes of his rheumatism when I walked him too fast, but on this occasion he was a hundred yards ahead of me when we reached the lane. On our homeward way he was voluble.

"There be James Adams, my nephew," he said, "and William Crocombe, who do farm them lands. They be harmless folk, if ever such were. Some lad, I reckon, have got hold of the roofscaring rifle."

"Do either of them take in tourists?" I asked.

Adams was doubtful. That afternoon I motored over to make enquiries. Neither of the farmers accepted tourists, neither of them had seen a stranger about the place, and as regards rifles, the only one I could discover had obviously not been discharged for a year. I drove on to the County police station and left a message for the inspector. He came over to see me that evening, solemn, ponderous and unimpressed.

"I suspect some farmer's lad were out after rabbits, sir," was his decision.

I showed him my hat.

"Farmers' lads," I pointed out, "don't as a rule shoot rabbits with a rifle which carries a bullet that size."

He scratched his head. The matter was certainly puzzling, but apparently without absorbing interest to him.

"Them lads be powerful mischievous," he remarked, wagging his head.

I dismissed him after the usual refreshments had been proffered and accepted. A few further enquiries which I myself made in the neighbourhood led to nothing.

I took my little two-seater out to call on a friend, a few afternoons afterwards, and found the steering gear come to pieces before I had gone a mile. I was thrown into a ditch but escaped without serious injury. I scarcely needed Searle's assurance to convince me that he knew nothing of the matter, but even in its damaged state it was quite obvious that the pins had been wilfully withdrawn from the pillar. The fact that I was a prisoner in the house for several days from an injury to my knee, and worked at unaccustomed hours, was responsible for my accidental discovery of Miss Simpson's diary. I came into the room unexpectedly and found her writing. It never occurred to me but that she was engaged upon my work, so I looked over her shoulder. She was writing in a diary, completing her entry for the day before:

N.G. worked for two hours, practised golf in park, lunched in, took out two-seater in afternoon. Met with accident but was able to walk home. Said little about his injuries, which were not serious. Accepted invitation shoot Woolhanger Manor next Tuesday at eleven o'clock. Probably return across moor at dusk.

Miss Simpson was suddenly conscious of my presence. She placed her hand over the page.

"This is my private diary, Sir Norman," she asserted.

"So I gathered," I replied. "What is your interest in my doings, Miss Simpson?"

"A personal one," she assured me. "I appeal to you as a gentleman to let me have the volume."

I confess that I was weak. An altercation of any sort, however, ending, without doubt, in a struggle for the possession of the diary with this quiet-looking, elderly lady, was peculiarly repugnant to me. I rang the bell.

"I shall order the car to take you to Barnstaple for the five o'clock train, Miss Simpson," I said.

She rose to her feet, grasping the book firmly.

"What is your complaint against me, Sir Norman?" she asked.

"During this last week," I told her, "two attempts have been made upon my life. I am naturally suspicious of people who keep a close account of my personal movements."

She stood for a moment looking at me through her gold-rimmed spectacles in a dazed, incredulous sort of way. Then she turned and left the room. I never saw her again. That same afternoon, on my return from the village where I had gone to post a letter with my own hands, I found a grey limousine touring car, covered with mud, outside my front door, and Adams announced that a gentleman was waiting to see me in the study. To my surprise and infinite satisfaction, it was Rimmington.

"I have this moment posted a letter to you," I said, as we shook hands.

"Anything doing down here?" he asked quickly.

"Too much for my liking," I answered. "What will you have— tea or a whisky and soda?"

He accepted the tea and ate buttered toast in large quantities.

"I have come straight through from Basingstoke," he explained.

"The Chief rather got the wind up about you."

"Tell me all about it," I begged.

"I wish I could," Rimmington replied, as he accepted a cigar and lit it. "You read the papers, I suppose?"

"Regularly."

"You've seen what a hell of a time they've been having round New York—Eleven undiscovered murders in ten days, and several million dollars stolen. The New York police have been working steadily for some time and made their coup last week. They made half a dozen arrests, but the head of the gang escaped."

"A known person?" I asked.

"Personally," was the confident reply, "I don't think there is the slightest doubt but that he is the man who has passed at different times as Thomas Pugsley, James Stanfield, and originally Michael Sayers. He has vanished from the face of the earth, so far as the New York police have ascertained, but they obtained possession of an uncompleted letter which he must have been typing at the time of the raid. The first page he probably destroyed or took with him. The second page refers to you. Here is a copy."

Rimmington withdrew from his pocketbpok a half-sheet of paper and passed it to me. I read it slowly, word for word:

Things here have come to their natural end. The last fortnight has been productive, but there is danger in any further prosecution of our energies. There is only one man who stands in the way of my return to London. You know well of whom I speak. I wait day by day for your news of him, and hope to hear of no more blunders. See that the woman you know of, too, is carefully watched. She may be as loyal as she seems, but there are moments when I have had my doubts. If N.G. can be disposed of—

"Interesting," I remarked, "very! To whom was the letter addressed?"

"To a firm of leather brokers in Bermondsey," Rimmington replied, "and it was written on the note paper of a firm of hide brokers in New York."

"The letter is from our friend, right enough," I decided. "There have been two attempts upon my life within the last two days, and I have just sent away a secretary who was keeping a careful note of my doings."

We talked for an hour or more and arrived without difficult/ at a common understanding. Rimmington undertook to send a good man down from Scotland Yard to make enquiries in the neighbourhood, and he promised also to trace my late secretary's antecedents through the office from which she had come. In the meantime, he begged me to return to London with him. The suggestion was not at first altogether attractive to me.

"I don't like being driven away from my own home," I grumbled. "Besides, there will be nothing for me to do in London at this time of the year."

"Greyes," he said earnestly, "listen to me. You can play golf around London and get on with your book. You are far safer there than you would be in an unprotected neighborhood like this. But apart from'that altogether, we want you up there. This wave of crime in New York has ceased. Paris, too, is quieter. The Chief is profoundly impressed with the belief that it is because operations are being transferred to London. That odd sheet of letter which I have shown you confirms the idea. I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that we are going to be up against it hard within the next few weeks."

"When do you want me to come?" I asked.

"Back with me to-night," he answered promptly. "There is a full moon to-night, and my chauffeur knows every inch of the road. We can leave after dinner and breakfast in London."

"Very well," I agreed. "I will order an early dinner and we can start directly afterwards."

I had told Rimmington of all the material things which had happened to me down at Greyes Manor, but I had not spoken of that curious sense of impending evil which had clouded my days, and the prescience of which had been so remarkably verified. We were scarcely crossing the first stretch of Exmoor, however, when the memory of it came back to me, and with the memory an overpowering return of the feeling itself. I filled a pipe, stretched myself out in a corner of the car, and set myself to fight this grim ogre of fear. It was no easy matter, however. All through the night I was haunted with fancies. The gorse bushes on the moors seemed like crouching men, the whistle from a distant railway station a warning of impending danger. In a small town-village before we arrived at Taunton, a man stood in the open doorway of his house, looking out at the night. He scanned us as we passed and turned away. Through the uncurtained window of his sitting room, I saw a telephone on his table. At Wiveliscombe, a man with a motor-bicycle stood silent as we passed. He leaned forward as though to see the number of our car. In ten minutes he raced past us, his powerful engine making the night hideous with its unsilenced explosions. Across Salisbury Plain, as we drew near Stonehenge, a cruelly cold wind was blowing. We drank from a flask which I had brought and wrapped ourselves up a little closer. At some crossroads, high up in the bleakest part, another car was waiting, its lights out, its appearance sinister. We passed it, however, at fifty miles an hour, and the man who was its solitary occupant scarcely looked up at us. We passed through Amesbury, up the long rise to Andover, through Basingstoke, and settled down into a steady fifty miles an hour along wonderful roads. The moon was paling now, and there were signs of dawn; right ahead of us was a thin streak of silver in the clouds, slowly changing to a dull purple. Before we had realised it, we were in the outskirts of London, our pace gradually reduced, but still racing through the sombre twilight. At Isleworth, just as we had passed under the railway arch, I felt the brakes suddenly applied and thrust my head out of the window. We had come almost to a standstill, stopped by a stalwart policeman who, notebook in hand, had been talking to the occupant of a touring car drawn up by the side of the road. He came up to the open window.

"Are you gentlemen going through to London?" he enquired.

"We are," I told him. "What can we do for you?"

The words had scarcely left my lips when I knew that we were in a trap. I realised it just in time to save my life. I struck with all my force at the ugly little black revolver which was thrust almost into my face. There was a report, a sharp pain at the top of my shoulder, and the revolver itself slipped from the man's crushed fingers. I was within an ace of having him by the throat, but he just eluded me. The touring car was now passing us slowly, and he leaped into it, leaving his helmet lying in the road. A third man, who seemed to rise up from underneath our car, tore along and jumped in behind, and they shot forward, travelling at a most astonishing pace. Rimmington shouted to our chauffeur down the tube, with the idea of pursuing them. We started forward with a series of horrible bumps, and came almost immediately to a standstill. I sprang out. Both our back tyres had been stabbed through with some sharp instrument. In the distance, the other car had rounded the corner and, with screaming siren, was racing away for London.

Janet

It was towards the middle of October when I heard from my husband for the first time for many months. For a long time my luck had been atrocious. I lost the greater part of the money paid me for the recovery of Mrs. Trumperton-Smith's diamonds by an investment in a small millinery business which I discovered too late to be already moribund. I had lost post after post for the same maddening reason. My looks had suffered through privation, and my shabby clothes were unbecoming enough, but if I had been Helen of Troy herself I could scarcely have evoked more proposals of the sort which must bring to an end ordinary relations between employer and employee. My good resolutions began to weaken. I had almost made up my mind to appeal for help in quarters which would necessarily have meant the end of my more or less honest life, when one morning a young man who looked like a bank clerk was ushered shamelessly by my landlady into my bed- sitting room. I was folding up a coat which I was going to take to the pawnbroker. I was not in a very pleasant frame of mind, and I was furious with my landlady.

"What do you want?" I asked coldly. "This is not a room in which I can receive visitors."

"My visit is one of business, Madame," he answered. "Are you Mrs. Janet Stanfield?"

"I am generally known by that name," I replied.

He opened his pocketbook and counted out two hundred pounds in bank notes upon the table. After my first exclamation, I watched him, spellbound.

"With the compliments of the bank manager," he said, as he took up his hat and turned away.

"Who sent the notes?" I called out after him. "What bank is it from?"

"The bank of faith, hope and charity," he answered, with a smile. "Good morning!"

He was gone before I could get out another word. I took up the notes greedily. I had done my best to live without my husband's help ever since certain news as to his doings in America had reached me. For some reason which I did not myself altogether understand, I had, I thought, cut myself off from any association with him and his friends. Yet, in my present straits, my attempt at independence seemed hopeless. The money was a necessity to me.

I paid my landlady and made her a present of my dilapidated wardrobe. I possessed the art of knowing how and where to buy things, and before lunchtime that day I was installed in a small flat in a residential suite situated in Albemarle Street, wearing clothes which were in keeping with my surroundings, and with an evening dress and cloak in reserve. My neck and throat and fingers were bare, for I had seen nothing of my jewellery since our ill-omened adventure in Paris. At five minutes to one, however, even this condition was amended. A youth from the hall porter's office put a package into my hand which had just been left by a messenger. I opened it and found half-a-dozen familiar Morocco cases. A portion of the jewellery which I had never thought to see again was in my hands. It was now clear to me that my husband had either already returned or was on the point of doing so, and that my help was needed. Nevertheless, three days went by without a sign or message from anybody, three days during which I lived after the fashion of a cat, curled up in warmth and luxury, clinging to the feel of my clothes, revelling in the perfumes of my bath, eating good food and drinking wine with slow but careful appreciation. I felt the life revive in me, the blood flow once more through my veins. During those three days, nothing in this world would have driven me back to my poverty. I would have committed almost any crime rather than return to it.

On the fourth day I met Norman Greyes. I was leaving a hairdresser's shop in Curzon Street when he swung round the corner of Clarges Street, carrying a bag of golf clubs and evidently looking for a taxicab. I was within a foot or two of him before he recognized me. I was conscious of a keen and peculiar thrill of pleasure as I saw something flash into his stern, unimpressive face. Enemies though we were, he was glad to see me.

"Good morning, Sir Norman," I said, holding out my hand.

"Are there no more criminals left in the world that you take holiday?"

He smiled and put his clubs through the open window of a taxicab which had just drawn up by the side of the kerb.

"I am tired of hunting criminals," he confessed. "Besides, they are turning the tables. They are hunting me."

"Indeed?" I answered. "That sounds as though my husband were coming back."

"There are rumours of it," he admitted. "Are you staying near here?"

"I am living at the Albemarle Court," I told him. "Why not have me watched? If he does come back, I am sure I am one of the first people he would want to visit."

"It is a wonderful idea," he agreed, with a peculiar gleam in his keen grey eyes. "I would rather bribe you, though, to give him up."

"How much?" I asked. "He has treated me very badly lately."

"Dine with me to-night," he suggested, "and we will discuss it."

I am convinced that Norman Greyes is my enemy, as he is Michael's, and that I hate him. Nevertheless, he has a power over me to which I shall never yield but which I cannot explain or analyse. At the thought of dining alone with him, I felt a little shiver run through my body. He stood looking down at me, smiling as he waited for my answer.

"I shall be charmed," I assented boldly.

"At my rooms," he suggested,—"Number 13. About eight o'clock?"

"Why not at a restaurant?" I asked.

"Out of consideration for you," he replied promptly. "You are probably more or less watched, and your movements reported to the organisation of which your husband is the Chief. If you are seen dining alone with me in a public place, they may imagine that you have come over to the enemy."

"You are most thoughtful," I replied, with all the sarcasm in my tone which I could command. "I will come to your rooms then."

He nodded quite pleasantly, raised his cap and stepped into the taxicab. I watched him for a moment, hating him because he seemed to be the one person who had the power to ruffle me. He was dressed just as I like to see men dressed, in grey tweed, loose but well fitting. He wore a soft collar, and the tie of a famous cricket club. His tweed cap was set at just the right angle. He moved wth the light ease of an athlete. I hated his shrewd, kindly smile, the clearness of his bronzed complexion, the little humorous lines about his eyes. I went straight back to my rooms and wrote him a few impulsive lines. I wrote to say that I would dine with him at any restaurant he liked, but not in Clarges Street, and that he could call for me at eight o'clock.

At half-past three that afternoon, I received the invitation which I had been expecting, and at four o'clock I stepped out of a taxicab and entered the offices of a firm of solicitors situated in a quiet square near Lincoln's Inn. An office boy rose up from behind a worm-eaten desk and invited me to seat myself on a hard, wooden chair whilst he disappeared in search of Mr. Younghusband, the principal partner in the firm. The office was decorated by rows of musty files, and a line of bills containing particulars of property sales, the solicitor in each case being the firm of Younghusband, Nicholson and Younghusband. After a few minutes' delay, the boy summoned me and held open a door on the other side of the passage.

"Mr. Younghusband will see you, Madame," he announced. The door was closed behind me and I shook hands with a tall, elderly man who rose to welcome me in somewhat abstracted fashion. He was untidily but professionally dressed He wore oldfashioned, steel-rimmed spectacles, reposing at the present moment on his forehead. The shape of his collar and the fashion of his tie belonged to a bygone generation. There were rows of tin boxes extending to the ceiling, a library of law books, and his table was littered with papers. He reseated himself as soon as I had accepted his proffered chair, pushed a thick parchment deed on one side, crossed his legs and looked at me steadily.

"Mrs.—er—Morrison?" he began, using the name by which I had been known during the last few months.

"That is more or less my name," I admitted. "I received a telephone message asking me to call this afternoon."

"Quite so, quite so," he murmured, a little vaguely. "Now let me see," he went on, looking amongst some papers. "Your husband appears to have been a client of the firm for many years, but my memory—or, here we are," he broke off, drawing a slip of paper towards him. "My instructions, cabled from New York, were to hand you the sum of two hundred pounds. You received that amount, I believe?"

"I received it and have spent the greater part of it," I replied. His expression became a little less benign.

"Dear me, dear me!" he exclaimed. "That sounds rather extravagant."

"I have been without any means of support for many months," I told him.

He scratched his upper lip thoughtfully.

"Your husband has, I gather, been engaged in operations in New York of a delicate nature. The world of finance has always its secrecies. He appears now, however, to have brought his operations to a close. You are aware, perhaps, that he has landed in England?"

My heart gave a little jump. I could not tell whether the sensation I experienced had more in it of joy or of fear.

"Is he safe?" I asked.

"Safe?" Mr. Younghusband repeated, a little vaguely. "Why not?"

There was a moment's silence. I looked around at the shabby but imposing contents of the office, at the lawyer's mildly puzzled expression. I drank in the whole atmosphere of the place, and I was dumb. Mr. Younghusband suddenly smiled, and tapped with his forefinger upon the table. He was like a man who has seen through a faulty phrase in some legal document.

"I apprehend you," he said. "For a moment I was not altogether able to appreciate the significance of your question. New York is a curious place, and I understand—er—that the financial operations in which your husband has been concerned, although profitable, may have made him enemies. He travelled back to England, indeed, under an assumed name. Let me see, I have it somewhere," he went on, fumbling once more amongst a mass of papers. "I had it in my hand only a few minutes ago. Here we are— Mr. Richard Peters. I am instructed to say, Madame, that your husband would welcome a call from you."

"You have his address?"

For the moment Mr. Younghusband looked vague again. Then, with a little smile of triumph, he turned over the slip of paper which he held in his hand.

"His address," he repeated. "Precisely! I have it here—Number 11, Jackson Street."

"Mayfair?" I enquired.

"Mayfair," he assented. "The address reminds me, Madame," he went on, "that you must be prepared to see your husband— not in the best of health. He is, in fact, in a nursing home."

"Is he seriously ill?" I asked.

"I believe not," was the deliberate reply. "You will have an opportunity of judging for yourself within half an hour. I am to ask you to visit him as soon as you can find it convenient."

I sat quite still. I was trying to get these matters into my mind. The lawyer glanced at his watch and immediately struck the bell in front of him.

"You will forgive me, Madame," he said, rising to his feet. "I have a meeting of the Law Society to attend. My compliments to your husband. Tell him to let me know if I can be of further service to him."

The boy was holding open the door. Mr. Younghusband, with a courteous, old-fashioned bow, evidently considered the interview at an end. I went back to my taxicab, a little bewildered, and drove at once to Jackson Street. A nurse in starched linen frock and flowing cap consulted a little slate and led me to a bedroom in one of the upper storeys.

"Mr. Peters is getting on famously, Madame," she announced encouragingly. "The doctor hopes to be able to let him out at the end of the week. Please step in. You can stay as long as you like. Your wife is here, Mr. Peters," she went on, ushering me through the doorway.

She closed the door and I advanced towards the bedside, only to step back with a little exclamation. I thought that there must be some mistake. The man who sat up in bed, watching me, seemed at first sight a stranger. His hair, which had been dark, was now of a sandy grey, and he wore a short, stubbly moustache of the same colour. His cheeks had fallen in, his forehead seemed more prominent, there was an unfamiliar scar on the left side of his face.

"Michael!" I exclaimed incredulously.

"Capital!" he replied. "You see no resemblance to Mr. James Stanfield?"

"Not the slightest," I assured him. "The whole thing is wonderful. But what is the matter with you?"

"Nothing," was the impatient rejoinder. "I have had to starve myself to get thin. I took the place and the name of a business acquaintance upon the boat. It was quite a smart piece of work. I am supposed to be suffering from a nervous breakdown. Bosh! I haven't a nerve in my body."

"You left me alone for a long time," I reminded him.

"I was fighting for my life," he answered grimly. "You don't know the inner workings of the game, so I can't explain. I was hemmed in. As soon as I broke away, they were never on to me again. I brought off the coup of my life in New York, but— things went wrong, Janet. You know what that means."

I watched his face whilst I listened to him speak. The man was re-establishing his strange ascendancy over me, but for the first time I felt the thrill of fear as he spoke.

"You killed some one?" I whispered.

"I had no intention of doing anything of the sort," he answered.

"It was Hartley, the banker, himself. He forced me into a fight at close quarters. We exchanged shots. I was wounded. So was he.

He was in miserable health, though, and he never recovered. The shock killed him as much as anything. I got away all right, but it means all or nothing for the future."

"If you have enough," I suggested, "why not try the other end of the world?"

His thin lips curled scornfully.

"I have thought of everywhere," he answered, "of Indo-China, the South Sea Islands, New Guinea, the far South American States. They are all hopeless. The eyes follow. There is safety only under the shadow of the arm."

"What about our meeting?" I asked. "I am known."

"It is a problem to be solved," he said slowly. "There is risk in it, yet the thought of parting with you, Janet, is like a clutching hand laid upon my heart."

It was the first word of the sort he had ever spoken to me, and again for some reason I shivered.

"What is your need of me now?" I demanded.

"To get rid of Norman Greyes," he replied. There was a silence during which I felt that he was studying my face, and although I do not believe that a muscle twitched or that my eyes lost their steady light, still I was thankful for the darkened room. We heard the subdued noises of the house, the distant hum of vehicles, every now and then the sharp honk of a motor horn. In the tops of the trees just outside, some birds were twittering.

"I have figured it all out," he went on. "I am safe here, safe except from that one man. Even as I am now, he would recognize me. The moment I move, and there are big things to be done here, I shall feel him on my trail. It is his life or mine."

"Why do you think that I can do this?" I asked.

His lips curled once more in the faintest of mirthless smiles.

"Because, although he does not know it, Norman Greyes feels your attraction. He is too strong a man to succumb, but he can never resist dallying with it because it provides him with something new in life. You suggest to him a sensation which he obtains nowhere else. I know men like books, Janet, and I have seen these things."

"Do you know women, too?" I ventured.

"Sufficiently," he answered.

"How do you propose that I should do this?" I asked. He raised himself a little in the bed.

"Norman Greyes," he said, "is one of those men whom it is hard to kill. A fool walks to his death. Norman Greyes wears the aura of defiance. They have tried during the last few weeks. One of the finest marksmen in England missed him with a rifle at a hundred yards. He is a reckless motorist, yet he drove a car with safety when the steering wheel collapsed. Nevertheless, if he had stayed in Devonshire we should have had him. They tell me that he is in London."

"He is within a few yards of the spot," I announced, "and I am dining with him to-night."

For a moment his eyes flashed at me like steel caught in the sunlight.

"I met him at the corner of the street this morning," I explained.

"I ask no questions," was the cold reply. "I shall know if you are ever faithless. A little present for you, Janet."

He brought his hand from under the pillow and handed me an exquisitely chased gold box, a curio of strange shape and with small enamel figures inlaid. I exclaimed with delight. He touched the spring. It was filled with white powder on the top of which reposed a tiny powder puff.

"Be careful not to let any of the powder get near your mouth," he enjoined. "A pinch upon the food or in the glass is sufficient. Take it."

I dropped it into the silk bag I was carrying. I was trying to tell myself that I had killed a man before.

"That half-ounce cost me one hundred pounds," he said. "Men scour the world for it. You can handle the powder freely. There is no danger until it gets into the system."

"And then?"

"It makes a helpless invalid of the strongest for at least two years."

Norman Greyes

I have come to the conclusion that in future I shall do well to avoid Janet Stanfield. As the cold, mechanical assistant of a master of crime, she interested me. I have even devoted a chapter of my forthcoming book to an analysis of her character. I am beginning to realise now, however, that even the hardest and cruellest woman cannot escape from the tendencies of her sex. In all the duels I have previously had with her, she has carried herself with cold and decorous assurance. There has never been a moment when I have seen the light of any real feeling in her eyes. Last night, however, a different woman dined with me. She was more beautiful that I had ever imagined her, by reason of the slight flush that came and went in her cheeks. Her eyes seemed to have increased in size and to flash with a softer brilliance. We sat at a corner table against the wall at Soto's where the room was, as usual, filled with beautiful women. There was no one who at-. tracted so much attention as my companion. There was no one who deserved it.

"You think I am looking well?" she asked, in reply to some observation of mine.

"Wonderfully," I replied. "Also, if I may be allowed to comment upon it, changed. You look as though you had found some new interest in life."

She laughed a little bitterly.

"Where should I seek it?" she demanded.

"Perhaps the change is internal," I suggested. "Perhaps your outlook upon life is changing. Perhaps you have made up your mind to put away the false gods."

"I have travelled too far along one road," she answered hardly. It was at this stage in our conversation that I made up my mind that it were better for me to see this woman no more. Our eyes met, and she suddenly was not hard at all. I seemed to look into her soul, and there were things there which I could not understand. I was thankful that the dancing began just then. It helped us over a curious gulf of silence. Janet danced with little knowledge of the steps but with a wonderful sense of rhythm. I was ashamed of the pleasure it gave me to realise, as we moved away to the music, that this woman of steel had a very soft and human body. Janet was certainly in a strange and nervous state that evening. We danced for some time without resting. Then she suddenly turned back to the table. I had paused for a moment to speak to some acquaintances. When I rejoined her she was pale, and the hand which was holding her little gold powder box was shaking.

"Has anything happened?" I asked her, a little concerned. "Are you not feeling well—Perhaps the dancing?"

"I loved it," she interrupted. "I am quite well."

Yet she sat there, tense and speechless. I made up my mind to finish my coffee and go. I had raised the cup to my lips, even, when she suddenly swayed across the table, knocking my arm with her elbow. My coffee was spilt and the tablecloth was ruined. Janet began to laugh. For a moment she seemed to have a fit of breathlessness. Then, as she watched the cloth being changed, she became herself again. She had the air of one who had met a crisis and conquered it.

"I am so sorry for my clumsiness," she said penitently. "Let us dance again whilst they rearrange the table."

This time her feet moved less airily to the music. She seemed heavier in my arms.

"Who gave you that beautiful gold powder box?" I enquired, more for the sake of making conversation than from any actual curiosity.

Something of the old light flashed for a moment in her eyes. Her reply struck me as curious.

"Satan," she acknowledged. "I have made up my mind, however, to send it back."



VII.—SEVEN BOXES OF GOLD

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Jun 1922

Michael

I was at St. Pancras Station to meet Gorty and Metzger on their arrival in England. I saw the seven black tin boxes with brass clamps handed out of the guard's van and placed on the roof of a taxicab. I knew as though it were foredoomed that the contents of those boxes would be mine before the week was out. I felt certain, too, that one at least of the two men would fight to the death before I obtained possession of them. They were well worth it, however.

It was a foggy night, and I lingered with perfect safety on the outskirts of the little throng of people who had come to greet these two men. They were a rough lot, on the whole—democrats of the lowest type, swarthy and unclean. I saw hungry glances directed towards those black boxes, and I knew that, given sufficient cunning and address, I should not be the first by a long way to strike a blow for their acquisition. But of these others I had no fear. Gorty and Metzger knew their friends, knew them well enough not to trust them.

I walked back through the fog to my humble little flat in Adam Street. Those were gloomy days, even for me who cared little about the physical comforts of life. I was passing as Mr. Arthur Younghusband, LL.D., a cousin of the well-known solicitor of Lincoln's Inn, in town to consult works of reference at the British Museum. Day by day I walked to that gloomy mausoleum of dead knowledge, spent an hour or so there, and walked back to my rooms. No one dogged my footsteps. By devious ways I had shaken off all pursuit and suspicion. Yet life was a wearisome thing. I am not a man with many human weaknesses, but I should have welcomed a visit from Janet—a little dinner, perhaps, at the Café Royal, a peep into the world of many-coloured pleasures outside of which my path lay. These things, however, I knew were not for me. Janet was watched, as I knew beyond a doubt, and even if she were not, she had failed me in my last demand. Janet presented a problem presently to be solved.

On the third day after the arrival of Gorty and Metzger, I visited my solicitors, Messrs. Younghusband, Nicholson and Younghusband, at Lincoln's Inn. My reputed cousin accorded me an interview within a few minutes of my arrival. We spoke for a time of my studies and their progress. Then there was a pause. The door was closed, the walls of the room were thick.

"Things progress?" I demanded, leaning across his wide, untidy table.

Mr. Younghusband smiled benevolently. In these moments of direct speech I was accustomed to forget my assumed personality and to speak with all the quick incisiveness that was natural to me. My legal adviser, however, never altered his manner of reply or deportment. He was always the same—unctuous, legal, courtly.

"Your affairs are in excellent train," he assured me. "Of the two people in whom we are interested, one leaves, as we have surmised, for Manchester to-night, the other remains alone."

"They have made no arrangement with any bank yet?" My companion shook his head.

"They are both, under the circumstances, suspicious," he said. "Their position, of course, is—er—peculiar. They are the custodians of a hundred thousand pounds in gold, with which they hope to establish a few private credits in this country. On the other hand, the country to which they belong owes us something like a hundred times that amount. They have a somewhat natural fear that any bank with which they might deposit their treasure might be disposed to hand it over to the Government, or that the Government, by some legal means, might attach it."

"Therefore," I observed, "it remains in their rooms?"

"Precisely! They consider it the lesser risk."

"And Gorty goes to Manchester to-night?"

"That is so," the lawyer murmured.

"So far all seems well," I said. "The great thing is that the gold has not been removed and that Metzger will be alone. There were other little details."

"Just so!" Mr. Younghusband assented, leaning back in his chair with his finger tips pressed together. "So far as regards the setting of the affair, I think you will find it in order. Metzger and Gorty occupy suite Number 89 at the Milan Hotel, which suite consists, as you know, of two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting room. The sitting room is on the extreme right-hand side of the suite, and the gold is kept in Metzger's bedroom, which opens from the sitting room. The bathroom is between the two bedrooms."

"I have had the plan," I interrupted, a little impatiently. Mr. Younghusband declined to be hurried. He had the air of giving difficult legal advice on a technical point.

"Suite Number 90," he continued, "consists of a bedroom, bathroom and sitting room only, and is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Jose di Miguel, very rich South Americans. They are leaving tonight by motor car for Southampton to catch the steamer there for Buenos Aires in the morning."

"Their luggage is already packed?" I asked.

"Already packed," Mr. Younghusband agreed. "The porters have commented upon its weight."

"And Madame?"

"Appears to have fulfilled her task," was the somewhat hesitating answer.

I detected signs of uneasiness in my companion's speech, and I questioned him about it promptly.

"Have you doubts of the woman?" I asked.

"None whatever," Mr. Younghusband assured me blandly. "At the same time, she is, without a doubt, the weakest link in the chain. She has temperament enough—Metzger seems to have been an easy victim—but I should have had more confidence in the lady who visited me the other day."

"I can no longer put complete faith in my wife," I replied coldly. Mr. Younghusband was startled out of his dignified serenity of manner. He leaned across the table.

"What do you mean by that?" he demanded harshly. "Do you know that she has been here, the one place in London you should have kept her away from if you had any doubts?"

"I have no doubts whatever as to her fidelity," I declared. "You know what I mean when I say that, in the parlance of our friends, she has gone soft. It is a pity."

Mr. Younghusband seemed relieved but puzzled.

"A woman who could do what she did on the golf links at Woking," he murmured reminiscently, "must have changed very much if she merits your present criticism."

The subject was not a pleasant one to me. I abandoned it.

"In any case," I reminded him, "she is in touch with Greyes and he knows too much."

"Wonderful capacity for existence, that man," Mr. Younghusband remarked suavely.

I am not a lover of harsh deeds. I seldom go out of my way to kill, or allow my subordinates to do so, if my ends can be obtained otherwise. At that moment, however, I felt a sudden resurgence into my brain of that one bloodthirsty desire of my life.

"As soon as this affair is safely concluded," I said, "and we are in funds again, I shall deal with Norman Greyes myself."

"It occurs to me that you would be well advised," my companion acquiesced. "The person in question possesses the one gift which might make him dangerous to us. He has imagination."

I nodded. I was tracing figures upon the blotting paper, debating with myself different methods of dealing with Norman Greyes.

"Every channel which might lead to the firm of Younghusband, Nicholson and Younghusband," the lawyer continued meditatively, "seems, so far as human ingenuity could arrange it, permanently blocked, but a man with imagination who is not afraid to work on guesswork is always to be feared."

"It will not be my fault," I promised, as I took my leave, "if you have any cause to fear Norman Greyes after the next month or so."

That night, in the language of those forgotten war communiques, everything happened according to plan. At a quarter to nine, Metzger, who was writing alone in his sitting room, heard a soft knocking at the door which communicated with the adjoining suite. He rose promptly to his feet, locked the outside door of his own rooms, and softly withdrew the bolt. He stood there with an inviting smile upon his ugly face. Madame di Miguel laid a cautioning finger upon her somewhat overpainted lips, as she stole over the threshold.

"There is one hour that my husband will be away," she whispered, gliding past him. "You may kiss me."

Metzger bent towards her. I moved noiselessly, but I think he would not have heard me if I had worn hob-nailed boots. The rest was easy, for it was a trick I knew well. He collapsed with scarcely a gasp. I tightened the cord a little and the deed was done.

Norman Greyes

It was entirely by accident that I had dined that night in the grillroom of the Milan Hotel with Rimmington. He had asked me for an interview that afternoon over the telephone, and, being disengaged, I had suggested a little dinner at my club. We had arrived there to find the place packed and the best tables full. Sooner than wait, we had strolled down to the Milan and at a corner table there enjoyed a comfortable meal. Rimmington was in the act of disclosing his reason for wishing to see me, when the manager, who was an old acquaintance of mine, stopped short on his hurried way through the room and came across to us.

"I wonder whether you would mind coming upstairs with me for a moment, Sir Norman," he begged, "and you too, Mr. Rimmington. I have just been sent for. Something seems wrong in one of the suites."

We rose without hesitation and followed him out of the room, into the lift and up to the sixth floor. When we stepped out, several of the servants were gathered together at the further end of the corridor. The manager embarked upon a word or two of explanation.

"There may be nothing wrong at all," he said. "This is just the position as it has been reported to me. Suite Number 89 was taken some days ago by Metzger and Gorty, the two emissaries from our eastern friends. They brought over some gold, as you know, in tin boxes, and, greatly against my advice, they had it stored in their rooms. Gorty went to Manchester last night, leaving Metzger alone. Our telephone operator reported that he refused to answer the telephone about half an hour ago. We sent up to his room and found it bolted on the inside. We rang and knocked without the slightest result. Finally we entered the suite through the adjoining room, which had just been vacated, and found that although the outer door was bolted on the inside, the suite was empty. Further, the tin boxes of gold had gone."

"Interesting," Rimmington murmured, "very!"

The manager led us along the corridor, through an empty bedroom which showed signs of recent vacation, into the suite which had been allotted to Messrs. Metzger and Gorty. It had a habitable air, newspapers and magazines lay about, whisky and soda and a bottle of liqueur stood upon the sideboard. There were no signs of any trouble, or disturbance of any sort. We walked through the sitting room, the two bedrooms and the bathroom, and the floor waiter, who had now joined us, showed where the boxes had been stacked.

"Is there any reason to suppose," I asked, "that this man Metzger has not taken away the gold himself?"

"In that case," the manager pointed out, "some one would have had to carry the cases downstairs. No one has done so. No one has seen Metzger leave the place."

"We are to presume, then," I observed, "that he is still in the hotel?"

"Precisely!"

"You have had him searched for?"

"Half a dozen men have searched every corner of the place, from the bars to the private rooms. Furthermore, no one in the hotel has even caught a glimpse of him."

I went through the rooms again. When I came to the bedroom adjoining the sitting room, and which the floor waiter told me was Metzger's, I noticed that the wardrobe was locked. Not only that but there was a slight strain being exercised against the lock, bending the panel slightly. For the first time I began to look upon the matter as serious.

"This door must be broken open quickly," I insisted, "or a spare key found."

The key from the wardrobe in Gorty's room was tried with success. As it was turned, the door flew open. I was just in time to catch in my arms a crumpled mass of clothes and humanity. With a blackened face and protuberant eyes, his tongue lolling out on one side and a little froth at the corners of his mouth, it was still not difficult to recognize from his pictures the man who had refused to answer the telephone.

"My God!" Rimmington exclaimed. "He's dead!"

"He's very near it," I replied, loosening the slipknot of whipcord from around his neck. "Send for a doctor at once, and, Rimmington, you had better ring up the Yard and get to work quickly."

Rimmington at that moment justified my confidence in him. He wasted no time in exclamations or idle questions. He pointed to the door of the room through which we had entered.

"How long ago did those people leave?" he asked, "and what luggage did they take with them?"

"They left an hour ago," the floor waiter answered. "They had two very heavy trunks."

"The affair appears to solve itself," Rimmington muttered, after he had spoken a few hasty words down the telephone. The floor waiter, who was an intelligent fellow, followed us into the other room, to which we had withdrawn on the arrival of the doctor.

"There is one thing I ought to tell you, sir," he said. "The porters tried to move those trunks several hours ago, while Mr. Metzger was busy writing in his room. They were too heavy then—and at that time the tin cases were still in Mr. Gorty's room."

"You are sure of that?" Rimmington asked.

"Absolutely, sir."

Rimmington looked around. I could see that the same thought had occurred to him as to me. The briefest of searches confirmed our suspicions. The wardrobe was filled with lumps of heavy stone.

"There is only one point now remaining to be solved," I observed, "and that is, did these two, Mr. and Mrs. Jose di Miguel, carry out this little affair entirely alone, or had they accomplices?"

"They had a visitor about an hour before they left, sir," the floor waiter told us.

Rimmington took out his notebook.

"Description, please," he begged.

"I scarcely saw the gentleman myself, sir," the man replied. "He seemed quite ordinary-looking. He wore glasses, and his hair was grey."

"Well," Rimmington said, as we descended to the ground floor to meet the men whom he had summoned from Scotland Yard,

"we get it in the neck sometimes about our failure. This time, if we don't get hold of Di Miguel and his heavy trunks, I should think we'd deserve all the censure we'll get."

"Nothing in it for me, I'm afraid," I remarked, as I bade him good night.

"It doesn't look like it," he admitted. "However, one never knows."

It was the unexpected which happened. Although Mr. Jose di Miguel and his wife could have had barely an hour's start, and were handicapped by the possession of two trunks of enormous weight, a week passed without any news of their arrest or of the recovery of any part of the gold. Metzger remained in a state of partial unconsciousness and could give no coherent account of what had happened. Gorty returned from Manchester and behaved like a madman. He spent his time between Downing Street, where he boldly accused the Government of having taken the gold, and Scotland Yard, where he expressed his opinion of the English police system in terms which made him, to say the least of it, unpopular there. In the beginning the whole affair had seemed most simple. Mr. and Mrs. di Miguel, distributing gratuities in most lavish fashion, had driven calmly away from the Milan at the appointed hour, and had arrived at Waterloo in ample time for the train which they had planned to take to Southampton. When that train arrived at Southampton, however, there was no one in it in the least answering to their description, neither had any rooms been taken in the hotel, nor passages booked on the steamer. Curiously enough, too, none of the porters could remember handling any particularly heavy luggage for that train, or attending upon any passengers answering to the description of the two missing people, yet the man who drove the hotel bus to the station—an old servant and a man of excellent character—gave unfaltering evidence as to his having driven there, and- having left his two passengers waiting on the pavement while a porter went for a barrow.

I kept away from Rimmington for some time, for I thoroughly sympathised with his position. On the tenth day, however, he came to see me.

"Not so simple as we thought," he remarked, as he accepted a cigar and an easy-chair.

"Apparently not," I assented. "What about the bus driver?"

"He's been with the hotel company for seventeen years," Rimmington replied, "has a wife and children and an excellent character. Besides, a score of people saw the bus in the station yard."

"And the man who visited them at the hotel at the last moment?"

"We're offering a hundred pounds' reward for his discovery. Here's his description."

I read the typewritten sheet which Rimmington pushed across to me and returned it in silence.

"Suggest anything to you?" my visitor asked.

"The description might apply to thousands," I answered, a little evasively.

Rimmington stared gloomily into the fire.

"It might," he admitted. "Do you know who I think it was?"

"No idea," I answered mendaciously.

"Your friend—Pugsley—Stanfield—or to go behind all his aliases and call him by his rightful name—Michael Sayers."

"Do you really believe that that man is in England?" I asked.

"I do," was the confident reply. "He was chased out of the States, we have granted an extradition warrant against him on the charge of manslaughter, we have watched every steamship at every port, yet I don't mind confessing to you that we have reason to believe that he is in London at the present moment and in touch with his old associates."

"If that is so," I declared, "I should imagine that the person who earns your hundred pounds will be able to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. di Miguel."

Notwithstanding Rimmington's conviction, I started on no mad quest of my enemy. Indeed, I had no inspiration as to where to commence my search. Janet had left Albemarle Court and had not replied to the various notes which I had written her. I had a vague idea that there was danger in prosecuting enquiries for her too closely. I had an idea, too, which was by no means vague, that I was being watched. There was always a loiterer of some sort or another in the street when I entered or left my rooms. I felt surreptitious eyes upon me often, when I lunched or dined or visited the theatre. Once I walked home late through Lansdowne Passage, and heard the patter of rubber-shod feet behind me. I swung around, and my pursuer, whoever he was, a burly but agile figure, took refuge in flight. When I regained the entrance to the passage, he was nowhere to be seen. There were other and similar incidents. I had gone unarmed through the time of trouble in Ireland. I carried a revolver with me now, and I practised getting at it quickly.

It was about three weeks after the attack upon Metzger and the disappearance of the gold, when I received a most unexpected visitor. I heard a shrill, foreign voice in the hall overriding my servant's objections, and a moment later, a man entered unannounced and evidently in a state of some excitement. He was small and of exceeding unprepossessing appearance. His face was pitted with smallpox, he had wicked-looking teeth, a stubbly black moustache, a head of black hair as thick and upright-growing as a porcupine's. He addressed me at once in broken English.

"You are Sir Norman Greyes?" he said. "I am Gorty. I came to this country of cutthroats with Metzger—with him who lies in the hospital. Will you listen to me?"

I motioned to Adams to leave us and wheeled round an easy-chair for my visitor.

"Sit down," I invited. "I am glad to see you, Mr. Gorty, although I think you are a little hard upon us over here."

"What am I to think?" he demanded fiercely. "I come from a great but a poor Government. With much trouble we get together the gold with which to buy materials in this country and open credits. It is you who are supposed to be more civilised than any other country. I go to Manchester to speak at a meeting. I come back and what do I find—My comrade brutally assaulted, my country's gold stolen! Yes, and that in the heart of your London—in the centre of your civilization! What am I to think of you, then, as a people, I ask?"

"It was a most unusual crime," I told him, "but you must remember that you were taking grave risks in having a large amount of gold like that unguarded in your room. The police, however, are doing—"

"The police?" he almost shrieked. "Your police? They are imbeciles—imbeciles or rascals—I know not which! And as to having the money unguarded, how could we help it? There are many banks in London who say we owe them money. What would have happened if I had deposited my gold there? They would surely have annexed it. And as it is, do you believe that it is an ordinary thief who has robbed us? No! I say no! Or if it is a thief, it is one whom your precious police can lay their hands on when they choose, and when they do so, what will happen? The gold will be claimed by your Government."

"I am afraid," I said, "that you are taking a very extreme view of things. However, under the circumstances I cannot blame you for feeling ill-used. Tell me what brings you here?"

"Ten years ago," he went on, suddenly calmer, "I was in the service of the police of my country. There was an anarchist plot. Three criminals escaped to London. You were at Scotland Yard and I came to see you. You found me those criminals."

"I remember it perfectly," I answered, "but you have changed your name."

"It was necessary," he admitted. "In my country one changes one's name frequently. But you I remembered. Mr. Rimmington spoke of you. I found your address. I am here."

"Tell me what to do for you?" I begged.

"Find me my gold," he demanded. "Find me the man who attacked Metzger."

"If I could do that," I told him, "I should have done it long ago. I am only too pleased when I can help the police in their duties."

He drew his easy-chair a little closer to mine. He eyed my box of cigarettes hungrily. I placed it by his side and handed him a match. He smoked furiously.

"Listen," he confided, "I have a piece of evidence. I will not take it to the police. I do not trust them. You shall find me my gold."

"What is your piece of evidence?" I asked.

"The little grey man," he answered, "the man whom they spoke of as visiting the South Americans in the next suite. Ah! those South Americans—I never trusted them! I saw the Madame make eyes at Metzger. What need had she of Metzger? A woman like that has lovers enough."

"About the little grey man," I ventured.

"They speak of him in the evidence," Gorty went on eagerly.

"He was at the suite that night. I saw him with Madame the South American, two days before. I know where he is to be found now."

"Why the devil haven't you told the police?" I exclaimed. "That is the one man they are looking for."

My visitor narrowly escaped a paroxysm. He swept an ornament from the table by his side without noticing it. He gibbered for a moment like a madman.

"But have I not explained?" he expostulated. "I do not trust the police. Six of those solemn constables would march up in uniform to the place I spoke of, and the little grey man would slip away. I tell you. You must find him and see who he is. You must consider how to act. The assault upon Metzger was bad, but it is the gold I want."

"Very well," I said, "tell me where to find him?"

"Go to the reading room at the British Museum between eleven and one o'clock," Gorty told me. "You will find him there, reading. I myself am a student. Twice I have sat at the next table. He is reading from some rare volumes the History of the Rosicrucians."

"Between eleven and one," I repeated.

"You will go?"

"To-morrow morning," I promised.

Gorty rose up.

"Listen, Greyes," he said, "you, Sir Norman Greyes. Will you swear that if you recover my gold it comes to me?"

"I swear it," I answered.

"Then through, that man you will find it," he declared. Gorty was right. The moment when, from my place of concealment, I saw him come shuffling into the reading room and take his place nearly opposite to me at the great round table, I knew very well that this was Michael. He carried with him two or three books, a volume of reference and a notebook. He had the appearance of the most devout bibliophile, and indeed, having watched him for some time, I came to the conclusion that he was in earnest about his labours. It was in these little ways that Michael achieved real greatness. Detail was a passion with him. He not only appeared to be deeply interested in the Rosicrucian history. He had actually" become so.

I was, without doubt, at fault not to have at once passed on my information to Rimmington and to have had my old adversary arrested on one of the many previous counts against him. It seemed to me, however, that this would bring to an end our chances of recovering the gold, and I could not ignore the fact that I was indebted to Gorty for the information which had delivered Michael into my hands. I therefore maintained a strict watch and waited. For three days and three nights I knew Michael's every movement. He made his own breakfast, lunched at a small restaurant near the Museum, and dined each night at the Monico, where he sometimes played dominoes for an hour afterwards, if able to find an opponent. On the fourth night, however, he departed from his usual practices. The young woman whom I had been employing to watch him came to me in haste.

"Our friend," she announced, "called at the Monico but took only an aperitif there. He walked across to Romano's and has ordered a table and dinner for two."

"Whereabouts?" I asked quickly.

"Downstairs in the restaurant, on the right-hand side," she replied.

I rang up Romano's and engaged one of the tables in the balcony. In a quarter of an hour, I was ensconced there behind the curtain, with Miss Rose Weston, the young woman who had brought me the news of Michael's change of plans, as my companion. She had found time to change into evening clothes, and she played her part exceedingly well. We should have passed anywhere as a very ordinary couple, indulging in a somewhat pronounced dinner flirtation. I kept my eye, however, on the table at which Michael was seated below, and in due course I was rewarded. A very elegant, quietly dressed woman came into the restaurant and sank into the chair opposite. I saw at once that it was Janet.

"What you expected?" my companion asked quickly.

"In a sense," I admitted. "Remember, when they leave, it is the woman you follow."

I watched them closely from behind the curtain. There was no more distinguished-looking woman in the room than Janet, or more beautiful. She talked in a low tone to her companion, and her manner was often earnest. Nevertheless, she never smiled. She was different in that respect from every one of the diners by whom she was surrounded. There was not a suggestion about her of festivity. She ate moderately, drank sparingly, and talked. All the time she gave one the impression of a great weariness. Towards the end of the meal, what I had been watching for happened. She opened her hand bag and passed something across the table. It was about the size and shape of an ordinary sporting cartridge, but I felt certain, from the way she handled it, that it was heavy. I knew then that we were on the right track.

"You are satisfied?" my companion asked.

"Perfectly," I assured her. "I am going to run no further risk of being recognized. I shall pay the bill and go. You will remain. Remember, it is the woman you must watch. Engage as much help as you require. She must be watched unceasingly."

My companion nodded.

"It will not be difficult," she said.

I took my departure, and at this stage of my search for the missing gold, I took Rimmington into my confidence. He agreed with me as to the advisability of allowing Michael to remain at large for the present, and so far as he was concerned, he satisfied himself with placing a strict watch upon the house in Adam Street where we had located him. I myself retired a little into the background, although I remained in the closest touch with Miss Weston. Her information was always interesting, always suggestive. The whole scheme gradually unwound itself. Rimmington and I found a certain delight in fitting the pieces together. He himself brought some valuable information, which he laid before me a few nights after the dinner at Romano's.

"One of the out porters at Waterloo," he announced, "seems to remember a small furniture van backed up against the pavement, some distance away from where the majority of the taxicabs were unloading."

"He didn't notice the name on it, I suppose?" I asked.

"No such luck! There's another thing, though. One of the old hands there told another of my fellows that he noticed several porters about that night whose faces were quite unfamiliar to him and whom he has not seen since. The driver of the bus from the Savoy insists upon it, as you remember, that Madame di Miguel pushed away the first porter who accosted them, and was determined to employ two of her own choosing."

"We have got so far, then," I pointed out, recapitulating items of information which had been brought us. "This pseudo South American and his wife drove up to Waterloo with three heavy cases. They were met there by confederates dressed in the uniform of railway porters, who probably took the boxes into the station and, choosing their opportunity, brought them out again and got them into the furniture van. The inference is that the gold is still in London. To proceed. What have we learned about Janet. She is staying in a boarding house in the Cromwell Road, frequented by artists. She spends an hour or two every day at the South Kensington Museum, studying statuary. It is exactly four days since she brought a little specimen of some sort of work to Michael, something that, unless I am mistaken, was of considerable weight, for I noticed that her hand bag sagged as she walked through the restaurant. Further,—"

The telephone bell rang. I recognized Miss Weston's voice at the other end. I listened to what she had to say, and in ten minutes we were in my car and on the way to Twickenham. We picked up Miss Weston herself in Kensington.

"The woman whom I have been following," she announced, "is only a few minutes ahead of us. She is in a private car, and there is a strange man seated in front with the chauffeur."

"It looks well," Rimmington admitted. "Our friend has ordered the same table for dinner to-night at Romano's."

On our way, I had a moment of uneasiness. A grey touring car passed us at a great speed and shot down the Brentford Road, considerably ahead of us. Rimmington spoke for a moment through the tube, and we pulled up at the district police station.

"We've given Michael rope enough," he decided. "He may get the alarm at any moment now. I'm going to have him arrested."

I drew a little breath. It was hard to think that I should not be present at the end for which I had worked so zealously, but I realised the risk of letting him remain at large any longer. I waited while Rimmington entered the police station and spoke to headquarters. When he returned, he brought with him a couple of plain-clothes men, one of whom sat in the front and the other with us.

"There will probably be half a dozen of them," Rimmington pointed out, "and from what I know of the gang that Michael generally employs, there may be a little trouble. We'll leave Miss Weston in the car."

We turned off the main road at Twickenham, and finally stopped before the gates of a large, old-fashioned villa, badly out of repair and apparently empty. The grounds sloped down to the river and the gates were padlocked. We climbed over, leaving Miss Weston behind. She detained us for one moment.

"The house is called 'The Sanctuary'," she said. "Goodson, the sculptor in bronze, lived here once."

We hurried off. The place showed every sign of desertion, but there were marks of recent wheels upon the avenues, and as we turned the last corner we saw a thin cloud of smoke curling upwards from a long range of outbuildings which looked like a sort of annex to the kitchen. Rimmington quickened his pace. We all broke into a run. We avoided the front door, with its flight of stone steps, and went straight for the building which we now perceived to have been the studio. The door of a long outhouse stood open. We paused to look inside. There was a furniture van there, and inside some clothing of rusty velveteen or corduroy. The porters' uniforms were accounted for. Entrance to the studio itself was gained by means of a stout oak door, obviously barred and bolted. We went round to the back, crossing a lawn where the grass and weeds were up to our knees. We failed to discover any other door, but somehow or other we found our way through a smashed window into the great room with its dome-shaped ceiling. I think, even as we entered, we realised that we were too late. The place was empty. A small forge was burning; there were several strange- looking vessels lying about the floor; the coffers, covered only by a piece of matting which Rimmington kicked aside, were ranged against the wall. There was not a sound to be heard, but the place smelt of tobacco smoke, and indeed there was a faint cloud of blue smoke still hanging about the roof.

"We've lost them!" Rimmington muttered. I thought of Gorty as I thrust my hand down amongst the gold pieces.

"We have the gold, though," I reminded him.

"And Michael, I trust," was the fervent rejoinder. We searched the house, which was empty and desolate. Then we sent to the local police station and arranged for the gold to be removed. Afterwards, we called on the house agent. He made a little grimace when we mentioned The Sanctuary.

"Thought I'd let it to a lady sculptor," he declared. "She paid for the house for a month, to see whether she could work there— wanted to do her own casting or something."

"She paid you for the month, I hope?" Rimmington enquired.

"Oh, she paid that all right," the agent replied. "I wish these old places were all pulled down. They're more trouble than they're worth."

"Did the lady bring you any references?" I asked.

"I didn't ask for any," the house agent replied frankly. "I was only too glad to get any one even to talk about the property. Besides, she put the money down."

"Nevertheless," Rimmington said quietly, "as a person who has had some experience in these matters—I am Inspector Rimmington of Scotland Yard—I should advise you to be a little careful how you deal with these large, old-fashioned houses. In the present case, you may be interested to know that the little forge in the studio at The Sanctuary has been used for the purpose of melting down Russian gold."

"God help us!" the agent cried. "What, the Gorty and Metzger gold?"

"Precisely," Rimmington acquiesced. "They've only got rid of a little of it, as it happens, but, to judge from the preparations, they were going more extensively into it in a day or two."

We drove back to London, and I followed my friend into his private soam with a rare thrill of excitement. I saw his face grow white and stern as he listened to the report of the man who rose to meet him. Then he turned to me.

"The rooms in Adam Street are empty," he said. "Stanfield has not visited the British Museum to-day. We've lost him again! I ought to have known better," he added bitterly, "than to have let him remain at liberty for a single moment."

"And the woman?" I asked, a little nervously. Rimmington shook his head.

"We don't want her," he said. "She's just the decoy who may some day whistle her mate to his cell. It's a knock for us, Greyes. Neither Di Miguel nor his wife nor Michael Sayers!"

"But we have the gold," I reminded him once more.

"Damn the gold!" Rimmington retorted profanely.

But Gorty thought otherwise. So, when he recovered consciousness, did Metzger.



VIII.—THE UNFAMILIAR TRIANGLE

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Jul 1922

Janet

This, as near as I can remember, is a copy of the letter I received that wonderful third day of March:

137 Golden Square, London, W.C.

Dear Madam,

We beg to inform you that, under the will of the late William Soale, gardener, of Mayford, Surrey, you are entitled to a legacy of £250, free of duty.

As the estate is so small, and the assets are chiefly in War Loan, we are in a position to pay you that sum at once, if you will favour us with a call, or your instructions.

Faithfully,
Haskell & Hames.

No one could possibly realise what that money meant for me. I had been working for months at a small dressmaker's in Kensington, earning barely enough to keep myself, slinking to work in the morning and slinking home at night, terrified alike of Michael, the man whom I had once loved, and of Norman Greyes, the man who, without the slightest effort on his part, had attained such a strange and commanding influence over my thoughts and life. And now for a time, at least, I was free. With two hundred and fifty pounds, I could escape from London and hide. None of the obvious places appealed to me in any way. After a great deal of consideration, I took a first-class passage to Marseilles, in the name of Janet Soale, on the slowest P. & O. boat I could find. I spent a moderate sum in replenishing my wardrobe, sewed a hundred-pound note into my bodice, and started on my adventure. The first few days were wonderful. I found all that I craved for in my new surroundings—freedom from the sordid necessides of daily work, and an indescribable sense of exhilaration, born of the huge spaces, the roaring wind and the sting of the spray. As soon as the sun began to shine through the grey clouds of the English Channel, I felt something stirring in my heart— a sort of passionate content which crept through my whole being as the skies grew clearer through the Bay of Biscay and the sun went down in a clear glory of amber and gold. There was so much that was beautiful in life of which I knew nothing—and I was so anxious to learn.

I had made no effort to secure any special place in the dining saloon. Consequently, the seat apportioned to me was in a somewhat remote corner, and my companions of that negative type who seem born to promenade the decks of steamers, point out perfectly obvious porpoises and passing ships to their fellow passengers, and apparently disappear at the end of the voyage from the face of the earth. It was what suited me best. Day by day I breathed in an atmosphere of repose. Then the natural thing happened. My interest in life began to revive. I was young and strong. The sunshine, the salt air, the complete change did their work. I made some slight change in my toilette one night and arranged my hair differently. Half a dozen people made an excuse to come and talk to me that night on deck. I had as many offers of an escort to view the sights when we landed at Gibraltar on the following day. Men, however, made no appeal to me. I preferred to join a small party, mostly composed of people who sat at my table. We wandered about the place in the usual disjointed fashion, striving to assume the tourist's intelligent interest in the jumble of Spanish remains, modern fortifications, burnous-clad Moors and preternaturally withered Spaniards. We gaped at the shop windows and bought the usual variety of useless articles. It was here for the first time that I felt a momentary impulse of sadness. Picture postcards were of no use to me. There was not a soul in the world who was interested in my comings or goings. With me acquaintance seemed to spell tragedy.

Finally, we wandered into the hotel for tea, served in a lounge which one of my travelled companions described as the very Mecca of spurious Orientalism. The room had a glass roof but no windows. It was adorned with artificial flowers rearing their heads from brass pots, marble-topped tables and plush furniture. None of these things impressed me at the time, for a very adequate reason. I was steeped in amazement at something I saw in the face of the woman who had been its solitary occupant before our coming. She was moderately young, quietly but expensively dressed, of small but graceful figure and with large dark eyes. It was none of these personal characteristics, however, which compelled and riveted my attention. It was the fact that from her corner in the darkened room she was glaring at me with an expression of intent and deliberate malignity. To the best of my belief I had never seen her before, yet it was a clear and unmistakable fact that in this hotel room at Gibraltar I had suddenly come into contact with a woman who hated me.

We somehow or other found places at a table. My immediate neighbour was an elderly American gentleman who had once or twice spoken to me on the voyage, but who seemed to spend most of his time seeking for ex-business associates. He had, he told me, been a manufacturer of boots and shoes in a place called Lynn. His name was Frank Popple.

"Say, are you acquainted with the lady in the corner?" he asked curiously.

I shook my head.

"I have never seen her before," I assured him.

"Is that so?" he replied incredulously. "I guess she isn't partial to strangers, then. Didn't you notice her looking kind of fierce?"

"I thought that she had probably mistaken me for some one else," I said.

Mr. Popple appeared to find the surmise possible.

"Fiery-tempered lot, these foreigners," he remarked. I received a further shock about an hour later, when I found the same woman ensconced in a corner of the tender which was to take us back to the steamer, surrounded by two much-belabelled steamer trunks, a dressing case, hat box, and other feminine impedimenta. She scowled at me sullenly when we came on board, and, acting entirely on impulse, I walked straight across to her.

"Have I offended you in any way?" I enquired. "It seems to me that we are strangers."

She looked at me steadfastly. Her face, which normally must have been soft and pretty, had become hard and cold. Her eyes still told their tale of hatred.

"You are Janet Stanfield, are you not?" she asked.

"That is certainly my name," I admitted, more puzzled than ever. "How do you know it?"

She looked at me in doubting silence. The sun was pouring down upon us. The strange, foreign odour of the place, pungent but fascinating to me in its novelty, was in my nostrils. On the quay, a ruffianly looking Spaniard, with olive cheeks, jet-black hair and flashing eyes, was singing a sweet but sensuous melody. In the background, one heard from across the harbour the sad chant of the Lascars as they bent over their toil on the deck of an outgoing steamer. All these things became mingled with my impressions of the moment.

"I have seen your picture," she said gloomily.

"Where?"

"In New York. He carried it with him."

She turned deliberately away, as though determined not to enter into any further conversation. I found her unsociability to some extent a relief, but when I stepped on board again my blessed peace of mind was gone. I relapsed into my former frame of mind and endeavoured to keep away from every one. Mr. Popple, however, refused to accept my plain hints. He dragged his chair over to my corner on deck.

"Mrs. Louisa K. Martin, that lady's name," he informed me, "comes from way out west, beyond Milwaukee. She is getting out at Marseilles."

"I had forgotten all about her," I replied mendaciously. Mr. Popple scratched his chin thoughtfully. He was a large man, clean-shaven, with a ponderous jaw but kindly eyes, with little creases at the side. He seemed a little hurt at my lack of confidence.

"I'd give her a wide berth if I were you," he advised. "Travelling about as much as I do, I've got kind of used to taking stock of people's expressions, and the way she looked at you was distinctly mean."

I declined to continue the conversation and announced my intention of going to bed. As I entered the music room on the way to my cabin, there was a curious cessation of conversation. Mrs. Louisa K. Martin, who was seated in an easy-chair, very becomingly dressed in black, with a long rope of pearls around her neck, looked at me with steady insolence. I walked straight up to her chair. I knew that she had been saying things about me and I was furious.

"Are you meeting my husband at Marseilles, Mrs. Martin?" I asked her.

I was sorry for the question directly the words had left my lips— sorry for her, too, in a way. She turned deathly pale, and if looks could have killed I should have been a dead woman. She made no answer at all. I waited for a moment and then passed on to my stateroom.

It must have been about ten o'clock that night when I heard a soft tapping at my door. I guessed at once who it was, and I guessed rightly. It was Mrs. Louisa Martin, wrapped in a dressing gown and with slippers on her feet. She closed the door carefully and she put her fingers to her lips.

"We must be careful," she whispered. "You were mad to speak of Michael openly."

"Of my husband?"

She laughed contemptuously.

"He married me years before you," she replied, "and another before either of us."

I turned away from her that she should not see the hate in my face. Some conviction of this sort had been growing upon me of late.

"When two women love the same man," Louisa Martin continued, "they should forget everything when he is in danger. I don't see love in your face," she went on. "Then why are you here?"

"I see no reason why I should discuss that or any other subject with you," I answered, "but as a matter of fact I had no idea that Michael was in Marseilles."

I thought that she would have struck me. The fire of unbelief blazed in her eyes.

"What are you doing on this steamer, then?" she demanded.

"I came for a holiday trip," I told her.

She leaned a little towards me. In the unshaded light of the cabin her face seemed wan, almost aged.

"Listen," she said, "this is a matter of life or death for Michael. You heard through some one of his being in Marseilles. Tell me through whom?"

"I swear that I had no idea he was there," I repeated.

"You fool!" she exclaimed. "Can't you see that you are probably followed—that the police are making use of you?"

"You are in the same position yourself," I reminded her.

"Indeed I am not," she assured me earnestly. "I was born in Marseilles. I have travelled there repeatedly. I know every corner and stone of the place. It was I who taught Michael that it was the finest hiding place in the world for the educated criminal. It was I who took him where he is now."

Our conversation was suddenly interrupted in a very unexpected fashion. My stewardess entered, with a thin blue strip in her hand.

"Wireless for you, Mrs. Soale," she announced, addressing me by the name under which I had booked my passage.

"For me?" I repeated incredulously. "There must be some mistake. Nobody knows that I am on board."

"It's Mrs. Soale, right enough," the stewardess assured me.

"There's no one else of that name amongst the passengers."

I tore open the envelope. My companion watched me with glittering eyes. She could scarcely wait until the stewardess had departed.

"You liar!" she hissed. "You see what you have done! You have laid a trail for the police to follow from London to Marseilles."

She poured out abuse. I heard nothing. My whole attention was fixed upon those few words, staring at me from the telegraph form:

dombey 31st march genesis louisa.

I felt her wrist suddenly grip mine. She read the message over my shoulder.

"Get the code," she whispered hoarsely. "Quick!"

"What code?" I demanded. "I don't know what you're talking about."

I suppose she must have been convinced at last, for she dropped my wrist and hurried to the door.

"Wait here," she ordered, snatching the message from my hand.

There was a heavy swell that day, and I was glad to sit down upon my bunk. She returned in a very few moments. Her cheeks were flushed. She handed me back the message. Underneath it she had pencilled the interpretation:

danger 97 it must be dealt with promptly louisa.

I looked at it and shook my head.

"I suppose I am a fool," I admitted, "but I can't understand a word."

"You are a fool," she agreed. "No wonder Michael never trusted you with a code! It means that some one dangerous must be travelling in stateroom Number 97, who must be dealt with promptly by me—Louisa—my name. Do you understand now?"

"But how could Michael know that I was on the steamer, and why should he have sent this message to me instead of to you?" I demanded.

"The chief of Police at Marseilles has a copy of every passenger list of steamers leaving London and calling at Marseilles, forwarded overland," she replied. "Michael has a friend in the Bureau. It is possible that I am being watched. He knew quite well that I should find you out, and that I should be of more use than you were likely to be. Now to discover who is travelling in stateroom Number 97."

She called to the steward, who was passing outside. He unhooked the door and looked in.

"Steward, can you tell me the name of the gentleman in Number 97?" she enquired.

He shook his head.

"That's the other side of the ship, Madame."

She held out a treasury note.

"Please find out," she begged.

He was back again in less than a minute.

"Mr. Popple, Madame—an American gentleman," he announced.

Even as he spoke, we heard a familiar and resonant voice outside.

"I put his plant down at a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and I cleaned up the deal. Some push down our way, sir!" Mr. Popple passed on. The woman whose name was Louisa Stood looking at me.

"From the first I suspected him," she whispered.

"He must be Bill Lund, from Chicago. This commercial traveller business is his stunt."

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

She smiled in a peculiar fashion.

"Obey Michael," she answered softly.

The next morning, Mr. Popple came over and talked to me again. He had shown me from the first a considerable amount of attention, but his conversation had always been of the most ordinary kind. This morning, however, in the midst of a discussion on ladies' footwear, he broke off and addressed me in different fashion.

"So you're making friends with the woman who looked as though she wanted to bite your head off at Gibraltar," he remarked.

"I shouldn't have said so," I replied cautiously.

"She was in your stateroom last night, wasn't she?" he queried.

"For a moment or two," I admitted. "Why not?" He watched the smoke from his cigar thoughtfully.

"I guess you've common sense enough to take a word of advice," he said. "Here it is. Keep out of it."

"Keep out of what?" I demanded.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"That's a fine shoal of porpoises," he observed, looking over the side of the ship. "I don't know as I've ever seen a finer in these waters."

"In other words," I ventured, smiling

"Incident closed," he declared. "Maybe I've opened my mouth too wide, as it is."

But as a matter of fact he had not. The last few days had seen a wonderful change in me. I scarcely knew myself, scarcely realised the new thoughts with which I lived, the slow falling away of the spurious fancies which life with Michael had fostered. These few days, freed from the constant environment of the city, with its sordid tasks and obligations, solitude in the great spaces, with the sea and the wind and the stars, had been like a tonic to my soul. In plain words, my association with Michael had become loathsome to me. I was filled with a passionate desire to start life again as an honest woman.

So, although I knew now for certain that Mr. Popple was a detective, I said no word of this to Louisa, even though, during the next hours, I witnessed an amazing development of their acquaintance. They sat together for several hours, and Louisa's beautiful eyes seemed every moment to become more eloquent. Without a doubt, she had made up her mind to captivate him, and to all appearance she was succeeding. I was walking up and down the deck with the doctor, and we heard scraps of their conversation as we passed—an assignation for the morrow evening at Marseilles, proposed boldly enough by Mr. Popple, and assented to by a timorous but eloquent flash of the eyes by Louisa. After dinner they took their coffee out on deck. Their heads were even closer together, their voices dropped. People, as they passed, began to smile. It was obvious that an affair was in progress. I was surprised, therefore, to hear Mr. Popple suddenly address the doctor, who had joined me again for a few minutes.

"Just one moment, Doc."

We stopped at once. Mr. Popple seemed to rise with difficulty to his feet.

"Guess I am sick, Doc. Just step round to my stateroom with me for a moment."

Mr. Popple, suddenly very pale, swayed on his feet and clutched at the doctor's arm. I expected every moment to see him collapse. We all turned to Louisa. She shook her head, apparently as bewildered as the rest of us.

"We had just finished our coffee," she explained, "when Mr. Popple, who had been talking a great deal, became silent. He spoke of a pain in his head and I thought he seemed queer. Then he called out to the doctor. That is all I know about it."

By degrees the others melted away. I sank into Mr. Popple's vacant chair. As soon as we were alone, Mrs. Louisa Martin looked at me covertly. There was a flash of triumph in her half-closed eyes.

"So!" she murmured. "I do not think that Mr. Popple will follow me about Marseilles."

"Do you mean that you have poisoned him?" I gasped.

She looked at me with a queer little smile.

"Some," she said, "prefer to shoot. I choose the way of safety."

Then I knew that Michael had told her everything. In that moment, all that I had ever felt of love for him turned to hate. We entered the harbour at Marseilles late on the following morning and drifted down on our way to the dock. The sun was shining, and the heat, now that we had left the breezes of the open sea, was almost unbearable. It was a morning of acute sensations. I remember everything—the pungent odours of the harbour, the smell of fresh tar, of a cargo of dried onions, a passing whiff of fragrance from the baskets of the flower women on the quay. We stood leaning over the side, waiting, prepared to land, but waiting for the gendarmes at the further end of the gangway, to give the word. Suddenly I felt a little thrill pass through my whole body. Notwithstanding the hot sunshine, I was so cold that I felt myself shivering. Leaning with his back to one of the wooden pillars was a man with tanned, almost swarthy skin, lean-faced, with a hungry, wolf-like droop of his thin lips. He was shabbily dressed, even for a labourer, with brown overall, ragged blue trousers, boots devoid of laces and a soiled tweed cap. It was more than a disguise—it was a metamorphosis—yet I knew Michael, and although he never glanced again in my direction, I knew that he had recognized me. I did then what was, under the circumstances, a foolish action. I made my way to where Louisa was standing and I touched her on the arm.

"Look there," I said, directing her attention cautiously towards the lounging figure.

She looked at him for a moment without interest. Then suddenly the change came into her face. Her lips were a little parted, the colour was drained from her cheeks, her eyes were filled with the anticipation of evil things. She clutched at my arm.

"There is danger," she muttered. "He has been obliged to fly. Alas! our week at the Villa exists no longer."

A moment afterwards there was a movement towards the gangway. I followed the others off the ship, and waited until a magnificent-looking functionary, smelling of garlic, had made mystic signs with a piece of chalk upon my modest trunk. The porter shouldered it and turned to me for instructions.

"A carriage to the Hotel Splendide," I directed.

I was on the point of entering it when I felt a touch upon my arm.

"He insists upon seeing you," she whispered, in a low tone.

"Where are you going?"

"To the Hotel Splendide," I told her, with a sinking heart.

"I shall fetch you to-night at six o'clock."

"Why does Michael want to see me?" I asked reluctantly.

"One does not ask Michael questions," she answered, with a sneer. "You should have found that out by this time."

I felt as though an ugly cloud were looming over this wonderful holiday of mine, and I spent a restless and unsatisfactory afternoon. At six o'clock, Louisa fetched me in a small fiacre, and we drove slowly and with horrible jolts into one of the foulest seafaring slums one could imagine. I knew nothing at the time, but I discovered afterwards that it was a region of evil repute throughout not only Marseilles but throughout Europe, a region of myriad pungent odours, a tawdry medley of cafes, flaunting women, and rollicking groups of drink-inflamed men. I began to feel fear.

"Where are we going?" I demanded.

"To the only place where Michael can hide in safety," Louisa replied. "Even the police of Marseilles would scarcely dare to seek him here."

"It is not fit for us," I muttered, with my eyes fixed upon the streets.

Louisa sneered.

"It is clear that you were never the woman for Michael," she rejoined.

We stopped at last at the end of a dark and narrow street, a place so squalid and unsavoury that I hesitated to leave the vehicle. Louisa, however, elbowed me out and half pushed, half conducted me along an entry, with a high wall on either side, a slimy place with the swish of waves distinctly audible. At the extreme end, she pushed open a door on the left-hand side. We found ourselves in a cafe of the poorest class, with sanded floors and iron tables. A woman, fat and with a hideous face, stood behind the bar, and whenever I desire to think of something horrible, I think of the stealthy, vicious faces of the men who first glared and then leered at us as we crossed the threshold.

Louisa went straight to the woman behind the bar and whispered in her ear. The woman, who had at least three or four chins, nodded ponderously and smiled, showing a row of yellow, discoloured teeth. She glanced cautiously around the place, as though to make sure that no stranger was amongst her clientele. Then, with a fat, beringed finger, she beckoned us behind the counter, and led us clown some steps, along a passage, into a sombre and fearsome-looking apartment, tawdrily furnished, with a cracked gilt mirror upon the mantelpiece, walls reeking with damp, and some violet plush chairs of incredible shabbiness. In the corner was a bed, and upon it Michael was seated, still in his disguise of a French ouvrier, but with a new look upon his face—the hunted, desperate look of a man at bay. What I read in his eyes as the woman, with an evil chuckle, left us, made my blood run cold. I had the feeling that I was trapped.

"You devil!" he said to me slowly and menacingly. "It is you who have brought your damned lover policeman here!"

"It is false," I replied. "I came to Marseilles for a holiday only."

"A holiday!" Michael repeated bitterly.

"A holiday!" Louisa almost shrieked. "Hear her! But listen," she added, with a terrible smile. "There is time yet to show you how Michael and I deal with informers!"

Norman Greyes

During the third week of March, after a somewhat restless few months of travel in Egypt and Algeria, I reached Monte Carlo to find a telegram from my friend Rimmington, begging me to come at once to Marseilles. I realised that there could be but one reason for such a request, and in less than twelve hours I found myself with Rimmington and Monsieur Demayel, the Chief of the Marseilles police, ransacking the contents of a small villa in the suburbs of Marseilles, which had lately been the scene of one of those crimes for which the place was fast gaining an unenviable notoriety.

I had had no conversation with Rimmington, and I had no idea why my help had been sought in this case, which appeared to have no special characteristics. The late inhabitant of the villa, a man of over seventy years of age, had been found twenty-four hours before, suffering from severe wounds about the head and in. a state of collapse. He was lying in a neighbouring hospital and was unlikely to recover. This much, however, was clear. He had been robbed of a large sum of money, the possession of which he had foolishly bragged about in a neighbouring cafe, and there seemed to be but little doubt that the theft had been committed by a band of ill-doers who for the last few months had been the terror of the neighbourhood. We went through the usual routine of examining the means by which entrance had been forced into the house and hearing the evidence of the local gendarmerie. Afterwards we drove, in silence, to the Police Headquarters, and it was in Monsieur Demayel's private room there that Rimmington at last explained what had been puzzling me so much.

"You know, of course, Greyes," he began, "what my having sent for you means?"

"Michael, I hope?"

Rimmington nodded. I could tell by the gleam in his rather cold grey eyes that he believed the end to be near at last.

"We traced him to Paris," he said, "and afterwards here. Almost immediately, as Monsieur Demayel will tell you, there was not only an increase in the number of crimes in the district, but there were evidences of a master mind behind them all. Crime here had become brain-controlled. Monsieur Demayel told me, an hour or so ago, that thefts to the value of over eleven million francs had been committed within the last two months."

"And the connecting link?" I questioned.

"Eight days ago," Rimmington said, watching me closely, "Janet Soale sailed from Tilbury for Marseilles. The woman who was Michael's companion in New York, who goes by the name of Louisa Martin, after travelling from America to Havre, joined the same steamer at Gibraltar, having evidently chosen a circuitous route to avoid suspicion. Those two women are both on their way to Marseilles—they are due to arrive, in fact, to-night—and will be closely watched. Furthermore, I think that Monsieur Demayel can show you something of interest."

Monsieur Demayel placed a leather-bound volume before me and pointed to an entry.

"This," he explained, "is a small collection of dossiers which have never been verified."

I read the few lines quickly:

Henri Guy, French-Colonial, bachelor, 5 ft. 6 inches, morose, grey hair and beard, physical appearance described elsewhere, address Villa Violette, Bandol. Has large correspondence, subscribes to English Newspapers, amongst which "Golf Illustrated." Has small car and has been seen on Hyères Golf Links.

"And finally?" I asked.

"The person in question," M. Demayel continued, "is reported to have changed at the Casino at Bandol last evening one of the mille notes stolen from the house we visited this afternoon."

I glanced at my watch.

"How far is it to Bandol?" I enquired.

"Forty-seven kilometres," the Chief of the Police replied, "and we should have been there by now but my friend Mr. Rimmington here insisted upon waiting for you."

I asked only one question on the way.

"You spoke of Janet Soale as coming out on the boat," I said to Rimmington. "That was her name before she married Michael."

Rimmington nodded.

"For some reason or other she has renewed it. It is possible that she has discovered something about Michael which I have suspected for some time."

I controlled my voice as well as I could. I did not wish even Rimmington to know how much this meant to me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I believe," he replied, "that Michael was married many years ago to this woman, Louisa Martin. Janet Soale may have got to know of this. She may be coming out to try and discover the truth. It is certain that for many months she has not been in communication with Michael."

The Chief of the Police gazed thoughtfully out of the window.

"It is a curious circumstance," he remarked, "in the lives of most of the great criminals of modern days, that their end has been brought about by their exciting the jealousy of women. Here are two at the present moment on their way to Marseilles to visit the man whom you call Michael. Louisa Martin has been followed from New York by a United States detective who has been hunting Michael for years, and it was Janet Soale's visit to Marseilles which changed suspicion into conviction with our friend Rimmington here. My predecessor used always to say, 'Give the man rope. Follow the woman.'"

We reached Bandol just before dusk and found the Villa Violette on the outskirts of the town; a secluded little house, built amongst some rocks on the extreme edge of the bay. We left the car in the road and took the path which led to the front door. Our summons was at once answered by a stout, good-humoured-looking French woman, who shook her head regretfully when we enquired for Monsieur Guy.

"Monsieur is out in his automobile," she told us. "He may return at any moment or perhaps not at all to-night. It is most unfortunate. The gentlemen will leave a message?"

"We will come in and wait for a little time," Demayel suggested.

The woman did not remove her portly form from the threshold.

"That, alas, Monsieur, is impossible!" she declared. "My master receives few visitors and he would not suffer any one in the house."

Monsieur Demayel touched her on the shoulder. He was looking curiously into her face.

"Madame," he said, "I am Chef de la Surete of Marseilles, and I go where I choose. Furthermore, it seems that your face is familiar to me."

She shrunk away. There was a malign look suddenly in her dark eyes.

"Chef de la Surete!" she muttered. "But who has done wrong here?"

We searched the sitting room and dining room of Monsieur Henri Guy and we found nothing that might not have belonged to a French Colonial who had made a small fortune in sugar. But in his bedroom, covered over with a sheet and hidden behind a cupboard, I found a prize indeed. I found the golf clubs which Stanfield had used when he had played against me at Woking. I drew from the bag the putter which had sealed my defeat and, even in that moment of triumph, I felt a little thrill of pleasure when I realised its perfect balance.

"Our search is over," I pronounced.

"Our search is not over," Rimmington reminded me, "until we have found the man."

We were there altogether for half an hour, during which time we searched the place closely. The small garage was empty and Rimmington pointed out the six or eight empty tins which had evidently just been used.

"Filled up for a journey," he remarked. "I don't think that we shall see anything of our man to-day."

We announced our intended departure. The housekeeper, who now seemed certain of her master's immediate return, did her best to persuade us to linger. Monsieur Demayel cut her short.

"Madame," he said, "you will be so good as to consider yourself under surveillance. I shall leave a gendarme in the house with you. To-morrow you will be examined. In the meantime, make no attempt to communicate with anybody."

The woman was no longer the smooth-tongued, respectable domestic. She burst into a torrent of furious complaints and abuse, relapsing into a French argot which was absolutely incomprehensible to me. Monsieur Demayel listened to her thoughtfully. Then he turned to the gendarme who had accompanied us from Marseilles on the front seat of the car, and whom he was leaving behind.

"Do not let this woman out of your sight," he ordered. "She is of the Maritime Quartier, where I suspect her master is in hiding by now."

The gendarme saluted and laid his hand upon the housekeeper's shoulder. Suddenly she burst into a fit of laughter and pointed up the avenue.

"It is monsieur who returns," she announced. "Now, what will you say to him—you who have ransacked his rooms and upset his house! Chief of the Police, indeed! Là là!"

We stood by the front door and I for my part was amazed. An elderly gentleman of highly respectable appearance drove up in a shabby Citroen car and lifted his soft black felt hat to us courteously.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said. "You are paying me a visit?"

"You are Monsieur Guy?" Demayel enquired.

"That is certainly my name," was the prompt reply.

"And this is your house?"

"I rent it subject to your pleasure, gentlemen."

He descended from the car and looked from one to the other of us enquiringly. I knew better than any other what a past master Michael was in the art of disguises, but I knew very well that this was not he. Rimmington's eyes met mine. We were both agreed.

"My name is Demayel," the Chief announced. "I am the Chef de la Surete in Marseilles. You will be so good as to answer me a few questions."

"Chef de la Surete!" the newcomer repeated, and if his amazement were feigned, it was very well feigned indeed.

"But certainly! You have lived here for how long?"

"For ten months, Monsieur."

"You changed a mille note at the Casino yesterday?"

"I certainly did."

"From where did you obtain it?"

"From my desk, Monsieur. It has lain there for weeks."

I ventured to ask a question on my own account.

"This is your only car?"

"But naturally," was the prompt response. "There is no room in my garage for more than one."

I excused myself for a moment and returned with the bag of golf clubs.

"These are perhaps yours?" I asked him. He shook his head.

"They were left by a former tenant," he replied. "I know nothing of their use."

I turned into the garage and wheeled out one of the rubber tyres which were ranged against the wall.

"If you have no other car," I asked him, "how is it that all the tyres in your garage are like this one—two sizes larger than those on the Citroen you were driving?"

He hesitated and turned his head. He knew then that it was the end. The gendarme was returning with a fat little man, who wore no coat and waistcoat and reeked of garlic.

"This man keeps the cafe at the corner," the former announced.

"He knows his neighbour Guy well."

"Is this Monsieur Guy?" Demayel asked.

The innkeeper was more than emphatic; he was vehement.

"Upon my soul, no!" he declared. "Monsieur Guy I know well. This gentleman is a stranger. Monsieur Guy left this morning in his car for Paris, one heard."

Demayel turned to the pseudo Monsieur Guy.

"Well?"

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"I have done what I was paid for," he said sullenly. "I am at your disposal, gentlemen."

"Close the place up," Demayel directed the gendarme, "and take this woman and the man to Marseilles. Nothing more will happen here. As for us," he went on, turning to Rimmington and myself, "we must now await the arrival of the steamer in Marseilles to-night. One of the two women, if not both, will lead us to the man we seek."

We dined that night, Rimmington and I, in a remote corner of a great bustling restaurant, receiving more than our due share of attention owing to the fact that Monsieur Demayel had himself telephoned and ordered the table. The latter had promised to join us for coffee, but, before we reached that stage of our repast, we were surprised to see him coming hastily towards us, followed by a tall, bearded man of military bearing. Demayel was a man of imperturbable expression, yet it was obvious that he brought news.

"Messieurs," he said, as he sat for a moment at our table, "a grave thing has happened. Let me explain briefly. The young man who has acted as my secretary for five years has absconded. It is proved that he has been in league with a great criminal organisation ever since he has held his post. It is he, without a doubt, who warned the man whom you call Michael. Worse than that, his report to me that the Carlyon would not reach dock until tonight, was a lie. She arrived this morning and landed her passengers this afternoon. My plans for having those two women watched have been rendered abortive."

A surge of nameless fears suddenly rose up in my heart. I pictured Janet in danger. I did not believe that she had come to Marseilles to rejoin Michael. I half rose to my feet but Demayel waved me back.

"Listen," he continued. "This much we know at present. The English woman went first to the Hotel Splendide. At six o'clock this evening she was called for by the other woman and they drove off alone. They were shadowed, fortunately, by Lund, the American detective who followed Louisa Martin over, and who reports that his life was attempted last night. This woman Martin, it seems, has an evil reputation. She has been in prison twice in her younger days in Paris, and she was tried for murder seven years ago. She is desperately cruel but of desperate courage. Lund reports that there is ill blood between the two women. He is convinced that the English woman, Janet Soale, as she called herself on the steamer, has been decoyed into some place to meet Michael."

"How far did he follow them?" I asked. "Where is he now?"

"He followed them into the worst quarter of Marseilles," Demayel replied, "but, as soon as he discovered their destination, he had the good sense to return for aid. They are in the one quarter of the city which I have not yet succeeded in clearing. We have hesitated many times when on the point of attempting a coup here. To-night the attempt shall be made."

"Let us start!" I exclaimed eagerly.

We moved towards the door.

"I deeply regret," Demayel announced, "that this is an adventure on which I cannot accompany you. If I were to show myself in the Quartier, I should not only endanger your lives but I should of an absolute certainty forfeit my own. Monsieur Santel here," he added, turning to his companion, "will take command of the expedition. Lund is in one of the cars outside. A sufficient force of gendarmes have already penetrated secretly into the Quartier. It remains only for me to wish you good fortune."

In the car which we found waiting for us, we passed from the broad thoroughfares of the city to a region of increasing squalor and ugliness, along boulevards whose cobbled stones were littered with refuse, where the men and women who sat at their windows became more and more repulsive. The gaiety of the city was succeeded by a sombre silence. There was no music in the cafes, no laughter from the lips of the women. One seemed to read in those hungry, unwashed and painted faces one common characteristic— greed. Furtive eyes followed our automobile lustfully because it meant wealth. Once or twice men half rose from their places, as though to follow us. It was difficult to imagine that this was a street in a civilized city.

"One sees little of the law down here," I remarked. Our guide shrugged his shoulders.

"The castaways of the world are to be found always in a great port," he said. "We leave them alone when we can. This place is their safety valve. When we are forced to come, we come as we have to-night—in hundreds."

I realised what he meant when we descended, a few minutes later. At every corner of the little network of streets through which we pushed our way, some apparent lounger whispered a word in Santel's ear. When, at last, we reached the end of a gloomy street, which terminated with the great iron gates of a shipyard, our guide turned and spoke to us.

"Follow me," he directed, "and be discreet. Remember a blow of the fists will send a hundred of these rats to their holes—but always look behind."

We descended some small stone steps, passed along a narrow passage, and entered a cafe, the most dilapidated and filthy which I have ever been in. There were a dozen men seated around, drinking, two or three asleep or drunk, one who covered up his face. A woman lolled across the counter and looked at us, a woman whose untidy clothing seemed to be falling away from her repulsive body. She had a heavy moustache upon her upper lip and narrow jet-black eyes.

"In the name of the police, Madame," Santel whispered in her ear.

"At your service," she replied.

"We want none of your usual jailbirds," Santel continued.

"Stand on one side, please."

The woman's face was hideous but she shrugged her shoulders.

"There is nothing," she muttered. "One has been here, perhaps, but he has gone."

We passed behind that counter, through a door, into a noisome house, wrapped in utter darkness. Four other men seemed to have crept up to us like shadows and we all had electric torches. Some of the rooms had been used for sleeping; some, apparently, for a filthy carouse. All were empty. At a certain point in the descent of some stone steps, we paused. Three of the men felt about for some time. Then an unsuspected door slowly swung open, a door which seemed to lead into a chasm, black and impenetrable. The man who had slipped past Santel and become our guide stretched up his hand and pulled down a long thin ladder. He let it down until it touched the ground. One by one we descended into what seemed to be a great cellar. At the farther end was a chink of light from the room beyond, and a sound which for the moment made a madman of me—the sound of a woman crying. I stumbled across the uneven floor but Santel caught hold of my arm.

"Be careful," he muttered. "If our man is there and sees you, he will shoot. Let the others surround him. We have a plan."

I scarcely heard him, but I held my breath and kept silence while some one attempted to find means of ingress. We were there, seven of us, mad with the desire for this man's capture, yet, for the first few moments the stone walls seemed to mock us. Lund was running his fingers round the chinks of what seemed to be the door, but could find no handle. Then, suddenly, I heard Michael's voice. Cold and measured as ever, it seemed to me, though he must have known that he was in desperate straits.

"For the last time, Janet, the truth—" he said. "What has become of the money which was handed over to you—the price of the jewels—and why have you followed me to Marseilles?" There was a moment's silence. It was terrible to hear how weak Janet's voice was.

"No one has given me any money," she replied. "I have earned my own living since we parted."

There was a peal of mocking laughter and I knew that the other woman must have been standing over her.

"Liar!" Louisa exclaimed. "Tell us why you came to Marseilles, and why Rimmington, the English detective, has followed. Tell us who called your new lover, Norman Greyes, from Monte Carlo?"

"I know nothing of any of those things," was the weak reply.

"My uncle left me two hundred and fifty pounds—Soale, the gardener, who once worked for you, Michael. I came to Marseilles for a rest and a holiday."

Again there was a peal of derisive laughter from Louisa Martin, followed by the soft ringing of an electric bell and a fierce oath from Michael. There was a moment's silence, the scurrying of feet, the flinging back of what sounded like a door. Michael's voice, when he spoke, had changed. Fear at last seemed to have entered into him.

"You have had your chance, Janet," he said. "I shall leave you to Louisa."

Janet's pitiful voice was roused almost to a shriek.

"Don't leave me alone with her, Michael!" she implored. "She terrifies me!"

A fortunate madness seized me. I flung my whole weight against the door and we fell into the place in a heap. The impression of those few moments will never fade from my memory. Janet, her feet and arms tied with cord, white and numb with fear, was lying on the ground; Louisa Martin, with the face of a Fury, and eyes filled with hate, was leaning over her. Michael, with unrecognizable face but unforgettable eyes, was already halfway through a trapdoor. He raised his arm simultaneously with mine. Our pistols spoke together and the sound of their report was followed almost immediately by the crashing of the trapdoor. I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder, and for a moment I think I went mad. I was cutting the cords which bound Janet's hands and feet, talking to her foolishly, trying to keep back the faintness which threatened me. Then the mist came and the room rocked. The last thing I remembered was Louisa Martin's laugh.

My first visitor in the hospital, six weeks later, was Monsieur Demayel. He adopted a tone of apology.

"That man's escape, Sir Norman," he confessed, "was a most deplorable incident."

"How did he get away?" I enquired.

"He descended through the trapdoor from the room in which you found him," Monsieur Demayel explained, "by means of a rope ladder to a narrow inlet of the harbour, which at full tide is directly underneath. He secured the trapdoor behind him by means of a bolt, got into a petrol launch and apparently made his way across the bay. The launch was discovered next day upon the beach, and there is a theory that he was washed overboard by a heavy sea. At any rate, he has not been seen or heard of since."

"Louisa Martin?" I asked.

"Safe for seven years," was the grim reply.

"And—the English woman?"

Monsieur Demayel glanced suspiciously at the bowl of flowers by my bedside.

"She remained in Marseilles for some time. I do not know her present whereabouts."

As soon as my visitor had gone, I sent for the nurse.

"From whom did these flowers come?" I enquired. She smiled as a Frenchwoman does who scents a romance.

"Until you were out of danger," she told me, "a very beautiful English lady called every day. A week ago she returned to England, but she left with the Sister an order on a florist for roses every day for a fortnight."

"She left no note or message?"

"Nothing."

"When can I leave for England?" I demanded.

The nurse looked at me reproachfully.

"In a fortnight, if you behave," she answered. "Perhaps never, if you work yourself into a fever."

"Nurse," I asked, "have you ever been in love?"

"It is not a fit question from a patient to his nurse," she replied, with a pleasant little gleam in her eyes and a quiver at the corners of her lips.

"I need sympathy," I explained, "but if you will not talk to me, I shall go to sleep."

"The more you sleep," she declared, "the sooner you will be able to go to England."

So I slept.



IX.—MICHAEL'S WEDDING GIFT

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Aug 1922

Michael

For many months after my somewhat ingenious escape from the cafe of Madame Ponadour in the Maritime Quartier of Marseilles, I lived the life of a dog in the Forêt du Dom, on the far side of Hyères. There were three of us woodmen in the hut—Pierre, Jacques and myself. My two unchosen companions, after twenty years of the same monotonous labour, had grown very much like the trees whose branches we lopped off and whose trunks we hauled down the road to the mountainous stack whence they were fetched by motor-lorry from Nice. These two men, so far as I was able to discover, possessed no virtues. They cheated at cards—we had one filthy pack which had lasted them for a year before I came—they drank to excess, when they could afford the wine or the fiery brandy of the country, and I am convinced that they would have murdered any one for a few francs, if they could have been sure of evading detection. Their complexions were, as mine soon became, almost black. They were clods of the earth, men ageless and passionless except when the wine was in their blood, from whom I hid at the same time and with equal discretion my thoughts and my purse.

Solitude more complete than that which I shared with these two men I have never imagined. I grew to hate the very things which had, at first, appealed to me—the fresh, pungent smell of the newly hewn trees, the scent of the earth before and after vineyard time, the freshly turned red soil, cloven by the plough, the sun-baked furrows, scarred with fissures and cracks through which the odours of wine itself seemed to steal. Then there was the smell of the eucalyptus trees and the perfume from the cherry orchards before their blossoms were dashed by the warm, June rain, the moaning of the wind through the pine tops overhead, the creaking of the branches, the night scent of the bursting sap.

These things dwelt in my blood for a while as I sat sometimes at dawn and listened to the drowsy song of the birds at their first awakening, and watched the long shafts of green and amber light pierce the clouds eastward, as though to prepare the way for the coming sun. My joy of these things, however, was short-lived. Their appeal was for others, not for such as me. I grew to look upon my queer fancy for them as a phase of weakness, a sign of the marching of the years. For I was under no misapprehension concerning myself and my position in the world. Sometimes, whilst the others slept, I read the newspapers, which we obtained with difficulty from the neighbouring village; read of myself as the most notorious criminal at large; read of all the world-famed detectives of London, Paris and New York, who had sworn to effect my capture; read of my crimes, my daring, my cunning; read of all these things outside my shanty on the hillside—and smiled. Given a certain amount of resignation and patience, and I knew very well that I was safe as long as I chose. There, however, was the trouble. Corduroy trousers and a woodman's smock were not to my fancy as articles of dress. Nor did I care about dark bread and soup, apples and sour wine, as a means of keeping body and soul together. There was money for me in London, plenty of it. I knew that to reach that money I should, before long, come out into the open and challenge once more the world of my enemies.

One day a chance incident set me thinking. We had paused for a second to fill our pipes with filthy tobacco, barely a dozen yards round one of the hairpin corners of the forest road, leaving our wagons, as usual, in the middle of the thoroughfare. Suddenly a car swung round the corner, travelling too fast for the driver to apply his brakes with safety. With great skill he passed us, grazing the long trunks of the lopped trees and escaping the precipice by a matter of inches. The chauffeur drove on, turning round for a moment, however, to shake his fist and shout abuse at us. I waved my hand in friendly fashion, for the incident had given me an idea. That night I saw that Pierre and Jacques drank more than their usual share of the sour wine, and afterwards I propounded my scheme.

"Comrades," I said, "it is a dog's life we lead."

They growled assent. They seldom spoke coherent words.

"To-day," I continued, "an idea came to me. If our wagons had been an inch or two nearer the outside corner of the road, or the man in the automobile a shade less skilful, he could not possibly have escaped. His automobile would have been smashed and he would have gone over the edge of the precipice."

They made strange noises in their throats and continued to listen.

"It is a dog's life, this," I repeated. "What we need, to make things endurable, is money—money, so that you two can go down to the cafe at the foot of the hill and drink brandy with the daughters of the village, they who leave you now so unkindly alone because you have nothing to spend upon them."

Their pipes were out of their mouths now and they were listening intently.

"A man like that one to-day would have money—a pocketbook. Whilst he was unconscious, look you, we would take it. One of us would bring it up here, here where there are a hundred hiding places, in the ground, the trees, the cracks of the earth. A pocketbook which is lost, is lost. What do you say, comrades?" There was no doubt about how the scheme appealed to them. Jacques was showing all the fangs of his yellow teeth in one tremendous smile. Pierre's round, black eyes were lit with a covetous gleam.

"It would be an equal share between the three?" he urged.

"Between the three," I agreed. "Leave the details to me."

We went to our work the next morning with a new zest. All the time that we were at work in the forest, lopping the branches from the fallen trees and piling them on to the wagons, we were thinking of what fortune might have in store for us on our homeward crawl. When, at last, the time came to start, my two companions seemed more like human beings than at any time I had known them. They marched stolidly but hopefully on by the side of the horses. I, having the better eyesight, watched the winding road, down in the valleys below and up on the hillside. We crawled round each corner, loitering at the psychological spot always with the same evil hope in our hearts. The affair, however, was not so easy. Sometimes we were seen from above or below; sometimes drivers were too careful. On the fourth day, however, success rewarded our perseverance. A small automobile which I had spotted from a distance came round the corner where we were, so to speak, anchored, driven with that full measure of recklessness which only a Frenchman, anxious to save his engine, can obtain.

There was a wild cry from the driver, a crash into our wagon, and over went the automobile and man down the side of the precipice. It was an agreeable sight.

It was I who clambered down to where our victim was lying and drew a pleasing-looking black pocketbook from the inside of his coat. Afterwards I felt his heart and discovered that he was alive. I ordered Pierre to move the wagons over to our own side of the road and we secreted the pocketbook amongst the timbers we were carrying. Then we waited for events and, although I really cared not in the least whether the man lived or died, I found myself, to my surprise, bathing his head and loosening his clothing. Presently, a public touring car from Cannes, on its way to Hyères, arrived. The accident was explained, room was made for the injured man, and a liberal pourboire given us, collected amongst the passengers. Afterwards we made our way home and, later on, when we had lit our evening fire, we opened the pocketbook. There were nine hundred francs there, and I shall never forget the evil faces of my two companions, in the light of the dancing flames, as they leaned over and watched me count the notes. I divided the money into three portions but I spoke to them as a master.

"Listen, Jacques, and you, Pierre," I said. "I am a man of justice, but, although I am one of you, I have travelled beyond these forests and I know the world. If you take this money with you to the village to-night you will be drunk, the truth will be known and we shall all go to prison. I will swear to you the woodcutters' oath, the oath across the flames, that your share shall be saved. But go to the village with twenty francs each, the pourboire given us by the Englishmen, and let me keep the rest for you, or hide it for yourselves."

They had just sufficient wit to realise that I was their superior in intelligence and that my advice was good. So we growled an oath in the strange dialect of those parts and I gripped their gnarled and knotted hands, which reminded me always of the roots of the trees we felled. Afterwards, I went down to the village with them, had one drink for good fellowship's sake, and returned to the shanty and solitude, with a bottle of the best brandy and some tobacco. I drank moderately, as I have always done in life, but the brandy was good to my palate and the tobacco better. I lay at my ease on the outskirts of the clearing, with my back to a sweetsmelling pine tree and my face towards the valley, and I watched the shadows droop over the hills, their slopes become blurred and their summits like a fine-drawn line of ink against the violet background. Here and there a light sprang out from a lonely farmhouse, later a yellow star gleamed over my head through the motionless branches of the trees and an owl fluttered up from the hollow with a mournful cry. I sipped my brandy and smoked and thought. Dimly though the beauty of my surroundings appealed to me, they filled me with only a negative joy. Still, life at the best could bring me nothing but a kind of passionless content. I thought of the great cities with their thronged thoroughfares, their mighty roar of turbulent life, the crowded parks, the theatres, the Opera, with its wonderful music which I had always loved, the voices and laughter and presence of beautiful women.

I would win my way back to these yet. Beauty such as that by which I was surrounded on that still evening was the kind which reaches only through the soul, and its appeal to my aesthetic sense, although disturbing, was wholly unsatisfying. What I craved for was the joy of the cities, the throb of life around me, beauty and comfort from the material point of view, the proper clothes to wear, the proper food and wine to drink.

Our next adventure, engineered in similar fashion to the last, brought us a matter of a couple of thousand francs. This time, however, there was trouble, for the driver's neck was broken as he pitched head foremost from the seat of the car, and his wife, who was only slightly injured, gave vigorous evidence as to the position of our wagon and the disappearance of her husband's pocketbook after we had dragged his body up from a ledge of the precipice. A gendarme from the neighbouring village visited us that same night and made a careful search through our belongings. There was nothing to be found, however, and by preserving a stolid silence and leaving all speech to me, my companions escaped suspicion just as I did. Afterwards, however, I spoke to them seriously.

"Comrades," I pointed out, "this game is too good to last. For a time we must go warily. Afterwards we will seek one more adventure, which we must select with great care, for it will be my last. If it is successful, I shall leave you. Afterwards, you two had better bury your savings in the ground and abandon the game, for it needs brains to be made successful, and you two have not the brains of a rabbit between you."

They knew that I was right and they held their peace. After that we let many cars go by. It was a month later, indeed, before we made our last coup, and it ended in very different fashion from what I had anticipated. From my look-out place on a stretch of the road above the wagons, I saw a grey touring car, piled with luggage and golf clubs, approaching from the direction of Cannes. There was a girl in front, seated by the driver, and an elderly gentleman behind. I called down to the others.

"Comrades, this is our chance," I announced. "Move the wagons on around the corner and be prepared for what may happen."

What did happen was not in the least what I had expected. A certain phase of it remains entirely inexplicable to me, even to this day. From where I lay, crouching amongst the scrub, I could see that something was wrong with the car, or with the manner in which it was being driven. The chauffeur was rocking in his seat and the car was swaying from side to side; it seemed at one time, indeed, as though it would go over the precipice without any intervention on our part. But it was the girl's face from which I could not remove my eyes, the girl's face which produced such an amazing impression upon me. She must have fully realised the danger she was in, but she showed not the slightest signs of fear. I heard her speak to the chauffeur, trying to bring him to his senses, but it was obvious that he was either in a fit or had completely lost his nerve. Then she leaned over and tried to put on the foot brake, succeeding so far, in fact, as to momentarily check the progress of the car. The chauffeur, suddenly seizing his opportunity, jumped from his seat and rolled over in the dust. The girl's foot apparently slipped from the brake and the car once more gathered speed. She clutched at the wheel but it was obvious that she had never driven.

Somehow or other she got around the corner but, at the next— the wagons! I saw her eyes, as the car came bumping down the hill, heard the wild shouting and exclamations of the old gentleman behind, and there came to me one of those extraordinary moments, which I make no attempt to explain, moments when action is decided purely by impulse, and by an impulse irreducible to law. We had made the most careful plans to wreck this automobile. I risked my life to save it. I half slid, half scrambled down the slope into the road, drew in my breath, poised myself for a great effort and, at the psychological moment, leaped for the front splashboard. More or less I succeeded. I found myself sprawling across the seat but my left hand was upon the wheel. The girl yielded it as though with instant understanding and slid away to make room for me. In a matter of seconds I had the wheel in both hands, half kneeling, half sitting. We were within two inches of the precipice after my jump and we just touched the farther side of the road with my grab at the wheel.

After that it was easy. I righted the car without much difficulty, applied the brake, gently but with increasing force, took the corner with only a moderate skid and brought the car to a standstill within a few feet of the wagon. When the girl saw it, the first look of fear crept into her face. She looked at me with shining eyes.

"You were just in time," she said. "That was a wonderful jump."

"What was the matter with your chauffeur?" I asked.

"Our own chauffeur was taken ill and this was a boy we engaged in Cannes," she answered. "He was not equal to driving the car. He lost his nerve at the top of the hill."

The old gentleman was in the road by this time and gripping my hand.

"My good fellow," he exclaimed, "you have done a great day's work for yourself! For God's sake say that you understand English."

"I have hewn wood in Devonshire," I told him. "I speak English or French, which you will."

He was recovering himself now, and I could see that he was a very pompous person, the very prototype of the travelling Englishman of wealth, who believes in himself.

"My name," he announced, "is Lord Kindersley. You will never regret this day's work."

I made some attempt to descend but he held me in my place.

"You must drive us to the next town," he insisted, "to Hyères or Toulon. I will reward you handsomely, but we cannot be left here, and I will not let that wretched youth touch the car again."

"Where are you going to?" I enquired.

"England," the girl answered, "to Boulogne."

"I will drive you to Boulogne," I said, "if you will give me that young man's livery and papers, and recompense my comrades there for my absence. They will have to engage another woodman."

The elderly gentleman was spluttering out notes. It seemed as though he could not get rid of them fast enough.

"It is agreed," he declared eagerly. "We shall not quarrel about terms, I promise you!"

A dusty figure came staggering down the hill, a youth sobered by fright but evidently recovering from a debauch. I wasted few words upon him, but I took him round the bend of the road, stripped him of his clothes and left him mine. Then I mounted the driving seat of the car and tested the gears. Pierre and Jacques were gazing with amazement at the little bundle of hundred-franc notes which the English milord had thrust into their hands.

"Farewell, comrades," I said, waving my hand to them. "Some day I may come back, but I think not. Good luck to you both!" They returned my farewell in wooden fashion. I let in my clutch and glided down the hill. So we started on the way to Boulogne.

During the whole of our four days' journey, the girl, who sat by my side all the time, remained as though wrapped in her thoughts and spoke to me only at long intervals. All the time, though, I was conscious of her presence, and I think that she was conscious of mine.

"How is it that you, a woodman, can drive a motor car?" was her first question.

"I have not always been a woodman," I answered.

"Why did you want that boy's papers?" she asked.

"Because I wished to reach England and I might find it difficult to get a passport of my own," I admitted.

She abandoned the subject a little reluctantly. I knew very well that she was longing to ask me further questions but I gave her no encouragement. On the following day, after a prolonged silence, she again adopted an interrogative tone. This time I found it less easy to answer her.

"Why did you risk your life for us?" she asked, with curious abruptness, towards the close of a long day's run.

"Because I admired the way you were facing what seemed to be certain death," I told her. "The worst of us are liable to an impulse like that."

"Is it true," she went on, "that some of the woodmen of the Forêt du Dom frequently rob travellers who have met with motor accidents?"

"Quite true," I admitted. "They have even been known to contribute to the accidents. I have done it myself."

She shivered.

"I wish you would not tell me those things," she said reproachfully.

"It is the truth," I assured her. "We rather thought of wrecking your car, but I watched you coming down the hill and afterwards I only thought of saving you."

She laughed a little nervously, but, for the moment, she avoided meeting my eye.

"You are a strange person," she declared. "Why were you masquerading as a woodman?"

"Because I have wrecked other things besides motor cars," I answered. "I was hiding from the police. This is a great opportunity for me to break away."

She sighed.

"I am sorry," she confessed. "All the same, I hope that you succeed."

After that she tried once or twice to get me to talk about myself. She even suggested possible excuses for my imaginary misdemeanours. About myself and my doings, however, I maintained a grim silence. In the end she ceased altogether from conversation. At Boulogne I was entrusted with the car, which I drove to London and delivered according to instructions at the garage of the house in South Audley Street. There I received a message that the young lady, whom I had avoided seeing at Folkestone, wished to speak to me the moment I arrived. I was shown into a little sitting room in the great house and she came to me almost at once. The first glimpse I had of her, as she crossed the threshold, gave me almost a shock. This fashionably dressed young woman, notwithstanding her sweet, almost appealing smile, was a strangely different person from the girl with the wind-blown hair and scornful lips whom I had seen hastening on her way to death.

"My uncle wished me to give you this," she said, handing me an envelope, "and I wondered—" she raised her eyes to mine— "whether you would care to have a little memento of me?" She gave me a picture of herself in a tortoise-shell frame, and I put it into my pocket with the envelope. She made room for me to sit by her side on the sofa, but I affected not to notice her gesture of invitation. I had suddenly become conscious of a most amazing and unexpected sensation.

"I shall never forget that evening," she continued softly. "It was a wonderful jump, wasn't it?" I was the victim of new impulses, bewildering and incomprehensible. They led me in the strangest direction. I wanted to explain to her exactly who I was, to make her realise that I was an outcast for all time. Yet, when I made my effort, I felt that my words were pitiably weak.

"I think, Miss Kindersley," I said, "that you had better forget as much of the whole affair as you can. Remember that I deliberately planned to wreck your car as I had done others. It was only a fancy which made me change my mind. Believe me, I am not a creditable acquaintance."

"But you might be," she persisted. "Won't you try?"

I shook my head.

"It is too late," I told her. "I am a hunted man to-day and shall be to the end. There is no country in the world where I could find safety or even rest for a little time. And what is coming to me I have earned."

In these chronicles of my life there is just one vice, the vice of cowardice, to which I have never had to plead guilty. Just at this juncture, however, the sight of her small white hand stealing out towards me, the little quiver of her proud lips, perhaps a faint waft of that perfume of which I had been dimly conscious on those four days when she had sat by my side, some one of these things or all of them together gripped at my heart, filled me with a vague terror of myself, so that I did the only thing which seemed possible—I hurried out of the room and out of the house. Mr. Younghusband's face was a picture when I visited him the next morning at his offices in Lincoln's Inn. I was still in my chauffeur's livery, which, with its peaked hat, afforded an excellent disguise, but he recognised my voice at once and he shook in his chair.

"Surely," he faltered, "this is most unwise?"

"My friend," I answered, seating myself at the other side of the table, "it may be unwise but it is necessary. I found a perfectly safe means of getting into England, and now that I am here I want money."

He drew his cheque book from the drawer but I brushed it on one side.

"I will have a thousand pounds in Bank of England notes," I told him, "and a draft on the Bank of England for the same amount. Send your clerk eut for it, then we can talk."

He obeyed me, struggling hard to retain his composure. I watched him with a smile.

"They say that you are a brave man when I am away," I remarked, "that you never show the least sign of losing your nerve."

"There is no one over here so rash as you," the lawyer replied promptly. "There is no one else who plays for such big stakes or runs such risks. The others I can deal with. They take my advice, they adopt caution as their motto. When you are in London, I never have a moment free from anxiety."

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I shall not trouble you much longer," I promised. "There is another matter to be cleared up, though. In Marseilles I was told that Janet Soale had drawn a large sum of money from you."

"It is utterly false," the lawyer replied. "She has not even applied for a penny."

I knew the truth then, of course. Louisa was never one to brook a rival. I felt a momentary compunction when I thought of Janet's terror in the cafe at Marseilles. After all, although we had ceased to care for each other, she had been faithful to me after her fashion.

"We heard that you were drowned at Marseilles," my companion remarked.

"It was a narrow escape," I admitted. "Rimmington and Greyes were both over there, and they got on my track through Janet and Louisa. I had luck that night and I needed it."

Mr. Younghusband moved uneasily in his chair.

"You were mad to come to London," he declared.

"A species of desperation," I answered calmly. "If you had eaten nothing but black bread and soup and drunk nothing but sour wine for several months, you would be inclined to run a little risk yourself for the sake of a dinner at the Café Royal."

"Why don't you retire?" the lawyer suggested, leaning across the table. "You have sufficient money and you are fond of the country. Why not make full use of your wonderful genius for disguise, choose some quiet spot and run no more risks?"

"The matter is worth considering," I admitted. "There are a few little affairs to straighten out first, though."

Mr. Younghusband looked at me curiously, then he laid his forefinger upon the copy of the Times which he had been studying when I entered the office.

"You are interested in to-morrow's event, I suppose?"

"What event?" I enquired.

The lawyer shrugged his shoulders. I could see quite well that he did not believe in my ignorance.

"The marriage of your old friend, Norman Greyes."

I stared across the table incredulously.

"I have, indeed, been living out of the world," I observed.

"Whom is he marrying?"

Mr. Younghusband coughed. He was watching me closely and he was almost embarrassed.

"Do you mean to tell me that you do not know?" he demanded.

"Of course I don't," I replied, a little irritably. "You seem to forget where I have been for the last four months."

"Norman Greyes is marrying the lady whom I have met as Mrs. Stanfield. She calls herself now Mrs. Janet Soale."

That was, undoubtedly, one of the shocks of my life. Janet and I were parted. I had deceived her as I had done many other women, and, in her day, she had served me well and faithfully. I had no ill-feeling against her, especially now that I realised she had left my money untouched. More than ever, however, I meant to kill Norman Greyes. I held out my hand for the Times and read the little announcement.

"Good!" I said. "I shall attend the reception which I see is being given after the ceremony. It will be interesting to see Norman Greyes' taste in pearls. I see that he is having his collection strung as a wedding present for his wife."

"If you do, you're a madman," the lawyer declared angrily.

"Madmen for luck," I replied.

Janet

It was exactly two months after I had left Marseilles when Norman Greyes walked into my little sitting room in Smith Street, Westminster, where I was busy typing a play for the Agency which occasionally sent me work. He was gaunt and thin, and it was obvious that he had not wholly recovered his strength, but he showed every sign of his old promptitude and decision of character. Before I had got over my surprise at his coming, I felt his arms around me and every atom of strength leaving my body. The most wonderful moment of my life had arrived!

"When will you marry me, Janet?" he asked, a httle later on, when he had set me back in my chair and seated himself by my side.

"Marry you?" I gasped. "How can you talk of such things!"

"Simply because they have to be talked about before they can be undertaken," he replied. "I look upon you as Michael's widow, but you have never cared for him as you are going to care for me.

"But you don't even know if Michael is dead," I protested, my heart beating fast, every fibre of my body quivering at the thoughts evoked by his words.

Norman held my hand tightly.

"We are very sensible people, you and I," he said, "and we are going to look stark facts in the face. It doesn't matter in the least legally whether Michael is dead or not. He had at least two other wives alive in America when he married you."

I leaned towards him. Somehow or other, what would have seemed in my saner moments a sheer impossibility, seemed, at that moment, a perfect natural and reasonable thing. Then, suddenly the old horror rose up in my mind.

"You forget," I told him, "you forget that I too—" He placed his hand gently over my lips.

"Janet," he interrupted, "nothing that either of us could do, no penance we could undertake, would bring Ladbrooke back to life. His widow has her pension—I have seen to that. For the rest, you must forget as I have forgotten."

"I killed him, Norman," I faltered.

"I have killed men myself in my day," he replied, "and I shall probably kill Michael, if he is still alive, before our accounts are finally settled. That affair does not concern us any longer. You acted on a momentary impulse. You were protecting the man whom you fancied, at that time, you cared for."

"I was doing more than that," I told him. "I was avenging myself. I was a stupid girl in those days—but I had ideas. No man had ever kissed me upon the lips. He took me unawares. If I had had the weapon in my hand then, I should have killed him without any other thought."

I saw a look almost of content in the face of the man I loved.

"I always guessed that there was something of the sort," he said. "The immediate question is, when are you going to marry me?"

I suppose I was weak, but all women are weak when the man they care for pleads. I had been through years of misery, and the time came when I was simply incapable of any further resistance. I became entirely passive, I did exactly as I was told, and marvellously happy I was in doing it. Just as I was, in my shabby clothes, we went out to a restaurant in Soho and dined. It was a queer little place, overcrowded and not too well ventilated, but to me it was like a room in a palace. All the time we made plans, or rather he made plans and I listened. My long struggle was at an end. We were to be married almost at once, to travel for a time in Italy, Egypt—all the places I had longed to visit—and afterwards to settle down in the country and forget. It was not until after Norman had left me in my rooms, and the joy of the evening was merged into memories, that I felt that chill sense of apprehension which I did not altogether lose until long afterwards. A sudden fear of Michael set me shivering. I could not believe that he was dead. I felt, somehow, that he would come back and stand between me and my new happiness. The fear became almost a paroxysm. I locked the door of my room and lay awake most of the night, terrified of the sound of a passing footstep, terrified when a taxicab stopped anywhere near, fearful even of the darkness of the room, out of the shadows of which I fancied that I could see Michael's cold, ageless face, with his strange smile and grey-green eyes, behind which lurked that curious sense of power. The night passed, but even during those wonderful days that followed the fear remained. It came back even at the moment of my supreme happiness, some weeks later, when I passed down the aisle of the church with Norman—his wife! I suddenly felt convinced that Michael was in the church. It was a terrible moment, although a brief one. I faltered, and Norman looked down at me anxiously. Then I laughed and pretended to gather up my train. It was nothing, I told him—just a shiver. The rest, for some time, was just a dream. There were crowds of people at the house in Southwell Gardens where Norman's sister was giving a reception for us. Everybody was wonderfully nice to me, and I made new friends at every moment. Just as I was warned that it was time for me to go and change into my travelling gown, an uncle of Norman's, a Mr. Harold Greyes, asked me to show him the pearl necklace which had been Norman's present to me. I took him at once into the little room where the wedding gifts were set out. There was a small gathering of guests there, nearly all of whom were known to me. At the far end of the room, seated in a chair and apparently taking little interest in the proceedings, was the detective who had come from Scotland Yard to watch over the jewellery.

"I know that you have only a moment to spare," Mr. Greyes said to me. "I will just look at the pearls and be off. I am curious to see if Norman is really a judge."

I pointed to where the necklace was lying in its case. I myself was talking to one or two people who had finished their inspection. My companion glanced downwards, frowned, adjusted his eyeglass, dropped it and turned to me with a little smile.

"Quite a reasonable precaution," he observed, "but was it necessary with a detective in the room?"

"I don't understand," I told him, a little bewildered.

"The substitution of the necklace," he explained. "Of course, these are very fair imitations but I wanted to see the real thing."

I leaned down and felt a sudden thrill of apprehension. The necklace which was twined around its setting of ivory satin was one which I had never seen before. It was certainly not the one which I had taken in my fingers and showed to some friends of Norman's, less than half an hour ago. I called the detective.

"My pearl necklace has been taken within the last half an hour," I exclaimed. "This is an imitation one which has been substituted!"

The detective first closed the door and then came back into the room. We both of us looked around. Besides myself and my companion, Mr. Harold Greyes, there were present a very charming girl called Beatrice Kindersley, a great friend of Norman's, an elderly lady, Mrs. Phillipson, and a slim, soldierly-looking man who was a complete stranger to me but who, on account of his sunburnt complexion, I put down as an Anglo-Indian.

"Dear me," the latter exclaimed, "this is very distressing! A great many people have passed in and out during the last halfhour."

"It is only within the last three minutes," the detective said, "that I have moved to the further end of the room. May I ask, Lady Greyes, if every one here is known to you?"

"Miss Kindersley, certainly," I replied, "and Mrs. Phillipson. I don't think I have met you, have I?" I added, turning to the man.

He looked at me with a rather peculiar smile and I noticed for the first time that he was wearing rimless spectacles. He had a particularly high forehead and thick, grey-black hair brushed smoothly back. I cannot say that he actually reminded me of any one, yet something in his appearance filled me with a vague sense of uneasiness.

"I fear that I have not yet had that honour, Lady Greyes," he acknowledged quietly. "Your husband, however, is an old friend. My name is Escombe,—Colonel James Escombe of the Indian Army."

"If you are unknown to Lady Greyes, I must ask you to remain until Sir Norman arrives," the detective said.

"With the utmost pleasure," Colonel Escombe replied. "I have already had the privilege of renewing my acquaintance with him."

Beatrice Kindersley, who had been standing looking on, suddenly began to laugh. Her eyes shone and her apparently genuine amusement, after the tenseness of the last few moments, was a very pleasant interlude.

"Poor Colonel Escombe!" she exclaimed, passing her arm through his. "Why, he is one of Dad's oldest friends. He hates weddings and functions of all sorts, but I persuaded him to come here with me because he had met Sir Norman in India once. Please, Lady Greyes, may I take him away—We promised to call for Dad at his Club, and we are half an hour late already."

The detective was obviously disappointed. I murmured something conventional and shook hands with them both.

"I may be permitted, although a comparative stranger," Colonel Escombe said, as he bent over my fingers, "to wish you all the happiness which I am sure you deserve."

They passed out, without any undue haste, laughing and talking to each other. The detective hurried away on the track of some fresh enquiry. I moved back, urged by some irresistible impulse, to the case where the imitation pearl necklace was lying. For the first time I noticed a little label attached to it. I turned it over and read two words, written in a familiar handwriting,?

"Michael's Gift."

Suddenly Norman came hurrying in, already changed into a grey tweed travelling suit. He thrust his arm through mine and swung me towards the door.

"Janet dear," he said, "you have exactly a quarter of an hour."

"One question, please," I begged. "Did you ever know a Colonel Escombe in the Indian Army?"

"Never in my life," he answered.

I saw the detective hurrying towards us and I clutched Norman's arm. I think that he must have guessed from my face that something had happened.

"Norman," I whispered, "supposing the necklace—"

"Well, dear?"

"Supposing it was stolen?"

His grasp on my arm tightened.

"I shouldn't care a hang, sweetheart," he whispered, "so long as we catch that train in half an hour and I have you all to myself for the rest of my life."

Michael

The greatest genius in the world cannot foresee all contingencies. It has always been my practice to leave something to fate. How on earth I was going to get out of the house in Southwell Gardens, if the theft of the necklace were discovered before I could get away by natural means, I had been quite unable to make up my mind. Fate, however, decided it for me. I left with flying colours, rescued by the girl with the steadfast eyes, whose lips had mocked at danger on the precipices of the Forêt du Dom.

"Where to?" she asked, as we took our places in her automobile.

"To the British Museum Tube, if you can take me so far," I answered.

She gave the order to the chauffeur through the speaking tube. Then she leaned back in her place. Her expression puzzled me. She was as pale as she had been on the day when she had faced death, but there was none of the exaltation in her face.

"You are disturbed?" I ventured.

"I am unhappy," she answered.

"You regret your intervention?"

She shook her head.

"It is not that. You stole the pearls."

"Of course I did," I admitted.

"You are a thief!"

"I never pretended otherwise."

Her eyes filled with tears.

"I will give you that credit," she confessed bravely. "Can I— would it be possible for me to buy the pearls from you?"

"For what purpose?" I enquired.

"To return to Lady Greyes, of course. Don't you see that I am partly responsible for their loss?"

"My dear young lady," I said earnestly, "the pearls are yours, with pleasure. I took them because the dramatic side of the theft appealed to me. Norman Greyes and I are old enemies. He has hunted me as only man can hunt man. His wife is an old acquaintance. It flattered my vanity to attend his reception unrecognized and to help myself to his wife's pearls. Allow me."

I took off my silk hat and laid it upon the opposite seat. Then I passed my hand slowly from my forehead back over my hair, pressed the top of my skull and handed her the necklace. She had been on the point of tears a moment before. She looked at me now, her eyes wide open with wonder.

"I appreciate your surprise," I told her. "As a matter of fact, this false top to my head is one of the most ingenious things my friends in Paris ever made for me. If Norman Greyes succeeds and I fail, you will probably see it one day in the Museum of Scotland Yard."

The car pulled up outside the Tube Station. The girl held out her hand. She looked at me, and something of the feeling came into my heart which had driven me, a fugitive, from her house.

"I think that you are a very terrible but a very wonderful person," she said. "Anyhow, I like to think that I have paid a part of my debt."

The madness had me in its grip. I lifted her fingers to my lips. I laughed in my soul because she made no effort to withdraw them.

"The whole of it is paid," I told her, as I turned away.



X.—THE MYSTERY ADVERTISEMENT

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Sep 1922

Michael Tells the Whole Story

It has always been my custom, as a notorious and much- soughtafter criminal, to give special care to the building up of a new identity. It is my success in the various impersonations I have attempted which has enabled me for many years to completely puzzk that highly astute body of men leagued together under the auspices of Scotland Yard.

After my brief but successful career as Colonel Escombe, of the Indian Army, I determined upon a complete change of characterisation and circumstances. I established myself in modest rooms at the back of Russell Square, took a small office at the top of a block of buildings in Holborn, had cards and stationery printed and a brass plate engraved, and made a fresh appearance in the Metropolis of my fancy as Mr. Sidney Buckross, jobbing stationer. I cannot say that my operations made very much impression upon the trade which I had adopted. I transferred a thousand pounds to my credit at a well-known London bank, wrote myself several letters a day, which I opened and replied to at my office, sallied out with a small black bag, soon after ten, and, with the exception of a leisurely hour for my midday meal, spent the rest of my time in the safe seclusion of the British Museum.

I re-established a new hobby. In the intervals of idleness which the spasmodic activities of my profession had entailed, I had always been fascinated by the subject of ciphers. I knew perfectly well, for instance, that half the advertisements in the Personal Column of the Time's, contained, to the person for whose eyes they were intended, a meaning utterly different from their obvious one. For example, one afternoon, after having wasted a score of sheets of paper and an immense amount of ingenuity, I was able at last to find the real message conveyed under this absurd medley of words:

"charles. what you require may be found in 1749.
laughing eyes bids you have courage. bring james."

With only one word of the cipher at first clear to me, I looked upon it as something of a triumph when I was able to extract from this rubbish the following message:

"lady in green, man dinner jacket and white tie. frascati's
8 o'clock monday. will bring documents. have currency."

The announcement interested me. If these documents were worth money to the person to whom this invitation was addressed, they were probably worth money to me. I decided, without a moment's hesitation, that I would meet the lady in green and the gentleman in a dinner coat and white tie on Monday at Frascati's, notwithstanding the shock to my sartorial instincts which the costume of the latter was likely to inflict. My only trouble was not to clash with the person for whom the advertisement was really intended. At this I could only make an attempt. I inserted the following advertisement in the Personal Column of the Times on the following morning:

"Frascati's 7 not 8."

The upshot I was compelled to leave to fate.

At ten minutes to seven on Monday evening I arrived at the restaurant indicated. I ordered a table for three and the best dinner the place could offer. The moment I stepped back into the reception room I recognized, beyond a shadow of doubt, my prospective guests. The man was a powerful-looking fellow, with large, clumsy limbs, a mass of untidy hair, a bushy-brown moustache streaked with grey, a somewhat coarse complexion and bulbous eyes. He wore, gracelessly, the costume which the advertisement had indicated. The woman in green had somewhat overdone her colour scheme. There was a green plush band in her hair and she wore an evening gown of the same colour, cut very low and distinguished by a general air of tawdriness. She was, or rather had been, good-looking in a bold, flamboyant sort of way and she had still a profusion of yellow hair. They both stared at me when they saw me looking around and, with a little inward shiver, I took the plunge. I went boldly up to them and shook hands.

"I have ordered dinner," I announced. "Will you let me show you the way—"

They accepted the situation without demur, and viewed the gold-topped bottle in the ice pail and the other arrangements for their entertainment with considerable satisfaction.

"I must say you're not quite the sort of chap we expected to find, is he, Lizzie?" the man remarked, as he seated himself heavily and performed wonderful operations with his napkin. "I thought all your lot were water drinkers."

I smiled.

"We arc often misunderstood," I ventured.

We settled down and took stock of one another. The woman looked approvingly at my black tie and pearl studs. I have made it a rule never to be without a supply of the right sort of clothes.

"I'm sure, if I may say so, it's much more agreeable to do business with a gentleman," she remarked, with a sidelong glance at me. "Makes me feel so much more at home."

"Cocktails too!" her companion exclaimed cheerfully, as the wine waiter approached with a silver tray. "You're doing us proud and no mistake."

I bowed and drank their healths. A cordial but cryptic silence seemed to me to be my best role. I had always the fear, however, of the other man arriving before the business part of our meeting had been broached. So as soon as the effects of the wine had begun to show themselves in some degree, I ordered another bottle and leaned confidentially forward.

"You have brought the documents with you?" I asked.

"You don't think we are out to make an April fool of a gentleman like you!" the lady replied, with a languishing glance. "But I would like you to understand this, Mr.—Mr.—"

"Martin," I suggested.

"Mr. Martin," she went on—"I would never have rounded on Ted if he had kept straight. He and I didn't get on, and that's the long and short of it. He was all right so far as the drink was concerned, and I never see him look at another woman in his life. All the same, Mr. Martin, for a woman of my temperament he was no fitting sort of a husband."

I felt a moment's sympathy for Ted. The lady, however, had more to say.

"When first he started those proceedings for divorce," she went on, dropping her voice a little and adopting a more intimate manner, "I was knocked altogether silly like. You know that, Jim, wasn't I?" she added, appealing to her male companion.

"Same here," he growled. "I'd have broken his blooming 'ead if I'd thought he was having us watched."

"And it's a broken head he'll get, the way he's going on, if he's not careful," the woman continued truculently. "Talk about making him a Cabinet Minister, indeed, and me left without a penny just because he got his divorce! I'll show him!"

"To revert for a moment to the documents," I ventured.

The lady touched a soiled, shabby hand-bag, opened it and gazed inside for a moment.

"They're here, all right," she announced in a tone of satisfaction. "Mixed up with my powder and rouge and what not. You shall have them presently, Mr. Martin."

"That is, if you are prepared to part," the man intervened.

"Cash down and no humbug about it."

"Part? Of course, he's prepared to part!" the woman declared sharply. "Wouldn't be here if he weren't. That's right, isn't it, Mr. Martin?"

"Naturally," I agreed. "I have brought a considerable amount of money with me, quite as much as I can afford to part with, and the only question left for me to decide is whether the documents are worth it."

"You talk as if you were doing this little job on your own," she remarked, looking at me curiously.

"I have to be as careful as though I were," I replied. "I am sure you can understand that."

Her escort laughed coarsely.

"I guess you'll sec there's some pickings left for yourself," he observed. "You know what I heard your boss say at Liverpool once."

"That will do, Jim," the woman interrupted impatiently. "Remember we are here for business."

I returned to the subject of our meeting.

"I think," I suggested, "the time has arrived when you might allow me to glance through those documents."

The woman looked across the table at her companion. He nodded assent.

"No harm in that, so far as I can see," he observed. "There's all in them as I promised, and a trifle more. Enough to cook Ted's goose, and his swell friend's."

The woman opened her hand bag and produced a dozen pages of typewritten manuscript, soiled and a little tattered.

"Just cast your eye over that first," she invited. "That's an exact copy of the speech which Ted prepared for the mass meeting in Liverpool in March."

"In Liverpool," I repeated, hoping for some elucidation.

"The meeting that was called to decide upon the Shipping Strike," she explained, a little impatiently.

I glanced through the typewritten pages. They seemed to consist of a vehement appeal to the dockers, bonders and Union of Seamen to inaugurate on the following day the greatest strike in history, promising them the support of the miners and railwaymen, and predicting the complete defeat of the Government within six weeks. The speech concluded with a peroration, full of extreme revolutionary sentiments, and on a blank page at the end, under the heading of "approved of", were the signatures of a dozen of the best known men in the Labour world.

"This speech—"I began tentatively, for the matter was not yet clear to me.

"Was never delivered, of course," the man interrupted. "You know all about that. Ted went down to Liverpool as mild as a lamb. He stood up there on the platform and told them that the present moment was inopportune for a strike. Not only that, but the next day he bamboozled them into accepting the employers' terms."

"Satisfactory so far as it goes," I observed, didactically but with caution. "And now—"

"Here," the woman interrupted triumphantly, "is Lord Kindersley's letter, delivered to Ted that afternoon in Liverpool."

I read the letter, dated from South Audley Street, and its opening phrases were illuminative. I knew now that Ted was Mr. Edward Rendall, the present leader of the Labour Party in the House of Commons.

My dear Mr. Rendall,

This letter, which I am despatching by aeroplane messenger, will reach you, I trust, before you address the Meeting this evening. The matter with which it is concerned cannot be dealt with by the Federation of Shipowners, but, confirming our recent conversation, Sir Philip Richardson and I are willing, between us, to advance to-morrow Bank notes to the value of fifty thousand pounds, to be paid to the funds of your cause or to be made use of in any way you think fit, provided the strike threatened for to-morrow does not take place.

Faithfully yours,
Geoffrey Kindersley.

P.S.—In your own interests, as well as ours, I suggest that you immediately destroy this letter.

Things were now becoming quite clear to me. I even began to wonder if I had brought enough money.

"As a matter of curiosity," I asked, "why did your husband not take Lord Kindersley's advice and destroy this letter?" The woman laughed unpleasantly. There was mingled cunning and self- satisfaction in her expression.

"He told me to," she replied. "As a matter of fact, he thought he saw me tear it up. It was just at the time that I was beginning to have my suspicions of Master Ted, so I tore up a circular instead and put this by for a bit."

"A pretty clever stroke of work, too," the man opposite murmured, with an approving grin. "You put a rod in pickle for Ted that day, Lizzie."

"And serve him right, too," the lady remarked, glancing in her mirror and making some trifling rearrangement of her coiffure.

There was a brief silence. The man drew his chair a little closer to the table and addressed me with a businesslike air.

"Now, Mr. Martin, or whatever your name is, let's finish this job up," he proposed. "You've got a copy of the speech that Ted Rendall promised his pals to deliver at Liverpool, typed at Mrs. Simons' office, Number 23, Dale Street. You've got the original letter from Lord Kindersley, proving up to the hilt why he didn't deliver it, and," he went on, striking the table with his fist, "I am now going to tell you that that fifty thousand pounds was handed over to Ted at the National Liberal Club the following evening at six o'clock and was paid in by him, to his own credit, to five different banks on the following morning. The names of the banks are there, in pencil, on the back of Lord Kindersley's letter."

"And when I asked him for a hundred a year to keep me respectable," the woman declared, with an angry colour rising to her cheeks, "he sent my letter back through his lawyers, without a word."

I leaned back in my chair and felt my way a little further.

"If we make a deal and you part with these documents to me," I said, "what use do you expect me to make of them?"

"Any use you choose, so long as you pay enough," the woman answered bluntly.

"We know pretty well whom you're acting for," the man put in, with a knowing grin. "I guess it won't be long before Charlie Payton handles these documents, if we come to terms."

"You have no conditions to make?" I asked.

"None!" the woman snapped. "I've finished with Ted. He's a cur. You can publish the whole lot in the Daily Mail, if you like, for all I care."

"Then there remains only the question of price," I concluded.

The flush of wine and the momentary expansiveness of good feeding seemed to pass from the faces of my two guests. A natural and anxious cupidity took its place. They feared to ask too little, they were terrified lest they might scare me away by asking too much.

"They'd be worth a pretty penny to Ted," the woman muttered.

"You don't want to sell them to him," I pointed out.

"I don't and that's a fact," she admitted. "Look here, Mr. Martin, they're yours for a thousand pounds."

A thousand pounds was precisely the sum I had brought with me. Without remark, I counted out the notes and pocketed the documents. The man and woman seemed very surprised at this uneventful finish to the proceedings. The latter tucked away the notes in her hand bag, whilst I paid the bill. When I rose to take leave of them, I could see, standing in the doorway and looking at us with a puzzled expression, a middle-aged man, whom I decided at once was the individual whom I had impersonated.

"The business is over, and, I trust, pleasantly," I said. "Will you forgive me if I take my leave. There are others who are anxious to hear from me."

The woman clutched her bag with her left hand and extended her right.

"Well, I'm sure you've been quite a gentleman, Mr.—Mr.? let me see, what was the name?"

"Well, it doesn't matter, does it," I replied, "especially as it was only assumed for the evening? Good night and good luck to you both," I added, as I made my escape.

There was a fine rain falling outside but I walked steadily on, obsessed with the sudden desire for fresh air. The atmosphere of the place I had left, the character of my companions, the sordid ignominy of the transaction which I had just concluded had filled me with disgust. Then I began to laugh softly to myself. It was a queer anomaly, this, that I, the notorious criminal, for whom the police of the world were always searching, should feel distaste at so ordinary an ill-deed. I had robbed, and struck ruthlessly enough, in my time, at whomever might stand in my way, but, as a matter of fact, blackmailing was the one malpractice which had never happened to come my way. In any case, as I reminded myself, the ignominious part of the affair was over. Its continuation was likely to appeal more both to my sense of humour and my natural instinct for cruelty. Over a late whisky and soda that night in my room, I began to build my plans. It seemed to me that the career of Mr. Edward Rendall, M.P., and the reputation of Lord Kindersley were equally in my hands. It was surely not possible that the two combined would not produce a reasonable profit upon my outlay of a thousand pounds. As I sat and smoked, another idea occurred to me and, before I retired to rest, I wrote a long letter of instructions to Mr. Younghusband.

I remained at my office in Holborn on the following morning until I heard from Mr. Younghusband upon the telephone. As usual he was most formal, addressing me as though I were one of his ordinary and respected clients. It was obvious, however, that he was perturbed.

"I have carried out your instructions to the letter, Mr.—er— Buckross," he announced, "but the magnitude of the operation which you have ventured upon has, I confess, rather staggered me."

"Let me know exactly what you have done," I said.

"I have sold," he continued, "on your account, through various firms of stockbrokers, twenty-five thousand ordinary shares in the Kindersley Shipping Company at six pounds each. Fortunately, there is no immediate prospect of a rise in shares of this description and I was able to arrange to leave cover amounting to only ten shillings a share, namely, twelve thousand, five hundred pounds."

"Very good," I assented. "What is the price just now?"

"The shares have dropped a trifle, naturally," the lawyer replied, "owing to your operations. The stockbroker, however, at whose office I now am, advises me to disregard that fact. He thinks that they will probably recover during the day."

"Just so! When is settlement day?"

"On the fourth. Apropos of that, the various brokers with whom I have had dealings on your behalf desire to know whether you would wish to close your transactions or any portion of them during the next few days, if a profit of, say, a quarter a share is shown."

"Not on any account," I insisted. "The transaction must remain exactly as it is until I give the word."

I rang off, filled my bag, as usual, with stationery samples and took the tube to Bond Street, where I walked to South Audley Street. Upon arrival at my destination, I was informed by an imposing-looking butler that Lord Kindersley was at home but it was scarcely likely that he would receive me unless I had an appointment. I risked the butler's being human, and bought my way as far as the waiting room. Once arrived there, I managed to impress an untidy and bespectacled secretary with the idea that it might be worth Lord Kindersley's while to spare me a few minutes of his time. In the end, I was ushered into the great man's sanctum.

"What can I do for you—Mr. Buckross?" he enquired, glancing at my card.

I was anxious to test my new identity and I stood full in the light. It was obvious, however, that Lord Kindersley had not an idea that we had ever met before. He did not connect the slightly nervous business man who now addressed him with the woodman-chauffeur who had brought him safely from the Forêt du Dom to England.

"I have come to see you on a very serious matter, Lord Kindersley," I said, "and I am anxious that there should be no misunderstanding. I do not wish for a penny of your money. I am here, in fact, to save you from the loss of a great deal of it. My visit, nevertheless, has a very serious side."

He looked at me steadily from under his bushy eyebrows.

"Go on," he invited curtly.

"Last March," I continued, "you averted the threatened shipping strike and saved yourself the loss of at least one of your millions by bribing a well- known Labour leader to declare for peace instead of war. You and one other great shipowner were alone concerned in this matter. That other man, I gather, is dead."

Lord Kindersley was looking at me with a queer look in his eyes. I realised suddenly how heavily pouched they were underneath, how unwholesome the color of his face. His voice, when he answered me, was unsteady.

"What on earth are you talking about?"

I took the two documents from my pocket and moved a little nearer to him.

"Here," I said, "is RendalPs proposed speech, counselling the strike and signed by the leaders of the various Unions. Here, also is your letter to Rendall, making him the offer of fifty thousand pounds to withhold it, which sum was paid to him the next evening at the National Liberal Club."

All the initial affability and condescension had gone from Lord Kindersley's manner. He looked like a man on the verge of a collapse.

"My God!" he muttered. "Rendall swore that he had destroyed my letter!"

"He instructed his wife to do so. She retained it for her own purposes. A few months ago her husband divorced her. This is her revenge. She has sold the copy of the speech and the letter to me. I know, also, the other facts in connection with the case."

Lord Kindersley took out his handkerchief and mopped his forehead. Already he began to see his way.

"I will buy those documents from you," he proposed.

"Your lordship," I replied, "I am not a blackmailer."

"You shall receive the money quite safely," he went on eagerly.

"I should not dream of communicating with the police. I shall look upon it as an equitable business transaction. Name your price. I am not a mean man."

"Neither, as I remarked before, am I a blackmailer," I persisted.

"My use for these letters is predestined. They go to the Press."

Lord Kindersley sprang to his feet.

"What good will that do you?" he demanded hoarsely.

"Not very much financially perhaps," I acknowledged. "On the other hand, I know one newspaper, I think, which would pay me a large sum for them."

He brushed the idea on one side.

"Listen," he said, impressively, "no newspaper would deal with you as liberally as I am prepared to. Those documents must not be published. If it were generally known that I had bribed Rendall to hold up that speech, the Unions would declare war against me to-morrow. Not a man would stay in my employ. Besides, it would bring discredit upon my Party. It would ruin me politically as well as actually. Come now, Mr. Buckross, you look like a business man. Let's talk business. I'll write you a cheque for ten thousand pounds this morning."

"Your lordship," I replied, "if I dealt with you in the way you suggest, it would amount to a criminal offence. My conscience forbids it. I can deal with the Press fairly and openly. Your political ruin I cannot help. Your financial ruin I may help you to modify. I offer you four days' grace, during which time you had better get rid of as many of your shares in the Kindersley Shipping Company as you can."

"You promise to do nothing for four days?" Lord Kindersley exclaimed eagerly.

"I promise."

He leaned back in his chair and mopped his forehead.

"Well, that's a respite, at any rate," he said. "Now Mr. Buckross, you and I have got to understand one another on this deal."

"We shall never get any nearer understanding one another than we are at present," I assured him.

"Rubbish!" he answered. "What I want you to do is to get that blackmailing idea out of your head. You have something to sell and I want to buy it. It's a commercial transaction, pure and simple, and the end and aim of all commercial transactions is to obtain the best price possible for what you have to sell. I mentioned ten thousand pounds. It seemed to me a comfortable little sum but I can afford more, if necessary. Look here, stay and have lunch with me, and we'll discuss the matter over a cigar and a glass of wine."

"I should be taking your lunch under false pretences," I replied, rising and buttoning my coat. "You shall have the four days' grace which I have promised."

He followed me to the door, entreating me for my address. So convinced was he that I would change my mind that he sent his secretary out into the street after me. In the end I made my escape by promising to see him again on the evening of the third day. I made the promise in my one moment of weakness. It occurred to me that it would give me pleasure if, by any chance, I should see for a moment the girl whose courage was of so fine a quality that she neither feared a hideous death on the verge of a precipice nor disgrace in a London drawing-room.

I took my usual leisurely lunch and afterwards made my way to the uninspiring neighbourhood of Streatham. "The Towers", which I had discovered from a book of reference to be Mr. Edward Rendall's address, was a hopelessly vulgar edifice of grey stone, approached by what is generally described as a short carriage drive. An untidy-looking servant admitted me, after some delay, and escorted me across a linoleum-covered hall, odoriferous of a hot meal, to a small study at the back of the house, filled with shoddy furniture and hung with imitation prints. The popular M.P., as was his boast, was not in the least difficult of access. He came into the room within a few minutes, a pipe in his mouth, and giving evidence of all the easy good nature which befitted his position.

"Don't know who you are, Mr. Buckross," he said, noticing with some surprise that I had not availed myself of the opportunity of shaking hands with him, "but sit down, and welcome. What can I do for you?"

"I have brought you bad news, Mr. Rendall," I announced.

"The devil you have!" he answered, removing his pipe from his teeth and staring at me. "Who are you, anyway—I don't seem to recognize your name."

"That really doesn't matter," I replied. "You can call me a journalist, if you like. It's as near the truth as anything about myself that I'm likely to tell you. Something very disagreeable is going to happen to you on the fourth day from now, and, as I am partly responsible for it, I have come out here to give you a word of warning."

"You're getting at me," he protested uneasily.

"Not in the least," I assured him. "The facts to which I allude are these. I have in my possession a copy of the speech which you ought to have made at Liverpool last March and didn't, and also the original letter from Lord Kindersley, offering you fifty thousand pounds to hold it up. I also know that you received that money on the following evening at the National Liberal Club, and I know what banks you entrusted it to."

Rendall was, I believe, at heart, just as much of a coward as Kindersley, but he showed it in a different fashion.

"You d—d, lying blackmailer!" he shouted. "How dare you come here with such a story! Get out of the house or I'll throw you down the steps."

"I have fulfilled my mission," I told him. "I shall be very glad indeed to go."

"Stop!" he shouted, as I turned towards the door. "How did you come by this cock-and-bull story?"

"How should I have come by it at all unless it were the truth?" I answered. "The whole world will know the facts soon enough. I obtained the papers from your wife."

"That's a lie, then," he declared truculently, "for I saw her destroy the letter."

I smiled. The man, after all, was poor sport.

"She deceived you," I replied. "You saw her destroy a circular. She kept the letter. Perhaps she had her reasons. I bought it from her and another man at Frascati's restaurant last night."

Conviction seized upon Mr. Edward Rendall and, with conviction, fear.

"Look here," he proposed, "let's sit down and talk this over. I'll tell the girl to bring in cigars and a drop of whisky."

"I have not the least idea of accepting any hospitality from you," I assured him. "The documents are going to the Press in four days' time. I came here to give you that much notice."

His eyes narrowed a little.

"How do I know that the whole thing isn't a kid?" he said suspiciously. "Have you got them with you?"

"I have," I told him.

He attempted nothing in the way of subtlety. He relied, I suppose, upon his six feet and his brawny shoulders. He came at me like a bull, head down and fists swinging. It was a very ridiculous encounter.

Next morning there were sensational paragraphs in most of the financial papers. Shipping shares all reacted slightly in sympathy, but the slump in Kindersley's was a thing no one could account for. They had fallen from six to five within twenty-four hours, and as soon as I reached my offices in Holborn, I received frantic messages from Mr. Younghusband, imploring me to close with a profit of over twenty thousand pounds. There was nothing whatever wrong with the shares, he assured me, and they were bound to rally. I listened to all he had to say, gave him positive instructions not to disturb my operations in any way and, disregarding his piteous protests, rang off and made my way to the great newspaper offices, where my business of the morning lay. It took me an hour to get as far as the assistant editor. He was a lean man, with horn-rimmed spectacles and an inevitable sequence of cigarettes. He told me frankly that I had as much chance of seeing the editor as the Pope. So I told him my story and showed him the documents. He went out of the room for a moment and returned with the editor. They both looked at me curiously.

"Who are you, Mr. Buckross?" the editor asked.

"A speculator," I answered. "I bought those papers from Kendall's divorced wife. She has a spite against him."

"How can one be sure that they are genuine?"

"Any one who studies them must know that they are," I replied.

"If you want confirmation, I told Lord Kindersley yesterday of their existence and forthcoming publication and advised him to sell as many of his shares as possible. Your financial column will tell you the rest of the story."

The two men whispered together for some time. Then the editor, who was a grey-haired, clean-shaven man, with a mouth like a rat trap and a voice like a military martinet, drew up an easy chair and seated himself by my side.

"What do you want us to do with these documents, Mr. Buckross?" he asked.

"I want you to give me a very large sum of money for them and then publish them," I replied.

"You know that there will be the devil of a row?"

"That will be your lookout. Their genuineness will be your justification."

The editor looked thoughtfully out of the window for several moments. His face was as hard as granite but he had very grey, human eyes.

"We should have no compunction about bringing the thunders down upon Rendall," he said, "but with Lord Kindersley it is a little different. He is a considerable and reputable figure in Society."

"He might survive the disclosures," I suggested. "After all, there was a certain amount of justification for his conduct. He averted a national disaster, even if the means he used were immoral."

"A case can be built up for him, certainly," the editor remarked musingly. "What is your price for these documents?"

"Ten thousand pounds, and they must not be used before Thursday," I replied.

"Why not before Thursday?"

"I have given Lord Kindersley so much grace."

"You will leave the documents in our hands?" the editor proposed.

I considered the matter. I could think of nothing likely to alter my plans, but I was conscious of a curious aversion to taking the irrevocable step.

"You shall have them," I agreed, "if you will give me a letter acknowledging that they are my property, and promising to return them to me without publication, should I desire it, on Wednesday afternoon."

"What about the money?" the editor asked. "Do you want anything on account?"

"You are prepared to give me the ten thousand pounds?" He shrugged his shoulders.

"We never bargain," he said. "There is no standard value for such goods as you offer. The question is whether you want anything in advance?"

"No, thank you," I answered. "I'll have the whole amount on Wednesday afternoon, or the documents back again. I think that it will be the money."

"I trust so," my two editorial friends replied, in fervent unison. On Wednesday morning the Kindersley Shipping Company shares stood at three and three quarters, and a brief notice in the Times announced that his lordship was confined to his house in South Audley Street, suffering from a severe nervous breakdown. Some idiotic impulse prompted me, after I had paid my brief visit to my office, to take a stroll in that direction. A doctor's carriage was waiting outside Kindersley House, and, as I passed on the other side of the way, the front door opened and the doctor himself stood on the threshold. The thought of Lord Kindersley's sufferings had, up to the present, inspired in me no other feeling than one of mild amusement. By the side of the doctor, however, Beatrice Kindersley was standing. I knew then that the end of my career must be close at hand. I was weakening. My nerve had gone. The instincts of childhood were returning to me. The morbid curiosity which had brought me to the house had been gratified with a vengeance. I had received a psychological stroke. The girl's drawn and tear-stained face had disturbed the callousness which I had deemed impregnable. A new scheme was forcing its way into my mind. There was only one redeeming point about it all—I walked for the next few hours in peril of my life. At half-past two that afternoon, Beatrice Kindersley hastened into the little morning room on the ground floor of Kindersley House to receive an unexpected visitor. Her lips parted in amazement when she saw who it was. I held up my finger.

"Colonel Escombe," I reminded her.

"You!" she exclaimed.

I knew that there was not a flaw in my make-up or deportment. I was the Colonel Escombe who had attended Norman Greyes' wedding, and in connection with whose presence there had been some slight question concerning a pearl necklace.

"What do you want?" she asked breathlessly.

"To help you," I answered. "I saw you this morning and you seemed in trouble."

She smiled at me gratefully but a moment later her face was clouded with anxiety.

"It's dear of you," she said, "but you must go away at once. You are running a terrible risk. Sir Norman Greyes is in the house. He is with my uncle now."

"What is he doing here?" I demanded.

"My uncle sent for him to see if he could help. There is some serious trouble. I don't know what it is but my uncle says that it means ruin."

At the thought of the near presence of my old enemy, my whole being seemed to stiffen. Yet, alas! the weakness remained.

"Listen," I said, "what does your distress mean? Has your uncle always been good to you—Is it for his sake that you are unhappy?"

"Entirely," she answered without hesitation. "I know that a great many people call him hard and unscrupulous. To me he has been the dearest person in the world. It makes my heart ache to see him suffer."

I glanced at my watch.

"Listen," I said, "give me five minutes to get clear away. When I am gone, give him this message. Tell him that Buckross has changed his mind and that he will hear from him before five o'clock."

"What have you to do with all this?" she asked, wonderingly.

"Never mind," I answered. "Be sure to give me five minutes, and don't deliver my message before Norman Greyes."

She walked with me to the door, but when I would have opened it she checked me. Already her step was lighter. She took my hands in hers and I felt her soft breath upon my face.

"I am going to thank you," she whispered.

It was an absurd interlude.

Both the editor and the assistant editor did everything, short of going down on their knees, to induce me to change my mind. They offered me practically a fortune: They hinted, even, that honours might be obtained for me. They tried to appeal to my patriotism, to every known quality, not one of which I possessed. In the end I obtained the documents, addressed them to Miss Beatrice Kindersley, bought a great bunch of fragrant yellow roses, hired a messenger to go with me in the taxicab, and saw them delivered at Kindersley House.

That night I spent in my room, taking stock of myself. On the credit side, my deal in Kindersley's had brought me a profit of something like thirty thousand pounds, likely to be considerably added to as I had bought again at four. Further, I had abstained from becoming a blackmailer and I had knocked Mr. Edward Rendall down. On the other hand, I might easily have made a hundred thousand pounds—and I had behaved like a fool. Perhaps the most disquieting feature of it all was that I was satisfied with the deal.



XI.—THE GREAT ELUSION

First published in The Red Book Magazine, Oct 1922

Norman Greyes

It was towards the close of a dinner party at Kindersley Court, in Devonshire, where Janet and I were spending a fortnight, that our host suddenly directed the conversation to me.

"One has heard a great deal of your successes, Greyes, especially during your last few years at Scotland Yard. What do you count your gfeatest failure?"

"My inability to bring to justice the greatest criminal in Europe," I replied, after a moment's hesitation. "I had him on my book for three years, but when I retired, he was still very much at large. We have been up against one another continually. Sometimes he has had the better of it, sometimes I. But the fact remains that, though there have been at least a dozen misdemeanours which might have been brought home to him, he has slipped out of our hands every time we have formulated even a nominal charge."

"Has he ever been in prison?" some one asked.

"Never," I replied. "Not only that, but he has never even been apprehended, never even brought before a magistrate."

"What is his name?" Lord Kindersley asked, with some interest. I smiled.

"A name with him, I suspect, is an affair of the moment. I have known him under a dozen different pseudonyms, but his real name is, I believe, Michael. He did me the honour to attend my wedding reception as Colonel Escombe."

I happened to meet the glance of Beatrice Kindersley as I looked across the table. She drew herself up for a moment and I fancied that there was a steely glint in her very beautiful eyes.

"I met a Colonel Escombe there, whom I thought charming," she said coldly.

"It was probably our friend," I assured her. "He is quite the most accomplished scoundrel in Europe."

"Sometimes," she remarked, "I think it would be interesting to hear how the goats talk of the sheep. I expect they would be able to find faults in the lives of the most perfect of us law-abiders."

"But tell us more about this man Michael?" Lord Kindersley intervened. "I remember, seven or eight years ago, hearing something about the duel between you fellows at Scotland Yard and a wonderfully led criminal gang. Where is the fellow now?"

"The answer to that question," I told him, "would bring you in about five thousand pounds in rewards and possibly a bullet through your heart as an informer."

"You really couldn't lay your hand upon him at the present moment if you wanted to?"

I shook my head.

"I shouldn't have the faintest idea where to look for him. If he comes into the limelight again, my friend Rimmington at Scotland Yard will certainly send for me."

"And you would join in the hunt?" our host persisted.

"I am not sure," I admitted.

"You would do nothing of the sort," Janet intervened, looking across at me. "That is a promise."

I smiled back at her reassuringly. Prosperity and peace of mind had agreed with Janet. The dignity of wifehood sat well upon her. Her complexion seemed to have grown more creamy, her beautiful eyes softer, her carriage, always graceful, more assured. There was no woman in the county more admired than she— certainly no one less spoiled. She was absolutely and entirely contented with our simple country life. I sometimes think that, if she had had her way, she would never have wandered at all outside our little domain. More than once, when I had broached the subject, she had evaded the question of a visit to London or Paris, but, curiously enough, it was only at that moment that I realised the truth. She still feared Michael.

"There is just the one possibility," I remarked, "that I might not be able to evade the challenge. If I do not go after Michael, he may come after me."

It was precisely at this moment that the amazing event happened. We were a party of twelve at dinner, seated at a round table in the centre of the large banqueting hall of Kindersley Court.

The room was rather dimly lit, except for the heavily shaded lamps upon the table and the shaded electric lights over some of the old Masters around the walls, lights which had been turned on during the meal at the request of one of the guests. The two footmen had left the room, presumably to fetch the coffee, and the butler standing behind Lord Kindersley's chair was the only servant in attendance. Suddenly every light in the place went out and we were plunged into the most complete darkness. Conversation was broken off for a moment, then there was the usual little medley of confused exclamations.

"Never knew such a thing to happen before," our host declared, in an annoyed tone. "Somebody must have been tinkering with the power house. Fetch some candles, Searle."

The butler turned to grope his way towards the door but he was not allowed to reach it. A further sensation was in store for us. From various parts of the shadowy places on every side of us, little pin-points of fire blazed out and steadily approached, without sound. One of them came to a standstill immediately behind Lord Kindersley's chair. Wielded by some unseen hand, the dazzling brilliancy of a high-powered electric torch was flashed round upon twelve amazed faces. Then a strange voice broke the spellbound silence, a voice still and cold and perfectly modulated. Every word seemed to have the crispness of a pistol shot.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the intruder said, "there is no need for any particular alarm. This is, to use a slang phrase, a 'hold-up.' If you all sit still and keep still and obey orders, you will be moderately safe. If any one attempts to leave his chair or to strike a match I, or one other of my four friends, will shoot. We have automatic pistols, and I trust that you will realise the absurdity of resistance."

"God bless my soul!" Lord Kindersley exclaimed. "Where are all my servants? How the devil did you get in?"

"It is scarcely policy to let you into the secret of our methods," the same cold voice continued, "but I have no objection to telling you that we came in through the front door, that your servants are locked up and guarded in the servants' hall, very much as you are, that your telephone wires are cut, your electric-light supply is in our hands, and the lodge gates guarded. You ladies will kindly place all the jewellery you are wearing upon the table in front of you. There must be no delay, please, or any attempt at concealment. Madame," the voice continued, and there was something terrible in its menacing quality, the torch flashing at the same moment into the startled face of a woman on the opposite side of the table, "if you attempt to drop any of your jewellery upon the floor, or to conceal it in any way, you will force us to adopt measures which we should regret."

"What shall I do?" the woman next to me whispered hoarsely.

"I am wearing my emeralds—Jack implored me not to—they are worth a hundred thousand pounds."

"You will have to do as the others are doing," I told her. "The first act of this little drama must be played out according to orders."

She unclasped the necklace with trembling fingers, and the unseen figure behind Lord Kindersley's chair spoke again.

"Will it be Sir Norman Greyes who struts across the stage in the second act?" he asked mockingly.

Then I knew who was there, and I remembered that Michael had sworn to take my life when and how the opportunity offered. I was an easy mark for him, sitting there, but somehow the idea of assassination never had any terrors for me.

"I may occupy the stage for a little time," I answered, feeling for my wine through the darkness. "But, after all, it will be the third act that counts. Which will you choose, I wonder, Michael—the gallows at Wandsworth Gaol or the electric chair at Sing Sing?" This, of course, was sheer bravado, a touch of melodrama of which I repented as soon as I had indulged in it. I heard the click of a weapon, and in the steady glare of that small circle of light I saw the flash upon its barrel as it drew level with my head. There was a silence as poignant as it was hysterical, then a cry from Janet rang through the room. All this time the business of collecting the jewellery was proceeding without interruption.

"A familiar voice, I fancy," Michael said coldly, as he lowered his weapon. "You do well to intervene, dear lady. Some day or other, I think that your husband will kill me or I him, but, unless he hunts me with a posse of policemen, it will be when we are both armed and the odds are even."

There was a little sobbing sigh from somewhere in the background. Then the silence was broken again in less dramatic fashion.

"May I speak, please?" Beatrice Kindersley asked. Instantly the light flashed upon her face. I was amazed at her composure. Her eyes were bright and sparkling and her cheeks full of colour. She had the air of being one of a vitally interested audience following the mazes of some fascinating drama. I heard the voice from the darkness answer her. It was no longer the voice I recognized.

"Say what you have to say as quickly as possible, please."

"I have put my rings and bracelets upon the table. I am wearing around my neck a miniature set with brilliants. It is not really very valuable but it was left me by a relative. May I keep it?" The light flashed for a moment upon the pendant which she seemed to be holding forward for examination, flashed on the little heap of her jewellery upon the table.

"Pray keep your miniature," the voice conceded. "Do me the further honour, if you will, of replacing your jewellery upon your ringers and your wrists. We are not here to rob children of their baubles."

Beatrice's laugh was a most amazing thing. It was perfectly natural and full of amused enjoyment.

"I don't like the reflection upon my jewellery," she complained.

"However, since you are so generous, I will accept your offer."

"Look here," Lord Kindersley exclaimed, finding a certain courage from his niece's complete composure, "is this a practical joke? Because, if so, it has gone d—d well far enough!"

"You will discover if it is a practical joke or not, if you attempt to leave your seat!" was the instant reply.

"These fellows can't think they're going to get away with a thing like this," muttered Lord Harroden, the Lord Lieutenant of the County, from the other end of the table.

"Your lordship is mistaken," was the confident reply from the unseen figure who was directing the proceedings. "I will lay you five to one in hundreds that we do, payment to be made through the Personal Column of the Times in thirty days' time."

"Gad, he's a cool hand!" chuckled Anstruther, the Master of Hounds, who was seated next but one to me, "I wish I could see his face for a moment."

"It would be your last on earth if you did," he was promptly told.

"What if I strike a match?" a young man who was seated next to Beatrice Kindersley, enquired.

"I should put it out with one bullet and you with the next," Michael assured him grimly. "Now, ladies and gentlemen," he went on, after a brief pause, "our business seems to be over. Any one who leaves his seat before we reach the door will be shot. As soon as we get there we shall lock you in, and then you can commence your part of the fun as soon as you like. If you care for suggestions, why not leave it to Mr. Anstruther to organise a midnight steeplechase, every one to choose his own mount, motor car, hunter or bicycle. We sha'n't leave much of a trail, but for once in a while you'll be worrying something to death that can spit death back. Why don't you come and try—You'll all be welcome."

No one attempted a single word of reply. The little points of fire were kept turned upon us whilst our visitors slowly retreated. We heard the door unlocked, heard it slammed, heard it locked again—the signal for our emancipation. Very nearly simultaneously, we all started to our feet. Two of the women were sobbing and shrieking. The woman whose emerald necklace had gone was the least-discomposed of any.

"I wouldn't have missed this show for the world," she declared.

"I'm all for the steeplechase," Anstruther proposed. "Gad! that fellow would be worth hunting!"

"I'll sack every servant in the house," Lord Kindersley growled.

"Curse them all, why doesn't some one come!"

Every one was talking at once, without much result. We rang bells that made no sound and battered at the door, a somewhat futile proceeding, as it was several inches thick. Some one found a box of matches and, illuminated by the fitful flame, the faces of the little company were a Holbeiri-like study. With the help of some chairs, I mounted to the windows, but they were too narrow to allow the passage of even the slimmest of us. Finally Lord Kindersley groped his way back to the table from the sideboard with a fresh decanter of port in his hand.

"Dash it all," he exclaimed, "let's have another glass of wine! I don't mind telling you that I'm shaking all over. It was like having the Lord High Executioner behind one's chair. His pistol was real enough, too. I felt it once against my neck. Ugh!" Anstruther asked me a question from somewhere in the shadows.

"Greyes," he said, "you were speaking of a famous criminal, a man named Michael. You called that fellow—"

"That was the man," I told him.

The drama of it all was curiously poignant. We sat around in the match-lit darkness, talking in disjointed fashion, waiting until such time as the servants might find their way to our relief.

"Greyes seems to me to be the lucky man," Lord Harroden remarked. "He could have settled scores with you, all right—potted you like a sitting rabbit any moment he wanted to."

"Quite true," I admitted, "but the one thing which has made the pursuit of Michael so fascinating is that he is the sort of a man who would never shoot a sitting rabbit. He spoke the truth when he said that the end would come when one or the other of us was driven into a corner and both were armed. So far as I am concerned," I added, glancing across at Janet, "I am rather inclined to let it be a drawn battle. The hunting of men is a great sport but the zest for it passes with the years."

Release came at last; another key to the apartment where we were imprisoned was found, the door was thrown open and a stream of servants with lamps and candles entered. A few minutes of incoherent exclamations followed. It seemed that the servants' hall had been locked at both ends and guarded in the same way as the banqueting hall, the guests' bedrooms had been systematically ransacked, and it became clear that the marauders must have numbered at least fifteen or twenty. The orders which Lord Kindersley roared out were almost pitifully ineffective. In due course we discovered that the telephone wires had indeed been cut, that every motor car in the garage had been rendered useless, the stables emptied and every horse driven out into the Park. We were seventeen miles from a market town and five miles from a village, and the moor which stretched from the park gates led across the loneliest part of England. The more we discussed it, the more we realised that it was, without a doubt, a most amazing coup.

Naturally, the Press devoted a great deal of attention to a robbery of such sensational magnitude, and several journalists and photographers travelled down specially from London in search of material. The fact that I was one of the guests at Kindersley Court, and my wife amongst the victims of the robbery, gave a certain piquancy to the affair of which the facile pens of some of my literary acquaintances took full advantage. Rimmington himself came down from Scotland Yard with two of his shrewdest assistants, but, as he acknowledged to me upon the third night after their arrival, the whole affair had been carried out with such amazing foresight that it seemed impossible to lay hold anywhere of a clue. A large reward was offered for the recovery of any portion of the jewels, the total value of which was estimated at something over two hundred thousand pounds, and every outlet from the country was carefully watched; but neither in Paris, London nor Amsterdam was there the slightest movement amongst the known dealers in stolen gems. The little company of robbers seemed, indeed, to have driven away in their cars, and, within a mile and a half of the front door of Kindersley Court, to have vanished from the face of the earth. No shepherd upon the moors had seen them pass, none of the inhabitants of the small hamlets around had been awakened from their slumbers by the rushing through the night of those mysterious automobiles. Even Rimmington, who had more optimism than any man of my acquaintance in the profession, returned to London a saddened and disappointed man.

Janet and I stayed on at Kindersley Court for the last meet of the Stag Hounds—a day which we are neither of us likely ever to forget. We motored over to Exford, where our host had sent all his available horses two days before. Janet, Beatrice Kindersley and I were amongst those of the house party who rode, Beatrice looking remarkably well on a fine, Dartmoor-bred chestnut, a present from her uncle within the last few days. We had one short hunt and a great deal of waiting about. Early in the afternoon we found ourselves on the fringe of the hunt, on the southern slope of Hawksley Down. Below us, at the bottom of the coombe, hounds were being put through a thick jungle of dwarf pines, through which, if a stag were found, he was almost certain to make for Dooneley Barrow, on our right. Suddenly Beatrice, who had been looking over her shoulder, gave a little exclamation. A man, riding a dark bay horse, whom I had noticed once or twice always on the outskirts of the hunt, came round the side of a piled-up mass of stones and boulders and rode straight up to us. I must confess that at first the incident possessed no significance for me. In his well-cut and well-worn riding clothes, and possessing the assured seat of a practised rider, there was nothing to distinguish this man from half a dozen of Lord Kindersley's neighbours with whom we had exchanged greetings during the day. It was not, in fact, until he suddenly wheeled his horse round to within a yard or two of us, and I saw something glitter in his right hand, that I realised who he was.

"Norman Greyes," he said, "I call an armistice for five minutes. You will admit," he added, glancing downward at his right hand,

"that I am in a position to call the game."

"Let it be an armistice, Michael," I agreed. "What do you want with me?"

"With you, nothing," he answered. "I came to speak to Miss Kindersley."

He looked full at Beatrice as he spoke, and his voice seemed for the moment to have gained a strange new quality.

"I find that my confederate misunderstood me the other night," he continued, "and that after all he took your jewellery from the table. I have stayed in the neighbourhood to return it."

He leaned over and placed a sealed box in Beatrice's hand. I could have sworn that I saw her fingers clutch passionately at his as he drew away.

"I knew that it was a mistake," she said softly, looking across at him, as though striving to call him back to her side. He kept his face, however, turned steadily away. His expression had changed. The old mocking smile was back upon his lips.

"Upon reflection, Janet," he continued, "especially when I considered the richness of our haul, I felt a certain impulse of distaste towards robbing you of your newly acquired splendours. Permit me."

He handed her also a little packet. Then he backed his horse a few paces, but he still lingered, and I knew that he had something else to say.

"So our friend Rimmington has given up the chase and gone back to London," he observed. "Give him a hint from me some day. Tell him not to take it for granted that the first impulse of the malefactor is to place as great a distance as possible between himself and the scene of his misdemeanours. Sometimes the searching hand passes over what it seeks to grasp."

"I will remember your message," I promised. "You realise, of course, that I shall report your being still in the neighbourhood?"

"If you did not," was the cool reply, "the next few hours would be empty of interest to me. Even if you yourself take a hand in the game, Greyes, and I will do you the credit to admit that you are the cleverest of the lot, I promise you that I shall make my way to safety as easily as I shall canter across this moor."

He leaned towards me.

"Send the women on for a moment," he begged. "I have a word for you alone."

Janet turned her horse at once in obedience to my gesture. Beatrice, however, lingered. She was gazing across at my companion. I saw their eyes meet and it seemed to me a strange thing that such a look should pass between those two. Then I saw Michael shake his head.

"I must speak to Greyes alone," he insisted. "Every moment that I linger here makes my escape more difficult."

She turned and rode slowly after Janet, but reined in her horse scarcely twenty paces away. Michael rode up to my side. He had dropped his weapon back into the loose pocket of his riding coat. He was at my mercy and he knew it. Yet, rightly enough, he had no fear.

"Norman Greyes," he said, "this is the end of our duel, for I have finished with life as you and I understand life. Fate has made us enemies. Fate might more than once have given either of us the other's life. Those things are finished."

"You speak as though you were making a voluntary retirement,—yet how can you hope to escape?" I asked him. "There is a price upon your head wherever you turn. Even though my day has passed, there are others who will never rest until they have brought you to justice."

"I am not here to speak about myself," he answered indifferently.

"I want a word with you about that girl."

"About Beatrice Kindersley?"

"Yes."

"What can you have to say about her," I demanded, puzzled, although the memory of that look was still with me.

"Never mind—you know life, Greyes, although you walk on the right side of the fence. You know that the greatest of us are great because of our follies. That girl is the folly of my later life. There is a touch of romance in her, a sentiment—for God's sake, Greyes, don't sit and look at me like a graven image I Be a human being and say that you understand."

I remembered that look and I nodded.

"I understand," I said. "Go on."

"Tell her, then, for the love of heaven, who and what I am. Tell her that I have wives living, women whom I have deceived in every quarter of the globe. Tell her that a policeman's hand upon my shoulder would mean the gallows in England or the electric chair in America. Tell her what manner of life I have lived. Strip off the coverings. Show her the raw truth. Tell her that I am a criminal at heart from the sheer love of crime."

"I will tell her what you say," I promised.

"Damn it, man!" he answered passionately, as he turned his head to windward for a moment and swung round his horse.

"Tell her nothing from me, tell her from yourself. You know the truth, if any man does. Give her pain, if you must. Show her the ugly side. As man to man, Greyes, enemy to enemy, swear that you will do this."

"I swear," I answered. He must have touched his horse with his whip, unseen by me, for the words had scarcely left my lips before he was galloping away, making for the loneliest and bleakest part of the moor. I heard a stifled cry from Beatrice, a cry that was almost a sob.

"Why did you let him go, Norman? I wanted to say good-bye!"

"He left some message for you," I answered, a little grimly.

Michael

I lunched one Sunday morning at the Café de Paris, with my friend Gaston Lefèvre, the well-known insurance agent of the Rue Scribe,—a luncheon specially planned to celebrate the winding-up of one of the greatest coups of our partnership. We had a table in the far corner of the restaurant, and we were able by reason of its isolation to speak of intimate things.

"You must now be a very wealthy man, my friend," Lefèvre said to me, a trifle enviously, for all Frenchmen worship money, "a very wealthy man indeed."

"I have enough," I answered. "As a matter of fact, that is one of the reasons why I have decided to levy no more contributions upon the fools of the world."

"You are not going to retire?" Lefèvre cried, in a tone of alarm.

"Absolutely," I assured him. "I have burned all my boats in England, destroyed all ciphers, sealed up my secret places of refuge and said good-bye to all my friends. I have said good-bye even to Younghusband, the cleverest rascal who ever successfully carried out the bluff of being a respectable Lincoln's Inn solicitor for over fifteen years. The rascal is actually getting new clients every week. Genuine clients, I mean. He is almost as wonderful as you."

"As for me," my companion confessed, sipping his wine, "my position has never been so difficult as yours. I have run no risks like you. I have never stolen a penny in my life, or raised my hand in anger or strife against any of my fellow creatures."

I laughed softly. After all, the hypocrites of the world are amongst the essential things.

"You have made a million or so by those who have," I reminded him.

"Money which has been thoroughly well earned," was the confident reply. "Under the shelter of my name and position, many things have been rendered possible which could not otherwise have been even attempted. Take this last business, for instance. Could you ever have smuggled a quarter of a million pounds' worth of jewellery out of the country without my aid?"

"It is agreed," I assented. "In such matters you have genius."

Monsieur Lefèvre waved his hand.

"It is a trifle, that," he declared. "Let us speak of yourself, my friend. You are in the prime of life, excitement is as necessary to you as his sweetheart to a Frenchman or his golf to an Englishman. You have just brought off one of the finest coups which has ever been planned. Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds to divide for the sale of these jewels, and not a single clue left behind. It was genius indeed. What is going to take the place of these things to you in life?"

I shrugged my shoulders, for indeed I had asked myself the same question.

"There is plenty of amusement to be found," I answered. Monsieur Lefèvre had his doubts.

"That is all very well," he pointed out, "but if you destroy for yourself, as you say you have done, all the hundred and one means of escape which our ingenuity has evolved, you will have to step warily for the next few years. Neither London nor New York will forget you easily."

"My disappearance," I replied, "will be your task. To-day we divided the last instalments of our recent profits, amounting, I think, to a little over two million francs. Half a million I have placed in this envelope. They will be yours in return for the service you are about to render me."

My companion's eyes glistened.

"It is a difficult matter, this, then, my friend?" he asked anxiously.

"On the contrary, it will give you very little trouble indeed," I assured him. "You have, I think, amongst your other very useful connections, a friendly one with a certain French hospital. I will mention no names."

"That is, in a measure, true," Monsieur Lefèvre assented cautiously.

"Your task, then, is simple," I explained. "In the bag which I left at your office yesterday are clothes, jewellery, papers and other trifles of apparent insignificance. The next unknown man who dies in the hospital, of my height and build, will be wearing these clothes, and will have in his possession the other trifles I have spoken of, which have been all carefully chosen to establish my identity. The authorities will notify the French and New York police, Scotland Yard and the Press. You, also, will assist in making it publicly known that a well-known criminal has passed away."

"I see no difficulty," my companion admitted thoughtfully.

"There is no difficulty," I assured him.

"And afterwards?"

I shook my head.

"There is no person breathing," I told him, "to whom I shall confide my plan. I am in no hurry. I think you will agree that for a certain length of time, I could move about Paris without fear of being recognized."

"It is, without doubt, true," my companion assented, leaning back in his place and studying me thoughtfully. "I passed you on the Boulevard and here, in the entrance, without a single impulse of recognition. I did not know you even when you spoke to me. You look precisely what I took you to be, an elderly Frenchman of good birth, retired from some profession, rather an elegant, something of a boulevardier, nothing whatever of an Englishman. I tell you, Michael," my companion concluded, with some enthusiasm, "that no artist upon the stage or off it, in our day, is such a master of human disguise as you."

"I will not attempt to say that you flatter me, Lefèvre," I replied, "because, as a matter of fact, I believe that what you say is the truth. Very well, then, just as I am, I commence so much as may be left to me of the aftermath of life. Within a week I shall leave Paris. You may never see or hear of me again. On the other hand I may feel the call. I make no rash promises or statements."

"It would interest me strangely to be in the secret of your whereabouts," Lefèvre persisted.

I shook my head, as I called for the bill.

"I have a fancy," I told him, "for stepping off the edge of the world. Let us take an automobile and watch the beautiful women at Auteuil."

A fortnight later I read my obituary notice in a dozen papers. The New York Herald devoted a column to me, and the Continental Daily Mail followed suit. The Times dismissed me with half a dozen lines of small print, which seemed unkind when one considered the quantity of free sensational material I had afforded them. The Daily Telegraph seemed to think that Scotland Yard was at fault in having allowed me to slip out of the world according to my own time and inclination. The Morning Post thought that Society at large must breathe a sigh of relief at the passing away of one of the world's greatest criminals. Only one French paper reported a little incident which for a single moment brought the fires of madness into my blood—madness and a weakness of which I shall not speak. Some one in England, a woman, had wired to a Paris florist and there were flowers sent to the hospital on the morning of the funeral, with no hypocritical message, just the name "Beatrice" on a card. Well, it was my choice.

Janet

It was chance which brought us to St. Jean de Luz, chance and Norman's desire to escape from the pandemonium of an overcrowded golf course. We sat out on the verandah of the Golf Club on the late afternoon of our arrival, watching the pink and mauve outlines of the lower hills and the sombre majesty of the snowcapped mountains beyond. There had been a wind earlier in the day, but the stillness here was almost incredible. The trees which crowned the summit of the grassy slopes were silent and motionless; the cypresses beyond, against the background of the pinkfronted farmhouses they sheltered, seemed darker than ever; the poplars leading to the villas on the south side of the valley stood like silent sentinels. I was conscious of a curious sense of tranquillity, inspired a little, no doubt, by my surroundings. Norman, after a few words of appreciation, looked longingly at his golf clubs and suggested a game to the secretary, who had come out to welcome us.

"Sorry, but I've had two rounds already," the latter regretted.

"There's a man named Benisande out there, practising. He's a Frenchman, but a thundering good player. Would you care about a round with him?"

"I should like a round with any one," Norman declared enthusiastically.

The secretary strolled across towards the man who was practising mashie shots on to the last green, a slim man with a slight but graceful stoop, silver-grey hair and clean-cut, weather-beaten features. He was dressed in tweed golf clothes of English fashion, and was attended by his own manservant, who was carrying his clubs. He apparently accepted the secretary's suggestion with alacrity, and the two men came over to us at once. A few words of introduction were spoken and we all made our way to the first tee. The Frenchman, discovering that Norman's handicap was the same as his own, insisted upon the latter taking the honour. Norman drove an average ball straight down the course—and then came the great moment. Monsieur Benisande glanced curiously at us both, handed his cap to his servant, swung his club and addressed thehall. I gave a little cry. Norman stood as though he were turned to stone. In that moment we had both recognized him. Unmoved, Michael drove straight and far up the course and watched his ball for the length of its run. Afterwards, we three stood and looked at one another upon the tee. The secretary had disappeared in the clubhouse, the caddies had already started after the balls; we were practically alone.

"This is an interesting coincidence," Michael remarked, with a smile that seemed to have lost all its cynicism. "Our acquaintance, Sir Norman, if I remember rightly, commenced with a game of golf at Woking."

"We thought that you were dead," I gasped.

Michael sighed.

"I took great pains to ensure your thinking so," he declared. "It is my misfortune to have run up against the two people who were bound to recognize me. Still, I have had a very pleasant four years."

"Is it so long?" I murmured, for Norman seemed still incapable of speech.

"Four years and a few months," Michael continued. "It is a great deal to have snatched from a life which should have been ended. I have a charming little villa, a converted farmhouse—you can see it through the trees there; a delightful garden—my violets and carnations are famous—and there are very few English flowers which I have not managed to grow. I play a round of golf whenever I feel like it and when the wander hunger comes I vanish up there into the Pyrenees. Antoine, my servant, is a Basque, and an accomplished mountaineer. To-day I can follow him anywhere."

"What are we going to do about this?" Norman muttered.

"That remains with you," Michael replied.

We started to walk slowly towards where the two balls were lying almost side by side. I passed my arm through my husband's and looked into his face. It was obvious that he perfectly well realised the crisis with which he had to deal. During the last four years, wonderful years they had been, we had spent scarcely more than a month or two in London. We had travelled in Italy and Egypt, wintered twice in the South of France and the remainder of the time had been devoted to Greyes Manor. I had my two babies to look after, and Norman his farms. The ties which had bound him to his old profession had naturally weakened, yet I knew now how his mind was working. Here, by his side, was a man whom he had sworn to bring to justice, a notorious criminal, a man whom, by every code of ethics and citizenship, he ought promptly to denounce. And I knew that, for some reason, he hated the task almost as much as I hated it for him. They drew near to their balls and Norman came to a standstill. He had arrived at his decision. I, at any rate, awaited it breathlessly.

"Michael," he said, "you shall have your chance. You know my duty. You know that I am a man who generally tries to do it. Yet, to be candid with you, I have a conviction that your career as a criminal is over, and my personal inclination is to leave you alone. We will let Fate decide it. We are as nearly equal at this game as two men can be. Fate made you my partner this evening. I will play you this round for your liberty and my silence."

I saw Michael's eyes glitter and I knew that the idea appealed to him. He looked towards the green and swung his cleek lightly backwards and forwards.

"Let us understand one another," he insisted. "If I win, I am free of you for the rest of my life. If I lose, I am to face the end."

"If you lose," Norman said, "I shall send a telegram to Scotland Yard, and another to the Chief of the Police at Marseilles."

"The terms are agreed," Michael declared, taking up his stance.

"My life against your bruised conscience."

So the match started. The first hole was halved in four, and from then onwards commenced a struggle which I can hardly think of, even now, without a shiver of excitement. Neither was ever more than two up but, towards the sixteenth hole, I began to realise that another factor besides skill was at work. Norman topped his second shot but jumped the bunker and lay upon the green. Michael carried the bunker with a perfectly played mashie shot, but pitched upon a mowing machine and came back to an almost unplayable place in the long grass. He lost the hole. Norman, who was as nearly nervous as I have ever seen him, muttered something about bad luck, but his adversary only shrugged his shoulders. At the seventeenth hole, Norman drove fairly well but was still sixty yards short of the green. It was the old Michael who took his stand afterwards on the tee, hard and dogged. I saw his teeth gleam for a moment, and the whitening of the flesh around his knuckles as he gripped his club fiercely. He hit the most wonderful drive I have ever seen, long and low and straight. It carried on and on whilst we watched it breathlessly. Finally it ran on to the green and ended within a couple of clubs' length of the hole. I gave a little gasp of relief, for, from the first, I had prayed that my husband might lose. But I had reckoned without that unseen force. Norman topped his mashie shot, which bumped along the ground on to the green, passed Michael's ball and, to my horror, dropped in the hole. Even Norman himself seemed to have no words. He stood looking at the spot where his ball had disappeared, his face averted from his opponent.

"Sorry," he said gruffly. "My second fluke in two holes, I'm afraid."

Michael made no remark. He studied his putt long and carefully, hit it with a musical little click and we all watched it run straight for the hole. At the last moment some trifling irregularity of surface seemed to deflect it, it caught the corner of the hole, swung round inside and came out again. It rested on the very edge and we stood there waiting. Nothing, however, happened. Michael turned away and I fancied that I saw a little quiver upon his lips.

"We are now all square," he said. "I scarcely expected to lose the last two holes."

"I have been lucky," Norman admitted, a little brusquely, "but I can't help it. It might have been the other way."

At the eighteenth, a strong wind was against them. Norman, pulling a little, escaped the bunkers, but Michael, hitting a far better ball, carried them with a few yards to spare. Norman played a fine second and reached the green, four or five yards from the hole. When Michael reached his ball, I saw him stop and look at it. His servant gave an exclamation. It was lying where a huge clod of earth had been knocked away by some beginner and never replaced, without a blade of grass around it and on a downward slope. I looked across towards my husband.

"It isn't fair," I whispered hoarsely. "Move it with your foot. Norman can't see. Besides, I'm in the way."

Michael, who was choosing a club, just glanced up at me for a moment, and I felt as though I had said something sacrilegious.

"We don't play games that way," he rejoined quietly. "I am afraid this is going to be rather a forlorn hope, though."

He took a niblick, and against the wind he was only able to get about halfway to the green. This time, however, his ball was lying well.

"I play the odd," he murmured, as he selected a running-up deek. We waited breathlessly for the shot. Norman's caddy and Michael's servant, although they had no idea, of course, of the significance of the match, had gathered from our tense air that it was of no ordinary interest. We all watched Michael's ball, when at last he played it, spellbound. It was a low shot, beautifully straight for the flag, and I could scarcely keep back a little cry of joy when I saw it land on the green and run slowly two or three yards past the hole.

"A fine recovery," Norman said thickly. "My turn now to play the like."

He took his putter and my heart sank as I saw him strike the ball well and firmly. For a moment it seemed as though he had holed it and the match was over. It came to a standstill about eighteen inches short.

"This for a half," Michael remarked, as he went towards his ball.

I saw him half close his eyes as he took up his stance, and I wondered for a moment what he was thinking of. He took the line carefully and struck the ball straight for the back of the hole. I gave a little gasp. It seemed as though the half were assured. Then a cry of dismay from Michael's caddy startled me. The ball, although it had seemed to hit the back of the hole, spun round and came out again. Again it lay within a foot or so of the hole. Michael stood quite still looking at it. He glanced up and our eyes met.

"The fates," he said quietly, "are against me."

Norman took out his putter and I scarcely dared to watch. He was only a few inches from the hole. The result seemed certain. Then as I forced myself to watch him, a strange thought came to me. He seemed to be taking unusual care, but he was holding his putter differently and he seemed to have lost his confidence.

"This for the match," he said, looking across at his opponent.

"For the match," Michael repeated hopelessly.

Norman struck the ball with a little stab and I could scarcely believe my eyes. It missed the hole, passing it on the left-hand side and coming to a standstill at least two feet away. Norman looked down at the ground in a puzzled manner.

"This is the rottenest green on the course," he muttered. "Whose play, caddy?"

The caddy considered the matter for a moment and pointed to Michael. This time there was no mistake. The ball went well and truly to the bottom of the hole. Norman again surprised me. He studied his ridiculous little putt with exaggerated care, brushed away some fancied impediment and reproved his caddy sharply for talking. When he hit the ball, he hit it crisply enough but again with that little stab which drew it once more to the wrong side of the hole. There was a little murmur.

"I never saw such filthy putting in my life!" Norman exclaimed, looking exactly like a normal man who has lost an important match by a moment's carelessness. "Your match, Monsieur Benisande. I think perhaps you deserve it. You had all the worst of the luck until my putting paralysis set in."

Michael took off his hat and I saw great beads of perspiration upon his forehead.

"I am thankful for my win," he said quietly, "but I scarcely expected it."

We all walked back to the clubhouse together.

"Janet and I will leave St. Jean de Luz at once," Norman announced.

"It will not be necessary," Michael rejoined quickly. "To-morrow I start for the mountains. I shall be gone for a week or more. I beg that you will not hurry your departure. May I speak to you for a moment, Janet?"

Norman made his way, without remark, to the clubhouse. He neither spoke to nor looked towards Michael again. Men are strange beings. This was the passing of the feud which left them both foresworn.

I spared Michael the question which I knew was upon his lips.

"Beatrice is well," I told him. "She is still unmarried."

There was a light in Michael's face which I pretended not to see. It was gone in a moment, and when he spoke his voice was quite steady.

"I am sorry to hear that she is unmarried," he said, "although no man in the world could be worthy of her. I am going to entrust you with a mission. If ever the truth concerning me should come to light, I want her to know this."

He drew from his pocket a letter case of black silk with platinum clasps, a simple but very elegant trifle for a man. Out of it he drew what appeared to be its sole contents, a crumpled card, upon which was written, in Beatrice's handwriting, her own name. The card was smeared as though with the stain of crushed flowers.

"I planned my death," he continued, with a faint return to his old cynical smile, "very much as I have lived my life—with my tongue in my cheek. Then I read in some French paper that Beatrice had sent flowers to the hospital for my funeral and I felt all the bitter shame of a man who has done an ugly thing. I made what atonement I could. After having reached absolute safety, I risked my life in almost foolhardy fashion. I attended my own funeral. I stole that card and one of the flowers from the grave. If ever she should learn the truth," he added, his face turned away towards the mountains, "I should like her to know that. She may reckon it as atonement."

I laid my hand upon his arm. Speech of any sort seemed to have become extraordinarily difficult. When I had found the words I wanted, Michael had gone.

The last we saw of Michael was, in its way, allegorical. As we climbed one of the grassy slopes of the Golf Club on the following morning, we saw two men on the other side of the river, walking steadily away from us along the path which led across the lower chain of hills towards the mountains. They carried knapsacks on their backs and long staves in their hands. They had, somehow, at that distance the air of pilgrims.

"There goes Benisande, off on one of his mountain expeditions," the secretary, who was playing with Norman, remarked, pointing them out. "They say that he has made up his mind to climb that further peak beyond the Pass. Even the Basque guides call him foolhardy."

I watched the two figures. I waved my hand in futile farewell. But Michael never once turned back.



PETER RUFF

A COLLECTION OF STORIES FROM PEARSON'S MAGAZINE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY DALTON STEVENS

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1912



TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS




Frontispiece from "Peter Ruff and the Double Four"



I. INTRODUCING MR. PETER RUFF

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Oct 1909
Also as published as "An Interrupted Supper Party"

There was nothing about the supper party on that particular Sunday evening in November at Daisy Villa, Green Street, Streatham, which seemed to indicate in any way that one of the most interesting careers connected with the world history of crime was to owe its very existence to the disaster which befell that little gathering. The villa was the residence and also—to his credit—the unmortgaged property of Mr. David Barnes, a struggling but fairly prosperous coal merchant of excellent character, some means, and Methodist proclivities. His habit of sitting without his coat when carving, although deprecated by his wife and daughter on account of the genteel aspirations of the latter, was a not unusual one in the neighbourhood; and coupled with the proximity of a cold joint of beef, his seat at the head of the table, and a carving knife and fork grasped in his hands, established clearly the fact of his position in the household, which a somewhat weak physiognomy might otherwise have led the casual observer to doubt. Opposite him, at the other end of the table, sat his wife, Mrs. Barnes, a somewhat voluminous lady with a high colour, a black satin frock, and many ornaments. On her left the son of the house, eighteen years old, of moderate stature, somewhat pimply, with the fashion of the moment reflected in his pink tie with white spots, drawn through a gold ring, and curving outwards to seek obscurity underneath a dazzling waistcoat. A white tube-rose in his buttonhole might have been intended as a sort of compliment to the occasion, or an indication of his intention to take a walk after supper in the fashionable purlieus of the neighbourhood. Facing him sat his sister—a fluffy-haired, blue-eyed young lady, pretty in her way, but chiefly noticeable for a peculiar sort of self-consciousness blended with self-satisfaction, and possessed only at a certain period in their lives by young ladies of her age. It was almost the air of the cat in whose interior reposes the missing canary, except that in this instance the canary obviously existed in the person of the young man who sat at her side, introduced formally to the household for the first time. That young man's name was—at the moment—Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald.

It seems idle to attempt any description of a person who, in the past, had secured a certain amount of fame under a varying personality; and who, in the future, was to become more than ever notorious under a far less aristocratic pseudonym than that by which he was at present known to the inhabitants of Daisy Villa. There are photographs of him in New York and Paris, St. Petersburg and Chicago, Vienna and Cape Town, but there are no two pictures which present to the casual observer the slightest likeness to one another. To allude to him by the name under which he had won some part, at least, of the affections of Miss Maud Barnes, Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, as he sat there, a suitor on probation for her hand, was a young man of modest and genteel appearance. He wore a blue serge suit—a little underdressed for the occasion, perhaps; but his tie and collar were neat; his gold-rimmed spectacles—if a little disapproved of by Maud on account of the air of steadiness which they imparted—suggested excellent son-in-lawlike qualities to Mr. and Mrs. Barnes. He had the promise of a fair moustache, but his complexion generally was colourless. His features, except for a certain regularity, were undistinguished. His speech was modest and correct. His manner varied with his company. To-night it had been pronounced, by excellent judges—genteel.

The conversation consisted—naturally enough, under the circumstances—of a course of subtle and judicious pumping, tactfully prompted, for the most part, by Mrs. Barnes. Such, for instance, as the following:

"Talking about Marie Corelli's new book reminds me, Mr. Fitzgerald—your occupation is connected with books, is it not?" his prospective mother-in-law enquired, artlessly.

Mr. Fitzgerald bowed assent.

"I am cashier at Howell & Wilson's in Cheapside," he said. "We sell a great many books there—as many, I should think, as any retail establishment in London."

"Indeed!" Mrs. Barnes purred. "Very interesting work, I am sure. So nice and intellectual, too; for, of course, you must be looking inside them sometimes."

"I know the place well," Mr. Adolphus Barnes, Junior, announced condescendingly,—"pass it every day on my way to lunch."

"So much nicer," Mrs. Barnes continued, "than any of the ordinary businesses—grocery or drapery, or anything of that sort."

Miss Maud elevated her eyebrows slightly. Was it likely that she would have looked with eyes of favour upon a young man engaged in any of these inferior occupations?

"There's money in books, too," Mr. Barnes declared with sudden inspiration. His prospective son-in-law turned towards him deferentially.

"You are right, sir," he admitted. "There is money in them. There's money for those who write, and there's money for those who sell. My occupation," he continued, with a modest little cough, "brings me often into touch with publishers, travellers and clerks, so I am, as it were, behind the scenes to some extent. I can assure you," he continued, looking from Mr. Barnes to his wife, and finally transfixing Mr. Adolphus—"I can assure you that the money paid by some firms of publishers to a few well-known authors—I will mention no names—as advances against royalties, is something stupendous!"

"Ah!" Mr. Barnes murmured, solemnly shaking his head.

"Marie Corelli, I expect, and that Hall Caine," remarked young Adolphus.

"Seems easy enough to write a book, too," Mrs. Barnes said. "Why, I declare that some of those we get from the library—we subscribe to a library, Mr. Fitzgerald—are just as simple and straightforward that a child might have written them. No plot whatsoever, no murders or mysteries or anything of that sort—just stories about people like ourselves. I don't see how they can pay people for writing stories about people just like those one meets every day!"

"I always say," Maud intervened, "that Spencer means to write a book some day. He has quite the literary air, hasn't he, mother?"

"Indeed he has!" Mrs. Barnes declared, with an appreciative glance at the gold-rimmed spectacles.

Mr. Fitzgerald modestly disclaimed any literary aspirations.

"The thing is a gift, after all," he declared, generously. "I can keep accounts, and earn a fair salary at it, but if I attempted fiction I should soon be up a tree."

Mr. Barnes nodded his approval of such sentiments.

"Every one to his trade, I say," he remarked. "What sort of salaries do they pay now in the book trade?" he asked guilelessly.

"Very fair," Mr. Fitzgerald admitted candidly,—"very fair indeed."

"When I was your age," Mr. Barnes said reflectively, "I was getting—let me see—forty-two shillings a week. Pretty good pay, too, for those days."

Mr. Fitzgerald admitted the fact.

"Of course," he said apologetically, "salaries are a little higher now all round. Mr. Howell has been very kind to me,—in fact I have had two raises this year. I am getting four pounds ten now."

"Four pounds ten per week?" Mrs. Barnes exclaimed, laying down her knife and fork.

"Certainly," Mr. Fitzgerald answered. "After Christmas, I have some reason to believe that it may be five pounds."

Mr. Barnes whistled softly, and looked at the young man with a new respect.

"I told you that—Mr.—that Spencer was doing pretty well, Mother," Maud simpered, looking down at her plate.

"Any one to support?" her father asked, transferring a pickle from the fork to his mouth.

"No one," Mr. Fitzgerald answered. "In fact, I may say that I have some small expectations. I haven't done badly, either, out of the few investments I have made from time to time."

"Saved a bit of money, eh?" Mr. Barnes enquired genially.

"I have a matter of four hundred pounds put by," Mr. Fitzgerald admitted modestly, "besides a few sticks of furniture. I never cared much about lodging-house things, so I furnished a couple of rooms myself some time ago."

Mrs. Barnes rose slowly to her feet.

"You are quite sure you won't have a small piece more of beef?" she enquired anxiously.

"Just a morsel?" Mr. Barnes asked, tapping the joint insinuatingly with his carving knife.

"No, I thank you!" Mr. Fitzgerald declared firmly. "I have done excellently."

"Then if you will put the joint on the sideboard, Adolphus," Mrs. Barnes directed, "Maud and I will change the plates. We always let the girl go out on Sundays, Mr. Fitzgerald," she explained, turning to their guest. "It's very awkward, of course, but they seem to expect it."

"Quite natural, I'm sure," Mr. Fitzgerald murmured, watching Maud's light movements with admiring eyes. "I like to see ladies interested in domestic work."

"There's one thing I will say for Maud," her proud mother declared, plumping down a dish of jelly upon the table, "she does know what's what in keeping house, and even if she hasn't to scrape and save as I did when David and I were first married, economy is a great thing when you're young. I have always said so, and I stick to it."

"Quite right, Mother," Mr. Barnes declared.

"If instead of sitting there," Mrs. Barnes continued in high good humour, "you were to get a bottle of that port wine out of the cellarette, we might drink Mr. Fitzgerald's health, being as it's his first visit."

Mr. Barnes rose to his feet with alacrity. "For a woman with sound ideas," he declared, "commend me to your mother!"

Maud, having finished her duties, resumed her place by the side of the guest of the evening. Their hands met under the tablecloth for a moment. To the girl, the pleasure of such a proceeding was natural enough, but Fitzgerald asked himself for the fiftieth time why on earth he, who, notwithstanding his present modest exterior, was a young man of some experience, should from such primitive love-making derive a rapture which nothing else in life afforded him. He was, at that moment, content with his future,—a future which he had absolutely and finally decided upon. He was content with his father-in-law and his mother-in-law, with Daisy Villa, and the prospect of a Daisy Villa for himself,—content, even, with Adolphus! But for Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, these things were not to be! The awakening was even then at hand.

The dining room of Daisy Villa fronted the street, and was removed from it only a few feet. Consequently, the footsteps of passers-by upon the flagged pavement were clearly distinguishable. It was just at the moment when Mrs. Barnes was inserting a few fresh almonds into a somewhat precarious tipsy cake, and Mr. Barnes was engaged with the decanting of the port, that two pairs of footsteps, considerably heavier than those of the ordinary promenader, paused outside and finally stopped. The gate creaked. Mr. Barnes looked up.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "What's that? Visitors?"

They all listened. The front-door bell rang. Adolphus, in response to a gesture from his mother, rose sulkily to his feet.

"Job I hate!" he muttered as he left the room.

The rest of the family, full of the small curiosity of people of their class, were intent upon listening for voices outside. The demeanour of Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, therefore, escaped their notice. It is doubtful, in any case, whether their perceptions would have been sufficiently keen to have enabled them to trace the workings of emotion in the countenance of a person so magnificently endowed by Providence with the art of subterfuge. Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald seemed simply to have stiffened in acute and earnest attention. It was only for a moment that he hesitated. His unfailing inspiration told him the truth!

His course of action was simple,—he rose to his feet and strolled to the window.

"Some people who have lost their way in the fog, perhaps," he remarked. "What a night!"

He laid his hand upon the sash—simultaneously there was a rush of cold air into the room, a half-angry, half-frightened exclamation from Adolphus in the passage, a scream from Miss Maud—and no Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald! No one had time to be more than blankly astonished. The door was opened, and a police inspector, in very nice dark braided uniform and a peaked cap, stood in the doorway.

Mr. Barnes dropped the port, and Mrs. Barnes, emulating her daughter's example, screamed. The inspector, as though conscious of the draught, moved rapidly toward the window.

"You had a visitor here, Mr. Barnes," he said quickly—"a Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald. Where is he?"

There was no one who could answer! Mr. Barnes was speechless between the shock of the spilt port and the appearance of a couple of uniformed policemen in his dining room. John Dory, the detective, he knew well enough in his private capacity, but in his uniform, and attended by policemen, he presented a new and startling appearance! Mrs. Barnes was in hysterics, and Maud was gazing like a creature turned to stone at the open window, through which little puffs of fog were already drifting into the room. Adolphus, with an air of bewilderment, was standing with his mouth and eyes wider open than they had ever been in his life. And as for the honoured guest of these admirable inhabitants of Daisy Villa, there was not the slightest doubt but that Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald had disappeared through the window!

Fitzgerald's expedition was nearly at an end. Soon he paused, crossed the road to a block of flats, ascended to the eighth floor by an automatic lift, and rang the bell at a door which bore simply the number II. A trim parlourmaid opened it after a few minutes' delay.

"Is Miss Emerson at home?" he asked.

"Miss Emerson is in," the maid admitted, with some hesitation, "but I am not sure that she will see any one to-night."

"I have a message for her," Fitzgerald said.

"Will you give me your name, sir, please?" the maid asked.

An inner door was suddenly opened. A slim girl, looking taller than she really was by reason of the rug upon which she stood, looked out into the hall—a girl with masses of brown hair loosely coiled on her head, with pale face and strange eyes. She opened her lips as though to call to her visitor by name, and as suddenly closed them again. There was not much expression in her face, but there was enough to show that his visit was not unwelcome.

"You!" she exclaimed. "Come in! Please come in at once!"

Fitzgerald obeyed the invitation of the girl whom he had come to visit. She had retreated a little into the room, but the door was no sooner closed than she held out her hands.

"Peter!" she exclaimed. "Peter, you have come to me at last!"

Her lips were a little parted; her eyes were bright with pleasure; her whole expression was one of absolute delight. Fitzgerald frowned, as though he found her welcome a little too enthusiastic for his taste.

"Violet," he said, "please don't look at me as though I were a prodigal sheep. If you do, I shall be sorry that I came."

Her hands fell to her side, the pleasure died out of her face—only her eyes still questioned him. Fitzgerald carefully laid his hat on a vacant chair.

"Something has happened?" she said. "Tell me that all that madness is over—that you are yourself again!"

"So far as regards my engagement with Messrs. Howell & Wilson," he said, despondently, "you are right. As regards—Miss Barnes, there has been no direct misunderstanding between us, but I am afraid, for the present, that I must consider that—well, in abeyance."

"That is something!" she exclaimed, drawing a little breath of relief. "Sit down, Peter. Will you have something to eat? I finished dinner an hour ago, but—"

"Thank you," Fitzgerald interrupted, "I supped—extremely well in Streatham!"

"In Streatham!" she repeated. "Why, how did you get there? The fog is awful."

"Fogs do not trouble me," Fitzgerald answered. "I walked. I could have done it as well blindfold. I will take a whisky and soda, if I may."

She led him to an easy-chair.

"I will mix it myself," she said.

Without being remarkably good-looking, she was certainly a pleasant and attractive-looking young woman. Her cheeks were a little pale; her hair—perfectly natural—was a wonderful deep shade of soft brown. Her eyes were long and narrow—almost Oriental in shape—and they seemed in some queer way to match the room; he could have sworn that in the firelight they flashed green. Her body and limbs, notwithstanding her extreme slightness, were graceful, perhaps, but with the grace of the tigress. She wore a green silk dressing jacket, pulled together with a belt of lizard skin, and her neck was bare. Her skirt was of some thin black material. She was obviously in deshabille, and yet there was something neat and trim about the smaller details of her toilette.

"Go on, please, Peter," she begged. "You are keeping me in suspense."

"There isn't much to tell," he answered. "It's over—that's all."

She drew a sharp breath through her teeth.

"You are not going to marry that girl—that bourgeois doll in Streatham?"

Fitzgerald sat up in his chair.

"Look here," he said, seriously, "don't you call her names. If I'm not going to marry her, it isn't my fault. She is the only girl I have ever wanted, and probably—most probably—she will be the only one I ever shall want. That's honest, isn't it?"

The girl winced.

"Yes," she said, "it is honest!"

"I should have married her," the young man continued, "and I should have been happy. I had my eye on a villa—not too near her parents—and I saw my way to a little increase of salary. I should have taken to gardening, to walks in the Park, with an occasional theatre, and I should have thoroughly enjoyed a fortnight every summer at Skegness or Sutton-on-Sea. We should have saved a little money. I should have gone to church regularly, and if possible I should have filled some minor public offices. You may call this bourgeois—it was my idea of happiness."

"Was!" she murmured.

"Is still," he declared, sharply, "but I shall never attain to it. To-night I had to leave Maud—to leave the supper table of Daisy Villa—through the window!"

She looked at him in amazement.

"The police," he explained. "That brute Dory was at the bottom of it."

"But surely," she murmured, "you told me that you had a bona-fide situation—"

"So I had," he declared, "and I was a fool not to be content with it. It was my habit of taking long country walks, and their rotten auditing, which undid me! You understand that this was all before I met Maud? Since the day I spoke to her, I turned over a new leaf. I have left the night work alone, and I repaid every penny of the firm's money which they could ever have possibly found out about. There was only that one little affair of mine down at Sudbury."

"Tell me what you are going to do?" she whispered.

"I have no alternative," he answered. "The law has kicked me out from the respectable places. The law shall pay!"

She looked at him with glowing eyes.

"Have you any plans?" she asked, softly.

"I have," he answered. "I have considered the subject from a good many points of view, and I have decided to start in business for myself as a private detective."

She raised her eyebrows.

"My dear Peter!" she murmured. "Couldn't you be a little more original?"

"That is only what I am going to call myself," he answered. "I may tell you that I am going to strike out on somewhat new lines."

"Please explain," she begged.

He recrossed his knees and made himself a little more comfortable.

"The weak part of every great robbery, however successful," he began, "is the great wastage in value which invariably results. For jewels which cost—say five thousand pounds, and to procure which the artist has to risk his life as well as his liberty, he has to consider himself lucky if he clears eight hundred. For the Hermitage rubies, for instance, where I nearly had to shoot a man dead, I realized rather less than four hundred pounds. It doesn't pay."

"Go on," she begged.

"I am not clear," he continued, "how far this class of business will attract me at all, but I do not propose, in any case, to enter into any transactions on my own account. I shall work for other people, and for cash down. Your experience of life, Violet, has been fairly large. Have you not sometimes come into contact with people driven into a situation from which they would willingly commit any crime to escape if they dared? It is not with them a question of money at all—it is simply a matter of ignorance. They do not know how to commit a crime. They have had no experience, and if they attempt it, they know perfectly well that they are likely to blunder. A person thoroughly experienced in the ways of criminals—a person of genius like myself—would have, without a doubt, an immense clientele, if only he dared put up his signboard. Literally, I cannot do that. Actually, I mean to do so! I shall be willing to accept contracts either to help nervous people out of an undesirable crisis; or, on the other hand, to measure my wits against the wits of Scotland Yard, and to discover the criminals whom they have failed to secure. I shall make my own bargains, and I shall be paid in cash. I shall take on nothing that I am not certain about."

"But your clients?" she asked, curiously. "How will you come into contact with them?"

He smiled.

"I am not afraid of business being slack," he said. "The world is full of fools."

"You cannot live outside the law, Peter," she objected. "You are clever, I know, but they are not all fools at Scotland Yard."

"You forget," he reminded her, "that there will be a perfectly legitimate side to my profession. The other sort of case I shall only accept if I can see my way clear to make a success of it. Needless to say, I shall have to refuse the majority that are offered to me."

She came a little nearer to him.

"In any case," she said, with a little sigh, "you have given up that foolish, bourgeois life of yours?"

He looked down into her face, and his eyes were cold.

"Violet," he said, "this is no time for misunderstandings. I should like you to know that apart from one young lady, who possesses my whole affection—"

"All of it?" she pleaded.

"All!" he declared emphatically. "She will doubtless be faithless to me—under the circumstances, I cannot blame her—but so far as I am concerned, I have no affection whatever for any one else."

She crept back to her place.

"I could be so useful to you," she murmured.

"You could and you shall, if you will be sensible," he answered.

"Tell me how?" she begged.

He was silent for a moment.

"Are you acting now?" he asked.

"I am understudying Molly," she answered, "and I have a very small part at the Globe."

He nodded.

"There is no reason to interfere with that," he said, "in fact, I wish you to continue your connection with the profession. It brings you into touch with the class of people among whom I am likely to find clients."

"Go on, please," she begged.

"On two conditions—or rather one," he said, "you can, if you like, become my secretary and partner—and find the money we shall require to make a start."

"Conditions?" she asked.

"You must understand, once and for all," he said, "that I will not be made love to, and that I can treat you only as a working; companion. My name will be Peter Ruff, and yours Miss Brown. You will have to dress like a secretary, and behave like one. Sometimes there will be plenty of work for you, and sometimes there will be none at all. Sometimes you will be bored to death, and sometimes there will be excitement. I do not wish to make you vain, but I may add, especially as you are aware of my personal feelings toward you, that you are the only person in the world to whom I would make this offer."

She sighed gently.

"Tell me, Peter," she asked, "when do you mean to start this new enterprise?"

"Not for six months—perhaps a year," he answered. "I must go to Paris—perhaps Vienna. I might even have to go to New York. There are certain associations with which I must come into touch—certain information I must become possessed of."

"Peter," she said, "I like your scheme, but there is just one thing. Such men as you should be the brains of great enterprises. Don't you understand what I mean? It shouldn't be you who does the actual thing which brings you within the power of the law. I am not over-scrupulous, you know. I hate wrongdoing, but I have never been able to treat as equal criminals the poor man who steals for a living, and the rich financier who robs right and left out of sheer greed. I agree with you that crime is not an absolute thing. The circumstances connected with every action in life determine its morality or immorality. But, Peter, it isn't worth while to go outside the law!"

He nodded.

"You are a sensible girl," he said, "I have always thought that. We'll talk over my cases together, if they seem to run a little too close to the line."

"Very well, Peter," she said, "I accept."



II. A NEW CAREER

No record of magazine publication found)

About twelve months after the interrupted festivities at Daisy Villa, that particular neighbourhood was again the scene of some rejoicing. Standing before the residence of Mr. Barnes were three carriages, drawn in each case by a pair of grey horses. The coachmen and their steeds were similarly adorned with white rosettes. It would have been an insult to the intelligence of the most youthful of the loungers-by to have informed them that a wedding was projected.

At the neighbouring church all was ready. The clerk stood at the door, the red drugget was down, the usual little crowd were standing all agog upon the pavement. There was one unusual feature of the proceedings: Instead of a solitary policeman, there were at least a dozen who kept clear the entrance to the church. Their presence greatly puzzled a little old gentleman who had joined the throng of sightseers. He pushed himself to the front and touched one of them upon the shoulder.

"Mr. Policeman," he said, "will you tell me why there are so many of you to keep such a small crowd in order?"

"Bridegroom's a member of the force, sir, for one reason," the man answered good-humouredly.

"And the other?" the old gentleman persisted.

The policeman behaved as though he had not heard—a proceeding which his natural stolidity rendered easy. The little old gentleman, however, was not so easily put off. He tapped the man once more upon the shoulder.

"And the other reason, Mr. Policeman?" he asked insinuatingly.

"Not allowed to talk about that, sir," was the somewhat gruff reply.

The little old gentleman moved away, a trifle hurt. He was a very nicely dressed old gentleman indeed, and everything about him seemed to savour of prosperity. But he was certainly garrulous. An obviously invited guest was standing upon the edge of the pavement stroking a pair of lavender kid gloves. The little old gentleman sidled up to him.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, raising his hat. "I am just back from Australia—haven't seen a wedding in England for fifty years. Do you think that they would let me into the church?"

The invited guest looked down at his questioner and approved of him. Furthermore, he seemed exceedingly glad to be interrupted in his somewhat nervous task of waiting for the wedding party.

"Certainly, sir," he replied cheerfully. "Come along in with me, and I'll find you a seat."

Down the scarlet drugget they went—the big best man with the red hands and the lavender kid gloves and the opulent-looking old gentleman with the gold-rimmed spectacles and the handsome walking stick.

"Dear me, this is very interesting!" the latter remarked. "Is it the custom, sir, always, may I ask, in this country, to have so many policemen at a wedding?"

The big man looked downward and shook his head.

"Special reason," he said mysteriously. "Fact is, young lady was engaged once to a very bad character—a burglar whom the police have been wanting for years. He had to leave the country, but he has written her once or twice since in a mysterious sort of way—wanted her to be true to him, and all that sort of thing. Dory—that's the bridegroom—has got a sort of an idea that he may turn up to-day."

"This is very exciting—very!" the little old gentleman remarked. "Reminds me of our younger days out in Australia."

"You sit down here," the best man directed, ushering his companion into an empty pew. "I must get back again outside, or I shall have the bridegroom arriving."

"Good-day to you, sir, and many thanks!" the little old gentleman said politely.

Soon the bridegroom arrived—a smart young officer, well thought of at Scotland Yard, well set up, wearing a long tail coat a lilac and white tie, and shaking in every limb. He walked up the aisle accompanied by the best man, and the little old gentleman from Australia watched him genially from behind those gold-rimmed glasses. And, then, scarcely was he at the altar rails when through the open church door one heard the sounds of horses' feet, one heard a rustle, the murmur of voices, caught a glimpse of a waiting group arranging themselves finally in the porch of the church. Maud, on the arm of her father, came slowly up the aisle. The little old gentleman turned his head as though this was something upon which he feared to look. He saw nothing of Mr. Barnes, in a new coat, with tuberose and spray of maidenhair in his coat, and exceedingly tight patent leather boots on his feet; he saw nothing of Mrs. Barnes, clad in a gown of the lightest magenta, with a bonnet smothered with violets.

It was in the vestry that the only untoward incident of that highly successful wedding took place. The ceremony was over! Bride, bridegroom and parents trooped in. And when the register was opened, one witness had already signed! In the clear, precise writing his name stood out upon the virgin page—

Spencer Fitzgerald

The bridegroom swore, the bride nearly collapsed. The clerk pressed into the hands of the latter an envelope.

"From the little old gentleman," he announced, "who was fussing round the church this morning."

Mrs. Dory tore it open and gave a cry of delight. A diamond cross, worth all the rest of her presents put together, flashed soft lights from a background of dull velvet. Her husband had looked over her shoulder, and with a scowl seized the morocco case and threw it far from him.

It was the only disturbing incident of a highly successful function!

At precisely the same moment when the wedding guests were seated around the hospitable board of Daisy Villa, a celebration of a somewhat different nature was taking place in the more aristocratic neighbourhood of Curzon Street. Here, however, the little party was a much smaller one, and the innocent gaiety of the gathering at Daisy Villa was entirely lacking. The luncheon table around which the four men were seated presented all the unlovely signs of a meal where self-restraint had been abandoned—where conviviality has passed the bounds of licence. Edibles were represented only by a single dish of fruit; the tablecloth, stained with wine and cigar ash, seemed crowded with every sort of bottle and every sort of glass. A magnum of champagne, empty, another half full, stood in the middle of the table; whisky, brandy, liqueurs of various sorts were all represented; glasses—some full, some empty, some filled with cigar ash and cigarette stumps—an ugly sight!

The guest in chief arose. Short, thick-set, red-faced, with bulbous eyes, and veins about his temples which just now were unpleasantly prominent, he seemed, indeed, a very fitting person to have been the recipient of such hospitality. He stood clutching a little at the tablecloth and swaying upon his feet. He spoke as a drunken man, but such words as he pronounced clearly showed him to be possessed of a voice naturally thick and raspy. It was obvious that he was a person of entirely different class from his three companions.

"G—gentlemen," he said, "I must be off. I thank you very much for this—hospitality. Honoured, I'm sure, to have sat down in such—such company. Good afternoon, all!"

He lurched a little toward the door, but his neighbour at the table—who was also his host—caught hold of his coat tail and pulled him back into his chair.

"No hurry, Masters," he said. "One more liqueur, eh? It's a raw afternoon."

"N—not another drop, Sir Richard!" the man declared. "Not another drop to drink. I am very much obliged to you all, but I must be off. Must be off," he repeated, making another effort to rise.

His host held him by the arm. The man resented it—he showed signs of anger.

"D—n it all! I—I'm not a prisoner, am I?" he exclaimed angrily. "Tell you I've got—appointment—club. Can't you see it's past five o'clock?"

"That's all right, Masters," the man whom he had addressed as Sir Richard declared soothingly. "We want just a word with you on business first, before you go—Colonel Dickinson, Lord Merries and myself."

Masters shook his head.

"See you to-morrow," he declared. "No time to talk business now. Let me go!"

He made another attempt to rise, which his host also prevented.

"Masters, don't be a fool!" the latter said firmly. "You've got to hear what we want to say to you. Sit down and listen."

Masters relapsed sullenly into his chair. His little eyes seemed to creep closer to one another. So they wanted to talk business! Perhaps it was for that reason that they had bidden him sit at their table—had entertained him so well! The very thought cleared his brain.

"Go on," he said shortly.

Sir Richard lit a cigarette and leaned further back in his chair. He was a man apparently about fifty years of age—tall, well dressed, with good features, save for his mouth, which resembled more than anything a rat trap. He was perfectly bald, and he had the air of a man who was a careful liver. His eyes were bright, almost beadlike; his fingers long and a trifle over-manicured. One would have judged him to be what he was—a man of fashion and a patron of the turf.

"Masters," he said, "we are all old friends here. We want to speak to you plainly. We three have had a try, as you know—Merries, Dickinson and myself—to make the coup of our lives. We failed, and we're up against it hard."

"Very hard, indeed," Lord Merries murmured softly.

"Deuced hard!" Colonel Dickinson echoed.

Masters was sitting tight, breathing a little hard, looking fixedly at his host.

"Take my own case first," the latter continued. "I am Sir Richard Dyson, ninth baronet, with estates in Wiltshire and Scotland, and a town house in Cleveland Place. I belong to the proper clubs for a man in my position, and, somehow or other—we won't say how—I have managed to pay my way. There isn't an acre of my property that isn't mortgaged for more than its value. My town house—well, it doesn't belong to me at all! I have twenty-six thousand pounds to pay you on Monday. To save my life, I could not raise twenty-six thousand farthings! So much for me."

The man Masters ground his teeth.

"So much for you!" he muttered.

"Take the case next," Sir Richard continued, "of my friend Merries here. Merries is an Earl, it is true, but he never had a penny to bless himself with. He's tried acting, reporting, marrying—anything to make an honest living. So far, I am afraid we must consider Lord Merries as something of a failure, eh?"

"A rotten failure, I should say," that young nobleman declared gloomily.

"Lord Merries is, to put it briefly, financially unsound," Sir Richard declared.

"What is the amount of your debt to Mr. Masters, Jim?"

"Eleven thousand two hundred pounds," Lord Merries answered.

"And we may take it, I presume, for granted that you have not that sum, nor anything like it, at your disposal?" Sir Richard asked.

"Not a fiver!" Lord Merries declared with emphasis.

"We come now, Mr. Masters, to our friend Colonel Dickinson," Sir Richard continued. "Colonel Dickinson is, perhaps, in a more favourable situation than any of us. He has a small but regular income, and he has expectations which it is not possible to mortgage fully. At the same time, it will be many years before they can—er—fructify. He is, therefore, with us in this somewhat unpleasant predicament in which we find ourselves."

"Cut it short," Masters growled. "I'm sick of so much talk. What's it all mean?"

"It means simply this, Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said, "we want you to take six months' bills for our indebtedness to you."

Masters rose to his feet. His thick lips were drawn a little apart. He had the appearance of a savage and discontented animal.

"So that's why I've been asked here and fed up with wine and stuff, eh?" he exclaimed thickly. "Well, my answer to you is soon given. NO! I'll take bills from no man! My terms are cash on settling day—cash to pay or cash to receive. I'll have no other!"

Sir Richard rose also to his feet.

"Mr. Masters, I beg of you to be reasonable," he said. "You will do yourself no good by adopting this attitude. Facts are facts. We haven't got a thousand pounds between us."

"I've heard that sort of a tale before," Masters answered, with a sneer. "Job Masters is too old a bird to be caught by such chaff. I'll take my risks, gentlemen. I'll take my risks."

He moved toward the door. No one spoke a word. The silence as he crossed the room seemed a little ominous. He looked over his shoulder. They were all three standing in their places, looking at him. A vague sense of uneasiness disturbed his equanimity.

"No offence, gents," he said, "and good afternoon!"

Still no reply. He reached the door and turned the handle. The door was fast. He shook it—gently at first, and then violently. Suddenly he realized that it was locked. He turned sharply around.

"What game's this?" he exclaimed, fiercely. "Let me out!"

They stood in their places without movement. There was something a little ominous in their silence. Masters was fast becoming a sober man.

"Let me out of here," he exclaimed, "or I'll break the door down!"

Sir Richard Dyson came slowly towards him. There was something in his appearance which terrified Masters. He raised his fist to strike the door. He was a fighting man, but he felt a sudden sense of impotence.

"Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said suavely, "the truth is that we cannot afford to let you go—unless you agree to do what we have asked. You see we really have not the money or any way of raising it—and the inconvenience of being posted you have yourself very ably pointed out. Change your mind, Mr. Masters. Take those bills. We'll do our best to meet them."

"I'll do nothing of the sort," Masters answered, striking the door fiercely with his clenched fist. "I'll have cash—nothing but the cash!"

There was a dull, sickening thud, and the bookmaker went over like a shot rabbit. His legs twitched for a moment—a little moan that was scarcely audible broke from his lips. Then he lay quite still. Sir Richard bent over him with the life preserver still in his hand.

"I've done it!" he muttered, hoarsely. "One blow! Thank Heaven, he didn't want another! His skull was as soft as pudding! Ugh!"

He turned away. The man who lay stretched upon the floor was an ugly sight. His two companions, cowering over the table, were not much better. Dyson's trembling fingers went out for the brandy decanter. Half of what he poured out was spilled upon the tablecloth. The rest he drank from a tumbler, neat.

"It's nervous work, this, you fellows," he said, hoarsely.

"It's hellish!" Dickinson answered. "Let's have some air in the room. By God, it's close!"

He sank back into his chair, white to the lips. Dyson looked at him sharply.

"Look here," he exclaimed, "I hold you both to our bargain! I was to be the one he attacked and who struck the blow—in self-defence! Remember that—it was in self-defence! I've done it! I've done my share! I hope to God I'll forget it some day. Andrew, you know your task. Be a man, and get to work!"

Dickinson rose to his feet unsteadily. "Yes!" he said. "What was it? I have forgotten, for the moment, but I am ready."

"You must get his betting book from his pocket," Sir Richard directed. "Then you must help Merries downstairs with him, and into the car. Merries is—to get rid of him."

Merries shivered. His hand, too, went out for the brandy.

"To get rid of him," he muttered. "It sounds easy!"

"It is easy," Sir Richard declared. "You have only to keep your nerve, and the thing is done. No one will see him inside the car, in that motoring coat and glasses. You can drive somewhere out into the country and leave him."

"Leave him!" Merries repeated, trembling. "Leave him—yes!"

Neither of the two men moved.

"I must do more than my share, I suppose," Sir Richard declared contemptuously. "Come!"

They dragged the man's body on to a chair, wrapped a huge coat around him, tied a motoring cap under his chin, fixed goggles over his eyes. Sir Richard strolled into the hall and opened the front door. He stood there for a moment, looking up and down the street. When he gave the signal they dragged him out, supported between them, across the pavement, into the car. Ugh! His attitude was so natural as to be absolutely ghastly. Merries started the car and sprang into the driver's seat. There were people in the Square now, but the figure reclining in the dark, cushioned interior looked perfectly natural.

"So long, Jimmy," Sir Richard called out. "See you this evening."

"Right O!" Merries replied, with a brave effort.

Peter Ruff, summoned by telephone from his sitting room, slipped down the stairs like a cat—noiseless, swift. The voice which had summoned him had been the voice of his secretary—a voice almost unrecognisable—a voice shaken with fear. Fear? No, it had been terror!

On the landing below, exactly underneath the room from which he had descended, there was a door upon which his name was written upon a small brass plate—Mr. Peter Ruff. He opened and closed it behind him with a swift movement which he had practised in his idle moments. He found himself looking in upon a curious scene.

Miss Brown, with the radiance of her hair effectually concealed, in plain black skirt and simple blouse—the ideal secretary—had risen from the seat in front of her typewriter, and was standing facing the door through which he had entered, with a small revolver—which he had given her for a birthday present only the day before—clasped in her outstretched hand. The object of her solicitude was, it seemed to Peter Ruff, the most pitiful-looking object upon which he had ever looked. The hours had dwelt with Merries as the years with some people, and worse. He had lost his cap; his hair hung over his forehead in wild confusion; his eyes were red, bloodshot, and absolutely aflame with the terrors through which he had lived—underneath them the black marks might have been traced with a charcoal pencil. His cheeks were livid save for one burning spot. His clothes, too, were in disorder—the starch had gone from his collar, his tie hung loosely outside his waistcoat. He was cowering back against the wall. And between him and the girl, stretched upon the floor, was the body of a man in a huge motor coat, a limp, inert mass which neither moved nor seemed to have any sign of life. No wonder that Peter Ruff looked around his office, whose serenity had been so tragically disturbed, with an air of mild surprise.

"Dear me," he exclaimed, "something seems to have happened! My dear Violet, you can put that revolver away. I have secured the door."

Her hand fell to her side. She gave a little shiver of relief. Peter Ruff nodded.

"That is more comfortable," he declared. "Now, perhaps, you will explain—"

"That young man," she interrupted, "or lunatic—whatever he calls himself—burst in here a few minutes ago, dragging—that!" She pointed to the motionless figure upon the floor. "If I had not stopped him, he would have bolted off without a word of explanation."

Peter Ruff, with his back against the door, shook his head gravely.

"My dear Lord Merries," he said, "my office is not a mortuary."

Merries gasped.

"You know me, then?" he muttered, hoarsely.

"Of course," Ruff answered. "It is my profession to know everybody. Go and sit down upon that easy-chair, and drink the brandy and soda which Miss Brown is about to mix for you. That's right."

Merries staggered across the room and half fell into an easy-chair. He leaned over the side with his face buried in his hands, unable still to face the horror which lay upon the floor. A few seconds later, the tumbler of brandy and soda was in his hands. He drank it like a man who drains fresh life into his veins.

"Perhaps now," Peter Ruff suggested, pointing to the motionless figure, "you can give me some explanation as to this!"

Merries looked away from him all the time he was speaking. His voice was thick and nervous.

"There were three of us lunching together," he began—"four in all. There was a dispute, and this man threatened us. Afterwards there was a fight. It fell to my lot to take him away, and I can't get rid of him! I can't get rid of him!" he repeated, with something that sounded like a sob.

"I still do not see," Peter Ruff argued, "why you should have brought him here and deposited him upon my perfectly new carpet."

"You are Peter Ruff," Merries declared. "'Crime Investigator and Private Detective,' you call yourself. You are used to this sort of thing. You will know what to do with it. It is part of your business."

"I can assure you," Peter Ruff answered, "that you are under a delusion as to the details of my profession. I am Peter Ruff," he admitted, "and I call myself a crime investigator—in fact, I am the only one worth speaking of in the world. But I certainly deny that I am used to having dead bodies deposited upon my carpet, and that I make a habit of disposing of them—especially gratis."

Merries tore open his coat.

"Listen," he said, his voice shaking hysterically, "I must get rid of it or go mad. For two hours I have been driving about in a motor car with—it for a passenger. I drove to a quiet spot and I tried to lift it out—a policeman rode up! I tried again, a man rushed by on a motor cycle, and turned to look at me! I tried a few minutes later—the policeman came back! It was always the same. The night seemed to have eyes. I was watched everywhere. The—the face began to mock me. I'll swear that I heard it chuckle once!"

Peter Ruff moved a little further away.

"I don't think I'll have anything to do with it," he declared. "I don't like your description at all."

"It'll be all right with you," Merries declared eagerly. "It's my nerves, that's all. You see, I was there—when the accident happened. See here," he added, tearing a pocketbook from his coat, "I have three hundred and seventy pounds saved up in case I had to bolt. I'll keep seventy—three hundred for you—to dispose of it!"

Ruff leaned over the motionless body, looked into its face, and nodded.

"Masters, the bookmaker," he remarked. "H'm! I did hear that he had a lot of money coming to him over the Cambridgeshire."

Merries shuddered.

"May I go?" he pleaded. "There's the three hundred on the table. For God's sake, let me go!"

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I wish you'd saved a little more," he said. "However—"

He turned the lock and Merries rushed out of the room. Ruff looked across the room towards his secretary.

"Ring up 1535 Central," he ordered, sharply.

Peter Ruff had descended from his apartments on the top floor of the building, in a new brown suit with which he was violently displeased, to meet a caller.

"I am sorry to intrude—Mr. Ruff, I believe it is?" Sir Richard Dyson said, a little irritably—"but I have not a great deal of time to spare—"

"Most natural!" Peter Ruff declared. "Pray take a chair, Sir Richard. You want to know, of course, about Lord Merries and poor Masters."

Sir Richard stared at his questioner, for a moment, without speech. Once more the fear which he had succeeded in banishing for a while, shone in his eyes—revealed itself in his white face.

"Try the easy-chair, Sir Richard," Ruff continued, pleasantly. "Leave your hat and cane on the table there, and make yourself comfortable. I should like to understand exactly what you have come to me for."

Sir Richard moved his head toward Miss Brown.

"My business with you," he said, "is more than ordinarily private. I have the honour of knowing Miss—"

"Miss Brown," Peter interrupted quickly. "In these offices, this young lady's name is Miss Violet Brown."

Sir Richard shrugged his shoulders.

"It is of no importance," he said, "only, as you may understand, my business with you scarcely requires the presence of a third party, even one with the discretion which I am sure Miss—Brown possesses."

"In these matters," Ruff answered, "my secretary does not exist apart from myself. Her presence is necessary. She takes down in shorthand notes of our conversation. I have a shocking memory, and there are always points which I forget. At the conclusion of our business, whatever it may be, these notes are destroyed. I could not work without them, however."

Sir Richard glanced a little doubtfully at the long, slim back of the girl who sat with her face turned away from him. "Of course," he began, "if you make yourself personally responsible for her discretion—"

"I am willing to do so," Ruff interrupted, brusquely. "I guarantee it. Go on, please."

"I do not know, of course, where you got your information from," Sir Richard began, "but it is perfectly true that I have come here to consult you upon a matter in which the two people whose names you have mentioned are concerned. The disappearance of Job Masters is, of course, common talk; but I cannot tell what has led you to associate with it the temporary absence of Lord Merries from this country."

"Let me ask you this question," Ruff said. "How are you affected by the disappearance of Masters?"

"Indirectly, it has caused me a great deal of inconvenience," Sir Richard declared.

"Facts, please," murmured Peter.

"It has been rumoured," Sir Richard admitted, "that I owed Masters a large sum of money which I could not pay."

"Anything else?"

"It has also been rumoured," Sir Richard continued, "that he was seen to enter my house that day, and that he remained there until late in the afternoon."

"Did he?" asked Ruff.

"Certainly not," Sir Richard answered.

Peter Ruff yawned for a moment, but covered the indiscretion with his hand.

"Respecting this inconvenience," he said, "which you admit that the disappearance of Job Masters has caused you, what is its tangible side?"

Sir Richard drew his chair a little nearer to the table where Ruff was sitting. His voice dropped almost to a whisper.

"It seems absurd," he said, "and yet, what I tell you is the truth. I have been followed about—shadowed, in fact—for several days. Men, even in my own social circle, seem to hold aloof from me. It is as though," he continued slowly, "people were beginning to suspect me of being connected in some way with the man's disappearance."

Ruff, who had been making figures with a pencil on the edge of his blotting paper, suddenly turned round. His eyes flashed with a new light as they became fixed upon his companion's.

"And are you not?" he asked, calmly. Sir Richard bore himself well. For a moment he had shrunk back. Then he half rose to his feet.

"Mr. Ruff!" he said. "I must protest—"

"Stop!"

Peter Ruff used no violent gesture. Only his forefinger tapped the desk in front of him. His voice was as smooth as velvet.

"Tell me as much or as little as you please, Sir Richard," he said, "but let that little or that much be the truth! On those terms only I may be able to help you. You do not go to your physician and expect him to prescribe to you while you conceal your symptoms, or to your lawyer for advice and tell him half the truth. I am not asking for your confidence. I simply tell you that you are wasting your time and mine if you choose to withhold it."

Sir Richard was silent. He recognized a new quality in the man—but the truth was an awful thing to tell! He considered—then told.

Ruff briskly asked two questions. "In alluding to your heavy settlement with Masters, you said just now that you could not have paid him—then."

"Quite so," Sir Richard admitted. "That is the rotten part of the whole affair. Four days later a wonderful double came off—one in which we were all interested, and one which not one of us expected. We've drawn a considerable amount already from one or two bookies, and I believe even Masters owes us a bit now."

"Thank you," Ruff said. "I think that I know everything now. My fee is five hundred guineas."

Sir Richard looked at him.

"What?" he exclaimed.

"Five hundred guineas," Ruff repeated.

"For a consultation?" Sir Richard asked.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"More than that," he said. "You are a brave man in your way, Sir Richard Dyson, but you are going about now shivering under a load of fear. It sits like a devil incarnate upon your shoulders. It poisons the air wherever you go. Write your cheque, Sir Richard, and you can leave that little black devil in my wastebasket. You are under my protection. Nothing will happen to you."

Sir Richard sat like a man mesmerised. The little man with the amiable expression and the badly fitting suit was leaning back in his chair, his finger tips pressed together, waiting.

"Nothing will happen!" Sir Richard repeated, incredulously.

"Certainly not. I guarantee you against any inconvenience which might arise to you from this recent unfortunate affair. Isn't that all you want?"

"It's all I want, certainly," Sir Richard declared, "but I must understand a little how you propose to secure my immunity."

Ruff shook his head.

"I have my own methods," he said. "I can help only those who trust me."

Sir Richard drew a cheque book from his pocket. "I don't know why I should believe in you," he said, as he wrote the cheque.

"But you do," Peter Ruff said, smiling. "Fortunately for you, you do!"

It was not so easy to impart a similar confidence into the breast of Colonel Dickinson, with whom Sir Richard dined that night tete-a-tete. Dickinson was inclined to think that Sir Richard ad been "had."

"You've paid a ridiculous fee," he argued, "and all that you have in return is the fellow's promise to see you through. It isn't like you to part with money so easily, Richard. Did he hypnotise you?"

"I don't think so," Sir Richard answered. "I wasn't conscious of it."

"What sort of a fellow is he?" Dickinson asked.

Sir Richard looked reflectively into his glass.

"He's a vulgar sort of little Johnny," he said. "Looks as though he were always dressed in new clothes and couldn't get used to them."

Three men entered the room. Two remained in the background. John Dory came forward towards the table.

"Sir Richard Dyson," he said, gravely, "I have come upon an unpleasant errand."

"Go on," Sir Richard said, fingering something hard inside pocket of his coat.

"I have a warrant for your arrest," Dory continued, "in connection with the disappearance of Job Masters on Saturday, the 10th of November last. I will read the terms of the warrant, if you choose. It is my duty to warn you that anything you may now say can be used in evidence against you. This gentleman, I believe, is Colonel Dickinson?"

"That is my name, sir," Dickinson answered, with unexpected fortitude.

"I regret to say," the detective continued, "that I have also a warrant for your arrest in connection with the same matter."

Sir Richard had hold of the butt end of his revolver then. Like grisly phantoms, the thoughts chased one another through his brain. Should he shoot and end it—pass into black nothingness—escape disgrace, but die like a rat in a corner? His finger was upon the trigger. Then suddenly his heart gave a great leap. He raised his head as though listening. Something flashed in his eyes—something that was almost like hope. There was no mistaking that voice which he had heard in the hall! He made a great rally.

"I can only conclude," he said, turning to the detective, "that you have made some absurd blunder. If you really possess the warrants you speak of, however, Colonel Dickinson and I will accompany you wherever you choose."

Then the door opened and Peter Ruff walked in, followed by Job Masters, whose head was still bandaged, and who seemed to have lost a little flesh and a lot of colour. Peter Ruff looked round apologetically. He seemed surprised not to find Sir Richard Dyson and Colonel Dickinson alone. He seemed more than ever surprised to recognize Dory.

"I trust," he said smoothly, "that our visit is not inopportune. Sir Richard Dyson, I believe?" he continued, bowing—"my friend, Mr. Masters here, has consulted me as to the loss of a betting book, and we ventured to call to ask you, sir, if by any chance on his recent visit to your house—"

"God in Heaven, it's Masters!" Dyson exclaimed. "It's Job Masters!"

"That's me, sir," Masters admitted. "Mr. Ruff thought you might be able to help me find that book."

Sir Richard swayed upon his feet. Then the blood rushed once more through his veins.

"Your book's here in my cabinet, safe enough," he said. "You left it here after our luncheon that day. Where on earth have you been to, man?" he continued. "We want some money from you over Myopia."

"I'll pay all right, sir," Masters answered. "Fact is, after our luncheon party I'm afraid I got a bit fuddled. I don't seem to remember much."

He sat down a little heavily. Peter Ruff hastened to the table and took up a glass.

"You will excuse me if I give him a little brandy, won't you, sir?" he said. "He's really not quite fit for getting about yet, but he was worrying about his book."

"Give him all the brandy he can drink," Sir Richard answered.

The detective's face had been a study. He knew Masters well enough by sight—there was no doubt about his identity! His teeth came together with an angry little click. He had made a mistake! It was a thing which would be remembered against him forever! It was as bad as his failure to arrest that young man at Daisy Villa.

"Your visit, Masters," Sir Richard said, with a curious smile at the corners of his lips, "is, in some respects, a little opportune. About that little matter we were speaking of," he continued, turning towards the detective.

"We have only to offer you our apologies, Sir Richard," Dory answered.

Then he crossed the room and confronted Peter Ruff.

"Do I understand, sir, that your name is Ruff—Peter Ruff?" he asked.

"That is my name, sir," Peter Ruff admitted, pleasantly "Yours I believe, is Dory. We are likely to come across one another now and then, I suppose. Glad to know you."

The detective stood quite still, and there was no geniality in his face.

"I wonder—have we ever met before?" he asked, without removing his eyes from the other's face. Peter Ruff smiled.

"Not professionally, at any rate," he answered. "I know that Scotland Yard you don't think much of us small fry, but we find out things sometimes!"

"Why didn't you contradict all those rumours as to his disappearance?" the detective asked, pointing to where Job Masters was contentedly sipping his brandy and water.

"I was acting for my client, and in my own interests," replied Peter. "It was surely no part of my duty to save you gentlemen at Scotland Yard from hunting up mare's nests!"

John Dory went out, followed by his men. Sir Richard took Peter Ruff by the arm, and, leading him to the sideboard, mixed him a drink.

"Peter Ruff," he said, "you're a clever scoundrel, but you've earned your five hundred guineas. Hang it, you're welcome to them! Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Peter Ruff raised his glass and set it down again. Once more he eyed with admiration his client's well-turned out figure.

"You might give me a letter to your tailors, Sir Richard," he begged.

Sir Richard laughed outright—it was some time since he had laughed!

"You shall have it, Peter Ruff," he declared, raising his glass—"and here's to you!"



III. VINCENT CAWDOR, COMMISSION AGENT

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Nov 1909
Also published as "An Episode in the Career of Mr. Vincent Cawdor, Commission Agent"

For the second time since their new association, Peter Ruff had surprised that look upon his secretary's face. This time he wheeled around in his chair and addressed her.

"My dear Violet," he said, "be frank with me. What is wrong?"

Miss Brown turned to face her employer. Save for a greater demureness of expression and the extreme simplicity of her attire, she had changed very little since she had given up her life of comparative luxury to become Peter Ruff's secretary. There was a sort of personal elegance which clung to her, notwithstanding her strenuous attempts to dress for her part, except for which she looked precisely as a private secretary and typist should look. She even wore a black bow at the back of her hair.

"I have not complained, have I?" she asked.

"Do not waste time," Peter Ruff said, coldly. "Proceed."

"I have not enough to do," she said. "I do not understand why you refuse so many cases."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I did not bring my talents into this business," he said, "to watch flirting wives, to ascertain the haunts of gay husbands, or to detect the pilferings of servants."

"Anything is better than sitting still," she protested.

"I do not agree with you," Peter Ruff said. "I like sitting still very much indeed—one has time to think. Is there anything else?"

"Shall I really go on?" she asked.

"By all means," he answered.

"I have idea," she continued, "that you are subordinating your general interests to your secret enmity—to one man. You are waiting until you can find another case in which you are pitted against him."

"Sometimes," Peter Ruff said, "your intelligence surprises me!"

"I came to you," she continued, looking at him earnestly, "for two reasons. The personal one I will not touch upon. The other was my love of excitement. I have tried many things in life, as you know, Peter, but I have seemed to carry always with me the heritage of weariness. I thought that my position here would help me to fight against it."

"You have seen me bring a corpse to life," Peter Ruff reminded her, a little aggrieved.

She smiled.

"It was a month ago," she reminded him.

"I can't do that sort of thing every day," he declared.

"Naturally," she answered; "but you have refused four cases within the last five days."

Peter Ruff whistled softly to himself for several moments.

"Seen anything of our new neighbour in the flat above?" he asked, with apparent irrelevance.

Miss Brown looked across at him with upraised eyebrows.

"I have been in the lift with him twice," she answered.

"Fancy his appearance?" Ruff asked, casually.

"Not in the least!" Violet answered. "I thought him a vulgar, offensive person!"

Peter Ruff chuckled. He seemed immensely delighted.

"Mr. Vincent Cawdor he calls himself, I believe," he remarked.

"I have no idea," Miss Brown declared. The subject did not appeal to her.

"His name is on a small copper plate just over the letter-box," Ruff said. "Rather neat idea, by the bye. He calls himself a commission agent, I believe."

Violet was suddenly interested. She realized, after all, that Mr. Vincent Cawdor might be a person of some importance.

"What is a commission agent?" she asked.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"It might mean anything," he declared. "Never trust any one who is not a little more explicit as to his profession. I am afraid that this Mr. Vincent Cawdor, for instance, is a bad lot."

"I am sure he is," Miss Brown declared.

"Looks after a pretty girl, coughs in the lift—all that sort of thing, eh?" Peter Ruff asked.

She nodded.

"Disgusting!" she exclaimed, with emphasis.

Peter Ruff sighed, and glanced at the clock. The existence of Mr. Vincent Cawdor seemed to pass out of his mind.

"It is nearly one o'clock," he said. "Where do you usually lunch, Violet?"

"It depends upon my appetite," she answered, carelessly. "Most often at an A B C."

"To-day," Peter Ruff said, "you will be extravagant—at my expense."

"I had a poor breakfast," Miss Brown remarked, complacently.

"You will leave at once," Peter Ruff said, "and you will go to the French Cafe at the Milan. Get a table facing the courtyard, and towards the hotel side of the room. Keep your eyes open and tell me exactly what you see."

She looked at him with parted lips. Her eyes were full of eager questioning.

"Mere skirmishing," Peter Ruff continued, "but I think—yes, I think that it may lead to something."

"Whom am I to watch?" she asked.

"Any one who looks interesting," Peter Ruff answered. "For instance, if this person Vincent Cawdor should be about."

"He would recognize me!" she declared.

Peter Ruff shrugged his shoulders.

"One must hold the candle," he remarked.

"I decline to flirt with him," she declared. "Nothing would induce me to be pleasant to such an odious creature."

"He will be too busy to attempt anything of the sort. Of course he may not be there. It may be the merest fancy on my part. At any rate, you may rely upon it that he will not make any overtures in a public place like the Milan. Mr. Vincent Cawdor may be a curious sort of person, but I do not fancy that he is a fool!"

"Very well," Miss Brown said, "I will go."

"Be back soon after three," Peter Ruff said. "I am going up to my room to do my exercises."

"And afterwards?" she asked.

"I shall have my lunch sent in," he answered. "Don't hurry back, though. I shall not expect you till a quarter past three."

It was a few minutes past that time when Miss Brown returned. Peter Ruff was sitting at his desk, looking as though he had never moved. He was absorbed by a book of patterns sent in by his new tailor, and he only glanced up when she entered the room.

"Violet," he said, earnestly, "come in and sit down. I want to consult you. There is a new material here—a sort of mouse-coloured cheviot. I wonder whether it would suit me?"

Violet was looking very handsome and a little flushed. She raised her veil and came over to his side.

"Put that stupid book away, Peter," she said. "I want to tell you about the Milan."

He leaned back in his chair.

"Ah!" he said. "I had forgotten! Was Mr. Vincent Cawdor there?"

"Yes!" she answered, still a little breathless. "There was some one else there, too, in whom you are still more interested."

He nodded.

"Go on," he said.

"Mr. Vincent Cawdor," she continued, "came in alone. He looked just as objectionable as ever, and he stared at me till I nearly threw my wine glass at him."

"He did not speak to you?" Peter Ruff asked.

"I was afraid that he was going to," Miss Brown said, "but fortunately he met a friend who came to his table and lunched with him."

"A friend," Ruff remarked. "Good! What was he like?"

"Fair, slight, Teutonic," Miss Brown answered. "He wore thick spectacles, and his moustache was positively yellow."

Ruff nodded.

"Go on," he said.

"Towards the end of luncheon," she continued, "an American came up to them."

"An American?" Peter Ruff interrupted. "How do you know that?"

Miss Brown smiled.

"He was clean-shaven and he wore neat clothes," she said. "He talked with an accent you could have cut with a knife and he had a Baedeker sticking out of his pocket. After luncheon, they all three went away to the smoking room."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Anything else?" he asked.

The girl smiled triumphantly.

"Yes!" she declared. "There was something else—something which I think you will find interesting. At the next table to me there was a man—alone. Can you guess who he was?"

"John Dory," Ruff said, calmly.

The girl was disappointed.

"You knew!" she exclaimed.

"My dear Violet," he said, "I did not send you there on a fool's errand."

"There is something doing, then?" she exclaimed.

"There is likely," he answered, grimly, "to be a great deal doing!"

The two men who stood upon the hill, and Peter Ruff, who lay upon his stomach behind a huge boulder, looked upon a new thing.

Far down in the valley from out of a black shed—the only sign of man's handiwork for many miles—it came—something grey at first, moving slowly as though being pushed down a slight incline, then afloat in the air, gathering speed—something between a torpedo with wings and a great prehistoric insect. Now and then it described strange circles, but mostly it came towards them as swift and as true as an arrow shot from a bow. The two men looked at one another—the shorter, to whose cheeks the Cumberland winds had brought no trace of colour, gave vent to a hoarse exclamation.

"He's done it!" he growled.

"Wait!" the other answered.

Over their heads the thing wheeled, and seemed to stand still in the air. The beating of the engine was so faint that Peter Ruff from behind the boulder, could hear all that was said. A man leaned out from his seat—a man with wan cheeks but blazing eyes.

"Listen," he said. "Take your glasses. There—due north—can you see a steeple?"

The men turned their field glasses in the direction toward which the other pointed. "Yes!" they answered. "It is sixteen miles, as the crow flies, to Barnham Church—thirty-two miles there and back. Wait!"

He swung round, dived till he seemed about to touch the hillside, then soared upwards and straight away. Peter Ruff took out his watch. The other two men gazed with fascinated eyes after the disappearing speck.

"If he does it—" the shorter one muttered.

"He will do it!" the other answered.

He was back again before their eyes were weary of watching. Peter Ruff, from behind the boulder, closed his watch. Thirty-two miles in less than half an hour! The youth leaned from his seat.

"Is it enough?" he asked, hoarsely.

"It is enough!" the two men answered together. "We will come down."

The youth touched a lever and the machine glided down towards the valley, falling all the while with the effortless grace a parachute. The shed from which his machine had issued was midway down a slope, with a short length of rails which ran, apparently, through it. The machine seemed to hover for several moments above the building, then descended slowly on to the rails and disappeared in the shed. The two men were already half-way down the hill. Peter Ruff rose from behind the boulder, stretched himself with a sense of immense relief, and lit a pipe. As yet he dared not descend. He simply changed his hiding place for a spot which enabled him to command a view of the handful of cottages at the back of the hill. He had plenty to think about. It was a wonderful thing—this—which he had seen!

The youth, meanwhile, was drinking deep of the poisonous cup. He walked between the two men—his cheeks were flushed, his eyes on fire.

"If all the world to-day had seen what we have seen," the older man was saying, "there would be no more talk of Wilbur Wrights or Farmans. Those men are babies, playing with their toys."

"Mine is the ideal principle," the youth declared. "No one else has thought of it, no one else has made use of it. Yet all the time I am afraid—it is so simple."

"Sell quick, then," the fair-headed man advised. "By to-morrow night I can promise you fifty thousand pounds."

The youth stopped. He drew a deep breath.

"I shall sell," he declared. "I need money. I want to live. Fifty thousand pounds is enough. Eleven weary months I have slept and toiled there in the shed."

"It is finished," the older man declared. "To-night you shall come with us to London. To-morrow night your pockets shall be full of gold. It will be a change for you."

The youth sobbed.

"God knows it will," he muttered. "I haven't two shillings in the world, and I owe for my last petrol."

The two men laughed heartily. The elder took a little bundle of notes from his pocket and handed them to the boy.

"Come," he said, "not for another moment shall you feel as poor as that. Money will have no value for you in the future. The fifty thousand pounds will only be a start. After that, you will get royalties. If I had it, I would give you a quarter of a million now for your plans; I know that I can get you more."

The youth laughed hysterically. They entered the tiny inn and drank home-made wine—the best they could get. Then a great car drew up outside, and the older—the clean-shaven man, who looked like an American—hurried out, and dragging a hamper from beneath the seat returned with a gold-foiled bottle in his hand.

"Come," he said, "a toast! We have one bottle left—one bottle of the best!"

"Champagne!" the youth cried eagerly, holding out his hand.

"The only wine for the conquerors," the other declared, pouring it out into the thick tumblers. "Drink, all of you, to the Franklin Flying Machine, to the millions she will earn—to to-morrow night!"

The youth drained his glass, watched it replenished, and drained it again. Then they went out to the car.

"There is one thing yet to be done," he said. "Wait here for me."

They waited whilst he climbed up toward the shed. The two men watched him. A little group of rustics stood open-mouthed around the great car. Then there was a little shout. From above their heads came the sound of a great explosion—red flames were leaping up from that black barn to the sky. The two men looked at one another. They rushed to the hill and met the youth descending.

"What the—"

He stopped them.

"I dared not leave it here," he explained. "It would have been madness. I am perfectly certain that I have been watched during the last few days. I can build another in a week. I have the plans in my pocket for every part."

The older man wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

"You are sure—that you have the plans?" he asked.

The youth struck himself on the chest.

"They are here," he answered, "every one of them!"

"Perhaps you are right, then," the other man answered. "It gave me a turn, though. You are sure that you can make it again in the time you say?"

"Of course!" the youth answered, impatiently. "Besides, the thing is so simple. It speaks for itself."

They climbed into the car, and in a few minutes were rushing away southwards.

"To-morrow night—to-morrow night it all begins!" the youth continued. "I must start with ready-made clothes. I'll get the best I can, eat the best I can, drink wine, go to the music halls. To-morrow night."

His speech ended in a wail—a strange, half-stifled cry which rang out with a chill, ghostly sound upon the black silence. His face was covered with a wet towel, a ghastly odor was in his nostrils, his lips refused to utter any further sound. He lay back among the cushions, senseless. The car slowed down.

"Get the papers, quick!" the elder man muttered, opening the youth's coat. "Here they are! Catch hold, Dick! My God! What's that?"

He shook from head to foot. The little fair man looked at him with contempt.

"A sheep bell on the moor," he said. "Are you sure you have everything?"

"Yes!" the other muttered.

They both stood up and raised the prostrate form between them. Below them were the black waters of the lake.

"Over with him!" the younger said. "Quick!"

Once more his companion shrank away.

"Listen!" he muttered, hoarsely.

They both held their breaths. From somewhere along the road behind came a faint sound like the beating of an engine.

"It's a car!" the elder man exclaimed. "Quick! Over with him!"

They lifted the body of the boy, whose lips were white and speechless now, and threw him into the water. With a great splash he disappeared. They watched for a moment. Only the ripples flowed away from the place where he had sunk. They jumped back to their seats.

"There's something close behind," the older man muttered. "Get on! Fast! Fast!"

The younger man hesitated.

"Perhaps," he said slowly, "it would be better to wait and see who it is coming up behind. Our young friend there is safe. The current has him, and the tarn is bottomless."

There was a moment's indecision—a moment which was to count for much in the lives of three men. Then the elder one's counsels prevailed. They crept away down the hill, smoothly and noiselessly. Behind them, the faint throbbing grew less and less distinct. Soon they heard it no more. They drove into the dawn and through the long day.

Side by side on one of the big leather couches in the small smoking room of the Milan Hotel, Mr. James P. Rounceby and his friend Mr. Richard Marnstam sat whispering together. It was nearly two o clock, and they were alone in the room. Some of the lights had been turned out. The roar of life in the streets without had ceased. It was an uneasy hour for those whose consciences were not wholly at rest!

The two men were in evening dress—Rounceby in dinner coat and black tie, as befitted his role of travelling American. The glasses in front of them were only half-filled, and had remained so for the last hour. Their conversation had been nervous and spasmodic. It was obvious that they were waiting for some one.

Three o'clock struck by the little timepiece on the mantel shelf. A little exclamation of a profane nature broke from Rounceby's lips. He leaned toward his companion.

"Say," he muttered, in a rather thick undertone, "how about this fellow Vincent Cawdor? You haven't any doubts about him, I suppose? He's on the square, all right, eh?"

Marnstam wet his lips nervously.

"Cawdor's all right," he said. "I had it direct from headquarters at Paris. What are you uneasy about, eh?"

Rounceby pointed towards the clock.

"Do you see the time?" he asked.

"He said he'd be late," Marnstam answered.

Rounceby put his hand to his forehead and found it moist.

"It's been a silly game, all along," he muttered. "We'd better have brought the young ass up here and jostled him!"

"Not so easy," Marnstam answered. "These young fools have a way of turning obstinate. He'd have chucked us, sure. Anyhow, he's safer where he is."

They relapsed once more into silence. A storm of rain beat upon the window. Rounceby glanced up. It was as black out there as were the waters of that silent tarn! The man shivered as the thought struck him. Marnstam, who had no nerves, twirled his moustache and watched his companion with wonder.

"You look as though you saw a ghost," he remarked.

"Perhaps I do!" Rounceby growled.

"You had better finish your drink, my dear fellow," Marnstam advised. "Afterwards—"

Suddenly he stiffened into attention. He laid his hand upon his companion's knee.

"Listen!" he said. "There is some one coming."

They leaned a little forward. The swing doors were opened. A girl's musical laugh rang out from the corridor. Tall and elegant, with her black lace skirt trailing upon the floor, her left hand resting upon the shoulder of the man into whose ear she was whispering, and whom she led straight to one of the writing tables, Miss Violet Brown swept into the room. On her right, and nearest to the two men, was Mr. Vincent Cawdor.

"Now you can go and talk to your friends!" she exclaimed, lightly. "I am going to make Victor listen to me."

Cawdor left his two companions and sank on to the couch by Rounceby's side. The young man, with his opera hat still on his head, and the light overcoat which he had been carrying on the floor by his side, was seated before the writing table with his back to them. Miss Brown was leaning over him, with her hand upon the back of his chair. They were out of hearing of the other three men.

"Well, Rounceby, my friend," Mr. Vincent Cawdor remarked, cheerfully, "you're having a late sitting, eh?"

"We've been waiting for you, you fool!" Rounceby answered. "What on earth are you thinking about, bringing a crowd like this about with you, eh?"

Cawdor smiled, reassuringly.

"Don't you worry," he said, in a lower tone. "I know my way in and out of the ropes here better than you can teach me. A big hotel like this is the safest and the most dangerous place in the world—just how you choose to make it. You've got to bluff 'em all the time. That's why I brought the young lady—particular friend of mine—real nice girl, too!"

"And the young man?" Rounceby asked, suspiciously.

Cawdor grew more serious.

"That's Captain Lowther," he said softly—"private secretary to Colonel Dean, who's the chief of the aeronaut department at Aldershot. He has a draft in his pocket for twenty thousand pounds. It is yours if he is satisfied with the plans."

"Twenty thousand pounds!" Marnstam said, thoughtfully. "It is very little—very little indeed for the risks which we have run!"

Cawdor moved his place and sat between the men. He laid a hand upon Marnstam's shoulder—another on Rounceby's knee.

"My dear friends," he said, impressively, "if you could have built a model, or conducted these negotiations in the usual way, you might have asked a million. As it is, I think I am the only man in England who could have dealt with this matter—so satisfactorily."

Rounceby glanced suspiciously at the young man to whom Miss Brown was still devoting the whole of her attention.

"Why don't he come out and talk like a man?" he asked. "What's the idea of his sitting over there with his back to us?"

"I want him never to see your faces—to deal only with me," Cawdor explained. "Remember that he is in an official position. The money he is going to part with is secret service money."

The two men were beginning to be more reassured. Rounceby slowly produced a roll of oilskin from his pocket.

"He'll look at them as he sits there," he insisted. "There must be no copying or making notes, mind."

Cawdor smiled in a superior fashion.

"My dear fellow," he said, "you are dealing with the emissary of a government—not one of your own sort."

Rounceby glanced at his companion, who nodded. Then he handed over the plans.

"Tell him to look sharp," he said. "It's not so late but that there may be people in here yet."

Cawdor crossed the room with the plans, and laid them down before the writing table. Rounceby rose to his feet and lit a cigar. Marnstam walked to the further window and back again. They stood side by side. Rounceby's whole frame seemed to have stiffened with some new emotion.

"There's something wrong, Jim," Marnstam whispered softly in his ear. "You've got the old lady in your pocket?"

"Yes!" Rounceby answered thickly, "and, by Heavens, I'm going to use it!"

"Don't shoot unless it's the worst," Marnstam counselled. "I shall go out of that window, into the tree, and run for the river. But bluff first, Jim—bluff for your life!"

There were swinging doors leading into the room from the hotel side, and a small door exactly opposite which led to the residential part of the place. Both of these doors were opened at precisely the same moment. Through the former stepped two strong looking men in long overcoats, and with the unmistakable appearance of policemen in plain clothes. Through the latter came John Dory! He walked straight up to the two men. It spoke volumes for his courage that, knowing their characters and believing them to be in desperate straits, he came unarmed.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I hold warrants for your arrest. I will not trouble you with your aliases. You are known to-day, I believe, as James Rounceby and Richard Marnstam. Will you come quietly?"

Marnstam's expression was one of bland and beautiful surprise.

"My dear sir," he said, edging, however, a little toward the window—"you must be joking! What is the charge?"

"You are charged with the wilful murder of a young man named Victor Franklin," answered Dory. "His body was recovered from Longthorp Tarn this afternoon. You had better say nothing. Also with the theft of certain papers known to have been in his possession."

Now it is possible that at this precise moment Marnstam would have made his spring for the window and Rounceby his running fight for liberty. The hands of both men were upon their revolvers, and John Dory's life was a thing of no account. But at this juncture a thing happened. There were in the room the two policemen guarding the swing doors, and behind them the pale faces of a couple of night porters looking anxiously in. Vincent Cawdor and Miss Brown were standing side by side, a little in the background, and the young man who had been their companion had risen also to his feet. As though with some intention of intervening, he moved a step forward, almost in line with Dory. Rounceby saw him, and a new fear gripped him by the heart. He shrank back, his fingers relaxed their hold of his weapon, the sweat was hot upon his forehead. Marnstam, though he seemed for a moment stupefied, realised the miracle which had happened and struck boldly for his own.

"If this is a joke," he said, "it strikes me as being a particularly bad one. I should like to know, sir, how you dare to come into this room and charge me and my friend—Mr. Rounceby—with being concerned in the murder of a young man who is even now actually standing by your side."

John Dory started back. He looked with something like apprehension at the youth to whom Marnstam pointed.

"My name is Victor Franklin," that young man declared. "What's all this about?"

Dory felt the ground give beneath his feet. Nevertheless, he set his teeth and fought for his hand.

"You say that your name is Victor Franklin?" he asked.

"Certainly!"

"You are the inventor of a flying machine?"

"I am."

"You were in Westmoreland with these two men a few days go?"

"I was," the young man admitted.

"You left the village of Scawton in a motor car with them?"

"Yes! We quarrelled on the way, and parted."

"You were robbed of nothing?"

Victor Franklin smiled.

"Certainly not," he answered. "I had nothing worth stealing except my plans, and they are in my pocket now."

There was a few moments' intense silence. Dory wheeled suddenly round, and looked to where Mr. Vincent Cawdor had been standing.

"Where is Mr. Cawdor?" he asked, sharply.

"The gentleman with the grey moustache left a few seconds ago," one of the men at the door said. Dory was very pale.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have to offer you my apologies. I have apparently been deceived by some false information. The charge is withdrawn."

He turned on his heel and left the room. The two policemen followed him.

"Keep them under observation," Dory ordered shortly, "but I am afraid this fellow Cawdor has sold me."

He found a hansom outside, and sprang into it.

"Number 27, Southampton Row," he ordered.

Rounceby and his partner were alone in the little smoking room. The former was almost inarticulate. The night porter brought them brandy, and both men drank.

"We've got to get to the bottom of this, Marnstam," Mr. Rounceby muttered.

Mr. Marnstam was thinking.

"Do you remember that sound through the darkness," he said—"the beating of an engine way back on the road?"

"What of it?" Rounceby demanded.

"It was a motor bicycle," Marnstam said quietly. "I thought so at the time."

"Supposing some one followed us and pulled him out," Rounceby said, hoarsely, "why are we treated like this? I tell you we've been made fools of! We've been treated like children—not even to be punished! We'll have the truth somehow out of that devil Cawdor! Come!"

They made their way to the courtyard and found a cab.

"Number 27, Southampton Row!" they ordered.

They reached their destination some time before Dory, whose horse fell down in the Strand, and who had to walk. They ascended to the fourth floor of the building and rang the bell of Vincent Cawdor's room—no answer. They plied the knocker—no result. Rounceby peered through the keyhole.

"He hasn't come home yet," he remarked. "There is no light anywhere in the place."

The door of a flat across the passage was quietly opened. Mr. Peter Ruff, in a neat black smoking suit and slippers, and holding a pipe in his hand, looked out.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "but I do not think that Mr. Cawdor is in. He went out early this evening, and I have not heard him return."

The two men turned away.

"We are much obliged to you, sir," Mr. Marnstam said.

"Can I give him any message?" Peter Ruff asked, politely. "We generally see something of one another in the morning."

"You can tell him—" Rounceby began.

"No message, thanks!" Marnstam interrupted. "We shall probably run across him ourselves to-morrow."

John Dory was nearly a quarter of an hour late. After his third useless summons, Mr. Peter Ruff presented himself again.

"I am afraid," he said, "you will not find my neighbour at home. There have been several people enquiring for him to-night, without any result."

John Dory came slowly across the landing.

"Good evening, Mr. Ruff!" he said.

"Why, it's Mr. Dory!" Peter Ruff declared. "Come in, do, and have a drink."

John Dory accepted the invitation, and his eyes were busy in that little sitting room during the few minutes which it took his host to mix that whisky and soda.

"Nothing wrong with our friend opposite, I hope?" Peter Ruff asked, jerking his head across the landing.

"I hope not, Mr. Ruff," John Dory said. "No doubt in the morning he will be able to explain everything. I must say that I should like to see him to-night, though."

"He may turn up yet," Peter Ruff remarked, cheerfully. "He's like myself—a late bird."

"I fear not," Dory answered, drily. "Nice rooms you have here, sir. Just a sitting room and bedroom, eh?"

Peter Ruff stood up and threw open the door of the inner apartment.

"That's so," he answered. "Care to have a look round?"

The detective did look round, and pretty thoroughly. As soon as he was sure that there was no one concealed upon the premises, he drank his whisky and soda and went.

"I'll look in again to see Cawdor," he remarked—"to-morrow, perhaps, or the next day."

"I'll let him know if I see him about," Peter Ruff declared. "Sorry the lift's stopped. Three steps to the left and straight on. Good-night!"

Miss Brown arrived early the following morning, and was disposed to be inquisitive.

"I should like to know," she said, "exactly what has become of Mr. Vincent Cawdor."

Peter Ruff took her upstairs. There was a little mound of ashes in the grate.

She nodded.

"I imagined that," she said. "But why did you send me out to watch yourself?"

"My dear Violet," Peter Ruff answered, "there is no man in the world to-day who is my equal in the art of disguising himself. At the same time, I wanted to know whether I could deceive you. I wanted to be quite sure that my study of Mr. Vincent Cawdor was a safe one. I took those rooms in his name and in his own person. I do not think that it occurred even to our friend John Dory to connect us in his mind."

"Very well," she went on. "Now tell me, please, what took you up to Westmoreland?"

"I followed Rounceby and Marnstam," he answered, "I knew them when I was abroad, studying crime—I could tell you a good deal about both those men if it were worth while—and I knew, when they hired a big motor car and engaged a crook to drive it, that they were worth following. I saw the trial of the flying machine, and when they started off with young Franklin, I followed on a motor bicycle. I fished him out of the tarn where they left him for dead, brought him on to London, and made my own terms with him."

"What about the body which was found in the Longthorp Tarn?" she asked.

"I had that telegram sent myself," Peter Ruff answered.

She looked at him severely.

"You went out of your way to make a fool of John Dory!" she said, frowning at him.

"That I admit," he answered.

"It seems to me," she continued, "that that, after all, has been the chief object of the whole affair. I do not see that we—that is the firm—profit in the least."

Peter Ruff chuckled.

"We've got a fourth share in the Franklin Flying Machine," he answered, "and I'm hanged if I'd sell it for a hundred thousand pounds."

"You've taken advantage of that young man's gratitude," she declared.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"I earned the money," he answered.



IV. THE INDISCRETION OF LETTY SHAW

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Dec 1909

Amidst a storm of whispered criticisms, the general opinion was that Letty Shaw was a silly little fool who ought to have known better. When she had entered the restaurant a few minutes before midnight, followed by Austen Abbott, every one looked to see a third person following them. No third person, however, appeared. Gustav himself conducted them to a small table laid for two, covered with pink roses, and handed his fair client the menu of a specially ordered supper. There was no gainsaying the fact that Letty and her escort proposed supping alone!

The Cafe at the Milan was, without doubt, the fashionable rendezvous of the moment for those ladies connected with the stage who, after their performance, had not the time or the inclination to make the conventional toilet demanded by the larger restaurants. Letty Shaw, being one of the principal ornaments of the musical comedy stage, was well known to every one in the room. There was scarcely a person there who within the last fortnight had not found an opportunity of congratulating her upon her engagement to Captain the Honourable Brian Sotherst. Sotherst was rich, and one of the most popular young men about town. Letty Shaw, although she had had one or two harmless flirtations, was well known as a self-respecting and hard-working young actress who loved her work, and against whom no one had ever had a word to say. Consequently, the shock was all the greater when, within a fortnight of her engagement, she was thus to be seen openly supping alone with the most notorious woman hunter about town—a man of bad reputation, a man, too, towards whom Sotherst was known to have a special aversion. Nothing but a break with Sotherst or a fit of temporary insanity seemed to explain, even inadequately, the situation.

Her best friend—the friend who knew her and believed in her—rose to her feet and came sailing down the room. She nodded gaily to Abbott, whom she hated, and whom she had not recognized for years, and laid her hand upon Letty's arm.

"Where's Brian?" she asked.

Letty shrugged her shoulders—it was not altogether a natural gesture.

"On duty to-night," she answered.

Her best friend paused for a moment.

"Come over and join our party, both of you," she said. "Dicky Pennell's here and Gracie Marsh—just landed. They'd love to meet you."

Letty shook her head slowly. There was a look in her face which even her best friend did not understand.

"I'm afraid that we can't do that," she said. "I am Mr. Abbott's guest."

"And to-night," Austen Abbott intervened, looking up at the woman who stood between them, "I am not disposed to share Miss Shaw with anybody."

Her best friend could do no more than shake her head and go away. The two were left alone for the rest of the evening. When they departed together, people who knew felt that a whiff of tragedy had passed through the room. Nobody understood—or pretended to understand. Even before her engagement, Letty had never been known to sup alone with a man. That she should do so now, and with this particular man, was preposterous!

"Something will come of it," her best friend murmured, sadly, as she watched Austen Abbott help his companion on with her cloak.

Something did!

Peter Ruff rose at his accustomed time the following morning, and attired himself, if possible, with more than his usual care. He wore the grey suit which he had carefully put out the night before, but he hesitated long between the rival appeals of a red tie with white spots and a plain mauve one. He finally chose the latter, finding that it harmonised more satisfactorily with his socks, and after a final survey of himself in the looking-glass, he entered the next room, where his coffee was set out upon a small round table near the fire, together with his letters and newspapers.

Peter Ruff was, after all, like the rest of us, a creature of habit. He made an invariable rule of glancing through the newspapers before he paid any regard at all to his letters or his breakfast. In the absence of anything of a particularly sensational character, he then opened his letters in leisurely fashion, and went back afterwards to the newspaper as he finished his meal. This morning, however, both his breakfast and letters remained for some time untouched. The first paragraph which caught his eye as he shook open the Daily Telegraph was sufficiently absorbing. There it was in great black type:

      TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN THE FLAT OF A WELL-KNOWN ACTRESS!
                   AUSTEN ABBOTT SHOT DEAD!
                  ARREST OF CAPTAIN SOTHERST

Beyond the inevitable shock which is always associated with the taking of life, and the unusual position of the people concerned in it, there was little in the brief account of the incident to excite the imagination. A policeman on the pavement outside the flat in which Miss Shaw and her mother lived fancied that he heard, about two o'clock in the morning, the report of a revolver shot. As nothing further transpired, and as the sound was very indistinct, he did not at once enter the building, but kept it, so far as possible, under observation. About twenty minutes later, a young gentleman in evening dress came out into the street, and the policeman noticed at once that he was carrying a small revolver, which he attempted to conceal. The constable thereupon whistled for his sergeant, and accompanied by the young gentleman—who made no effort to escape—ascended to Miss Shaw's rooms, where the body of Austen Abbott was discovered lying upon the threshold of the sitting room with a small bullet mark through the forehead. The inmates of the house were aroused and a doctor sent for. The deceased man was identified as Austen Abbott—a well-known actor—and the man under arrest gave his name at once as Captain the Honourable Brian Sotherst. Peter Ruff sighed as he laid down the paper. The case seemed to him perfectly clear, and his sympathies were altogether with the young officer who had taken the law into his own hands. He knew nothing of Miss Letty Shaw, and, consequently, did her, perhaps, less than justice in his thoughts. Of Austen Abbott, on the other hand, he knew a great deal—and nothing of good. It was absurd, after all, that any one should be punished for killing such a brute!

He descended, a few minutes later, to his office, and found Miss Brown busy arranging a bowl of violets upon his desk.

"Isn't it horrible?" she cried, as he entered, carrying a bundle of papers under his arm. "I never have had such a shock!"

"Do you know any of them, then?" Peter Ruff asked, straightening his tie in the mirror.

"Of course!" she answered. "Why, I was in the same company as Letty Shaw for a year. I was at the Milan, too, last night. Letty was there having supper alone with Austen Abbott. We all said that there'd be trouble, but of course we never dreamed of this! Isn't there any chance for him, Peter? Can't he get off?"

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"I'm afraid not," he answered. "They may be able to bring evidence of a quarrel and reduce it to manslaughter, but what you've just told me about this supper party makes it all the worse. It will come out in the evidence, of course."

"Captain Sotherst is such a dear," Miss Brown declared, "and so good-looking! And as for that brute Austen Abbott, he ought to have been shot long ago!"

Peter Ruff seated himself before his desk and hitched up his trousers at the knees.

"No doubt you are right, Violet," he said, "but people go about these things so foolishly. To me it is simply exasperating to reflect how little use is made of persons such as myself, whose profession in life it is to arrange these little matters. Take the present case, for example. Captain Sotherst had only to lay these facts before me, and Austen Abbott was a ruined man. I could have arranged the affair for him in half-a-dozen different ways. Whereas now it must be a life for a life—the life of an honest young English gentleman for that of a creature who should have been kicked out of the world as vermin!... I have some letters give you, Violet, if you please."

She swung round in her chair reluctantly.

"I can't help thinking of that poor young fellow," she said, with a sigh.

"Sentiment after office hours, if you please!" said Peter.

Then there came a knock at the door.

His visitor lifted her veil, and Peter Ruff recognized her immediately.

"What can I do for you, Lady Mary?" he asked.

She saw the recognition in his eyes even before he spoke, and wondered at it.

"You know me?" she exclaimed.

"I know most people," he answered, drily; "it is part of my profession."

"Tell me—you are Mr. Peter Ruff," she said, "the famous specialist in the detection of crime? You know that Brian Sotherst is my brother?"

"Yes," he said, "I know it! I am sorry—very sorry, indeed."

He handed her a chair. She seated herself with a little tightening of the lips.

"I want more than sympathy from you, Mr. Ruff," she warned him. "I want your help."

"It is my profession," he admitted, "but your brother's case makes intervention difficult, does it not?"

"You mean—" she began.

"Your brother himself does not deny his guilt, I understand."

"He has not denied it," she answered—"very likely he will not do so before the magistrate—but neither has he admitted it. Mr. Ruff, you are such a clever man. Can't you see the truth?"

Peter Ruff looked at her steadily for several moments.

"Lady Mary," he said, "I can see what you are going to suggest. You are going on the assumption that Austen Abbott was shot by Letty Shaw and that your brother is taking the thing on his shoulders."

"I am sure of it!" she declared. "The girl did it herself, beyond a doubt. Brian would never have shot any one. He might have horsewhipped him, perhaps—even beaten him to death—but shot him in cold blood—never!"

"The provocation—" Ruff began.

"There was no provocation," she interrupted. "He was engaged to the girl, and of course we hated it, but she was an honest little thing, and devoted to him."

"Doubtless," Ruff admitted. "But all the same, as you will hear before the magistrates, or at the inquest, she was having supper alone with Austen Abbott that night at the Milan."

Lady Mary's eyes flashed.

"I don't believe it!" she declared.

"It is nevertheless true," Peter Ruff assured her. "There is no shadow of doubt about it."

Lady Mary was staggered. For a few moment she seemed struggling to rearrange her thoughts.

"You see," Ruff continued, "the fact that Miss Shaw was willing to sup with Austen Abbott tete-a-tete renders it more improbable that she should shoot him in her sitting room, an hour or so later, and then go calmly up to her mother's room as though nothing had happened."

Lady Mary had lost some of her confidence, but she was not daunted.

"Even if we have been deceived in the girl," she said, thoughtfully—"even if she were disposed to flirt with other men—even then there might be a stronger motive than ever for her wishing to get rid of Abbott. He may have become jealous, and threatened her."

"It is, of course, possible," Ruff assented, politely. "Your theory would, at any rate, account for your brother's present attitude."

She looked at him steadfastly.

"You believe, then," she said, "that my brother shot Austen Abbott?"

"I do," he admitted frankly. "So does every man or woman of common sense in London. On the facts as they are stated in the newspapers, with the addition of which I have told you, no other conclusion is possible."

Lady Mary rose.

"Then I may as well go," she said tearfully.

"Not at all," Peter Ruff declared. "Listen. This is a matter of business with me. I say that on the facts as they are known, your brother's guilt appears indubitable. I do not say that there may not be other facts in the background which alter the state of affairs. If you wish me to search for them, engage me, and I will do my best."

"Isn't that what I am here for?" the girl exclaimed.

"Very well," Peter Ruff said. "My services are at your disposal."

"You will do your best—more than your best, won't you?" she begged. "Remember that he is my brother—my favourite brother!"

"I will do what can be done," Peter Ruff promised. "Please sit down at that desk and write me two letters of introduction."

She drew off her gloves and prepared to obey him.

"To whom?" she asked.

"To the solicitors who are defending your brother," he said, "and to Miss Letty Shaw."

"You mean to go and see her?" Lady Mary asked, doubtfully.

"Naturally," Peter Ruff answered. "If your supposition is correct, she might easily give herself away under a little subtle cross-examination. It is my business to know how to ask people questions in such a way that if they do not speak the truth their words give some indication of it. If she is innocent I shall know that I have to make my effort in another direction."

"What other direction can there be?" Lady Mary asked dismally.

Peter Ruff said nothing. He was too kind-hearted to kindle false hopes.

"It's a hopeless case, of course," Miss Brown remarked, after Lady Mary had departed.

"I'm afraid so," Peter Ruff answered. "Still I must earn my money. Please get some one to take you to supper to-night at the Milan, and see if you can pick up any scandal."

"About Letty?" she asked.

"About either of them," he answered. "Particularly I should like to know if any explanation has cropped up of her supping alone with Austen Abbott."

"I don't see why you can't take me yourself," she remarked. "You are on the side of the law this time, at any rate."

"I will," he answered, after a moment's hesitation. "I will call for you at eleven o'clock to-night."

He rose and closed his desk emphatically.

"You are going out?" she asked.

"I am going to see Miss Letty Shaw," he answered.

He took a taxicab to the flats, and found a handful of curious people still gazing up at the third floor. The parlourmaid who answered his summons was absolutely certain that Miss Shaw would not see him. He persuaded her, after some difficulty, to take in his letter while he waited in the hall. When she returned, she showed him into a small sitting room and pulled down the blinds.

"Miss Shaw will see you, sir, for a few minutes," she announced, in a subdued tone. "Poor dear young lady," she continued, "she has been crying her eyes out all the morning."

"No wonder," Peter Ruff said, sympathetically. "It's a terrible business, this!"

"One of the nicest young men as ever walked," the girl declared, firmly. "As for that brute, he deserved all he's got, and more!"

Peter Ruff was left alone for nearly a quarter of an hour. Then the door was softly opened and Letty Shaw entered. There was no doubt whatever about her suffering. Ruff, who had seen her only lately at the theatre, was shocked. Under her eyes were blacker lines than her pencil had ever traced. Not only was she ghastly pale, but her face seemed wan and shrunken. She spoke to him the moment she entered, leaning with on hand upon the sideboard.

"Lady Mary writes that you want to help us," she said. "How can you? How is it possible?"

Even her voice had gone. She spoke hoarsely, and as though short of breath. Her eyes searched his face feverishly. It seemed cruelty not to answer her at once, and Peter Ruff was not a cruel man. Nevertheless, he remained silent, and it seemed to her that his eyes were like points of fire upon her face.

"What is the matter?" she cried, with breaking voice. "What have you come for? Why don't you speak to me?"

"Madam," Peter Ruff said, "I should like to help you, and I will do what I can. But in order that I may do so, it is necessary that you should answer me two questions—truthfully!"

Her eyes grew wider. It was the face of a terrified child.

"Why not?" she exclaimed. "What have I to conceal?"

Peter Ruff's expression never changed. There was nothing about him, as he stood there with his hands behind him, his head thrown a little forward, in the least inspiring—nothing calculated to terrify the most timid person. Yet the girl looked at him with the eyes of a frightened bird.

"Remember, then," he continued, smoothly, "that what you say to me is sacred. You and I are alone without witnesses or eavesdroppers. Was it Brian Sotherst who shot Abbott—or was it you?"

She gave a little cry. Her hands clasped the sides of her head in horror.

"I!" she exclaimed, "I! God help me!"

He waited. In a moment she looked up.

"You cannot believe that," she said, with a calmness for which he was scarcely prepared. "It is absurd. I left the room by the inner door as he took up his hat to step out into the hall."

"Incidentally," he asked—"this is not my other question, mind—why did you not let him out yourself?"

"We had disagreed," she answered, curtly.

Peter Ruff bent his head in assent.

"I see," he remarked. "You had disagreed. Abbott probably hoped that you would relent, so he waited for a few minutes. Brian Sotherst, who had escaped from his engagement in time, he thought, to come and wish you good night, must have walked in and found him there. By the bye, how would Captain Sotherst get in?"

"He had a key," the girl answered. "My mother lives here with me, and we have only one maid. It was more convenient. I gave him one washed in gold for a birthday present only a few days ago."

"Thank you," Peter Ruff said. "The revolver, I understand, was your property?"

She nodded.

"It was a present from Brian," she said. "He gave it to me in a joke, and I had it on the table with some other curiosities."

"The first question," Peter Ruff said, "is disposed of. May I proceed to the second?"

The girl moistened her lips.

"Yes!" she answered.

"Why did you sup alone with Austen Abbott last night?"

She shrank a little away.

"Why should I not?" she asked.

"You have been on the stage, my dear Miss Shaw," Peter Ruff continued, "for between four and five years. During the whole of that time, it has been your very wise habit to join supper parties, of course, when the company was agreeable to you, but to sup alone with no man! Am I not right?"

"You seem to know a great deal about me," she faltered.

"Am I not right?" he repeated.

"Yes!"

"You break your rule for the first time," Peter Ruff continued, "in favour of a man of notoriously bad character, a few weeks after the announcement of your engagement to an honourable young English gentleman. You know very well the construction likely to be put upon your behaviour—you, of all people, would be the most likely to appreciate the risk you ran. Why did you run it? In other words, I repeat my question. Why did you sup alone with Austen Abbott last night?"

All this time she had been standing. She came a little forward now, and threw herself into an easy-chair.

"It doesn't help!" she exclaimed. "All this doesn't help!"

"Nor can I help you, then," Peter Ruff said, stretching out his hand for his hat.

She waved to him to put it down.

"I will tell you," she said. "It has nothing to do with the case, but since you ask, you shall know. There is a dear little girl in our company—Fluffy Dean we all call her—only eighteen years old. We all love her, she is so sweet, and just like I was when I first went on the stage, only much nicer. She is very pretty, she has no money, and she is such an affectionate little dear that although she is as good as gold, we are all terrified for her sake whenever she makes acquaintances. Several of us who are most interested made a sort of covenant. We all took it in turns to look after her, and try to see that she did not meet any one she shouldn't. Yet, for all our precautions, Austen Abbott got hold of her and turned her silly little head. He was a man of experience, and she was only a child. She wouldn't listen to us—she wouldn't hear a word against him. I took what seemed to me to be the only chance. I went to him myself—I begged for mercy, I begged him to spare the child. I swore that if—anything happened to her, I would start a crusade against him, I would pledge my word that he should be cut by every decent man and woman on the stage! He listened to what I had to say and at first he only smiled. When I had finished, he made me an offer. He said that if I would sup with him alone at the Milan, and permit him to escort me home afterwards, he would spare the child. One further condition he made—that I was to tell no one why I did it. It was the man's brutal vanity! I made the promise, but I break it now. You have asked me and I have told you. I went through with the supper, although I hated it. I let him come in for a drink as though he had been a friend. Then he tried to make love to me. I took the opportunity of telling him exactly what I thought of him. Then I showed him the door, and left him. Afterwards—afterwards—Brian came in! They must have met upon the very threshold!"

Peter Ruff took up his hat.

"Thank you!" he said.

"You see," she continued, drearily, "that it all has very little to do with the case. I meant to keep it to myself, because, of course, apart from anything else, apart from Brian's meeting him coming out of my rooms, it supplies an additional cause for anger on Brian's part."

"I see," he answered. "I am much obliged to you, Miss Shaw. Believe me that you have my sincere sympathy!"

Peter Ruff's farewell words were unheard. Letty had fallen forward in her chair, her head buried in her hands.

Peter Ruff went to Berkeley Square and found Lady Mary waiting for him. Sir William Trencham, the great solicitor, was with her. Lady Mary introduced the two men. All the time she was anxiously watching Ruff's face.

"Mr. Ruff has been to see Miss Shaw," she explained to Sir William. "Mr. Ruff, tell me quickly," she continued, with her hand upon his shoulder, "did she say anything? Did you find anything out?"

He shook his head.

"No!" he said. "I found nothing out!"

"You don't think, then," Lady Mary gasped, "that there is any chance—of getting her to confess—that she did it herself?"

"Why should she have done it herself?" Peter Ruff asked. "She admits that the man tried to make love to her. She simply left him. She was in her own home, with her mother and servant within call. There was no struggle in the room—we know that. There was no necessity for any."

"Have you made any other enquiries?" Lady Mary asked.

"The few which I have made," Peter Ruff answered gravely, "point all in the same direction. I ascertained at the Milan that your brother called there late last night, and that he heard Miss Shaw had been supping alone with Austen Abbott. He followed them home. I have ascertained, too, that he had a key to Miss Shaw's flat. He apparently met Austen Abbott upon the threshold."

Lady Mary covered her face with her hands. She seemed to read in Ruff's words the verdict of the two men—the verdict of common sense. Nevertheless, he made one more request before leaving.

"I should like to see Captain Sotherst, if you can get me an order," he said to Sir William.

"You can go with me to-morrow morning," the lawyer answered. "The proceedings this morning, of course, were simply formal. Until after the inquest it will be easy to arrange an interview."

Lady Mary looked up quickly.

"There is still something in your mind, then?" she asked. "You think that there is a bare chance?"

"There is always the hundredth chance!" Peter Ruff replied.

Peter Ruff and Miss Brown supped at the Milan that night as they had arranged, but it was not a cheerful evening. Brian Sotherst had been very popular among Letty Shaw's little circle of friends, and the general feeling was one of horror and consternation at this thing which had befallen him. Austen Abbot, too, was known to all of them, and although a good many of the men—and even the women—were outspoken enough to declare at once that it served him right, nevertheless, the shock of death—death without a second's warning—had a paralysing effect even upon those who were his severest critics. Violet Brown spoke to a few of her friends—introduced Peter Ruff here and there—but nothing was said which could throw in any way even the glimmerings of a new light upon the tragedy. It all seemed too hopelessly and fatally obvious.

About twenty minutes before closing time, the habitues of the place were provided with something in the nature of a sensation. A little party entered who seemed altogether free from the general air of gloom. Foremost among them was a very young and exceedingly pretty girl, with light golden hair waved in front of her forehead, deep blue eyes, and the slight, airy figure of a child. She was accompanied by another young woman, whose appearance was a little too obvious to be prepossessing, and three or four young men—dark, clean-shaven, dressed with the irritating exactness of their class—young stockbrokers or boys about town. Miss Brown's eyes grew very wide open.

"What a little beast!" she exclaimed.

"Who?" Peter Ruff asked.

"That pretty girl there," she answered—"Fluffy Dean her name is. She is Letty Shaw's protege, and she wouldn't have dreamed of allowing her to come out with a crowd like that. Tonight, of all nights," she continued, indignantly, "when Letty is away!"

Peter Ruff was interested.

"So that is Miss Fluffy Dean," he remarked, looking at her curiously. "She seems a little excited."

"She's a horrid little wretch!" Miss Brown declared. "I hope that some one will tell Letty, and that she will drop her now. A girl who would do such a thing as that when Letty is in such trouble isn't worth taking care of! Just listen to them all!"

They were certainly becoming a little boisterous. A magnum of champagne was being opened. Fluffy Dean's cheeks were already flushed, and her eyes glittering. Every one at the table was talking a great deal and drinking toasts.

"This is the end of Fluffy Dean," Violet Brown said, severely. "I hate to be uncharitable, but it serves her right."

Peter Ruff paid his bill.

"Let us go," he said.

In the taxicab, on their way back to Miss Brown's rooms, Ruff was unusually silent, but just before he said good night to her—on the pavement, in fact, outside her front door—he asked a question.

"Violet," he said, "would you like to play detective for an hour or two?"

She looked at him in some surprise.

"You know I always like to help in anything that's going," she said.

"Letty Shaw was an Australian, wasn't she?" he asked.

"Yes."

"She was born there, and lived there till she was nearly eighteen—is that true?" he asked again.

"Quite true," Miss Brown answered.

"You know the offices of the P.& O. line of steamers in Pall Mall?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Well?"

"Get a sailing list to Australia—there should be a boat going Thursday. Present yourself as a prospective passenger. See how many young women alone there are going out, and ask their names. Incidentally put in a little spare time watching the office."

She looked at him with parted lips and wide-open eyes.

"Do you think—" she began.

He shook her hand warmly and stepped back into the taxicab.

"Good night!" he said. "No questions, please. I sha'n't expect you at the office at the usual time to-morrow, at any rate. Telephone or run around if you've anything to tell me."

The taxicab disappeared round the corner of the street. Miss Brown was standing still upon the pavement with the latchkey in her hand.

* * * * *

It was afternoon before the inquest on the body of Austen Abbott, and there was gathered together in Letty Shaw's parlor a curiously assorted little group of people. There was Miss Shaw herself—or rather what seemed to be the ghost of herself—and her mother; Lady Mary and Sir William Trencham; Peter Ruff and Violet Brown—and Mr. John Dory. The eyes of all of them were fixed upon Peter Ruff, who was the latest arrival. He stood in the middle of the room, calmly taking off his gloves, and glancing complacently down at his well-creased trousers.

"Lady Mary," he said, "and Miss Shaw, I know that you are both anxious for me to explain why I ask you to meet me here this afternoon, and why I also requested my friend Mr. Dory from Scotland Yard, who has charge of the case against Captain Sotherst, to be present. I will tell you."

Mr. Dory nodded, a little impatiently.

"Unless you have something very definite to say," he remarked, "I think it would be as well to postpone any general discussion of this matter until after the inquest. I must warn you that so far as I, personally, am concerned, I must absolutely decline to allude to the subject at all. It would be most unprofessional."

"I have something definite to say," Peter Ruff declared, mildly.

Lady Mary's eyes flashed with hope—Letty Shaw leaned forward in her chair with white, drawn face.

"Let it be understood," Peter Ruff said, with a slight note of gravity creeping into his tone, "that I am here solely as the agent of Lady Mary Sotherst. I am paid and employed by her. My sole object is on her behalf, therefore, to discover proof of the innocence of Captain Sotherst. I take it, however," he added, turning towards the drooping figure in the easy-chair, "that Miss Shaw is as anxious to have the truth known."

"Of course! Of course!" she murmured.

"In France," Peter Ruff continued, "there is a somewhat curious custom, which, despite a certain theatricality, yet has its points. The scene of a crime is visited, and its events, so far as may be, reconstructed. Let us suppose for a moment that we are now engaged upon something of the sort."

Letty Shaw shrank back in her chair. Her thin white fingers were gripping its sides. Her eyes seemed to look upon terrible things.

"It is too—awful!" she faltered.

"Madam," Peter Ruff said, firmly, "we seek the truth. Be so good as to humour me in this. Dory, will you go to the front door, stand upon the mat—so? You are Captain Sotherst—you have just entered. I am Austen Abbott. You, Miss Shaw, have just ordered me from the room. You see, I move toward the door. I open it—so. Miss Shaw," he added, turning swiftly towards her, "once more will you assure me that every one who was in the flat that night, with the exception of your domestic servant, is present now?"

"Yes," she murmured.

"Good! Then who," he asked, suddenly pointing to a door on the left—"who is in that room?"

They had all crowded after him to the threshold—thronging around him as he stood face to face with John Dory. His finger never wavered—it was pointing steadily towards that closed door a few feet to the left. Suddenly Letty Shaw rushed past them with a loud shriek.

"You shall not go in!" she cried. "What business is it of his?"

She stood with her back to the door, her arms outstretched like a cross. Her cheeks were livid. Her eyes seemed starting from her head.

Peter Ruff and John Dory laid their hands upon the girl's wrists. She clung to her place frantically. She was dragged from it, screaming. Peter Ruff, as was his right, entered first. Almost immediately he turned round, and his face was very grave.

"Something has happened in here, I am afraid," he said. "Please come in quietly."

On the bed lay Fluffy Dean, fully dressed—motionless. One hand hung down toward the floor—from the lifeless fingers a little phial had slipped. The room was full of trunks addressed to—

MISS SMITH,
Passenger to Melborne.
S.S. Caroline.

Peter Ruff moved over toward the bed and took up a piece of paper, upon which were scribbled a few lines in pencil.

"I think," he said, "that I must read these aloud. You all have a right to hear them."

No one spoke. He continued:

"Forgive me, Letty, but I cannot go to Australia. They would only bring me back. When I remember that awful moment, my brain burns—I feel that I am going mad! Some day I should do this—better now. Give my love to the girls.— FLUFFY.

They sent for a doctor, and John Dory rang up Scotland Yard. Letty Shaw had fainted, and had been carried to her room. While they waited about in strange, half-benumbed excitement, Peter Ruff once more spoke to them.

"The reconstruction is easy enough now," he remarked. "The partition between this sitting room and that little bedroom is only an artificial one—something almost as flimsy as a screen. You see," he continued, tapping with his knuckles, "you can almost put your hand through it. If you look a little lower down, you will see where an opening has been made. Fluffy Dean was being taken care of by Miss Shaw—staying with her here, even. Miss Dean hears her lover's voice in this room—hears him pleading with Miss Shaw on he night of the murder. She has been sent home early from the theatre, and it is just possible that she saw or had been told that Austen Abbott had fetched Miss Shaw after the performance and had taken her to supper. She was mad with anger and jealousy. The revolver was there upon the table, with a silver box of cartridges. She possessed herself of it and waited in her room. What she heard proved, at least, her lover's infidelity. She stood there at her door, waiting. When Austen Abbott comes out, she shoots, throws the revolver at him, closes her door, and goes off into a faint. Perhaps she hears footsteps—a key in the door. At any rate, Captain Sotherst arrives a few minutes later. He finds, half in the hall, half on the threshold of the sitting room, Austen Abbott dead, and Miss Shaw's revolver by the side of him. If he had been a wise young man, he would have aroused the household. Why he did not do so, we can perhaps guess. He put two and two together a little too quickly. It is certain that he believed that the dead man had been shot by his fiancee. His first thought was to get rid of the revolver. At any rate, he walked down to the street with it in his hand, and was promptly arrested by the policeman who had heard the shot. Naturally he refused to plead, because he believed that Miss Shaw had killed the man, probably in self-defence. She, at first, believed her lover guilty, and when afterwards Fluffy Dean confessed, she, with feminine lack of common sense, was trying to get the girl out of the country before telling the truth. A visit of hers to the office of the steamship company gave me the clue I required."

Lady Mary grasped both his hands.

"And Scotland Yard," she exclaimed, with a withering glance at Dory, "have done their best to hang my brother!"

Peter Ruff raised his eyebrows.

"Dear Lady Mary," he said, "remember that it is the business of Scotland Yard to find a man guilty. It is mine, when I am employed for that purpose, to find him innocent. You must not be too hard upon my friend Mr. Dory. He and I seem to come up against each other a little too often, as it is."

"A little too often!" John Dory repeated, softly. "But one cannot tell. Don't believe, Lady Mary," he added, "that we ever want to kill an innocent man."

"It is your profession, though," she answered, "to find criminals—and his," she added, touching Peter Ruff on the shoulder, "to look for the truth."

Peter Ruff bowed low—the compliment pleased him.



V. DELILAH FROM STREATHAM

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Jan 1910

It was a favourite theory with Peter Ruff that the morning papers received very insufficient consideration from the majority of the British public. A glance at the headlines and a few of the spiciest paragraphs, a vague look at the leading article, and the sheets were thrown away to make room for more interesting literature. It was not so with Peter Ruff. Novels he very seldom read—he did not, in fact, appreciate the necessity for their existence. The whole epitome of modern life was, he argued, to be found among the columns of the daily press. The police news, perhaps, was his favourite study, but he did not neglect the advertisements. It followed, therefore, as a matter of course, that the appeal of "M" in the personal column of the Daily Mail was read by him on the morning of its appearance—read not once only nor twice—it was a paragraph which had its own peculiar interest for him.

Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, if still in England, is requested to communicate with "M," at Vagali's Library, Cook's Alley, Ledham Street, Soho.

Peter Ruff laid the paper down upon his desk and looked steadily at a box of India-rubber bands. Almost his fingers, as he parted with the newspaper, had seemed to be shaking. His eyes were certainly set in an unusually retrospective stare. Who was this who sought to probe his past, to renew an acquaintance with a dead personality? "M" could be but one person! What did she want of him? Was it possible that, after all, a little flame of sentiment had been kept alight in her bosom, too—that in the quiet moments her thoughts had turned towards him as his had so often done to her? Then a sudden idea—an ugly thought—drove the tenderness from his face. She was no longer Maud Barnes—she was Mrs. John Dory, and John Dory was his enemy! Could there be treachery lurking beneath those simple lines? Things had not gone well with John Dory lately. Somehow or other, his cases seemed to have crumpled into dust. He was no longer held in the same esteem at headquarters. Yet could even John Dory stoop to such means as these?

He turned in his chair.

"Miss Brown," he said, "please take your pencil."

"I am quite ready, sir," she answered.

He marked the advertisement with a ring and passed it to her.

"Reply to that as follows," he said:

"DEAR SIR:— I notice in the Daily Mail of this morning that you are enquiring through the 'personal' column for the whereabouts of Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald. That gentleman has been a client of mine, and I have been in occasional communication with him. If you will inform me of the nature of your business, I may, perhaps, be able to put you in touch with Mr. Fitzgerald. You will understand, however, that, under the circumstances, I shall require proofs of your good faith. Truly yours, PETER RUFF."

Miss Brown glanced through the advertisement and closed her notebook with a little snap.

"Did you say—'Dear Sir'?" she asked.

"Certainly!" Peter Ruff answered.

"And you really mean," she continued, with obvious disapproval, "that I am to send this?"

"I do not usually waste my time," Peter Ruff reminded her, mildly, "by giving you down communications destined for the waste-paper basket."

She turned unwillingly to her machine.

"Mr. Fitzgerald is very much better where he is," she remarked.

"That depends," he answered.

She adjusted a sheet of paper into her typewriter.

"Who do you suppose 'M' is?" she asked.

"With your assistance," Peter Ruff remarked, a little sarcastically—"with your very kind assistance—I propose to find out!"

Miss Brown sniffed, and banged at the keys of her typewriter.

"That coal-dealer's girl from Streatham!" she murmured to herself....

A few politely worded letters were exchanged. "M" declined to reveal her identity, but made an appointment to visit Mr. Ruff at his office. The morning she was expected, he wore an entirely new suit of clothes and was palpably nervous. Miss Brown, who had arrived a little late, sat with her back turned upon him, and ignored even his usual morning greeting. The atmosphere of the office was decidedly chilly! Fortunately, the expected visitor arrived early.

Peter Ruff rose to receive his former sweetheart with an agitation perforce concealed, yet to him poignant indeed. For it was indeed Maud who entered the room and came towards him with carefully studied embarrassment and half doubtfully extended hand. He did not see the cheap millinery, the slightly more developed figure, the passing of that insipid prettiness which had once charmed him into the bloom of an over-early maturity. His eyes were blinded with that sort of masculine chivalry—the heritage only of fools and very clever men—which takes no note of such things. It was Miss Brown who, from her place in a corner of the room, ran over the cheap attractions of this unwelcome visitor with an expression of scornful wonder—who understood the tinsel of her jewellery, the cheap shoddiness of her ready-made gown; who appreciated, with merciless judgment, her mincing speech, her cheap, flirtatious method.

Maud, with a diffidence not altogether assumed, had accepted the chair which Peter Ruff had placed for her, and sat fidgeting, for a moment, with the imitation gold purse which she was carrying.

"I am sure, Mr. Ruff," she said, looking demurely into her lap, "I ought not to have come here. I feel terribly guilty. It's such an uncomfortable sort of position, too, isn't it?"

"I am sorry that you find it so," Peter Ruff said. "If there is anything I can do—"

"You are very kind," she murmured, half raising her eyes to his and dropping them again, "but, you see, we are perfect strangers to one another. You don't know me at all, do you? And I have only heard of you through the newspapers. You might think all sorts of things about my coming here to make enquiries about a gentleman."

"I can assure you," Peter Ruff said, sincerely, "that you need have no fears—no fears at all. Just speak to me quite frankly. Mr. Fitzgerald was a friend of yours, was he not?"

Maud simpered.

"He was more than that," she answered, looking down. "We were engaged to be married."

Peter Ruff sighed.

"I knew all about it," he declared. "Fitzgerald used to tell me everything."

"You were his friend?" she asked, looking him in the face.

"I was," Peter Ruff answered fervently, "his best friend! No one was more grieved than I about that—little mistake."

She sighed.

"In some ways," she remarked softly, "you remind me of him."

"You could scarcely say anything," Peter Ruff murmured "which would give me more pleasure. I am flattered."

She shook her head.

"It isn't flattery," she said, "it's the truth. You may be a few years older, and Spencer had a very nice moustache, which you haven't, but you are really not unlike. Mr. Ruff, do tell me where he is!"

Peter Ruff coughed.

"You must remember," he said, "that Mr. Fitzgerald's absence was caused by events of a somewhat unfortunate character."

"I know all about it," she answered, with a little sigh.

"You can appreciate the fact, therefore," Peter Ruff continued, "that as his friend and well-wisher I can scarcely disclose his whereabouts without his permission. Will you tell me exactly why you want to meet him again?"

She blushed—looked down and up again—betrayed, in fact, all the signs of confusion which might have been expected from her.

"Must I tell you that?" she asked.

"You are married, are you not?" Peter Ruff asked, looking down at her wedding ring.

She bit her lip with vexation. What a fool she had been not to take it off!

"Yes! Well, no—that is to say—"

"Never mind," Peter Ruff interrupted. "Please don't think that I want to cross-examine you. I only asked these questions because I have a sincere regard for Fitzgerald. I know how fond he was of you, and I cannot see what there is to be gained, from his point of view, by reopening old wounds."

"I suppose, then," she remarked, looking at him in such a manner that Miss Brown had to cover her mouth with her hands to prevent her screaming out—"I suppose you are one of those who think it a crime for a woman who is married even to want to see, for a few moments, an old sweetheart?"

"On the contrary," Peter Ruff answered, "as a bachelor, I have no convictions of any sort upon the subject."

She sighed.

"I am glad of that," she said.

"I am to understand, then," Peter Ruff remarked, "that your reason for wishing to meet Mr. Fitzgerald again is purely a sentimental one?"

"I am afraid it is," she murmured; "I have thought of him so often lately. He was such a dear!" she declared, with enthusiasm.

"I have never been sufficiently thankful," she continued, "that he got away that night. At the time, I was very angry, but often since then I have wished that I could have passed out with him into the fog and been lost—but I mustn't talk like this! Please don't misunderstand me, Mr. Ruff. I am happily married—quite happily married!"

Peter Ruff sighed.

"My friend Fitzgerald," he remarked, "will be glad to hear that."

Maud fidgeted. It was not quite the effect she had intended to produce!

"Of course," she remarked, looking away with a pensive air, "one has regrets."

"Regrets!" Peter Ruff murmured.

"Mr. Dory is not well off," she continued, "and I am afraid that I am very fond of life and going about, and everything is so expensive nowadays. Then I don't like his profession. I think it is hateful to be always trying to catch people and put them in prison—don't you, Mr. Ruff?"

Peter Ruff smiled.

"Naturally," he answered. "Your husband and I work from the opposite poles of life. He is always seeking to make criminals of the people whom I am always trying to prove worthy members of society."

"How noble!" Maud exclaimed, clasping her hands and looking up at him. "So much more remunerative, too, I should think," she added, after a moment's pause.

"Naturally," Peter Ruff admitted. "A private individual will pay more to escape from the clutches of the law than the law will to secure its victims. Scotland Yard expects them to come into its arms automatically—regards them as a perquisite of its existence."

"I wish my husband were in your profession, Mr. Ruff," Maud said, with a sidelong glance of her blue eyes which she had always found so effective upon her various admirers. "I am sure that I should be a great deal fonder of him."

Peter Ruff leaned forward in his chair. He, too, had expressive eyes at times.

"Madam," he said—and stopped. But Maud blushed, all the same.

She looked down into her lap.

"We are forgetting Mr. Fitzgerald," she murmured.

Peter Ruff glanced up at the clock.

"It is a long story," he said. "Are you in a hurry, Mrs. Dory?

"Not at all," she assured him, "unless you want to close you office, or anything. It must be nearly one o'clock."

"I wonder," he asked, "if you would do me the honour of lunching with me? We might go to the Prince's or the Carlton—whichever you prefer. I will promise to talk about Mr. Fitzgerald all the time."

"Oh, I couldn't!" Maud declared, with a little gasp. "At least—well, I'm sure I don't know!"

"You have no engagement for luncheon?" Peter Ruff asked quietly.

"Oh, no!" she answered; "but, you see, we live so quietly. I have never been to one of those places. I'd love to go—but if we were seen! Wouldn't people talk?"

Peter Ruff smiled. Just the same dear, modest little thing!

"I can assure you," he said, "that nothing whatever could be said against our lunching together. People are not so strict nowadays, you know, and a married lady has always a great deal of latitude."

She looked up at him with a dazzling smile.

"I'd simply love to go to Prince's!" she declared.

"Cat!" Miss Brown murmured, as Peter Ruff and his client left the room together.

Peter Ruff returned from his luncheon in no very jubilant state of mind. For some time he sat in his easy-chair, with his legs crossed and his finger tips pressed close together, looking steadily into space. Contrary to his usual custom, he did not smoke. Miss Brown watched him from behind her machine.

"Disenchanted?" she asked calmly.

Peter Ruff did not reply for several moments.

"I am afraid," he admitted, hesitatingly, "that marriage with John Dory has—well, not had a beneficial effect. She allowed me, for instance, to hold her hand in the cab! Maud would never have permitted a stranger to take such a liberty in the old days."

Miss Brown smiled curiously.

"Is that all?" she asked.

Peter Ruff felt that he was in the confessional.

"She certainly did seem," he admitted, "to enjoy her champagne a great deal, and she talked about her dull life at home a little more, perhaps, than was discreet to one who was presumably a stranger. She was curious, too, about dining out. Poor little girl, though. Just fancy, John Dory has never taken her anywhere but to Lyons' or an A B C, and the pit of a theatre!"

"Which evening is it to be?" Miss Brown asked.

"Something was said about Thursday," Peter Ruff admitted.

"And her husband?" Miss Brown enquired.

"He happens to be in Glasgow for a few days," Peter Ruff answered.

Miss Brown looked at her employer steadily. She addressed him by his Christian name, which was a thing she very seldom did in office hours.

"Peter," she said, "are you going to let that woman make a fool of you?"

He raised his eyebrows.

"Go on," he said; "say anything you want to—only, if you please, don't speak disrespectfully of Maud."

"Hasn't it ever occurred to you at all," Miss Brown continued, rising to her feet, "that this Maud, or whatever you want to call her, may be playing a low-down game of her husband's? He hates you, and he has vague suspicions. Can't you see that he is probably making use of your infatuation for his common, middle-class little wife, to try and get you to give yourself away? Can't you see it, Peter? You are not going to tell me that you are so blind as all that!"

"I must admit," he answered with a sigh, "that, although I think you go altogether too far, some suspicion of the sort has interfered with my perfect enjoyment of the morning."

Miss Brown drew a little breath of relief. After all, then, his folly was not so consummate as it had seemed!

"What are you going to do about it, then?" she asked.

Peter Ruff coughed—he seemed in an unusually amenable frame of mind, and submitted to cross-examination without murmur.

"The subject of Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald," he remarked, "seemed, somehow or other, to drop into the background during our luncheon. I propose, therefore, to continue to offer to Mrs. John Dory my most respectful admiration. If she accepts my friendship, and is satisfied with it, so much the better. I must admit that it would give me a great deal of pleasure to be her occasional companion—at such times when her husband happens to be in Glasgow!"

"And supposing," Miss Brown asked, "that this is not all she wants—supposing, for instance, that she persists in her desire for information concerning Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald?"

"Then," Peter Ruff admitted, "I'm afraid that I must conclude that her unchivalrous clod of a husband has indeed stooped to make a fool of her."

"And in that case," Miss Brown demanded, "what shall you do?"

"I was just thinking that out," Peter Ruff said mildly, "when you spoke...."

The friendship of Peter Ruff with the wife of his enemy certainly appeared to progress in most satisfactory fashion. The dinner and visit to the theatre duly took place. Mr. Ruff was afterwards permitted to offer a slight supper and to accompany his fair companion a portion of the way home in a taxicab. She made several half-hearted attempts to return to the subject of Spencer Fitzgerald, but her companion had been able on each occasion to avoid the subject. Whether or not she was the victim of her husband's guile, there was no question about the reality of her enjoyment during the evening. Ruff, when he remembered the flash of her eyes across the table, the touch of her fingers in the taxi, was almost content to believe her false to her truant lover. If only she had not been married to John Dory, he realised, with a little sigh, that he might have taught her to forget that such a person existed as Spencer Fitzgerald, might have induced her to become Mrs. Peter Ruff!

On their next meeting, however, Peter Ruff was forced to realise that his secretary's instinct had not misled her. It was, alas, no personal and sentimental regrets for her former lover which had brought the fair Maud to his office. The pleasures of her evening—they dined at Romano's and had a box at the Empire—were insufficient this time to keep her from recurring continually to the subject of her vanished lover. He tried strategy—jealousy amongst other things.

"Supposing," he said, as they sat quite close to one another in the box during the interval, "supposing I were to induce our friend to come to London—I imagine he would be fairly safe now if he kept out of your husband's way—what would happen to me?"

"You!" she murmured, glancing at him from behind her fan and then dropping her eyes.

"Certainly—me!" he continued. "Don't you think that I should be doing myself a very ill turn if I brought you two together? I have very few friends, and I cannot afford to lose one. I am quite sure that you still care for him."

She shook her head.

"Not a scrap!" she declared.

"Then why did you put that advertisement in the paper?" Ruff asked, with smooth but swift directness.

She was not quick enough to parry his question. He read the truth in her disconcerted face. Knowing it now for a certainty, he hastened to her aid.

"Forgive me," he said, looking away. "I should not have asked that question—it is not my business. I will write to Fitzgerald. I will tell him that you want to see him, and that I think it would be safe for him to come to London."

Maud recovered herself quickly. She thanked him with her eyes as well as her words.

"And you needn't be jealous, really," she whispered behind her fan. "I only want to see him once for a few minutes—to ask a question. After that, I don't care what becomes of him."

A poor sort of Delilah, really, with her flushed face, her too elaborately coiffured hair with its ugly ornament, her ready-made evening dress with its cheap attempts at smartness, her cleaned gloves, indifferent shoes. But Peter Ruff thought otherwise.

"You mean that, after I have found him for you, you will still come out with me again sometimes?" he asked wistfully.

"Of course!" she answered. "Whenever I can without John knowing," she added, with an unpleasant little laugh. "If you only knew how I loved the music and the theatres, and this sort of life! What a good time your wife would have, Mr. Ruff!" she added archly.

It was no joking matter with him. He had to remember that he was, in effect, her tool, that she was making use of him, willing to betray her former lover at her husband's bidding. It was enough to make him, on his side, burn for revenge! Yet he put the thought away from him with a shiver. She was still the woman he had loved—she was still sacred to him! That night he pleaded an engagement, and sent her home in a taxicab alone.

John Dory, waiting patiently at home for his wife's return, felt a certain uneasiness when she swept into their little sitting room in all her cheap splendour, with flushed cheeks—an obvious air of satisfaction with herself and disdain for her immediate surroundings. John Dory was a commonplace looking man—the absence of his collar, and his somewhat shabby carpet slippers, did not improve his appearance. He had neglected to shave, and he was drinking beer. At headquarters he was not considered quite the smart young officer which he had once shown signs of becoming. He looked at his wife with darkening face, and his wife, on her part, thought of Peter Ruff in his immaculate evening clothes.

"Well," he remarked, grumblingly, "you seem to find a good deal of pleasure in this gadding about!"

She threw her soiled fan on the table.

"If I do," she answered, "you are not the one to sit there and reproach me with it, are you?"

"It's gone far enough, anyway," John Dory said. "It's gone further than I meant it to go. Understand me, Maud—it's finished! I'll find your old sweetheart for myself."

She laughed heartily.

"You needn't trouble," she answered, with a little toss of the head. "I am not such a fool as you seem to think me. Mr. Ruff has made an appointment with him."

There was a change in John Dory's face. The man's eyes were bright—they almost glittered.

"You mean that your friend Mr. Ruff is going to produce Spencer Fitzgerald?" he exclaimed.

"He has promised to," she answered. "John," she declared, throwing herself into an easy-chair, "I feel horrid about it. I wonder what Mr. Ruff will think when he knows!"

"You can feel how you like," John Dory answered bluntly, "so long as I get the handcuffs on Spencer Fitzgerald's wrists!"

She shuddered. She looked at her husband with distaste.

"Don't talk about it!" she begged sharply. "It makes me feel the meanest creature that ever crawled. I can't help feeling, too, that Mr. Ruff will think me a wretch—quite the gentleman he's been all the time! I never knew any one half so nice!"

John Dory set down his empty glass.

"I wonder," he said, looking at her thoughtfully, "what made him take such a fancy to you! Rather sudden, wasn't it, eh?"

Maud tossed her head.

"I don't see anything so wonderful about that," she declared.

"Listen to me, Maud," her husband said, rising to his feet. "You aren't a fool—not quite. You've spent some time with Peter Ruff. How much—think carefully—how much does he remind you of Spencer Fitzgerald?"

"Not at all," she answered promptly. "Why, he is years older, and though Spencer was quite the gentleman, there's something about Mr. Ruff, and the way he dresses and knows his way about—well, you can tell he's been a gentleman all his life."

John Dory's face fell.

"Think again," he said.

She shook her head.

"Can't see any likeness," she declared. "He did remind me a little of him just at first, though," she added, reflectively—"little things he said, and sort of mannerisms. I've sort of lost sight of them the last few times, though."

"When is this meeting with Fitzgerald to come off?" John Dory asked abruptly.

She did not answer him at once. A low, triumphant smile had parted her lips.

"To-morrow night," she said; "he is to meet me in Mr. Ruff's office."

"At what time?" John Dory asked.

"At eight o'clock," she answered. "Mr. Ruff is keeping his office open late on purpose. Spencer thinks that afterwards he is going to take me out to dinner."

"You are sure of this?" John Dory asked eagerly. "You are sure that the man Ruff does not suspect you? You believe he means that you shall meet Fitzgerald?"

"I am sure of it," she answered. "He is even a little jealous," she continued, with an affected laugh. "He told me—well, never mind!"

"He told you what?" John Dory asked.

She laughed.

"Never you mind," she said. "I have done what you asked me anyway. If Mr. Ruff had not found me an agreeable companion he would not have bothered about getting Spencer to meet me. And now he's done it," she added, "I do believe he's a little jealous."

John Dory glared, but he said nothing. It seemed to him that his hour of revenge was close at hand!

It was the first occasion upon which words of this sort had passed between Peter Ruff and his secretary. There was no denying the fact that Miss Violet Brown was in a passion. It was an hour past the time at which she usually left the office. For an hour she had pleaded, and Peter Ruff remained unmoved.

"You are a fool!" she cried to him at last. "I am a fool, too, that I have ever wasted my thoughts and time upon you. Why can't I make you see? In every other way, heaven knows, you are clever enough! And yet there comes this vulgar, commonplace, tawdry little woman from heaven knows where, and makes such a fool of you that you are willing to fling away your career—to hold your wrists out for John Dory's handcuffs!"

"My dear Violet," Peter Ruff answered deprecatingly, "you really worry me—you do indeed!"

"Not half so much as you worry me," she declared. "Look at the time. It's already past seven. At eight o'clock Mrs. Dory—your Maud—is coming in here hoping to find her old sweetheart."

"Why not?" he murmured.

"Why not, indeed?" Miss Brown answered angrily. "Don't you know—can't you believe—that close on her heels will come her husband—that Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, if ever he comes to life in this room, will leave it between two policemen?"

Peter Ruff sighed.

"What a pessimist you are, my dear Violet!" he said.

She came up to him and laid her hands upon his shoulders.

"Peter," she said, "I will tell you something—I must! I am fond of you, Peter. I always have been. Don't make me miserable if there is no need for it. Tell me honestly—do you really believe in this woman?"

He removed her hands gently, and raised them to his lips.

"My dear girl," he said, "I believe in every one until I find them out. I look upon suspicion as a vice. But, at the same time," he added, "there are always certain precautions which one takes."

"What precautions can you take?" she cried. "Can you sit there and make yourself invisible? John Dory is not a fool. The moment he is in this room with the door closed behind him, it is the end."

"We must hope not," Peter Ruff said cheerfully. "There are other things which may happen, you know."

She turned away from him a little drearily.

"You do not mind if I stay?" she said. "I am not working to-night. Perhaps, later on, I may be of use!"

"As you will," he answered. "You will excuse me for a little time, won't you? I have some preparations to make."

She turned her head away from him. He left the room and ascended the stairs to his own apartments.

Eight o'clock was striking from St. Martin's Church when the door of Peter Ruff's office was softly opened and closed again. A man in a slouch hat and overcoat entered, and after feeling along the wall for a moment, turned up the electric light. Violet Brown rose from her place with a little sob. She stretched out her hand to him.

"Peter!" she cried. "Peter!"

"My name," the newcomer said calmly, "is Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald."

"Oh, listen to me!" she begged. "There is still time, if you hurry. Think how many clever men before you have been deceived by the woman in whom they trusted. Please, please go! Hurry upstairs and put those things away."

"Madam," the newcomer said, "I am much obliged to you for your interest, but I think that you are making a mistake. I have come here to meet—"

He stopped short. There was a soft knocking at the door. A stifled scream broke from Violet Brown's lips.

"It is too late!" she cried. "Peter! Peter!"

She sank into her chair and covered her face with her hands. The door was opened and Maud came in. When she saw who it was who sat in Peter Ruff's place, she gave a little cry. Perhaps after all, she had not believed that this thing would happen.

"Spencer!" she cried, "Spencer! Have you really come back?"

He held out his hands.

"You are glad to see me?" he asked.

She came slowly forward. The man rose from his place and came towards her with outstretched hands. Then through the door came John Dory, and one caught a glimpse of others behind him.

"If my wife is not glad to see you, Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald," he aid, in a tone from which he vainly tried to keep the note of triumph, "I can assure you that I am. You slipped away from me cleverly at Daisy Villa, but this time I think you will not find it so easy."

Maud shrank back, and her husband took her place. But Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald looked upon them both as one who looks upon figures in a dream. Miss Brown rose hurriedly from her seat. She came over to him and thrust her arm through his.

"Peter," she said, taking his hand in hers, "don't shoot. It isn't worth while. You should have listened to me."

The little man in the gold-rimmed spectacles looked at her, looked at Mr. John Dory, looked at the woman who was shrinking back now against the wall.

"Really," he said, "this is the most extraordinary situation in which I ever found myself!"

"We will help you to realise it," John Dory cried, and the triumph in his tone had swelled into a deeper note. "I came here to arrest Mr. Fitzgerald, but I hear this young lady call you 'Peter.' Perhaps this may be the solution—"

The little man struck the table with the flat of his hand.

"Come," he said, "this is getting a bit too thick. First of all—you," he said, turning to Miss Brown—"my name is not Peter, and I have no idea of shooting anybody. As for that lady against the wall, I don't know her—never saw her before in my life. As for you," he added, turning to John Dory, "you talk about arresting me—what for?"

Mr. John Dory smiled.

"There is an old warrant," he said, "which I have in my pocket, but I fancy that there are a few little things since then which we may have to enquire into."

"This beats me!" the little man declared. "Who do you think I am?"

"Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, to start with," John Dory said. "It seems to me not impossible that we may find another pseudonym for you."

"You can find as many as you like," the little man answered testily, "but my name is James Fitzgerald, and I am an actor employed at the Shaftesbury Theatre, as I can prove with the utmost ease. I never called myself Spencer; nor, to my knowledge, was I ever called by such a name. Nor, as I remarked before, have I ever seen any one of you three people before with the exception of Miss Brown here, whom I have seen on the stage."

John Dory grunted.

"It was Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald," he said, "a clerk in Howell & Wilson's bookshop, who leapt out of the window of Daisy Villa two years ago. It may be Mr. James Fitzgerald now. Gentlemen of your profession have a knack of changing their names."

"My profession's as good as yours, anyway!" the little man exclaimed. "We aren't all fools in it! My friend Mr. Peter Ruff said to me that there was a young lady whom I used to know who was anxious to meet me again, and would I step around here about eight o'clock. Here I am, and all I can say is, if that's the young lady, I never saw her before in my life."

There was a moment's breathless silence. Then the door was softly opened. Violet Brown went staggering back like a woman who sees a ghost. She bit her lips till the blood came. It was Peter Ruff who stood looking in upon them—Peter Ruff, carefully dressed in evening clothes, his silk hat at exactly the correct angle, his coat and white kid gloves upon his arm.

"Dear me," he said, "you don't seem to be getting on very well! Mr. Dory," he added, with a note of surprise in his tone, "this is indeed an unexpected pleasure!"

The man who stood by the desk turned to him. The others were stricken dumb.

"Look here," he said, "there's some mistake. You told me to come here at eight o'clock to meet a young lady whom I used to know. Well, I never saw her before in my life," he added, pointing to Maud. "There's a man there who wants to arrest me—Lord knows what for! And here's Miss Brown, whom I have seen at the theatre several times but who never condescended to speak to me before, telling me not to shoot! What's it all about, Ruff? Is it a practical joke?"

Peter Ruff laid down his coat and hat, and sat upon the table with his hands in his pockets.

"Is it possible," he said, "that I have made a mistake? Isn't your second name Spencer?"

The man shook his head.

"My name is James Fitzgerald," he said. "I haven't missed a day at the Shaftesbury Theatre for three years, as you can find out by going round the corner. I never called myself Spencer, I was never clerk in a bookshop, and I never saw that lady before in my life."

Maud came out from her place against the wall, and leaned eagerly forward. John Dory turned his head slowly towards his wife. A sickening fear had arisen in his heart—gripped him by the throat. Fooled once more, and by Peter Ruff!

"It isn't Spencer!" Maud said huskily. "Mr. Ruff," she added, turning to him, "you know very well that this is not the Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald whom you promised to bring here to-night—Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald to whom I was once engaged."

Peter Ruff pointed to the figure of her husband.

"Madam," he said, "my invitation did not include your husband."

John Dory took a step forward, and laid his hands upon the shoulders of the man who called himself Mr. James Fitzgerald. He looked into his face long and carefully. Then he turned away, and, gripping his wife by the arm, he passed out of the room. The door slammed behind him. The sound of heavy footsteps was heard descending to the floor below.

Violet Brown crossed the room to where Peter Ruff was still sitting with a queer look upon his face, and, gripping him by the shoulders, shook him.

"How dare you!" she exclaimed. "How dare you! Do you know that I have nearly cried my eyes out?"

Peter Ruff came back from the world into which, for the moment, his thoughts had taken him.

"Violet," he said, "you have known me for some years. You have been my secretary for some months. If you choose still to take me for a fool, I cannot help it."

"But," she exclaimed, pointing to Mr. James Fitzgerald—

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I have been practising on him for some time," he said, with an air of self-satisfaction.

"A thin, mobile face, you see, and plenty of experience in the art of making up. It is astonishing what one can do if one tries."

Mr. James Fitzgerald picked up his hat and coat.

"It was worth more than five quid," he growled; "when I saw the handcuffs in that fellow's hand, I felt a cold shiver go down my spine."

Peter Ruff counted out two banknotes and passed them to his confederate.

"You have earned the money," he said. "Go and spend it. Perhaps, Violet," he added, turning towards her, "I have been a little inconsiderate. Come and have dinner with me, and forget it."

She drew a little sigh.

"You are sure," she murmured, "that you wouldn't rather take Maud?"



VI. THE LITTLE LADY FROM SERVIA

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Feb 1910

Westward sped the little electric brougham, driven without regard to police regulations or any rule of the road: silent and swift, wholly regardless of other vehicles—as though, indeed, its occupants were assuming to themselves the rights of Royalty. Inside, Peter Ruff, a little breathless, was leaning forward, tying his white cravat with the aid of the little polished mirror set in the middle of the dark green cushions. At his right hand was Lady Mary, watching his proceedings with an air of agonised impatience.

"Let me tell you—" she begged.

"Kindly wait till I have tied this and put my studs in," Peter Ruff interrupted. "It is impossible for me to arrive at a ball in this condition, and I cannot give my whole attention to more than one thing at a time."

"We shall be there in five minutes!" she exclaimed. "What is the good, unless you understand, of your coming at all?"

Peter Ruff surveyed his tie critically. Fortunately, it pleased him. He began to press the studs into their places with firm fingers. Around them surged the traffic of Piccadilly; in front, the gleaming arc of lights around Hyde Park Corner. They had several narrow escapes. Once the brougham swayed dangerously as they cut in on the wrong side of an island lamp-post. A policeman shouted after them, another held up his hand—the driver of the brougham took no notice.

"I am ready," Peter Ruff said, quietly.

"My younger brother—Maurice," she began, breathlessly—"you've never met him, I know, but you've heard me speak of him. He is private secretary to Sir James Wentley—"

"Minister for Foreign Affairs?" Ruff asked, swiftly.

"Yes! Maurice wants to go in for the Diplomatic Service. He is a dear, and so clever!"

"Is it Maurice who is in trouble?" Peter Ruff asked. "Why didn't he come himself?"

"I am trying to explain," Lady Mary protested. "This afternoon he had an important paper to turn into cipher and hand over to the Prime Minister at the Duchess of Montford's dance to-night. The Prime Minister will arrive in a motor car from the country at about two o'clock, and the first thing he will ask for will be that paper. It has been stolen!"

"At what time did your brother finish copying it, and when did he discover its loss?" Ruff asked, with a slight air of weariness. These preliminary enquiries always bored him.

"He finished it in his own rooms at half-past seven," Lady Mary answered. "He discovered its loss at eleven o'clock—directly he had arrived at the ball."

"Why didn't he come to me himself?" Peter Ruff asked. "I like to have these particulars at first hand."

"He is in attendance upon Sir James at the ball," Lady Mary answered. "There is trouble in the East, as you know, and Sir James is expecting dispatches to-night. Maurice is not allowed to leave."

"Has he told Sir James yet?"

"He had not when I left," Lady Mary answered. "If he is forced to do so, it will be ruin! Mr. Ruff, you must help us Maurice is such a dear, but a mistake like this, at the very beginning of his career, would be fatal. Here we are. That is my brother waiting just inside the hall."

A young man came up to them in the vestibule. He was somewhat pale, but otherwise perfectly self-possessed. From the shine of his glossy black hair to the tips of his patent boots he was, in appearance, everything that a young Englishman of birth and athletic tastes could hope to be. Peter Ruff liked the look of him. He waited for no introduction, but laid his hand at once upon the young man's shoulder.

"Between seven-thirty and arriving here," he said, drawing him on one side—"quick! Tell me, whom did you see? What opportunities were there of stealing the paper, and by whom?"

"I finished it at five and twenty past seven," the young man said, "sealed it in an official envelope, and stood it up on my desk by the side of my coat and hat and muffler, which my servant had laid there, ready for me to put on. My bedroom opens out from my sitting room. While I was dressing, two men called for me—Paul Jermyn and Count von Hern. They walked through to my bedroom first, and then sat together in the sitting room until I came out. The door was wide open, and we talked all the time."

"They called accidentally?" Peter Ruff asked.

"No—by appointment," the young man replied. "We were all coming on here to the dance, and we had agreed to dine together first at the Savoy."

"You say that you left the paper on your desk with your coat and hat?" Peter Ruff asked. "Was it there when you came out?"

"Apparently so," the young man answered. "It seemed to be standing in exactly the same place as where I had left it. I put it into my breast pocket, and it was only when I arrived here that I fancied the envelope seemed lighter. I went off by myself and tore it open. There was nothing inside but half a newspaper!"

"What about the envelope?" Peter Ruff asked. "That must have been the same sort of one as you had used or you would have noticed it?"

"It was," the Honorable Maurice answered.

"It was a sort which you kept in your room?"

"Yes!" the young man admitted.

"The packet was changed, then, by some one in your room, or some one who had access to it," Peter Ruff said. "How about your servant?"

"It was his evening off. I let him put out my things and go at seven o'clock."

"You must tell me the nature of the contents of the packet," Peter Ruff declared. "Don't hesitate. You must do it. Remember the alternative."

The young man did hesitate for several moments, but a glance into his sister's appealing face decided him.

"It was our official reply to a secret communication from Russia respecting—a certain matter in the Balkans."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Where is Count von Hern?" he asked abruptly.

"Inside, dancing."

"I must use a telephone at once," Peter Ruff said. "Ask one of the servants here where I can find one."

Peter Ruff was conducted to a gloomy waiting room, on the table of which stood a small telephone instrument. He closed the door, but he was absent for only a few minutes. When he rejoined Lady Mary and her brother they were talking together in agitated whispers. The latter turned towards him at once.

"Do you mean that you suspect Count von Hern?" he asked, doubtfully. "He is a friend of the Danish Minister's, and every one says that he's such a good chap. He doesn't seem to take the slightest interest in politics—spends nearly all his time hunting or playing polo."

"I don't suspect any one," Peter Ruff answered. "I only know that Count von Hern is an Austrian spy, and that he took your paper! Has he been out of your sight at all since you rejoined him in the sitting room? I mean to say—had he any opportunity of leaving you during the time you were dining together, or did he make any calls en route, either on the way to the Savoy or from the Savoy here?"

The young man shook his head.

"He has not been out of my sight for a second."

"Who is the other man—Jermyn?" Peter Ruff asked. "I never heard of him."

"An American—cousin of the Duchess. He could not have had the slightest interest in the affair."

"Please take me into the ballroom," Peter Ruff said to Lady Mary. "Your brother had better not come with us. I want to be as near the Count von Hern as possible."

They passed into the crowded rooms, unnoticed, purposely avoiding the little space where the Duchess was still receiving the late comers among her guests. They found progress difficult, and Lady Mary felt her heart sink as she glanced at the little jewelled watch which hung from her wrist. Suddenly Peter Ruff came to a standstill.

"Don't look for a moment," he said, "but tell me as soon as you can—who is that tall young man, like a Goliath, talking to the little dark woman? You see whom I mean?"

Lady Mary nodded, and they passed on. In a moment or two she answered him.

"How strange that you should ask!" she whispered in his ear. "That is Mr. Jermyn."

They were on the outskirts now of the ballroom itself. One of Lady Mary's partners came up with an open programme and a face full of reproach.

"Do please forgive me, Captain Henderson," Lady Mary begged. "I have hurt my foot, and I am not dancing any more."

"But surely I was to take you in to supper?" the young officer protested, good-humouredly. "Don't tell me that you are going to cut that?"

"I am going to cut everything to-night with everybody," Lady Mary said. "Please forgive me. Come to tea to-morrow and I'll explain."

The young man bowed, and, with a curious glance at Ruff, accepted his dismissal. Another partner was simply waved away.

"Please turn round and come back," Peter Ruff said. "I want to see those two again."

"But we haven't found Count von Hern yet," she protested. "Surely that is more important, is it not? I believe that I saw him dancing just now—there, with the tall girl in yellow."

"Never mind about him, for the moment," Ruff answered. "Walk down this corridor with me. Do you mind talking all the time, please? It will sound more natural, and I want to listen."

The young American and his partner had found a more retired seat now, about three quarters of the way down the pillared vestibule which bordered the ballroom. He was bending over his companion with an air of unmistakable devotion, but it was she who talked. She seemed, indeed, to have a good deal to say to him. The slim white fingers of one hand played all the time with a string of magnificent pearls. Her dark, soft eyes—black as aloes and absolutely un-English—flashed into his. A delightful smile hovered at the corners of her lips. All the time she was talking and he was listening. Lady Mary and her partner passed by unnoticed. At the end of the vestibule they turned and retraced their steps. Peter Ruff was very quiet—he had caught a few of those rapid words. But the woman's foreign accent had troubled him.

"If only she would speak in her own language!" he muttered.

Lady Mary's hand suddenly tightened upon his arm.

"Look!" she exclaimed. "That is Count von Hern!"

A tall, fair young man, very exact in his dress, very stiff in his carriage, with a not unpleasant face, was standing talking to Jermyn and his companion. Jermyn, who apparently found the intrusion an annoyance, was listening to the conversation between the two, with a frown upon his face and a general attitude of irritation. As Lady Mary and her escort drew near, the reason for the young American's annoyance became clearer—his two companions were talking softly, but with great animation, in a foreign language, which it was obvious that he did not understand. Peter Ruff's elbow pressed against his partner's arm, and their pace slackened. He ventured, even, to pause for a moment, looking into the ballroom as though in search of some one, and he had by no means the appearance of a man likely to understand Hungarian. Then, to Lady Mary's surprise, he touched the Count von Hern on the shoulder and addressed him.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but I fancy that we accidentally exchanged programmes, a few minutes ago, at the buffet. I have lost mine and picked up one which does not belong to me. As we were standing side by side, it is possibly yours."

"I believe not, sir," he answered, with that pleasant smile which had gone such a long way toward winning him the reputation of being "a good fellow" amongst a fairly large circle of friends. "I believe at any rate," he added, glancing at his programme, "that this is my own. You mistake me, probably, for some one else."

Peter Ruff, without saying a word, was actor enough to suggest that he was unconvinced. The Count good-humouredly held out his programme.

"You shall see for yourself," he remarked. "That is not yours, is it? Besides, I have not been to the buffet at all this evening."

Peter Ruff cast a swift glance down the programme which the Count had handed him. Then he apologised profusely.

"I was mistaken," he admitted. "I am very sorry."

The Count bowed.

"It is of no consequence, sir," he said, and resumed his conversation.

Peter Ruff passed on with Lady Mary. At a safe distance, she glanced at him enquiringly.

"It was his programme I wanted to see," Peter Ruff explained. "It is as I thought. He has had four dances with the Countess—"

"Who is she?" Lady Mary asked, quickly.

"The little dark lady with whom he is talking now," Peter Ruff continued. "He seems, too, to be going early. He has no dances reserved after the twelfth. We will go downstairs at once, if you please. I must speak to your brother."

"Have you been able to think of anything?" she asked, anxiously. "Is there any chance at all, do you think?"

"I believe so," Peter Ruff answered. "It is most interesting. Don't be too sanguine, though. The odds are against us, and the time is very short. Is the driver of your electric brougham to be trusted?"

"Absolutely," she assured him. "He is an old servant."

"Will you lend him to me?" Peter Ruff asked, "and tell him that he is to obey my instructions absolutely?"

"Of course," she answered. "You are going away, then?"

Peter Ruff nodded. He was a little sparing of words just then. The thoughts were chasing one another through his brain. He was listening, too, for the sweep of a dress behind.

"Is there nothing I can do?" Lady Mary begged, eagerly.

Peter Ruff shook his head. In the distance he saw the Honourable Maurice come quickly toward them. With a firm but imperceptible gesture he waved him away.

"Don't let your brother speak to me," he said. "We can't tell who is behind. What time did you say the Prime Minister was expected?"

"At two o'clock," Lady Mary said, anxiously.

Peter Ruff glanced at his watch. It was already half an hour past midnight.

"Very well," he said, "I will do what I can. If my theory is wrong, it will be nothing. If I am right—well, there is a chance, anyhow. In the meantime—"

"In the meantime?" she repeated, breathlessly.

"Take your brother back to the ballroom," Peter Ruff directed. "Make him dance—dance yourself. Don't give yourselves away by looking anxious. When the time is short—say at a quarter to two—he can come down here and wait for me."

"If you don't come!" she exclaimed.

"Then we shall have lost," Peter Ruff said, calmly. "If you don't see me again to-night, you had better read the newspapers carefully for the next few days."

"You are going to do something dangerous!" she protested.

"There is danger in interfering at all in such a matter as this," he answered, "but you must remember that it is not only my profession—it is my hobby. Remember, too," he added, with a smile, "that I do not often lose!"

For twenty minutes Peter Ruff sat in the remote corner of Lady Mary's electric brougham, drawn up at the other side of the Square, and waited. At last he pressed a button. They glided off. Before them was a large, closed motor car. They started in discreet chase.

Fortunately, however, the chase was not a long one. The car which Peter Ruff had been following was drawn up before a plain, solid-looking house, unlit and of gloomy appearance. The little lady with the wonderful eyes was already halfway up the flagged steps. Hastily lifting the flap and looking behind as they passed, her pursuer saw her open the door with a latchkey, and disappear. Peter Ruff pulled the check-string and descended. For several moments he stood and observed the house into which the lady whom he had been following had disappeared. Then he turned to the driver.

"I want you to watch that house," he said, "never to take your eyes off it. When I reappear from it, if I do at all, I shall probably be in a hurry. Directly you see me be on your box ready to start. A good deal may depend upon our getting away quickly."

"Very good, sir," the man answered. "How long am I to wait here for you?"

Peter Ruff's lips twisted into a curious little smile.

"Until two o'clock," he answered. "If I am not out by then, you needn't bother any more about me. You can return and tell your mistress exactly what has happened."

"Hadn't I better come and try and get you out, sir?" the man asked. "Begging your pardon, but her Ladyship told me that there might be queer doings. I'm a bit useful in a scrap, sir," he added. "I do a bit of sparring regularly."

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"If there's any scrap at all," he said, "you had better be out of it. Do as I have said."

The motor car had turned round and disappeared now, and in a few moments Peter Ruff stood before the door of the house into which the little lady had disappeared. The problem of entrance was already solved for him. The door had been left unlatched; only a footstool had been placed against it inside. Peter Ruff, without hesitation, pushed the door softly open and entered, replaced the footstool in its former position, and stood with his back to the wall, in the darkest corner of the hall, looking around him—listening intently. Nearly opposite the door of a room stood ajar. It was apparently lit up, but there was no sound of any one moving inside. Upstairs, in one of the rooms on the first floor, he could hear light footsteps—a woman's voice humming a song. He listened to the first few bars, and understanding became easier. Those first few bars were the opening ones of the Servian national anthem!

With an effort, Peter Ruff concentrated his thoughts upon the immediate present. The little lady was upstairs. The servants had apparently retired for the night. He crept up to the half-open door and peered in. The room, as he had hoped to find it, was empty, but Madame's easy-chair was drawn up to the fire, and some coffee stood upon the hob. Stealthily Peter Ruff crept in and glanced around, seeking for a hiding place. A movement upstairs hastened his decision. He pushed aside the massive curtains which separated this from a connecting room. He had scarcely done so when light footsteps were heard descending the stairs.

Peter Ruff found his hiding place all that could have been desired. This secondary room itself was almost in darkness, but he was just able to appreciate the comforting fact that it possessed a separate exit into the hall. Through the folds of the curtain he had a complete view of the further apartment. The little lady had changed her gown of stiff white satin for one of flimsier material, and, seated in the easy-chair, she was busy pouring herself out some coffee. She took a cigarette from a silver box, and lighting it, curled herself up in the chair and composed herself as though to listen. To her as well as to Peter Ruff, as he crouched in his hiding place, the moments seemed to pass slowly enough. Yet, as he realised afterward, it could not have been ten minutes before she sat upright in a listening attitude. There was some one coming! Peter Ruff, too, heard a man's firm footsteps come up the flagged stones.

The little lady sprang to her feet.

"Paul!" she exclaimed.

Paul Jermyn came slowly to meet her. He seemed a little out of breath. His tie was all disarranged and his collar unfastened.

The little lady, however, noticed none of these things. She looked only into his face.

"Have you got it?" she asked, eagerly.

He thrust his hand into his breast-coat pocket, and held an envelope out toward her.

"Sure!" he answered. "I promised!"

She gave a little sob, and with the packet in her hand came running straight toward the spot where Peter Ruff was hiding.

He shrank back as far as possible. She stopped just short of the curtain, opened the drawer of a table which stood there, and slipped the packet in. Then she came back once more to where Paul Jermyn was standing.

"My friend!" she cried, holding out her hands—"my dear, dear friend! Shall I ever be able to thank you enough?"

"Why, if you try," he answered, smiling, "I think that you could!"

She laid her hand upon his arm—a little caressing, foreign gesture.

"Tell me," she said, "how did you manage it?"

"We left the dance together," Jermyn said. "I could see that he wanted to get rid of me, but I offered to take him in my motor car. I told the man to choose some back streets, and while we were passing through one of them, I took Von Hern by the throat. We had a struggle, of course, but I got the paper."

"What did you do with Von Hern?" she asked.

"I left him on his doorstep," the young American answered. "He wasn't really hurt, but he was only half conscious. I don't think he'll bother any one to-night."

"You dear, brave man!" she murmured. "Paul, what am I to say to you?"

He laughed.

"That's what I'm here to ask," he declared. "You wouldn't give me my answer at the ball. Perhaps you'll give it me now?"

They sprang apart. Ruff felt his nerves stiffen—felt himself constrained to hold even his breath as he widened a little the crack in the curtains. This was no stealthy entrance. The door had been flung open. Von Hern, his dress in wild disorder, pale as a ghost, and with a great bloodstain upon his cheek, stood confronting them.

"When you have done with your love-making," he called out, "I'll trouble you to restore my property!"

The electric light gleamed upon a small revolver which flashed out toward the young American. Paul Jermyn never hesitated for a moment. He seized the chair by his side and flung it at Von Hern. There was a shot, the crash of the falling chair, a cry from Jermyn, who never hesitated, however, in his rush. The two men closed. A second shot went harmlessly to the ceiling. The little lady stole away—stole softly across the room toward the table. She opened the drawer. Suddenly the blood in her veins was frozen into fear. From nowhere, it seemed to her, came a hand which held her wrists like iron!

"Madam," Peter Ruff whispered from behind the curtain, "I am sorry to deprive you of it, but this is stolen property."

Her screams rang through the room. Even the two men released one another.

"It is gone! It is gone!" she cried. "Some one was hiding in the room! Quick!"

She sprang into the hall. The two men followed her. The front door was slammed. They heard flying footsteps outside. Von Hern was out first, clearing the little flight of steps in one bound. Across the road he saw a flying figure. A level stream of fire poured from his hand—twice, three times. But Peter Ruff never faltered. Round the corner he tore. The man had kept his word—the brougham was already moving slowly.

"Jump in, sir," the man cried. "Throw yourself in. Never mind about the door."

They heard the shouts behind. Peter Ruff did as he was bid, and sat upon the floor, raising himself gradually to the seat when they had turned another corner. Then he put his head out of the window.

"Back to the Duchess of Montford's!" he ordered.

The latest of the guests had ceased to arrive—a few were already departing. It was an idle time, however, with the servants who loitered in the vestibules of Montford House, and they looked with curiosity upon this strange guest who arrived at five minutes to two, limping a little, and holding his left arm in his right hand. One footman on the threshold nearly addressed him, but the words were taken out of his mouth when he saw Lady Mary and her brother—the Honorable Maurice Sotherst—hasten forward to greet him.

Peter Ruff smiled upon them benignly.

"You can take the paper out of my breast-coat pocket," he said.

The young man's fingers gripped it. Through Lady Mary's great thankfulness, however, the sudden fear came shivering.

"You are hurt!" she whispered. "There is blood on your sleeve."

"Just a graze," Peter Ruff answered. "Von Hern wasn't much good at a running target. Back to the ballroom, young man," he added. "Don't you see who's coming?"

The Prime Minister came up the tented way into Montford House. He, too, wondered a little at the man whom he met on his way out, holding his left arm, and looking more as though he had emerged from a street fight than from the Duchess of Montford's ball. Peter Ruff went home smiling.



VII. THE DEMAND OF THE DOUBLE-FOUR

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Mar 1910

It was about this time that Peter Ruff found among his letters one morning a highly-scented little missive, addressed to him in a handwriting with which he had once been familiar. He looked at it for several moments before opening it. Even as the paper cutter slid through the top of the envelope, he felt that he had already divined the nature of its contents.

FRIVOLITY THEATRE
March 10th

MY DEAR Mr. RUFF:— I expect that you will be surprised to hear from me again, but I do hope that you will not be annoyed. I know that I behaved very horridly a little time ago, but it was not altogether my fault, and I have been more sorry for it than I can tell you—in fact, John and I have never been the same since, and for the present, at any rate, I have left him and gone on the stage. A lady whom I knew got me a place in the chorus here, and so far I like it immensely.

Won't you come and meet me after the show to-morrow night, and I will tell you all about it? I should like so much to see you again.

MAUD.

Peter Ruff placed this letter in his breast-coat pocket, and withheld it from his secretary's notice. He felt, however, very little pleasure at the invitation it conveyed. He hesitated for some time, in fact, whether to accept it or not. Finally, after his modest dinner that evening, he bought a stall for the Frivolity and watched the piece. The girl he had come to see was there in the second row of the chorus, but she certainly did not look her best in the somewhat scant costume required by the part. She showed no signs whatever of any special ability—neither her dancing nor her singing seemed to entitle her to any consideration. She carried herself with a certain amount of self-consciousness, and her eyes seemed perpetually fixed upon the occupants of the stalls. Peter Ruff laid down his glasses with something between a sigh and a groan. There was something to him inexpressibly sad in the sight of his old sweetheart so transformed, so utterly changed from the prim, somewhat genteel young person who had accepted his modest advances with such ladylike diffidence. She seemed, indeed, to have lost those very gifts which had first attracted him. Nevertheless, he kept his appointment at the stage-door.

She was among the first to come out, and she greeted him warmly—almost noisily. With her new profession, she seemed to have adopted a different and certainly more flamboyant deportment.

"I thought you'd come to-night," she declared, with an arch look. "I felt certain I saw you in the stalls. You are going to take me to supper, aren't you? Shall we go to the Milan?"

Peter Ruff assented without enthusiasm, handed her into a hansom, and took his place beside her. She wore a very large hat, untidily put on; some of the paint seemed still to be upon her face; her voice, too, seemed to have become louder, and her manner more assertive. There were obvious indications that she no longer considered brandy and soda an unladylike beverage. Peter Ruff was not pleased with himself or proud of his companion.

"You'll take some wine?" he suggested, after he had ordered, with a few hints from her, a somewhat extensive supper.

"Champagne," she answered, decidedly. "I've got quite used to it, nowadays," she went on. "I could laugh to think how strange it tasted when you first took me out."

"Tell me," Peter Ruff said, "why you have left your husband?"

She laughed.

"Because he was dull and because he was cross," she answered, "and because the life down at Streatham was simply intolerable. I think it was a little your fault, too," she said, making eyes; at him across the table. "You gave me a taste of what life was like outside Streatham, and I never forgot it."

Peter Ruff did not respond—he led the conversation, indeed, into other channels. On the whole, the supper was scarcely a success. Maud, who was growing to consider herself something of a Bohemian, and who certainly looked for some touch of sentiment on the part of her old admirer, was annoyed by the quiet deference with which he treated her. She reproached him with it once, bluntly.

"Say," she exclaimed, "you don't seem to want to be so friendly as you did! You haven't forgiven me yet, I suppose?"

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"It is not that," he said, "but I think that you have scarcely done a wise thing in leaving your husband. I cannot think that this life on the stage is good for you."

She laughed, scornfully.

"Well," she said, "I never thought to have you preaching at me!"

They finished their supper. Maud accepted a cigarette and did her best to change her companion's mood. She only alluded once more to her husband.

"I don't see how I could have stayed with him, anyhow," she said. "You know, he's been put back—he only gets two pounds fifteen a week now. He couldn't expect me to live upon that."

"Put back?" Peter Ruff repeated.

She nodded.

"He seemed to have a lot of bad luck this last year," she said. "All his cases went wrong, and they don't think so much of him at Scotland Yard as they did. I am not sure that he hasn't begun to drink a little."

"I am sorry to hear it," Peter Ruff said, gravely.

"I don't see why you should be," she answered, bluntly. "He was no friend of yours, nor isn't now. He may not be so dangerous as he was, but if ever you come across him, you take my tip and be careful. He means to do you a mischief some day, if he can. I am not sure," she added, "that he doesn't believe that it was partly your fault about my leaving home."

"I should be sorry for him to think that," Peter Ruff answered. "While we are upon the subject, can't you tell me exactly why your husband dislikes me so?"

"For one thing, because you have been up against him in several of his cases, and have always won."

"And for the other?"

"Well," she said, doubtfully, "he seems to connect you in his mind, somehow, with a boy who was in love with me once—Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald—you know who I mean."

Ruff nodded.

"He still has that in his mind, has he?" he remarked.

"Oh, he's mad!" she declared. "However, don't let us talk about him any more."

The lights were being put out. Peter Ruff paid his bill and they rose together.

"Come down to the fiat for an hour or so," she begged, taking his arm. "I have a dear little place with another girl—Carrie Pearce. I'll sing to you, if you like. Come down and have one drink, anyhow."

Peter Ruff shook his head firmly.

"I am sorry," he said, "but you must excuse me. In some ways, I am very old-fashioned," he added. "I never sit up late, and I hate music."

"Just drive as far as the door with me, then," she begged.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"You must excuse me," he said, handing her into the hansom. "And, Maud," he added—"if I may call you so—take my advice: give it up—go back to your husband and stick to him—you'll be better off in the long run."

She would have answered him scornfully, but there was something impressive in the crisp, clear words—in his expression, too, as he looked into her eyes. She threw herself back in a corner of the cab with an affected little laugh, and turned her head away from him.

Peter Ruff walked back into the cloak-room for his coat and hat, and sighed softly to himself. It was the end of the one sentimental episode of his life!

It had been the study of Peter Ruff's life, so far as possible, to maintain under all circumstances an equable temperament, to refuse to recognize the meaning of the word "nerves," and to be guided in all his actions by that profound common sense which was one of his natural gifts. Yet there were times when, like any other ordinary person, he suffered acutely from presentiments. He left his rooms, for instance, at five o'clock on the afternoon of the day following his supper with Maud, suffering from a sense of depression for which he found it altogether impossible to account. It was true that the letter which he had in his pocket, the appointment which he was on his way to keep, were both of them probable sources of embarrassment and annoyance, if not of danger. He was being invited, without the option of refusal, to enter upon some risky undertaking which would yield him neither fee nor reward. Yet his common sense told him that it was part of the game. In Paris, he had looked upon his admittance into the order of the "Double-Four" as one of the stepping-stones to success in his career. Through them he had gained knowledge which he could have acquired in no other way. Through them, for instance, he had acquired the information that Madame la Comtesse de Pilitz was a Servian patriot and a friend of the Crown Prince; and that the Count von Hern, posing in England as a sportsman and an idler, was a highly paid and dangerous Austrian spy. There had been other occasions, too, upon which they had come to his aid. Now they had made an appeal to him—an appeal which must be obeyed. His time—perhaps, even, his safety—must be placed entirely at their disposal. It was only an ordinary return a thing expected of him—a thing which he dared not refuse. Yet he knew very well what he could not explain to them—that the whole success of his life depended so absolutely upon his remaining free from any suspicion of wrong-doing, that he had received his summons with something like dismay, and proceeded to obey it with unaccustomed reluctance.

He drove to Cirey's cafe in Regent Street, where he dismissed the driver of his hansom and strolled in with the air of an habitue. He selected a corner table, ordered some refreshment, and asked for a box of dominoes. The place was fairly well filled. A few women were sitting about; a sprinkling of Frenchmen were taking their aperitif; here and there a man of affairs, on his way from the city, had called in for a glass of vermouth. Peter Ruff looked them over, recognizing the type—recognizing, even, some of their faces. Apparently, the person whom he was to meet had not yet arrived.

He lit a cigarette and smoked slowly. Presently the door opened and a woman entered in a long fur coat, a large hat, and a thick veil. She raised it to glance around, disclosing the unnaturally pale face and dark, swollen eyes of a certain type of Frenchwoman. She seemed to notice no one in particular. Her eyes traveled over Peter Ruff without any sign of interest. Nevertheless, she took a seat somewhere near his and ordered some vermouth from the waiter, whom she addressed by name. When she had been served and the waiter had departed, she looked curiously at the dominoes which stood before her neighbor.

"Monsieur plays dominoes, perhaps?" she remarked, taking one of them into her fingers and examining it. "A very interesting game!"

Peter Ruff showed her a domino which he had been covering with his hand—it was a double four. She nodded, and moved from her seat to one immediately next him.

"I had not imagined," Peter Ruff said, "that it was a lady whom I was to meet."

"Monsieur is not disappointed, I trust?" she said, smiling. "If I talk banalities, Monsieur must pardon it. Both the waiters here are spies, and there are always people who watch. Monsieur is ready to do us a service?"

"To the limits of my ability," Peter Ruff answered. "Madame will remember that we are not in Paris; that our police system, if not so wonderful as yours, is still a closer and a more present thing. They have not the brains at Scotland Yard, but they are persistent—hard to escape."

"Do I not know it?" the woman said. "It is through them that we send for you. One of us is in danger."

"Do I know him?" Peter Ruff asked.

"It is doubtful," she answered. "Monsieur's stay in Paris was so brief. If Monsieur will recognize his name—it is Jean Lemaitre himself."

Peter Ruff started slightly.

"I thought," he said, with some hesitation, "that Lemaitre did not visit this country."

"He came well disguised," the woman answered. "It was thought to be safe. Nevertheless, it was a foolish thing. They have tracked him down from hotel to apartments, till he lives now in the back room of a wretched little cafe in Soho. Even from there we cannot get him away—the whole district is watched by spies. We need help."

"For a genius like Lemaitre," Peter Ruff said, thoughtfully, "to have even thought of Soho, was foolish. He should have gone to Hampstead or Balham. It is easy to fool our police if you know how. On the other hand, they hang on to the scent like leeches when once they are on the trail. How many warrants are there out against Jean in this country?"

"Better not ask that," the woman said, grimly. "You remember the raid on a private house in the Holloway Road, two years ago, when two policemen were shot and a spy was stabbed? Jean was in that—it is sufficient!"

"Are any plans made at all?" Peter Ruff asked.

"But naturally," the woman answered. "There is a motor car, even now, of sixty-horse-power, stands ready at a garage in Putney. If Jean can once reach it, he can reach the coast. At a certain spot near Southampton there is a small steamer waiting. After that, everything is easy."

"My task, then," Peter Ruff said, thoughtfully, "is to take Jean Lemaitre from this cafe in Soho, as far as Putney, and get him a fair start?"

"It is enough," she answered. "There is a cordon of spies around the district. Every day they seem to chose in upon us. They search the houses, one by one. Only last night, the Hotel de Netherlands—a miserable little place on the other side of the street—was suddenly surrounded by policemen and every room ransacked. It may be our turn to-night."

"In one hour's time," Peter Ruff said, glancing at his watch, "I shall present myself as a doctor at the cafe. Tell me the address. Tell me what to say which will insure my admission to Jean Lemaitre!"

"The cafe," she answered, "is called the Hotel de Flandres. You enter the restaurant and you walk to the desk. There you find always Monsieur Antoine. You say to him simply—'The Double-Four!' He will answer that he understands, and he will conduct you at once to Lemaitre."

Ruff nodded.

"In the meantime," he said, "let it be understood in the cafe—if there is any one who is not in the secret—that one of the waiters is sick. I shall come to attend him."

She nodded thoughtfully.

"As well that way as any other," she answered. "Monsieur is very kind. A bientot!"

She shook hands and they parted. Peter Ruff drove back to his rooms, rang up an adjoining garage for a small covered car such as are usually let out to medical men, and commenced to pack a small black bag with the outfit necessary for his purpose. Now that he was actually immersed in his work, the sense of depression had passed away. The keen stimulus of danger had quickened his blood. He knew very well that the woman had not exaggerated. There was no man more wanted by the French or the English police than the man who had sought his aid, and the district in which he had taken shelter was, in some respects, the very worst for his purpose. Nevertheless, Peter Ruff, who believed, at the bottom of his heart, in his star, went on with his preparations feeling morally certain that Jean Lemaitre would sleep on the following night in his native land.

At precisely the hour agreed upon, a small motor brougham pulled up outside the door of the Hotel de Flandres and its occupant—whom ninety-nine men out of a hundred would at once, unhesitatingly, have declared to be a doctor in moderate practice—pushed open the swing doors of the restaurant and made his way to the desk. He was of medium height; he wore a frock-coat—a little frayed; gray trousers which had not been recently pressed; and thick boots.

"I understand that one of your waiters requires my attendance," he said, in a tone not unduly raised but still fairly audible. "I am Dr. Gilette."

"Dr. Gilette," Antoine repeated, slowly.

"And number Double-Four," the doctor murmured.

Antoine descended from his desk.

"But certainly, Monsieur!" he said. "The poor fellow declares that he suffers. If he is really ill, he must go. It sounds brutal, but what can one do? We have so few rooms here, and so much business. Monsieur will come this way?"

Antoine led the way from the cafe into a very smelly region of narrow passages and steep stairs.

"It is to be arranged?" Antoine whispered, as they ascended.

"Without a doubt," the doctor answered. "Were there spies in the cafe?"

"Two," Antoine answered.

The doctor nodded, and said no more. He mounted to the third story. Antoine led him through a small sitting-room and knocked four times upon the door of an inner room. It suddenly was opened. A man—unshaven, terrified, with that nameless fear in his face which one sees reflected in the expression of some trapped animal—stood there looking out at them.

"'Double-Four'!" the doctor said, softly. "Go back into the room, please. Antoine will kindly leave us."

"Who are you?" the man gasped.

"'Double-Four'!" the doctor answered. "Obey me, and be quick for your life! Strip!"

The man obeyed.

Barely twenty minutes later, the doctor—still carrying his bag—descended the stairs. He entered the cafe from a somewhat remote door. Antoine hurried to meet him, and walked by his side through the place. He asked many questions, but the doctor contented himself with shaking his head. Almost in silence he left Antoine, who conducted him even to the door of his motor. The proprietor of the cafe watched the brougham disappear, and then returned to his desk, sighing heavily.

A man who had been sipping a liqueur dose at hand, laid down his paper.

"One of your waiters ill, did I understand?" he asked. Monsieur Antoine was at once eloquent. It was the ill-fortune which had dogged him for the last four months! The man had been taken ill there in the restaurant. He was a Gascon—spoke no English—and had just arrived. It was not possible for him to be removed at the moment, so he had been carried to an empty bedroom. Then had come the doctor and forbidden his removal. Now for a week he had lain there and several of his other voyageurs had departed. One did not know how these things got about, but they spoke of infection. The doctor, who had just left—Dr. Gilette of Russell Square, a most famous physician—had assured him that there was no infection—no fear of any. But what did it matter—that? People were so hard to convince. Monsieur would like a cigar? But certainly! There were here some of the best.

Antoine undid the cabinet and opened a box of Havanas. John Dory selected one and called for another liqueur.

"You have trouble often with your waiters, I dare say," he remarked. "They tell me that all Frenchmen who break the law in their own country, find their way, sooner or later, to these parts. You have to take them without characters, I suppose?"

Antoine lifted his shoulders.

"But what could one do?" he exclaimed. "Characters, they were easy enough to write—but were they worth the paper they were written on? Indeed no!"

"Not only your waiters," Dory continued, "but those who stay in the hotels round here have sometimes an evil name."

Antoine shrugged his shoulders.

"For myself," he said, "I am particular. We have but a few rooms, but we are careful to whom we let them."

"Do you keep a visitors' book?"

"But no, Monsieur!" Antoine protested. "For why the necessity? There are so few who come to stay for more than the night—just now scarcely any one at all."

There entered, at that moment, a tall, thin man dressed in dark clothes, who walked with his hands in his overcoat pockets, as though it were a habit. He came straight to Dory and handed him a piece of paper.

John Dory glanced it through and rose to his feet. A gleam of satisfaction lit his eyes.

"Monsieur Antoine," he said, "I am sorry to cause you any inconvenience, but here is my card. I am a detective officer from Scotland Yard, and I have received information which compels me with your permission, to examine at once the sleeping apartments in your hotel."

Antoine was fiercely indignant.

"But, Monsieur!" he exclaimed. "I do not understand! Examine my rooms? But it is impossible! Who dares to say that I harbor criminals?"

"I have information upon which I can rely," John Dory answered, firmly. "This comes from a man who is no friend of mine, but he is well-known. You can read for yourself what he says."

Monsieur Antoine, with trembling fingers, took the piece of paper from John Dory's hands. It was addressed to—

Mr. JOHN DORY, DETECTIVE:
If you wish to find Jean Lemaitre, search in the upper rooms of the Hotel de Flandres. I have certain information that he is to be found there.
PETER RUFF.

"Never," Antoine declared, "will I suffer such an indignity!"

Dory raised a police whistle to his lips.

"You are foolish," he said. "Already there is a cordon of men about the place. If you refuse to conduct me upstairs I shall at once place you under arrest."

Antoine, white with fear, poured himself out a liqueur of brandy.

"Well, well," he said, "what must be done, then! Come!"

He led the way out into that smelly network of passages, up the stairs to the first floor. Room after room he threw open and begged Dory to examine. Some of them were garishly furnished with gilt mirrors, cheap lace curtains tied back with blue ribbons. Others were dark, miserable holes, into which the fresh air seemed never to have penetrated. On the third floor they reached the little sitting-room, which bore more traces of occupation than some of the rooms below. Antoine would have passed on, but Dory stopped him.

"There is a door there," he said. "We will try that."

"It is the sick waiter who lies within," Antoine protested. "Monsieur can hear him groan."

There was, indeed, something which sounded like a groan to be heard, but Dory was obstinate.

"If he is so ill," he demanded, "how is he able to lock the door on the inside? Monsieur Antoine, that door must be opened."

Antoine knocked at it softly.

"Francois," he said, "there is another doctor here who would see you. Let us in."

There was no answer, Antoine turned to his companion with a little shrug of the shoulders, as one who would say—"I have done my best. What would you have?"

Dory put his shoulder to the door.

"Listen," he shouted through the keyhole, "Mr. Sick Waiter, or whoever you are, if you do not unlock this door, I am coming in!"

"I have no key," said a faint voice. "I am locked in. Please break open the door."

"But that is not the Voice of Francois!" Antoine exclaimed, in amazement.

"We'll soon see who it is," Dory answered.

He charged at the door fiercely. At the third assault it gave way. They found themselves in a small back bedroom, and stretched on the floor, very pale, and apparently only half-conscious, lay Peter Ruff. There was a strong smell of chloroform about. John Dory threw open the window. His fingers trembled a little. It was like Fate—this! At the end of every unsuccessful effort there was this man—Peter Ruff!

"What the devil are you doing here?" he asked.

Peter Ruff groaned.

"Help me up," he begged, "and give me a little brandy."

Antoine set him in an easy-chair and rang the bell furiously.

"It will come directly!" he exclaimed. "But who are you?"

Peter Ruff waited for the brandy. When he had sipped it, he drew a little breath as though of relief.

"I heard," he said, speaking still with an evident effort, "that Lemaitre was here. I had secret information. I thought at first that I would let you know—I sent you a note early this morning. Afterwards, I discovered that there was a reward, and I determined to track him down myself. He was in here hiding as a sick waiter. I do not think," Peter Ruff added, "that Monsieur Antoine had any idea. I presented myself as representing a charitable society, and I was shown here to visit him. He was too clever, though, was Jean Lemaitre—too quick for me."

"You were a fool to come alone!" John Dory said. "Don't you know the man's record? How long ago did he leave?"

"About ten minutes," Peter Ruff answered. "You must have missed him somewhere as you came up. I crawled to the window and I watched him go. He left the restaurant by the side entrance, and took a taxicab at the corner there. It went northward toward New Oxford Street."

Dory turned on his heel—they heard him descending the stairs. Peter Ruff rose to his feet.

"I am afraid," he said, as he plunged his head into a basin of water, and came into the middle of the room rubbing it vigorously with a small towel, "I am afraid that our friend John Dory will get to dislike me soon! He passed out unnoticed, eh, Antoine?"

Antoine's face wore a look of great relief.

"There was not a soul who looked," he said. "We passed under the nose of the gentleman from Scotland Yard. He sat there reading his paper; and he had no idea. I watched Jean step into the motor. Even by now he is well on his way southwards. Twice he changes from motor to train, and back. They will never trace him."

Peter Ruff, who was looking amazingly better, sipped a further glass of liqueur. Together he and Antoine descended to the street.

"Mind," Peter Ruff whispered, "I consider that accounts are squared between me and 'Double-Four' now. Let them know that. This sort of thing isn't in my line."

"For an amateur," Antoine said, bowing low, "Monsieur commands my heartfelt congratulations!"



VIII. Mrs. BOGNOR'S STAR BOARDER

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Apr 1910

In these days, the duties of Miss Brown as Peter Ruff's secretary had become multifarious. Together with the transcribing of a vast number of notes concerning cases, some of which he undertook and some of which he refused, she had also to keep his cash book, a note of his investments and a record of his social engagements. Notwithstanding all these demands upon her time, however, there were occasions when she found herself, of necessity, idle. In one of these she broached the subject which had often been in her mind. They were alone, and not expecting callers. Consequently, she sat upon the hearthrug and addressed her employer by his Christian name.

"Peter," she said softly, "do you remember the night when you came through the fog and burst into my little flat?"

"Quite well," he answered, "but it is a subject to which I prefer that you do not allude."

"I will be careful," she answered. "I only spoke of it for this reason. Before you left, when we were sitting together, you sketched out the career which you proposed for yourself. In many respects, I suppose, you have been highly successful, but I wonder if it has ever occurred to you that your work has not proceeded upon the lines which you first indicated?"

He nodded.

"I think I know what you mean," he said. "Go on."

"That night," she murmured softly, "you spoke as a hunted man; you spoke as one at war with Society; you spoke as one who proposes almost a campaign against it. When you took your rooms here and called yourself Peter Ruff, it was rather in your mind to aid the criminal than to detect the crime. Fate seems to have decreed otherwise. Why, I wonder?"

"Things have gone that way," Peter Ruff remarked.

"I will tell you why," she continued. "It is because, at the bottom of your heart, there lurks a strong and unconquerable desire for respectability. In your heart you are on the side of the law and established things. You do not like crime; you do not like criminals. You do not like the idea of associating with them. You prefer the company of law-abiding people, even though their ways be narrow. It was part of that sentiment, Peter, which led you to fall in love with a coal-merchant's daughter. I can see that you will end your days in the halo of respectability."

Peter Ruff was a little thoughtful. He scratched his chin and contemplated the tip of his faultless patent boot. Self-analysis interested him, and he recognized the truth of the girl's words.

"You know, I am rather like that," he admitted. "When I see a family party, I envy them. When I hear of a man who has brothers and sisters and aunts and cousins, and gives family dinner-parties to family friends, I envy him. I do not care about the loose ends of life. I do not care about restaurant life, and ladies who transfer their regards with the same facility that they change their toilettes. You have very admirable powers of observation, Violet. You see me, I believe, as I really am."

"That being so," she remarked, "what are you going to say to Sir Richard Dyson?"

Peter Ruff was frank.

"Upon my soul," he answered, "I don't know!"

"You'll have to make up your mind very soon," she reminded him. "He is coming here at twelve o'clock."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I shall wait until I hear what he has to say," he remarked.

"His letter gave you a pretty clear hint," Violet said, "that it was something outside the law."

"The law has many outposts," Peter Ruff said. "One can thread one's way in and out, if one knows the ropes. I don't like the man, but he introduced me to his tailor. I have never had any clothes like those he has made me."

She sighed.

"You are a vain little person," she said.

"You are an impertinent young woman!" he answered. "Get back to your work. Don't you hear the lift stop?"

She rose reluctantly, and resumed her place in front of her desk.

"If it's risky," she whispered, leaning round towards him, "don't you take it on. I've heard one or two things about Sir Richard lately."

Peter Ruff nodded. He, too, quitted his easy-chair, and took up a bundle of papers which lay upon his desk. There was a sharp tap at the door.

"Come in!" he said.

Sir Richard Dyson entered. He was dressed quietly, but with the perfect taste which was obviously an instinct with him, and he wore a big bunch of violets in his buttonhole. Nevertheless, the spring sunshine seemed to find out the lines in his face. His eyes were baggy—he had aged even within the last few months.

"Well, Mr. Ruff," he said, shaking hands, "how goes it?"

"I am very well, Sir Richard," Peter Ruff answered. "Please take a chair."

Sir Richard took the easy-chair, and discovering a box of cigarettes upon the table, helped himself. Then his eyes fell upon Miss Brown.

"Can't do without your secretary?" he remarked.

"Impossible!" Peter Ruff answered. "As I told you before, I am her guarantee that what you say to me, or before her, is spoken as though to the dead."

Sir Richard nodded.

"Just as well," he remarked, "for I am going to talk about a man who I wish were dead!"

"There are few of us," Peter Ruff said, "who have not our enemies."

"Have you any experience of blackmailers?" Sir Richard asked.

"In my profession," Peter Ruff answered, "I have come across such persons."

"I have come to see you about one," Sir Richard proceeded. "Many years ago, there was a fellow in my regiment who went to the bad—never mind his name. He passes to-day as Ted Jones—that name will do as well as another. I am not," Sir Richard continued, "a good-natured man, but some devilish impulse prompted me to help that fellow. I gave him money three or four times. Somehow, I don't think it's a very good thing to give a man money. He doesn't value it—it comes too easily. He spends it and wants more."

"There's a good deal of truth in what you say, Sir Richard," Peter Ruff admitted.

"Our friend, for instance, wanted more," Sir Richard continued. "He came to me for it almost as a matter of course. I refused. He came again; I lost my temper and punched his head. Then his little game began."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"He had something to work upon, I suppose?" he remarked.

"Most certainly he had," Sir Richard admitted. "If ever I achieved sufficient distinction in any branch of life to make it necessary that my biography should be written, I promise you that you would find it in many places a little highly colored. In other words, Mr. Ruff, I have not always adhered to the paths of righteousness."

A faint smile flickered across Peter Ruff's face.

"Sir Richard," he said, "your candor is admirable."

"There was one time," Sir Richard continued, "when I was really on my last legs. It was just before I came into the baronetcy. I had borrowed every penny I could borrow. I was even hard put to it for a meal. I went to Paris, and I called myself by another man's name. I got introduced to a somewhat exclusive club there. My assumed name was a good one—it was the name, in fact, of a relative whom I somewhat resembled. I was accepted without question. I played cards, and I lost somewhere about eighteen thousand francs."

"A sum," Peter Ruff remarked, "which you probably found it inconvenient to pay."

"There was only one course," Sir Richard continued, "and I took it. I went back the next night and gave checks for the amount of my indebtedness—checks which had no more chance of being met than if I were to draw to-night upon the Bank of England for a million pounds. I went back, however, with another resolve. I was considered to have discharged my liabilities, and we played again. I rose a winner of something like sixty thousand francs. But I played to win, Mr. Ruff! Do you know what that means?"

"You cheated!" Peter Ruff said, in an undertone.

"Quite true," Sir Richard admitted. "I cheated! There was a scandal, and I disappeared. I had the money, and though my checks for the eighteen thousand francs were met, there was a considerable balance in my pocket when I escaped out of France. There was enough to take me out to America—big game shooting in the far West. No one ever associated me with the impostor who had robbed these young French noblemen—no one, that is to say, except the person who passes by the name of Teddy Jones."

"How did he get to know?" Peter Ruff asked.

"The story wouldn't interest you," Sir Richard answered. "He was in Paris at the time—we came across one another twice. He heard the scandal, and put two and two together. I shipped him off to Australia when I came into the title. He has come back. Lately, I can tell you, he has pretty well drained me dry. He has become a regular parasite a cold-blooded leech. He doesn't get drunk now. He looks after his health. I believe he even saves his, money. There's scarcely a week I don't hear from him. He keeps me a pauper. He has brought me at last to that state when I feel that there must be an ending!"

"You have come to seek my help," Peter Ruff said, slowly. "From what you say about this man, I presume that he is not to be frightened?"

"Not for a single moment," Sir Richard answered. "The law has no terrors for him. He is as slippery as an eel. He has his story pat. He even has his witnesses ready. I can assure you that Mr. Teddy Jones isn't by any means an ordinary sort of person."

"He is not to be bluffed," Peter Ruff said, slowly; "he is not to be bribed. What remains?"

"I have come here," Sir Richard said, "for your advice, Mr. Ruff."

"The blackmailer," Peter Ruff said, "is a criminal."

"He is a scoundrel!" Sir Richard assented.

"He is not fit to live," Peter Ruff repeated.

"He contaminates the world with every breath he draws!" Sir Richard assented.

"Perhaps," Peter Ruff said, "you had better give me his address, and the name he goes under."

"He lives at a boarding-house in Russell Street, Bloomsbury," Sir Richard said. "It is Mrs. Bognor's boarding-house. She calls it, I believe, the 'American Home from Home.' The number is 17."

"A boarding-house," Peter Ruff repeated, thoughtfully. "Makes it a little hard to get at him privately, doesn't it?"

"Fling him a bait and he will come to you," Sir Richard answered. "He is an adventurer pure and simple, though perhaps you wouldn't believe it to look at him now. He has grown fat on the money he has wrung from me."

"You had better leave the matter in my hands for a few days," Peter Ruff said. "I will have a talk with this gentleman and see whether he is really so unmanageable. If he is, there is, of course, only one way, and for that way, Sir Richard, you would have to pay a little high."

"If I were to hear to-morrow," Sir Richard said quietly, "that Teddy Jones was dead, I would give five thousand pounds to the man who brought me the information!"

Peter Ruff nodded.

"It would be worth that," he said—"quite! I will drop you a line in the course of the next few days."

Sir Richard took up his hat, lit another of Peter Ruff's cigarettes, and departed. They heard the rattle of the lift as it descended. Then Miss Brown turned round in her chair.

"Don't you do it, Peter!" she said solemnly. "The time has gone by for that sort of thing. The man may be unfit to live, but you don't need to risk as much as that for a matter of five thousand pounds."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Quite right," he said; "quite right, Violet. At the same time, five thousand pounds is an excellent sum. We must see what can be done."

Peter Ruff's method of seeing what could be done was at first the very obvious one of seeking to discover any incidents in the past of the person known as Teddy Jones likely to reflect present discredit upon him if brought to light. From the first, it was quite clear that the career of this gentleman had been far from immaculate. His researches proved, beyond a doubt, that the gentleman in question had resorted, during the last ten or fifteen years, to many and very questionable methods of obtaining a living. At the same time, there was nothing which Peter Ruff felt that the man might not brazen out. His present mode of life seemed—on the surface, at any rate—to be beyond reproach. There was only one association which was distinctly questionable, and it was in this one direction, therefore, that Peter Ruff concentrated himself. The case, for some reason, interested him so much that he took a close and personal interest in it, and he was rewarded one day by discovering this enemy of Sir Richard's sitting, toward five o'clock in the afternoon, in a cafe in Regent Street, engrossed in conversation with a person whom Peter Ruff knew to be a very black sheep indeed—a man who had been tried for murder, and concerning whom there were still many unpleasant rumors. From behind his paper in a corner of the cafe, Peter Ruff watched these two men. Teddy Jones—or Major Edward Jones, as it seemed he was now called—was a person whose appearance no longer suggested the poverty against which he had been struggling most of his life. He was well dressed and tolerably well turned out. His face was a little puffy, and he had put on flesh during these days of his ease. His eyes, too, had a somewhat furtive expression, although his general deportment was one of braggadocio. Peter Ruff, quick always in his likes or dislikes, found the man repulsive from the start. He felt that he would have a genuine pleasure, apart from the matter of the five thousand pounds, in accelerating Major Jones's departure from a world which he certainly did not adorn.

The two men conducted their conversation in a subdued tone, which made it quite impossible for Peter Ruff, in his somewhat distant corner, to overhear a single word of it. It was obvious, however, that they were not on the best of terms. Major Jones's companion was protesting, and apparently without success, against some course of action or speech of his companions. The conversation, on the other hand, never reached a quarrel, and the two men left the place together apparently on ordinary terms of friendliness. Peter Ruff at once quitted his seat and crossed the room toward the spot where they had been sitting. He dived under the table and picked up a newspaper—it was the only clue left to him as to the nature of their conversation. More than once, Major Jones who had, soon after their arrival, sent a waiter for it, had pointed to a certain paragraph as though to give weight to his statements. Peter Ruff had noticed the exact position of that paragraph. He smoothed out the paper and found it at once. It was an account of the murder of a wealthy old woman, living on the outskirts of a country village not far from London. Peter Ruff's face did not change as he called for another vermouth and read the description, slowly. Yet he was aware that he had possibly stumbled across the very thing for which he had searched so urgently! The particulars of the murder he already knew well, as at one time he had felt inclined to aid the police in their so far fruitless investigations. He therefore skipped the description of the tragedy, and devoted his attention to the last paragraph, toward which he fancied that the finger of Major Jones had been chiefly directed. It was a list of the stolen property, which consisted of jewelry, gold and notes to a very considerable amount. With the waiter's permission, he annexed the paper, cut out the list of articles with a sharp penknife, and placed it in his pocketbook before he left the cafe.

In the course of some of the smaller cases with which Peter Ruff had been from time to time connected, he had more than once come into contact with the authorities at Scotland Yard, and he had several acquaintances there—not including Mr. John Dory—to whom, at times, he had given valuable information. For the first time, he now sought some return for his many courtesies. He drove straight from the cafe to the office of the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department. The questions he asked there were only two, but they were promptly and courteously answered. Peter Ruff left the building and drove back to his rooms in a somewhat congratulatory frame of mind. After all, it was chance which was the chief factor in the solution of so many of these cases! Often he had won less success after months of untiring effort than he had gained during that few minutes in the cafe in Regent Street.

Peter Ruff became an inmate of that very select boarding-house carried on by Mrs. Bognor at number 17 Russell Street, Bloomsbury. He arrived with a steamer trunk, an elaborate traveling-bag and a dressing-case; took the best vacant room in the house, and dressed for dinner. Mrs. Bognor looked upon him as a valuable addition to her clientele, and introduced him freely to her other guests. Among these was Major Edward Jones. Major Jones sat at Mrs. Bognor's right hand, and was evidently the show guest of the boarding-house. Peter Ruff, without the least desire to attack his position, sat upon her left and monopolized the conversation. On the third night it turned, by chance, upon precious stones. Peter Ruff drew a little chamois leather bag from his pocket.

"I am afraid," he said, "that my tastes are peculiar. I have been in the East, and I have seen very many precious stones in their uncut state. To my mind, there is nothing to be compared with opals. These are a few I brought home from India. Perhaps you would like to look at them, Mrs. Bognor."

They were passed round, amidst a little chorus of admiration.

"The large one with the blue fire," Peter Ruff remarked, "is, I think, remarkably beautiful. I have never seen a stone quite like it."

"It is wonderful!" murmured the young lady who was sitting at Major Jones's right hand. "What a fortunate man you are, Mr. Ruff, to have such a collection of treasures!"

Peter Ruff bowed across the table. Major Jones, who was beginning to feel that his position as show guest was in danger, thrust his hand into his waistcoat pocket and produced a lady's ring, in which was set a single opal.

"Very pretty stones," he remarked carelessly, "but I can't say I am very fond of them. Here's one that belonged to my sister, and my grandmother before her. I have it in my pocket because I was thinking of having the stone reset and making a present of it to a friend of mine."

Peter Ruff's popularity waned—he had said nothing about making a present to any one of even the most insignificant of his opals! And the one which Major Jones now handed round was certainly a magnificent stone. Peter Ruff examined it with the rest, and under the pretext of studying the setting, gazed steadfastly at the inside through his eyeglass. Major Jones, from the other side of the table, frowned, and held out his hand for the ring.

"A very beautiful stone indeed!" Peter Ruff declared, passing it across the tablecloth. "Really, I do not think that there is one in my little collection to be compared with it. Have you many treasures like this, Major Jones?"

"Oh, a few!" the Major answered carelessly, "family heirlooms, most of them."

"You will have to give me the ring, Major Jones," the young lady on his right remarked archly. "It's bad luck, you know, to give it to any one who is not born in October, and my birthday is on the twelfth."

"My dear Miss Levey," Major Jones answered, whispering in her ear, "more unlikely things have happened than that I should beg your acceptance of this little trifle."

"Sooner or later," Peter Ruff said genially, "I should like to have a little conversation with you, Major. I fancy that we ought to be able to find plenty of subjects of common interest."

"Delighted, I'm sure!" the latter answered, utterly unsuspicious. "Shall we go into the smoking-room now, or would you rather play a rubber first?"

"If it is all the same to you," Peter Ruff said, "I think we will have a cigar first. There will be plenty of time for bridge afterwards."

"May I offer you a cigar, sir?" Major Jones inquired, passing across a well-filled case.

Peter Ruff sighed.

"I am afraid, Major," he said, "that there is scarcely time. You see, I have a warrant in my pocket for your arrest, and I am afraid that by the time we got to the station—"

Major Jones leaned forward in his chair. He gripped the sides tightly with both hands. His eyes seemed to be protruding from his head.

"For my what?" he exclaimed, in a tone of horror.

"For your arrest," Peter Ruff explained calmly. "Surely you must have been expecting it! During all these years you must have grown used to expecting it at every moment!"

Major Jones collapsed. He looked at Ruff as one might look at a man who has taken leave of his senses. Yet underneath it all was the coward's fear!

"What are you talking about, man?" he exclaimed. "What do you mean? Lower your voice, for heaven's sake! Consider my position here! Some one might overhear! If this is a joke, let me tell you that it's a d——d foolish one!"

Peter Ruff raised his eyebrows.

"I do not wish," he said, "to create a disturbance—my manner of coming here should have assured you of that. At the same time, business is business. I hold a warrant for your arrest, and I am forced to execute it."

"Do you mean that you are a detective, then?" Major Jones demanded.

He was a big man, but his voice seemed to have grown very small indeed.

"Naturally," Peter Ruff answered. "I should not come here without authority."

"What is the charge?" the other man faltered.

"Blackmail," Peter Ruff said slowly. "The information against you is lodged by Sir Richard Dyson."

It seemed to Peter Ruff, who was watching his companion closely, that a wave of relief passed over the face of the man who sat cowering in his chair. He certainly drew a little gasp—stretched out his hands, as though to thrust the shadow of some fear from him. His voice, when he spoke, was stronger. Some faint show of courage was returning to him.

"There is some ridiculous mistake," he declared. "Let us talk this over like sensible men, Mr. Ruff. If you will wait until I have spoken to Sir Richard, I can promise you that the warrant shall be withdrawn, and that you shall not be the loser."

"I am afraid it is too late for anything of that sort," Peter Ruff said. "Sir Richard's patience has been completely exhausted by your repeated demands."

"He never told me so," Major Jones whined. "I quite thought that he was always glad to help an old friend. As a matter of fact, I had not meant to ask him for anything else. The last few hundreds I had from him was to have closed the thing up. It was the end."

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"No," he said, "it was not the end! It never would have been the end! Sir Richard sought my advice, and I gave it him without hesitation. Sooner or later, I told him, he would have to adopt different measures. I convinced him. I represent those measures!"

"But the matter can be arranged," Major Jones insisted, with a little shudder, "I am perfectly certain it can be arranged. Mr. Ruff, you are not an ordinary police officer—I am sure of that. Give me a chance of having an interview with Sir Richard before anything more is done. I will satisfy him, I promise you that. Why, if we leave the place together like this, every one here will get to know about it!"

"Be reasonable," Peter Ruff answered. "Of course everyone will get to know about it! Blackmailing cases always excite a considerable amount of interest. Your photograph will probably be in the Daily Mirror tomorrow or the next day. In the meantime, I must trouble you to pay your respects to Mrs. Bognor and to come with me."

"To Sir Richard's house?" Major Jones asked, eagerly.

"To the police-stations," Peter Ruff answered.

Major Jones did not rise. He sat for a few moments with his head buried in his hands.

"Mr. Ruff," he said hoarsely, "listen to me. I have been fortunate lately in some investments. I am not so poor as I was. I have my check-book in my pocket, and a larger balance in the bank now than I have ever had before. If I write you a check for, say, a hundred—no, two!—five!" he cried, desperately, watching Peter Ruff's unchanging face—"five hundred pounds, will you come round with me to Sir Richard's house in a hansom at once?"

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"Five thousand pounds would not buy your liberty from me, Major Jones," he said.

The man became abject.

"Have pity, then," he pleaded. "My health is not good—I couldn't stand imprisonment. Think of what it means to a man of my age suddenly to leave everything worth having in life just because he may have imposed a little on the generosity of a friend! Think how you would feel, and be merciful!"

Peter Ruff shook his head slowly. His face was immovable, but there was a look in his eyes from which the other man shrank.

"Major Jones," he said, "you ask me be merciful. You appeal to my pity. For such as you I have no pity, nor have I ever shown any mercy. You know very well, and I know, that when once the hand of the law touches your shoulder, it will not be only a charge o' blackmail which the police will bring against you!"

"There is nothing else—nothing else!" he cried. "Take half my fortune, Mr. Ruff. Let me get away. Give me a chance—just a sporting chance!"

"I wonder," Peter Ruff said, "what chance that poor old lady in Weston had? No, I am not saying you murdered her. You never had the pluck. Your confederate did that, and you handled the booty. What were the initials inside that ring you showed us to-night, Major Jones?"

"Let me go to my bedroom," he said, in a strange, far-away tone. "You can come with me and stand outside."

Peter Ruff assented.

"To save scandal," he said, "yes!"

Three flights of stairs they climbed. When at last they reached the door, the trembling man made one last appeal.

"Mr. Ruff," he said, "have a little mercy. Give me an hour's start—just a chance for my life!"

Peter Ruff pushed him in the door.

"I am not a hard man," he said, "but I keep my mercy for men!"

He took the key from the inside of the door, locked it, and with the key in his pocket descended to the drawing-room. The young lady who had sat on Major Jones's right was singing a ballad. Suddenly she paused in the middle of her song. The four people who were playing bridge looked up. Mrs. Bognor screamed.

"What was that?" she asked quickly.

"It sounded," Peter Ruff said, "very much like revolver shot."

"I see," Sir Richard remarked, with a queer look in his eyes, as he handed over a roll of notes to Peter Ruff, "the jury brought it in 'Suicide'! What I can't understand is—"

"Don't try," Peter Ruff interrupted briskly. "It isn't in the bond that you should understand."

Sir Richard helped himself to a drink. A great burden had passed from his shoulders, but he was not feeling at his best that morning. He could scarcely keep his eyes from Peter Ruff.

"Ruff," he said, "I have known you some time, and I have known you to be a square man. I have known you to do good-natured actions. I came to you in desperation but I scarcely expected this!"

Peter Ruff emptied his own tumbler and took up his hat.

"Sir Richard," he said, "you are like a good many other people. Now that the thing is done, you shrink from the thought of it. You even wonder how I could have planned to bring about the death of this man. Listen, Sir Richard. Pity for the deserving, or for those who have in them one single quality, one single grain, of good, is a sentiment which deserves respect. Pity for vermin, who crawl about the world leaving a poisonous trail upon everything they touch, is a false and unnatural sentiment. For every hopelessly corrupt man who is induced to quit this life there is a more deserving one, somewhere or other, for whom the world is a better place."

"So that, after all, you are a philanthropist, Mr. Ruff," Sir Richard said, with a forced smile.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"A philosopher," he answered, buttoning up his notes.



IX. THE PERFIDY OF MISS BROWN

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), May 1910

Peter Ruff came down to his office with a single letter in his hand, bearing a French postmark. He returned his secretary's morning greeting a little absently, and seated himself at his desk.

"Violet," he asked, "have you ever been to Paris?"

She looked at him compassionately.

"More times than you, I think, Peter," she answered.

He nodded.

"That," he exclaimed, "is very possible! Could you get ready to leave by the two-twenty this afternoon?"

"What, alone?" she exclaimed.

"No—with me," he answered.

She shut down her desk with a bang.

"Of course I can!" she exclaimed. "What a spree!"

Then she caught sight of a certain expression on Peter Ruff's face, and she looked at him wonderingly.

"Is anything wrong, Peter?" she asked.

"No," he answered, "I cannot say that anything is wrong. I have had an invitation to present myself before a certain society in Paris of which you have some indirect knowledge. What the summons means I cannot say."

"Yet you go?" she exclaimed.

"I go," he answered. "I have no choice. If I waited here twenty-four hours, I should hear of it."

"They can have nothing against you," she said. "On the contrary, the only time they have appealed for your aid, you gave it—very valuable aid it must have been, too."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I cannot see," he admitted, "what they can have against me. And yet, somehow, the wording of my invitation seemed to me a little ominous. Perhaps," he added, walking to the window and standing looking out for a moment, "I have a liver this morning. I am depressed. Violet, what does it mean when you are depressed?"

"Shall you wear your gray clothes for traveling?" she asked, a little irrelevantly.

"I have not made up my mind," Peter Ruff answered. "I thought of wearing my brown, with a brown overcoat. What do you suggest?"

"I like you in brown," she answered, simply. "I should change, if I were you."

He smiled faintly.

"I believe," he said, "that you have a sort of superstition that as I change my clothes I change my humors."

"Should I be so very far wrong?" she asked. "Don't think that I am laughing at you, Peter. The greatest men in the world have had their foibles."

Peter Ruff frowned.

"We shall be away for several days," he said. "Be sure that you take some wraps. It will be cold, crossing."

"Are you going to close the office altogether?" she asked.

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Put up a notice," he said—"'Back on Friday.' Pack up your books and take them round to the Bank before you leave. The lift man will call you a taxi-cab."

He watched her preparations with a sort of gloomy calm.

"I wish you'd tell me what is the matter with you?" she asked, as she turned to follow her belongings.

"I do not know," Peter Ruff said. "I, suppose I am suffering from what you would call presentiments. Be at Charing-Cross punctually."

"Why do you go at all?" she asked. "These people are of no further use to you. Only the other day, you were saying that you should not accept any more outside cases."

"I must go," Peter Ruff answered. "I am not afraid of many things, but I should be afraid of disobeying this letter."

They had a comfortable journey down, a cool, bright crossing, and found their places duly reserved for them in the French train. Miss Brown, in her neat traveling clothes and furs, was conscious of looking her best, and she did all that was possible to entertain her traveling companion. But Peter Ruff seemed like a man who labors under some sense of apprehension. He had faced death more than once during the last few years—faced it without flinching, and with a certain cool disregard which can only come from the highest sort of courage. Yet he knew, when he read over again in the train that brief summons which he was on his way to obey, that he had passed under the shadow of some new and indefinable fear. He was perfectly well aware, too, that both on the steamer and on the French train he was carefully shadowed. This fact, however, did not surprise him. He even went out of his way to enter into conversation with one of the two men whose furtive glances into their compartment and whose constant proximity had first attracted his attention. The man was civil but vague. Nevertheless, when they took their places in the dining-car, they found the two men at the next table. Peter Ruff pointed them out to his companion.

"'Double-Fours'!" he whispered. "Don't you feel like a criminal?"

She laughed, and they took no more notice of the men. But as the train drew near Paris, he felt some return of the depression which had troubled him during the earlier part of the day. He felt a sense of comfort in his companion's presence which was a thing utterly strange to him. On the other hand, he was conscious of a certain regret that he had brought her with him into an adventure of which he could not foresee the end.

The lights of Paris flashed around them—the train was gradually slackening speed. Peter Ruff, with a sigh, began to collect their belongings.

"Violet," he said, "I ought not to have brought you." Something in his voice puzzled her. There had been every few times, during all the years she had known him, when she had been able to detect anything approaching sentiment in his tone—and those few times had been when he had spoken of another woman.

"Why not?" she asked, eagerly.

Peter Ruff looked out into the blackness, through the glittering arc of lights, and perhaps for once he suffered his fancy to build for him visions of things that were not of earth. If so, however, it was a moment which swiftly passed. His reply was in a tone as matter of fact as his usual speech.

"Because," he said, "I do not exactly see the end of my present expedition—I do not understand its object."

"You have some apprehension?" she asked.

"None at all," he answered. "Why should I? There is an unwritten bargain," he added, a little more slowly, "to which I subscribed with our friends here, and I have certainly kept it. In fact, the balance is on my side. There is nothing for me to fear."

The train crept into the Gare du Nord, and they passed through the usual routine of the Customs House. Then, in an omnibus, they rumbled slowly over the cobblestones, through the region of barely lit streets and untidy cafes, down the Rue Lafayette, across the famous Square and into the Rue de Rivoli.

"Our movements," Peter Ruff remarked dryly, "are too well known for us to attempt to conceal them. We may as well stop at one of the large hotels. It will be more cheerful for you while I am away."

They engaged rooms at the Continental. Miss Brown, whose apartments were in the wing of the hotel overlooking the gardens, ascended at once to her room. Peter Ruff, who had chosen a small suite on the other side, went into the bar for a whiskey and soda. A man touched him on the elbow.

"For Monsieur," he murmured, and vanished.

Peter Ruff turned and opened the note. It bore a faint perfume, it had a coronet upon the flap of the envelope, and it was written in a delicate feminine handwriting.

DEAR Mr. RUFF:— If you are not too tired with your journey, will you call soon after one o'clock to meet some old friends?— BLANCHE DE MAUPASSIM.

Peter Ruff drank his whiskey and soda, went up to his rooms, and made a careful toilet. Then he sent a page up for Violet, who came down within a few minutes. She was dressed with apparent simplicity in a high-necked gown, a large hat, and a single rope of pearls. In place of the usual gold purse, she carried a small white satin bag, exquisitely hand-painted. Everything about her bespoke that elegant restraint so much a feature of the Parisian woman of fashion herself. Peter Ruff, who had told her to prepare for supping out, was at first struck by the simplicity of her attire. Afterwards, he came to appreciate its perfection.

They went to the Cafe de Paris, where they were the first arrivals. People, however, began to stream in before they had finished their meal, and Peter Ruff, comparing his companion's appearance with the more flamboyant charms of these ladies from the Opera and the theatres, began to understand the numerous glances of admiration which the impressionable Frenchmen so often turned in their direction. There was between them, toward the end of the meal, something which amounted almost to nervousness.

"You are going to keep your appointment to-night, Peter?" his companion asked.

Peter Ruff nodded.

"As soon as I have taken you home," he said. "I shall probably return late, so we will breakfast here to-morrow morning, if you like, at half-past twelve. I will send a note to your room when I am ready."

She looked him in the eyes.

"Peter," she said, "supposing that note doesn't come!"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear Violet," he said, "you and I—or rather I, for you are not concerned in this—live a life which is a little different from the lives of most of the people around us. The million pay their taxes, and they expect police protection in times of danger. For me there is no such resource. My life has its own splendid compensations. I have weapons with which to fight any ordinary danger. What I want to explain to you is this—that if you hear no more of me, you can do nothing. If that note does not come to you in the morning, you can do nothing. Wait here for three days, and after that go back to England. You will find a letter on your desk, telling you there exactly what to do."

"You have something in your mind," she said, "of which you have not told me."

"I have nothing," he answered, firmly. "Upon my honor, I know of no possible cause of offense which our friends could have against me. Their summons is, I will admit, somewhat extraordinary, but I go to obey it absolutely without fear. You can sleep well, Violet. We lunch here to-morrow, without a doubt."

They drove back to the hotel almost in silence. Violet was looking fixedly out of the window of the taxicab, as though interested in watching the crowds upon the street. Peter Ruff appeared to be absorbed in his own thoughts. Yet perhaps they were both of them nearer to one another than either surmised. Their parting in the hall of the Continental Hotel was unemotional enough. For a moment Peter Ruff had hesitated while her hand had lain in his. He had opened his lips as though he had something to say. Her eyes grew suddenly softer—seemed to seek his as though begging for those unspoken words. But Peter Ruff did not say them then.

"I shall be back all right," he said. "Good night, Violet! Sleep well!"

He turned back towards the waiting taxicab.

"Number 16, Rue de St. Quintaine," he told the man. It was not a long ride. In less than a quarter of an hour, Peter Ruff presented himself before a handsome white house in a quiet, aristocratic-looking street. At his summons, the postern door flew open, and a man-servant in plain livery stood at the second entrance.

"Madame la Marquise?" Peter Ruff asked.

The man bowed in silence, and took the visitor's hat and overcoat. He passed along a spacious hall and into a delightfully furnished reception room, where an old lady with gray hair sat in the midst of a little circle of men. Peter Ruff stood, for a moment, upon the threshold, looking around him. She held out her hands.

"It is Monsieur Peter Ruff, is it not? At last, then, I am gratified. I have wished for so long to see one who has become so famous."

Peter Ruff took her hands in his and raised them gallantly to his lips.

"Madame," he said, "this is a pleasure indeed. At my last visit here, you were in Italy."

"I grow old," she answered. "I leave Paris but little now. Where one has lived, one should at least be content to die."

"Madame speaks a philosophy," Peter Ruff answered, "which as yet she has no need to learn."

The old lady turned to a man who stood upon her right:

"And this from an Englishman!" she exclaimed.

There were others who took Peter Ruff by the hand then. The servants were handing round coffee in little Sevres cups. On the sideboard was a choice of liqueurs and bottles of wine. Peter Ruff found himself hospitably entertained with both small talk and refreshments. But every now and then his eyes wandered back to where Madame sat in her chair, her hair as white as snow—beautiful still, in spite of the cruel mouth and the narrow eyes.

"She is wonderful!" he murmured to a man who stood by his side.

"She is eighty-six," was the answer in a whisper, "and she knows everything."

As the clock struck two, a tall footman entered the room and wheeled Madame's chair away. Several of the guests left at the same time. Ruff, when the door was closed, counted those who remained. As he had imagined would be the case, he found that there were eight.

A tall, gray-bearded man, who from the first had attached himself to Ruff, and who seemed to act as a sort of master of ceremonies, now approached him once more and laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Mon ami," he said, "we will now discuss, if it pleases you, the little matter concerning which we took the liberty of asking you to favor us with a visit."

"What, here?" Peter Ruff asked, in some surprise.

His friend, who had introduced himself as Monsieur de Founcelles, smiled.

"But why not?" he asked. "Ah, but I think I understand!" he added, almost immediately. "You are English, Monsieur Peter Ruff, and in some respects you have not moved with the times. Confess, now, that your idea of a secret society is a collection of strangely attired men who meet in a cellar, and build subterranean passages in case of surprise. In Paris, I think, we have gone beyond that sort of thing. We of the 'Double-Four' have no headquarters save the drawing-room of Madame; no hiding-places whatsoever; no meeting-places save the fashionable cafes or our own reception rooms. The police follow us—what can they discover?—nothing! What is there to discover?—nothing! Our lives are lived before the eyes of all Paris. There is never any suspicion of mystery about any of our movements. We have our hobbies, and we indulge in them. Monsieur the Marquis de Sogrange here is a great sportsman. Monsieur le Comte owns many racehorses. I myself am an authority on pictures, and own a collection which I have bequeathed to the State. Paris knows us well as men of fashion and mark—Paris does not guess that we have perfected an organization so wonderful that the whole criminal world pays toll to us."

"Dear me," Peter Ruff said, "this is very interesting!"

"We have a trained army at our disposal," Monsieur de Founcelles continued, "who numerically, as well as in intelligence, outnumber the whole force of gendarmes in Paris. No criminal from any other country can settle down here and hope for success, unless he joins us. An exploit which is inspired by us cannot fail. Our agents may count on our protection, and receive it without question."

"I am bewildered," Peter Ruff said, frankly. "I do not understand how you gentlemen—whom one knows by name so well as patrons of sport and society, can spare the time for affairs of such importance."

Monsieur de Founcelles nodded.

"We have very valuable aid," he said. "There is below us—the 'Double-Four'—the eight gentlemen now present, an executive council composed of five of the shrewdest men in France. They take their orders from us. We plan, and they obey. We have imagination, and special sources of knowledge. They have the most perfect machinery for carrying out our schemes that it is possible to imagine. I do not wish to boast, Mr. Ruff, but if I take a directory of Paris and place after any man's name, whatever his standing or estate, a black cross, that man dies before seven days have passed. You buy your evening paper—a man has committed suicide! You read of a letter found by his side: an unfortunate love affair—a tale of jealousy or reckless speculation. Mr. Ruff, the majority of these explanations are false. They are invented and arranged for by us. This year alone, five men in Paris, of position, have been found dead, and accounted, for excellent reasons, suicides. In each one of these cases, Monsieur Ruff, although not a soul has a suspicion of it, the removal of these men was arranged for by the' Double-Four.'"

"I trust," Peter Ruff said, "that it may never be my ill-fortune to incur the displeasure of so marvelous an association."

"On the contrary, Monsieur Ruff," the other answered, "the attention of the association has been directed towards certain incidents of your career in a most favorable manner. We have spoken of you often lately, Mr. Ruff, between ourselves. We arrive now at the object for which we begged the honor of your visit. It is to offer you the Presidency of our Executive Council."

Peter Ruff had thought of many things, but he had not thought of this! He gasped, recovered himself, and realized at once the dangers of the position in which he stood.

"The Council of Five!" he said thoughtfully.

"Precisely," Monsieur de Founcelles replied. "The salary—forgive me for giving such prominence to a matter which you doubtless consider of secondary importance—is ten thousand pounds a year, with a residence here and in London—also servants."

"It is princely!" Peter Ruff declared. "I cannot imagine, Monsieur, how you could have believed me capable of filling such a position."

"There is not much about you, Mr. Ruff, which we do not know," Monsieur de Founcelles answered. "There are points about your career which we have marked with admiration. Your work over here was rapid and comprehensive. We know all about your checkmating the Count von Hern and the Comtesse de Pilitz. We have appealed to you for aid once only—your response was prompt and brilliant. You have all the qualifications we desire. You are still young, physically you are sound, you speak all languages, and you are unmarried."

"I am what?" Peter Ruff asked, with a start.

"A bachelor," Monsieur de Founcelles answered. "We who have made crime and its detection a life-long study, have reduced many matters concerning it to almost mathematical exactitude. Of one thing we have become absolutely convinced—it is that the great majority of cases in which the police triumph are due to the treachery of women. The criminal who steers clear of the other sex escapes a greater danger than the detectives who dog his heels. It is for that reason that we choose only unmarried men for our executive council."

Peter Ruff made a gesture of despair. "And I am to be married in a month!" he exclaimed.

There was a murmur of dismay. If those other seven men had not once intervened, it was because the conduct of the affair had been voted into the hands of Monsieur de Founcelles, and there was little which he had left unsaid. Nevertheless, they had formed a little circle around the two men. Every word passing between them had been listened to eagerly. Gestures and murmured exclamations had been frequent enough. There arose now a chorus of voices which their leader had some difficulty in silencing.

"It must be arranged!"

"But it is impossible—this!"

"Monsieur Ruff amuses himself with us!"

"Gentlemen," Peter Ruff said, "I can assure you that I do nothing of the sort. The affair was arranged some months ago, and the young lady is even now in Paris, purchasing her trousseau."

Monsieur de Founcelles, with a wave of the hand, commanded silence. There was probably a way out. In any case, one must be found.

"Monsieur Ruff," he said, "putting aside, for one moment, your sense of honor, which of course forbids you even to consider the possibility of breaking your word—supposing that the young lady herself should withdraw—"

"You don't know Miss Brown!" Peter Ruff interrupted. "It is a pleasure to which I hope to attain," Monsieur de Founcelles declared, smoothly. "Let us consider once more my proposition. I take it for granted that, apart from this threatened complication, you find it agreeable?"

"I am deeply honored by it," Peter Ruff declared.

"Well, that being so," Monsieur de Founcelles said, more cheerfully, "we must see whether we cannot help you. Tell me, who is this fortunate young lady—this Miss Brown?"

"She is a young person of good birth and some means," Peter Ruff declared. "She is, in a small way, an actress; she has also been my secretary from the first." Monsieur de Founcelles nodded his head thoughtfully.

"Ah!" he said. "She knows your secrets, then, I presume?"

"She does," Peter Ruff assented. "She knows a great deal!"

"A young person to be conciliated by all means," Monsieur de Founcelles declared. "Well, we must see. When, Monsieur Ruff, may I have the opportunity of making the acquaintance of this young lady?"

"To-morrow morning, or rather this morning, if you will," Peter Ruff answered. "We are taking breakfast together at the cafe de Paris. It will give me great pleasure if you will join us."

"On the contrary," Monsieur de Founcelles declared, "I must beg of you slightly to alter your plans. I will ask you and Mademoiselle to do me the honor of breakfasting at the Ritz with the Marquis de Sogrange and myself, at the same hour. We shall find there more opportunity for a short discussion."

"I am entirely at your service," Peter Ruff answered. There were signs now of a breaking-up of the little party.

"We must all regret, dear Monsieur Ruff," Monsieur de Founcelles said, as he made his adieux, "this temporary obstruction to the consummation of our hopes. Let us pray that Mademoiselle will not be unreasonable."

"You are very kind," Peter Ruff murmured.

Peter Ruff drove through the gray dawn to his hotel, in the splendid automobile of Monsieur de Founcelles, whose homeward route lay in that direction. It was four o'clock when he accepted his key from a sleepy-looking clerk, and turned towards the staircase. The hotel was wrapped in semi-gloom. Sweepers and cleaners were at work. The palms had been turned out into the courtyard. Dust sheets lay over the furniture. One person only, save himself and the untidy-looking servants, was astir. From a distant corner which commanded the entrance, he saw Violet stealing away to the corridor which led to her part of the hotel. She had sat there all through the night to see him come in—to be assured of his safety! Peter Ruff stared after her disappearing figure as one might have watched a ghost.

The luncheon-party was a great success. Peter Ruff was human enough to be proud of his companion—proud of her smartness, which was indubitable even here, surrounded as they were by Frenchwomen of the best class; proud of her accent, of the admiration which she obviously excited in the two Frenchmen. His earlier enjoyment of the meal was a little clouded from the fact that he felt himself utterly outshone in the matter of general appearance. No tailor had ever suggested to him a coat so daring and yet so perfect as that which adorned the person of the Marquis de Sogrange. The deep violet of his tie was a shade unknown in Bond Street—inimitable—a true education in color. They had the bearing, too, these Frenchmen! He watched Monsieur de Founcelles bending over Violet, and he was suddenly conscious of a wholly new sensation. He did not recognize—could not even classify it. He only knew that it was not altogether pleasant, and that it set the warm blood tingling through his veins.

It was not until they were sitting out in the winter garden, taking their coffee and liqueurs, that the object of their meeting was referred to. Then Monsieur de Founcelles drew Violet a little away from the others, and the Marquis, with a meaning smile, took Peter Ruff's arm and led him on one side. Monsieur de Founcelles wasted no words at all.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "Monsieur Ruff has doubtless told you that last night I made him the offer of a great position among us."

She looked at him with twinkling eyes.

"Go on, please," she said.

"I offered him a position of great dignity—of great responsibility," Monsieur de Founcelles continued. "I cannot explain to you its exact nature, but it is in connection with the most wonderful organization of its sort which the world has ever known."

"The 'Double-Four,'" she murmured.

"Attached to the post is a princely salary and but one condition," Monsieur de Founcelles said, watching the girl's face. "The condition is that Mr. Ruff remains a bachelor."

Violet nodded.

"Peter's told me all this," she remarked. "He wants me to give him up."

Monsieur de Founcelles drew a little closer to his companion. There was a peculiar smile upon his lips.

"My dear young lady," he said softly, "forgive me if I point out to you that with your appearance and gifts a marriage with our excellent friend is surely not the summit of your ambitions! Here in Paris, I promise you, here—we can do much better than that for you. You have not, perhaps, a dot? Good! That is our affair. Give up our friend here, and we deposit in any bank you like to name the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand francs."

"Two hundred and fifty thousand francs!" Violet repeated, slowly.

Monsieur de Founcelles nodded.

"It is enough?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"It is not enough," she answered.

Monsieur de Founcelles raised his eyebrows.

"We do not bargain," he said coldly, "and money is not the chief thing in the world. It is for you, then, to name a sum."

"Monsieur de Founcelles," she said, "can you tell me the amount of the national debt of France?"

"Somewhere about nine hundred million francs, I believe," he answered.

She nodded.

"That is exactly my price," she declared.

"For giving up Peter Ruff?" he gasped.

She looked at her employer thoughtfully.

"He doesn't look worth it, does he?" she said, with a queer little smile. "I happen to care for him, though—that's all."

Monsieur de Founcelles shrugged his shoulders. He knew men and women, and for the present he accepted defeat. He sighed heavily.

"I congratulate our friend, and I envy him," he said. "If ever you should change your mind, Mademoiselle—"

"It is our privilege, isn't it?" she remarked, with a brilliant smile. "If I do, I shall certainly let you know."

On the way home, Peter Ruff was genial—Miss Brown silent. He had escaped from a difficult position, and his sense of gratitude toward his companion was strong. He showed her many little attentions on the voyage which sometimes escaped him. From Dover, they had a carriage to themselves.

"Peter," Miss Brown said, after he had made her comfortable, "when is it to be?"

"When is what to be?" he asked, puzzled.

"Our marriage," she answered, looking at him for a moment in most bewildering fashion and then suddenly dropping her eyes.

Peter Ruff returned her gaze in blank amazement.

"What do you mean, Violet?" he exclaimed.

"Just what I say," she answered, composedly. "When are we going to be married?"

Peter Ruff frowned.

"What nonsense!" he said. "We are not going to be married. You know that quite well."

"Oh, no, I don't!" she declared, smiling at him in a heavenly fashion. "At your request I have told Monsieur de Founcelles that we were engaged. Incidentally, I have refused two hundred and fifty thousand francs and, I believe, an admirer, for your sake. I declared that I was going to marry you, and I must keep my word."

Peter Ruff began to feel giddy.

"Look here, Violet," he said, "you know very well that we arranged all that between ourselves."

"Arranged all that?" she repeated, with a little laugh. "Perhaps we did. You asked me to marry you, and you posed as my fiancee. You kept it up just as long as you—it suits me to keep it up a little longer."

"Do you mean to say—do you seriously mean that you expect me to marry you?" he asked, aghast.

"I do," she admitted. "I have meant you to for some time, Peter!"

She was very alluring, and Peter Ruff hesitated. She held out her hands and leaned towards him. Her muff fell to the floor. She had raised her veil, and a faint perfume of violets stole into the carriage. Her lips were a little parted, her eyes were saying unutterable things.

"You don't want me to sue you, do you, Peter?" she murmured.

Peter Ruff sighed—and yielded.



X. WONDERFUL JOHN DORY

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Jun 1910

The woman who had been Peter Ruff's first love had fallen upon evil days. Her prettiness was on the wane—powder and rouge, late hours, and excesses of many kinds, had played havoc with it, even in these few months. Her clothes were showy but cheap. Her boots themselves, unclean and down at heel, told the story. She stood upon the threshold of Peter Ruff's office, and looked half defiantly, half doubtfully at Violet, who was its sole occupant.

"Can I do anything for you?" the latter asked, noticing the woman's hesitation.

"I want to see Mr. Ruff," the visitor said.

"Mr. Ruff is out at present," Violet answered.

"When will he be in?"

"I cannot tell you," Violet said. "Perhaps you had better leave a message. Or will you call again? Mr. Ruff is very uncertain in his movements."

Maud sank into a chair.

"I'll wait," she declared.

"I am not sure," Violet remarked, raising her eyebrows, "whether that will be convenient. There may be other clients in. Mr. Ruff himself may not be back for several hours."

"Are you his secretary?" Maud asked, without moving.

"I am his secretary and also his wife," Violet declared. The woman raised herself a little in her chair.

"Some people have all the luck," she muttered. "It's only a few months ago that Mr. Ruff was glad enough to take me out. You remember when I used to come here?"

"I remember," Violet assented.

"I was all right then," the woman continued, "and now—now I'm down and out," she added, with a little sob. "You see what I am like. You look as though you didn't care to have me in the office, and I don't wonder at it. You look as though you were afraid I'd come to beg, and you are right—I have come to beg."

"I am sure Mr. Ruff will do what he can for you," Violet said, "although—"

"I see you know all about it," Maud interrupted, with a hard little laugh. "I came once to wheedle information out of him. I came to try and betray the only man who ever really cared for me. Mr. Ruff was too clever, and I am thankful for it. I have been as big a fool as a woman can be, but I am paying—oh, I am paying for it right enough!"

She swayed in her chair, and Violet was only just in time to catch her. She led the fainting woman to an inner room, made her comfortable upon a sofa, and sent out for some food and a bottle of wine. Down in the street below, John Dory, who had tracked his wife to the building, was walking away with face as black as night. He knew that Maud had lost her position, that she was in need of money—almost penniless. He had waited to see to whom she would turn, hoping—poor fool as he called himself—that she would come back to him. And it was his enemy to whom she had gone! He had seen her enter the building; he knew that she had not left it. In the morning they brought him another report—she was still within. It was the end, this, he told himself! There must be a settlement between him and Peter Ruff!

Mr. John Dory, who had arrived at Clenarvon Court in a four-wheel cab from the nearest railway station, was ushered by the butler to the door of one of the rooms on the ground floor, overlooking the Park. A policeman was there on guard—a policeman by his attitude and salute, although he was in plain clothes. John Dory nodded, and turned to the butler.

"You see, the man knows me," he said. "Here is my card. I am John Dory from Scotland Yard. I want to have a few words with the sergeant."

The butler hesitated.

"Our orders are very strict, sir," he said. "I am afraid that I cannot allow you to enter the room without a special permit from his lordship. You see, we have had no advice of your coming."

John Dory nodded.

"Quite right," he answered. "If every one were to obey his orders as literally, there would be fewer robberies. However, you see that this man recognizes me."

The butler turned toward an elderly gentleman in a pink coat and riding-breeches, who had just descended into the hall.

"His lordship is here," he said. "He will give you permission, without a doubt. There is a gentleman from Scotland Yard, your lordship," he explained, "who wishes to enter the morning-room to speak with the sergeant."

"Inspector John Dory, at your lordship's service," saluting. "I have been sent down from town to help in this little business."

Lord Clenarvon smiled.

"I should have thought that, under the circumstances," he said, "two of you would have been enough. Still, it is not for me to complain. Pray go in and speak to the sergeant. You will find him inside. Rather dull work for him, I'm afraid, and quite unnecessary."

"I am not so sure, your lordship," Dory answered. "The Clenarvon diamonds are known all over the world, and I suppose there isn't a thieves' den in Europe that does not know that they will remain here exposed with your daughter's other wedding presents."

Lord Clenarvon smiled once more and shrugged his shoulders. He was a man who had unbounded faith in his fellow-creatures.

"I suppose," he said, "it is the penalty one has to pay for historical possessions. Go in and talk to the sergeant, by all means, Mr. Dory. I hope that Graves will succeed in making you comfortable during your stay here."

John Dory was accordingly admitted into the room which was so jealously guarded. At first sight, it possessed a somewhat singular appearance. The windows had every one of them been boarded up, and the electric lights consequently fully turned on. A long table stood in the middle of the apartment, serving as support for a long glass showcase, open at the top. Within this, from end to end, stretched the presents which a large circle of acquaintances were presenting to one of the most popular young women in society, on the occasion of her approaching marriage to the Duke of Rochester. In the middle, the wonderful Clenarvon diamonds, set in the form of a tiara, flashed strange lights into the somberly lit apartment. At the end of the table a police sergeant was sitting, with a little pile of newspapers and illustrated journals before him. He rose to his feet with alacrity at his superior's entrance.

"Good morning, Saunders," John Dory said. "I see you've got it pretty snug in here."

"Pretty well, thank you, sir," Saunders answered. "Is there anything stirring?"

John Dory looked behind to be sure that the door was closed. Then he stopped for a moment to gaze at the wonderful diamonds, and finally sat on the table by his subordinate's side.

"Not exactly that, Saunders," he said. "To tell you the truth, I came down here because of that list of guests you sent me up."

Saunders smiled.

"I think I can guess the name you singled out, sir," he said.

"It was Peter Ruff, of course," Dory said. "What is he doing here in the house, under his own name, and as a guest?"

"I have asked no questions, sir," Saunders answered. "I underlined the name in case it might seem worth your while to make inquiries."

John Dory nodded.

"Nothing has happened, of course?" he asked.

"Nothing," Saunders answered. "You see, with the windows all boarded up, there is practically only the ordinary door to guard, so we feel fairly secure."

"No one hanging about?" the detective asked. "Mr. Ruff himself, for instance, hasn't been trying to make your acquaintance?"

"No sign of it, sir," the man answered. "I saw him pass through the hall yesterday afternoon, as I went off duty, and he was in riding clothes all splashed with mud. I think he has been hunting every day."

John Dory muttered something between his lips, and turned on his heel.

"How many men have you here, Saunders?" he asked.

"Only two, sir, beside myself," the man replied.

The detective went round the boarded windows, examining the work carefully until he reached the door.

"I am going to see if I can have a word with his lordship," he said.

He caught Lord Clenarvon in the act of mounting his horse in the great courtyard.

"What is it, Mr. Dory?" the Earl asked, stooping down.

"There is one name, your lordship, among your list of guests, concerning which I wish to have a word with you," the detective said—"the name of Mr. Peter Ruff."

"Don't know anything about him," Lord Clenarvon answered, cheerfully. "You must see my daughter, Lady Mary. It was she who sent him his invitation. Seems a decent little fellow, and rides as well as the best. You'll find Lady Mary about somewhere, if you'd like to ask her."

Lord Clenarvon hurried off, with a little farewell wave of his crop, and John Dory returned into the house to make inquiries respecting Lady Mary. In a very few minutes he was shown into her presence. She smiled at him cheerfully.

"Another detective!" she exclaimed. "I am sure I ought to feel quite safe now. What can I do for you, Mr. Dory?"

"I have had a list of the guests sent to me," Dory answered, "in which I notice the name of Mr. Peter Ruff."

Lady Mary nodded.

"Well?" she asked.

"I have just spoken to his lordship," the detective continued, "and he referred me to you."

"Do you want to know all about Mr. Ruff?" Lady Mary asked, smiling.

"If your ladyship will pardon my saying so, I think that neither you nor any one else could tell me that. What I wished to say was that I understood that we at Scotland Yard were placed in charge of your jewels until after the wedding. Mr. Peter Ruff is, as you may be aware, a private detective himself."

"I understand perfectly," Lady Mary said. "I can assure you, Mr. Dory, that Mr. Ruff is here entirely as a personal and very valued friend of my own. On two occasions he has rendered very signal service to my family—services which I am quite unable to requite."

"In that case, your ladyship, there is nothing more to be said. I conceive it, however, to be my duty to tell you that in our opinion—the opinion of Scotland Yard—there are things about the career of Mr. Peter Ruff which need explanation. He is a person whom we seldom let altogether out of our sight."

Lady Mary laughed frankly.

"My dear Mr. Dory," she said, "this is one of the cases, then, in which I can assure you that I know more than Scotland Yard. There is no person in the world in whom I have more confidence, and with more reason, than Mr. Peter Ruff."

John Dory bowed.

"I thank your ladyship," he said. "I trust that your confidence will never be misplaced. May I ask one more question?"

"Certainly," Lady Mary replied, "so long as you make no insinuations whatever against my friend."

"I should be very sorry to do so," John Dory declared. "I simply wish to know whether Mr. Ruff has any instructions from you with reference to the care of your jewels?"

"Certainly not," Lady Mary replied, decidedly. "Mr. Ruff is here entirely as my guest. He has been in the room with the rest of us, to look at them, and it was he, by the bye, who discovered a much more satisfactory way of boarding the windows. Anything else, Mr. Dory?"

"I thank your ladyship, nothing!" the detective answered. "With your permission, I propose to remain here until after the ceremony."

"Just as you like, of course," Lady Mary said. "I hope you will be comfortable."

John Dory bowed, and returned to confer with his sergeant. Afterwards, finding the morning still fine, he took his hat and went for a walk in the park.

As a matter of fact, this, in some respects the most remarkable of the adventures which had ever befallen Mr. Peter Ruff, came to him by accident. Lady Mary had read the announcement of his marriage in the paper, had driven at once to his office with a magnificent present, and insisted upon his coming with his wife to the party which was assembling at Clenarvon Court in honor of her own approaching wedding. Peter Ruff had taken few holidays of late years, and for several days had thoroughly enjoyed himself. The matter of the Clenarvon jewels he considered, perhaps, with a slight professional interest; but so far as he could see, the precautions for guarding them were so adequate that the subject did not remain in his memory. He had, however, a very distinct and disagreeable shock when, on the night of John Dory's appearance, he recognized among a few newly-arrived guests the Marquis de Sogrange. He took the opportunity, as soon as possible, of withdrawing his wife from a little circle among whom they had been talking, to a more retired corner of the room. She saw at once that something had happened to disturb him.

"Violet," he said, "don't look behind now—"

"I recognized him at once," she interrupted. "It is the Marquis de Sogrange."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"It will be best for you," he said, "not to notice him. Of course, his presence here may be accidental. He has a perfect right to enter any society he chooses. At the same time, I am uneasy."'

She understood in a moment.

"The Clenarvon diamonds!" she whispered. He nodded.

"It is just the sort of affair which would appeal to the 'Double-Four,'" he said. "They are worth anything up to a quarter of a million, and it is an enterprise which could scarcely be attempted except by some one in a peculiar position. Violet, if I were not sure that he had seen me, I should leave the house this minute."

"Why?" she asked, wonderingly.

"Don't you understand," Peter Ruff continued, softly, "that I myself am still what they call a corresponding member of the 'Double-Four,' and they have a right to appeal to me for help in this country, as I have a right to appeal to them for help or information in France? We have both made use of one another, to some extent. No doubt, if the Marquis has any scheme in his mind, he would look upon me as a valuable ally."

She turned slowly pale.

"Peter," she said, "you wouldn't dream—you wouldn't dare to be so foolish?"

He shook his head firmly.

"My dear girl," he said, "we talked that all out long ago. A few years since, I felt that I had been treated badly, that I was an alien, and that the hand of the law was against me. I talked wildly then, perhaps. When I put up my sign and sat down for clients, I meant to cheat the law, if I could. Things have changed, Violet. I want nothing of that sort. I have kept my hands clean and I mean to do so. Why, years ago," he continued, "when I was feeling at my wildest, these very jewels were within my grasp one foggy night, and I never touched them."

"What would happen if you refused to help?"

"I do not know," Peter Ruff answered. "The conditions are a little severe. But, after all, there are no hard and fast rules. It rests with the Marquis himself to shrug his shoulders and appreciate my position. Perhaps he may not even exchange a word with me. Here is Lord Sotherst coming to talk to you, and Captain Hamilton is waiting for me to tell him an address. Remember, don't recognize Sogrange."

Dinner that night was an unusually cheerful meal. Peter Ruff, who was an excellent raconteur, told many stories. The Marquis de Sogrange was perhaps the next successful in his efforts to entertain his neighbors. Violet found him upon her left hand, and although he showed not the slightest signs of having ever seen her before, they were very soon excellent friends. After dinner, Sogrange and Peter Ruff drifted together on their way to the billiard-room. Sogrange, however, continued to talk courteously of trifles until, having decided to watch the first game, they found themselves alone on the leather divan surrounding the room.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, my friend," Sogrange said, watching the ash of his cigar. "Professional?"

Peter Ruff shook his head. "Not in the least," he answered. "I have had the good fortune to render Lady Mary and her brother, at different times, services which they are pleased to value highly. We are here as ordinary guests—my wife and I." The Marquis sighed.

"Ah, that wife of yours, Ruff," he said. "She is charming, I admit, and you are a lucky man; but it was a price—a very great price to pay."

"You, perhaps, are ambitious, Marquis," Peter Ruff answered. "I have not done so badly. A little contents me."

Sogrange looked at him as though he were some strange creature.

"I see!" he murmured. "I see! With you, of course, the commercial side comes uppermost. Mr. Ruff, what do you suppose the income from my estate amounts to?" Peter Ruff shook his head. He did not even know that the Marquis was possessed of estates!

"Somewhere about seven millions of francs," Sogrange declared. "There are few men in Paris more extravagant than I, and I think that we Frenchmen know what extravagance means. But I cannot spend my income. Do you think that it is for the sake of gain that I have come across the Channel to add the Clenarvon diamonds to our coffers?"

Peter Ruff sat very still.

"You mean that?" he said.

"Of course!" Sogrange answered. "Didn't you realize it directly you saw me? What is there, do you think, in a dull English house-party to attract a man like myself? Don't you understand that it is the gambler's instinct—the restless desire to be playing pitch-and-toss with fate, with honor, with life and death, if you will—that brings such as myself into the ranks of the 'Double-Four'? It is the weariness which kills, Peter Ruff. One must needs keep it from one's bones."

"Marquis," Peter Ruff answered, "I do not profess to understand you. I am not weary of life, in fact I love it. I am looking forward to the years when I have enough money—and it seems as though that time is not far off—when I can buy a little place in the country, and hunt a little and shoot a little, and live a simple out-of-door life. You see, Marquis, we are as far removed as the poles."

"Obviously!" Sogrange answered.

"Your confidence," Peter Ruff continued, "the confidence with which you have honored me, inspires me to make you one request. I am here, indeed, as a friend of the family. You will not ask me to help in any designs you may have against the Clenarvon jewels?"

Sogrange leaned back in his chair and laughed softly. His lips, when they parted from his white teeth, resolved themselves into lines which at that moment seemed to Peter Ruff more menacing than mirthful. Sogrange was, in many ways, a man of remarkable appearance.

"Oh, Peter Ruff," he said, "you are a bourgeois little person! You should have been the burgomaster in a little German town, or a French mayor with a chain about your neck. We will see. I make no promises. All that I insist upon, for the present, is that you do not leave this house-party without advising me—that is to say, if you are really looking forward to that pleasant life in the country, where you will hunt a little and shoot a little, and grow into the likeness of a vegetable. You, with your charming wife! Peter Ruff, you should be ashamed to talk like that! Come, I must play bridge with the Countess. I am engaged for a table."

The two men parted. Peter Ruff was uneasy. On his way from the room, Lord Sotherst insisted upon his joining a pool.

"Charming fellow, Sogrange," the latter remarked, as he chalked his cue. "He has been a great friend of the governor's—he and his father before him. Our families have intermarried once or twice."

"He seems very agreeable," Peter Ruff answered, devoting himself to the game.

The following night, being the last but one before the wedding itself, a large dinner-party had been arranged for, and the resources of even so princely a mansion as Clenarvon Court were strained to their utmost by the entertainment of something like one hundred guests in the great banqueting-hall. The meal was about half-way through when those who were not too entirely engrossed in conversation were startled by hearing a dull, rumbling sound, like the moving of a number of pieces of heavy furniture. People looked doubtfully at one another. Peter Ruff and the Marquis de Sogrange were among the first to spring to their feet.

"It's an explosion somewhere," the latter cried. "Sounds close at hand, too."

They made their way out into the hall. Exactly opposite now was the room in which the wedding presents had been placed, and where for days nothing had been seen but a closed door and a man on duty outside. The door now stood wide open, and in place of the single electric light which was left burning through the evening, the place seemed almost aflame.

Ruff, Sogrange and Lord Sotherst were the first three to cross the threshold. They were met by a rush of cold wind. Opposite to them, two of the windows, with their boardings, had been blown away. Sergeant Saunders was still sitting in his usual place at the end of the table, his head bent upon his folded arms. The man who had been on duty outside was standing over him, white with horror. Far away in the distance, down the park, one could faintly hear the throbbing of an engine, and Peter Ruff, through the chasm, saw the lights of a great motor-car flashing in and out amongst the trees. The room itself—the whole glittering array of presents—seemed untouched. Only the great center-piece—the Clenarvon diamonds—had gone. Even as they stood there, the rest of the guests crowding into the open door, John Dory tore through, his face white with excitement. Peter Ruff's calm voice penetrated the din of tongues.

"Lord Sotherst," he said, "you have telephones in the keepers' lodges. There is a motor-car being driven southwards at full speed. Telephone down, and have your gates secured. Dory, I should keep every one out of the room. Some one must telephone for a doctor. I suppose your man has been hurt."

The guests were wild with curiosity, but Lord Clenarvon, with an insistent gesture, led the way back to the diningroom.

"Whatever has happened," he said, "the people who are in charge there know best how to deal with the situation. There is a detective from Scotland Yard and his subordinates, and a gentleman in whom I also have most implicit confidence. We will resume our dinner, if you please, ladies and gentlemen."

Unwillingly, the people were led away. John Dory was already in his great-coat, ready to spring into the powerful motor-car which had been ordered out from the garage. A doctor, who had been among the guests, was examining the man Saunders, who sat in that still, unnatural position at the head of the table.

"The poor fellow has been shot in the back of the head with some peculiar implement," he said. "The bullet is very long—almost like a needle—and it seems to have penetrated very nearly to the base of the brain."

"Is he dead?" Peter Ruff asked.

The doctor shook his head.

"No!" he answered. "An inch higher up and he must have died at once. I want some of the men-servants to help me carry him to a bedroom, and plenty of hot water. Some one else must go for my instrument case."

Lord Sotherst took these things in charge, and John Dory turned to the man whom they had found standing over him.

"Tell us exactly what happened," he said, briefly.

"I was standing outside the door," the man answered. "I heard no sound inside—there was nothing to excite suspicion in any way. Suddenly there was this explosion. It took me, perhaps, thirty or forty seconds to get the key out of my pocket and unlock the door. When I entered, the side of the room was blown in like that, the diamonds were gone, Saunders was leaning forward just in the position he is in now, and there wasn't another soul in sight. Then you and the others came."

John Dory rushed from the room; they had brought him word that the car was waiting. At such a moment, he was ready even to forget his ancient enmity. He turned towards Peter Ruff, whose calm bearing somehow or other impressed even the detective with a sense of power.

"Will you come along?" he asked.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"Thank you, Dory, no!" he said. "I am glad you have asked me, but I think you had better go alone."

A few seconds later, the pursuit was started. Saunders was carried out of the room, followed by the doctor. There remained only Peter Ruff and the man who had been on duty outside. Peter Ruff seated himself where Saunders had been sitting, and seemed to be closely examining the table all round for some moments. Once he took up something from between the pages of the book which the Sergeant had apparently been reading, and put it carefully into his own pocketbook. Then he leaned back in the chair, with his hands clasped behind his head and his eyes fixed upon the ceiling, as though thinking intently.

"Hastings," he said to the policeman, who all the time was pursuing a stream of garrulous, inconsequent remarks, "I wonder whether you'd step outside and see Mr. Richards, the butler. Ask him if he would be so good as to spare me a moment."

"I'll do it, sir," the man answered, with one more glance through the open space. "Lord!" he added, "they must have been in through there and out again like cats!"

"It was quick work, certainly," Peter Ruff answered, genially, "but then, an enterprise like this would, of course, only be attempted by experts."

Peter Ruff was not left alone long. Mr. Richards came hurrying in.

"This is a terrible business, sir!" he said. "His lordship has excused me from superintending the service of the dinner. Anything that I can do for you I am to give my whole attention to. These were my orders."

"Very good of you, Richards," Peter Ruff answered, "very thoughtful of his lordship. In the first place, then, I think, we will have the rest of this jewelry packed in cases at once. Not that anything further is likely to happen," he continued, "but still, it would be just as well out of the way. I will remain here and superintend this, if you will send a couple of careful servants. In the meantime, I want you to do something else for me."

"Certainly, sir," the man answered.

"I want a plan of the house," Peter Ruff said, "with the names of the guests who occupy this wing."

The butler nodded gravely.

"I can supply you with it very shortly, sir," he said. "There is no difficulty at all about the plan, as I have several in my room; but it will take me some minutes to pencil in the names."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I will superintend things here until you return," he said.

"It is to be hoped, sir," the man said, as he retreated, "that the gentleman from Scotland Yard will catch the thieves. After all, they hadn't more than ten minutes' start, and our Daimler is a flyer."

"I'm sure I hope so," Peter Ruff answered, heartily.

But, alas! no such fortune was in store for Mr. John Dory. At daybreak he returned in a borrowed trap from a neighboring railway station.

"Our tires had been cut," he said, in reply to a storm of questions. "They began to go, one after the other, as soon as we had any speed on. We traced the car to Salisbury, and there isn't a village within forty miles that isn't looking out for it."

Peter Ruff, who had just returned from an early morning walk, nodded sympathetically.

"Shall you be here all day, Mr. Dory?" he asked. "There's just a word or two I should like to have with you."

Dory turned away. He had forced himself, in the excitement of the moment, to speak to his ancient enemy, but in this hour of his humility the man's presence was distasteful to him.

"I am not sure," he said, shortly. "It depends on how things may turn out."

The daily life at Clenarvon Court proceeded exactly as usual. Breakfast was served early, as there was to be big day's shoot. The Marquis de Sogrange and Peter Ruff smoked their cigarettes together afterwards in the great hall. Then it was that Peter Ruff took the plunge.

"Marquis," he said, "I should like to know exactly how I stand with you—the 'Double-Four,' that is to say—supposing I range myself for an hour or so on the side of the law?"

Sogrange smiled.

"You amuse yourself, Mr. Ruff," he remarked genially.

"Not in the least," Peter Ruff answered. "I am serious."

Sogrange watched the blue cigarette smoke come down his nose.

"My dear friend," he said, "I am no amateur at this game. When I choose to play it, I am not afraid of Scotland Yard. I am not afraid," he concluded, with a little bow, "even of you!"

"Do you ever bet, Marquis?" Peter Ruff asked.

"Twenty-five thousand francs," Sogrange said, smiling, "that your efforts to aid Mr. John Dory are unavailing."

Peter Ruff entered the amount in his pocketbook. "It is a bargain," he declared. "Our bet, I presume, carries immunity for me?"

"By all means," Sogrange answered, with a little bow.

The Marquis beckoned to Lord Sotherst, who was crossing the hall.

"My dear fellow," he said, "do tell me the name of your hatter in London. Delions failed me at the last moment, and I have not a hat fit for the ceremony to-morrow."

"I'll lend you half-a-dozen, if you can wear them," Lord Sotherst answered, smiling. "The governor's sure to have plenty, too."

Sogrange touched his head with a smile.

"Alas!" he said. "My head is small, even for a Frenchman's. Imagine me—otherwise, I trust, suitably attired—walking to the church to-morrow in a hat which came to my ears!"

Lord Sotherst laughed.

"Scotts will do you all right," he said. "You can telephone."

"I shall send my man up," Sogrange determined. "He can bring me back a selection. Tell me, at what hour is the first drive this morning, and are the places drawn yet?"

"Come into the gun-room and we'll see," Lord Sotherst answered.

Peter Ruff made his way to the back quarters of the house. In a little sitting-room he found the man he sought, sitting alone. Peter Ruff closed the door behind him.

"John Dory," he said, "I have come to have a few words with you."

The detective rose to his feet. He was in no pleasant mood. Though the telephone wires had been flashing their news every few minutes, it seemed, indeed, as though the car which they had chased had vanished into space.

"What do you want to say to me?" he asked gruffly.

"I want, if I can," Peter Ruff said earnestly, "to do you a service."

Dory's eyes glittered.

"I think," he said, "that I can do without your services."

"Don't be foolish," Peter Ruff said. "You are harboring a grievance against me which is purely an imaginary one. Now listen to the facts. You employ your wife—which after all, Dory, I think, was not quite the straight thing—to try and track down a young man named Spencer Fitzgerald, who was formerly, in a small way, a client of mine. I find your wife an agreeable companion—we become friends. Then I discover her object, and know that I am being fooled. The end of that little episode you remember. But tell me why should you bear me ill-will for defending my friend and myself?"

The detective came slowly up to Peter Ruff. He took hold of the lapel of the other's coat with his left hand, and his right hand was clenched. But Peter Ruff did not falter.

"Listen to me," said Dory. "I will tell you what grudge I bear against you. It was your entertainment of my wife which gave her the taste for luxury and for gadding about. Mind, I don't blame you for that altogether, but there the fact remains. She left me. She went on the stage."

"Stop!" Peter Ruff said. "You must still hold me blameless. She wrote to me. I went out with her once. The only advice I gave her was to return to you. So far as I am concerned, I have treated her with the respect that I would have shown my own sister."

"You lie!" Dory cried, fiercely. "A month ago, I saw her come to your fiat. I watched for hours. She did not leave it—she did not leave it all that night!"

"If you object to her visit," Peter Ruff said quietly, "it is my wife whom you must blame."

John Dory relaxed his hand and took a quick step backwards.

"Your wife?" he muttered.

"Exactly!" Peter Ruff answered. "Maud—Mrs. Dory—called to see me; she was ill—she had lost her situation—she was even, I believe, faint and hungry. I was not present. My wife talked to her and was sorry for her. While the two women were there together, your wife fainted. She was put to bed in our one spare room, and she has been shown every attention and care. Tell me, how long is it since you were at home?"

"Not for ten days," Dory answered, bitterly. "Why?"

"Because when you go back, you will find your wife there," Peter Ruff answered. "She has given up the stage. Her one desire is to settle down and repay you for the trouble she has caused you. You needn't believe me unless you like. Ask my wife. She is here. She will tell you."

Dory was overcome. He went back to his seat by the window, and he buried his face for a moment in his hands.

"Ruff," he said, "I don't deserve this. I've had bad times lately, though. Everything has gone against me. I think I have been a bit careless, with the troubles at home and that."

"Stop!" Peter Ruff insisted. "Now I come to the immediate object of my visit to you. You have had some bad luck at headquarters. I know of it. I am going to help you to reinstate yourself brilliantly. With that, let us shake hands and bury all the soreness that there may be between us."

John Dory stared at his visitor.

"Do you mean this?" he asked.

"I do," answered Peter. "Please do not think that I mean to make any reflection upon your skill. It is just a chance that I was able to see what you were not able to see. In an hour's time, you shall restore the Clenarvon diamonds to Lord Clenarvon. You shall take the reward which he has just offered, of a thousand pounds. And I promise you that the manner in which you shall recover the jewels shall be such that you will be famous for a long time to come."

"You are a wonderful man!" said Dory, hoarsely. "Do you mean, then, that the jewels were not with those men in the motor-car?"

"Of course not!" Peter Ruff answered. "But come along. The story will develop."

At half-past ten that morning, a motor-car turned out from the garage at Clenarvon Court, and made its way down the avenue. In it was a single passenger—the dark-faced Parisian valet of the Marquis de Sogrange. As the car left the avenue and struck into the main road, it was hailed by Peter Ruff and John Dory, who were walking together along the lane.

"Say, my man," Peter Ruff said, addressing the chauffeur, "are you going to the station?"

"Yes, sir!" the man answered. "I am taking down the Marquis de Sogrange's servant to catch the eleven o'clock train to town."

"You don't mind giving us a lift?" Peter Ruff asked, already opening the door.

"Certainly not, sir," the man answered, touching his hat.

Peter Ruff and John Dory stepped into the tonneau of the car. The man civilly lifted the hatbox from the seat, and made room for his enforced companions. Nevertheless, it was easy to see that he was not pleased.

"There's plenty of room here for three," Peter Ruff said, cheerfully, as they sat on either side of him. "Drive slowly, please, chauffeur. Now, Mr. Lemprise," Peter Ruff added, "we will trouble you to change places."

"What do you mean?" the man called out, suddenly pale as death.

He was held as though in a vice. John Dory's arm was through his on one side, and Peter Ruff's on the other. Apart from that, the muzzle of a revolver was pressed to his forehead.

"On second thoughts," Peter Ruff said, "I think we will keep you like this. Driver," he called out, "please return to the Court at once."

The man hesitated.

"You recognize the gentleman who is with me?" Peter Ruff said. "He is the detective from Scotland Yard. I have full authority from Lord Clenarvon over all his servants. Please do as I say."

The man hesitated no more. The car was backed and turned, the Frenchman struggling all the way like a wild cat. Once he tried to kick the hatbox into the road, but John Dory was too quick for him. So they drove up to the front door of the Court, to be welcomed with cries of astonishment from the whole of the shooting party, who were just starting. Foremost among them was Sogrange. They crowded around the car. Peter Ruff touched the hatbox with his foot.

"If we could trouble your Lordship," he said, "to open that hatbox, you will find something that will interest you. Mr. Dory has planned a little surprise for you, in which I have been permitted to help."

The women, who gathered that something was happening, came hastening out from the hall. They all crowded round Lord Clenarvon, who was cutting through the leather strap of the hatbox. Inside the silk hat which reposed there, were the Clenarvon diamonds. Monsieur le Marquis de Sogrange was one of the foremost to give vent to an exclamation of delight.

"Monsieur le Marquis," Peter Ruff said, "this should be a lesson to you, I hope, to have the characters of your servants more rigidly verified. Mr. Dory tells me that this man came into your employ at the last moment with a forged recommendation. He is, in effect, a dangerous thief."

"You amaze me!" Sogrange exclaimed.

"We are all interested in this affair," Peter Ruff said, "and my friend John Dory here is, perhaps, too modest properly to explain the matter. If you care to come with me, we can reconstruct, in a minute, the theft."

John Dory and Peter Ruff first of all handed over their captive, who was now calm and apparently resigned, to the two policemen who were still on duty in the Court. Afterwards, Peter Ruff led the way up one flight of stairs, and turned the handle of the door of an apartment exactly over the morning-room. It was the bedroom of the Marquis de Sogrange.

"Mr. Dory's chase in the motor-car," he said, "was, as you have doubtless gathered now, merely a blind. It was obvious to his intelligence that the blowing away of the window was merely a ruse to cover the real method of the theft. If you will allow me, I will show you how it was done."

The floor was of hardwood, covered with rugs. One of these, near the fireplace, Peter Ruff brushed aside. The seventh square of hardwood from the mantelpiece had evidently been tampered with. With very little difficulty, he removed it.

"You see," he explained, "the ceiling of the room below is also of paneled wood. Having removed this, it is easy to lift the second one, especially as light screws have been driven in and string threaded about them. There is now a hole through which you can see into the room below. Has Dory returned? Ah, here he is!"

The detective came hurrying into the room, bearing in his hand a peculiar-shaped weapon, a handful of little darts like those which had been found in the wounded man's head, and an ordinary fishing-rod in a linen case.

"There is the weapon," Peter Ruff said, "which it was easy enough to fire from here upon the man who was leaning forward exactly below. Then here, you will see, is a somewhat peculiar instrument, which shows a great deal of ingenuity in its details."

He opened the linen case, which was, by the bye, secured by a padlock, and drew out what was, to all appearance, an ordinary fishing-rod, fitted at the end with something that looked like an iron hand. Peter Ruff dropped it through the hole until it reached the table, moved it backwards and forwards, and turned round with a smile.

"You see," he said, "the theft, after all, was very simple. Personally, I must admit that it took me a great deal by surprise, but my friend Mr. Dory has been on the right track from the first. I congratulate him most heartily."

Dory was a little overcome. Lady Mary shook him heartily by the hand, but as they trooped downstairs she stooped and whispered in Peter Ruff's ear.

"I wonder how much of this was John Dory," she said, smiling.

Peter Ruff said nothing. The detective was already on the telephone, wiring his report to London. Every one was standing about in little knots, discussing this wonderful event. Sogrange sought Lord Clenarvon, and walked with him, arm in arm, down the stairs.

"I cannot tell you, Clenarvon," he said, "how sorry I am that I should have been the means of introducing a person like this to the house. I had the most excellent references from the Prince of Strelitz. No doubt they were forged. My own man was taken ill just before I left, and I had to bring some one."

"My dear Sogrange," Lord Clenarvon said, "don't think of it. What we must be thankful for is that we had so brilliant a detective in the house."

"As John Dory?" Sogrange remarked, with a smile. Lord Clenarvon nodded.

"Come," he said, "I don't see why we should lose a day's sport because the diamonds have been recovered. I always felt that they would turn up again some day or other. You are keen, I know, Sogrange."

"Rather!" the Marquis answered. "But excuse me for one moment. There is Mrs. Ruff looking charming there in the corner. I must have just a word with her."

He crossed the room and bowed before Violet.

"My dear lady," he said, "I have come to congratulate you. You have a clever husband—a little cleverer, even, than I thought. I have just had the misfortune to lose to him a bet of twenty-five thousand francs."

Violet smiled, a little uneasily.

"Peter doesn't gamble as a rule," she remarked.

Sogrange sighed.

"This, alas, was no gamble!" he said. "He was betting upon certainties, but he won. Will you tell him from me, when you see him, that although I have not the money in my pocket at the moment, I shall pay my debts. Tell him that we are as careful to do that in France as we are to keep our word!"

He bowed, and passed out with the shooting-party on to the terrace. Peter Ruff came up, a few minutes later, and his wife gave him the message.

"I did that man an injustice," Peter Ruff said with a sigh of relief. "I can't explain now, dear. I'll tell you all about it later in the day."

"There's nothing wrong, is there?" she asked him, pleadingly.

"On the contrary," Peter Ruff declared, "everything is right. I have made friends with Dory, and I have won a thousand pounds. When we leave here, I am going to look out for that little estate in the country. If you come out with the lunch, dear, I want you to watch that man Hamilton's coat. It's exactly what I should like to wear myself at my own shooting parties. See if you can make a sketch of it when he isn't looking."

Violet laughed.



RECALLED BY THE DOUBLE FOUR

A COLLECTION OF STORIES FROM PEARSON'S MAGAZINE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY BY DALTON STEVENS

Published as The Double Four by Cassell & Co., London, Sep 1911


TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



THE DOUBLE FOUR

I.—RECALLED BY THE DOUBLE FOUR

First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Jan 1911

I.

"It is the desire of Madame that you should join our circle here on Thursday evening next, at ten o'clock.Sogrange."

The man looked up from the sheet of notepaper which he held in his hand, and gazed through the open French windows before which he was standing. It was a very pleasant and very peaceful prospect. There was his croquet lawn, smooth-shaven, the hoops neatly arranged, the chalk mark firm and distinct upon the boundary. Beyond, the tennis court, the flower gardens, and to the left the walled fruit garden. A little farther away was the paddock and orchard, and a little farther still the farm, which for the last four years had been the joy of his life. His meadows were yellow with buttercups; a thin line of willows showed where the brook wound its lazy way through the bottom fields. It was a home, this, in which a man could well lead a peaceful life, could dream away his days to the music of the west wind, the gurgling stream, the song of birds, and the low murmuring of insects. Peter Ruff stood like a man turned to stone, for even as he looked these things passed away from before his eyes, the roar of the world beat in his ears—the world of intrigue, of crime, the world where the strong man hewed his way to power, and the weaklings fell like corn before the sickle.

"It is the desire of Madame!"

Peter Ruff clenched his fists as he read the words once more. It was a message from a world every memory of which had been deliberately crushed—a world, indeed, in which he had seemed no longer to hold any place. He was Peter Ruff, Esquire, of Aynesford Manor, in the County of Somerset. It could not be for him, this strange summons.

The rustle of a woman's soft draperies broke in upon his reverie. He turned round with his usual morning greeting upon his lips. She was, without doubt, a most beautiful woman: petite, and well moulded, with the glow of health in her eyes and on her cheeks. She came smiling to him—a dream of muslin and pink ribbons.

"Another forage bill, my dear Peter?" she demanded, passing her arm through his. "Put it away and admire my new morning gown. It came straight from Paris, and you will have to pay a great deal of money for it."

He pulled himself together—he had no secrets from his wife.

"Listen," he said, and read aloud:

"RUE DE ST. QUINTAINE.
PARIS.

"DEAR Mr. RUFF, It is a long time since we had the pleasure of a visit from you. It is the desire of Madame that you should join our circle here on Thursday evening next at ten o'clock.— SOGRANGE."

Violet was a little perplexed. She failed, somehow, to recognise the sinister note underlying those few sentences.

"It sounds friendly enough," she remarked. "You are not obliged to go, of course."

Peter Ruff smiled grimly.

"Yes, it sounds all right," he admitted.

"They won't expect you to take any notice of it, surely?" she continued. "When you bought this place, Peter, you gave them definitely to understand that you had retired into private life, that all these things were finished with you."

"There are some things," Peter Ruff said slowly, "which are never finished."

"But you resigned," she reminded him. "I remember your letter distinctly."

"From the Double Four," he answered, "no resignation is recognised save death. I did what I could, and they accepted my explanations gracefully and without comment. Now that the time has come, however, when they need, or think they need, my help, you see they do not hesitate to claim it."

"You will not go, Peter? You will not think of going?" she begged.

He twisted the letter between his fingers and sat down to his breakfast.

"No," he said, "I shall not go."

That morning Peter Ruff spent upon his farm, looking over his stock, examining some new machinery, and talking crops with his bailiff. In the afternoon he played his customary round of golf. It was the sort of day which, as a rule, he found completely satisfactory, yet, somehow or other, a certain sense of weariness crept in upon him towards its close. The agricultural details in which he was accustomed to take so much interest had fallen a little flat. He even found himself wondering, after one of his best drives, whether it was well for the mind of a man to be so utterly engrossed by the flight of that small white ball towards its destination. More than once lately, despite his half-angry rejection of them, certain memories, half-wistful, half-tantalising, from the world of which he now saw so little, had forced their way in upon his attention. This morning the lines of that brief note seemed to stand out before him all the time with a curious vividness. In a way he played the hypocrite to himself. He professed to have found that summons disturbing and unwelcome, yet his thoughts were continually occupied with it. He knew well that what would follow was inevitable, but he made no sign.

Two days later he received another letter. This time it was couched in different terms. On a square card, at the top of which was stamped a small coronet, he read as follows:

"Madame de Maupassim at home, Saturday evening, May 2nd, at ten o'clock."

In small letters at the bottom left-hand corner were added the words:

"To meet friends."

Peter Ruff put the card upon the fire and went out for a morning's rabbit shooting with his keeper. When he returned, luncheon was ready, but Violet was absent. He rang the bell.

"Where is your mistress, Jane?" he asked the parlourmaid.

The girl had no idea. Mrs. Ruff had left for the village several hours ago. Since then she had not been seen.

Peter Ruff ate his luncheon alone and understood. The afternoon wore on, and at night he travelled up to London. He knew better than to waste time by purposeless inquiries. Instead he took the nine o'clock train the next morning to Paris.

It was a chamber of death into which he was ushered—dismal, yet, of its sort, unique, marvellous. The room itself might have been the sleeping apartment of an Empress—lofty, with white panelled walls adorned simply with gilded lines; with high windows, closely curtained now so that neither sound nor the light of day might penetrate into the room. In the middle of the apartment, upon a canopy bedstead which had once adorned a king's palace, lay Madame de Maupassim. Her face was already touched with the finger of death, yet her eyes were undimmed and her lips unquivering. Her hands, covered with rings, lay out before her upon the lace coverlid. Supported by many pillows, she was issuing her last instructions with the cold precision of the man of affairs who makes the necessary arrangements for a few days' absence from his business.

Peter Ruff, who had not even been allowed sufficient time to change his travelling clothes, was brought without hesitation to her bedside. She looked at him in silence for a moment with a cold glitter in her eyes.

"You are four days late, Monsieur Peter Ruff," she remarked. "Why did you not obey your first summons?"

"Madame," he answered, "I thought that there must be a misunderstanding. Four years ago I gave notice to the council that I had married and retired into private life. A country farmer is of no further use to the world."

The woman's thin lip curled.

"From death and the Double Four," she said, "there is no resignation which counts. You are as much our creature to-day as I am the creature of the disease which is carrying me across the threshold of death."

Peter Ruff remained silent. The woman's words seemed full of dread significance. Besides, how was it possible to contradict the dying?

"It is upon the unwilling of the world," she continued, speaking slowly, yet with extraordinary distinctness, "that its greatest honours are often conferred. The name of my successor has been balloted for secretly. It is you, Peter Ruff, who have been chosen."

This time he was silent, because he was literally bereft of words. This woman was dying, and fancying strange things! He looked from one to the other of the stern, pale faces of those who were gathered around her bedside. Seven of them there were—the same seven. At that moment their eyes were all focused upon him. Peter Ruff shrank back.

"Madame," he murmured, "this cannot be."

Her lips twitched as though she would have smiled.

"What we have decided," she said, "we have decided. Nothing can alter that—not even the will of Mr. Peter Ruff."

"I have been out of the world for four years," Peter Ruff protested. "I have no longer ambitions, no longer any desire——"

"You lie!" the woman interrupted. "You lie, or you do yourself an injustice! We gave you four years, and, looking into your face, I think that it has been enough. I think that the weariness is there already. In any case, the charge which I lay upon you in these, my last moments, is one which you can escape by death only!"

A low murmur of voices from those others repeated her words.

"By death only!"

Peter Ruff opened his lips, but closed them again without speech. A wave of emotion seemed passing through the room. Something strange was happening. It was Death itself which had come amongst them.

A morning journalist wrote of the death of Madame eloquently and with feeling. She had been a broadminded aristocrat, a woman of brilliant intellect and great friendships, a woman of whose inner life during the last ten or fifteen years little was known, yet who, in happier times, might well have played a great part in the history of her country.

Peter Ruff drove back from the cemetery with the Marquis de Sogrange, and for the first time since the death of Madame serious subjects were spoken of.

"I have waited patiently," he declared, "but there are limits. I want my wife."

Sogrange took him by the arm and led him into the library of the house in the Rue de St. Quintaine. The six men who were already there waiting rose to their feet.

"Gentlemen," the Marquis said, "is it your will that I should be spokesman?"

There was a murmur of assent. Then Sogrange turned towards his companion, and something new seemed to have crept into his manner—a solemn, almost threatening note.

"Peter Ruff," he continued, "you have trifled with the one organisation in this world which has never allowed itself to have liberties taken with it or to be defied. Men who have done greater service than you have died for the disobedience of a day. You have been treated leniently, accordingly to the will of Madame. According to her will, and in deference to the position which you must now take up amongst us, we still treat you as no other has ever been treated by us. The Double Four admits your leadership and claims you for its own."

"I am not prepared to discuss anything of the sort," Peter Ruff declared doggedly, "until my wife is restored to me."

The Marquis smiled.

"The traditions of your race, Mr. Ruff," he said, "are easily manifest in you. Now, hear our decision. Your wife shall be restored to you on the day when you take up this position to which you have become entitled. Sit down and listen."

Peter Ruff was a rebel at heart, but he felt the grip of iron.

"During these four years when you, my friend, have been growing turnips and shooting your game, events in the world have marched, new powers have come into being, a new page of history has been opened. As everything which has good at the heart evolves toward the good, so we of the Double Four have lifted our great enterprise on to a higher plane. The world of criminals is still at our beck and call, we still claim the right to draw the line between moral theft and immoral honesty; but to-day the Double Four is concerned with greater things. Within the four walls of this room, within the hearing of these my brothers, whose fidelity is as sure as the stones of Paris, I tell you a splendid secret. The Government of our country has craved for our aid and the aid of our organisation. It is no longer the wealth of the world alone which we may control, but the actual destinies of nations."

"What I suppose you mean to say is," Peter Ruff remarked, "that you've been going in for politics?"

"You put it crudely, my English bulldog," Sogrange answered, "but you are right. We are occupied now by affairs of international importance. More than once during the last few months ours has been the hand which has changed the policy of an empire."

"Most interesting," Peter Ruff declared, "but so far as I personally am concerned——"

"Listen," the Marquis interrupted. "Not a hundred yards from the French Embassy in London there is waiting for you a house and servants no less magnificent than the Embassy itself. You will become the ambassador in London of the Double Four, titular head of our association, a personage whose power is second to none in your marvellous city. I do not address words of caution to you, my friend, because we have satisfied ourselves as to your character and capacity before we consented that you should occupy your present position. But I ask you to remember this: the will of Madame lives even beyond the grave. The spirit which animated her when alive breathes still in all of us. In London you will wield a great power. Use it for the common good. And remember this: the Double Four has never failed, the Double Four can never fail."

"I am glad to hear you are so confident," Peter Ruff said. "Of course, if I have to take this thing on I shall do my best; but, if I might venture to allude for a moment to anything so trifling as my own domestic affairs, I am very anxious to know about my wife."

Sogrange smiled.

"You will find Mrs. Ruff awaiting you in London," he announced. "Your address is Merton House, Berkeley Square."

"When do I go there?" Peter Ruff asked.

"To-night," was the answer.

"And what do I do when I get there?" he persisted.

"For three days," the Marquis told him, "you will remain indoors and give audience to whomever may come to you. At the end of that time, you will understand a little more of our purpose and our objects—perhaps even of our power."

"I see difficulties," Peter Ruff remarked. "My name, you see, is uncommon."

Sogrange drew a document from the breast pocket of his coat.

"When you leave this house to-night," he proclaimed, "we bid good-bye for ever to Mr. Peter Ruff. You will find in this envelope the title-deeds of a small property which is our gift to you. Henceforth you will be known by the name and the title of your estates."

"Title!" Peter Ruff gasped.

"You will reappear in London," Sogrange continued, "as the Baron de Grost."

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"It won't do," he declared. "People will find me out."

"There is nothing to be found out," the Marquis went on, a little wearily. "Your country life has dulled your wits, Baron. The title and the name are justly yours—they go with the property. For the rest, the history of your family, and of your career up to the moment when you enter Merton House to-night, will be inside this packet. You can peruse it upon the journey, and remember that we can at all times bring a hundred witnesses, if necessary, to prove that you are whom you declare yourself to be. When you get to Charing Cross, do not forget that it will be the carriage and servants of the Baron de Grost which await you."

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "I suppose I shall get used to it."

"Naturally," Sogrange answered. "For the moment, we are passing through a quiet time, necessitated by the mortal illness of Madame. You will be able to spend the next few weeks in getting used to your new position. You will have a great many callers, inspired by us, who will see that you make the right acquaintances and that you join the right clubs. At the same time, let me warn you always to be ready. There is trouble brooding just now all over Europe. In one way or another we may become involved at any moment. The whole machinery of our society will be explained to you by your secretary. You will find him already installed at Merton House. A glass of wine, Baron, before you leave?"

Peter Ruff glanced at the clock.

"There are my things to pack," he began.

Sogrange smiled.

"Your valet is already on the front seat of the automobile which is waiting," he remarked. "You will find him attentive and trustworthy. The clothes which you brought with you we have taken the liberty of dispensing with. You will find others in your trunk, and at Merton House you can send for any tailor you choose. One toast, Baron. We drink to the Double Four—to the great cause!"

There was a murmur of voices. Sogrange lifted once more his glass.

"May Peter Ruff rest in peace!" he said. "We drink to his ashes. We drink long life and prosperity to the Baron de Grost!"

The Marquis alone attended his guest to the station. They walked up and down the long platform of the Gare du Nord, Sogrange talking most of the time in an undertone, for there were many things which he yet had to explain. There came a time, however, when his grip upon his companion's arm suddenly tightened. They were passing a somewhat noticeable little group—a tall, fair man, with close-shaven hair and military moustache, dressed in an English travelling suit and Homburg hat, and by his side a very brilliant young woman, whose dark eyes, powdered face, and marvellous toilette rendered her a trifle conspicuous. In the background were a couple of servants.

"The Count von Hern-Bernadine!" the Marquis whispered.

Peter glanced at him for a moment as they passed.

"Bernadine, without a doubt!" he exclaimed. "And his companion?"

"Mademoiselle Delucie, from the Comédie Française," the Marquis replied. "It is just like Bernadine to bring her here. He likes to parade the ostensible cause for his visit to Paris. It is all bluff. He cares little for the ladies of the theatre, or any other woman, except when he can make tools of them. He is here just now——"

The Marquis paused. Peter looked at him interrogatively.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because you are here," the Marquis affirmed. "Baron, I meant to speak to you about that man before we parted. There is no great work done without difficulties. The greatest difficulty you will have to face in your new life is that man. It is very possible that you may find within the course of a few months that your whole career, your very life, has developed into a duel à outrance with him."

They had turned again, and were once more in sight of the little group. Bernadine had thrown a loose overcoat over his tweed travelling clothes, and with a cigarette between his fingers was engaged in deferential conversation with the woman by his side. His servant stood discreetly in the background, talking to the other domestic—a sombrely clad young person carrying a flat jewel-case, obviously the maid of the young Frenchwoman.

"He is taking her across," the Marquis remarked. "It is not often that he travels like this. Perhaps he has heard that you are susceptible, my friend."

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"The game is too young yet!" he declared.

"It is never too young for Bernadine to take a hand," the Marquis replied grimly. "Listen, de Grost. Bernadine will probably try to make friends with you. You may think it wise to accept his advances, you may believe that you can guard your own secrets in his company; perhaps, even, that you may learn his. Do not try it, my friend. You have received the best proof possible that we do not underrate your abilities, but there is no other man like Bernadine. I would not trust myself alone with him."

"You are taking it for granted," Peter interposed, "that our interests must be at all times inimical."

The Marquis laid his hand upon the other's arm.

"My friend," he said, "there are interests which are sometimes elastic, rapprochements which may vary between chilly friendliness and a certain intimacy. But between the interests of the Double Four and the interests represented by that young man there yawns the deepest gulf which you or any other man could conceive. Bernadine represents the Teuton—muscle and bone and sinew. He is German to the last drop of his heart's blood. Never undervalue him, I beseech you. He is not only a wonderful politician: he is a man of action, grim, unbending, unswerving as a man may be whose eyes are steadfastly fixed upon one goal. The friendships of France may sometimes change, but her one great enmity never. Bernadine represents that enmity. According to the measure of your success, so you will find him placid or venomous. Think of yourself as a monk, dear Baron, and Bernadine as the Devil Incarnate. From him there is safety only in absence."

Peter smiled as he shook hands with his companion and climbed into the train.

"At any rate," he said, "I have been warned."

During the journey to Boulogne, at least, the repeated warnings of the Marquis seemed quite unnecessary. Bernadine and his companion remained in their engaged carriage, and de Grost, who dined in the restaurant car and sauntered once or twice along the corridors, saw nothing of them. At Boulogne they stayed in their carriage until the rush on to the boat was over, and it was not until they were half-way across the Channel that Peter felt suddenly an arm thrust through his as he leaned over the rail on the upper deck. He moved instinctively away from the vessel's side, a proceeding which seemed to afford some amusement to the man who had accosted him.

"Monsieur le Baron," said Bernadine, "let me be the first to congratulate you upon your new dignity."

"Very kind of you, I am sure, Count von Hern," Peter answered.

"Bernadine to you, my friend," the other protested. "So you have come once more into the great game?"

Peter remained silent. His features had assumed an expression of gentle inquiry.

"Once more I congratulate you," Bernadine continued. "In the old days you were shrewd and successful in your small undertakings, but you were, after all, little more than a policeman. To-day you stand for other things."

"Monsieur le Comte talks in enigmas," Peter murmured.

Bernadine smiled.

"Cautious as ever!" he exclaimed. "Ah, my dear Baron, you amuse me, you and the elegant Sogrange—Sogrange, who will pull the strings to which you must dance. Do you think that I did not see you both upon the platform, gazing suspiciously at me? Do you think that I did not hear the words of warning you received as clearly as though I had been standing by your side? 'It is Bernadine!' Sogrange whispers. 'Bernadine and Mademoiselle Delucie—a dangerous couple! Have a care, Monsieur le Baron!' Oh, that is what passed, without a doubt! So when you take your place in the train you wrap yourself in an armour of isolation; you are ready all the time to repel some deep-laid scheme, you are relieved to discover that, so far, at any rate, this terrible Bernadine and his beautiful travelling companion have not forced themselves upon you. Is it not so?"

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"It is the south wind," he remarked, "which carries us across so quickly to-night."

"The south wind, without a doubt," Bernadine assented politely. "Dear Baron, my congratulations are sincere. No one can come into the battlefield, the real battlefield of life, without finding enemies there waiting for him. You and I represent different causes. When our interests clash, I shall not try to throw you off a Channel boat, or to buy you with a cheque, or to hand you over to the tender mercies of the beautiful Mademoiselle Delucie. Until then, have no fear, my British friend. I shall not even ask you to drink with me, for I know that you would look suspiciously into the tumbler. Au revoir, and good fortune!"

Bernadine passed into the shadows and sank into a steamer chair by the side of his travelling companion. Peter continued his lonely walk, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his overcoat, his eyes fixed upon the Folkestone lights, becoming every moment clearer and clearer.

At Charing Cross all was as Sogrange had indicated. His servant remained to look after the luggage, a tall footman conducted him towards a magnificent automobile. Then, indeed, he forgot Bernadine and all this new stir of life—forgot everything in a sudden rush of joy. It was Violet who leaned forward to greet him—Violet, looking her best, and altogether at her ease amongst this new splendour.

"Welcome, Monsieur le Baron!" she whispered as he took his place by her side.

He took her hands and held them tightly, closely.

"I always knew," he murmured, "that you hankered after a title."

"Such a snob, aren't I!" she exclaimed. "Never mind, you wait!"

They were moving rapidly westward now. A full moon was shining down upon the city, the streets were thronged with pedestrians and a block of vehicles. The Carlton was all ablaze. In the softening light Pall Mall had become a stately thoroughfare, the Haymarket and Regent Street picturesque with moving throngs, a stream of open cabs, women in cool evening dresses, men without hats or overcoats, on their way from the theatres. It was a vivid, almost a fascinating little picture. Peter caught a glimpse of his wife's face as she looked upon it.

"I believe," he whispered, "that you are glad."

She turned upon him with a wonderful smile, the light flashing in her eyes.

"Glad! Oh, Peter, of course I am glad! I hated the country; I pined and longed for life. Couldn't you see it, dear? Now we are back in it again—back amongst the big things. Peter, dear, you were never meant to shoot rabbits and play golf, to grow into the likeness of those awful people who think of nothing but sport and rural politics and their neighbours' weaknesses! The man who throws life away before he has done with it, dear, is a wastrel. Be thankful that it's back again in your hands—be thankful, as I am!"

He sighed, and with that sigh went all his regrets for the life which had once seemed to him so greatly to be desired. He recognised in those few seconds the ignominy of peace.

"There is not the slightest doubt about it," he admitted, "I do make mistakes."

The automobile came to a standstill before the portico of an imposing mansion at the corner of Berkeley Square.

"We are home!" Violet whispered. "Try to look as though you were used to it all!"

A grave-faced major-domo was already upon the steps. In the hall was a vision of more footmen in quiet but impressive livery. Violet entered with an air of familiarity. Peter, with one last sigh, followed her. There was something significant to him in that formal entrance into his new and magnificent home. Outside, Peter Ruff seemed somewhere to have vanished into thin air. It was the Baron de Grost who had entered into his body—the Baron de Grost with a ready-made present, a fictitious past, a momentous future.



II.—THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE
First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Feb 1911

Alone in his study, with fast-locked door, Baron de Grost sat reading word by word with zealous care the dispatch from Paris which had just been delivered into his hands. From the splendid suite of reception-rooms which occupied the whole of the left-hand side of the hall, came the faint sound of music. The street outside was filled with automobiles and carriages setting down their guests. Madame was receiving to-night a gathering of very distinguished men and women, and it was only on very urgent business indeed that her husband had dared to leave her side.

The room in which he sat was in darkness except for the single heavily shaded electric lamp which stood by his elbow. Peter was wearing Court dress, with immaculate black silk stockings, and diamond buckles upon his shoes. A red ribbon was in his button-hole and a French order hung from his neck. His passion for clothes was certainly amply ministered to by the exigencies of his new position. Once more he read those last few words of this unexpectedly received dispatch—read them with a frown upon his forehead and the light of trouble in his eyes. For three months he had done nothing but live the life of an ordinary man of fashion and wealth. His first task—for which, to tell the truth, he had been anxiously waiting—was here before him, and he found it little to his liking. Again he read slowly to himself the last paragraph of Sogrange's letter:—

As ever, dear friend, one of the greatest sayings which the men of my race have ever perpetrated once more justifies itself—"Cherchez la femme!" Of Monsieur we have no manner of doubt. We have tested him in every way. And to all appearance Madame should also be above suspicion. Yet those things of which I have spoken have happened. For two hours this morning I was closeted with Picon here. Very reluctantly he has placed the matter in my hands. I pass it on to you. It is your first undertaking, cher Baron, and I wish you bon fortune. A man of gallantry, as I know you are, you may regret that it should be a woman, and a beautiful woman, too, against whom the finger must be pointed. Yet, after all, the fates are strong and the task is yours.— SOGRANGE.

The music from the reception-rooms grew louder and more insistent. Peter rose to his feet, and, moving to the fireplace, struck a match and carefully destroyed the letter which he had been reading. Then he straightened himself, glanced for a moment at the mirror, and left the room to join his guests.

"Monsieur le Baron jests," the lady murmured. Peter shook his head.

"Indeed, no, madame!" he answered earnestly. "France has offered us nothing more delightful in the whole history of our entente than the loan of yourself and your brilliant husband. Monsieur de Lamborne makes history amongst us politically, whilst madame——"

Peter sighed, and his companion leaned a little towards him. Her dark eyes were full of sentimental regard.

"Yes?" she whispered. "Continue. It is my wish."

"I am the good friend of Monsieur de Lamborne," Peter said, and in his tone there seemed to lurk some far-away touch of regret, "yet madame knows that her conquests here have been many."

The ambassador's wife fanned herself and remained silent for a moment, a faint smile playing at the corners of her full, curving lips. She was indeed a very beautiful woman—elegant, a Parisian to the finger-tips, with pale cheeks but eyes dark and soft; eyes trained to her service, whose flash was an inspiration, whose very droop had set beating the hearts of men less susceptible than the Baron de Grost. Her gown was magnificent, of amber satin—a colour daring but splendid; the outline of her figure as she leaned slightly back in her seat might indeed have been traced by the inspired finger of some great sculptor. Peter, whose reputation as a man of gallantry was well established, felt the whole charm of her presence—felt, too, the subtle indications of preference which she seemed inclined to accord to him. There was nothing which eyes could say which hers were not saying during those few minutes. Peter, indeed, glanced around a little nervously. His wife had still her moments of unreasonableness; it was just as well that she was engaged with a party of her guests at the farther end of the apartments!

"You are trying to turn my head," his beautiful companion whispered. "You flatter me."

"It is not possible," he answered.

Again the fan fluttered.

"Ah, monsieur," she continued, dropping her voice until it scarcely rose above a whisper, "there are not many men like you. You speak of my husband and his political gifts. Yet, what, after all, do they amount to? What is his position, indeed, if one glanced behind the scenes, compared with yours?"

The face of the Baron de Grost became like a mask. It was as though suddenly he had felt the thrill of danger close at hand—danger even in that scented atmosphere wherein he sat.

"Alas, madame!" he answered, "it is you now who are pleased to jest. Your husband is a great and powerful ambassador. I, unfortunately, have no career, no place in life, save the place which the possession of a few millions gives to a successful financier."

She laughed very softly, and again her eyes spoke to him.

"Monsieur," she murmured, "you and I together could make a great alliance; is it not so?"

"Madame," he faltered doubtfully, "if one dared hope——"

Once more the fire of her eyes, this time not only voluptuous. Was the man stupid or only cautious?

"If that alliance were once concluded," she said softly, "one might hope for everything."

"If it rests only with me," he began seriously, "oh, madame!"

He seemed overcome. Madame was gracious; but was he really stupid or only very much in earnest?

"To be one of the world's money kings," she whispered, "it is wonderful, that. It is power—supreme, absolute power! There is nothing beyond—there is nothing greater."

Then Peter, who was watching her closely, caught another gleam in her eyes, and he began to understand. He had seen it before amongst a certain type of her countrywomen—the greed of money. He looked at her jewels, and he remembered that, for an ambassador, her husband was reputed to be a poor man. The cloud of misgiving passed away from him; he settled down to the game.

"If money could only buy the desire of one's heart!" he murmured. "Alas!"

His eyes seemed to seek out Monsieur de Lamborne amongst the moving throngs. She laughed softly, and her hand brushed his.

"Money and one other thing, Monsieur le Baron," she whispered in his ear, "can buy the jewels from a crown—can buy even the heart of a woman."

A movement of approaching guests caught them up and parted them for a time. The Baroness de Grost was at home from ten till one, and her rooms were crowded. Peter found himself drawn on one side a few minutes later by Monsieur de Lamborne himself.

"I have been looking for you, de Grost," the latter declared. "Where can we talk for a moment?"

His host took the ambassador by the arm and led him into a retired corner. Monsieur de Lamborne was a tall, slight man, somewhat cadaverous-looking, with large features, hollow eyes, thin but carefully arranged grey hair, and a pointed grey beard. He wore a frilled shirt, and an eyeglass suspended by a broad, black ribbon hung down upon his chest. His face, as a rule, was imperturbable enough, but he had the air just now of a man greatly disturbed.

"We cannot be overheard here," Peter remarked. "It must be an affair of a few words only, though."

Monsieur de Lamborne wasted no time in preliminaries.

"This afternoon," he said, "I received from my Government papers of immense importance, which I am to hand over to your Foreign Minister at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning."

Peter nodded.

"Well?"

De Lamborne's thin fingers trembled as they played nervously with the ribbon of his eyeglass.

"Listen," he continued, dropping his voice a little. "Bernadine has undertaken to send a copy of their contents to Berlin by to-morrow night's mail."

"How do you know that?"

The ambassador hesitated.

"We, too, have spies at work," he remarked grimly. "Bernadine wrote and sent a messenger with the letter to Berlin. The man's body is drifting down the Channel, but the letter is in my pocket."

"The letter from Bernadine?"

"Yes."

"What does he say?"

"Simply that a verbatim copy of the document in question will be dispatched to Berlin to-morrow evening without fail," replied the ambassador.

"There are no secrets between us," Peter declared, smoothly. "What is the special importance of this document?"

De Lamborne shrugged his shoulders.

"Since you ask," he said, "I tell you. You know of the slight coolness which there has been between our respective Governments? Our people have felt that the policy of your Ministers in expending all their energies and resources in the building of a great fleet, to the utter neglect of your army, is a wholly one-sided arrangement, so far as we are concerned. In the event of a simultaneous attack by Germany upon France and England, you would be utterly powerless to render us any measure of assistance. If Germany should attack England alone, it is the wish of your Government that we should be pledged to occupy Alsace-Lorraine. You, on the other hand, could do nothing for us if Germany's first move were made against France."

Peter was deeply interested, although the matter was no new one to him.

"Go on," he directed. "I am waiting for you to tell me the specific contents of this document."

"The English Government has asked us two questions; first, how many complete army corps we consider she ought to place at our disposal in this eventuality; and, secondly, at what point should we expect them to be concentrated? The dispatch which I received to-night contains the reply to these questions."

"Which Bernadine has promised to forward to Berlin to-morrow night," Peter remarked softly.

De Lamborne nodded.

"You perceive," he said, "the immense importance of the affair. The very existence of that document is almost a casus belli."

"At what time did the dispatch arrive," Peter asked, "and what has been its history since?"

"It arrived at six o'clock," the ambassador declared. "It went straight into the inner pocket of my coat; it has not been out of my possession for a single second. Even whilst I talk to you I can feel it."

"And your plans? How are you intending to dispose of it to-night?"

"On my return to the Embassy I shall place it in the safe, lock it up, and remain watching it until morning."

"There doesn't seem to be much chance for Bernadine," Peter remarked.

"But there must be no chance—no chance at all," Monsieur de Lamborne asserted, with a note of passion in his thin voice. "It is incredible, preposterous, that he should even make the attempt. I want you to come home with me and share my vigil. You shall be my witness in case anything happens. We will watch together."

Peter reflected for a moment.

"Bernadine makes few mistakes," he said thoughtfully.

Monsieur de Lamborne passed his hand across his forehead.

"Do I not know it?" he muttered. "In this instance, though, it seems impossible for him to succeed. The time is so short and the conditions so difficult. I may count upon your assistance, Baron?"

Peter drew from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper.

"I received a telegram from headquarters this evening," he said, "with instructions to place myself entirely at your disposal."

"You will return with me, then, to the Embassy?" Monsieur de Lamborne asked eagerly.

Peter did not at once reply. He was standing in one of his characteristic attitudes, his hands clasped behind him, his head a little thrust forward, watching with every appearance of courteous interest the roomful of guests, stationary just now, listening to the performance of a famous violinist. It was, perhaps, by accident that his eyes met those of Madame de Lamborne, but she smiled at him subtly—more, perhaps, with her wonderful eyes than with her lips themselves. She was the centre of a very brilliant group, a most beautiful woman holding court, as was only right and proper, amongst her admirers. Peter sighed.

"No," he said, "I shall not return with you, de Lamborne. I want you to follow my suggestions, if you will."

"But, assuredly——"

"Leave here early and go to your club. Remain there until one, then come to the Embassy. I shall be there awaiting your arrival."

"You mean that you will go there alone? I do not understand," the ambassador protested. "Why should I go to my club? I do not at all understand!"

"Nevertheless, do as I say," Peter insisted. "For the present, excuse me. I must look after my guests."

The music had ceased, there was a movement towards the supper room. Peter offered his arm to Madame de Lamborne, who welcomed him with a brilliant smile. Her husband, although, for a Frenchman, he was by no means of a jealous disposition, was conscious of a vague feeling of uneasiness as he watched them pass out of the room together. A few minutes later he made his excuses to his wife, and, with a reluctance for which he could scarcely account, left the house. There was something in the air, he felt, which he did not understand. He would not have admitted it to himself, but he more than half divined the truth. The vacant seat in his wife's carriage was filled that night by the Baron de Grost.

At one o'clock precisely Monsieur de Lamborne returned to his house, and found de Grost gazing with obvious respect at the ponderous safe let into the wall.

"A very fine affair—this," he remarked, motioning with his head towards it.

"The best of its kind," Monsieur de Lamborne admitted. "No burglar yet has ever succeeded in opening one of its type. Here is the packet," he added, drawing the document from his pocket. "You shall see me place it in safety."

Peter stretched out his hand and examined the sealed envelope for a moment closely. Then he moved to the writing-table, and, placing it upon the letter scales, made a note of its exact weight. Finally he watched it deposited in the ponderous safe, suggested the word to which the lock was set, and closed the door. Monsieur de Lamborne heaved a sigh of relief.

"I fancy this time," he said, "that our friends at Berlin will be disappointed. Couch or easy-chair, Baron?"

"The couch, if you please," Peter replied, "a strong cigar, and a long whisky and soda. So! Now for our vigil."

The hours crawled away. Once Peter sat up and listened.

"Any rats about?" he inquired.

The ambassador was indignant.

"I have never heard one in my life," he answered. "This is quite a modern house."

Peter dropped his match-box and stooped to pick it up.

"Any lights on anywhere except in this room?" he asked.

"Certainly not," Monsieur de Lamborne answered. "It is past three o'clock, and every one has gone to bed."

Peter rose and softly unbolted the door. The passage outside was in darkness. He listened intently for a moment, and returned yawning.

"One fancies things," he murmured apologetically.

"For example?" de Lamborne demanded.

Peter shook his head.

"One mistakes," he said. "The nerves become over-sensitive."

The dawn broke, and the awakening hum of the city grew louder and louder. Peter rose and stretched himself.

"Your servants are moving about in the house," he remarked. "I think that we might consider our vigil at an end."

Monsieur de Lamborne rose with alacrity.

"My friend," he said, "I feel that I have made false pretences to you. With the day I have no fear. A thousand pardons for your sleepless night."

"My sleepless night counts for nothing," Peter assured him; "but before I go, would it not be as well that we glance together inside the safe?"

De Lamborne shook out his keys.

"I was about to suggest it," he replied.

The ambassador arranged the combination and pressed the lever. Slowly the great door swung back. The two men peered in.

"Untouched!" de Lamborne exclaimed, a little note of triumph in his tone.

Peter said nothing, but held out his hand.

"Permit me," he interposed.

De Lamborne was conscious of a faint sense of uneasiness. His companion walked across the room and carefully weighed the packet.

"Well?" de Lamborne cried. "Why do you do that? What is wrong?"

Peter turned and faced him.

"My friend," he said, "this is not the same packet."

The ambassador stared at him incredulously.

"This packet can scarcely have gained two ounces in the night," Peter went on. "Besides, the seal is fuller. I have an eye for these details."

De Lamborne leaned against the back of the table. His eyes were a little wild, but he laughed hoarsely.

"We fight, then, against the creatures of another world," he declared. "No human being could have opened that safe last night."

Peter hesitated.

"Monsieur de Lamborne," he said, "the room adjoining is your wife's?"

"It is the salon of madame," the Ambassador admitted.

"What are the electrical appliances doing there?" Peter demanded. "Don't look at me like that, de Lamborne. Remember that I was here before you arrived."

"My wife takes an electric massage every day," Monsieur de Lamborne answered in a hard, unnatural voice. "In what way is Monsieur le Baron concerned in my wife's doings?"

"I think that there need be no answer to that question," Peter said quietly. "It is a greater tragedy which we have to face. I maintain that your safe was entered from that room. A search will prove it."

"There will be no search there," de Lamborne declared fiercely. "I am the ambassador of France, and my power under this roof is absolute. I say that you shall not cross that threshold."

Peter's expression did not change. Only his hands were suddenly outstretched with a curious gesture—the four fingers were raised, the thumbs depressed. Monsieur de Lamborne collapsed.

"I submit," he muttered. "It is you who are the master. Search where you will."

"Monsieur has arrived?" the woman demanded breathlessly.

The proprietor of the restaurant himself bowed a reply. His client was evidently well known to him.

"Monsieur has ascended some few minutes ago."

The woman drew a little sigh of relief. A vague misgiving had troubled her during the last few hours. She raised her veil as she mounted the narrow staircase which led to the one private room at the Hôtel de Lorraine. Here she was safe; one more exploit accomplished, one more roll of notes for the hungry fingers of her dress-maker.

She entered, without tapping, the room at the head of the stairs, pushing open the ill-varnished door with its white-curtained top. At first she thought that the little apartment was empty.

"Are you there?" she exclaimed, advancing a few steps.

The figure of a man glided from behind the worn screen close by her side and stood between her and the door.

"Madame!" Peter said, bowing low.

Even then she scarcely realised that she was trapped.

"You!" she cried. "You, Baron! But I do not understand. You have followed me here?"

"On the contrary, madame," he answered; "I have preceded you."

Her colossal vanity triumphed over her natural astuteness. The man had employed spies to watch her! He had lost his head. It was an awkward matter, this, but it was to be arranged. She held out her hands.

"Monsieur," she said, "let me beg you now to go away. If you care to, come and see me this evening. I will explain everything. It is a little family affair which brings me here."

"A family affair, madame, with Bernadine, the enemy of France," Peter declared gravely.

She collapsed miserably, her fingers grasping at the air; the cry which broke from her lips harsh and unnatural. Before he could tell what was happening, she was on her knees before him.

"Spare me!" she begged, trying to seize his hands.

"Madame," Peter answered, "I am not your judge. You will kindly hand over to me the document which you are carrying."

She took it from the bosom of her dress. Peter glanced at it and placed it in his breast-pocket.

"And now?" she faltered.

Peter sighed—she was a very beautiful woman.

"Madame," he said, "the career of a spy is, as you have doubtless sometimes realised, a dangerous one."

"It is finished!" she assured him breathlessly. "Monsieur le Baron, you will keep my secret? Never again, I swear it, will I sin like this. You will not tell my husband?"

"Your husband already knows, madame," was the quiet reply. "Only a few hours ago I proved to him whence had come the leakage of so many of our secrets lately."

She swayed upon her feet.

"He will never forgive me!" she cried.

"There are others," Peter declared, "who forgive more rarely even than husbands."

A sudden illuminating flash of horror told her the truth. She closed her eyes and tried to run from the room.

"I will not be told!" she screamed. "I will not hear. I do not know who you are. I will live a little longer!"

"Madame," Peter said, "the Double Four wages no war with women, save with spies only. The spy has no sex. For the sake of your family, permit me to send you back to your husband's house."

That night two receptions and a dinner party were postponed. All London was sympathising with Monsieur de Lamborne, and a great many women swore never again to take a sleeping draught. Madame de Lamborne lay dead behind the shelter of those drawn blinds, and by her side an empty phial.



III.—THE MAN FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Mar 1911

Bernadine, sometimes called the Count von Hern, was lunching at the Savoy with the pretty wife of a Cabinet Minister, who was just sufficiently conscious of the impropriety of her action to render the situation interesting.

"I wish you would tell me, Count von Hern," she said, soon after they had settled down in their places, "why my husband seems to object to you so much. I simply dared not tell him that we were going to lunch together; and, as a rule, he doesn't mind what I do in that way."

Bernadine smiled slowly.

"Ah, well," he remarked, "your husband is a politician and a very cautious man. I dare say he is like some of those others, who believe that because I am a foreigner and live in London, that therefore I am a spy."

"You a spy!" she laughed. "What nonsense!"

"Why nonsense?"

She shrugged her shoulders. She was certainly a very pretty woman, and her black gown set off to its fullest advantage her deep red hair and fair complexion.

"I suppose because I can't imagine you anything of the sort," she declared. "You see, you hunt and play polo, and do everything which the ordinary Englishmen do. Then one meets you everywhere. I think, Count von Hern, that you are much too spoilt, for one thing, to take life seriously."

"You do me an injustice," he murmured.

"Of course," she chattered on, "I don't really know what spies do. One reads about them in these silly stories, but I have never felt sure that as live people they exist at all. Tell me, Count von Hern, what could a foreign spy do in England?"

Bernadine twirled his fair moustache and shrugged his shoulders.

"Indeed, my dear lady," he admitted, "I scarcely know what a spy could do nowadays. A few years ago you English people were all so trusting. Your fortifications, your battleships, not to speak of your country itself, were wholly at the disposal of the enterprising foreigner who desired to acquire information. The party who governed Great Britain then seemed to have some strange idea that these things made for peace. To-day, however, all that is changed."

"You seem to know something about it," she remarked.

"I am afraid that mine is really only the superficial point of view," he answered; "but I do know that there is a good deal of information which seems absolutely insignificant in itself, for which some foreign countries are willing to pay. For instance, there was a Cabinet Council yesterday, I believe, and someone was going to suggest that a secret but official visit be paid to your new harbour works up at Rosyth. An announcement will probably be made in the papers during the next few days as to whether the visit is to be undertaken or not. Yet there are countries who are willing to pay for knowing even such an insignificant item of news as that a few hours before the rest of the world."

Lady Maxwell laughed.

"Well, I could earn that little sum of money," she declared gaily, "for my husband has just made me cancel a dinner-party for next Thursday because he has to go up to the stupid place."

Bernadine smiled. It was really a very unimportant matter, but he loved to feel, even in his idle moments, that he was not altogether wasting his time.

"I am sorry," he said, "that I am not myself acquainted with one of these mythical personages, that I might return you the value of your marvellous information. If I dared think, however, that it would be in any way acceptable, I could offer you the diversion of a restaurant dinner-party for that night. The Duchess of Castleford has kindly offered to act as hostess for me, and we are all going on to the Gaiety afterwards."

"Delightful!" Lady Maxwell exclaimed. "I should love to come."

Bernadine bowed.

"You have, then, dear lady, fulfilled your destiny," he said. "You have given secret information to a foreign person of mysterious identity, and accepted payment."

Now Bernadine was a man of easy manners and unruffled composure. To the natural insouciance of his aristocratic bringing-up he had added the steely reserve of a man moving in the large world, engaged more often than not in some hazardous enterprise. Yet, for once in his life, and in the midst of the idlest of conversations, he gave himself away so utterly that even this woman with whom he was lunching—a very butterfly lady indeed—could not fail to perceive it. She looked at him in something like astonishment. Without the slightest warning his face had become set in a rigid stare, his eyes were filled with the expression of a man who sees into another world. The healthy colour faded from his cheeks; he was white even to the parted lips; the wine dripped from his raised glass on to the tablecloth.

"Why, whatever is the matter with you?" she demanded. "Is it a ghost that you see?"

Bernadine's effort was superb, but he was too clever to deny the shock.

"A ghost indeed," he answered, "the ghost of a man whom every newspaper in Europe has declared to be dead."

Her eyes followed his. The two people who were being ushered to a seat in their immediate vicinity were certainly of somewhat unusual appearance. The man was tall and thin as a lath, and he wore the clothes of the fashionable world without awkwardness, and yet with the air of one who was wholly unaccustomed to them. His cheek-bones were remarkably high, and receded so quickly towards his pointed chin that his cheeks were little more than hollows. His eyes were dry and burning, flashing here and there, as though the man himself were continually oppressed by some furtive fear. His thick black hair was short-cropped, his forehead high and intellectual. He was a strange figure indeed in such a gathering, and his companion only served to accentuate the anachronisms of his appearance. She was, above all things, a woman of the moment—fair, almost florid, a little thick-set, with tightly laced yet passable figure. Her eyes were blue, her hair light-coloured. She wore magnificent furs, and as she threw aside her boa she disclosed a mass of jewellery around her neck and upon her bosom, almost barbaric in its profusion and setting.

"What an extraordinary couple!" Lady Maxwell whispered.

Bernadine smiled.

"The man looks as though he had stepped out of the Old Testament," he murmured.

Lady Maxwell's interest was purely feminine, and was riveted now upon the jewellery worn by the woman. Bernadine, under the mask of his habitual indifference, which he had easily reassumed, seemed to be looking away out of the restaurant into the great square of a half-savage city, looking at that marvellous crowd, numbered by their thousands, even by their hundreds of thousands, of men and women whose arms flashed out toward the snow-hung heavens, whose lips were parted in one chorus of rapturous acclamation; looking beyond them to the tall, emaciated form of the bare-headed priest in his long robes, his wind-tossed hair and wild eyes, standing alone before that multitude in danger of death, or worse, at any moment—their idol, their hero. And again, as the memories came flooding into his brain, the scene passed away, and he saw the bare room, with its whitewashed walls and blocked-up windows; he felt the darkness, lit only by those flickering candles. He saw the white, passion-wrung faces of the men who clustered together around the rude table, waiting; he heard their murmurs; he saw the fear born in their eyes. It was the night when their leader did not come!

Bernadine poured out another glass of wine and drank it slowly. The mists were clearing away now. He was in London, at the Savoy Restaurant, and within a few yards of him sat the man with whose name all Europe once had rung—the man hailed by some as martyr, and loathed by others as the most fiendish Judas who ever drew breath. Bernadine was not concerned with the moral side of this strange encounter. How best to use his knowledge of this man's identity was the question which beat upon his brain. What use could be made of him, what profit for his country and himself? And then a fear—a sudden, startling fear. Little profit, perhaps, to be made, but the danger—the danger of this man alive with such secrets locked in his bosom! The thought itself was terrifying, and even as he realised it a significant thing happened—he caught the eye of the Baron de Grost, lunching alone at a small table just inside the restaurant.

"You are not at all amusing," his guest declared. "It is nearly five minutes since you have spoken."

"You, too, have been absorbed," he reminded her.

"It is that woman's jewels," she admitted. "I never saw anything more wonderful. The people are not English, of course. I wonder where they come from."

"One of the Eastern countries, without a doubt," he replied carelessly.

Lady Maxwell sighed.

"He is a peculiar-looking man," she said, "but one could put up with a good deal for jewels like that. What are you doing this afternoon—picture galleries or your club?"

"Neither, unfortunately," Bernadine answered. "I have promised to go with a friend to look at some polo ponies."

"Do you know," she remarked, "that we have never been to see those Japanese prints yet?"

"The gallery is closed until Monday," he assured her, falsely. "If you will honour me then, I shall be delighted."

She shrugged her shoulders, but said nothing. She had an idea that she was being dismissed, but Bernadine, without the least appearance of hurry, gave her no opportunity for any further suggestions. He handed her into her automobile, and returned at once into the restaurant. He touched Baron de Grost upon the shoulder.

"My friend the enemy!" he exclaimed, smiling.

"At your service in either capacity," the baron replied.

Bernadine made a grimace and accepted the chair which de Grost had indicated.

"If I may, I will take my coffee with you," he said. "I am growing old. It does not amuse me so much to lunch with a pretty woman. One has to entertain, and one forgets the serious business of lunching. I will take my coffee and cigarette in peace."

De Grost gave an order to the waiter and leaned back in his chair.

"Now," he suggested, "tell me exactly what it is that has brought you back into the restaurant."

Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.

"Why not the pleasure of this few minutes' conversation with you?" he asked.

The baron carefully selected a cigar and lit it.

"That," he said, "goes well, but there are other things."

"As, for instance?"

De Grost leaned back in his chair and watched the smoke of his cigar curl upwards.

"One talks too much," he remarked. "Before the cards are upon the table it is not wise."

They chatted upon various matters. De Grost himself seemed in no hurry to depart, nor did his companion show any signs of impatience. It was not until the two people whose entrance had had such a remarkable effect upon Bernadine, rose to leave, that the mask was for a moment lifted. De Grost had called for his bill and paid it. The two men strolled out together.

"Baron," Bernadine said suavely, linking his arm through the other man's as they passed into the foyer, "there are times when candour even amongst enemies becomes an admirable quality."

"Those times, I imagine," de Grost answered grimly, "are rare. Besides, who is to tell the real thing from the false?"

"You do less than justice to your perceptions, my friend," Bernadine declared, smiling.

De Grost merely shrugged his shoulders. Bernadine persisted.

"Come," he continued, "since you doubt me, let me be the first to give you a proof that on this occasion, at any rate, I am candour itself. You had a purpose in lunching at the Savoy to-day. That purpose I have discovered by accident. We are both interested in those people."

The Baron de Grost shook his head slowly.

"Really——" he began.

"Let me finish," Bernadine insisted. "Perhaps when you have heard all that I have to say you may change your attitude. We are interested in the same people, but in different ways. If we both move from opposite directions our friend will vanish. He is clever enough at disappearing, as he has proved before. We do not want the same thing from him, I am convinced of that. Let us move together and make sure that he does not evade us."

"Is it an alliance which you are proposing?" de Grost asked, with a quiet smile.

"Why not?" Bernadine answered. "Enemies have united before to-day against a common foe."

De Grost looked across the palm court to where the two people who formed the subject of their discussion were sitting in a corner, both smoking, both sipping some red-coloured liqueur.

"My dear Bernadine," he said, "I am much too afraid of you to listen any more. You fancy because this man's presence here was an entire surprise to you, and because you find me already on his track, that I know more than you do, and that an alliance with me would be to your advantage. You would try to persuade me that your object with him would not be my object. Listen! I am afraid of you—you are too clever for me. I am going to leave you in sole possession."

De Grost's tone was final and his bow valedictory. Bernadine watched him stroll in a leisurely way through the foyer, exchanging greetings here and there with friends; watched him enter the cloak-room, from which he emerged with his hat and overcoat; watched him step into his automobile and leave the restaurant. He turned back with a clouded face and threw himself into an easy-chair.

Ten minutes passed uneventfully. People were passing backwards and forwards all the time; but Bernadine, through his half-closed eyes, did little save watch the couple in whom he was so deeply interested. At last the man rose and, with a word of farewell to his companion, came out from the lounge and made his way up the foyer, turning toward the hotel. He walked with quick, nervous strides, glancing now and then restlessly about him. In his eyes, to those who understood, there was the furtive gleam of the hunted man. It was the passing of one who was afraid.

The woman, left to herself, began to look around her with some curiosity. Bernadine, to whom a new idea had occurred, moved his chair nearer to hers, and was rewarded by a glance which certainly betrayed some interest. A swift and unerring judge in such matters, he came to the instant conclusion that she was not unapproachable. He acted upon impulse. Rising to his feet, he approached her and bowed easily, but respectfully.

"Madame," he said, "it is impossible that I am mistaken. I have had the pleasure, have I not, of meeting you in St. Petersburg?"

Her first reception of his coming was reassuring enough. At his mention of St. Petersburg, however, she frowned.

"I do not think so," she answered in French. "You are mistaken. I do not know St. Petersburg."

"Then it was in Paris," Bernadine continued, with conviction. "Madame is Parisian, without a doubt."

She shook her head, smiling.

"I do not think that I remember meeting you, monsieur," she replied doubtfully; "but perhaps——"

She looked up, and her eyes drooped before his. He was certainly a very personable-looking man, and she had spoken to no one for so many months.

"Believe me, madame, I could not possibly be mistaken," Bernadine assured her smoothly. "You are staying here for long?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Heaven knows!" she declared. "My husband he has, I think, what you call the wander fever. For myself, I am tired of it. In Rome we settle down; we stay five days, all seems pleasant, and suddenly my husband's whim carries us away without an hour's notice. The same thing at Monte Carlo; the same at Paris. Who can tell what will happen here? To tell you the truth, monsieur," she added, a little archly, "I think that if he were to come back at this moment we should probably leave England to-night."

"Your husband is very jealous?" Bernadine whispered softly.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Partly jealous and partly he has the most terrible distaste for acquaintances. He will not speak to strangers himself, or suffer me to do so. It is sometimes—oh! it is sometimes very triste!"

"Madame has my sympathy," Bernadine assured her. "It is an impossible life—this. No husband should be so exacting."

She looked at him with her round blue eyes, a touch of added colour in her cheeks.

"If one could but cure him!" she murmured.

"I would ask your permission to sit down," Bernadine remarked, "but I fear to intrude. You are afraid, perhaps, that your husband may return?"

She shook her head.

"It will be better that you do not stay," she declared. "For a moment or two he is engaged. He has an appointment in his room with a gentleman, but one never knows how long he may be."

"You have friends in London, then?" Bernadine remarked thoughtfully.

"Of my husband's affairs," the woman said, "there is no one so ignorant as I. Yet since we left our own country this is the first time I have known him willingly speak to a soul."

"Your own country!" Bernadine repeated softly. "That was Russia, of course? Your husband's nationality is very apparent."

The woman looked annoyed with herself. She remained silent.

"May I not hope," Bernadine begged, "that you will give me the pleasure of meeting you again?"

She hesitated for a moment.

"He does not leave me," she replied. "I am not alone for five minutes during the day."

Bernadine scribbled the name by which he was known in that locality, on a card, and passed it to her.

"I have rooms in St. James's Street, quite close to here," he said. "If you could come and have tea with me to-day or to-morrow it would give me the utmost pleasure."

She took the card and crumpled it in her hand. All the time, though, she shook her head.

"Monsieur is very kind," she answered. "I am afraid—I do not think that it would be possible. And now, if you please, you must go away. I am terrified lest my husband should return."

Bernadine bent low in a parting salute.

"Madame," he pleaded, "you will come?"

Bernadine was a handsome man, and he knew well enough how to use his soft and extraordinarily musical voice. He knew very well as he retired that somehow or other she would accept his invitation. Even then he felt dissatisfied and ill at ease as he left the place. He had made a little progress; but, after all, was it worth while? Supposing that the man with whom her husband was even at this moment closeted was the Baron de Grost! He called a taxi-cab and drove at once to the Embassy of his country.

Even at this moment de Grost and the Russian—Paul Hagon he called himself—were standing face to face in the latter's sitting-room. No conventional greetings of any sort had been exchanged. De Grost had scarcely closed the door behind him before Hagon addressed him breathlessly, almost fiercely.

"Who are you, sir?" he demanded. "And what do you want with me?"

"You had my letter?" de Grost inquired.

"I had your letter," the other admitted. "It told me nothing. You speak of business. What business have I with any here?"

"My business is soon told," de Grost replied; "but in the first place, I beg that you will not unnecessarily alarm yourself. There is, believe me, no need for it—no need whatever, although, to prevent misunderstandings, I may as well tell you at once that I am perfectly well aware who it is that I am addressing."

Hagon collapsed into a chair. He buried his face in his hands and groaned.

"I am not here necessarily as an enemy," de Grost continued. "You have very excellent reasons, I make no doubt, for remaining unknown in this city, or wherever you may be. As yet, let me assure you, your identity is not even suspected, except by myself and one other. Those few who believe you alive believe that you are in America. There is no need for anyone to know that Father——"

"Stop!" the man begged piteously. "Stop!"

De Grost bowed.

"I beg your pardon!" he said.

"Now tell me," the man demanded, "what is your price? I have had money. There is not much left. Sophia is extravagant, and travelling costs a great deal. But why do I weary you with these things?" he added. "Let me know what I have to pay for your silence."

"I am not a blackmailer," de Grost answered sternly. "I am myself a wealthy man. I ask from you nothing in money; I ask you nothing in that way at all. A few words of information, and a certain paper which I believe you have in your possession, is all that I require."

"Information?" Hagon repeated, shivering.

"What I ask," de Grost declared, "is really a matter of justice. At the time when you were the idol of all Russia and the leader of the great revolutionary party, you received funds from abroad."

"I accounted for them," Hagon muttered. "Up to a certain point I accounted for everything."

"You received funds from the Government of a European Power," de Grost continued—"funds to be applied towards developing the revolution. I want the name of that Power, and proof of what I say."

Hagon remained motionless for a moment. He had seated himself at the table, his head resting upon his hand, and his face turned away from de Grost.

"You are a politician, then?" he asked slowly.

"I am a politician," de Grost admitted. "I represent a great secret power which has sprung into existence during the last few years. Our aim, at present, is to bring closer together your country and Great Britain. Russia hesitates because an actual rapprochement with us is equivalent to a permanent estrangement with Germany."

Hagon nodded.

"I understand," he said, in a low tone. "I have finished with politics. I have nothing to say to you."

"I trust," de Grost persisted suavely, "that you will be better advised."

Hagon turned round and faced him.

"Sir," he demanded, "do you believe that I am afraid of death?"

De Grost looked at him steadfastly.

"No," he answered. "You have proved the contrary."

"If my identity is discovered," Hagon continued, "I have the means of instant death at hand. I do not use it because of my love for the one person who links me to this world. For her sake I live, and for her sake I bear always the memory of the shameful past. Publish my name and whereabouts if you will. I promise you that I will make the tragedy complete. But, for the rest, I refuse to pay your price. A great Power trusted me, and, whatever their motives may have been, their money came very near indeed to freeing my people. I have nothing more to say to you, sir."

The Baron de Grost was taken aback. He had scarcely contemplated refusal.

"You must understand," he explained, "that this is not a personal matter. Even if I myself would spare you, those who are more powerful than I will strike. The society to which I belong does not tolerate failure. I am empowered even to offer you their protection, if you will give me the information for which I ask."

Hagon rose to his feet, and before de Grost could foresee his purpose, had rung the bell.

"My decision is unchanging," he said. "You can pull down the roof upon my head, but I carry next my heart an instant and an unfailing means of escape."

A waiter stood in the doorway.

"You will take this gentleman to the lift," Hagon directed.

There was once more a touch in his manner of that half-divine authority which had thrilled the great multitudes of his believers. De Grost was forced to admit defeat.

"Not defeat," he said to himself, as he followed the man to the lift; "only a check."

Nevertheless, it was a serious check. He could not for the moment see his way farther. Arrived at his house, he followed his usual custom, and made his way at once to his wife's rooms. Violet was resting upon a sofa, but laid down her book at his entrance.

"Violet," he declared, "I have come for your advice."

"He refuses, then?" she asked eagerly.

"Absolutely," de Grost assured her. "What am I to do? Bernadine is already upon the scent. He saw him at the Savoy to-day and recognised him."

"Has Bernadine approached him yet?" Violet inquired.

"Not yet," her husband answered. "He is half afraid to move. I think he realises, or will do very soon, how serious this man's existence may be for Germany."

Violet was thoughtful for several moments; then she looked up.

"Bernadine will try the woman," she asserted. "You say that Hagon is infatuated?"

"Blindly," de Grost replied. "He scarcely lets her out of his sight."

"Your people watch Bernadine?"

"Always."

"Very well, then," Violet went on, "you will find that he will attempt an intrigue with the woman. The rest should be easy for you."

De Grost sighed as he bent over his wife.

"My dear," he said, "there is no subtlety like that of a woman."

Bernadine's instinct had not deceived him, and the following afternoon his servant, who had already received orders, silently ushered Madame Hagon into his apartments. She was wrapped in magnificent sables and heavily veiled. Bernadine saw at once that she was very nervous and wholly terrified. He welcomed her in as matter-of-fact a manner as possible.

"Madame," he declared, "this is quite charming of you! You must sit in my easy-chair here, and my man shall bring us some tea. I drink mine always after the fashion of your country, with lemon, but I doubt whether we make it so well. Won't you unfasten your jacket? I am afraid my rooms are rather warm."

Madame had collected herself, but it was quite obvious that she was unused to adventures of this sort. Her hand, when he took it, trembled, and more than once she glanced furtively toward the door.

"Yes, I have come," she murmured. "I do not know why. It is not right for me to come; yet there are times when I am weary—times when Paul seems fierce, and when I am terrified. Sometimes I even wish that I were back——"

"Your husband seems very highly strung," Bernadine remarked. "He has doubtless led an exciting life."

"As to that," she replied, gazing around her now, and gradually becoming more at her ease, "I know but little. He was a student professor at Moschaume when I met him. I think that he was at one of the universities in St. Petersburg."

Bernadine glanced at her covertly. It came to him as an inspiration that the woman did not know the truth.

"You are from Russia, then, after all," he said, smiling. "I felt sure of it."

"Yes," she admitted reluctantly. "Paul is so queer in these things. He will not have me talk of it. He prefers that we are taken for French people. Indeed," she went on, "it is not I who desire to think too much of Russia. It is not a year since my father was killed in the riots, and two of my brothers were sent to Siberia."

Bernadine was deeply interested.

"They were amongst the revolutionaries?"

She nodded.

"Yes," she answered.

"And your husband?"

"He, too, was with them in sympathy. Secretly, too, I believe that he worked amongst them; only he had to be careful. You see, his position at the college made it difficult."

Bernadine looked into the woman's eyes, and he knew then that she was speaking the truth. This man was indeed a great master; he had kept her in ignorance.

"Always," Bernadine said, a few minutes later, as he passed her tea, "I read with the deepest interest of the people's movement in Russia. Tell me what became eventually of their great leader—the wonderful Father Paul."

She set down her cup untasted, and her blue eyes flashed with a fire which turned them almost to the colour of steel.

"Wonderful, indeed!" she exclaimed. "Wonderful Judas! It was he who wrecked the cause. It was he who sold the lives and liberty of all of us for gold."

"I heard a rumour of that," Bernadine remarked, "but I never believed it."

"It was true," she declared passionately.

"And where is he now?" Bernadine asked.

"Dead!" she answered fiercely. "Torn to pieces, we believe, one night in a house near Moscow. May it be so!"

She was silent for a moment, as though engaged in prayer. Bernadine spoke no more of these things. He talked to her kindly, keeping up always his rôle of respectful, but hopeful, admirer.

"You will come again soon?" he begged, when at last she insisted upon going.

She hesitated.

"It is so difficult," she murmured. "If my husband knew——"

Bernadine laughed and touched her fingers caressingly.

"Need one tell him?" he whispered. "You see, I trust you. I pray that you will come."

Bernadine was a man rarely moved towards emotion of any sort; yet even he was conscious of a certain sense of excitement as he stood looking out upon the Embankment from the windows of Paul Hagon's sitting-room a few days later. Madame was sitting on the settee. It was for her answer to a question that he waited.

"Monsieur," she said at last, turning slowly towards him, "it must be 'No.' Indeed I am sorry, for you have been very charming to me, and without you I should have been dull. But to come to your rooms and dine alone to-night, it is impossible."

"Your husband cannot return before the morning," Bernadine reminded her.

"It makes no difference," she answered. "Paul is sometimes fierce and rough, but he is generous, and all his life he has worshipped me. He behaves strangely at times, but I know that he cares—all the time more, perhaps, than I deserve."

"And there is no one else." Bernadine asked softly, "who can claim even the smallest place in your heart?"

"Monsieur," the woman begged, "you must not ask me that. I think that you had better go away."

Bernadine stood quite still for several moments. It was the climax towards which he had steadfastly guided the course of this mild intrigue.

"Madame," he declared, "You must not send me away! You shall not!"

She held out her hand.

"Then you must not ask impossible things," she answered.

Then Bernadine took the plunge. He became suddenly very grave.

"Sophia," he said, "I am keeping a great secret from you, and I can do it no longer. When you speak to me of your husband you drive me mad. If I believed that really you loved him, I would go away and leave it to chance whether or not you ever discovered the truth. As it is——"

"Well?" she interposed breathlessly.

"As it is," he continued, "I am going to tell you now. Your husband has deceived you; he is deceiving you every moment."

She looked at him incredulously.

"You mean that there is another woman?"

Bernadine shook his head.

"Worse than that," he answered. "Your husband stole even your love under false pretences. You think that his life is a strange one; that his nerves have broken down; that he flies from place to place for distraction, for change of scene. It is not so. He left Rome, he left Nice, he left Paris for one and the same reason. He left because he went in peril of his life. I know little of your history, but I know as much as this: If ever a man deserved the fate from which he flees, your husband deserves it!"

"You are mad!" she faltered.

"No, I am sane," he went on. "It is you who are mad, not to have understood. Your husband goes ever in fear of his life. His real name is one branded with ignominy throughout the world. The man whom you have married, to whom you are so scrupulously faithful, is the man who sent your father to death and your brothers to Siberia."

"Father Paul!" she screamed.

"You have lived with him; you are his wife!" Bernadine declared.

The colour had left her cheeks; her eyes, with their pencilled brows, were fixed in an almost ghastly stare; her breath was coming in uneven gasps. She looked at him in silent terror.

"It is not true!" she cried at last. "It cannot be true!"

"Sophia," he said, "you can prove it for yourself. I know a little of your husband and his doings. Does he not carry always with him a black box which he will not allow out of his sight?"

"Always," she assented. "How did you know? By night his hand rests upon it. By day, if he goes out, it is in my charge."

"Fetch it now," Bernadine directed. "I will prove my words."

She did not hesitate for a moment. She disappeared into the inner room and came back after only a few moments' absence, carrying a black leather dispatch-box.

"You have the key?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered, looking at him and trembling; "but I dare not—oh, I dare not open it!"

"Sophia," he said, "if my words are not true, I will pass out of your life for ever. I challenge you. If you open that box you will know that your husband is indeed the greatest scoundrel in Europe."

She drew a key from a gold chain around her neck.

"There are two locks," she told him. "The other is a combination, but I know the word. Who's that?"

She started suddenly. There was a loud tapping at the door. Bernadine threw an antimacassar half over the box, but he was too late. De Grost and Hagon had crossed the threshold. The woman stood like some dumb creature. Hagon, transfixed, stood with his eyes riveted upon Bernadine. His face was distorted with passion; he seemed like a man beside himself with fury. De Grost came slowly forward into the middle of the room.

"Count von Hern," he said, "I think that you had better leave."

The woman found words.

"Not yet!" she cried. "Not yet! Paul, listen to me. This man has told me a terrible thing."

The breath seemed to come through Hagon's teeth like a hiss.

"He has told you!"

"Listen to me!" she continued. "It is the truth which you must tell now. He says that you—you are Father Paul!"

Hagon did not hesitate.

"It is true," he admitted.

Then there was a silence—short, but tragical. Hagon seemed suddenly to have collapsed. He was like a man who has just had a stroke. He stood muttering to himself.

"It is the end—this—the end!" he said, in a low tone. "It was for your sake, Sophia! I came to you poor, and you would have nothing to say to me. My love for you burned in my veins like fever. It was for you I did it—for your sake I sold my honour, the love of my country, the freedom of my brothers. For your sake I risked an awful death. For your sake I have lived like a hunted man, with the cry of the wolves always in my ears, and the fear of death and of eternal torture with me day by day. Have pity on me!"

She was unmoved; her face had lost all expression. No one noticed in that rapt moment that Bernadine had crept from the room.

"It was you," she cried, "who killed my father and sent my brothers into exile!"

"God help me!" he moaned.

She turned to de Grost.

"Take him away with you, please," she said. "I have finished with him!"

"Sophia!" he pleaded.

She leaned across the table and struck him heavily upon the cheek.

"If you stay here," she muttered, "I shall kill you myself!"

That night the body of an unknown foreigner was found in the attic of a cheap lodging-house in Soho. The discovery itself and the verdict at the inquest occupied only a few lines in the morning newspapers. Those few lines were the epitaph of one who was very nearly a Rienzi. The greater part of his papers de Grost mercifully destroyed, but one in particular he preserved. Within a week the much-delayed treaty was signed at Paris, London and St. Petersburg.



IV.—THE FIRST SHOT
First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Apr 1911

De Grost and his wife were dining together at the corner table in a fashionable but somewhat Bohemian restaurant. Both had been in the humour for reminiscences, and they had outstayed most of their neighbours.

"I wonder what people really think of us," Violet remarked pensively. "I told Lady Amershal, when she asked us to go there this evening, that we always dined together alone somewhere once a week, and she absolutely refused to believe me. 'With your own husband, my dear?' she kept on repeating."

"Her ladyship's tastes are more catholic," the baron declared dryly. "Yet, after all, Violet, the real philosophy of married life demands something of this sort."

Violet smiled and fingered her pearls for a minute.

"What the real philosophy of married life may be I do not know," she said, "but I am perfectly content with our rendering of it. What a fortunate thing, Peter, with your intensely practical turn of mind, that Nature endowed you with so much sentiment."

De Grost gazed reflectively at the cigarette which he had just selected from his case.

"Well," he remarked, "there have been times when I have cursed myself for a fool, but, on the whole, sentiment keeps many fires burning."

She leaned towards him and dropped her voice a little.

"Tell me," she begged, "do you ever think of the years we spent together in the country? Do you ever regret?"

He smiled thoughtfully.

"It is a hard question, that," he admitted. "There were days there which I loved, but there were days, too, when the restlessness came—days when I longed to hear the hum of the city and to hear men speak whose words were of life and death and the great passions. I am not sure, Violet, whether, after all, it is well for one who has lived to withdraw absolutely from the thrill of life."

She laughed softly but gaily.

"I am with you," she declared, "absolutely. I think that the fairies must have poured into my blood the joy of living for its own sake. I should be an ungrateful woman indeed if I found anything to complain of nowadays. Yet there is one thing that sometimes troubles me," she went on, after a moment's pause.

"And that?" he asked.

"The danger," she said slowly. "I do not want to lose you, Peter. There are times when I am afraid."

De Grost flicked the ash from his cigarette.

"The days are passing," he remarked, "when men point revolvers at one another, and hire assassins to gain their ends. Now it is more a battle of wits. We play chess on the board of life still, but we play with ivory pieces instead of steel and poison. Our brains direct, and not our muscles."

She sighed.

"It is only the one man of whom I am afraid," she said. "You have outwitted him so often and he does not forgive."

De Grost smiled. It was an immense compliment, this.

"Bernadine," he murmured softly, "otherwise our friend, the Count von Hern."

"Bernadine," she repeated. "All that you say is true; but when one fails with modern weapons, one changes the form of attack. Bernadine at heart is a savage."

"The hate of such a man," de Grost remarked complacently, "is worth having. He has had his own way over here for years. He seems to have found the knack of living in a maze of intrigue and remaining untouchable. There were a dozen things before I came upon the scene which ought to have ruined him. Yet there never appeared to be anything to take hold of. The Criminal Investigation Department thought they had no chance. I remember Sir John Dory telling me in disgust that Bernadine was like one of those marvellous criminals one only reads about in fiction, who seem when they pass along the dangerous places to walk upon the air and leave no trace behind."

"Before you came," she said, "he had never known a failure. Do you think that he is a man likely to forgive?"

"I do not," de Grost answered grimly. "It is a battle, of course—a battle all the time. Yet, Violet, between you and me, if Bernadine were to go, half the savour of life for me would depart with him."

Then there came a serious and wholly unexpected interruption. A man in dark, plain clothes, still wearing his overcoat and carrying a bowler hat, had been standing in the entrance of the restaurant for a moment or two, looking around the room as though in search of someone. At last he caught the eye of the Baron de Grost and came quickly towards him.

"Charles," the Baron remarked, raising his eyebrows. "I wonder what he wants?"

A sudden cloud had fallen upon their little feast. Violet watched the coming of her husband's servant and the reading of the note which he presented to his master with an anxiety which she could not wholly conceal. The Baron read the note twice, scrutinising a certain part of it closely with the aid of the monocle which he seldom used. Then he folded it up and placed it in the breast-pocket of his coat.

"At what hour did you receive this, Charles?" he asked.

"A messenger brought it in a taxi-cab about ten minutes ago, sir," the man replied. "He said that it was of the utmost importance, and that I had better try and find you."

"A district messenger?"

"A man in ordinary clothes, sir," Charles answered. "He looked like a porter in a warehouse, or something of that sort. I forgot to say that you were rung up on the telephone three times previously by Mr. Greening."

The Baron nodded.

"You can go," he said. "There is no reply."

The man bowed and retired. De Grost called for his bill.

"Is it anything serious?" Violet inquired.

"No, not exactly serious," he answered. "I do not understand what has happened, but they have sent for me to go—well, where it was agreed that I should not go, except as a matter of urgent necessity."

Violet knew better than to show any signs of disquietude.

"Is it in London?" she asked.

"Certainly," her husband replied. "I shall take a taxi-cab from here. I am sorry, dear, to have one of our evenings disturbed in this manner. I have always done my best to avoid it, but this summons is urgent."

She rose and he wrapped her cloak around her.

"You will drive straight home, won't you?" he begged. "I dare say that I may be back within an hour myself."

"And if not?" she asked in a low tone.

"If not," he replied, "there is nothing to be done."

Violet bit her lip, but as he handed her into the small electric brougham which was waiting she smiled into his face.

"You will come back, and soon, Peter," she declared confidently. "Wherever you go I am sure of that. You see, I have faith in my star which watches over you."

He kissed her fingers and turned away. The commissionaire had already called him a taxi-cab.

"To London Bridge," he ordered after a moment's hesitation, and drove off.

The traffic citywards had long since finished for the day, and he reached his destination within ten minutes of leaving the restaurant. Here he paid the man, and, entering the station, turned to the refreshment-room and ordered a liqueur brandy. While he sipped it he smoked a cigarette and fully re-read in a strong light the note which he had received. The signature especially he pored over for some time. At last, however, he replaced it in his pocket, paid his bill, and, stepping out once more on to the platform, entered a telephone booth. A few minutes later he left the station and, turning to the right, walked slowly as far as Tooley Street. He kept on the right-hand side until he arrived at the spot where the great arches, with their scanty lights, make a gloomy thoroughfare into Bermondsey. In the shadow of the first of these he paused and looked steadfastly across the street. There were few people passing, and practically no traffic. In front of him was a row of warehouses, all save one of which was wrapped in complete darkness. It was the one where some lights were still burning which de Grost stood and watched.

The lights, such as they were, seemed to illuminate the ground floor only. From his hidden post he could see the shoulders of a man apparently bending over a ledger, diligently writing. At the next window a youth, seated upon a tall stool, was engaged in, presumably, the same avocation. There was nothing about the place in the least mysterious or out-of-the-way. Even the blinds of the offices had been left undrawn. The man and the boy, who were alone visible, seemed, in a sense, to be working under protest. Every now and then the former stopped to yawn, and the latter performed a difficult balancing feat upon his stool. De Grost, having satisfied his curiosity, came presently from his shelter, almost running into the arms of a policeman, who looked at him closely. The Baron, who had an unlighted cigarette in his mouth, stopped to ask for a light, and his appearance at once set at rest any suspicions the policeman might have had.

"I have a warehouse myself down in these parts," he remarked, as he struck the match, "but I don't allow my people to work as late as that."

He pointed across the way, and the policeman smiled.

"They are very often late there, sir," he said. "It is a Continental wine business, and there's always one or two of them over time."

"It's bad business, all the same," de Grost declared pleasantly. "Good-night, policeman!"

"Good-night, sir!"

De Grost crossed the road diagonally, as though about to take the short cut across London Bridge, but as soon as the policeman was out of sight he retraced his steps to the building which they had been discussing, and, turning the battered brass handle of the door, walked calmly in. On his right and left were counting-houses framed with glass; in front, the cavernous and ugly depths of a gloomy warehouse. He knocked upon the window-pane on the right and passed forward a step or two, as though to enter the office. The boy who had been engaged in the left-hand counting-house came gliding from his place, passed silently behind the visitor, and turned the key of the outer door. What followed seemed to happen as though by some mysteriously directed force. The figures of men came stealing out from the hidden places. The clerk who had been working so hard at his desk calmly divested himself of a false moustache and wig, and, assuming a more familiar appearance, strolled out into the warehouse. De Grost looked around him with absolutely unruffled composure. He was the centre of a little circle of men, respectably dressed, but every one of them hard-featured, with something in their faces which suggested not the ordinary toiler but the fighting animal—the man who lives by his wits and knows something of danger. On the outskirts of the circle stood Bernadine.

"Really," de Grost declared, removing his cigarette from his mouth for a moment, "this is most unexpected. In the matter of dramatic surprises, my friend Bernadine, you are most certainly in a class by yourself."

Bernadine smiled.

"You will understand, of course," he said, "that this little entertainment is entirely for your amusement—well stage-managed, perhaps, but my supers are not to be taken seriously. Since you are here, Baron, might I ask you to precede me a few steps to the tasting office?"

"By all means," de Grost answered. "It is this way, I believe."

He walked with unconcerned footsteps down the warehouse, on either side of which were great bins and a wilderness of racking, until he came to a small glass-enclosed office built out from the wall. Without hesitation he entered it, and, removing his hat, selected the more comfortable of the two chairs. Bernadine alone of the others followed him inside, closing the door behind. De Grost, who appeared exceedingly comfortable, stretched out his hand and took a small black bottle from a tiny mahogany racking fixed against the wall by his side.

"You will excuse me, my dear Bernadine," he said, "but I see my friend Greening has been tasting a few wines. The 'XX' upon the label here signifies approval. With your permission."

He half filled a glass and pushed the bottle towards Bernadine.

"Greening's taste is unimpeachable," de Grost declared, setting down his glass empty. "No use being a director of a city business, you know, unless one interests oneself personally in it. Greening's judgment is simply marvellous. I have never tasted a more beautiful wine. If the boom in sherry does come," he continued complacently, "we shall be in an excellent position to deal with it."

Bernadine laughed softly.

"Oh, my friend—Peter Ruff or Baron de Grost, or whatever you may choose to call yourself," he said, "I am indeed wise to have come to the conclusion that you and I are too big to occupy the same little spot on earth!"

De Grost nodded approvingly.

"I was beginning to wonder," he remarked, "whether you would not soon arrive at that decision?"

"Having arrived at it," Bernadine continued, looking intently at his companion, "the logical sequence naturally occurs to you."

"Precisely, my dear Bernadine," de Grost assented. "You say to yourself, no doubt, 'One of us two must go!' Being yourself, you would naturally conclude that it must be me. To tell you the truth, I have been expecting some sort of enterprise of this description for a considerable time."

Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.

"Your expectations," he said, "seem scarcely to have provided you with a safe conduct."

De Grost gazed reflectively into his empty glass.

"You see," he explained, "I am such a lucky person. Your arrangements to-night, however, are, I perceive, unusually complete."

"I am glad you appreciate them," Bernadine remarked dryly.

"I would not for a moment," de Grost continued, "ask an impertinent or an unnecessary question, but I must confess that I am rather concerned to know the fate of my manager—the gentleman whom you yourself, with the aid of a costumier, so ably represented."

Bernadine sighed.

"Alas!" he said, "your manager was a very obstinate person."

"And my clerk?"

"Incorruptible!" Bernadine declared. "Absolutely incorruptible! I congratulate you, de Grost. Your society is one of the most wonderful upon the face of this earth. I know little about it, but my admiration is very sincere. Their attention to details and the personnel of their staff is almost perfect. I may tell you at once that no sum that could be offered tempted either of these men."

"I am delighted to hear it," de Grost replied, "but I must plead guilty to a little temporary anxiety as to their present whereabouts."

"At this moment," Bernadine remarked, "they are within a few feet of us; but, as you are doubtless aware, access to your delightful river is obtainable from these premises. To be frank with you, my dear Baron, we are waiting for the tide to rise."

"So thoughtful about these trifles!" de Grost murmured. "But their present position? They are, I trust, not uncomfortable?"

Bernadine stood up and moved to the farther end of the office. He beckoned his companion to his side and, drawing an electric torch from his pocket, flashed the light into a dark corner behind an immense bin. The forms of a man and a youth bound with ropes and gagged, lay stretched upon the floor. De Grost sighed.

"I am afraid," he said, "that Mr. Greening, at any rate, is most uncomfortable."

Bernadine turned off the light.

"At least, Baron," he declared, "if such extreme measures should become necessary, I can promise you one thing—you shall have a quicker passage into eternity than they."

De Grost resumed his seat.

"Has it really come to that?" he asked. "Will nothing but so crude a proceeding as my absolute removal satisfy you?"

"Nothing else is, I fear, practicable," Bernadine replied, "unless you decide to listen to reason. Believe me, my dear friend, I shall miss you and our small encounters exceedingly; but, unfortunately, you stand in the way of my career. You are the only man who has persistently baulked me. You have driven me to use against you means which I had grown to look upon as absolutely extinct in the upper circles of our profession."

De Grost peered through the glass walls of the office.

"Eight men, not counting yourself," he remarked, "and my poor manager and his faithful clerk lying bound and helpless. It is heavy odds, Bernadine."

"There is no question of odds, I think," Bernadine answered smoothly. "You are much too clever a person to refuse to admit that you are entirely in my power."

"And as regards terms? I really don't feel in the least anxious to make my final bow with so little notice," de Grost said. "To tell you the truth, I have been finding life quite interesting lately."

Bernadine eyed his prisoner keenly. Such absolute composure was in itself disturbing. He was, for the moment, aware of a slight sensation of uneasiness, which his common sense, however, speedily disposed of.

"There are two ways," he announced, "of dealing with an opponent. There is the old-fashioned one—crude, but, in a sense, eminently satisfactory—which sends him finally to adorn some other sphere."

"I do not like that one," de Grost interrupted. "Get on with the alternative."

"The alternative," Bernadine declared, "is when his capacity for harm can be destroyed."

"That needs a little explanation," de Grost murmured.

"Precisely. For instance, if you were to become absolutely discredited, I think that you would be effectually out of my way. Your people do not forgive."

"Then discredit me, by all means," de Grost begged. "It sounds unpleasant, but I do not like your callous reference to the river."

Bernadine gazed at his ancient opponent for several moments. After all, what was this but the splendid bravado of a beaten man, who is too clever not to recognise defeat?

"I shall require," he said, "your code, the keys of your safe, which contains a great many documents of interest to me, and a free entry into your house."

De Grost drew a bunch of keys reluctantly from his pocket and laid them upon the desk.

"You will find the code bound in green morocco leather," he announced, "on the left-hand side, underneath the duplicate of a proposed Treaty between Italy and—some other Power. Between ourselves, Bernadine, I really expect that that is what you are after."

Bernadine's eyes glistened.

"What about the safe conduct into your house?" he asked.

De Grost drew his case from his pocket and wrote a few lines on the back of one of his cards.

"This will ensure you entrance there," he said, "and access to my study. If you see my wife, please reassure her as to my absence."

"I shall certainly do so," Bernadine agreed, with a faint smile.

"If I may be pardoned for alluding to a purely personal matter," de Grost continued, "what is to become of me?"

"You will be bound and gagged in the same manner as your manager and his clerk," Bernadine replied smoothly. "I regret the necessity, but you see I can afford to run no risks. At four o'clock in the morning you will be released. It must be part of our agreement that you allow the man who stays behind the others for the purpose of setting you free, to depart unmolested. I think I know you better than to imagine you would be guilty of such gaucherie as an appeal to the police."

"That, unfortunately," de Grost declared, with a little sigh, "is, as you well know, out of the question. You are too clever for me, Bernadine. After all, I shall have to go back to my farm."

Bernadine opened the door and called softly to one of his men. In less than five minutes de Grost was bound hand and foot. Bernadine stepped back and eyed his adversary with an air of ill-disguised triumph.

"I trust, Baron de Grost," he said, "that you will be as comfortable as possible under the circumstances."

De Grost lay quite still. He was powerless to move or speak.

"Immediately," Bernadine continued, "I have presented myself at your house, verified your safe conduct, and helped myself to certain papers which I am exceedingly anxious to obtain," he went on, "I shall telephone here to the man whom I leave in charge, and you will be set at liberty in due course. If, for any reason, I meet with treachery and I do not telephone, you will join Mr. Greening and his young companion in a little—shall we call it aquatic recreation? I wish you a pleasant hour and success in the future, Baron—as a farmer."

Bernadine withdrew and whispered his orders to his men. Soon the electric light was turned out and the place was in darkness. The front door was opened and closed; the group of confederates upon the pavement lit cigarettes and wished one another "Good-night" with the brisk air of tired employees released at last from long labours. Then there was silence.

It was barely eleven o'clock when Bernadine reached the west-end of London. His clothes had become a trifle disarranged, and he called for a few minutes at his rooms in St. James's Street. Afterwards, he walked to Merton House and rang the bell. To the servant who answered it he handed his master's card.

"Will you show me the way to the library?" he asked. "I have some papers to collect for the Baron de Grost."

The man hesitated. Even with the card in his hand, it seemed a somewhat unusual proceeding.

"Will you step inside, sir?" he begged. "I should like to show this to the Baroness. The master is exceedingly particular about anyone entering his study."

"Do what you like so long as you do not keep me waiting," Bernadine replied. "Your master's instructions are clear enough."

Violet came down the great staircase a few moments later, still in her dinner-gown, her face a little pale, her eyes luminous. Bernadine smiled as he accepted her eagerly offered hand. She was evidently anxious. A thrill of triumph warmed his blood. Once she had been less kind to him than she seemed now.

"My husband gave you this!" she exclaimed.

"A few minutes ago," Bernadine answered. "He tried to make his instructions as clear as possible. We are jointly interested in a small matter which needs immediate action."

She led the way to the study.

"It seems strange," she remarked, "that you and he should be working together. I thought that you were on opposite sides."

"It is a matter of chance," Bernadine told her. "Your husband is a wise man, Baroness. He knows when to listen to reason."

She threw open the door of the study, which was in darkness.

"If you will wait a moment," she said, closing the door, "I will turn on the electric light."

She touched the knobs in the wall, and the room was suddenly flooded with illumination. At the further end of the apartment was the great safe. Close to it, in an easy-chair, his evening coat changed for a smoking-jacket, with a neatly tied black tie replacing his crumpled white cravat, the Baron de Grost sat awaiting his guest. A fierce oath broke from Bernadine's lips. He turned toward the door only in time to hear the key turn. Violet tossed it lightly in the air across to her husband.

"My dear Bernadine," the latter remarked, "on the whole, I do not think that this has been one of your successes. My keys, if you please."

Bernadine stood for a moment, his face dark with passion.

"Your keys are here, Baron de Grost," he said, placing them upon the table. "If a bungling amateur may make such a request of a professor, may I inquire how you escaped from your bonds and reached here before me?"

The Baron de Grost smiled.

"Really," he said, "you have only to think for yourself for a moment, my dear Bernadine, and you will understand. In the first place, the letter you sent me signed 'Greening' was clearly a forgery. There was no one else anxious to get me into their power, hence I associated it at once with you. Naturally, I telephoned to the chief of my staff—I, too, am obliged to employ some of these un-uniformed policemen, my dear Bernadine, as you may be aware. It may interest you to know, further, that there are seven entrances to the warehouse in Tooley Street. Through one of these something like twenty of my men passed and were already concealed in the place when I entered. At another of the doors a motor-car waited for me. If I had chosen to lift my finger at any time, your men would have been overpowered, and I might have had the pleasure of dictating terms to you in my own office. Such a course did not appeal to me. You and I, as you know, dear Count von Hern, conduct our peculiar business under very delicate conditions, and the least thing we either of us desire is notoriety. I managed things, as I thought, for the best. The moment you left the place my men swarmed in. We gently but firmly ejected your guard, released Greening and my clerk, and I passed you myself in Fleet Street, a little more comfortable, I think, in my forty horsepower motor-car than you in that very disreputable hansom. The other details are too absurdly simple; one need not enlarge upon them."

Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.

"I am at your service," he declared calmly.

De Grost laughed.

"My dear fellow," he said, "need I say that you are free to come or go, to take a whisky and soda with me or to depart at once—exactly as you feel inclined? The door was locked only until you restored to me my keys."

He crossed the room, fitted the key in the lock and turned it.

Bernadine drew himself up.

"I will not drink with you," he said. "But some day a reckoning shall come."

He turned to the door. De Grost laid his finger upon the bell.

"Show Count von Hern out," he directed the astonished servant who appeared a moment or two later.



V.—THE SEVEN SUPPERS OF ANDREA KORUST
First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), May 1911

Baron de Grost was enjoying what he had confidently looked forward to as an evening's relaxation, pure and simple. He sat in one of the front rows of the stalls of the Alhambra, his wife by his side and an excellent cigar in his mouth. An hour or so before he had been in telephonic communication with Paris, had spoken with Sogrange himself, and received his assurance of a calm in political and criminal affairs amounting almost to stagnation. It was out of the season, and though his popularity was as great as ever, neither he nor his wife had any social engagements. Hence this evening at a music-hall, which Peter, for his part, was finding thoroughly amusing.

The place was packed—some said owing to the engagement of Andrea Korust and his brother, others to the presence of Mademoiselle Sophie Celaire in her wonderful Danse des Apaches. The violinist that night had a great reception. Three times he was called before the curtain; three times he was obliged to reiterate his grateful but immutable resolve never to yield to the nightly storm which demanded more from a man who has given of his best. Slim, with the worn face and hollow eyes of a genius, he stood and bowed his thanks, but when he thought the time had arrived he disappeared, and though the house shook for minutes afterwards, nothing could persuade him to reappear.

Afterward came the turn which, notwithstanding the furore caused by Andrea Korust's appearance, was generally considered to be equally responsible for the packed house—the Apache dance of Mademoiselle Sophie Celaire. Peter sat slightly forward in his chair as the curtain went up. For a time he seemed utterly absorbed by the performance. Violet glanced at him once or twice curiously. It began to occur to her that it was not so much the dance as the dancer in whom her husband was interested.

"You have seen her before—this Mademoiselle Celaire?" she whispered.

Peter nodded.

"Yes," he admitted; "I have seen her before."

The dance proceeded. It was like many others of its sort, only a little more daring, a little more finished. Mademoiselle Celaire, in her tight-fitting, shabby black frock, with her wild mass of hair, her flashing eyes, her seductive gestures, was, without doubt, a marvellous person. The Baron watched her every movement with absorbed attention. Even when the curtain went down he forgot to clap. His eyes followed her off the stage. Violet shrugged her shoulders. She was looking very handsome herself in a black velvet dinner gown, and a hat so exceedingly Parisian that no one had had the heart to ask her to remove it.

"My dear Peter," she remarked, reprovingly, "a moderate amount of admiration for that very agile young lady I might, perhaps, be inclined to tolerate, but, having watched you for the last quarter of an hour, I am bound to confess that I am becoming jealous."

"Of Mademoiselle Celaire?" he asked.

"Of Mademoiselle Sophie Celaire."

He leaned a little towards her. His lips were parted; he was about to make a statement or a confession. Just then a tall commissionaire leaned over from behind and touched him on the shoulder.

"For Monsieur le Baron de Grost," he announced, handing Peter a note.

Peter glanced towards his wife.

"You permit me?" he murmured, breaking the seal.

Violet shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly. Her husband was already absorbed in the few lines hastily scrawled across the sheet of notepaper which he held in his hand:

"MONSIEUR BARON DE GROST.

"Dear Monsieur le Baron,
Come to my dressing-room, without fail, as soon as you receive this.—
Sophie Celaire.

Violet looked over his shoulder.

"The hussy!" she exclaimed, indignantly.

Her husband raised his eyebrows. With his forefinger he merely tapped the two numerals.

"The Double Four!" she gasped

He looked around and nodded. The commissionaire was waiting. Peter took up his silk hat from under the seat.

"If I am detained, dear," he whispered, "you'll make the best of it, won't you? The car will be here, and Frederick will be looking out for you."

"Of course," she answered, cheerfully. "I shall be quite all right."

She nodded brightly, and Peter took his departure. He passed through a door on which was painted "Private," and through a maze of scenery and stage hands and ballet ladies, by a devious route, to the region of the dressing-rooms. His guide conducted him to the door of one of these and knocked.

"Entrez, monsieur," a shrill feminine voice replied.

Peter entered, and closed the door behind him. The commissionaire remained outside. Mademoiselle Celaire turned to greet her visitor.

"It is a few words I desire with you as quickly as possible, if you please, Monsieur le Baron," she said, advancing towards him. "Listen."

She had brushed out her hair, and it hung from her head straight and a little stiff, almost like the hair of an Indian woman. She had washed her face free of all cosmetics, and her pallor was almost waxen. She wore a dressing-gown of green silk. Her discarded black frock lay upon the floor.

"I am entirely at your service, mademoiselle," Peter answered, bowing. "Continue, if you please."

"You sup with me to-night—you are my guest."

He hesitated.

"I am very much honoured," he murmured. "It is an affair of urgency, then? Mademoiselle will remember that I am not alone here."

She threw out her hands scornfully.

"They told me in Paris that you were a genius!" she exclaimed. "Cannot you feel, then, when a thing is urgent? Do you not know it without being told? You must meet me with a carriage at the stage door in forty minutes. We sup in Hamilton Place with Andrea Korust and his brother."

"With whom?" Peter asked, surprised.

"With the Korust Brothers," she repeated. "I have just been talking to Andrea. He calls himself a Hungarian. Bah! They are as much Hungarian as I am!"

Peter leaned slightly against the table and looked thoughtfully at his companion. He was trying to remember whether he had ever heard anything of these young men.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "the prospect of partaking of any meal in your company is in itself enchanting, but I do not know your friends, the Korust Brothers. Apart from their wonderful music, I do not recollect ever having heard of them before in my life. What excuse have I, then, for accepting their hospitality? Pardon me, too, if I add that you have not as yet spoken as to the urgency of this affair."

She turned from him impatiently, and, throwing herself back into the chair from which she had risen at his entrance, she began to exchange the thick woollen stockings which she had been wearing upon the stage for others of fine silk.

"Oh, la, la!" she exclaimed. "You are very slow, Monsieur le Baron. It is, perhaps, my stage name which has misled you. I am Marie Lapouse. Does that convey anything to you?"

"A great deal," Peter admitted, quickly. "You stand very high upon the list of my agents whom I may trust."

"Then stay here no longer," she begged, "for my maid waits outside, and I need her services. Go back and make your excuses to your wife. In forty minutes I shall expect you at the stage door."

"An affair of diplomacy, this, or brute force?" he inquired.

"Heaven knows what may happen!" she replied. "To tell you the truth, I do not know myself. Be prepared for anything, but, for Heaven's sake, go now! I can dress no further without my maid, and Andrea Korust may come in at any moment. I do not wish him to find you here."

Peter made his way thoughtfully back to his seat. He explained the situation to his wife so far as he could, and sent her home. Then he waited until the car returned, smoking a cigarette and trying once more to remember if he had ever heard anything of Andrea Korust or his brother from Sogrange. Punctually at the time stated he was outside the stage door of the music-hall, and a few minutes later Mademoiselle Celaire appeared, a dazzling vision of furs and smiles and jewellery imperfectly concealed. A small crowd pressed around to see the famous Frenchwoman. Peter handed her gravely across the pavement into his waiting motor-car. One or two of the loungers gave vent to a groan of envy at the sight of the diamonds which blazed from her neck and bosom. Peter smiled as he gave the address to his servant, and took his place by the side of his companion.

"They see only the externals, this mob," he remarked. "They picture to themselves, perhaps, a little supper for two. Alas!"

Mademoiselle Celaire laughed at him softly.

"You need not trouble to assume that most disconsolate of expressions, my dear Baron," she assured him. "Your reputation as a man of gallantry is beyond question, but remember that I know you also for the most devoted and loyal of husbands. We waste no time in folly, you and I. It is the business of the Double Four."

Peter was relieved, but his innate politeness forbade his showing it.

"Proceed," he said.

"The Brothers Korust," she went on, leaning towards him, "have a week's engagement at the Alhambra. Their salary is six hundred pounds. They play very beautifully, of course, but I think that it is as much as they are worth."

Peter agreed with her fervently. He had no soul for music.

"They have taken the furnished house belonging to one of your dukes, in Hamilton Place, for which we are bound; taken it, too, at a fabulous rent," Mademoiselle Celaire continued. "They have installed there a chef and a whole retinue of servants. They were here for seven nights; they have issued invitations for seven supper parties."

"Hospitable young men they seem to be," Peter murmured. "I read in one of the stage papers that Andrea is a count in his own country, and that they perform in public only for the love of their music and for the sake of the excitement and travel."

"A paragraph wholly inspired and utterly false," Mademoiselle Celaire declared firmly, sitting a little forward in the car and laying her hand, ablaze with jewels, upon his coat sleeve. "Listen. They call themselves Hungarians. Bah! I know that they are in touch with a great European Court, both of them, the Court of the country to which they really belong. They have plans, plans and schemes connected with their visit here, which I do not understand. I have done my best with Andrea Korust, but he is not a man to be trusted. I know that there is something more in these seven supper parties than idle hospitality. I and others like me, artistes and musicians, are invited, to give the assemblies a properly Bohemian tone, but there are to be other guests, attracted there, no doubt, because the papers have spoken of these gatherings."

"You have some idea of what it all means, in your mind?" Peter suggested.

"It is too vague to put into words," she declared, shaking her head. "We must both watch. Afterwards we will, if you like, compare notes."

The car drew up before the doors of a handsome house in Hamilton Place. A footman received Peter, and relieved him of his hat and overcoat. A trim maid performed the same office for Mademoiselle Celaire. They met a moment or two later and were ushered into a large drawing-room in which a dozen or two of men and women were already assembled, and from which came a pleasant murmur of voices and laughter. The apartment was hung with pale green satin; the furniture was mostly Chippendale, upholstered in the same shade. A magnificent grand piano stood open in a smaller room, just visible beyond. Only one thing seemed strange to the two newly arrived guests. The room was entirely lit with shaded candles, giving a certain mysterious but not unpleasant air of obscurity to the whole suite of apartments. Through the gloom the jewels and eyes of the women seemed to shine with a new brilliance. Slight eccentricities of toilette—for a part of the gathering was distinctly Bohemian—were softened and subdued. The whole effect was somewhat weird, but also picturesque.

Andrea Korust advanced from a little group to meet his guests. Off the stage he seemed at first sight frailer and slighter than ever. His dress coat had been exchanged for a velvet dinner jacket, and his white tie for a drooping black bow. He had a habit of blinking nearly all the time, as though his large brown eyes, which he seldom wholly opened, were weaker than they appeared to be. Nevertheless, when he came to within a few paces of his newly arrived visitors, they shone with plenty of expression. Without any change of countenance, however, he held out his hand.

"Dear Andrea," Mademoiselle Celaire exclaimed, "you permit me that I present to you my dear friend, well known in Paris—alas! many years ago—Monsieur le Baron de Grost. Monsieur le Baron was kind enough to pay his respects to me this evening, and I have induced him to become my escort here."

"It was my good fortune," Peter remarked, smiling, "that I saw Mademoiselle Celaire's name upon the bills this evening—my good fortune, since it has procured for me the honour of an acquaintance with a musician so distinguished."

"You are very kind, Monsieur le Baron," Korust replied.

"You stay here, I regret to hear, a very short time?"

"Alas!" Andrea Korust admitted, "it is so. For myself, I would that it were longer. I find your London so attractive, the people so friendly. They fall in with my whims so charmingly. I have a hatred, you know, of solitude. I like to make acquaintances wherever I go, to have delightful women and interesting men around, to forget that life is not always gay. If I am too much alone I am miserable, and when I am miserable I am in a very bad way indeed. I cannot then make music."

Peter smiled gravely and sympathetically.

"And your brother? Does he, too, share your gregarious instincts?"

Korust paused for a moment before replying. His eyes were quite wide open now. If one could judge from his expression, one would certainly have said that the Baron de Grost's attempts to ingratiate himself with his host were distinctly unsuccessful.

"My brother has exactly opposite instincts," he said slowly. "He finds no pleasure in society. At the sound of a woman's voice he hides."

"He is not here, then?" Peter asked, glancing around.

Andrea Korust shook his head.

"It is doubtful whether he joins us this evening at all," he declared. "My sister, however, is wholly of my disposition. Monsieur le Baron will permit me that I present her."

Peter bowed low before a very handsome young woman with flashing black eyes, and a type of feature undoubtedly belonging to one of the countries of Eastern Europe. She was picturesquely dressed in a gown of flaming red silk, made as though in one piece, without trimming or flounces, and she seemed inclined to bestow upon her new acquaintance all the attention that he might desire. She took him at once into a corner and seated herself by his side. It was impossible for Peter not to associate the empressement of her manner with the few words which Andrea Korust had whispered into her ear at the moment of their introduction.

"So you," she murmured, "are the wonderful Baron de Grost? I have heard of you so often."

"Wonderful!" Peter repeated, with twinkling eyes. "I have never been called that before. I feel that I have no claim whatever to distinction, especially in a gathering like this."

She shrugged her shoulders and glanced carelessly across the room.

"They are well enough," she admitted; "but one wearies of genius on every side of one. Genius is not the best thing in the world to live with, you know. It has whims and fancies. For instance, look at these rooms—the gloom, the obscurity—and I love so much the light."

Peter smiled.

"It is the privilege of genius," he remarked, "to have whims and to indulge in them."

She sighed.

"To do Andrea justice," she said, "it is, perhaps, scarcely a whim that he chooses to receive his guests in semi-darkness. He has weak eyes, and he is much too vain to wear spectacles. Tell me, you know everyone here?"

"No one," Peter declared. "Please enlighten me, if you think it necessary. For myself," he added, dropping his voice a little, "I feel that the happiness of my evening is assured without making any further acquaintances."

"But you came as the guest of Mademoiselle Celaire," she reminded him doubtfully, with a faint regretful sigh and a provocative gleam in her eyes.

"I saw Mademoiselle Celaire to-night for the first time for years," Peter replied. "I called to see her in her dressing-room, and she claimed me for an escort this evening. I am, alas! a very occasional wanderer in the pleasant paths of Bohemia."

"If that is really true," she murmured, "I suppose I must tell you something about the people, or you will feel that you have wasted your opportunity."

"Mademoiselle," Peter whispered.

She held out her hand and laughed into his face.

"No!" she interrupted. "I shall do my duty. Opposite you is Mademoiselle Drezani, the famous singer at Covent Garden. Do I need to tell you that, I wonder? Rudolf Maesterling, the dramatist, stands behind her there in the corner. He is talking to the wonderful Cléo, whom all the world knows. Monsieur Guyer there, he is manager, I believe, of the Alhambra; and talking to him is Marborg, the great pianist. The two ladies talking to my brother are Esther Hammerton, whom, of course, you know by sight. She is leading lady, is she not, at the Hilarity Theatre? The other one is Miss Ransome. They tell me that she is your only really great English actress."

Peter nodded appreciatively.

"It is all most interesting," he declared. "Now, tell me, please, who is the military person with the stiff figure and sallow complexion standing by the door? He seems quite alone."

The girl made a little grimace.

"I suppose I ought to be looking after him," she admitted, rising reluctantly to her feet. "He is a soldier just back from India—a General Noseworthy, with all sorts of letters after his name. If Mademoiselle Celaire is generous, perhaps we may have a few minutes' conversation later on," she added, with a parting smile.

"Say, rather, if Mademoiselle Korust is kind," de Grost replied, bowing. "It depends upon that only."

He strolled across the room and rejoined Mademoiselle Celaire a few moments later. They stood apart in a corner.

"I should like my supper," Peter declared.

"They wait for one more guest," Mademoiselle Celaire announced.

"One more guest! Do you know who it is?"

"No idea," she answered. "One would imagine that it was someone of importance. Are you any wiser than when you came dear master?" she added under her breath.

"Not a whit," he replied promptly.

She took out her fan and waved it slowly in front of her face.

"Yet you must discover what it all means to-night or not at all," she whispered. "The dear Andrea has intimated to me most delicately that another escort would be more acceptable if I should honour him again."

"That helps," he murmured. "See, our last guest arrives. Ah!"

A tall, spare-looking man was just being announced. They heard his name as Andrea presented him to a companion:

"Colonel Mayson!"

Mademoiselle Celaire saw a gleam in her companion's eyes.

"It is coming—the idea?" she whispered.

"Very vaguely," he admitted.

"Who is this Colonel Mayson?"

"Our only military aeronaut," Peter replied.

She raised her eyebrows.

"Aeronaut!" she repeated doubtfully. "I see nothing in that. Both my own country and Germany are years ahead of poor England in the air. Is it not so?"

Peter smiled and held out his arm.

"See," he said, "supper has been announced. Afterwards Andrea Korust will play to us, and I think that Colonel Mayson and his distinguished brother officer from India will talk. We shall see."

They passed into a room whose existence had suddenly been revealed by the drawing back of some beautiful brocaded curtains. Supper was a delightful meal, charmingly served. Peter, putting everything else out of his head for the moment, thoroughly enjoyed himself, and, remembering his duty as a guest, contributed in no small degree towards the success of the entertainment. He sat between Mademoiselle Celaire and his hostess, both of whom demanded much from him in the way of attention. But he still found time to tell stories which were listened to by everyone, and exchanged sallies with the gayest. Only Andrea Korust, from his place at the head of the table, glanced occasionally towards his popular guest with a curious, half-hidden expression of distaste and suspicion. The more the Baron de Grost shone, the more uneasy Andrea became. The signal to rise from the meal was given almost abruptly. Mademoiselle Korust hung on to Peter's arm. Her own wishes and her brother's orders seemed to absolutely coincide. She led him towards a retired corner of the music-room. On the way, however, Peter overheard the introduction which he had expected.

"General Noseworthy is just returned from India, Colonel Mayson," Korust said, in his usual quiet, tired tone. "You will, perhaps, find it interesting to talk together a little. As for me, I play because all are polite enough to wish it, but conversation disturbs me not in the least."

Peter passed, smiling, on to the corner pointed out by his companion, which was the darkest and most secluded in the room. He took her fan and gloves, lit her cigarette, and leaned back by her side.

"How does your brother, a stranger to London, find time to make the acquaintance of so many interesting people?" he asked.

"He brought many letters," she replied. "He has friends everywhere."

"I have an idea," Peter remarked, "that an acquaintance of my own, the Count von Hern, spoke to me once about him."

She took her cigarette from her lips and turned her head slightly. Peter's expression was one of amiable reminiscence. His cheeks were a trifle flushed; his appearance was entirely reassuring. She laughed at her brother's caution. She found her companion delightful.

"Yes, the Count von Hern is a friend of my brother's," she admitted carelessly.

"And of yours?" he whispered, his arm slightly pressed against hers.

She laughed at him silently and their eyes met. Decidedly Peter, Baron de Grost, found it hard to break away from his old weakness. Andrea Korust, from his place near the piano, breathed a sigh of relief as he watched. A moment or two later, however, Mademoiselle Korust was obliged to leave her companion to receive a late but unimportant guest, and almost simultaneously Colonel Mayson passed by on his way to the farther end of the apartment. Andrea Korust was bending over the piano to give some instructions to his accompanist. Peter leaned forward and his face and tone were strangely altered.

"You will find General Noseworthy of the Indian Army a little inquisitive, Colonel," he remarked.

The latter turned sharply round. There was meaning in those few words, without doubt! There was meaning, too, in the still, cold face which seemed to repel his question. He passed on thoughtfully. Mademoiselle Korust, with a gesture of relief, came back and threw herself once more upon the couch.

"We must talk in whispers," she said gaily. "Andrea always declares that he does not mind conversation, but too much noise is, of course, impossible. Besides, Mademoiselle Celaire will not spare you to me for long."

"There is a whole language," he replied, "which was made for whisperers. And as for Mademoiselle Celaire——"

"Well?"

He laughed softly.

"Mademoiselle Celaire is, I think, more your brother's friend than mine," he murmured. "At least I will be generous. He has given me a delightful evening. I resign my claims upon Mademoiselle Celaire."

"It would break your heart," she declared.

His voice sank even below a whisper. Decidedly Peter, Baron de Grost, did not improve!...

He rose to leave precisely at the right time, neither too early nor too late. He had spent altogether a most amusing evening. There were one or two little comedies which had diverted him extremely. At the moment of parting, the beautiful eyes of Mademoiselle Korust had been raised to his very earnestly.

"You will come again very soon—to-morrow night?" she had whispered. "Is it necessary that you bring Mademoiselle Celaire?"

"It is altogether unnecessary," Peter replied.

"Let me try and entertain you instead, then."

It was precisely at that instant that Andrea had sent for his sister. Peter watched their brief conversation with much interest and intense amusement. She was being told not to invite him there again and she was rebelling! Without a doubt he had made a conquest! She returned to him flushed, and with a dangerous glitter in her eyes.

"Monsieur le Baron," she said, leading him on one side, "I am ashamed and angry."

"Your brother is annoyed because you have asked me here to-morrow night?" he asked quickly.

"It is so," she confessed. "Indeed, I thank you that you have spared me the task of putting my brother's discourtesy into words. Andrea takes violent fancies like that sometimes. I am ashamed, but what can I do?"

"Nothing, mademoiselle," he admitted, with a sigh. "I obey, of course. Did your brother mention the source of his aversion to me?"

"He is too absurd sometimes," she declared. "One must treat him like a great baby."

"Nevertheless, there must be a reason," Peter persisted, gently.

"He has heard some foolish thing from the Count von Hern," she admitted, reluctantly. "Do not let us think anything more about it. In a few days it will have passed. And meanwhile——"

She paused. He leaned a little towards her. She was looking intently at a ring upon her finger.

"If you would really like to see me," she whispered, "and if you are sure that Mademoiselle Celaire would not object, could you not ask me to tea to-morrow or the next day?"

"To-morrow," Peter insisted, with a becoming show of eagerness. "Shall we say at the Carlton at five?"

She hesitated.

"Isn't that rather a public place?" she objected.

"Anywhere else you like."

She was silent for a moment. She seemed to be waiting for some suggestion from him. None came.

"The Carlton at five," she murmured. "I am angry with Andrea. I feel, even, that I could break his wonderful violin in two!"

Peter sighed once more.

"I should like to twist von Hern's neck!" he declared. "Lucky for him that he's in St. Petersburg! Let us forget this unpleasant matter, mademoiselle. The evening has been too delightful for such memories."

Mademoiselle Celaire turned to her escort as soon as they were alone in the car.

"As an escort, let me tell you, my dear Baron," she exclaimed, with some pique, "that you are a miserable failure! For the rest——"

"For the rest, I will admit that I am puzzled," Peter said. "I need to think. I have the glimmerings of an idea—no more."

"You will act? It is an affair for us—for the Double Four?"

"Without a doubt—an affair and a serious one," Peter assured her. "I shall act. Exactly how I cannot say until after to-morrow."

"To-morrow?" she repeated.

"Mademoiselle Korust takes tea with me," he explained.

In a quiet sort of way, the series of supper parties given by Andrea Korust became the talk of London. The most famous dancer in the world broke through her unvarying rule, and night after night thrilled the distinguished little gathering. An opera singer, the "star" of the season, sang; a great genius recited; and Andrea himself gave always of his best. Apart from this wonderful outpouring of talent, Andrea Korust himself seemed to possess the peculiar art of bringing into touch with one another people naturally interested in the same subjects. On the night after the visit of Peter, Baron de Grost, His Grace the Duke of Rosshire was present, the man in whose hands lay the destinies of the British Navy; and, curiously enough, on the same night, a great French writer on naval subjects was present, whom the Duke had never met, and with whom he was delighted to talk for some time apart. On another occasion, the Military Secretary to the French Embassy was able to have a long and instructive chat with a distinguished English general on the subject of the recent man[oe]uvres, and the latter received, in the strictest confidence, some very interesting information concerning the new type of French guns. On the following evening the greatest of our Colonial statesmen, a red-hot Imperialist, was able to chat about the resources of the Empire with an English politician of similar views, whom he chanced never to have previously met. Altogether these parties seemed to be the means of bringing together a series of most interesting people, interesting not only in themselves, but in their relations to one another. It was noticeable, however, that from this side of his little gatherings Andrea Korust remained wholly apart. He admitted that music and cheerful companionship were the only two things in life he really cared for. Politics or matters of world import seemed to leave him unmoved. If a serious subject of conversation were started at supper-time he was frankly bored, and took no pains to hide the fact. It is certain that whatever interesting topics were alluded to in his presence, he remained entirely outside any understanding of them. Mademoiselle Celaire, who was present most evenings, although with other escorts, was puzzled. She could see nothing whatever to account for the warning which she had received, and had at once passed on, as was her duty, to the Baron de Grost. She failed, also, to understand the faint but perceptible enlightenment to which Peter himself had admittedly attained after that first evening. Take that important conversation, for instance, between the French military attaché and the British general. Without a doubt it was of interest, and especially so to the country which she was sure claimed his allegiance, but it was equally without doubt that Andrea Korust neither overheard a word of that conversation nor betrayed the slightest curiosity concerning it. Mademoiselle Celaire was a clever woman, and she had never felt so hopelessly at fault. Illumination was to come, however—illumination, dramatic and complete.

The seventh and last of these famous supper parties was in full swing. Notwithstanding the shaded candles, which left the faces of the guests a little indistinct, the scene was a brilliant one. Mademoiselle Celaire was wearing her famous diamonds, which shone through the gloom like pin-pricks of fire; Garda Desmaines, the wonderful Garda, sat next to her host, her bosom and hair on fire with jewels, yet with the most wonderful light of all glowing in her eyes; a famous actor, who had thrown his proverbial reticence to the winds, kept his immediate neighbours in a state of semi-hysterical mirth; the clink of wine-glasses, the laughter of beautiful women, the murmur of cultivated voices, rose and fell through the faint, mysterious gloom. It was a picturesque, a wonderful scene enough. Pale as a marble statue, with the covert smile of the gracious host, Andrea Korust sat at the head of the table, well pleased with his company, as indeed he had the right to be. By his side was a great American statesman, who was travelling round the world, and yet had refused all other invitations of this sort. He had come for the pleasure of meeting the famous Dutch writer and politician, Mr. van Jool. The two were already talking intimately. It was at this point that tragedy, or something like it, intervened. A man's impatient voice was heard in the hall outside, a man's voice which grew louder and louder, more impatient, finally more passionate. People raised their heads to listen. The American statesman, who was, perhaps, the only one to realise exactly what was coming, slipped his hand into his pocket and gripped something cold and hard. Then the door was flung open. An apologetic and much disturbed butler made the announcement which had evidently been demanded of him.

"Mr. von Tassen!"

A silence followed—breathless—the silence before the bursting of the storm. Mr. von Tassen was the name of the American statesman, and the man who rose slowly from his place by his host's side was the exact double of the man who stood now upon the threshold, gazing in upon the room. The expression of the two alone was different. The new-comer was furiously angry, and looked it. The sham Mr. von Tassen was very much at his ease. It was he who broke the silence, and his voice was curiously free from all trace of emotion. He was looking his double over with an air of professional interest.

"On the whole," he said calmly, "very good. A little stouter, I perceive, and the eyebrows a trifle too regular. Of course, when you make faces at me like that, it is hard to judge of the expression. I can only say that I did the best I could."

"Who the devil are you, masquerading in my name?" the new-comer demanded, with emphasis. "This man is an impostor!" he added, turning to Andrea Korust. "What is he doing at your table?"

Andrea leaned forward, and his face was an evil thing to look upon.

"Who are you?" he hissed out.

The sham Mr. von Tassen turned away for a moment and stooped down. The trick has been done often enough upon the stage, often in less time, but seldom with more effect. The wonderful wig disappeared, the spectacles, the lines in the face, the make-up of diabolical cleverness. With his back to the wall and his fingers playing with something in his pocket, Peter, Baron de Grost smiled upon his host.

"Since you insist upon knowing—the Baron de Grost, at your service!" he announced.

Andrea Korust was, for the moment, speechless. One of the women shrieked. The real Mr. von Tassen looked around him helplessly.

"Will someone be good enough to enlighten me as to the meaning of this?" he begged. "Is it a roast? If so, I only want to catch on. Let me get to the joke, if there is one. If not, I should like a few words of explanation from you, sir," he added, addressing Peter.

"Presently," the latter replied. "In the meantime, let me persuade you that I am not the only impostor here."

He seized a glass of water and dashed it in the face of Mr. van Jool. There was a moment's scuffle, and no more of Mr. van Jool. What emerged was a good deal like the shy Maurice Korust, who accompanied his brother at the music-hall, but whose distaste for these gatherings had been Andrea's continual lament. The Baron de Grost stepped back once more against the wall. His host was certainly looking dangerous. Mademoiselle Celaire was leaning forward, staring through the gloom with distended eyes. Around the table every head was craned towards the centre of the disturbance. It was Peter again who spoke.

"Let me suggest, Andrea Korust," he said, "that you send your guests—those who are not immediately interested in this affair—into the next room. I will offer Mr. von Tassen then the explanation to which he is entitled."

Andrea Korust staggered to his feet. The man's nerve had failed. He was shaking all over. He pointed to the music-room.

"If you would be so good, ladies and gentlemen!" he begged. "We will follow you immediately."

They went, with obvious reluctance. All their eyes seemed focused upon Peter. He bore their scrutiny with calm cheerfulness. For a moment he had feared Korust, but that moment had passed. A servant, obeying his master's gesture, pulled back the curtains after the departing crowd. The four men were alone.

"Mr. von Tassen," Peter said easily, "you are a man who loves adventures. To-night you experience a new sort of one. Over in your great country such methods as these are laughed at as the cheap device of sensation-mongers. Nevertheless, they exist. To-night is a proof that they exist."

"Get on to facts, sir!" the American admonished. "Before you leave this room, you've got to explain to me what you mean by passing yourself off as Thomas von Tassen."

Peter bowed.

"With much pleasure, Mr. von Tassen," he declared. "For your information, I might tell you that you are not the only person in whose guise I have figured. In fact, I have had quite a busy week. I have been—let me see—I have been Monsieur le Marquis de Beau Kunel on the night when our shy friend, Maurice Korust, was playing the part of General Henderson. I have also been His Grace the Duke of Rosshire when my friend Maurice here was introduced to me as François Defayal, known by name to me as one of the greatest writers on naval matters. A little awkward about the figure I found His Grace, but otherwise I think that I should have passed muster wherever he was known. I have also passed as Sir William Laureston, on the evening when my rival artiste here sang the praises of Imperial England."

Andrea Korust leaned forward with venomous eyes.

"You mean that it was you who was here last night in Sir William Laureston's place?" he almost shrieked.

"Most certainly," Peter admitted, "but you must remember that, after all, my performances have been no more difficult than those of your shy but accomplished brother. Whenever I took to myself a strange personality I found him there, equally good as to detail, and with his subject always at his finger-tips. We settled that little matter of the canal, didn't we?" Peter remarked cheerfully, laying his hand upon the shoulder of the young man.

They stared at him, these two white-faced brothers, like tiger-cats about to spring. Mr. von Tassen was getting impatient.

"Look here," he protested, "you may be clearing matters up so far as regards Mr. Andrea Korust and his brother, but I'm as much in the fog as ever. Where do I come in?"

"Your pardon, sir!" Peter replied. "I am getting nearer things now. These two young men—we will not call them hard names—are suffering from an excess of patriotic zeal. They didn't come and sit down on a camp-stool and sketch obsolete forts, as those others of their countrymen do when they want to pose as the bland and really exceedingly ignorant foreigners. They went about the matter with some skill. It occurred to them that it might be interesting to their country to know what Sir William Laureston thought about the strength of the Imperial Navy, and to what extent his country were willing to go in maintaining their allegiance to Great Britain. Then there was the Duke of Rosshire. They thought they'd like to know his views as to the development of the Navy during the next ten years. There was that little matter, too, of the French guns. It would certainly be interesting to them to know what Monsieur le Marquis de Beau Kunel had to say about them. These people were all invited to sit at the hospitable board of our host here. I, however, had an inkling on the first night of what was going on, and I was easily able to persuade those in authority to let me play their several parts. You, sir," Peter added, turning to Mr. von Tassen, "you, sir, floored me. You were not an Englishman, and there was no appeal which I could make. I simply had to risk you. I counted upon your not turning up. Unfortunately, you did. Fortunately, you are the last guest. This is the seventh supper."

Mr. von Tassen glanced around at the three men and made up his mind.

"What do you call yourself?" he asked Peter.

"The Baron de Grost," Peter replied.

"Then, my friend the Baron de Grost," von Tassen said, "I think that you and I had better get out of this. So I was to talk about Germany with Mr. van Jool, eh?"

"I have already explained your views," Peter declared, with twinkling eyes. "Mr. van Jool was delighted."

Mr. von Tassen shook with laughter.

"Say," he exclaimed, "this is a great story! If you're ready, Baron de Grost, lead the way to where we can get a whisky and soda and a chat."

Mademoiselle Celaire came gliding out to them.

"I am not going to be left here," she whispered, taking Peter's arm.

Peter looked back from the door.

"At any rate, Mr. Andrea Korust," he said, "your first supper was a success. Colonel Mayson was genuine. Our real English military aeronaut was here, and he has disclosed to you, Maurice Korust, all that he ever knew. Henceforth I presume your great country will dispute with us for the mastery of the air."

"Queer country, this," Mr. von Tassen remarked, pausing on the step to light a cigar. "Seems kind of humdrum after New York, but there's no use talking—things do happen over here anyway!"



VI.—
MAJOR KOSUTH'S MISSION
First published in Pearson's Magazine (US), Jun 1911
Also published as "The Mission Of Major Kosuth"

His host, very fussy as he always was on the morning of his big shoot, came bustling towards de Grost, with a piece of paper in his hand. The party of men had just descended from a large brake and were standing about on the edge of the common, examining cartridges, smoking a last cigarette before the business of the morning, and chatting together over the prospects of the day's sport. In the distance, a cloud of dust indicated the approach of a fast-travelling motor-car.

"My dear Baron," Sir William Bounderby said, "I want you to change your stand to-day. I must have a good man at the far corner as the birds go off my land from there, and Addington was missing them shockingly yesterday. Besides, there is a new man coming on your left, and I know nothing of his shooting—nothing at all!"

Peter smiled.

"Anywhere you choose to put me, Sir William," he assented. "They came badly for Addington yesterday, and well for me. However, I'll do my best."

"I wish people wouldn't bring strangers, especially to the one shoot where I'm keen about the bag. I told Portal he could bring his brother-in-law, and he's bringing this foreign fellow instead. Don't suppose he can shoot for nuts! Did you ever hear of him, I wonder? The Count von Hern, he calls himself."

Peter was not on his guard and a little exclamation escaped him.

"Bernadine!" he murmured, softly. "So the game begins once more!"

His interest was unmistakable. It was not only the chill November air which had brought a touch of colour to his cheeks and the light to his eyes.

"You seem pleased," Sir William Bounderby remarked, curiously. "You do know the fellow, then? Friend of yours, perhaps?"

Peter shook his head.

"Oh, yes! I know him, Sir William," he replied, "but I do not think that he would call himself a friend of mine. I know nothing about his shooting except that if he got a chance I think that he would like to shoot me."

Sir William, who was a very literal man, looked grave.

"I am sorry," he said, "if you are likely to find this meeting in any way awkward. I suppose there's nothing against him, eh?" he added, a little nervously. "I invited him purely on the strength of his being a guest of Portal's."

"The Count von Hern comes, I believe," Peter assured his host, "of a distinguished European family. Socially there is nothing whatever against him. We happen to have run up against each other once or twice, that's all. That sort of thing will occur, you know, when the interests of finance touch the border-line of politics."

"You have no objection to meeting him, then?" Sir William asked.

"Not the slightest," Peter replied. "I do not know exactly in what direction the Count von Hern is extending his activities at present, but you will probably find any feeling of annoyance as regards our meeting to-day is entirely on his side."

"I am very glad to hear it," Sir William declared. "I should not like anything to happen to disturb the harmony of your short visit to us."

The motor-car had come to a standstill by this time. From it descended Mr. Portal himself, a large neighbouring landowner, a man of culture and travel. With him was Bernadine, in a very correct shooting suit and Tyrolese hat. On the other side of Mr. Portal was a short, thick-set man, with olive complexion, keen black eyes, black moustache and imperial, and sombrely dressed in City clothes. Sir William's eyebrows were slightly raised as he advanced to greet the party. Peter was at once profoundly interested.

Mr. Portal introduced his guests.

"You will forgive me, I am sure, for bringing a spectator, Bounderby," he said. "Major Kosuth, whom I have the honour to present—Major Kosuth, Sir William Bounderby—is high up in the diplomatic service of a people with whom we must feel every sympathy—the young Turks. The Count von Hern, who takes my brother-in-law's place, is probably known to you by name."

Sir William welcomed his visitors cordially.

"You do not shoot, Major Kosuth?" he asked.

"Very seldom," the Turk answered. "I come to-day with my good friend, Count von Hern, as a spectator, if you permit."

"Delighted," Sir William replied. "We will find you a safe place near your friend."

The little party began to move toward the wood. It was just at this moment that Bernadine felt a touch upon his shoulder, and, turning round, found Peter by his side.

"An unexpected pleasure, my dear Count," the latter declared, suavely. "I had no idea that you took an interest in such simple sports."

The manners of the Count von Hern were universally quoted as being almost too perfect. It is a regrettable fact, however, that at that moment he swore—softly, perhaps, but with distinct vehemence. A moment later he was exchanging the most cordial of greetings with his old friend.

"You have the knack, my dear de Grost," he remarked, "of turning up in the most surprising places. I certainly did not know that amongst your many accomplishments was included a love for field sports."

Peter smiled quietly. He was a very fine shot, and knew it.

"One must amuse oneself these days," he said. "There is little else to do."

Bernadine bit his lip.

"My absence from this country, I fear, has robbed you of an occupation."

"It has certainly deprived life of some of its savour," Peter admitted, blandly. "By the by, will you not present me to your friend? I have the utmost sympathy with the intrepid political party of which he is a member."

The Count von Hern performed the introduction with a reluctance which he wholly failed to conceal. The Turk, however, had been walking on his other side, and his hat was already lifted. Peter had purposely raised his voice.

"It gives me the greatest pleasure, Major Kosuth," Peter said, "to welcome you to this country. In common, I believe, with the majority of my countrymen, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the movement which you represent."

Major Kosuth smiled slowly. His features were heavy and unexpressive. There was something of gloom, however, in the manner of his response.

"You are very kind, Baron," he replied, "and I welcome very much this expression of your interest in my party. I believe that the hearts of your country people are turned towards us in the same manner. I could wish that your country's political sympathies were as easily aroused."

Bernadine intervened promptly.

"Major Kosuth has been here only one day," he remarked lightly. "I tell him that he is a little too impatient. See, we are approaching the wood. It is as well here to refrain from conversation."

"We will resume it later," Peter said, softly. "I have interests in Turkey, and it would give me great pleasure to have a talk with Major Kosuth."

"Financial interests?" the latter inquired, with some eagerness.

Peter nodded.

"I will explain after the first drive," he said, turning away.

Peter walked rather quickly until he reached a bend in the wood. He overtook his host on the way, and paused for a moment.

"Lend me a loader for half an hour, Sir William," he begged. "I have to send my servant to the village with a telegram."

"With pleasure!" Sir William answered. "There are several to spare. I'll send one to your stand. There's von Hern going the wrong way!" he exclaimed, in a tone of annoyance.

Peter was just in time to stop the whistle from going to his mouth.

"Do me another favour, Sir William," he pleaded. "Give me time to send off my telegram before the Count sees what I'm doing. He's such an inquisitive person," he went on, noticing his host's look of blank surprise. "Thank you ever so much!"

Peter hurried on to his place. It was round the corner of the wood, and for the moment out of sight of the rest of the party. He tore a sheet from his pocket-book and scribbled out a telegram. His man had disappeared and a substitute taken his place by the time the Count von Hern arrived. The latter was now all amiability. It was hard to believe, from his smiling salutation, that he and the man to whom he waved his hand in so airy a fashion had ever declared war to the death!

The shooting began a few minutes later. Major Kosuth, from a camp stool a few yards behind his friend, watched with somewhat languid interest. He gave one, indeed, the impression that his thoughts were far removed from this simple country party, the main object of whose existence for the present seemed to be the slaying of a certain number of inoffensive birds. He watched the indifferent performance of his friend and the remarkably fine shooting of his neighbour on the left, with the same lack-lustre eye and want of enthusiasm. The beat was scarcely over before Peter, resigning his smoking guns to his loader, lit a cigarette and strolled across to the next stand. He plunged at once into a conversation with Kosuth, notwithstanding Bernadine's ill-concealed annoyance.

"Major Kosuth," he began, "I sympathise with you. It is a hard task for a man whose mind is centred upon great events to sit still and watch a performance of this sort. Be kind to us all and remember that this represents to us merely a few hours of relaxation. We, too, have our more serious moments."

"You read my thoughts well," Major Kosuth declared. "I do not seek to excuse them. For half a lifetime we Turks have toiled and striven, always in danger of our lives, to help forward those things which have now come to pass. I think that our lives have become tinged with sombreness and apprehension. Now that the first step is achieved, we go forward, still with trepidation. We need friends, Baron de Grost."

"You cannot seriously doubt but that you will find them in this country," Peter remarked. "There has never been a time when the English nation has not sympathised with the cause of liberty."

"It is not the hearts of your people," Major Kosuth said, "which I fear. It is the antics of your politicians. Sympathy is a great thing, and good to have, but Turkey to-day needs more. The heart of a nation is big, but the number of those in whose hands it remains to give practical expression to its promptings is few."

Bernadine, who had stood as much as he could, seized forcibly upon his friend.

"You must remember our bargain, Kosuth," he insisted—"no politics to-day. Until to-morrow evening we rest. Now I want to introduce you to a very old friend of mine, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county."

The Turk was bustled off, a little unwillingly. Peter watched them with a smile. It was many months since he had felt so keen an interest in life. The coming of Bernadine had steadied his nerves. His gun had come to his shoulder like the piston-rod of an engine. His eye was clear, his nerve still. There was something to be done! Decidedly, there was something to be done!...

No man was better informed in current political affairs; but Peter, instead of joining the cheerful afternoon tea party at the close of the day, raked out a file of The Times from the library, and studied it carefully in his room. There were one or two items of news concerning which he made pencil notes. He had scarcely finished his task before a servant brought in a dispatch. He opened it with interest and drew pencil and paper towards him. It was from Paris, and in the code which he had learnt by heart, no written key of which now existed. Carefully he transcribed it on to paper and read it through. It was dated from Paris a few hours back:

"Kosuth left for England yesterday. Envoy from new Turkish Government. Requiring loan one million pounds. Asked for guarantee that it was not for warlike movement against Bulgaria; declined to give same. Communicated with English Ambassador and informed Kosuth yesterday that neither Government would sanction loan unless undertaking were given that the same was not to be applied for war against Bulgaria. Turkey is under covenant to enter into no financial obligations with any other Power while the interest of former loans remains in abeyance. Kosuth has made two efforts to obtain loan privately, from prominent English financier and French syndicate. Both have declined to treat on representations from Government. Kosuth was expected return direct to Turkey. If, as you say, he is in England with Bernadine, we commend the affair to your utmost vigilance. Germany exceedingly anxious enter into close relations with new Government of Turkey. Fear Kosuth's association with Bernadine proof of bad faith. Have had interview with Minister for Foreign Affairs, who relies upon our help. French Secret Service at your disposal, if necessary."

Peter read the message three times with the greatest care. He was on the point of destroying it when Violet came into the room. She was wearing a long tea jacket of sheeny silk. Her beautiful hair was most becomingly arranged, her figure as light and girlish as ever. She came into the room humming gaily and swinging a gold purse upon her finger.

"Won three rubbers out of four, Peter," she declared, "and a compliment from the Duchess. Aren't I a pupil to be proud of?"

She stopped short. Her lips formed themselves into the shape of a whistle. She knew very well the signs. Her husband's eyes were kindling, there was a firm set about his lips, the palm of his hand lay flat upon that sheet of paper.

"It was true?" she murmured. "It was Bernadine who was shooting to-day?"

Peter nodded.

"He was on the next stand," he replied.

"Then there is something doing, of course," Violet continued. "My dear Peter, you may be an enigma to other people; to me you have the most expressive countenance I ever saw. You have had a cable which you have just transcribed. If I had been a few minutes later, I think you would have torn up the result. As it is, I think I have come just in time to hear all about it."

Peter smiled, grimly but fondly. He uncovered the sheet of paper and placed it in her hands.

"So far," he said, "there isn't much to tell you. The Count von Hern turned up this morning with a Major Kosuth, who was one of the leaders of the revolution in Turkey. I wired Paris, and this is the reply."

She read the message through thoughtfully and handed it back. Peter lit a match, and standing over the fireplace, calmly destroyed it.

"A million pounds is not a great sum of money," Violet remarked. "Why could not Kosuth borrow it for his country from a private individual?"

"A million pounds is not a large sum to talk about," Peter replied, "but it is an exceedingly large sum for anyone, even a multi-millionaire, to handle in cash. And Turkey, I gather, wants it at once. Besides, considerations which might be of value from a Government are no security at all as applied to a private individual."

She nodded.

"Do you think that Kosuth means to go behind the existing treaty and borrow from Germany?"

Peter shook his head.

"I can't quite believe that," he said. "It would mean the straining of diplomatic relations with both countries. It is out of the question."

"Then where does Bernadine come in?"

"I do not know," Peter answered.

Violet laughed.

"What is it that you are going to try to find out?" she asked.

"I am trying to discover who it is that Bernadine and Kosuth are waiting to see," Peter replied. "The worst of it is, I daren't leave here. I shall have to trust to the others."

She glanced at the clock.

"Well, go and dress," she said. "I'm afraid I've a little of your blood in me, after all. Life seems more stirring when Bernadine is on the scene."

The shooting party broke up two days later and Peter and his wife returned at once to town. The former found the reports which were awaiting his arrival disappointing. Bernadine and his guest were not in London, or if they were they had carefully avoided all the usual haunts. Peter read his reports over again, smoked a very long cigar alone in his study, and finally drove down to the City and called upon his stockbroker, who was also a personal friend. Things were flat in the City, and the latter was glad enough to welcome an important client. He began talking the usual market shop until his visitor stopped him.

"I have come to you, Edwardes, more for information than anything," Peter declared, "although it may mean that I shall need to sell a lot of stock. Can you tell me of any private financier who could raise a loan of a million pounds in cash within the course of a week?"

The stockbroker looked dubious.

"In cash?" he repeated. "Money isn't raised that way, you know. I doubt whether there are many men in the whole city of London who could put up such an amount with only a week's notice."

"But there must be someone," Peter persisted. "Think! It would probably be a firm or a man not obtrusively English. I don't think the Jews would touch it, and a German citizen would be impossible."

"Semi-political, eh?"

Peter nodded.

"It is rather that way," he admitted.

"Would your friend the Count von Hern be likely to be concerned in it?"

"Why?" Peter asked, with immovable face.

"Nothing, only I saw him coming out of Heseltine-Wrigge's office the other day," the stockbroker remarked, carelessly.

"And who is Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge?"

"A very wealthy American financier," the stockbroker replied, "not at all an unlikely person for a loan of the sort you mention."

"American citizen?" Peter inquired.

"Without a doubt. Of German descent, I should say, but nothing much left of it in his appearance. He settled over here in a huff, because New York society wouldn't receive his wife."

"I remember all about it," Peter declared. "She was a chorus girl, wasn't she? Nothing particular against her, but the fellow had no tact. Do you know him, Edwardes?"

"Slightly," the stockbroker answered.

"Give me a letter to him," Peter said. "Give my credit as good a leg up as you can. I shall probably go as a borrower."

Mr. Edwardes wrote a few lines and handed them to his client.

"Office is nearly opposite," he remarked. "Wish you luck, whatever your scheme is."

Peter crossed the street and entered the building which his friend had pointed out. He ascended in the lift to the third floor, knocked at the door which bore Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's name, and almost ran into the arms of a charmingly dressed little lady, who was being shown out by a broad-shouldered, typical American. Peter hastened to apologise.

"I beg your pardon," he said, raising his hat. "I was rather in a hurry, and I quite thought I heard someone say, 'Come in'."

The lady replied pleasantly. Her companion, who was carrying his hat in his hand, paused reluctantly.

"Did you want to see me?" he asked.

"If you are Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, I did," Peter admitted. "My name is the Baron de Grost, and I have a letter of introduction to you from Mr. Edwardes."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge tore open the envelope and glanced through the contents of the note. Peter meanwhile looked at his wife with genuine but respectfully cloaked admiration. The lady obviously returned his interest.

"Why, if you're the Baron de Grost," she exclaimed, "didn't you marry Vi Brown? She used to be at the Gaiety with me years ago."

"I certainly did marry Violet Brown," Peter confessed; "and, if you will allow me to say so, Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge, I should have recognised you anywhere from your photographs."

"Say, isn't that queer?" the little lady remarked, turning to her husband. "I should love to see Vi again."

"If you will give me your address," Peter declared promptly, "my wife will be delighted to call upon you."

The man looked up from the note.

"Do you want to talk business with me, Baron?" he asked.

"For a few moments only," Peter answered. "I am afraid I am a great nuisance, and, if you wish it, I will come down to the City again."

"That's all right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Myra won't mind waiting a minute or two. Come through here."

He turned back and led the way into a quiet-looking suite of offices, where one or two clerks were engaged writing at open desks. They all three passed into an inner room.

"Any objection to my wife coming in?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge asked. "There's scarcely any place for her out there."

"Delighted," Peter answered.

She glanced at the clock.

"Remember we have to meet the Count von Hern at half-past one at Prince's, Charles," she reminded him.

Her husband nodded. There was nothing in Peter's expression to denote that he had already achieved the first object of his visit.

"I shall not detain you," he said. "Your name has been mentioned to me, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, as a financier likely to have a large sum of money at his disposal. I have a scheme which needs money. Providing the security is unexceptionable, are you in a position to do a deal?"

"How much do you want?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge asked.

"A million to a million and a half," Peter answered.

"Dollars?"

"Pounds."

It was not Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's pose to appear surprised. Nevertheless his eyebrows were slightly raised.

"Say, what is this scheme?" he inquired.

"First of all," Peter replied, "I should like to know whether there's any chance of business if I disclose it."

"Not an atom," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge declared. "I have just committed myself to the biggest financial transaction of my life, and it will clean me out."

"Then I won't waste your time," Peter announced, rising.

"Sit down for a moment," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited, biting the end off a cigar and passing the box towards Peter. "That's all right. My wife doesn't mind. Say, it strikes me as rather a curious thing that you should come in here and talk about a million and a half when that's just the amount concerned in my other little deal."

Peter smiled.

"As a matter of fact, it isn't at all queer," he answered. "I don't want the money. I came to see whether you were really interested in the other affair—the Turkish loan, you know."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge withdrew his cigar from his mouth and looked steadily at his visitor.

"Say, Baron," he declared, "you've got a nerve!"

"Not at all," Peter replied. "I'm here as much in your interests as my own."

"Whom do you represent, any way?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge inquired.

"A company you never heard of," Peter replied. "Our offices are in the underground places of the world, and we don't run to brass plates. I am here because I am curious about that loan. Turkey hasn't a shadow of security to offer you. Everything which she can pledge is pledged to guarantee the interest on existing loans to France and England. She is prevented by treaty from borrowing in Germany. If you make a loan without security, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, I suppose you understand your position. The loan may be repudiated at any moment."

"Kind of a philanthropist, aren't you?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge remarked quietly.

"Not in the least," Peter assured him. "I know there's some tricky work going on, and I suppose I haven't brains enough to get to the bottom of it. That's why I've come blundering in to you, and why, I suppose, you'll be telling the whole story to the Count von Hern at luncheon in an hour's time."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge smoked in silence for a moment or two.

"This transaction of mine," he said at last, "isn't one I can talk about. I guess I'm on to what you want to know, but I simply can't tell you. The security is unusual, but it's good enough for me."

"It seems so to you beyond a doubt," Peter replied. "Still, you have to do with a remarkably clever young man in the Count von Hern. I don't want to ask you any questions you feel I ought not to, but I do wish you'd tell me one thing."

"Go right ahead," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited. "Don't be shy."

"What day are you concluding this affair?"

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge scratched his chin for a moment thoughtfully and glanced at his diary.

"Well, I'll risk that," he decided. "A week to-day I hand over the coin."

Peter drew a little breath of relief. A week was an immense time! He rose to his feet.

"That ends our business, then, for the present," he said. "Now I am going to ask both of you a favour. Perhaps I have no right to, but as a man of honour, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, you can take it from me that I ask it in your interests as well as my own. Don't tell the Count von Hern of my visit to you."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge held out his hand.

"That's all right," he declared. "You hear, Myra?"

"I'll be dumb, Baron," she promised. "Say when do you think Vi can come and see me?"

Peter was guilty of snobbery. He considered it quite a justifiable weapon.

"She is at Windsor this afternoon," he remarked.

"What, at the garden party?" Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge almost shrieked.

Peter nodded.

"I believe there's some fête or other to-morrow," he said; "but we're alone this evening. Why, won't you dine with us, say at the Carlton?"

"We'd love to," the lady assented promptly.

"At eight o'clock," Peter said, taking his leave.

The dinner-party was a great success. Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge found herself amongst the class of people with whom it was her earnest desire to become acquainted, and her husband was well satisfied to see her keen longing for Society likely to be gratified. The subject of Peter's call at the office in the City was studiously ignored. It was not until the very end of the evening, indeed, that the host of this very agreeable party was rewarded by a single hint. It all came about in the most natural manner. They were speaking of foreign capitals.

"I love Paris," Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge told her host. "Just adore it. Charles is often there on business, and I always go along."

Peter smiled. There was just a chance here.

"Your husband does not often have to leave London?" he remarked carelessly.

She nodded.

"Not often enough," she declared. "I just love getting about. Last week we had a perfectly horrible trip, though. We started off for Belfast quite unexpectedly, and I hated every minute of it."

Peter smiled inwardly, but he said never a word. His companion was already chattering on about something else. Peter crossed the hall a few minutes later to speak to an acquaintance, slipped out to the telephone booth, and spoke to his servant.

"A bag and a change," he ordered, "at Euston Station at twelve o'clock, in time for the Irish mail. Your mistress will be home as usual."

An hour later the dinner-party broke up. Early the next morning Peter crossed the Irish Channel. He returned the following day, and crossed again within a few hours. In five days the affair was finished, except for the dénouement.

Peter ascended in the lift to Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's office the following Thursday, calm and unruffled as usual, but nevertheless a little exultant. It was barely half an hour ago since he had become finally prepared for this interview. He was looking forward to it now with feelings of undiluted satisfaction. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge was in, he was told, and he was at once admitted to his presence. The financier greeted him with a somewhat curious smile.

"Say, this is very nice of you to look me up again!" he exclaimed. "Still worrying about that loan, eh?"

Peter shook his head.

"No, I'm not worrying about that any more," he answered, accepting one of his host's cigars. "The fact of it is that if it were not for me you would be the one who would have to do the worrying."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge stopped short in the act of lighting his cigar.

"I'm not quite catching on," he remarked. "What's the trouble?"

"There is no trouble, fortunately," Peter replied. "Only a little disappointment for our friends the Count von Hern and Major Kosuth. I have brought you some information which, I think, will put an end to that affair of the loan."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge sat quite still for a moment. His brows were knitted; he showed no signs of nervousness.

"Go right on," he said.

"The security upon which you were going to advance a million and a half to the Turkish Government," Peter continued, "consisted of two Dreadnoughts and a cruiser, being built to the order of that country by Messrs. Shepherd and Hargreaves at Belfast."

"Quite right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge admitted quietly. "I have been up and seen the boats. I have seen the shipbuilders, too."

"Did you happen to mention to the latter," Peter inquired, "that you were advancing money upon those vessels?"

"Certainly not," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Kosuth wouldn't hear of such a thing. If the papers got wind of it there'd be the devil to pay. All the same, I have got an assignment from the Turkish Government."

"Not worth the paper it's written on," Peter declared blandly.

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge rose unsteadily to his feet. He was a strong, silent man, but there was a queer look about his mouth.

"What the devil do you mean?" he demanded.

"Briefly this," Peter explained. "The first payment, when these ships were laid down, was made not by Turkey, but by an emissary of the German Government, who arranged the whole affair in Constantinople. The second payment was due ten months ago, and not a penny has been paid. Notice was given to the late Government twice and absolutely ignored. According to the charter, therefore, these ships reverted to the shipbuilding company, who retained possession of the first payment as indemnity against loss. The Count von Hern's position was this. He represents the German Government. You were to find a million and a half of money, with the ships as security. You also have a contract from the Count von Hern to take those ships off your hands provided the interest on the loan became overdue, a state of affairs which, I can assure you, would have happened within the next twelve months. Practically, therefore, you were made use of as an independent financier to provide the money with which the Turkish Government, broadly speaking, have sold the ships to Germany. You see, according to the charter of the shipbuilding company, these vessels cannot be sold to any foreign Government without the consent of Downing Street. That is the reason why the affair had to be conducted in such a roundabout manner."

"All this is beyond me," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge said hoarsely. "I don't care a d——n who has the ships in the end so long as I get my money!"

"But you would not get your money," Peter pointed out, "because there will be no ships. I have had the shrewdest lawyers in the world at work upon the charter, and there is not the slightest doubt that these vessels are, or rather were, the entire property of Messrs. Shepherd and Hargreaves. To-day they belong to me. I have bought them and paid £200,000 deposit. I can show you the receipt and all the papers."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge said only one word, but that word was profane.

"I am sorry, of course, that you have lost the business," Peter concluded; "but surely it's better than losing your money?"

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge struck the table fiercely with his fist. There was a grey and unfamiliar look about his face.

"D——n it, the money's gone!" he declared hoarsely: "They changed the day. Kosuth had to go back. I paid it twenty-four hours ago."

Peter whistled softly.

"If only you had trusted me a little more!" he murmured. "I tried to warn you."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge snatched up his hat.

"They don't leave till the two-twenty," he shouted. "We'll catch them at the Milan. If we don't, I'm ruined! By Heaven, I'm ruined!"

They found Major Kosuth in the hall of the hotel. He was wearing a fur coat and otherwise attired for travelling. His luggage was already being piled upon a cab. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge wasted no words upon him.

"You and I have got to have a talk, right here and now," he declared. "Where's the Count?"

Major Kosuth frowned gloomily.

"I do not understand you," he said shortly. "Our business is concluded, and I am leaving by the two-twenty train."

"You are doing nothing of the sort," the American answered, standing before him, grim and threatening.

The Turk showed no sign of terror. He gripped his silver-headed cane firmly.

"I think," he said, "that there is no one here who will prevent me."

Peter, who saw a fracas imminent, hastily intervened.

"If you will permit me for a moment," he said, "there is a little explanation I should perhaps make to Major Kosuth."

The Turk took a step towards the door.

"I have no time to listen to explanations from you or anyone," he replied. "My cab is waiting. I depart. If Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge is not satisfied with our transaction, I am sorry, but it is too late to alter anything."

For a moment it seemed as though a struggle between the two men was inevitable. Already people were glancing at them curiously, for Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge came of a primitive school, and he had no intention whatever of letting his man escape. Fortunately at that moment the Count von Hern came up, and Peter at once appealed to him.

"Count," he said, "may I beg for your good offices? My friend Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge here is determined to have a few words with Major Kosuth before he leaves. Surely this is not an unreasonable request when you consider the magnitude of the transaction which has taken place between them! Let me beg of you to persuade Major Kosuth to give us ten minutes. There is plenty of time for the train, and this is not the place for a brawl."

Bernadine smiled. He was not conscious of the slightest feeling of uneasiness. He could conceive many reasons for Peter's intervention, but in his pocket lay the agreement, signed by Kosuth, an accredited envoy of the Turkish Government, besides which he had a further document signed by Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, witnessed and stamped, handing over to him the whole of the security for this very complicated loan, on the sole condition that the million and a half, with interest, was forthcoming. His position was completely secure. A little discussion with his old enemy might not be altogether unpleasant!

"It will not take us long, Kosuth, to hear what our friend has to say," he remarked. "We shall be quite quiet in the smoking-room. Let us go in there and dispose of the affair."

The Turk turned unwillingly in the direction indicated. All four men passed through the café, up some stair's, and into the small smoking-room. The room was deserted. Peter led the way to the far corner, and, standing with his elbow leaning upon the mantelpiece, addressed them.

"The position is this," he said. "Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge has parted with a million and a half of his own money, a loan to the Turkish Government, on security which is not worth a snap of the fingers."

"It is a lie!" Major Kosuth exclaimed.

"My dear Baron, you are woefully misinformed," the Count declared.

Peter shook his head slowly.

"No," he said, "I am not misinformed. My friend here has parted with the money on the security of two battleships and a cruiser, now building in Shepherd and Hargreaves' yard at Belfast. The two battleships and cruiser in question belong to me. I have paid two hundred thousand pounds on account of them, and hold the shipbuilders' receipt."

"You are mad!" Bernadine cried, contemptuously.

Peter shook his head, and continued.

"The battleships were laid down for the Turkish Government, and the money with which to start them was supplied by the Secret Service of Germany. The second instalment was due ten months ago, and has not been paid. The time of grace provided for has expired. The shipbuilders, in accordance with their charter, were consequently at liberty to dispose of the vessels as they thought fit. On the statement of the whole of the facts to the head of the firm, he has parted with these ships to me. I need not say that I have a purchaser within a mile from here. It is a fancy of mine, Count von Hern, that those ships will sail better under the British flag."

There was a moment's tense silence. The face of the Turk was black with anger. Bernadine was trembling with rage.

"This is a tissue of lies!" he exclaimed.

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"The facts are easy enough for you to prove," he said, "and I have here," he added, producing a roll of papers, "copies of the various documents for your inspection. Your scheme, of course, was simple enough. It fell through for this one reason only. A final notice, pressing for the second instalment, and stating the days of grace, was forwarded to Constantinople about the time of the recent political troubles. The late government ignored it. In fairness to Major Kosuth, we will believe that the present government was ignorant of it. But the fact remains that Messrs. Shepherd and Hargreaves became at liberty to sell those vessels, and that I have bought them. You will have to give up that money, Major Kosuth."

"You bet he shall!" the American muttered.

Bernadine leaned a little towards his enemy.

"You must give us a minute or two," he insisted. "We shall not go away, I promise you. Within five minutes you shall hear our decision."

Peter sat down at the writing-table and commenced a letter. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge mounted guard over the door, and stood there, a grim figure of impatience. Before the five minutes was up, Bernadine crossed the room.

"I congratulate you, Baron," he said, dryly. "You are either an exceedingly lucky person or you are more of a genius than I believed. Kosuth is even now returning his letters of credit to your friend. You are quite right. The loan cannot stand."

"I was sure," Peter answered, "that you would see the matter correctly."

"You and I," Bernadine continued, "know very well that I don't care a fig about Turkey, new or old. The ships, I will admit, I intended to have for my own country. As it is, I wish you joy of them. Before they are completed we may be fighting in the air."

Peter smiled, and, side by side with Bernadine, strolled across to Heseltine-Wrigge, who was buttoning up a pocket-book with trembling fingers.

"Personally," Peter said, "I believe that the days of wars are over."

"That may or may not be," Bernadine answered. "One thing is very certain. Even if the nations remain at peace, there are enmities which strike only deeper as the years pass. I am going to take a drink now with my disappointed friend Kosuth. If I raise my glass 'To the Day!' you will understand."

Peter smiled.

"My friend Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge and I are for the same destination," he replied, pushing open the swing door which led to the bar. "I return your good wishes, Count. I, too, drink 'To the Day!'"

Bernadine and Kosuth left a few minutes afterwards. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, who was feeling himself again, watched them depart with ill-concealed triumph.

"Say, you had those fellows on toast, Baron," he declared, admiringly. "I couldn't follow the whole affair, but I can see that you're in for big things